Following the Fall Color South

Eric here catching you up to date on the latest travels of Still Waters II. Click on this link to see the day- to-day travel log.

Also, I would like to welcome a new virtual crew member aboard on our journey.  You can become a virtual crew member also by going to the website and clicking on the ‘follow’ button.  Welcome aboard Jenny G!!

Lastly, as many of you know, I am an Atlantic sailor and thought I would find a better narrator for this next leg of the journey down the Inland Rivers.  Someone who has been here before because you deserve the very best guide and pilot possible.  So I would like to introduce you to your next guide on this adventure, none other than …………………………………………. the French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.

I will catch back up with you down the river, Eric the Red signing off.

Les membres de l’equipe virtuelle bonjour et autres aventuriers.  Oooppps.  I forgot.  Eric told me that most of the virtual crew members and fellow adventurers do not speak French.

Please forgive me.  Let me try again.  Hello virtual crew members and fellow adventures. Since I have a long name you may call me La Salle for short.  I started exploring these waters that you are about to cruise back in 1666, so you are in good hands.  You may recall from your history lessons, I am the one who claimed the Mississippi water shed for the French King.  And for those of you who really know your history, I have a Texas connection with the skipper.  But I will save that for later in case we sail to Matagorda Bay.  You may say that that was NOT my finest hour.

The skipper refers to these waters as the inland rivers.  There is actually about 25,000 miles of inland rivers that are navigable.  For this leg of the journey though, from Chicago to Mobile, we will only cruise about 1,300 miles.  More if we take a few side trips to Nashville and to Chattanooga.

win_20160925_13_34_59_proThe basic route is as follows:

  1. Illinois Waterway (Chicago, IL to Grafton, IL.)
    1. Route 1: Chicago River thru downtown Chicago, Sanitary & Ship Canal, Des Plaines River, Illinois River
    2. Route 2: Calumet River joins route 1 south of Chicago, north of Joliet

2. Upper Mississippi River (Grafton to Cairo, IL)

3. Ohio River (Cairo to Paducah, KY)

4. Tennessee or Cumberland Rivers (Paducah to Kentucky Lake, TN)

Route 1: Cumberland River to Tennessee River (Paducah to Barkley Lake, TN)

Route 2: Tennessee River (Paducah to Kentucky Lake, TN)

5. Tennessee River to Tenn-Tom Waterway (Kentucky Lake to Pickwick Lake, TN)

6. Tenn-Tom Waterway to Gulf Coast (Pickwick Lake to Mobile, AL)


You may be wondering why the Lower Mississippi River is not listed as an option,  more specifically the 855 miles from Cairo to New Orleans.  The main reason is that this route is primarily industrial commercial traffic with very few recreational marinas to allow stops for fuel or food.

Hope this answers your question from last week Dr. Mary Alice B.

So to get started, let’s review the past week: The week started out with the crew taking Route 1 of the Illinois Waterway through downtown Chicago to the Illinois River.  The route from the Lock at Chicago to Grafton, Illinois was about 327 miles.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The skipper spent Friday working to lower the ‘air draft’ of Still Waters II to below 17.5 feet.  This would allow the crew to cruise through downtown Chicago which has a fixed bridge of 17.5 feet.  The skipper was able to get the boat clearance down to 15 feet 8 inches.

On Saturday morning the crew met up with the Admiral’s cousin and family: Cyndy, Steve, Brandy, and Rich.  The four passengers got their safety briefing from the skipper and the boat headed over to the Chicago Harbor Lock.  This lock was put into place to cause the Chicago River to reverse flow.


Prior to the lock, the Chicago River flowed into Lake Michigan.  Problem was that the Chicago waste water flowed into the Chicago River.  The drinking water was taken from Lake Michigan.  So, as you can see, the folks were polluting their own drinking water.  The Chicago population suffered from many diseases and illnesses due to their self-polluted drinking water.

Brandy and Cyndy on bow, good thing the skipper lowered the air clearance


Brandy and Rich on the bow


Cyndy, Steve, and Brandy in the helm


Brandy, Rich, and the skipper in the helm

La Salle Color Comment: Brandy works in the marketing business and does work behind the camera professionally.  I think she knows how to get in front of the lens also.


To solve the problem, Chicago dug the Sanitary Canal that would connect the Chicago River to the Illinois River.  They put the lock in place to prevent the flow into Lake Michigan.  So now the treated waste water flows into the sanitary canal, to the Illinois River, and then into the Mississippi River.

I am not sure that the downstream neighbors are all that thrilled with having all of Chicago’s waste water; however, Chicago now has a clean source of drinking water.  As the skipper is fond of saying: the solution to pollution is dilution.

Drawing of the home of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable as it appeared in early 1880’s

The cruise through downtown Chicago was fun.  Pointe du Sable was the earliest recorded resident at the mouth of the Chicago River that eventually grew to become the city of Chicago.







This high rise now sits on the point once occupied by Jean Baptiste.  The building is owned by the Kennedy’s.













The crew saw their first set of large tows on the river today.  The largest tow was two barges wide and four barges in length (2X4) for a total of 8 barges.  The crew hears that this is still a small tow compared to what they will see further down river.  But for now, it is the record.

img_0227At one point the crew had to wait for about 20 minutes while a tug repositioned his barges.  The tug and barges completely blocked the river and there was no room to squeeze by them.




img_0228The crew also passed through the electric fence barrier.  This barrier is to prevent the Asian carp from migrating north into the Great Lakes and hurting the fishing industry that seems to be holding on by a thread.

Lockport Lock




After passing through the Lockport Lock, the electrical gremlin re-appeared.  The skipper had secured the main engines while in the lock.  The starboard engine failed to start when the lock gate opened.  The skipper limped out of the lock on the port engine.  He finally got the starboard engine to start by paralleling to the port battery.  After the engine started the starboard battery bank was only showing about 10 volts.  With only 10 minutes to dock, this problem will have to wait to be solved another time.

After docking, the crew and passengers enjoyed a wonderful meal prepared by Cyndy.  A great day aboard Still Waters II.

Sunday the crew spent the morning going to church and enjoying a good lunch with Cyndy and Steve.  Then it was back to the boat for a fun afternoon of story telling and laughs. It was a great weekend spent with family.

Monday, September, 19, 2016

With three locks on the schedule and a desire to get 46 miles down river, today has the makings for some fun times.  After the skipper woke up with the chickens, he called the lockmaster for the Brandon Lock to determine what the commercial traffic looked like in the morning.  Remember, commercial traffic has priority over pleasure craft.  The lockmaster informed the skipper that there would be a window between 0800 and 0900 to clear the lock.  The crew readied the boat and headed towards the lock.

The lockmaster was in the process of filling the lock chamber so the crew waited about 15 minutes and entered the lock with Tidings of Joy.  Even with this preplanning it still took about an hour to lock down the 34 feet.  These are some very large locks. (100 feet wide and 600 feet long)

img_0239After clearing the Brandon Lock, the crew headed down river towards the Dresdon Lock on the Des Plains River.  The skipper had called ahead to the lockmaster and the lock was being readied for the crew when they arrived.  Good news, no commercial traffic and hardly any delay.  Tidings of Joy cleared the lock with Still Waters II and the boats finally entered into the Illinois River.

img_0243About 12 miles down river, the crew came upon a dredge that was trying to deepen the channel.  The dredge operator told the skipper to pass on the 2 whistle.  This was the first time the crew has been given whistle orders.



The whistle orders go back to the days when steam ships were king of the waterways and radio had not been invented.  When two ships approached head-on one ship would sound the whistle with one or two short blasts.  The other vessel would acknowledge the whistle blast with the same one or two short blats.  Then each captain would steer their ship in the appropriate direction:

1 whistle blast – steer to starboard

2 whistle blast – steer to port

In the modern world, the steam whistle is no longer used but the verbal commands still exist.  Since the dredge said to pass on the 2, the skipper steered to port and kept the dredge on his starboard (right) side.

4 boats anchored waiting on lock

After the dredge, the good run came to an abrupt stop.  The skipper rounded a bend in the river while he was approaching the Marseilles Lock. Just in front of the lock gate, the skipper counted four looper boats anchored.  Calls to the lockmaster went unanswered and finally one of the boats informed the skipper it would be several more hours before they could enter the lock.  The captain also informed the captain that the flotilla of four boats had been waiting to enter the lock since 0900.


The crew dropped anchor and began to wait for the commercial tow traffic to complete their operations.  After our crew waited about two hours, the skipper noticed that it appeared that the gate was opening.  The skipper called out over the radio that it appeared that the gate was opening; however, it could be wishful thinking or even a mirage.  The other boats then noticed the gate opening and all the boats began the process of weighing anchor.

Rafted to Tidings of Joy

The lockmaster gave the green light to enter the lock and seven pleasure craft were glad to get into the lock.  There were not enough floating bollards for each boat so the lockmaster directed Tidings of Joy to raft up against Still Waters II.  After nearly 6500 miles this would be the first rafting experience for both crews.  The captain of Tidings of Joy did a great job of easing his boat over to Still Waters II, and our crew took their lines and cleated them to Still Waters II.  Once secured the lock master dropped the boats 24 feet down.


After exiting the lock, it was just three miles to the marina.  The marina closed at 1700, but stayed open late to assist five of the seven boats get tied up and secured at the marina.  The crew was pleasantly surprised that the marina had a courtesy car.  The crew used the car to make a Wal-Mart run.  On the way to Wally World, the crew drove past Washington Square in Ottawa.

Image result for ottawa lincoln douglass

The square is the location where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglass held their first of six political debates.  On August 21, 1858 the two men argued for three hours before a throng of 10,000 on the subject of the introduction of slavery into new western states.



Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Two Asian carp jumping behind boat

The crew got off on a good start today.  After arriving at the one and only lock for today, the crew was moved right into the lock and locked down 29 feet.  While waiting for the lock gate to open, the crew watched a boat drive around with an attachment on the front of the boat that made it look like he was plowing water.  The skipper noticed that in certain areas the Asian Carp would start jumping out of the water.  Not sure what the boat was doing, but it was fun to watch.


img_0259After entering the lock, a couple of ladies visiting the adjoining Lock Visitor Center pointed out a Bald Eagle that was perched in a tree about a half mile away.  That was the first Bald Eagle the crew had seen in a long time.  How appropriate since the crew is in the Land of Lincoln.


Then a short time later, the skipper noticed another Bald Eagle soaring above the river.  As the boat approached, the eagle drifted right over the top of the boat and looked in to see if anything good to eat was available.  After spotting no dinner, the eagle went and landed in a tree along the river bank.


img_0257The next lock was named after a rock formation that is nearby.  With a name like ‘starved rock’, you know there has to be a story.  The legend goes that the Ottawa Indians were seeking revenge for the assassination of their leader, Pontiac in 1769.  The Ottawa attacked a band of Illiniwek along the Illinois River.  The Illiniwek climbed the rock to seek refuge.  However, the Ottawa set siege to the rock until the band starved to death.  So much for taking the high ground.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

img_0288Last night the Admiral kept asking if it was raining.  With no clouds in the sky, you could see all the stars in their full glory.  Well, this morning when the skipper awoke and went out on the sundeck he saw what the Admiral had been hearing.  There were dead May Flies at least four inches deep around the anchor light.  And these were giant May Flies.  After cleaning bugs for a while, the crew weighed anchor and headed out towards Peoria.

This would be a short cruise day of only 25 miles.  The big surprise today was the Monarch Butterflies that were flying south.

img_0306These are the lucky fourth generation Monarch Butterflies.  If you consider flying from here all the way to Mexico lucky.  The fourth generation is born in September and October, and unlike the other three generations do not die after two to six weeks.  Instead, this fourth generation migrates south to warmer climates and will live for six to eight months.  Starting a new first generation that hatch in February and March and start the migration back north in search of locations to lay more eggs.  The second generation is born in May and June.  The third generation will be born in July and August and complete the northern migration.  Their offspring are the fourth generation which the crew saw headed south today to complete another life cycle of Monarch Butterflies.

Geese headed south


After docking in Peoria after only a half day of cruising a big storm kicked up about 1500 with 20 – 25 mph gusts.  The river was white capping like Lake Michigan.  The crew was glad they were not trying to dock in those winds.

The skipper, Al, and Ruth

You may recall that Al Darelius came onboard back in Washington, D.C. last year.  Well, Al now lives about an hour south of Peoria, so he brought his wife, Ruth, up to meet the crew.  The two couples went out to eat and had a wonderful evening.  Al and Ruth plan to start the Loop in the Fall of 2017.  They have actually completed about 600 miles of the Loop, mostly moving their boat up and down the Illinois River.  She is currently berthed in Green Turtle Bay.  Our crew hopes to make Green Turtle Bay the first weekend in October and meet back up with AL and Ruth.





I actually built a fort near today’s marina stop back in January 1680.  Fort Crevecoeur, which later led to the modern city of Peoria.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Today was a good day to cruise along the shores of the Illinois River.  The banks continue to be lined with rural settings and trees starting to show their fall colors.  Then every so often, the scenery is interrupted by a small town where the barges are stacked along the river bank.

img_0296People are actively working to either load or unload the barges.  The barges that are full of material sit low in the water at the 10-12 foot water line marked on the side of the barge.  Empty barges float high in the water at the 2-3 foot water line.  Very interesting to sit back and watch the workmen.


The crew saw three tows on the water today.  One tow was 3×4 hauling black coal up the river.  However, the crew saw a new record barge tow, 3×4+2 for a total of 14 barges.  The crew has been told that these are baby tows compared to the ones they will see on the upper Mississippi River.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Birding was the theme of the day.  When the skipper first woke up and went out on the sundeck, the swallows were thick in the air.  The swallows were darting about and putting on an ariel acrobatic performance.    After the crew weighed anchor and continued their journey down the Illinois River, they passed an irrigation ditch.  The ditch was lined on both sides with White and Blue Herons, there had to be more than 20 birds.

img_0277Then the crew saw eight Bald Eagles throughout the day.  Four were fully mature and four still had their juvenile plumage.  One Eagle plunged into the river but came up empty and went to sit in a nearby tree.  He choose a bare limb that gave him a good view overlooking the water for his next attempt at fishing.


One of many duck blinds along the river

The ducks have also started their southward migration.  Duck hunting season must be soon because there were several boats loaded with duck decoys making their way to hunting blinds.  The crew has not heard any shots yet, but that cannot be too far off.





Near the end of today’s travel, the shore scenery began to change.  Small hills are starting to rise off of the shore to provide some added dimension to the otherwise flat farmland.

Living Life cruising past after anchor

The crew pulled up into a narrow creek to anchor for the night.  They dropped anchor dead center in the middle of the creek but there is not enough room for the boat to swing around without hitting the shore.  In addition to the bow anchor, the skipper tossed out a stern anchor to prevent the boat from swinging into shore.  A new first for the crew.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Same view as yesterday, but morning fog

This turned out to be a beautiful day to cruise.  The weather was warm but the south breeze kept the crew cool.  As the crew continued down bound on the Illinois River, the river continued to get wider and wider until finally it converged with the mighty Mississippi River.  The skipper could tell the current was picking up by all the turbulence in the water.  He put the engines in idle speed and was still making 8.5 knots as the crew passed the marina entrance.  He then turned back up stream and entered the marina and pulled over to the fuel dock to take on fuel.


Sun setting on this weeks adventure



Next Week – The crew will head down the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois.  Then head up the Ohio River to Paducah, Kentucky.

Loop on – The water goes on forever and the adventure never ends.

La Salle the River Pilot and Explorer Extraordinaire

4 Comments on “Following the Fall Color South

  1. Looks and sounds like another great week! Eagles are so neat to watch going after food. The mighty Mississippi will help you save on fuel! Enjoy you inland travels!!!


    • Wrote a very long clever note that got lost! You are in my old territory when I lived in
      Illinois. Enjoyed your blog.


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