24 September 2014

So it turns out I like the Illinois River after all.

But, like Alice, lets begin at the beginning.

The last two locks on the Illinois River have wicket gates. There is a lock at one end, and across the river are giant panels they can put into place to stop the flow of water. When the wickets are in the water level rises. In flood conditions, like 3 weeks ago, they pull the wickets out to allow water (and debris) to flow down river. River management is hard, as we found out on the Trent-Severn and Erie Canal systems.

Because the water level has dropped the last two weeks they are ready to put the wickets back in. Which means that boaters will not be able to pass over the dam that supports the wickets, but we will need to use the lock. At Peoria Lock, they would start putting the wickets in on Wednesday (today) morning. I really didn’t want to use the lock, so I wanted to be past the Peoria Lock by 8 AM.

We said goodbyes to the Captain of the Chesapeake at 6:30 AM CST (yes, just after sunrise) and headed south. Much to my surprise (and fuel budget delight) there was a 2-3 knot current running with us. Yay! So we were able to cruise at 10.5 knots on our regular RPM’s. We passed the Peoria Lock at 7:35AM, well before 8.

The river below Peoria is a little busy with tows for about 2 miles. Then it becomes mostly county. With no winds blowing, the river was like glass with us coasting down the middle of it. Mile after mile of pretty countryside, calm waters, and the occasional thump from the Asian Carp.

Around 11AM we crossed the 2,000 mile mark! So we’ve gone the first third of our trip in 5 months time. Which on paper doesn’t bode well for being home in May, but we are making some long jumps in the next 10 travel days.

With the current we kept up our 10+ knot speed and made some great progress. I slowed to No Wake speed for the few fishermen we ran into. We had two up-bound tows and the Captains were great about telling me where to go and we had great passes. From 10 miles south of Peoria, we didn’t see another moving boat.

Until Mile 107, where we saw a kayak heading South. I slowed to 5 knots and glided by. “Where did you come from?” “Joliet.” (mile 287) “Where are you going?” “New Orleans”. Wow. He had gone through 80 miles of the Illinois already. Very cool. I waved and we kept the 5 knots going for another mile so we wouldn’t swamp him and then put the Quo Vadimus back up to speed.

More flat calm river, some high banks to keep the Illinois in its course, lots of birds, and of course the carp. Very peaceful, very nice. Reminded us both of the parts of the Hudson that we really liked.

Seven hours after leaving Peoria, we swung around and tied off to the Logston Workbarge. Off of their wall they have a work barge that has a crane and parts along with crane items like scoops and claws, etc. I paid our fee of $1 a foot. I got a map of town. I asked about haircuts and got directed to Tyson’s Barber shop about 4 blocks away. So I headed over.

Mr Tyson is 86, has kids and grand kids and is the leader of a French-Indian War reactionary group that goes out and does recreations with about 30 other people. Knows all about the history of the area. Very cool guy to talk to. He seemed to like me, I got a free haircut and beard trim. And I look nice!! Go figure!

Being fully coiffed, I headed across to the Lincoln Museum it covers two floors in the old court-house / city hall. There was a big trial over a resident of Beardstown that was killed and the defendants’ Mom had asked Abraham Lincon to represent her son. There was an eye witness during the trial that said they had seen the murder in the light of a full moon. Our hero, Abraham Lincoln pulled out the Almanac that proved it was the first quarter, not that it was a full moon. Case closed! Yay Lincoln!. They have a room dedicated to Lincon, but none of the artifacts were his. The curator said all the good stuff is either in Springfield or at the Smithsonian.

The museum is full of other artifacts from the town history. They have the full dish set that the founder of Beardstown brought with him from England. Towns people have also donated their collections ranging from 1000′s of antique buttons to Mr. Blacks gun collection of 100+ long rifles and 50+ pistols from the French-Indian war to the 1950′s. It was well worth the hour that I spent there.

Two blocks away is the 88 Pub (named for being Mile 88 on the Illinois River). It was pretty nice with 20′ high stamped tin ceilings and a long polished bar. The food special for the evening was a basket of fried chicken livers and gizzards. The drink special was shots of Moonshine for $1.50. This pretty much confirms we are not in Canada any more.

I had a beer and a moonshine. They had flavored ones (cherry, pineapple, etc), but I opted for “White Lightning” which is plain. Super strong and a nasty taste (I sipped it rather than tossing it down). The barmaid was nice, she told me about the town and things to see an do. This coming weekend is their Fall Fest.

She said I should come back in August, that’s when the “Red Neck Fishing Tournament” is. They have a contest to see who can catch the most Asian Carp. At the end of the two days they had filled a tractor trailer with 1000′s of carp. She said the fish are “nasty, slimey and bloody”, but that everybody had a good time, but “there was lots of drinking involved.” Which made her happy since she works at a bar.

She said I should check out the “River Look”, the walk along the river. I had seen it coming into town. When I got there, a guy was walking up the staircase from the river, it was the guy in the kayak that we had passed hours ago.

His name is Scott and he’s going from Joliet, IL to New Orleans. He left Joliet on Tuesday the 16th hopes to be in NOLA by Thanksgiving. Today was his longest run, with the current it was easy, he was doing 5 miles an hour. We talked about why he was doing this. He said he was involved in an accident that messed up his right leg and pelvis. They put some bolts and screws in to hold it all together. Since he couldn’t walk well, he turned to kayaking as physical therapy. He’s build up his strength and decided to take this trip. The first set of locks he locked through with Coast Guard work boats but was happy to paddle past the next few.

He was on his way to dinner at the Dairy Queen a few blocks away. I offered my map, but he said he was using his car GPS, it was working out fine. I saw him about an hour later paddling past where we had tied up, he was on his way south to find some place safe to camp.

When I got back to the boat Susan was hard at work making dinner. One of the tow hands came over and asked if we could move the boat. I said sure, could we give Susan 10 minutes to finish cooking and then we could move. He said no problem. I then had an ispiration, I asked if I could see the inside of his tug boat. “Sure”. I grabbed my camera and headed with him. The tug Pin Oak is a short work tug for moving tow (the barges around).

It has a short front deck with to massive bumpers to push against the tow, and a set if stairs that go up ’20 to alllow access to empty tows. Inside is a small crew room with a refrigerator and microwave. They spend 12 hour shifts on the boat. They work 7 days and have 4 off. Just past the crews room and down is the engine room with two Caterpillar diesel engines that drive the boat. On either side of the crews room are two John Deere generators that power all of the lights and winches. From the front you go up three fights of stairs into the Pilot House.

I asked the Captain if I could come in and take some pictures. The area is pretty small (about 10′ square) and very spartan. There is a long bench along the back wall that would double as a bunk. His chair is pretty nice, lots of padding. The instrument panel is just the general information. He does have a nice Chartplotter / radar / AIS tracking system.

The controls are very different. On both sides of the wheel there are two vertical poles. At three levels there are three arms that come out towards the center. The top bar runs the motor direction and speed. The next two run the forward and backing rudders. The Captain said there were two rudders behind the propeller for direction when the boat is moving forward. There are two in front of the propeller that give direction when the boat is backing down. By using them in combination is how they are able to crab sideways an move the tow’s around. Very cool!!

I headed back down to move our boat. They wanted to use the crane barge early in the morning and rather than wake us, they wanted us to move tonight. No problem, 15 mins later we were tied one barge down.

Dinner of sausages, bolognese sauce with pork and zucchini noodles. I really love the zucchini noodles and the bolognese sauce made with the uncured bacon was really good.

There is no power while tied to a barge, so we ran the generator so Susan could cook dinner and run the AC. This is the first time since Canada (on July 2) that we’ve had to run it. Pretty amazing that we’ve had cool days for most of our trip.

I want to say thanks to the people at Logston Tug Services. We felt very welcome, got good tips on places to see, and for allowing me to see one of their boats. And I want to say good luck to Scott! If you read this, let us know how you made out.

And I miss you Dad.