Chicago to Alton – The Illinois River

Friday, September 7, 2018:

I checked every weather report known on the internet, phone apps, and NOAA VHF broadcast. There were conflicting reports between the point forecast showing one foot waves and others touting three building to four in the afternoon.  We had quite a discussion over whether to go or not.  I did not want a repeat of our experiences in Charlotte Harbor, The Potomac, or recently in Lake Michigan.  The last way and probably the best way to check the weather is to look out the window.  I walked the dock to see over the breakwater.  The waves were crashing over the wall, but not nearly as bad as the day before.  It was overcast with scattered showers and the wind was out of the east-northeast at 13 knots and gusting higher.  Around 0830 we heard from Mark aboard Antonia docked at DuSable and he said he could see a boat out beyond the breakwater that appeared to be stable in calm water.  We were ready to get to Chicago and be done with Lake Michigan, so that ended the debate.  In spite of the small craft warnings and with the full knowledge of the rough conditions we knew we would encounter, we started preparing to shove off for the 15.6 mile trek.  We retrieved our lines from the cleats and before I could get backed out of the slip, the wind was already turning us toward the sailboat tied next to us.  I put it in forward and brought the stern around with a quick blast and then backed out quickly.  I had plenty of room to reverse with nothing back there but the floating casino.  It was windy, but with the techniques I learned from Captain Billy back in Ft. Myers, I got her headed in the right direction.  We pulled alongside the fuel dock and Jane handed off the key card to the attendant.  Once we got out of the protection of the marina, the waves were coming from the northeast as expected.  It was rough but the spacing between the waves helped make it tolerable.  We were soon behind the breakwater of the Calumet River entrance and that helped as well. At 0930 we emerged through the opening removing our protection of the Calumet breakwater.  Jane hassled me about the way I was steering (adjusting for waves as need be to keep somewhat of course and as comfortable ride as we could, given the conditions) so I offered her the wheel and she commenced a tacking of sorts to diminish the effect of the beam seas.  We zig-zagged our way towards Chicago and at 1103 slipped behind the inner wall into the calm waters of the mooring area.  There is an outer breakwater wall some distance out and I realized that the boat Mark saw must have been between the walls because the waves were crashing and splashing high against the outer wall.  Nonetheless, we made it and docked at DuSable Harbor Marina on the tee head of E dock at 1112 with some help from Mark and his guest, Larry.  We got checked in with the marina and headed out walking with our folding grocery cart and made it to Marciano’s.  It was a ritzy two story store in a fancy high-rise.  After we hiked back and put the provisions away, we strolled down the dock to Antonia and gathered up Mark and Lezlie and their guests, Larry and Rose, and we all hoofed it on over to the Navy Pier for the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour.  The guide, David, was knowledgeable regarding the history and architecture as well as quite the comedian.

The six of us enjoyed dinner together at a nearby Mexican Restaurant and then met up on Sabbatical for some games and after dinner drinks.

We stayed in Chicago for the next two days and enjoyed getting to see my old Navy buddy, Ken Goetz. He is an official greeter for the City of Chicago as well as an attorney.  We were able to make it to Sully’s Tavern where the Windy City Gator Club met up to watch the Gators play Kentucky.  Gators got whipped by KY for the first time in 32 years.

Sunday we hiked over to the Urban Village Church for the 10:30 service and then found a cool vegan restaurant (Native Food Café) for lunch. We stopped on the way back and chatted with Christy on Gumby II where they are tied to the wall by the park. They are also Loopers and we have talked with them on the radio, but never met.

Monday, September 10, 2018:

We shoved off the dock from DuSable Harbor at 0930 and by 1005 we were through the Chicago Lock and entering the Chicago River basically going under all the same bridges we did on the architectural tour. At 1042 we called the Amtrack Bridge as we came under 18th Street.  Since our mast was down we could get right under all the other bridges, but we would need the Amtrack Bridge lifted.

We had to wait for a couple of trains to pass, but by 1055 we were through and entering the industrial area.  At 1318 we passed the Cal-Sag canal and at 1330 we passed our first barge on the “one whistle” (port to port).  At 1400 we encountered the Electric Fish Barrier which is to prevent the further intrusion of the invasive Asian Carp.  The Asian Carp are incredibly prolific and there are reports of them jumping on the decks of boats and leaving a bloody mess.

Luckily we did not have to endure any direct attacks but as we made our way further down the Illinois, we’ve had a number of them jump up and collide with our hull. (Thump!)  By 1520 we were in and out of the Lockport Lock going down 38 feet tied on the port on the floating bollard.


At 1545 we came about to starboard and nuzzled up to the free wall at Joliet.  It is a fine municipal wall at Centennial Park with free electric.  We joined Compass Rose, Island Girl, Someday, Sea Jamm, Second Wave, Corkscrew, Misty Pearl and Free Spirit II for docktails at the park benches.

A plan was set for Dana aboard Misty Pearl to call the Brandon Road Lock early to make sure we could lock through without a long delay due to the barge traffic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018:

Up early and by 0658 we slipped easily off the wall and out into the current with our flotilla of nine boats.


The railroad bridge was up so there was no wait there and we all entered the lock at Brandon Road at 0730.  We arrived at the Dresden Lock at 1030 and we rafted up to Sea Jamm (Alan and Sherry) and Island Girl (Ken and Karen) to wait for the barge traffic to clear.  Sherry made lunch and the six of us visited and ate in their spacious saloon.  We finally got through the lock at 1355.  The original plan was to make it to Heritage Harbor Marina, but with the lock delay and the issue that we would still have to get through the Marseilles Lock, we changed plans.  The lock masters on the Illinois River are not too helpful to the recreational boaters so we (just about the entire flotilla) opted to stop at Spring Brook Marina (mile marker 251.8) for the night.  We docked into slip E22 as a huge Asian Carp leapt onto the dock.  Spring Brooke boasts a nice restaurant and everyone was geared to meet for dinner.  They had not anticipated any business and the cook had sent the only waitress home (or she called in sick, depends on which story you got), but he called in a friend of his to come serve us and we didn’t care that it took two hours to get fed.  The stand-in was a good bartender, the food was fine and we enjoyed getting to know different Loopers.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018:

We left Spring Brook Marina with a flotilla of eight boats: Misty Pearl, Sea Jamm, Island Girl, Someday, Corkscrew, Compass Rose, Second Wave and Sabbatical. At 0930 we were waiting at the Marseilles Lock.


We were joined by Forever Young and Free Spirit Too.  The lock was occupied by barges and two tows (tug boats) down-bound.  It took until 1015 until the horn blew to let the tow operators know to leave the lock.  At 1150 the lock tender let us know by radio that he would have the lock ready for us in about 25 minutes.  The Corps of Engineers had a team there conducting underwater survey with a remote control submarine which further slowed things down.  At 1120 we got the green light to enter the lock and all the boats filed in at idle speed.  That took about another 20 minutes to get everyone secured to one side or the other and some boats rafted to others.  We had to wait for the survey team to get done playing with their yellow submarine.


They finally finished and the upstream doors closed.  We exited the lock at 1230 and docked at Heritage Harbor Marina 20 minutes later.  The staff at Heritage Harbor did an excellent job directing each of us to our assigned slips as the six dock hands ran back and forth assisting each vessel.  Many Asian carp were jumping in the basin at the marina entertaining us.  The marina was great and Jane went off in one of the courtesy cars to the laundromat.  The dock master, Jeremy, gave a briefing in the office at 1600 detailing what we could expect downstream all the way to Hoppie’s Marina on the Mississippi.  He spent nearly two hours with us going over all manner of information and details.  It was great.  We all met up in the Red Dog Grill for dinner.  The food was awesome and it was half price wine night!

Thursday, September 13, 2018;

We dropped lines at 0800 and proceeded slowly toward Starved Rock Lock. We arrived at 0930 as instructed by earlier phone call to the lockmaster.  Finally, at 1100 we entered the lock with our armada of now 13 boats.

By 1140 we had completed the descent and were exiting the lock.  The lock master warned a couple of up-bound tows that he had released “a herd of turtles” and to be on the lookout for us.  The channel is narrow at that point, but we all got around the barges ok.


The tow operators are friendly and helpful.  Much more so than the lockmasters on the Illinois.  We proceeded on downriver with some of the boats going elsewhere, but we docked in an old abandoned lock at Henry Harbor on the crumbling lock wall.  We were able to have electric, which was not the case for all the boats there.  Mark and Lezlie were there with Antonia and we all ate in the rustic restaurant and had a good time.

Friday, September 14, 2018:

It was another beautiful day. 65 degrees in the morning under a cloudless sky.  Since we had all come into the old lock from the downstream side and had our bows to the current, we had a plan on when to leave with the most downstream boat going first.  We were second and slipped away from the rocky wall without help and backed out of the ancient lock.  As we made our way down the river, we saw a group of eagles eating breakfast.  Asian Carp sushi, no doubt.

At 1045 I noticed a pontoon boat going in circles near the right descending bank.  They were putting out quite a wake and I noticed that there was netting all around the front and three or four guys on the stern trying to bow-fish for the jumping Asian Carp.  They must have been having a blast trying to hit them in the air with the arrows.  I could only imagine that beers and bets were involved.

We were making nine and half miles per hour with the current and by noon-thirty we were secured into the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY Club).

Yacht clubs are always a good place to stay and this one was no exception so we planned to stay for two nights.  We were invited to utilize the bar and restaurant.  We took advantage that night and had a great meal and got to meet some of the members who all seemed very friendly.  One, Carolyn, offered to take Jane and Lezlie shopping on Saturday, so they made a plan for that.  While they were gone, I changed the starboard side primary fuel filter, so it will be ready to go on line when I need it.  We were able to watch some football via the digital antenna, but when the Gators kicked off against Colorado State, I had to employ the phone app to listen in on the radio.  Can’t get ESPN on the boat.  I see a smart TV in our future.

Sunday, September 16, 2018:

At 0753 we reversed out of the slip and idled out into the river. We had no flotilla with us this time.  At 0900 we talked to the lockmaster of the Peoria Lock.  The wickets were up and we would have to wait for a while to lock down. By 0945 we were in the lock and ten minutes later we were exiting.  For the next several hours we were alone on the Illinois River – no other pleasure craft or barges.  It got hot and I had Jane bring up a fan to the helm.  We put towels down in the ice chest and were putting them on our necks to cool off.  We can’t wait for fall.  After 79.6 miles we anchored behind Bar Island at mile marker 88.4.  It was a nice quiet spot and the island kept us from getting waked by the barges that run all night.  We ran the generator for air conditioning and cooked our veggies on the grill.


Monday, September 17, 2018:

We pulled anchor at 0710 and proceeded down toward the LaGrange Lock.


We arrived there to wait with HMS Vagabond.


At 0840 we entered the lock behind a “light boat” (a tug with no barge) and HMS Vagabond. Ten minutes later, we were down and they invited us to exit first and we were on our way again.  We got to the Florence Highway Lift Bridge at 1121.


Jane kept busy cleaning the boat as we cruised along.  She was unstoppable, and said Bobby was channeling through her.  We dodged a few tows, but it was never a problem and the captains always appreciate being contacted and tell us to have a safe trip.  These tows on the Illinois that have 12 or 15 barges will be thought to be cute when we get to the Mississippi and some of the tows push 35 barges.


While we were in route that afternoon we Facetimed with our granddaughters, Hazel and Bea, and their other grandparents, John and Louise.  We chugged on and docked at Grafton Harbor Marina at 1715 completing the final 79 and half miles of the Illinois River.  Doug from Misty Pearl and Brent from Second Wave were there to help take the lines from Jane.  Doug is a Tennessee Volunteer, so there was some good natured smack talk going on.  We refreshed with a dip in the pool and later enjoyed dinner at the Grafton Oyster Bar above the marina store.  It was a good spot to spend a couple of days and we weren’t in a hurry.  The next day, Jane got into the laundry early and she got it all done.  Sandy and Kevin Tucker from Koastal Karma came by.  Their boat is getting repairs over in Port Charles Marina after hitting a log on the river.  The hit took out their running gear and transmission.  It was so expensive that an insurance claim was involved.  They left and we walked around Grafton a bit and had lunch in the Grafton Winery which was very nice and inspired a return to the boat for a nap.  That evening we joined eight others for dinner at Airie’s Restaurant.  The owner picked us up at the marina in his shuttle bus.  The restaurant is at the highest point in Grafton and the view was superb.  This time next year they will have a gondola ride open to bring diners from the bottom of the hill up to the top.  That will be a great hit.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018:

We were headed to Alton Marina and which is only 17 miles so we took our sweet time getting underway. We slipped off the dock at 1025 and when we got up to speed at 1800 rpm’s we were at 11 ½ mph.  This is where the Illinois joins the Mighty Mississippi.  There was a fair amount of debris and we played dodge-a-log cruising along.  At 1150 we were at the fuel dock in Alton and took on 223 gallons of diesel and got the holding tank pumped out too.  We were in our covered slip at 1300 and in the pool at 1310.  This is a great marina with perfect restrooms stocked with everything one may need.  They have a pool and two hot tubs all on floating docks and best off all is their deal for Loopers of buy 3 nights and get 3 free.  Again, we were in no hurry, so we enjoyed staying put for six days.  That night we had dinner with Mark and Lezlie and Alan and Sherry at the Bluff City Grill.  Good food, great company.

While we were in Alton, we got exercise along the trail, enjoyed the pool, rented a car and provisioned from the grocery, Tractor Supply, NAPA Auto Parts, and we visited the arch in St. Louis with Mark and Lezlie. We watched the Florida – Tennessee aboard Tanuki (Jerry was in the marching band at UF) and the Gators whipped UT with a bunch of takeaways.  I changed the oil while we were in Alton and we got the Velcro replaced on the port and starboard aft panels of the fly bridge enclosure (Thanks to Paul at Alton Landing).  We worshiped at the Bridge Church and took in a play at the Alton Little Theater (Neil Simon’s “God’s Favorite”).  We rode the bikes and enjoyed docktails (even with just diet tonic and lime, have to give the liver a rest periodically).

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