Top Ten Favorite Spots

During our 9 months living aboard and 7 months of travel from May to October we docked or anchored Joy Girl in 86 different locations. We cruised 3,100 nautical miles (3,584 statute miles) in 10 states and 2 countries.

Naturally, people ask us “What were your favorite places?” We asked the same question of other boaters when we started and many said, “Oh, every place is different. We loved them all!” Hmmmm. We can honestly say we didn’t love them all (Atlantic City comes to mind), but there were enough great spots that it was difficult to whittle it down to just a few.

So, in David Letterman tradition, we’ve created Joy Girl’s Top Ten List of Favorite Spots. One caveat: Craig and I don’t agree on all of these, so the nominating spouse will be duly noted if there is a disagreement.

Drum roll, please…

10. Door County, Wisconsin. Captain Craig nominated this area as he loves Wisconsin, and Door County in particular, which is comprised of tiny resort towns nestled in lush forests on the shores of Green Bay. Niki was less thrilled and thinks Craig is still romanticizing the Wisconsin of his youth…

9. Charlevoix, Michigan. Michigan was such a surprise to us, we didn’t expect such beauty. Charlevoix is like a little seaside town with a beautiful beach, a huge lake to cruise in (Lake Charlevoix), and an adorable town with plenty of shops and restaurants. We visited a couple of times.

8. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Who doesn’t love Hilton Head? Thoughtfully developed and designed for tourism, it’s a hotbed of fun, beauty, beaches and great seafood. We were blessed to have 14 guests on Joy Girl during our three month stay, including three cousins (two live on the island) and my aunt and uncle who own a timeshare there. We fell in love with it.

7. Beaufort, South Carolina. This magical little town was our second destination on Joy Girl. Fortunately, it was close enough that we returned several times with different guests. With its antebellum mansions and Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss, it’s like living in a dream.

6. New.York.City. What a vibrant and surprisingly beautiful city with gorgeous architecture (new and old), plenty of parks, and American history on every corner. The city girl in me loves New York! Small town boy Craig would prefer never to return…sigh…

5. Charleston, South Carolina. Niki flipped out over this gorgeous place and fought for higher ratings, but Craig was a bit less thrilled. The historic “Holy City” is filled with breathtaking homes (one more beautiful than the next), lovely parks, charming restaurants in historic buildings…the whole place glitters with southern charm and style.

4. Mackinaw Island, Michigan. Mackinaw was our first glimpse of Michigan and she amazed us with her Caribbean-blue water, white beaches, Victorian architecture and sense of fun. Horses and bikes only, no cars. She’s Michigan’s Crown Jewel, and deservedly so.

3. Roanoke Island/Outer Banks, North Carolina. The Outer Banks will steal your heart. Manteo on Roanoke Island is simply adorable and across the bridge there are white beaches, capes that stretch sand bars out into the ocean for miles, zillions of shells to collect, Kitty Hawk, Hatteras, wow. We loved it all.

2. Benjamin Islands, North Channel, Ontario, Canada. The pristine beauty and get-away-from-it-all feel of these little islands cannot be overstated. Pine trees, rock islands, and clear, emerald green water make it a place to sit back, relax and relish the splendor. It is the mountain beauty of Colorado with gorgeous water added on top.

1. Bald Head Island, North Carolina. We both agree that this island, two miles off the coast of Southport and only accessible by boat, is the number one place we would like to return to and spend a good bit of time. It’s quiet (no cars) with uncrowded beaches, lovely homes overlooking the beach, giant swathes of sand that lead out to Cape Fear, beautiful shells and it even has a nice grocery store. We are brokenhearted over the destruction Hurricane Florence brought to this area and pray for their quick recovery. Unfortunately, I hadn’t caught my photography stride yet so I don’t have many good photos of Bald Head or the Outer Banks…

So, th, th, th, that’s all folks! If you follow this blog, you’ll receive new posts when we put Joy Girl back in the water next May. Cheers from Colorado for a great winter!

Home Sweet Home

Since we talked last the Team Joy Girl trajectory was modified. After weeks of discussion and prayer we decided to return home to Colorado for the winter!

What?! Why?

Primarily, we both have parents in their 80’s (two are holding their own at 88) who we want to spend time with and provide assistance to. My folks are in Colorado and Craig’s Mom is in Chicago, so we can visit her easily.

Secondarily, Hurricanes Florence and Michael put a dent into our plans. After floating down the rivers we would hit the Florida Panhandle which is, of course, in emergency status. It’s unclear when the marinas down there will reopen, so other Loopers are stuck in a holding pattern in Tennessee and Kentucky right now.

Even if we made it past the horrible hurricane destruction, the sugar sand beaches of western Florida would not be waiting for us. The Red Tide temporarily ruined many of them to the point where our friends cancelled their Sarasota beach condo reservation because of the filth and stench.  And, we had hoped to spend a month on Bald Head Island, home of Cape Fear, in North Carolina this winter. That beautiful area still needs time to repair and rejuvenate after Florence.

And last but not least, this year we’ve read horror stories of boats damaged and even sunk (!) on the rivers. Tales of debris from flooding, shallow water, crashes with tow boats, added on top of our general disinterest in traveling the midwest rivers all worked together to help us decide to head home.

Since we decided to store Joy Girl “on the hard” so late in the season, EVERY marina we called was booked solid already. Thanks to a tip from our friends Tom and Julie Van Hall we lucked into a spot at North Shore Marina in Grand Haven, Michigan. North Shore was only able to accommodate us because of a cancellation that morning. Providence was with us.

So, off we went, back across Lake Mean-chigan. It was a tough two days of pitching and rolling – poor Scully got seasick both days. Thankfully, Grand Haven turned out to be a lovely spot with a fascinating mix of pretty beaches, sand dunes, Fall colors and coniferous trees, too.

During our three weeks in Grand Haven we had dinner with boater friends, celebrated both our birthdays and our 3rd wedding anniversary.

Unfortunately, after a week of great weather, Fall came upon us and it turned cloudy, cold and windy, with winds as high as 30 knots and waves up to 14 feet. No worries, we only watched them from ashore.

Winter is long on the Great Lakes so we won’t see Joy Girl again until next May. She’ll be hibernating in a heated storage unit and having some maintenance work done. We will miss her and our adventures but we’re sure this is the right thing to do during this season of our lives. We are now home in Colorado, enjoying the delightful weather!

We get a lot of questions about our favorite places, so look for our Top 10 Locations post coming up next to wrap up this segment of our adventure.


Last time we left you we were cruising down the Wisconsin coast toward Chicago…

In a fluke of good luck, Lake Michigan was quiet as a lamb, the wind-free weather on the Great Lakes related to Hurricane Florence in some weird weather front I don’t understand. As heartbroken as I was that North Carolina was brutally pummeled, I was grateful that Lake Mean-chigan was smooth as glass for once. She earned her new nickname after tossing us in the waves like a cork so many times. Yes, I do get seasick but I have my trusty scopolamine patch to get me through the rougher passages!

Recommended spots to stay on the Wisconsin coast: Port Washington is a charming little town, Manitowoc has a great Maritime museum with a fully restored World War II submarine, and Racine has a fantastic marina.

In Chicago we stayed at Belmont Harbor on the north side, next to beautiful Lincoln Park and only a short distance from my brother’s house. The weather was glorious, so, champagne in hand, Joy Girl toured Steve and Noel down to Navy Pier to view downtown by water. Our evening was topped off with the absolutely delicious, Chicago-style, official pizza of the Chicago Cubs – Giordano’s. YUM!!

Craig’s brother and his wife Linda live in the Chicago suburbs so they trekked up from Downers Grove with Shirley, Craig’s 88 year old mother. We were blessed with yet another day of smooth water so off we went to Navy Pier but this time with Shirley driving!

I haven’t had this much fun since the pigs ate my little brother!” Shirley exclaimed multiple times. I’d never heard that one (ha!) but we haven’t seen her that happy in a long time. It was a dream come true for Craig, so thanks to Linda and Gary for making it happen.

Both Craig and I lived in the Chicago area and don’t have great memories of it, but we do agree it’s a beautiful and impressive city. We had a blast seeing family, spent a day in the Science and Industry Museum, and enjoyed our stay very much.

Since I have not been home since January, I flew out of O’Hare to Denver and spent a week in Colorful Colorado while Craig waited for me in the Hammond Port Authority marina in Indiana, 20 miles south of Chicago. Dare I say my scenery was prettier than his? We missed each other but I had a fantastic time at home!

Since we have come such a long way, people are asking about our favorite spots on this trip. In our next post we plan to highlight those beautiful locations!

The Door

Door County, Wisconsin was named after “Death’s Door“, the legendary passage between Green Bay and Lake Michigan. The exact number of deaths and ships lost in this narrow passageway is unknown but the official 1906 Sailing Directions for the area describes the passage this way:

There is a strong current setting in and out according to the direction of the wind, and many vessels have been lost in con­sequence. It is frequently so strong that sailing vessels can not make headway against it. The coast is rock-bound and certain destruction awaits the craft going ashore.

Did we go through it? Noooo, we just peeked over as we rode by!

For the past month, we cruised all over Door County and the waters of Green Bay. Although this area is a bit off the beaten path, Wisconsin is Craig’s boyhood home so he was excited to spend some time here. This area has a quieter, laid back, country feel, tons of homemade ice cream, fried cheese curds, old fashioned Supper Clubs and good, down to earth folks who have never lived outside Wisconsin (a foreign concept for me, haha). It’s not flashy like its Michigan coast neighbor but it’s peaceful and pretty.

In Green Bay, we dressed up (as best we could) for a National Railroad Museum event on their Silver Spirit Dining car. After cocktails and appetizers, the train chugged us around the grounds for a bit and then we settled in for drinks and a delicious 5 course meal. Craig was excited as a kid…on a train!

We had a great visit from our friends Dick and Peg Bousum and Peg’s sister Barb and her husband John. The windy weather didn’t allow us to take Dick out on Joy Girl but we ate a scrumptious lunch at historic Wilson’s and ordered the most decadent ice cream creation I’ve ever seen in celebration of their 47th wedding anniversary. Congrats Dick and Peg!

Last, but not least, we went to the Packers vs Bears home opener, the first game of the Packers 100th season. What a heart stopping game that was only clinched by the Packers with 75 yard run for a touchdown at the 2 minute mark! The crowd was so loud my ears ached and Craig almost lost his voice from screaming the Bears down.

We’ve now traveled 2,700 miles. Wisconsin was a crossroads for us since Craig’s main objective was to bring Joy Girl here. After that, we weren’t sure if we would put her “on the hard” and store her here for the winter, which would allow us to go home and reconnect with friends and family. Or, we could continue with “The Loop” and go down the mid-west rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, then back to Hilton Head. We’ve been torn, weighing the pros and cons of each option and brainstorming for weeks. At long last, due to multiple circumstances, we’ve decided to finish The Loop!

We haven’t mentioned the Loop a lot because we weren’t sure we would crank all the way round, so here is a map compliments of veteran Looper and resource extraordinaire, Captain John. We will aim for Mobile, Alabama.

We left Green Bay today, heading toward Chicago. After about a week cruising down the eastern coast of Wisconsin, we’ll visit our brothers and Craig’s mom in Chicago, traverse through downtown Chicago in Joy Girl, then head south on the Illinois river. More adventure awaits!


Northern Sky Theater

For the past two weeks we cruised the bay of Green Bay, which extends north from the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. One of the highlights was the Northern Sky Theater, an enchanting outdoor venue located in Peninsula State Park.

At first, we were flummoxed about how to get there since it’s in the middle of the woods, far away from town, and we don’t have a car. After ruling out bikes (too far, too dark) and Uber (too expensive), Captain Craig wisely concluded,

“We don’t have a car, but we do have a boat…” 

That hatched one of our most fun adventures yet. The day of the show we anchored Joy Girl near the theater in Horseshoe Bay, fired up our dinghy (appropriately named Ode to Joy), motored in to shore, parked it on the beach, and walked the half mile wooded pathway to the theater. We chose the 6pm show so we could make it there and back before dark.

We were not disappointed! “Lumberjacks in Love”, an original musical performed here since 1996, was as hilarious as the title promised, with great acting, nice voices, and goofy jokes. And we enjoyed it all surrounded by towering trees in beautiful weather. Very cool!

In fact, we loved it so much that we decided to go back for another show just two days later. “Dairy Heirs” had one performance at 8pm so we got our bold on and decided that this time we could dinghy home in the dark. It definitely added a new twist to an old plot for us.

As to the show, “Dairy Heirs” is a “Mooo-sical” centered around a Wisconsin dairy farm, and was even better with beautiful voices, spot on comic timing and even a bit of drama…and a completely original script and music. Wow!


Craig has never met a stranger, and instantly struck up a conversation with Nola and Dave as we waited for the mad rush to get the best seats in the unreserved section. We ended up having a blast with them and hope to see them again in September when we travel through their hometown, Peoria, IL.


After the show, we used our flashlight like a dinghy headlight to find Joy Girl as she floated in the harbor with about five other boats. The half moon was glowing gold, the air was warm and the night was calm. We had a ball.

Next week we’ll travel to Chicago to do some family stuff and then we’ll be back in the waters of Green Bay. Talk to you then!

Pure Michigan

Did you know they call the western Michigan coast the “Riveria of the Midwest”? We had no idea this area was that beautiful. Craig always visualizes Detroit when he thinks of Michigan, but just like New York, these states are so much more than their famous cities.

Way up north, Mackinaw Island is surrounded by rocky beaches, but as you head south into Lake Michigan the beaches turn sandy. The water is still a breathtaking mix of aqua, sea green and bright blue, depending on how the sunlight hits it. For us girls, there are only tiny, clam-like shells to collect, including the zebra mussels that have cleaned the lake so thoroughly that it’s see-through 20 feet down. But there are multicolored rocks to sort through, including Petoskey Rocks that bear fossil markings from long ago.

The coastline is studded with delightful resort towns, each rightfully claiming a bit of fame, from Hemingway’s haunt in Petoskey to Sleeping Bear sand dunes near Frankfort.

The sunsets were stunning (!) and we were treated to fireworks right off the stern (back) of our boat in Charlevoix during their Venetian festival. There are more lovely towns south of Frankfort, but we’re saving them for another trip as we needed to head across the lake to Wisconsin, Craig’s adopted home state.

We’ve met some fantastic people along the way but there are no friends like old friends, so we were thrilled to have my wonderful college buddy Deb, and her husband Dave, aboard Joy Girl in Petoskey. We introduced them to anchoring out in Lake Charlevoix, strolled through gorgeous Harbor Springs, grilled, dined out and were not ready to see them go!

Biggest challenge on this leg of the trip: Lake Michigan. Home to approximately 2,000 ship wrecks, this beastie is enormous, unpredictable, and prone to squalls and wicked wind that can produce waves that range from uncomfortable to terrifying. Our days were filled with chart watching to identify the weather window when we could venture out without being tossed in the ocean-like swells and waves. We did make it across her, from Frankfort, Michigan to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin in 7 hours without bodily or boat injury!

The good news: Michigan is usually the “lee” shore, meaning it typically gets blasted by winds from the west. Wisconsin is the “windward” shore, so it shouldn’t be as rough since the wind rolls over it, headed east. Here’s hoping!

Future Plans: We’ll slow down for the month of August and take our time cruising Door County, Wisconsin.

This peninsula is surrounded by Lake Michigan and the waters of Green Bay, and is well known for its quaint resort towns, beautiful sunsets, and thriving arts community including painters, musicians and excellent theater. As theater people, we’re excited to see a few good shows. In early September, we plan to leave Wisconsin with a big bang by attending the Green Bay Packers home opener against the Chicago Bears in Lambeau Field on 9/9. Go Pack Go!

Adult Disneyland: Mackinaw

Mackinaw Island is so picture perfect it’s like an amusement park for grown ups. Touted as Michigan’s crown jewel, it’s encircled by Caribbean-like beaches (only with rocks, not sand), sprinkled with elegant Victorian architecture, crammed full of charming shops, delicious eateries, plus it’s steeped in history, including war. No cars allowed here since the late 1800’s, just horses and bikes are allowed!

The Native Americans believed the Great Spirit lived here and buried their chiefs on the island. It was a fur trade epicenter, site of the first battle of the War of 1812, the nation’s second National Park in 1875 (three years after Yellowstone), Michigan’s first state park, then quickly thereafter transformed into a popular tourist location for the wealthy from Chicago and Detroit. The splendid Grand Hotel, built in 1887, was the filming location of the dreamy romance “Somewhere In Time”.

Sigh. We love it.

All photographers love a Butterfly Pavilion, and I was not disappointed by the small but beautiful one here on the island. I even made a friend…

Only bummer is that the winds picked up. That, and the three ferry lines that bring people in and out on an hourly basis, stirred up the water and flung Joy Girl round and round like she was a bucking bronco. To be fair, we were warned of this possibility, still, we suffered through some of the most uncomfortable days and nights of our entire trip in this marina.

Enduring the bumpy water was worth being here, but tomorrow the weather forecast is good and we’re ready to move on. So, we’re off to Petoskey on the east side of Lake Michigan!

North Channel Island Hopping

Everything we were told about Canada’s North Channel is true… it’s magnificent! More like Colorado than ever, it has even bigger boulders and more pine trees on small foothills. But it is all surrounded by gorgeous emerald green water so clear you can easily see 15-20 feet down.

We focused on the islands in the north eastern part of the channel and anchored at a different island each day, every one unique and beautiful. We explored in our dinghy, swam and bathed off our swim platform, grilled and ate dinner on the back deck, then played cards or read after dinner. Not many people out here, it’s a perfect place to get away. So relaxing…ahhhh…

But the Benjamin Islands deserve a special shout out. Wow, this little group of islands was amazingly beautiful! Not sure we captured it well but let’s give it a shot…

Before entering the North Channel, we stayed at Killarney Mountain Lodge Marina for two days. I fell in love with its mountain decor, pristinely beautiful and expansive grounds, and refreshing pool. If you’d like a Canadian vacation not too far from the States but far away from it all, I’d highly recommend this place. Free kayaks and canoes, too!

Only bad thing about the North Channel is the poor internet connection. But then again, maybe that’s the point!

We headed toward home in FOG. It’s utterly nerve wracking floating through water blindly when visibility is only a half mile – good for the prayer life! But it doesn’t faze Captain Craig who is used to flying airplanes in clouds by instruments only. Ugh.

Yesterday we re-entered the good ol’ USA at Drummond Island, Michigan! We were in Canada for exactly one month and it was very lovely but it’s great to see the stars and stripes flying again, besides on the back of our boat. Today we are headed to the Les Cheneaux Islands in Northern Michigan to anchor out a few days before our stay at Mackinaw Island on July 18th.

And we are delighted to have very special guests visiting us in Petoskey, Michigan on July 23rd!  More on that later…

Gorgeous Georgian Bay

If you asked us to sum up our thoughts on the Georgian Bay we’d say this: it’s Rocky Mountain National Park on water. For the past week we’ve been reminded of our beautiful home state of Colorado as we cruise by huge lichen-covered boulders, miles of coniferous trees, the sweet smell of pine sap and deep blue skies. Just add water and you’ve got the Georgian Bay.

We spent the week anchoring in spots ranging from pristine, quiet getaways to bays filled to the brim with other boats. Everyone who owned a boat was out on Canada Day weekend and we watched a private fireworks show on an island right next to us (scared poor Scully nearly to death!). We spent July 4th at anchorage with our American friends, Tom and Julie.

Canada didn’t escape the early summer heat wave so when it got too hot to handle, we jumped off our boat and took a dip in the clean, refreshing water. That was a first for me and I loved it! Craig had a blast diving off various parts of the boat but hasn’t found the nerve to plunge in from the fly-bridge yet. Other days were cool and windy, requiring sweat shirts.

Christian Island was a very special, peaceful anchorage for us, made famous by Gordon Lightfoot’s song of the same name. His lyrics summarized Craig’s mood perfectly…

I’m sailing down the summer wind
I got whiskers on my chin
And I like the mood I’m in
As I while away the time of day
In the lee of Christian Island

We traveled through easy, broad bays then, just around the corner, channels so narrow that we held our breath as we squeaked through, boulders surrounding us on both sides and below us, their sharp edges visible through the clear water. Check out this video…

We are now in Killarney, Ontario at the base of the North Channel, an even more remote area. If you, like me, said, “Huh? Where is that?” see the photo below:

After about a week anchoring in the the North Channel we will be back in the States on Mackinaw Island on July 18th.  Hope everyone is well and happy!

Traveling The Trent-Severn

Without doubt, everyone was right – Canada is beautiful! We are one day away from exiting their lock system, the Trent-Severn Waterway, where many Canadians take their summer respite and enjoy the water. The Waterway shores are lined with summer cottages decked to the nines with water toys including slides, gazebos, water trampolines, and of course, boats. Some areas were frighteningly narrow and shallow and others spread out into ponds and lakes filled with tiny, rock islands with homes built on them. Imagine spending the summer on your own island!

We’ve been through 70 locks since we started the Erie Canal. We went up 418 feet then down 180 in the Erie. We went up 600 feet and came down 260 in the Trent. Your faithful First Mate grabbed lines, tied them down, hung on tight to keep Joy Girl steady, put fenders out, took fenders back in…70 times.

Due to sheer exhaustion, I earned a three day rest in the beautiful boutique town of Orillia, birthplace of Gordon Lightfoot and our favorite city on the waterway.

A few locks deserve special coverage, namely the Peterborough & Kirkfield Lift Locks and the Big Chute Marine Railway. Captain Craig will explain the technicalities of the lift locks for the guys…

Unlike conventional locks which open or close valves to fill or empty their chambers, the lift locks feature two matching pans holding between 1300 and 1500 tons of water each. Boats displace water equal to their weight (hence the term displacement) so their presence in the lock chambers has no effect on the weights. Once the boats are in and secured, the water level is increased by merely a foot or so in the upper chamber, and that is all it takes to aid the two sides in their opposing 65 foot vertical journeys. It’s incredible to think about, and even more so to behold and enjoy. And yes, enjoy is the correct word, because with their almost constant water levels, it is much easier on the crews who don’t have to attend the lines nearly as closely.

Big Chute was the only lock to pick Joy Girl up in a marine railway car, drive us over land, and plop us down 58 feet on the other side! It was like a slow motion boat roller coaster ride and a great way to end the Trent-Severn with a big bang (no, we didn’t fall out of the slings 🙂

After tomorrow it’s goodbye to the Trent Severn and hello to the Georgian Bay, the land of 30,000 islands and crystal clear water. Where the heck is that? We’ll be in the highlighted area of this map.

This is a place of unspoiled beauty and not many towns or marinas, so we’ll be anchoring out for about a week. We won’t have much of an internet connection, so we’ll reconnect on the other side. Ciao for now!