Monday, June 24, 2013

The Mercurial Great Loop

People underway on the Great Loop boat journey this year, 2013-14, are having a vastly different experience than those of us from the Class of 2012-13. We stayed in touch with several Looper friends who completed their journeys shortly after we did, and continue to read a few blogs of others.


All Spring, the weather for those traveling north from Florida through Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and into Chesapeake Bay was problematic with lots of rain, frequent high winds and periodic storms. People got held up places longer than they hoped they would and temperatures were often chilly.


Our experience last year, by contrast, was almost entirely warm (70s and 80s) with little rain and only occasional problems with high wind in that stretch.


A month ago we got an email from Looper friends Mark and Allyn on “Second Wind” with whom we traveled quite a bit the last 6 weeks of our Loop. They invited us to join them on their boat “anytime”, and we jumped at the chance! They were in the Chesapeake at the time, and looking ahead, we guessed they’d be in Canada in the Trent-Severn Waterway or Georgian Bay during the first half of July (two of our favorite segments), so bought airline tickets from Seattle to Toronto, knowing we could rent a car or catch a bus from there to wherever they were.


This year’s Loopers continued north from the Chesapeake, mostly having easy trips down the Delaware Bay and up the New Jersey shoreline despite Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath that ripped the Jersey ICW to shreds last year and made it un-navigable by all but those with local knowledge. Everyone we know went “outside” in the ocean and had a pretty smooth trip. Last year almost everyone we knew either traveled that stretch in heavy fog, using radar to find their way, or got caught in a horrid squall that wreaked havoc with the nerves of anyone involved (LINK ).

canal map

Two weeks ago, heavy rain began falling in New York state, and while some Loopers had already arrived in Canada, many were still in New York City or heading north on the Hudson River. Soon announcements were made that the rainfall was so severe the Erie, Oswego and Champlain Canal systems were badly flooded and the Canals were closed!

Deep In The Lock 005

One Looper we’re familiar with was already IN the Erie Canal, got told to move their boat inside Lock #11 for safety from the floods, and is still there 14 days later, at times having to use an 8-foot ladder to get off their boat onto the lock wall above! Lock staff brought a generator and provided pump-outs, so life isn’t completely unmanageable, but it doesn’t sound like fun either. (Link to their Blog) And the rain continues.


Bob researched the cost of canceling our tickets to Toronto and purchasing new tickets to New York where Second Wind is still sitting on the Hudson River, but at this late date, cost of the new tickets is prohibitive. It will be cheaper to rent a car in Toronto and drive to somewhere in New York where we can meet up with them 8 days from now. Or there are even rumors that the Canals may not be re-opened by then, in which case we’ll cancel our trip and join them some other time, as we don’t want to fly out to spend a week just sitting in a marina.


So Mother Nature continues to remind us that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL: She is! Loopers always have to be flexible, and this year’s Loopers are being challenged more greatly than those of some years. But that’s the nature of the Mercurial Loop, and part of the fun when you tell the stories to your grandchildren in future years!


Walla Walla Wine Country


We’ve been home 2 1/2 months, getting the house and yard back in order, some wedding planning and lots of projects, including Bob building a new shore-side deck, so it was time to take a break and have some fun.


Wednesday morning we loaded the car with Bob’s sister Lynn and her husband David, luggage and a cooler full of food and drinks, and headed east. Normally this time of year it’s still cool and cloudy in western Washington where we live, but hot and sunny on the other side of the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington. Not so this year. Six hours after departing, we arrived in Walla Walla to 62 degrees and light rain.

Fortunately the rental house Lynn found, “Clara’s Cottage”, a 100-year-old Victorian 3-bedroom and 2-bath at a reasonable price and location, was comfortable, well furnished and well-provisioned.


Thursday we visited 3 wineries: L’Ecole 41, Northstar and Seven Hills Winery.  We enjoyed the tastings at all 3, and bought a couple cases of wine from the first two.


It was reminiscent of a trip the four of us took together 8 years ago to Napa Valley, and among other things, we were reminded that mostly our wine tastes and willingness to fork out big bucks for better wine are pretty restrained, so unlike a former colleague of Bob’s, we won’t be making 4 trips a year to Walla Walla for wine.


A staff member at L’Ecole 41 suggested we might enjoy an evening at Charles Smith Winery where dinner would be served that night by students of the Wine Country Culinary Institute and live blues music would be played. So we did! The crowd was small, some of the food was great (other was mediocre) and we enjoyed the music and people-watching for a couple hours.


Friday found us driving through the Palouse, a beautiful region of tall rolling hills and fields with big sky and layered colors and views.


A stop in Waitsburg at the General Mercantile Store and then at the Mace Meadery in Dayton filled our morning.


Not all of us knew that Mead is a type of wine made using honey as the base ingredient instead of grapes. We tried a tasting and were not won over, though it was interesting and educational.


Next up was a stop at Monteillet Fromagerie, a farm run by a middle-aged married couple who raise goats and sheep, milk them, and make artisanal cheeses of an astounding variety.


We sat in the tasting room for an hour being served by Joan and discovering lots of things we didn’t know about cheese-making. The farm was pretty and the goats were interested in the visitors, though we were kept outside the fence.


A two-hour drive led us to a non-descript motel in Sunnyside, Washington headed partway home, but it was situated on the edge of a vineyard, so we outside for a couple of hours with a glass of wine and enjoying the sun and views.

All in all, a pleasant trip, wrapped up with a slower, scenic drive through Mount Rainier National Park, crossing White Pass and Chinook Pass with spectacular views of “The Mountain”, much more close-up than we see from home. 

Now that we’ve crafted a write-up suitable for the Chamber of Commerce to post on their website, we’ll add a postscript.  Nowhere during our visit to Walla Walla was there any mention of the only thing Walla Walla was known for during most of Bob’s growing up years. (It was not wine!)


One thousand nine hundred and sixty eight prisoners call Walla Walla Penitentiary “home”.  There are no directional signs point the way to the prison, and the bus route serving it is called the Pine Street Loop.  You get the clear impression that folks do NOT want to distract you from your wine tour by noting the presence of this facility.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Back on the Water

Days on cruise:  2

Distance traveled:  86 statute miles

Travel time: 7 hours, 45 minutes (over 2 days)

Perfect weather cropped up Tuesday and Wednesday: sunny, high temp of 78, light wind. So we took a break from projects and chores at home and headed out on Always Ahead, our 27-foot Regal Express cruiser, a very different boat from Next To Me, the 42-foot Jefferson on which we traveled 7,000 miles over 15 months recently.


We cruised slowly past the community of Salmon Beach (above), a cluster of 80 homes built on stilts over the water, to see what changes occurred in the past two years. Our new “Gold Loopers” burgee was flying, and we laughed to think that if anyone knew what it was, they might think we did our Loop in THIS boat!


Despite the fact this boat can get up and go, we headed south at more-or-less trawler speed, having become accustomed to seeing the sights in a more relaxed mode.


It was a beautiful day with blue skies, calm water, snow-capped mountains including majestic Mt. Rainier (tallest mountain in the 48 contiguous United States at 14,411 feet), lots of marine life including sea lions, seals, otters, Dall’s porpoises, bald eagles, herons and more. This is all gorgeous and familiar boating territory to us.


Arriving at Jarrell Cove on Harstine Island 4 hours later, we tied up at the State Park dock and were the only boat there, a good reason to travel mid-week before kids are out of school and families begin their summer vacations.


Dinner found us grilling Alaskan Copper River Salmon on the barbecue, accompanied by a bottle of wine, and the days are so long this time of year we were able to read our books without turning on lights til after 9pm. IMG_0115

Wednesday morning was a bit cloudy and cooler, but still nice. The tide swung 14 feet from high to low, making the trip up to the campground restrooms like climbing a mountain from the floating dock to the fixed portion, seen above, 1 hour before low tide.

photo (2)

After taking advantage of being on a dock to scrub off the stuff growing at the waterline (our boat stays on a buoy in front of our house where this activity is hard to do) we meandered across the bay to Fair Harbor, (above) a favorite annual stop for fuel and to buy something nautical at the extremely nicely-stocked gift shop. After 7 years of stopping here, Cathryn has yet to leave without at least one, and often several, small purchases.


The trip home was interesting due to the huge 14-foot tidal swing from low to high, and the ensuing current, especially coming through The Narrows, above. Running the engine at 2300 rpm, our pace slowed to 3.4 mph bucking the strong current as we headed north, and it wasn’t until 6 miles later after rounding Point Defiance that our speed picked up to 11 mph, still at the same rpm!


Things we noticed about our boat on this trip: we missed having autopilot; we missed having twin engines when docking, even though the wind and current gave us no problems this trip; we missed having anywhere particularly comfortable to sit in a salon; the bed is fine but not as comfortable. Oh, we’re spoiled after living on a larger boat! What are the implications, you ask? We’ll report later when we know too.


So it was a good shake-down cruise to remind us how this boat works, what we need to bring back aboard to be fully provisioned, and how it feels. Great trip!