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.

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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