03-12-10 Wrap-up: Favorite Towns & Marinas

There are certain towns and marinas that absolutely everyone that does the loop has to see or visit. We’ve listed those here mostly as a reminder of some of the famous things we saw. Following that, we’ve listed smaller towns that we really thought were special that the average person might never visit, especially if you were travelling by car rather than by boat.

BIG CITIES THAT WE ENJOYED: Annapolis; Baltimore; Atlantic City; New York; Kingston, Ontario; Chicago; Chattanooga; Clearwater; Sarasota; Fort Myers; St. Augustine; Savannah; Charleston (which we bypassed this time because we’d been there several times before by boat). All of these towns are boater friendly and have nearby museums, aquariums and other attractions. Although there are exceptions, most have very nice marinas. Most are very biker friendly, and it was in these large cities that we really used the bikes.

SMALLER TOWNS ALONG THE WAY: The things that made small towns attractive were mainly that the marina would be right in the heart of town. The towns would offer good re-provisioning opportunities, good shops, good restaurants nearby, historic areas or small local museums that were within walking distance, great parks, etc. Listed below are some of our favorites, most with the date of our visit in parenthesis. You can refer back to that date in the blog to see why we liked each of these places. We tried to narrow the list down, but just couldn’t leave out any of these places. They are more or less in chronological order.

North Carolina: Beaufort and Oriental

Virginia: Yorktown, as well as many other small towns in the Chesapeake, but we sort of skipped by them this trip because we had been there before.

New York: Sylvan Beach (6/27);
Alexandria Bay (7/2). I will note that Alexandria Bay was not part of our plan but became a necessary side trip that turned out to be one of the most beautiful areas we saw on the entire trip.

Ontario, Canada:
Peterborough (7/9 and 7/12) where we traversed the famous Peterborough Lift Lock;
Bobcaygeon (7/13) where on the way we encountered the canoes in the lock;
Orillia (7/17 and 7/18) where we happened upon a Scottish Festival;
Little Current (8/1 and 8/2) where we happened upon the Haweater Festival.

Michigan: St. Ignace (8/7 and 8/8); Petoskey (8/10)

Illinois: Grafton (9/4)

Alabama: Everything and every town along the gorgeous Tennessee River! (Entire month of October). Particularly Florence, Guntersville, Scottsboro, and Chattanooga.

Florida: Port St. Joe (12/5); Sanibel Island (1/13 and 1/14, 2010); Melbourne (1/30)

South Carolina: Beaufort…one of our all-time favorites (2/25 through 2/28).

All along the way we sort of “rated” marinas as to how they suited our needs. The main criterion for a great marina is clean restrooms and showers since we are so dependent on them, unlike loopers on larger boats. A great marina would also have wi-fi; cable tv hookup; courtesy car unless they were right downtown; floating docks and a personable staff. Eating facilities nearby is a plus.

There are a couple of marinas that you MUST stop at whether you want to or not because of their remote locations. These would include Hoppies on the Mississippi River. You absolutely must stop here to top off your tank (very expensive) prior to the 250 miles before the next marina. Hoppies consists of three barges lashed together, almost non-existent restroom facilities, no showers. There is a small town within walking distance with several restaurants and shops. Fern Hopkins sits down with boaters late each afternoon to warn them of what they will face as they travel on down the mighty Mississippi and to let them know of any impending hazards she has heard about. (See blog 9/15).

The other MUST stop is Bobby’s Fish Camp on the Tenn-Tom. This is the last stop before a very long stretch to Mobile Bay (see blog 11/27).

Now for our Favorite marinas, based on the criteria listed above:

Dowry Creek Marina in Belhaven, NC (5/21…we’ve stayed here many times before)

Harbor View Marina in Ludington, MI (8/16) excellent facilities with friendly people…thanks Sid and Carol for your hospitality!

Heritage Harbor in Ottawa, IL (9/4 – 9/7) Absolutely superb facilities with lots of loopers for camaraderie. Thanks Capt. Moe! Great staff with lots of activities.

Beardstown, KY (9/10)…(This isn’t really a marina, but it was a great experience! Since the town dock was closed we ended up tying up to a barge for the night).

Alton City Marina in Alton, IL (9/13) Absolutely the best shower/bathroom facilities we ever encountered!

Pebble Isle Marina in Johnsonville, TN (9/23) where there were many other loopers, free food, great hospitality. It was here that we met Harbor Hosts Patsy and Ray Whitney for the first time…they were here touting the benefits of stopping at Port St. Joe (see below)

Grand Harbor Marina in Iuka, MS (9/25 – 9/27) at the head of the Tenn-Tom. Great docks, courtesy car, great staff!

Goose Pond Marina in Scottsboro, AL (10/5 – 10/15) The most peaceful place we stayed…we just happened upon it and then couldn’t bring it upon ourselves to leave! Not that the facilities were that great, we just loved this location and this town! It is definitely off the beaten path, but since Harbor Hosts Ray and Patsy Whitney are getting ready to move here from Port St. Joe (see below) it will soon become a favorite of all loopers!

Port St. Joe Marina in Port St. Joe, FL (12/5). Off the beaten path but worth the side trip….wonderful Harbor Hosts Patsy and Ray Whitney.

OK, so what is a “Harbor Host?” you might ask! This is a new program sponsored by the AGLCA, wherein cruisers that live in or near looper friendly towns make themselves available to loopers that pass through. Rick and I will probably become Harbor Hosts for the Topsail/Sneads Ferry area once we get settled in after our trip. Harbor Hosts can do as much or as little as they want, but in general they make themselves available to help other loopers that pass through.

Patsy and Ray take this a step farther, becoming ambassadors, for their home port. They travel in their boat up and down the waterways touting their home port, which at the time we met them was Port St. Joe. PSJ is not on the regular beaten path for loopers…you must go several miles out of your way to get there. But Patsy and Ray convince you it is worthwhile to do this. Then when it is the right time of year for loopers to be in their area, they are there with welcoming arms. I’m sure that when they move to Scottsboro later this spring, our favorite off the beaten path marina Goose Pond will double its looper business as a result of their ambassadorship.

Some Harbor Hosts, like Tom and Patsy Conrad, make their home dock near Pensacola available on a first come first served basis…we certainly took advantage of them. Others just offer a home cooked meal. We had our first home cooked meal on the trip at the home of Jim and Sue Starke, Harbor Hosts in Bay Hill, AL, who came to our boat and introduced themselves and invited us to dinner at their home nearby. Others may just offer the use of a vehicle.

Well, now I’ve digressed into something we weren’t going to talk about today, so I guess I’m rambling and it’s time to close. Tune in tomorrow for more favorites!

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