top of page

Where to begin...

We made it down the Illinois to Heritage Harbor in Ottawa where we stayed for four days. This is an incredible Marina with an amazing staff. To top if off they have three courtesy cars that you can run errands in free of charge.

Upon Arrival I discovered that the Balmar system was installed incorrectly, with critical wires missing. Ordered the proper wire from Amazon and put the system back together properly. I wrote Crowley a long letter spelling out all the deficiencies in the installation and they refunded the entire cost of the install, we are negotiating with them to repair some of the damage caused. The happy news is that we have a boat that can charge the batteries running the engine, meaning we show up at the anchorage with fully charged batteries, and we aren't relying on the generator as our only source of power, extending our range.

While in Ottawa and having a car, we added a fourth 55 AH battery to the house bank bringing us to four 55 AH AGM's for a total bank capacity of 220 AH. Next thing I want to do is move the Magic Chef Refrigerator to the Freedom Inverter to see if it is more efficient than the Chinese Amazon special inverter it is running on at the moment.

Our expectation was that the rivers would be easy going compared to the Great Lakes, as we would not be in rough seas. As it turned out, the Rivers swapped one set of challenges for another.

The first challenge was the locks. Doing the lock is easy, actually getting inside the lock is another story. The first 77 miles we waited for our turn in locks 8 hours. Commercial traffic has priority, and the locks are small. An 18 barge tug/tow has to be broken in half, with each half going through separately, which means four lock cycles. If the barge is going upriver some lock masters will allow downriver traffic to pass when the lock cycles down, some will not.

On the Great Lakes the helms person watches the radar and tweaks the autopilot, as our autopilot is analog and not tied into the navigation system. On the River the helms person hand steers the boat, and must be constantly vigilant. On the many twists and turns of the river the water runs faster on the inside of the corners, which means the outside of the corners become shallow. There are logs, sticks, and various snags to avoid. Many of the buoys are gone, as the large barge tows, or flooding takes them out.

And then there are the barges, which can be larger than the freighters on the great lakes, that create huge turbulent wakes behind them. If there's an S curve, and you have a barge upriver and downriver, you could see your life passing before your eyes real fast! A parked barge at 1 mile looks like a running barge, and they are often not seen on AIS until they are 1/2 mile away.

So you see a bend coming up... Work your way as far to the outside as you dare... Change the radar range... Try to peer around the corner best you can... Bring the binoculars up.. is that a barge? Is it moving?

Once you have identified the barge on AIS if it is not running on the opposite side you need to call them up on the radio and confirm passing arrangements, as the river channel can be very shallow and they know the river better than you do.

The first battle scar of the loop occurred on the Illinois. I had to cut hard to port to keep out of the shallows as an upstream tow was passing right after a downstream tow passed. The upstream tow was pushing hard to starboard, throwing out a huge turbulent wake; I put the wheel hard over to compensate but it was not enough and we were slammed into a buoy, leaving a nice green scar on the hull.

We ran aground, and got ourselves off three times. Coming out of the Marseilles lock an inconsiderate looper nearly ran into us honking wildly. As I accelerated to flank speed to get out of his way we hit a narrow shoal caused by the water outflow from the lock and porpoised like an Asian Carp. The other two groundings occurred trying to find places to anchor while waiting for locks, or trying to find places to anchor for the night.

The rivers are beautiful, and have abundant wildlife. As you're not being tossed about, it's possible to prepare meals while underway.

Every day we were on the Illinois we had a new and exciting moment of adventure.

On the first day we were new to big locks, and that was quite a thrill the first time. Then we got stuck at the Brandon Lock overnight, tied to a fence, and until noon the next day as the lock gate needed repair.

On the second day, coming out of Heritage Harbor, I enabled Tank 3 the first time, and it had a poor connection that let air bubbles into the engine, and we stalled the motor in the center of the channel. So here we were, completely dead, drifting downriver. If a barge had happened by the Great Loop adventure would have ended right there, and badly. A frantic bleeding of the engine's fuel and flipping of fuel manifold valves followed with diesel flying everywhere as I called SECURITAY on the VHF warning traffic that we were dead and drifting. Miraculously I got the engine started again on Tank 4. The only casualty was my one and only heavy pullover/hoodie that got diesel fuel on the arm.

We anchored on the South End of Quiver Island, which was an amazing anchorage with perfect holding.

The next day we got stuck at LaGrange lock for three hours. This meant our selected anchorage was too far away to make before dark. We had already selected an alternate; when we arrived there it was shallow except for one small area. Twice we put the anchor down, and twice we could not get it to set. The sun was slowly dropping. The next alternate was three miles downriver. We decided to go for it. On the other side of a bridge we saw an abandoned barge sticking out into the river and decided to try to tie to it. Darina performed some incredible gymnastics to get a line around the cleat on the barge which was very high off the water. Our excitement was quickly lost when we realized that there were huge rocks under the barge, which would have badly damaged the hull when a tow passed.

We ran dow the river at flank speed. Running that hard the engine slowly began to overheat. I pushed it all the way to 195 degrees before backing down. Arriving at the next anchorage at Blue Island at darkness were carefully nosed our way into the downriver slough to discover less than a foot of water, sticking the bow in the mud and averting disaster with a 1/2 throttle reverse that just barely prevented us from running aground and sucked more silt into the Lehman than it deserved.

We carefully made our way down the river. Coming up on a tow/barge on the side of the river, we went over and asked the pilot if we could tie off. No, his insurance wouldn't allow that. Other options were discussed and they all failed to pan out. Finally we decided to anchor behind the tow/barge. It took three tries to get a good set as the bottom was silt with hard clay.

We were so exhausted we slept through the alarm, waking up at 5:30. As we had 80 miles to get to our Marina at Alton we headed out at 6 AM. Everything went fine until 6:30 when we hit fog so thick we could not see past the bowsprit.

Learning to boat in Southern California I'm comfortable running in fog and relying on radar. On the Ocean. On the river it was much more intense. We sounded the proper fog signals and crawled along at reduced speed for over an hour. Finally the fog lifted and we had yet another very long day before finally making the Mississippi River and pulling into our slip at Alton.

Having not gotten off the boat in three days Yorksie was beyond excited walking on land again. I filled the tanks until diesel came out the air vents in preparation for the next leg. We both took hour long showers and slept 12 hours.

Next week promises to be even more thrilling.

On Tuesday we need to go 85 miles with the primary anchorage being the free wall at the Kakaskia lock, the second being Hubble Creek at 80 miles. We will need to negotiate the Olmstead lock in the dark.

On Wednesday we need to travel 75 miles, with our only anchorage being the Little Diversion Canal, there is no other option.

On Thursday we need to go 48 miles downriver on the Mississippi, and then slug 15 miles upriver on the Ohio with potentially 2 knots of current depending on whether or not they are letting water out of Kentucky Lake.

On Friday we have 7.75 hours to Paduca, Kentucky for a fuel stop after 240 miles without diesel. We are on the waiting list at Paduca Transient Dock, if we don't get a slip there we need to go an additional 10 miles to the Cumberland Island Towhead.

In Saturday we have a 6 hour run that includes Barkley Lock, and that puts us into Green Turtle Bay Marina, where we stay Saturday and Sunday night, making our way to Paris Landing on the 10th for the Fall AGLCA Rendevous.

We do not expect to get a You Tube Video out for two weeks, so don't worry about us :)

63 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page