Monday, October 29, 2018


A cruising buddy on Au Contraire sent us a text wondering if we were all right.  They hadn’t seen a blog in a while.  We’re fine.  Life got in the way. 
A quiet anchorage in the North Channel.  In Robison's Bay we saw a moonless night, no light pollution and stars from horizon to horizon.  Some were reflected in the still water making for a most memorable experience.

We were in Canada’s picturesque North Channel, as far from home as the Great Loop trip would take us when we learned that Jerry’s Mom had broken her wrist.  There were no airports or even rental car agencies, and we were out of the country!  

Flying both the Canadian and American flags, we pass back into the USA.

Other family members rallied to her aide while we raced at trawler speed (twice the speed of walking – that’s all we got), putting in 10-hour days, clearing customs and arriving at Petoskey, Michigan.  We stashed Tanuki and rented cars and booked planes for the trek from upper Michigan to central Florida.  

Returning 10 days later, we were reunited with pals on SoulShine and began a game of dodge-the-weather on Lake Michigan.  The locals call her “Lake Witch-again”.  (That’s the PG version). The four of us studied weather apps and decided which port we wanted to be forced to relax in next. 

A gift left by a resident in one of the Michigan ports we stopped in.  We cooked it all up and had a feast with SoulShine and Adagio.  Being forced to relax wasn't all bad.

There’s a rule of thumb that says Loopers should be through Chicago by Labor Day.  Between the unplanned side trip to Florida and the uncooperative weather on Lake Michigan, we worried that we wouldn’t get to the Windy City before the Lake got really testy.  That would have forced us to winterize Tanuki and leave her in Michigan.  

Weather windows opened and soon after Labor Day, we arrived to the gleaming city of Chicago at the bottom of Lake Michigan.  The city itself is beautiful.  The new river walkway and pedestrian friendly atmosphere and parks were delightful.  

The Architectural Tour was a great way to see the city.

The most unique wading pool we'd ever seen.  

Our view from the DuSable marina

Chicago Deep Dish Pizza was disappointing.  Three Looper couples went out to one of the very best Chicago style pizza joints (according to the locals). At the end of the evening there was some pizza left. No one wanted to take it home! And Loopers love leftovers!

We were constantly running into Loopers, some of whom had already cruised the next leg of our trip: the rivers. 

“How did you like the rivers?” I’d ask hopefully.

The most common reply included a wrinkled nose and the quiet admission, “It wasn’t my favorite.” 

Once we got into the rivers, I could see why. 

Remember the movie, The Wizard of Oz?  In it Dorothy and Toto are hurled into a beautiful, colorful world where everyone is nice (except the Wicked Witch and her creepy flying monkeys).  The vivid colors, generosity and friendliness expressed during the Lollipop Guild scene mirrored our experience on the Great Loop.  

Near the end of the movie, Dorothy mutters, “there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…” When she wakes, the bright colors and whimsy are gone.  The film ends, as it began, in stark black and white.  The section of the Great Loop between Chicago and Paducah, KY is various shades of grey. 

Compared to the scenic rivers and canals we’d been in, these rivers and canals were industrial and barely inhabited. The veins and arteries that run through America’s heartland are clogged with barges and tows and lined with loading and unloading facilities, cement plants, the occasional strip mined mountain, and coal-powered factories and power plants.  

A "small" tow - just 6 barges

In Canada’s river and canal system, we met many cheerful workers as we traversed their well-kept locks. We conversed with them, passed them gifts of cookies, and always exchanged smiles.  They seemed genuinely happy to see us. 

In the post-Chicago locks we almost never saw any workers. Here military craft have first priority, followed by commercial passenger vessels, commercial tows, commercial fishing vessels, and finally pleasure craft (PCs), or as the lockmasters think of us, “gnats”.  

Our boats are small, travel in packs and “buzz” their radio channels and phone lines trying to find out the best time for passage.  The lockmasters find PCs truly annoying.  It was so different from the love-fest that was Canada’s Trent Severn Waterway and New York’s Canal System.  

In Canada, the locks are run by the Parks Department.  Many of the locks were proudly decorated with flower and vegetable gardens, hoping to win the annual “best garden” award.  The lock walls were welcoming places where, for a small fee, boaters could tie up and spend the night and walk into town.

The Army Corps of Engineers run the lock system in America’s heartland.  Tying up at night is discouraged, and if you do tie up, it’s almost impossible to get off your boat.  If you could get off your boat, you wouldn’t find a cute downtown. 

Canada and New York’s lakes, canals and rivers were lined with parks, campgrounds, summer cabins and recreational areas.  People swim, boat and enjoy these waterways.  

America’s heartland waterways occasionally had parks and summer places, but most were used to load and unload barges.  Amazingly, the Gateway to the West, St. Louis, MO didn’t have a single marina! 

The Arch, and that's Tanuki going under it!  (Thanks to the park webcam across the river from the Arch)

Of course we went in it!  Amazing views.

Gone were the bright flower gardens and cheerful squeals of children splashing in clear-as-gin water.  The heartland’s rivers and canals encroached like a gloomy day.  The muddy waters carried limbs and sometimes, whole trees.  We played dodge-a-log and dodge-a-barge for many drab, grey miles.

The Illinois and Mississippi rivers were filled with dull-colored barges laced together with rope the diameter of your forearm.  Tows with names like Bill Hill and Miss Mary moved and rearranged full and empty barges.  Just out of Chicago, in the Cal-Sag, tows were pushing, two, four and six barges.  

We had traveled through the Cal-Sag and most of the Illinois River arriving at Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, IL where the dockmaster, Jeremy, told us the 6-pack tows we’d been seeing were “snack-sized”.  When we got to the Mississippi the tows would be pushing 7x7 configurations – that’s 49 barges!  And we, little gnats that we are, would have to avoid being crushed by them!

The Mighty Mississippi promised gigantic obstacles, very few safe harbors, and happily the fastest 200 miles of the whole Loop.  The current at our stern greatly increased our speed. We were able to make 110 miles in about 10 hours!  When we were “racing” through the North Channel, those same 10-hour days yielded only about 65 miles.   

We heeded Jeremy’s advice and left marinas in swarms of 4 to 12 PCs.  A single person was designated to contact the lockmaster and relay the information to the others in the swarm.  When the lonely, cantankerous lockmaster allowed us into his domain, we bowed deeply in humble appreciation for being granted passage.

There were horror stories of Loopers waiting 7 and 9 hours for passage through a single lock, causing them to navigate the Mississippi and her never-ceasing barge traffic and floating trees in pitch darkness.  

Loopers make the most fun of anything.  Here we are at the Blue Owl with others stopped for the night at Hoppies.  We tied up to barges that they have secured to the river bank.

The Blue Owl is famous for their "Levee-high" apple pie.  Yum!

Almost every time we arrived at a lock, it was open and the green light was on. Tanuki waited a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes for locks from Chicago to the Tennessee River. And the 2-hour wait was at anchor, rafted up with Oar Knot.  We haven’t met any cruisers who’ve come close to our record.

We also caught a huge break on the Mississippi River.  A lock on the north end of the river was knocked out of commission for several days when a run-away barge damaged it.  Because this link in the lock chain was broken, most of the monster barges were anchored just outside the channel waiting for the lock to be restored.  Our trip down the Mississippi included a vigorous game of dodge-a-log, but not many rounds of dodge-a-barge.

Then came a new game: Dodge-a-towline. Remember, towlines are as thick as your forearm. If one hit our propeller blades, it would cause some crazy expensive repairs.

After leaving Kaskaskia, we saw about three of these floating monstrosities; one of them directly in front of us.  Jerry stopped the props and we went to the rear of the boat hoping to see it float harmlessly away. We waited long minutes and still no towline!  

He returned to the helm and cautiously started the port engine.  It was fine.  He put it back into idle and tested the starboard engine.  No problem.  We looked at each other, shrugged, and put both engines into gear. 

Ninety miles later (this was our 110 mile day), I was deploying the anchor at Boston Bar, joining Miss Utah.  “Jerry, get the boat hook,” I shouted.  The towline had floated free of the eyehook on the bow of the boat.  It had safely ridden those 90 miles with us!

See the smaller yellow and blue strands near the bottom of the picture?  If those got caught in our props, we'd be dead in the water.  No diver would save us.  The work would have been catastrophic.  

We hauled the towline onto the boat and took trophy pictures of it in Paducah. Not only had we survived the Mississippi, we had a souvenir and a pretty good story.  We didn’t want the other story.  That went to a boat that we saw at Green Turtle Bay & Resort. They caught a towline in their props, a hefty repair bill, and had to move off their boat during the repairs.

When we left the Mississippi, we traveled up the Ohio River.  The current that helped us speed down the Mississippi and Illinois rivers was now pressing on our bow, holding us back as we inched up the Ohio river to Paducah, KY.  

A place where the Ohio and Cumberland river waters join.  Note the muddiness of the Ohio.

We rafted up to Miss Utah on the overbooked Paducah Municipal Marina and walked into town for The National Quilt Museum, moonshine tastings, public artwork, museums and restaurants.  The next night the marina was still overbooked, but we had a place on the wall and Oar Knot rafted up to us. 

A modern quilt

A modern quilt - the colors and stitching, texture and talent were hard to convey in photos

The backside of the 1936 quilt below - these are feed sacks!

The front of the 1936 quilt 
A display in the moonshine distillery we visited - and tasted, but only bought a tee-shirt.

The scenery improved as we slowly traveled up the Cumberland River to Lake Barkley, then through a canal to cross the Land Between the Lakes to Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River. Finally!  Cruising the way it should be!
There was a great gathering of Loopers at the Clifton Marina where we got to present our "Trawler Trash" comedy routine to our first audience.
The waitress took this picture from inside the dinghy on Tanuki's fly bridge.

There were more lake houses and people playing in the waterways, sharing them with a fewer factories, power plants and only snack-sized tows. The Lollipop Guild colors started to come back.

The lockmasters still had to be handled with kid gloves, but even they got more accommodating.  

The color was spreading to the scenery too.  Summer’s chlorophyll started her tantalizing striptease to reveal Fall’s reds and golds.  It was just a hint.  Colors so shy they don’t show well in photos.  But the color was there.  A sea of muted pastels undulating over the gumdrop mountains of the Tennessee river.  The scenery rivaled the North Channel.

We locked up and slowly cruised up river into the mountains.  We took in Rock City, Ruby Falls and Chattanooga’s aquarium wearing blue jeans and hoodies. 

Ruby Falls, an underground fall.  The cave walk was fun too.

Most recently, we’ve been coming down the Tennessee, regaining the speed we lost when we went up to Chattanooga.  We’re on our way to the final leg of the river portion of the Great Loop. 

The Tenn-Tom and Tombigbee Canal promise lots of anchoring opportunities, a few quaint towns and finally Mobile, AL and back to the Gulf of Mexico.  

When we get back to the sunny Gulf of Mexico, Tanuki will bathe in the Caribbean colored salt water of the Redneck Rivera.  She will frolic free of the creepy clutches of the wicked lockmasters, bouncing jubilantly in the boundless briny bay called the Gulf of Mexico. We’ll be in waters we know well, stopping where we have friends and family.  We’ll be home!  

And you know, there’s no place like home.
Our rainbow picture, taken some time in the past 3 months - but it's fitting!

PS: to get a better feel for how big a barge is, click here.

PPS: Another cruiser friend on Rubia sent us this picture with the subject line “Tanuki photo bomb”.  We were in Lewes, DE when the vlogger caught Tanuki in the background.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Dual citizenship?

We spent half of July in Canada's Trent Severn Waterway and half of it in a car in America. That's probably not dual citizenship, but sure was fun.

The Harbor Hosts at Trentport Marina took this picture of Tanuki as we entered the canal system that brought us to Midland, ON where we rented a car to go to Cousins Camp 2.0 (a family reunion) in North Carolina.
We met so many great people and locked up and down through gorgeous scenery.  We experienced three different kinds of locks - the ordinary one where the gate closes and they raise or lower water in the chamber to get you to the next level, then open the gate on the other side.  Two lift locks - where you glide into a bathtub that raises or lowers you to the water level you want.  And the Big Chute Railway which takes you & your boat out of the water, drives over some tracks and deposits you and your boat on the other side.  

The best feature of all the locks were the young Canadians working at each lock.  They hire high school and college students to work during the summer and every one we met was outgoing, friendly and helpful.  

Docktails at Petersbourgh Marina with lots of other Loopers

In the Petersbourgh Lift Lock
After completing the Trent Severn, we docked Tanuki at a marina in Midland, ON, rented a car and headed out for the long-anticipated Cousins Camp 2.0.  We used to host Cousins Camp at our house in St. Augustine.  When the grandkids heard we were moving onto a boat, they cried, "but what about Cousin's Camp?"

We found a Lodge in a national forest in North Carolina and rented it for 4 days and nights.  All 9 grandchildren came and brought their 6 parents, and we joined them there.  Little did any of us know that there was no Internet or cell service there.  It was splendid!  

We took our time getting down and stopped at lots of places going in both directions.
The Distillery District of Toronto, ON where we saw "The Secret Chord, a tribute to Lenord Cohen" - incredible!

Had to stop on the Canadian side of Niagra Falls for a selfie.

Going through Cleveland?
Might as well stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and see the Sirius Classic Rock channel DJ.

The entire crew!  The weather was cool and comfortable.  The fishing was fine.  Canoeing was great.  Cradle of Forestry field trip was fun.  Food was awesome.  Everyone had a great time.
On our way back we visited with Ben, who interned on our farm, his wife Hannah and their almost 2-year old child Rosie (who we hadn't met before).  

We also got to re-connect with Brenda & Paul, some friends we made when we rented a cottage on Green Turtle Cay in The Bahamas, a few years back.  

It's good to be back home on Tanuki!

Remember:  Yesterday is history.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  Today is the day!
The Wandering Williams.  

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

And they've left the country

Sunset at Atlantic City anchorage
The best thing about New Jersey, was getting through it.  We left Lewes, DE and headed across the Delaware Bay taking care to avoid weekends in the NJ Intracoastal Waterway.  Even with this precaution, there were way too many sports fishermen anchored in the channel!  (One is way too many).  Happily we draw only 2'10", but to leave the NJICW is to court grounding.  Another NJ surprise was how incredibly narrow and harrowing some of the passages were.  The final one, at the poorly named Point Pleasant (not too pleasant) had to be traversed at the right tide to avoid running into the narrow bridge passage.  We made it!  And out into the Atlantic ocean for a quick 26-mile crossing into New York Harbor.

The new Freedom Tower, which replaced the World Trade Center, looms large over the south end of Manhattan
We chose Great Kills Yacht Club to take in the city that never sleeps.  It's on Staten Island and lots of other Loopers were there.  John, the American Great Loop Cruiser's Association Harbor Host greeted us.  He's this year's Harbor Host of the Year - and a grand stay it was!  The members of the Club are down-to-earth, real people who don't own dress whites or navy blazers and don't have the typical yacht club trappings.  What they do have is a great location!  

It was a five minute walk to the Express or Local bus stop.  For $6.50 the Express would take you all the way to Manhattan - anywhere in Manhattan.  For $2.75, the Local would take you to the free Staten Island Ferry that would take you past the Statue of Liberty on the way over to Manhattan and drop you near the World Trade Center Memorial. 

The Staten Island Ferry, a free 25 minute ride between Manhattan and Staten Island, NY
We went to Manhattan three days, and each day saw another amazing play (Hello Dolly with Bernadette Peters, Beautiful - the Carol King story, and The Play That Went Wrong).  We visited Times Square to get our half-priced, same day show tickets and got to skip the long line after our first day.  We simply came back with our ticket stub from the previous day's show and got to cut in front of everyone else.  

We ate amazing food, got a Metro Card and used the subway, buses, ferries and walked everywhere!  
Times Square.

Junior's.  You have to go and get the cheesecake.  Here's carrot cheesecake and strawberry cheesecake. YUM!
Eventually we got our fill of the Big Apple and headed past Lady Liberty up the Hudson River.
One of the best pictures we took of the Statue of Liberty - and trust me, we took too many!
The hustle and bustle of New York City took a while to fade, as we had a completely different view of the city from the waterway.  Here are some of the more interesting and iconic buildings we saw.
VIA 57 West

This building looked like it was built with giant Legos

The Empire State Building is on the right.
On the Hudson, we stopped at Half Moon Bay Marina and rented a car to go to West Point Army Academy and the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).  
West Point from the Hudson River.  Great tour and museum.

The chapel at West Point

From West Point and back to the Hudson.
After a dreamy cruise up the Hudson, we came to our first lock, a Federal Lock in Troy NY.  A quick turn to port (left) and we were into New York's Canal system - the Erie Canal for starters.  We locked up into mountains and stopped at small towns along the way.  Most nights we could tie up for free on a lock wall.  Some nights we chose to tie up on a municipally-run wall so we could get power.  It was super affordable and buying groceries, doing the laundry, and exploring new areas was extremely easy to do.  
Tanuki simply can't climb dams, like this one.

So they created locks.  The locks have gates that lock the higher water back, so Tanuki can cruise into the downside of the lock where the water is at the same height as the river she just came up.

In NY, mechanical gears open the forward lock gate AFTER the rear gate of the lower lock is closed and the lower chamber is filled with water that matches the height of the water above the lock.

When the lock gates are closed, you can walk to the other side of the canal on top of the gate.

On the topside of the lock, the water can be extremely still before it falls over the dam (to the right).  This is the kind of scenery we were treated to in the Erie and then the Oswego Canal systems.
When we got to Oswego, NY on the edge of Lake Ontario, my brother Doug and his wife Beth brought my niece and nephew to visit.  It was great to see them.
Jaden, Captain Jerry, me, Jamison (they're growing up beautifully!)
Before we leave NY, let me show you some of the unique and beautiful lighthouses we saw along the Hudson and on the edge of Lake Ontario.

We found the most perfect day to cross Lake Ontario straight into Kingston, ON.  The water got clearer and cooler all the way across our first Great Lake.
For the first time since we've owned her, Tanuki's getting fresh water through her systems since we got into the NY Canal system.  As Carolyn Ann, this boat completed the Great Loop three times.  We have some great tracks to follow, left by Joe and Punk, her previous owners.

A channel marker in Canada.  Here's its really important to stay in the channel, because there can be rocks just below the surface.  Crossing Lake Ontario, we saw depths of more than 550 feet.  We don't know how much more because our depth finders couldn't read any deeper!
In Kingston we enjoyed a three-hour cruise on the Island Queen (not the Minnow) to see the Thousand Islands.  We took trolley tours, walking tours, ate in great restaurants and started meeting Canadians.  What a welcoming, inclusive, well-spoken, engaging people!  Here we had real pea-meal bacon.  It's way tastier and better than the stuff labeled Canadian bacon in America.  
There's some in our freezer now, thanks to a Meat Shop in Trenton, ON
Finally, the end of the month was coming and the AGLCA briefing on the Trent Severn Waterway.  We moved to Trenton, ON and the most beautiful marina we've ever been to, Trent-Port.  Amazing facilities!  Free laundry!  Great ice cream!  A meeting space!  A town with 4 easy to walk to grocery stores!  A few good restaurants (not like Kingston).  We were here to celebrate Canada Day on July 1st, before we headed up the Trent-Severn Waterway system. 
Great fireworks enjoyed from Tanuki's fly bridge.
The Trent-Port Harbor Host took this picture of Tanuki entering the waterway and emailed it to us!  AGLCA's Harbor Hosts are amazing.  As members of the AGLCA we have access to all the Harbor Hosts along the Great Loop route and we can call on them for help and advice as needed.  It's nice to know we have friends in every port.
That was the month of June.  Happy Fourth of July to everyone in the States!

Until next month, may you have fair winds and following seas all your days!

Sam & Jerry Williams aboard Tanuki

Remember: Find us on

Friend Sandra Pomroy Williams on Facebook if you want a more detailed travel log.