The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Dad's Strange Dream

Last night while anchored out on the Illinois River, I had the strangest dream.  In it, the quietest night (and soundest night’s sleep ever) was suddenly pierced by the ringing of my cell phone.  I somehow managed to bring it to my ear and heard, “Daddy, I wanted you and Mom to be the first to know…tonight Evan asked me to marry him.”
That’s when I became dimly aware that I must be dreaming, because it was Carla and she’s only six or seven years old…”That’s nice, honey”, the dream me responded.
The phone magically (as can happen in a dream) jumped from my hand to the Admiral's, whose sonar like hearing had heard Carla’s words clearly.
In my dream, I heard Carla telling her mom,
“Romantic dinner at a little bistro in Coronado…
great bottle of wine…
walk on the beach…
down on his knee in the sand…
lighted ring box (lighted ring box?  What, hey it’s my dream)…
 and, I said yes.”
There was some more mother-daughter type chitchat, but the dream pretty much ended with that.
This morning, I mentioned the dream to the Admiral and got that stern look she gets that she uses so effectively to keep me in line.  “Honey, remember, last weekend when we were home Evan asked you for her hand, and you gave him your blessing.”
“Yeah, but…”  How could I explain I had thought he only meant her hand, and that he’d leave the rest of her alone until she grew up… “She’s so young”, is all I can manage to mumble.
“She’s twenty-five, Babe”, explains the Admiral, trying to make me feel better about the whole thing.
“But, she just finished the third grade.”, I mutter, grasping at straws.
“Yes Honey…But she was teaching, remember?”
“Yeah, but…I haven’t checked the Most Wanted posters for him in months.”
The Admiral begins to lose patience with me.  “Don’t tell me we’re going down this road again”, she says, shaking her head at my state of mind.  She was, of course, referring to the Steve Martin (Father of the Bride) imitation I had performed perfectly during the year leading up to our older daughter Dina’s wedding.  As if I was acting!
I try denial, “No, no, I’m fine”, I lie.  She just gave me that piercing and knowing Admiral glare.
Speaking of denial, isn’t that a river in Egypt?  I didn't know you could get there on the Loop.  But, I sure did!

Carla's engagement ring...I don't think it is as big a rock as it looks's just that the hands of a seven year old are so small!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

River Rats

We returned to the boat in Ottawa, IL late Sunday night after a twelve day trip home.  While in California, we first attended a wedding in LA (my beautiful niece, Emily).  We then drove to San Diego and got a “back stage” tour of the Aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan in San Diego (from my daughter’s newly returned to shore boyfriend, Evan).  Then we flew back to Sacramento for a week of dealing with home duties, a few business meetings and several lunches and dinners with friends (some of whom still think we’re a bit crazy).  We also attended my, aahhem, 40th high school reunion.  I couldn’t believe all those old grey and bald men were my old friends.  But, it didn’t take long to reacquaint and have a blast.
The "morning after" Emily's wedding, breakfast with our kids
approaching the USS Ronald Reagan
on the flight deck
my first mate says she's glad she doesn't have to handle this anchor chain
This is the USS Abraham Lincoln (from the deck of the Reagan)
"Evan's" helicopter
daughter Carla and Evan from Georgia
We enjoyed seeing everyone, especially our children and grandchildren.  The trip home was also much needed for our granddaughter Lia (age 4 almost 5).  Evidently she is about fed up with the whole thing and had the following conversation with the Admiral:
“Why do you have to go back Grandma?”
“Because, I want to go back.”
“But, you’ve been gone long enough and I don’t want you to go.”
“I’ll keep sending you postcards.”
“Could you send me a Princess one?”
Whew, close call.  Our trip almost was cut short by a half-pint with big blue eyes.
Anyway, we had dinner with Moonstruck on Sunday, provisioned Monday and left Heritage Harbor after fueling early Tuesday.  Both crews were so anxious to get going we ignored the rain.  Well, we ignored it for about two minutes, and then we just got cold and wet.  But, what the heck, we’re boating, right?  And, boating is fun!  However, we were all glad when after travelling over seventy miles of Illinois River, we pulled into the Illinois Yacht Club in Peoria.  We got there just in time to find out that the bar and restaurant was closed.  There was a local watering hole just across the highway, so after a hot shower, off we went.
We decided to try and make Grafton, IL where the Illinois River runs into the Mississippi River, a distance of another 168 miles, in the next two days.  That will depend upon whether we get through the locks without delay (always a crap shoot). 
Today, contrary to the weatherman’s prediction (ever heard that before?), we woke to sunny skies and little wind.  We enjoyed a glorious day cruising down the river and reached our goal of Bar Island, about halfway to Grafton.  No, there is not a bar on Bar Island.  In fact, there is nothing but trees and shrubs.  It is a little island in the river that provides us a good anchorage and a place to hide from the barges that cruise this river day and night. 
A short wait for the lock to open...looks like a Chinese fire drill, huh?
one of the many barges with towboats we passed today
one of the many bald eagles we passed as well
Moonstruck in the distance on the river
Buddy, this one's for Jim...I see an opportunity here...
Moonstruck at anchor, with Bar Island in the background
It was during the eight hour cruise today that Carrie and I decided we must really be River Rats.  I grew up water skiing on the Sacramento River.  Later, the river, along with the entire Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta, was our boating grounds for many years.  If it hadn’t been for the rivers:
1.     We wouldn’t have fallen in love aboard Wop Sided.
2.     We wouldn’t have learned to love big boats.
3.     We wouldn’t have learned to dock, anchor, read a chart, etc.
4.     And, today we wouldn’t be on the Loop…you get the point.
So, despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that nearly every Looper we’ve ever talked to has told us this was their least favorite part of the trip, we are enjoying it.  The main difference, and this would be BIG if you lived around here, is that it is mostly one long river.  In our stomping grounds there are a great number of additional rivers, sloughs, canals and whatever, all charted, interconnected and navigable.  So, cruising there over a long time offers much more variety.  Also, Sacramento and Stockton are deep water ports, so there we pass only an occasional large ship, not the dozens of barges we see daily here. 
Still, this river reminds us of ours.  And, these two River Rats feel right at home.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Frank Island

Arriving home in California for only the second trip back in 5 months, Carrie and I entered the house with some trepidation.  Our twenty-something children have been staying here in our absence and “taking care of things” for us on the home front.  Things were pretty well in order.  Even the garage was clean.  Our only complaint was that the mail had not been sorted, and at least reviewed, to see if anything needed our attention while we were gone.  Carrie gets most of the bills paid electronically from the boat, but we knew there would some things the kids were going to have to forward to us. Well, that didn’t happen.  There was a tax bill that we missed a deadline on at a penalty of $350, another bill that had been around so long that it had gone to collection and three unpaid phone bills.  I’m surprised the phone hadn’t been disconnected.  Oh well, as my friend Henrietta noted when I was complaining about this, “If that’s the biggest problem you have at the house, it is pretty inconsequential in the big scheme of things.”  She’s right.
The aforementioned mail was stacked in a huge pile on the kitchen island and took us about an hour to go through and sort.  Just as we thought we had seen it all, a very interesting postcard dropped out from between a couple of pieces of junk mail.  Purportedly it is from an organization in Canada, notifying me of…well, take a look for yourselves.

Yes, some devious, demented, twisted, warped Canadian mind has been at work.  (I know, that is a redundant description, saying “Canadian mind” alone would have inferred the other adjectives).  It could be any one of my new Canadian “friends”, however, I know the whereabouts of Something Special and TerriMar on the date this card was mailed from Canada, and that (probably) eliminates them as suspects.  So…we will be doing a thorough handwriting analysis of a certain document we have on Once Around when we return, which should either eliminate (or be evidence of the guilt of) one of the two other possible unsubs.
Just when I thought I had conquered my arocknephobia, I received this card and I am now back in treatment.  The Admiral told me to quit whining and follow the directions on the card.  Evidently she likes the idea of my buying my way out by giving her a new rock.
I’m considering it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The People You Meet, Ottawa, IL

Today (Wednesday) is kind of a down day for us as we prepare to depart tomorrow for California.  The Admiral likes to come back to a shipshape boat, which includes all laundry done.  We borrowed the marina courtesy car and ran into town for laundry, breakfast and took a minute to drop in to the local hardware store, Home Hardware.  It was here that my loving First Mate met Homer.
We were looking for (among other things) a water filter for our ice maker and a spider web brush.  I don’t think I’ve mentioned the spiders much, but since Little Current, Ontario dealing with them has become a daily battle.  The spiders are winning, but that’s another story.  When Carrie began chatting with an old guy deep in aisle 12, by the water filters, I knew she would be awhile.  In fact, as I slid away quietly from their conversation I smiled to myself thinking, I don’t have to worry about getting old; she loves little old men.  Besides, I noticed the resemblance of this old gentleman to Carrie’s Grandpa Jones, whom she loved dearly.  Knowing we had to get back to the Laundromat to rescue our clothes from the dryers, I hurried through the aisles picking up what we needed.
So, when Carrie rejoined me in the tool aisle about ten minutes later, where I had (not surprisingly she said) gotten side tracked myself, I was also not surprised to see tears in her eyes.
She told me that Homer was 81 years young, and that years earlier he had lost the complete use of his arms and hands, which hung limply at his sides as he spoke.  He told Carrie that his wife dressed him, fed him and that she was his right and left hand, literally.  Carrie remarked back, “In sickness and in health, huh?”  Homer smiled at her and said, “Good for you, honey”, as if to acknowledge that she got it. 
Homer knew everything and everyone in Ottawa, and gave Carrie at least twenty ideas on places to eat and visit while we were in town.  “Boy could he chat”, she said.  That would be like hearing Richard Petty say, “Man, that guy sure can drive!”
But, here’s the best part.  Homer wasn’t just some guy wandering around the store picking up young chicks.  He had worked there for over 40 years and was still counting.  He could not lift an arm to point at anything on the shelves, but the store still paid him to come in just to help customers find things (a tip of the hat to whoever owns Home Hardware).  Like Ottawa, Homer knew the store from top to bottom and everything in it.  As we were leaving he told us, “Next time you come through town, you be sure and stop by and say hi, even if you don’t need anything.” 
You go, Homer!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chicago By Sea (At Last!)

Finally, the weather gods relented and Once Around made the crossing from South Haven, Michigan to Chicago on Sunday, 9/11/11.  As we had hoped, our patience paid off and the smooth water conditions for our seven hour crossing were incredible.  The sun shone brightly and the Admiral enjoyed some time basking on the bow as we crossed the lake.
It was a bit hazy as we neared Chicago, but the view was spectacular.
So was the skyline in the background!
The view as we got nearer.
Since we had spent several days touring the city last week we needed only a one night stay to prepare for the trip through town.  This involved lowering our mast, which lowers our air draft (clearance) from a little over 20 feet, to about 16 feet, 2 inches.  I know that might seem like a minor detail, but with bridge clearance through downtown at 17 feet, we had little to spare. 
Once Around with her mast dropped to clear 17'
Don't ask me???
View from our slip in Chicago Sunday, 9/11/11
It was sure worth the effort!  I cannot describe the feeling of piloting the boat between skyscrapers on the Chicago River on Monday morning.  Even though we had taken the boat tour during our visit last week, there was something magical about doing it on Once Around. 
Looking forward from our fly bridge from the lock into the Chicago River on Monday
A waterside fountain
Remember, we knew we could just barely clear these bridges
Moonstruck had a bit more clearance...but not much.
We were close enough to the bottom of the bridge spans to inspect the welds!
But, looking up all around us was breathtaking.
Just another skyscraper lined!
The story of the Chicago River is really extraordinary.  I will try and explain it briefly.  The river originally flowed into Lake Michigan, and was of little consequence.  Somebody in 1836 got the bright idea to reverse the flow, and dig 96 miles (by hand) to connect it to the Illinois River.  The hand work was done mostly by Irish immigrants who fled Ireland during the Potato Famine, and explains why so many Chicagoans are of Irish descent (and probably why so much beer is drunk in that town!).  Anyway, the canal was completed in 1860, and was the first canal to connect Lake Michigan to the inland water system.  When this and other canals were complete, it enabled huge shipments of goods to be carried from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes.  (Not to mention the ability of modern day boaters to do the Great Loop!).
Just south of Chicago we entered the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  This was a very industrial section.  Some might actually call it ugly, and the smell was everything from “eau de county dump” to wood chips.  We found it extremely interesting.  Here was the inner working of the country, laid out for us to experience as we passed power plants, barges full of coal and aggregate, refineries, factories and who knows what else.  Sure, it was not as picturesque as many places we had visited, but it was real life industrial America.
Barges of coal to feed the power plant
Empty barges lined the locks, narrowing our passage considerably.
We pass the "Electric Fish Barrier", more about the carp problem in a future post.
We also went through a couple of our first Corp. of Engineers locks on Monday.  These things are gigantic compared to the locks of the Erie and Canada.  They are 600 feet long and 110 feet wide.  They are the route these huge barges take to go from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes.  Pleasure boats look miniature in there. 

My first mate tends the line in the lock. 
We spent the night on the gas dock at Harborside Marina in Wilmington, IL, after a trip of 53 miles.  We were beat, and managed to get a pizza delivered before we crashed at about 9 PM. 
Tuesday we made another 32 miles down the Des Plaines River and the Illinois River to a great marina in Ottawa, IL called Heritage Harbor.  We actually could not believe how much some of this view today reminded us of the rivers around home.  Small marinas, agricultural vistas, tree lined shores and a few towns, factories, etc. thrown in along the way. 
Cornfields along the Illinois River
We followed Moonstruck and Trident for much of the way.
We dodged a few barges, too.
We had a Looper dinner here at the marina restaurant with crews from Moonstruck, Dockers Inn, Reality Check, Spirit Dancer and Trident.  Mark and Terry from TerMar also joined us for cocktails.  We hadn’t seen those Canadian crazies since Little Current, Ontario where we first met.  Good thing…Mark and I are going to get into trouble if we spend too much time around each other…can’t wait.
A happy group of Loopers.
For any other Loopers who might stumble upon this blog…this marina and its’ staff are one of the finest and friendliest you will meet.  Stop in…you’ll want to stay awhile.
For the crew of Once Around “awhile” means only two nights before we fly back to the left coast for my niece Emily’s wedding in Los Angeles, a visit to our daughter Carla’s new digs in San Diego and a trip home to Sacramento to do as little business as possible and see if the house is still standing.  For Once Around herself, “awhile” means nearly two weeks, as we will not be back here until Sunday the 25th.  Moonstruck’s crew is doing the same, taking the same break to visit their business and family in Minnesota. 
This is only our second trip home since we started in early May and we are excited to see all our family and friends at home.  We will miss a lot of the Loopers, but we will see them again somewhere down river…
Footnote:  When we entered DeSable Marina on 9/11, looking up in awe at the beautiful skyline of Chicago, we could not help but think about the tragedy of ten years ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.  As we passed a City of Chicago Fire Boat on the way in, we saw a homemade sign they had placed on the boat.  It read, “We will never forget”.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Windy City

The crews of Moonstruck and Once Around abandoned their ships in South Haven, Michigan, and drove (in a car, yuck!!!) to Chicago on Tuesday (9/6).  We have enjoyed South Haven, but with the lake conditions preventing any movement over water this week, we decided seeing Chicago by land was better than sitting around playing cribbage for a week.
My able First Mate, and sometimes great travel agent, found a real cool little hotel downtown called the Talbott.  We spoiled ourselves with room service, 42” TV, mini-bar and a huge bed for a few nights, and walked our shoes off during the day.
So what do landlocked boaters do their first full day in a new city?  Well, they take a boat tour, of course.  Chicago is an architectural wonderland, and there is no better way to see many of these beautiful buildings than from the river that runs right through the heart of town.  I will give you a sampling here, but, trust me, you will see even more after Once Around goes down this river herself in a couple of days.
A view from the river
I was interested in what the waterway was like, since Once Around will soon be going through here, too.
After the boat ride, the Admirals had an afternoon of shopping planned.  As we walked the famous "Miracle Mile" down Michigan Avenue, they introduced Doug and me at each store as their “Sugar Daddies”, "Uncles", “Credit Card Holders”, or “Bagmen (as in carry that bag for me)”.  They must be out of practice or something, because neither of them actually bought much of anything.  It seems “shopping” to women is not necessarily “buying”.  Doug and I asked, "Why bother?"  We just don’t get it, they say.  We just shook our heads and answered, “Yes dear”, as most good husbands have been trained to do in these situations.
During our visit we also tried the Chicago style pizza at Giordano’s, Chicago dogs at a tiny street vendor, went through the Chicago Art Institute (honest), climbed all 94 floors to the top of the Hancock Building (OK, I lied on that one, we took the elevator) and generally acted like tourists.  We had a great Italian dinner at Merlo’s, near our hotel one night, and a great steak at the Saloon Steakhouse another.
Looking south from the Hancock Building
Looking you didn't know Chicago had beaches.  I sure didn't.
Really kids, she really went up there with us...
...but, if you really think she and Judy were washing these windows I have a bridge I'd like to sell you!
Maybe the best time though (in my book) was had when the four of us went to the Apollo Theater and saw “Million Dollar Quartet”.  It is a re-enactment of an actual jam session held in 1956 at tiny Sun records, whose founder discovered each of these four artists, and fairly early in their carreers, somehow corralled them all into one studio for an impromptu event.  On stage were Elvis Pressley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Wow, did that place rock!  After two hours of it we were all on our feet clapping and singing with “A Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On!”
The last day in the city, we took a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright designed homes in Oak Park, an exclusive turn of the century suburb of Chicago.  Doug and Judy love his “Prairie Style” homes, and Carrie and I learned a lot about his life and his architecture…most of which we liked.
Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio
And one of his "Prairie Style" homes.
As we were driving out of Chicago, I realized I had left my iPhone on the short bus during the Frank Lloyd Wright tour.   By the magic of GPS and several cell phones, we were able to trace and track down the driver and retrieve it in under an hour and a half, including a 20 mile loop through some very interesting parts of Chicago.  Had that not put us squarely into the Friday commute, my mistake might have gone without punishment.  I'm just glad this isn't the real navy and there is not a pile of potatoes to peel, but I am sure the Admiral will think of something.
We returned to the boats in South Haven late Friday night.  Today (Saturday) we have been readying for crossing Lake Michigan tomorrow.  The weather is predicted to be good, the lake conditions excellent, for our roughly 70 mile run to Chicago.  Since we just “did the town”, we plan only one night in harbor there.  Early Monday we start down the river systems, which begin in downtown Chicago and end up (late November, early December) in Mobile, Alabama, on the Gulf. 
Stay tuned for more on that later…
Oh yeah, did you know…the term “Windy City” has nothing to do with weather conditions in Chicago.  According to our tour boat expert, this term was first used by a New York journalist who was aghast at how over-blown the descriptions of Chicago were as the people of Chicago lobbied (successfully it turned out) to host the World’s Fair…back in 1893.  He referred in his article about the “windbags” in Chicago…and it stuck.  Evidently, if you believe the braggart’s of Chicago today, that fair was the largest gathering of international peoples that had ever been assembled in history.  It began Chicago’s period of intense growth as one of the premier cities in the US, surpassing many cities that had been much larger prior.
Also, there are so many Polish people in Chicago that it is the second largest Polish city in the world, behind only Warsaw.  It also has a huge Irish population, as the Irish were brought here to dig the canal that tied Chicago to the Illinois River (and therefore the Mississippi and the Gulf).  Oh yeah, and there are lots and lots of Italians here as well.  Remember Al Capone?


Monday, September 5, 2011

Wrigley Field with the Kids

We ended the kids’ visit with a bang on Sunday.  Carrie and I had a limo show up to the harbor to pick us all up and take us to Chicago.  They had a flight out mid-day on Monday, but we weren’t done just yet.  Before leaving South Haven, we managed to get a slip in a little more protected spot across the river and in a cove, where the lake surge, predicted to get pretty nasty, would not beat Once Around to death while we were gone.  It proved to be a good call, as friends (Dockers Inn) docked on the main channel would tell us the next day.
Your chariot awaits... Queen
The drive to downtown Chicago took us a little less than three hours.  We left Michigan, passed through Indiana, and entered Illinois, all before lunchtime.
Proof that at least Dina and Lia were in Indiana
Lunchtime was spent eating Chicago dogs and drinking a few beers at Wrigley Field.  The weather was low seventies and sunny, the crowd was 40,000 plus, and the Cubs won.  The two kids ate three large bags of peanuts…OK, maybe I helped them some.  A great time was had by all.
Everybody got a Cubs hat!
We had great seats, too.
The famous Wrigley Field.
The suckers were a hit!
My gorgeous daughter, Dina.
Well, if truth be told, six innings would have been plenty for the little guys as they kind of faded near the end.
Ben faded late in the game.
As did little sister, Lia.
The grandparents had a great time!
After the game we dropped Dina, Darrin and the kids off at a hotel near O’Hare Airport so they could get a good night’s rest and catch their flight home on Monday.  The driver then took the Admiral and me all the way back to the boat in South Haven, arriving there around 9:30 PM.  By 9:35 PM Grandma and Nono were sound asleep.
Today my first mate and Judy from Moonstruck took a cab at around 2:30 to a laundromat.  Judy was surprised to see that Once Around had four large bags of laundry, mostly sandy beach towels.  Doug and I stayed on our boats to “study the river charts”.  Well, that was the plan anyway.  But, Doug called around 3:30 to tell me there was a great country band at Captain Lou’s, the local watering hole near where Moonstruck was docked.  So we sat on the deck, soaked up some sun and enjoyed a great band and a few brews.  We made up with the Admirals by taking them out to dinner tonight in town.  At least, I think we did.
The lake conditions are looking really crummy for the next several days.  Our plans are jelloing into an interesting shape.  We may drive (again) to Chicago and stay there in a hotel for a few days doing the sites and, according to the Admirals, do some serious shopping.  We’ll be watching the lake conditions and when they look good, we’ll scram back to South Haven and run across the lake to, and maybe right through Chicago. 
I’m not gonna lie, a king sized bed and room service sounds pretty darn inviting.