Oct 15 – 19, 2019 Moving on the Illinois River

The Brandon Road Lock and Dam – was just a short distance (2 miles) from the Joliet Wall, but a call ahead told us not to hurry.  So we left about 9 AM.  It was a beautiful day for a boat ride!

We arrived at the lock, but there was a VERY large tow in the lock – or at least part of it was. A barge is an individual container that is pushed or pulled by a tugboat.  For river transport, several barges are connected together and then called “the tow.”  Some of these tows are so large that they don’t fit in the locks.  When that happens, some of the units need to be disconnected and the tugboat must push the first section thru the lock, and then secure it on the other side of the lock.  Then the tugboat must go back thru the lock and get the remaining section(s), and bring them thru the lock.  Once all the barges are thru the lock, they must be reconnected and then the tugboat can continue the journey.   In this case, we were waiting quite some time for all of this to happen.  Meanwhile, there wasn’t much to do but try to hold position in the large area outside of the lock.  I say “try to hold” because it’s hard to hold a boat in position in moving water.  

Got finally got thru the first lock at 1:00 and then headed towards the next lock – Dresden Island Lock and Dam – about 15 miles down the river.  It was after noon when we got out of the first lock.  15 miles was about an hour and a half trip.  At this time of the year, we were very conscious of the sundown time, which got earlier each day.  Today it would be about 6 PM.  When we got to the next lock, we found we were going to have a long wait.  

We finally got thru, but we had another 20 miles to go to get to Springbrook – our planned marina stop.  Not many marinas along this stretch, so we needed to get there.  The marina was called to inform them that we would be getting in after their 5 PM closing time. 

As we saw the sun setting, we knew that we weren’t going to be docking in daylight. Additionally, the winds started increasing – double whammy!  When we finally arrived, the first boat found that the entrance was shallow and boats would have to proceed carefully.  We decided to let each boat get in a slip before the next boat entered.  There wasn’t a lot of maneuvering room.  In just a few minutes, there was total darkness.

We didn’t know it right away, but there were a couple of dock people who had stayed late to help get us all in.  That helped, but we all struggled to get docked.  Some of us were using flashlights to direct people to open spots.  Others were on the radios helping to give direction.  At some point there was probably TOO much info being given to incoming boats. Oh well, eventually everyone made it.  Hooking to electricity on the dock provided some additional problems, but at last we were all in and the juice was flowing.  Every single one of us was exhausted from a long day and a stressful evening. 

Winds were high the next day, so we had a “day off” to recuperate from the last evening’s docking challenges.  We piddled with boat chores, took a walk, then found out there was a large room at the marina where we could gather for a pizza dinner.  Had a fun evening of food and games.

We headed out again on a beautiful Thursday morning.  Our next lock was the Marseilles Lock and Dam.  We were going to have another wait here.  This time we asked the lockmaster if we could tie to a cell to wait.  A “mooring cell” is a large, round steel cylinder, that is usually filled with rocks.  The barges often tie to the cells to get aligned before entering the locks.  We got the go ahead, so one boat approached and got tied.  It’s tricky because you have to tie a straight side of a boat to a metal ring that is attached to a round structure that is about 25 feet in diameter.  SO, when one boat finally got tied and secured, several others rafted to that boat rather than trying to tie another boat. It was a long wait – 4 hours.

The day proceded well – no problems on the water.  We continued to pass tows of various sizes.  It wasn’t so scary anymore.  We got thru the second lock of the day — Starved Rock Lock and Dam.  Then we traveled for about another 25 miles.  At this point, people were making different plans.  Some were going to a small marina, some anchoring. Three of us (Alcyone, Curti-Sea, Vitamin Sea) decided to tie to the Hennepin Island Wall (hey, it was free), adjacent to a very small town – maybe “town” is exaggerating.  As we approached the “wall,” we had second thoughts of what we were doing.  We saw before us a concrete wall with a roadside guardrail at the top of it.  Definitely a “no frills” stop for the night.   It was no easy feat to tie to the guardrail.  Robin on Curti-Sea took a hard hit to her rib cage when their boat rocked as she reached across the boat railing to get a line around the guardrail.  She later found out she had cracked a couple of ribs. 

A golf cart approached us – we wondered if this was the Welcoming Committee or someone telling us to move on!  Turned out to just be a “local” come down to talk.  He mentioned that there was a restaurant at the top of the hill that had a great Prime Rib Special.  After traveling – and waiting – for a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes, that sounded SO good!  We headed to the top of the hill and found the restaurant (wasn’t hard) and walked in.  The bartender gave us the bad news that there was a wedding rehearsal dinner party that night and the restaurant was closed to other customers, but the bar was open. No other restaurants in walking distance.  Nothing to do but have a drink!  We had some interesting conversations with some of the locals – many of who had not heard of The Great Loop.  

So what about dinner? We had some BBQ on our boat, so we invited the others over and had beer and BBQ.  Not Prime Rib, but the company was outstanding!

The next day we continued on the Illinois River another 40 miles – no locks on this day.  The Two-pers regrouped at the Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY– to those in the know).  The club was very welcoming and had a great price on fuel, but a tight space to get to the fuel dock.  Our dock slip had us positioned to get fuel first thing in the morning, but boats that were on the outer slips had to wait quite awhile before they could get in to get fuel after us.

The delay in the locks re-opening had caused me one great regret.  My high school was having a 45thyear reunion this weekend.  I had originally planned to fly out of St. Louis, but that was not meant to be.  I’m sorry that I was not able to attend.  For those of you from my class that might be reading this, I hope that there will be a 50th– better attended — reunion.

On the 19th, we went thru the Peoria Lock and Dam and then had our most unusual nighttime tie up.   Flooding had destroyed some of the marinas on this stretch of the river, but there was a creative alternative.  Logsdon Tug Service had positioned a couple of barges along the shore for boats to tie to overnight.  Now, these are working barges, with all kinds of equipment on them.  Somehow, we didn’t think this was OSHA approved, but we were all accommodated by rafting together. That means the people on the rafted boats had to walk across the inner boats if they wanted to get off.  Good thing we’re all so friendly.