Start: DuSable Marina, Chicago, IL 0730
End: Joliet, IL FREE wall 1513
Total Distance: 36.51 nm
Average Speed: 4.7 kts
It is good to be moving once again. While Chicago/Milwaukee/Sheboygan, etc were all great places to visit, we are on a journey on a 5000 mile loop, and you don’t get any closer to the end without moving forward. Alarm went off at 6:15, was summarily crushed by two hands (Jan and mine), we groaned, rolled out of bed and did all those things we need to do to get out on the waterways. Today was our first day on the rivers. Our destination is Joliet, IL; 40ish miles down the river.
At 0730 we were puttering out of the Dusable Marina following two looper trawlers who also stayed in the marina and on their way to Joliet. First stop is the Chicago lock, 10 short minutes from our slip. The lock is part of the system that controls the Illinois river and ensures that the river flows FROM Lake Michigan down to the Mississippi and not empty into the Lake (as it used to do until early 1900s). Why? Turns out before there was water control, the waste from Chicago dumped into the Illinois river and then in turn into Lake Michigan which is the source of the city’s drinking water. Which, by any definition is bad. So a canal was dug and a lock put in place to reverse the flow of the river. The lock has a three foot drop and a good way to shake off the rust since our last lock six weeks ago. It goes well and we exit the lock and begin our trip through downtown Chicago.
Last Saturday, we paid someone $30/each to get an architectural tour of Chicago from the water and it was worth it to me because someone else was driving the boat. This trip was free and because we were heading through early in the morning, there was hardly any traffic. We retraced our steps we made over our week in the city, this time from the water. It was gorgeous. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
The river, once you leave Chicago, alternates between stretches of green broken up by larger stretches of industrial facilities, concrete and barge docks. And lots of barges. And to make it MORE ‘fun,’ the canal gets narrower and barges are parked on the side which FURTHER constrains the passage. The barges use a whistle system to tell you which way they will pass you. For example, I saw the ‘Kenny G’ in front of us, coming our way, and I called him on the radio. He told me he would pass me on the one, meaning one whistle. Which is his port side to our port side. Confused? So were we: Jan and I were trying to remember this last night, but after we got through the first barge today, it became crystal clear. Which was good, else we would be a small spot on the side of a big barge!
A couple hours into the trip we passed through an electric fish barrier–a half mile long stretch of water electrified to prevent Asian Carp from getting into Lake Michigan. We thought it best to keep Lucky and Sid on the boat through that portion of the trip, though no one moved to stop Sid from walking across the deck…
By the time we got to the barrier, we had lost the other trawlers, or rather they lost us. They move at a significantly faster pace than our 6mph. Which we are used to. But when we got to our second lock of the day, there were our trawlers tied up waiting for the lock to open. The locks, as we are finding out, have a priority and recreational boats, like ours, are the last priority and if there is commercial traffic, we sit. Which is why our slow boat was just as fast as the fast boats on this particular day.
The lock was huge! At least compared to what we had experience on the Trent Severn waterway. The last lock on the TSW was not much wider than our boat and could fit three boats of our size deep. When we got told to enter the lock, the lock master told the three trawlers to tie up port side and us to come forward and tie up starboard side. We waited patiently to make sure there was enough room in the lock for us to enter, but no worries. We could have spun circles and not hit one of the other boats. We cruised up to the front and Jan roped us a floating bollard and we relaxed for the 30 minute trip in the lock.
And now we are in Joliet and basking in the red light of Harrah’s Casino. Joliet has a free (FREE) town wall you can use that has power available. We got into the wall and got the last available spot. There are twelve looper boats tied up on the wall–more than we have seen in one place the entire trip.