Leaving Chicago begins the travel down the river system. The map above illustrates the water route from Chicago to Paducah, Kentucky. There are two routes from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River: through Chicago on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal or through the Cal Sag canal, south of Chicago near Hammond, IN. Boats taller than 17 feet must take the Cal Sag route, which has a bit higher limiting bridge at 19 feet. These two waterways are indicated in green on the map.
The Illinois River (blue) snakes its way through the state of Illinois, ending and emptying into the Mississippi River at Grafton, IL. The waterway indicated in red is the Mississippi River which, of course, continues through New Orleans, LA, but for this journey, the Mississippi is followed downstream to Cairo, IL, where the Ohio River joins. The Ohio River (depicted in purple) must be traveled upstream, against the current to the point that the Tennessee River or the Cumberland River join.
So much for the geography lesson. For the cruisers reading, the map is from Managing the Waterways, Chicago to Mobile, Volume One, an outstanding cruising guide/chartbook combination - highly recommended.
Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal
Even before leaving Chicago city limits, the canal becomes a major commercial artery, with tows and barges increasing in number and size on the Illinois River. The canal is often lined with barges awaiting loading or unloading, sometimes leaving little room for passage. In the photos below, Last Dance had to squeeze between two barges tied to the canal wall to allow a tow with 3 barges to pass. It became more challenging as the tow passed and the huge prop wash created turbulent waters not unlike a blender. Last Dance really began to dance as she floated tightly between the barges and the wall. The tow captains are interesting to watch. This captain piloted the barges about 3 inches away from the canal wall and never touched the wall.
Not the natural scenic beauty preferred by the crew, but interesting and educational. Being a part of the commercial waterways that built the United States is one of the experiences created by cruising the Great Loop.
The Illinois River began a fast-paced travel south for the Loopers. Not that there were a lack of interesting places to visit, there was a lack of places that one could stop in a boat. Few marinas and even fewer possible anchorages are available along this river. Above, Last Dance is tied to a very rough concrete wall in the city of Joliet, IL. While it was like tying to a huge grindstone, the free town wall is greatly appreciated by cruisers. It is a secure place to stop, although the long tows passing all night with wakes and bright searchlights do not make for the best sleep. In the above photo, the first barge of a tow is passing Last Dance and the pushing towboat has just passed under the railroad bridge far in the background. The boat behind Last Dance is Salty Paws, a 25' Rosborough on the Great Loop.
The Illinois River has few bays, creeks, tributaries of sufficient size to provide safe anchorages. Some parts of the river have islands that provide space to anchor and the crew found three along the river for a night on the hook. Above is a view from the anchorage behind Sheehan Island, just south of Ottawa, IL. The parkland ashore and the uninhabited island made for a beautiful and peaceful spot to spend an evening and night. The cool morning created a mist along the relatively warmer water.
Quiz time -- What is the most prolific wildlife species to be seen along the Illinois River?
Would your answer be: Pelicans?
If so, you would be half correct. More specifically, White Pelicans are the most prolific with thousands of birds along the river. Pelicans in Illinois?
As Last Dance headed south along the Illinois River, the pelicans began heading south also. The question of how a water bird could survive in the cold north is answered by the beginning of their migration south. Multiple large flocks of birds flew overhead in the evening over Last Dance at anchor.
Some would argue that the Asian Carp are more prolific, and they would be right if only counting numbers. The key to the question is "seen," and carp are underwater and unseen. That is until a boat travels by. Then they get excited and jump out of the water, sometimes landing in boats.
Wildlife that is rare was spotted along the banks of the Illinois River.
As the river became wider, so did the tows. This tow has 15 barges, three wide and five long, taking up most of the width available to travel under this bridge. Beautiful days were to be experienced on the Illinois with scenery, both natural and man-made along the river. Below, Dovkie approaches an architecturally interesting vehicle bridge.
If you have a desire for an enterprise on the water or are just thinking about how romantic cruising the country's river system was in the days of paddlewheelers, there are opportunities for you. One boatyard on the Illinois has many possible project boats to choose among. The boat on the left was once a restaurant. Think of the possibilities of a successful restaurant on a boat along the St. Augustine riverfront or a cruise along the length of the Mississippi aboard one of these beauties.
Yes, there are some marinas along the Illinois, but they can be non-navigatible for many cruising boats. Illinois Valley is billed as the marina near Peoria with the deepest water. Entrance proved to be 4 feet deep. Last Dance draws 4' 4" inches in fresh water. Fortunately, the muddy bottom was soft.
The Mighty Mississippi
Upon entering the Mississippi River at Grafton, Illinois, the scenery changes with large white cliffs on the Illinois side of the river. Fall colors continue to signal the appropriate move south.
One the return trip to pick up the rebuilt injectors, the captain was given the opportunity for a flight test in the Mustang with his performance earning him the only solo flight ever in the red Mustang. Just being supercharged wasn't enough for Patty, the engine is tweaked a bit also. Glen enjoyed the solo opportunity; Jill was not ready for the quickness of this platform, however. Patty and Robert were wonderful hosts and are added among the growing list of good friends accumulated along the waterways.
The Mississippi flows great amounts of water south. The water flows at very high speeds, even at normal water levels. This is one of the reasons why most who cruise the Loop travel in a counter clockwise direction, and therefore downstream on the Mississippi. Traveling with the current adds to the miles covered. Traveling north, against the current would have a 7 - 8 mph trawler advancing at 3 - 4 mph, sometimes less. Much less judging by the speed indicated on the chartplotter while just south of Alton.
The speed, in statute miles per hour, is indicated by the top number on the right side of the chart plotter. If the boat were headed north, rather than south, the speed over ground would be less than 2 mph.
Hoppies is just barges with big, big cleats. No restrooms. No showers. No laundry. Only dreamers would think they might find pools, courtesy cars, and ships stores offered by other marinas. Hoppies -- a place to tie your boat.
For the English professors - There is only one Hoppy, not multiple as indicated by the name. Yes, an apostrophe followed by an "s" would show possession, but this is rural Missouri and one needs to follow custom.
Fern's daily lectures are well attended by cruising boaters. Every afternoon, Fern verbally outlines details of travel south on the Mississippi, including locations of whirlpools that can grab and spin a boat, the few places that are safe to anchor, which routes to the Tennessee River are preferable, and important information not included on the charts. Another of the "must stop" attractions at Hoppies.
The town of Kimmswick, MO, with history and some oddities, is a short walk from the marina. Hoppies' neighbor is a car collector. He has assembled a large collection of '58 and '59 Thunderbirds, assorted '60s Continentals, a couple Corvairs, and an ample amount of Ford V-8s and rear axles.
A walk across a historic bridge, now limited to pedestrians, brings one to a two-block town filled with gift shops and a restaurant large enough to seat the entire population of the county. The morning the crew walked the town, no one was there, except the restaurant workers taking a smoke break outside. Puzzling.
Even at Hoppies, there are beautiful endings to the day.
The tows on the Mississippi are much larger than can be navigated along the Illinois River. This tow is 3 barges wide by 8 barges long. The standard barge is 195 feet long and 35 wide. Add another 150 feet or so for the towboat and you have a water craft longer than five football fields. Some newer barges are 290 feet by 50 feet. Triple engines power this towboat. Twin and triple engines are standard design to provide the large amount of power required. The engines are General Motors two-cycle diesels, much like the Detroit Diesels once common in boats and buses, just bigger. Many boats are powered by 6-71 Detroits, an engine of 6 cylinders with 71 cubic inch displacement per cylinder. For comparison, total engine displacement is 426 cubic inches, similar in size to a big block 427 Corvette. A tiny engine compared to towboat engines.
A visit with a retired towboat engineer brought better understanding to towboat engines. The boat he last crewed had two smaller engines - 12V-645s. That translates to 12 cylinders, arranged in a V, with 654 cubic inch displacement per cylinder. His son is an engineer on one of the triple engine towboats, powered by 20V-710s - 20 cylinder engines with 710 cubic inch displacement per cylinder. All the engines are both supercharged and turbocharged. Tens of thousands of horsepower -- amazing machines.
Diversion Creek is one of only two safe places to stop along the Mississippi between Hoppies and the Ohio River. This section of the rivers, with few places to stop for the evening (one should not be on the rivers at night for many reasons), bunched Loopers together. After one day's travel from Hoppies, ten boats tied to a lock wall, one the cruising guides state can accommodate 3 or 4 boats. The second night was spent at Diversion Creek, a narrow and shallow creek with those ten boats and a couple more.
The trip up the Ohio River, struggling against the current, was accomplished in a day-long driving rainstorm and high winds. Not weather encouraging of photography. One shot that should have been made was of the radar screen, which often "whited-out," like looking into a blizzard, as the rain became so dense that the radar signals reflected off the rain drops filling the screen with a solid image.
The city of Paducah, Kentucky, another of the many towns along the rivers with no place to stop, is located where the Tennessee River empties into the Ohio. Oh, Paducah does have a town dock, but with a 15 minute docking limit -- not much time to visit the town and shop. Entering the Tennessee at this point is not the preferred route since the lock creating Kentucky Lake is often backed up with tows waiting to lock through. Fern and the cruising guides suggest continuing up the Ohio 11 more miles to the point where the Cumberland River meets the Ohio. As the Last Dance began the cruise up the Cumberland, another segment of the waterway and another chapter of the adventure is complete.