Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ride your own ride

We are underway southbound on the Illinois River, after an unscheduled five-night stop in Peoria, Illinois. The problematic locks north of us closed yesterday morning, and we are now at the very tail end of the migratory pack, at least until the locks reopen in October.

We had a very pleasant evening and night last Saturday anchored just south of the Ottawa rail bridge. As we expected, the free city dock emptied out in the morning, and we later learned from the lone looper who was there that most of the boats were on a local "pub crawl" event. They passed us downriver en masse.

Our cozy anchorage downriver of the Ottawa rail bridge.

When I last posted here I had speculated that "the pack" would catch up to us early in the morning, after a scheduled 5:30am lockage. We awoke at 4:30 to an enormous thunderstorm close by. When we staggered out of bed for coffee later, I learned that the lock had closed down for the storm and was not yet reopened.

As tempting as it was to go a few hundred yards back upriver to the now empty dock in Ottawa for a night, we decided the better course of action was to take advantage of the delay at the lock to make some more progress downriver alone. We weighed anchor shortly after 11 for the Starved Rock lock, the final trouble spot. When we arrived at the lock at 12:30 we had to wait, so we dropped the hook just behind a mooring cell.

Vector looking quite diminutive at the Peoria dock with the towboat "City of Paducah" pushing hard upriver.

We were not alone for long, as three more boats arrived before the lock opened for pleasure craft. We're typically the slowest boat, and so even though we locked through at the front of the lock, it was not long before all three passed us on the river. That was relatively short-lived, as a pair of them slowed to bare steerage right in front of me for a towboat that was shuffling barges.

My bare steerage is considerably faster than these small boats, and I called the towboat on the radio and quickly determined I would safely pass behind him. That left me with calling the other pleasure craft for a pass, who later chatted with each other about how annoyed they were. Once they got themselves sorted out they passed me again.

They had the last laugh, as they arrived at our intended destination, a free dock in Hennepin, just enough ahead of us to snag the entire dock. We nosed into a side channel off a grain dock behind Hennepin Island and dropped the hook instead (map). We tendered ashore for dinner at Spratt's Tap, right above the river. It was surprisingly good.

Vector at Hennepin Island. The dock, which is actually an old barge filled-in, is at left.

Right next door to the restaurant is a small market, which may or may not be associated with the nearby "boat store." That moniker belies the actual function of such a business, which is to provide underway replenishment to towboats on the river. We peered in the darkened windows and decided it was worth a return visit in the morning, so we left the dink in the water.

The market turned out to have a very nice meat counter, a good selection of groceries, and even a hardware department to rival some small-town hardware stores. Hennepin is a tiny community, and this well-stocked store with a large selection is what makes me think they are part of, or at least supplying, the boat store. We heard at least one tow getting groceries from the Hennepin boat store.

The mother lode of Vector engine parts! We passed this Komatsu America facility on our way into Peoria, here, no doubt, to be close to their #1 competitor.

The dock emptied out in the morning, but we'd had plenty of Hennepin, so we weighed anchor and continued downriver to Peoria. We arrived downtown at the "free" dock to find a pair of boats tied up in the only section of dock usable for Vector. Instead we went across the river and dropped the hook, in the protection of the Murray Baker (I-74) bridge (map). We tendered ashore for dinner at Kenny's Pub, downtown.

By this time, the logjam of looper boats upriver had broken, and a clot of some 26 boats were headed downriver towards us. Peoria is the last city of any real size for at least a couple hundred miles, and we decided that this was as good a place as any to hunker down for a few days and let the pack pass us. It would also be a good place to connect with a couple of people we keep missing, run a few errands, and stock up for the next segment of the journey.

The view of Peoria from our anchorage, with the free dock and the Spirit of Peoria paddlewheeler in the foreground. I'm sorry I did not get a night shot, as the city is nicely lit.

We were perfectly comfortable anchored in the river, although temps have been climbing into the 90s in the afternoon and we'd likely have to run the genny a few hours a day. So when the two other boats left mid-morning, we weighed anchor and headed to the dock (map). We overhung the downstream end and left as much space in front of us as we could for another boat to squeeze in.

The docks and cleats are in poor condition, but there are power pedestals. I hunted a bit for a working 30-amp, which is enough for us to charge batteries and run our two air-cooled air conditioners, and a couple of fans to move the cool air to the other rooms. It was very comfortable.

Vector at the city dock in Peoria.

I had put the word "free" in quotes earlier, because faded old signs on the dock stipulate an hourly rate. You're meant to pay using a parking-meter type device at one of the slips on the dock. The meter has been gone for years, and it appears the city is neither maintaining the docks nor collecting fees. The same sign directs you to go to the city's other marina, to the north, for overnight dockage, but it's too shallow for Vector, as are all the other marinas near Peoria.

In the course of our four days at the dock I made three trips to Walmart across the river, two by e-Bike with a backpack on one by foot with a Lyft return to pick up a new automatic litter box we ordered site-to-store (the old one failed a few weeks ago). This last item necessitated an extra day's stay, and when I got it home we found it unusably damaged in transit and I had to march it right down to the post office (fortunately on the closer side of the river) to send it back anyway.

Had we remained at anchor we might have tendered across to this old powerplant foundation, now an East Peoria city park, and climbed the straight ladder through this manhole to access Walmart, just a few steps away.

While I was on the left bank I also stopped in to the Bass Pro for some boat accessories they turned out not to have, but the stores are always a fun stop. We both took in a sky show at the Dome Planetarium, and I spent an hour or so at the Caterpillar Visitor Center and Museum; Peoria is home to Cat's worldwide HQ. We had nice dinners at the Blue Duck, Los Cabos (excellent and inexpensive Mexican food), and Two25, and I took in the whole town by e-Bike.

Uncle Buck's restaurant inside Bass Pro sports these funky bowling lanes. I like the shark ball returns.

This morning we strolled the Farmer's Market which was right outside our flybridge, enjoying a brioche from one of the vendors for breakfast. Last night began the annual Oktoberfest festival in the park just upriver of us. It was a little loud, and we figured it would be even louder today. Neither of us had an interest in going.

The Saturday Farmer's Market was this close.

Last night was also the first night we'd had other boats at the dock with us, a few local go-fasts in town for Friday evening or maybe the festival. Late in the evening we heard one start its excessively loud engine and then putt past us out of the marina, follow by five shrieks of the steam whistle on the local tour paddlewheeler that docks here.

The paddlewheeler had been out on an evening cruise and was returning to the dock when this moron pulled out right in front of him. Unlike many such tour boats, this one actually uses its twin paddlewheels for propulsion, so it neither stops on a dime nor turns with any alacrity. Making matters worse, the little boat panicked and immediately killed his engine, so now he was adrift just upriver of a heavy tour boat with momentum. All's well that ends well; the tour boat adjusted and missed the small boat by mere feet, which soon afterward it got its engine restarted and took off upriver.

Paddlewheeler Spirit of Peoria, her stage bearing down on the adrift power boat. Best shot I could get on no notice.

The river dropped a foot while we were in Peoria, even though there is flooding elsewhere in the state. We had just a foot under keel at the dock when we left. While that pool was low, the next one, which we are in now, is high, and the dam between the two has the wickets down and we did not need to lock through.

There are still perhaps a dozen looper boats behind us, many of them docked at the Illinois Valley Yacht Club just upriver from Peoria (another marina inaccessible to us). So there is some chance we will still end up in a pack at some point. But as I type, we are blissfully alone, as we prefer it.

Sunrise over the I-74 bridge in Peoria, on the only morning we had another loop boat at the dock.

Don't get me wrong; while Louise is a dyed-in-the-wool introvert, I am more than happy to meet other boaters and lift a few beers at the marina bar. Maybe have dinner, even, if we hit it off well. But as I mentioned in the last post, actually traveling in a pack presents a number of challenges, and piloting and navigation both become more demanding. Also, as we saw in both Hennepin and Peoria, the sorts of docks we need can be committed before we arrive.

For now, we have the river to ourselves, and we like it that way. Tonight we should be anchored near Havana, and we're hoping to get ashore there. In another two or three days, we'll be at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.

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