Category Archive: On the Move

Long Day on the River

maria | September 18, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Proudly flying our Pekin Boat Club burgee

Proudly flying our Pekin Boat Club burgee

Beginning Location: Beardstown, IL
Ending Location: Hardin, IL
Miles Traveled: 67
Locks: 1
Weather: Windy enough to slow us down
Stayed at: The Illinois Riverdock Restaurant ($25 flat fee)

Wednesday morning we woke early again for our most challenging day yet. We wanted to travel 67 miles from Beardstown to Hardin, IL where Mel’s Riverdock Restaurant has a floating dock we could tie to. We also had the La Grange Lock to navigate.

Lucky for us, we called the lock and they told us to be there at 9am, after they had finished locking a tow through. We were able to get through the dock by 9:30 and start a long day of motoring. The wind was against us much of the day and it was enough to slow us down by about a 1/2 mile an hour. Doesn’t sound like much, but when you travel 6.5 to 7 mph, every little bit helps.

The day was mostly uneventful, except we passed our first tow traveling in the same direction as us. Bruce expertly powered our little 21 horse motor up a few more RPMs and got by the tow without incident. Unfortunately, Maria was too busy trying not to wet herself to take pictures! We were happy to find we have a little bit of power reserve when we need it, and can push the boat to about 7.5 mph. It does heat up the engine, but it’s good to know we can do it if needed.

We docked at Mel’s at about 6pm, just as the sun was beginning its descent. Mel’s is one of those “must stop” places people on the Great Loop rave about, but honestly we weren’t impressed. The restaurant is a family-style diner with good but not great food. It provides a great service in giving boaters a safe place to tie up, but we wouldn’t recommend anyone travel out of their way to visit.

After dinner, we watched New Dawn, the tow Bruce had passed earlier, go by us. If we hadn’t passed him, it would have been well after dark by the time we reached Mel’s. Good call Bruce!

Exhausted after another long day, we slept well in this quiet stretch of river.

Category: On the Move

We Serve a Real Good Dinner on Monday

maria | September 17, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

Where’s Improbable? Our luxury accommodations for a night.

Beginning Location: Pekin, IL
Ending Location: Beardstown, IL
Miles Traveled: 64
Locks: 0
Weather: Cloudy with sprinkles
Stayed at: Logsdon Tug Service ($30 to tie up to a barge with a crane on it)

After three fun days in Pekin, we woke up early Tuesday morning to begin one of the longest, loneliest stretches of the trip. The southern half of the Illinois River is not very friendly for pleasure boats. For 150 miles, there are only two possible tie ups and a handful of anchorages for deep draft boats.

We targeted the Logsdon Tug Service in Beardstown as our destination for the night. We’ve had some interesting docking experiences so far on the Illinois, but this one may be the strangest. Beardstown used to have a town dock that welcomed transient boaters. When the dock was washed away in a flood, it was never rebuilt, so Logsdon Tug spotted a business opportunity. Because this is such an empty stretch, boaters are willing to pay $1 per foot to tie up to any barge, tow boat, or whatever else the company has around that day. We tied up to a barge that floated a large crane the company uses to haul tow boats out of the water for repair. It wasn’t elegant, but it was a safe harbor for the night.

We traveled fairly fast (for us) that day and reached Beardstown by 4pm. Our cruising guide described the town as “a lovely small town to explore with a marvelous tourist office, brimming with history.” Sounds promising.

We took off in a light rain to see what there is to see, armed with a list of “restaurants” provided by the Logsdon office. What we found was a very depressed river town. There were a few taverns that looked too dive-ey even for us – and we like dive bars! We stopped into a slightly scary looking place to have dinner. The bartender told us, “We serve a good dinner on Mondays.” Since it was Tuesday, we decided not to wait that long!

It turned out finding dinner in Beardstown on Tuesday is no easy feat. The cafe closes early, the bowling alley (yes, we considered having dinner in a bowling alley!) was also closed. None of the taverns served anything more substantial than popcorn and potato chips. We went back to the boat and made grilled cheese.

With another long day ahead of us, it was lights out early that evening, with the sounds of trains and towboats lulling us to sleep.

Category: On the Move

Pekin, The Best Boat Club of Them All

The best dressed couple at the Pekin Boat Club Annual Luau!!

Beginning Location: Peoria, IL
Ending Location: Pekin, IL
Miles Traveled: 10
Locks: 1
Weather: Perfect for a Luau
Stayed at: Pekin Boat Club (Cost: How much was that bar tab?)

During their mad dash south last year, Nathan and Johanna of stayed at the venerable Pekin Boat Club for a night. In our search for the elusive 5 feet of water and good wifi, we gave Pekin’s caretaker Stan a call. He welcomed us, as he had welcomed Nathan and Jo, with kindness, generosity and hospitality.

After a quick transit of the Peoria Lock, where we just floated as the lock lowered us 8 feet, we made it to Pekin in plenty of time to attend the club’s Luau. As we tied up to the dock, club member Dale let us know, “Pekin has a lot of diversity. We have rednecks, rednecks and more rednecks!” This was a good indicator of the fun to follow.

They know how to throw a party around here!

They know how to throw a party around here!

After changing into the two Hawaiian shirts Bruce wisely packed, we headed up to the club to enjoy a potluck dinner, cheap beer and live music. We also met many of the club members who really went out of their way to make us feel welcome. We had offers of breakfast the next morning, rides into town, and lots of information which will help us in our trip down the Illinois. We also won the “Best Dressed Couple” contest! This is the kind of place we can get used to.


Floating on the gas dock in Pekin. We got waked a few times, but had a nice stay.

Floating on the gas dock in Pekin. We got waked a few times, but had a nice stay.

Young Huck Finns in Pekin

Category: On the Move

Playing in Peoria

We broke at least 2 of these rules during our stay

We broke at least 2 of these rules during our stay

Beginning Location: Henry, IL
Ending Location: Peoria, IL
Miles Traveled: 34
Locks: 0
Weather: Breezy. There were whitecaps on the river!
Stayed at: Peoria Public Docks (Free with 30 Amp power)

After our extended stay in Henry/Princeton, we left late on a Thursday morning to travel an easy 30 miles to downtown Peoria.

With our 5 foot draft (the amount of water we need under our boat), many of the marinas and anchorages on the Illinois are not accessible to us. We were hoping to stay at the very nice Illinois Valley Yacht Club Thursday night, but their channel is not deep enough for our boat this fall. Instead we continued to downtown Peoria and tied up at their public docks.

Technically, overnight stays are not allowed at these docks, but no one enforces the rules, so many people stay for a night or two, or even a week in high season. When we arrived, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We choose a spot that would have required any “inquisitive youngsters” to walk a long way down to docks to “explore” our boat and felt pretty safe.

Peoria is a very nice town. Their riverfront area has many restaurants, nice park areas, and lots of people walking around. We took full advantage of the good food and enjoyed a couple of brews at Rhodell Brewery and a wonderful Cajun dinner at Rhythm Kitchen. Any time we can avoid eating our own cooking is a good time!

Peoria is pretty fun

Because of our need for good wifi for Bruce’s work, we spent part of Friday at the Peoria Public Library and got some other errands done. We also had a chance to talk to Joe, a boater we first met on the wall in Joliet. Joe is retired and moving to Nashville, TN on his 32 foot Trojan, which he purchased for $2500 this summer. He’s an interesting guy with many stories that are not fit to print here. Part of the reason we are making this trip is to meet people from different parts of the country and different walks of life. Joe definitely qualifies!

Joe is moving on the cabin cruiser in this picture.

Joe is moving on the cabin cruiser in this picture.

Category: On the Move

This is Kind of Pretty

maria | September 7, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
The view from Starved Rock Lock

The view from Starved Rock Lock

Beginning Location: Ottawa, IL
Ending Location: Henry, IL
Miles Traveled: 46
Locks: 1
Weather: Hot with a brief rain shower
Stayed at: Henry Harbor Marina ($30 night)

Up to this point, the trip down the rivers has been either ugly or boring. We’ve been treated to lots of heavy industry with a side of woods and farmland for variety. Today we went through one of the prettiest parts of Illinois, the Starved Rock area.

Because we live and die by wifi (or at least 4G) access, we planned to spend the weekend in Henry, IL near Maria’s family in Princeton. Maria’s cousin Dianna offered us use of her car and the internet at their home so Bruce could teach his seminars on Sunday and Monday night.

With just a short wait at Starved Rock Lock (there is no place to tie up here, so Loopers should call from Starved Rock Marina), we were in Henry by the time the day really started to heat up at 3:30. Fortunately, Henry Harbor Marina takes slip payments in their bar, so we ordered a slip and two beers!

That evening, we “explored” the very small town of Henry, IL and ate dinner at a Polish owned Italian restaurant. Bruce had spaghetti, Maria had pierogies and we met an interesting family of Polish immigrants who somehow found themselves in Illinois farm country.

Maria holding the line at Starved Rock Lock

The cliffs at Buffalo Rock State Park
The cliffs at Buffalo Rock State Park


Category: On the Move

Running the Gauntlet

maria | September 5, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
This is a terrible photo, but hopefully it shows how narrow this section is.

This is a terrible photo, but hopefully it shows how narrow this section is.

Beginning Location: Dolton, IL
Ending Location: Joliet, IL
Miles Traveled: 36
Locks: 1 (3 hour wait)
Weather: Warm and summery
Stayed at: Joliet Wall (free)

Today we traveled the Cal-Sag Channel, one of the busiest shipping corridors in the country. The Cal Sag supplies the city of Chicago with all the ugly, dirty and poisonous stuff it needs to keep functioning. We were treated to miles and miles of scrap metal, salt, gravel, chemical plants, coal burning power plants, MOUNTAINS of mulch, more chemical plants…

You get the idea.

This section of the river is very narrow and very full of barges. I had our VHF radio tuned to 16 and at the ready. We passed many tows (not tugboats – they don’t like being called tugboats for some strange reason although they are pushing the barges, NOT towing them) and safely passed all of them with little to no drama 🙂

We also traversed our first real lock today, and it was a doozy. The Lockport Lock only drops 40 feet, but we had to wait 3 hours for a “double” to lock through. A double is a tow (with attached barges) that has to be split into two groups to fit in the lock chamber. This chamber is 600 by 110 feet, so that should give you some idea of how enormous these things are.

Fortunately we were able to tie up to a wall while we waited, so we had lunch and tried to stay not terribly bored. If only locks had wifi!

Going down. The Lockport Lock

Going down. The Lockport Lock

Because we had such a long wait, we decided to stay the night at the Joliet wall. The great thing about this is, it’s free and the city provides electricity for boaters. The bad news is, it’s in Joliet! We were there with four other boats, and three of them are much nicer than ours, so we felt pretty safe from “inquisitive youngsters.” We walked across the bridge to downtown, had an early dinner, and went to bed exhausted after a long, kind of nerve wracking day.

Casino #2 of the trip. Harrah's in downtown Joliet in the background.

Casino #2 of the trip. Harrah’s in downtown Joliet in the background.

Category: On the Move

Motor Boat, Motor Boat

maria | September 4, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Chicago is just a haze away

Chicago is just a haze away

Beginning Location: Hammond, IN
Ending Location: Dolton, IL
Miles Traveled: 11
Weather: Calm wind, happy sailors motor boaters
Stayed at: Marine Services ($40.50 for a nice dock next to a landfill)

Today the mast came down…

Okay, that sounds bad, but it was good. From here until Mobile, Alabama, we will be traveling as a motor boat. There are many, many bridges between here and there. Some of them are quite low and don’t open. If we didn’t take the mast down, the bridges would do it for us!

We work up early this morning to motor up to the Calumet River to have our mast removed at Skyway Yacht Works. This was a day of firsts for us. By 8am we had requested our first bridge opening and passed our first barge. By 9am, we pulled into Skyway and 4 men descended on the boat and began unhooking everything. By 10am, our mast was dangling from a crane, seen in the video below:

By 11am we were on our way downriver, headed to our first lock! During our trip, we will have to go through many locks, which raise and lower boats through rivers that have been altered by human engineering. The first one we went through, the Thoman O’Brien, lowered us a whole 2 feet! It was pretty easy, since we didn’t have to tie off to anything and barely had to wait.

O'Brien Lock

O’Brien Lock

After getting through the lock, we pulled into our marina for the night, Marine Services in Dolton, IL. The marina was just fine, if you overlook the landfill next door. We did have a great time talking to a couple of the slip renters there. We hope to see Larry in his beautiful Chris Craft Roamer down in Florida some day. We owe him a bottle of wine.


Category: On the Move

The Bottom of the Bathtub

maria | August 30, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Michigan City, it's fugly but easy to spot.

Michigan City, it’s fugly but easy to spot.

Beginning Location: St. Joseph, MI
End Location: Michigan City, IN
Miles Traveled: 36
Weather: 5 to 15 on the nose. Waves 1 to 2 feet. Not horrible, not great
Stayed at: Washington Park Municipal Marina ($35 per night)
Diesel: 7 gallons for $28.72

Based on the weather forecast, Improbable was out of her slip (along with Bruce, Maria, Pudgy and Grace of course) by 8:30 am Friday and pointed towards Michigan City, Indiana. We are now venturing into the southern end of Lake Michigan. That portion of the lake is relatively shallow and bowl shaped, making for all kinds of confused waves hitting you from 2 or 3 different directions. We knew the wind would be on our nose all day, but it didn’t slow us down much. We still traveled at 6 to 6.5 mph and made it to Michigan City by 1:30 pm Central time. Also, the wind kept the black flies away!

The weather forecast for Saturday already looked terrible, so we booked a slip for two nights, tied the boat up, and went out for a “wander.” It had been a while since we really had a chance to unwind, so it was great to just walk around, stop for a beverage, walk some more, have another beverage, eat a little, have another… you get the idea!

Sunset behind the dunes at the marina.

Sunset behind the dunes at the marina.

Category: On the Move

No Room at the Inn

maria | August 29, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
The iconic St. Joseph lighthouse

The iconic St. Joseph lighthouse

Beginning Location: Saugatuck, MI
End Location: St. Joseph, MI
Miles Traveled: 47
Weather: Perfect, with a side of Black Flies
Stayed at: West Basin Marina ($29 with the friends and family discount)

Today was a day of Plans B, C, and D. We originally planned to head to South Haven a mere [insert mile] from Saugatuck, so we left at the late hour of 11:00 am. We (meaning Maria) didn’t bother with a slip reservation because South Haven always has open slips in their 3 municipal marinas. So, why bother with a reservation even though it’s Labor Day weekend and forecast to be blazing hot and gorgeous. People wouldn’t want to use their boats would they? We thought we would pull in to a slip, relax for a couple days and head to St. Joseph on Sunday after the Tri State Regatta racers had left.

Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. It turned out South Haven was booked solid and we would have been 5 boats down on the waiting list for the weekend. St. Joseph would be full on Friday and Saturday due to the previously mentioned Regatta. Saugatuck would be full. No room at the inn!

After some weather checking, we came up with an alternate plan. We made the long run to St. Joseph who could fit us in for night thanks to all those racers heading to Chicago Thursday morning and booked a slip in Michigan City, IN (which really does always have slips) for Friday and Saturday.

Maria’s mom and dad came to the rescue (again!), meeting us at the marina, bringing our mail, and driving us to Wolf’s Marine, a grocery store, an ATM and the Mark III for some tasty Mexican food. Worn out after a long, harried day, Maria was sleeping by about 9:30!!

Category: On the Move

Breaking Away

maria | August 28, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

Beginning Location: Grand Haven, MI
Ending Location: Saugatuck, MI
Miles Traveled: 32
Weather: Just a little bitty swell
Stayed at: Tower Marina ($60 OUCH!)
Filled up with Diesel in Grand Haven (7.5 gallons for $31.34)

We finally got away from Grand Haven today! Although it was great to see Maria’s family, 5 nights was too long in a rolly marina!

We filled up with diesel in the morning and headed south to Saugatuck. Lake Michigan was fairly calm with a slight North wind helping to push us along. After making an interesting discovery about our autopilot (more on this to come), we resigned ourselves to hand steering the rest of the trip.

It was a great, warm day which often means one thing on the lake… BLACK FLIES!! Anyone who has boated on Lake Michigan has probably encountered these horrible, horrible insects. They descend on boats after you get about a 1/2 mile offshore and they stay with you until you get to your next port. And they BITE! They seem to go for our feet and ankles the most, but they’ll take an arm, leg or back in a pinch. Needless to say, the cockpit was bloody and the fly swatter was busy all day.

Black Flies!!!

Black Flies!!!

After about a 6 hour motor, we came to the Saugatuck Channel and were greeted by this new development. Yeah, we could handle that.

The Channel into Saugatuck. What a beautiful area.

The Channel into Saugatuck. What a beautiful area.

After we docked at Tower Marina, we had enough time to enjoy the pool before setting out in search of dinner. Since we were on the Douglas side of the river, we figured we would take the chain ferry across the river. We walked the mile or so the ferry, only to find it was shut down for the night! Happily, a woman who lives next to the ferry called the town shuttle for us and they drove us into Saugatuck for $1 each, saving us about a 2 1/2 mile walk. We love walking, but we were also hungry!! We never learned that woman’s name, but our feet definitely appreciate her kindness.

We had a great dinner at Phil’s (seriously, they may have the best food in a town full of great food) and began the 1 1/2 mile walk back the marina. We were lucky to meet Loretta and Bob of Carol Anne [find link]. Bruce met them at the fuel dock in Grand Haven and they invited us to tour their beautiful boat. It was a great way to end our first travel day in a long time!

It was a beautiful feeling to fall asleep in a boat that was gently rocking in it’s slip, not bouncing like a bucking bronco!


Category: On the Move