The Illinois Waterway is 325 miles from downtown Chicago to its convergence with the Mississippi River in Grafton, IL. This stretch of the trip includes 8 locks where waiting a couple of hours for barge traffic is not uncommon. The scenery improved the further we traveled south and west downstream. But we spotted many of the flying Asian Carp along its length, sometimes smacking into the side of our boat.
On August 14th we went through the Brandon Road Lock in Joliet and the Dresden Island Lock, where we had a 2-1/2 hour wait. Along the way we spotted a deer and saw many water skiers and tubers out enjoying the great weather. We pulled into the Anchor In Marina in Seneca, and paid Rhonda, the bartender at the Tiki Bar for our slip.
We had a fun 2-night stay there, and met many of the locals and people from the nearby campground. One of them gave me a ride to the grocery store for a few items. Jim got a fast boat ride on the river. We took ‘real’ showers and swapped stories around the Tiki Bar.
As we were getting ready to cast off on Saturday morning, Rhonda yelled across the water that she had something for us. Soon she came hurrying down the dock with a gift for us – two bottles of champagne. It was another memorable stop on our journey!
We stopped at a marina a mile downriver for a pump-out and bought some fuses for our macerator switch. The skies were overcast, but only a few raindrops fell throughout the day. We went through the Marseilles and Starved Rock Locks, both with one other pleasure boat. Huge flocks of pelicans circled overhead while locking through, and we saw six deer on shore. We went through the towns of Ottawa and Peru where sections of the river were lined with rocky bluffs. We pulled up to an old beat-up barge in the town of Hennepin where we tied up for
the night. It wasn’t the most picturesque of places, but the price was right! We grilled dinner and laid low.
Sunday the 17th was our 35th wedding anniversary. Jim climbed up over the railing to the sidewalk in the morning and went to a marine and hardware store for more fuses and a switch. We shoved off, passing a couple of barges, but had no locks to slow us down. Some sort of kayak event was taking place on the river, as we passed by hundreds of them along the way.
We had a slip reserved in Peoria at Wharf Harbor Sales. The owners were celebrating their 52nd anniversary the following day. We got tied into our slip, then popped the cork on one of our bottles of champagne. We enjoyed it on our back deck, and watched some of the locals coming back into the harbor toward evening.
After showers we walked up the hill to Alexander’s Steak House where we celebrated with the finest meal I think we had on the entire loop trip.
Monday morning we shoved off, wishing the owner’s a happy anniversary. Many Asian Carp were jumping along the way, and we passed a pontoon painted like the General Lee car from the Dukes of Hazard. From the back of the pontoon a young man was shooting at them with bows and arrows. We had over a 2-hour wait at the Peoria Lock. With no place to tie up, we idled and drifted, and after the tow boat cleared we were finally able to lock through.
We made it to the Tall Timbers Marina at Mile 120. The setting and layout reminded us both a little of the marina in Clifton, Tennessee. Bob, the owner was a super nice guy. While I did laundry, Jim scrubbed the outside of the boat. The neighbor aboard a Catamaran loaned him a Swiffer-like gadget, which Jim dropped and watched as it slowly sank to the muddy bottom. With the help of the neighbor, each using a telescopic boat hook, they were able to retrieve it. Such teamwork!
The marina was the last one on the Illinois River, so Bob suggested an anchorage about 60 miles downstream for the following night. A morning thunderstorm delayed our departure, but we set out soon afterward. We encountered many barges on our travels that day, most going south. The rain clouds moved on, and soon it got warm and muggy. Again we saw many Asian Carp jumping out of the murky water.
At the LaGrange Lock we had no wait, and floated in the middle instead of holding the lines along the side. We scoped out our anchorage on the upstream point of Blue Island, and dropped the hook in about 9 feet of water. It was a quiet evening with herons, a pileated woodpecker and an eagle our company. We saw no other boat traffic, and the katydids chorused at us loudly from the trees along the river.
The wake from a passing barge the following morning turned us around 180 degrees, and eventually we turned back, our bow once again into the current. After breakfast and our usual morning routine, we pulled up anchor and began the final day of our Great Loop adventure. Mist and fog rolled in the surrounding hills.
Encountering many barges along the way, we cruised downstream for the remaining 59 miles at about 9 knots. The air was
muggy, and in the afternoon the wind picked up. Sand became more prevalent on the islands and shorelines. We played “Lovely Cruise” by Jimmy Buffett, and I shed a few tears. Finally the familiar white cliffs below Grafton and the mighty Mississippi came into view. Right at this juncture is the Grafton Harbor Marina, where we pulled into our reserved slip with the help of two dock hands.
With mixed emotions we celebrated the completion of our Great Loop adventure with our last bottle of champagne. We had done it! Through all the planning, trials and tribulations, challenges, the sites and places and people we’d encountered, it seemed impossible that it was over. It had become a way of life, cruising on the ever-changing waterways, learning and seeing new places with eyes wide open.
The marina, being a Great Loop sponsor, gave us a complimentary bottle of wine from the local winery. We showered, and met Tom and Lou in the pool, a couple who keep their boat at the marina and drive it to work when the weather allows. Evening thunderheads began blossoming overhead. The skies got very dark, and we added extra lines and battened down the hatches for the impending severe thunderstorm. Soon lightning strikes were visible all around us. The strong winds switched directions, and miraculously the storm seemed to divide above us. We ended up with only a few big drops of rain, although we heard later that many areas nearby got several inches and high winds with flash flooding.
Tom and Lou picked us up in their pristine 1976 convertible (which they called their golf cart) and took us to an old tavern in town for pizza and drinks. They were a very interesting couple who own their own business making, among other things, motorized scooters that look like little Harley’s.
On Aug 21st, we left the marina in the sweltering 100 degree heat and humidity and headed up the Mississippi a few miles north to Polestar Marina in St. Charles, Missouri. Here we cleaned out the boat, did laundry, and Jim changed the oil and filters on the main engine and the generator. We rented a car, packed, and cleaned out the fridge. The next day the boat was hauled out, and we discussed work items to be done while we are back home.
On the road trip back we followed the Mississippi to the Henson’s, our friends in Hamilton, IL. It still felt like part of the adventure, with sweeping vistas of the river in Louisiana, MO, an encounter with deaf/mute kayakers paddling their way down the entire length of the river, a stop in Clarksville and a layover in Hannibal, home of Mark Twain. The visit with our friends in Hamilton was memorable as usual, and included a fish fry at the South
Side Boater’s Club, sunset at the Lakeview Campground, and drinks and laughs around the fire in Vickey and Harold’s back yard.
We are home now, and happy to be re-connecting with family and friends. Our plan is to get back on board A-RIVER-DERCI II in late October, and cruise back down to Florida. Hope to see some of those we met along the way out on the water! I’ll leave you with a portion of the lyrics from Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Lovely Cruise':
These moments we’re left with; May you always remember; These moments are shared by few; There’s wind in our hair; And there’s water in our shoes; Honey, it’s been a lovely cruise.
For stats on our Great Loop trip, please check out the Stats tab.