This is the day we left the Great Lakes and headed into the inland waterway system. Passed under dozens of Chicago bridges. Went through our first river lock. Met our first barge. Learned about floating bollards and prop-washes and tight river turns.
There’s so much to absorb on each day of travel … sites to take in, of course, but also new techniques to learn and new challenges to anticipate. It’s hard to take it all in sometimes, and that was especially true of driving the Mainship Many Moons under the skyscrapers and bridges of Chicago. A singular experience! I’ve had a lot of those, but this one is up there.
We left Chicago for the river system a day earlier than planned because of predicted high winds that would have kept us there longer than planned. A few other Looper boats did the same, and we followed them all day. I did want more time in Chicago — so much to explore! — but wanted more to stay ahead of weather. We also wanted to beat the Labor Day boat traffic on the Chicago River.
It was the right decision. We left our marina at 0730, were through the Chicago Lock by 0800, and past the skyscrapers of Chicago by 0900. The sight-seeing and tourist traffic hadn’t yet started, and we cruised through the city. Jeff drove from the fly bridge (on top) for the first time on the trip. The rest of our 48-mile trip to Joliet Illinois went quite smoothly as we adjusted to river travel.
And flat water! That was downright weird after five weeks on the Great Lakes. (Makes it easy to be productive while under way, and I made a somewhat fancy stir-fry lunch.) That doesn’t mean you can leave the helm, though. There’s plenty of water movement in the river, and not just in one direction. Wakes bounce off flat walls. The confluence of rivers causes eddies. Passing tugs throw up a prop-wash. Steering is still required, and the auto-pilot remained off all day.
Meanwhile, our introduction to locks continued. We weren’t complete novices, since we went through the Soo Locks in Michigan last month. Inland river locks are different, though. You have to mill about at the entrance while waiting for the lockmaster to give the green light as the river current pushes you around, taking care to stay clear of other boats and barges abandoned on the shore and barges coming upriver. Illinois locks use floating bollards, which move with the boat as the water level drops. Once we figured this out, it was easy-peasy…..but as with any new experience involving a 17,000-pound vessel, the first time is unnerving. (At least it was for me. It’s always hard to tell how Jeff is affected, poker-faced Nordic that he is!) Our first lock dropped us 40 feet, which felt dramatic.
After adjusting to barges and locks, the ride through industrial Illinois was fairly dull. We finished the day at the free wall in Joliet, Ill. along with five other Looper boats. Some Loopers worry about safety at this wall, and a handful of locals did bring their music (and marijuana) to the park adjacent to the wall for a Labor Day BBQ. I worried for a bit when I heard another boater challenge them about their music volume, but they obligingly turned it down after some grumbles. I went to visit and found them to be gregarious, though I turned down the offer to smoke with them–legal or not!
The police station was directly across the narrow river from us, and a cop came by to say hi and meet everyone. I took a brief bike ride around town and felt completely at ease. Our sleep was accompanied by the muffled sound of barges passing close by. I know I’ll get used to barges in coming days! Photos and captions below.