The Loop – Final Frontier

Lake Michigan Depth
Lake Michigan
Deepest Point on the entire Loop for Us

Ludington, our goal for mid September where we would meet up with my sons and grandson to fish wild King Salmon on the Pere Marquette River out of Baldwin. What an adventure this would be, arriving in Ludington by boat! We anchored out at the south end of Ludington Lake for several nights. One night, around 2:30AM we awoke when the boat slammed down hard, nearly shaking both of us out of bed. “What the heck??!” I walked out on deck to find marsh grass all around us. All around. At first we thought we had been rammed by something much larger, but no, there were no other boats nearby.

At dawn I walked out on deck. No trail into the marsh where we would have dragged or motored in. A perfect Kodak moment. A 42 foot trawler, in the grass. But HOW?? Slowly, we used the winch and anchor to pull us free, back into deep water. Later that day, we took the dink into Ludington. No power, trees down everywhere. Two tornadoes had come through during the night. AhA! That explains the shredded burgee on our bow!

AGLCA Burgee

Ah but the fishing? Epic! When we got to the cabin with our family we found the river strewn with entire trees from the tornadoes – which meant no fishermen. After 26 years fishing the PM we had one of the best seasons ever. Jan landed Kings and I caught my first 30 pounder in over 15 years. It was magical!

Pere Marquette King Salmon
. . .please release me, let me go. . .
I can Hear the Tune as Dave hugs a big Buck Noid
Fishing Family
Gramma Jan and Lee’s Son Jason

From there we headed south where new found friends Randy and Cherrie put us up for a week while we had an injector pump repaired. They were amazing, making two round trips to Grand Rapids to help us out with the rebuild. One of my most memorable moments was sitting on the dock while Cherrie gave me a haircut right there on the water. It gets not better than that.

Chicago, the rivers and points south are all a blur. We were falling behind on our schedule with me working Mon-Fri and only moving on the weekends. So at his insistence, we brought Mr. Anthony along for the ride from Peoria to Mobile, AL. He was a Godsend. Traveling every day now, we made up lost time and were able to get back on schedule. Of course, not without some excitement along the way.

Just prior to Anthony joining us, we got tangled up in the Lockport Lock when a whirlpool caught us and slammed us into the wall. We’d just witnessed a sailboat lose their dingy and davit assembly hitting the same wall trying to get free. I thought we could get through it. No, instead we were sucked into the wall and got hung up on it. Right then a log jammed the port prop and even though I could get engine power, no rotation meant we were down to one prop. Jan yelled to me that we were blowing black smoke like a locomotive as I leaned into the throttles. It was exciting to say the least. We struggled for several minutes, unable to back up (we already were pinned to the wall) and unable to rotate with just one engine. Finally we broke loose – only to be heading 90 degrees from our intended course, now crosswise in the lock – pointing straight at the tug that was patiently waiting for Shangri-La to clear the lock. Right then, the log jammed in the port prop came loose and we were able to rotate enough to scoot out of the lock. The lock master asked on the VHF, “Shangri-La, you ok? Anything we can do for you?” “Yes” I replied, “please have another box of Depends sent to Joliet if you would” That night on the wall at Joliet we decompressed and retold our tales late into the night.

LaGrange Lock, IL
Shangri-La Approaching THE TREE in LaGrange Lock

Anthony missed that. But at the LaGrange Lock below Peoria he got to experience what I call the “Lumberjack Loop.” The day before, we had watched a massive tree, root ball and all come down the river by the marina. All of us on the dock just stared. “Don’t want to meet him in a dark lock” someone said. The next morning as we entered the lock area – there it was. Blocking the entire entrance. 3 other boats had gotten in ahead of the tree. Us, we are on the outside looking in. Only one thing to do, push. With our plumb bow I got a grip on it and pushed the tree and an entire beaver dam of wood up against the lock wall. Knowing that we had to back up, rotate 90 degrees and line up in the lock and scoot in before the entire mass bounced back – I gave the effort a 50/50 chance of success. But we did it. We got in before the mass exploded back into the channel and blocked our way. Whew!! At one point Anthony was on the stern telling me, “no idea what is back here, but you’re grinding lumber into big chunks of sawdust like an 8 ton chainsaw.” It all ended well. We motored on. . .

Hoppies Marina - Mississippi River
Hoppies Marina – Mississippi River

The rest of the trip was an adventure in small towns, Hoppies on the Mississippi – that’s a story in itself, and ducking into creeks and sloughs to anchor up as we made our way south. When we broke out into Mobile Bay we were greeted by a pod of dolphins swimming alongside. Yeah!!! Big water again!

After a much needed break in Fort Walton beach visiting with Eddie and Linda in their quaint marina we were recharged and ready to head south. Having such wonderful friends one meets, then re-meets along the way is a gift from God. We so much appreciated the friendship and assistance from those who invited us into their lives. At Mobile, Anthony had bid adieu to return to Delaware.

As a prelude to our final lap we crossed the Gulf into Tarpon Springs, then down the coast to Key West for some well deserved R&R. On our crossing we were joined by Randy to make the overnight trip. Once again – we feel the love. Officially, we “Crossed our Wake” in Captiva and exchanged our raggedy white burgee for the Gold Looper Burgee. It was the official final knot of our loop, as we’d been here before in 2016. However, we elected to head south to the keys and travel new water on the way home. Off Shark River, where many folks anchor in the river, we saw winds were supposed to lay low for the night. We elected to anchor out about 2 miles off shore in the Gulf of Mexico. An amazing evening of stars we could touch with our finger tips and nothing but the gentle slap of a weak swell caressing the hull.

Key West Rooster
Official Welcoming Party – Key West

In Key West we grabbed a ball and spent 3 weeks bouncing in a windy bay. Our forays into town in the dink were a bit over a mile each way. Jan made many trips on her own while I had to attend to family business farther north. We couldn’t wait to get going after sitting so long. Marathon was our next stop and from there we were to head north and anchor out for the night.

We were running with another trawler at the time and he hailed us on the radio. “Been listening to the weather?” he asked. “Not really” I replied. “Looks like tomorrow morning is getting snotty with 40 mph winds. We’re going to go on to Key Biscayne to hold up before it blows.” “Cool, I said, we’ll tag along.” Which meant a long night at the helm. Around midnight we turned into the channel at Key Biscayne and set the hook for the night. The storm never came and from there we made our way back north anxious to make Beaufort our permanent home. The ride north from West Palm was familiar water, or lack thereof.

The Atlantic Iintra Coastal Waterway is a maze of long stretches of cut ditch and weaving channels in the sounds. This is where sand bars are born. With names like The Rock Pile, Hell Gate and Georgia (where supplying shallow water is an Olympic event practiced with a passion above and beyond any other state) we made our way north.

And now we’re home at last. This amazing journey complete. We settled in for the season and opened our Boat and Breakfast. God bless the AGLCA community for all they do to help Loopers enjoy this adventure.

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