Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Rest of the Way to Home

(Due to my ongoing struggles with T-mobile hotspot bandwidth issues neither the photo album nor the map is updated. For crying out loud, I'm having trouble getting a good signal even in the heart of St. Louis. Fortunately my challenges with T-mobile will shortly be over.) 

Heritage Harbor at Ottawa, Illinois

Talk about an oasis in the desert! That’s Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottawa, Illinois. It is a first class marina with great shore side facilities and a very friendly and helpful staff. As mentioned above five boats of the flotilla did not reach the marina until a bit after 5:00 pm on Friday 9/14/2012 but as we kept the marina informed as to our position on the river they were fully ready with some staff, along with harbor hosts and other helpful boaters to get us into our positions and tied up safe and sound. The two sailboats ended up anchoring somewhere up river and Katmandu pulled into a marina in the town of Seneca, also up river.

It had been a long day with the three locks and all and we were glad to get in to someplace comfy. After taking a short rest Lisa and I went up to the office to pay our bill and to get acclimated to the place. Heritage Harbor is actually a condo and home development that due to the nation’s economic slowdown has not taken off. The marina is the centerpiece of the project. A new harbor was dug out of a basin that the river charts still show as a closed in and probably shallow series of pools. But now it is very open with adequate depths. The docks are very new, solid and with plenty of room. The whole vibe is to provide a very high level of customer service and satisfaction. One indication of this was a large sign at the entrance of the harbor that read, “Loopers and Transients Welcome!” Ross and Laura joined Lisa and me for dinner at The Bowhead restaurant on site for a fun and relaxing evening.

On Saturday Ross and Laura had scheduled to use the marina’s courtesy van and Lisa and I bummed a ride into town with them. We had breakfast at a local downtown diner and ran to Walmart for a few supplies. Ross and Laura dropped of some laundry at a local Laundromat which posted a sign that Laura exclaims is her favorite thing to see in a town: “Drop off wash and fold”.

Sunday September 16 – A long day to Peoria

Our next stop along the Illinois River was Peoria and it was a long leg to get there - Eighty-two miles to be exact. Along with The Zone we pulled away from our dock at 6:30 am. There was a mist rising from the water as the dawn lit up everything from its low eastern angle. It was very pretty. Laura got this great picture of us turning into the river.

We had a lock to pass through about ten miles into the cruise call Starved Rock Lock. Try saying that ten times real fast. The lock master was quite a character with a heavy redneck accent. BEFORE YOU START SENDING ME AN EMAIL ABOUT USING THE TERM “REDNECK” I don’t mean that derogatorily but I can’t think of any other way of saying it. He was a very nice guy but he talked with a mountain drawl as thick as motor oil and very out of place for Illinois. The Zone and us arrived first but we had to wait about 30 minutes for Bama Belle to catch up to us as they pulled out of Heritage Harbor Marina a bit after us. The winds were calm and all was well.

The route on down to Peoria was at times very boring. The winds picked up a tad along the way and with the bright sunshine it was a very comfortable day to travel. Our target was a pair of free municipal docks in the heart of downtown Peoria. A few days earlier I had spoken to the harbor master at a neighboring marina and he told us where we could park our boats at those docks. When we got there we found Bill and Joyce on Carried Away (We met them in Charlevoix.) already on the down river dock with room behind them just big enough for us to fit. The Zone moored at the upriver dock. Carried Away had been there since Friday. Unfortunately for them one of their engines gave way and they had to sit out the weekend until a technician could come on board on Monday.

Havanna, IL

Our next leg was suppose to be Beardstown, IL but that was going to be another very long day and none of us relished the idea. We decided that a better approach would be to make it a short day of only thirty-one miles to the town of Havanna, IL and the Tall Timbers Marina. Ross made the phone calls to the marina and we waited until about 9:00 to pull away from the Peoria docks as there was a very heavy fog. But leave at 9:00am we did and we headed to our first obstacle, a very low railroad bridge. The Zone made it under and we would have too…if not for our main antennae which I had raised back up the day before. It smacked into the bridge and whipped underneath each steel girder smashing into the next. It broke like a toothpick between your fingers. That sucked. Fortunately if there is a bright side of this is that the antennae is a two part affair with a threaded joint in the middle so I was able to just screw the broken part off. Oh well. Other than that it was an uneventful day with the exception of having to pass through one lock. That is until we arrived at the marina.

Tall Timbers is a full service marina on the Illinois River tucked away in a tiny inlet on the riverfront of Havanna, IL. The entrance channel looked very small and when we both cruised past it I became concerned that the marina operator told us to come there just because he was desperate for our business and not really capable of handling boats our size. The Zone went first and it certainly looked like a tight squeeze in the channel. I could hear Ross using his bow thruster a few times but he was able to slip in. We could see that he pulled into some kind of slip on the left side of the inlet. We soon entered the channel and saw that even though it was a small harbor there was just enough turning room and some nice size facing docks down at the far end. That’s where we both were settled.

All’s well that ends well.

Beardstown and an Unusual Mooring

The cruise on the 18th was a short one. It would be only thirty-one miles to our next destination, the Logston Tug Boat Company tow boat yard. They are a harbor towboat service that allows transient boaters to tie up along their barges and towboats for a small fee. There are no services and the town is a big fat nothing but it was an interesting place to tie up. We came in first and tied up alongside the good ship Clyde, a towboat. The Zone tied up alongside an empty river barge. Jeff, one of the towboat captains for the firm helped us both. After a short while coming back down onto the barges after paying at the office Jeff took us on a guided tour of their newest towboat. Well it wasn’t exactly new, a 1982 boat, but they were just completing a major overhaul with all new engines, a fresh paint job and onboard facilities. It was quite impressive. A little later we all took a walk into Beardstown and there was very little to see. It was a very quiet town with hardly anyone on the streets as everything closed at 3:00 pm on Mondays and Tuesdays.  

For us the night at the towboat harbor was very quiet. For The Zone..not so much. Lisa and I fell asleep at 9:00pm. Ross and Laura were up watching TV about 10:00 when their cabin was filled with very bright lights from the outside. They were first concerned that it was a towboat coming to fetch the barge they were tied to.  (We were told this was a remote possibility meaning they would have to launch and re-dock somewhere else in the harbor…at night.) Fortunately it was two fully laden tows coming around the bend into the river area of the town with all their lights a blazing. We totally missed it. Ross and Laura didn’t but probably wished they did.


Wednesday morning rolled around and we both peeled off of our moorings at 6:30am. It was to be another long day: sixty-six miles to a dock at the town of Hardin, IL.  It was a sunny and crisp morning with the wind blowing directly up the river from the south. Since there was lock coming up in a few miles Lisa and I were up on the fly bridge which is completely exposed to the elements. Going through the lock was quick and easy and down the river we went. Up to this point our general direction on the Illinois River was southwest. About midway through the day we passed under a bridge and made a turn more to the south. According to our chart book it was here that we were at the western most point in the Great Loop. From then on we would be heading South, at least until we get to the Ohio River when we will be heading northeast for a short while, then back south again into the Tennessee and Tombigbee waterways.

The wind picked up throughout the day to the point that it created a fetch with waves of two feet or so going straight up the river like a washboard. But we kept plowing through. About 3:00 pm we approached a long facing dock in the town of Hardin, Illinois, the last stopover just twenty miles until the Illinois dumps into the Mississippi River. The docks are owned by a riverside restaurant at that point and even though there are no boater services available because of its strategic location and the awesome restaurant there it is a 5-star marina in my humble opinion. Lisa and I docked first. We then helped Ross and Laura get tied up. At 6:00 pm we all met on the dock and walked a short distance to Mels Illinois Riverdock Restaurant. We had heard about this restaurant for some time now and it always got rave reviews. As it turns out the reviews are all justified. The food was unbelievably good! This place is most definitely in the top three of eateries of the entire trip.

Back in the STL

Our final day on the Illinois River was as uneventful as a cruise can be, except for the part of reaching the Mississippi River, which is a big deal to me. Ross and Laura, the good crew of The Zone, pulled of into the marina at Grafton, Illinois. We floated past that a short distance then making  a sharp turn to starboard up the Mississippi for four miles, cutting between two islands and into our home for the next month or so, Port Charles Harbor Marina. David and Joanne Berg, AGLCA harbor hosts and members of the marina secured a choice location for us there.

We stayed on the boat two more nights as we had to wait for my sons, Bryan and Kevin, to come and pick us up to take us to our home in Brentwood, a suburb of St. Louis. Both evenings we met David and Joanne over at their boat for docktails with them and some of the locals and then to dinner including over at a boat club restaurant next door called the Duck Club. Very nice.

Bryan and Kevin showed up on Saturday morning. It was the first time that they have seen the boat and I was excited to show it to them. And of course it was great to see them again. If all goes well we are going to take a day cruise next Saturday and show them what Why Knot can do out on the water. I think we are going to go up to Hardin and have some of that great food at Mel’s. That will be fun.

Sunday the 23rd of September was a particularly fun day. Ross and Laura were our guests for a whirlwind tour of St. Louis. It’s a bit of a drive to the marina from our house and then back into the heart of the city once again. And it was a bit cramped for us all as our slightly larger car, my Ford Focus station wagon, would not start. Our other car, a Mazda RX-8, smaller and cramped, did start however and was pressed into service. We all squeezed in all right and the tour got underway. We started by driving just south of Alton, IL to the Mel Price lock and dam. Wow, it is big. They have a very nice museum there but we wanted to see the locks. Pleasure boats use the auxiliary lock which is similar to the locks on the Illinois River. But the main lock is a whole n’other thing. It is 1200 feet long and a whole bunch of feet wide – massive. We then made the long trek all the way to the riverfront under the Arch in downtown St. Louis. Unfortunately there is not much of a direct route there except to go through a very rough industrial area known as Hall Street. I am sure that would not be a positive point on the tour, plus I was concerned the road conditions would take a toll on the low chassis of the Mazda. Our route actually swung out west a bit, then straight south and then back east through the heart of St. Louis. We got down underneath the Arch and down to the river front. Wow, the river was very low. So low in fact that there were surfaces and constructs exposed that I am sure haven’t seen the light of day for generations. We then went back west to have lunch at Blueberry Hill a very cool restaurant in a very cool area of town called The Loop in University City. Our tour concluded with a pilgrimage to Ted Drewe’s, an iconic St. Louis frozen custard stand on the historic Route 66 in south St. Louis. Everyone reading this has a favorite ice creamery somewhere and other locales may claim to have some shop that says it reigns supreme in the ice cream universe, but I’m sorry. Ted Drewe’s rules. Period. End of debate. It is the best. St. Louis gets smacked around a bit as being a tired has-been town. But we know how to eat with great restaurants of every flavor. And for those of you with a sweet tooth, you will find nirvana here in the Gateway City. Ted Drewe’s is awesome. (Oh, and while you’re here sometime in the future get your lips around our other local sugary delicacy, Gooey Butter Cake. Sublime.)

And so we are home for a bit over a month. Our todo list is a mile long with plenty of marine and lubber items to keep us busy every day. Lisa will have to make a jaunt out to Denver for some tasks and I’ll be attending the AGLCA Fall Rendezvous solo. We have covered just over 3,700 statute miles in six and a half months. It’s good to be home but I have to admit that Why Knot and the water tugs on me.