Old Locks and Asian Carp (Day 43)


Another first. The Mainship Many Moons rests tonight against the 150-year-old remains of an old lock in the small town of Henry, Ill. We’re tied up to loops of rebar, a metal reinforcement put into concrete. The crumbling wall creates steps to get on and off the boat. We have electricity here, and a porta-pottie, but not much else.

We like it. Why? Because it’s so odd. Two guys came out to greet us, fuel up our boat (from some really old pumps) and help pull our boat along the rough wall to the most desirable piece of rebar, while explaining why they bought this rough place and what they plan to do with it. They were so down-to-earth. So happy to have Loopers at their wall. So happy to chat.

We did enjoy our last port at the up-and-coming Heritage Harbor in Ottawa. The support there was superb. It was pretty, and clean. And so….new.

If The Loop is meant to “see America,” then we have to see both the old and the new. At least, that’s how we see it.

Our down-river sail from Ottowa went smoothly, punctuated by an easy passage through our 6th lock (and 2nd one to go through all alone). Going into the double-switchback section of the river was a bit intense, because we were warned that barges can’t maneuver at all there and we might have to back up to get out of their way. We don’t have AIS (Automatic Identification System), so we can’t “see” the barges electronically and they can’t see us. We can only see them with our own eyes, and our eyes can’t see around tight river turns. The channel is too narrow, and the banks of the river too shallow, for us to just “pull to the side.” It’s like a highway without any shoulders, going around high mountain passes, and both lanes ahead of you are occupied by semi-trucks coming toward you.

Only they weren’t.

Still, I was relieved to be done with that section.

We weren’t ever really at risk. We did know where to duck out if we had to, at the beginning of the switchback section. I did have my marine traffic app on my phone, which told us if tugs (which usually means barges) were coming toward us. The app identified three tugs approaching the switchback from downriver, so I spent $1 per tug to pay Google instantly – thank you, PayPal — in order to know the name of the tug, so we could call it on the radio if needed. We didn’t need to.

Another somewhat intense moment was our overtaking of a large barge in a narrow-and-curvy section of the river. I called the tug captain on the radio to ask which side he’d like us to pass on, and where. Then Jeff spent some extra money – in fuel costs this time — to rev Many Moons into high gear so we could get by him quickly before the next bend in the river. (When our boat goes past 8 mph, the fuel use rises quickly.)

Breathing easy after the switchback and the overtaking, we were entertained by fishermen catching Asian carp which they apparently then sell to a 3rd party who then sells them overseas. (Americans won’t generally eat them, but Asians do. They were introduced to the U.S. to help control algae blooms but are now considered invasive in the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes. They’ve even been called “an ecological disaster.” Another example of a well-intentioned intervention with unintended consequences.) I had a close encounter of my own with Asian carp later, when two bolted out of the water in front of my paddle board, apparently startled by my motion. I yelped. They submerged. Drama over!

On to Peoria tomorrow. In future posts, I hope to introduce you to some of the people who do The Great Loop, and why. Such interesting stories.

Lock worker still chatting with us as we drop down into Starved Rock Lock.
Approaching Vermilion Bridge. We just passed our chance to duck out of the river before entering the double-switchback where barges can’t maneuver. I’m sort of holding my breath here.
We’ve just overtaken this barge. See how close it is to the shore? The channel is pretty narrow here. We had no problems, but it does take concentration and preparation. (And communication with the barge.)
Asian Carp may be invasive and disliked, but these fishermen will make some money from them.
When you can’t get to a Walmart or IGA, you shop at the local grocery store. This one was called “Henry Foods.” To the point!
Many Moons rests at the old lock wall in Henry, Ill. The tree in the foreground has grown up on the opposite wall of the lock. (This lock was built in the 1870s, so no wonder that vegetation has overtaken it!)
How fun to take out my paddle board for the first time since Michigan.

3 thoughts on “Old Locks and Asian Carp (Day 43)

  1. We once passed through Henry on a back road trip to visit friends in the Peoria area. Actually, we had met them while doing the loop on Tuulen Aura. Hank thought the name of the town was pretty neat.

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