Monday, September 23, 2019

Neapolitan anchorage

We are under way southbound on the Illinois River, our penultimate day on the Illinois Waterway. We are still "surfing the gap" between very large clusters of loopers ahead of us and behind us.

By the time we arrived near Havana Saturday afternoon the wind had picked up a bit and was coming directly up the river, making for a challenge anchoring. We dropped the hook at the downriver point of Quiver Island (map), outside the main channel buoy line but also out of the way of the pointway channel leading to the coal docks.

There's a free dock in Havana, just a quarter mile or so from our anchorage, but too shallow for Vector. We had hoped to tender over for dinner and to replenish the beer supply, but the rain started just as we set the anchor and did not let up all night. We had plenty of food and a comfortable evening aboard.

Yesterday morning I again hoped to splash the tender and go ashore at least to stretch my legs, offload some trash, and maybe pickup beer. But the wind was now blowing 15 steady and gusting higher, and it was not worth the considerable hassle to launch and retrieve in those conditions. Instead we weighed anchor early and continued downriver.

After lunch we arrived at the LaGrange Lock and Dam, where the wickets were up and we had to lock through. They had the lock ready on our arrival and we were through in a half hour or so, continuing downriver to a planned anchorage in Meridosia, where I again hoped to get ashore. Along the way we passed Beardstown, where a local towboat service sells space on their fixed barge to passing loopers. We could have gone ashore for certain there, but it was too early to stop and we saw no need to pay money to lash up to a barge.

Looking over the wickets from the lock chamber at LaGrange. They are doing a lot of work on the lock right now.

We arrived at Meridosia just as an enormous front arrived, stretching hundreds of miles north to south. Winds increased to 25kt gusting to 35k, directly upriver against the current, and we had 2-3 footers with whitecaps on the river. Not good conditions for anchoring in a narrow spot, and the boat ramp dock where I had hoped to land the tender was nowhere in sight anyway. With our momentum and stabilizers keeping us comfortable, we decided to continue downriver at cruise speed until the worst of the front passed us and we would have better conditions for anchoring.

That put us just a little south of Naples, where we were able to get outside the buoy line in a comfortable depth between two wing dams (map). The wind kept blowing us sideways to the current, first one way and then the other, and we horsed 180° for a few hours, until the wind laid down enough for us to just lie to the current. After that we had a very comfortable night, and another nice dinner aboard.

We were one of only a very few pleasure craft moving yesterday; the weather had most of the looper crowd remaining comfortably in marinas. This morning, however, the weather has been gorgeous and I expect most of the group behind is is now moving and will catch up with us over the next couple of days. And so we weighed anchor first thing to snag a spot at the next dock.

That would be a 250' face dock at Mel's Riverdock Restaurant in Hardin, Illinois, at river mile 21. We called underway to make sure they can take us. Dock-and-dine is free, but they charge only $25 to spend the night, regardless of length. That's a bargain for us to run a few errands in town. We could just tie up for dinner and then go anchor, but it seems unfair to take up space that they could sell to someone else.

From here it's just 21 miles or about two and a half hours to the Mississippi River, and also to Grafton, Illinois, where we will find the last real marina we can access until Paducah, Kentucky. We need water, a pumpout, provisions, and to receive some packages, so we're taking them up on their "fourth night free" deal. There is another marina a few miles downriver in Alton, a much bigger town with more services (and a better "buy three, get three" deal), but they told me they can't take anyone drawing more than 4.5'. The water must have been higher when our friend John brought this boat down the rivers back in 2007, because he spent several days there.

Update: We're docked at Mel's (map). We've put in our Amazon orders for shipment to Grafton, and I'll be taking the e-Bike into town on a hunt for beer and a few other items. Just as we finished tying up a 28' Rosborough tied up at the other end of the dock; between the two of us we probably represent the upper and lower ends of the displacement scale for loopers. I will not be surprised if another couple of boats tie up here before dinner time. My next post here will be underway from Grafton, headed toward St. Louis.

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