Boys will be dogs

What feels like a year ago, we couldn’t imagine a longer, more tiring day than the run from Atlantic City to Staten Island.  Boy were we wrong.  It’s like a 1-year-old  feeling accomplished when he successfully stacks blocks only to realize he has to solve quadratic equations.  220 nm on the Mississippi River plus a tough stretch on the Ohio River—over 3 straight days—makes what we saw of the Atlantic Ocean seem like child’s play.  The Mississippi may or may not be the Mother of All Rivers, but we can vouch for it being a Mother.  Somehow, however, we made it to the city dock in Paducah, Kentucky.

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Those of us from the next state south think of Kentucky mostly as an annoyance.  Not a state to revile like Alabama, but not a state to embrace by any means.  The flagship state university stole Tennessee’s checkerboards, for goodness sakes, and the other major university hired Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino.  Not much to feel good about there for sure.

However, after the Death Cruise from Alton, Paducah is a veritable oasis in the desert.  Food for the starving.  Warmth for the freezing.  You get the picture.  Paducah last night was all that and more.  But first we had to get there.

img_5552After we pushed through the Alton muck, made it through the lock delays, and worked around the barges, the Kaskaskia Lock Wall was a pretty decent spot to pull over.   Not too bad a day overall, although we do love shore power, WiFi, and a good restaurant, none of which was available.  The boys are used to running off docks to do their business as soon as we tie up someplace.  At Kaskaskia they jumped off and literally hit the wall.  No way to shore.  Have to do it on the concrete.

A moment to discuss dogs and boats.  Short travel days and nice marinas with grassy areas or walking paths are the goal, at least for Oscar and Benny.  They don’t at all like peeing or pooping while aboard Misty Pearl.  Which is a very good thing in most circumstances.  Long days are tough for them in ways far different than for us.  Put an AstroTurf pad on the back deck and train them to use it, you say?  If you say that, you haven’t met these dogs.  img_5539Early on we got them a pad—The Pad of Despair and Frustration—and sprayed it with the guaranteed-super-trigger-pee-spray.  Oscar sunned himself on it.  Benny looked at it sideways and then ignored it.  The spray stunk up the entire boat until we washed off the pad and buried it in the lazarette.

Knowing we had a tough stretch where there might not be shore access for 48 hours or more, we pulled out all the stops.  And by that we mean we traded dog pee (in a Tupperware container) with Long Story, who faced the same problems with Millie.  Maybe if we spread some strange pee on the PDF it will fool/entice the boys to use it.  Nope.

img_5567Back to Kaskaskia.   A pack of coyotes on the shore howled a good part of the night, which we assumed would stir an instinctive response from at least one of the boys.  Maybe it did, but that instinct was neither to flee nor to fight.  Apparently through generations of coddling they learned that the best way to handle nearby predators is to sleep.  Although Benny will bark at birds and Oscar will bark at his reflection, neither of those does anyone any good.

Anyway, after a great night’s sleep we pulled off the wall for our second day on the Mississippi.  The best thing about this river—at least going downstream—is the speed.  With the current we made 12 knots, which is blazing fast for us.  The downside to going downstream in that current is that it’s much harder to control the boat.  And the tows heading upstream push wakes that would embarrass the waves we encountered on the Atlantic.  And when we left Kaskaskia it was gray and miserable like we assume is everyday on the Mississippi.  Not cool.

That’s not to say there isn’t a raw and often uncomfortable beauty along the way, because there is.  The barges are interesting and periodically entertaining.  The captain of the Stan Humphreys was flying a Vols flag.  Another Vol fan-tow captain radioed Doug to commiserate.

003a2646Just out of Kaskaskia we passed the maximum security Menard Prison.  Pogo the Clown was an inmate here.  Richard Kimble was on his way to this prison when he lucked onto the type of train wreck that only happens in movies and escaped and then proved to Tommy Lee Jones that he was innocent and that Big Pharma was responsible for his wife’s murder.

Along this stretch there are no marinas with the facilities we’ve come to view as necessary.  Plus we have no refrigerator yet.  So after a second long day we ducked into Little River Diversion Canal and dropped the anchor.  Crossroads and Second Wave beat us in, and Erben Renewal and Magic Jeanne followed in to fill the narrow channel.

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img_5591Brent was gracious enough to pop by with MicroWave to take the boys to shore a couple of times, but there really was no safe place for relief.  Poor guys missed their usual last walk of the night.

The thing about anchoring is the fear of the anchor slipping in the night.  We don’t anchor out much because (1) the boys need shore access and (2) we strongly prefer shore power, WiFi, and a good restaurant.  We generally use the former as the excuse, of course, because they don’t care if we do.

img_5569Anyway, we set the anchor alarm and had no issues until we took off yesterday morning.  “Dana, what’s that beeping noise?  Something’s wrong!”   Nope, just the alarm when we left the swing area, as evidenced by the blue trail.  No crisis after all.

That set the stage for the Day from Hell.  It wasn’t the scenery, which actually was pretty scenic.  Mostly the drudgery.  And the rain.  And the fog.  Although at one point Doug asked the captain of the upbound Cynthia II if it was still foggy further south.  His response—“There ain’t no fog, just a little mist”—dripped with derision and condescension.

Getting to the mouth of the Ohio River wasn’t too bad, although we really didn’t need to hear all the tow captains discussing the SeaRay that collided with a barge and sank just before the confluence.  003a2668We saw it a bit later.  Tough to be the dude who ran into a tugboat.  What do you tell your friends?

The thing about current is that it also stinks going the other way.   We hit the turn to head upstream on the Ohio and it was like someone threw out a drag chute.  We immediately went ftom 12 knots to 5 knots as we fought upstream like spawning salmon.

Two hours later we reached the Olmstead Lock, which supposedly was a pass through.  Not for us.  We had to wait for the Whitewing to transit.  Then the rain hit.  Then the fog set in again.  (The lockmaster agreed that he couldn’t see anything at all, so suck it Cynthia II.)  We were supposed to follow the Gerald Majors (which had been causing us trouble since we left the Mississippi), but could barely see her.

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9AE61AFC-3CDB-4F11-918B-6DCE7242FA9DThe Olmstead Lock Tainter gate piers and foundation sit on about 900 plate jacks, a few of which you can see here.  We think a better name for them would be flapjacks, since they look like pancakes.   Dana’s dad designed and built them.  Very cool, although we still found the experience tricky.  Not because of the jacks, of course, but because of the weather.  With radar and AIS we safely emerged from the fog on the other side.  Obviously.

Speaking of radar, ours picks up channel markers and those ball thingys on power lines.  Tows are huge.  Here is what the Nashville looked like on radar before we left the Mississippi.  The little green triangle is Second Wave, some thousand feet ahead of us.  The huge blob is the pile of barges.  We love how AIS shows the potential collision point with an icon of a sinking ship.  AIS also is unaware that the barges stick out well in front of the tug.  Maybe the guy in the SeaRay was unaware of this as well.

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One interesting thing about these rivers is the barge cargo.  On the Ohio, we saw coal.  Who even uses coal these days?

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On the Mississippi we saw a lot of what looked like dirt.  Going in both directions.  It’s like that scene where the warden made Luke dig a hole and then fill a hole as punishment for trying to escape after he was imprisoned for cutting the heads off of parking meters.  Why would dirt go both directions?   Why not just keep the dirt in place on both ends?   Maybe it’s sort of a busy-work thing to keep tow captains employed.  Strange either way.

As we neared Paducah, the sky cleared and the sun shone.  We passed Fort Massac.  Fort Massac supposedly was built by the French in the 1700s while battling Indians.  We think the people of Illinois may have built it to keep out people from Kentucky even though we haven’t seen much in Illinois that other people would want to fight over.  Dana photographed eagles.

Tied up at the Paducah City Dock almost 12 hours after we hoisted the anchor.  Along the way Oscar finally peed on a tarp out back.  Benny finally peed on the deck, but still was at about 50 psi when he hit land.  We couldn’t have been happier to be in Kentucky.

Today we visited the National Quilt Museum.  Who knew there was such a thing?  Who knew that Paducah, Kentucky, is a Holy City for both Loopers and quilters?  Out front there is a statue of Indians.  We looked around inside for evidence of the connection between Indians and quilting, but all we found were quilts.  The museum  was far more interesting than one might think.

img_5586The thing about the Loop is that even the tough days are good days.  These were tough days but we’re glad we did them.  We also can say that the food in Paducah is surprisingly excellent.  We had a great time with the other Loopers on the dock tonight, but look forward to Green Turtle Bay.

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Smooth as a baby’s butt

All the angst about leaving Alton was for naught.  We worked Misty Pearl back 20 feet, pushed her bow out, and plowed silt at 1800 rpms until we hit the channel.  The water she was peeing through the pump was as clear as the muddy Mississippi can be.  Sweet.  The sailboat needed a jet ski AND a tow boat to get out, and another boat pumped mud into an engine and had to be towed back, but we dodged any mishap.  Probably payback for our clean living.

img_5548Next hurdle was the Mel Price lock.  We have no idea who this Mel Price guy was, but his lock is a canyon of swirly currenty crappy mess.  We kind of tired of the long wait and may or may not have drifted into the current at the top gate a bit early.   We pulled out of it, barely, but then started back in involuntarily.  Abort!  Oh crap, the current is so strong that even with full power we can’t move upstream away from the looming 1200 foot x 20 foot ugly concrete wall.  Assume crash position everybody!  Oh wait.  Let’s put her in gear and see what happens.  Whew.  We made it in safely.  Certain death and/or a lifetime of embarrassment avoided, and off towards St. Louis.

img_5551Along the way the Missouri River poured in beside us.  Supposedly this creates crazy dangerous cross-current but somehow we missed it.  The Missouri is famous as the path taken by Meriweather Lewis and whatshisname Clark as they explored the West.  How they went upstream is a mystery, but keeping the engine in neutral probably wasn’t part of it.  Hard to believe some poor bastards had to row.  The Missouri also is famous for that time The Outlaw Josey Wales shot the ferry rope and sent the union carpetbaggers on a boatride.

We wanted to swap photos with Second Wave like we did at the Statue of Liberty, but time was a wastin’.  Fortunately there’s a webcam, so we took a screen shot instead.  The couple posing for selfies probably didn’t know about the webcam—or Misty Pearl—but that’s us framed on the river.  Hard to tell who photo-bombed who.

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img_5549Through St. Louis and the locks, tugs, tows, and barges were everywhere.  One of them announced a load of pig iron.  Which is funny all by itself.  Pig iron, pig iron.  He was here to do some business with the pig iron on his ship*.

0781505D-602F-497E-81AF-18B8BF195E1CAs expected, it was a long day.  But we made it to the lock wall on the Kaskaskia River.  This is pretty close to where Popeye is from.  Yup.  That Popeye.  We got there just in time to watch a really bad football game.  The only good thing was that Steve from Sabbatical was 100 miles away.

The tough part of today always was going to be the first 100 feet.  That went better than expected.  Tomorrow is another long day, with anchoring out the only option.  Hopefully that will go as smoothly.  Either way, tonight we get a sunset and a good night’s sleep.

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*Apologies to Marty Robbins and to everyone who reads this silliness.

The post in which we submit our float plan to aid the search for our bodies in the event we’re heard from never again

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When Huckleberry Finn took off on his raft to escape Miss Watson’s misplaced efforts to teach him etiquette, he basically was traveling the same part of the Mississippi River on which we now find Misty Pearl.  We figure his draft was about 4 inches.  No worries about water depth for Huck and Old Jim.  Plus that was fiction anyway.  Lots of worries for us here in Alton, despite the patriotic welcome sign.

img_5536From the point we plowed through the silt in the marina on Wednesday, the water at this end of the pool is down another 8 inches.  We’re as low as the people in charge can allow and still pass barge traffic.  Wow, are we lucky or what?

The worse news?  The water isn’t coming up any time soon.  So we’re taking off in the morning.  The sailor in front of us with the dinghy tug has his keel and rudder completely buried, so he isn’t moving out of our way.  The plan is to walk Misty Pearl back 20 feet or so, use a jet ski to pull her bow out 10 degrees to allow us to sneak past his boat, and then gun the engine in a straight line through the muck and out into the current.  Not a great plan, mind you.  Maybe not even a good plan.  Actually, it may cross the fine line between a bold plan and a stupid plan.  But the alternative is to stay here until spring, and we ain’t doing that even though the bridge lights are cool.

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In the meantime, we of course stopped by the life-size statue of The Tallest Man in History, who was born and raised here.  Dude was tall.  8’11” when he died.  This is legit, unlike that cherry pie thing we found in Charlevoix.  Know who else was born here?  Miles Davis.  He was nowhere near 9 feet tall.  But then Robert Wadlow probably couldn’t play the horn.  So they each had their own strengths and weaknesses.

On Thursday we took a rental minivan over to the Gateway Arch, which seemed fitting since our Manifest Destiny is to pass by St. Louis tomorrow.  They jam you into tiny 4-foot-high pods for the trip to the top.  Know who wouldn’t go to the top?  Robert Wadlow.  He would’ve had to spool like a giant fruit roll-up.

The top two restaurants in Alton are Bluff City Grill and Fast Eddie’s.  We hit both of them.  The former was fine, the latter was a hoot.  We could’ve stayed all night but for needy boys back on the boat.

img_5530Today before returning the rental we popped over to St. Charles, Missouri.  Daniel Boone was born around here, maybe even in the first Missouri state capital building.  Probably not, but maybe.

St. Charles is pretty cool.  They call it The Williamsburg of the Midwest, which puts it firmly behind Grafton in terms of enticing nicknames.  We wouldn’t mind coming back sometime though.

img_5533Alton supposedly is one of the most dangerous cities in Illinois, which probably makes it pretty dang dangerous.  We found it rather charming in its own way, however, albeit a tad short on water.  We figure you’ve got to give credit to hard-luck places that are making an effort.  Alton is making an effort.

From here, in theory we have a straight shot out.  In reality we have to dodge Tranquilo, plow through the silt, avoid the rocks and bridge support, and straighten into the harsh current.  That’s just the first 75 feet from where we’re docked.  It’s a long day to Kaskaskia, and a wall with no service awaits us assuming we can avoid the huge tows and the huge logs that also are traveling the river.  From Kaskaskia we have another long day reaching one of the only anchorages between Alton and Paducah, Kentucky.  Assuming the anchor holds and we aren’t struck by a barge, we face insanely strong current as we push up the Ohio River on what will be our longest day of the Loop by far.  Potentially in thunderstorms.  Potentially in the dark.  Hopefully the next day we’ll be reunited with power, internet, and modern refrigeration in Green Turtle Bay.

If only we hadn’t wasted that sign about profanity in our last post.

Where did Cavemen keep their frozen shrimp? or Where’s the @&$#+*% water?

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img_5473Although Misty Pearl isn’t a houseboat per se, she is a boat and she is our house.  Houses need refrigerators.  Yesterday morning ours stopped working.  Just a perfect way to start what had to be a record-hot day.  Fortunately we have good cell service to make it easy to call around for help, right?  Nope.  Apparently Verizon didn’t throw up some new towers since Monday.  Oh well, this stuff happens.  We pitched all our cold food and started looking for options.  At least we can party in “The Key West of the Midwest.”  Just look at all that action.

img_5476In fairness, yesterday was a Tuesday.  And unGodly hot.  Not surprising that folks chose to stay inside.  We ventured out long enough to eat lunch at a reclaimed loading dock, which cleverly was named “The Loading Dock.”  One of the coolest venues we’ve seen so far, right at the confluence of the Illinois and the Mississippi.  That’s right.  We just ran the entire length of the Illinois River.  Check that bad boy off the bucket list.

On the way back from lunch, we saw an empty Chicago tour boat pulling in to get fuel at our marina.  Hmmm.  We recalled that the current was swift and the safe water was narrow when we came in.  How’s he going to make it?  Turns out he didn’t.  After two tries he gave up, but smashed the dock in the process.  By that point we were back at the boat and turned on the VHF just to listen to the fun.  The captain was trying to flee the scene of the crime but they called him back upstream. The cops even showed up.

Later we shuttled up the mountain with 4 other Looper boats and had dinner at the Aerie Winery.   The views were fantastic.  The company was even better.

003a2603This morning after a leisurely breakfast that didn’t involve eggs, cheese, or any of the other stuff we had to throw out when the refrigerator decided to quit, we took off for Alton, just a few miles down the Mississippi.  Old Man River.  Big Muddy.  Whatever other nicknames there are that we can’t recall.  We’re on the mother of U.S. rivers now.

003a2608The Mississippi shore started looking almost like the Hudson River valley, with bluffs and cliffs.  Things were looking great.  We’ve even picked up enough current to push us along at a blistering 10.5 knots.  We were outrunnng the carp.  Yup, things were looking great.

The first sign of trouble was when we looped back under the Highway 67 Bridge and swirling current caught us unaware.  We managed to fight that off, but the depth gauge went to 4.8 feet very quickly.  That can’t be right.  The marina knows we draw 5 feet.  We made it to the fuel dock and enjoyed witty banter with Second Wave and Sabbatical, who pulled in behind us.  We mentioned to the marina guy that we were concerned about depth.  No worries, he said.  5.5 feet all the way to our spot at the end of J dock.  Perfect.  We’ll just take her slow and easy.

5.5 feet became 5 feet.  Then 4.5 feet.  Then the depth gauges flatlined.  Can’t steer in a foot of silt.  Thrusters don’t work in a foot of silt.  The guy in the sailboat brought his dinghy over to push our bow like a tug pushing a barge.  That got the bow around, but our butt was settling in for the winter.  Much jockeying, pulling, and pushing later, we got close enough to tie off in the shadow of giant third-grade string art.

Now they tell us the pool dropped a foot or more very quickly.  We’re stuck here—literally—until they get more water.  That will be next week at the earliest.

img_5489We suppose it’s all part of the adventure.  As Marty Feldman famously noted in Young Frankenstein, “It could be worse.  it could be raining.”  Then it started raining.  Crap.  Now things really couldn’t get any worse.  It brought to mind a sign we photographed during our interminable stay in Deltaville.  This is the perfect time to share it.

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img_5494-1However, as generally is the case, things turned around.  Dana and the boys napped.  The sun came out again.  The swimming pool was cool.  The drinks were cold.  We joined a massive crowd of Loopers on the shore.  We walked to a nice dinner with Brent and Karen.  We even got a new refrigerator ordered and we have time here to receive it.  Life is good again after all.

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From here we can feel the Mississippi

Done with the Illinois River.  If anyone from Verizon reads this, please jam it into the suggestion box.  Or jam it somewhere else.  Your Illinois game is terrible.  No service at all between Peoria and St. Louis?  Are you kidding?  We needed to listen to football on Saturday and Sunday.  Can you hear us now?

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Anyway, Saturday morning up again with the sun and with a long day ahead.  Leaving IVY (which was great) and the Peoria Carp Hunters behind, we set out toward the south.  The lockmaster at Peoria Lock had told Compass Rose that our group of Looper boats could pass at 8:30 because a tour boat would be locking through at that time.  Tour boat?  Who would pay for a tour of the Illinois River at Peoria?  On a Saturday?  Do they know there’s no cell service?  Apparently it’s really a thing, however, because the Spirit of Peoria—with smiling tourists lining the decks and taking pictures of the white Looper boats bobbing about above the lock—came steaming up from behind.  The lockmaster told the captain that the PCs would be in the lock with him.  The captain snarked that we all better be fast because he needed to get his passengers 100 miles down river by 4.  More importantly, the lockmaster had a cute dog.  Oscar and Benny woke up just long enough to bark.

The cruising for us became monotonous (and hot) fairly quickly.  An Illinois River boater from Grafton who has been reading the blog and chatting with us about Looping things described the Illinois as a “lazy river.”  Pretty accurate description of things once we passed the Peoria Lock.  We seemingly passed more cornfields and tubers than we saw tows and barges.  Very nice.

Then we reached Beardstown.  The romantic version of events is that tying up to a barge is different and cool.  Although things were tight, 5 of us pulled in for the night.  From 200 feet away it indeed looks different and cool.

The truth is that tying up to a barge in Beardstown, Illinois IS different and cool—and dangerous and dirty.  There are 2 types of Looper experiences here.  It really depends on what you are tied to.  If you tie up to the permanent work area (Crossroads), it’s a pretty easy walk into what passes as a town.  The elevator restaurant food was pretty good.  If you tie up on a working service barge that’s in place only temporarily (Viridian), tetanus shots are a must.  And a goodly supply of antibiotics is a wise idea.  And one should wear a PFD every time going ashore.  Pretty sure there are some major violations of whatever hospitality laws exist in Illinois here.

img_5436With no ability to access the outside world, the tug service activity kept us entertained until bedtime.  We usually don’t get to see barges move at night.  We even broke out the navigation rules on lights just to try to make sense of things we saw coming and going.  Some of them we found challenging to remember.  img_5457For example, a vessel approaching at night, under 50 meters long, with restricted maneuverability because of dredging, and wanting you to pass to port, is quite the jumble of lights.  If we saw that coming towards us we’d turn and run.  Or sing O Christmas Tree.  Thank goodness for VHF and AIS.

In case anyone wonders, we survived the night and have cool videos to prove it.  We carried the boys whenever they left the boat so they at least shouldn’t have any infections pop up down the road.

img_5438With another long day ahead, we called the last of the Illinois locks before slipping the lines that chafed all night on rusting metal bits.  The lock guy said be there by 8:30, so we all took off.  Miss Utah, Mary’n Gale, Hayley Rose, Second Wave, and us.

Sunday was another great day for cruising, although the lock guy was off a bit.  We arrived just before the appointed time only to see a tow getting ready to jam the first half of his split load into the chamber ahead of us.  So we sat for an hour and a half.  There was a touch of drama when—just as the lock radioed for us all to get ready—Allen on Free Spirit Too said he was 2 miles away but wanted in.  We were pretty sure they wouldn’t make it in the race against time, but they slid in at the last second.  Good for them, because they faced a 2 hour wait otherwise.

Crank up the John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, and John Denver.  We have a long way to go.  Barges?  Barely noteworthy.  Lift bridges?  Dime a dozen.  Logs in the river?  Seen hundreds of ‘em, and this ain’t nothing compared the Potomac when we left D.C.  The highlight may have been passing by the western-most point on the Loop.  Wooo!

003a2583We finally saw some hills.  Based on our experience Illinois isn’t really hill country, but at least they were something different.  At Kempsville, the car ferry was blowing back and forth in our path.  From the river it wasn’t apparent that anything on either side was worth taking the ferry.  Probably just a bunch of folks in their cars wandering around in search of cell service.  Can you hear us now?

003a2587The Illinois Riverdock Restaurant, aka Mel’s, has a dock that they sometimes allow overnighters to use.  We got lucky.  Dinner was ok.  Breakfast was delicious.

This morning Dana piloted Misty Pearl down to Grafton.  Happy to be here.  This was 8 days of travel in a row.  Over 280 nautical miles.  Like ol’ Jimmy, we must confess we could use the rest.  We can’t run at this pace very long.  The local dude who has followed the blog stopped by to visit.  Jim Leffers.  Very nice guy.  img_5460-1We hope he gets to do the Loop someday.  One of the great things about the Loop is meeting people.  We’ve even spent some time with Steve and Jane, who are on Sabbatical.  They’re pretty nice for Gator fans despite the ugly flag.  Of course, some might say that Ted Bundy was pretty nice for a serial killer.  (Did we mention it’s Florida week for the Vols?)

We’ll hang at Grafton tomorrow before joining up on the Mississippi River just outside the marina and dropping down to Alton.  Grafton claims to be the “Key West of the Midwest.”  That’s kind of like the University of Florida boasting that it’s the Scottsdale Community College of West Gainesville, but we’ll check it out.