Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ottawa to Peoria and the IVY Club

Let's begin with a follow-up to my carp comments on the previous blog.  In all fairness to the underwater electrical barrier issue, I do believe it is doing some good because we are seeing lots of jumping carp on the Illinois River downstream of the barrier and we did not see them north of the barrier.  My real issue was with the $600 charge imposed on boaters just out enjoying their cruise and the frequent inefficiencies of the federal government.

It's hard to time a picture of the jumping carp since you never know when the carp will decide to take a leap. Also, there's a short delay in snapping the shot and the actual picture, but I did manage to get a couple.  You can see one of the carp in the lower left.  At times there would be 15  or more jumping out of the water. They jump much higher than this, and we have heard them hitting the aluminum side panels around our aft deck which is about 5 to 6 feet above the water!

Here's how bad it can get.

Apparently the carp are startled by the sound and activity of boats and their response is to jump out of the water, frequently into open boats like pontoons and fishing boats.  This is obviously a messy occurrence and can be dangerous for anyone exposed to the fish. I read one account where a woman's jaw was broken. 

In order to lessen that possibility, this guy just decided to get out of the boat and ski among them!  But he's smarter than you may think - note that he's wearing a helmet, gloves, shin guards, and is armed with a pitchfork.  The family gene pool must certainly be a "closed one where the branches don't get far away from the trunk."

But what are the odds of one of these ending up in the aft cabin of Mooring Dove?  Well, the odds must be pretty good and here's the evidence.

Folks, we are not making this up!  Becky went downstairs and found this dead carp which had flopped around making a mess of everything in their aft cabin before finally coming to rest (literally, as in dead rest) on the floor.  No telling how long it had been there but it sure made a big mess. She said there was fish slime all over the comforter, carpet, walls, and everything. Of course, the fish smell was not that pleasant either. And take another look at Mooring Dove from the side.  The carp entered the boat through one of the two small porthole windows at the rear side corner - hit it just right and knocked out the screen on entry!!!!  Oh, the excitement of traveling the Great Loop Cruise.

Anyhow, we really enjoyed Heritage Harbor in Ottawa and were glad to see Becky and Mark aboard "Mara Beel" again since they began their Great Loop Cruise and we met them at Frankfort, MI on their first day out.  They arrived just before sunset and we departed the next morning.

Heritage Harbor is definitely "Looper friendly" and we encourage anyone behind us to give them a try - you will not be disappointed. 

Mooring Dove had docked at the free Ottawa city docks and then at Starved Rock (skinny water for their 39-inch draft, as in hit bottom twice) downstream from Heritage, so they joined back up with us as we passed by and we had no delay at our only lock of the day. There's not much after that except lots of river, a few bridges, and a few factories. The Illinois River level was very low so our choices for marinas and anchorages were few, so we decided to make 74 miles to Peoria and cover some territory.  The heat was also a significant factor - a heat wave forecast to last about a week with 95 to 100+ temps every day.  It wasn't too bad as long as we were moving and thanks to our hardtop on the flybridge that reflects a lot of the sun's rays and keeps us in the shade all of the time. Rhonda decided to take some "metal" pictures, you know, bridges, factories, and such since that's all you see on these stretches of the river.  I won't show you all of them but this crane operation was interesting - working from above the bridge, over the side, and then underneath.

Several of the bridges were this green color.  Note the nice reflection in the water.

And a few factories along the way.

After a while, all of this begins to get a little boring (especially in the heat) so you start taking pictures of tree roots!  

Regardless, the river is pretty and quite peaceful.

Meet Jonathan and Brooke aboard "Salty," a C-Dory 22 Cruiser.  We first met them in Fenelon Falls, Ontario and they are having a great time on the Loop as well.  Their boat is a good example of the many types of boats doing the Loop.  Each style boat has its advantages and disadvantages.  "Salty" is smaller but has the advantage of being faster and able to access many more locations than larger boats. Consequently, Jonathan and Brooke cover more territory faster and stop at about every town and fruit stand along the way, take about an hour to get a feel for the location or town and then move on again.  

Here's a good example - they stopped at this abandoned cruise boat, went aboard with a flashlight to investigate, and said it was pretty cool. Fortunately, we did not have to bail them out of jail. Now Rhonda is wondering if they might have been our intruders at Joliet! There's no way our deeper draft would allow us to get close without anchoring out and launching the dinghy.

There were more abandoned boats on the shoreline - I assume due to a struggling economy.  I Googled the name of the one in the middle, "The Effie Afton Restaurant."  The boat, which was built in the 1940's and originally named the "Mateur," (you can still barely read the name on the stern in the second picture below) was retired in 1978 and was used as a training facility for deckhands in the state of Mississippi. After the acquisition and renovation by Mr. D. James Jumer, the boat was renamed the "Effie Afton" after the original "Effie Afton," a wooden steamer that caught fire causing the destruction of the the boat on her maiden voyage. In the heydays of the early steamers, there was a government prohibition against building any bridges across the river so as not to hinder the steamboat trade and operation.  As railroads became more popular and efficient, the ban was eventually lifted and the first bridge (wooden also) was built across the river and there was a significant battle between the two modes of transportation.  One night the Effie Afton ran into the bridge, caught fire, and the fire destroyed both the steamer and the bridge.  After a long court battle, the ruling was that the bridge was built with due consideration for the movement and safety of the steamers, effectively determining the futures of the railroad bridges and the steamers from that point.  It's a fascinating bit of history to read and all prompted by one of three boats abandoned along the shoreline of our trip this particular day.

On the other hand, the casino boats just downstream seem to be doing just fine!

Just before arriving in Peoria, there was a huge flock of white pelicans - and this is just a small portion of them.

In Peoria you have a couple of choices for dockage.  Rhonda and I were very tired and a bit drained from the heat all day, and we wanted a sure thing for electricity so we could have air conditioning for the night. The Illinois Valley Yacht Club (IVY for short) was our first available stop and had electricity and a swimming pool.  The river level was way down but the dockmaster assured me we would have enough water for our 4-foot draft. The other choice was the Peoria City Docks which are 5 miles further downstream, they have a questionable reputation like Joliet, and no guarantee of electricity.  So we chose IVY.  Here's the view from the river with the back of the club on the other side of the marina and flood walls.

The depths were not as forecast and we ran aground two times on the way in, as in stopped in our tracks. Thankfully it was all mud and we were able to work our way in.  The club was quite nice.  Here's the view from the front.  Unfortunately for the club and the surrounding area, the river level a few months ago was eighteen feet above current levels and everything was flooded - three feet of water inside the clubhouse.  This is the stuff you hear about on the news when it happens.  It's part of living along the river banks and the primary reason you don't see many towns or homes along the banks. 

This will give you an idea of how the flood levels translate to those right along the shoreline.

Galen and Becky decided to try out the Peoria City Docks.  About 2 hours later, they called and were heading back upstream to IVY also.  The docks seemed abandoned, there were questionable folks hanging around, and they just did not feel safe.  It's fascinating how these cities go to the expense and effort to build nice parks and waterfront docks, we assume with the intention for their citizens and guests to enjoy, and then let them be overtaken by troublemakers.  We would have probably stayed a couple of days and contributed some money to the local businesses and economy, but it appeared not to be worth the stop.

Next stops - Bar Island Anchorage, Grafton, and Alton.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Chicago to Joliet and Ottawa

After traveling through Canada and the eastern shore of Lake Michigan for the last couple of months where it's "all things recreational," you enter a different world on the Calumet River - the world of "industrial," and it goes for miles and miles and miles and.............

Bridge after bridge after bridge after.......  - 41 to be exact on the Cal-Sag Channel and Calumet River. We're at 17'8" and the lowest one we cleared was 18'5".  They are a bit hard to see below but I think there are 4 in this short stretch.

Throw in a couple of landfills of garbage (actually land-garbage-PILES in this case) and you have the Calumet River.

But the river water was still very clean at this point, and it was interesting to witness the industrial engine of this country at work.  And, there were a few bright spots along the way - a carnival, a couple of waterfalls, and lots of birds.

After about 30 miles of the above, you join the Des Plaines River southbound toward Joliet, IL.  The intersection is quite pretty with a lighthouse and another waterfall.

This stretch is miles and miles of materials like mulch (smells really good here), sand, gravel, etc. being loaded/unloaded to/from barges.  I know you know what all of these look like but here's one for the record - looks like sand to us.

There are all sorts of chemical companies loading and unloading materials as well.  Not real sure what this might be but it was pretty!

And of course we're back to large locks.....

 .......and large barges.  This one is threading the needle at a drawbridge with only a few feet to spare on each side, and it's also running pretty close to the shoreline where we docked for the evening in Joliet.

Remember how loose the rules were at the locks on the Erie Canal and in Canada - just tie up, get out, walk anywhere you want to, go swimming, picnic, spend the night, etc.? Well, not so anymore on anything regulated and controlled by the good old US federal government.

And the boondoggle of all federal government regulations was in 2010 (I think) when the government got very concerned all of a sudden about the Asian Carp moving up the river and into Lake Michigan.  Many boaters traveling  just like us, minding their own business and enjoying the waterways that our taxes pay for, got caught up in this mess while the government tried to decide how to stop the carp.  The final plan (still in place today) was to create an electric underwater fence to prevent the fish from moving up the river.  While they were working out the details and were unsure of the effect it would have on boaters, again, US citizens (just like us) had to stop their boats, disconnect electrical systems, and pay a tow boat $600 dollars to tow their boat through the electrical barrier.  I am not kidding!  They finally decided that there was no harm to the boats or boaters and about as quickly as they implemented the $600 towing process, they discontinued it. So, one day boaters paid $600 and the next day they didn't!  No Refunds! Also, the tow boats had priority and lengthy delays were had by many of the recreational boaters. We have met many boaters that got caught up in this mess, and they all still have a very bad taste in their mouth from the experience.  We don't blame them. Today, there's just a sign.

Well, I'm not done with this topic.  The point is this - if they want to install an electric fence to prevent Asian Carp from moving into Lake Michigan, so be it.  But they should provide the service of towing the boats through the area while they work out the details, not levy an additional $600 fee on those who just happen to be passing through at the time!  OK, I'm done.  Well, maybe not just yet.

The industrial stuff thins out a bit the further you move down the river, and it was good to be back on the river systems again.  By the way, we didn't see any dead Asian Carp anywhere from the electrical fish barrier!  So, is it working or not?  Maybe the fish just swim up close, get a small jolt and decide to turn around????

Wish we had gotten a picture but as you approach the next lock, there's a sign that says something like this, "If any Asian Carp jump in your boat, you're supposed to bag them and give them to the lock tender and wash your boat (if safe to do so) to remove any pieces of the dead fish in order to comply with federal regulations.  Lock personnel may collect basic information in order to determine probable source or location of the fish." Seriously?????????? This appears to be such an intelligent program and design that I think I'll voluntarily send them $600 to help fund the program since I didn't have the opportunity like the folks in 2010.

Anyhow, we planned to dock at Centennial Park in Joliet which is free and includes power.  However, there is a catch - according to Active Captain reviews there are lots of shady characters hanging out in the area and you may feel threatened by their presence. 

There are about 5 drawbridges in a row right before you get to the park (yeah, we're staying, feeling threatened or not).  Hey, we walked through downtown Chicago after midnight and didn't get shot, robbed, or anything!! 

The drawbridges are all about 16'6" so we are going to need them all raised.  We get through the first one and the bridge tender says, "No need to call the next bridges, they know you are coming."  Well that must not be a government program, it even sounds efficient!  So, we're approaching the next bridge and the guy calls on the radio and says, "Southbound vessel approaching ______ bridge, let me remind you that you are in a no-wake zone."  Well, if anybody honors no-wake zones, it's me and I was not creating a wake. Then he says, "I'm not telling you to create a wake, but you've got 4 bridges to get through in the next 15 minutes before they all close down for an hour for vehicle traffic.  You understand what I'm saying?"  Let me interpret - "Haul butt before we shut down the bridges for an hour."  So, there's no way these are federal locations, maybe not even state.  Or maybe it's a secret part of the Asian Carp reduction program - the carp know this is a no-wake zone, so if we speed the boat traffic up, the carp will be caught off guard and will be chewed up in the process.  But then, how would we collect the fish parts and who would we turn them in to???

So, we made it to Centennial Park and the bridge tenders were great.  The drawbridges were in quick succession and as we passed through one, you could hear the sirens and see the vehicle barricades fall at the next one.  We never slowed down and each bridge was raised just before we got to it.  It was awesome, never  have seen anything like it on the waterways.  Here we are docked at Centennial Park - looks safe enough, don't you think?

We were greeted by one of local vagrants with lots of questions like, "Do you have a TV on board?"  One of his friends had already passed out on one of the park benches close by.  We later saw a man and woman arguing, pushing and shoving each other, then the man reached into his backpack and the woman took off. A gun maybe?

Rhonda decided to take a walk into town (she's actually lots smarter than that but sometimes her sightseeing priorities override her good judgment).  I thought it would be a good idea to stay with the boat.  After all, she's the one making the decision to tour Joliet, not me!  She said it was actually a pretty nice town. She even bought cheddar popcorn and had a cone of ice cream. A local walked her part way back and told her that the city is really safe to walk at night (it was still daytime and other people were also out walking). He then ruined it by asking for 75 cents for protecting her. Remember all the clever little things that cities do like Jaguars in Jacksonville and alphabet letters in Orillia? Joliet does metal silhouettes  of significant people from the area with signs describing that significance.

The Rialto Theater is considered one of the ten most beautiful theaters in the world.

Here's some of the architectural detail outside.

Now for the excitement. We settled in for the night, went to sleep, and were awakened at 1:30 AM by someone boarding our boat on the starboard deck.  They then moved to the aft deck which is directly above our bed in the aft cabin.  I sleep a little more soundly than Rhonda, but she said, "Someone is on our boat" and then in Air Force One/Harrison Ford fashion yelled, "Get off my boat" and they did!  In other words - don't mess with Rhonda!  (I need to also remember that).  As an additional precaution we called 911 and the police arrived quickly.  They saw a suspicious character and headed off to check him out.  Since there was nothing damaged or stolen we never got any more feedback from the police.

We decided some of the vagrants hanging out in the park may have been influenced in their childhood playing at this local playground for the kids.  Interesting combination, huh?

After such a great experience at Joliet, we decided to move on to Ottawa.  In all seriousness, it's really a shame that the world is as it as (criminals, vagrants, Asian Carp, and all).  Hoping Ottawa will be a little more visitor friendly!  And sure enough, the river was nice, local boaters everywhere, corn fields, birds and wildlife, campers, etc.

The green layer floating on the water is a very small plant of some sort.  (There's that biology degree kicking in again.) It was pretty much everywhere and here's what it looks like close up on the lock walls.  Yep, it's definitely a plant for sure.

The other unique thing in this stretch was the duckblinds.  I took lots of pictures and planned to maybe do a documentary on the topic as there are clearly different classes of duckblinds.  But I just don't feel qualified as I do in evaluating plant life.  Heck, we don't even watch Duck Dynasty!  (Sorry, Mike and Shirley, we know it's your favorite show, and you may want to check out WalMart - saw some Duck Dynasty rugs in one yesterday, would look nice in your entryway.)

There were small tows....

.......but mostly large tows and barges.......

 .........but definitely barge activity everywhere.

We had 47 miles and three locks to get through and breezed right through the first two.  Actually, "breezed through" is a relative term.  The locks on this waterway are the slowest we have encountered EVER.  So, when we got to the last lock of the day and saw a large tow already inside, we were concerned about a lengthy wait.  But the lockmaster said, "Let me get this tow in and then I'll put you in with it and lock you down now."  Cool - we've been through hundreds of locks over the years but never locked through with a full load of barges.  Just as we were gloating in our perfect lock timing for the day (we were only a half-mile from our destination for the evening), the lockmaster says, "I didn't realize he had one hazardous cargo barge so I won't be able to lock you through until later."  Let me interpret for you - two-hour wait.  Here's the barge going down without us!

But that's part of running the rivers, and we did eventually get to Heritage Harbor.  For those traveling behind us, this is a super stop, everything you could want and first class service.  They have a courtesy car that wins all courtesy car competitions - a 2012 Chrysler Town and Country mini-van.  And they said, "Keep it as long as you want."  So, we took the car and did a quick tour of Ottawa followed by a trip to Wal-Mart.  Only took a few pictures.  Here's a nice mural.

And the big deal in Ottawa is the Lincoln/Douglas debates.

We only got this shot of Heritage Harbor, wish we had more.  It really is first class.

We stayed two days and have a big day for the next leg - one lock and 80 miles to Peoria.  See you there!

Oh yeah - I did some checking on how the electrical carp barrier is working.  It turns out that power outages have been a problem and when the power is working it interferes with nearby railroad signals.  Baby carp are somewhat unaffected by the fence, and carp get through by swimming alongside barges passing through which deflect the electrical current.  But don't worry, more great ideas are coming - "the Obama administration supports other measures to contain these foreign invaders. Its plans include an Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework (now we're talking) — and a $51.5 million program-in addition to the $105 million already allocated — to defend the Great Lakes. This multi-faceted strategy includes a list of lethal tactics that reads like a page from a spy novel, including female carp urine to lure unsuspecting males, poison pellets and underwater guns that shoot high-intensity sound waves."  I'm feeling better already about sending in that $600.