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

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.

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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

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A few minutes later

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

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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.