Cruising America’s Great Loop Part Eight

John Simons


Our Great Loop adventure took one year and covered 6,500 miles. We departed from Waukegan Harbor in mid-September 2015 and, after making a series of left turns, returned to Waukegan Harbor in September 2016. Our crew consisted of John and Priscilla Simons and Dale and Andy Arnold.

Hundreds of “Loopers” make this trip each year. America’s Great Loop Cruising Association conducts seminars to help Loopers prepare for the adventure.

If you’re just tuning in, catch up on our journey:

  • Part one — Waukegan, Illinois, to Grand Rivers, Kentucky
  • Part two — Grand Rivers to Mobile, Alabama
  • Part three — Mobile to Key West, Florida
  • Part four — Key West to the Bahamas and Stuart, Florida
  • Part five — Stuart to Norfolk, Virginia.
  • Part six — Norfolk to Troy, New York
  • Part seven — Erie Canal to Georgian Bay

Smoke from the runaway generator

Tied up at Queen’s Cove Marina in Severn, Canada, at the western edge of Georgian Bay, we found ourselves at the beginning of the end of our Great Loop Adventure. Before crossing our wake in Waukegan, Illinois, we would transit Georgian Bay, the North Channel and Lake Michigan.

Priscilla and I saw black smoke billowing from our boat’s port side while walking back from the Queen’s Cove Marina swimming pool. I ran to the boat and unplugged the power cord in case of an electrical fire. I saw Dale in the bilge frantically searching for the generator fuel shut-off when I climbed aboard.

Since our haul out at the Big Chute Railway, the boat’s electric water pump has been losing suction, so Dale thought we should also check the generator. It turned out he was right. What’s more, the racing generator couldn’t be stopped using standard procedures.

When Dale shut off the fuel line, it finally stopped. Onan technicians spent hours trying unsuccessfully to diagnose the problem, costing us thousands. The problem didn’t get solved until technicians replaced the fuel injector when we returned to Waukegan.

We had to decide if we could anchor out on a 45-foot motor yacht without a generator or an inverter for the remainder of our trip. Could we overcome these first-world inconveniences for a night or two at a time? We wouldn’t be able to use Direct TV, the Jacuzzi, air conditioning or heaters, electric stove, microwave, toaster, central vacuum, washer/dryer, hairdryer, water boiler for coffee, or water heater for showers.

While anchoring out, we could only use what we could run off the house battery and recharge with the engines. This included the refrigerator and freezer, lights, water pump, phone and tablet chargers, the hydraulic swim platform, the anchor windlass, and the radio at the helm.

Although it would feel like living on Gilligan’s Island, we thought we could cope. Fortunately, we could cook food and boil water on our propane grill. We also have a one-cup water boiler that plugs into a 12-volt outlet. (Thank you, Sam and Denise!) We had 150 gallons of fresh water in our tanks, and we could swim off the boat to wash up.

Severn, Ontario >> Killarney, Ontario

We cast off at 9:30 a.m., heading northwest to Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. On the way, we stopped for lunch at Henry’s Fish Restaurant, a big tourist attraction for boats and floatplanes. Priscilla had the pike, I had the whitefish, and Dale and Andy had fishcakes. After lunch, we cruised to Big Sound Marina.

Before shoving off, I walked into town to pick up pastries from the local bakery.

Contrary to the forecast, Georgian Bay was a bit blowy. We took 2- to 3-foot waves on the nose until we turned north and took them on the beam. We dropped our speed to 20 mph to smooth out the ride.

After a 59-mile cruise along narrow, twisty channels, we arrived at St. Amant’s Hotel and Marina at 1:30 p.m., which turned out to be more of a trailer park than a hotel. St. Amant’s has a robust general store with beer, wine and a wide selection of beef jerky. Although we’d been warned off the marina hotel by fellow Loopers, we found the cheeseburgers perfectly fine.

On Saturday morning, I walked south towards Wright’s Marina, our other choice. Other than a nice dock, it didn’t have much to offer, not even potable water. We had made the right choice. During my walk, I saw numerous piles of bear scat on the road. I guess bears don’t always go in the woods.

The next morning, we cast off at 11 a.m. and had a flat ride to Collins Inlet. We arrived at 2 p.m. in the rain. After dropping anchor, we enjoyed the loons and scenery. When the rain stopped, we cooked on the grill and had a wonderful dinner on the fantail.

Sunday morning dawned overcast and cool. We boiled water for tea and coffee on our grill and had cereal for breakfast. At 9:30 a.m., we hauled anchor, and by 10:30 a.m., we were tied up and plugged in at Killarney Mountain Lodge Marina, only 6 miles away. Under new ownership, the marina now has longer, wider docks with 50-amp service.

Herbert Fisheries, our favorite North Channel lunch spot, used to serve fish from a red bus. Although a new restaurant has replaced the bus, the fish tasted as good if not better than we remembered. We ordered the six-piece filet meal and received 10 filets. What a great lunch!

After lunch, we swam in the lodge’s pool. A solar heating system put the pool at the perfect temperature. The gloomy morning gave way to a sunny and windy afternoon. We met several Little Current locals who’d sailed over on Friday but were waiting for better weather to sail back on Monday. The channel through Killarney looked like a narrow river. The rose granite cliffs shone in the sunlight just a hundred yards away.

Dozens of red Adirondack chairs dotted the property including our dock. Sitting at the water’s edge watching the myriad boats pass by was magical.

Killarney >> Little Current, Ontario

On Monday, we cast off at 11 a.m. for the 23-mile cruise to Little Current, where we would stay for two days. The town is home of Roy Eaton’s Cruisers Net VHF radio broadcast. From the second floor of the Anchor Inn restaurant, Roy broadcasts news and weather updates and invites area cruisers to call in to say where they are and where they’re headed.

We made the Little Current swing bridge opening at 1 p.m. You don’t want to be late, as the bridge only opens on the hour.

A short while later, we arrived at the Little Current Marina and tied up on the end of dock B14. Ours was the only boat on B dock, which was already lonely at the end of August.

After returning from a 45-minute dinghy ride, I learned that Canadian Customs had visited for a passport check. The customs officer had it easy, as ours was the only U.S. boat in the marina.

On Tuesday, we attended Roy Eaton’s penultimate broadcast of the season at the Anchor Inn.

Little Current >> Meldrum Bay, Ontario

On Wednesday, we cast off at 11 a.m. and cruised 17 miles to the Kagawong Municipal Marina on Manitoulin Island. Bridal Veil Falls is a 1.1-kilometer hike up the hill. Many people swam in the pool below the falls.
Although we’d planned to anchor out in Beardrop Harbour, the forecast was blowy from the north. So, after waiting for the waves to flatten, we cast off at noon for the 17-mile cruise to Gore Bay.

At 2 p.m., we tied up at Gore Bay Marina. I bought a propane canister at Canadian Tire. We needed more propane now that we had to boil water for tea and coffee on the grill.

With north winds at 15 to 20 mph and even higher gusts, the afternoon and evening were very blowy. By early morning, the winds finally died down. A trawler tied up next to us. The crew said they rocked and rolled all night anchored in the Benjamin Islands, confirming our good judgment in spending the night safely tucked into the marina.

For the next few days, the forecast called for light west winds. That morning, I took a long walk and bought banana bread with chocolate chips from the farmer’s market. I wanted something simple for breakfast since we planned to anchor out for a couple of nights in Beardrop Harbour.

The well-protected cove has granite ledges and pine trees all around. The name Beardrop comes from the Indians who chased bears up the cliff, forcing them over the edge. The area is part of the Serpent River Indian Reserve.

When we arrived at Beardrop Harbour at 3 p.m., we found one other boat in the anchorage, a Canadian sailboat named Heimat.

With only light overnight winds, the cove was flat as glass in the morning. I took the dinghy fishing, pulled into a small cove and hooked a whopper—by far the biggest fish I’ve caught in Canada. I got the hit on the first cast. That fish almost spooled me until I was able to reel it in. If I’d had a net, I would have gotten it into the boat, but when I lifted it by the line, it broke, and away that monster swam with my chartreuse Rapala.

At 1:30 p.m., we hauled anchor and cruised to Meldrum Bay on Manitoulin Island, home to our favorite restaurant, the Meldrum Bay Inn. Once again, ours was the only boat in the marina.

After a month, we spent our last night in Canada eating a superb dinner at the Meldrum Bay Inn. We spent every penny of our Canadian money on dinner, so we didn’t have any Canadian cash to bring home.

The favorable weather continued, and we enjoyed another quiet night in the North Channel plugged into the dock at the Meldrum Bay Marina. Although the temperature dropped into the mid-50s, we delayed turning on the heaters to avoid admitting that it was getting colder.

Meldrum Bay >> Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan

Leaving Canada, we cast off from Meldrum Bay at 11 a.m. and cruised to Drummond Island to clear U.S. Customs. After we tied up at Drummond Island Marina, two customs agents visited our boat. One agent looked at the rose bush Melanie and John Allen had given us as a boat gift and asked if we had any plants. We surrendered the bush for agricultural inspection.

After clearing customs, we cruised a mile to Harbor Island to anchor for the night. With brisk winds forecast from the south, we tucked in behind a long peninsula. The island provides good protection all around. I went for a swim in the harbor, which had a water temperature of 80 degrees.

At 9 a.m., we hoisted anchor and cruised up the St. Marys River to the George Kemp Marina in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, just south of the Soo locks that connect Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes.

Since it was windy, we would stay at the marina and enter Lake Superior on Tuesday. Few Loopers go to Lake Superior unless they live there. Most head south to Lake Michigan once they’ve crossed Georgian Bay and the North Channel.

The next day, we cast off and headed to the Canadian Canal Lock to transit to Lake Superior, where we were lifted 21 feet. We cruised up the St. Marys River to Lake Superior. The lockmaster confirmed that if we rounded the Gros Cap Reef Light, we’d officially be in Lake Superior’s open waters. We had achieved our goal of cruising in all five Great Lakes—the grand slam of Great Lakes cruising.

On our way to the lighthouse, it started to rain, and visibility dropped to near zero. We saw a ship on our AIS, a 700-foot freighter coming toward us. We kept to the right, and the ship passed at a safe distance.

Sault Ste. Marie >> Manistique, Michigan

Departing Sault Ste. Marie at 9:30 a.m., we found St. Marys River and northern Lake Huron to be flat as glass as we turned the corner at Detour Pass to head to St. Ignace. For the entire 90 miles, we cruised at 26 mph except when we slowed for small fishing boats and a short stretch of boats on docks.

In St. Ignace, we said goodbye to butter tarts and hello to pasties, a familiar food in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We thank the Cornish miners, who brought this meat pie delicacy from Cornwall, England.

The following day started out with light drizzle and heavy fog. When the fog started to lift, we headed to the fuel dock to fill up and were on our way by 11:30 a.m. The forecast called for light winds, but we encountered 10- to 15-mph west-southwest winds as we headed west down the Mackinac Straights. By 1:30 p.m., winds were 20 mph, and waves were 2 to 3 feet with the occasional 4-footer rocking the boat enough to ring the ship’s bell. The entire trip was lumpy and rolly, so we went to Manistique instead of Beaver Island, where we tied up at the municipal marina. Ours was the only transient boat there.

Downtown Manistique’s stores and restaurants are just a short walk from the marina. We walked to a winery and microbrewery, whose tasting room overlooked the marina. They had eight microbrews on tap, including an IP-EH, a play on Yooper English or Yoopanese spoken on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, UP for short. Yoopers say “eh” at the end of every sentence, eh.

Manistique, Michigan >> Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Leaving the Manistique dock by 8 a.m. on Friday, we cruised the 73 miles to Sister Bay Marina in Door County, Wisconsin. Dead flat for the first 30 minutes, the big lake started to get lumpy again. When our course took us behind Washington Island, the water flattened out.

That night we ate dinner at the Sister Bay Bowl, so-called because it’s also the local bowling alley. It was perch night, and the perch were delicious. Our waitress was a fourth-generation family member of the owners.

On Saturday, we woke to the sound of waves crashing over the breakwall and hitting our boat. With howling winds and pouring rain, we stayed where we were, safely tied up at the Sister Bay Marina.

Despite 35-mph winds with 50-mph gusts and 4- to 6-foot waves on Green Bay, we felt only a gentle rocking in the harbor.

The weather determined our schedule the next day. Since it would be blowy again for two days, we headed out of Green Bay and into Lake Michigan for the trip to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The trip from Manitowoc to Waukegan is 117 miles. We could easily be home in one day from there.

After departing Sister Bay at 9 a.m., we cruised 30 miles to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, which connects Green Bay to Lake Michigan. The 9-mile canal has three bridges. The cruising guide lists them as 14, 15 and 42 feet. The first bridge opens on the hour and half hour. The second bridge, only 100 yards away, opens at 15 and 45 past the hour, which meant we had to wait in the small space between bridges for the second bridge to open.

Manitowoc, Wisconsin >> Waukegan, Illinois

We arrived in Manitowoc at 2:30 p.m., fueled up and pumped out. With our home port of Waukegan only 117 miles away, we could be crossing our wake tomorrow, but we had no reason to rush home. We would become CLODs (cruisers living on dirt) soon enough.

With blowy weather forecast for Monday, we spent two days in Manitowoc, which has a nearby maritime museum and a nice walkway out to the lighthouse on the breakwall.

On Tuesday morning, we cast off at 11 a.m. and cruised 52 miles south to Port Washington, Wisconsin. The wind had lightened and shifted to the west so the seas laid down, and we had a flat, fast ride. We tied up at the Port Washington Municipal Marina at 1:30 p.m.

After two days in Port Washington, we pulled into the fuel dock at McKinley Marina in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Thursday. After 360 days on the Loop, we learned that the only thing to fear was that someday the trip would end. We were 47 miles from Waukegan.

The next day, after cruising 362 days, we crossed our wake in Waukegan, Illinois, making us officially Gold Loopers. Friends and family greeted us at our slip with a wonderful welcome home party. All in all, we cruised 6,381 miles and burned 6,397 gallons of diesel.

I hope our adventure inspires you to cast off your dock lines and begin the adventure of a lifetime.

John Simons

A member of Waukegan Sail & Power Squadron in District 20, John Simons has a USCG Masters License 100 ton. In his second career, he’s a broker for Weber Yachts, which sold Changing Latitudes two weeks after his Loop cruise. If you need help finding your ideal boat or selling your current one, you can email him.

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