Reaching The Mighty Mississippi!

194 Days Looping
3,018.1 Nautical Miles Total (3,473.2 Statute Miles)
211.5 Nautical Miles This Week
23.5 Hours Underway This Week
8.4 NMph Average Speed
3 Locks This Week, 137 Total Locks

Monday – Oct 21th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Ottawa, IL
Monday the weather was very blustery with wind gusts up to 35 mph. We decided to stay in port for the day which was a good thing as we heard that some of the big 15 barge tows were blown sideways in the river by the winds. We had periods of rain during the day. In the afternoon, it started to clear up. Brenda and Angela from Pura Vida III took one of the courtesy cars into town and did a bit of shopping. In the afternoon we attended the route briefing in the marina office, then had dinner at the marina restaurant.

Tuesday – Oct 22nd – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Ottawa, IL
Tuesday was not much better than Monday with high winds and rain so we decided to stay another day. It was raining most of the day so we just hung out around the boat. I worked on the blog and we did some inside boat maintenance. In the afternoon, we went to the briefing again to make sure that there were no issues with rising water from all the rain. We found out that our next scheduled marina was closed due to high water, so we revised our plans for Wednesday. Again, it was a group dinner at the Red Dog restaurant.

Front: Meredith & Scotty, Chris & Angela. Back: Mike & Viki, Brenda & Tom

Wednesday – Oct 23rd – 64.8 NM – 1 Lock – To: Peoria Heights, IL
What a difference a day makes! It dawned bright, clear and calm. We left the marina just as soon as it was light as we had a long day and we didn’t know how long we’d have to wait for the lock.

The Starved Rock Lock was just a few miles down river, and on the way we got to see more of the American White Pelicans and some more great scenery. When we got to the lock and radioed in, they told us to tie up to some caissons near the lock while they put a double length barge through. Thunderbolt and Pura Vida tied up to one, and Seasons and The Frog tied up to the other.

There was a great view of the Starved Rock state park from where we were tied up. Starved Rock is a large rock outcropping on the cliff walls that line the Illinois side of the river. The legend is that three indian tribes were at a pow-wow and one of the chiefs was murdered. Fearing reprisals, one of the tribes took refuge on this rock outcropping, however their escape was cut off as they were on this isolated peninsula. The other tribe would not let them leave, and the tribe starved to death, thus “Starved Rock”. Sad story. Back in the early 1900’s a developer purchased the land and built a large vacation lodge on the property. In the 1930’s it was taken over by the National Park Service and the CCC built many hiking trails on the property. In the 1950’s it was transferred to the State of Illinois and is now a state park. It has the original hotel/lodge as well as a large campground.

The tug was a double so we were expecting a 3 hour wait, but this was a very experienced crew and 90 minutes later we were called in to lock through. After exiting the lock we continued down the river. This part of the Illinois River is a mix of natural land with the occasional industrial structure.

We’ve mentioned the Asian Carp that are in the Illinois River and are why they have installed the Electric Fish Barrier. Asian Carp are an invasive species. They don’t hit on hooks or lures but eat algae and other fish eggs. They are very prolific and a small area can contain thousands of fish. Because they eat all the algae and fish eggs, they decimate the native fish populations. The only way to catch them is netting and there are small net boats that net them all along the river. The average asian carp weighs in at around 5 lbs and is 20 inches long. They can grow up to 71 inches long and weigh in at 71 lbs! When you cruise down the river, the sonic vibrations from propellers cause them to jump out of the water. We’ve been tied up in marinas and have had fish smack into the side of the boat with a huge thunk when other boats come in to dock. As we cruised down the river, we would frequently see carp jumping near the banks.

Jumping Carp
Jumping Asian Carp

Along this part of the Illinois river there are levies to protect from flooding along most of the river. Any homes or camps outside of the levies are built up on stilts to protect them. As we neared Peoria Illinois, we entered a large lake that is part of the river. There are a number of barge scrap yards along this section and it was interesting to see the old river boats in various stages of decay. As we were traveling down the lake, we saw a “blob” in the distance. It was moving and we first thought it was just some floating debris. When we got closer a head popped out! It was a hunter who had covered his pontoon boat with branches for the upcoming duck hunting season. As we passed he slid back his covering and waved to us.

At 5:30 just as it was starting to get dark we arrive at the IVY Yacht Club. It was tricky getting in as the entrance channel was narrow and shallow, but we were tied up and checked in by 6:00.

There was a nice bar and restaurant at the marina and the 5 boats got together for dinner.

Thursday – Oct 24th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Peoria Heights, IL
Peoria Illinois is home to Caterpillar Tractors and they have a museum and visitor center that we wanted to visit, so we stayed an extra day in Peoria. The marina was the first place in a while that we knew where we’d be in advance, and we had some Amazon packages delivered. We got some new fenders and a new main battery charger for the boat. The old charger was still working, but we’d noticed that it was taking a long time to recharge the batteries, and the cooling fan on the charger had stopped working. I figured that it would fail pretty soon, so ordered a replacement. In the morning while Brenda did some laundry, I installed the new charger. This was one of the few repair projects that went pretty much as planned with little drama. The new charger made a huge difference in the charge time charging in 20 minutes what was talking almost 90 minutes before.

In the afternoon, we got together with Angela, Sebastian, and Chris from Pura Vida and called an Uber to take us to the Caterpillar museum. Angela had heard that there was a road that ran along the edge of the bluff above the marina that had excellent views of the river called Grandview Drive. We were afraid that the Uber driver would just want to go straight to our destination, so we added a stop to our ride at a park at the top of the hill. We got real lucky, the driver that came was a member of the Yacht Club and was excited to show us Loopers around town! The 5 of us crammed into a Toyota Celica and went for a ride.

He took us to the heights and gave us a guided tour of the large homes, and a castle with fire breathing dragons on the front lawn. (While it was decorated for halloween, the dragons are a permanent fixture at the castle and are on either side of the driveway.

From Grandview Drive, we drove around downtown Peoria and got a look at some of the buildings and the warehouse district. Our driver pointed out a bunch of restaurants, drove us through the warehouse district which is being converted to upscale lofts, condos and business incubators, before dropping us off at the Caterpillar visitor center.

The Caterpillar Visitor Center was amazing. The tour starts with a 9 minute video in a 50 seat theatre that is in the bed of their largest dump truck. After the video, you go down a set of stairs onto the display floor, where they have some of their most popular equipment on display. They have simulators where they have the actual controls from their equipment like bucket loaders, dump trucks, bulldozers and you can drive them and dig in the dirt. They use them as training aids. The visitor center is staffed with retired Cat employees and they are very helpful and a wealth of knowledge. Cat is a major sponsor of the FIRST Robotics competitions, and there are some displays of robots made by the local FIRST teams. They also have a LEGO area where kids (and adults) can build LEGO race cars and race them down a track.

Behind the display floor, is a museum showing the original Caterpillar tractor, displays of armored military equipment, and a history of the company. They have rooms with displays of Marine, Power Generation, and how new equipment is developed.

After our Cat Visitor Center tour, we walked down to the warehouse district for dinner. We picked a restaurant called Thyme which is famous for its extensive whiskey selection. On the way, we walked past the Peoria Museum with a giant statue of the American Gothic painting of the Farmer and his Wife with a pitchfork. There were also a number of great old signs and murals on the sides of the old warehouse buildings. After dinner, the 5 of us piled into a small Uber and went back to the marina.

When we walked back onto the boat, I immediately noticed that our bilge pump light was on indicating that the bilge pump was running. Also we could hear our fresh water pressure pump that pumps water from our fresh water tanks running. Not good! I turned off the fresh water pump, and in minute the bilge pump turned off also. So, we had a leak in our fresh water system. I pulled up the floor panels and saw water sitting all around our hot water heater. After turning on the water pump, I could see water coming from the bottom of the heater box. Crap! Readers of the blog will remember we had an issue with low hot water pressure about a month ago and a flush of the tank took care of it. I wasn’t entirely shocked that the hot water heater failed as it’s original to the boat and 13 years old. I removed the access panel to get to the hot water heater and crawled into the compartment took a look around. The hot water heater is an 18″ x 18″ x 26″ aluminum box that’s all pop-riveted closed. No user serviceable parts. I took a photo of the make and model, and found a replacement on Amazon that I could get shipped in three days. Not hugely expensive, however to get it out, I’d have to unscrew the stairs that lead to the bedrooms in the boat and a quick count showed 42 screws! I buttoned things up and bypassed the water heater so that we could at least have cold water.

Friday – Oct 25th – 69.8 NM – 1 Lock – To: Beardstown, IL
Friday morning we decided to leave at 7:30 when it was fully light. Because we didn’t have hot water on the boat, we walked up to the boaters bathrooms and showered there. At 7:45 the last of us pulled out of the marina headed down stream. We passed through Peoria Illinois, and the giant Caterpillar plant, and an old brewery that is now being used as an Ethanol plant that was spewing hot water into the river.

Just below Peoria, we reached the Peoria Lock & Dam. This is another “Wicket” dam. A Wicket dam is like a giant picket fence. When the river flow is low, they put up the fence across the river and it restricts the flow by 50% causing water to backup behind the fence. When the fence is up, you have to go through the lock. Right now the river is in minor flood stage, so the fence is folded down and lying on the bottom of the river and you can just cruise right over the top of it. It’s a bit disconcerting to see the “Danger Dam Ahead” and just continue right over the top!

After Peoria, the river is pretty natural along the banks, with just the occasional barge unloading terminal. As we were cruising along, Brenda noticed a large flock of the American White Pelicans circling overhead. They create a spiral in a small area gaining altitude while other groups join in at the bottom, and work their way up. It’s sort of like a Pelican tornado, wide at the top, and narrowing as it goes down. Once the group is at altitude, they all head off on their migration. Amazing to watch!

We reached our stop for the night, Logsdon Tug Service, Elmer Logsdon proprietor. This is in a little river town called Beardstown, Illinois. This town has three things of note.
1) It has the original courtroom that Abraham Lincoln won his famous murder trial in.
2) A large flour mill.
3) A large Tyson Pig Slaughtering facility on the edge of town.
Logsdon tug is sort of like a fork lift service. They work with the large tugs putting together the tows, breaking them down, and moving barges around as they are being filled or emptied.

In Beardstown, the river floods often and quite high. They have built a 50 foot tall concrete wall all along the bank of the river to hold the river back and protect the town. On the wall, there are 4 old barges tied up where the Logsdon Tug Service docks their boats and barges they are moving around. They allow boats to tie up to the barges for the night which is preferable to anchoring out as you are tied to a solid structure. There are no services here (electric, water, pumpout, fuel). Just a place to tie up to. It’s a cash only service at $1.00 per foot. After seeing the place, we can understand why it’s cash only. They want no record that they allowed you to tie up. We were tied up to a derelict pile driving barge. There were cables, hoses, and ropes strewn all around the deck and you had to climb over railings and deck fittings to get from your boat to land. Once you got across the barges, you then had to climb a steep metal staircase up to the top of the levee wall. Very precarious!

After our tug tour, we walked into town to have a look around and to get some dinner. As we rounded a corner, a police car pulled up just in front of us, and the officers handcuffed a guy walking down the street. We waited until he was in cuffs and they had frisked him. As we walked past, we noticed it was the deck hand from Pintail, the tug we’d toured. So sad.

We had a nice dinner at a mexican restaurant in town, then walked back to the boat for the night.

Saturday – Oct 26th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Beardstown, IL
We had only planned one night in Beardstown due to the lack of services, however Saturday was pouring rain and windy. It was no condition to be out on the river so we stayed an extra day. Once the rain subsided a bit, Brenda and I walked into town to browse through a few local antique shops and visit the Lincoln Courthouse Museum. We walked into the Courthouse museum, and were greeted by Paula the curator of the museum. Paula is a 80 something firecracker with a passion for the little museum in Beardstown. We were the only visitors while we were there so she gave us a personal tour. The museum has several sections, the main section is focused on Abraham Lincoln when he successfully defended William Armstrong in his murder trial in 1858. While the courtroom has had some renovations, it remains much as it was during the trial and is still used as a courtroom today. There is also a collection of Lincoln memorabilia, and the original jail cell that William Armstrong was held in (the courthouse was also the local sheriff office and the cells were in use until the 1960’s.

Another section is dedicated to a large indian arrowhead and other stone artifacts from the area and a large antique gun collection donated by Rudie Black, a local resident. They claim it’s one of the largest collections on public display.

The rest of the museum has the history of Beardstown and life on the river. Including a display of period dresses from the 1800’s and models from the Halligan Aircraft Company who tried to invent a different type of aircraft, but ended up only producing model planes. We spent about 2 hours there and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

After visiting the museum we walked to a local restaurant and ran into the Pura Vida III crew having lunch. We had a local specialty called “The Horseshoe”, which is a like german pork Schnitzel, covered in waffle fries and gravy. The photo below is actually “The Ponyshoe” the small portion! After lunch we walked back to the boat and got there just as the heavy rain started. We spent the rest of the day on the boat catching up on the blog and watching the tow boats go past.

Sunday – Oct 27th – 76.9 NM – 1 Locks – To: Grafton, IL
Sunday morning was bright, warm and with some river fog. We had planned a long day with the goal of reaching the Mississippi river about 75 miles away. We had 4 boats with us when we pulled out of Logsdon Tug (Pura Vida, Thunderbolt, Drifters and us). The fog would come and go sometimes being thick enough that we lost sight of the other boats. We took it slow and watched the AIS and radar carefully. Fortunately traffic on the river was light and we had no issues. It was also the opening day of duck season in the area and we watched the duck blinds to make sure that we slowed down if someone was inside so that they didn’t get mad and shoot at us for disturbing their ducks. Just after 9:00 we reached the La Grange Lock. This is another wicket dam and the wickets were down so we were able to cruise right past with just a radio call. It was a good thing as the entire lock was full of construction barges!

After passing the lock, the fog burned off and we had a beautiful day to finish the Illinois river. We still had to keep our eyes open for logs and debris in the water, but it was a pretty smooth trip. We passed several tows in both directions and went under some beautiful bridges. The river here is mostly natural with the occasional grain elevator or powerplant. We only had to have two bridges open for us and the operators were friendly and timed the opening perfectly for our arrival.

This area of the Illinois river is the winter home of the Bald Eagle and we saw many as we went down the river. Grafton, our destination for the night, holds a Bald Eagle festival at the end of November.

The rest of the day was more of the same. A few tows to pass, another bridge to open, some nice houses many along the river are either up on 20 ft stilts or surrounded by sandbags. The weather was beautiful and by the time we reached Grafton it was 70 degrees. At 3:30 we arrived at Grafton Harbor. Grafton Harbor is right were the Illinois river meets the Mississippi river. Grafton is a tourist town and has a large marina. This spring and early summer, there was extensive flooding along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and you could still see the results at the marina. They lost their fuel tanks, so no fuel, but still had full electric and water services. We pulled in one at a time, dodging all of the local boats who were out for what would probably be their last warm Sunday of the season. We tied up in our slip, and then met our fellow boaters at the marina office/gift shop/bar for a celebratory drink to toast our arrival at the Mississippi!

NEXT WEEK: Down the Mississippi, can you say Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn?