Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Another Kind of Loop Tour

Here's where we stayed Sunday night (photo at left): In Monroe Harbor, with gleaming skyscrapers as a backdrop.

We decided that for once, we'd let someone else do the piloting, and booked seats for a twilight tour of the Chicago Loop, from the river--kind of a Readers Digest Condensed Education in Chicago Skyscraper Architecture, followed by fireworks as the city said goodbye to the Tall Ships)

The next morning, we piloted the same route ourselves.   First step, the Chicago Harbor Lock, which  separates the lake from the Chicago River . . .

What IS It?

From time to time, this blog offers a quiz called "What IS It?"  Correctly identify the photo and you will receive a shout-out in the blog, plus a real live tacky postcard via snail mail.

Here's a fun one:  In Africa, the colorful birds called "bee-eaters" excavate nesting burrows in sand banks.  The dramatic landscape you see in the photo above LOOKS like a bee-eater colony, but actually this image was taken yesterday, near Chicago.  What is it, and (more or less) where is it?

And check back later today when SlowBoat will cruise you through downtown Chicago!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wooden Ships, on the Water

19th century technology meets 21st.
Just like OUR boat!
Chicago has nine different marinas.  We spent Saturday night in Belmont Harbor, one of the northernmost.

On Sunday, we moved five miles farther south, to Monroe Harbor, which is close to the lock that would take us off the lake and into the inland waterway system.

The Navy Pier "Headhouse." Towers
once held water for fire control.
Coincidentally the move also took us right past Navy Pier, where the Tall Ships were docked.

Navy Pier is an amusing, curvaceous contrast to the serious skyscrapers that form its backdrop, kind of  like a cheerleader hanging out with a crowd of engineers.  It's called Navy Pier because the Navy really did train there during WWII.  But when it first opened, in 1916, the pier was designed to serve as what it is again today--a fresh-air, family entertainment destination.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's 106 Miles to Chicago, We Have a Full Tank of Gas, It's Dark and We're Wearing Sunglasses. Hit It!

OK, it was less than 106 miles from Waukegan to Chicago.  It was broad daylight.  And our boat runs on diesel fuel . . .  or electricity.   But we couldn't help chanting that classic line from the Blues Brothers movie as we set out yesterday.

And then, there it was on the horizon, like a mirage, the shape of the skyline instantly recognizable: City of the Big Shoulders, Chicago.

The Compleat SlowBoat Experience

We had guests on the boat Friday: the first mate's parents, visiting from Massachusetts.  We travelled from Winthrop Harbor to Waukegan over clear blue water glittering in the sunlight.  Our passengers had the complete SlowBoatin' experience:  They gamely applied multiple layers of sunscreen, donned their lifejackets, got waked by big powerboats, and got out on deck where they bravely got gongoozled.

It was an occasion to reflect that, back when I was six years old, my parents bought their first--and only--boat, a wood-and-canvas canoe.  Maybe we can convince Dad to guest blog and tell the story.

 (P.S. It's blog catch-up day, so there's another post below)

The Kindness of Strangers

Kenosha is famous as the home of
the Nash Rambler and Jockey shorts
The Cap'n wanted to hop a train back East, to visit his folks for few days.  So last Saturday found us navigating the harbor at Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few hours before train time, looking for a marina that--on the phone--had offered a low rate.

Said marina, on arrival, had no apparent slips open . . .  no harbormaster on duty . . . and no one answering the phone or radio.

So there we were, floating in the channel, checking our guide and dialing other marinas, trying to figure it all out.  Just then, we heard a friendly voice say,  "Why not stay here?"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh, Carp!

When we started planning this trip, we weren’t sure we'd make it all the way around the Great Loop.  The issue wasn’t the seaworthiness of our boat. It was, “Will the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal be closed on account of Asian carp by the time we get there?”  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mystery Ship

The day we traversed De Tour Passage to enter Lake Michigan it was so foggy, we could barely see. We were peering through the fog, keeping an eye out for big freighters . . . when we were quite surprised to spot a pirate ship. 

Actually, it was the Flagship Niagara, part of the fleet of graceful, old-fashioned sailing ships collectively called the “Tall Ships.”

These vessels--topsail schooners, brigantines, brigs, and barques--have been sailing around the Great Lakes all summer long, stopping in at different ports, a movable feast of boating beauty.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Shipboard Life

To infinity or beyond!
(Or at least to the next coffeeshop)
Darling daughter has packed up her amusing nautical wardrobe and deserted ship for her usual haunts. But she promises to guest blog soon, to provide HER perspective on the SlowBoatin' Life.

DD tells us that friends of hers who follow SlowBoat want to know more about shipboard life: What's it REALLY like to be on the boat?  I'll supply a few details, and then DD can embellish.  (Or, send a note with your questions.)

For quite a lot of the time, what we do is we steer the boat. When you're traveling 3 - 4 miles per hour, it pretty much takes all day to get anywhere!

There's a lot to do before we sail each day. (Evicting the spiders alone is a huge chore!)  We also check the ridiculously expensive fenders to make sure they're tied securely and won't fall off and float away; bail the dinghy if it rained overnight; close up the canvas panels in the bow, so waves won't wash in; stow away or batten down anything that could fall off a shelf and break; turn the fridge to "less cold" and unplug phones and laptops, to avoid draining the house batteries.

There are boat chores related to our propulsion systems:  Wiping down solar panels to get rid of dead bugs and gull poop.  Topping up batteries with distilled water.  Les frequently, changing oil and other fluids. Pumping the bilges. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sculpture Tour

Those things that look like solar panels on the roof  alas are merely
windows, through which you can gape at the architecture
The more you look, the more applications for solar you find.

Did you know that Milwaukee has solar-powered parking meters?  Yup!   (Strictly speaking, the things are "solar-powered pay stations," not individual parking meters.)

Apparently they're the hottest new thing.  Many eco-conscious cities have 'em, including not just Milwaukee but Austin, San Diego, and Ann Arbor.

We've spent the last few days in Milwaukee, having fun being tourists with Darling Daughter, our current boat guest.   We approved of the river tour boats, which look like supersized canalboats.  And we especially liked the city's Riverwalk, which has entertaining ornamental public sculpture everywhere you look.

It's an art museum . . .  it's a spaceship!  Beam me up, Captain!
Speaking of sculpture, of course we had to visit the Milwaukee Art museum, where the distinctive Quadracci Pavilion is itself a jumbo work of public sculpture.  It's been compared to a Gothic Cathedral, to the wings of a bird, and especially to a sailboat. I think the latter comparison is particularly apt.  It's also quite Bridge-of-The-Enterprise inside . . .  if I ever film a sci-fi movie, I'm using it for a set.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Droves of Dragonflies

Me and my buddies!
We heard some folks watched the PGA this past weekend, hoping to see the Dragonfly cruise by offshore. Alas, you were disappointed. We were weatherbound in Manitowoc.

But PGA viewers DID see dragonflies a-plenty--the real deal, swarming on the lakeshore.

Tis the season for dragonfly migration!  When I researched my book on dragonflies, I was fascinated to learn that some species migrate south for the winter.   It's thrilling to actually be in the midst of a phenomenon I had only read about.

Most of the migrants are Common Green Darners--a species of dragonfly with a Kelly-green body and glittering wings.  These dragonflies are SO big, when you see them you can't quite believe it.

We also spotted a species of "saddlebag" dragonfly--possibly the Black Saddlebags.   This species has spots on its wings, near the body, that give it kind of a humpbacked appearance in flight, as if it's carrying miniature saddlebags.

Experts say an unusually large mosquito population this year gave dragonflies plenty of food, so they have survived to adulthood in large numbers.

Doing Good by Eating Well

As part of the sustainability theme of our trip, we shop at farmers' markets as much as we can.  Saturday I biked to Manitowoc's waterfront market, where dozens of vendors offered such delights as sweet corn, peaches, blueberries, and pattypan squash. I filled my backpack to groaning capacity.

How can you NOT love eggs from "Yuppie Hill Farms"?

Then, later in the week, we heard about "Field to Fork," a restaurant in Sheboygan that uses lots of local ingredients in its offerings.  Of course DD and I HAD to bike up the hill for breakfast--strictly for research purposes, you understand.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Clean Sweep

DD: 12  Spiders: 0  Mission accomplished!
Congratulations to Russ Hass, the winner of the August 16th "What IS It?"  Russ correctly explained that submarines attach a broom to their conning tower to show they have made a "clean sweep" when they return from a mission having sunk all their targets.

For his efforts Russ wins a tacky postcard, not to mention the glory of being named a winner.

(Previous winner Scott Barbara, please reply to slowboat@emailias.com with your snailmail address to collect your prize!)

On the subject of submarines:  You may know that, when you dock at a marina, you pay by the foot.  So . . . longer vessels get charged more than shorter vessels. Dragonfly is 41 feet long--longer than many pleasure craft--so marina fees can be on the hefty side.

Our son had a clever idea:  Add a conning tower.  Waterproof the boat.  Outfit the bilges to work like those on a submarine.  Makes sense, right?  Steel-hulled vessel, torpedo shaped, slow moving . . . Then, when approaching a marina, submerge--all but the conning tower.  Then key channel 9 on the radio:  Windward Marina, Windward Marina, vessel six feet in length seeks transient berth. Over."

Naw, we didn't actually do it. But fun to think about.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of the S.S. Cobia,  DD is victoriously making a clean sweep of the spiders.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Slower Boat

Red construction cranes
(background) are a Manitowoc
A small craft advisory kept us in port in Manitowoc on Sunday, so alas we missed our chance to cruise Dragonfly past the Whistling Straights Golf Course, which is just north of Sheboygan, our next destination, and add some nautical interest to the PGA Golf Tournament.

But we do have some exciting news aboard Dragonfly:  We have a guest on board, our darling daughter.   DD is taking a break from her studies to help haul on lines, place fenders, and otherwise learn the arcane lore of the bow bunny.  (She also wants to pilot).

It's not ALL work on the boat.  Since we were in a town with one of the nation's finest Maritime Museums, (including an exhibit on the Great Loop!) we strolled on over.  The showcase exhibit is the World War II submarine Cobia, docked on the river next to the museum.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What IS It?

SlowBoat did not get too many guesses for the August 8th "What IS It?"  (Although the guesses received were very creative!)   If you passionately want to play the game but you are having trouble using the "comment" function on this website (and your local random teenager can't set you up), remember you can also send your "What IS It" guess to slowboat@emailias.com

Scott Barbara guessed that the elaborate sterling silver item pictured was a "sink in an officer's stateroom." Close enough, and give that man a tacky postcard!  What you see in the picture is an amazing little fold-up sink from a luxury yacht.  Fold it down to wash your face, fold it up and it looks like a tasteful wooden cabinet, no hint that your stateroom is also your washroom.   It was on display in the maritime museum at Sturgeon Bay.

Let me set you to your next nautical challenge, and then I have more to say on the subject of nautical fold-up sinks.

We spent the weekend in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where we spotted a vessel displaying an unusual ensign (pictured at right).

Yes, it's a broom!

Here are your questions:

1) What kind of boat flies a broom as an ensign?  And
2) What does the broom signify?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bow Bunnies and Monkey Girls

Fishing tugs in the "Fishing Village" at Two Rivers
We've crossed paths a couple times with a trawler named "Monkey Girl."  "It's not what you think," her skipper told us.

Apparently the boat has narrow gunwales, with no railings and only a few handholds. So the first time they took their new boat through a lock, his wife was clinging like, well, a monkey! He started calling her "monkey girl," and the name stuck to the boat.

First time for everything: First time we stayed at
a marina next to a McDonalds.

I thought of Monkey Girl this week, as we spend three days docked in the town of Two Rivers (formerly a fishing town, though these days the fishing tugs are mostly in a museum). Our first night, we tied up in a marina, but the other nights we tied to a wall in a public park.

It was great to stay for free. On the other hand, the wall was quite high--so high that when we docked, the boat's roof was level with shore.

It was also made of corrugated steel. And coated with spider webs. And in order to get off the boat, I had to climb onto a narrow ledge about three inches wide, and scramble sideways about 15 feet--above muddy brown water and rotting dead fish--to reach a shaky steel ladder and scramble up onto shore. In a situation like this, there's nothing to do but embrace your inner Monkey Girl.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's in a Name?

Creative names are common for fishing-charter boats

My personal bible for all things nautical, Chapman’s Boating Etiquette, notes, “Choose boat names with care; people often known owners by their boats.   

"A vessel’s name conveys a lot about how the owner thinks of his boat,” the book continues.  “How do you think a boat with the name like Marauder will negotiate a crowded channel?”  In our experience, cigarette boat Delirious will pass you very close and at high speed, so the mountainous wake rocks your boat hard enough to scramble eggs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Doin' The Loop

Where We Stayed: Kewaunee, Wisconsin.  We rose at dawn
to see this tall ship docked across the harbor!

Boaters always ask each other, “Where did you come from? and “How long you out for?”

When we say “The Erie Canal,” and “A whole year—we’re doing the Great Loop,” we get confused looks. That’s because out here, in the Midwest, it’s trendy to do a “Great Circle” tour, which is a circumnavigation of one of the Great Lakes.

But nope, our route is the Great LOOP. There’s no concise way to describe where it takes you. I usually say, “The Great Loop is the system of waterways that turns North America, east of the Mississippi, into one enormous island.” Whew!

(If you have trouble picturing that, here’s a map.)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

This Means War!

I was sitting in the salon last night, at the dinette, working on my laptop. The cabin was dim.  A flicker of movement made me shift my eyes, and I watched as a very large spider lowered itself, slowly and deliberately, in front of my screen.  Its narrow body was the size of a pen cap.  Its long, crooked legs waved menacingly.

The spiders on this boat are getting bolder every day.  This means war!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rescue at Sea

We didn’t know anything about powerboats before we left on this trip, so we took an online class from Power Squadron (an excellent organization. We HIGHLY RECOMMEND). One important thing we learned were the boating “Rules of the Road.”

The Rules tell you things like: "How to pass another boat safely," "Which boat has the right of way," and "When to sound your horn."  And there’s one rule we found particularly interesting:  If another boat is in trouble, you have to help.
TowBoat US: The boating equivalent of AAA for your car

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Boats on Parade

Sturgeons no longer swim in the Bay
but you find them downtown. The
one below is for Packers Fans.

Along the Erie Canal, in each small town  you visit, you will notice a statue of a mule (or two, or three). The street art is a tip of the hat to the original power source for canal boats.  The statues are gaily decorated, each according to the talents of local artists.

In Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, artists have turned their efforts to decorating statues of the eponymous fish, with some dazzling results.
However we had decided to stop in Sturgeon Bay, not for the art, but for the Door County Maritime Museum, and the Wooden Boat festival.

We biked over to the museum grounds on Saturday, and the first vessel we spotted (picture below) was most definitely not wooden.

The Captain was instantly smitten and quickly pointed out the many ways in which an amphibious Cadillac would make an excellent dinghy.
Of course it handles well in the water--it has FINS!

Plenty of room for groceries!  No need to dock it, just roll on up the boat launch ramp!  Far more stylish than a Zodiac.  Solid steel, like our canal boat.  Alas, this boat was not for sale.

What IS It?

Congratulations to Joy, the winner of the August 5th What IS It? quiz. Joy is the lucky winner of a truly tacky postcard.

And now for today's quiz:

We spotted this magnificently crafted item of solid sterling silver at the Sturgeon Bay Maritime Museum, so that tells you it was designed with a nautical purpose.  What is it?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Slow Boat Goes to the Beach

Can you find the canal boat in this picture?

We passed through Death's Door unscathed and started working our way down the Door Peninsula, a long finger of land that forms the eastern shore of Green Bay (the landscape feature, not the city).

Friday, August 6, 2010

We Pass Through Death's Door . . . and Live to Tell the Tale

Port des Mortes:  Doesn't look so deadly, does it?
On Monday we entered Wisconsin!  Here's a note from Captain's Log, Stardate August 2, 2010:

The famous cobbles of Schoolhouse Beach
"Today we crossed our last long stretch of open water until the Gulf of Mexico. Now, “long stretch of open water”  means that, at some point, you can see neither the shore you left nor the shore where you’re headed.  Captain's log continues:  "Crossing open water must have required real courage in the days before GPS and chart plotters. Less courage is required with a color video screen; still, we’re making this crossing in a boat designed for dead calm and water five feet deep, so perhaps a little glory is warranted."  Anyway, we crossed to Washington Island, Wisconsin, and headed down the Door Peninsula, the first leg of a run ever southward towards the Gulf of Mexico, which means that, for months to come, we’ll constantly be in sight of land and able to holler for help when necessary.  (All mothers reading this blog may now breathe a sigh of relief.)

A friend of the crew writes:  "Are you able to use your bicycle much?"  Answer: Yes! My cute folding bike may live in the shower stall, but it gets out a good bit. Washington Island is about four miles long and four miles wide and criss-crossed with quaint, rolling country roads, and after dinner I biked ALL-the-heck over it, including Schoolhouse Beach, famous for being covered not with sand but with cobblestones. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

What IS It?

Congratulations to Knox Johnstone for correctly identifying the August 3rd "What IS It?" quiz.  In this photo of the shore of Beardrop Harbor (Lake Huron's North Channel), flat stones have been carefully piled to make a little statue of a man.  Knox writes: "It's an 'inukshuk,' a human-like stone creation built by the Inuit in circumpolar regions."  Right-oh!   Remember that old graffiti, "Kilroy was here?"  Inukshuk are the same thing.  Native Americans might build inukshuk to say, "Hey! A human being passed this way."  An inukshuk can also function like a trail marker or a road sign--it points the way.  

There are lots of inukshuk along the North Channel.  A few are actually ancient; most are modern constructions imitating this ancient art.  You may remember that the symbol of the 2010 Olympic games, held in Vancouver, was an inukshuk.  And now, for today's quiz:

Here's a rather unusual boat.  It has one very specific function.   A very important function!   What is it?

Rest Up Today

We had a dreamlike day at the Fayette historic townsite, strolling around the ghost town, imagining it populated and bustling.  The next morning, skies were threatening but the weather forecast was favorable, so we set out.  An hour later, as the Dragonfly plunged heavily through the chop, we checked the weather again.  The marine weather service (accessible through our ship's VHF radio) is delivered by a metallic, robotic, automated female voice.  Usually she starts by announcing wind speed.  Today, she said, "For the region north of Rock Island, Get some rest today."

We looked at each other. Did she really say that?  The synthesized female robot? Send a message just to us?  The voice continued: "For the region north of Rock Island, winds 5 to 15 knots, waves 3 to 6 feet."  Well! That was quite a different forecast from what we'd heard an hour ago.

What do you do when you are at anchor?
Boat chores!  Like sweeping the roof
We always scan the charts before we set out, even if the forecast is favorable, to identify harbors where we can bail out if we need to. This day was tricky, because our goal was to traverse the entrance to Green Bay--about 6 miles of open water to the tip of the Door Peninsula (which forms the eastern boundary of the bay).  There was one lone semi-sheltered harbor ahead . . .  then, exposed coast or open water all the way to our next destination, Washington Island.

On the Dragonfly our motto is, "When the going gets tough . . . we drop anchor."  There are old canal boat captains, and there are bold canal-boat captains, but there are no old, bold canal-boat captains. We headed for our bail-out port, a shallow bay near the small town of Fairport. No marinas in sight (or listed in our guidebooks), but water that looked ok for anchoring.

Not long after we dropped anchor, a small powerboat zoomed out. "Everything OK?" the guy asked.  "Yup, just waiting out the wind."  It was nice to know someone was keeping an eye out.  Or maybe it's just the usual:  People can't believe they're seeing a canal boat in THESE waters and have to come take a look.

So it was 10 in the morning and we were not going anywhere till the next day.  And it was bouncy! Even in the lee of a sheltering smaller island, two-foot waves bounced us around in an irregular pattern, making it hard to work on a computer.  I put my thoughts of touch-up painting out of my mind.  Just to make the situation even more delightful, when we tried to sit out on the stern deck we were assaulted by what looked like tiny houseflies--the biting kind!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Canal Boat Time Travel

A view of Burnt Bluff signals
you're close to Fayette
In Killarney, one morning, the guy on the boat next to us invited us aboard for morning coffee.

Dan had done lots of cruising on Lake Michigan, so we asked his opinion: Should we go down the east shore (many cute towns, marinas spaced a day's travel apart, interesting sand dunes, beaches etc.,) or the WEST side? (somewhat less of all of the above, but safer water for our boat).
Bald eagles nest on cliffs. They feed on fish.  Could
this bit of real estate be any more perfect?
"Whatever you do," Dan said, "you HAVE to go to Fayette."

So that's where we headed, as we left Manistique Friday morning under gray skies, sailing past the blood-red lighthouse into fog and chop and committing ourselves to a trip down the west side of Lake Michigan.

By midday we had warm sunny weather and a gorgeous view of Burnt Bluff, the towering limestone cliff that signaled we were close to our destination.  A whole family of bald eagles cruised the cliff--mom and dad looking spiffy and navigating adroitly among the sharp rocks, the kid grungy and a little awkward in his motley brown feathers.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What IS It?

We have a winner.  Together, Newsboy and altem23 have correctly explained the use of the odd hammer with the number on the face of its head.

In the days when logs were removed from the woods and floated downstream to sawmills, more than one logging company would dump logs into the same river. So loggers would strike this hammer on the ends of their logs, much like a branding iron for cattle--to show who owned the log.

And now for today's challenge:

The Mysterious Case of the Forbidden Fish Guts

Can you find the canal boat
in this picture?
So let's say you are on a boat trip, and you like to fish, and you CATCH a fish, and you'd like to cook it for dinner--maybe in the little galley on your boat.  Here's a pressing problem:  What do you do with the fish guts?

Can anyone enlighten me as to the correct protocol?

After a bouncy night at anchor it was time to go into town!  We stayed Thursday night in Manistique, a small town, touristy now but a lumber town in its heyday.  The marina was across the river (that's about 50 feet) from a winery with tasting room!  Downtown were vintage 1880s brick storefronts, a couple antique shops, a couple restaurants . . . and, if you walked out of town on the boardwalk,  three chain motels and three fast food joints on the outskirts.  It startled us to realize how long it had been since we had seen typical modern urban sprawl.