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Our dream of cruising on a boat Around the Great Circle Loop and beyond has the drawback of leaving our friends and family far away from us for an extended time. This blog is intended to keep you up to date on our travels and adventures, and encourage you to join us for some part of our trip as we make our way around the waterways of the eastern US, Canada, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Click on the archived posts below to follow our journey. Our dog, Ben, has been helping us write this blog since he has more time!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Ole Man River

Hi All...Ben here on the rivers now,

This river travel is a lot different than Lake Michigan.  We have lots of locks to go through...and they're tall, and sometimes we have to share them with big barges and their tow boats. When we're in some of the big ones if the wind is blowing real hard, Izzy makes me wear this dorky life jacket.

In some of the locks Izzy and Jeff have to hang onto lines in the front and back of our boat that are hanging from the top of the lock wall to keep us in place, then let out the line a little at a time as we go down. Izzy doesn't like this kind when the locks are so tall, and she says some words under her breath that I don't understand as she hangs on.  Something about a hundred and thirty pound, 61 year old woman holding 53,000 pounds of floating boat in the wind with a cheesy little line from over 60 feet up when the line is too short to reach the cleat.....  I just make my way up to the front of the boat to stay out of the way so I won't get blamed for anything.

By the time I get up there, and the water starts to drip into the lock, I get the urge to take a little wiz.  Never fails. Must be something about the running water....I think Jeff has the same problem, but he doesn't use the yard.

Jeff is usually back behind the wheel by the time we come to a big barge around a bend or under a bridge (or both)

Here we are in a lock tied to a big barge.  I hope he's not thinking about using my yard.

We made it out save and sound and continued down the Illinois River

Locks became pretty routine again like in Canada.  The difference is that these locks are much bigger and we share them with barges and tow boats...sometimes having to float around and wait for an hour or more just to get into one.  These locks also don't have the friendly young guys and girls cranking the doors open by hand and chatting with us and petting me.  Jeff likes these better because they're free.

Our first stop after Chicago was a town called Joliet, IL where we tied up to the wall next to a bridge and the city park.  It was free to park our boat and the city even provided electricity for us at no charge.

The best part of this stop was that there was a Mexican Fiesta in the park that night, so we went over to have some good fajitas, tamales and tacos, and a Corona or two while we listened to the music.

One night we stopped at a free city dock where the slips were too small for our boat or Jan and Nicoline's boat, "Blue Arrow".  Since no one else was there, we tied up across the front of three little slips, and Blue arrow tied to the nearby wall. 
That night we repeated the Mexican fiesta on "Izzy R", and Jan and Nicoline dinghied over with their Mexican scarves to join us for tacos.  It think there were more Coronas that night, too. 

More barges and locks were in store for us the next few days

Some of these lock masters must have a soft spot, cause they had bird houses on the lock walls.  This one is the shape of a tug boat.

Well, there are a lot of birds here.  A pretty white bird with the black tips on its wings showed up one day and Izzy got this great picture of it.  It's way too big for that bird house on the lock wall. 

Before we new it there were hundreds of these birds everywhere.  They were gathered all ove the river taking a rest as they fly south for the winter...just like us I guess.  They're called White Pelicans.

This is another kind of "bird house" along the river, but in this kind, hunters hide in it waiting for a good shot at the ducks as they swim by looknig for breakfast. It's called a "Duck Blind" - I guess because the ducks would have to be blind not to see it. 

In Peoria, IL we also had a nice dock right along the city river front beside a park.

I liked walking in the park...and by the looks of this picture, I guess Jan did too....

At night they all went to dinner at Joe's Crab Shack.  They're wearing bibs, so it must be a messy place.

In the morning Izzy took me for a cut and fluff at the PetsMart across the bridge, so we got up early enough to see this great sunrise over Blue Arrow behind the Peoria Bridge.

The carp jumped in our wake as we pulled out of Peoria.  I think there are more of those Asian Carp here than anywhere else we've been so far.  One of them scared the bejeezus out of me this morning when he leaped out of the water as I was just walking on the dock to go take a wiz.

These guys jumped all day around our boat as we traveled. 
Here we are stuck in the mud in a marina where we hoped to stay for the night.   Blue arrow was smart to let us try it out first. 

After we finally backed out of there, we opted to try anchoring down the river a little further in a quiet little inlet. 

We rafted stern to stern with Blue Arrow.  With their dinghy lowered between the boats, they could easily jump over to our boat to have drinks and dinner with us.

This tug must hav taken a wrong turn.  not sure how it's going to get down from there...wait for another flood, Iguess.

Jeff and Izzy had their 6th wedding anniversary this month.  Jan and Nicoline gave them a special bottle to help celebrate the occasion.

Jeff looks particularly happy about it.

Some of the places we tie up just aren't too elaborate.  Take this one, for instance.

It's just a barge anchored out in the river that boaters can tie up to for the night.  It's close to a little village called Beardstown, IL., so there was a sign posted with phone numbers for all the local businesses...I guess so you could chat with them.

Well, we decide to put the dinghy in the water and actually go and see them instead.

To get into town we had to motor down the carp infested water about a mile,

then climb onto another barge and climb up some scary see-through steel steps that hurt my feet and made me think I was going to fall through.

The trip was worth it, though, because there was a big festival going on there that weekend and the town folks were getting the town square ready for food and craft booths, and the big parade with the high school marching band, and the 5K run the next day. 
This "Mile 88 Pub" is named because this town is on mile marker 88.0 on the Illinois River...important for the tow and barge traffic. 

It was also the gathering place for a crowd of partiers that night with a live band and lots of people dancing and having fun.  This guy's hat kind of set the tone for the evening.

There appeared to be a lot of beverages being enjoyed.

And lots of dancing.

The morning came pretty early for Jeff and Izzy the next day, but everyone got up and dinghied in to town for the Elks Club Pancake breakfast and to watch the parade.  By 10:00 the clouds threatened to drop rain on us and we decided to head back to the boats, and pull up the lines and continue to fly south like these birds.

I'm on carp watch now, ever since another one jumped in the dingy with Jeff as he was exploring yesterday afternoon.  I'm going to check on the internet for recipies. 

I'll catch up with you down the river.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Carp Captive Caper

Hi All...Ben here,
We're topless again here leaving Chicago. As you can see from the picture below, the process of taking it all down has really exhausted me, although Jeff and Izzy seem to be pretty peppy. Of course they have thumbs so the work was easier for them.
We pulled up the lines at the DuSable Marina in Chicago on Lake Michigan on a beautiful sunny morning, and made our way to the Chicago Lock just next to the harbor. Here is our buddy "Blue Arrow" heading to the lock.And here we are going into the lock to tie up.This lock lowered us down two feet to the level of the South Chicago River, and set us free to go under all the low bridges through downtown.

Here is Nicoline showing the technique for going through the lock. Lake Shore Drive is the first bridge, and it looks really low.We're glad we've lowered our radar arch and bimini topWe passed tall buildings like the Trump Tower,and cruised under more than 20 bridges before we got out of downtown Chicago. There seems to be a bridge at almost every street.People were walking across the bridges looking down at us passing underneath them. I wonder if they wish that they could jump on board with us and sail away instead of going to work.

The most famous bridge is the Michigan Ave Bridge. Here is Blue arrow following us under it. Soon we left all the city bridges and the clear clean water behind us, and came to the junction of the “Sanitary Ship Canal”. I think the translation is “sewer” because the water immediately turned brown. Gone were the smells of coffee and cinnamon that we enjoyed as we cruised in the city. Now we had new smells: gas, soap, manure, dust, sulfur, ammonia.

We had new bridges too. Some had unusual ways of lifting up to let the boats and barges pass through.The narrow channel became crowded with barges, and Jeff had to do some tricky driving to stay out of their way as they pulled in and out of their loading docks with their tow boats.You're probably wondering about what the "Carp Captive Caper" is all about in the title of this post. Well,we had been hearing about the Asian Carp that are "invading" the rivers up from Louisiana. I guess these fish eat everything in sight and can get to be 60 pounds or more. That’s a fish as big as ME! I found this picture of an Asian Carp in Louisana on the internet...not sure what's going on in this picture, but it's in the south, and things might be different there.These fish must be quite nervous critters because they actually jump out of the water when they’re the least bit excited, often leaping into passing boats, smacking us boaters in the head, and leaving a bloody mess in the boat. I’m glad my navigation seat is really high up on the flybridge. Maybe I should get a helmet to wear in my yard.
Everyone is real concerned about these guys getting into the Great Lakes and ruining the fishing industry there, so about a month ago the Army Corp of Engineers put an electric charge into the water for about a half a mile just south of Chicago so the carp couldn’t get up the river into Lake Michigan.The problem was that boats couldn't go through the area of the electrical charge either until there was enough testing to see if boats or people and dogs were going to be safe. All of the Loopers in Chicago were stopped from going further south. Held captive by the
Carp! The only way to get through that stretch was to disconnect the boat batteries any electrical devices, and hire a tow boat for a fee of $600 to drag the empty boat through the half mile electric fence. No one could stay on board the boat being towed...not even the dog, and the process took several hours of waiting in line and tying up to the tow.
The Loopers were upset at being held Carp Captive like that, because they needed to get home down the river.

Luckily just a few days before we got there, the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers changed their minds about boats needing a tow, and let us go through in our own boat under power as long as we followed a few rules. Jeff was really happy that he saved the $600.

We still had to stop at the Coast Guard boat before the "electric fence"and get instructions.Instructions:

  • Stay inside the cabin of your boat even if you have to “go” outside to your “yard”
  • Don’t put your hands or paws in the water
  • Don’t put your boat pole in the water
  • If you drop your leash or ball in the water, don’t try to get it
  • Keep your life jackets on
  • If one your owners falls in the water, don't jump in to try to save them
  • Don’t touch your tongue to your metal water bowl

We followed the directions and got through safe and sound. I was ready with my life jacket on.That's us going through the electric water...no sparks or anything.Now I guess I can go back to fishing...I wonder how carp tastes on the grill...We went through some really big locks tied up to barges filled with a variety of things - coal, scrap metal, rocks, sand, gravel... If there was a red flag on the barge, it meant that it has some hazardous material on board like gas or chemiclas, and we couldn’t share the lock with it, so we had to wait for an hour or more until it went through alone. These barges can be real long and wide and have up to three tug boats pushing them.You don’t want to meet one like this on a curve in the river...or under a bridge. Our first stop after Chicago was in Joliet, IL where we tied up to the wall of the town dock just past the bascule bridge, for free.

As luck would have it, we arrived just in time for the Mexican fiesta in the park only steps away. Jeff was glad to have a cold Corona after the busy day on the river dodging barges, so we put on our Mexican scarves and joined Jan and Nicoline in tasting some authentic carnitas, quesadillas, black beans, spicy shrimp, followed by a churro for dessert, while listening to the lively music. Jan and Nicoline tried their first corndog, too.Nothing like this in Holland, I guess. I’m not so sure they were as impressed with the corndog as they were with the shrimp and churros.

These past few days we’ve had first hand experience with those notorious carp that everyone is trying to keep out of the Great Lakes. The electric fence must be working because there are lots of them around Peoria. Now when we cruise down the river, we see lots of fish jumping into the air in our wake. They range in size from about 1 to 2 feet long, and can jump 5 or 6 feet in the air. It’s pretty strange to see.

Here's a picture of Izzy R and Blue Arrow tied up in Peoria on the free city dock along the river wall.

We had the place to ourselves that night, and everyone went to Joe's Crab Shack for seafood. Jan and Nicoline must have had a messy dinner.This is sunrise over Blue Arrow taken before Izzy and I went to PetsMart for an early morning cut and fluff the next day.Leaving the town dock that day we passed the Spirit of Peoria paddleboat that took tourists up and down the river.As we pulled out into the river we noticed those pesky carp fish jumping in our wake again while Izzy was putting the lines and fenders away in the cockpit. She came up the stairs to get her camera to try and get a picture of the leaping carp, when she heard a loud thud, then a lot of thrashing about in the cockpit behind her. Sure enough, one of those wacky fish had jumped right into our boat, making a bloody mess! She had to clean up the carp cockpit, but she was glad that she had gone up to get the camera at the time it jumped in. "Carp cockpit" is better than "carp face".I bet Dimitry would have liked to be here for this part. This kind of fishing is pretty easy. Izzy threw it back...must be a girl thing.

I'm going to go look for a helmet. Till next time...