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Our dream of cruising on a boat Around the Great Circle Loop and beyond has the drawback of leaving our friends and family far away from us for an extended time. This blog is intended to keep you up to date on our travels and adventures, and encourage you to join us for some part of our trip as we make our way around the waterways of the eastern US, Canada, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Click on the archived posts below to follow our journey. Our dog, Ben, has been helping us write this blog since he has more time!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fun and Games at the Looper’s Ball

Hi All…Ben here at the Looper’s Ball,
Ben at the rendezvous
I’m not sure if that’s the official name, but that’s what Jeff calls it.  We’re in Joe Wheeler State Park on the Tennessee River, and a whole bunch of other “Loopers” (people doing the Great Circle Loop) have gathered here in their boats to have a big party for a few days.
group shot rendezvous
It’s great because I get to meet all their dogs, and Jeff and Izzy get to play games, like Kayak racing.
Jeff was sort of ‘volunteered” for that one because they needed one more guy to even the heats.  Even though he’d never kayaked before, he watched a few of the others race around the course and picked up enough techniques that he felt comfortable trying his luck.  So he slid into the kayak like an old pro, and took off up the course.  Here he is taking off from the dock…note the form… trying his hand at at this sport for the first time ever.
Looking good at the turn as he muscled the other guy out of the way at the mark. 
Down the home stretch to the finish line …IT’S ROGERS FIRST!
Well, that was pretty exciting! 
Next came the dinghy race.  Sounded easy,  so Izzy and Jeff  and I signed up for that one.  After all, we have a fast motor on our dinghy and we should be able to beat everyone!  And I really love dinghy rides!  What I didn’t know was that we had to race backwards, and with Jeff driving blindfolded!  Izzy and I could see just fine, and we had to tell him which way to turn.  Jeff told Izzy to tap him on the shoulder on the side we should turn toward, and he would be able to figure it out.
dinghy race 3
Well it wasn’t as easy as we thought.  Of course, Jeff never wants to go slow, so we took off like a bat out of hell.  All went well for about 5 seconds, then we started veering off course.  It was at that point we realized that  Jeff and Izzy had some trouble with the “right” “left” thing, as we corrected and re-corrected our course until we had spun entirely around.  At this point we were heading  backwards right back to the dock, at a rather alarming rate of speed.   I don’t know if it was Izzy’s shouting, my barking or the laughter of the fast approaching crowd that got Jeff to slow down.
dinghy race
Finally we got turned in the right direction and headed out for the mark.  We passed it once, came back around, and then ran over it. That brought more cheers and hoots from the crowd.  By this time, Izzy was laughing hysterically, I was barking, and Jeff was getting madder and madder by the second.  Pretty soon I took a position  lying down in the bottom of the dinghy to hide… which was made even harder by the bright yellow life vest that Izzy makes me wear. 
dinghy race 2
This was turning out to be the dinghy ride from hell!
dinghy race far shot
Somehow they managed to finally cross the finish line…if you extended it way over there by those boats on that picture up there.   I think everyone quit keeping track of our time after the third turn around the buoy.  Jeff was mad.   I heard someone say we came in DFL.  I think that’s a sailing term that means  Dinghy Full of Losers. 
Here’s Jeff after the race telling friends Theresa, Bob, Karan and Greg that it was my fault. 

Blue Arrow came a little late after having some repair work done.  Nicoline brought the “ Captive Carp”  T-shirts that she made for Jeff and Izzy, with the picture of the carp that jumped into our boat in Illinois. 
They all wore them to the awards banquet.
Jeff got an award that night for being first in the Kayak race
Izzy R 2 - 09
And another for DFL in the Dinghy race…

They had fun with  Jan and Nicoline from “Blue Arrow”

Greg and Karan from “CC Manhattan”
Izzy R 2 - 02

Dan and Biddi from “Biddi and the Beast”

Bob and Theresa from “Theresa”

and Rudy and Dee from “True Love II”

and Terri and Frank from “Frankly Terrific”

While everyone partied, I was on the “Izzy R” keeping things safe while the sun went down over the Tennessee River. 
Fall is coming, so we’d better be on our way. 
Next week Mike and Debbie come to visit us, so Izzy said I  had to  get a bath.
She thinks I smell better now.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Big Muddy

Hi All...Ben here on the Big Muddy,
When I left you last, I was near Grafton, Illinois at the junction of the Illinois River and the Mississippi River. We pulled in to Grafton on a Sunday afternoon, Sept 27, and found the town full of music and parties everywhere.   We quickly tied up the boat to the slip and went into the Marina - the owners are real nice and gave us maps of the area so we could find the fun spots.
The Hawg Pit BBQ is one of the party places on the weekends - catering to the Harley crowd with beer and ribs and a loud country music band playing on the front porch. Jeff wanted to make that our first stop, so we checked it out.  There were tons of Harleys parked in the lot, and many more riding through town , but I wasn't allowed to pee on any of their tires.                                          

From there we walked through town to the Farmers Market on the river front. Kind of like the Orange county Swap meet only smaller and indoors.

As we were browsing among the stalls in there we heard the music starting up outside, and followed our ears to the Loading Dock Bar and Restaurant next door.

We had a beer and listened to the music and watched the dancing

and the hula hoop girl

Note the sign over the bar that shows the water height during the flood of 1993.

That's probably the reason for the houses built on stilts around here.

We saw our friends Jody and Norm from "The Right Combo" at the Grafton Marina, so Izzy and Jeff got together with them for dinner along with Jan and Nicoline.  They went to some place called the "Mississippi Half Step" in an old house on the main street.

Jeff and Izzy liked this town.  Jeff found a place that made pies to order, so we got a yummie apple pie and some apple cider the next day, and I got a ride to Walmart in the marina courtsey car. Unfortunately, I had to stay in the car.  I prefer Lowes or Home Depot where I can go in and shop too. 
This is the lighthouse on the river near the Loading Dock in Grafton.  Cute, eh?

Well, Jeff and Izzy put the top back up on our boat since we don't have to go under any more low bridges. It took a few hours, but now we can ride up there on the fly bridge sheltered from the wind and rain.

Jan and Nicoline said we look like the "Popemobile". I guess they're right...what do you think?

The next morning as we attempted to leave the Grafton Marina we got stuck in the mud and had a really hard time getting out. The marina guy came to try to help in his pontoon boat.

Jeff worked the engines back and forth, and I barked and paced the deck back and forth, and finally we were free. 

 We didn't know that the rivers can change depth too, but they can - depending on whether or not the dams let out more water.  Sometimes there can be a 5 foot difference in the water depth.  We'll be more careful - especially if we decide to anchor out in some remote cove.  I don't want to be sitting high and dry in the morning with the mosquitoes and carp, waiting for another dam opening...
Speaking of dam openings, I met a real nice black lab on the lock right down the river from Grafton.  She kept trying to jump onto our boat to see me, but the lockmaster wouldn't let her. 

I wonder if she does that with every dog she sees go by in a boat.

After we got past the lock, the sides of the river became steep rock walls called pallisades.  In the winter the bald eagles come to nest on these rocky cliffs and fish in the river.  I hope they like carp. 

Now we’re on something called the BIG MUDDY. Frankly I’m surprised that Izzy agreed to travel on something called that. She has told me time and again that I’m not allowed in the mud. If it gets on the new carpet there’ll be hell to pay, I know that. I can feel another “Let’s blame Ben” coming on. I’ll have to be particularly careful to stay out of the way if that happens. 
The other name for this river is the Mississippi River. We'll be traveling for about 200 miles downstream on it.  Jeff said that this kind of place along the way ought to make it more fun to ride in the mud all day.

 The next town down river was Alton, Illinois, where the welcome signs were painted on the tall storage silos next to the water.

The Argosy is a big colorful Casino on the river.  It was busy the whole time we were in Alton, with buses  and cars bringing people from all over the state to try their hand at gambling.  Guess some people still have  money to spare for that.

The only gambling Jeff and Izzy did was ordering the 99 cent burgers and 25 cent shrimp at Fast Eddies' Bon Aire Restaurant.

They had fun and came home smelling like fried onion rings and beer.

In the daytime, Izzy took me to the river front park where there was a fountain

and where Jeff got directions from one of the locals.  I don't know who this is, but I guess he knows his way around Alton.

I made a friend in Alton, too.  She liked me...

The marina there is right under a big bridge. 
At night it's all lit up like this.

The river was still busy with barges and tows stirring the water up even more.
There are all the tow boats lined up on the side of he river near St. Louis waiting for their barges to be loaded.

More tow boats and a real River Boat - just like in Huck Finn.

Before long, we could see the tall St. Louis arch in the distance.  The winding river has taken us into Missouri.

There was another floating Casino parked on the side of the river just steps from downtown,

and the big arch practically in the water.  Can you believe this town doesn't have a marina or any dock so we could stop and see the sights?  All boaters have to go past this city to get south to the Gulf, and we all like to stop and spend money on the local food and souvenirs.  These St. Louis people don't know what an opportunity they're missing by not having a river-front stopping place for boats. 

We managed to get into St. Louis anyway by renting a car from another town and driving there.  We went with Jan and Nicoline and spotted the arch through these downtown buildings.

We walked along a park and came to the base where Izzy and I took this picture.

Inside we got into a tiny compartment and rode up the side of the arch to the top

and looked out the windows at the city and the river below.  Not the best side of Izzy and Jeff in this picture.

I got them to turn around for this one.

This is what they were looking at out of those high windows.

We left St.Louis and continued on down the Mississippi River.

leaving the arch behind

Because we were traveling downstream, the current helped us to go fast...well, fast for us! Eleven knots!
The river was a little rough and we were getting splashes over the front of our boats from the waves and wind. Jan had to keep his windshield wipers on.

Soon we arrived at a group of old barges tied together on the side of the river.  This is a well known place called Hoppie's Marina.  It's run by Hoppie and his wife Fern who have been giving advice to the Loopers for many years as they travel down the river. 

A whole bunch of boats arrived along with us that afternoon, filling the docks, with people all helping each other to tie up

and then sat down to hear Fern tell us aobout the river from here down to Mobile, Alabama.

Fern didn't pay much attention to the sign about "no smoking" at the fuel dock.

This is the official Marina Office of Hoppie's - my kind of place.

and here are some of the boats tied up to the barges

That night we walked into the pretty old  town of Kimmswick, Missouri to hear a country band play music outside of  the Doughnut Depot where we had dinner.  All the towns people brought out their lawn chairs and tapped their toes to the music.

In the morning this guy in a canoe took off for the trip down the river.  Someone said he's a CNN reporter.  Thought they'd have a bigger budget.  I'm glad I'm not his dog.  I don't do tents well.

There weren't any marinas for a long way after Hoppies, so the next night we tied up at the Kaskaskia Lock and Dam along with most of the same boats that were at Hoppies.  It was warm in the afternoon, so we sat on the flybridge and read books and listened to music before cocktail time when everyone gathered on the lock wall and had snacks and drinks.

We passed this dredge on the river the next day on our way to our anchorage in the

Here we are anchored in the Diversion Cut along with some of the same people from the past two nights.

We rafted stern to stern with "Blue Arrow" and had  a good dinner before turning in early to get ready for another big day on the river the next day.

We saw more of those big white pelicans with the black wing tips the next day.  Guess they're stragglers heading south for the winter.  I hope they have a nice thick winter coat like mine if they plan on staying around here much longer. 

The next night I heard Jeff and Izzy talking about having to anchor in the river because it was getting dark.  We stopped just before Lock and Dam #52 and pulled behind a "wing dam" in the river out of the channel where the barges wouldn't be traveling at night.  Here is Blue Arrow in the sunset after we dropped our anchors. 

In the night we watched safely from our anchorage as the tug boats shone their big spot lights  all over the shore line as they pushed their barges up and down the river.  I think Jeff slept with one eye open to be sure our anchor was holding in the river current, and that we weren't being run over by an errant tug. 

In the morning we went through the lock

Here's Nicoline tending the lines on their boat.

and here I am tending the lines on our boat.

Ready for a new day of adventure on the rivers....
I hope another carp jumps in the boat. I liked the excitement!