Thursday June 11, 2009
Cape Girardeau, MO
OMGosh! What a rude! Went from Kimmswick, MO (24 mi south of St. Louis) to Cape Girardeau today, about 110 miles. That 16' Duroboat is so smooth – even when passing the barges! They can really churn a big wake, but the deep-V Duroboat can take it! Actually went a bit south of Cape today to check out a campground at Thebes, but they didn't have any place to moor the boat. Neither did Cape G, but fortunately a family friend of Katie and Elizabeth was on business here, and she convinced some people from Holland who had already convinced the owner of a defunct fuel dock to let them stay, to let us dock behind them. They spoke some funny English, but they sure could tie knots! Susie, the family friend, picked us up at the dock and first took us to a gas station where we refueled our portable gas tanks, then she took us to her hotel so we could shower. Then it was on to a famous local brewery, Buckner and Ragsdale (did I mention they also serve wine?). It sure was good, though – excellent cod! It was right on the water. The Hollanders (Hollandaise?) want to get on the road…er…uh…river by 6:00 a.m. and since we're tied to them, we said we'd be there (ugh!) As I write this, Katie and Elizabeth are already out, and it's not even 10:00 p.m. – lightweights! Many thanks to Fern at the dock in Kimmswick, who is chock full of good information, including ways to avoid pirates. I wanted to tell her we weren't off the coast of Somalia. Tomorrow we head for Paducah, KY. All aboard! Oh yeah, hey to my brother, John Carpenter, without whose valuable river skills and insight I may not have made this trip. Thanks Uncle Carpy!
Wednesday June 10, 2009
St. Louis, MO
I conquered my first two locks today on the way into St. Louis. As we approached the Arch from the river, the water was calm so we were moving about the boat taking pictures of the Arch. Soon after passing the Arch we were surrounded by five barges, logs, and choppy waters. I was nervous, but we called the barge ahead of us using the Lowrance VHF radio and the captain on that vessel gave us the go-ahead to pass him on his right.
About an hour later we arrived at Hoppies Marine Service- the last place to get fuel before Green Turtle Bay, 260 miles away. We tied up to a dock made of barges and saw some elderly gentleman sitting in the grass above the marina waiting for passing customers.
Joel talked the Harbormaster into helping us pull the boat so we could change the engine gear oil. We were pleased to see that the prop was in perfect condition despite the amount of debris we hit. Turning Point Propellers gave us two extra props, but this one looked great and I'd be happy if the extra props stay in their box.
We didn't realize how hot and muggy the weather had become until we got off the boat. The breeze keeps us cool and I have to make a conscious effort to remember to apply sunscreen. We received a big box of skin care from Hawaii Island Creations just minutes before Katie and Joel left Seattle. Katie and I are both trying to be sun safe on this trip, but even the wind does a number on the skin. Joel was not so lucky, he'll be nursing a life jacket shaped burn for a couple days.
Tuesday June 9, 2009
Alton Marina, Alton IL
We woke up on the Wake Maker and slowly made our way back to our boat to disassemble our tent – still never used. We up-loaded some pictures and looked over our plans for the next few days. At noon we headed into Alton to find some lunch.
B-G diner looked good. This little café has been in existence since 1910 and was originally a bar. It seems as if there has been little changed since its switch to a diner years ago. It has the small wooden booth, laminated 1950's patterned tables, and chrome coat hooks. Our server was the owner – an older gentle man, with a dark mustache, and a very thick accent. Joel, Katie, and I decided to order specials. Mine was the beef stroganoff. Joel and I got to pick two sides while Katie was allowed to pick three, we're not sure why. She order chicken fried steak, with three sides: mash potatoes, spaghetti, and applesauce. The meal came with 6 slices of white Wonder Bread already buttered. After I paid the bill, a grand total of $22, I was given a large handful of Double Bubble Gum and sent on my way.
That afternoon we caught a ride to St. Louis, visited the Arch, and enjoyed a beer sampler and appetizers at Morgan St. Brewery.
Later we met up with Ben Fraser, a friend of Katie and Joel's from Seattle. We later found our thrill at Blueberry Hill, Chuck Berry's Restaurant in the loop of St. Louis. Exhausted, we crashed at Ben's house for our first full 8 hours of sleep in a long time.
Monday June 8, 2009
Alton Marina, Alton IL
We woke up early to meet Darren from the S&R Marina at the Beardstown boat launch. We had planned to meet at 7:30 and pull the Duroboat using his trailer and take it back to the shop for an oil change. The trailer he brought had flat bunks – that doesn't work for a v-hull boat like Duroboat. Darren left to grab tools and returned wearing a poncho to change the oil at the launch in the pouring rain. When we tried to pay he simple said, "don't worry about it." We gave him a trip t-shirt.
After the oil change we used our Sand Spike to moor the boat between the beach and an old paddle wheel boat that looked stuck in the shallow marina. We went back into Beardstown to say "Thank You and Good Bye" to Dr Fisher and met Mr. Trone the owner of Trone Appliance Center. He and his wife decided to take a quick trip down to the launch to check out the Duroboat before we left.
We were finally on our way around 10:30 am, just in time for another torrential downpour and lightning. We had our Mustang Survival jackets to keep our top halves dry and made some garbage bag kilts to cover our pants. Approximately 60 miles later we arrived in Grafton, our scheduled stop for the night. Jan, the owner of Grafton Harbor met us at the gas dock. Grafton Harbor is a member of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association.
After securing the boat we walked into town and booked a room at the Ruebel's Hotel. Joel played Ms. Pac Man in the lobby while the owner showed us to the Captain's Quarters – a room we hoped would be haunted (as legend and town roomers suggest).
The weight of Elizabeth's bag persuaded her to take inventory and downsize her luggage. In the end her bag was two swimsuits, three t-shirts, and one pair of shoes lighter.
While looking over the map we realized the Alton IL was only 12 miles down river, and there were still several hours of day light left. Our parents had decided to visit Charlestown IL after leaving Elizabeth's graduation, and were headed to St. Louis. We enticed them to stay at the Captain's Quarters in Grafton, left the key at the front desk, and pressed on to Alton IL.
On our way out of town, Jan, the owner of the Grafton Harbor Marina gave us a Quiby's cruising guide to help us down the river.
As we entered the Mississippi River, the water was smooth as glass. We discussed trading a few t-shirts in exchange for a couple wakeboard runs should we meet some wakeboard friends along the way.
Shortly after that we had our first Duroboat sighting. A blue 12-foot Duroboat on the back of a 32-foot cruiser. Wish I could have found my camera fast enough or at least noted the name of the cruiser. I hope we'll see more Duroboat's as we get closer to Florida – Duroboat's second manufacturing location, years ago.
We made it to Alton Marina around 6pm. Their facilities are all on floating docks, included a pool and two hot tubs. After checking in we started a load of laundry and relaxed in the pool.
We also began setting up our tent on the front deck of the Duroboat. We had a covered slip and figured this was a safe and dry night to test camping. The owner of "Wake Maker" a neighboring boat, saw our set up, heard our story, and offered to leave the air conditioning in his boat on for us should we decided to sleep there. We did, and we left them a thank you T-shirt.
At the recommendation of the Alton Marina staff, we ate dinner at Alton's famous Fast Eddies – a large sports bar with and outdoor courtyard, with cheap delicious food, free popcorn, and large frosty beers.
Sunday June 7, 2009
A five-car caravan was headed to Tall Timber's Marina in Havana, IL. My family, visiting for graduation, as well as my boyfriend Sammy, accompanied Katie and I to the marina to give us a proper send off. Upon arrival, Joel added some decals to the boat, my mom and aunt organized our SiBBS t-shirts, and I learned where everything is stowed on board. My densely packed bag does not easily adapt to limited storage space.
Katie and I sat down for my first lesson on the cruising guides. The first crack of thunder sounded only five minutes in to our conversation. After some chicken nuggets and pizza, we departed slightly behind schedule. Our travel distance for the day was a short 33 miles to Beardstown, IL. The hour and a half trip with special guests Rosemary –my mom and Sammy --my boyfriend; consisted of eating Mike 'n Ikes. pelting rain, intermittent sun, thunder, lightning, two barges, and floating debris. Dodging the frequent logs and sticks on the Illinois River, reminded me of the Oregon Trail game, where the player's last task before winning is to dodge rocks while rafting down the Columbia. A skill acquired as a third grader proved to be helpful today.
As we approached Beardstown in the pouring rain, all we saw was a giant sea wall that had no docks. We spotted some stairs that lead to the top of the sea wall and temporarily tied to the stairs so we could meet our contact Dr. Fisher. Joel jumped in the boat with Katie; and my mom, Sammy, and I exited. Katie and Joel were directed to tie up at the Beardstown Marina that was a little ways back. The rest of us went by land with Dr. Fisher to meet up with them. To get to the Marina we drove along the top of the levee. We soon saw that the Beardstown Marina - a muddy flooded area, a run down paddleboat and nothing else. We tied the Duroboat to the old paddleboat and we were on our way to the hotel to clean up and eat dinner. Beardstown was described to us by one of it's residents as a town with some nosey people. It was this curiosity that made us a little concerned for the boat's wellbeing. After dinner with Dr. Fisher, we drove the levee with Dr. Fisher to check on the boat. It was fine. Still thinking about the boat, we later went to bed and hoped for the best.
Sunday June 7, 2009
Beardstown was once a bustling city on the banks of the Illinois River. Before the water quality of the river deteriorated, Beardstown was know for fish and was the home of the Blind Pig Saloon, the country's largest oyster bar at the time. Fish markets were common, and like most cities on the ol' Illinois, the river was the town's lifeblood.
Beardstown would regularly host traveling Vaudeville acts. Shows would port and perform at the city's Opera house, --a historic gem now in the National Register (beardstownopera.com). General Tom Thumb, a dwarf made famous by circus entrepreneur PT Barnum, was the first show at the Opera House when it opened in 1872. Old show bills can still faintly be seen plastered on the walls in the backstage area.
Unfortunately changes to the river upstream have negatively impacted Beardstown's access to the river. Over the last 30 years silt has been flowing downstream and settling around the now abandoned marina. The area where Beardstown residents once water-skied, is now too shallow for even flat bottom fishing boats when the river is at it's normal water level. Beardstown has slowly become estranged from the river that flows through its backyard and the town's vitality has suffered.
Dr. Harold Fisher, the president of Beardstown Main Street board of directors is working to change that. As he walked us around town tonight, he shared with us some of Beardstown noteworthy history. Beardstown was the site of the famous Almanac Trial in 1858, in which Abraham Lincoln successfully defended a man accused by a witness claiming to have seen the defendant attack the victim by moonlight. According to the almanac, this would have been impossible as there was no moonlight on the night of the incident.
The mission of Beardstown Main Street is to promote, attract and preserve diverse businesses in historic downtown Beardstown. Mr. Fisher's mission is to save history. If he could share with everyone what he shared with us tonight, he'd surely have more supporters.
Beardstown has potential to reclaim a stronger relationship with the river. If Dr. Fisher's hopes for the town materialize, Beardstown will continue to be an appealing and historical stop for loopers.
Saturday June 6, 2009
Heritage Harbor, Ottawa IL
How did we end up on the side of the freeway talking to the police detective about the blood splattered all over? Well, it all started back in Seattle about 48 hours before. I had been working really long hours trying to get the Loop Boat done in time to make our June 4th launch date. After testing and modifications, we were able to hit the road at 7pm Monday night with a plan to drive 32 straight hours to Wisconsin for propeller testing and the launching of the boat. Along the way, we hit a dead skunk (the smell followed us for hours) and two dead deer on the road (just to make sure they were dead). These incidents made a mess of our brand new and once shiny boat.
After only 4 hours of sleep in the last 48 hours, we were on our way to test the props and blew a trailer tire. It turns out that the second deer we hit bent the trailer axle and made the tires wear incorrectly. Luckily while going to change the tire, a detective from Illinois helped us out and gave us an escort to the local tire shop. Finally we tested props to select the correct one and received our windscreen we had Acrylico ship to Chicago - the boat was officially complete.
T-0 seconds, we have launching. Of all days and ways to start the trip, Katie and I were lucky enough to start the trip with 3 miles of what I was thinking was a reenactment of "The Perfect Storm". 15 knot winds and 2-3 foot. As I told Katie, it was one of the top 5 scariest times of my life, but the Duroboat handled well and safely got us into the protected harbor. Neither Katie nor I had ever been though a lock so we didn't know what to do. Realizing the task was much simpler that we had once thought, we found ourselves two feet lower and in the Chicago River. Seeing Chicago by boat was a treat, and it went quickly.
"Tugboat……..this is Duroboat". I tried again and yet no one would answer my radio calls. Does no one know who I am? We were trying to pass a tugboat that was pushing ten barges. Finally after watching another boat just drive by on the outside channel, we put down the idiot mic. and followed suit. As time passed, we both became much more comfortable with the tugboats by following one simple rule, don't get in front or behind them.
We came up to our second lock and were a little better at this one. We came in and tied our ropes to the floating bollards and the lock started dropping and felt like it would never stop. The lock in Chicago was a 2 ft drop and this second lock was 39 ft. This doesn't sound like much except when you are a 16ft boat in a lock made for huge barges and the walls are 50 ft tall, it feels like 100ft.
The rest of the day was spent cruising between locks and waiting for them. We even passed our first Looper near Chicago. We thought we were going to make it through the five locks and to Heritage Harbor (more to come later about this exciting marina community later). We got to the fifth lock at Marseilles and ran into a big traffic jam. When tugboats are pushing "red flag" chemical barges, no other boats can go in the locks and this particular tug had a double load so were stuck waiting for over two hours when it was getting dark in a little under two hours. Katie and I decided to wait and hope we could get though before it got too dark. We had our Lowrance GPS and were thinking about navigating the five miles after the lock in the dark. I decided to plug the navigation lights and anchor lights in for safety and then we hit our first boat problem. Every time the switch for the navigation lights was turned on, the fuse would blow. We decided to go back to Spring Brook Marina and not chance the dark without navigation lights. Once we arrived, I was told that the transients had to park over on the side. This was the first time I had been called a transient and I'm sure it won't be the last. Mark Palmer from Heritage Harbor picked us up and he took us out for some awesome Chicago style pizza at R Grotto's in Downtown Ottawa, Illinois. This was some of the best pizza I've had in a while and the beer after a long first day tasted great. He took us back to Heritage Harbor to spend the night on a yacht for what they call Boat & Breakfast. We stayed the night on a 32 foot yacht with all the amenities. Heritage Harbor is a marina community when completed will have 471 boat slips and a full housing community, a hotel and full marina facilities. The temporary shower/bathrooms were nicer than the ones at my house. Captain John Mobley was super friendly to us and not only gave us an Illinois chart map but talked with us about what to expect in the coming days. I hope someday to come back and get a chance to see this place when its finished. We left proudly flying the Heritage Harbor Yacht Club burgee.
Saturday June 6, 2009
Havana IL, Tall Timber's Marina
After leaving Heritage Harbor we had a straight shot to Havana IL. The Peoria lock was completely open – a welcome change after our unsuccessful two hour wait the night before.
We left the boat at Tall Timber's Marina for a few nights and got picked up by family to attend Elizabeth's Graduation from Knox College in Galesburg IL. It's official, she now has a Political Science Degree, with two minors - Spanish and Social Service.