This blog post is long. It covers our journey to the half way point on the rivers from Chicago to Green Turtle Bay in Kentucky. I was not looking forward to this part of the loop. It would be months before we will be on Florida. There is no other option but to get through it. We will have lots of obstacles, a bunch of locks, barge traffic, logs and debris to not hit and ruin our props, anchoring because some sections don’t have marinas AND weather. Green Turtle Bay is a looper stop and a nice resort style marina. Some people stay a long time. We planned a 4 day respite.
This blog is my daily journal and account on this crazy trip. Writing what happened each day helped me cope. Some days were hell, some were great.
Here is how it went:
We left this morning as the sun came up from Hammond Marina just south of Chicago. As we pulled out of the marina, 8 other loopers left with us. This is my first experience in a large pack of loopers. The most we have traveled with has been 4. It was somewhat comforting to be in their company but also concerning about the locks, the size of these locks and if we would all fit in the lock together. We did and it was all good.
Coming off Lake Michigan was exciting for me because I was nervous about this huge body of water. It is not like the Pacific Ocean. It can be really nasty. We did great on the 5 days of our passage, stopping at cute towns along the way. It took us about 2 weeks as we stopped along the way. Ted and Andy picked really good travel days and we got really good at reading the water. We only had 1 uncomfortable day. The rest were nice. We were lucky. Regardless I wanted to check this section off and onto the one I was most dreading.
This is the choo-choo train of looper boats.
We have 1300 miles or so of rivers to get to the Gulf. We will start on the Illinois River and meet up with the Mississippi, then we will turn onto the Cumberland and the Ten-Tom waterway. We have countless locks (I don’t know the actual number of them) and tons of barges and commercial traffic, who have the priority through the locks. Pleasure craft gets the last slot to lock thru after the barges. This waiting can make for a long day.
We left as the sun came up and it took us 10 hours to get to a spot to tie off for the night on the wall in Joliet. Along the way we had a huge barge come at us and all 8 boats had to turn around, duck into an alcove and hover waiting for the barge to pass, which took forever!
As you can see, there was not room for us AND a barge. We waited until he gave us permission to pass.
When we got to the lock we had a barge in the lock and we again had to hover and wait for it to exit. It felt like all day but it was about 45 minutes before we went into the lock. Poor Andy was on the controls all day avoiding the rock hard walls and keeping the boat straight with current and avoiding the other loopers. We were all bunched up so this was a challenge. Andy is a better captain than he was when we started this trip.
Bumper boats waiting to get into the lock.
We idled out waiting for the lock to open and we lost an engine. It overheated as we waited and the alarms went off. Andy yelled at me to open the engine hatch and see if I saw anything bad. Thank god there was no fire in the hole. I looked behind us and we were about 12 feet from the rocks. My heart start beating out of my chest as he tried to access what was wrong and another boat drifted to us to raft up to avoid the rocks. Thank god for them. Nothing appeared to be wrong so he turned the motor back on and revved the engine a few times. The temp came down but not a lot. We limped into the lock where they rafted us up 5 boats deep and turned the motor off hoping it will cool off.
We made it to the Joliet wall were everyone tied up and some of us rafted up. I was so relieved and immediately poured a stiff drink to calm my nerves. Loopers started gathering and I made my way to meet the ones who were new to us. Some of them we had never met before, others we had crossed paths with before. We had been traveling with a buddy boat for months but they were unable to continue on this leg of the journey. We knew some boats but many were new. I am not real good socially in big groups so I find this a little stressful.
This picture is my Nebo app and shows just how many boats were on the wall together. It was full!
Everyone decided to walk up to a local Wendy’s for dinner. That frosty tasted sooooo good after a long hot day. Bed felt good, I was exhausted. Day 1 in the books!
We woke to the sound of rain beating on the bow. Our bed is in the bow and the sound of the rain is so soothing. Except that we were getting a super early start. We woke before the sun and untied the lines from the wall and set off just as it got light. The rain eased but it was a welcome break to the heat of yesterday. I got up and prayed that we would be ok today and our motor that overheated yesterday would be ok. The day was cooler so I was hoping for the best. I was extremely anxious so I covered myself in my essential oils and took lots of deep breaths. All I wanted was to make this leg and into the marina we had all booked. Then I want Andy to get someone to look at the motor and reassure us we will be ok or fix whatever is causing the coolant to leak and overheat. We noticed a bunch of coolant under the motor. There was no obvious spot it would have pour out from. It is a mystery. Motor still not fixed.
We made it to the first lock with 15 boats! Our looper flotilla had grown. The good thing about this many pleasure boats is they interrupted the barge traffic for us. YES!! It still took 2 hours of idling out waiting for our turn. NOT good. Our engine doesn’t like this and gets hot. Andy turned it off as much as he could during that very long wait. Once we finally got into the lock they rafted us up 4 and 5 boats deep. This means one boat is up against the wall with a line attached to a Ballard (this is a pole that slides up and down as the water goes in or out of the lock). It was our turn to be on the wall. I secured the line no problem. The next boat came at us HOT!! Almost took us out with his anchor into the side of the boat. He was yelling at his very inept wife who could not throw a line to save her sorry life. I started to yell “throw it, throw it!” (You dumb bitch almost came out of my mouth but I held back). They finally got it together and 2 more boats tied up. This is crazy locking. Not sure I would say it’s hard. It’s not. But rafting up so many boats is very concerning. The lock masters act nonchalant and were not worried. Ok then! Once the lock emptied and everyone untied from us our neighboring boat lost his engine and couldn’t control his boat and again, almost took us out. They spun around in the lock blocking us all from exiting the tight opening, a barge was outside waiting to go in and took up a large portion of the door opening. I thought I was going to lose it. This guy was a real jerk and his poor little wife was lame. We made it out and good riddance to him only to have him fly by all of us loopers cruising and waked us all. ASS of the day!
Will this day ever end?? We got going finally and were met with wind and waves as we exited the lock. Made for a bumpy ride. Good thing there is a marina in the distance.
We arrived at Heritage Marina with 11 other loopers. The staff could not have been nicer. We settled in and Andy went to work on the engine to figure out our overheating problem. The guy from the fuel dock came down to help. They tore apart a bunch of stuff and could not find any obvious problem. It was 9PM with NO dinner and we were thrashed.
Heritage Harbor Marine does an early 6 AM call to let the loopers know what’s happening at the lock. They told us to stay put because a barge was aground. YES!!! Back to bed. At 7:30 the radio went off and told us that the lock was going to let all of us through so get moving. We jumped out of bed (that extra hour of sleep was great!) and we untied the lines and left with a huge herd of loppers. We arrived at the lock and hovered, FOREVER!!!! Waiting for the barge that was in the lock to move out. Seriously, I have no idea what could take so long. We played bumper boats trying not to hit each other while idling in the current. Our engines continued to overheat. I was totally anxious. I hated this. Eventually we got into the lock, we tied up and shut down the motors all tied up. We still waited hours for the lock to actually move us. It was FUN!!! (NOT!!)
We finally locked through and exited. We decided to put the metal to the pedal and book it all the way to Peoria. We pulled into the yacht club with no dock hands. This day was better then the previous but waiting at the locks was hell. We decided that we would not move again until we see the engines accessed. It was a Saturday so no one was around until Monday. Time to rest.
Illinois Vally Marina
We hung out at the Marina and we did some projects. Monday morning we got a mechanic to come look at our overheating problem. It got fixed and we were happy. Turned out to be a minor problem thankfully. We also had new batteries for our bow thrusters because they burned up.
It’s kind of a funny, not so funny story. As we had been traveling we got a very bad poopoo smell that came from our front stateroom. I was instantly upset because we had just replaced our holding tank and the system was brand new. How can it possibly stink? This is also a huge pet peeve of mine! Eventually the smell went away. Andy went to find out what had happened to the bow thruster and lifted our mattress off the platform, the thruster and batteries are under our bed. He was immediately greeted by that same foul smell. We panicked and wondered if the bilges were full of shit. (This was technically impossible). We got the hose and sprayed into the bilge and drained them with the bilge pumps. The water came out clear and we still had smell. I wasn’t happy (I was actually getting really annoyed) and we were both confused. After some time it became apparent that the smell was sulfur and coming from the dead batteries. As Andy was trying to figure out the bow thruster, the batteries were sending out the sulphuric smell. THANK GOD it wasn’t our new tank. The batteries got replaced and no more smell. Things have been really FUN!!!! OK time for a drink!
Passing large barges can be intimidating but so far it’s been fine. They have a whistle to direct the side to pass on. One whistle for port and 2 for starboard. We still call on the radio just to make sure and most captains are friendly.
Today we are finally headed down the river. We are with a much smaller group of loopers now as the group has dispersed a bit. I’m grateful for that. I am also grateful our problems have been resolved and we are safe to keep traveling on. We left at sunrise and got to our first lock to find they had the dam open and we were able to just pass right on through. YES!! Things are looking up today. We are going to get some miles in today since the locks won’t delay us.
The river was flat, winding its way through the countryside of Illinois. There was nothing around but trees and brush. We saw large groups of white cranes flying overhead as they migrated north. The river is dark brown and muddy. I almost felt like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie as it felt thick and looked like a river of melted chocolate. I had moments of thinking I could run faster then the 8-9 knots we traveled at. Slow boat to China kept coming to mind, except this boats headed to Florida. I’m picturing sandy beaches and umbrella drinks.
We traveled the longest distance we have ever gone, 110 miles. The day was perfect for a long cruise. We pulled off the river and out of the channel to anchor. I hate anchoring but I knew at the end of today that was our only option. The next stop is another 60 miles. Running in the dark is not a good idea. There is a ton of logs, branches and debris in the water to avoid that you wouldn’t be able to see at night. We were tired. Time to stop. We dropped the anchor in 10 ft of water and it held. We had a 2 knot current so it kept the boat right in place. I actually felt calm and relaxed. We ate a lite dinner and went to bed early and watched TV.
These little duck hunting shacks were all along the river.
Today was a smooth cruise on the river. It’s getting pretty with hardly any barge traffic. I slept last night so I felt rested and ready today. The river is so calm that I actually bounced around the boat cleaning up and even took a shower. I never do that. Kinda like this but I won’t hold my breath. We made our way to Grafton and tied up to a dock. This was an easy day and we tied up before lunch time. Andy and I went to the bar and had a bottle of wine. My kind of day drinking. It was fun. Later that night a big group of loopers gathered and we ate at the restaurant. Good day. I’m taking note because they haven’t all been good.
Loopers gathering for dinner!
We slept in today because we only had 17 miles to go today. We left at 10am and were docked and tied up by 1PM. Another easy day. Today’s stop was Alton Marina. This is the last stop for fuel and a pump out for 250 miles. This marina is by far one of the nicest. It’s the first one with covered docks we have stayed in.
The only thing it is missing here is a restaurant or bar. They did have a little deli and served some margaritas. Sacrifices need to be made but I’ll take it because this placed is great. Loopers tend to gather at night and drink, cook or just visit. Tonight was just like that. The marina had a BBQ area so we all brought our food and cooked. It was fun. This looping thing is fun some days. Today was one of them.
We are staying here in the marina for a rest. Today we decided to get up and clean. Like REALLY clean. We are in a covered dock, under the shade, so we washed and detailed the whole boat. I call these days AQUAMAN spa days. I love it when it’s clean and shiny. It never lasts long but boy does it look good now. It takes us a few hours and we are always thrashed when we finish but it is so worth it. Today is chore day so laundry was next. Then some pool time and relaxing. I made up for the hard work by lounging in the pool with a margarita the rest of the afternoon. Later that day we met a new looper name R&R. Rick and Rhonda had just left Michigan and were only days into the loop. I remember that feeling like yesterday but now we are seasoned. I offered to teach her some rope knots for the fenders and gave her some words of wisdom about things that I had learned along the way. Meeting new people and talking about our past 10 months made me realize just how much we had done and how far we had traveled. I had that feeling of awe again. I had lost that because it was starting to feel just like work. Seeing it in new fresh eyes opened me up to the gratitude that I am able to do this.
A patriotic homes along the rivers and most are built up on stilts. I could never live elevated off Mother Earth that far. It feels very ungrounding to me, plus I hate heights.
Here is a rough draft of the stops we are following to Green Turtle on Lake Barkley. When we get there we will take a break for a few days. I booked a massage!
We left at the crack of down for the next section heading towards Green Turtle Bay. It will take a few days and a night on anchor and we planned on some long mileage days. Our hope was to be in Green Turtle by Thursday or Friday . (I vote for Thursday. The sooner the better). This stop is a looper favorite and many people stay awhile as a respite. Once we get there we will plan out the rest of our rivers to Mobile Alabama. We plan on taking a road trip thru the Great Smokey Mountains, Asheville, Nashville and Chattanooga. I am really looking forward to this.
We left the marina and the day went pretty fast. We ended up in a group of about 8 boats. First up was a lock, which we got right in and out of quickly! This is our new looper friend on R&R.
This is an example of how I tie a rope around A Floating Bollard and simply hold onto it as it raises or lowers. Easy!! Today we went by the iconic landmark Arch in St. Louis Missouri. We stopped and photographed the boats as they passed under the arch. Rhonda from R&R got our picture. This was a milestone for sure.
Our ending destination was a lock wall to tie up to called Kaskaskia. Rhonda hosted Docktails in her air conditioned boat!! Sweet!
Great group of new friends and some brand new loopers.
The next morning we planned on doing a bunch of miles. We left early and after we turned onto the Mississippi things got rough. First off we were greeted with thick fog. As we entered it it was a complete black out! It broke and then came again. We watched the chart and drove in black out conditions relying on the chart. Thankfully no barges were on the chart and only a bridge!!! Holy moly! ￼￼￼It was scary but we got thru it and we were fine.
Is that a bridge?
Here is our buddy R&R emerging thru the fog!
Next came the barges. The fog lifted and we turned onto the Mississippi. The barges were larger then we had seen before and they threw a huge wake behind that stirred up the river for miles. It was crazy AND scary. As each barge passed, we had to hold on for dear life as the boat bounced through the wakes. They had to be 4-6ft at least but the water was turbulent following them forever and then another would approach.
3 wide and 6 deep. Unbelievable!!
We got to the planned anchorage and decided to continue on because it was still early enough and we thought it would be great to get off the Mighty Missippippi. We traveled another 20 miles bobbing around after each barge until we reached the Ohio river. We made the turn and onto flat, calm water but against the current. What a difference.
We took a breath, slowed down and found an anchorage for the night. We traveled about 130 miles today. A new distance record. The furthest we had ever gone on the loop. This will eliminate having to anchor another night in Mississippi with passing barges. We turned up the Ohio River which has a relaxing 1 knot current. I was thrilled. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset, dinner and fell into bed.
We woke to another gorgeous sunrise as we entered the lock. This is getting easy as pie!
The next day was an easy 29 miles to Paducah. This was a cute town full of historic old brick buildings, antique stores and lots of charm. The girls went to the quilt museum. Amazing works of art here.
This is not your grandmothers quilt!
I loved the old brick buildings and this VERY old mural that was still on a building. Super cool!!
I love pulling into a city early enough to walk around and explore. We won’t be here tomorrow unfortunately for a huge BBQ competition. They were setting it up and we cannot stay another night. I am sure we will be smelling it all night as they get those fires going.
Tomorrow marks our half way point down the rivers. We are staying at Green Turtle Resort, a Looper favorite stop. I am excited to see it (its not fancy but it is iconic in the looping world). I booked my first massage in a very long time. We will start making our plans for part 2 of the river journey.
The city did a great job on this but it needs to be much bigger dock because this will become a favorite stop for loopers. This is the longest ramp I have ever seen that was built to rise and lower for the rising rivers. Incredible engineering.