Kaskaskia Lock to Paducah

Kaskaskia Lock to Paducah

We woke up early the next morning to cool, grey skies.

008 (2)Heading out of Kaskaskia

Heading out of Kaskaskia

It was my birthday. In the face of radio silence from the Captain, I decided to maintain a dignified silence of my own, while continuing to remain affable and exchange the usual pleasantries over breakfast.

Thanks to T-mobile’s patchy coverage, we had had no internet for a few days.

So I was feeling kind of lonesome. Magically, as soon as we got back on the Mississippi, the internet reappeared and I went on Facebook to find lots of lovely messages and emails from my friends and family. These included a couple of birthday videos which I couldn’t resist playing and of course the accompanying tune was unmistakable.

The Captain turned round.

‘What day is it?’

‘Wednesday.’

‘Yes, but what date?’

‘26th September.’

‘Oh b****r.’

He looked a bit contrite. I’ve taken a rain check on the meal in the expensive restaurant and something small and sparkly, or perhaps a better lens for my camera. Or both.

The sun did come out after a while, and by 2.30 we were safely anchored in Little Diversion, a small inlet off the main channel.

010 (2)Mile 100 looking upstream towards Chester

Looking upstream towards Chester

019 (2)Soulshine

Soulshine about to pass us on the two

025 (2)Outcrops at Mile 67

Outcrops at Mile 67

Anchored at Little Diversion

Birthday Prosecco

The Mississippi is very different from the other parts of the Loop that we’ve experienced so far. Unlike the Intracoastal Waterway, depth has so far not proved a problem. Although we’ve had to be wary of the tows with their big barges, which can’t stop or change their course within a quarter of a mile, and treat them with due respect, the wakes they generate pass within minutes and it’s not like crossing Lake Ontario or venturing out down Lake Michigan.

But the current is something else. Luckily we’re going in the right direction. It means Carina is managing 9.5 knots instead of her usual 6. But it also means you have to take that into account when anchoring or docking.

The River has a kind of turbulence with whirlpools and eddies everywhere. ‘Pretty, and menacing at the same time’ is the Captain’s verdict.

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Whirlpools behind us on the Mississippi

The banks are mainly enclosed by woodlands, so it’s hard to get a feel of the surrounding countryside. Just occasionally there’ll be a break in the woodland and we’ll be afforded a glimpse of what lies beyond the banks.

_MG_0005 (2)Gap int he woodland

Gap in the Woodland

Anchorages are few and far between, and marinas even less so, so the days have to be quite carefully planned. After leaving Port Charles on Sunday, we will have had 6 or possibly 7 nights at anchor, or on a wall with no access to any facilities. We won’t starve, but we might run out of milk or teabags. That might not qualify for disaster status, but it’s still a dismal prospect.

Turning into Boston Bar, our last anchorage on the Mississippi

On Friday morning we were fog-bound at Boston Bar, a few miles upstream from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The plan was to go up the Ohio River to an anchorage 27 miles upriver, with the aim of reaching civilisation at Paducah, Kentucky the following night.

But the timing was critical. Because we’d be going upstream against the current on the Ohio, we would only be making 3 knots. To get to the anchorage before dark, we needed to be away by 10.

There were two other boats moored a few yards away from us. At 8 o’clock we could barely make out their ghostly forms. By 10, visibility was better but not good enough to go. The last thing we wanted was to be suddenly confronted with an enormous barge bearing down on us out of the mist.

At 10.15 we decided to go, and the other two boats left shortly afterwards. Everyone has Paducah in their sights. There was a conversation on the radio about what people were running out of.

‘I gotta get to Paducah, I ran out of wine.’

‘I ran out of water, bread, coffee but I still got wine.’

‘Then I’ll be on your boat tonight.’

As we turned east into the Ohio River, the sky started to clear. The sun caught the boats and the river turned a swirling yellow. We still had Illinois to our left, but now it was Kentucky on our right.

Turning off the Mississippi

The Ohio seemed even busier than the Mississippi. There were tows and barges everywhere, lining both banks.

Barges on the Ohio River

A large vessel seemed to be making straight for us. It was American Queen, which we had seen tied up at St Louis. But we kept out of her way and passed her ‘on the one’.

American Queen on the Ohio River

The Ohio River is running  16’ above normal. We would normally have had to go through two Locks, Olmsted Lock and Lock 52. The water was so high that the locks weren’t operating – we just passed by the side of them, but there was a lot of turbulence as we did so. Olmsted Lock is in the process of being rebuilt.


Olmsted Lock and Happy Destiny passing us on the two

By 3 o’clock we had 9.5 miles to go. We had left the industry behind and the river had widened out so it was more like a lake, with attitude. We could see how high the river was – the trees in the Bank were partly submerged.

Trees partly submerged on the Ohio River

The Illinois Bank of the Ohio River

Near Paducah

So far we haven’t met any other Brits doing the Loop. But suddenly, a rather cultured English voice appeared on the radio, conversing with a tow and some of the other boats. We anchored 300 yards behind them at Bean Branch Creek, and Steve and Diane obligingly got into their RIB and joined us on Carina for a drink. Ian thought that getting into a small dinghy on the river was a bit hazardous, given the currents and eddies, but it turned out that Steve and Diane were experienced boaters, Steve having sailed across the Atlantic a few years ago, so the river probably seemed nothing to them.

The first people we met in Paducah were David and Wanda who we’d met at Kaskaskia Lock and who had overtaken us on Soulshine, with their Peace flag flying, a couple of days before. There was a party going on – the Paducah Barbecue Festival, a 3-day event, and we were lucky to get there for the last day. The Riverfront was lined with hundreds of gazebos selling street food as well as clothing and knicknacks. Loud music played and a boy was having a go on the Bucking Bronco to the sounds of Love Shack and the enjoyment of onlookers. For what seemed like a fairly small town, the crowds were enormous. John, the dockmaster, told us people come from all over West Kentucky and Southern Illinois.

 

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Riverfront BBQ Festival

Sweatshirt stall

Tupperware stall

There were quite a few charity stalls as well, and we stopped to look at a temporary aquarium which housed some of the many species of fish found in the Ohio River. The young man in charge explained that they had caught the fish the previous day by luring them into a trap with an electronic device which emitted waves at a soothing frequency. The next day they would release the fish back into the river. He pointed out the long-nosed gar, what he described as a living fossil, unchanged for 30 million years.

Long-nosed Gar

We had a wander round the town too.

Main St Paducah

Checking out the department store, Paducah

A door in Paducah

In the evening we had drinks with John and Janice from Toronto and it was interesting to hear Canadians’ view of their country.

 

John the dockmaster recommended the Gold Rush Cafe on Broadway for breakfast the next day, and as we had actually run out milk and couldn’t go shopping till the afternoon, this sounded a sensible plan. We had to wait half an hour for a table, but the breakfast was a real treat.

Ian was vacillating over whether to have the sausage patties or the link sausages. Our elderly waitress wasn’t slow to advise.

‘Ya know what? I know link sausages have the flavour, but, I don’t know….. I just don’t like that, ya know….. that casing.’

I knew just what she meant. He had the patties.

We wandered back to the boat. Paducah has had catastrophic flooding at various times and there is now a flood wall along the river front. On the side facing the town, murals have been painted depicting the town’s history from when it was first settled in 1821, to its role as a distribution hub, to the present day, and including a portrait of its most famous son, Alben Barkley, who was Vice-President to Harry S Truman.

Wall Painting in Paducah

Wall painting commemorating Paducah’s role as a hub for telecommunications in the region until switchboards were replaced by electronic computer switching system in 1979

 

As we wandered back to the boat, we came upon the Church on the River, and sat down some distance away. We spoke in whispers, even though we couldn’t possibly have been heard. The preacher was using ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story as the text for his sermon.

The Church on the River

His sincerity shone through, but he was followed by another man who spoke in a rather accusing tone and whose words seemed banal, and we moved on.

Fishing on the Ohio River

We went to the National Quilt Museum near the Riverfront. It was opened in 1991 to celebrate the work of modern quilters. The quilts were very varied in design, ranging from patterns based on historical designs, to very modern ones. The amount of thought that had gone into the design, the effort made to find just the right colours for the fabrics, and the skill involved in sewing the quilts were all awe-inspiring.

National Quilt Museum, Paducah

Cityscape by Lucretia Romey
Based on the Toronto skyline

Aletsch by Michael James: ‘a synthesis of sensory responses to a particular space: the vast mountainous basin in the Swiss Alps that enclosed the Aletsch Glacier’

Escapade by Libby Lehman

Adventure Awaits by Susan McCarty
Based on the Hobbit

Detail from Adventure Awaits

Later, John drove us to the Mall 7 miles away to stock up. He had been working all weekend and said he would take us after he finished at 2.30. While we were out, he was messaged to say other boats were coming in. He was still on the dock as the sun was going down, helping latecomers to dock their boats.

John on the Dock, Paducah

Carina at Paducah

6.30am, Paducah

We had an early start the next morning. The Captain was worried about getting away from the dock. We were sandwiched between two other boats, and the current would tend to push us back into the dock. As ever, other boaters came to our aid and gave us a good push in our bow to help us get away.

3 hours later we left the Ohio and turned into the lovely Cumberland River. The leaves are just beginning to show a tinge of yellow, and that, along with the cool mornings, gives a hint of Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

Port Charles Harbor to Kaskaskia Lock – tomorrow’s another day

Port Charles Harbor has a well-deserved reputation among boaters for its expertise and efficiency. They had Carina out of the water and the rope untangled from her prop in no time, although at no small expense.

There was a group of Loopers there who all had varying problems with their boats which the boatyard staff were in the process of sorting out. We quickly realised that others were in a much worse position than we were. That’s not meant in a schadenfreude sort of way, it’s meant in a be-thankful-for-small-mercies-and-always-count-your-blessings sort of way.

The atmosphere was a bit like an old-fashioned doctor’s waiting room, where people actually talked to each other, comparing symptoms.

‘What are you in for?’

‘Got towed in Tuesday. Some logs hit the prop.’

Another boat’s engine had got clogged up with mud, the result of following a second boat into a shallow marina. The second boat had run aground and churned up the silt while doing so.

We didn’t get to meet the owners of the boat that had managed to slice the top off its roof, passing under a low bridge.

This is the first time while we’ve been boating that we’ve been able to join in the camaraderie of the Great Loop. On our other trips, we’ve always been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but finally we’ve caught up with some of the rest of them. Jim and Susan, who rescued us from LaGrange, were also going to Port Charles to get work done on their boat, and helped us tie up on the dock. Shortly after arriving Jeanne appeared and invited us to docktails on the porch of the marina that evening.

Docktails is a Looper tradition which I’d read about in other people’s blogs, but never actually experienced. It was great to sit in the evening sun with a beer in our hands and exchange stories with Jim and Susan, Jeanne, Art, Sandy, Kevin, Rhonda, Rick, Ruth and Ed, who like me was a retired dentist.

The marina had a courtesy car and the next day we were able to stock up at Aldi, which proved a far less time consuming, frustrating and expensive exercise than going to one of the larger supermarkets. And the Captain could no longer postpone a visit to Bed Bath and Beyond, that haven for all things domestic, to buy some curtain rails.

When we bought Carina, all the windows had been fitted with narrow, white Venetian blinds. I’ve always been of the opinion that Venetian blinds should never have left Venice, being awkward to clean and, dare I say it, not adding anything to the aesthetics of a room. That’s just my personal opinion, of course. The ones on Carina had obviously been in use for some time when we bought her, and became progressively more discoloured with each trip. No amount of cleaning, which involved difficult Pilates-type stretches and contortions, seemed to make any difference to their sad and by now rather grimy appearance.

I had already replaced the bedroom blinds with curtains and these had improved the cosiness of the bedroom. Last time we were at home, I had bought more of the same fabric and made curtains and roller blinds for the cabin and galley.

Far from being impressed by my industry and creativity, the Captain appeared almost to resent the extra burden that fitting the curtain rods and blinds would place on his heavy schedule of Things to Fix. The curtains and blinds were a low priority, and were continually being displaced further downwards, as newer, more urgent problems, as well as routine maintenance, vied for his attention. The air conditioner suddenly stopped working, just as the ambient temperature peaked in the high nineties. (This sorted itself out, and was probably the result of the boat being lifted out of the water to have the rope removed from the prop). Then the shower pump wasn’t working, and diagnosing and treating this was a tedious process involving getting the dinghy out and paddling round to the drain hole to poke a piece of wire up it to try to dislodge whatever was blocking the pipe.

But there was no escape from B B & B and after some drama, the curtains were hung. A few days later, the blinds were installed. Result! Being able to see properly out of the windows has made the cabin feel much more spacious and airy.

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Carina’s new blinds

In the evening, the Loopers, who by this time had dubbed themselves ‘The Broken Boaters’ Club’ all went to the Yacht Club next door to the marina for dinner. The food was very good and the company even better.

The Broken Boaters Club – L to R, Ian, Jane, Ed, Ruth, Rhonda, Rick, Jeanne, Art, Jim, Susan, Sandy, Kevin

We decided to stay another day. The marina had organised a Fall party on the grassy area next to the river, with food and music, and amidst the country music and the rock’n’roll, the DJ inserted ‘In the Mood’, to which we managed a quickstep on the rough grass, in our sandals.

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Loopers at the party – Ian, Jim, Susan and Sherry

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Drinks in the evening sun

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Playing on the swing, Port Charles Harbor

Sunday was glorious and we said goodbye to Susan and Jim, hoping to meet them again further down the Loop.

_MG_0015 (2)leaving Port Charles Harbor

Leaving Port Charles Harbor

_MG_0016 (2)Upper Mississippi at Port Charles

Upper Mississippi River at Port Charles Harbor

_MG_0017 (2)Limestone outcrops near Portage des Sioux

Limestone outcrops near Portage des Sioux

_MG_0022 (2)Pelicans at 208.5 mile

Pelicans at Mile 208.5

The river widened out and we passed St Louis, its famous Gateway Arch  glittering in the sunlight. There’s nowhere to anchor and no marinas in St Louis, so we’ve had to pass on the sightseeing for now.

_MG_0024 (2)New Clark Highway fixed bridge

New Clark Highway Fixed Bridge, St Louis

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Gateway Arch, St Louis

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American Queen moored at St Louis

We anchored 20 miles downriver at Oakville. There wasn’t a problem getting the anchor to bite, but the wakes from the passing barges, and the loud bangs when floating logs hit Carina were quite disconcerting.There’s nothing like cooking dinner in a boat which is rocking about, and then having to have a lie-down because you feel too queasy to eat anything. Dinner wasn’t very appetising anyway, a concoction of pasta and leftover pork and half a tin of tomatoes, with a few carrots, onions and courgettes thrown in, and the cheap bottle of Chenin Blanc in the fridge had obviously been an aberration. It was repurposed the following night as a substitute for rice wine in a Chinese-style stir-fry.

But I did get a nice photo.

Moon River

The next day it was raining and misty, but not enough to deter the Captain’s impulse to move. He decided that we would call in at Hoppie’s, a few miles further down the river. Hoppie’s is a marina which consists of a few barges tied together where you can moor for the night and get fuel.

The Captain thought we should get more fuel. Fog had descended on the river too, which was another good reason to stop. There was very little space in which to manoeuvre the boat, and a tricky eddy round the dock made it even more difficult. Even with the help of five other Loopers who magically appeared from their boats, Carina sustained a bump on her port side, fortunately not a serious one.

It seemed that we might be at Hoppie’s for a while, as the fog closed in. But we’d seen pictures on Facebook of enormous apple pies that could be procured from a nearby establishment, so this was a possible opportunity, rather than a snag in our plans. Gene, one of the Loopers, assured us that the nearby community was within walking distance, if we wanted to get off the boat and have a look around. He then said but unfortunately, everything would be closed.

I wondered if it was a public holiday.

‘No, it’s Monday.’

Eventually the fog lifted, and the boat sitting on the fuel dock decided it was safe to go, so we got some fuel and set off again, down Ol’ Man River, Illinois to our left and Missouri to our right. We haven’t seen any bridges, road or rail, since St Louis, 30 miles to the north.

002 (2)Kaskaskia Lock

Arriving at Kaskaskia Lock with thunderclouds above us

Our next stop was on a wall at Kaskaskia Lock, close to where the Kaskaskia River joins the Mississippi. There are no facilities, and you’re not allowed to trespass on the US Army Corps of Engineers property. As we arrived, the Loopers who had helped us dock at Hoppie’s were there to take our lines. They already had a table and chairs set up on the dock, so we got our chairs and a couple of beers and joined them. We were only slightly trespassing on US Army property.

002 (2)At Kaskaskia

Moored on the wall at Kaskaskia Lock

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Don’t mess with us

The weather forecast for Tuesday wasn’t good. Severe thunderstorms with hailstones were a possibility. We decided rather than tempt fate once more, we would stay put another night on the lock, although all the other Loopers set off.

Although there were threatening clouds on the horizon everywhere we looked, apart from a short burst of heavy rain in the late morning, we spent the day doing little jobs on the boat under the baking sun.

Later in the day, more boats arrived so we had company in the evening. It’s interesting and sometimes awe-inspiring to hear about other people’s experiences, especially when they are intrepid boaters like Tom and Dorothy, who had sailed across the Atlantic, the west coast of Ireland and Scotland, into Scandinavia as well as the coast of Chile.

As we were going to bed, the rain started and we slept to the sounds of the rain hammering down on Carina’s roof and windows.

Peoria to Port Charles Harbor – News of Fresh Disasters and the Kindness of Strangers

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.

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Setting off from Peoria

McCluggage Bridge

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

014 (2)Industry at Havana

Near Havana

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

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. 

Angie Gold in the evening light

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. 

Liverpool Levee

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.  

010 (2)Jeff Boat, Mile 137

Overtaking Jeff Boat

Near Liverpool

Quiver Beach

Quiver Beach

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.

Docking at Beardstown

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. 

Main St, Beardstown

The Park

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The gas station

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. 

Enjoying a beer in the Riverfront Bar and Restaurant

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. 

Approaching LaGrange Lock

LaGrange Lock

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. 

Gypsy leading the way

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Lashing Gypsy and Carina together before the 60-mile tow. Photo Susan Merritt

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.

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The light fading near Hardin

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. 

Going to the restaurant with Susan and Jim

014 (2)Riverdock Restaurant Hardin
The Illinois Riverdock Restaurant

The next day, TowBoatUS arrived promptly at 8 am with red lights flashing. They had seen it all before. 

TowBoatUS arriving Photo Susan Merritt

015 (2)Early morning, Hardin

Carina and Gypsy in the early morning

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Ian, Susan and Jim

Carina leaving Hardin Photo Susan Merritt

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.

024 (2)First view of Upper Mississippi

On the Upper Mississippi River

Back on Central Time

‘So how did you get to know each other?’

This seemed an unusual opening gambit for the security person at Heathrow to adopt.

I put on a stern look and replied that we had been married for 48 years. I thought further explanation unnecessary, and so apparently did she, or perhaps, from the vantage point of youth, she imagined that the detail had been lost in the mists of time.

‘We have to ask.’

I thought it was pointless to ask why they had to ask, as the reasons were unlikely to be forthcoming, so just nodded pleasantly and proceeded to Gate 16, Terminal 3, Heathrow Airport, for our flight back to Chicago.

Oh the disappointment when you find out you’re not flying with your favourite airline. We had booked with British Airways. We flew with American Airlines.

But it was alright. The food was no worse and no less plentiful than BA food, the cabin crew were nice, and we had a can each of Sam Adams Octoberfest with lunch, just to get back into the American vibe.

I feel almost as though we live in America as well as Britain now, even though we have only a floating, very small home here. I was looking forward to being in Chicago again, and a night out at the Green Mill Bar, one of Al Capone’s hang-outs, although the Chicago Cellar Boys were due to start performing at 9pm Central Time, which was 3am the next day British time, and we had got up at 5am to get the flight from Newcastle, so it was going to be a rather long day.

We checked in at Ray’s Bucktown B&B and after a little lie down and a bath, were sufficiently revived to go out to eat. We debated whether we had the energy to go on to Green Mill, finally deciding that the chance might not come again for quite some time, so we got an Uber and arrived just in time to get a seat at the bar before the band came on. We were glad we’d made the effort. They were superb, playing 20’s and 30’s hot jazz and it was a great start to this trip.

At the B&B, we had a warm welcome from Ray and his staff, despite the unpromising, and possibly even ageist, strapline, ‘not your parents’ B&B’. Maybe we don’t look that old. Or maybe we do, but they didn’t mind.

Ray’s day job had been professional photography and the house was full of his images and other art works. The ceiling light shades were those sort of umbrella thingies professional photographers use to diffuse the light.

Breakfast was from another world and I feasted on fluffy wholewheat blueberry & banana pancakes with a side of hickory smoked bacon, with fresh fruit and coffee.

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Ray’s Bucktown B&B, 2144 N Leavitt St, Chicago

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The front desk at Ray’s

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The lounge area

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Dining area

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Ray at his desk

The next day we got the hire car and drove down to Peoria. We’ve hired cars so many times now from Enterprise that Ian is always treated as a highly valued customer. But perhaps they do that anyway. Before we left I had time for a little wander down N Leavitt St.

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Houses on N Leavitt St

 

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Walking to School, N Leavitt St

 

Chicago skyline from the I-90

The sun was shining and as we drove through the Illinois countryside we noticed several places which we’d passed through on Carina last year.

Cornfield in Illinois

Rest area, Blue Star Memorial Highway, Illinois

But we were in for an unpleasant shock.

Carina had been in storage for a year, so I was expecting a few dead flies, some dust and possibly bits of mould here and there. But this time, it was obvious that Carina had been visited by members of the rodent population.

They had had a ball. They had attacked a roll of kitchen paper in one of the cupboards and scattered chewed up bits of paper over the contents of the cupboard, which all had to be disposed of. When I discovered they also had gone into the drawer where I keep my kitchen implements and devoured most of two wooden spoons, I had a fit of the vapours. There was evidence of their activity elsewhere on the boat.

We did as much as we could, and the next day got up at 5.30, drove to the nearest Walmart and spent $70 on industrial quantities of bleach, rubber gloves, washing up liquid, assorted cloths and scrubbers, and carpet cleaner. The lady at the checkout hoped we’d have a wonderful day. That seemed a far-fetched possibility, but we managed to smile and thank her anyway.

The disinfection process involved removing every single thing from every single cupboard and drawer, vacuuming each cupboard and drawer, wiping each cupboard and drawer with hypochlorite solution, and replacing the wipeable plastic liners.

Everything that had been removed from cupboards and drawers was divided between not salvageable (ie visibly contaminated or chewed) and salvageable (everything else).

Every single pot, pan, plate, dish, mug, knife, fork and spoon, cooking implement, was steeped in a bucket of hypochlorite for 10 minutes then washed and dried.

This process took some considerable time and we had to spend an extra two nights in the hotel before Carina was habitable, and extend the car hire to accommodate multiple trips to Walmart and the launderette.

But this had an upside, as we were able to observe and participate in Peoria’s nightlife. On Friday night we were lucky to get a table at the Rhythm Kitchen Music Cafe. The live music wasn’t jazz, as we had expected, but the Bogside Zukes, playing, unsurprisingly, Irish music with great energy and enthusiasm. The food was out of New Orleans and delicious. At the front desk, the owner greeted everyone like old friends, and the people at the next table struck up a conversation with us, so the atmosphere was more like a party than a restaurant.

The Bogside Zukes

The next night we were recommended to try Alexander’s Steakhouse on the Peoria Riverfront. The menu was simple – various steaks, with baked potatoes or fries and Texas Toast, and whatever you wanted from the salad bar. You could share a steak and just pay for the sides, so we shared a superb top sirloin and had plenty. Something we haven’t got used to is how early people eat in America. We were the last to leave, and it was only half past nine.

Reality dawned. With Carina habitable once more,we had to leave the hotel, return the hire car, and I was back to cooking dinner on the boat.

We left Peoria in the late morning, after a final flurry with the mop and bleach and the upholstery shampoo. We were both a little nervous at the prospect of moving the boat after more than a year’s absence, but the Captain made a neat job of reversing Carina out of her slip and through the narrow exit from the marina into the Illinois River, and I found I could remember how to tie a bowline after all.

001 (2)Leaving Peoria

Leaving Peoria

Chicago Reprise

Having not actually disembarked in Chicago last year, we had unfinished business.

So in May this year we took a few days out from a visit to the family in Virginia to see all the things we had meant to see the first time around.

I had read Nancy Horan’s book Loving Frank, the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s ill-fated affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, and I wanted to see Oak Park where they both lived and where FLW designed and built many houses. The Unity Temple, the commission which established his reputation, is also in Oak Park.

So we stayed in Tom and Grace’s B&B in Oak Park itself and immersed ourselves in all things Frank Lloyd Wright.

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Tom and Grace’s B&B in Oak Park

The Unity Temple was commissioned in 1905 after the Unity Church burned down. The Minister, Rodney Johonnot, wanted a building which would reflect the values of  unity, truth, beauty, simplicity, freedom and reason. Frank Lloyd Wright had spent some time in Japan, and his work shows the influence of Japanese architecture and style.

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The following day we took the ‘L’ from Oak Park into Chicago downtown.

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Back street, Oak Park

 

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And got off at Quincy St

_MG_0053 (2)Quincey St L Station

Quincy St ‘L’ station

_MG_0054 (2)S Financial Place

S. Financial Place

_MG_0056 (2)Atrium, The Rookery

The Atrium of the Rookery, designed by FLW

_MG_0058 (2)Atrium, the Rookery

Roof of the Rookery Atrium

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Lobby of the Chicago Board of Trade Building

_MG_0061 (2)Chicago Board of Trade Building

Close-up in the lobby

_MG_0064 (2)S. Michigan Avenue

S Michigan Avenue

_MG_0062 (2)Chicago Institute of Art

Chicago Institute of Art, S Michigan Avenue

_MG_0066 (2)S. Michigan Avenue

S Michigan Avenue, looking south

_MG_0069 (2)Looking north across millennium Park

Looking north across Millennium Park

_MG_0073 (2)Henry Moore in Millennium Park

Henry Moore in Millennium Park

_MG_0074 (2)Millennium Park

Millennium Park

_MG_0075 (2)Millennium Park

Millennium Park

_MG_0082 (2)Cloudgate

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor

DSCN1623 (2)Cloudscape

Doing the tourist thing, reflected in Cloud Gate

_MG_0079 (2)Cloudgate

Inside Cloud Gate

_MG_0081 (2)Cloudgate

_MG_0085 (2)Modern American Decorative Arts, Chicago Institute of Art

Modern Decorative Arts at the Chicago Institute of Art

The next day we went out in the cold and rain to see as many of the FLW houses in Oak Park as we could.

_MG_0086 (2)William E Martin house, 636 N East Avenue, Oak Park

William E. Martin House, 636 N East Avenue, Oak Park, Illinois

_MG_0087 (2)Edwin H Cheney House,520 N East Avenue

Edwin H. Cheney House, 520 N East Avenue

_MG_0090 (2)Nathan G Moore House, 333N Forest Avenue

Nathan G. Moore House, 333 N East Avenue

_MG_0091 (2)A front garden, Oak Park

Someone’s front garden in Oak Park

IMG_3572 (2)Frank Lloyd Wright studio and home

Outside FLW Home & Studio

IMG_3574 (2)Frank Lloyd Wright studio and home

FLW Home & Studio

IMG_3575 (2)Arthur Huertly House, 318 N Forest Ave

Arthur Huertly House, 318 N Forest Drive

IMG_3576 (2)Peter A Beachy House,238 N forest Drive

Peter A. Beachy House, 238 N Forest Drive

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Frank W Thomas House, 210 N Forest Drive

By lunch time I was colder and wetter than I had been at any time since my youth hostelling days, and had to be revived with blueberry pancakes with a side of bacon at George’s Family Restaurant on S Oak Park Drive.

The following day we took the L and then a bus to get to Hyde Park, home to the Obamas, and the University of Chicago. It’s also the location of the Robie House, considered the epitome of FLW’s Prairie style. Unfortunately it was raining heavily by this time,  so rather difficult to capture an image.

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The Robie House in the rain

_MG_0095 (2)Robie House, Hyde Park

Windows in the Robie House

FLW adopted a rather dictatorial attitude towards his clients. Furnishings had to comply with his prairie palette of colours, and his clients had to have furniture not only designed by him, but placed in specific locations in the rooms. Unfortunately for them, he was more interested in style than comfort.

_MG_0096 (2)Robie House

Chairs in the Robie House

DSCN1657 (2)showewr in the Robie House

The shower in the Robie house. Water spurted out at several levels.

The cold, damp and misty weather meant that several things that we wanted to do, such as having a drink in the Skydeck on the Willis Tower, and hiring bikes to ride up the Lakeshore Trail, had to be abandoned, and indoor pursuits sought instead.

We took the L back towards Oak Park and stopped off at the Garfield Park Conservatory. The Garfield Park neighbourhood is apparently notorious, but the Conservatory is stunning.

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Garfield Park Conservatory

 

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IMG_3582 (2)Garfield Conservatory

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Michigan City to Chicago and on to Peoria

 

Chicago to Peoria

Chicago to Peoria

Just when you imagine that you’ve got the knack of this boating business, and that nothing could possibly go wrong, events prove otherwise.

IMG_0008Approaching Chicago

Approaching Chicago

IMG_0017Approaching Chicago

 

IMG_0019Monroe Harbor, Chicago

Monroe Harbor, Chicago

As we got closer to Chicago and the skyline loomed stark against the grey clouds that were building up, I thought about all the wild, beautiful places we had seen on this part of the trip – the wilderness of the North Channel, the beauty of Grand Traverse Bay, the dunes and the attractive towns and villages we had visited along Lake Michigan’s Eastern shore.

But approaching a great city from the water moved me in a quite different way, as I thought of all the history, the struggles and endeavours of past and present generations that any big city represents.

These lofty thoughts quickly dispersed when we had to address the practicality of mooring Carina in Monroe Harbor. I was already feeling queasy from taking photographs with Carina rocking about in the increasing swell. We had pre-booked a mooring – H19. It wasn’t easy to read the small numbers on the balls, but we found it. Ian brought Carina round into the wind and I grabbed the eye of the ball with the boat hook, expecting the ball to lift out of the water so I could attach a line. But nothing happened and with Carina being blown backwards, it took all my strength to keep my grip on the boat hook. Ian came down but there was no way we could reach down 8 feet to get a line attached. To add to the drama, Ian sustained a deep 2-inch gash to his thumb from something sharp on the boat hook, and this had to be quickly dressed before he could radio  for help. The harbourmaster very obligingly came out straight away, took a line off us and attached it to the ball. He reassured us that it wasn’t our fault – our foredeck was simply too high above the water to reach down. We later learned that there are little ‘hats’ which fit over the mooring balls and which make the operation easier, but you have to reserve them in advance. And also that we could have done it from the swim platform at the back of the boat, if the dinghy hadn’t been restricting our access.

The plan for the evening had been to get a water taxi and go for dinner at the Chicago Yacht Club. But Monroe Harbour is quite open to the lake, and the harbourmaster had told us there was a storm coming. The waves had been steadily increasing as we approached Chicago, but I had hardly noticed, amid the stress over the mooring ball and the lacerated thumb.

But as soon as we were safe, and the engine turned off, I realised that I really felt quite ill and spent the rest of the evening lying in my darkened cabin, while Ian got his own dinner. I  was able though to emerge at nightfall for a few minutes to take some more photographs.

IMG_0022Evening, Monroe Harbor

Monroe Harbor, Chicago

IMG_0026nighttime

The next morning, the wind had changed direction, all was calm, and the sun came out.

We had already decided that we would press on to Peoria where we were going to leave the boat till next year, and save the Chicago sight- seeing till we come back next Spring. It was only a short distance to the Chicago Lock and the start of the Sanitary and Ship Canal.

IMG_0029Monroe Harbour

Monroe Harbor, Chicago

IMG_0031Monroe Harbour

Monroe Harbor, Chicago

 

IMG_0032Monroe Harbor

IMG_0034Near the lock

IMG_0033Monroe Harbour

Chicago Lock

Start of the Sanitary and Ship Canal

Leaving Chicago Lock

It wasn’t long before we left the glitzy high-rise and passed through the outer industrial areas.

Amtrak Railroad Lift Bridge

Graffiti

Sand and gravel

We were completely unprepared for the size of the industrial barges, which are a frequent sight. There was no doubt about who had right of way. How the captains actually steer the things remained a mystery.Barge

Handling the boat in the locks wasn’t a problem. There are large bollards which move down as the boat goes down, and it was easy to just place the midline around it. But pleasure craft play second fiddle to all the commercial boats and we had lengthy waits in places.

Lockport Lock

Lockport Lock was built in 1910 to control the flow of water from Lake Michigan and the Sanitary & Ship Canal into the Des Plaines River.

At one point, not far from Joliet where we planned to tie up, we heard a coastguard announcement over the radio to the effect that a fish barrier was in operation, and the river would be closed for three hours, until 6 o’clock. The fish barrier passes electric current through the water and repels the fish, and prevents Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan. We had no choice but to tie up against a high, rough concrete wall, and lassoing the cleat was certainly more of a challenge than managing the bollards in the locks.

In the event, we didn’t have to wait till 6 o’clock before they let us go through, and got to Joliet well before dark. A fellow-boater called Don helped us tie up on the town dock wall, where there was even free electricity.

Evening sun, Joliet

Don said we should stay another day, because the next night there was going to be a concert in the park, followed by a firework display. We ‘d had three hard days of travel since leaving St Joseph, so we didn’t need a lot of persuading to have a break. The following afternoon, we thought we would have a look at Joliet downtown, across the bridge from the mooring. Although there were lots of people driving round in cars, there was no-one actually walking on the streets. The absence of other people was slightly unnerving, and as there was an absence of coffee shops as well, we turned round and had a cup of tea and a cookie on the boat instead.

People did come out for the fireworks though, setting out chairs in the riverside park next to the dock. We had a great view from the boat.

IMG_0005Joliet

Fireworks at Joliet

IMG_0020Firework

IMG_0021Firework

IMG_0039Firework

IMG_0045Firework

South of Joliet, the Des Plaines River meets the Kankakee River to form the Illinois River, widening out and running alongside a series of lakes. There were still locks to contend with.

IMG_0047Brandon Lock

Brandon Lock

IMG_0051McKinley IslandDEs Plaines River

McKinley Island Des Plaines River

After a few nights in marinas and on the town wall at Joliet, it was time for a quiet anchorage at Sugar Island.

IMG_0053Mooring at Sugar Island

Evening at the anchorage at Sugar Island

The next morning I woke up very early and took a few more photographs.

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Early morning Sugar Island

IMG_0007Sugar Island

A few minutes later

Looking north, a fine shaft of sunlight gradually lit up the water.

IMG_0008Sugar Island

Early Morning Sugar Island

Our next stop was Ottawa, but a few miles before we got there we had to negotiate Marseilles Lock. This was not difficult in itself, but a very large barge travelling north had got there before us. There were so many barges linked together that it couldn’t all fit into the lock at the same time. So half of it came up  first, and waited at the top of the lock. The sensible thing would have been for the lockmaster to tell the barges to move forward enough to let the pleasure craft get into the lock and go down, while it was being emptied. But he didn’t, and left us, and several other boats, waiting in the pound while the lock emptied and the rest of the barge came up. Having initially been told our wait would be 20 minutes, we actually waited over two hours.

IMG_0022Marseille Lock

Waiting at Marseilles Lock with the barges blocking our access

But Heritage Harbor Marina at Ottawa was very nice. Jeremy, the harbor master, was helpful and friendly, we used the courtesy car to go to the laundromat and do the shopping, and then we had a swim in the pool. Then we had a nice meal at the Red Dog Grille, in the marina grounds. On the way back to the boat we chatted to Frank, one of the local boat owners. He commiserated over our experience with Marseilles Lock, which is apparently notorious.

IMG_0025Leaving Heritage Harbor Ottawa

Leaving Heritage Harbor Ottawa

IMG_0026Illinois River nezr Ottawa

Illinois River near Ottawa

IMG_0028Abraham Lincoln MemorialBridge JonesvilleIL

Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge, Jonesville

There was still some industry here and there.

IMG_0029Barge being unloaded at Hennepin Power Station

Barge being unloaded at Hennepin Power Station

Our last night before reaching Peoria was at Henry Island. We had decided by this time we would fly to Virginia from Chicago to see the family again, and needed good wifi to book the tickets. We had to find a cafe where we could avail ourselves. The only place that seemed suitable was Hennepin, where apparently there was a wall where you could tie up. The only snag was that having tied up, it was quite a step up to the top of the wall, and then you had to scale a two-bar metal fence with very unfavourable curvature, to access the town.  Spratt’s Tap was the first establishment we came to, and I felt after my fence-climbing efforts I needed and deserved a beer, though Ian stuck to lemonade. For some reason the laptop wouldn’t connect to the guest wifi, and after a very frustrating and stressful hour spent trying to book the tickets on my phone, Ian had to ask the owner if we could possibly use the private wifi. No problem, he said, another of the many kindnesses we have been shown on this trip.

IMG_0032Leaving Henry Island

Leaving Henry Island

Henry Island was a beautiful place for our last anchorage. The next day we reached National Marine at Peoria and spent a day packing everything up before leaving for Chicago. We’ll be back in the spring of 2018 to continue our journey south on the rivers.

 

 

 

 

Saugatuck, St Joseph and Michigan City

Saugatuck to Michigan City

Saugatuck to Michigan City

Saugatuck was not quite like the other harbours we had stayed in. Rather than the approach being along a short, straight channel, the village is a mile from Lake Michigan, and you pass along the gently curving Kalamazoo River, surrounded by wooded hills before you reach Saugatuck itself, and then the river opens out into the expanse of Kalamazoo Lake. Originally a lumber town, Saugatuck re-invented itself as an artists’ colony and tourist destination. One of the restaurants boasts of being one of Hemingway’s favourite hang-outs.

We chose to stay at Tower Marine, which is on the opposite side of the lake from Saugatuck itself, in Douglas, mainly because of the swimming pool, which we even got to use, despite some stormy weather. The marina was well-run and attractively landscaped.

IMG_0027swimming pool and garden, tower marine

Swimming pool and rock garden, Tower Marine

IMG_0026water lilies

Water Lilies

Saugatuck/Douglas has two excellent public transport facilities. One is the famous Saugatuck Chain Ferry, which crosses the river, and the other is the Inter-urban Bus. You ring up the bus and tell it where you want to go, and in no time it appears. We used it a couple of times to get back from the supermarket, and from Saugatuck back to the marina.

We walked from the marina down to the ferry to go across to Saugatuck.

IMG_0001On the Chain Ferry

On the Chain Ferry

IMG_0006Chain Ferry

Chain Ferry

The walk turned out to be rather longer than we had anticipated, and we were in need of coffee. The nearest place was Ida Red’s Cottage, which Kim had recommended, but it was full and there was a long queue of people waiting for tables. Then Ian noticed a sign saying that there was no queue for seats at the bar – it was first come first served. There were two seats, so we took them. We had already eaten breakfast on the boat, but when we saw what everyone else was having, we thought we would have some too – waffle and eggs for Ian, and amazing blueberry pancakes for me.

IMG_0004Ida Red's

Ida Red’s Cottage

 

A small park in Saugatuck

The Christian Science Church, Saugatuck

Butler St

A small memorial garden on Butler St

Butler St

Inter-urban bus stop and Information Centre

The bus

Baldhead Mountain sounded like an irresistible challenge, even if in reality it was only a big sand dune. But you do have to climb 282 steps to get to the top of it. We cycled to the steps and toiled to the top, where there was a good view of Saugatuck and Kalamazoo Lake, but surprisingly not of Lake Michigan, which was obscured by trees.

The stairs to Baldhead Mountain

Saugatuck from Baldhead Mountain

Opposite the steps is the old Saugatuck Pump House, now a museum.

Saugatuck Pump House

Saugatuck from the Pump House

Riverside Garden at the Pump House

We cycled half a mile over the peninsula to Oval Beach.

Oval Beach, Lake Michigan

We left very early the next morning, with heavy, threatening thunder clouds to the north of us. But I was assured that they weren’t coming our way, and we got to St Joseph in bright sunshine.

Leaving Saugatuck

West Basin Marina, St Joseph

We don’t often have days when we do nothing boat -related, or  that doesn’t involve chores like grocery shopping or laundry. But we took a day off in St Joseph, and it felt like being on holiday. The marina was a couple of miles from downtown St Joseph, and Justin, one of the dockhands, would take us there and bring us back when we summoned him.

He dropped us off at the Maids of the Mist Fountain, at the end of Bluff Park, which is a half-mile long linear park which overlooks Lake Michigan and the site of the Silver Beach Amusement Park, which operated between 1891 and 1971 and was one of Michigan’s biggest tourist attractions, with rollercoasters, carousels and a dance hall.

IMG_0002Maid of the Mist

Maids of the Mist

Maids of the Mist was made for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1873, and brought to St Joseph in 1892 after being purchased by a St Joseph businessman.

IMG_0003View from Bluff Park

View from Bluff Park, overlooking the site of Silver Beach Amusement Park

We walked to the end of Bluff Park, past a series of War Memorials dedicated to the memory of all those American citizens who lost their lives in  20th century conflicts.

IMG_0008 1st World War Memorial

First World War Memorial

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Second World War

At the end of Bluff Park we turned towards the town and a couple of blocks later, came upon some seniors demonstrating outside the office of Fred Upton, their Republican Senator.

IMG_0011Seniors protesting

Seniors protesting

IMG_0013Charles Porter

It was Election Day in St Joseph. A few blocks further up the street, we talked to Al DiBrito, who was hoping to be elected to one of the 3 posts of City Commissioner.

IMG_0014Election

Al DiBrito

It later transpired that he didn’t get in, which seemed a shame. He had appeared like a nice guy.

IMG_0017State St

State Street

We wandered round the tree-lined streets and decided to have lunch at  Caffe Tosi, where we also found some rather good pear and almond tarts to take back to the boat.

IMG_0018Caffe Tosi

Caffe Tosi

The marina was only 5 minutes’ walk from the lake shore, so after Justin had picked us up and brought us back, we sat on Tiscornia Beach for a couple of hours.

IMG_0024Tiscornia Beach

Tiscornia Beach

IMG_0025Tiscornia Beach

Tiscornia Beach

We were only two days away from Chicago. We stopped at Michigan City, Indiana, and I was surprised to see that the clock said it was 6.30 and my phone said it was 5.30.  At some unspecified point on Lake Michigan, we had unknowingly crossed into Central Time, and it felt strange, like stepping into another country.

We needed groceries and the nearest store was over 3 miles away, too far to bike. There were no Uber cars available. A taxi would take 20 minutes to arrive. After three-quarters of an hour we were still waiting in the marina forecourt, and a very kind fellow-boater gave us a lift to the store in her car. Fortunately, by the time we’d finished the shopping, the run on the taxis had eased and one came straight away to take us back to the boat.

IMG_0030St Joseph Light house

St Joseph Lighthouse

The following day, we left for Chicago.