The Illinois River

Well, we moved back onto the boat.  Our fall schedule is crazy.  We knew we’d only be on the boat for 4-6 weeks before having to go home for a month for work, Thanksgiving, and orthodontia.  Our goal was to get the boat moved down to the Gulf in that time.  There were so many obstacles.  Ben, Molly and I were all scheduled to speak at the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous in Rogersville, AL October 15-18th.  Before Ben left for FL the IL river was too shallow for us to get to many of the places we needed to go so we were already leaving later than we liked.  So, we’d ruled out getting the boat down to the rendezvous and settled on getting the boat to Green Turtle Bay.  By the time we finally left the river level was up and we had enough days with a couple of wiggle room days.  In addition to a tight schedule, the Mississippi River was now flooding and both the IL and Mississippi Rivers were full of debris and raging currents.

After dumping all of our stuff on the boat and spending the afternoon unpacking we got to bed and set out the next morning for Joliet, IL.

Seeing as we were starting in Dolton, IL, not Chicago, we had a short day.  We made it through our first lock, dealt with a lot of barge traffic, and got to the Joliet wall all by ourselves by about 1 PM.  We were the only boat there all night.  The girls made a dash for the park.  They remembered it from two years ago and couldn’t wait to get to the zip line.  It had rained quite a bit and everything was wet.  The girls had a blast going down wet slides sitting on their life vests and then just soaking their clothes.

The next morning we set out for Ottawa, IL.  This was only 50 miles away but we had 3 locks that were known to hold boaters up.  We had trouble two years ago with one of these locks and this trip would not prove any different.  Our 50 mile day took 12 hours.  Seven of those hours were wasted waiting on locks.  Ben was very stressed out about arriving in the dark because we barely had enough water to get into the channel to the marina.  He needed to be able to see.  At our last lock, after deciding to turn around and go find somewhere to tie up, the lock master called the tow behind us and asked if he could lock us through first so we could get in before dark.  The Miss Doris was in front of us and she was a double tow that took absolutely ages to get through.  The tow behind us, the Honeycutt, said sure go ahead.  So so nice!  Even so, we watched darkness starting to set in and Ben got more nervous.  FINALLY the Miss Doris got out of the way and we were able to get in the chamber.  The lock master tried everything.  We were too long to fit or he would have locked us through with the second run of the tow.  He worked with us and did what he could.

While we were waiting we asked the girls to make a couple of thank you cards.  When we pulled in the lock we handed off a thank you card to the lock master with a couple of candy bars. And we passed off a bag with a thank you card, some candy and a 6-pack of beer for the tow operators behind us on the Honeycutt.  We asked the lock master to pass it off.  The lock master came out while we were in the lock and said the girls’ card was the nicest card he’d ever gotten.  We got out of the lock and into the shallow channel with no issues and tied up for the night.  Exhausted.

We just kept on moving.  The next morning we started early again and got through the Starved Rock lock and on down to Peoria.  The wind was brutal.  It was so bad there were 1 ft waves on the river with white caps.  We stopped at the Peoria Town Docks since Ivy Club was too shallow for us this year.  It was a great stop!  Free and easy to dock and plenty deep.  There was one other Looper there too which made us feel a little better.  We’d heard some reports about safety on the docks but had no issues.

We spent the afternoon walking around.  Our first stop was the Caterpillar Museum….but they wouldn’t let us in because they stop selling tickets about 20 minutes before we arrived.  So we went to the gift shop and pretended like we’d gone to the museum.  Next up we walked through the Holocaust button exhibit.  Truly moving.  Each button represented a life lost.

We had to make a run to the post office to mail Yacht Devices packages.  Then we walked up a huge hill and found the baseball stadium.  Maddy found a foul ball outside and picked it up.  So then we pretended we had gone to the Caterpillar museum followed by a baseball game!  Next up we found a GIANT statue of Abraham Lincoln.  A public art exhibit depicting Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address to the common man.

We continued walking and found some huge props followed by a park!!!  The girls were thrilled to have a playground and as they were playing we watched tows going by.  Ironically they were the two tows that we passed the day before!  We followed this up with a gorgeous sunset and dinner on the boat.

After our night in Peoria we left and headed to the Peoria lock and got in pretty quickly.  The next lock was open so we were able to go right through and we headed on down to Logsdon Tug Service.  It was my birthday.  But we were on a mission to get south so it was also just Tuesday.  We got to Logsdon.  They let boaters pay to tie up to their barges.  It was quite an experience.  There is an incredibly scary staircase over the water to climb to get off the barge.  Ben went up to register and came back carrying flowers!  The Wilsons (Wendy) managed to get flowers delivered for me there.  So sweet.  Seeing as I wanted to get out for dinner and ice cream I pushed back my fears and climbed the staircase.  Ben had to hold on to me after he got the kids up safely.  I have an incredible fear of heights.  We had a great dinner at a local Mexican place and found a Dairy Queen for Blizzards.  But then we had to climb the scary staircase back down.  We safely made it back onto the boat and headed to bed.

Day 5 it was time to head to Grafton, IL and the END of the Illinois River.  The river was somewhat debris filled and Ben was exhausted.  Grafton marks Mile 0 of the IL river but also would be our start of the Mississippi River.  The further south we got the worse the current became.  Close to Grafton the current was pretty strong.  Ben called the fuel dock and they asked if we had thrusters.  Ben said yes.  They said the other guy on the fuel dock didn’t and it was apparently pretty ugly getting him tied up.  But Ben landed us on the dock just fine.  We got fuel and got to our slip with not too much stress.  There were entire trees flowing past our boat out in the channel.  We just watched and watched.  The Herbons were in Grafton and we were excited to have someone to travel with going forward.  For the afternoon though I got the girls off the boat.  We ran a package to the post office and walked up and down the one street.

We quickly determined there was not a single thing to do there and it was freezing so we headed back to the boat for the night, ready to tackle the Mississippi River the next morning.

Chicago, IL

We headed for Chicago the first weather window we got.  We loved our summer trip.  Canada was everything we’d hoped for and we always enjoy a trip down the Michigan coast, but we had been delayed too many times and had to get home.  Ben had some travel coming up for work, we had maintenance to be done on the boat, and we needed to get organized to start to head south.  As Mother Nature would have it, we woke up early to find fog.  We waited for quite awhile and eventually saw a boat or two heading out and decided to join the ranks.  We knew we’d be fine once we were out of the channel and in the open lake.

IMG_6037
Fog and spider webs!

We headed straight to Hammond, IN to fill up.  Hammond has some of the cheapest fuel on the lake and is on our way into the Calumet River.  After fueling we headed into the Calumet and began our trip to Dolton, IL to Marine Services.  This is the yard that has kept our boat for winter storage and does all our maintenance that Ben doesn’t do.  The trip down the Calumet river is interesting.  Definitely different than boating through downtown on the Chicago River but a great view none the less.  It’s very industrial and a unique trip.  The trip also contains our first lock on our way south.  It’s an easy lock where you don’t even have to tie up.  You just float free in the lock.

We arrived in Dolton and tied up for the night.  Our boat was scheduled to be hauled out of the water the next morning.  We woke up and were packing up when a few guys came over to untie the boat.  We went running out to tell them that we and all our stuff were still on the boat!  This was the first time the girls and I had watched our boat come out of the water.  The whole process makes me crazy nervous.  I’m convinced the boat will fall.  So to watch it come out of the water, be power washed down, and then be put on stands was quite the feat of bravery for me.  The bottom of the boat looked pretty good.  The boat stayed put (and plugged in so we didn’t lose our food!) and we headed to our house in Chicago.

The Zeeffs were in Hammond when we stopped there.  They went down for fuel as well and were killing some time before heading south on the rivers.  They had plans to come back to Chicago and spend a night docked at the Tiki Hut on the Chicago River.  So we headed downtown to meet them for lunch.  The river walk is so much nicer than it was a few years ago when we docked on the river.  We took the train down and then walked along the river over to where their boat was.  We had lunch outside and then found some fun climbing stuff for the kids while we visited and enjoyed the sunshine a bit.

As Ben kept adding things to be done on the boat and the river forecast kept getting worse, it soon became clear that it was going to be simplest to leave the boat in Dolton until Ben was back from his work trip to FL.  Once we made this decision it freed up some of our schedule and we were able to fit in a trip to Michigan for Maddy’s best friend Claudia’s birthday!  We were missing our friends and although it was a quick visit it was so good to see them.

 

Back in Chicago more friends were moving through Chicago by boat!  It was the Wilsons turn.  The girls and I spent a day with Wendy and her girls at the Museum of Science and Industry followed by a trip to our house for dinner.  Ben picked Bobby up for some West Marine errands and they met us at home.  After dinner we walked to a new ice cream place by our house because we know how the Wilsons like ice cream!

Ben headed to FL the last week of September for 9 days.  The girls and I hung in Chicago for a couple of days and then headed to my mom’s for quite a few days and then back to Chicago.  Ben had a whirlwind trip covering a lot of miles between 3 different stops in FL.  But….it was finally time to load the boat and HEAD SOUTH!

South Haven, MI

Our trip to South Haven was uneventful.  We arrived late in the afternoon and were assigned a slip on the north side of the river.  The south side of the river is in town so we had a bit of a hike from the other side.  But we were ok with that.  Beach is available on both sides and it wasn’t that far of a walk to the other side.  After a long day on the boat we needed to take a walk.  We grabbed the girls’ scooters and headed across the draw bridge into town.  It had been a few years since we’d been to South Haven but we remembered an amazing bakery and the walk out the pier to the beach.  We scoped out the bakery for the next morning and continued out past the south side marina towards the beach and sunset!

 

The next morning we headed back across the bridge and straight to the bakery.  After checking the forecast we knew we’d be sitting pretty for a few days so we started to make a list of what we wanted to see and do after we loaded up on cookies and donuts.  We started with an incredible farmer’s market and bought some goodies there as well.

IMG_5988

We decided to go see the Michigan Maritime Museum.  We had seen a number of their boats on display outside during our walks past and wanted to check them out.  The museum inside was dedicated to war efforts, aircraft carriers and a plane crash into the water.  It was all quite interesting, but we wanted to go climb on some boats.  First we checked out the USCG Motor Lifeboat.  This specific boat starred in the Disney movie The Finest Hours, representing another boat just like it.  The other boat was involved in a dangerous rescue in 1952 off the coast of Massachusetts.  It was pretty amazing to look at this little boat and try to imagine how it saved so many people.

 

Next we moved onto the Friends Good Will.  This is a historic replica tall ship that still sails once or twice a day as an excursion boat.  We didn’t take the boat ride (something about living on a boat turns us off from paying to go on other boats!) but we had so much fun touring the boat at the dock.  The docent working on the ship was so good to the girls.  He explained everything.  Showed them the cannon, and the very large windless, as well as the huge mast and sails.  We were all impressed with the windless.  It’s a lot different than ours which just wraps our anchor chain right around a tiny circle.  This thing was HUGE and wound the rope around and around.

 

The girls also took turns with the huge wooden tiller.  The docent then showed us the compass in this beautiful wooden enclosure.

 

And he pointed out the deck prisms.  We saw a few of them and wondered what they were.  We went down below to see the cabin and find out how the deck prisms worked.  Down below in the tiny cabin space we saw the light the prisms let in and the girls climbed back in the tiny bunks to find more prisms back there.  We then went one level lower down to where the bunks were and the galley.

 

We truly enjoyed our tour of this fabulous ship!

 

The Friends Good Will was a highlight of our visit, but we did continue on to see the rest of the ships on display and walked through the out buildings as well.  There was one building full of nothing but old motors.  We spent some time searching for a Johnson motor just like the very old one we had on our previous dinghy.  It now resides with our friends up in Manistique and still runs like a charm.

 

After a long time at the museum we grabbed lunch and the girls and I headed to church a little later in the day.  The following day we were on a mission to find the Kids’ Corner playground we’d heard so much about.  It was just past the church we’d gone to and quite a hike from the marina.  But that’s ok!  We had scooters and I’m happy to walk any amount. We left Ben at the boat working and set out in a different direction than we’d walked previously.  The kids were in search of ice cream so we stopped at Dairy Queen to fuel up for our trek to the park.  The kids had a blast playing.  I love how no matter where we go they will play with and make friends with anyone.  It happened again here. Maddy and a little girl were off and running having a great time playing some game where Molly was supposed to find and chase them.

IMG_6027

Monday morning brought time for work for Ben and school for the girls.  There were lots of Loopers in South Haven also waiting on weather and we planned to see them later in the day.  We’d already stopped by the docks on the other side and talked to quite a few.  The girls and I packed up and worked in the very lovely boaters lounge on the north side.  Each time we talk about home schooling we seem to find someone with a story.  This day the lady working at the marina noticed we were working and came over and turned the music way down. I said it wasn’t bothering us but she insisted.  She then went on to tell me how she had home schooled one of her sons for years and what a wonderful experience it was.

After we wrapped up school work for the day we enjoyed the gardens at the marina.  The flowers, the butterflies, the herbs and the tomatoes were all gorgeous.  The marina employees told us to take what we could carry.  We took a lot of tomatoes and fresh basil.  What a treat!

 

We ended our stay in South Haven with docktails with all the Loopers.  The girls brought their baby dolls and one lady even asked to pose for a picture with them and their babies!  Another Looper brought out his bagpipes and gave us all a real treat.

 

We connected with old friends who we hadn’t seen since our first loop and met many new ones.  South Haven was again a wonderful stop.  But it was time to head back to Chicago!

Ludington, MI

At this point I’m blogging to catch up so I have a record of everywhere we stopped this summer.  It’s such a distant memory at this point that I’m just happy to have pictures to remember our time at each stop.  The past couple of weeks on the water have been exhausting and somewhat difficult so it’s fun to look back and remember the fun we had this summer (even when we were stuck waiting on weather!)

This is our third trip to Ludington by boat, but I have a long history there.  My grandparents had a house on the beach in Ludington for 20 years, so I spent some time there every summer.  I loved to watch the Badger every morning and evening with my grandparents.  I loved playing on the beach and I loved going to House of Flavors.  I have a lot of fond memories and it’s great to share those with my kids now.  We were in Ludington last October as well so the girls remembered the marina, the beach and the Badger.

We got stuck with weather yet again.  When we left Leland we planned to make a beeline across the lake over to Sturgeon Bay, WI so that we’d at least have the boat on the correct coast for getting down to Chicago.  We knew we had to be home a few days before Labor Day weekend to head to Kansas City for my sister’s wedding.  This would give us a few days to either get home, or to get close to Chicago.  Mother Nature once again had other plans.  Just as we passed the Manitou Islands a thick fog set in.  There were a lot of us on the water that day and in touch with each other.  The fog was everywhere.  We decided that even though only seeing with radar wasn’t any different in the middle of the lake than near the coast, we’d feel more comfortable heading back towards the coast.  It took until south of Frankfort for the fog to finally lift.  It was a long 2-3 hours.  We couldn’t see a boat 500 feet away.  Scary stuff.

The rest of the day was easy.  Once the fog lifted we had an easy cruise down to Ludington.  We got settled, the kids made a mad dash for the park and we were there in plenty of time to enjoy the evening and watch the Badger come in.  The Wilsons ended up coming to Ludington as well and we all went and grabbed some ice cream before bed.

The next day it became clear we were not going to get a weather window the rest of the week to cross to Chicago. At that point we decided to pack up and head home early to get ready for the wedding.  Ben’s dad generously offered to drive all the way to Ludington to pick us up.  There are no rental cars in Ludington, so to get a car we have to have a local harbor host (person in town who offers to help out boaters) drive us 45 minutes to Muskegon to rent a car.  This means a 1.5 hour round trip for the also generous harbor host.  When Fred offered to come get us we took him up on it.  We assumed we’d have to impose on the harbor host for our return rental car drop off.  So, Tuesday at lunchtime we piled in the car and headed to Chicago.  We had a couple of days there before jumping in the car again to drive to Kansas City.

We had whirlwind wedding weekend.  A lot of great meals.  A nail party.  A wedding!  Hotel pool swimming with the cousins.  Not a lot of sleeping.  And a whole lot of fun.

We drove back to Chicago on Labor Day and started watching the weather again.  There were once again no weather windows for travel on Lake Michigan.  While we were home waiting on weather, we had our first day of school and I got the girls back into their cooking class.

IMG_5956
First day of 6th and 3rd grades!

We also had the opportunity to make a couple of trips downtown to see Loopers coming through Chicago.  The Zeeffs arrived first and the girls and I spent the day at Maggie Daley park with them in some crazy sweltering heat.  As we were going back to their boat to grab some things before heading up to our house, Marshall and Judy on Let’s Go arrived.  The four kids were more than excited to take their puppy Mindy for a run around the park.  After that we took the Zeeffs north to our house for dinner and more visiting time.

Finally Thursday it looked like we should head back to the boat so we could leave Ludington on Friday.  Over the weekend, at the wedding, my uncle offered to drive us all the way back to Ludington.  This too seemed way too generous and we said thank you but moved on to looking at rental cars.  He has all the same memories I have of 20 years in Ludington and insisted he didn’t mind the drive and would enjoy the trip.  So, he drove into the city in a horrible rain to pick us up, adding lots of extra time to his drive.  Ugh!  We stopped and had a nice lunch in St. Joseph and then finished the drive up the coast.  After unloading all of our stuff we walked to House of Flavors for ice cream before he headed back home.  We wish he could have spent the night with us on the boat.  One of these days we’ll work out having him ride along for a leg on the boat!

IMG_5977

Friday was the day!  We were finally able to leave Ludington and continue south.  We headed out to South Haven.  It had been quite a few years since we’d been to South Haven so we were excited for this next stop.

 

 

Leland, MI

Leland feels like a lifetime ago!  So much time has passed and life has gotten in the way and I’m behind again.  But it’s good to look back at our pictures and the fun we had in Leland.  Ben and I first stopped in Leland with Molly in 2008.  We had just purchased our previous boat in North Carolina and had hired a delivery captain to run it back to Chicago.  We met the captain in Presque Isle, MI and hopped on board with our almost 1 year old for the rest of the trip back to Chicago.  Our first long day ended in Leland, MI.  It immediately became Ben’s favorite small Michigan town.  It’s fishtown charm is undeniable.  We made it back to Leland in August of 2015.  We called for a reservation and were told they did not have any space.  Ben wouldn’t take no for an answer.  As we got closer he decided he was just pulling in the harbor to see what they’d say.  For any of our boating friends who have been there, you’ve seen our boat, and you’ve seen that harbor.  They could see us coming a mile or two away so there were a number of people waiting on the fuel dock when we pulled in.  Ben had me shout over and ask if they had any room.  They asked for how long.  We would have been happy with being able to stay for lunch.  When you just push your way in, they magically find room for you!  There was a t-head available and they said we could stay the night.  Yay!  That time we had our good friends the Burnetts with us so we have some fun Leland memories with them.

IMG_20150805_175522207_HDR
Leland 2015

Last fall when we were finishing our Loop we missed stopping in Leland.  We came home so late in the season and had to pick our weather days and didn’t have the luxury of stopping everywhere we wanted.  So it was a must do on our list for this summer.

Once again weather fouled many of our plans.  After being side lined in Charlevoix for an extra WEEK, we finally left on a not great Saturday afternoon.  The lake was choppy but not terrible and Leland was a short run.  The Wilsons decided they’d give it a try too.  It wasn’t too bad until we reached the mouth of Grand Traverse Bay.  The mouth of the bay is about 9 miles across.  And those were 9 really UGLY miles!  We had our stabilizer running and ran pretty far off shore.  Nothing about it was unsafe for us, but it sure wasn’t any fun.  And boating is supposed to be fun.  It just can’t all be perfect on Lake Michigan!  Once we got past Grand Traverse Bay it was back to some light chop on a gray, blah day.  We pulled into Leland and needed to stop at the fuel dock.  There was another boat on the fuel dock and it was going to be awhile so they had us just tie up in our slip and wait.  And wait.  And wait.  We only had this one night to spend in Leland and this was wasting a lot of our time.  It was already around 5 pm.  Turns out the boat at the fuel dock somehow pumped diesel into his holding tanks.  Oops.  Big oops.  So that had to be pumped out and pumped into the correct tanks.  It was finally our turn so we dropped lines and backed over to the fuel dock.  The excitement continued.  As the dockhand was holding our lines he managed to get his foot hooked over the edge of the dock and lost his balance.  His choice was jump or fall between the boat and dock.  He jumped onto our swim platform, fell and his radio went skidding across to the edge and stopped.  Ben heard a big thud and just stopped all movement of the boat.  I told him through the headset what happened.  I took the lines back from the dock hand and told him to grab his radio.  He’s apologizing all over the place for jumping on our boat.  That was the least of our concern!  Thank goodness he didn’t fall.  He was fine.

Once we were finally settled we had very little time to see town.  Most of the fishtown shops were closed up already or closing up.  We poked around a bit and walked over to see the waterfall.

IMG_5770

Then we walked up into town and found the Wilsons.  We walked around together for a bit and then said yet another goodbye.  Our plan was to cross the lake the next day to get to Sturgeon Bay, WI and start making our way back to Chicago.  We had to get home for Labor Day for my sister’s wedding and it seemed like during the one good day forecasted we should get across the water.  But our other option was Ludington, where the Wilsons were heading.  So, I wasn’t too worried about the sad goodbyes!  You never know where you’ll end up when boating.

IMG_5768

We went back to the boat to eat dinner.  As we were sitting down to eat the girls and Ben spotted a car in the water!  There is a red amphibious car that is always parked in front of the restaurant right by the marina.  We were pretty sure it was the same car.  Ben and the girls ran outside to watch and take pictures as it turned right into the fairway in front of us.  Four people were in the car just chatting and enjoying the sunset.

IMG_5776

I texted Wendy and told her to look out.  Before you know it Ben says, well the Wilsons are in the car getting a ride!  Molly and Maddy begged to run up the dock and see.  They were so bummed to not be in the car.  I told them they had to wait to be asked if they wanted a ride.  When the Wilsons got back from their ride Ben and the owner of the car started chatting.  Ben knows a lot about those cars (who knows how?!?) and was asking a lot of questions.  After quite a few minutes talking the owner offered Ben a ride and all four of us were able to go.  The girls were head over heels thrilled.  They were a bit worried they didn’t have life vests (love that they thought of that!) but they hopped right in.  What a cool experience for all of us.  It’s a very weird sensation feeling the car drive into water and then float away.  He drove us around the marina, over to the waterfall, over to our boat and back to the dock.  Also very cool to then drive on out of the water.

Ben and the owner chatted a bit longer.  It came up that we put a Seakeeper gyro-stabilizer in our boat.  This guy mentioned he knows a lot about gyroscopes and would be interested to come see the Seakeeper.  So, as I was getting the girls settled in bed he stopped by our boat.  He and Ben headed to the engine room for a lot of shop talk.

Needless to say Leland was again a great stop.  What a fun night.  We wish we could have stayed longer.  It was a quick visit this time since the next day was the only day with a good forecast in 10 days!  Leland will remain one of our favorite Michigan stops.

Torch Lake, MI

I’m way behind in blogging.  Between numerous weather delays and a trip home for my youngest sister’s wedding I’ve just gotten behind.  We haven’t moved the boat much recently so not too much to talk about, but I’m determined to get caught up on past blog posts!

IMG_5711
Sunrise in Charlevoix

During our long stay in Charlevoix, we decided to take a day trip to Torch Lake.  Our original plan was to leave Charlevoix and boat to Elk Rapids, in Grand Traverse Bay.  We would dock at the marina in Elk Rapids and then the marina would drive us (and our dinghy if we wanted) across the street to a little marina on Elk Lake.   We would then rent a pontoon boat on Elk Lake and navigate to Torch Lake for the day.   But, as is becoming a theme, the big lake wouldn’t cooperate and we couldn’t move to Elk Rapids.  We had a pretty good idea this would happen, so when we drove back to Charlevoix after my grandfather’s funeral we decided to just keep our rental car.  At that point we were going to break even on the weekly rate and figured we’d just drive to Torch Lake.  At first we planned on Tuesday, then on Wednesday and then finally, as the forecast would have it, we settled on Thursday.  The Wilsons also rented a car and we all went together.

A number of people had suggested Torch Lake to us so we’d done a lot of research about it and were excited for our small lake day!  We took coolers of food and drinks, towels, sunscreen, and the Zeeff’s ZUP board and off we went.  Torch Lake is in inland lake in Michigan that is supposed to have Caribbean like waters, plus a big sand bar to play on all day.  It was a super windy day so when we first got out onto the lake there was a lot of chop.  The lake is 19 miles long and the sand bar is at the south end.  We got a little wet making our way south, the girls took to lying on the floor to avoid the splashing waves.  They are used to being inside our cabin or up on the fly bridge far away from waves!

IMG_5712
Taking cover…

We got to the sand bar and Ben and Bobby got the anchor all set.  We beached the pontoons on the sand bar but put the anchor out as well.  The girls all jumped off the boat immediately into knee deep clear water.  The colors on the water were indeed beautiful.  Caribbean blue and turquoise waters.  It was so easy to see the depth changes because of the changes in water color.  We spent much of the day playing at the sand bar.  The girls pulled each other around on the ZUP board and did some mini snorkeling around the boat.

We had a picnic lunch on the boat an took walks around the sandbar to people watch.  Right before we left Wendy decided to try her hand at fly boarding!  She’s braver than I am!

Later in the afternoon we pulled anchor and headed out onto the lake.  The girls all wanted to ZUP board.  Poor Mia still had her cast on her arm so she had to just watch.  But the four other girls all took a turn and then Wendy took a turn too!  You can tell she has the most experience water skiing.  She made it up on the board faster and with more stability than all of the little girls!

As evening was moving in we pulled back into the river, filled up with some gas and got back to the dock just in time.  Then we had to drive back to Charlevoix.  We stopped at the Dairy Grille on our way into town for a yummy quick dinner and some ice cream.  By then we were all exhausted and ready to spend another day waiting out weather in Charlevoix.  Torch Lake was a fun diversion!

Charlevoix, MI

Well, as Mother Nature would have it, we just spent 9 days in Charlevoix!  This was for a handful of reasons.  We left Mackinac Island after our morning of biking and headed to Charlevoix knowing we had to leave the boat for a few days.  My grandfather passed away June 30, 2018 and the funeral was delayed a bit until everything could be organized.  It was scheduled for Saturday August 18th so we knew we had to be somewhere that we could get a rental car.  Our friend Erik told us he wasn’t using his slip in Charlevoix and we could leave the boat there while we traveled home for the funeral.  This was so generous of him and we are thankful to have such great friends!  We got in right around dinnertime and got all settled.  The kids immediately wanted to take a quick swim in the pool.   It was late but we let them because I knew the next morning would be crazy with trying to pack up and get the rental car, etc.

Friday we drove to Chicago and had dinner with Ben’s brother and family.  We got the kids settled in their beds at home and tried to get organized for the next day.  The funeral was lovely and it was special to be with so much family.  After the cemetery service everyone came back to our house and hung out for the rest of the afternoon.  My grandfather was almost 101 and it was an incredible life to celebrate!

Sunday it was time for another wonderful family celebration – a wedding/engagement/bridal luncheon for my baby sister Emily and her fiance Josh!  It was great to all smile and laugh and celebrate new beginnings.

IMG_5685

Next stop after the luncheon was Ben’s family’s house in Michigan.  The girls swam and we celebrated Fred’s and Sophie’s birthdays and played until around 7 when we had to hit the road.  We still had 4.5 more hours to go to get back to Charlevoix.  We got the kids to bed about 11:45 PM Sunday night and hoped they would sleep in Monday morning. We had some thoughts we would travel to Elk Rapids but the weather dashed those thoughts pretty quickly.

IMG_5690

We spent quite awhile in Charlevoix last fall so we hadn’t planned to spend time there this trip.  But, like I said, Mother Nature had other plans.  With no chance of getting the boat out in super strong winds and bad conditions on Lake Michigan, we decided to hang onto our rental car.  We had plans to rent a pontoon boat on Torch Lake for a day and decided we may as well just drive there and skip boating down into Grand Traverse Bay.  I’ll do a separate post about Torch Lake!

So, we had almost a full week left in Charlevoix based on the forecast.  We went to the library again.  It’s still great.  We went to the beach again.  Also still great!  The girls rode their scooters all over town.  We saw the mushroom houses.  We ate crepes.  We went back to the local toy store and bought more stuff (Kanoodle – highly recommend!).  We bought more fudge.  It was like a repeat of last Sept/Oct!  But it was all good.  Wilsons and Herbons were both there so the kids had a blast at the beach.  We had docktails and met lots of other boaters also waiting.  We had a pool at our marina as well.  So, swim, beach, scooters, friends.  What more do you need?

Friday was our anniversary!  It also happened to be Kathy’s parents’ 50th anniversary!  Kathy texted me Happy Anniversary and mentioned her parents were close by in Harbor Springs.  She texted back a minute later saying never mind, they are actually in Charlevoix!  What???  So, they found us, parked their car, and visited for a few.  It’s special to share an anniversary with such a wonderful couple.  We had a lot of hugs and smiles and are so happy we got to see Tom and Eileen for a few minutes.

IMG_5753
Happy August 24th Anniversaries!

Bobby and Wendy graciously offered to keep the girls so we could go out for dinner.  It was raining on and off all day and Ben and I were both just on the fence of not caring if we went out or not.  Bobby and Wendy all but insisted and took the girls.  I’m so glad they did.  We went back, changed clothes, made ourselves presentable and headed out to dinner.  We had a fantastic dinner.  Definitely the best and most interesting food since we left Chicago.  It was good to get out and celebrate.

The lake was angry all week long.  Charlevoix is a great place to wait that craziness out!  Thanks Charlevoix for treating us well once again.

Mackinac Island, MI

Well, we had to leave Canada and head back to Michigan so we decided to make the most of it.  We stopped over for the evening in DeTour Village, MI and checked back in with US Customs and Border Patrol.  The next morning we headed to St. Ignace, MI.  We couldn’t get a reservation in Mackinac Island and Ben and I had a surprise up our sleeves for the girls.  We hadn’t been to St. Ignace before and our good friend Kathy was driving home from Manistique to Detroit right through St. Ignace. We had made arrangements to meet her there but never told the girls.  It saves a lot of nonstop questions and of course heartache if plans change.  And provides so much joy when a surprise works out.  These kids love each other like sisters.  We are so lucky to have friends that will travel to where we are and make sure we stay connected.  Every visit is so special.  We pulled into St. Ignace in insane wind.  Ben had to use full engine force to get us in our slip and safely secured.  We had about an hour to wait and then SURPRISE!  We had just helped the Herbons dock and I randomly asked if the girls wanted to walk up to the parking lot.  Molly asked why but agreed and followed me.  Maddy was trailing behind.  When Molly caught sight of the Burnetts she turned to me and yelled “WHAT????!!!!” and took off running.

We spent the afternoon with the kids happily playing on the boat and the grown ups catching up and hanging out.  We took a walk along the water front, bought some more fudge, cooked dinner and got everyone settled for the night.  This was supposed to be a quick visit.  Potentially just for the afternoon with Kathy driving the rest of the way that evening.  We hoped we could convince her to stay over and drive home the next morning.  This was the first time their dog Paolo had been on our boat and she was a little worried about how he’d do.  He did just fine and Kathy agreed to stay.

Our plan for the next morning was to call Mackinac Island first thing and ask if they had a first come first served day of slip available.  If so we had to go right away so we didn’t lose the slip so we knew it might be a fast goodbye.  Sure enough Ben called about 8:45 AM and they did indeed have a slip for us but they won’t hold the slips.  Whoever pulls in first gets them, so Ben said he was dropping lines as quickly as he could.  He put Kathy on the spot and convinced her rapidly to stay on the boat and come with us.  We said we’d run them back the 4 miles to St. Ignace later in the dinghy or they could take the ferry one way.  A little crazy but off we went!

IMG_5607
Good morning! Happy this isn’t goodbye! Off to Mackinac Island….

The Wilsons were already on the island and the Herbons were coming over later that afternoon.  We quickly introduced Kathy and the girls to the Wilsons, sent the girls to run around at the park and then walked around town a bit.

Molly and Livia were super excited to head out biking.  We have four bikes on board so we convinced them to take Maddy and Claudia with them.  We decided when they got back that Ben, Kathy and I would go and we’d rent a small bike for Sabina.

IMG_5640
Ben and the girls….

Poor Molly and Livia.  All they wanted to do was bike the island!  Those pesky little sisters had other plans.  Always off in their own world, they stopped to collect rocks, stack rocks, play on the rocks….  None of our kids have phones so we sent the girls off with my phone strapped to one of the bikes.  Ben was able to track them by following my phone.   He’d report where they were.  And then he said they turned around.  Then maybe not.  Then standing still.  At this point they should have been over halfway around and appeared not to be moving so we gave them a call.  They explained that Maddy and Claudia were playing on the rocks and then tried to load all their rocks on their bikes, which promptly spilled and someone fell over and on and on and on.  We told them to turn around and come back because we were all starving!  After a fabulous lunch we let Molly and Livia go by themselves and bike the island.  They took my phone again and were responsible with their checking in from time to time.  I’ll say it again….the independence they’ve had this summer is amazing.

Once they returned Kathy, Ben and I headed out to rent a bike for Sabina.  This tiny 6 year old biked the entire 8.2 miles!  She was determined!

Now it was time to return Kathy, the girls and Paolo to the car.  But, we convinced her to stay again.  She had an appointment the next morning so no more delays.  We spent the rest of the evening getting huge ice cream cones and shaved ice and walking around.  We had some sliced veggies and snacks for dinner and called it a night.

Bright and early Thursday morning Ben dropped the dinghy and we loaded everyone in.  The goodbyes are always so hard and this time our fall schedule is so up in the air that we weren’t sure when our next visit would be.  Everyone fit in the dinghy and the girls and I watched as they took off and got smaller and smaller on the horizon.  Ben said the 4 miles back to St. Ignace was pretty easy.  While he was running them across we went and helped the Wilsons untie their lines.  They were heading to Harbor Springs.  So many goodbyes in one day!

When Ben got back to the boat it was time for one more jaunt exploring the island before we had to take off for Charlevoix.  We headed out to bike the island one more time.  I stopped with Maddy to take a picture of the rock tower she and Claudia made when they were supposed to be biking.

IMG_5660

Next we stopped at the walk up to Arch Rock.  We’ve previously just biked past and taken pictures from the ground.  This time I wanted to walk up.  Hmmmm…..that was a LOT of steps to climb when we’d biked over 8 miles the day before.  But what a view.  It was gorgeous.  Arch Rock is a natural limestone arch formed during a post-glacial period.  It’s beautiful to see it from up high.

We also discovered this is the route all of the horse and carriage tours take.  We’d never strayed from the bike path before.  Madelyn was so excited to see so many horses.  She took some time to pet a few of them.

IMG_5656

At the halfway point around the island we decided to turn off the path and go up.  And UP we went!  We went uphill for about 2 miles over the center of the island.  It was a bit grueling.  We passed the airport which Molly kept asking about.  We passed a beautiful cemetery.  We passed a LOT of horse and carriages.  Madelyn was desperate to rent one but we kept telling her no.  It’s just not a passion the rest of us have.  One day we’ll give in.  But, we did find the next best thing.  Once we started to head downhill we ran smack into the Grand Hotel Stables.  What an amazing structure.  This was the Grand Hotel’s main stable and barn and it was spotless.

The building was both the stable and a sort of museum.  The old carriages on display were immaculate and beautiful to look at.  We also got to walk over and see all of the horses who were not out at the time.  Maddy liked Jester the best.  There was a short description of each horse’s lineage on the wall as well.  Additionally we got to walk into the tack room.  This was a special detour for Maddy.

Eventually we had to move along and finish our ride.  We headed down the hill, past the Grand Hotel and back into town and onto the bike path.  We got back to the marina and began the process of loading four bikes onto the boat.  This is primarily done by Ben.  He is a good sport and does this often but I know it’s a lot of work.  Unfortunately my darn back won’t let me help as much as he and I would like.

Alas, we had to start our trek home.  First we said goodbye to Canada.  Now we had to say goodbye to Mackinac Island.  We love it there.  We left around 1 pm to head to Charlevoix.

IMG_5683
The Mighty Mac

Back to reality on the boat.  It was time to clean.  We spent some of the 6 hour ride scrubbing floors and cleaning bathrooms.  The girls did all of it and I supervised.  We pulled into the marina in Charlevoix just before dusk and let the girls take a quick swim before bed.

We had to head to Chicago the next morning via a rental car for my grandfather’s funeral.  We are thankful to boating friends of ours for letting us use their slip in Charlevoix while we traveled home.

 

John Island, ON

After our departure from the beautiful Benjamin Islands we headed back to Gore Bay, where we began our Canadian adventure earlier this summer.  We had plans to meet up with another family there and were excited to see them.  It eased the pain of pulling anchor in the Benjamins!  Erik, Sarah, Isabel, Sam and Will arrived late afternoon and our girls were super excited to see them.  The Wilsons came to Gore Bay with us as well and as soon as Erik and Sarah got settled we took all of the kids to the beach to cool off a bit.  We managed dinner with 14 of us at Buoys and talked about a loose plan for the next day.  Bobby and Wendy had plans to head back into the US to DeTour Village while we decided to spend another day in Canada so we had a little time to visit with Erik, Sarah and the kids.  We were debating maybe anchoring at Beardrop Harbour or possibly going back to the southwest end of the Benjamins.  Eventually we tabled the discussion until morning.

The next morning many of us attended an adorable Anglican church in town.  As Bobby, Wendy, their girls, my girls and I, and Sarah and two of her three all filed in we literally filled half the church!  The priest welcomed us with open arms and at the end of the service said how wonderful it was to have all of the kids there.  He mentioned that all of the kids seem to belong to different churches in the area and that it brought so much life to the church to have them all there.

At some point Sunday night Bobby decided he was ok with delaying their return to the US another day.  This meant they were joining us for one more North Channel anchorage!  We all settled on John Island.  John Island was near Beardrop but a little more open.  We left Gore Bay around 1 pm and headed up that way.  The girls were super excited to have Isabel on board Have Another Day for the ride!  It was an easy cruise and all three boats got anchored in a beautiful setting.  The kids were immediately in the water.  We barely had our anchor down and Ella was already paddling our way.  Ben got the dinghy down and zipped Isabel to her boat to grab a swimming suit.  Pretty soon we had paddle boards and kayaks and lily pads and dinghies all over the place!  Another sign of a great anchorage.  John Island was completely different scenery and beautiful in its own way.  We had docktails on our boat and all hung out for a bit.  Before bed the Wilsons moved over to raft up with us.  We got all the kids in bed and played some rummy the rest of the evening.

Monday was our last hurrah!  We were determined to make the most of it before we had to say goodbye to Canada for this summer and head back to the US.  We had a full morning.  The kids were jumping off the bow and flybridge before they’d even had breakfast.  They are some brave souls and had a lot of fun.

I really wanted to explore a bit by dinghy so I took Wendy, Mia, AnnaMay, Isabel and Molly out for a ride.  We found a little beach and cruised over some really big boulders in the water.

Next up I wanted to beach the dinghy and climb on the rocks a bit.  The terrain was so different from our last anchorage that I just wanted to put my feet on the ground for a few minutes.  Maddy paddled over while Ben took the rest of us in the dinghy.  We picked up Isabel and Sam along the way and all climbed around for a bit.

Finally I took a long paddle board ride by myself.  It was serene and peaceful and I paddled over to this amazing cove that I had seen other boats go in.  I knew our boat couldn’t make it in there but I loved paddling in and seeing the other boats.  What a cool private little place to tuck into.  After that I finally jumped in.  I don’t like cold water so I usually don’t get in.  But this was my last chance in the North Channel so in I went and it felt great.  All the kids were still having a blast with the kayaks and paddle boards and each other.

After a few minutes we had to say a lot of sad goodbyes.  Erik and Sarah were heading onto Killarney and the Wilsons and Steins were heading to DeTour Village.  Then came the arduous process of pulling up the paddle boards, hoisting the dinghy, getting everything secured and then pulling anchor.

Goodbye for now Canada….you’ve been more than we could have hoped for this summer!

IMG_5590

Benjamin Islands, ON

The Benjamin Islands were my favorite place in the North Channel.  I was hoping to spend a few extra days here just based on what others had told me, but alas weather and needing to head back to mainland Michigan before too long foiled that plan.  So, we soaked up every minute of the time we had.  It was magical there!

We left Kagawong first thing Thursday morning before the wind had a chance to kick up and trap us in the harbor.  We pulled into the main anchorage between North and South Benjamin.  We got settled at anchor pretty close to the mouth of the anchorage but tucked in behind the island.  Plenty of room to move around and not worry about having to tie to a tree.  I marveled at the beauty.  All of the North Channel is beautiful and it was exciting to see how the terrain changes. These islands are all rock like the others but much more open smooth rock.  It was a huge playground just waiting for the kids.

We immediately got the paddle boards and dinghy in the water and set off to explore.  The kids took off paddling and looked around a bit.  Then we all went out in the dinghy and cruised a circle around the anchorage.

I read that we had to climb Ski Slope Mountain so from the water I looked around to figure which rock that was.  Turns out it was right where we were anchored.  So we took the dinghy and tied it to a tree and off we went.  It was an easy walk up the side of the mountain.  We finally found blueberry bushes but unfortunately due to the drought the berries were all dried up.  We’ve heard about bear attacks because the bears are hungry in part due to the dried up blueberry crops!  We all tasted one of the dried berries.  They were awful!  Tasted nothing like a dried blueberry!  Poor bears!  We did see bear claw marks in the granite.

I got some shots of the girls on the rocks and some shots of our boat below the rocks.  I of course also got a shot of Benjamin in the Benjamins!

Ben had to do a little work after that so the girls and I paddled over to the Wilson’s boat to play.  The girls took off and headed to the rocks again.  I paddled back and forth between their boat and ours so many times that afternoon that my shoulders were exhausted.  The Herbons pulled in late afternoon and got anchored on the other side of the bay.  When they were settled they came over too and we all just enjoyed hanging out.  We had a lot of “do we stay, do we move” discussions and all of us decided we wanted to stay put and explore by dinghy.  I got back to the boat and Ben said he thought we’d need to move because of wind.  Ugh!  I told him he just missed our planning discussion.  But the wind turned out to be fine the next day and we all happily stayed where we were.

First thing the next morning, before breakfast, the girls were out on the paddle boards.  It was just a picture perfect morning.  The beauty here continues to amaze me every single day.

IMG_5534

Once everyone was up, Ben, Molly and I took the dinghy and went to check out Hotham Island.  We’d been told by quite a few people it was a not to be missed anchorage.  There is a couple who retired there and when you arrive the wife paddles out to your boat to get your names.  Everyone is invited to their deck for drinks and appetizers each evening.  We had a lovely but cool cruise over there but weren’t impressed when we arrived.  It would be a ton of fun to go hang out and socialize with all the other boaters.  But where we were anchored presently was nonstop fun for the kids and it didn’t make sense to move somewhere tree lined and marshy where they weren’t free to explore and do what they wanted.  So we reported back to the group and stayed put.

I took Molly, Maddy, AnnaMay and Ella out to go Zup boarding that afternoon.  I was a little nervous to try to manage it all by myself but we did ok!  They had a blast.  Since I was driving the dinghy and making sure the tow line didn’t get caught in the prop and making sure the kids were safe I didn’t get ANY pictures!  Bobby, Wendy and Mia came out in their dinghy and got a few!  The kids had fun and all wanted a second turn.  I was super thirsty and said I was going to run us back to the boat and see if Ben could come back out with us.  By the time we got back they were all happy to move on to swimming.  Fine by me!

Swimming turned into more climbing on rocks. The kids started building houses, and little worlds of their own on the islands. They named all the various islands as well.  The creativity that blooms when they are all playing together is just incredible.  I went to hang out with Kelly and Wendy and Mia while all the kids played.  Soon enough another couple and their 9 year old son joined in.  Kids see kids playing and they come running.  It’s such an inclusive group.  Everyone just gets along and plays together.

The couple we met was from Canada on their summer vacation.  We had fun swapping stories and sharing experiences.  While we were all chatting we started watching Ben.  He was supposed to be working but took up residence on the bow of our boat watching and chasing off all the people trying to anchor around us.  Canadian Yacht Charters rents boats to people for a week at a time.  We had a lot of experience with the charter boats in the Bahamas as well and we just assume they are clueless.  This catamaran came in and dropped anchor next to us.   Ben told them they couldn’t anchor there because they would swing right into us.   So they went and tried to anchor behind the Wilson’s boat, between them and the rocks.  Nope, that won’t work either.  They came back by us, anchored and ran lines to shore to tie up so they didn’t swing at all.

Eventually Ben came over and joined us on the rocks.  We all decided it was a perfect night for “rocktails”!  We boaters do a lot of “docktails”.  Basically happy hour with snacks and drinks on the dock.  Some Looper friends posted pictures last year of “rocktails” when they were in the Benjamins so we wanted to keep the tradition alive.  We all ran back to our boats, threw some food together and headed to Ski Slope where there was a lot of room for food and to sit.

The next morning I was really dragging emotionally.  I knew our time in Canada was coming to a close for this summer and I knew we had to leave the Benjamins that day.  I could have stayed there for a week without question.  The freedom and activity the kids had there was like no other place we’d been.  They’ve had a great time everywhere but the Benjamins offered place after place for them to climb and play and explore and we could see them anywhere they went.  They’d hop off the boat first thing and be gone til bedtime (coming back for food of course)!  Ben and I feel pretty strongly that our traveling is great for all of us.  At times we worry about the kids not having a normal life at home.  And then I watch days like these and those thoughts disappear.  This was incredible.  And their life is perfect for them right now.

We had to make the most of our morning.  I claimed a paddle board before the girls took off again. They grumbled but I told them to double up.  I wanted a chance to paddle around alone and just enjoy the quiet and serene morning.  Ben met us shortly in the dinghy.  We moved onto another rock pile that we hadn’t explored yet on foot.  The Herbons were already there.  All the kids headed over and then the Canadian family showed up as well.  We were standing on the top of the rocks looking at water on both sides.  What a way to spend a morning.  I’m out of adjectives.  This place will forever hold a special place in my heart.  I can’t wait to get back up there.

IMG_5547

But alas, as with everywhere we go, it was eventually time to leave.  We were meeting friends in Gore Bay later that afternoon and needed to get moving.  Off we went, waving goodbye to these special islands.  Until next time Benjamins!