9/4 – 11/2016 Summary: Having arrived in Chicago on Saturday night, we got up early to go to church. We were not really “in” Chicago, but about 15 miles east so we Ubered into Chicago to attend James McDonald’s Harvest Bible Chapel. After church we walked the town, touring the International Museum of Surgical Science, walking through Lincoln Park, and strolling through the Magnificent Mile shopping area, then to Millennium Park to see “The Bean,” and finally to the Skydeck at the top of the Willis Tower for a view from the 103rd floor. All this made for a long day, arriving back at the boat around 11:00 PM.
Since the next day was Labor Day (and Tom’s birthday), we opted to stay out of the rush of the city and instead spent the day working and doing chores around the boat, one of which was a new coat of paint on the ugliest thing on the boat – the main head shower.
The following day we rode LC into the city and took an architectural boat tour and walked around Navy Pier. We had planned to also spend some time at the Museum of Science and Industry, but it was closing too soon so we delayed it until the following day.
We spent a couple more days at Hammond Marina before heading south through the Cal-Sag Channel, now with the ugliest thing on the boat being something other than the shower. As soon as we were in the canal we started dealing with the towboats and barges up close and almost personal. At one point, one of them turned his load sideways in front of us, blocking the entire river. For the next few days while the river is relatively narrow, we weaved our way south avoiding the barges as we went and navigating 7 locks along the way.
The water was very high in some places due to the rain, but in others, the locks kept it low in preparation for the forecast rain. We had one very long day (78 miles) because our planned stop didn’t work due to the high river level. One report was that it was 9’ above “normal.” The good news was the current gave us a 3-4 knot push, moving us at 10 to 11 knots.
The management of the river waterway is much more complex than meets the eye, with low fixed bridges and 1,000 foot locks for commercial barges. At one place we were supposed to pass under a 19’ bridge, but it really had about 25′ of clearance, while another one that was listed as 24’ was only about 19.5’. Our boat, with several of the antennas down, was about 18’10” and only having about 6” clearance was a bit nerve-racking when the exact clearance wasn’t known.
On our way to Peoria we stayed in either marinas or on free city walls at night. Anchoring out with the barge traffic was not too appealing, as they ran 24/7 and would squish us like a marshmallow if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
We made it to Eastport Marina in Peoria late in the day, but had enough time to clean up and get organized before our guest, John Kelley, joined us in the morning.
This is the point where there is a logical bailout in your reading. You have the overview, but if you want the details, read on. Thanks for stopping by.
Details – Sunday, we arose and Ubered to Chicago to go to Harvest Bible Chapel’s Chicago Cathedral pastored by James MacDonald. Unfortunately, we had not remembered to change our clocks to the new time zone and arrived an hour early. It gave us some time to plan our sightseeing day in Chicago before the service started.
After service, we toured the International Museum of Surgical Science, an unusual museum that was a mix of history and art. We walked Lincoln Park and watched many people enjoying the magnificent Labor Day weekend weather – joggers, walkers, as well as beach volleyballers (over 30 courts). We saw the standing Abraham Lincoln statue (for whom the park was named). Continuing on, we stopped at 2 Giordano’s Famous Stuffed Pizza restaurants only to hear it would be a 2-hour wait for pizza. It must have been really good, but we weren’t willing to wait long enough to find out. We walked Magnificent Mile, then on to the Visitors Center where we bought a Chicago Explorer Pass which allowed us entry to 3 attractions of our choice (saving us money on individual purchases).
We walked the short distance to Millennium Park and heard a band that was part of the Chicago Jazz Festival for the weekend. Then we saw “Cloud Gate” (aka “The Bean”). There was such a crowd, Paula remarked, “How could so many people never have seen this before?” We also got to see the Crown Fountain with kids squealing with delight when the faces spit water on them.
We headed for Skydeck Chicago, which turned out to be a very poor choice to finish the day. We finally got to the 103rd-floor observation platform of the 110-story Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) to look down on Chicago after 2.5 hours of standing in line! It was nice, but not worth that long wait! Not only that, but it caused us to miss the 8:00 PM free bus back to the marina and we had to wait for the last one of the day at 10:10, about a 2-mile walk from Willis Tower. All in all, we walked about 10 miles in Chicago that day.
Rather than return to Chicago the next day, we decided perhaps it would be better not to go on Labor Day Monday but wait until the holiday weekend was over. No problem – there was plenty of boat work calling. Tom began prep for painting the main head shower, which included a trip to the hardware store for parts. It sure wasn’t a very fun or glamorous way for Tom to spend his birthday! Meanwhile, Paula did laundry.
Tuesday dawned even hotter and more humid than the day before but the day was set for touring. We rode LC to Chicago (12 miles) to the Navy Pier, then wasted about an hour looking for a place to park. (Navy Pier wanted $27, but we ultimately figured out that was pretty much the going rate.) We caught the First Lady Cruise (they let us park LC with the strollers for free), a 90-minute tour of downtown Chicago by boat offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Our docent, Kevin, was excellent and pointed out more than 50 buildings with information about the architect, material, style, etc.
After the tour was over, we left LC with the strollers, Paula played in the water fountain, and then wandered Navy Pier where we finally got our Giordano’s pizza – with no wait and a 15-minute pizza special. Liking deep-dish pizza, we had to say it was one of the best ever! We also saw a nice Tiffany glass exhibit. From there, we rode LC back to the Museum of Science and Technology only to find out the museum closed at 4:00 PM, allowing us only 45 minutes to tour. We decided we’d have to come back the next day. Once back at the boat, we got an invitation from Henry and Debbie Dennig on Seven Tenths to join them along with Jerry and Janet Guyer for docktails. Tom thought that was a lot better than painting the shower! Actually, we had a very enjoyable visit and gained some info for the upcoming river systems as Jerry and Janet were on their second Loop.
Wednesday, it was back to the Museum of Science and Industry. Before leaving, Paula baked an apple pie (the Paula Red apples we’d bought at the farmer’s market weren’t crunchy enough for her) and Tom masked the shower for painting and installed some new latches on galley doors to keep them from coming open during turbulence.
The museum was huge and the layout made it a bit confusing. We were amazed by how much museums in Chicago charged ($18 for this one)…and then an additional $20 for parking. We parked free at the bicycle rack and no one said anything. Then the coalmine tour was an extra $12 each – good, but not worth the money. There was an excellent exhibit on the science of storms, a genetics exhibit with a baby chick hatchery, a U-505 submarine (the only German sub captured during WWII), as well as many other exhibits. Three hours wasn’t enough to see it all.
Back at the boat, Tom applied the first coat of paint to the aft head shower. He used a “roll and tip” method and it looked beautiful! The next day, it was overcast and raining and he applied a 2nd coat while Paula blogged and did trip planning. We were ready to get out of the Chicago area and head south.
On Friday, September 9, we finally departed Hammond (after 6 nights) to begin our journey down the inland river system of the Great Loop. The Illinois River runs 273 miles, passing through 7 locks, between Chicago to Grafton, IL where it flows into the Mississippi River. Our trip will continue from there down the Mississippi, up the Ohio River, then up the Cumberland River to the Tennessee River, where we connect to the Tennessee-Tom Waterway for a total of 1,250 miles and 17 locks before we cross our wake (complete the loop) in Mobile Bay, AL.
The locks are notorious for causing delays, especially for “PV’s” (pleasure vessels), as the tugs call us, with delays of up to 6 hours at times. We were fortunate on this stretch with the following delays:
|Peoria (wicket down)||158||0|
Actually we didn’t really begin on the Illinois River. Boaters have 2 choices of routes south from Chicago. The Chicago River flowed through downtown Chicago as the “Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal,” but required passage under a 17’ fixed bridge, which we could not do. The other option was a few miles east called the “Calumet-Saganashkee (Cal-Sag) Channel.” They both flowed into the Des Plaines River, which became the Illinois River when joined by the Kankakee River downstream. (It was all very confusing.) The Cal-Sag had a fixed bridge of 19’ and Tom had to remove some antennas from our flybridge and then we filled our water tanks to get as low as possible. At 18’10” we thought we could just sneak under the 19’ bridge, but it precluded us from boating through downtown Chicago in Life’s TraVails, which is why we took the boat tour in Chicago. Along this route, we passed through an electric fish barrier, intended to stop the Asian carp from moving upstream into Lake Michigan.
Towboats with barges are the major hazards to PVs on the rivers. (Why are they called “towboats” when they push the barge?) As soon as we turned into the Cal-Sag, we encountered our first towboat. We followed him under several bridges, which was rather nice as he called for the bridge openings and we just tagged along after him. Barges always had first priority in the locks, with PV’s being taken if room allowed. We were happy to only have a 15-minute wait at our first lock. Unlike the locks we had encountered previously on our Loop (up to 200’ long), these locks were huge! The Thomas O’Brian Lock was 1000’ long! We felt very small in it.
We passed under several 24’ bridges before coming to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe RR Bridge, the 19’ limiting bridge of the route. When we got there, the river level was down, as it had been intentionally dropped in anticipation of rain. We held our breath and moved very slowly as we approached the bridge, hoping to clear it. Praise the Lord – we did! But as we passed under another bridge, which was reported to be 24’, we only had a few inches to spare. From there on, the remaining bridges were higher or could be raised.
We passed several SEPA stations, aerating waterfalls to keep the river from becoming stagnant. Then came the “12 Miles of Hell,” a stretch of the river just after the Cal-Sag and Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canals merged, with lots of commercial barges. Commercial vessels (and smart PVs) have AIS (Automated Identification System) units onboard which send out a signal to indicate their position on the river so other boats can see them electronically. (We are only half-smart. We can receive AIS and see other boats, but do not transmit an AIS signal; others can’t see us.) The wise PV would call a towboat and ask where the tow would like him. If a towboat said, “Pass me on the 1,” it would indicate we should turn to our right/starboard to pass. If he said, “Pass me on the 2,” we would turn to our left/port. Or he might say, “It is not safe to pass me” in which case we followed him until it was. We found the tow captains to be very friendly and willing to help, although at times it was a bit hard to understand their Cajun accent.
In our next lock, the Lockport Lock, we had a barge that was 2 wide by 2 long (4 barges being pushed by one tow). He went into the lock first, taking up most of the 600’ length and about 2/3rds of the width. The lockmaster instructed us to come alongside the tow to the front of the lock on the starboard side. Then behind the barge, 2 more sailboats came in. Our position up front allowed us to exit first, which made Paula very happy to get out of the barge’s way!
Just before getting to the Joliet free wall (with power too), we had to have 4 Joliet town bridges opened, but we had no delay. We were the last of about 8 boats on the wall and happy to take the last decent-sized space with free electricity. We were glad to have lived through our first 39-mile day on the Illinois River, mixing it up with the big commercial barges.
We awoke on Saturday to overcast skies and rain and were the 2nd boat off the wall. We wanted to get under the lift bridge before 7:30 when it wouldn’t open for an hour because of the rush hour traffic. At the Brandon Road Lock, we had a 10-minute wait and at Dresden Island Lock, a 40-minute wait. When we got to the Marseilles Lock, there were 7 other boats waiting. We later learned 2 of the sailboats had been waiting for 5 hours while many other barges went through. After waiting about an hour, the lockmaster decided to take all the PVs through. We talked among ourselves on the radio to decide how we would enter the lock and tie up. Unlike our previous locks, there were not ample places to tie/get lines/bollards in the Illinois River locks. In this one, there were only 3 floating bollards (cylinders that moved up and down as the locks raised and lowered, the easiest choice), so with the now 9 boats that locked through, we had to do some rafting (tying boats side-to-side). The larger boats took the bollards, then the smaller boats rafted to them. We ended up being in the middle of a “sandwich,” with our port (left) side to a larger boat which was tied to the lock wall, then Moonshadow came next to us and rafted on our starboard side. Then last in the lock came a canoe paddler who also rafted to our unit.
Kevin McNamara was canoeing the entire length of the Mississippi River to raise awareness for ALS. He left on September 1 and had made 83 miles on the Illinois River when we met him. He had planned to do 50 miles per day but found that was overly ambitious. His Facebook page can be found at paddleforpage.
We saw our first pelicans since the east coast of the US, and we saw a lot of them! Tom loved it, as pelicans are his favorite. We also saw 3 bald eagles and a turtle. At one point, we were following behind a 2 x 3 barge (2 wide by 3 long) which reached his downstream destination and had to park. He turned diagonally across the river in front of us, blocking the whole river and then backed to the right descending bank. It was fascinating to watch him maneuver and park that huge load.
We got to Heritage Harbor Marina 2 miles after our last lock, along with 4 others in the lock with us. After docking, we made use of their courtesy car to drive through the town and grocery shop and enjoyed the historic murals throughout town. Then we had dinner at the Red Dog restaurant back at the marina.
We pulled out of Heritage harbor at 7:45. Downriver, we met Sanctuary and Last Call, 2 other Loopers, pulling off the Ottawa free dock where the IL River and Fox River merged. They followed us all day long and we all ended up in the Peoria Eastport Marina at the end of the day. We had only intended to go half that distance, but as we passed by the intended free dock in Hennepin, we saw the dock was only about 3” above the water line due to the now-high river level, so we continued on and there were no other suitable marinas until Peoria. It turned out to be a l-o-n-g day – 78 miles.
Enroute, Tom relocated the autopilot remote, we saw 2 more bald eagles, a few turtles and lots of pelicans. We also saw our first 3 x 5 barge. That was as big as they would get on the Illinois River (though they would be much larger on the Mississippi).
We secured our boat in the marina right next to Steve and Teresa Lasher on Sanctuary (a 41’ DeFever) and Scott and Karen DeVoll on Last Call (a 36’ Mainship), with whom we had traveled all day. They were fellow Loopers traveling together, and fellow believers. (We ended up traveling with them for some time.) We spent the evening getting ready for John Kelley to join us in the morning for the next leg of the trip to St. Louis on the Mississippi River.