The Captain loves ‘dropping the hook’, aka anchoring in some remote place where we’re unlikely to have any other boats for company or be disturbed by noises off from cars or trains, and there’s no chance he’ll be required to go shopping.
So this was what we did on our first night out of Peoria.
There was some industry here and there, and we passed lots of huge barges, pushed through the river by powerful tows. But overall the river was bordered by unspoiled woodland.
The ‘tows’ which manoeuvre the barges through the rivers Leaving Peoria Lock
Duck Island offered a pleasant refuge, after we had gone through the usual agonies of deciding where to anchor, dropping both the anchors, and then deciding that wasn’t such a good idea after all, lifting both anchors, restarting the engine, and moving the boat a few feet to another location deemed more satisfactory.
The anchorage at Duck Island, looking downstream
It was peaceful, but very hot. Cooking in the heat was a bit of a trial, especially after a week of simply ordering what I wanted from a menu, and waiting for someone to bring it to me.
6.45 seems an ideal time to wake up. The sun’s up, but not high or strong enough to be unpleasant, and there’s time for a cup of tea and a relaxed breakfast before the Captain wants to be on the move.
South of Duck Island, under a cloudless pale blue sky, we passed Liverpool Levee, separating the river from drained agricultural land to the west.
Travelling distorts your perception of time. Was it really only a week since we were on the flight from Newcastle? Only two weeks today since Book Group and lunch in York with my friends? And only three weeks since the Calligraphy class? The present life quickly becomes the new normal, however much you didn’t want to leave home, friends and family.
The barges on the river travel even more slowly than Carina does, which means we have to overtake them. The channel is quite narrow and there’s barely enough space to accommodate a big barge and a motor trawler. The Captain has to contact them on the radio and politely inform them that we’d like to pass, and could we have instructions. This is met with a terse response, ‘On the one.’ Or, ‘On the two.’ For some reason, this reminds me of ballroom dancing. Occasionally, further instruction is proffered. ‘Pass on my port side.’ But no passing the time of day, as you usually get with bridge controllers or lock-keepers.
Time for a selfie
We pressed on to Beardstown, 47 miles south of Duck Island. The current meant that Carina was making 7 knots, much faster than she had managed in the Great Lakes. There’s no dock there, but a limited number of boats can tie up at Logsdon’s Tug Service, and we were lucky to be able to squeeze Carina in.
Beardstown was described in the guide as a ‘lovely small town to explore……brimming with history’. Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor apparently, in the days when when Illinois was a rugged Frontier State, but it struck us as a rather sad and run down place, with shops shut and businesses closed, and not many people about.
But there was a grocery store. We stocked up with beer, wine and water at the Save-a-Lot.
We had a beer at the Riverfront Bar and Restaurant, on the next block to Logsdon’s, and went back there later for dinner. The owners seemed very pleased to see us as well as the few local people there. The food was basic American, lots of it and nicely cooked. We talked to the owner, who said that times were a bit tough. She’d petitioned the mayor about improving the facilities for boaters, like having a town dock. Such things do make a place more attractive to transient boats and must help to support local businesses.
The next day we managed another (for us) early start, and set off in the calm sunshine towards LaGrange Lock, where Fate was waiting for us once more.
One wouldn’t catastrophise. Of course, in a global sense, in the grand scheme of things, if you Looked at the Big Picture, or thought of all the people Much Worse Off Than You, it wasn’t a disaster at all.
It just felt like one at the time.
The Captain was pleased with himself, having overtaken a big barge, and having persuaded the lock keepers at LaGrange Locks to wait for us before they emptied the lock. Without that, we would have been delayed for hours, waiting for the barge to go through first.
We tied up on the left wall. The lock emptied. The gates opened. The other small craft on the right wall went through.
We cast off, and the captain tried to start the engine. It stalled. Repeat five times, until the realisation dawns that there’s Something Seriously Wrong and we are drifting about in the huge lock and the boat is out of control. I fend off with the boat hook to save Carina from bashing into the lock wall while Ian communicates to the US Army engineers manning the lock that we have a problem, compounded by the lack of signal on our cell phone, which means that we can’t call TowBoatUS, the rescue company we’re insured with. The immediate suspicion is that somehow, the transmission has failed and the clutch has burnt out. The differential diagnosis is a log or piece of debris jamming the prop, a frequent occurrence on our narrowboat trips, especially on the less salubrious canals in the north of England.
The lock keepers call TowBoat US for us, but we’re in deepest rural Illinois at this point, and they haven’t anyone within 80 miles of us.
They then call Logsdon’s where we’d been the previous night, to see if they could help. Logsdon’s said they would see if anyone could help, and get back to us.
The Lock-men were as anxious as we were to get us out of the way. At this point, we were preventing them from closing the lock and stopping other boats, including the all-important commercial barges, from passing up and down the waterway. In desperation Ian radioed all the boats were that had just left the lock, to ask if any of them could come back and tow us to a safe haven. To our great relief and immense gratitude, Gypsy, owned by Jim and Susan Merritt, turned around, came back 3 miles and towed us to somewhere where we could anchor. Susan then called Logsdon’s again for us and they said they could get someone to us by 4 o’clock.
But after multiple other phone calls on our behalf, Susan and Jim worked out that if they towed us, we could just about reach a place called Hardin 60 miles down the river, before it got dark. Hardin is a small town with a Riverfront restaurant which has its own dock where you can tie up and stay overnight. And if we got to Hardin, TowBoatUS would come for us in the morning and take us to Port Charles, where we could be sorted out. It was a plan.
On the way, Ian discovered the actual cause of the problem. The propellor was jammed, because one of the mid lines hadn’t been stowed properly, had fallen in the water and wound itself tightly round the prop.
A moment’s carelessness and negligence had caused huge inconvenience to other people as well as to us. That knowledge was perhaps harder to bear than mechanical failure and its attendant expense would have been.
We decided to not apportion blame, since neither of us could remember who had been in charge of the midline at the fateful moment of casting off from the lock wall. But we both still felt bad.
We got to Hardin after sunset and just as the light was fading. We took Susan and Jim out for dinner and contributed to the cost of the fuel used during our journey. But it really wasn’t enough to thank them for their kindness and generosity in coming to our aid and assistance.
The next day, TowBoatUS arrived promptly at 8 am with red lights flashing. They had seen it all before.
We were soon under way, and a few hours later, left the Illinois River and took a right into the Upper Mississippi and into Port Charles Harbor, where salvation was at hand, and where, as it turned out, we had a very jolly time.