Monthly Archives: September 2015

Hello Mississippi River!

We have completed one of the big Western Rivers – the Illinois- and have now moved onto the Mississippi. We are now in our home space: south of the Mason and/or east of the Mississippi….or in our case ON the Mississippi. Just in time to bring in football weather; it was a cool 60 degrees this morning and we expect temperatures in the 50’s tonight. In the last week we have noticed the leaves on the trees have started turning yellow and in some places are falling on the ground. We believe fall has come to the mid-west.

Here is what we have been up to over the last week or so:

Tuesday (9/15)Hardin, IL – We left Havana at 7 am hoping to make a lot of miles today. With only one lock, we were hopeful we would get through it without too much delay and be able to get to Hardin and tie up to a dock at a restaurant for the night. If that didn’t work, then we had plans to anchor out not far from there. Although not in a hurry, we are now bored with the Illinois River and anxious to move to the Mississippi where there is a change in geography and the landscape.

The morning was spectacular and we saw no tows and only a few small fishing boats for the first 1.5 hours of the trip. The water was very peaceful and we saw all kinds of birds, including lots of bald eagles, hawks, herons and egrets in the water along the shoreline. It was beauty as only God can create!

Illinois River in early morning

Illinois River in early morning

Eagles on shore

Eagles on shore

We were making great progress for the first 40 miles, eventually passing several Looper trawlers on the way to the LaGrange Lock. When we reached the town of Beardstown, a few miles up-river from the lock, we call to see what the status was and when we could get in. We were advised to come on down to the lock and they would let us in right away. Unfortunately, there was a tow in front of us and he would not let us pass ahead of him to get to the lock. By the time we both reached the lock, he had the priority and got to go in first. But because he was a 3 x 5 (15 barges), he was not able to fit it all in one lock-down. So we had to wait for them to break him apart, lock down, lock up, lock down the rest of the tow, lock back up, and then we could go in. In the meantime all of the pleasure crafts stacked up in the channel with nowhere to anchor or no wall to tie to. It was very frustrating as we would not have hurried up to get to the lock when we called. We feel like the lock master and the tow colluded to mess with us and make us wait. Three hours later we finally got through after “motoring” in place and consuming expensive and limited diesel.

Entering LeGrange Lock

Entering LeGrange Lock

In the lock were many of our Looper friends: “Ivory Lady”, “Next Chapter”, “Sunny Daze”, “Pearl”, “Melinda B”, “Kat in the Hat”, “Gimme Time” and a few other pleasure craft. There was also a tug and a guy going down the river in a canoe, who was allowed to tie to the tug while in the lock. In total there were 10 boats plus the tug and the canoe. It is a large lock, but it was pretty full with all this watercraft.

Tug & Canoe - LeGrange Lock

Tug & Canoe – LeGrange Lock

Once through the lock we were able to move into the front and able to get back up to our cruising speed of 15 knots. There was one other (non-looper) boat that was also going this fast and they eventually passed us. Once around the tow that jammed us up at the lock, we were able to “go fast” and make lots more headway without much issue.

We were successful at landing a spot on the free dock in Hardin, right along the riverbank. The restaurant there “Mel’s Riverdock” had a fire in June and was still closed, but the dock was available and (because the restaurant was closed) was free. There is no power or water, but that is ok with us; the price was right! We had a very long day, cruising over 80 miles and were grateful for landing this spot.

IO at Mel's Riverdock

IO at Mel’s Riverdock

We were assisted on the tie up by a Looper boat we had not yet met; Monty & Keri (“Dream Girl”). It was only our two boats plus another non-Looper boat for the night, but there would have been room for two more boats. Although the steel dock was not in great shape; it prevented us from having to anchor.

Mel's Riverdock

Mel’s Riverdock

There is nothing to this area except the restaurant (that is closed) and little hamlet with a few homes. Just to the north there is a lift bridge for the main highway over the river, and a big nature park to our south. The place is pretty remote and the cell phone signal is very poor. Mark did manage to call his sister when we walked up the hill near the restaurant, but we could get none on the boat. So with nothing to explore in the area we ate dinner on the boat and hunkered down to reading for the rest of the evening.

Mark talking to sister - Mel's Riverdock

Mark talking to sister – Mel’s Riverdock

Bridge north of Mel's Riverdock

Bridge north of Mel’s Riverdock

Just around dusk we saw a tow coming upstream and as it started to align up to go under the bridge. All of a sudden we heard the engines roar as it threw on the reverse and tried to stop. The bridge was not up and it was going to hit it. Fortunately, the tow operator managed to stop it, but it was close. Monty (“Dream Girl”) had been listening to the VHF radio and heard the whole conversation between the tow and the bridge operator. Apparently the bridge broke and he couldn’t lift it. The tow pilot was as cool as a cucumber and pulled it along the shoreline opposite us and waited.

Sometime around 3:00 am they must have gotten the bridge working again as Denise woke up to the boat really rocking and saw a tow headed downstream; the bridge was up. The tow that almost hit the bridge was still on the eastern shore waiting to go upstream. But the downstream vessels have right-of-way, and at least two other tows came through; obviously they had been stacked up on the other side of the bridge until it could open. Around 5:00 am we saw the up-bound tow leave and finally make it under the bridge. It was a lot of excitement for such a quiet little place.

Wednesday (9/16)Grafton, IL – Following the other two boats on the dock, we left Hardin around 8:00 am. As we didn’t have far to go, and there were no locks to interfere with our travels today, we took a slow (8kt) cruise for the last 20 miles into Grafton.

Cliffs along IL River

Cliffs along IL River on way to Grafton

We arrived at 9:30 and were put into a slip right away. There were several Looper boats here as it is a big marina and a key stopping point on the Great Loop. One of the first boats we saw was Kevin, Chris & Graham on “Sweet Sensation”; the Brits who are on the Prout 38 sailboat. Later in the day “Ivory Lady”, “Next Chapter”, “Pearl” and “Melinda B” also showed up.

Sweet Sensation at Grafton Marina

Sweet Sensation at Grafton Marina

After settling in, Mark had a few conference calls to make then we washed the boat. It was covered with bugs and spider webs and needed a good scrubbing. We even cleaned the inside of the dinghy which had accumulated lots of dirty water that never fully drains out of the bottom, even with the plug removed.

Once we were cleaned up, we joined all the Loopers for docktails. It was a big group and the marina here has a great “porch” area right in front of the office/ships store to host such an event. It was a lot of fun to hear everyone’s stories and find out what their plans are.

Afterwards, we went to “The Big Kahuna” the restaurant/bar upstairs from the marina office. There were 6 of us; Jann & Bill (“Ivory Lady”), Caryn & Willy (“Next Chapter”) and the two of us. Although we have had conversations with these two couples before, this was an opportunity to get to know them even more. We had a lot of fun and feel like we now have new life-long friends.

Thursday (9/17)Grafton, IL– We needed to stay a day in port to get some chores done, and for Mark to be able to do some work. After several days on the river, it was nice to have a good marina with a fairly decent town to see, and to be stationary for a day.

At daybreak Denise went for a nice run on the bike path along the river. It was hot, but it felt good to get the legs moving and it was pretty quiet; only the fisherman were up. She ran past where there is a ferry over to the Missouri side of the river, and to the lighthouse near where the two rivers converge.

Later in the morning, Mark did some work for clients while Denise worked on cataloging pictures and began a blog update.

In the afternoon, Denise took on a tough boat chore; removing the hard water stains on the navy blue boat hull that don’t come off with a regular cleaning. Denise was motivated by Brian (“Pearl”) who was doing the same thing on the black part of his otherwise all-white hull. So with a spray bottle of vinegar, paper towels, and lots of elbow grease, she got 90% of the boat done. This was made easy by the fact that the slip in the marina had docks on both sides of the boat. Towards the end of the job, Mark came out to assist and finish it up.

We also hung the new banner off the stern with our boat name. We had one of these made up because you cannot read the one on the stern of the boat when the dinghy is on the davits. Thanks to our friends Ray & Rae at “Tarps, Etc.” who helped us make up the banner while we were home last weekend, others on the water will be able to see our boat name while underway.

Lastly, we hung our FSU flag. We are headed south and it is football season. As alumni of one of the finest college teams, we must support our Seminoles and let everyone else know it! Go ‘Noles!

New banner & FSU flag

New banner & FSU flag

During the day we said good bye (for now) to friends on “Sweet Sensation”, “Next Chapter”, and “Ivory Lady” – who all left the marina to move on to Alton. But we said hello to “TiKa”, “Fryedaze” and “Sea Moss” (whom we met in Charlevoix).

As we finished our chores quite late, our social director (Denise) did not have time to organize a Looper docktail. So, we informally planned one with Tim & Mark – the Younger (“TiKa”) whose boat was near ours. As we were gathering for it, we ran into Melinda and Bob (“Melinda B”) on the dock. They mentioned they were going to go to “Aerie’s Riverview Winery” at the top of the hill for dinner and invited us to join them. The winery, which is 5 minutes away, will come and pick us up at the marina and take us to their place. So in two separate groups, all 6 of us rode in dune-buggy style to the winery.

Aerie's Winery

Aerie’s Winery

Ride up to Aerie's winery

Ride up to Aerie’s winery

What a spectacular place. It overlooks not just our marina, but also the convergence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. They say on a clear day you can see the arch in St. Louis. While we could not see it due to the haze, we still had a spectacular view and were thrilled to have come here.

View from Aerie's Winery

View from Aerie’s Winery

Terrace at Aerie's Winery

Terrace at Aerie’s Winery

Shortly thereafter, Clark & Evelyn (“Sea Moss”) showed up and joined us at our table.

Evelyn & Clark (Sea Moss)

Evelyn & Clark (Sea Moss)

During our conversation at dinner, we learned that Melinda & Bob (who are from Port Orange) owned and started a manufacturing business in Mount Dora named Data Graphics. The company is now run by their son. Denise thought the name sounded familiar and asked if they were members of MACF. Bob immediately texted his son who then confirmed that they are, and we discover that he had been in conversation with Sherry Reeves (MACF Exec. Director and friend of Denise’s) earlier in the day. What a small world it really is!

Bob & Melinda (Melinda B)

Bob & Melinda (Melinda B)

Mark & Tim - Aerie's Winery

Mark & Tim – Aerie’s Winery

After dinner (and another dune-buggy ride down the hill) we were in the marina parking lot talking with Tim and Mark-the younger about them leaving the next day. We heard music coming from one of the local outdoor pubs so we decided to go support the local band and have a drink. As we enter the place we saw Dave & Betsy (“Fryedaze”), who called us up to the balcony where they were sitting to join them. Unfortunately, we weren’t there 15 minutes and the band wrapped it up for the night. So, we stayed talking for a little while until it was time to leave and head back to our respective boats.

Boulevard Brewing & Piasa Winery

Boulevard Brewing & Piasa Winery

The marina here in Grafton is really a nice place and they people who own it do a great job catering to the Loopers. There is everything you could want onsite: ships store, restaurant, pool, hot tub, fuel dock, clean bathroom & showers. The marina has mostly covered slips for their regulars, and the entire marina is on floating docks that can accommodate the shifting heights of the river. Literally, the whole marina floats; including fuel dock, bathrooms, pool, restaurant, office, etc. It is really an interesting thing, but apparently not uncommon for marinas along these great rivers where water can sometimes rise 30 – 50 feet.

Grafton Marina from Street

Grafton Marina from Street

Other Pictures from Grafton or in the river near there:

Tara Point Inn & Cottage

Tara Point Inn & Cottage

Main Street in Grafton

Main Street in Grafton

Building a duck blind

Building a duck blind

Friday (9/18)Port Charles, MO – As we prepare for a long trek down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, we needed to make sure we have as much fuel on board as possible. We also didn’t want to pay a fortune for it and availability is very limited between here and the Tennessee River. So Mark had found a place that had the cheapest price for ValvTech diesel at the Port Charles marina; less than 5 miles away. We had read about the town of St. Charles, Missouri and wanted to visit there, and the Port Charles marina had a loaner vehicle we could use to drive the 15 minutes to get there. However, this would require us to cruise 5 miles UP the Mississippi River (opposite direction of most Loopers) to get there.

When we woke up in the morning it was raining, and severe weather was forecasted for the day. So, we wanted to get underway as soon as possible so we wouldn’t have to encounter the storms while on the water. After calling the marina and confirming they could take us early, we left Grafton and headed out. It didn’t take long to get to Port Charles, but we did have to fight a 2 knot current and navigate around lots of debris in the water running downstream on us. Of course as we approached the fuel dock the skies opened up and it poured. Denise got drenched trying to tie up the boat, but Katie (marina operator) got just as wet. We agreed to wait until after the storm passed to take on fuel.

Marina fuel dock

Marina fuel dock

After the rain subsided we filled the boat with diesel, got a free pump out, and moved the boat to our assigned location on a parallel dock. Here we were adjacent to Looper friends Monty & Keri (“Dream Girl”) – whom we met at the Mel’s Riverdock, and Laurie & Dave (“Next Step”) – whom we originally met at Ess Kay Marina in Brewerton, NY.

During this time, we met two ladies kayaking downstream on the Mississippi as we were coming upstream. They pulled into the marina right after the storm passed and we had a chance to talk with them about their adventure. Leann & Alyssum had both separately started kayaking at the head of the Mississippi River, some 400 miles north of Minneapolis. They met along the way and are two of a whole group of kayakers who are heading all the way to New Orleans. They camp out where they can and call home to family every day. Leann’s iPhone needed a charge, so we used the waiting time at the fuel dock to get her back to 100% power. They checked the weather forecast and decided they could make it to Grafton before the big storms hit, so they thanked us and said goodbye.

Alyssum & Leann

Alyssum & Leann

In the afternoon Mark did some work while Denise worked on this blog post. Then we used the loaner car to go into Old Town St. Charles; a town known for its historic buildings (88 of which date back into the 1700’s) and was a gateway to the West for settlers – Lewis and Clark among them. Since we had the car we decided to make a quick run to Wal-Mart, which became more of an adventure. Denise was driving and Mark was navigating, which meant we went 20 miles out of the way to “the first Wal-Mart that Google Maps found”. NOT the one that were on the directions from the marina; a store a short 15 miles closer to the one we went.

Since we did the “short” stop at Wal-Mart first, we arrived too late to see the inside of most of the shops in St. Charles. However, we did find a place called “Little Hills Winery” and grabbed a bite to eat for dinner.

Little Hills Winery

Little Hills Winery

We chose this place because they had the FSU game on a TV in the bar area and we got to watch at least the first half of the game.

Watching FSU Football at dinner

Watching FSU Football at dinner

Afterwards we walked down Main Street to see some of the shops and see what else was going on. The main street is 12 blocks long and has all kinds of real stores mixed in with some of the touristy type spots; not unlike our own Park Avenue in Winter Park.

St Charles downtown

St Charles downtown

As we meandered down a few blocks there seemed to be more people out and about, and it was there that we stumbled upon “Mosaics Festival of the Arts” – a juried art show that was running all weekend. What a show it was! We saw some crazy art, and some really good stuff from mostly local (IL or MO) artists. There was a local band playing pretty good music and we enjoyed the atmosphere of the place. It was a lot of fun.

Art Festival in St. Charles

Art Festival in St. Charles

Band at art festival

Band at art festival

In addition to the street fare, a lot of the restaurants along Main Street have outdoor courtyard eating areas, and there is a huge park one block over that runs the length of Main Street, but along the Missouri River. We found this to be a delightful town that we wished we had more time to explore, and it is less than half an hour from St. Louis. Most Loopers don’t take the time to stop in Port Charles and we are so glad we did. It was after 10:00 before we got back to the boat and we were tired. We were also happy to then learn our ‘Noles pulled out a shut-out victory against Boston College. A perfect ending to a perfect day!

Saturday (9/19) – Alton, IL – We left Port Charles in the morning and made the quick 15 mile cruise down the Mississippi River to Alton, IL.

Port Charles Marina at sunrise

Port Charles Marina at sunrise

Along the way we passed “Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine” located near the village of Portage Des Sioux. Here there is a 50 foot shrine was built after the disastrous flood of 1951 as gratitude for the water stopping just short of flooding the village. It is not far from where the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers meet.

Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine

Our Lady of the Rivers Shrine

We continued traveling south to Alton, passing beautiful high cliffs, a water park, and then navigating a tow and the highway bridge right before turning into the tricky marina entrance.

Cliffs along MS River

Cliffs along MS River

Water park along MS River

Water park along MS River

Alton Bridge

Alton Bridge

Here we will be leaving the boat for a few days as Mark has to go to Indianapolis to see a client, and Denise will visit with Aunt Anita & Uncle Ray who live a short distance away. Once tied up in our slip, Mark rushed to get to Enterprise to get the rental car for the next week before they closed for noon. While he was gone, Denise successfully hooked up the electrical to the boat and got all the house systems operational before he could come back.

Once Mark got back to the boat, we ate lunch. Afterwards, Mark took Dave (“Fryedaze”) to the local Wal-Mart as he needed a few things for his boat and we had the rental car. While they were gone, Denise worked on this blog, cataloging pictures and watched college football (streaming ESPN).

That evening for dinner we had an adventure outing planned with Dave & Betsy (“Fryedaze”), as well as Caryn & Willy Bain (“Next Chapter”) and Jann & Bill Mellman (“Ivory Lady”). Since two of us had rental cars, we went up the road to a place called “Fast Eddies Bon Air” which is a renowned (huge) bar in these parts– or really a bunch of connected rooms of bars – that serves a limited menu of food but with enough choices we all could find something to eat. You order your food as you come in and then go sit down and order your drinks from the waitress. When they call your number you go up to the main counter and get your food. You must order a drink, and no take out is allowed – those are their rules. The food is cheap and so are the drinks. But you go to hear the music and to people watch. It is a hoot! You will see all types and we saw it all: old, young, singles, couples, bikers and “biker wannabees”. There were at least 2 bride/bachelorette parties and one 50th Birthday party that we ran into. When we arrived there was one band playing, then they wrapped it up and a guitar soloist was playing. By the time we left another band was just getting set up. It was a lot of fun and we were glad we did it all together.

At Fast Eddies

At Fast Eddies –  Jann, Caryn, Denise, Mark, Dave, Betsy, Bill

Fridaze and us at Fast Eddies

Dave, Betsy, Mark & Denise at Fast Eddies

Other sights from Fast Eddies:

Fast Eddies

Fast Eddies

Fast Eddies

Fast Eddies

Signs at Fast Eddies

Signs at Fast Eddies

Sunday, (9/20) – Alton, IL – We got up in time to get showers and make it to 8:00 am mass at Saint Mary’s. The church could not have been closer; in fact it was by far the easiest church to get to in our entire looping adventure so far. It literally was ½ mile up the hill from the marina entrance. But, since we had the rental car, we drove it. HA! Only because from there we were going to go out to breakfast and then on to the grocery store. We were able to locate the Panera Bread (called St. Louis Bread Co. in these parts) for breakfast, and went to the grocery store right near it to get a few things.

St Mary's Church

St Mary’s Church

Once back at the boat we got out our bikes and went on a riding adventure. A little over a mile southeast of the marina is the Mel Price Lock & Dam on the Mississippi River. We will have to go through it when we leave Alton and head south. They have a great museum there and give tours 3 times a day of the lock and dam operations. So we rode along the bike path and got there in time for the 11:00 am tour which took us up to the platform above it all some 80’ up.

Alton Bike Path

Alton Bike Path

Mel Price Lock & museum

Mel Price Lock & museum

We arrived in time to watch a tow go through with 15 barges. Although they only had to lock him up 23’, the lock is long and wide enough that the entire tow could fit in without having to be broken down into two separate locks. This is a tremendous improvement compared to the locks on the Illinois River, and therefore saves a lot of time.

Tour guide at Mel Price

Tour guide at Mel Price

Tow in Mel Price Lock

Tow in Mel Price Lock

St Louis from Mel Price Lock

St Louis from Mel Price Lock

At Mel Price Lock & Dam

At Mel Price Lock & Dam

In the museum there was also a simulator where you could drive a tow either into and out of a lock, or under a bridge. Mark tried his hand at this, but got frustrated when he hit the lock wall. Gives us a finer appreciation for what the tows go through when trying to maneuver into and out of locks.

Mark at tow simulator

Mark at tow simulator

That evening we had a cookout with Dave & Betsy (“Fryedaze”). We were joined by other Loopers from “Gimme Time” (met in Grand Haven, MI) and “Kat in the Hat” whom we had traveled in a group with, but whom we had never met. However, these folks stayed only for drinks and appetizers; it was just Betsy, Dave and us for dinner. Without knowing what we each were bringing, we both cooked chicken shish kabobs. How funny!

During dinner “Ivory Lady” & “Next Chapter” came back from their adventures in St Louis and we said our goodbyes to all as we would be leaving for Indiana in the morning, and they would all be heading south down the Mississippi in the next day or so. We hope we get to cruise with them again as we really enjoy all their company.

Monday, (9/21) through Thursday (9/24) – Columbus, IN – As Mark had to go visit a client near Indianapolis and Denise has extended family that live south of there, we decided to leave the boat in Alton and go together. Mark dropped Denise off at her Aunt and Uncle’s home in Columbus and then headed to the client site.

While Mark worked, Denise had a chance to visit with her relatives, including meeting a 40-year cousin (Jason) for the first time. She also had to do a few boat chores and enlisted Uncle Ray’s help in cutting and drilling the wood for a new horizontal fender.

Finished product - Horizontal Fender for boat

Finished product – Horizontal Fender for boat

Aunt Anita and Uncle Ray were great hosts. Ray took Denise on an 8-mile bike ride through the corn and bean fields of Indiana, complete with the lesson on the different types of corn and the way they are grown. Who knew?!

Bike ride with Ray

Bike ride with Ray

Anita provided great meals and orchestrated a family cookout one night which gave a chance to reunite with cousins not seen in a while. It was loads of fun and felt great to connect with family.

Noah

Noah

Paige

Paige

Aunt Anita

Aunt Anita

Cousin Rick with nephew Chris' boy Cooper

Cousin Rick with nephew Chris’ boy Cooper

Cousin Jason

Cousin Jason

Greg Shatto

Cousin Greg

Chris (Cousin Debbie's son)

Chris (Cousin Debbie’s son)

They also took her to a local apple orchard that has a petting zoo, a kids play area, an obstacle course, a sweet shop and a market where you can (of course) by their apples. Denise purchased some to take back to the boat, and we also got a delicious ice cream cone while there.

Apple Works

Apple Works

Afterwards they drove to an area that used to be part of Camp Atterbury (an Army National Guard base where Cousin Rick is the Commander) and where there is a chapel built by the POWs housed there during WWII. It was quite an interesting spot, and a lovely chapel that is now more like a shrine.

Prisoner of War Chapel

Prisoner of War Chapel

On Wednesday night Mark returned to Columbus and we were able to take our hosts out to dinner in downtown Columbus for a final dinner together.

On Thursday morning we left Indiana and drove back to Alton, IL where our Island Office awaited our return. We immediately got to work to ready the boat for leaving which meant getting some laundry done, putting water on it, and hosing off all the bugs. Then there was the quick trip to the grocery store for a few items and returning the rental car back to Enterprise.

We had met a few new Loopers in the marina and coordinated with them for a group departure in the morning. When you travel in groups it is easier to get through the locks, and we have to go through two tomorrow. It was early to bed as we are planning to leave the docks as early as the Mel Price lock will take us.

Friday (9/25) – Kimmswick, MO (“Hoppies”) – After a 6:00 am call to the Mel Price lockmaster, we were told to be at the locks around 6:45 am and we could get through. So at 6:30 there were 7 Looper boats that departed Alton Marina and cruised the one mile, only to be put in queue for 45 minutes waiting on an unplanned tow to get through. Fortunately, there was plenty of room for us all to negotiate the water in advance of the lock, and we made it through pretty quickly.

Sunrise in Alton

Sunrise in Alton

Entering Mel Price Lock

Entering Mel Price Lock

From there we took our time cruising the next 15 miles to the second lock (Chain of Rocks lock) as we knew we they would want us all to lock together again. So Mark slowed the boat to 1300 RPM (we usually cruise at 2050 doing 15 kts) and we still managed to go 10 kts thanks to the Mississippi River current running in our favor. In no time at all we made it to the lock but had to wait another 45 minutes. During that time, the slower boats were able to catch up to us so we all got through together. Once through the lock we were able to increase speed and not worry about staying with the other boats. We were done with the locks for the day and we wanted to get to our destination; Hoppies Marina.

Chain of Rocks Lock

Chain of Rocks Lock

Our travels took us past St. Louis and the great arch. They are rebuilding the area in front of the arch, making a new park area along the waterfront. There was a lot of construction and there is tremendous tow traffic in this area.

St Louis Arch

St Louis Arch

For the next 10 miles it is very industrial and we were constantly passing tows or watching them maneuvering with their barges. It was quite nerve wracking and the wakes they create made for a sometimes bumpy ride.

Tow workers

Tow workers

But sometimes we got to see other boats too!

Queen of the Mississippi

Queen of the Mississippi

We arrived at “Hoppies” just before noon, and first topped off our fuel tanks with diesel. Then we moved a little further down the dock to our assigned location for the evening. “Hoppies” marina is really not like anything you would imagine. It is nothing more than 3 big barges that are strung together to form one big long dock that sits just off the channel on the western shore. The barges are anchored to the shore by these big ropes. Other than electricity, there are no real services offered, but they do have a covered area on the dock for cruisers to get together, as well as a few picnic tables.

IO at Hoppies

IO at Hoppies

The town of Kimmswick is a short half mile up the road from Hoppies and is home of the “Blue Owl Restaurant”. It is a famous restaurant that got put on the map by the Food Network (Bobby Fay & Paula Dean) as well as Oprah. Now people come for miles to enjoy the food, but mostly the desserts that has made this such a stopping point south of St. Louis. Naturally, we had to try it, so we went there for a late lunch and ate our fill, including a huge piece of their famous “Levee High Apple Pie”. You can read more about this place here.

Blue Owl Menu

Blue Owl Menu

The Blue Owl

The Blue Owl

The town also has many little shops in old buildings that reminds us of Mount Dora in Florida. The people are very friendly and Denise got to enjoy the shops a bit while Mark went back to the boat for a conference call.

Corner street sign

Corner street sign

Front & Market Gifts

Front & Market Gifts

Bottlehouse

Bottlehouse

Downtown Kimmswick

Downtown Kimmswick

During this time all the Loopers we had locked with earlier in the day had all come in and were making plans to get together at 4:30 for the talk with the owner “Fern”. Normally in the afternoon she will meet with the Loopers at her marina and provide information and advice about traveling the next few days along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Unfortunately, due to a health issue in the family, she was not able to meet with us. So we all just discussed our plans to get to Little Diversion Channel tomorrow and anchor out together. We know the next several days will be very long and will want the company of other Loopers.

Julie & Tom (Sum Escape)

Julie & Tom (Sum Escape)

Looper discussion

Looper discussion

Unfortunately, most everything in the town of Kimmswick closes at 5:00 pm so there is no real restaurant to go out to eat for dinner. Therefore, we got together with all the other Loopers and had a pot luck dinner and got to know each other a little bit better. It was quite fun and we loved hearing everyone’s stories and where they were on their Looping adventure. We made plans to leave the dock together in the morning all with the same destination in mind; the Little Diversion Canal some 100 miles south. More on this adventure when we update our blog next!

Stay tuned for more adventures!

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Back on our Island Office!

We are back on our Island Office after a whirlwind of a weekend at home in Winter Park. We got to see family and some friends, and we are grateful for those playing chauffer and ferrying us to and from the airport. We are especially grateful to our very good friends & neighbors the Medei’s who have kept watch over our home and advised us when things were amiss. We cannot thank them enough for their kindness.

We are also grateful for Elaine (Mark’s mom) who is handling our business mail and doing an awesome job!  Thanks Mom!

Denise feels renewed after getting a haircut and getting in a few runs with her running buddies. Mark was able to take care of all the business technical infrastructure issues, including installing a new computer and getting Brighthouse Networks to replace a bad router for our internet access. And then together we were able to visit the dentist, take care of some needed yard work, and celebrate Elaine’s 86th birthday with the Bailey’s (Mark’s sister & husband). We are so lucky to have her around and we really enjoy our time together.

Monday (9/14)Havana, IL – We left Illinois Valley Yacht Club (“IVY”) in Peoria this morning shortly after 9:00am right after Looper boats “Pearl” and “Melinda B” left following “Ivory Lady” and “Next Chapter” from another marina. We wanted to jump in with them all to get through the Peoria Lock, but fearing issues with getting fuel further down the river, we opted instead to pull into East Port marina for some added diesel and a pump out.

Of course this means we missed the lock opening with the rest of the fleet and had to tie up to the only place near the lock; a restaurant called “Kuchie’s On the Water”. Being good citizens, we ordered a to-go salad for Denise for free use of their dock while waiting to be allowed through.

Kuchie's On the Water

Kuchie’s On the Water

Finally, after 2 hours the Lock Master called and advised us to pull up towards the lock while the up-bound tow was being re-assembled. We had to negotiate around several other tows that were staged before the lock, not run into the wicket dams on the right side of the lock, and keep the boat stable in a wind blowing about 20 knots. Mark handled the challenge beautifully and drove us successfully into the lock which we had all to ourselves. This huge lock took us 8 feet down and then had a tow waiting to go back up once we left the lock.

Navigating tows into Peoria lock

Navigating tows into Peoria lock

Approaching Peoria Lock

Approaching Peoria Lock

Peoria Lock & Dam

Peoria Lock & Dam

Once under way we had very little delays and made good progress down the river. This part of the Illinois River is very rural with a few industrial sites scattered throughout. We passed refineries, power plants, food processing facilities, and other unknown facilities which we tried to guess what they were. Sometimes Google will tell you, but most of the time it doesn’t know either. We did however get to see a handful of bald eagles today, and the Asian carp were jumping like crazy in the very shallow waters along the river banks. We also got to see the Spirit of Peoria; an old style paddle tour boat.

Dredging the Illinois

Dredging the Illinois

Spirit of Peoria

Spirit of Peoria

We ended up tying up to a free town dock in the small town of Havana. There is only one marina here (Tall Timbers) and it was full up, mostly with many of our Looper friends. After getting the boat settled we walked over to the marina and met new Loopers Brian and Janice (“Fugitive”) who let us through the gate once we told them we too were Loopers. Then we went over to “Ivory Lady” and spoke with Jann & Bill for a while; sharing Chicago stories and our plans for the upcoming days. We walked back to the boat and ate leftovers from the freezer for dinner.

IO at Havana City dock

IO at Havana City dock

Tomorrow we are headed down the Illinois River for what we hope will be our last full day, and last Illinois River lock. We will most likely anchor out tomorrow night as there are no marinas until Grafton, IL just before the mighty Mississippi.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

Central Time!

In the last two weeks, we have cruised through our last Michigan ports and entered the states of Indiana and Illinois. It was also here that we crossed into the Central Time Zone and will be on it for a long time; like until mid-November when we are back in the state of Florida. This also means we now have visited 11 states so far on this wonderful adventure. Here is what we have been up to:

Wednesday (8/26)South Haven, MI– Finally we got a good night’s sleep in a comfortable marina (North Shore). And we got a break in the weather and were able to leave Grand Haven, with morning temperatures in the mid-50s. We are not complaining as we know how hot it is in FL.

Our original intent was to next go to Saugatuck, which was a short run from Grand Haven. However, we had lost a few days due to weather in Leland and Grand Haven and were feeling the need to move further South on a day that offered a good weather window. Plus, this small artsy town (known as the Cape-Cod of Michigan) had very expensive marinas at $3/foot per night.

So, we opted for the 40+ nm cruise down to South Haven, and stayed in the South basin marina (TiKa had stayed in the North basin the night before and it required them to walk a ways in order to get into town). We were now one day behind them and would catch up to them in St. Joseph/Benton Harbor.

The entrance to this town was quite narrow and the waves were very choppy coming in through the breakwater, so Mark drove and got us safely into our slip. We arrived just before lunch and opted to eat it on the boat. After lunch we went for a quick walk through town to see the (now all too common) shops and to scope out a potential spot for dinner. Looper friends Dave & Betsy (“Fryedaze”) had also come in behind us and we agreed to have docktails in the evening.

South Haven Channel

South Haven Channel

Having fun in South Hampton Store

Having fun in South Hampton Store

When we docked we had been assisted by another Looper in the marina, so Denise went to introduce herself and bring them a boat card. Pat & George Hospodar (“Reflection”) are Gold Loopers who have published two books about the Great American Loop. Since we had not read either of the books we did not really know who they were, but recognized their names from frequent posts to the AGLCA daily forum. Denise was intending to invite them to docktails on Island Office, but instead they agreed to host all of us.

After we had spent some time in town, and doing a few things on the boat (updating blog, cataloging of pictures, chores, etc.) it was time for docktails. What is normally about a one-hour event ended up being 2 hours, and we had sufficient treats that no one was hungry for dinner. Therefore, we chose not to go out afterwards, and ended up back on the boat having popcorn for dinner. However, we did learn a lot from the Hospodars and their experiences, and we will heed their suggestions for the next portion of our adventure.

Betsy & Dave Frye ("Fryedaze")

Betsy & Dave Frye (“Fryedaze”)

George & Pat ("Reflection")

George & Pat (“Reflection”)

Later Mark went over to see Dave (“Fryedaze”) to share navigation technology tools. He learned of a new website (www.marinetraffic.com) to track location of other boats (if they have AIS – Automatic Identification System). In fact, you can see all boats all over the world with this free tool. We are going to try and find a way to link it on our blog posting so you can follow us.

We really like this small town and the parks along the harbor walk that takes you to the South Pier light. Additionally, the marina accommodations are very nice, including a boater’s lounge with a microwave and coffee always on. There are bar b que grills and a very nice covered picnic area which provide a protected place to get off the boat. Too bad we couldn’t have been here instead of Grand Haven when the weather was so awful.

Here are some pictures from our short stay in South Haven:

Downtown main street

Downtown main street

Mural on downtown building

Mural on downtown building

Downtown Park

Downtown Park

Sculpture near City Hall

Sculpture near City Hall

South Haven Marina - South Basin

South Haven Marina – South Basin

Duck Nap Time

Duck Nap Time

Marina office

Marina office

Harbor from the bridge

Harbor from the bridge

IO in marina near South Haven

IO in marina near South Haven

Thursday (8/27)St. Joseph, MI– BRRR – The bad weather was gone, but the cold weather has arrived. It is fall in Michigan – or nearly so. We have noticed our mornings are cooler and a local woman told us that she saw squirrels already burrowing acorns (yes they are starting to fall off the trees). And then there are the tell-tale signs of fall: leaves are falling off trees and some are even turning yellow.

Temp in South Haven

Temp in South Haven

Before leaving South Haven Denise managed to get in a short run out towards the lighthouse and back 2x, and around town. Because it was a short cruise to St. Josephs (20+ nm) we didn’t leave until Mark had a chance to deal with some client issues. Once underway it only took about 90 minutes, and the water on Lake Michigan was very calm with less than 1 foot waves. This is the way we like it. We were also able to bring up the new website we learned about from Dave, and we started tracking many of our looper friends who were behind us by a day or two.

On our way to St Joseph's

On our way to St Joseph’s

Of course when we pulled into the marina, Tim and Mark (the younger) from TiKa were there to help with the dock lines. They had spent 2 night in St Joseph and were awaiting our company. Then In the early afternoon Looper friends Betsy & Dave (“Fryedaze”) pulled into the slip next to us. We had been expecting them as we had passed them while in route and knew they were not far behind.

IO at West Basin - St. Joseph's

IO at West Basin – St. Joseph’s

We had the marina courtesy driver take four of us into town (on the other side of the river) so we could see what it had to offer.

Denise in town

Denise in town

Mark in town

Mark in town

In addition to the typical t-shirt shops, surfing shops, vinegar & oil shops, and spice shops, they had a wine tasting room for White Pine winery. We decided to go in and give this Michigan winery a chance to delight us. We shared a tasting and found several that we thought would be fun to have, so we purchased a few bottles to take home.

Wine Tasting with Tim & Karen

Wine Tasting with Tim & Karen

Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting

We continued walking around the park that overlooks the water and harbor until it was time for the marina to come back and get us.

Another perk of this fine marina (besides the courtesy driver) was free laundry. Since Denise did 4 loads when we were in Grand Haven, we really didn’t have much to do. However, Mark wanted to have fresh smelling shirts to wear to the client site next week, so we took advantage of this benefit and did a quick load.

Marina Picnic tables

Marina Picnic tables

St. Joseph’s is a working town; not just a touristy beach area. There is a big cement plant right on the water east of the marina, and there is the Whirlpool Technology Center located within a mile. In fact, the Whirlpool Corporate offices are located in Benton Harbor; the sister town that is adjacent to St. Joseph.

Of course no night would be complete without docktails with our Looper friends. So, we got together at the picnic tables near the marina office and boaters lounge to share appetizers and drinks. Also, because the marina was so far from the downtown restaurants, we had previously decided to get Chinese take-out for dinner from Chan’s. When we were in town earlier in the day we went by the restaurant and confirmed that they would deliver to the marina. So, we put in a multi-family order and it was delivered on time and without any issues. The food was good and everyone got their fill. The best part is there is plenty left over for another meal.

Chinese Take Out with Loopers on TiKa & Fryedaze

Chinese Take Out with Loopers on TiKa & Fryedaze

Here are some pictures from St. Joseph’s:

Sculptures in town

Sculptures in town

Fountain in park

Fountain in park

Friday (8/28)Michigan City, IN – Another cool morning greeted us, although not quite as cool as yesterday. We left St. Joseph’s and had an uneventful 2 hours to move the boat 31 miles to Michigan City, Indiana. We now entered our 11th state and the Central Time zone. Yes, even though most parts of Indiana are on Eastern Time, this little corner of the state is on Central time.

Denise prepping for dockage

Denise prepping for dockage

This gated marina is quite large and is located right near the entrance to Lake Michigan. There are lots of boats here from Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, with several live-aboard boaters. This includes the gentleman who is the after-hours security guard for the marina and he is just a few slips away from our boat. So Denise is happy and feels like she will be safe here next week while Mark is away on business.

Michigan City Marina Office

Michigan City Marina Office

Marina Office

Marina Office

The sky was overcast all morning, with rain threatening later in the day. But, we were able to get some chores done in the afternoon. Nothing exciting, just the normal boat stuff: changing water filters and then putting water on the boat (Denise), then washing the whole boat down (Mark).

Scrubbing IO

Scrubbing IO

The Denise (AKA “social director”) coordinated docktails for the evening. It was a good group with our friends Tim, Karen & Mark (“TiKa”) and Becky & Dave (“Fryedaze”) as well as new Loopers Lola & Terry (“Sunny Daze”). We all discussed our plans for making it to Chicago and going down the rivers, but all are leaving at different times. It looks like Denise will be watching over the boats Fryedaze and TiKa while they attend to land visits for the next few days.

It was leftover dinner on board the boat for us, as we made plans to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

Saturday, (8/29)Michigan City, IN – We woke up to sprinkles and a day filled with rain off and on. Nothing exciting was going to happen in the marina today as the weather was too terrible for people to enjoy the outside. For most of the morning we stayed in the boat and did some office work; Mark had to get ready for the visit to his client.

Later on Mark and Dave (“Fryedaze”) had Enterprise come and get them together as we both were getting rental cars. It was a coordinated effort that the rental car company appreciated.

In the early afternoon the rain had stopped for a while so we went and explored the old lighthouse museum that is part of Millennium Park near the marina. It is quite a ways from the water now, but in the day when it was manned by a female lighthouse keeper there was water all around it.  The story of the restorations this lighthouse has gone through is quite interesting and you learn more here.

Historical Lighthouse

Historical Lighthouse

Historic Lighthouse

Historic Lighthouse

Park near lighthouse

Park near lighthouse

Top of Lighthouse

Top of Lighthouse

Marina from top of lighthouse

Marina from top of lighthouse

After that we took the car and drove around town. We first stopped at the Farmer’s Market to see what they had. It was more of the same veggies and bread stuff that we really didn’t need, and they were about to close up. However, we did meet a French chef who had a booth selling all types of breads, cheeses, quiche & pate. We tried a taste of his pate and decided it would make good docktail hors-d’oeuvres so we purchased a small amount. Come to find out he owned two restaurants in Chicago, but has recently closed one.

After the market we drove through the downtown area, which is about 40% occupied with shops and restaurants. There is little to offer here, and there is not even the touristy shops we have frequently seen in the other beach towns along the Lake Michigan coast. They do, however have a “Premium Outlet Mall” with all the usual outlet stores (Ann Taylor, Nike, Gap, Ralph Lauren, etc.). We really don’t need anything so we just drove around to see which stores were there.

When we left the outlet mall we came across an old building that was labeled “Lances Old Fashioned Meat Market” and decided to stop in and see what they had. This place is like and amusement park with tons of items hanging on the walls, many that are political in nature. We met Lance, the owner and spent quite a bit of time talking to him about our adventure. He has had several Loopers come in and he has even loaned them his car before. He has quite a local following and we really enjoyed talking to him. Of course we purchased some fresh made jerky and “snack sticks” from him.

Lance at meat market

Lance at meat market

Lances Meat Market

Lances Meat Market

Afterwards we drove the road that runs north from the marina up the coast past the Zoo and through an area called Long Beach (nothing like the one in California). It is a residential beach house area and we saw some magnificent homes right along Lake Michigan.

When we got back to the marina we ran into Tim and Mark (the younger) who were headed to “Overboard” a restaurant that shares the parking lot with the Marina. Karen was not feeling well and they invited us to join them, which we did. It was an unremarkable meal, but we had salads and couldn’t really judge on the food quality.

Overboard Restaurant

Overboard Restaurant

Sunday (8/30)Michigan City, IN – Side trip to South Bend, IN – Today was a crazy but fun day. Since we had a rental car we wanted to take advantage of it and go see the University of Notre Dame. We got on the road by 8:15 with anticipation of driving the 50 minutes and being there in time to park, walk, and make 10:00 mass at the Basilica. The only problem was we forgot about the time change; they are on Eastern Time and we lost an hour. Unlike on I-10 in the FL Panhandle, there was no sign on the highway advising you of the change, and of course we didn’t think about it. The guard at the campus gate advised us that there was another mass at 11:45, so we made plans to go then – but we had time to kill.

Entering ND Campus

Entering ND Campus

So we used the time to go to the Costco that was located 6 miles from campus. We had previously planned to go after mass, but since we had the time we took advantage of it. We got a few food staples we know we wanted to take with us on the western rivers, and wanted to buy some more alcohol, but alas they are not allowed to sell it all on Sunday and could not complete that purchase.

We then drove back to campus and went to mass. It was very moving as the choir at this mass is the student choir and there were about 50 of them, including the musicians (playing violin, keyboard, organ, flute, etc.). But more inspiring was the place was full of students all of whom sang and participated enthusiastically in the mass. Afterwards we walked around the Basilica and was in awe at the beauty in the place.

Basilica

Basilica

ND Bascilica

Notre Dame Basilica

Ceiling in Mary's chapel

Ceiling in Mary’s chapel

Organ in Basilica

Organ in Basilica

We then walked the campus grounds including the “Grotto”; a replica of the one in Lourdes, France. Here there was an opportunity to light candles and pray in an outdoor setting. While we were there, no less than 10 people (mostly students) came to pray and light a candle (at $2 each) or just to pray.

Lourdes Grotto Replica

Lourdes Grotto Replica

We walked around to the Knute Rockne Memorial Building (really a terrific athletic facility for students) and saw the trophy cases with many of the memorabilia and tribute to all the athletics at ND.

Rockne Memorial Bldg

Rockne Memorial Bldg

We also drove around to see the stadium, but were not able to get close due to construction. They are expanding it and I am sure more folks will now be able to see “Touchdown Jesus” from their seats on Saturday afternoons.

Before leaving town we stopped by Bonefish Grill for a delicious late lunch/early dinner. It was our first chain restaurant (besides Panera) in many months!  We also did a drive through St. Mary’s College across the parkway from Notre Dame.

St Mary's sign

St Mary’s sign

Conference Center at St. Mary's

Conference Center at St. Mary’s

We then drove back to the marina and got Mark packed up and then on his way to spend the work-week at a client in Wisconsin.

Monday, (8/31) through Friday (9/4) – Michigan City, IN – Because Mark was away, not much adventuring was done. In fact, Denise spent most of the week doing boat chores. The list was long as we had been moving the boat so much there was little time to address some of the bigger cleaning needs since we left New York. In addition to doing laundry, Denise also polished all the wood inside and (most all) the stainless steel outside; cleaned & polished the refrigerator; vacuumed the entire boat, including under seat cushions; removed ink marks from the salon cushions; sewed up a hold in a pillow; ordered new boat cards and ordered a banner for the back of the boat. She also managed to get in 3 days of running and a bike ride to get a pedicure. Ah yes….and then she also cataloged more than 200 pictures that had been taken in the last few days.

Sculptures near river park

Sculptures near river park

On Monday night, many Looper boats came into the marina so we had a big group for docktails. In addition to our friends Terry & Lola (“Sunny Days”) whom we met in Pentwater, there was Eunice & John Wilcox (“Harmony”) whom we had met in Killarney; Ric & Kitty and their Kiwi friends (“Southern Comfort”) we locked with on the TSW; Larry & Flora (“Panda Bear”); Dave & Sue (MAÑANA); and Bill & Kellirae Boann (“Ocean Dancer”) who are starting their Loop adventure from here on Labor Day.

Looper Docktails

Looper Docktails

Our friends on TiKa left on Wednesday morning and headed to Chicago and then down the river. We hope to catch up with them later this month on the rivers when we both are back from our mutual travels back home.

On Friday afternoon Mark got safely back to the boat a little later than planned due to traffic around and out of Chicago. For dinner we grabbed some pizza (for the second time) from Tin City Pizza, located right at the marina. It was Chicago-style and was delicious so we didn’t mind eating it more than once!

Tin City Pizza

Tin City Pizza

Saturday (9/5) – Chicago, IL – We awoke in anticipation of leaving Michigan City and heading to Chicago. Finally, we would be getting off Lake Michigan. However, before we could finish breakfast the first of several thunderstorms rolled in and kept us on the dock. We spent the whole morning watching one squall line after another pop up and move over the southern part (only) of Lake Michigan, keeping us from moving. The rain was not the issue, it was the horrendous lightening. This was FL-style thunderstorms!

Finally, around 2:00 we got a break between storms and headed to Portage, Indiana where we had identified a cheap fuel stop at Marina Dunes. We had to wait 45 minutes just to get on the fuel dock; it is Labor Day weekend and all the boaters are on the water – especially now that the storms were clearing out.

Marina Dunes

Marina Dunes

Eventually we got fueled up and were on our way. It took us another 2 hours to make it through the Chicago Harbor and tie up to the slip at DuSable marina. In the process, we crossed into Illinois making this our 12th state.

Sunset over Chicago

Sunset over Chicago

As we entered the marina we passed by two yacht clubs (Chicago YC & Columbia YC), both had Looper boats in it that we knew. When we entered DuSable we saw lots of Looper flags and immediately spotted our friends Sid & Evelyn (“Something Special”). We stopped by their boat briefly to say hello and then we went off to go get dinner, making plans to connect with them again. We also ran into Loopers Kenny & Kathy (“No Zip Code”) whom we met originally in Deltaville, VA and saw along the Chesapeake, but had lost track of them since.

Some local boaters on our dock told us of a great hamburger joint, so we walked up the Riverwalk along the Chicago River and got a burger at Chicago Burger Company. It was delicious and hit the spot! We sat outside along the river and watched all the tour boats, private boats, kayaks and ferries coming and going. Many were heading out to the lake so they could watch the fireworks scheduled for later in the evening. It was pure Saturday night craziness.

Chicago Burger Co

Chicago Burger Co

Dinner at Chicago Burger Co

Dinner at Chicago Burger Co

Trump Tower

Trump Tower

Instead of going back to the boat right away, we adventured to the Navy Pier and see what it was all about. Neither of us had been here before, despite several trips to Chicago in the past. To us it was as commercial as ever and we felt it was just like Downtown Disney or Universal’s City Walk; complete with their own “Margaritatville” and “Bubba Gump Shrimp Co”. We took a few pictures, bought a magnet, and headed back to the boat.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

Skyline from Navy Pier

Skyline from Navy Pier

Chicago River & Skyline

Chicago River & Skyline

Shortly after 10:00 pm, the fireworks show started. Denise stayed up to watch, but Mark was tired and went to sleep. We were planning an early start tomorrow and he needed his “beauty rest”. The show was terrific and the reflection of the fireworks off the downtown buildings was spectacular. A perfect ending to a day that started so not-perfectly.

Fireworks

Fireworks

Sunday (9/6) – Chicago, IL to Joliet, IL – We originally wanted to leave the marina by 7:00 am, but changed our plans right away. We had wanted to go to mass on Saturday evening, but we got into the marina too late to make the Saturday evening mass at Holy Name Cathedral. However, they had a 7:00 am mass on Sunday. So we took a taxi as it was too far to walk, went to mass in one of the most beautiful churches we have been to thus far. The mass had no signing, and most of the attendees were local, although there were a few other tourists as well.

Holy Name Cathedral

Holy Name Cathedral

Holy Name Cathedral

Holy Name Cathedral

Pipe Organ - Holy Name Cathedral

Pipe Organ – Holy Name Cathedral

After mass we took a taxi back to the marina, but the driver was unable to get us as close as we wanted because of road closures; there was a Half Marathon race being run. We had to walk the last half mile to the marina, passing the Art Institute and enjoying the bike/running/walking path along the shoreline as a Chicagoan would at 8:00 on a Sunday morning.

Chicago Theater

Chicago Theater

Chick Fil A in downtown

Chick Fil A in downtown

Art Institute

Art Institute

Once back on the boat we untied the lines and left the marina with our first destination the Chicago lock. This is the gateway from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River and is a small drop down (4 ‘); a piece of cake after the locks of Lake Erie and the TSW!

Entering Chicago Lock

Entering Chicago Lock

Entering Chicago Lock

Entering Chicago Lock

Downtown Chicago from boat

Downtown Chicago from boat

Once we got through the lock we entered the river and had it almost all to ourselves. There were a few tour boats positioning for the start of their day, but almost no one else, and none of the craziness we witnessed the night before. The view was awesome and we were thrilled to be able to take our boat through the city. Cross another item off the “Bucket List”.

River tour boats

River tour boats

Sights along the river

Sights along the river

Wrigley Building

Wrigley Building

Parking solution

Parking solution

DSCN4097c

Merchandise Mart

Boeing Building

Boeing Building

Water Taxis

Water Taxis

Once out of the city, the river becomes very industrialized and very rural. For most of the day we encountered little traffic and enjoyed the ride, albeit at a slow (no wake) pace. We saw rowers and kayakers, and a few other small local pleasure craft.

Kayaking Chicago River

Kayaking Chicago River

Rowers in River

Rowers in River

Railway bridge - waiting

Railway bridge – waiting

Eventually we caught up to a familiar catamaran named “Sweet Sensation” – Loopers (Chris & Kevin) we met on the Hudson River in NY. They are a British couple who have friend Graham aboard. We had lost track of them in Peterborough, ON and only now got to see them again.

Shortly after this rendezvous, we approached a tug pushing several barges (generically known as “a tow”) and it was slow going after this. We were entering the “Fish Barrier” and there was no way to pass the tow. We had to wait for him to get through it, and then once we were through, we were able to pass him.

Negotiating between tows

Negotiating between tows

The “Fish Barrier” is an area in the river that is electrified and its intent is to keep the Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes. It is quite an interesting thing that PETA would probably have a cow about, but few people know their tax dollars are going to this. You can learn more about this interesting engineering marvel here.

Electric fish barrier sign

Electric fish barrier sign

Once past the fish barrier it took us 45 minutes to get to the Lockport Lock; a whopping 5 miles. There was some tow traffic and many barges that forced us into a no-wake situation. Once at the lock we had to wait 45 minutes for already full down-bound to go down, then the up-bound traffic, then we got to go in with “Sweet Sensation”.

In Lockport Lock

In Lockport Lock

Leaving Lockport Lock

Leaving Lockport Lock

The locks here are unlike any other locks we have experienced. They are HUGE as they are designed for commercial tows. The tows have priority, move slowly, and sometimes the barges they are hauling have to be broken apart to go through the locks, then reassembled once on the other side. This can mean lots of delays and it is difficult to plan on how long it will take to get anywhere. We had been warned of this and were concerned about making it to Peoria by Tuesday night. So, we went into contingency planning mode and identified a marina in Ottawa that can take us should we not make as far as we had planned.

Finally at 2:30 got through the lock and headed towards Joliet, IL a place we wanted to get past. However, we were hot (it was 93 degrees) and tired. We had been on the water since just after 8:00 am and the sun had cooked us all day long. To add to our decision we noticed that the tow that was in front of us at the Lockport Lock was now entering the next (Brandon Rd) lock which is just past Joliet. So we knew we would have to wait on him again, and we would still have to travel another 13 miles before we could a place to stay for the night. Since the wall at Joliet was free, it was an easy call. We pulled up to the wall at 3:00 and called it a day!

Tow passing the wall at Joliet

Tow passing the wall at Joliet

We are sure Joliet is a nice town, but we never really experienced any of it. We had been trying to connect with one of our old clients from the Chicago area who was considering driving to meet us for dinner, but we ended up cancelling that for good reason; all the non-fast food restaurants were closed on Sunday or closed earlier in the day. There was no place for us to go and it wasn’t worth his time to make the drive. The only thing really within walking distance was a Harrah’s Casino, but we were too tired to even consider that. So we ate leftovers on the boat, had a beer with Kevin & Chris (“Sweet Sensation”) and crashed very early. In fact, we were so tired it is the only place on the trip that Denise did not get a picture of our boat for the night.

Monday (9/7) –LABOR DAY – Joliet to Starved Rock Marina – Along with Loopers on Sweet Sensation and Southern Comfort, we left Joliet at 6:00 am and immediately got into the first lock (Brandon Rd).

Brandon Rd Lock

Brandon Rd Lock

Sweet Sensation leaving Brandon Rd Lock

Sweet Sensation leaving Brandon Rd Lock

This built our confidence and had us thinking that we would be able to make good progress through the Illinois River and get closer to Peoria. We were sorely disappointed when we had to stop at the Dresden Lock and wait; originally told it would be 2.5 – 3 hours ended up being 4 hours. We had to tie to a huge circular cement piling (called sills) designed for use by the tows which are very difficult to reach from the deck of a pleasure craft. There were only two places available, so we rafted Southern Comfort to us while Sweet Sensation tied to the other piling. It was hot and humid, but we were thankful for the cloud cover that stayed with us all day.

Dresden Lock

“Sweet Sensation” tied to a sill at Dresden Lock

Southern Comforted rafted alongside

Southern Comforted rafted alongside

Once through the lock we cruised down the Illinois River passing many pleasure boaters and jet skis. We were grateful that most of the tows were not around as it would have been even more treacherous navigating the narrow parts of the river. We also chuckled about all the “SPORES” on the water, and fully understood what our Looper friend John P (“Endeavour”) meant when he told us this term in Solomons, MD. (SPORES = Stupid People on Recreational Equipment).

Labor Day SPOREs

Labor Day SPOREs

Near Morris, IL

Near Morris, IL

We had made a decision that if we could get through the Marseilles Lock by 4:00 pm we would push ahead to Starved Rock marina and stay there for the night. This would give us about 15 miles advantage over staying in Ottawa; the typical Looper stop at this point. So we powered ahead of our other Looper friends, got to the Marseilles lock just as they were pushing out the first part of an up-bound split tow. This worked to our advantage as they were getting ready to lock down empty to get the second part of the split tow. As a result, there was no wait and we were all along in the lock, out of it by 3:30, and made our way through Ottawa.

Marseilles Lock

Marseilles Lock

In doing so we passed the town cemetery that was right along the water and had a statue of William D. Boyce,  founder of the Boy Scouts of America.

William D. Boyce statue - Founder BSA

William D. Boyce statue – Founder BSA

We then continued on for the next 10 miles until we made our way to Starved Rock marina as hoped. We also cancelled our contingency plan with the marina in Ottawa and it was likely that we would make Peoria on Tuesday.

Starved Rock Marina

Starved Rock Marina

Starved Rock Marina

Starved Rock Marina

After very refreshing showers and a well-deserved cocktail, we went to the restaurant that is located at the marina for a pretty decent affordable marina. This is definitely a “locals” place and it reminded us of our home marina (Harbortown) in Merritt Island and the restaurant/bar they have there.

Chotzche at Captains Cove

Tchotchke at Captains Cove

Wall at Captains Cove

Looper friendly wall at Captains Cove

Although some stay here, there were no Loopers to socialize with at the marina. But, we didn’t care as we were exhausted and wanted sleep more than anything. It had been another very long and hot day. Fortunately, there was cloud cover all day, and the rain was all around us but we never got any. Life is good!

IO at Starved Rock

IO at Starved Rock

Tuesday (9/8) –Starved Rock Marina to Peoria, IL – Learning from yesterday, at 6:00 am Denise immediately called the lockmaster at the next lock (Starved Rock Lock). As we only had one lock to go through today, we were hoping to get through it early and be on our way to Peoria. The Lockmaster advised he had two tows in front of us and therefore it would be at least 2.5 hours. He thought he would get us in around 9:00 and so we said we would be there by 8:30 and he said that would be fine. We left the marina just after 8:00 and cruised the 2 miles, passing two tows along the way; one underway and one waiting before the lock. When we called the lockmaster for tie-up instructions he advised it would be at least 2.5 hours wait and advised we tie to the sills on the dam side of the lock. Of course we were not happy about this as we could have stayed at the marina, but we didn’t complain and tied up as instructed.

Cleat on top of sills to tie to - Starved Rock Lock

Cleat on top of sills to tie to – Starved Rock Lock

Shortly after we arrived several other pleasure boats arrived, including a Fleming 55 (“Otter”) which we had heard about from our friends on TiKa. All of us were either tied to one of the sills or were motoring in place, which was fine for a while, but then the Army COE barge that was parked beside the dam needed to leave, we were asked to move out of the way. Of course all this happens about the time that the down-bound tow we passed previously started to approach the channel before the lock. It got very crowded and we watch the barge negotiate all around this. After they got out of the way, we called the lockmaster as to where we should be and he told us to tie back up where we were (which we did). The Lockmaster is in charge so it behooves you to do what he suggests as he can decide to not let you in the lock at all.

About the time we got retied to the sill, the skies opened up and a horrendous storm came through. We watched one of the boats that had decided to “motor in place” get blown all around until they got smart enough to tie to one of the sill walls. There is a saying in boating: “You are either the show or watching the show”. We all watched this guy and if it wasn’t dangerous, it would have been a hilarious comedy routine.

Finally, at 12:30 we were allowed into the lock with all the other pleasure boats. We had waiting 4 hours at the sill and 2 hours in our marina just to get through this lock. We were happy to leave it behind.

Starved Rock Lock & Dam

Starved Rock Lock & Dam

It took us another 3 hours to cruise down to Peoria where we had reservations at the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (aka “IVY”).

Illinois Valley Yacht Club

Illinois Valley Yacht Club

Once we were tied up and settled the boat, we were greeted by several other Loopers who advised of docktails at 5:30 on the yacht club Veranda. It was a long day of over 50 miles and a four-hour wait at the lock; we were ready for docktails. As the club (normally closed on Mondays) had been opened for the Labor Day holiday, they were closed this day. But, the Loopers have clout here, and so the restrooms and laundry facilities were unlocked (24/7) and we had run of the place. It is by far one of the nicest facilities we have stayed at and the bathrooms/shower facilities are now #2 on the list of favorites.

IVY Marina

IVY Marina

There were at least 5 other Looper-couples, none of whom we had met before. Additionally, the boats “Plane-2-Sea” and “TiKa” were in the marina, but their owners had left the boats for a few days.

Loopers Jim & Mo "Gemini"

Loopers Jim & Mo “Gemini”

After docktails, three of the couples walked up the street with us to “No Wake Zone”, the only local bar/restaurant near IVY. We happened upon “Trivia Night” (seems to be a mid-western bar craze) and our group joined in the fun while waiting for the food to arrive. Like in Charlevoix, we were not the winners, but we sure had fun guessing all the questions.

No Wake Zone Bar & Grill

No Wake Zone Bar & Grill

We ended the evening with good wishes for all to travel safely and hopeful we will catch up on the rivers in the coming days. But for us, tomorrow begs an early morning flight home and time to go celebrate our 26th wedding anniversary.

IO at IVY

IO at IVY

We will return to the boat on Sunday, September 13th. Stay tuned for more adventures.