So here’s a map of our stops, right down to our actual slips. We’ll keep it pinned to the top and hopefully fairly current.
All the angst about leaving Alton was for naught. We worked Misty Pearl back 20 feet, pushed her bow out, and plowed silt at 1800 rpms until we hit the channel. The water she was peeing through the pump was as clear as the muddy Mississippi can be. Sweet. The sailboat needed a jet ski AND a tow boat to get out, and another boat pumped mud into an engine and had to be towed back, but we dodged any mishap. Probably payback for our clean living.
Next hurdle was the Mel Price lock. We have no idea who this Mel Price guy was, but his lock is a canyon of swirly currenty crappy mess. We kind of tired of the long wait and may or may not have drifted into the current at the top gate a bit early. We pulled out of it, barely, but then started back in involuntarily. Abort! Oh crap, the current is so strong that even with full power we can’t move upstream away from the looming 1200 foot x 20 foot ugly concrete wall. Assume crash position everybody! Oh wait. Let’s put her in gear and see what happens. Whew. We made it in safely. Certain death and/or a lifetime of embarrassment avoided, and off towards St. Louis.
Along the way the Missouri River poured in beside us. Supposedly this creates crazy dangerous cross-current but somehow we missed it. The Missouri is famous as the path taken by Meriweather Lewis and whatshisname Clark as they explored the West. How they went upstream is a mystery, but keeping the engine in neutral probably wasn’t part of it. Hard to believe some poor bastards had to row. The Missouri also is famous for that time The Outlaw Josey Wales shot the ferry rope and sent the union carpetbaggers on a boatride.
We wanted to swap photos with Second Wave like we did at the Statue of Liberty, but time was a wastin’. Fortunately there’s a webcam, so we took a screen shot instead. The couple posing for selfies probably didn’t know about the webcam—or Misty Pearl—but that’s us framed on the river. Hard to tell who photo-bombed who.
Through St. Louis and the locks, tugs, tows, and barges were everywhere. One of them announced a load of pig iron. Which is funny all by itself. Pig iron, pig iron. He was here to do some business with the pig iron on his ship*.
As expected, it was a long day. But we made it to the lock wall on the Kaskaskia River. This is pretty close to where Popeye is from. Yup. That Popeye. We got there just in time to watch a really bad football game. The only good thing was that Steve from Sabbatical was 100 miles away.
The tough part of today always was going to be the first 100 feet. That went better than expected. Tomorrow is another long day, with anchoring out the only option. Hopefully that will go as smoothly. Either way, tonight we get a sunset and a good night’s sleep.
*Apologies to Marty Robbins and to everyone who reads this silliness.
When Huckleberry Finn took off on his raft to escape Miss Watson’s misplaced efforts to teach him etiquette, he basically was traveling the same part of the Mississippi River on which we now find Misty Pearl. We figure his draft was about 4 inches. No worries about water depth for Huck and Old Jim. Plus that was fiction anyway. Lots of worries for us here in Alton, despite the patriotic welcome sign.
From the point we plowed through the silt in the marina on Wednesday, the water at this end of the pool is down another 8 inches. We’re as low as the people in charge can allow and still pass barge traffic. Wow, are we lucky or what?
The worse news? The water isn’t coming up any time soon. So we’re taking off in the morning. The sailor in front of us with the dinghy tug has his keel and rudder completely buried, so he isn’t moving out of our way. The plan is to walk Misty Pearl back 20 feet or so, use a jet ski to pull her bow out 10 degrees to allow us to sneak past his boat, and then gun the engine in a straight line through the muck and out into the current. Not a great plan, mind you. Maybe not even a good plan. Actually, it may cross the fine line between a bold plan and a stupid plan. But the alternative is to stay here until spring, and we ain’t doing that even though the bridge lights are cool.
In the meantime, we of course stopped by the life-size statue of The Tallest Man in History, who was born and raised here. Dude was tall. 8’11” when he died. This is legit, unlike that cherry pie thing we found in Charlevoix. Know who else was born here? Miles Davis. He was nowhere near 9 feet tall. But then Robert Wadlow probably couldn’t play the horn. So they each had their own strengths and weaknesses.
On Thursday we took a rental minivan over to the Gateway Arch, which seemed fitting since our Manifest Destiny is to pass by St. Louis tomorrow. They jam you into tiny 4-foot-high pods for the trip to the top. Know who wouldn’t go to the top? Robert Wadlow. He would’ve had to spool like a giant fruit roll-up.
The top two restaurants in Alton are Bluff City Grill and Fast Eddie’s. We hit both of them. The former was fine, the latter was a hoot. We could’ve stayed all night but for needy boys back on the boat.
Today before returning the rental we popped over to St. Charles, Missouri. Daniel Boone was born around here, maybe even in the first Missouri state capital building. Probably not, but maybe.
St. Charles is pretty cool. They call it The Williamsburg of the Midwest, which puts it firmly behind Grafton in terms of enticing nicknames. We wouldn’t mind coming back sometime though.
Alton supposedly is one of the most dangerous cities in Illinois, which probably makes it pretty dang dangerous. We found it rather charming in its own way, however, albeit a tad short on water. We figure you’ve got to give credit to hard-luck places that are making an effort. Alton is making an effort.
From here, in theory we have a straight shot out. In reality we have to dodge the Tranquilo, plow through the silt, avoid the rocks and bridge support, and straighten into the harsh current. That’s just the first 75 feet from where we’re docked. It’s a long day to Kaskaskia, and a wall with no service awaits us assuming we can avoid the huge tows and the huge logs that also are traveling the river. From Kaskaskia we have another long day reaching one of the only anchorages between Alton and Paducah, Kentucky. Assuming the anchor holds and we aren’t struck by a barge, we face insanely strong current as we push up the Ohio River on what will be our longest day of the Loop by far. Potentially in thunderstorms. Potentially in the dark. Hopefully the next day we’ll be reunited with power, internet, and modern refrigeration in Green Turtle Bay.
If only we hadn’t wasted that sign about profanity in our last post.
Although Misty Pearl isn’t a houseboat per se, she is a boat and she is our house. Houses need refrigerators. Yesterday morning ours stopped working. Just a perfect way to start what had to be a record-hot day. Fortunately we have good cell service to make it easy to call around for help, right? Nope. Apparently Verizon didn’t throw up some new towers since Monday. Oh well, this stuff happens. We pitched all our cold food and started looking for options. At least we can party in The Key West of the Midwest. Just look at all that action.
In fairness, yesterday was a Tuesday. And unGodly hot. Not surprising that folks chose to stay inside. We ventured out long enough to eat lunch at a reclaimed loading dock, which cleverly was named The Loading Dock. One of the coolest venues we’ve seen so far, right at the confluence of the Illinois and the Mississippi. That’s right. We just ran the entire length of the Illinois River. Check that bad boy off the bucket list.
On the way back from lunch, we saw an empty Chicago tour boat pulling in to get fuel at our marina. Hmmm. We recalled that the current was swift and the safe water was narrow when we came in. How’s he going to make it? Turns out he didn’t. After two tries he gave up, but smashed the dock in the process. By that point we were back at the boat and turned on the VHF just to listen to the fun. The captain was trying to flee the scene of the crime but they called him back upstream. The cops even showed up.
Later we shuttled up the mountain with 4 other Looper boats and had dinner at the Aerie Winery. The views were fantastic. The company was even better.
This morning after a leisurely breakfast that didn’t involve eggs, cheese, or any of the other stuff we had to throw out when the refrigerator decided to quit, we took off for Alton, just a few miles down the Mississippi. Old Man River. Big Muddy. Whatever other nicknames there are that we can’t recall. We’re on the mother of U.S. rivers now.
The Mississippi shore started looking almost like the Hudson River valley, with bluffs and cliffs. Things were looking great. We’ve even picked up enough current to push us along at a blistering 10.5 knots. We were outrunnng the carp. Yup, things were looking great.
The first sign of trouble was when we looped back under the Highway 67 Bridge and swirling current caught us unaware. We managed to fight that off, but the depth gauge went to 4.8 feet very quickly. That can’t be right. The marina knows we draw 5 feet. We made it to the fuel dock and enjoyed witty banter with Second Wave and Sabbatical, who pulled in behind us. We mentioned to the marina guy that we were concerned about depth. No worries, he said. 5.5 feet all the way to our spot at the end of J dock. Perfect. We’ll just take her slow and easy.
5.5 feet became 5 feet. Then 4.5 feet. Then the depth gauges flatlined. Can’t steer in a foot of silt. Thrusters don’t work in a foot of silt. The guy in the sailboat brought his dinghy over to push our bow like a tug pushing a barge. That got the bow around, but our butt was settling in for the winter. Much jockeying, pulling, and pushing later, we got close enough to tie off in the shadow of giant third-grade string art.
Now they tell us the pool dropped a foot or more very quickly. We’re stuck here—literally—until they get more water. That will be next week at the earliest.
We suppose it’s all part of the adventure. As Marty Feldman famously noted in Young Frankenstein, “It could be worse. it could be raining.” Then it started raining. Crap. Now things really couldn’t get any worse. It brought to mind a sign we photographed during our interminable stay in Deltaville. This is the perfect time to share it.
However, as generally is the case, things turned around. Dana and the boys napped. The sun came out again. The swimming pool was cool. The drinks were cold. We joined a massive crowd of Loopers on the shore. We walked to a nice dinner with Brent and Karen. We even got a new refrigerator ordered and we have time here to receive it. Life is good again after all.
Done with the Illinois River. If anyone from Verizon reads this, please jam it into the suggestion box. Your Illinois game is terrible. No service at all between Peoria and St. Louis? Are you kidding? We needed to listen to football on Saturday and Sunday. Can you hear us now?
Anyway, Saturday morning up again with the sun and with a long day ahead. Leaving IVY (which was great) and the Peoria Carp Hunters behind, we set out toward the south. The lockmaster at Peoria Lock had told Compass Rose that our group of Looper boats could pass at 8:30 because a tour boat would be locking through at that time. Tour boat? Who would pay for a tour of the Illinois River at Peoria? On a Saturday? Do they know there’s no cell service? Apparently it’s really a thing, however, because the Spirit of Peoria—with smiling tourists lining the decks and taking pictures of the white Looper boats bobbing about above the lock—came steaming up from behind. The lockmaster told the captain that the PCs would be in the lock with him. The captain snarked that we all better be fast because he needed to get his passengers 100 miles down river by 4. More importantly, the lockmaster had a cute dog. Oscar and Benny woke up just long enough to bark.
The cruising for us became monotonous (and hot) fairly quickly. An Illinois River boater from Grafton who has been reading the blog and chatting with us about Looping things described the Illinois as a “lazy river.” Pretty accurate description of things once we passed the Peoria Lock. We seemingly passed more cornfields and tubers than we saw tows and barges. Very nice.
Then we reached Beardstown. The romantic version of events is that tying up to a barge is different and cool. Although things were tight, 5 of us pulled in for the night. From 200 feet away it indeed looks different and cool.
The truth is that tying up to a barge in Beardstown, Illinois IS different and cool—and dangerous and dirty. There are 2 types of Looper experiences here. It really depends on what you are tied to. If you tie up to the permanent work area (Crossroads), it’s a pretty easy walk into what passes as a town. The elevator restaurant food was pretty good. If you tie up on a working service barge that’s in place only temporarily (Viridian), tetanus shots are a must. And a goodly supply of antibiotics is a wise idea. And one should wear a PFD every time going ashore. Pretty sure there are some major violations of whatever hospitality laws exist in Illinois here.
With no ability to access the outside world, the tug service activity kept us entertained until bedtime. We usually don’t get to see barges move at night. We even broke out the navigation rules on lights just to try to make sense of things we saw coming and going. Some of them we found challenging to remember. For example, a vessel approaching at night, under 50 meters long, with restricted maneuverability because of dredging, and wanting you to pass to port, is quite the jumble of lights. If we saw that coming towards us we’d turn and run. Or sing O Christmas Tree. Thank goodness for VHF and AIS.
In case anyone wonders, we survived the night and have cool videos to prove it. We carried the boys whenever they left the boat so they at least shouldn’t have any infections pop up down the road.
With another long day ahead, we called the last of the Illinois locks before slipping the lines that chafed all night on rusting metal bits. The lock guy said be there by 8:30, so we all took off. Miss Utah, Mary’n Gale, Hayley Rose, Second Wave, and us.
Sunday was another great day for cruising, although the lock guy was off a bit. We arrived just before the appointed time only to see a tow getting ready to jam the first half of his split load into the chamber ahead of us. So we sat for an hour and a half. There was a touch of drama when—just as the lock radioed for us all to get ready—Allen on Free Spirit Too said he was 2 miles away but wanted in. We were pretty sure they wouldn’t make it in the race against time, but they slid in at the last second. Good for them, because they faced a 2 hour wait otherwise.
Crank up the John Prine, Jimmy Buffett, and John Denver. We have long way to go. Barges? Barely noteworthy. Lift bridges? Dime a dozen. Logs in the river? Seen hundreds of ‘em, and this ain’t nothing compared the Potomac when we left D.C. The highlight may have been passing by the western-most point on the Loop. Wooo!
We finally saw some hills. Based on our experience Illinois isn’t really hill country, but at least they were something different. At Kempsville, the car ferry was blowing back and forth in our path. From the river it wasn’t apparent that anything on either side was worth taking the ferry. Probably just a bunch of folks in their cars wandering around in search of cell service. Can you hear us now?
The Illinois Riverdock Restaurant, aka Mel’s, has a dock that they sometimes allow overnighters to use. We got lucky. Dinner was ok. Breakfast was delicious.
This morning Dana piloted Misty Pearl down to Grafton. Happy to be here. This was 8 days of travel in a row. Over 280 nautical miles. Like ol’ Jimmy, we must confess we could use the rest. We can’t run at this pace very long. The local dude who has followed the blog stopped by to visit. Jim Leffers. Very nice guy. We hope he gets to do the Loop someday. One of the great things about the Loop is meeting people. We’ve even spent some time with Steve and Jane, who are on Sabbatical. They’re pretty nice for Gator fans despite the ugly flag. Of course, some might say that Ted Bundy was pretty nice for a serial killer. (Did we mention it’s Florida week for the Vols?)
We’ll hang at Grafton tomorrow before joining up on the Mississippi River just outside the marina and dropping down to Alton. Grafton claims to be the “Key West of the Midwest.” That’s kind of like the University of Florida boasting that it’s the Scottsdale Community College of West Gainesville, but we’ll check it out.
Along the Illinois River the tug captains with the barges tend to be moderately dismissive of “PCs,” meaning pleasure craft. Even Loopers. They call us “plastic boats.” When we left the Dresden Lock a couple of days ago, the lockmaster warned the downriver tows to expect a “herd of turtles.” We know, because we heard him on the radio. The description somewhat is misplaced since we typically travel a couple of knots faster than the barges, of course, but we get the drift. We’re slow and in the way of commerce.
Anyway, the captain of a tow waiting below the Marseilles (“Mar-sales,” remember?) Lock apparently shares Dana’s affinity for photographing wildlife because he videotaped us all as we passed by.
Kudos to him for taking it. And even more for posting it on the AGLCA Facebook page. Way cool of him.
Yesterday we took off with yet another lock ahead. This one was at Starved Rock. The scenery has improved dramatically, which generally puts us in better spirits. There still are rusted barges along the shore in places, mind you, and the random power plant or other industrial stuff pops up, but the water seems clearer and the river banks seem greener.
At the Starved Rock Lock we picked up 3 more Loopers, bring the herd up to 13. Again we sat for a couple of hours, but at least this time we felt the lock guys did all they could. Only after he warned us to get ready to go did Doug remember the drone. Shamefully too late to get the money video.
The funniest part of the day was just after locking through. We started spacing out with a few hundred yards between us, such that the lead boat—Sea Jamm—was around several bends ahead of us and out of sight. Suddenly they turned around to flee from a huge set of barges coming upstream and using the entire channel. Loopers scattered backwards like bowling pins. Look closely and you can see the approaching bowling ball.
At Henry, Illinois, we split up again. Sabbatical, Second Wave, and Misty Pearl all pulled in behind Antonia at the Old Henry Lock. The Old Henry Lock reminds us of the time Doug wanted to see Jackson Taylor & The Sinners so we drove up to Flagstaff but it was NAU graduation so the town was packed and we couldn’t get a cab from the hotel and the band played Old Henry Rifle and got progressively more drunk and Jackson Taylor got increasingly more politically-belligerent and Dana hated the concert so we left. Actually Old Henry Lock just reminds Doug of that, because Dana scrubbed it from her memory. (The next time Doug saw Jackson Taylor & The Sinners, Dana stayed home.)
The dude at the wall swore that the power on the rickety pole was good and that it was our 30 amp reverse Y that was the problem. We were dubious but did without AC anyway.
Dana, Karen, Lezlie, and Jane all left their bras at the local bar. Not really, of course, although that would have made a much better story for the blog. The flock of geese camped out by our boat all night took full advantage of our open windows to honk us awake every few minutes. But the sunrise was beautiful from the rock wall and all was good.
We shoved off at 9 for the fairly short trip down to Peoria. More tugs with barges blocking our path, but we’re getting used to dodging them so no big deal.
Unexpectedly the scenery continues to improve overall. The Illinois River turns out to be quite pretty in places. Not exactly related to that but interesting nonetheless is the supposed fact that Illinois is second only to Washington in terms of apple production. Who knew?
We have mentioned the Asian carp problem before. These are big suckers that leap out of the water, often onto boats. We tried to get some video of them jumping around us but of course they stopped whenever they saw the camera. The Peoria Carp Hunters (peoriacarphunters.com!) passed by on one of their safaries. The goofiness of using a compound bow to try to shoot a fish in the air is surpassed only by the integrity these guys have. Note the nets along the gunwales, which literally are intended to keep the targets from just plopping onto the deck where they would be easy pickins’. Apparantly for Peoria Carp Hunters it’s all about the journey not the destination.
When we docked at the Illinois Valley Yacht and Canoe Club, we confirmed that our power cords are fine. Henry was to blame all along, just as we thought. Grrrr. But at least we have AC, which is good because it’s back up to 90 and the pool closed for the season on Labor Day.
Quite possibly—and maybe even probably—we won’t post anything more until Monday or so. We have 2 very long travel days ahead and time for other stuff will be sparse.