A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Sunday, 30 September 2012

War stories

Communications remained great while we were here and the settlement for the Kindy came through late on Thursday night, so at 11.10pm CST Carolyn retired.

The day before, our Dock neighbour, Matt (off Gemini Dream) broke out his gas powered portable smoker and we fired it up in the early afternoon with a bundle of meat bought from the local IGA  for a party that night. During the day a bunch more Loopers came in, including Jetstream and Took the Plunge, so it was heating up to be quite a party. That was until late afternoon, when the sky darkened to the south of here and gradually darkened all around us. In the distance we could see lightning, but the wind was blowing away from us so we had high expectations it would miss us. Nah! Around the time dinner was ready to be served the wind suddenly changed and the storm charged our way. We had just enough time to divvy up the food and scatter to the haven of our respective vessels when....down it came with the accompanying pyrotechnic display which included a lightning strike a few hundred yards away. It raged for a couple of hours then eased off a little and we went to bed.

In the morning we discovered that the portholes in our stateroom had not been closed properly and a small flood had entered them filling Carolyn's knicker drawer with water and soaking everything on the dresser. This was the day of settlement so it finished better than it began. However the following day, I was investigating Bert's advice that the 453 has 2 holding tank vents and 2 vent filters (which turned out to be true) and this required lying on the floor between the bed and the dresser and squeezing in to the bedside cupboard to access the second filter - which had never been changed and was blocked, which contributed to why pump-outs were not particularly successful at times. I removed the dead filter and replaced it with a bypass hose that I made up when we replaced the first filter back in Kenosha. When I climbed out from this position, I found I was soaked down the side that had been against the carpet as, it too, was saturated. Carolyn had tried to mop it up before I discovered the evidence, but.... too late. Yesterday while she was relating the incident and cover-up to Bert and Hilary, Bert said that we could have borrowed his wet and dry vac that would have cleaned it up easily and dried it out. The irony here is that 2 days earlier I had bought the same vac from Walmart so we could have done it with our own one!

The following day I decided to do something about the water flow on the boat when we are on shore supply (yes Kiwis, they "plug in" to water here as well). I had thought that what we had was as good as it gets, but on pumped water from the tank there is a marked difference. As Bert has the same boat, we could compare the flows between them and there was no doubt that there was something wrong with ours (eh, Dennis). Yesterday I bought a new pressure regulator/hose attachment from the Chandlery and fitted it. This morning I had a REAL shower.

Everyone doing the Loop has a "war story", and originally ours was the incident behind the tow where we encountered the whirlpool. However we now seem to be better known for our voyage between two tows. The best one we have heard to date, though, is of the folk off a relatively new (to them) boat - whch will remain nameless - that filled up with diesel at a marina and wondered why one tank took a lot less than the other. This was until they realised they had just put it in their holding tank. Fortunately they were in a good place with understanding hosts and the issue was resolved fairly quickly and without fuss. They would not be the first to fill the wrong tank with the wrong fluid and will certainly not be the last.

So here we are, still with the turtles. We were supposed to leave today but since we had stayed so long, the nice folk at the marina gave us a voucher which covered the cost of another nights stay. We also had a wee celebration for Carolyn's retirement last night - Looper "docktails" that started at 4.30pm and finished around midnight - so some people are a little jaded today. For the next few days we will be cruising around Kentucky Lake and are likely to anchor out a bit, so communications may be difficult to non existent for a while.

But then, we shouldn't need to be in constant touch any more as we are both retired now!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


Pool Room at Gracelands (note the sign)

Poolroom at Fontanel
Need I say more?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Relaxing a bit?????

I guess Green Turtle Bay is named that because there are a lot of turtles here.
They come out at night to be fed, which is kind of cute.

Dennis and Kathy arrived on monday and we had a quiet day so we could head down to Memphis in their rental car on tuesday. We got away at 8.00am and drove the 3 1/2 hours to Gracelands to see Elvis' "house". Carolyn had a real good time but (sorry Elvis fans) I found the whole experience morbid and rather tacky.
We then ate at a recommended restaurant and I have commented to a follower on the experience in a previous post, but I'll put it in again:
"Had the ribs at Blues City Cafe and they WERE excellent. Our NZ friends were a little taken aback by the style of presentation, which you can clearly see from where you are seated, until I explained the chef (cook?) had been specially trained to dispense fries by the handful then pick up the ones that missed and return them to your plate from the bench". It was good food, though.
By the time we returned to GTB it was late evening and we were quite weary, and the next day we relaxed in preparaton for a trip to Nashville on Thursday - although we did take the opportunity to add two more batteries into the house system. Thursday we were off to Nashville and also intended to head down to the Shiloh battlefield near Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee/Mississippi border, staying overnight at Savannah, TN. Just north on Nashville was a sign for "Fontanel Mansion". Kathy knew about it, so we went to take a look. Turns out it was Barbara Mandrell's former home and is the biggest log cabin in the world at 27000 square feet. You can do tours through it, but after the Gracelands experience, I was not keen to do another tour through a celebrity's house (although at least she is still alive!). However Kathy had already bought the tickets, so off we went. The tour couldn't have been more different from the one in Memphis. For a start there was only us and the tour guide, so it was very personal. Secondly the house was a living house, not a tomb, and they still hold all sorts of functions, weddings etc in it. You were allowed to touch, pick up, handle and play with anything on display. This included any of the multitude of guitars spread around the house, including Buck Owen's own, and I picked one that had been signed by all of the members of the Eagles. Of course I had to play "Hotel California" on it, to which the guide sang (with a very nice voice, I might add). Dennis and I even played a game of pool in the pool room (in Gracelands it was "touch anything - you die!!!") Go to http://www.fontanelmansion.com/mansion.php and check it out. If you're into music or very posh houses, then its well worth a visit.
We visited Broadway in Nashville where we had lunch, then a quick look at the Country Hall of Fame, but couldn't tour as we had to visit the Grand Old Opry before heading south. Kathy and Dennis did the backstage tour, but we had been to a show (many years ago) so didn't bother. We got away at 5.00pm and made Savannah at 8.00pm.
Over the weekend there was a live firing demonstration of the cannons at Shiloh, which is why we wanted to go there. These began at 11.30am on the Saturday so first we drove over the dam and had a look around Pickwick Lake, where I spent a few days boat hunting last year, before heading up to the battlefield. It was a lot bigger than we had imagined, but I guess when you have 105000 guys fighting each other for 2 days, they need a bit of space. One thing that seems to get screwed up often is the number of men killed there which is often reported as "over 23000". That, in fact, is the number of total casualties and the correct figures are 3482 killed, 16,420 wounded and 3844 missing (??!!??), a total of 23746. The live firing was awesome and LOUD, even though they were using only a quarter of the charge that would have been fired back then.

Afterwards we had lunch in a cute wee town named Adamsville where they had smoked cabbage on the menu. Tasted just like Hangi cabbage, so I got some to take out. On the way back we diverted through the Land between the lakes National Park and went into the enclosure where the Elk and Bison were. The Elk played the game and came out to pose (particularly this guy, who put on  real show for us), but not a Bison in sight. We know they were there because there were signs of them all over the road, and other Loopers had said that was all they saw when they visited (no Elk for them), but their poo was all we got to see. The other Loopers reckoned they were pretty scruffy and smelly anyway.

When we got back on Saturday night, most the Loopers were gone and the transient slips were near empty. There was a lock closure for repairs on the Mississippi last week (Lock 27) and all the Loopers upstream have been held up waiting for it to re-open and the backlog of tows to clear. We took a trip to the liquor store in Paducah 20 miles north, as GTB is in a dry county as is the rest of the state to the south between here and the Tennessee border.
The next day the rest of the Loopers left, so we went for a tutu into Kentucky Lake to Pisgah Bay about 6 miles downstream, and there they all were! (a bunch of them, anyway). We returned to the solitude of the empty GTB docks that evening.
So here we are back with the turtles. Dennis and Kathy left yesterday for Chicago and Route 66 and we have decided to stay on a week while the sale of Carolyn's Kindy goes through settlement. Right here is the best WiFi we have had to date so we can keep in touch with proceedings until it's all over on friday. The vanguard of the next bunch of Loopers began arriving last night and more are expected today.
We might spend a few days relaxing a bit.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Twilight Zone

Picture if you will, a pleasure vessel travelling downriver on the Mississippi and being approached by a tow that didn't respond to hailing on channel 13 for passing instructions. Then add a second tow that appears to be behind the first tow, but turns out to be overtaking it, that instructs the pleasure vessel to pass on the "one whistle" side ie port to port. Since the pleasure vessel is directly in front of the first tow awaiting instructions, there is no time or space to get by the port side of the second tow so the pleasure craft skipper opts to go between the two tows, much to the amazement of the tow skippers.

Now picture a sailing vessel that observes and photographs the episode......

forget trying to picture it.....here's the real thing!

I had actually forgotten about this incident as it looks a lot scarier than it was at the time - but it goes to show how little we are compared with these behemoths of barges.

Photos courtesy of TEASA

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Mighty (Meagre) Misssissippi

We headed out from Grafton onto the Mighty Mississip and at first it was everything I expected. The river was wide and fast

At 1300RPM we were travelling 10.7 knots, where we would normally be 8.5. However once past the first lock the landscape changed and past the second the river narrowed and there was significant eposure of the riverbanks. Apparently the river is 15ft lower than normal and is anticipated it will get worse. At St Louis a barge with a crane warned me to go to deeper water as he had just grounded and he only drew 5ft. Several other tows were reporting groundings as well and one captain told an upbound colleague from further south "you will see some scarey stuff up here!"

We arrived at the famous Hoppies Marina in the early afternoon and were lucky enough to have this beautiful riverboat pass us by in the afternoon.

A couple of other Loopers were with us and at 5.00pm the owner Fern gave us a breifing on what to expect downstream. First she told us that this was the lowest she had seen the river since 2003, when they actually closed the river. She also said she expected it to get worse. The advice was to ignore all the anchorages suggested in the guidebooks and gave us a few options for the rest of the Mississippi. These were anchorages up to about 50 miles downstream, a floating dock 100 miles away and an anchorage at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers 158 miles away. We decided to go for the floating dock (Kidds in Cape Girardeau) and everyone retired early for an early start the next day.

At 6.00am it was still dark but one Looper departed, followed half an hour later by another and half an hour after that we got underway as well. By now the current was running around 3 knots and we were hitting speeds of 11-12 knots, with the highest we saw that day at 13.8 knots. We overtook our fellow loopers and were in the lead for the race to Kidds Landing. There were lots of tows, both directions - we probably passed 20 or more that day. The river got narrower and shallower with a typical sight like this one of the Little Rock Ferry ramp (which wasn't operating for some strange reason.
We reached the dock about 3.00pm and didn't like the look of it and its exposure, so we decided to head for Angelo's Towhead. About 10 miles out from it, it was starting to get dark but we were committed. About 6 miles out we ran into a large slow tow going downstream at a norrow part of the river and we had to get past him or we were not going to make the anchorage by dark. We got past and made it to the Towhead right on nightfall. We anchored in 18ft of water, well away from barge traffic and had a pleasant night after 158 miles in 13 hours, averaging 12.2 miles per hour.

The next day we entered the Ohio River and it couldn't have been more different. Firstly the river was wide and had water in it. It was also running against us as we were heading upstream, so we were doing 7 knots at the same revs as yesterday. We made good time until we reached the first lock, where there was a backlog of tows and we had to wait two and a half hours to lock through. This lock is just upstream of the new Olmstead Lock and dam under construction - an awesome looking project.

We past Metropolis, but had no time to stop and check out the Superman painting on the water tower. We got straight through the second lock, but the delay at the first did not allow us to stop at Paducah, either. We went on to stay at another towhead anchorage at the junction of the Cumberland and Ohio rivers. Another nice quiet night.

The next day was a short (30 mile) trip up the narrow but deep Cumberland river to the Barkley Lock, which has a 57ft lift to Barkley Lake.

From there it was a 2 mile trip to Green Turtle Bay Marina and Resort, where we have booked to stay a week while our Kiwi friends, Dennis and Kathy, come to stay with us. They will have a rental car so we intend to explore the local area and places like Memphis, Nashville etc.
Another frenetic few days, with a lot of travel (304 miles in 4 days), so it will be good to relax for a bit.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

A few frenetic days

In the last post I mentioned having a supply issue with Amazon.com. It wasn't really with them, but one of their suppliers, the Price Pros. I ordered the item, which they claimed was ex stock, on expedited delivery and although they claimed to have despatched it at the proper time (this prevents you from cancelling) investigation found that they were "still waitng for it to arrive from the manufacturer and would be another 3 days". I couldn't wait so I cancelled the order but 2 days later they were telling me that the had lodged a cancellation request with their warehouse, but couldn't guarantee that it could be stopped in time. I immediately put in a claim with Amazon and today received confirmation from Amazon that a full refund had been given. Good on Amazon....but be careful who you chose on their website for supplying stuff. Certainly do not use the Price Pros. I checked their ratings and they have a 91% rating from 158000 clients - which tells me they have 14000-odd less-than-satisfied customers, and I'm one of them!

The lack of this adapter limits the availability of power at some marinas and other stops (such as Joliet, where there is free docking on their city wall, but only 30A power - and I need 50A.

Last posting we were in Henry, IL, a cute wee marina alongside a abandoned lock. The only 50A supply was along the old lock wall where the rocks were like razors. Tying up was interesting as there were no cleats and we wound up tied to trees, fence posts and anything else we could loop a rope around with plenty of wadding around them to prevent chaffing.

We had been hearing reports of low water levels restricting marinas and anchorages further downstream so we figured we needed to do some big miles to avoid these issues.The next day we planned for a 76 mile run down to a small town called Havana, where there was a marina with all we needed. We rose early and got underway with everything going well until Peoria Lake, where the map on the GPS ran out and shortly after so did the map on the iPad. So there we were....no GPS at all. Thank heavens for paper charts. We continued through the locks and reached Havana at 3.00pm only to be told that there was insufficient water to get us in. As the next marina was at Grafton, 120 miles away, we opted to anchor out behind an island that was purported to have 10-12' of water "several hundred yards past the coal plant. We gingerly went 100 yards past the coal plant in 8' of water at which point the sounder showed 2', and we were aground. We backed off and anchored beside some empty barges in 8' and had a pleasant night of solitude - although during the night several large tows went by the other side of the island.

We rose at 5.00am the next morning (well I did anyway) and got underway a daybreak, just after 6 with the intention of making Grafton 120 miles away - a 12 hour run at best. Within half an hour we ran into the first obstacle - a thick bank of fog.
Within a few minutes the visibility dropped to around 20' and NO GPS!!!!!!!! Fortunately the radar was picking up the marker buoys and we managed to continue on. Of course it couldn't tell us what color they were and they didn't alsways match the charts, so it was a matter of heading straight at them and watching the depth on the sounder until they were close enough to see. The fog went on for 6 miles and it took an hour to traverse it. Around and hour later we ran into a dredge working that completely blocked the channel.
After 15 minutes of ignoring our VHF calls a small tug came over and told us to follow him. We did this and got into water as low as 5 ft before we got past and back into the channel. We had better luck with the locks, which were available as soon as we got there and we didn't even have to tie up for the drop - just floated around. On exiting the last lock we could see how low the water was. If you look closely at the pic you will see the normal water level (the lighter brown) is around 3' higher than now.

Further down, some of the anchorages in the guides were very shallow and in one case, completely dry - Willow Island at mile marker 73 is now a peninsular.

At one narrow section of the river there was a tow coming towards us (a tow is bunch of barges actually pushed by a large tugboat). He was pushing 15 laden barges and was one of the larger tugs we had encountered so far. We went through the passing protocols, he told me to pass on the "one whistle" (starboard) side, but by the time we had got by the 5 barge length, there was only about 60ft between the marker and the stern of the tug and we were in only 8ft of water. As I passed the tug, a deckhand got my attention and made round, swirling motions with his hands, and when we got right past, I saw why. At the back of the tug were 2 enormous whirlpools put up by his props as he grunted up to get his tow around the bend in  the river. There was no way to avoid them so it was a matter of throwing down as much power as possible to haul ourselves out. I've never been white water rafting but I imagine its something like that - only in a 19 ton, 48ft raft. I am sooooo glad that we had 920 horses to get us out of there. I can see how easy it would be to get into trouble if you didn't have the nouse or the horsepower to get you out of such a spot.

About that time as well I noticed the fuel gauge on our port tank had suddenly dropped to read just above empty, so the next 2 hours we sat on tenterhooks, waiting for the engine to stop. In the guide book it said that there was a restuarant dock at the town of Hardin where it could be possible to order in diesel so we decided to stop there and give it a go. After 10 hours of running I had had enough anyway and we tied up and I went to the restaurant to suss it out. I had noticed that there was a gas station in town so I figured that I could get some diesel there, if necessary. The restaurant owner, Mel, told me that the service used to be provided by Farm Services, but they had stopped doing it 2 years ago due to EPA regulations. He also told me that the gas station didn't sell diesel, but offered to take me up to Farm Services and get some fuel in jerry cans. The problem was he could only find 2....one of 2.5 gallons, the other 5 gallons. So over the next 2 hours we made 4 trips the 6 miles return to Farm Services and managed to get 36 gallons in Loopy Kiwi (yep - we overfilled the containers each time).

That night we ate in Mel's Riverdock Restaurant. Skipper Bob's Waterway guide describes the food as excellent. It is wrong - the food is divine! (and I'm not just saying that because he helped us out). I have been coming to the USA for 30 years and I cannot recall having better food. It was so good we went there for breakfast the next day and it was just as good. Any Looper reading this, do yourself a favour and stop for a meal at least.

Yesterday we travelled the remaining 20 miles to Grafton, where the Illinois and Mississippi rivers meet. There were a number of other Loopers here including our fellow Kiwi, Tony, and we enjoyed cocktails and a meal with them last night. They showed us how to download the maps from Navionics down to the iPad, and now we have a GPS again. I won't bother to get a new chip for the chart plotter, we will just use the iPad and paper charts. Today some of the Loopers headed off to Hoppies, 50 miles away and the last marina for 228 miles. We will follow tomorrow, which is why I'm doing this posting now, as email will be a problem for the next few days.
Till next time

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A tale of two Cities

Or marinas, anyway.

One was Michigan City, which I said how well we were treated in the last posting. The other is Hammond, where we were not. I won't go into too much detail as I have already vented my spleen on both the AGLCA forum and Active Captain website, but suffice to say they were the worst marina (both in facilities and attitude) that we have met to date - and hope never to again. We were put on a dock 400 metres  from the carpark and 600 from the office, then told we were not allowed to ride our
bikes down the pier.

They refused assistance in providing transport even though their own security personnel told us they considered it their function. Because of this I had to rent a car to get anywhere.

The half empty marina docks (surprise, surprise) were covered in duck poop and nobody made any attempt to clean it up. The place is a tip and the staff are not much better - say no more!

I had to wait there all this time because I had to finish the mods to the DC system, and I was waiting for a special shore power adapter to come from Amazon. The DC mods were done by my own self, with much cussing and sweat but since I have been here some of the girth has gone and I am a little more agile than before, so I managed to squeeze into place hitherto impossible. The power adaptor never arrived, which is still an ongoing issue with the supplier to Amazon, and the last night we were there we had a thunderstorm with winds of 60 kts that actually moved the dock we were tethered to over by 2 ft. Accordingly we had had enough of Hammond, so off we went into the river system via the Calumet river (Cal Sag Canal).

We passed under several bridges that required lifting and had our firtst "locking" experience albeit only a foot drop, so we didn't even tie up. We also encountered our first "tow" and managed to get the passing signals wrong - but he knew what we meant!! We stopped one night at Marine Services Marina, about 10 miles downriver in Dolton, where I had looked at a Carver 466 (Epiphany) during the boat buying trip last year. They remembered me, strangely enough, and gave us good hospitality. It is a shame they are right next door to a landfill that provides an unpleasant odour when the wind is blowing the wrong way.

The first hurdle and last (major) worry, was THE bridge at mile 300.5  that you've gotta get under to do the loop. At a published clearance of 19'5", Loopy Kiwi should not (and to some folk - would not)clear the 19.1' clearance that the bridge normally has. With careful measuring, we figured that with the anchor light down the clearance could be reduced to around 18'9" (eh, Charlie). So on approaching THE bridge, I climbed out on the hardtop and we came to a dead stop right at the upstream side. We then drifted through and we cleared the underneath with a good 8" to spare, with the anchor light UP!!!! 


Yahoo, Florida here we come.

Since then we have been going down the Illinois River and have locked down through some big locks and encountered some big tows - so we are starting to get it right. At the suggestion of our friends on JETSTREAM, we bought a couple of 18" diameter ball bouys as fenders and these have been invaluable in protecting the boat from the lock walls and our inexperience.
Everyone shows pix of lock, so there are ours. We are on our fourth night on the river and have a ways to go, so hope to have an early start tomorrow and cover around 76 miles. Here is the trip so far
PS we bought a Navionics app for the iPad for $74, which covers the USA and Canada, that turns it into a chart plotter as good as the one on the boat.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Bikes n things

The trip to St Joe was delightful - the flatest it had been on the lake since beginning our trip. The trip up to the fuel dock at Pier 33 was not and it is small wonder the fuel is so cheap at 3.69/gallon. To get there, you turn off the main channel into a small river that was showing 3.2ft on the sounder at the entrance. You wind up a channel about half a mile with the depth sounder varying between 3 and 13 ft (we draw 4'4") until, just within sight of the fuel dock the sounder shows 2.2ft, at which time we touch bottom. It gets deeper at the dock , which only has room for 1 boat at a time, but you are warned to turn around in your own boat length or you will be aground upstream. We tried the other side of the channel going down, but had the same 2.2ft grounding experience at the same spot - which goes to prove that my transducer is 2ft below the waterline (which is handy to know, but would rather have measured it!). In both cases I was going very slowly and removed power immediately so the props weren't turning when they touched. It also felt like a very slushy bottom and no damage was done.

We decided we didn't like it there and pressed on to New Buffalo to take advantage of the excellent Sunday Brunch that I experienced during the boat buying trip last year. On arrival the beaches were packed, there were squillions of water craft parading up and down the small harbour and yes....there were no slips available.

So we continued on to Michigan City (after ringing first to ensure there was a berth for us). Their's is a big marina and there was plenty of room. There was also a boat show on, the largest in Lake Michigan, so we arranged to stay for 3 days. The following day was overcast and it began to rain around mid morning, so I visited the boat show while Carolyn read books. It was a bit of a disappointment with very little in the way of chandlery, in which I was really interested, and beer was $4 a cup. Auckland's show at the Viaduct Basin leaves it for dead. There was a cute water-skiing squirrel and a demo of a new device called a fly board. It is an attachment to a jet ski that was quite entertaining when demonstrated by an expert, but I can just imagine what it will be like when  it falls into the hands of inexperienced idiots - and at less than $10000 at todays price, they soon will. As if jet skiers needed anything more crazy and dangerous than the craft they already misuse - if these become wide spread I predict there will be some serious injuries and fatalities very quickly.

It was nicer the following day so I took a ride to a bike shop about 1.8 miles away that I had found on the net. It turned out to have exactly the bike we were looking for for Carolyn with 3 speeds, low bar and even the right colour. So I pedalled back and roused Carolyn and we set off to view it. I checked with the office to see if someone could give us a lift (we would ride the bikes back if we bought it) and one of the staff, Don, loaned us his Jeep to drive there and back. He also offered that we could use it to go grocery shopping if we wanted. We drove to the store tested and bought the bike (after a seat change) and even  negotiated a trade in on the bikes we bought in Sturgeon Bay - including the broken one - as they had become unwanted cargo.
We arrived back just as JETSTREAM arrived from St Joe and as they were needing supplies, I took Don's kind offer and used his car to take them to Al's grocery store, which is past the bike shop - not the 0.8 miles from the marina like the Skipper Bob guide book says. When I returned the key to the office I left some money to cover gas, for which Don later chastised me, but I insisted he keep it as his generosity should not be at his cost and he had saved us a lot of effort and money.

The next day was a monday, so I rang CBP in Chicago and tracked down an officer whose name I was given by another Kiwi Looper. She knew nothing of the procedure, so I gave her my details and suggested she rang the officer in Grand Rapids who did know how it worked. We then left for Hammond marina, where we now are - but I have decided that will be the subject of a separate posting as we are still there and there is a story to tell.....