Finishing

After a 355 mile jaunt along the southern shore of Lake Superior, Endeavor crossed her wake at the Apostle Islands.  Our journey included a decade of planning and dreaming, a year of refitting Endeavor, an awesome year of looping, and a million great experiences meeting new people and exploring new places.  Making new friends along the way was a high point of the journey.

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That’s the announcement I put on the Looper’s Association forum.  My actual feelings about finishing the loop are more complex.

First there is the sense of accomplishment at successfully planning and executing a project involving complexity equal or greater than many I managed at 3M.  The Project Management Professional geek in me rejoices.

Then there is the relief of delivering the mother of our children home safely across this massive lake.  Peg and I have logged more than 6,000 miles exploring Superior and I have never lost my respect for the power this body of water holds.  When crossing her distances I am always alert and on edge.  On the loop, only the overnight 95 mile leg crossing back from the Bahamas was as tense for me.

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It is possible that the only reason Peg hasn’t tossed me overboard is that she needed me to sail her across the lake.  Hmmm…

Second is the reality that unpredictable arrival dates and distance from home made it difficult for family and friends to be on hand to greet us.

We finished about two weeks early, mainly because we did not use much of the padding I built in for sitting out bad weather. Instead, we enjoyed each stop then moved on as soon as safe weather appeared.

Plainly put, arriving at an empty dock is an anti-climax.  Understandable, but still a let down.

As often happens, fate stepped in to help out:

Shortly after arriving, a couple walked up and introduced themselves.  They are future 2018 loopers who have been following this blog.  Their boat is across the bay at Ashland and their Lake Elmo home is 20 minutes from ours.  We will get together in the next weeks and pass on what advice we can about the Loop.  The unexpected encounter brightened the day.

Even better, long time best friends were 45 minutes away on their annual family outing canoeing the Brule River.  When they learned we were arriving they came to pick us up and bring us to the campground to join in food and fellowship. We were blown away to see our friends again so quickly after almost a year.

(Left to Right) Spencer and Eli, or Eli and Spencer: I can never keep the Webb twins straight.  Alyssa McGlade, a promising nature artist.  Rob McGlade.

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I should note that Rob has had positive affect on the adventurous side of my character, mainly by agreeing to participate in any harebrained adventure I suggest.  Our first major questionable sailing adventure together was circumnavigating Isle Royale in a Catalina 22.  I’ve always suspected he trusts my common sense way more than he should.

(Left to Right) Shelly McGlade, Rob’s Admiral, allows him to participate in my schemes as long as she can plan the food we take (long story there).  Mike Webb, a professional Jerry Garcia imitator, who has never met a motorcycle he couldn’t crash :-).  Peg, my long suffering mate. Kim Webb, Mike’s long suffering mate (celebrating 22 years yesterday!).

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Lastly, there is the hollow feeling of knowing this was our last adventure on Endeavor.  Across 8 years and 13,000 miles she has been a wonderful craft.  Other than raising our kids, she is probably the biggest personal project we’ve undertaken. We have touched, tightened, fixed, replaced or tweaked every piece on her and know her inside and out better than anything else we own.  After about 2,200 hours at the helm, we know her strengths, habits and quirks well.

It is clear why sailors call their vessels “she”.

(Editor’s Note:  I suspect the skipper is really talking about me, even though he assures me it is Endeavor.)

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When she is pulled from the water and stored on land our trip will be complete: exactly 365 days from start to finish.  We didn’t plan such a precise finish, the timing just worked out that way.  Some couples take multiple years to complete the loop, some race through in months.  In the end, Peg and I agree that the timing for us was just right.

It’s good to be home.

Safe Harbor

Black River is our favorite harbor in the west end of Lake Superior.  Snug, scenic, safe and secure, it offers pastoral refuge on the way from Ontonagon to the Apostle Islands.

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The harbor entrance is a narrow opening in the breakwater.  In calm water, no big deal.  When entering from boisterous seas that gap can be a little intimidating.  Once through, the inner harbor is always mill pond flat.

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For $20 a night, we get electricity, water, free pump out (which we don’t need) and access to a nice park with bathrooms.  A number of local fishermen have reserved spots along the dock wall, but we’ve always been able to find a place to tie up.  At the west end of the harbor is a cool walking suspension bridge over Black River.

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Three quarters of a mile up stream are Angel Falls.  Scenic viewpoints are available on both sides of the river.  Both have unique views and both have considerable vertical climbs during the 3/4 mile hike.

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Black River is also the site of our first two major wildlife boarding events on Endeavor.

Getting to Black River from Ontonagon, about 40 miles, became interesting as a mid-day fog settled in.

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Once visibility dropped below 1/2 mile we fired up the radar and felt our way along the coast.  We’ve sailed full days in fog on Superior before and know the safety drill.  Fog is definitely an other-worldly experience , especially on a calm day.  Fortunately we did not pass any other boats on this sparsely populated shoreline.

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Numbers

43.5, 243, 122, 67%, 33%, 91, 53, 33, 26, et al.

Numbers.

Numbers can’t truly describe a journey; can’t put a value on the unique and wonderful experiences of the last year.  The value of such experiences lies in what, in my working life, would be termed “intangible product attributes”.

Difficult to put a number on the sunset at Ontonagon Marina tonight.

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Before we started the loop we were eager for any data that could help us plan our trip.  So for potential loopers, I’ll try to record some data from our endeavor aboard Endeavor.

Marina Stays Vs. Anchoring

My original SWAG estimate for the ratio of anchoring out (free) to marina stays ($$) was 3:1.  We ended up staying in marinas more often than planned, mostly in the first part of the trip due to the intense summer heat on the Mississippi.  Those stays reduced the ratio to 2:1.  However, being able to plug in the air conditioning on sweltering nights was worth the extra money.

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Our route today took us 43.5 miles to Ontonagon, Michigan.  As we left the Keeweenaw in the early light of day, 100% of the local gulls were still having their morning coffee.

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During our trip we passed through 18 states and 3 countries.  The most nights were spent in the Bahamas (91) and the least in Delaware (1).  Our enjoyment of the two places was in approximately that proportion as well.

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During our two trips along Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2011 and 2017) we have passed this same awesome old lighthouse 100% of the time.

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During two visits to Ontonagon, seeing the inlet markers has been a sign of hope for my full bladder 50% of the time.

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During our two visits to Ontonagon we have been assigned one of two adjacent slips 100% of the time.  This photo is from 2011.

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It has been our observation that every marina has at least one hilarious sign displayed.

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Lastly, we conclude that if you actually call a former co-worker’s parents during one of two visits to formers co-worker’s home town, you will actually meet 100% enjoyable people (and boaters) like John and Pat Doyle.  Thank you for dinner and the great town tour!

 

Work Boats

BREAKING NEWS – Army Corps of Engineers crane mistakenly lifts Endeavor and drops her on pile of boulders while loading barge.

Film at 11:00

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I think I’m getting the hang of this fake news thing.

Puttering up the Keeweenaw Waterway from Hancock we passed a few recreational boats and some notable work boats.

The Ranger III is a familiar sight in these waters.  She transports passengers, hikers and campers mainly, across to Isle Royale.  In 2011 she overtook us as we sailed from Copper Harbor to the island.

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Another familiar workboat in these parts is the Fish Tug.  These simply built craft are butt ugly but can stand up to almost anything the lake can dish out.

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Endeavor is docked this evening on the refuge wall at Lily Pond, about 1/2 mile in from the Lake.  A while after tying up we were joined by the Army Corps of Engineers Crane Barge H. J. Schwartz, towed by the tug D. L. Billmaier.

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The barge dwarfs Endeavor, as do boulders the engineers intend to move.

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I had a conversation with the tug Captain, finding out that they had just come up Lake Michigan from Chicago.  The tug boasts 2500 horsepower driving a single 10 foot diameter screw (propeller).  By comparison, Endeavor’s screw is 9 inches in diameter!

When moving from place to place, the three barges and working tug are towed in a train.  Because of this, they are very careful to transit only in decent weather.

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The crane uses massive claws to grab and lift the boulders.

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One by one the crane transfers boulders from shoreline to cargo barge.

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Tomorrow morning they will tow the three barges out to the lake side of the breakwater.  There they will anchor and deposit the boulders to build up the height of the wall.

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Crossing the U.P.

“Sunrise looks spectacular in the nature; sunrise looks spectacular in photos; sunrise looks spectacular in dreams; sunrise looks spectacular in paintings, because it really is spectacular!”  ― Mehmet Murat ildan

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Raising anchor at the crack of dawn has advantages.  Weather is often more settled, waves more subdued.  Jet skis are asleep.  The world is quiet, soon to be woken by our rattling  anchor chain followed by the anchor thumping home into its roller.

Low angle morning sunshine lights up the shoreline.  Colors of the brownstone cliffs pop and glow.

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Mother Superior was at her nicest today, urging Endeavor to glide along the 52 miles from Big Bay to Hancock.

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Superior has no tides to deal with.  It does have currents, but those are so mild as to be unnoticeable.  Coming up the Keeweenaw Waterway to the twin towns of Houghton and Hancock was a speedy downwind run on the southern breeze..

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We last visited this area on Endeavor in 2011 while exploring the Michigan Upper Peninsula.  This whole region has great memories for us.

Hancock, on the Northeast shore is home to the Marina.  The town is arrayed on the steep hills facing the water, making walking and biking a workout. The big economic boom in this areas was copper mining, with old artifacts to be found here and there.

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Directly across the waterway is Houghton, home to Michigan Technical University.  The downtown is flatter and more bustling than Hancock.  We were eager for Chinese food and provisions, so we pedaled up the steep Highway 26 hill to the box store area above town.  272 vertical feet in 1.7 miles had our heart rates up.  Coasting back down the hill full of dinner made the effort worthwhile.

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The two towns are connected by the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, the world’s heaviest and widest double-decked vertical-lift bridge.  The lower deck originally has rails for ore trains from the mines.  Now, the bridge is differently depending on the season.

In Summer, the bridge is kept in the mid position shown below.  This provides 32 feet of clearance for boats and allows vehicles to cross on the lower deck of the span.  When larger sailboats or ships need to pass, the bridge can lift to provide 100 feet of clearance.

In Winter, the span is lowered to the bottom position.  Vehicles now pass across the upper deck while snowmobiles use the lower deck that originally carried trains.  This bridge is the only path across the water in the Winter for sleds wanting to continue up the Peninsula.

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Since Winter sports are so popular here, it should not be a surprise to see signs like this on the bridge walkway.  I am wondering what sort of blower they use.  Probably a walk-behind, since the walkway is rather narrow.

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Crossing the U.P.

“Sunrise looks spectacular in the nature; sunrise looks spectacular in photos; sunrise looks spectacular in dreams; sunrise looks spectacular in paintings, because it really is spectacular!”  ― Mehmet Murat ildan

Hancock (1 of 7)

Raising anchor at the crack of dawn has advantages.  Weather is often more settled, waves more subdued.  Jet skis are asleep.  The world is quiet, soon to be woken by our rattling  anchor chain followed by the anchor thumping home into its roller.

Low angle morning sunshine lights up the shoreline.  Colors of the brownstone cliffs pop and glow.

Hancock (2 of 7)

Mother Superior was at her nicest today, urging Endeavor to glide along the 52 miles from Big Bay to Hancock.

Hancock (3 of 7)

Superior has no tides to deal with.  It does have currents, but those are so mild as to be unnoticeable.  Coming up the Keeweenaw Waterway to the twin towns of Houghton and Hancock was a speedy downwind run on the southern breeze..

Hancock (7 of 7)

We last visited this area on Endeavor in 2011 while exploring the Michigan Upper Peninsula.  This whole region has great memories for us.

Hancock, on the Northeast shore is home to the Marina.  The town is arrayed on the steep hills facing the water, making walking and biking a workout. The big economic boom in this areas was copper mining, with old artifacts to be found here and there.

Hancock (5 of 7)

Directly across the waterway is Houghton, home to Michigan Technical University.  The downtown is flatter and more bustling than Hancock.  We were eager for Chinese food and provisions, so we pedaled up the steep Highway 26 hill to the box store area above town.  272 vertical feet in 1.7 miles had our heart rates up.  Coasting back down the hill full of dinner made the effort worthwhile.

Hancock (2 of 2)

The two towns are connected by the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, the world’s heaviest and widest double-decked vertical-lift bridge.  The lower deck originally has rails for ore trains from the mines.  Now, the bridge is differently depending on the season.

In Summer, the bridge is kept in the mid position shown below.  This provides 32 feet of clearance for boats and allows vehicles to cross on the lower deck of the span.  When larger sailboats or ships need to pass, the bridge can lift to provide 100 feet of clearance.

In Winter, the span is lowered to the bottom position.  Vehicles now pass across the upper deck while snowmobiles use the lower deck that originally carried trains.  This bridge is the only path across the water in the Winter for sleds wanting to continue up the Peninsula.

Hancock (1 of 2)

Since Winter sports are so popular here, it should not be a surprise to see signs like this on the bridge walkway.  I am wondering what sort of blower they use.  Probably a walk-behind, since the walkway is rather narrow.

Hancock (4 of 7)

Familiar Territory

When it’s good, it’s good.  Blue water.  Flat seas.  Moderate offshore breeze.  Sun. Crisp temperature. All in all, a great day to be alive, on a sailboat, and on Lake Superior.

A 68 mile run from Munising to Big Bay put us almost halfway home across the lake.  A quick stop at Marquette for fuel was the only interruption.  Forecasted south winds should bring us to Houghton/Hancock tomorrow to provision, do laundry, eat Chinese, and await a weather window for our last southwestward legs.

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Tomorrow we cross into familiar territory.  Our previous exploration (orange dots below) took us as far east as Manitou Island on the U.P. and Rossport on the north shore.  Only the northeast shore remains on our new discoveries list.

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The scenery is already becoming quite familiar: rocky, tree-lined shoreline and…

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… the occasional forbidding rock island.

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One of the self-loading lake freighters was offloading coal at the Presque Isle power plant.

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A sailboat doesn’t have to be big or complex to be fun.  These two know that small boat sailing is simple and joyful.

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We are anchored for the night in the southwest corner of Big Bay.  The wind has already turned and is coming from the south, making our anchorage calm and travel tomorrow promising.

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One familiar item we could do without is flies.  Obnoxious, biting, endless flies.  Sun shirts, convertible pants and a towel wrapped around the ankles help keep them from biting.

Big Bay (6 of 8)

About It For Locks

Rainy, chilly, gray days, sitting out contrary winds, are good for musing and summarizing.

And getting my butt kicked at cards.

Today’s musings here in Murray Bay were about budgets and locks.  A complete Endeavor Loop budget will have to wait, but the Sault St. Marie lock was the last, so here is a quick summary.

There are several Great Loop route options; some require more locking than the route we took.  Our future plans will take us back to many of those additional locks.

Of the total 116 locks we passed, those along the Trent-Severn were the most numerous and the most enjoyable.  We highly recommend the waterway to anyone with a sleep-aboard, trailerable motorboat.  We spent 19 days, moving an average 13 miles per day, but two weeks would produce a relaxing trip with only a few stops fewer.

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Those 116 locks accounted for approximately 2200 feet of elevation change:

Lock Elevations.jpgAmong the notable locks we passed:

  • Largest: Lock 19, Mississippi River, Keokuk, IA – 1200′ x 110′.  This lock passes complete river tows without having to split them.
  • Highest Lift (Conventional); Barkley Lock, Grand Rivers, KY – 57′
  • Highest Lift (Special): Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock, Trent-Severn, Peterborough, ON – 65′.  This lock, and its similar twin at Kirkfield (47′), are amazing, efficient machines.

Lock 21 (6 of 19)

  • Lowest Lift: Great Bridge Lock, Great Bridge, VA – 3′.  Somebody’s gotta be the smallest.
  • Worst Condition/Most Unreliable: Lock 52, Ohio River.  We breezed through, but the lock is in horrible, creaky shape.  A group of Looping boats got stuck in the lock for 8 hours the next day when the lock broke down.
  • Coolest Engineering: Peterborough Hydraulic Lift Lock, Trent-Severn,Peterborough, ON – 65′.  See above.
  • Most Exhilarating: Big Chute Marine Railway, Trent-Severn, Big Chute, Coldwater, ON – 60′.  Like a shuddering, rattling old roller coaster, this lock provided an exciting, nervous thrill.
  • Friendliest/Coziest/Prettiest Surroundings: Almost any on the Trent-Severn Waterway.  Beautiful area and lock system.  Just go if you can.
  • Friendliest Lock Masters: Almost any on the Trent-Severn Waterway.  College students work the locks, take pride in maintaining the grounds, and are very helpful.

Locks are an integral part of the looping experience, one that we found both interesting and pleasurable.  Each waterway had its own approach to locking with different tie-up methods, different protocols, and different entry/exit styles.  We are glad that we were experienced lock users before we started the loop: one less thing to worry about when driving our temporary house toward one of these water elevators.

Pictured Rocks

Some things are just better at sea.  Sleeping on a gently rocking boat in a cozy anchorage.  Racing along under wind power alone.  Virtually any meal after a long day of passage.  And Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Peg and I visited the park in 2006 on a circle tour of the lake by van.  Pretty from the shore, but weather did not allow taking a boat tour.

This time we got an up close, personal visit aboard our own craft.  From the monster sand dunes on the east end, to the mineral-streaked rock faces farther west, the lakeshore is stunning.  Peg took over camera duties and we’ll let our favorite pictures speak for themselves.

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After a 40 mile passage we are anchored in Murray Bay on the south end of Grand Island.  Munising, Michigan is across the bay.

Pictured Rocks (27 of 27)

Approaching Denouement

It’s been a pretty quiet day here in Grand Marais.  Pushing west with the wind in our face seemed pointless, so we went begging at local stores instead. Turns out the local merchants are charitable toward visiting sailors.

Before we get to the begging, an update is in order.  One of our two cheapo Coleman lighters finally reached the point of not being able to light its own fire.  At my age I can sympathize. The spark, it’s a little dimmed.  It still has fuel, but it takes external heat to get the flame going.

I’m talking about lighters.  Get your mind out of the gutter.

Great Kills (2 of 2)

With a day of peaceful downtime, our thoughts turned to end-of-trip preparations.  When we arrive at Washburn Marina, in Washburn, Wisconsin, we will be having Endeavor hauled and set on blocks in their storage yard.  The term is “up on the hard”.  There she will sit out the Winter… unless someone buys her first.

That’s right, at the end of our trip Endeavor will be for sale.  We already have several parties making inquiries.  One wants to turn her around and do the loop again.

Why sell?  Well, we bought Endeavor in 2010 with the thought of retiring early and doing the loop as our first journey.  She has served us well both on Lake Superior and our current  adventure.  One outcome of the loop has been a list of waters we want to either experience further or for the first time.  For example, we skipped the Rideau Canal to Ottawa to Montreal to Lake Champlain “Northeast Triangle” on this trip. Rather than race through it, we thought it would be a wonderful 2 month trip later.  Nova Scotia is also on the list.  And the San Juan Islands north of Seattle. And the Western Erie Canal.  And.  And.  And.

The common thread in our list is needing a boat that can be trailered out to distant starting points to start cruising.  Sadly, Endeavor is not that boat, even though we proved she can be trailered short distances.

Leaving her to sit and rot in a slip, waiting for us to come visit her every few months is not an option.  She deserves to sail, not sit.

And so we are making the necessary plans for the denouement of our plot.  Wrapping everything up tidy requires a lot of coordination. Washburn Marina is ready to pluck us from the water.  U-Haul is ready with a truck to transport our gear back home.  And so on.

Today’s task involved boxing all non-essential items in a logical way so transferring gear to the truck will go smoothly, and so we will later know which boxes contain what.

The only thing missing was boxes.  So we went begging.  Peg hit the jackpot at the local hardware store, where the owner let us pick though his large pile of discarded cardboard.  Two trips later we had a pile of packing materials and a cabin that looked like a tornado aftermath.

Out of Chaos comes order, I guess.

At the end of the day, our first pass at packing is done, the cabin is again orderly, and the wind has calmed as it switches direction.  Tomorrow it will blow us westward past the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to Munising, the next scene in the third act of our play.

Grand Marais (1 of 1)