Sunday: The winds and seas from Friday that lingered into Saturday are now gone and the day looks like it will be nice for the 31 nautical mile cruise to Michigan City, Indiana. Today will be our last in Michigan and after arriving back in the USA on August 25th, we’ve completed the Michigan leg in just under a month’s time, but the eastern shore of Lake Michigan has been a real pleasure. We’ve stopped in ten pretty harbor towns and one island town along the way here in Michigan and including a trip to Munson Hospital in Traverse City, we’ve seen some spectacular sights. The weather and the seas of Lake Michigan have been good to us and we’ve really enjoyed this opportunity to visit a part of Michigan that is a vacation paradise. Each one of these harbor towns caters to summer tourists and we’ve just missed the throngs by a few days and admittedly a lot of the shops, restaurants, etc. start to close up right after Labor Day, we’ve been fortunate enough to have just the right amount of services and tourist attractions available to us to get a real sense of the area.
Michigan City is in Indiana and in the Central Time Zone, so we will be cruising into another state and another time zone all in this four hour cruise. Once we’re out of the St Joseph River and Inlet, we turn Kailani to a heading of 220 degrees, run the rpm’s up to 1,100 and cruise the 30 miles to the mouth of the Michigan City Inlet.
After about 5 miles, we can see a huge nuclear reactor cooling stack dead ahead and we surmise that it must be our target destination and for the next 25 miles, that stack stays right square in our sights, so it is our target. Then as we are about 8 miles from Michigan City, we can start to see the tops of the tallest buildings in the Chicago skyline off to our starboard. That will be our destination tomorrow, but being able to see it today makes it feel closer than it is. As we slow to idle speed entering the Michigan City Inlet, we see that Caribe has already gotten here safely and is anchored out in the inlet surely preparing for a similar departure tomorrow towards Chicago, so maybe tomorrow we’ll get a chance to cruise with Tom.
By1:00 pm we’re turning into the Washington Park Marina and ever since we’ve been in the Michigan City inlet, we’ve been hailing the marina on VHF channels 16 and 09 plus Tracy has called them on the cell phone, but we’ve not received a response. So we pull into the marina and see two fifty foot slips open in the first row we come up to and we just pull into those two slips, then go up to the office and tell them the numbers of the slips we’ve taken for their records. As we had agreed, if they asked us to move we’d have surely moved the vessels, but without response from the marina office, I can’t see how they’d expect us to relocate now. And as our luck held out, they just amended their records and showed us in the two slips we took rather than the two they had prepared for us, so that was considerate of them to let us stay right where we were.
A few end of cruise chores to complete then the crew of Sea Cottage and the crew of Kailani walked over to Bartlett’s Fish Camp Restaurant and had a nice Sunday afternoon meal prepared, served and cleaned up by others. That’s always a plus. After dinner, we walked back to our slips with the sun setting in the west and decided to plan for another 9:30 am departure tomorrow as we cruise into Chicago.
Monday: The early morning check of the seas and weather conditions indicate to us that Chicago will be somewhat calmer in the afternoon, so Sea Cottage and us decide to postpone our departure to 10:00 am then we’ll arrive in Chicago around 2 pm. We’ve already moved into Central Time Zone so we won’t be changing the clocks mid-voyage.
So at 10:00am we’re leaving the docks of Michigan City and headed across Lake Michigan for DuSable Harbor and downtown Chicago. As we head out of the Michigan City Inlet and turn to 300 degrees for our heading, we can see that it’s a bit foggy towards Gary, Indiana to our port, but clear ahead for at least 15 miles. Yesterday as we were cruising into Michigan City, it was very clear and we could see the high rises of the Chicago skyline off in the distance (32 miles away), but today is different and we won’t be able to see Chicago for a while.
The seas are a bit choppy to start with 1-2 footers being the predominant wave size for now, but as we get farther into open water, the waves grow to 3-5 footers and coming at us from our starboard stern quarter, so we start to get pushed around a bit and the visibility starts reducing ahead of us.
The visibility never goes below 8 miles, but it does prevent us from seeing the Chicago skyline until we’re much closer. Also, Lake Michigan must know that this is our last day cruising her, so she’s ‘waving’ goodbye to us as high as she can. This makes the crossing a bit more tedious, but after three plus hours of cruising, we can finally see our destination ahead in the clouds.
It’s very nice to see our destination ahead particularly after a rough crossing, so we are anticipating a smooth run once we’re inside DuSable Harbor and slowly cruising towards our slip. The Chicago Harbors all use Dockwa for their reservation system and Dockwa let us know our slip assignment was going to be C29. So I had touched base ahead of time with Mike Hervey aboard Carousel to tell him that we were coming into C29 and he said that he was docked right in front of us and that, being on the tee wall, we would have a real easy time coming in for a starboard tie. So as we were idling into the marina, Mike was waiting on the dock to receive the lines from Tracy and it’s a good thing he was there because we had called, VHF 09, VHF 16 and VHF 67 without a response, then Tracy had called the phone number without a response, so there were no dock hands on the dock when we arrived. But AGLCA loopers are always ready to lend a hand and that’s exactly how we completed our docking, with looper help.
When we went to the marina office to check in and ask for an additional night’s stay, Tracy gave them a piece of her mind about the lack of hands on the dock and they said they apologized, but they were in a sort of cave so the radio wasn’t that reliable. Well, we felt they should’ve moved the radio antenna out of the ‘cave’ if that was the issue. Oh well, on to the good news. The reason that we needed to stay for the extra night was that as we were crossing today, Tracy scored Orchestra, Row L seats for the Chicago performance of ‘Hamilton’ for the Wednesday Matinee! So she’ll finally get to see the performance which is her birthday present for this year. “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor. Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?” Weeeee doggies! -tc
In some respects, and after being in some towns with a population of 532 people, it’s nice to be in a big city for a change.
In the later afternoon, Erik and I take a bike ride to a local Ace Hardware store downtown so he can buy some 4” PVC pipe to make fender boards. Chicago has some really nice infrastructure for biking and walking/jogging throughout the city and as we are biking along the bike path to the store, we pass a concession that rents bicycles and has a sandwich board advertisement showing that they do tune-ups for $49.00 so on the return trip, we stop and I ask the guy for the tune-up because I presently have no brakes on this bike I bought at a Walmart in Southport, NC. He says he’s just about to close and could I come back tomorrow, so I figure that right after tomorrow’s cruise, I’ll bring the bike over to him and get the tune-up.
For dinner tonight, Tracy and I walk over to Giordano’s on the Navy Pier for some Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza. We walk in and they let us know that it takes 45 minutes to make the pies because they put them in twice and slow cook them, so we wait for our sausage, bacon and garlic deep dish pie to come out. 45 minutes later our waitress is placing our pie on the rack in between us and we’re ready to dig in. As I spatula out my piece of pie, I see large chunks of something green in the pie and it turns out to be broccoli. So we call the waitress over and she realizes that she made the mistake of writing broccoli when we said bacon. She apologizes up and down about her mistake and says there will be no charge for the pie and did we want her to make us the correct pizza? We asked if it would take another 45 minutes and she said it might be a bit quicker, but not by much, so we just dug into our $22 dollar free pizza and ended up paying seven dollars for the sodas! So right away, we’re finding ways to save money in the big city.
We spend a bit of time walking around the mostly closed shops of the Navy Pier building and then walk back to the marina for the evening. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking the Architectural Boat Cruise down the Chicago River with the Strasel’s so we’re looking forward to that.
Tuesday: Together with the Strasel’s, we have tickets purchased for the Architectural Cruise Tour on the Chicago River. This trip is serving two purposes for us, one to see and hear about all the architectural styles and accomplishments in the Chicago Skyline and two, to see and get familiar with the Chicago River that we will cruise down on Thursday. So as recommended by the website, we are on the dock thirty minutes prior to cruise departure and we’re the only ones there and it’s looking like we’ll have a private cruise. But once we have Zach safely onboard and settled into a spot for him, other people start arriving and before departure, the boat deck is full of other tourists ready for the cruise. Precisely at 11:00 am, the Captain is pulling off the dock and cruising right past DuSable Marina into Chicago Harbor and the mouth of the Chicago.
In the next ninety minutes we cruise under no less than thirty five bridges and thirty of the thirty five we go under again on the way back to the slip at Navy Pier. So we are able to see some spectacular architecture and get a good feel for what we will be cruising thru in the coming days. After the cruise, the Strasel’s return to the marina and Tracy and I stop for a nice lunch at a bistro cafe we pass by.
Then we’re back to Kailani for the afternoon and I bring my bike over to the bike concession guy for the tune-up. He says “give me forty five minutes and I’ll have your department store bike running like a bike shop bike”. So I take a walk and he works on my bike. He ends up having a rather busy afternoon with rentals, etc and it ends up taking him two hours to get everything completed, but he ran thru each piece of that bike with care and accuracy. Just as I got there he was taking the seat post, the handlebar post, and the pedals off to dab the threads in grease so those areas will last longer in the open air environment I keep the bike in. He really went extra on the service and once I got it back, he was right, it rode very well, certainly better than the $130.00 I had spend when I bought it in WalMart!
Tonight, we go back to the Navy Pier with the Strasel’s for a comedy play at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The play is called Nell Gwynn and it’s about the first female to appear on stage in old England theaters. Prior to Nell Gwynn they would use male actors to portray females. It’s a funny comedy and a very entertaining evening spent in Chicago. All in all with the cruise tour, the bicycle tune-up and the comedy theater performance it’s been a very fun-filled and entertaining day.
Wednesday: But as fun-filled and entertaining as yesterday was, nothing so far can top the anticipation of the performance of Hamilton this afternoon at the CIDC Theater that we will be attending. OMG, OMG, OMG….- tc It looks like a thirty to forty five minute walk downtown to the theater, so at high noon, we leave the marina for the 1:30pm matinee performance.
By 12:45pm we are in the theater and waiting along with others for the doors to open at 1:00pm and right at 1:00pm the doors open and we are shown to our seats that are literally in the center of the theater and twelve rows back from the stage!
You can’t get better seats than Tracy found here, so we’re really anticipating a great opportunity ahead. Soon the theater is full, the lights go down and the performance starts. Poor guy…I drag him everywhere! -tc Now I really have had no interest in this play up till now, but that’s not to mean I haven’t heard every one of the songs already because Tracy has been listening to the soundtrack ever since the original play opened on Broadway. So in the long run, the talent is spectacular, the set is first class and three hours later, we have both been entertained to a level that neither one of us expected and we are both very grateful to have had this entertainment opportunity. We walk back to Kailani at the marina and its now time to start thinking about tomorrow’s cruise plan. I walk over to Sea Cottage and we review the particulars for tomorrow including bridges, locks, and protocols for barge traffic. While there, I call Barry on Wild Goose and talk him into joining us for tomorrow’s departure and he agrees to join the pack. Then I return to Kailani for the evening knowing that in the morning we’ll get a pump out and head off for the next leg of our adventure, the Inland River System.
Thursday: Today starts the 1,300 mile leg of our journey to take us from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. We depart from our slip and move over to the pump out dock. Soon thereafter, Sea Cottage, Wild Goose and Kailani are entering the Chicago Harbor Lock to leave the waters of Lake Michigan and enter the waters of the Chicago River.
Once we’re out of the lock that drops us three feet, we’re cruising right thru downtown Chicago and all the high rise towers of this huge city. The downtown portion of the river has Riverwalk on both sides of the river so there are people out walking, jogging, biking, etc and all waving to us as we cruise right past them in our little three yacht flotilla with Kailani followed by Sea Cottage with Wild Goose sweeping.
It’s extremely impressive to go under so many bridges in such a short period of time. To that point, we will pass under 64 bridges today with the lowest fixed bridge causing some real puckering in that we will pass under at an air draft of 17’-9”!
You can assume since I am still writing this blog, that we made it safely and you would be correct! We passed under 60 bridges safely and had the last four drawbridges in Joliet opened for us along with two locks and one electric fish barrier to pass today to reach our destination of the Joliet Wall.
To clarify the electric fish barrier, this is a three hundred yard distance of the river that has electrified water to deter the invasive Asian Carp species from entering the Great Lakes. They can be found throughout the inland river system, but since the electric fish barrier was installed, there have been only two fish that have passed the barrier in ten years. Now please don’t get all worried about the United States Army Corps of Engineers going around killing millions of fish, no the electric fish barrier is meant to be a deterrent, not a killer. It just tries to convince the Asian Carp that it’s time to turn around and stop going upriver! We shut off our on-board electronics just to be safe and turned them back on after we had safely cleared the barrier waters.
With so much of today’s cruise being done at idle ‘no wake’ speed, we were not able to reach our destination 37 nautical miles away until 5:45 pm. That’s a total of 8 hours and 15 minutes of total cruising! This was a very long day indeed. And we picked up other looper boats along the way that had come in from the Cal-Sag River to join up with us on the Joliet Wall, so Tracy organized a pot-luck dinner and an hour later 7 boats were sharing a quickly pieced together meal and enjoying the food and the camaraderie. It wasn’t hard to fall asleep tonight after cleaning up the dinner and setting our cruise plan for tomorrow even with the barge traffic going by 12/7!
Friday: From where we’re docked here on the Joliet Wall, there’s a lock 2 miles downstream from here so the strategy is to call the lock in the morning and if there’s a long wait for commercial traffic, you just stay on the wall instead of floating out in the channel. So a call was made to the lock at 8:00am and the response was to get there in thirty minutes or wait for 2 hours and 30 minutes! So we all went into fast departure mode with lines, power, etc. Soon we were all pulling away from the wall and turning to head downstream for the Brandon Road Lock and just as luck would have it, as soon as all 7 boats were in the channel, the Rock Island Railroad Bridge right in front of us and before the lock, blew it’s whistle indicating that it was coming down! This was a good 10 minutes before we even heard a train whistle and when it finally arrived she was pulling at least 120 railcars! So we were waiting here for seemingly forever and I was sure we had missed our lock window, but as the railroad bridge lifted and the lock appeared around the corner, there was the barge and tow exiting the lock and we were right on time! Sometimes luck is on your side, sometimes not, but today was starting out to be our lucky day.
With some boats secured to the floating bollards and other boats rafted to the boats on the bollards, we were soon being lowered through the Brandon Road Lock and on our way further south on the river system. Today will be three locks, so hopefully luck stays on our side throughout the entire cruise day. And so it does as we are green lighted at the next 2 locks with a total of 15 minutes delay for the day! Now that’s something to write home about, or at least cause to buy lottery tickets. So after three locks, three bridge openings and a half dozen tow passings, we were pulling into Heritage Harbor 7 hours and 40 minutes after departure and had cruised 40 nautical miles versus yesterday’s 37 nautical miles. So compared to yesterday, we certainly have made better progress today, and once we’re all tied up at the marina, we are pleasantly surprised at the customer service here. They really go out of their way to insure a pleasurable stay for transients as well as their seasonal customers.
Like some other marinas we’ve stayed at, this marina has Jeremy Fowler, the Harbor Master, who offers up his time and knowledge for loopers to sit with them and present information about the next 200 miles of the journey. He spends 2 hours describing all the marina choices, all the anchorage choices and even provides locations to duck into when waiting for a lock opening or when avoiding an upstream tow. We all attend Jeremy’s presentation then a few of us take advantage of the on-site restaurant to have a nice relaxing dinner. We’ve all decided to stay put tomorrow and leave on Sunday, so there’s no need for any cruise planning before bed tonight and with all vessels safely nestled into the finger slips here with no current or wakes, it’s a very comfortable evening for some well deserved sleep.
Saturday: Heritage Harbor offers courtesy cars, so today, we’ll take one or two cars and make a shopping trip to the local Super Walmart with the crew from Sea Cottage and Wild Goose. Five of us cram into a suburban and Barry drives us to the plaza. We split up into three groups and go off to complete our individual shopping lists. An hour later, we’re meeting in the parking lot and trying to fit all the groceries plus all five of us, but with some smart packing, we get it done and soon, we’re heading back to the marina.
Someone had been watching the Starved Rock Lock status and realized that it was shut down for repairs, so a few of us went to Jeremy’s Saturday afternoon presentation of the rivers to get more accurate information. He said he’d been tracking the lock status and had spoken to the authorities who told him that the tows were backing up and that we should expect the repairs to be complete by mid next week! Well that puts a crimp in our plans, but it’s something that’s completely out of our control. So we’ll continue to monitor the progress and see what happens going forward. Everyone is sort of beat after a big day in port, so we all retire to our own vessels and turn in for the night, anxious to see what fortunes or misfortunes will come our way tomorrow.