Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bar Island Anchorage, Grafton, and Alton

We departed IVY Club the next morning (running aground at the same two spots as when we arrived). Rhonda called the lockmaster before we left, and he said it would be about an hour before the lock would be ready. This would  time out perfectly with our estimated time to cover the 10 miles there. However, we've learned to double or triple estimated lock delays on the Illinois River, and unfortunately, when we got there, we learned we would have at least an hour delay. We decided to try our luck at docking to one of the barges along the river bank, knowing there was a good chance we would be asked to move.

As expected, one of the tow boats representing the barge line we were docked to pulled up and asked us to leave as our presence "violated their safety policies."  Fortunately, they waited almost an hour before asking us to move. So, we had to get back in the river and wait again. This is not a big deal, just tiring, especially with the heat wave going on and knowing we already had a long 84-mile day ahead of us to get to our anchorage at Bar Island.  While we were waiting though, Rhonda was intrigued by the loading operation in progress next to us.  

The loader operator was definitely a pro at scooping a shovelful of "something" (smelled like manure once we left the barge tie-up and drifted closer to the loading dock) out of the barge in the water and dumping it into the truck. Each truck held 4 loads, it took less than 5 minutes to load a truck, and about 30 seconds for the truck to leave and the next truck to roll into position. This went on the entire time we were there and the barge sitting in the water had not even begun to rise up.

There's not much else to share on this leg, just more of the same on the Illinois.  We were a little anxious about the anchorage with water levels so low.  After our lengthy lock delay at Peoria, we would be arriving close to sunset with no other options if it didn't work out.  However, Active Captain reviews suggested we would be OK, even with the low water levels.  Sure enough, if you continue downstream to the second red buoy before making your turn to port and then back upstream into the anchorage, there's plenty of water. We had 7-8 feet and there were a total of 4 boats anchored with room for plenty more.  We had a nice sunset, a quiet and pleasant night there, and a pretty half-moon the next morning.

We had another lock to transit enroute to our next stop, Grafton, another 85-mile day in the heat wave.  This lock was only 5 miles away, so I called by phone around 5 AM to get the latest scoop on their traffic and delays.  No need to leave the anchorage if there were lengthy delays expected.  The lockmaster said they had no traffic and expected none any time soon, so we hurried things up and departed by around 6 AM. Contrary to all of the other locks on the Illinois River, these guys were great.  They had the gates open when we arrived, closed them immediately behind us, allowed us to free-float rather than tying to the wall, lowered the water quickly, opened the gate immediately, and had us on our way. The whole process could not have been more than 15 minutes.  Galen and Becky got a shot of us free-floating while the water was being lowered.

They got a couple of other good shots for us - cruising down the river with the hills in the background, and another one of us meeting/passing a tow.

Rhonda got some wildlife and bird shots during the day - red-headed vultures, a deer, and lots of blue herons along the way in the pictures below.

There were several ferries and I found the mechanics of these very clever.  Rather than push the ferry from one end and having to turn the entire load around after each stop, the towboats were all attached to the side at mid-ferry by a swivel point.  When the ferry pulls away from the dock, it has momentum backwards while the towboat swings around to the other end, locks in place and drives the ferry forward to the other dock. The ferry never has to make a turn, the towboat just keeps swiveling from one end to the other as needed. Hope that made sense.

Kudos to Rhonda - after 3 long days in the heat, it was really getting to me, so she ran the boat almost all day long.  We finally arrived at Grafton, got docked and headed immediately to the pool to cool off.  Grafton is a first-class marina and sits right at the junction of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.  We met another Looper couple, Randy and Kristin, who had only been out for 4 days.  So congratulations to another Looper couple starting their journey.  Their boat is the Tiara on the right.  They have some great times ahead.

Here's the Grafton ship store and restaurant.

And we were glad to see that some dinner/cruise boats are still in operation.  This one is the "Spirit of Peoria."

After cooling off in the pool and a nice meal, Galen and I appear to be "men on a mission" in this shot - probably discussing some serious matters like whether to get back in the pool or not.

With more days of the heat wave forecast and our boats barely keeping us cool with them totally exposed to the sun all day, I think the real issue we were probably considering was whether or not to head on downstream another 17 miles for the covered docks at Alton Marina.  Folks, I'm not kidding about this heat wave.  All-time records were broken two days in a row at 102 and 103 degrees - those are actual temps, not heat index or "feels like" temperatures.  We checked with Alton and they had covered slips available for us, so we agreed to head out the next morning.  Actually, Rhonda and I headed out early in the morning, but "Mooring Dove" delayed long enough for Becky to go zip-lining in Grafton first.  I don't have any pictures but she said it was fun.

Like I said previously, leaving Grafton you are merging from the Illinois River into the Mississippi River as depicted below.  This is our fourth time on the Mississippi and the second time for Galen and Becky.

The Mississippi is an interesting waterway for pleasure boaters.  It can be quite pleasant and docile as below........

.....or it can be quite rough and unforgiving.  There are very few recreational marina facilities, only one available for us in the next 4-5 days that we'll be traveling her waters.  Anchorages are sometimes hard to come by.  The current normally runs about 3 MPH but we saw as much as 7 when we were on our trip to Muskogee, OK 5 years ago.  The barges are monstrous at times.  The most we've seen on the Illinois is 15 together (3 wide and 5 deep) but you'll see 42 at a time on the Mississippi (6 wide and 7 deep).  Waves of 4 to 5 feet are possible also given the barge traffic and/or the wrong combination of current and wind.  It's really a commercial waterway, but it's necessary to travel it on the Great Loop Cruise.  The forecast for the next few days should be about as good as it gets for the Mississippi and we should be fine. The heat wave is supposed to break today (Sunday, Sept. 1).

There are some beautiful limestone cliffs along the eastern shoreline between Grafton and Alton.  We saw our first floatplane in a long time and an "Our Lady of the Rivers" monument on the western shore.

Welcome To Alton

We were encouraged to see a huge outdoor amphitheatre venue right next door to the marina - we were hopeful for a good Labor Day weekend concert.  But the most important thing we were glad to see was covered slips to get us out of the direct sunlight.

The Alton Marina is one of the nicest we have ever been in.  First class facilities with "how else can I help you attitudes" and a good Looper discount.

A nice pool and the classiest bathrooms of the trip.  We have really come to appreciate "individual" units, each with its own shower, toilet,  and sinks (even shower mats, shampoo, hair spray, etc.).

We checked out the venue next door and sure enough, a concert was scheduled for the night featuring an imitation Led Zeppelin band out of St. Louis, supposed to be pretty good.  We headed over around 7-ish only to find a pretty poor warm-up band but decided to wait it out and give the main event a chance. 

Galen lasted about 3 songs and Rhonda not much longer.  Now in fairness to the band, Galen's bedtime is about 9 anyway, and Rhonda just can't handle loud music, much less loud rock music.  However, being the connoisseurs of good music that Becky and I are, these guys were very good (individually and as a group), and we stayed for the whole thing which ended at 11 PM.  I have to admit, the lead singer's voice was somewhere in a funky range between male and female which weirded me out a little bit, but he was good.   In case you need reminders, "Whole Lotta Love" and "Stairway to Heaven" were a couple of the Zeppelin hits.

Rhonda and Becky decided to brave the heat of the next morning while Galen and I guarded the boats! They found Alton to be a nice town with lots of restaurants and music establishments around.  They found a nice farmers market and bakery and brought us some treats.

In keeping with their emphasis on music around town, they have a monument to jazz musician Miles Davis coming soon.  Miles was born here.

I'll close with a bit of a touching story.  The Alton Prison was the first state penitentiary and became a federal prison for Confederate soldiers, Southern sympathizers, and court-martialed union soldiers.  The conditions were so bad that 6 to 10 inmates died per day there during the Civil War.  One of the inmates, Samuel Harrison, was there in 1864 as a captured Confederate soldier.  He managed to survive the horrid conditions and in 1935, at age 93, he returned to visit the remains of the prison structure, 70 years after his discharge from the military, and was allowed to select one of the large blocks of which the prison was constructed for his tombstone.  

We'll be continuing our journey on Labor Day, 48 miles down the Mississippi to Hoppies Marina, the only marina stop between here and the roughly 300-mile run to Grand Rivers, KY.  So, you may not hear from us for a few days.

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