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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Shortly thereafter, Clark & Evelyn (“Sea Moss”) showed up and joined us at our table.
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!
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.
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.
Other Pictures from Grafton or in the river near there:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Other sights from 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But sometimes we got to see other boats too!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!