Day 15 – Green Turtle Bay

We’ve been at Green Turtle Bay for three days now.  We’re very happy here.  The weather has been beautiful, the facility is very nice and the girls are occupied.  Yesterday we started the day with Tim and Carol’s gold burgee ceremony.  After completing the loop you change from flying a white burgee (flag) to a gold one.  Tim and Carol crossed their wake Friday night when we pulled into Green Turtle Bay.

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After the ceremony we joined Tim and Carol and their kids and grandkids for an afternoon on the water.  We went through the canal to Kentucky lake and down to a party cove type area with a bunch of painted rocks.  The water was over 80 and the girls had an amazing time swimming with playmates and enjoying the warm water.

Today we had the boat hauled and the props swapped.  The damaged propellers came off and I was able to eyeball the damage.  It appears to be one good sized ding in the leading edge of one blade and two other blades with damage to their leading edges.  The other side has several very small knicks in the leading edges of its blades.  They will both be sent to Mobile to be repaired and we will pick them up when we pass through Mobile.  Now we just have to try not to damage another set before we get to Mobile…

School continues to go fairly well with Molly.  Madelyn is stubborn.  I’m not sure where she gets it.  Her writing assignments have averaged about 20 minutes of work preceded by between three and six hours of fits and complaints about having to do it.  She has stated her desire to skip the first grade and just go to second when we return.   Thus far we’re not taking her up on that option.

We’re planning to head to Nashville the end of this week, either Thursday or Friday.  We look forward to seeing Nashville.

Day 12 – Green Turtle Bay

It’s been a few days since I last posted.  We’ve been busy since we left Alton, IL.  The run from Alton to Green Turtle Bay on Lake Barkley has very few places to stay.   The traditional run has you going from Alton to Hoppies.  Hoppies is a couple of 100 foot barges tied to the banks of the Mississippi about 45 miles down river from Alton.  The trouble is that there’s no protection from the passing tows and that 45 miles downriver isn’t all that helpful.  It’s about 290 miles from Alton to Green Turtle Bay.  After Hoppies there’s nowhere to stop with power and only one place to stop that’s not at anchor.

Shortly after we left Alton we cruised through St. Louis.  Oddly for a river town St. Louis has no marinas and no where to even stop along the river for pleasure craft.  So we took a few pictures and cruised right on through.

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Hoppies Marina on the Mississippi

One of the best things about Hoppies is that Fern, Hoppie’s wife gives a daily briefing on the river conditions below their location.  She gives suggestions about the best places to anchor, she tells you about what the river is expected to do and she gives tips for navigating the locks.  Fortunately for us Mike and Leann Rowe on Rowe Boat went a day before us down river and stopped at Hoppies.  We got the briefing from them and based on distance felt comfortable with the decision to bypass Hoppies and instead get further down the river to the Kaskaskia river, a run of about 85 miles.  There’s a lock there that will let you tie up on the wall.   That allowed us a safe place to stay but no power.  So, in a first for us, we ran the generator all night for power.  We got up the next morning and left to get as far down the river as we could.  We were hoping to get to an anchorage on the Ohio river a few miles before lock 52.

As we turned off the Mississippi onto the Ohio we entered the first upriver section of the trip.  We would traverse a total of about 60 miles of upstream river.  This meant that we went from our Mississippi speed of about 12 knots to a speed of about 8 knots without adjusting the throttles at all.  Incidentally, after hitting the bottom in Alton, IL this was as fast as we were able to travel without the shake from the bent starboard prop being an issue.

There’s a project underway to replace two locks on the Ohio River, locks 52 and 53.  The new lock is named the Olmsted Lock and Dam.  The project was started in 1995 and is scheduled to be completed in 2020.   As a result of the construction the information published says that some anchorages are closed.  As we approached the construction site expecting to need to be escorted through single file by an escort tug we heard another pleasure craft talking with the construction supervisor on the VHF.  The supervisor was advising there was a storm on the way and suggesting that we all spend the night in the anchorage that was listed as closed.  We were able to anchor behind two cells.  Cells are giant concrete cylinders that barges are tied to while they wait.  We dropped our anchor and our friends Tim and Carol on Liquid Assets tied up next to us as the storm hit.  We were fortunate to have a large tow sitting on the cells.  He blocked much of the wind and water from the storm.  At that point it seemed obvious the best thing to do would be to spend the night right there.  In the morning we would have about 20 miles to get to the next lock.

We’d called ahead and heard that lock 53 had the wickets down and we’d be able to pass through open river.  Lock 52 was a different story.  The same friends that went to Hoppies were in a group of 10 boats that had been waiting for lock 52 for many hours.  As the storm hit lock 52 they allowed boats in.  About half decided to wait for the morning and half went through.  Both groups then anchored for the night on either side of the locks.

We left our anchorage about 8am this morning and headed towards lock 52.  I’d been trying since 6:30 last night to get a hold of the lock operator to find out when would be the best time to get there.  Finally about 8:30am I was able to get him on the phone.  We heard that the crew that spent the night outside the lock had just made it through.  So we headed that way expecting a wait to get through.  We weren’t disappointed.  We waited about 3.5 hours before being summoned into the chamber.  Lock 52 is the first lock we’ve been through that didn’t have smooth walls.  The walls are a series of very large circular plates that make it difficult to fender the boat off.  Additionally this is the first lock since we left Chicago that didn’t have floating bollards to which we could loop our lines.  Instead we hand our lines up to the attendants at the lock and they loop them around bollards.  This was a very slow lock and it’s need for replacement was obvious.

Finally out of Lock 52 we had about 50 miles to Barkley lock.  This took us from the Ohio River to the Cumberland River.  Things got a lot narrower and a lot prettier.

We then made our way down to the Barkley lock.  This lock is a 57′ lift.  We entered as the sun was setting.  We got tied to the floating bollard and Laura retreated back inside before the bugs flew off with her.  We pulled out of Barkley as the last of the light left.  We were fortunate to be in the chamber with a boat who’s home port is Green Turtle Bay.  We followed them the mile from the lock to the marina.  After lots of time with the spot light and help from other loopers we got into our slip and turned off the generator .  The generator ran for about 60 straight hours.

Once here we went to Liquid Assets and celebrated the completion of their loop.  The crossed their wake as they pulled into Green Turtle Bay.  Congrats Tim and Carol!

Day 6 – Alton, IL

Today we traveled from Havana, IL to Alton, IL.  The trip was a total of about 138 miles and took us from the Illinois River to the Mississippi River.  The trip was long but without making the long haul we would have had to anchor overnight somewhere.  Fortunately because the water levels are so high we were able to proceed over the lowered wickets of the 8th and final dam of the Illinois River.  This was our second wicket dam with lowered wickets.  A wicket dam has wickets that are raised when the water levels are low and the dam is needed to keep the water levels high enough for navigation and lowered when water levels are high.

We left early, especially for us, at about 6:30 because of the length of the trip.   This wouldn’t have been that bad except neither Laura or I slept very much the night before.  We’d gone to dinner with Mike and Leann from Rowe Boat and Tim and Carol from Liquid Assets in Havana.  While we were at dinner I’d left the hatch to the fly bridge open.  I failed to consider that the marina we were in was nearly a swamp.  By the time we’d returned from dinner the boat was swarmed with bugs.  We spent quite a while before we went to bed killing bugs and then headed to sleep.  Within a few minutes of going to sleep we realized we still had a ton of bugs in the boat.   I fell asleep by about 1:30 and Laura about 3:30.  At about 1:30 I heard Laura with an electronic fly zapper zapping away.

About 15 minutes after we left Molly came stumbling up very much half awake.  Maddy, very surprisingly, slept until about 8:30.  When she came up her legs were covered in mosquito bites.  The rest of the run was fairly uneventful.  The further down river we went and the closer we got to the Mississippi the more boats we saw.  Along the way we saw bald eagles, giant tows, car ferries and lots and lots of floating debris.

As we entered the Mississippi I was very surprised by the beauty of the scenery.  Especially the cliff faces of light colored stone with lots of foliage.  We then had about a 20 mile run down river to Alton.  Our arrival to Alton was marked by the really ugly boat of the Argosy Casino.

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We pulled into a slightly difficult entrance to the harbor and headed right to the fuel dock to refuel and pump out.  As we headed to the fuel dock we noticed depth below the boat was only about 2.5 feet.  After fueling I backed off the fuel dock and backed straight back the way we came in to the main fairway.  Shortly after backing off the fuel dock we heard and felt a loud bang.  It seemed very likely we’d hit something submerged with the props.  We decided to run out of the harbor and do a quick test to see if we had a vibration.  On a busy and choppy river I’m pretty sure I felt a vibration.  I’ve decided to live with the vibration and head to Green Turtle Bay and have the props checked there.

 

Day 4 – Peoria, IL

Our day started early this morning with a knock on the boat from Mike on Rowe Boat.  He’d just called the Starved Rock Lock and found out that if we moved quickly we could get in the lock and locked down before the commercial traffic started up.  Unfortunately both Molly and Maddy were still asleep.  We made the choice not to leave right away and take our chances with the lock.  We arrived at the lock as our friends were exiting the down river side.  The lock-master told us we would have a long wait and so we braced for a good long wait.  After talking to the lock-master a second time he told us the tow in the chamber was broken apart because he was too big to fit in a single lock-through.  This meant they would have to drop the chamber to get the second half of the tow.  As long as we could squeeze through a narrow opening behind the barges we could go through.

The most interesting thing to me was the chamber was totally full of barges with no tow boat.  It turns out the way it works is they use a tow cable to push the barges in the chamber out (very slowly) and then as the barges are out of the chamber they use lines to shore to stop the barges.  This was clearly a well choreographed slow motion dance executed to perfection.  We were able to sneak in behind the back barge and lock down.  As we were locking down Gary Peterlin came by and watched.  We then saw Gary again shortly after pulling out, waving to us from a bridge over the river.  The exit to the lock chamber was a little tricky.  As we pulled out we had very little room because the rest of the tow was waiting to enter the chamber with about 25 feet to spare.  Because of the flooding on the river the current was ripping at the exit to the lock which wanted to push us right into the barges waiting to enter.  A little throttle and we were out.

From there it was a little under 60 more miles to the Illinois Valley Yacht Club in Peoria where we would spend the night.  It was a pretty uneventful rest of the trip.  Some pretty scenery, lots of flooding, and lots and lots of tows.  It turns out that today was the first day that most of their insurance carriers would let them run below Starved Rock.  That meant there were lots of tows operating and lots of congestion.

As we got close to Peoria we passed a bizarre marina that was both a pleasure boat marina and a graveyard for old casino boats.   Once we arrived in Peoria we met back up with Rowe Boat and Liquid Assets who arrived earlier in the day.  Once here the girls bailed quickly for the swimming pool.  Libby, Grace, Hannah, Caroline and Grandma Cathy arrived.  Cathy’s friends Pam and Jeff arrived as well and we all had a good meal at the Ivy Club’s restaurant.  Then Laura and I took advantage of access to a car, you’d think we’d been gone four months not four days, while Grandma Cathy was kind enough to do bedtime.

Day 3 – Ottawa, IL

Today we traveled from Joliet to Ottawa.  We left Joliet around 8:15 this morning with two other boats.  We traveled with Tim and Carol on Liquid Assets and Mike and Leann on Rowe Boat.  We had Mike Rowe and Ben Stein travelling together.  Sadly neither of us as famous as our names.

We had about 50 miles to cover and three locks to transit.  We left to calls on 16 from the Coast Guard advising of flooding in the areas we would be transiting and warning about floating debris and strong currents.

We had to wait about 15 minutes for a bridge to be lifted that had a rush-hour curfew until 8:30am.  Once we made it past that bridge we arrived at the Brandon Road Lock and Dam.  This Lock lowers boats 36 feet down to the next pool.  We had a very short wait to get in the chamber and then we went on down.  The bridge immediately after the lock was being worked on and though it was a tight fit we made it under.

Once we cleared through the first lock we had about a 10 mile cruise to the second lock, Dresden Lock and Dam.  Here we encountered our first substantial wait for a lock of the trip.   We waited about an hour and a half before the pleasure craft (PCs) were called into the chamber.  At Dresden we also met up with 5 other looper boats who left before us.  The earliest of them left about 6:45 and waited an additional hour and a half.  This seems to be how things go with the locks. While waiting we started boat school.  It went reasonably well until Molly began rolling on the ground in frustration.  Nothing new here.

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There were only two working floating bollards in this lock so we had to raft off three across.  This worked just fine though we had to do some adjusting as we moved down.   As we left Dresden the flooding on the Illinois river was more apparent.  Everything that floats was way up at an unusual angle and anything not floating along the banks was under water.

Next up would be the Marseilles Lock and Dam.  Marseilles is a little different from the other locks we’ve encountered in that the dam is 2.2 miles upstream from the lock.  The lock is down a long narrow canal with limited room for passing vessels.  We had difficulty raising the lock master both on VHF and by phone.  Once we were able to raise them they weren’t particularly helpful.  They told us the wait would be over an hour but told us little else.  When we asked where we could wait they would only tell us where we couldn’t be…  you can’t tie up there, you can’t anchor here, etc.  After about 20 minutes of all of us trying to figure out what we were supposed to be doing a very nice tow operator came through with a load of four barges.  He called the lock master, asked what the PCs were supposed to be doing then suggested to the lock master that he lock us down before the tow.  The tow has priority over us so his suggesting we go first saved us a huge amount of time and cost him time.  Turns out he’s done the loop on his own boat and was sympathetic to our plight.  It was also a good reminder of the way things work.  The lock master wouldn’t answer any questions we asked with anything but the bare minimum response.  When the tow boat captain called the lock master suddenly he’s Mr. conversation.

After the help of the tow boat captain we made our way through the lock and out.  We had about a two mile run into Heritage Harbor in Ottawa.  We ended up meeting up both with Jeff, a friend from Burnham, and Gary, Lana, Marshall, Price, Tara and Aubrey.  The Peterlins are Laura’s sister’s in-laws.  They took us for a great pizza dinner in Ottawa.

Tomorrow we are on to Peoria, 70ish miles down river and through one lock.  We’re hoping that with only one lock we will make it a little quicker.  Tomorrow night we meet up with Grandma Cathy her friend Pam and hopefully Libby, Grace, Hannah and Caroline.

Day 2 – Nowhere

Today’s status thus far… We aren’t going anywhere yet. The Illinois river is above flood stage at both the Dresden and Marseilles Locks. There’s reports of strong currents and lots of debris in the water. So either we will spend another night in Joliet or go about 15 miles down river to a marina.

Day 1 – Joliet

We left!  Last night was kind of a late night for Laura and me taking the final load of stuff to the boat.  This was the first time we took stuff to the boat and just couldn’t put everything away.  Most of the storage on the boat is pretty full at this point.  Laura spent much of today’s time underway trying to put things away.  She did pretty well but is still bothered by the stuff that’s out.

We had an amazing show of support at the dock today.  Mema, Pop-pop, Grandma Cathy, Grandpa Jim, Max, Kyle, Sophie, Zoe, Kathy, Livia, Claudia, Sabina, Ron and Ozzie all came to see us off.  Some tears were shed, we said our goodbyes and pulled out of Burnham.  Sophie, Zoe and my dad joined us for the day.  I was very happy to have my dad.  Today was a lot of logistics and moving around the boat and it was great to have him.  Zoe was a little reluctant to join but even if she’s reluctant to admit it, I think she had a good time.  Sophie also had a good time but was more willing to admit it.

 

We left Burnham and headed to Hammond to get some fuel.  We then headed onto the Calumet River and through the O’Brien Locks, the first of our many, many locks on the trip.  We then headed down on the Little Calumet River to Marine Services.  The Girls loved the pink golf cart.  Thanks to Mike Walsh for giving them a ride!

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After a brief stop at Marine Services to verify the measurement from the water to the hardtop we continued on the Cal-Sag to the Illinois Sanitary and Ship Canal. Once on the Sanitary and Ship canal it was a short three or so miles to the 19′ bridge.  The forecast today was for rain which meant the water reclamation district let water out of the pool this bridge is on in order to insure there wasn’t flooding from the rain.  This meant we had an extra foot of clearance and sailed under the bridge without doing anything other than lowering the antennas.  A huge relief.14183781_10210344537599188_1912371207505368638_n

Once clear of the pain-in-the-ass bridge it was on to our second lock of the day and our first big drop lock.  This was the Lockport lock and damn.  A drop of roughly 40 feet awaited us.  We waited about 15-20 minutes and while waiting caught up with the Katie B, the first other looper boat we’ve encountered.  After our short wait we watched the upper gate drop straight down, the first time I’ve seen that lock design, and then heard a blast of the horn and pulled into the lock.  Once there we tied up to a floating bollard that would make the 40ish foot drop with us.  At about the same time the rain picked up and my poor dad got rained on.  For being a 40 foot descent it was a great deal less fanfare than many of 2-4′ lock-throughs in Chicago and at the O’Brien locks.  There was no turbulence from the water and very little movement of the boat.

Once out of the locks we had about another 5 miles to go down-river until we reached Joliet.  We had to have three bridges raised in Joliet.  It was the easiest time I’ve ever had going under three bridges.  The first operator raised the bridge quickly and then called ahead to each of the other bridges and they were all up as we approached.  Just under the last of the three bridges we tied up to the town wall in Joliet.  There’s no charge for docking on the town wall and they supply free power!

My mom met us in Joliet and brought a picnic dinner for the eight of us.  My parents then took the girls to the park while Laura and I ran to a grocery store to grab some fresh produce that we ran out of time to do while still in Chicago.  Shortly after we got back my parents, Sophie and Zoe left to head home and we got Molly and Maddy to bed.  We’ve watched a handfull of petroleum barges go by while watching some TV.

Tomorrow we’ll make our way down river some but we’re listening to the announcements on the VHF and reading Notice to Mariners about flooding further down river so our progress might be delayed.

One week… holy $#!+

One week, we leave in one week.  We spent this weekend alternating between enjoying the air and water show and panicking.  We have a busy week this week of packing in seeing people, celebrating major events, saying goodbye and dealing with the many logistics of being gone for a year.

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The list of things to do on the boat seems to possibly be getting shorter.  Meanwhile, the list of things to do at home seems not have moved at all.  This week we have to move our clothes onto the boat, clean up the house, figure out what to do with our cars, get the house ready for winter, deal with the houses in Michigan, grocery shop, and on and on and on.  Neither Laura nor I have gone anywhere for a year since we went to college.  We had a lot less stuff then.

At the same time we’re trying to make sure we are ready on the boat.  I still haven’t taken all the stuff off the hard top.  There’s still a pretty long list of things I either think I need to or feel like I should do to get the boat ready.  We continue to be able to find room for most of the stuff that we’ve schlepped onto the boat but that is starting to get harder.  It seems like each time we go to the boat the car is packed to the roof and we get on and dump hundreds of pounds of stuff in the middle of the salon.  Hopefully at some point that will slow and that point will come before the boat is barely floating with the weight of all of our stuff.

We’re still planning on leaving next Monday, 8/29.  That’s dependent on our getting everything done and on the pool on the sanitary and ship canal being low enough for us to sneak under the 19′ bridge we have to deal with.  The plan is for my father and possibly my niece Sophie to join us for the first day or two.  The extra hands will definitely be helpful.

I think the girls are starting to get excited.  Maddy is still trying to figure out if this is strange or not, this morning she asked if we are the first people to do the great Chicago loop.  I’m not sure she’s fully got this down just yet.  Molly is pretty excited but a little sad as well about leaving friends.  We took the girls school shopping this morning and I think they enjoyed that and it’s probably good for them to stick to some routines.

Okay, off to empty a freezer so we can turn it off.

 

And now it’s really close…

We are planning to leave two weeks from today.  14 days.  Suddenly everything is happening really quickly.  We’re down to the point of trying to coordinate with people to see them one last time.  The goodbyes each time we see someone have gotten harder and we are really running out of time to do all the hundreds of things we’ve been saying we need to do before we leave.

The season has continued to be a mechanically somewhat challenging one.  The latest fun was the generator deciding to produce 400 volts instead of 230 volts.  This resulted in the frying of two air conditioners, two battery chargers and a battery.  All those issues have been fixed, the radar is back from Raymarine, the missing trim tab has been replaced, and things are starting to come together on the boat.

Saturday night was the annual E-dock party at Burnham.  Our neighbors threw us a bit of a Bon Voyage bash along with the party.  It was really nice of them and it has been so nice to hear from everyone with well wishes for our trip as well as being told how much we will be missed.  I think that might have something to do with my sometimes helping fix boats as well.

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We are going to miss Chicago an awful lot.  We’ve never done anything like this before so it’s a big step for us.  We’re (I think we all are, I know I am) very excited about this but also a little nervous.

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We will certainly miss this view.

This weekend we also had a new design for the name put on the boat.  I’ve never been too happy with the old one and finally got the new one installed.  It was done by Phil from Chicago Sign Systems, I think he did a great job.  Plus, he donates tons of signs for the girls’ school so I was very happy to be able to support him.

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The next two weeks will be very busy.  I recently found out that I have to take everything off the hardtop to make it under a railroad bridge just outside of Chicago.  That’s going to take quite a bit of work and add another wrinkle of complexity to an already pretty complicated first day.

For now, back to preparations…

It’s not so far away any more

We leave in about six weeks.  Sometime in the last four or five months that just snuck up on us.  It has been so far off for so long that it was always just sometime in the future.  It’s starting to get a lot more real.  Last week we sold Laura’s car in preparation for being gone a year.  The week before we got health insurance since our coverage ended with my final departure from Schwab.  Now we’ve begun in earnest identifying what we don’t have on the boat that we need to live on it for a year and what is on the boat that we don’t need to live on it for a year.

Mechanical preparations continue.  Things seem to be breaking at about the same pace that I’m fixing them.  The radar is with Raymarine being repaired, a trim tab fell off the boat, the Seakeeper has thrown some random errors, the starboard engine has been hesitant to start a couple of times….  ahh boat ownership!

The installation of the Seakeeper was a great thing for our boat.  Our boat affords us a great amount of living space but at the expense of it’s ability to deliver a steady ride in all sea conditions.  The Seakeeper has improved those bad manners a great deal.  Unfortunately it’s also made our already stern-heavy boat a good deal more stern heavy.  I’ve spent much of the spring and early summer trying to get the boat to sit right in the water, run with the same efficiency it had before the install and generally absorb the weight.   Thus far those efforts have included some prop swaps and tweaking.  Now I’m working on moving around some of the water tanks in order to move some weight out of the back of the boat and into the front.  Additionally I now have to replace the starboard trim tab that fell off the boat after breaking the sheer pins on its mounts.   This is likely because of the additional forces placed on it due to the additional weight of the stabilizer in the stern.

So the preparations continue, soon we will start provisioning the boat and making some test runs.  One of which may include running down to the lowest bridge we will encounter on our trip.  This bridge is 19′ 10″ while our theoretical clearance is 19′ 8″.  Fortunately it’s close enough to us to be a one day run to go down and test that we can make it under.