You Can’t Stop in St. Louis

maria | October 4, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Being passed by a tow in St. Louis

Being passed by a tow in St. Louis

Beginning Location: Alton, IL
Ending Location: Kaskaskia River
Miles Traveled: 85
Locks: 2
Stayed at: Kaskaskia Lock Wall

On Friday October 4 we began the 300 mile trip from Alton, IL to Grand Rivers, KY. This stretch is particularly difficult because there is only one fuel stop and no real marinas. For a boat that travels at our speeds (6.5 to 7 mph without any current) this means at least 5 days away from civilization.

We talked with many people and read a lot of information about this leg. We stocked up on food, water and diesel. We were as ready as we were going to get, so it was time to go.

We woke up at 5:30 Friday morning and got ourselves prepped to leave. Another boat wanted to get going at first light, so we followed them to Mel Price Lock, just two miles from Alton Marina. After that, we were on our own, seeing only three other pleasure boats in the next 5 days.

The Mississippi River is deep and at times pretty narrow, which means we got an incredible speed burst by going downstream and with the current. At times our slow sailboat was traveling at 10 mph. We probably averaged 9 mph over our 200 miles downstream.

After Mel Price Lock, we got through the Chain of Rocks Canal, a skinny “ditch” where the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers come together. This canalized portion of the river avoids the rapids on the other side. At the end of the canal was the Chain of Rocks Lock. We had a minimal wait at the lock and then were is St. Louis Harbor.

St. Louis is a pretty big town, so you’d think there would be marinas, or at least day docks so boaters could visit the town. Not so much. The riverfront here is all industrial and very busy with barge traffic. We were passed by a small tow just as we were passing the St. Louis Arch and followed him through much of the traffic, so it all worked out pretty smoothly for us.

The rest of the day we just flew.

The current rocketing us down the Mississippi

The current rocketing us down the Mississippi

We were able to travel 85 miles is just over 10 hours, including our waiting time at two locks. We spent the night at the Kaskaskia River Lock. The lockmasters there allow pleasure boats to tie up to the lock wall, giving us a quiet and secure place to spend the night. We forgot to take pictures (!) but it was a really peaceful place after a busy day on the river.

Category: On the Move

Down the Mighty Mississippi (And Up the Ohio)

maria | | COMMENTS:1 Comment »

This will be a quick one.

We are back at the boat in Alton, IL. Tomorrow we will leave at first light for a 300 mile stretch of the rivers that does not offer much in the way of recreational facilities. We’ll do the entire stretch in 5 or 6 days. Until we reach Grand Rivers, KY we won’t have internet access, so we won’t be posting any blog updates.

We’ll talk at you next week.

Category: Other Stuff

A Cat Update

maria | September 26, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Does Pudgy look stressed to you?

Does Pudgy look stressed to you?

Some of you were wondering how the cats are doing on our journey.The first couple of days were a little rough for them, but we are quite happy to say they have adapted well to the boat. We have NO personal space. Pudgy and Grace have taken over everything. In the picture below, you can see Grace lounging on the shelf Bruce has just finished installing.

So what do they do on a small boat with maybe 150 square feet of living space? While we are moving they mostly sleep. Pudgy generally prefers the bed, while Grace sits on a shelf or wedges herself into the tiniest of places.

In the evenings they like to come out into our enclosed cockpit, especially after dark. They do a lot of sniffing and pay attention to every sound. A few times we have had Asian carp thump the side of the boat, which really gets their attention!

Boating life has definitely not impacted their appetites. We are going through cat food – and cat litter! – at a brisk pace.

All in all we are quite happy with how they are doing.

Our new shelf. Grace took it over in about 5 minutes.

Our new shelf. Grace took it over in about 5 minutes.

Category: Other Stuff

Alton, IL Where Loopers Meet

maria | September 21, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Bluffs on the Mississippi River above Alton

Bluffs on the Mississippi River above Alton

Beginning Location: Grafton, IL
Ending Location: Alton, IL
Miles Traveled: 16
Locks: 0
Weather: A Beautiful Saturday. Bring out the SeaRays!
Stayed at: Alton Marina ($320 for the monthly rate)

On Saturday morning, we were in no hurry to depart Grafton and travel the short distance to Alton, IL. This was good, because Maria enjoyed a little too much of the “Key West” atmosphere the night before and had to wait for a bar to open at 11am and retrieve her cell phone! Fortunately, the phone was waiting for her and we were able to get on our way.

Just after Grafton, we entered the Mississippi River for the first time. We will only travel 220 miles on the Mississippi, but we are both excited and anxious to travel this legendary body of water. The views along the way are great. We motored past tall sandstone bluffs and wide lake-like expanses on river.

Stilt cottages on the Illinois River. Their height makes our house look short!

Stilt cottages on the Illinois River. Their height makes our house look short!

Because it was a Saturday and we left in late morning, we encountered many, many powerboats who had a fun time “waking” us. This means they traveled past us at high rates of speed creating large waves. We’re a slow, heavy boat so we have no choice but to turn into the wakes as best we can and ride them out as all of our stuff bounces everywhere in the cabin. We both believe anyone who buys a large power boat should have to spend an afternoon on a small lake sitting on a sail or fishing boat while power boats circle them at top speed. That MAY teach them a little courtesy!

On a completely different subject, Alton is one of the pinch points on the Great Loop. This is the last real marina for nearly 300 miles of pretty tough river travels. Many Loopers and other south bound boaters gather here to rest up a bit, victualise their boats and enjoy a last bit of civilization.

We have had an enjoyable couple of days here meeting a fellow sailor, Brian and his friend and crew member Sarah. We also got to know Margaret and Jim in their “small boat” an Albin 27 we both adore. We’ve been the “little boat” most of this trip, so it is good to meet up with people who have similar mindsets about traveling. Brian and Margaret and Jim will be leapfrogging past us, but we hope to see them all in Florida sometime soon.

Once we leave here we will have 5 to 7 days of tough going. We’ll be anchoring just out of the river channel, waiting at some of the busiest locks in the country, and battling the current upstream on the Ohio. It’s a stretch we all dread, but everyone gets through it okay.

Before we take on that adventure though, Bruce and Maria will be renting a car to go back to Grand Rapids for a week. Maria has job work to do and we actually sold the cottage!! Once we close, we will own no real estate in Michigan. This is an important financial and psychological milestone in our journey. Improbable will stay in Alton while Pudgy, Grace, Bruce and Maria go for a car ride.

Category: On the Move

The Key West of the Midwest?

Two great rivers collide near Grafton

Two great rivers collide near Grafton

Beginning Location: Hardin, IL
Ending Location: Grafton, IL
Miles Traveled: 21
Locks: 0
Weather: Just about perfect
Stayed at: Grafton Harbor ($39 per night)

After covering some major miles the last couple of days, we were able to sleep in a bit and enjoy a short trip to Grafton, IL located at the junction of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The 21 miles between Grafton and Hardin were really pretty. We didn’t see another boat for the first 15 miles and just floated along slowly enjoying the scenery.

For the first time since Ottawa, IL nearly two weeks ago we were able to get into a proper marina with nice docks and unlimited power and water! We were definitely ready to unwind a little after our two long days down the Illinois. The pool was calling to us.

Grafton is a very pretty town that has reinvented itself from an industrial river port to a weekend resort for the St. Louis and Springfield crowds. It’s slogan is “The Key West of the Midwest.” They may be over reaching there, but the main street is only a block from the marina and is lined with wineries and restaurants. It would be very easy to stumble from winery to winery all afternoon sampling their wares.

Originally we had planned to stay one day in Grafton but we liked it so much we stayed two nights. We met a few local people, wandered around town, and caught up on email and other work thanks to the good wifi. Because we have a scheduled break from boating coming up, there was no rush to get to our next destination.

While Grafton may not quite be Key West, it is a beautiful stop. We’re glad we were able to stay there and enjoy everything the town has to offer.

Grafton may not be Key West, but they’re trying!

Grafton is really darn cute

Grafton is really darn cute

An old fashioned car ferry near Grafton

An old fashioned car ferry near Grafton

Category: 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

Breweries by Boat: Rhodell Brewery

maria | September 13, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

2013-09-12 17.09.02Located just four blocks from the Peoria Public Docks, the Rhodell Brewery in Peoria, IL is a perfect Brewery by Boat destination. This is a straight up brewery with no food, just good beer. The pub is located in an old industrial building and has a great feel to it. About a third of the floor space is taken up by a “Brew on the Premises” area, where aspiring home brewers can brew their own using Rhodell equipment. The rest of the space is an assortment of tables and the smallish bar.

Rhodell shares a block with several other restaurants. When we were there, they had a portion of the street closed to car traffic and many tables set out on the street. Musicians were playing live music and the atmosphere was laid back and festive.

The beers on tap were fairly traditional. The Rhodell website listed the following during our visit:

  • Imperial Hop Head – 8.5% ABV
  • Double D Double Amber Ale – 8% ABV
  • Hop Head IPA – 7% ABV
  • Oatmeal Stout – 6.5% ABV
  • Fall Fest Red – 6.5% ABV
  • Farmer’s Daughter Belgian Farmhouse Ale – 6% ABV
  • Tropical Wiezen – 4.5% ABV
  • Summer Sun – 4.5% ABV
  • Blueberry Vanilla Wheat – 4.5% ABV
  • Ryezen – 4.5% ABV
  • Cask Conditioned Honey Amber – 5% ABV
One West Coast Red and a Farmer's Daughter

One West Coast Red and a Farmer’s Daughter

Bruce had two Farmer’s Daughters (wink, wink!) and Maria sampled the Tropical Weizen (tasted like banana pineapple juice) and drank a Summer Sun and a West Coast Red. The Farmer’s Daughter is a traditional Belgian ale with just a touch of banana flavor. The West Coast Red is slightly hoppy, but a step down in hoppiness compared to an IPA. Summer Sun is typical summer wheat beer served with an orange slice. None of the brews stood out as being outstanding, but all were good, drinkable beers.


Category: Breweries by Boat

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