Day 136, September 10, 2012 (City of Chicago, Chicago River, Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, Des Plaines River, Illinois River):

  • Chicago
  • Joliet
  • Ottawa
  • Starved Rock State Park
  • Peoria Heights, Illinois Valley Yacht Club

Chicago, A Toddlin’ Town! Busy hardly describes our environment since we have come across Lake Michigan from towns with populations of a few hundred to perhaps 15,000. This was not a sightseeing tour. We came to meet old friends and by surprise even older friends. Edie’s childhood friend, Juda and Susie, children, and grandchildren, live in nearby  Skokie. I also discovered that one of my classmates decamped from St. Louis to Chicago 19 years ago. We met for lunch with Vita and her husband Harold. Both are pediatricians, but Vita has  switched over to administrative work at Northwestern University.

We departed Montrose Harbor in the North End and traveled south along the Lakeshore to the Chicago Light. The trip through  town on the Chicago River on a sunny, warm day is breathtaking. We had to take the south branch to get into the Sanitary and Ship Canal—anything but sanitary and very stinky, too. The transition is  abrupt and begins south of Chinatown. Signs along the bank warn the public not to swim, dive, fish, or make contact with the water. In fact, only a few miles south of the magnificence of the city, the canal is choked with trash, deadheads, and probably a few bodies. If Mr. O would like to create a few jobs, cleaning up the stretch through South Chicago and Cicero  might pay for itself in recycling and recovery and might, just might, pull a few ne’er-do-wells out of the South Chicago ‘hood!

The canal is miles and miles long with industry on its banks but lots of green space, too. Oddly, many of the industrial sites are well kept but others not so. The canal is lined with barges,  most are in use, but some are sunken derelicts. And the barge traffic—huge tows of up to 15 barges lashed together! Locking through with them is an experience. They all creep along at not more than five knots. The towboat captains are all courteous and helpful to us rec-boaters. They have their own lingo on VHF. “Pass on my one,” or “pass on my two after the second  bridge.” “The One” is his right side and “The Two” … you get it! When they ask where we are, if they don’t see us, we need to give them landmarks on shore. Fortunately, they keep close track of other traffic by transponder, radar, and information from radio traffic.

We have come through five of eight locks on this route down to the Mississippi: Chicago, Lockport, Brandon, Dresden, and Marseilles. The lock chambers are gigantic and, yet, some do not hold an entire tow. The tow needs to be split then parked below the lock before the tug can move through with the rest of the tow. USACE picked the last few days to do their maintenance inspections. They shut down locks without announcement and traffic backs up in the river in both directions. At Dresden, we waited almost three hours with six other rec-boats to lock through. The Lockmaster was a real gem; he put us all in with a short tow with the assent of the towboat captain. The seven rec-boats were tied up to the barges and the opposite dock wall. On that day we learned to use our nav aids and speed to avoid the bottlenecks. If we can locate and pass the lead tow and put three or four miles between us and the next lock we can get into the lock without waiting too long. We can also see traffic downriver below the lock. Then, a phone call to the lockmaster can set up a smooth locking.

Joliet was our first overnight stop. The town dock has water and power but is otherwise crumbling. The river is filthy and full of flotsam and still has a bad smell. Harrah’s Casino is the principal feature of the riverfront. After the trip down the canal Joliet didn’t do much for our spirits.


Ottawa is a surprise. The park in the middle of this town of 20,000 commemorates the first Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1860. Of course, there is a-Lincoln-slept-here house. We moved to Starved Rock today, only a few miles downriver. Starved Rock is the site of the culmination of an inter-tribal conflict among nearly three quarters of a million Native  Americans who once inhabited the Fox River valley. One tribe dominated a barren high ground and the other waited them out until they were starving

Provisioning is only a short walk up Main Street from the free town dock on the Fox River to the IGA. The store is well stocked and the store-owner, Larry, very obliging. He offers boaters a ride back to the dock with their bundles. Larry gave us a bonus for being good shoppers: a ride around town with a running commentary of Ottawa history.

If our other looper friends can wait until Ottawa, provisioning is a breeze here compared to other bigger towns. A word about the Ottawa town dock—followSkipper Bob’s directions, exactly! The entrance is five feet deep. The north side of the Fox River at the confluence with the Illinois is badly shoaled. Go under the bridge and around the bridge abutment like Bob says.

From Ottawa we moved on to Starved Rock Marina and State Park. We would have stayed in Ottawa but for the absence of water at the dock despite what is advertised.  We were overflowing with laundry! Starved Rock is a manmade embayment. Fuel there is expensive but the marina staff and other slip occupants were only too anxious to get us in on a windy day through a narrow, shallow channel and tied up. The dock fee at Starved Rock is nominal. We hadn’t set foot on the dock and we had invitations to attend the yacht club’s barbeque that evening. We spent the evening with a super group of interesting folks who all want to do the loop.

This morning dawned cold and bleak, a brisk northwesterly, blowing us into the dock and making the narrow channel a real challenge. the heron at left liked the morning. We knew that if could get into the Illinois River the wind would be behind us. Instead of casting off I looked on our transponder and saw a tow entering the lock from downriver. We called the lockmaster who told us to give it ten minutes and come on down. Another tow was about three miles behind. We had to get into the lock two miles away in ten minutes to get down while the chamber was still full. The tow below couldn’t wait. Eight barges don’t slow down very quickly. We had a few tense minutes but made it in and down. The next tow was less than a quarter-mile from the gate.


We are now at the Illinois Valley Yacht and Canoe Club. Our intent was to stop halfway in Henry but the harbor entrance was less than four feet deep and it looked crumby. This stop counts as among the best on the loop. The folks are hospitable and the marina is clean. They have put us on the dock wall in view of the clubhouse. Our plan is to leave the boat here for nine days while we go back to Chicago and celebrate the New Year with friends. On the way downriver we were attacked and slimed. I will let you see for yourselves.

We anticipate crossing our wake in Charleston early next year (by the end of February). We will have been away from Charleston since April 25, 2012. Special notice goes to Craig Tallberg, the owner of Coastal Carolina Yacht Sales, and his daughter, Maria Jones, who have been there for us and responsive in helping us solve the myriad tiny problems that have come up. Providential Good Fortune is on a higher level than Good Luck and we have had both!

Tiara Yachts in Holland, MI, stepped up when our forward hatches gave up, probably because of a pounding we took in a storm as far back as North Carolina. Again, good fortune, prevented them from leaking. We stopped in at Holland, MI, and Jerry van Dyke, our customer service contact at Tiara, was all over us with a punch list of things that needed tweaking.

We have not encountered another Tiara Sovran on the loop. The majority of boats we have encountered are of trawler design and the majority have flybridges that are too tall for many bascule, swing, or lift bridges. We get tons of notice from other boaters about the space above and below decks and the appearance of our vessel. Surprisingly, we are as commodious as trawlers our size. We have trifling air draft by comparison. Although we travel at slow speeds in the narrow waterways typical of loop routes, we have the ability to get up go when necessary. Our average fuel consumption is roughly 6 gallons of diesel per hour and would be less had we not used our speed in open water where we run at 70 to 80 percent power (25 knots, more or less). Above all the boat has proven itself reliable to date, even after we ran her hard for the year before we set out on this odyssey.

Not least is St. Croix Marine davits ( We were plagued by a bad stainless steel weld that popped out during the aforementioned NC storm without disasterous outcome. A craftsman of stainless steel in Beaufort, NC, fixed it. A call to St. Croix Marine entrained a QC analysis and profound apology for the occurrence. The cost of the fix was nominal.