Dubuque, Dubuque

The whole first leg of the trip, which has taken nine days (today is day ten), was about getting to know Michi Zeebee and the Mississippi, their characters, how they interact; it was also about getting used to our respective roles, navigation and driving, figuring out logistics like our burn rate for gas and where to get ice. We’ve now been through eleven locks in various situations—with and without current, with and without barges coming through, with and without other traffic locking through with us. We’ve figured out how to talk on the VHF without sounding like complete novices. We’ve made it through 15 knot winds and choppy waters, anchored repeatedly and at night. We braved mosquitoes and soaked in the landscape.

Yesterday we pushed forward a bit, knowing that thunderstorms were on the horizon and that if we didn’t make it to Dubuque, Iowa, our next scheduled stop, by the afternoon we might be delayed a few days waiting them out. The early part of the day was calm but winds picked up as the heat did, around noon, and soon we were making our way across Pepin-like water in a heat index of almost 100. The wind was coming from the Southwest, straight at us, so I tacked upwind even though we don’t have a sail, to reduce the angle of the waves on our bow and lessen the beating the hull was taking. Waves broke across the fore deck. Morgan changed into her bathing trunks.

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Dear Anchor, Please Don’t Let Us Drift into the Channel

We were bright as a firefly on Lake Winneshiek with our running lights and every solar lamp we could muster up on Michi Zeebee. This was our first time anchoring at night and it wasn’t exactly planned. A marina that was supposed to be there wasn’t really. Well it was sort of, but the only way to access it was through a low bridge that only a small fishing boat could fit through. There we were with nowhere to tie up and the sun going down.

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Greenery, Industry

Yesterday we left from the south side of Lake Pepin and ended the day at Trempealeau. We spent 52.6 miles, all day, on the water and then pulled in at a marina just above lock 5A. It seemed to be in disrepair, clean but possibly in the midst of renovation. The cleat we tried to tie up to when we first docked was broken, rusted, and other cleats on the nearby slip were missing; the walkways were deteriorating and warped; algae clung thick to the boats around us.

It’s been almost a week on the river. My memory of the Mississippi from the summer I camped on its shores is of a brownish-blacking soup, but maybe that was tinted by the phrases in my head: Old Muddy, Mississippi Mud. I was expecting a river of brown, or due to my own experience of the waterways of Maine, blue and silver, but the dominant color of the river, by far, is green. Serious green. The beginning of the Mississippi, especially around Lake Pepin is dripping with it.

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Navigation: How to Tango with Barges

Every day I wake up shortly after the sun rises and pore over the charts and notes I made the night before as the Marine VHF gives the weather report in the background, to make sure we are ready for the day. Actually that’s not true. I usually try to disentangle myself from the mosquito net, somehow hop over Emily without waking her up (Emily is more of a night owl), usually trip over something (a rogue fender, cooking pan, water bottle, what not, shanty boat objects), I steady myself, crawl through a small opening in the canvas onto the fore deck, blink a couple of times, take in where am at, feel that nice cool breeze coming off the Mississippi, then I go in search for coffee (still haven’t figured out the cool Swedish stove Dale lent us that runs on ethanol alcohol). After all of this I finally take a look at the charts.

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Lake Pepin

Morgan first heard about Lake Pepin from a tugboat captain who worked on the river all his life (this was not mentioned in our post “Words of Advice,” but it really should have been). He told her she should just get a boat to tow Zeebee across Pepin. We also read about the lake on various Mississippi blogs. It was often mentioned as the “most dangerous part of the Upper Mississippi” or “no joke.” This is why we spent much of yesterday docked and hanging out for another night at Muddy Waters getting free dinner and drinks with Jim Toner and his buddy Joey and all the nice people of Prescott, Wisconsin. My friend Rebecca, who was visiting from Nebraska and who keeps popping up at the places we dock after having her own land-based adventures, joined us again as we waited out the tornado warnings with conversation, even though there were no tornadoes, and as we waited out the hail warnings, even though there were clear blue and pink skies. The next morning we felt pretty confident about the forecast. I saw a low-lying cumuloniumbus on the horizon but shrugged it off. I figured it was yesterday’s storm clearing. Also — mistake #2: we didn’t gas up before heading out. And we were a day behind and trying to make up time.

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Spiders, Thunderstorms, & Good People

We killed a huge *&%#ing spider with a 2×4 from Home Depot in our shanty boat, docked at St. Paul Yacht Club, while a thunderstorm proceeded in the background the other night. The 2×4 was a leftover from one of our many last minute projects to get Michi Zeebee ship shape to go down river – a ladder to reach our steering on top of the cabin (thank you Nina), mosquito netting in the cabin (thank you Rebecca), a bimini to protect us from the sun (thank you Diane), printed charts (thank you Dan), a bilge pump to keep us from sinking (thank you Dale), a pole for pulling in the classic tradition of shanty boats (thank you Danny), and reinforcement to the combing (thank you again Nina…can’t thank Nina enough) in an attempt to keep water out from the barge wakes that folks kept talking about around the yard.

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Words of Advice

First thing’s first: we are not the first. We are following a long historical line of adventurers, workers, escapees, romantics, knuckleheads, and fortune-seekers, everyone from farmers in the early days of Westward expansion, to heroes of alternative living, the Hubbards, a couple who lived on the river in a shanty boat for more than a decade. The artist SWOON and her flotilla of river rats put in (we found out to our glee) at the very same yacht club where we put in, the St. Paul Yacht Club in Minnesota. So did a Russian man who made his vessel out of a bunch of soda bottles and chain link fence. According to one of the people who run the yacht club this soda bottle pioneer was stopped by the coast guard, and despite the fact that his craft was registered, he was indefinitely dry-docked because his boat was bleeding soda bottles up and down the river. He apparently tried to argue that it was okay because he had a ready supply of extra bottles to replace each one that drifted away in his wake.

Anyway. We hope we’re a little more equipped than that. A close look at our vessel, for those who have done the trip or built similar shanty-style vessels usually yields supportive responses, encouragement, even admiration. We’ve even heard from one or two people that we’ve inspired them to take a trip of their own.

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Winding down, Gearing up

In which Emily and Morgan catch up on everything that has happened since the end of the summer; apologize for their prolonged absence; and speak of future plans.

The summer came crashing to a close, much more quickly than we would have liked. Morgan went back to her job as a consultant (her employer graciously gave her a hiatus to work on this project), and Emily started teaching again at RISD, though their connection to the Apprenticeshop continues, as Emily also decided to officially enroll as an apprentice boatbuilder at the shop! The commute from Rhode Island to Rockland is a little rough, but the combination of learning and teaching opportunities is rare and worth it. She’s been learning to build curvy hulls with rocker and length, though her heart is still with Michi Zeebee.

Zeebee was moved to Freeport for winter storage, and despite a brief scare with mildew, she’s been resting safely. We started working on her again last week, prepping her interior and beginning to lay the decking. We’ve also started a third round of fundraising, designed some patterns for the boat’s exterior, and set up more events on the river. Things are rolling again! Expect more regular updates soon! We promise!

We built a boat

In which Emily and Morgan learn to sail, get motorcycle licenses, witness a meteor shower, sing “Mariner’s Revenge”, build and paint boat, and are infinitely grateful to The Apprenticeshop and to everyone who supported them with Michi Zeebee this summer

We built a boat this summer. We also did some sailing, exploring, and other things, but mainly we built a boat. In the mix of working we collected some of our most memorable moments from the summer to share with you all. Here it is in bits and pieces – our summer in Rockland  – building a boat:

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