Epilogue – the last of Bushranger’s Legs

At the end of their journey, at the crossing of their wake, most loopers note their vital figures:

– number of miles: 6683
– engine hours: 1000
– number of locks
– number of anchorages

Being Aussies, we see things a little differently! Our vital figures are:

– number of frequent flyer points: 100,000+ air miles
– number of winterisations/layups: 7
– number of years sailing the loop: 6
– number of hours watching TV: 0

Highlights are so many and so varied. We sailed the loop in slow time, stopped often and chose to explore areas for days at a time. So many areas we loved, soaking up the history and culture:

Jekyll Island, Isle of Hope, southern plantations, Onancock, Annapolis, Tangier Island, the White House, Erie Canal, Kennedy Space Centre, Rideau Canal, Trent-Severn, Georgian Bay… and the list goes on.

The challenges were few. Overcoming my fear of night sailing across the Gulf of Mexico ended up being one of my most rewarding experiences. To look into the night sky and see the spectacular and glorious array of stars will stay with me forever. As well, to rise to the challenge of helming at night whilst Mark slept, gave me such confidence.

The friends we have met along the way have been what has made this trip. Friends who have hosted us in their homes, their cities, their hearts. We hope to extend equally warm hospitality in Sydney. Some friends we only knew for a short while, yet we had such simpatico. Others, such as Summer Wind, our lives will forever be connected.

The people we met on the loop, some for just minutes, have such a spirit of generosity, wanting to ‘pay it forward’. Every place we visited we met people who went out of their way to help in whatever way they could: loaning a car, taking us shopping, giving us tools or food or resources or expertise. Always giving with never any expectation of receiving. Truly salt of the earth people.

And as for our buddy boats… what fun we had! The laughter, the pranks, the food, the stories, the mate-ship! The replenishment at sea with Exhale – freshly baked bread for freshly baked cookies. The delivery of smoked fish in Snug Harbour, Georgian Bay, by Stay Cool. Or the biscotti run to buddy boats at anchor on the Illinois River. How happy we were to meet up again whenever we could! How comforting it was to know we had friends at our back, or in the case of Bushranger’s slow pace, in front, to be able to call on them at a moment’s notice.

We could not have asked for a better boat in which to complete the Great Loop than Bushranger. An old girl of 40 years, she was lovingly restored and outfitted by her previous Aussie owners, good friends of ours. We knew when we bought her sight unseen she would be wonderful, but Bushranger surpassed our expectations. Beautiful and sturdy, Bushranger provided us a comfortable and reliable home on the water, able to entertain in style and space. We maintained her to the best of our ability: regular checks and service, detailing, varnishing (brightwork) and polishing, and painting decks. When instruments or equipment came to end of life, and sometimes before, we replaced them.

We hand her over to the new owner shiny and well-maintained. She is our pride. It is hard to let her go. Six years she has been our USA ‘home’. We have sailed with family: my brother, our daughter and son-in-law and grandkids. What memories we have! Now, she will go on making memories for others.

Such is Life!

Loop completed 20 Sept 2022

We left Paducah on the Ohio River, Kentucky, before sunrise.

The last sunrise on our Great American Loop adventure.

Last time sailing with these buddies along the Cumberland River.

Exiting Barkley Lock, the last lock, on our loop.

Three really good mates who have forged a lifelong friendship. My Time Too and Stay Cool – you made the good times roll and helped Bushranger look and feel good. So pleased you could share and celebrate our achievement with us.

Six years looping to achieve the gold status. We did it!

What a ride!

Such is Life!

Down by the banks of the Ohio…

We left the Mississippi River at sun rise, turning to port into the Ohio River. Now we sailed against the current, as we were heading upstream.

We sailed past the industrial port of Cairo (pronounced Cayro), full of tows, barges and bad smells. We sailed along the banks of the Ohio: Illinois on the port side, Kentucky on starboard.

In hot and humid conditions, we entered our second last lock and the newest lock of our journey – the Olmsted Lock.

We reached the city of Paducah after seven hours on the go. It is situated close to the junction of the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. This charming town is rich in Civil War and trading history, being strategically located.

We settled in for two nights at the town docks, wonderfully located next to the historic downtown. Last night we dined ashore with our buddies from My Time Too.

Today we explored on foot. We visited the flood walls which have murals depicting the history and way of life. We enjoyed the brick-paved roads lined with beautiful buildings of a bygone era. Unfortunately, as it is a Monday, all but a few buildings were open!

With the girls from My Time Too and Stay Cool, we enjoyed the Quilt Museum which showcased fabulous works of art. The boys opted to stay and do boat work.

I have had a lot of fun with these buddies! I shall miss them greatly. We’ve laughed a lot. We’ve played Scrabble. We have dined together, sailed together, explored together. We have cooked for each other, helped each other, been there for each other. What wonderful memories to cherish!

For tomorrow is our last day of sailing the Great Loop. We will cross our wake at Green Turtle Bay…

Such is Life!

Mississippi River sailing

We have spent two long days sailing southward along the Mississippi River – the super water highway for natural resources.

Yesterday, we left Hoppies at 8.30am after a breakfast of soft boiled eggs and soldier toast, provided by Stay Cool. Our destination – Kaskaskia Lock. The lock master of this offshoot river lock allowed us to tie up to the lock wall for the night. We were very thankful for both his allowing us to stay, as well as, the welcoming water depths of 12 feet.

The Mississippi River is currently very low, exposing dry river banks and narrowing the channels.

It also means the already few ‘safe harbor’ stops along the river become fewer with silt clogging openings and deadheads (fallen trees) impeding progress into shallow waters. This, in turn, means longer travelling days to get to these scarcer safe places.

The water of the Mississippi River is fast moving. We picked up 3-4 mph. The water is constantly roiling, producing massive eddies which skew us sideways. The depth in the channel varies constantly from 10 to 65 feet. The surface is never smooth, and with today’s winds, we had whitecaps in some areas.

And I would like to know, why is that all the jetsam and flotsam and tree trunks, float down the magenta line? Needed to do a little slalom sailing today!

For a laugh we donned our safety helmets when we reached 11mph and still our buddy boat, Stay Cool, flashed past us.

Today, we left Kaskaskia before sun up for an 11-hour day of sailing to reach the next safe anchorage.

Passing very few communities, but many tugs with massive barges, factories and quarries, we finally made it to Angelos Towhead, 118 miles downstream. On the way down Missouri was on our right and Illinois on our left.

Now we reside peacefully for the night with our buddy boats. No Scrabble today – way too tired!

Such is Life!

St Louis and Hoppies

We spent two nights at Alton Marina, just upstream from the confluence with the Missouri River. We made great use of the facilities: laundry and pool time! A quick provisioning run was made to a local supermarket which sent out a driver to collect us and then return us after our purchases.

We, girls, multi-tasked playing Scrabble by the pool, seeking relief from the heat at the end of each game. Whilst we were playing, the boys did boy stuff: washing boats, disappearing in their man caves and other boat-related activities.

This morning we left Alton Marina at 6.15am and entered the first of two locks for the day – Mel Price. These locks are for the large tows and have floating bollards which fall and rise with the water. No problems for the first lock.

We then sailed down the Chain of Rocks canal passing a few of the big boys before heading into the Chain of Rocks Lock.

We had a problem. The floating bollard was missing on our wall. With drops of 22 feet, we could not secure to the top of the wall as our lines were not long enough. We moved to the front bollard which did not allow enough room for the lock gates to swing open. We were told to move. The only thing to do was raft to another vessel. Inked Mermaid allowed us to raft up. Manoeuvring in the lock was interesting, as we are a boat with a single engine and no thrusters.

Not far from this lock we encountered the first of many bridges on a very industrial section of the Mississippi River. The section of the river known as St Louis Harbor is heavy with tows and barges, smelly and very unattractive.

Where the city meets the water is the St Louis Gateway Arch, which commemorates the settlers pushing westwards in the 19th century. Unfortunately, there are no marinas or facilities to allow for a stop – just a photo opportunity provided by our buddy boats.

Onwards, sailing south, the current picked up to allow us speeds of in excess of 11 mph. We thought we were flying until a barge and tow overtook us – so humiliating!

At mile 158.5 we reached Hoppies Marina – a gem of a place! It is a barge with a shed that provides a safe harbour on the Mississippi. We were given an informative talk about the river and what to expect, where to expect it and areas to avoid.

I can now say I have set foot in the great state of Missouri. Whilst the boys once again did boat work, we stepped ashore and went for a walk.

So, we are settled here at Hoppies, hoping we are not waked too badly from the many tows that ply their trade.

And having lots of fun with our buddies from Stay Cool and My Time Too!

Someone has to do it!

Such is Life!

The Mighty Mississippi

Early departures from anchorages are not too hard, especially when we have glorious sunrises.

Photo courtesy of Donna Lynn

Besides, the swirling mists and fog create eerie and magical scenes.

Heading downstream today, we decided to detour and sail Dark Chute. It was originally a tow channel offshoot of the Illinois River, but now a scenic bypass. So glad we did as the scenery was majestic and the sail very peaceful.

Not long afterwards we arrived at the convergence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. I thought it would be more spectacular and the river current would speed up.

Not so, but we have reached another milestone: The Illinois is now behind us and we have 218 miles to sail on the Mississippi River until we meet the Ohio River.

Along this stretch of the Mississippi River runs the national scenic byway known as the Great River Road, flanked by dramatic bluffs on one side and the river on the other.

We are staying two nights in the Alton Marina, just above the convergence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. This area is rich in Lincoln and Civil War history. Time for some R&R with our buddy boats!

Such is Life!

Bar Island to Willow Island and making history!

Yesterday, Sunday 11 September, we set sail in overcast and decidedly cool conditions for Bar Island. It was easy sailing with more sightings of bald eagles and bird life.

On the way, I baked biscotti whilst Mark helmed. At our anchorage, we did the biscotti run – delivering to Stay Cool and My Time Too.

Preparing for a long sailing day, we all left the anchorage at 6.30am, before sunrise and with barely any light, in the hope of racing tows and other pleasure craft to the La Grange lock. Alas, we stooged around for almost two hours waiting for a tow to be locked down. In the meantime, four other pleasure craft caught up to us.

Upon leaving the lock… we had a flotilla! For Bushranger in the rear, the waters became quite choppy,

All the boats, except one, were faster than Bushranger. And this is where history was made – we actually overtook a boat! In the six years we have been boating on Bushranger, this is the fourth boat we have overtaken! Yahoody!

All the pleasure craft, including our buddy boats, quickly disappeared down the Illinois River. Even though Bushranger, with ears pinned back and in racing goanna mode producing speeds or up to 9 mph with the aid of the current, could not keep pace with the ‘hares’.

But Bushranger performed steadfastly, rounding Willow Island nine hours after setting out, to find her buddy boats nestled securely and waiting to welcome us ‘home’!

Such is Life!

Peoria and Quiver Island

We left Lower Henry anchorage well after sun up. Although I spent a great deal of time looking out for deer, I missed seeing a doe and her fawns drinking close to our boat. So close, yet unseen!

We headed downstream to the Illinois Valley Yacht Club just outside Peoria. The weather was magnificent for sailing. We encountered many varieties of bird life: blue herons, white egrets, Canada geese, ducks, pelicans, bald eagles and other raptors.

Tow and barge traffic is prolific on the Illinois River. The river is well below normal water level and, in parts, the channel is quite narrow. This proves to be ‘exciting’ when passing a tow. It is also ‘exciting’ when the navigation aids are missing or situated in the wrong place. I am just so thankful Mark knows what he is doing!

The entrance to the yacht club saw us in depths of 3 feet 8 inches. We draw 3 feet 11 inches. How we did not run aground, nobody knows! The yacht club had an old world charm, great facilities and a wonderful round-house bar and restaurant overlooking the waterway.

Watching the moon rise as we enjoyed cocktails followed by a casual dinner on the ‘porch’ was a beautiful way to end a memorable day.

In the afternoon, with fellow buddies from Stay Cool, we explored the Caterpillar museum in downtown Peoria. Information overload on how engines work and types of diggers. However, it was really cool to be seated in the theatre which happened to be the dump trump tray.

Size definitely matters!

And, we also had fun in the simulators, trying to move dirt. Unfortunately, I rolled my digger – apparently a first in the simulator!

We left Peoria just after a glorious sunrise and tasty breakfast aboard Stay Cool. Our buddies came to our rescue after we had a water pump failure whilst alongside. We very much appreciated their supervisory role, as well as food sustenance.

Another day of perfect sailing conditions saw us complete our journey to the next anchorage behind Quiver Island, just upstream of Havana. We again saw many types of bird life, jumping fish and huge tows. Earlier, we locked through the Peoria Dam which had a very friendly lock master. I am sure he would have jumped aboard if given half the chance!

Our day of sailing was completed with more games of Scrabble and much laughter with our buddies from Stay Cool and My Time Too. The guys opted to work on boy stuff in man caves, before settling down in this delightful anchorage.

Such is Life!

Heading down the inland water routes…

What an eye opener the last six days have been! The major stops have been Hammond (Indiana) – two nights, Joliet (Illinois) town wall – one night, Heritage Harbor (Ottawa, Illinois) – three nights, and now we are at Lower Henry (Illinois).

We left Hammond, which is just south of Chicago, early Sunday morning to grey skies and rolling two-foot waves. We did not have to sail far until we were safely inside the break wall which shields the Calumet Harbor, Calumet River and Sag Channel.

The Cal-Sag is quite an interesting albeit smelly route. There are numerous bridges of all types and shapes. This industrial route, at times, looks apocalyptic. As the weather was grey, producing grey skies and grey water, the various shades of grey of bridges, barren earthworks, and factories, made for quite a study in ‘grey’. It had its own stark architectural beauty. We sailed on the Labor Day weekend and were pleasantly surprised boat and tow traffic was light.

This day of sailing was a very long one, as we waited for opening of bridges and locking through. We sailed with our buddy boat, Stay Cool, and were delighted to meet up again with My Time Too. The gang was together again and it was party time…

Joliet was an interesting place to stay overnight. Well-lit, noisy and constant wakings from tows and barges did not make for an easy night of sleep. We did, however, enjoy the Labor Day fireworks in the evening, and the impromptu breakfast next day with our buddies.

The sail from Joliet to Heritage Harbor saw the heavy industrial side of the Illinois Waterway give way to greenery and bird life. We sailed through the electrified barrier for the management of Asian Carp without incident. No jumping carp landed on our boat. The Illinois Waterway is a water highway for barges carrying earth, rocks, chemicals, sand and other cargo. Pleasure craft must give way to the slow moving behemoths. At times, negotiating bends or narrow sections of the river, it has been prudent to wait in the side of the channel. Getting too close can result in some interesting boat manoeuvres.

Heritage Harbor was so welcoming and relaxing we decided to stay for three nights. One of the locks further down the Illinois River closed to traffic for maintenance helped us make the decision to stay and enjoy each others’ company in idyllic surroundings. We soaked up a comprehensive and informative talk from the Harbor Master on the inland rivers down to Green Turtle Bay. We tried our hand at pickle ball, played Scrabble, lounged by the pool, and dined at the very comfortable onsite restaurant. Just what we needed after a few long days of sailing.

Today we left Heritage Harbor at sunrise in fog and locked down through Starved Rock Lock. The scenery was augmented with the addition of rugged cliffs – reminiscent of sailing on the Tennessee River. Tonight we are secured in a secluded, pretty anchorage behind Lower Henry Island. Our buddy boats are resting quietly, too, now that the hilarious afternoon of board games and Scrabble is over. Earlier, Bushranger provided Uber dinghy service for our My Time Too buddies to Stay Cool.

No jumping carp – at least not into our boat! No deer spotted – but a buddy boat spied a doe and her fawn at the water’s edge! No bears – forgot to leave the peanut butter out!

Almost a perfect day! For today our Queen Elizabeth died. She was an extraordinary woman. Rest In Peace, Your Majesty, you were a good and faithful servant.

Such is Life!

Reflections on Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is rightly named one of the Great Lakes. It is the second largest and runs north/south for 307 miles. Its widest point is 118 miles. This lake demands huge respect. Four states border the lake: Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, with the Straits of Mackinaw the northern boarder. It is a challenging body of water and one, which once completed, we can ✅ – been there, done that!

The prevailing winds and weather fronts are from the west and as they cross the lake produce frustrating sailing conditions. Winds buffeted at over 20 knots on occasion creating unsettled water with irregular waves and rolling fetch. I learnt very quickly to lay flat the lamp and tower of coffee cups! Brilliant sunny days were spent in port waiting for the waters to calm. Or afternoon thunderstorms rolled in to play havoc with our ongoing beautification of Bushranger.

The colour of the water is ever changing. Around Leland and Sleeping Bear Dunes the neon aqua-coloured water was almost unnatural. Near Chicago the colour is a deep blue similar to the Mediterranean. The pristine quality and cleanliness of the water are noteworthy. The water temperature enticed Mark for a swim and a toe dip for me.

On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan are ‘harbours of refuge’ every 35 miles or so. These are essential for boaters, as even with rigorous checking of weather conditions, squalls or wind changes happen without warning. Each harbour of refuge has its own unique history and vibe. What is common is the theme of wealth from logging of a bygone era. Today, each of these harbours are home to fishermen and vacationers.

On the southward trip, we stayed in towns as well as lake anchorages. Historic downtowns with cobbled streets and old fashioned lamplights, enticed walks to discover eclectic shops, boardwalks and beaches. Our lake anchorages were scenic and restful oases. Each stopover we enjoyed with friends and friends of friends. We had a hoot! It is deeply satisfying to be able to share experiences… even the odd game of Scrabble, allowing English and American spelling!

On the Indiana shores industry takes over from trees and sand dunes. In southern Michigan, power stations dot the skyline, both coal and nuclear.

Also, these waters contain barges and commercial shipping.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the air temperature. I naively assumed Michigan would be cool being so far north, even in summer. We have had some very humid days, but on the whole, the summer weather has been tolerable.

Bugs have not been prolific in the north, but as we head south they have returned in droves. We are constantly amazed at how bugs find us out in the middle of the lake – they seem to hone in.

Mark succumbed and bought a battery operated bug zapper. Sparks do fly!

Sunrises are spectacular in this part of the world.

We have now reached Hammond Marina, on the Indiana/Illinois border, 12 miles south of Chicago. The view of the city skyline is stunning. Adjacent to the marina is the Horseshoe casino. It is a floating casino and we are quite literally in its shadow.

Bushranger will have a three-week sabbatical here, while we head down to Nashville to visit family. The Brandon Road lock on the Illinois River is closed for three weeks to all traffic for maintenance. We will return 2 September to commence the final leg of the loop.

Such is Life!