Now, The Rivers (Day 39)


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.

Leaving Burnham Marina for the Chicago Lock and Chicago River, a few miles away.
Awaiting the green light of the Chicago Lock along with fellow Loopers O’Tug and Last Laugh.
Inside the Chicago Lock
About to leave the Chicago Lock and head into the city.
How many bridges did we pass under in downtown Chicago? We lost track.
Yeah. Too much to take in, as we cruise through the city.

We passed quickly from a cityscape to a more industrial landscape…and the first bridge that we had to call to request an opening. (Our lead boat called for all three of us traveling together.)

You’ve probably heard of these barriers, meant to prevent Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes and depleting the fish population. We were supposed to go through one at a time and wear life jackets. Nobody was in sight, and nobody checked.
Our first barge encounter! This is a small one, compared to what we will see further down, but the river was narrow so it was disconcerting. You see the tug that is pushing the barge only after it passes, as in this photo.
Lockport Damn (our first of eight in Illinois) was a good introduction to the floating bollard. See our lines tied to the steel cylinder? That cylinder moves down with the boat as the water drops. My job in the locks is to get our bumpers in the right place (so the boat doesn’t scrape the wall) and then get the line on (and off) the bollard at the right time while Jeff drives perilously close to the wall. I may drive into the lock at some point, but not yet!
View from our stern inside the Lockport Lock as we drop 40 feet.
We tied up to the free wall at Joliet, Illinois along with five other Looper boats. It’s a standard stop on The Great Loop, and a local cop came by to say hello when we arrived. The police station is directly across the river from the wall.
Joliet at night, from our stern.
A barge passes close by as we rest at the wall in Joliet.

One thought on “Now, The Rivers (Day 39)

  1. What a great time you’re both having. Lots of work, I know, and a fair share of worry but anything worthwhile is that. I’m cherry picking from your blog for the articles–again referring readers to your blog for more details. And insisting you get a byline.

    Liked by 1 person

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