The swallows visited our rail on our last morning in Milwaukee, twittering to each other, and generally enjoying the perch out of the wind. Yes, the wind. Our voyage to Kenosha was the worst yet this summer. Even though we went at fast speed, we pounded through waves that were twice what was forecast. I needed to lie down for hours after arrival. The bedside lamp fell over for the first time since our miserable experience on the Neuse River in North Carolina in 2017. To add insult to injury, my bathroom was filthy, as the pounding made water come up through the sink and threw the dirty, semi-diluted contents of the S-trap as high as the top of the mirror and even onto the ceiling. If you can imagine taking the contents of the trap under your sink and flinging it all over your bathroom you have an idea of what it was like. Dick thought I should take a picture and share it, but the photos in this blog are meant to be enjoyable, not an emetic!
Kenosha was very hot and humid, and except for walking to dinner one evening at the best of the limited restaurant choices I stayed on board. Dick is made of sterner stuff, and set out on his bicycle to explore the extensive waterfront parks. Kenosha is mainly a bedroom community, for both Milwaukee and Chicago, with a lot of attractive townhouses and a very nice waterfront centered on the marina. There is even a water park fountain for kids.
Kenosha was once an industrial city, but today, nearly 50% of the city’s residents commute to other locations. There are several educational institutions, and it is the headquarters of Snap-on Inc, and Jockey International. Initially called Southport, Kenosha was an important Great Lakes shipping port. For much of the 20th century cars and trucks were built here, including such well-known brands as Rambler, Nash, AMC, and later Renault.
Dick learned an interesting lesson during this stop. If you walk into a barber shop, and all of the barbers have very short, military style haircuts, as do the other customers, run, do not walk, to another location! Although he explained carefully what he wanted, he should also have been suspicious when his barber set the chair so that Dick could not see what he was doing. He realized his mistake when he heard and felt the electric razor take a swath of hair from his neck to above the ear. At that point there was nothing for it but to let him finish the job. It will of course grow out, but for now I can’t decide whether the cut looks more like a good-old-boy or a 9-year-old.
Some days just don’t improve. Wasps descended on Nine Lives, entering the screens through small gaps. This was also the first we have seen of biting flies.
From Kenosha we had a quick run to Waukegan and the much-anticipated Great Dinghy Swap. Once again, on arrival we learned that in spite of having booked weeks before, the marina had no slip assignment for us. They first tried to put us into a 17-foot-wide slip, but I am now an old hand at judging widths and calling out to dockhands to confirm. Eventually we were given a t-head on the, shall we say, less salubrious side of the marina. Part of the docks on that side are completely derelict, and even the part we were in had seagulls (and seagull droppings) in abundance. At least it was an easy distance to the shower facility and also to the path leading to the boat launching ramps.
We tied up and connected the power, and turned on the air conditioners. Within seconds, everything turned off, and Dick discovered that the power cord had fused. After it was finally pried off and the remaining 30-amp cord connected again, the AC pump was not working (it’s a new pump), and there were also some other electrical anomalies. Dick left to check in, and planned to head to the nearby boatyard to see if he could get power cord and fitting replacements. He returned very shortly, having realized that the configuration of the marina meant it was such a long distance to the marina office that he needed to ride his bike! Off he went, and meanwhile, back at the boat, more wasps started appearing. Fortunately, the electrical anomalies sorted themselves out, and by very careful power management we were able to manage with the single 30-amp input.
The next morning was New Dinghy Day! I was somewhat concerned about the waves. From the boat ramp where he took delivery, Dick had to go right out into the Lake and then cross a short stretch of open water before entering the marina. He was absolutely delighted with how the new Highfield dinghy handled. On arrival he lifted the dinghy in the davits, and was pleased that his carefully considered engineering plans, including scale drawings, all executed without having either Nine Lives or the new dinghy present, worked perfectly. The new dinghy hangs perfectly in the davits and looks splendid. We tied Minnie up beside us to await the handover to her buyer the next morning. I chuckled when I heard a small boy in a passing boat shout to his Dad, “Look Dad, they have two dinghies!”
Another project involved glue. The new, quite expensive pair of boat shoes that Dick bought earlier in the summer had the insoles continuously slipping out. Gorilla glue was suggested and duly purchased. The instructions were read, insoles affixed inside the shoes, and then there may have been a slight miscalculation. In spite of the distaff side of the family’s concerns, the instruction to clamp together the newly glued pieces, was taken to mean that putting the shoes on and wearing them for a while would be an ideal way to ensure adhesion. It worked. An hour later, adhesion presumably achieved, Dick decided to go for a bike ride, necessitating a change of shoes. I bet you have already guessed what is coming. Yes indeed, the shoes were firmly glued to Dick’s feet, and required both of us to pry them off. The operation was made more difficult by my inability to concentrate, I was laughing so hard!
Sunday morning there was a small craft warning. The plan was to take Minnie around to the boat ramp at 9am, but as the waves kicked up, Dick moved the time up to 7am. I couldn’t decide which would be worse, watching as he negotiated the wind and waves in the very tippy boat, or not watching. I decided to watch, in case I needed to call the Coast Guard for a rescue. (Dick did all the sensible things, wearing his life jacket, carrying the hand-held radio, and putting all the paperwork, phone, etc into a drybag). The trip actually required him to tack back and forth to avoid being swamped, but he made it safely to the channel. Fishermen on the shore shouted at him that he should slow down as it was a no-wake zone starting at the entrance. He shouted back that not getting swamped by following waves trumped the no-wake rule! In due course he arrived safely at the boat ramp.
The new buyer arrived with two helpers and his wife, and a panel truck to load Minnie into. The motor proved harder to remove than expected, requiring two trips back to Nine Lives for tools. The whole operation went as hoped, although there was a great deal of grunting (and possibly muttered curses), as the extremely heavy Minnie was lifted into the waiting truck.
Dinner that evening was very enjoyable, with 4 Looper guests joining us for a ham and potato casserole. We remembered that there are leaves for the table in the salon, making it much more comfortable for seating 6.
We had an uneventful return to Chicago, with a slip assignment in the same marina and even on the same t-head. The difference was that whereas on our last visit we were given the whole t-head, this time they gave us only half of it, and swore that another boat was scheduled for the other half (nobody arrived). This meant we had to tie closer to the end of the dock, and thus closer to the bad driving habits of the many weekenders stopping for fuel and pump-outs at the next dock. We had one near miss as we sat and watched, Dick had to shout to get the driver to stop backing up before he hit us.
Our stay in Chicago was the time for the Great Car Shuffle. We rented a car, and drove north to St Ignace. This is the alternative jumping off point for Mackinac Island, and we found it quite charming. We made a note that if we ever return by boat, we will be sure to stop there. We had a good dinner at a busy family restaurant. Looking around, I noticed that more than half of the men in the restaurant were wearing hats (usually baseball caps). When I was a child, women were still considered to be somewhat undressed unless they were wearing a hat, especially in church or going to the theatre, and they kept them on indoors. Men also wore hats, but absolutely took them off indoors. So I can’t help but find it disrespectful when I see these caps at the dinner table. On the other hand, looking at these men, I am probably just as happy for them to keep those hats on, if the alternative is setting them down on the table!
After dinner we crossed the road to a charming converted red London double decker bus for the best salted caramel ice cream I have ever had.
The next morning, we had about an hour and a half drive to Drummond Island, where we had left our car. Dick fended off a request to buy it, and we set off in convoy to return to Chicago. The next day Dick drove our car to Mississippi, to the boatyard where we will complete this year’s voyaging. He flew back the following morning from Memphis, arriving in Chicago shortly after 3pm. Unfortunately, it was a rainy afternoon, and there were few taxis to be had, so it took until 6:30pm to get back to the boat.
The next evening we walked to a local steakhouse and enjoyed a really excellent lobster bisque and salad, okay steaks, and an outstanding dessert. We chose a different route to walk back, that proved to be an error of judgement on my part! We got caught up in the audience heading for a rock concert at Soldier Field. The police diverted pedestrians from several streets, making the walk considerably longer than it should have been.
The following morning, we rode our bikes along the extensive waterfront paths to join one of the Architecture Boat Tours of the Chicago River. The tour was very interesting and enjoyable, and gave us a very good idea of what we would be seeing when we made the same trip on Nine Lives. The bike ride to and from the tour was rather more exciting that I was happy about. On a holiday weekend the paths were full of bikes, walkers, and even roller skaters, and it was complete chaos.
We had a really enjoyable evening at the Chicago Yacht Club with our friends Thor and Jim. We had hoped to dock there on a reciprocal basis, but as with almost every other yacht club we have tried over the years, we were told there was no room for us. Their nearly empty docks and the presence of many Loopers on the mooring balls told a different story. Our return to Burnham Harbor took forever, getting caught up in a huge traffic jam for the second night of the rock concert at Soldier Field. We could not believe how much traffic there was at 8:30pm, especially as the concert started at 8:00!
High winds kept us an extra day in Chicago. We dropped the new dinghy and went for a harbour tour. It is so much easier and simpler to raise and lower, and so much more stable on the water. That evening we enjoyed docktails and chat at the bar with other Loopers.
We made an early start the next day and passed through the easy first lock into the Chicago River without issue. It was nice to get through the city before all the tour boats and pleasure craft were out, but we then had to wait an hour for the Amtrak Railway bridge, that remains down for rush hour. We passed our first barges, 6 and 8 being towed. The operators were all very friendly and helpful.
This is a good time to explain about barges, tugs, and tows. Barges are huge, low, flat containers, used for shipping such things as sand and gravel, chemicals, coal, grain, even mulch. They will be lashed together. We have seen as many as four deep and three across. The sort of vessel we all think of as a tugboat, drives these enormous sets of barges. The vessel is correctly referred to as a “tow”, even though much of the time it is in fact pushing. Often the whole assembly is too big for a lock, so it has to be separated and then reassembled after passing through in parts. This is the reason for the incredibly long delays at locks for pleasure boats. Commercial shipping gets priority, but fortunately there is a rule that after 3 commercial lock-throughs, pleasure boats must be able to pass. So far (touch wood), we have found the lock operators very cooperative and helpful.
Our wait for the first lock gave the other Looper boats who had started out that day time to catch up. We had arrived at 1:30, and went through just before 4pm. Once through, all the boats (now 7 of us) arrived safely at the town wall in Joliet.
Joliet is the third-largest city in Illinois. In 1673, Louis Jolliet paddled up the Des Plaines River and camped on a huge earthwork mound, a few miles south of present-day Joliet. This mound shows on historic maps as Mont Joliet, but it has since been flattened due to mining. Once an industrial city, Joliet is today transitioning from a steel and manufacturing area to a commuter suburb. Like many cities, the downtown has suffered from relocation of residents and businesses to the suburbs, although more recently there is a movement to return to the centre. New downtown businesses include casinos, a minor-league baseball field, and theatres. Amazon is the city’s largest employer. The free town wall is the most convenient stopping point for Loopers making their way down the river. There have been no incidents reported recently, but the presence of a large police station directly across the river is comforting. Patrol cars visit the park on the side of the river where we dock on a regular basis, and I heard them several times during the night. We did not consider leaving the boat for dinner or exploration.
After consultation with the rest of the group, nobody else volunteered, so Dick offered to be the spokesman and phone the next lock at 6am. The lock-keeper said, “I can get you through if you all come now.” That turned out to be quite a fraught morning, as our drip coffee maker failed. Disaster!! Fortunately, we also have a french press on board for contingencies, as well as an excellent thermal jug, so Dick is able to make coffee using the kettle. We walked along the dock and woke up a few of the other Loopers to let them know that they should leave as soon as possible. The rest heard the sounds of engines, and all arrived in time for the lock-through. This was the first of 3 locks that day.
It was great to meet Islena, a 40 ft Endeavourcat, and also meet Royal Coachman again, a beautifully restored Endeavour sailboat. Three Endeavours together is quite unusual, we are a rare breed! The owners of Islena had toured Nine Lives in Norfolk in 2018. Mimi loved our boat, and was quite determined to have a catamaran. It took Mike a while to come around, but they are delighted with their choice.
At the second lock, Dick and I had a bit of a last-minute scramble. We were rigged for a starboard tie, but on arrival in the lock we discovered that the only floating bollards were port-side, so I had to make a fast change of lines and fenders. By the time it was done, we were at the bollard, and I had to secure the boat while Dick manoeuvred, the opposite to our usual locking procedure. 3 other boats rafted to us, not a time to get it wrong!
I should describe these big river locks, as they are quite different from what we have been used to on the canals. To begin with they are huge, hundreds of feet long, and with a lift of 20 to 40 feet. Spaced along the lock sides are special posts (bollards) that are set into the lock wall and actually float up and down as the lock fills and empties. So you manoeuvre the boat alongside, and put a line from your mid-ship cleat around the bollard and then tie it back to your boat. It is important to stay close and watch carefully as the lock fills or empties, in case the bollard hangs up or your line is jammed. You have a very sharp knife ready to cut the line if something happens. Because there are only 3 or 4 bollards on each side of the lock, it is often necessary for small boats like us to “raft up”. Yes, in these locks the typical 36 ft to 48 ft Looper boat is “small.” The first boat in is secured to the bollard, and then the next boat ties up to them, and then the next, and so on. So the responsibility to get it right rests first with the boat tied to the lock wall! Nine Lives is bigger than many Looper boats, and in fact we prefer to be the ones first on the wall.
Our group of 10 were through that second lock before 11am, very good luck compared to some stories we read about on the forum. Getting everyone in, and rafted up was like herding cats, as each boater has a slightly different interpretation of the instructions being given, not to mention a different level of patience while waiting!
We are enjoying the Illinois River very much. There is a tremendous amount of wildlife, completely unexpected for me. It is very pretty, and even in the industrial areas it is interesting. We have seen several different kinds of egrets and herons, both golden and bald eagles, pelicans in great rafts, cormorants, and of course the usual ducks and geese. Travel on the river is so much more interesting than on the Great Lakes. As another Looper put it, on the Great Lakes you go for ten hours and then stop and see something interesting, because you are so far away from shore during the travel. In comparison, on the river you see something interesting for the entire journey!
We have now learned that PC does not always stand for “politically correct.” Of course, I am sure all of us Loopers are PC anyway, but on the river, PC stands for Pleasure Craft, and we communicate with tows and locks by announcing ourselves as Pleasure Craft Nine Lives.
Our third lock that day was Marseilles (pronounced Marcellis, to our amusement). This one took a lot longer to transit. First, we all had to hang back at a wide area of the river to allow a huge tow to exit the narrow two-mile channel. On arrival at the lock, we had to wait while the next tow exited the lock. In spite of the long waits, we were all docked in Heritage Marina at Ottawa before 4:30pm. Many Loopers transit this day’s 3 locks and arrive after dark, so we were well pleased.
The marina looks after Loopers very well, and is a model of organization that other marinas would do well to emulate. The harbor staff monitor Nebo, the tracking system that many of us use, so they know when we are all approaching and when we get through the Marseilles lock. After everybody exits the lock, we are all called to listen to channel 68, and we are told our slip assignments, and who should proceed to their dock and who should hold back inside the entrance. This way there are enough dock hands to help each boat tie up, and the whole operation goes like clockwork. During the Looper season they may have as many as 20 boats, all arriving at the same time, but their procedure makes it easy for everyone. After all are tied up, there is an excellent 2-hour briefing offered, that covers the river system as far south as Paducah, KY. We had dinner after at the onsite restaurant. The food was fine, although nothing special.
It was nice to have a quiet day. Although we had no difficulties, it is surprising how tiring the three-lock day had been. We cleaned the boat, and I cooked on board. It was a recipe for fish and shrimp in tomato sauce. Dick liked it, but I didn’t, and to quote his Dad, “what the cook don’t like, we don’t eat,” so I have expunged that recipe from my repertoire. Part-way through dinner preparation, the propane tank ran out. This was a further disruption to the coffee making in the morning, as we were now reduced to boiling water in a pan on our single induction burner!
Consulting with other Loopers, we determined that we would be 8 boats the next morning, so again it was agreed that Dick would make contact with the lock. He got up at 5:30 (coffee making takes longer when done with the French press). After discussing things with the lock-keeper, messages were sent to the 8 boats suggesting a 7:30 departure. Ultimately, we were 12 in the lock! We were definitely getting better at the whole operation, including rafting up. That lock is beside a State Park called Starved Rock. It is a haven for wildlife, and there were huge rafts of pelicans in the shallows. As we all made our way into the lock, many of them took off and flew overhead, swooping and wheeling around, an incredible sight.
That evening we anchored behind an island off the river near Henry with 5 other Looper boats. There was a bit of drama when one of the group decided they had dropped their hook too close to the shore, and they decide to move. When they tried to lift their anchor, they discovered they had snagged a huge waterlogged stump. It took helpers from 3 of the other boats to get it free, but it was a marvellous demonstration of how wonderful Loopers are at helping each other.
This was also our first experience with Asian Carp. They are a group of invasive species that is causing havoc on the inland waterways. They include bighead carp, black carp, grass carp, and silver carp. Asian carp are fast-growing and prolific feeders that out-compete native fish and leave a trail of environmental destruction in their wake. They were initially imported for use in aquaculture ponds, but they were accidentally released into the Mississippi River system. Silver carp are easily frightened by passing boats, and leap 8 to 10 feet into the air, sometimes causing injury to boaters they collide with. They can grow to more than 80 pounds and 4 feet long, and they live for 15 to 20 years. As we made our way into the anchorage, we kept hearing big splashes. Suddenly I could see these huge fish leaping high out of the water and landing with a loud slap. Some Loopers have had the unfortunate experience of them landing on (and even in) their boat. We are keeping fingers crossed that I do not have to write about that particular experience in our next blog!
That evening I made one of our favourite meals, the very English “toad in the hole”, using the countertop oven and the induction burner. This is a large Yorkshire pudding, with brat sausages cooked in the pudding, served with lashings of gravy and of course peas. We were delighted with the results, and happy to know that we can make what is one of our favourite family supper dishes more often.
The next day turned out to be 8 hours of travelling, just to end up exactly where we started. We knew that the marina at Peoria did not have space for us until Tuesday, but the information Dick had said that we would be able to tie up at the City dock for one night. If the City dock was full, there is an anchorage directly across the river, so we would be able to dinghy across to get to the restaurant for dinner. After 4 hours of travel, we arrived in the city to see that there were two sailboats taking up the two outer wells at the City dock, sticking out so far into the fairway that access to the wall was prevented, even for boats much smaller than we are. As it happened, we had been warned by the nearby IVY Club harbormaster that tying up at the City dock is not safe, especially if you want to leave the boat, so we were not that sorry. It is a pity, because there are quite extensive docks there, all at various state of dilapidation, and so much more could be made of them. Clearly Peoria, unlike other waterfront cities we have visited, has no interest in improving or updating their waterfront for visitors.
We proceeded across the river to the designated anchorage, but it was completely unsuitable. The depth under the boat was as little as 2.5 feet and as much as 6 feet. The calculation for safe anchoring is 7 to 1, so if you calculate 14 feet (from where the anchor is on the boat to the river bottom), multiply by 7, you need to put out about 100 feet of chain. This allows the boat to “swing” around where the anchor is embedded in the bottom. So, there must be enough room for that swing, and if the bottom is too shallow in that swing circle you risk running aground. This would tend to ruin your sleep! Anyway, we felt that this so-called anchorage was too close to the busy river, with barge traffic running 24 hours a day and limited depths and swinging room. We made the disappointing decision to head back up river towards the last night’s anchorage. We did make a couple of attempts to find a closer alternative, but at each place we left the channel the depths shelved alarmingly. Four hours later we were back where we started. Henry Island is a very nice anchorage, but we wished we had better information and had just remained there for the day.
On our journey we saw pelicans, great and snowy egrets, little blue herons, tricolor herons, golden eagles, turkey vultures and wild turkeys. In the evening we watched three deer swim across the channel between the islands.
We returned to Peoria the next day, again enjoying the wildlife along the river. Our slip at IVY Club was waiting, and a fellow Looper walked over to catch our lines.
Peoria is thought to be the oldest European settlement in Illinois. It is a shipping centre for a large agriculture area that includes production of corn, soybeans, and livestock. Peoria used to be the headquarters of Caterpillar, Inc, until its relocation in 2018. There is still wealth in the city, as shown by the beautiful homes on the famous Grandview Drive, that runs along the top of the bluff overlooking the river. Healthcare and associated businesses account for roughly 25% of Peoria’s economy today, and there are still manufacturing and related industries.
That evening, after it became clear that there was no safe bike route to our chosen restaurant, we took a taxi. This was a highly rated local steakhouse. The 80’s style salad bar and the plastic tablecloths told the story. It was busy, with lots of families, and the food was not bad, but the whole experience was not what we had hoped.
The next morning, Dick got out his bike and special trolley, and dragged it up the incredibly steep hill with the 15lb (empty) propane tank and then rode 6 miles to get it filled. He returned with 35lbs at the back. We have some concern about the condition of his brakes after the ride down that hill, but he is off again today for a grocery run.
Yesterday evening we took another taxi to a very nice restaurant. This one was at the top of the big hill, and the food was very good. We really enjoyed the cheese and charcuterie board to start, and my shrimp and Dick’s cioppino were excellent. I had been looking forward to Dick’s description of the restaurant’s famous whisky bar. We had talked about sipping from their extensive offerings while waiting for the return taxi. However, it was not to be. Dick’s inner Dutchman/adopted Yorkshireman kicked in, and he proposed that we should walk back to the boat. It was “just over a mile and all downhill, and a lovely evening.” Beautiful houses to see were also promised. They were beautiful, what you could see from the silhouettes in the soft garden lighting at twilight. It was soon dark, the hill was steep, it was hot and humid, and I had not dressed for a long walk in sandals. Dick thoroughly enjoyed the post-prandial exercise. I did not. Tonight we will eat here at the marina, and we hope that upcoming locations offer better bike or walking options for restaurants!