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It’s not because you can’t get there. Or that it’s dinky. In fact, it’s the biggest city on the biggest freshwater lake in the world. It’s just that it is the farthest end of the biggest and baddest freshwater lake in the world.H.O.M.E.S: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior. Childhood mnemonic for memorizing the five Great Lakes.By now all you Carmen Sandiego
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We berthed at a marina whose chief attributes were a free laundry and an unobstructed view of the bridge, brilliantly illuminated at night by floodlights and a full moon. We were put next to a tugboat and a dredge in a working harbor, but were serenaded by loons and entertained by otters. The Duluth harbor may be one of the busiest in the country but this was still the north woods.

And Duluth? What a transformation. Its waterfront has become a major tourist attraction, with bike paths, fascinating museums, an IMAX theater, a casino, and even (I still can’t get over this) a comedy club. The smells of my youth have been replaced by the inviting odors emanating from a bevy of waterfront restaurants.

I swam on the beaches of nearby Park Point, forever erasing those “weenie” catcalls of my youth when I refused to swim in the lake’s 50-degree waters. I visited my boyhood home and my still-standing elementary school, and, of course, the wedding was perfect: the bride blushed, the groom stammered, and our granddaughter stole the show as a flower girl.

It was time to head back east, to get off Lake Superior before autumn arrived. Under a following breeze we sailed (not motored) back under the bridge, this time into a dazzling late-summer sunrise, leaving my hometown once again.

As Duluth faded in the distance, I reflected how “hometown” and “home” are neither mutually exclusive nor synonymous. Hometowns are more complex and less static than we remember, but “home” is more than a town or a house or even a boat. Lake Superior had reminded me that it is a state of mind. “Home” today was the voyage itself, headed east with Jennifer and Catamount and fair winds and a beckoning horizon.

Fred and Jennifer Bagley sail Catamount, their Caliber 38, out of Pentanguishene, Ontario, in southern Georgian Bay.

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