POST # 27 – WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE – Day 127, September 7, 2014. On board: Paul, Tom, Hank (my Dad), and Jim K
Remember Dorothy’s famous line when she first steps out of her house that has just landed unceremoniously in the Land of OZ – “Toto – I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”? That’s what it feels like having gone, in one day, from the first part of our trip – pristine lakes, scenic rivers, crystal clear water, resort-type communities, Chicago – to the first inland river, where, on the first day, the landscape was dominated by industry, and commercial tows are king while recreational boats are an afterthought. It was a fascinating but long and challenging first day – we cast off our lines at 7:30 AM but didn’t arrive at our destination 13 miles south of Joliet until it was almost dark, at a quarter to eight.
We first went through the harbor and into the lock that separates Lake Michigan from the Chicago River. Our two new crew members hard at work:
I posted pictures through the City in my last update, so I won’t repeat them here. The run through the City is truly remarkable. After passing through the City, one enters the Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal (described in my last post), and the landscape turns quite industrial:
Remember the discussion in a previous post about the Asian carp and other invasive species that people are trying desperately to keep from reaching Lake Michigan? The guidebook that we use has the following warning at a location about halfway down the Canal: “A permanent electrical barrier designed to prevent and slow the spread of invasive fish species through the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal into Lake Michigan is operational 24 hours a day. All vessels are prohibited from lingering or mooring in the area. Do not enter or put your hands or feet in the water under any circumstances.” YIKES!. Sure enough, when we got there, we saw this sign:
The first “tow” that we encountered was a tug pushing a single barge. What’s the big deal?
So why did it take us over 12 hours to go 55 miles? After we completed the transit of the Canal, we entered the Illinois River – the first of the Inland Rivers that will take us to the Gulf of Mexico. We quickly learned that when traveling the inland rivers, the dominant obstacles (so far, anyway) are the “tows” and the locks. Incidentally, they are called “tows”, but they are actually a bunch of barges chained together and pushed by a single tugboat from the rear. They range from one barge to a group of up to 42 barges, measuring in length over three football fields!! Forget the rules of navigation – these guys have the right-of-way by default. Anyway, the second obstacle are the locks, the chambers of which are huge – two football fields long – and take up to a half hour to fill or to empty. However, despite the size of the chambers, the tows are still too long to fit in all at once, so they have to break them into two or three groups and lock each group one at a time. Therefore, it can take hours to get a tow through a lock – and, of course, the tows always have priority over us lowly recreational vessels. So we arrived at our first lock to find that the first half of a tow was being raised in the lock, and were told that we could go down when they emptied the lock in order to get the second half of the tow. Seemed reasonable. However, they parked the barges right in front of the entrance to the lock, leaving a narrow, winding path for us to enter the lock:
After transiting the first lock, we passed through the city of Joliet. There were half a dozen or so drawbridges across the river, and by radioing ahead, each bridge magically opened as we approached it, not even slowing down:
Despite the difficulty entering the first lock, we were fortunate in that the entire locking process took about an hour. Not so at our second lock. They were locking through some barges carrying chemicals of some sort so they would not allow anyone else in the lock with the barges. We waited 4 hours to get into the lock, then it took another hour to lock us through, along with the tug. While we waited, we first tied to a barge that was tied to shore awaiting lockage, until it was his turn to go:
We then tied to a wall next to a local bar (some of the crew felt obligated to patronize the place in return for their hospitality. Not saying who, but…):
It was 30 minutes until sunset when we finally got through the lock, with about an hour to go to our destination – just enough time to get in at dusk – we did NOT want to travel on the river in the dark, as the buoys are not lighted and it is impossible to see debris floating in the river, which can potentially punch a hole in the hull or damage a propeller. Halfway there, the high temperature alarm sounded – the port engine was overheating. We had passed through a lot of seaweed and other debris over the course of the day, and the cooling system likely had become partially clogged. Rather than try to clean it while underway and end up running in the dark, we shut down the engine and ran mostly on one engine the rest of the way, arriving just as darkness was descending – a dramatic ending to a long, exciting, challenging first day on the Inland Rivers.
On Tuesday night, we stayed at Harborside Marina, about a mile from the small village of Seneca, Ill. The Marina loaned us their van, so we went to town for dinner, then went into town again to the local “greasy spoon” diner in the morning for breakfast. While we were there, four old retired guys came in and sat near us – classic rural Midwest, it could have been from a Norman Rockwell painting:
They were amazed to hear that we drove a boat to Seneca from Boston. We told them we planned to go through the next lock, then stay at the town dock in Ottawa 15 miles downstream. We arrived in the early afternoon and tied up – 15 minutes later, two of the four old guys showed up at the boat – “We didn’t have a lot on our schedule today, so we decided to watch you go through the lock. You were already through when we got there, so we drove down here.” So we gave them a tour, they drove us to the store, and we again enjoyed the “local color”:
A few more pictures from our stay in Ottawa:
Back to the Asian Carp – in Ottawa, while enjoying the scenery, we were treated to the sight of several large (1-2 feet) Asian Carp literally jumping out of the water straight up three or four feet – I saw half a dozen and Paul saw 50-75 jump up all at once. Later, while waiting out a lightning storm, we happened upon a specially-built boat and crew from the US Fish & Wildlife Agency who were “fishing” for the Carp on an experimental basis. They explained that the Carp jump when something startles or agitates them, and often when one jumps, it causes others to jump as well – hence a whole school of them jumping at the same time. The Asian Carp are now beginning to be fished commercially, the catch being sold to China where the Carp are eaten or used for fertilizer. Some fisherman literally drive around at high speeds, sometimes in circles, with nets sticking out in front of their boat, looking for schools of the carp. The boat agitates the fish, causing them to jump, hopefully into the nets. Others use gill nets to trap the fish. The Fish & Wildlife guys had a specially built boat (picture below) with an electrical generator. When they find a school of fish, they send an electrical shock into the water, which causes them to jump – they try to catch the fish in the nets as they jump. At times, they have caught up to 300-400 fish in minutes. The purpose of all this is two-old: (1) to thin the population of the carp in the northern section of the Illinois to reduce the chances that they get through the electric fish barrier, and (2) to try to develop an efficient method of catching the carp to create an ecconomical commercial fishery for the carp. Incidentally, they said that the fish is quite good to eat, but that the American public can’t get by the name “carp”. He suggested we look in local restaurants for “Mississippi silver fish” or other fancy names we haven’t heard of – it will likely be Asian Carp.
I actually have a video that one of our fellow loopers took of the experimental boat shocking the Carp and causing them to jump. I was unable to figure out how to add the video into the blog, however, so I’ll try to send it out separately.
Our next stop was Henry’s Marina, built next to an old abandoned lock. A couple of pictures:
The next night, we stayed at the Peoria City docks, immediately adjacent to downtown. The city is perhaps twice the size of Springfield, Ma. and is clean, attractive, and has a vibrant waterfront:
It is the world headquarters of the Caterpillar Company, a worldwide supplier of construction equipment and diesel engines. A picture from our tour of the Caterpillar Museum:
We also went to the new Waterfront Museum which opened just a year ago, and focuses on the rich history of the Illinois River and of Peoria itself. Prior to Prohibition, the economy Peoria was centered on the production of whiskey, which was the city’s primary export.
Saturday evening, the waterfront was alive with no fewer than three free music concerts at various locations along the river. The last one that I visited was by a group called Too White Crew, which had a troupe of 12 male and female singers and dancers:
Peoria is about halfway down the Illinois River – halfway by water between Chicago and St. Louis. The lower half is more rural with fewer facilities as we continue south, so the next week or two will be quite interesting as we continue our journey south.