Nov 24, 2017

Chicago to Mobile, WE DID IT!

Before arriving in Demopolis, we had the depressing realization that we would not make it to Mobile, AL in time for Halloween. A bummer not only because we wouldn't have a neighborhood to trick-or-treat in, but also because Hobie's NinjaGo costume was shipped to Mobile.

We spent a night going over the options and trying to figure out how we could make it work, but it just didn't look possible. After a day of sadness, we decided to look on the bright side, we would be catching up with our French Canadian friends, so at least we could hang out with them and "trick-or-treat" from boat-to-boat. 

But after our 70 mile run from Demopolis to Bashi Creek, I realized we might actually be able to make it to Mobile in time for Halloween. The current was running with us, and we lucked out with the tide which would also be in our favor after Coffeeville Lock.

I secretly asked Hobie: "Do you want to play it safe and stay with the French Canadians for Halloween, or take a chance on making it to Mobile for Trick or Treating?" He opted for Mobile, which is what I was hoping for, so that's what we did.

Each morning we fired up both engines and made our way down the river at top speed. One day we recorded a personal best of 80 miles traveled in a single day on the river. We hauled butt, and made it to Mobile on October 30th. Pretty good considering just a few days earlier we were moping around thinking would wouldn't arrive until November. 

Going through Downtown Mobile was pretty sweet. We passed under a low bridge and were instantly amongst huge ocean going freighters. It was a very busy port. There was also a boatyard building sweet Navy trimarans. It was a super cool area to go through.

As we left the river for Mobile Bay, I thought about the weather and open water conditions for the first time since leaving Lake Michigan. It was pretty windy, and I started wondering what the waves would be like on the bay. Fortunately they turned out to be pretty small, but with the high winds we got quite a bit of spray.

We made our way through the bay, then motored up the Dog River. It was REALLY cool. We had a bit of a gulf coast culture shock. There were suddenly palm trees, shrimp boats, just a whole different vibe from the river. It was awesome. I loved it.

The rivers seemed to last FOREVER. So long that stopped thinking the end would ever come. It took a bit before I realized: We did it! We made it from Chicago to Mobile! 

That had never been a "goal" of mine, so it wasn't really something I thought much about while we were doing it. But after having completed it, I realized it's a hell of a long way, and something to celebrate having accomplished. So we put our dinghy in the water and motored across the river to a waterfront restaurant for dinner. A night of luxury, someone else cooking, and cleaning up!

Nov 19, 2017

Demopolis "loop" Think

We traveled a short distance to Demopolis, I was in full on "travel" mode and didn't really feel like stopping. I was kinda hoping to fuel up, pump out, fill water and head back out... but we have friends here and LeeAnn wanted to hang out for a night. 

It makes sense. This is the last marina for the next 216 miles. It will be 4 or 5 days from here to Mobile. Plus today and tonight was supposed to be stormy. 

Despite all that... I didn't want to stay. I wanted to move on. We were in a groove. On a roll. For days it seemed like we had the river to ourselves. Hardly saw another boat. 

Suddenly we were in boater central. Nearly everyone stops in Demopolis. The place was packed, and there we were in the middle of it.

Suddenly we couldn't leave. Word got around that the demopolis lock master required everyone to go through the lock together. Through the game of phone, this lock was turned into a big event. It required looper organization so that we could all get through without having to wait. 

A meeting was held, it was a very somber event that began with everyone stating their name. These names were logged in the meeting minutes (not really but that formality was in the air and it wouldn't have surprised me if someone was taking notes). 

It pissed me off that for days we were on our own and doing just fine. Then suddenly we were sucked into this group think. 

We left the meeting before it really started. People were nice, but overall we didn't seem welcome with our rowdy kids. This was a serious meeting after all. 

We returned to our boat where I called the lockmaster myself to see if there was anything special about the lock, or anything special we needed to do. He said there was not. I get what people were trying to do. The locks don't want to deal with one pleasure craft after another. It's better to group. I just like my independence. 

The next day we left with the group at about 7:30. It was around 40 degrees, windy, and raining heavily. Oh yeah and it was foggy. Pretty much horrible conditions. But, I didn't want to stay in Demopolis another night, so I put on my foul weather gear and we left. 

Ironically, it took a good hour to get into the lock due to all the boats and bad weather. 

We were the last ones in and rafted up to a power cat we have been playing hopscotch with for a few hundred miles. In order to lighten the mood, I decided to use a Australian accent during all my radio communication. I was in a very good mood upon entering the lock. Shitty weather and crazy situations have a way of really lighting me up. 

We locked down and then fired up both engines. Its unusual for us to run both engines at the same time. The pickup in speed normally doesn't justify the cost in fuel. But on this day we had 70 miles to cover before the next safest anchorage. So we hauled ass, and had a nice current pushing us along as well. We made it to Bashi creek by our usual stopping of 4pm. I was impressed.

The creek was very narrow. 40 feet. Half downed trees lay in the creek. Other trees simply had overgrown into the creek. It was a place no respectable looper would enter, so I ventured in. 

We made our way about a quarter mile up the creek. Weaving our way around fallen trees, we had good depth most of the way. When it shallowed to 7 feet, I spun us around and dropped the anchor. I also dropped a pile of chain over the side of the boat to help hold us in the middle of the channel if the wind changed direction overnight, but I didn't expect that and we were so well protected I don't think it would have mattered. 

The sunset and stars came out. I lowered the dinghy into the water and the boys and I went out with a spotlight searching for alligators. We didn't find any. 

After we returned to the boat, we lite our pumpkins and listened to the owls hooting to each other. Then two owls got into a fight and after a moment LeeAnn and I ushered the boys inside the boat, lest they be witnesses to an owl murder. 

I thought about the contrast between staying at a dock the previous night for $53 verses anchoring in Bashi creek for free. Being anchored out on our own, a few other bold cruisers with us, we got so much more value out of anchoring. 

Nov 13, 2017

4 Reasons NOT to do The Great Loop

The Great Loop has become hugely popular among boaters in recent years. When we first traveled down the US East Coast in 2007 we didn't hear the terms "Great Loop", "Looping", or "Loopers" a single time. These days it seems every boater we meet is flying the AGLCA (America's Great Loop Cruising Association) flag.

I can understand why. The Great Loop sounds like a great idea. Traveling America's waterways, seeing America by boat, most of it via protected waterways.

When I meet Loopers who are nearing the completion of their loop, I like to ask "ready to start again?" to which most of them hastily shake their head and say "oh no, not doing it again."

Why? And if it isn't enjoyable, why don't we hear more about the negatives? Maybe loopers don't want to admit to others or themselves that the trip sucked. Or maybe Loopers feel embarrassed that they aren't the intrepid travelers the thought they were.

If it's the latter, then it's really too bad, because in my opinion, "Looping" is going about "cruising" all wrong. Which brings me to another point. Loopers are not cruisers. Many cruisers will make a distinct point of that. When asked "are you looping?" The cruiser will reply "cruising, not looping." When I hear this reply, I become so excited that someone else "gets it!"

Here are 4 reasons not to do The Great Loop:

1. It's toxic.

This actually might be a good reason to do the loop, because if more people were aware of how widespread our toxic waters are, perhaps there would be change. According to this study, Chesapeake Bay is dirtier than an unflushed toilet bowl. Deleware Bay struggles with pollution. In the Hudson River, our fun game was to count condoms. Erie canal water, gross. Chicago Sanitation canal? The name says enough, Illinois river? nope. The sad truth is that for the vast majority of the loop, going swimming means risking getting sick.

2. It's not very scenic.

This is not to say there aren't gloriously beautiful parts. Kentucky Lake is amazing. Traveling through downtown Chicago is a one of a kind experience. The North Channel in the Great Lakes is exceptional, as are the clear waters and dunes of Lake Michigan. All parts of the Loop have their beauty, but the vast majority of it is just one long boring slog. Sitting at the wheel watching mile after mile of boring, low lying shoreline go by. When you come to a pretty section where you'd like to stay awhile, the weight of distance still to go or cold weather pushes you on.
A typical ICW Shoreline
A typical Chicago-Mobile Shoreline.

3. There is no destination.

The Great Loop takes water highways and turns them into the destination. It's equivalent to saying: 'My wife and I are going to buy an RV and drive I-75 round trip. We are going to spend each night in a parking lot just off the expressway. We will visit roadside attractions and small towns along the way. No one does this because it sounds horrible. And yet, that's exactly what the Great Loop is. A road trip with no destination.

4. It burns people out.

Nearly every looper we meet is on their first "cruise". Many of them have even bought their boat specifically for doing the loop. In other words, Loopers are generally inexperienced cruisers. This is not always the case. Some people go around and around the loop. Some people are just made to move. But the rest of them get burnt out, decide boat life isn't for them, sell their boat and move into an RV. Why?

"Cruising" implies traveling, but I've found the reality to be the exact opposite. My best cruising experiences have been when we hardly travel at all. This is what people mean when they say "cruising grounds" it's an area you hang around in. Traveling on a boat is hard work. The loop is day after day of hard work. It causes wear and tear on the boat which then needs to be repaired. Those repairs are in addition to grocery shopping, laundry, and any other things you want to do while stopped. By the time it's all done, you've been in a marina for a week, have had no time to relax, and it's time to start it all over again.

How it should be done:

I'm not saying to avoid America's waterways, I'm saying to use them for what they are, water highways to awesome destinations. Pick a place you want to go and go there. I personally love the Bahamas. Perhaps you've always wanted to visit New England or the North Channel. Go for it. Use the waterways as needed. Break from the crowd, set your own course, plot your own route.