The Illinois River

Well, we moved back onto the boat.  Our fall schedule is crazy.  We knew we’d only be on the boat for 4-6 weeks before having to go home for a month for work, Thanksgiving, and orthodontia.  Our goal was to get the boat moved down to the Gulf in that time.  There were so many obstacles.  Ben, Molly and I were all scheduled to speak at the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous in Rogersville, AL October 15-18th.  Before Ben left for FL the IL river was too shallow for us to get to many of the places we needed to go so we were already leaving later than we liked.  So, we’d ruled out getting the boat down to the rendezvous and settled on getting the boat to Green Turtle Bay.  By the time we finally left the river level was up and we had enough days with a couple of wiggle room days.  In addition to a tight schedule, the Mississippi River was now flooding and both the IL and Mississippi Rivers were full of debris and raging currents.

After dumping all of our stuff on the boat and spending the afternoon unpacking we got to bed and set out the next morning for Joliet, IL.

Seeing as we were starting in Dolton, IL, not Chicago, we had a short day.  We made it through our first lock, dealt with a lot of barge traffic, and got to the Joliet wall all by ourselves by about 1 PM.  We were the only boat there all night.  The girls made a dash for the park.  They remembered it from two years ago and couldn’t wait to get to the zip line.  It had rained quite a bit and everything was wet.  The girls had a blast going down wet slides sitting on their life vests and then just soaking their clothes.

The next morning we set out for Ottawa, IL.  This was only 50 miles away but we had 3 locks that were known to hold boaters up.  We had trouble two years ago with one of these locks and this trip would not prove any different.  Our 50 mile day took 12 hours.  Seven of those hours were wasted waiting on locks.  Ben was very stressed out about arriving in the dark because we barely had enough water to get into the channel to the marina.  He needed to be able to see.  At our last lock, after deciding to turn around and go find somewhere to tie up, the lock master called the tow behind us and asked if he could lock us through first so we could get in before dark.  The Miss Doris was in front of us and she was a double tow that took absolutely ages to get through.  The tow behind us, the Honeycutt, said sure go ahead.  So so nice!  Even so, we watched darkness starting to set in and Ben got more nervous.  FINALLY the Miss Doris got out of the way and we were able to get in the chamber.  The lock master tried everything.  We were too long to fit or he would have locked us through with the second run of the tow.  He worked with us and did what he could.

While we were waiting we asked the girls to make a couple of thank you cards.  When we pulled in the lock we handed off a thank you card to the lock master with a couple of candy bars. And we passed off a bag with a thank you card, some candy and a 6-pack of beer for the tow operators behind us on the Honeycutt.  We asked the lock master to pass it off.  The lock master came out while we were in the lock and said the girls’ card was the nicest card he’d ever gotten.  We got out of the lock and into the shallow channel with no issues and tied up for the night.  Exhausted.

We just kept on moving.  The next morning we started early again and got through the Starved Rock lock and on down to Peoria.  The wind was brutal.  It was so bad there were 1 ft waves on the river with white caps.  We stopped at the Peoria Town Docks since Ivy Club was too shallow for us this year.  It was a great stop!  Free and easy to dock and plenty deep.  There was one other Looper there too which made us feel a little better.  We’d heard some reports about safety on the docks but had no issues.

We spent the afternoon walking around.  Our first stop was the Caterpillar Museum….but they wouldn’t let us in because they stop selling tickets about 20 minutes before we arrived.  So we went to the gift shop and pretended like we’d gone to the museum.  Next up we walked through the Holocaust button exhibit.  Truly moving.  Each button represented a life lost.

We had to make a run to the post office to mail Yacht Devices packages.  Then we walked up a huge hill and found the baseball stadium.  Maddy found a foul ball outside and picked it up.  So then we pretended we had gone to the Caterpillar museum followed by a baseball game!  Next up we found a GIANT statue of Abraham Lincoln.  A public art exhibit depicting Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address to the common man.

We continued walking and found some huge props followed by a park!!!  The girls were thrilled to have a playground and as they were playing we watched tows going by.  Ironically they were the two tows that we passed the day before!  We followed this up with a gorgeous sunset and dinner on the boat.

After our night in Peoria we left and headed to the Peoria lock and got in pretty quickly.  The next lock was open so we were able to go right through and we headed on down to Logsdon Tug Service.  It was my birthday.  But we were on a mission to get south so it was also just Tuesday.  We got to Logsdon.  They let boaters pay to tie up to their barges.  It was quite an experience.  There is an incredibly scary staircase over the water to climb to get off the barge.  Ben went up to register and came back carrying flowers!  The Wilsons (Wendy) managed to get flowers delivered for me there.  So sweet.  Seeing as I wanted to get out for dinner and ice cream I pushed back my fears and climbed the staircase.  Ben had to hold on to me after he got the kids up safely.  I have an incredible fear of heights.  We had a great dinner at a local Mexican place and found a Dairy Queen for Blizzards.  But then we had to climb the scary staircase back down.  We safely made it back onto the boat and headed to bed.

Day 5 it was time to head to Grafton, IL and the END of the Illinois River.  The river was somewhat debris filled and Ben was exhausted.  Grafton marks Mile 0 of the IL river but also would be our start of the Mississippi River.  The further south we got the worse the current became.  Close to Grafton the current was pretty strong.  Ben called the fuel dock and they asked if we had thrusters.  Ben said yes.  They said the other guy on the fuel dock didn’t and it was apparently pretty ugly getting him tied up.  But Ben landed us on the dock just fine.  We got fuel and got to our slip with not too much stress.  There were entire trees flowing past our boat out in the channel.  We just watched and watched.  The Herbons were in Grafton and we were excited to have someone to travel with going forward.  For the afternoon though I got the girls off the boat.  We ran a package to the post office and walked up and down the one street.

We quickly determined there was not a single thing to do there and it was freezing so we headed back to the boat for the night, ready to tackle the Mississippi River the next morning.

Chicago, IL

We headed for Chicago the first weather window we got.  We loved our summer trip.  Canada was everything we’d hoped for and we always enjoy a trip down the Michigan coast, but we had been delayed too many times and had to get home.  Ben had some travel coming up for work, we had maintenance to be done on the boat, and we needed to get organized to start to head south.  As Mother Nature would have it, we woke up early to find fog.  We waited for quite awhile and eventually saw a boat or two heading out and decided to join the ranks.  We knew we’d be fine once we were out of the channel and in the open lake.

Fog and spider webs!

We headed straight to Hammond, IN to fill up.  Hammond has some of the cheapest fuel on the lake and is on our way into the Calumet River.  After fueling we headed into the Calumet and began our trip to Dolton, IL to Marine Services.  This is the yard that has kept our boat for winter storage and does all our maintenance that Ben doesn’t do.  The trip down the Calumet river is interesting.  Definitely different than boating through downtown on the Chicago River but a great view none the less.  It’s very industrial and a unique trip.  The trip also contains our first lock on our way south.  It’s an easy lock where you don’t even have to tie up.  You just float free in the lock.

We arrived in Dolton and tied up for the night.  Our boat was scheduled to be hauled out of the water the next morning.  We woke up and were packing up when a few guys came over to untie the boat.  We went running out to tell them that we and all our stuff were still on the boat!  This was the first time the girls and I had watched our boat come out of the water.  The whole process makes me crazy nervous.  I’m convinced the boat will fall.  So to watch it come out of the water, be power washed down, and then be put on stands was quite the feat of bravery for me.  The bottom of the boat looked pretty good.  The boat stayed put (and plugged in so we didn’t lose our food!) and we headed to our house in Chicago.

The Zeeffs were in Hammond when we stopped there.  They went down for fuel as well and were killing some time before heading south on the rivers.  They had plans to come back to Chicago and spend a night docked at the Tiki Hut on the Chicago River.  So we headed downtown to meet them for lunch.  The river walk is so much nicer than it was a few years ago when we docked on the river.  We took the train down and then walked along the river over to where their boat was.  We had lunch outside and then found some fun climbing stuff for the kids while we visited and enjoyed the sunshine a bit.

As Ben kept adding things to be done on the boat and the river forecast kept getting worse, it soon became clear that it was going to be simplest to leave the boat in Dolton until Ben was back from his work trip to FL.  Once we made this decision it freed up some of our schedule and we were able to fit in a trip to Michigan for Maddy’s best friend Claudia’s birthday!  We were missing our friends and although it was a quick visit it was so good to see them.


Back in Chicago more friends were moving through Chicago by boat!  It was the Wilsons turn.  The girls and I spent a day with Wendy and her girls at the Museum of Science and Industry followed by a trip to our house for dinner.  Ben picked Bobby up for some West Marine errands and they met us at home.  After dinner we walked to a new ice cream place by our house because we know how the Wilsons like ice cream!

Ben headed to FL the last week of September for 9 days.  The girls and I hung in Chicago for a couple of days and then headed to my mom’s for quite a few days and then back to Chicago.  Ben had a whirlwind trip covering a lot of miles between 3 different stops in FL.  But….it was finally time to load the boat and HEAD SOUTH!