Thursday, October 20, 2011
Crowley’s Yatch Yard, Calumet, Illinois to Joliet, Illinois
The storm had not completely abated but the weather had begun to lay down enough that Hugh decided we would start our river journey. With the trip odometer set on the GPS, we cast off our dock lines in cold wet weather. It would have been nice to have found a shower somewhere and get a pump out, but the yacht yard didn’t have the facilities. Mike’s not the only one who feels he needs a shower. I scare myself when I look in the mirror and see hair that is used to being washed daily, but hasn’t been washed since Monday night. If we had stayed one more day at Crowley’s I would have taken a pitcher up to the shore head and washed my hair in the tiny sink, but Hugh was ready to move on.
Had we needed to wait out the weather for another day we planned on going back to Calumet Fisheries for more yummy smoked fish. That would have to wait for our next trip to the Chicago area. It is definitely a meal worth going out of your way for. And it was reasonably priced!
The storm had been strong but did not cause any damage to us. I found laying on the floating dock, near Appledore V a “No Parking” sign that had blown off of the parking lot next to us. I’m glad it landed on the dock rather than have whipped around on deck in the orderly tangle of halyards and sheets. During the peak of the storm the Little Calumet River rose about a foot and a half. Because we were tied up to a floating dock we didn’t have to worry about constantly readjusting dock lines, so we were able to rest easily.
Motoring down the river at about seven knots we got to see the backdoor of our country’s infrastructure. Most of the the day’s trip was through industrial areas — lots of barges being loaded or unloaded with scrap metal, sand, gravel, mulch or coal. It’s really interesting to see these commodities in a way that we normally don’t think of. When construction crew starts spreading sand and gravel for a project, we quite often do not think about how it got there. Seeing the barges and industrial sites full of these raw materials makes me pause and think about the bigger picture of the many steps it takes to go from its origin to the end user.
We passed a coal fired power plant and the discharge water from the plant heated the river water by ten degrees! It went from low 50s to 63 degrees. If the river weren’t so dirty I’d have asked for a swim call. Well, okay maybe not… the air is only about forty degrees and felt even colder than that with the high humidity and cold wind.
We also passed by some residential areas. I thought to myself, “I wonder if they care what the stevedores see in their backyard.” For some people image is important but we only think about what the neighbors or delivery men see in the front of the house. In the back there’s over grown yards and weeds and toys or yard equipment left out in the rain. A few houses had their own docks and boats tied up. I hope they are thinking about bringing them in as winter will be here soon!
The weather was overcast and still windy, especially in areas where the river banks were low to the river. Even though we weren’t on the open lake with gusts of 30 knots, it felt chillier on the face and hands than previous days had. Each of us put as many layers on as possible and were glad that the stove was behaving below and heating the saloon rather than blowing smoke.
For me, a consolation prize of being on watch and in the open cockpit was seeing the water birds. The blue herons always make me laugh when they take flight ahead of us, trying to escape us, only to have us follow them. “Mr. Heron, if you stayed where you were you wouldn’t have run away. We’d have passed you by now.” We saw green headed mallards, great blue herons, tri-colored herons, little (white) egrets and of course many types of sea gulls. Cormorants, Canada geese were here and there. And I saw an osprey and red tailed hawk. One of my new favorite birds is the kingfisher. Back home on Shelter Island we’ll occasionally spot one near our dock. Making our way down the river we saw lots of them fly back and forth across the 200 foot wide river. I love the way they chatter as they fly and do a death-defying vertical plunge into shallow water for a meal. How do they not hit the bottom?
Some of the bridges we went under were very pretty, if a bridge could be considered as such. Either the brickwork of the towers, on either side of the river or the architectural lines of the bridge itself were done in a way that is appealing to the eye. The older that the bridge was, generally the prettier it was. The newer ones like I-94 was just steel girders and bolts; it had no elegant lines.
It was our first day of going in and out of locks. It’s all down hill from here. Between here and the Gulf of Mexico we will be descending, rather than ascending in height. The first lock, the Thomas J O’Brien Lock and Dam, was a change of only about 2 feet. It was a simple lock to go through — wait for the green light, enter the lock, the gates closed, Hugh kept the boat in the middle of the lock while the water level dropped, then the gates in front of us (downstream) were opened and when the horn sounded we motored on our way.
The second lock we entered was a bit different. It was a bigger drop of about 40 feet and we tied up to what is called a floating bollard. Imagine a big metal post in the wall that goes up and down with the water level, that’s a bollard. There are a few bollards within the lock itself – one on each end and one or two in the middle. You tie up to a bollard or two to help keep the boat steady as the bigger depth changes can create current within the lock. The big ships tie up their bow and stern and the smaller boats, like us, generally just put on a breast line, a line at the middle of the boat to prevent the boat from smashing into the walls.
Once we were dropping down, we put on a spring line. For those of you who are not boaters, a spring line runs at a shallow angle from the boat to the dock or wall. It helps to keep the boat from moving forward or back when water is rough or it can be used with the motor engaged to help point the boat off the dock, as was this case. A spring line is tied onto the boat about three-fourths of the way forward or back and is attached to the dock near the middle of the boat. Once we got the “good to go” horn, we released our breast line and Hugh put the boat in reverse and steered this time to port, bringing the stern to the wall and pointed our bow away from the wall into the middle of the channel. Then Mike released the line and we were on our way.
It took about thirty minutes from the time we entered to the time we left to go through the locks today. Hugh said that going down in a lock takes less time than rising up.
“But we’re on the low end of the priority if there’s other traffic,” he continued.
Government vessels, commercial passenger vessels, commercial cargo vessels take precedence in that order before recreational and fishing vessels. We are considered recreational. We know we might have a longer wait at locks down river when there is other traffic of higher priority. Or we might have to wait for a ship that is coming up river to lock out if it is higher priority than us or gets to the lock before us.
One of the other interesting things we encountered is the electric fish “fence.” There is an electric fish barrier for about 100 feet of the river. It is to help prevent invasive fish species, particularly Asian carp from entering into the Great Lakes. There were lots of warning signs “DANGER” – do not get in the water or else you will get electrocuted!
Shortly before the day’s river journey ended in Joliet, Illinois we saw some old barges embedded into the river bank walls. They had been filled with dirt and had trees and brush growing on them. What a great use for old barges – retaining walls for the river.
We tied up for the night at a public park in Joliet. There weren’t any facilities (shore head, showers, water, etc.) but there was shore power so we plugged in. Even though it was relatively early, 3:30 PM, there was still work to do. The top of the masts, as they over hang the bow, were showing a bit more bounce than the Captain was comfortable with. We made some supports with the extra 2x4s that David Leanza had sent with us. While we were working five youngsters came over.
“Cool! There’s the wheel — it’s like a pirate ship!”
They wanted to know if they could come on board and look around. As much as we like encouraging kids to take an interest in sailing, a tour was out of the question as there is no where to easily walk and their parents were not with them. Hopefully the next time they see a Tall Ship, they can get a tour.
There wasn’t much within walking distance so dinner was on board. We had the normal stories about boats and trips and weather that always comes when men are sitting around on a boat.
Before clean up I asked Terry to help me figure out the problem with the galley light, it kept going out. One of the light bulbs in the galley was almost burned out so Terry went looking for a replacement. When he looked behind the portside settee he found some knot boards.
“Hey Bill here’s a knot board if you want.”
“Yeah, give that to me.” Bill said.
Bill already knew the farmer’s loop. We’ve all been trying to teach him knots as we’ve been going along. I had used it on Tuesday when we down rigged. I needed a knot in the middle of a line that could take strain at both ends – a bowline in a bight would work but a farmer’s loop would be a lot easier and quicker to do.
“Bill, want to learn another knot?”
“Why not?” We have to be careful about feeding Bill lead ins as he’s quick to give a witty reply that make you groan.
So I showed him, hold one end in the left hand, loop it around so you have three loops then “Left, Right, Left and pull” — take the center over the left, now take the new center (the old left) over the right and take the new center (was on the right) over the left and pull the new center. Walla! You have a farmer’s loop.
After doing it a couple of times successfully he had it down. Later in the day Hugh was securing something and started making a farmer’s loop. Bill was standing right there.
“That’s a farmer’s loop. I know that one!”
And sure enough he easily made one for the Captain.
Now with a knot board he wanted to figure out the befuddling bowline. Hugh showed him how it went and he practiced a while with Andy our knot master watching.
“Andy can even make a bowline with one hand,” Hugh told us.
After knots we each took a stroll along the riverside park to stretch our legs. It was a beautiful fall evening. The tree leaves were a variety of reds, oranges, yellows, and varying shades of green; they had not yet reached their peak color. It was nice to get some exercise.
As Hugh and I returned to the boat the bridge was opening for a barge coming down river. We had come across a plaque that told of the bride’s history and previous bridges that had been built in that spot since the town was founded. This bridge was built in 1933 and has a strong art deco style. It was very pretty in the twilight with the city’s lights starting to come on.
It was a night to turn in early — can you say “8:45 PM?” It’s hard to imagine that six grown ups would be ready to go to bed at such an early hour. We were all tired from paying close attention to the river traffic and the day’s cold. In the morning we would be casting off earlier than normal. “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” It may not make us wealthy and wise but it is a wise decision to be at the top of our game so mistakes aren’t made.