Sweet Home Chicago

I’ve put off writing my final blog post for over a month.  I was far too emotional when we got home to be able to put it all into words.  And then I just wanted to hang onto some little part of our trip for as long as I could.

We left St. Joseph, MI to complete the final leg of our Great Loop and cross our wake on a beautiful sunny October Monday morning.  After so many days of wind and crazy water the lake was gorgeous.  It also happened to be my birthday, October 9th.  I had been in tears on and off for days.  Ben shows emotion differently but was also quite sad about finishing our loop.  So many people ask if we are excited to be home, excited to see Chicago, excited to get back to our house.  Not really.  And that isn’t a knock on Chicago.  We love the city, but we loved this trip so much.  It’s been an amazing 13 1/2 months for our family and it was really hard to see it come to an end.  Many of our boating friends felt the same when they arrived home.  We knew it would be a big transition.  But back to that Monday morning….  We pulled out of St. Joseph, MI and passed one of Lake Michigan’s beautiful lighthouses.  Our white AGLCA flag flying for the last time!

Our trip across the lake was a lovely 5 hours.  The girls and I did school work just like any Monday morning.  And eventually Ben spotted the skyline.  It’s always fun to pull into Chicago.  The skyline is like no other and on a sunny calm day the water sparkles and the city is beautiful.

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Molly and I managed to take a deep breath and stop crying as we approached Burnham Harbor.  Ben made the turn into our harbor and we moved slowly down the fairway towards E dock.

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As we approached we could see my mom and Uncle Bill standing at the end of our dock waving.  The girls were sitting out front excited and waving back.

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We pulled into a slip next to our friends Chris and Ozzie and were greeted with Welcome Home and Happy Birthday balloons flying all around from our friend Ron.  We got tied up and were greeted by Chris, Ron, my mom, Jim and my Uncle Bill.  It was so special to us that they were all there to welcome us home.  It was sunny and warm and we hung on the dock visiting and chatting about our trip.

Before too long my friend Debbie and her kids Laurel and Nate arrived.  Debbie showed up with a birthday cake!  She’s too thoughtful….birthday was definitely second in importance to completing our loop, but it was fun to have candles and a cake and be sung to!  I appreciated it lots.  The kids had so much fun seeing their friends and having playmates for a couple of hours.  Thanks Debbie!

Before my uncle, mom and Jim had to leave, we had to get our gold flag out!  The girls were super excited to hold it up proudly.

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After we said our goodbyes to them, the next round of friends arrived.  Our very first Loop friends Tim and Carol drove in from the Nashville area for our crossing our wake.  We met Tim and Carol on Day 2 of our trip in Joliet, IL.  Turns out they had been staying in Burnham Harbor the day we left.  We left on Monday morning and got to Joliet that afternoon.  Tuesday the water levels and debris in the river were bad enough that boaters had been asked to stay put before heading south of Joliet so we hung out for the day.  Tim and Carol arrived that afternoon, docked right behind us and introduced themselves immediately.  They were so warm and genuine and friendly and we loved them right away.  They held our hands and showed us the ropes as we traveled together for the next two weeks all the way to Green Turtle Bay in Grand Rivers, KY, where they crossed their wake.  We then traveled home with them to Nashville and then onto their house in Hendersonville, TN for a big welcome home party.  We made so many life long friends on this trip.  Tim and Carol hold a special place in our hearts since they were our first friends!  It was incredibly special of them to drive in to be there with us to celebrate.

An hour or so later our next round of friends arrived!  We are so lucky.  Gabi and John drove all the way from NJ straight through that day to be there with us in Chicago.  We are so blessed to have met such amazing people on this trip.  We met Gabi and John at Green Turtle Bay.  They knew Tim and Carol already and caught up to our group a few days after we arrived.  They also came to Nashville and Hendersonville and then after we all said goodbye to Tim and Carol we traveled back to Green Turtle Bay with them.  Another set of fast friends!  We were both delayed with repairs at Green Turtle so we spent quite a bit of time hanging out together.  Gabi and John were on board with us when we had our prop strike in a swimming bay right there.  John offered up their rental car and to drive with Ben all the way down to Mobile, AL to pick up our spare props and drop off the damaged ones.  They spent an awesome 18 hours or so in the car that day.  True friends!  Gabi and John live in NJ, north of Atlantic City, but keep their boat in Madeira Beach in FL.  So, we’ve had quite a few chances to catch up with them.  We saw them a number of times when we were in FL and they invited us to come on their boat for one of the light parades last December.  All of the friends we have met welcome our girls with open arms and treat them like their own.  Gabi and John were no exception.  The light parade was so much fun.  Gabi took the girls for walks on the beach and to collect shells.  And when we got to NJ this summer they brought us to their house, Gabi took the girls body surfing and they cooked us an amazing meal.  It was equally special to have them come celebrate with us.

As daylight was waning we hopped out on the bow of the boat to hang our gold flag.  We had planned to do it in the sunshine the next day but with a quick check of the forecast we saw it was going to rain the entire next day so we wanted to make sure to hang our flag when our friends were there with us.  I’m sad to say that I didn’t get any pictures with them.  They took pictures of us and I never turned the camera around.

We spent all of Tuesday visiting and catching up with our friends.   We weren’t ready to face being home yet.  But alas Wednesday came and we had to start tackling all of the things that needed attending at home.  Wednesday and Thursday were spent dealing with cars, and starting to pack up the boat.  Friday the good weather returned and we decided to take the day and soak it up.  We got the bikes out and rode the lakefront path and let the kids play at one of the parks and just enjoyed the sunshine.  Between moving off the boat, moving back into our house, trying to figure out if we are buying a different boat or keeping this one and putting it into winter storage, managing school, and preparing for a three week road trip we had ahead of us right around the corner our minds were somewhat scrambled and we were exhausted.  It felt good to enjoy the sunshine and relax for a couple of hours.  While sitting on a park bench while the girls played we decided to run the boat down to Dolton, IL that night.  It was already around 4 pm but it’s a run through the Calumet River that Ben knows well and didn’t mind doing in the dark.  We keep the boat in Dolton, IL for the winter and whether we were going to store or sell it, it was going there.  It was our maiden (and so far only) voyage with our gold flag flying.  It was a beautiful evening on the lake and rivers and an easy trip.  Even though we started and finished our loop in Chicago, this felt like the final leg of our trip.  This is where we could no longer put off moving home and cleaning out the fridges and freezer and cabinets and drawers and every nook and cranny we have filled this past year+.

Here began a very long week of unpacking and moving.  And then sorting and cleaning at home.  And then repacking.  We didn’t quite have to face reality yet.  We jumped in the car less than two weeks after we arrived home and drove to FL.  We were headed down to celebrate my grandfather’s 100th birthday!  We had a great week with my entire family.  We decided to extend our trip and go to the Ft. Lauderdale boat show, look at a few other boats and see Ben’s aunt, uncle and cousin on the way home.  We were lucky enough to visit and stay with Tim and Carol both on our drive down and our drive home.  And we got to see Gabi and John for a couple of days in FL.  Between family and friends, everyone knows how important the water is to us.  Tim and Carol took us out on their boat on Old Hickory Lake.  Our friends Mike and Leann let us use their boat in St. Pete Beach when we visited Gabi and John.  And Ben’s aunt and uncle took us on their boat when we stopped to see them.  The water and sunshine and sand and DOLPHINS were good for the soul.

Now we are home and working on what our next adventure will be.  It’s hard to believe we’ve been back from the loop for a month.  Ben, Molly and I miss the water terribly.  Madelyn doesn’t like to admit it but she misses it too.  We miss the beauty.  We miss the simplicity of life.  We miss the good weather.  We miss the opportunities it offers us.  And it made me smile when Madelyn leaned over to me in FL on Mike and Leann’s boat and said “isn’t it nice to be back on the water?”  Yes, yes it was.  And hopefully we will be back on the water soon!

Before I wrap up, I wanted to show two of our projects during the trip.  The girls collected magnets almost everywhere we went.  Both of them completely filled their magnet boards and we had to buy an additional one for the overflow.  It makes my heart smile to look at those boards and see how many adventures they have been able to experience.  It’s amazing to look back and see how many places we’ve been.  The other project was our Great Loop map.  I’ve posted pictures of it a few times along the way.  We put our final flag on and completed the loop.  It was a fun project for the girls and is such a fantastic graphical visual of everywhere we went.  Not to mention a great geography lesson!  Thank you Tim and Carol for the idea.  Way back in September of 2016, Carol let Molly and Madelyn pin their FINAL flag on their map the night they crossed their wake.  That night we decided we were doing the same thing.  And now ours is also complete and will remain a special keepsake from this trip.

 

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Our map!

 

I don’t have a good or poetic way to end this final blog post.  This year was the trip of a lifetime for all of us.  Ben and I thank each and every one of you that supported us, missed us, visited us, became our new friends, stayed our old and dear friends, stuck with us while we were gone, helped out at home, read all my and his crazy long blog posts, befriended Molly and Madelyn, and the list goes on.  Each and every one of you helped make our Great Loop an incredible and life changing experience.  Hopefully we’ll see you on the water soon.

 

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Muskegon & St. Joseph, MI

After 5 nights in Ludington we finally had a calm day to make it the 50 miles south to Muskegon.  We were on our way to see Karen and Scott DeVoll from Last Call when we arrived.  We hadn’t seen them since the Bahamas and were excited to catch up.  We had a pleasant trip there, pulled in and got fuel for the last time on the loop, and got tied up in our slip.  Shortly after, Karen and Scott arrived at our boat.  They hopped on and we all visited a bit and then headed right down the road to their marina, where they so generously had dinner in the oven for us!

We hung out in the clubhouse, the kids played, and Karen and Scott cooked us a wonderful dinner of lasagna, garlic bread and salad.  We had a great dinner followed by fabulous chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.  It got late and we needed to get the girls to bed….but not before they mopped the floors.  I managed to not take any pictures with Karen and Scott, but Karen got a couple of the girls cleaning!  They loved the industrial kitchen at their yacht club and had so much fun with the mop.  Go figure!

Girls Muskegon

After hugs and goodbyes we turned in for the night with plans to head to Holland the next day.

I woke up the next morning and checked the forecast.  It was good all around but after Friday it was going to be VERY bad for the weekend.  I suggested we go all the way to St. Joseph instead.  That would make for an easy crossing to Chicago when we got a good weather day.  So, we did.  We got in around dinnertime on Friday just ahead of the rain and wind.  Ben went to a bar to watch the Cubs playoff game and the girls went to bed and I chilled on the boat.

Saturday Fred and Nikki drove up from their house in Lakeside, MI to see us.  We had lunch in downtown St. Joe and walked around a bit.  The Farmer’s Market was going on so we picked up some goodies for dinner.  Another Cubs playoff game was scheduled and with no service to watch it at the marina, we ended up going to Fred and Nikki’s house for the game.  The girls played outside, I worked on a puzzle, and Fred, Nikki and Ben watched the game.  We had dinner and headed back to the boat when the game went downhill and it was clear the Cubs weren’t going to win.

Sunday morning we had another non-boating day.  The forecast was for the gale force winds from Saturday to calm down but the lake was still supposed to be pretty rough.  My mom was throwing a bridal shower for my cousin Sunday in the south suburbs….only about 90 minutes from St. Joseph.  We picked up a rental car on Saturday so that we would be able to go to the shower.  It was great to see everyone.  We hadn’t seen my aunt, uncle or cousin since before we left.  We hadn’t seen my youngest sister Emily since Christmas when she was able to come visit us in Ft. Myers, and we had yet to meet her boyfriend who was joining her for the shower.  My other sister Libby and her family were there as well and we hadn’t seen them since Mother’s Day for about 2 hours.  The girls were thrilled to have the day with their cousins.  The shower was lovely and it was nice to catch up with everyone.

After a great weekend with both sides of our families it looked like Monday would be the day to cross our wake.  The emotions started rolling in for me on Sunday night.  None of us have been happy about going home and having this adventure come to an end, but it was inevitable that it had to happen at some point.  And Monday looked like it would shape up to be a gorgeous day for crossing our wake.

Ludington, MI

After a smooth 120 mile run south from Charlevoix, we pulled into Ludington, MI.  We knew we only had one good day on the water before it turned bad for a few more days.  Becky from True North met us on the dock when we arrived.  What a wonderful Harbor Host!  She had seen me logged in on the AGLCA Meets app and sent me an email saying she knew we were in Charlevoix and was wondering if we’d be stopping through Ludington.  I happened to get that email the morning we pulled out heading for Ludington.  We chatted on the dock for quite awhile and it was great to catch up.  We met Becky, her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law last fall on the rivers on our way to Green Turtle Bay.  She reminded me we were docked right next to them at Green Turtle.  Molly and Ben both remembered that as well.  My memory is great for a lot of things….that is not one of them.  Molly has picked up Ben’s knack for recognizing and remembering boats wherever we go.  We had a lovely visit chatting about the loop, the Bahamas (where they hope to go this winter!), Canada and everything else.  Becky generously offered that her car was available anytime we may need it if we would be around for a few days.

We got off the boat and headed to P.M. Steamers for dinner.  My grandparents had a house in Ludington for the first 20 years of my life so I spent a week or two there every summer.  We spent most of our time at the house and on the beach in front of the house.  But we would come into town a couple times for P.M. Steamers, House of Flavors and Scotty’s.  So, it was fun to walk around and find these places of my youth.  We had a great dinner and watched the Badger car ferry arrive as we were finishing up.  We were all pretty tired after a long day but gave the girls a few minutes at the park to run off some energy before heading back to the boat.  Watching the Badger unload and watching the sun set on Ludington was just beautiful.

Sunday morning was our only possible chance of heading south.  We could see some waves crashing over the break wall but it was hard to see their direction and how bad they actually were.  Ben wanted to give it a try and at least see how it was.  Pentwater was only 15 miles south but there is not much to do there so if we were going to be somewhere for a few days our better choices were to stay in Ludington or make it 50 miles south to Muskegon.  So, we gave it a try.  We got out towards the lighthouse and were rocking and rolling.  But we needed to get out and change direction to see how it would be.  Waves were kind of big and mostly we were slamming into all of them. Madelyn immediately freaked out and panicked a bit in a way she hasn’t in a long time.  Oh, Lake Michigan!  Molly was fine but figured she’d soon be sick, I was not enjoying it but can keep it together if I need to.  But five hours of that did not sound like fun so we turned around and went back to the marina.

Once we decided we were staying put we knew we’d be there for a few days.  The girls and I headed to a very small church close to the marina and then met Ben to walk around a bit after.  We grabbed some lunch on the boat and headed to the playground by the marina to play.  It was a hot sunny day and we made our way to House of Flavors after the playground.  You’ll notice that Madelyn is wearing a tank top and capri pants while Molly is wearing long sleeves, has a sweater and vest tied around her waist.  They are cut from different cloths!

Ice cream in hand we walked to the beach and out to the lighthouse.  The sand felt great.  It was warm and soft and the girls had so much run running up and down the dunes.

We made our way out to the lighthouse.  It’s a LONG walk out and as we got further out the water got rougher and rougher.  I commented that it was a good reminder that we don’t mess with rough water.  We are not in control when the water is like that.  We watched mesmerized as the huge waves crashed into the boulders on the wall, sometimes coming up and over the path we were walking on.  We made it out to the lighthouse and walked all the way around.  Ben took the girls to the edge to look over and we all agreed it was just fine we hadn’t gone anywhere.  The lake did not look good out there.

After a long walk back from the lighthouse and back around the beach we walked over to the little grocery store to pick up some bread to go with dinner.  By now Madelyn, who can play for hours at the park without issue, was whining nonstop about her tired legs.  We had covered quite a few miles, but we do that a lot of days so we pushed on.  After an early dinner on the boat we headed up the dock to watch the Badger come in to port.  We met a lovely couple and their dog on the dock and soon realized that coming to watch the Badger dock is a “thing” in Ludington.  This guy comes to watch seemingly every night.  He knew others there and it was quite the gathering.  The park was packed and people were milling around waiting for the loud horn signaling the Badger’s arrival.  Soon enough, as the sun was starting to set, it arrived.  It is a coal burning vessel with a plume of disgusting black smoke at all times and yet it was beautiful to watch it come into the channel with sunset in the backdrop.  The Badger does quite the move to dock.  It gets midway in the basin, drops its anchor and then spins on it’s anchor to back into the dock.  It’s a fascinating process.  The anchor dropping was like nothing we’ve heard before. The clunk of metal was impressive.  Once docked and settled the Badger sounds her horn again and the echo can be heard for quite a distance.

 

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The Badger

 

The Badger is both a Michigan and a Wisconsin historical landmark and on the National Registry of historic places.  It is also a National Mechanical Engineering landmark (I didn’t know that was a thing…).  It carries cars, and tour buses, and semi trucks and people.  It leaves every morning at 9 AM and returns at 7 PM, traveling each day across the lake to Manitowoc, WI.  I remember watching every day as a kid when I was in Ludington.  We would wait for it to go past my grandparents’ house every morning and then we would watch for it again every evening.

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Monday morning I was up early and caught an amazing sunrise.  The water may have been crazy and the wind howling but the sunrise is a calm reminder of how special our world can be.  The start of a fresh day.  Another day we are blessed to be on this adventure.  The sunrise holds so much promise for what is ahead.

It turns out we had quite a bit ahead on Monday.  We knew we weren’t going anywhere on the water so we started school.  While working on school work I called the local post office to find out about passport application acceptance hours.  I had filled out passport renewal information for Molly and myself that morning as both of our passports expire in October.  The person I spoke with suggested it was usually good to come between 10 and 2.  By 12:30 when we were still waiting for Madelyn to finish her work I finally decided to pack her stuff up so we could go.  We walked the 6-8 blocks to the post office.  We had decided we wanted to take care of this in Michigan to get the process going as soon as possible.  The second driving factor was that it is a MISERABLE process in Chicago.  Renewing a child’s passport at a post office is a nightmare.  Molly and Madelyn have each had 2 passports so far, this being Molly’s third, and each visit brings a new adventure with the passport application folks.  I don’t know if it’s a requirement to be awful but if you live in Chicago you know what I’m talking about.  Instead, here in Ludington, MI we walked in, waited our turn, went to the counter and a lovely lady answered all of our questions and was nothing but pleasant.  She suggested we run to Walgreens or Meijer for pictures.  They are half the price elsewhere and she indicated the photo process there was very slow.  So, we called Becky and asked if we could indeed use her car.  She is a saint and had it to the marina in under 30 minutes!  We drove to Meijer, got our pictures taken, stocked up on some groceries and headed back.  I love looking back at old passport photos of the girls.  Five years is a long time so they have inevitably changed a lot.  But this time around I hardly recognize this grown up young lady in the picture!  Where did my little girl go????

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We went straight back to the post office and back to the same lady.  She was efficient and pleasant and had us in and out as quickly as she could.  So, before too long hopefully we’ll be all set for international travel again!

I promised the girls the park and beach after all of this passport nonsense.  Madelyn had lost two ankle bracelets in the sand the previous day so the girls and I retraced our steps and walked back to the beach.  One was a bracelet she made so no big deal, but the other was a souvenir from Hopetown in the Bahamas.  We got back to where we started the previous day and Molly spotted one of the bracelets!  Unfortunately the Hopetown one was never found.  We decided that means we must go back!  The girls dug holes in the sand until they reached water.  Then we moved onto the playground on the beach.  I had been counting on the dunes for some exercise so I ran some dunes while they played and then we all three headed to the taller dunes for awhile.  They played at the beach playground until the sun started to go down.  The air is hot on a sunny day but we are quickly reminded that it’s October and the minute the sun starts to go down even a little there is a fall chill in the air.

Tuesday morning we packed up backpacks and headed to the library for school.  It’s right next to the Post Office so we had discovered it the day before.  It had a great back area with booth style tables where the girls could spread out and work.  We spent the morning working on school there and then the girls rode their bikes and Ben and I walked to House of Flavors for lunch.  We had to finish up school work after lunch and then headed to the park to play for the rest of the day.

Wednesday was the day we thought we’d be able to head south.  But alas, Lake Michigan had other plans and Wednesday was no longer an option.  At this point Ben was quite stir crazy worrying about getting south and tired of sitting still.  Between school taking up at least half the day, a fabulous park close by, a good library and a beach the girls and I were ok.  Although I understood the worry about getting south.  We were still a long ways from Chicago.  We headed to the library again for school.  After we were done Maddy was desperate to play in the kids’ area.  Ben and Molly headed back to the boat.  Ben had started to wax the boat as it’s pretty tired looking after 13 months of travel.  So, he kept busy with that while Molly played inside.  Madelyn was happy as a clam.  She had a train set, dolls, a kitchen set, all sorts of things to play with.  Finally at 3 pm or so I told her it was time to go.  We went straight to the park and Molly and Ben walked up to meet us.

While we were at the library working on school I texted Becky to ask the name of the pizza place she mentioned.  We figured we’d eat out since we’d been here so many days and done a lot of boat meals.  She called me back and said that she can give me the name of the pizza place but that she was planning to call and see if she could stay with the girls so Ben and I could have a date night!!!  Did I mention how wonderful she is?  She came over at 5 pm.  Ben and I headed out for a couple of errands (in her car again!) and then to a local brewpub for dinner.  We had a great meal and truly appreciate Becky’s generosity.  Adult only time is so rare and yet so great to get out and reconnect a bit!  Meanwhile the girls had even more fun.  Becky brought a big bag of things her grandkids play with.  She took them to House of Flavors for dinner.  After dinner they walked past the Badger crew and saw the same folks from the other night.  Back on the boat they did puzzles, played games and looked at pictures of her grandkids.  Ludington is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most sand angels at one time as well as the longest ice cream dessert in the world at House of Flavors.  Becky and her grandkids got to participate in both!  The girls told me all about it.  The ice cream dessert was over 8 blocks long!  Needless to say the girls had a fantastic evening.  Becky is just another example of the amazing people we have met on this journey.  Ben commented the other day that it’s so special that our kids have had the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people.  What an experience for them.

Thursday’s calm water finally arrived!  After 5 nights in Ludington we were on our way south to Muskegon.

Beaver Island & Charlevoix, MI

After passing under the Might Mac we made our way to Beaver Island. We’ve been up and down the lake before and haven’t stopped there so I wanted to this time.  We pulled into the mostly empty marina and it was another warm sunny day.  Ben got the girls’ bikes down and off they went again.  We walked and they rode down to the beach.  After a few hours on the boat they needed some playtime.  The water was so calm and not that cold.  I waded in to about my knees just to cool off from the heat of the sun.

After we left the beach we walked close to two miles the other direction on the island to the old lighthouse.  The lighthouse was built in 1858 and is 46 feet tall.  It was decommissioned in 1962.  The Fresnel lens was put in one of the outbuildings and is still on display.

 

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Beaver Island Light

 

The girls enjoyed fairly empty streets and having the freedom to ride their bikes as much as they wanted.  Tuesday morning we walked to the highly recommended Dalwhinnie bakery for breakfast.  It met expectations.  The girls got donuts and split an order of French Toast.  Ben had an egg sandwich and I had a really good veggie scramble.  After breakfast Ben went to get the boat ready for the trip to Charlevoix.  The wind was already picking up.  The girls wanted to ride their bikes more (always!) and took off down towards the park again.  Pretty quickly we got underway and made the 30 mile trip over to Charlevoix.  We got in safely and had another close to 80 degree sunny afternoon to enjoy.

After chatting with the very lovely people at the marina we walked to the beach.  We were pretty sure this might be our last beach day for a long time.  The sun was warm.  We had a great view of another Michigan lighthouse.  There was a playground at the beach and another one across from the beach.  The girls favorite game at playgrounds on the beach is to get wet and then hit the slides.  The playground on the beach had the old school super tall, metal slides.  They turned it into a complete slip and slide and thankfully no one walked away injured!  As the afternoon wore on the expected wind shift happened and the temperature totally changed by the water.

On our way home we walked past the famous Mushroom houses of Charlevoix.  Ben later learned that these houses are used as vacation rentals!  That might be fun sometime. The girls thought they were really cute.

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Then we walked past the library and found yet another playground!  It was a vision of seasons colliding.  The leaves were changing and falling.  Molly and Madelyn were both in swimming suits and were making leaf piles to jump in.  They played until I got tired of sitting and we headed back to the boat.  There is a community splash pad right at the marina with heated water.  The sun was still warm now that we were away from the wind off the lake and the girls played in the water and then rode bikes until it was time for dinner.

Wednesday brought the expected cold temperatures.  Brrrr.  After swim suits and flip flops the day before we really had to bundle up.  It was 50s and 60s all day but with a biting wind and felt freezing compared to the previous 5 days!  The folks at the marina had told us to be sure not to miss the library.  The girls and I loaded up backpacks and they hopped on bikes and we headed that way for school.  It was SUCH a nice change of pace to have a little room to spread out for school and books galore to choose from.  Madelyn did much better here (Molly usually does fine for school wherever she is).  However Madelyn also wanted to play with everything.

This library was incredible.  Unlike most we’ve been to.  It used to be a school building.  The building was in disrepair and needed to be expanded to accommodate a middle school.  Money could not be raised for this and instead a new building was built for the school.  Eventually the community took over this building and raised some obscene amount of money to turn it into the beautiful place it is today!  We went three days in a row and I still didn’t make it to all of the rooms.  I talked to one of the librarians for quite awhile and she was telling me what all they are doing with the schools.  Many kids come to the library after school for organized programs or study time.  And as so many schools seem to be cutting library programs (it’s not just in Chicago!), they are trying to help out.  She was telling me they are trying to get all of the high school students’ school fines cleared out so they can check out books from the library here.  She was saying that some kids are 17 and need to do research for school but have fines left over from when they were in elementary school.  They want all of the kids to be able to use the library as much as they need.

The lobby is lovely.  Then we turned a corner and passed a teen lounge, a tween room, a computer lab and then a huge children’s area.  The children’s area was probably the size of our entire neighborhood library in Chicago.  It had room after room after room.  Little kid rooms.  Middle kid rooms.  Big kid rooms.  Molly was in heaven.  There were 30 books of a series that she likes and countless others that she found.  I think she read 3 chapter books last week.  There were computers everywhere.  Kid computers, research computers, listening stations.  There was an arts and crafts table set out to make bookmarks.  A checkerboard.  A Lego scavenger hunt which was a great brain break activity for the girls!  Kid computers with lots and lots of educational games – all stations with headphones provided!  A story phone that the kids could lift the receiver and have a story read to them.  Trees with reading nooks in them in every corner of most of the rooms.  Large trees with backpacks hanging on the branches stocked with puppet and story sets.  The list goes on.  There was even a large beautiful wooden boat complete with a steering wheel and controls for the kids to drive.

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And then Maddy found the playroom – a large playroom filled with Legos and kitchen sets and all sorts of other toys.  Outside of that room was a children’s garden.  This place was just spectacular.  As we walked around I made my way to the other end and found a quiet reading room with comfy couches and a fireplace and a PUZZLE table!  I love puzzles, but unfortunately never had time to work on the one in progress.  I did peek back in the next day and see the progress others had made.  Finally on Friday afternoon I walked through the main library.  It used to be the school gymnasium and the transformation is incredible!  Needless to say we were impressed and moved in for the week!

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Wednesday after Molly and Madelyn finished their work we walked to the crepe place we went to two years ago.  It was still there and still fabulous.  Yum.  Then back to the library for “recess”.  Maddy was so excited to have real “recess” on the playground.  Then we went back in to do a little reading and grab their bikes and ride back to the boat.  It was a full day at the library!  After we got back to the boat Ben and I had a grocery shopping “date”.  Molly agreed to stay on the boat with Maddy.  The store was at the end of the block, but Molly doesn’t love being alone so it was a good little outing.

Thursday there was a slight chance we could move south but the small craft advisory was extended, the wind was still kicked up and the waves were not pretty.  Back to the library for school.  We settled into our spots but Thursday was toddler story day so school wasn’t nearly as successful.  The library was loud and it was hard to concentrate.  We did better after lunchtime when all the littles went home for naps!  Thursday night was a real treat!  The girls stayed on the boat and we went out for dinner.  Like a real date night!  We haven’t had one in months and we had a great dinner.  Nice restaurant overlooking the water, really good food, good drinks.  We made it all the way to waiting for our check before Maddy texted asking when we’d be back.  We were back in time to put them to bed but Molly loves being babysitter and she had Maddy in jammies, had read to her and sung her songs.  So sweet!

Friday was miserable.  We woke up to cold rain, thunder and lightning.  We knew it should clear around lunchtime so we got most of their work done and when it cleared outside we needed some fresh air!  We loaded up the little bit of school work left to complete and headed out for more crepes.  Couldn’t resist.  And then off to the library again.  They were probably sick of seeing us and yet everyone was so friendly.  Molly grabbed a book and settled in to read.  Maddy had some work to finish and then hit one of the computers for some games.  Sadly we said our goodbyes to the Charlevoix library and headed back to the boat with a stop along the way for some salt water taffy!

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Saturday morning was the day!  Finally, for the first time since Tuesday we had decent traveling conditions.  We had a big day traveling 120 miles south to Ludington.  We set out at 7:45 AM and caught the 8 AM bridge opening to head out to the lake.  The water was beautiful once we turned the corner and we had a great trip.  We really enjoyed Charlevoix and look forward to going back next summer.

 

Mackinac Island, MI

Well, we made it back to the US.  Bittersweet for sure.  We’ve been to three countries on this journey but it’s time to start heading towards home.  We left Meldrum Bay and crossed over to Drummond Island, MI.  The water outside Drummond Island is the border between the US and Canada.  We checked into Customs at Drummond Island and just hung out on the boat for the night.  Saturday morning, bright and early we dropped lines and headed for Mackinac Island!  We were all excited about this stop.  We’ve been before and loved it.  And this time Maddy is riding a two wheeler by herself so she’d been looking forward to biking the island.  Last time we were there we got a “I Biked it and I liked it” shot glass so I kept saying “we’re going to bike it and we’re going to like it!”  She just looked at me like I was crazy.  I finally showed her the phrase on so many items in gift shops and she said “oh that’s why you keep saying that??”

I’m getting ahead of myself.  We came down through the Straits of Mackinac on a beautiful morning.  As is typical for us, just as we were going to pull in the harbor the wind kicked up big time.  We know that the ferries come and go all day long so Ben requested a slip on the inside.  We would still rock, but have a little more protection.  However with the kicked up wind, that made docking harder.  Ben of course managed to back right into the slip with no issues and as usual got lots of compliments from passersby on the dock who watched him.  I have no idea how he does it.  Pulling into the harbor marked the first time in 13 months that we had been in familiar waters.  Ever since we passed Marine Services in Dolton, IL last August we have been in new to us waters.  So for Ben this was definitely a bit of a feeling of relief.  Even if Lake Michigan is bad (and it will be!), at least the weather maps and patterns are ones we know and are used to.

We got checked in and Ben got all the bikes down right away.  We started out on the 8 mile trek around the island.  The girls did great.  It was a hot day and I’m pretty sure Madelyn hadn’t ridden that far all at once before.  She kept going and we made our way around.  As we were nearing the last 3 miles we stopped to look at the water.  I hadn’t seen water those colors since the Bahamas.  It was all shades of blue and turquoise and crystal clear.

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Right after we hopped back on our bikes Madelyn wiped out!  Oh no!  I don’t think she has fallen since she first learned how to ride.  There was nothing in the road, she just slipped and raked up her knee.  Thankfully I’d packed bandaids and we fixed her up the best we could.  She was brave and hopped right back on and rode the last three miles.

Next up it was definitely time for ice cream and fudge!  We all got an ice cream treat and then the girls and I picked out fudge flavors to take back to the boat.

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Since we were there late in the season, all of the rental bike shops were having big sales on their fleet bikes.  Both of our girls’ bikes got completely rusted in the salt water.  In Orillia we had new chains put on and Ben had changed tires but they were still pretty rusty.  Additionally, Molly has gotten taller and was still riding her 20″ bike.  She’s very short for her age but is now a good height for a 24″ bike.  She was so excited to look because these were also all gear bikes!  They were pretty expensive bikes with a  little wear and tear, but the bike shop tuned it up, replaced one of her worn down tires, washed it and made it look almost new for a great price.  AND….it was purple!  She was thrilled.

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We went and grabbed some dinner while they were getting it all shined up for her.  After we picked it up she and Maddy zoomed up and down the road in front of the marina for ages at dusk.

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Sunday was another beautiful day.  The girls went for an early morning bike ride up and down the road again.  No cars in the street is a beautiful thing.  Then the girls and I got cleaned up and headed to church in a charming, very old church on the island.  Ben took an 8 mile spin around and met us after.  Beyond biking, another love of Madelyn’s is horses!  She spotted them as soon as we pulled into the harbor and begged to take a horse and carriage.  We took a taxi horse and carriage up to the Grand Hotel  We had two large dark horses that were quite pretty.

 

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These were actually different horses, equally pretty!

 

We got up the Grand Hotel in search of lunch.  We originally thought we’d eat in the Tea Store but after walking through the grandiose lobby we decided to walk back out on the grounds and have lunch at The Gate House.  As we were sitting outside eating, groups of people riding horses kept going past.  Madelyn was in awe….and very jealous.  We had come right past the barn that rents horses out by the hour.  I am fairly terrified of horses.  Molly didn’t really care.  Nor did Ben.  So, despite her begging, the $45 an hour per person for horseback riding wasn’t going to happen.  We had a long talk about how that would be a very special birthday outing or present at some point or something she can work on saving her money towards.

After lunch we told her we could walk past the barn.  We got there and found a little toddler aged boy and his dad looking at the horses.  The lady in the barn said we could go around to the side and they’d bring one of the horses out.  These girls have some good luck!  We got to meet a very sweet horse named Dusty.  Then the barn worker asked if the toddler wanted to ride him!  Maddy looked up at us pleading….I told her she had to ask the guy working.  She was so shy and I think Ben may have ended up asking for her, but he let our girls ride the horse too.  Granted it was just around the parking lot and he was holding on to the reins leading Dusty but they were thrilled.

They got to pet Dusty and hang out with him for a bit.  Maddy proceeded to beg and cry the rest of the day about riding a horse.  No good deed….

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After our lunch settled we decided it was time for another trip around the island on bikes.  Molly was so excited to “bike it and like it” on her new gear bike!  And then we started talking….maybe we should get Maddy one too?  We aren’t going to buy her another 20″ bike that isn’t rusted when we get home.  That would be silly since she’s almost the same height as Molly.  We had her hop on Molly’s and give it a try.  Hand brakes.  Enough said.  She and a fence collided and she fell again.  Poor thing.  In her haste to stop she hit the coaster brakes (which weren’t there) and forgot about the hand brakes and then swerved and boom.  She was fine, just shaken up.  Two falls in two days for a kid who has never really fallen and has been riding a two wheeler since she was 5!  So, back to the bike shop we went and got another purple bike.  It was nice for Molly to have something of her own for a quick minute.

Before they tuned it up we asked if we could take it and bike the island to make sure it was indeed a good fit.  It’s a little big for her but she did great.  Maddy talked nonstop about gears and what gear she was in and how it felt and how she could change her gear etc. etc. etc.  It was hilarious.  Ben rode with her for a bit and then would catch up to me and report we were still talking about gears.  Then we’d both ride behind her (because she swerves a lot) and she would rattle on nonstop about gears.  It was pretty cute.  After our 8 miles we had to drop it off to be tuned up.  Seemed like a good time to get more ice cream and find some magnets to take home.

We had dinner on the boat and then the girls went back up for more bike riding until bedtime.  We really enjoyed our time on Mackinac Island again.  I look forward to returning next summer!

Monday morning we felt we better get moving towards mainland MI.  We knew these 80 degree sunny days weren’t going to last and figured we should make some progress into Lake Michigan.  We loaded up the bikes and waved goodbye to the horses and set off to go under the Mighty Mac Bridge.  The Michigan lighthouses are some of my favorites.

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We went past the Mackinac light house and then under the incredible bridge.  This was the third time we’d passed under this bridge and it never disappoints.  Time to wave goodbye to Canada, and the UP and make our turn into our home waters of Lake Michigan.

Kagawong, ON

After the beauty of Baie Fine we made our way to Little Current.  We had been in some pretty remote areas since we left Midland and needed to get some groceries to tide us over until we got back to the US.  We took a quick walk around the small town and walked to the grocery store to stock up.  Little Current has a nice waterfront path and while we were there a large cruise ship pulled in.  That was a sight to see in such a small town.  After some time running around outside we had a quiet night on the boat.  The next morning brought clouds and rain followed by fog.  Around 2 PM I thought we could see well enough.  It was still a bit foggy but we could see to the other side of the channel which was a good distance.  Kagawong was only about 14 miles away and I figured we would at least make a little progress.  Ben agreed so we got underway.

Kagawong is home to Bridal Veil Falls.  Another beauty created by Mother Nature.  As we were making our way there the fog lifted, the sun came out, and it turned into an incredible afternoon.  We pulled into the very small marina.  The harbor master was a little hard to get a hold of but said he’d meet us at the dock at 4:30 or so when we arrived.  We got there and this nice man was waiting to catch our lines and help us get settled.  He thinks we are the biggest boat he’s had in there.  We know of Loopers earlier this summer with boats in the 50s and other Looper friends from last summer the same so we figured we’d make it work.  The marina is all but shut down for the season.  He was so good to us.  First he told Ben he wouldn’t take any money for the night.  Then he asked if the girls wanted ice cream.  He’s trying to clear out the ships store.  He had four waffle cones left. He loaded all four of them up for us with the local dairy ice cream we’d heard about.  We’ve had so much Kawartha Dairy and I miss it lots, but this was pretty good too.  Then he said no money for that either. We insisted on giving him something!  Then he said how about chips?  Do you want chips?  Take a bag of chips!  So we did.  Then ice…take ice!  We didn’t take any ice, although he said he’d just gotten a shipment he needed to get rid of before the shut down.

It was so sunny and lovely and hot that we thought we might try the hike to Bridal Veil Falls that night.  But then I decided I couldn’t take the bugs at that time of night.  Plus the girls were begging to go to the beach.  The beach was basically in the marina and had a twisty slide in the water.  We ran over to the beach and let them play for a while.  Once the bugs started to drive Ben and I nuts we headed back for the night.

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The forecast for the next day was storms and lots of them. Storms all night, a two hour window with possibly no rain in the morning, followed by storms all afternoon.  Blah.  All we could do was wait and see.  Turns out it didn’t really storm overnight.  And I woke up the next morning to bright sunshine.  We put school on hold and hustled out the door.  Swimming suits on.  Water and some towels packed.  The hike up to Bridal Veil Falls was beautiful.  We hiked along a the riverbed.  The harbor master told us it was salmon season and we may see them jumping in the river.

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As pretty as the river was, the real beauty was at the top.  The falls were magical to watch.  Ben and I have seen a lot of waterfalls in Hawaii and have told the girls all about them.  It was fun to be able to show them one.  The girls immediately ran down the stone steps to the bottom of the falls and skipped out on the rocks.  Next we climbed the very steep staircase to the top of the falls.  What an amazing view.

 

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Bridal Veil Falls

 

Back down the stairs to walk out on the rocks and underneath the falls.  The spray felt great after our hike.  This is another natural pool that is filled with people during the summer that we had all to ourselves.  The pool was filled with salmon, some living, some dead.  Molly got halfway in the water and decided that the dead fish were not something she wanted to swim with.  I saw a few of them jumping in the falls.  We didn’t see any come over the top thankfully.

After we were done playing, we hiked to the top again and walked up a very steep hill to a cute cafe the marina had advertised.  It did not disappoint.  We filled up on breakfast sandwiches and some baked goods and headed back down the hill.  By that time the parking lot at the top of the falls was full.  Apparently a lot of people just drive to the top and park.  I’m glad we did the hike!  It was warming up and still not storming.  I suppose it would have been warmer to do the hike and falls later in the morning but I’m glad we went early.  It was a perfect temperature and I love having places all to ourselves.  And with the dead salmon we wouldn’t have done a lot of swimming anyway.  Another must see in the Northern Channel checked off the list.

Back on the boat I got started on school for the girls and we headed on towards the Benjamin Islands.  The Benjamin Islands are supposed to be amazing to see, made out of pink granite.  As we were out on the water headed that way Ben was really conflicted on what to do.  We were again the only boat out heading that direction and the Benjamins are full of submerged rocks surrounded by 80+ feet deep water.  The reviews of how to get into the anchorage we needed (due to current wind direction) had us passing through an area where a local ship had crashed into a submerged rock years ago.  Again, not worth the risk this late in our trip with no boats around and no one to call for help.  We turned and headed towards Gore Bay.  The Benjamins will be first on my list for next summer when we come back up north.  I completely understood not taking the risk but was sad to miss them.  We headed towards Gore Bay and found out the marina had closed for the season earlier in the week.  We could have still pulled in and tied up for the night but decided to just go to Meldrum Bay instead.  That put us pretty close to Drummond Island and crossing back into the US the following day.

We pulled into Meldrum Bay and got tied up just before dinner.  We had read about the Inn that serves a great meal.  The harbor master told us it was closed to the public for the season.  Ben could see lights on so he called and asked.  The lady working said they are open only for guests of the Inn but asked how many of us there were and said she’d ask her husband if they could cook for us.  She quickly called us back with what dinner options they had.  She knew right away we were the boat that had pulled in and said they would be happy to have us.  Town is up on a hill and everyone can see anyone who pulls in from the water – especially when you are the only boat on the water!

The girls had never been in a Bed and Breakfast and were fascinated that it was a big house.  Ben got the history on when it was built.  The owner was so nice to us and we had a fabulous meal.  The fresh white fish is amazing in the Great Lakes.  And Ben had a really good steak for the first time in Canada!  A couple staying at the Inn also saw us pull in as they were sitting up on the rooftop patio.  They live in Midland and keep their boat in Penetanguishene.  We spent our entire time there talking to them about our trip and the Georgian Bay and North Channel stops.  The previous owner of their marina just left for the Loop a few weeks ago in a boat he fully customized for his wheelchair.  Impressive!  This couple is hoping to do some more traveling by boat next summer.  They were on a quick little road trip scoping out places to visit next summer on the water.  They had also been to Bridal Veil Falls that morning, shortly after we left, and had stopped in Gore Bay for lunch.  They loved Gore Bay so maybe we’ll check that out as well next summer.

We had a wonderful evening to end our time in Canada.

Killarney & Baie Fine, ON

We left Midland for a third time and decided that we needed to make some serious progress.  It would have been lovely to go back and anchor again at Beckwith and spend the night but we were starting to feel some pressure to get across the Georgian Bay.  The Small Craft Route winds up past Beausoleil Island and Honey Harbor past lots of cute little towns and bays to anchor in.  But since we’d already been to Beausoleil Island and Honey Harbor we decided to cut straight across the bay to the northwest and go all the way to Pointe au Baril.  We anchored off Hopewell Island for the night.  It was an easy trip and a relaxing night.

The next morning we set out towards the west.  As we were winding our way out of the channel around Pointe au Baril we passed a lot of cute little cottages, many with boats or seaplanes since that is the only way to access them.  I really wanted to duck into the Bad River for the night.  We had been told to go there by multiple people and the pictures I had seen of the Bad River, Beaverstone Bay and the Collins Inlet were nothing short of breathtaking.  We read a lot of reviews and information about Beaverstone Bay and Collins Inlet and determined that (as much as we are so SICK of saying this) in this boat we shouldn’t try it.  There’s a very narrow, very shallow section where you make a sharp turn into the inlet and it’s charted right at about 5 feet.  High water this year aside, not worth the risk this close to the end of our trip.  But I still wanted to go into the Bad River.  Some of our Looper friends had such a great time here and spent multiple days in anchorages picking blueberries and enjoying hiking on the rocks and having fun.  But we skipped it and kept going towards Killarney.  We also went past the Bustards and Strawberry Island which we’d read a lot about.  I’m keeping a list for next summer of all the places I want to go back and see!

The water on the Bay was uncomfortable and getting worse.  Winds were out of the south and blowing up the Bay.  It’s like it’s own great lake – technically a part of Lake Huron – and it behaves as such.  It was just turning into a miserable ride and we all just wanted to push through and get off the Georgian Bay.  We haven’t sped up past about 9 kts. in a long time but Ben sped up some on this trip.  All the waves were just smacking us on the beam.  Without the stabilizer we would have been so unhappy.  As it was we weren’t enjoying the trip.  At last we finally made out the Killarney lighthouse!  We safely pulled into Killarney and welcomed the protection from land around us.  Phew.  We pulled into the Killarney Mountain Lodge and prepared to relax for a couple of days.  The marina is very nice, there are free paddleboards, kayaks and canoes for our use, lovely red Adirondack chairs on every dock and all over the property and a swimming pool!  We checked ourselves in and were able to unwind.  Ben set to work washing the boat while the girls made a beeline for the kayaks and paddleboards!  Those are two items on our must purchase list.  I hopped in a kayak too and off we went paddling around.  It was sunny and close to 80.  We soaked it up and enjoyed the rest of the day.  For dinner we headed to the famous Fish and Chips joint for a local white fish dinner.

Sunday brought another fun day.  We planned to spend all day at the Lodge and the girls were off the boat and on the paddleboards by 9 AM.  Ben and I grabbed kayaks and all four of us went down river a bit.  At this point Madelyn decided her arms were getting tired so she held onto my kayak and I pulled us both along.  Then my arms were tired!  It was another gorgeous day.  We got to watch a seaplane take off right in front of us as we were in the kayaks.  Pretty cool.  After we were done there we headed to the pool for the afternoon.  We finished off the day with dinner in the lodge.

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Monday morning we set out for Baie Fine.  Another not to be missed stop!  We officially were off the Georgian Bay and into the North Channel.  Baie Fine is absolutely gorgeous.  We were the only boat around.  We’ve decided that’s a double edged sword.  It’s lovely to not have to fight for anchorage space or worry about swing room.  But we were literally in the middle of nowhere with very little cell service and not a soul around.  Instead of anchoring way back in the famous “pool” we just dropped anchor out in the bay.  In a change of events Ben had a hard time finding a spot shallow enough to anchor! The bay is really deep.  But he found a spot and got the dinghy down to head back in the bay.  We spent awhile just cruising around.  There are amazingly beautiful rocks in there.  And a few very secluded cabins.  In the back of the bay right before you head back to the pool there is a dinghy dock.  We did see one fishing boat pulling out as we pulled in.  Yay, people!  We tied up and hopped off, ready for our hike up to Topaz Lake!

We headed up the rocky path along the mostly dried up creek bed.  There was still a trickle every now and then but nothing we couldn’t walk right over.  This whole area is part of Killarney Provincial Park.  While it is pretty secluded, the trails are maintained.  There are tiny trail markers as you go along.  After 15 minutes or so we got to a tiny sign for Topaz Lake with an arrow pointing sort of to the left.  We looked up a steep hill of all pine needles and thought that couldn’t be right so we kept on walking following the blue Killarney Provincial Park hiking path.  We walked all the way to the end up some seriously steep hills and got to a lake. Topaz Lake!  Except it was ugly and weedy and not at all the incredible gem everyone had described.  Hmmm.  We found the tiniest sliver of cell service and got Google Maps to pull up.  We had hiked to Three Narrows Lake.

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So we turned around and hiked back to the tiny sign we saw a ways back.  Yep, still pointing up the pine needle hill but we walked up that way and what do you know, yellow markers for Topaz Lake.  So, we just got a little extra hiking time in.  We made our way up the steep hill and through the pine needles and our efforts were rewarded.  Topaz Lake was gorgeous!  I’m running out of adjectives.

 

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Topaz Lake

 

The water was crystal clear and an amazing turquoise color.  It’s all rocks that you can see right down in the water.  It’s jammed with people swimming in the summer and we had this gem all to ourselves.  It was a little chilly for swimming though.  The girls got most of the way in and we all did some rock climbing up higher to get a better view.  It lived up to the expectations.  Eventually we had to tear the girls away and head back to the dinghy.  On our way down the hill we passed another couple hiking up – more people!  We made our way back down and got back to the boat.  It was late afternoon at this point so we stayed put at anchor for the night.  We were all alone but it was calm and peaceful and we had a wonderful night.

 

 

Beckwith Island, ON

After our whirlwind weekend in Chicago we made it back to Midland around 2 AM.  We were exhausted but ready to get back on the water.  After a few hours of sleep, we went grocery shopping, returned the rental car, unpacked and did laundry, got fuel in the boat and finally headed out around 3 PM.  We were so exhausted that we boated a whole five miles to Discovery Harbor on the way into Penetanguishene.  We anchored right next to the tall ships, watched a beautiful sunset and had a quiet and early evening!

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The next morning we were finally heading to Hope, Beckwith and Christian Islands!  I had been hoping to get here since Labor Day weekend.  We couldn’t make it over during our week in Beausoleil Bay because of the winds.  But now we had a forecast with sun, 75 degrees and very little wind.  Perfect!  We had heard all about the crystal clear waters and sandy bottoms.  We anchored and jumped in the dinghy to explore Hope Island first.  The manager at the marina in Midland had told us about some sunken wrecks on the other side of the island in the very rocky portions.  We zipped past the beach and went to find the wrecks.  It was amazing that I could take clear pictures of the rocky bottom on this side of the island.

We finally found one of the wrecks.  Very cool. We could see different parts of the boat, the rudder, big other sections, etc.  We continued our journey around Hope Island.  This brought us to a point between all three islands.  We went past Christian Island and went right for Beckwith.  On our way to the islands in the big boat, we briefly pulled into the anchorage on the other side of Beckwith.  There were a handful of boats there and it looked fine.  We were now on the inside bay between the islands and had it all to ourselves.  There was one other sailboat anchored out in the bay and no one on the beach.  We beached the dinghy and went ashore.  The girls were thrilled to be running in the sand.  It’s been since New Jersey since they’ve had nice beach to run on!

Shortly after we arrived, one other boat pulled up and brought their chairs and campfire supplies ashore.  They lived close by and had been there the day before and had such a nice day they came back.  They started a fire in the fire pit they had gathered the previous and we all sat around and chatted a bit.  More people appeared coming over the top of a dune.  Apparently we could walk to the other side of the island!  So we did.  Off we went for the quick 5-10 minute walk to the other side of the island.  We quickly discovered that there were a bunch of people over there and the beach wasn’t as nice so back we went.  The girls then had fun playing on the sand dune.  The people by the fire asked if we had seen any snakes.  They spotted some the day before on that walk. Yikes.

We decided the bay we were in was so lovely that we’d move the big boat over here to anchor for the night instead.  The girls were playing in the sand so I stayed with them at Beckwith while Ben took the dinghy back to get the big boat and move it to where we were.  While he was gone the girls and I walked the beach to the end of the sand and then climbed on the rocks.  And saw a snake!  A big snake!  We scrambled out of the way and just kept an eye on it.  The girls kept climbing and skipping on rocks all the way to the end.  It was a wonderful day with beautiful water and lots of sunshine.  Good for the soul!

And then…I got a text from Ben that one of the batteries had blown up.  HUH?!?!?  He started the engines and heard and felt something pretty awful.  He quickly figured out that it was one of the port engine starting batteries.  It completely blew up all over the engine room creating an enormous mess.  But thankfully it wasn’t the engine!  Or anything more serious!  Ben was able to come pick us up in the dinghy after airing out the engine room a bit.  He then wired up some solution to be able to start the other port battery off the starboard side.  We had to turn around and go back to Midland (again!) so that we could get the mess cleaned up and new batteries.  I say “we” very loosely as I admittedly had no part in the process.  With no port engine Ben not only had no port engine running to control the boat, but also no bow thruster.  So, his rigged up wiring worked (we are all thankful he’s so handy with that kind of thing!) and off we went to Midland for a third time!  It had been a lovely day and would have been a lovely night at Beckwith, but we were grateful to only be about 2 hours away from Midland and be able to tuck into a dock safely.

The marina was great the next day.  Ben was able to get the batteries ordered first thing and they were delivered dockside to our boat before noon.  The marina also sent over one of their maintenance guys to help Ben.  In about 20 minutes this guy had sucked out all the rest of the battery acid from the engine room.  Ben had already spent the previous night and the entire morning cleaning everything he could.  But having the marina equipment to get rid of the rest of the mess was a huge help.  This guy also helped remove and bag all of the parts of the exploded battery and left them on the dock to come back and haul away later.  Then they got the new batteries lowered into the engine room and installed.  Bay Port Marina could not have been more helpful!

By this time it was mid afternoon, the girls wanted to swim and Ben was exhausted.  So, we decided to just chill and leave bright and early in the morning and cover a lot of distance.  Not that we don’t love Midland at this point, but we needed to see the Georgian Bay!

Beausoleil Island, ON

We had about a week to spend exploring the south eastern part of the Georgian Bay.  We knew we would have to end up back in Midland to leave the boat for a few days to head to Chicago for our niece Sophie’s Bat Mitzvah so we wanted to stay close.  We had a great route planned of going to Beausoleil Island for a few days and then to Frying Pan Bay, and then around and back south to Hope, Beckwith and Christian Islands.  We’d heard about the turquoise water and white sand beaches of these islands and couldn’t wait to see them.  Mother Nature had other plans.  The winds and rain scheduled for Labor Day weekend all but ruled out getting over to the beachy islands.  So, we set out Friday afternoon with Tom and Ellie on Raffamuggin and headed to anchor in Beausoleil Bay.  Beausoleil Island is part of the Georgian Bay Islands National Park and has a number of docks run by Parks Canada.  It also has many places to anchor.  After talking to some other boaters it sounds like we would have had to head there Tuesday to secure one of the docks.  We were just fine anchoring.

First we went all the way north in the bay and checked out Chimney Bay.  It was a bit crowded and not a lot of swing room with boats already there so we headed back a little ways south and anchored in the part of the bay called Ojibway Bay.  All of it is beautiful and scenic.  Ellie and Tom anchored close by.  They just bought their boat in Rhode Island and don’t have their dinghy with them (it’s with their other boat at home in Anacortes, WA) so they haven’t anchored at all.  We had our dinghy though and they said they’d give it a try.  We took our dinghy over to their boat and offered to take their dog Maddie to shore.  The girls adore her and Maddie wasn’t interested in the potty pads on the boat so Ben and the girls took her to shore for a quick walk.  We hung out on their boat for a bit and Ellie cooked up some hot dogs for the girls.

The wind was pretty strong at anchor but we had an uneventful night.  The forecast for the entire weekend was wind and rain on and off.  So we just had to pick our weather windows carefully.  Saturday morning we zipped over again and took Maddie to shore for a potty break and another walk.

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The girls are going to miss her a lot!  Then Tom and Ellie headed to Honey Harbor on their boat.  We followed a bit later through Big Dog Channel in the dinghy.  We definitely won’t try this on the big boat!  But it was a fun and quick dinghy ride.  Honey Harbor is a tiny little town with a big free town dock.  We tied the dinghy up and walked around and found lunch at an outdoor Irish place with live music and right on the water.  By this time the morning chill had worn off and it was warm and sunny.  Madelyn really wanted to go to the beach so we headed back to the boat.  We dropped Ellie and Tom and Maddie the dog at their boat.  They had walked into town from the marina so we took them back via water.  We stopped for a few minutes to chat and say goodbye as they planned to move on the next day.  We got back to the boat and Ben realized he didn’t have his wallet.  He was also concerned that the boat may have drifted some.  So, while he was a little frantic about finding his wallet he moved the boat to a different location.  After just setting the anchor he didn’t want to leave the boat so the girls and I took the dinghy back to Ellie and Tom’s boat to see if the wallet was there.  They had looked but we asked if we could come crawl around and look too.  I never drive the dinghy.  In fact this was only the second time I had driven it without Ben in it I think.  Molly got the biggest kick out of it.  We didn’t get lost and made it safely to our destination.  Tom and Ellie had taken their boat apart looking.  Nothing.  We crawled all over looking as well.  We were about to give up and head back into town to the little grocery store by the town dock when Ben texted.  His wallet was found!  Where???  In the parking lot of the liquor store!  He must have missed his pocket when he walked out of the store.  Someone turned it in and the lady working there somehow found him on Facebook and sent him a Facebook Messenger message.  For all the bad that can be said about social media at times, it saved us this time.  It would have been such an incredible hassle to lose all of that in a foreign country no less.  Of course nothing serious like the terrifying hurricane bearing down on so many right now, but nonetheless we were thrilled to have it back.  The liquor store was closing in 10 minutes.  The girls and I zipped the dinghy over there and I docked it again!  We ran to the store and found the door locked.  Ben called again and the lady working brought it out to us.  We headed back to the boat.  By this time unfortunately it was 6:30 PM and too late for the beach.  We felt badly.

Sunday we woke up to early rain and cooler temperatures.  Beach hopes were dashed again.  Once the weather cleared up we took the dinghy back out to explore.  We went back south on the island to the visitor center.  We walked through the camp grounds.  The setup is great.  They have a house to keep all food in away from the bears.  They have clever ovens with chimneys for cooking and a number of different camping sites.  There are areas to pitch tents, areas of small cabins and areas of bigger cabins.  We found a park ranger who told us about a water snake eating a frog!  Off we went to find that.  I took some pictures but it’s very hard to see.  The snake was in the grass and the frog’s back legs were in it’s mouth.  The frog’s head and front legs were sticking out of the snake’s mouth.  It was quite a sight to see and certainly something none of us had watched before.  The girls were fascinated!

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Next we took the dinghy back to Honey Harbor.  Ben discovered that the pockets on his pants zip closed so no more wallet worries.  We went to the store and stocked up on supplies for s’mores!  We took the dinghy back to where we were anchored and tied up at one of the docks on shore.

 

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My Loves!

 

Ben built a fire and we made our first s’mores of the summer!  Yum.  All of Beausoleil Island is so pretty.  We took the dinghy quite a few places.  Some are rocky and have big boulders for the girls to climb on.  Others are more grassy and sandy.  There are hiking paths all around. We hiked back a little bit in a few places but didn’t go too far.   We had been warned by our guide book an many other boaters about rattlesnakes and bears!

Monday was Labor Day and with the crummy weather a ton of boats had already left Sunday.  Monday was like a ghost town as we watched all the boats flee.  We went to shore in a different spot and made another fire at 10:30 AM and had more s’mores!  Why not?  We finished off our supplies and the kids played awhile. There was only one big boat left on the dock so we decided to pull up and join them.  The wind had been fairly gusty out where we were anchored and the docks were tucked in enough that they were blocked from the wind.  So we moved up and got settled and visited a bit.  These folks told us that there had been multiple bear sightings that morning.  There was a momma bear and two cubs roaming around.  All of the trash cans are bear proof and the campgrounds composting toilets are built way high up a large staircase to keep the bears away.

We cooked dinner and enjoyed a beautiful Labor Day sunset on the boat.  The girls were getting geared up for their first day of school!  We are homeschooling again this year since we aren’t home.  The girls both requested to be homeschooled and as long as we’re still traveling we’re going that route for now.

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Tuesday was the first day of 2nd and 5th grades for the girls!  It was a beautiful morning with water like glass.  The sun was shining and it was a good start to the new school year.  We had a fairly productive first day.  Madelyn fell back into her normal complaints and difficulties but we powered through.  I asked each of them to write about what they’d like to learn this year and what they’d like to improve upon.  One awesome aspect of homeschooling is that we can pick what we want to study to a certain extent.  We have some good subjects to cover.  Molly requested we learn more about weather (hurricanes specifically!), more about Cuba and how to type.  Madelyn asked to study electricity again as well as maps and geography.  So we have some great units ahead for the year.

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Once school was done we took the dinghy out for one last exploration of Beausoleil Bay.  We first went to Picnic Island and found the store closed after the weekend.  Back to Honey Harbor and then we continued north along the channel to Frying Pan Bay.  All our boating friends who have come to Canada have told us to go to Frying Pan Bay.  Monday or Tuesday we could have taken the big boat there but since we knew we were heading back south to Midland we didn’t bother moving north.  It was a fun dinghy trip.  Beautiful as always.  The bay is tucked in and quiet and still had quite a few boats in there post-weekend.  We got off the dinghy and walked around a bit.  What a gorgeous little treasure.

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Wednesday we said goodbye to Beausoleil Island and headed back to Midland.   Thursday we will begin our drive back to Chicago.  It’s a long drive so we are going to stop and see the Burnetts along the way in Michigan.  Friday we will arrive at our house for the first time since August 29, 2016.  The kids are so excited to see their rooms and their things for a couple of days!

I am reminded again of how blessed we are to be on this trip.  We are safe and protected up here to the north.  We have met so many people on this journey that are now lying potentially in the path of hurricane Irma.  We are watching closely and keeping in touch with everyone we can to see where they are and how they are doing.  Between hurricane Irma bearing down, the devastation already caused by hurricane Harvey and the terrible wildfires out west we are reminded daily of the force of Mother Nature.  We are so thankful that we’ve been blessed with such good weather.  As we keep our friends and family members in our thoughts these next few days, weeks, or possibly months we’ll try not to complain about some wind and rain and chilly temperatures slowing us down.

The Big Chute

We left Orillia Monday morning.  The water was still pretty crowded as this is a big vacation week for many before school starts after Labor Day.  We had a pretty short day planned.  We just planned to cross the rest of Lake Couchiching, go through Lock 42, cross Sparrow Lake and go through Lock 43.  After that we’d arrive at the Big Chute.  The three other boats we were traveling with wanted to stop there for the day.  We wanted to at least tie up for awhile and watch and talk to the people working the lock about the size and placement of our boat on the chute.

The locks were very busy and we were still towing the dinghy so it was a pain pulling in, and having to get the dinghy pulled astern of the boat and tied up so it wouldn’t drift into others’ way.  Thankfully it was just two locks.  At this point I was ready to be done with locks.  We pulled out of Lock 43 and made our way to the Big Chute.  The Trent-Severn has been beautiful and interesting but has also been very stressful for Ben.  But he’s been excited about the Big Chute since we started the Loop!  He shouted “there it is!” when it came into view.  We got tied up with the other three boats on the floating docks and went to watch the show.  There were at least a dozen boats on the blue wall waiting for their turn, and the operators were loading 4-6 smaller boats at a time through the Chute.  They were loading them two per row and fitting 2-3 rows of boats at a time.  We decided we’d stay put for the night as well.  We were pretty sure we’d have to go through alone and it just seemed simpler to do that first thing in the morning.   We watched from our side of the lock as they loaded boats in.  Then we stood underneath the large train like car as it traveled up and over the road we were standing on, and then down the hill, 58 feet to the bottom where the car and all of the boats were put back into the water and floated off.  It’s an incredible feat of engineering.  There are steps all the way to the bottom so we could walk all the way down and watch the entire process.

Once the lock operators did the last run through of the Chute for Monday, Ben was able to talk to them about our boat.  He verified where the sling marks are to hold the boat in in the chute and where our props and shafts are and how far they hang down.  At that point I suggested we move over to the blue wall.  This is the waiting wall where they call you into the Chute.  So, Ben hoisted the dinghy back up to the flybridge, we untied lines and moved over to the blue wall for the night so we’d be first in line in the morning.  Two of the other three boats we were with followed suit and lined up behind us.  We arranged with Tom and Ellie from Raffamugin that they would take pictures of us while we were in the Chute and then we’d pull over and tie up on the lower side and take pictures of them.  They are the boat we’ve been traveling with for a week or so now that led us through the very shallow narrow parts of The Ditch.

At 9 AM they called us into the lock.  They told us to go to the middle of the chamber in the back.  That meant we were indeed going to be alone since they didn’t call anyone in before us.  We were all pretty excited.  Even me, who was a little nervous about the whole thing.  The girls threw on their life vests and went out to the bow to sit out front for the ride.  Ben pulled in slowly.

We’ve had mostly good lock operators on the Trent-Severn, however we’ve also had a few that were a disaster that loaded the lock wrong and caused a few close calls.  The people working the Big Chute are top of their game.  They call out foot by foot how much further to slowly pull forward.  They know exactly when to have us stop so that our running gear is off the back and the slings line up properly on the boat.  The whole ride goes really quickly.  We were all surprised at how much of the boat was hanging off the back end.  Ben thinks about 15 feet were hanging off the back!  But the slings were on and with the running gear hanging off the back, the bottom of the boat could rest on the bottom of the car.

We quickly were lifted out of the water and crossed the road and then it was time to go down!

The girls asked if we were tipping forward.  I said no, we’re just going down 58 feet on a railroad track on our boat.  EEKS!  Towards the bottom they asked if they could run to the back and watch from there.  I never made it to the back to watch so I’m glad they did.

All of the build up and excitement was over in a short seven minutes and off we floated into the water.  We quickly noticed that the dock on that side didn’t have space for us.  We felt terrible but had to keep going and not stop to take pictures for Tom and Ellie.  Back to the stressful boating.  Right out of Lock 44 (Big Chute), we knew there was a blind, sharp turn with a very strong current and only room for a boat going one direction. We’d read all of the instructions and knew we had the right of way, Ben made our security call before entering the channel, we read the Danger sign at the entrance and in the strong current swept us.  At this point in the trip the scenery has changed to narrow passages cut through granite.  The walls are steep and beautiful but boy was that current strong.  Thankfully that passage was short and we made our way to Port Severn and Lock 45.  The LAST LOCK on the Trent-Severn and the LAST LOCK of our Loop!  Wow!

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Before going through Lock 45 we tied up to the temporary dock here for a couple of hours.  Friends we met in Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas live here, right by the lock!  Brian came to pick us up and took us to their house to visit for a few hours.  It was great to see Brian and Maureen again and catch up.  Their house is right on the water, across from the lock practically and just beautiful.  We had lunch and visited and when we noticed the winds picking up considerably we headed back to the boat.  They have a lot of local boating knowledge of the area as well so Brian gave Ben lots of tips.

Lock 45 is the smallest lock on the Trent-Severn and therefore controls the size of traffic on the route.  We untied in the wind and went to wait on the blue wall for our turn.  There was a sailboat waiting as well.  It was hard to hold position in the wind and Ben told them to enter first.  I knew we wouldn’t fit with them but he wanted to wait and see.  As soon as they were in it was obvious we couldn’t both fit (yes it’s that small!) so we tied up and waited for them to be lowered and the chamber raised up again.  Once we got into the lock chamber and tied up we could breathe a minute.  It was calm inside and an easy drop.  However Ben knew it was a slalom course upon our exit.  First, the sheer volume and current of water pouring over the dam really affected the exit from the lock.  We could see it from above the lock and Ben was prepared.  The water really shoves you around and it’s a good thing we were the only boat in the chamber.  Directly following the rushing rapids starts the slalom course of buoys.  We had been warned by fellow loopers that their boat was bouncing off the buoys because the green and red are so close together they were only separated by a distance the width of their boat.  Ben made it through without bumping any of them and breathed another sigh of relief.  We were done with the Trent-Severn.  We were done with locks!

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We made our way the short distance to Midland, ON, pulled into Bay Port Marina and tied up.  We planned to stop for a day or more, meet with the manager who does a route briefing and planning session for the Georgian Bay with loopers, and just relax a bit.  The marina had a pool and multiple playgrounds.  There was a lovely bike path into town and we enjoyed walking into town a few times.  We ended up staying three nights because of weather.  The kids got to swim on the hot day and then a cold front moved in.  We had a couple of nice dinners in town, spent more time with Tom, Ellie and their dog Maddie, and had a very helpful route planning session with Mike from Bay Port.  He set us up with a good plan, charts for our route and a lot of local knowledge.  We had the scheduling trick of having about a week to spend in the area before returning to Bay Port next Thursday. At that point we will drive home for the weekend and leave the boat in Midland.  So, we had an excellent route set for the week to anchor and visit Hope, Christian and Beckwith Islands with their turquoise clear waters and white sand beaches, along with plans to also anchor in Beausoleil Bay, visit Honey Harbor, and anchor in Frying Pan Bay.  Midland was a great stop for local knowledge, grocery shopping and just relaxing for a few days!