Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tonawanda, NY to Peoria, IL (June 18 to July 11, 2014)

We had arrived in Tonawanda before noon and scheduled a one day Enterprise rental.  We had hoped to do some laundry (only $1/load for each machine) and pump-out.  When we arrived, no dock attendant was there and everything was locked up - and the pump-out was broken.  Later someone came to collect our dockage fee and said the showers and washer were broken but the dryer worked fine.  By that time, I had already washed a load on the boat and hung it up on the fly bridge - saved $2, I guess.  Joe changed the oil, got the car and took the oil to be dumped.  Then we had dinner on the boat while another concert went on, this one unfortunately accompanied by loud boats.
The next day we set out for our tour of the Darwin Martin Complex in Buffalo, a project that Frank Lloyd Wright considered one of his greatest accomplishments.  Three years ago when we toured it, we were told that it would be finished that October and vowed that one way or another we would be back to see it complete.
Well, I guess we should have gotten a definition of "finished," because it's not.  Our docent on this tour, who was one of the best we've had anywhere, said it will be finished in $5 million. The tour was still great and there had been some progress made in the main house, we think.  Still missing though is the wisteria glass mosaic that will cover four sides of a large double fireplace.  Guess we'll be making another trip.
We left the next morning and, after clearing one more low bridge, stopped for a pump-out and help to raise the radar arch back up.  Once the arch was up, Joe and I spent the better part of an hour putting the bimini back on.  You'd think we'd get better at that.
We went through one more lock - the Black Rock Lock - which raised us five feet so we could enter Lake Erie.  There is another way to get there, against a 7 to 12 knot current - our normal cruising speed is about 7 knots, so you see the downside of that route.  Actually, it's a REALLY big downside because if you're going the wrong way - which we would be, given the current - you go over  Niagara Falls.  The day before we left I got an email from our friend Joan warning us not to get sucked over the falls.  I had horrible dreams all night about going over the falls, and told Joe in the morning that he'd really be in trouble if that happened.  Obviously, it didn't.  I'm sure you'd have seen it on the news if it had.
So, out into Lake Erie we went and had a nice calm day all the way to Dunkirk, NY, where the local yacht club welcomed us with free dockage for the night.  And another concert!  I  walked a bit and shopped at their "boardwalk," a cute little string of shops, and managed to find some little sandals for my grandsons that will annoy the heck out of my son.  Every time the kid puts his heel down, it squeaks like a dog toy.
Another long day and we were anchored in Ashtabula's outer harbor.  Everything was fine until about 5am.  It was a nice calm Saturday morning and everyone with a fishing boat decided they needed to be the first one out.  With a season as short as it is up here, they take advantage of every minute.
With our early start - and late sunset - we made it more than 100 miles to Middle Bass Island where we anchored peacefully in view of all the boats in Put-in-Bay - one of the local party destinations.  In the morning we were awakened by a big wake - source unknown - which gave us a good early start to Detroit.
The route to Lake Huron from Lake Erie consists of the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River.  The water is a surprising Bahama-like turquoise the whole way, as was Lake Erie.  Water color was one of the big surprises the first time we came to the Great Lakes.  Beauty aside, we were going up the Detroit River, against the current, on a Sunday in June.  I guess it would be worse later in the summer, but it's hard to imagine.  None of the boats slowed as they zoomed past - not even as they passed the tiny fishing boats that abounded.  We had some of our worst wakes ever on the Detroit River.
 Joe had selected a spot on the north end of Lake St. Clair as an evening anchorage, but as we got close we could tell it was not to be.  Contrary to what the charts had shown, the anticipated anchorage area seemed to be used as a primary channel for all the pleasure craft.  Joe decided to follow the crowd into Metro Park.  We'd gone there before and didn't like getting into it - hard to find the entrance and the deepest water.  This time there was so much traffic coming in and out that all we could do was get in the line of boats.  We found a fairly wide spot to tie up to the wall and spent a relatively quiet night.
On Monday we had a fairly short day to get to St. Clair Harbor.  My friend from college,Barb, and her husband Eric made the drive from Novi to visit and go to dinner with us.  We had a really good dinner at a restaurant right on the St. Clair River.  Our table was by the window and a one point a huge ship came down the river.  The channel brought the ship surprisingly close to the restaurant and provided a bit of excitement for us!  Barb and I had a great time reminiscing and catching up on our current lives.  Wish we could get together more often - but twice in three years is way better than we'd done for the past 30!
The marina in St. Clair offered half off for your second night stay during the week so we decided to take a break and stay.  This has to be one of the best marinas  we've been to.  There's nothing really special about the facility, but the staff couldn't do enough for us.  They would take us in their van anywhere in the area we needed to go - and then offered to carry our laundry and groceries to the boat for us.  And always seemed happy about doing it!  If you're in the area, it's a good stop.  (Also, fuel is $.25 off per gallon on Tuesdays!)
The following morning we continued up the St. Clair River against a pretty good current.  It was cloudy when we started out and then turned foggy.  And foggier.  The prediction was for it to dissipate in a couple of hours, but then the wind was supposed to increase from the north.  That would have made Lake Huron pretty uncomfortable, so we stopped at Port Huron for a quiet afternoon.  The next morning with left again to enter Lake Huron without fog or wind this time.  The current is very stiff as all the water from Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron flow through this narrow river into Lake Erie and eventually over Niagara Falls.  Against this current of approximately 5.5 knots, we could only make a speed of  2.4 knots ( less then 3 mph). So after a very slow crawl we crawled our way into lake Huron.  The current greatly lessened the further we got into the lake..  
Lake Huron treated us well the next few days.  One day in particular it was eerily calm.  The horizon disappeared into the mist and the clouds above us were reflected in the water.  The effect was actually a little disorienting.   Even seeing a huge Lake Ship suspended on the horizon as a tiny sliver was eerie.
We spent one night at Harbor Beach.  Some other boaters came in also.  I saw one of the women working on the light on the dock power pedestal.  We finally realized she was trying to shut the light off or cover it up.  Joe said she had mentioned hating bugs.  The next morning we saw her point.  The Mayfiles had found us.
The lake had treated us well as far as giving us a smooth ride, but it had also been the birthplace of a gazillion midges!  These midges are mosquito sized, non-biters, with a short life span that would drive you insane if you had to be out with them for any length of time.  They love the white boat, so every morning the decks were covered with dead midges and the sides with the ones that were still managing to hang on.
The winds had picked up and storms were on the way so we stayed in Mac City the next day and toured the  retired icebreaker, Mackinaw.  For more than 60 years (1944 - 2006) she kept the shipping lanes open for traffic on the Great Lakes.  The way she did it was pretty incredible.  Ballast water, inside the ship, could be moved from one side to the other - some huge amount moved in 90 seconds - that would cause a 20 degree tilt each way.  In the same way they could also raise the bow 25 feet, move up over the ice and crash down on it.  Between the side to side tilt and raising the bow, the ship could basically waddle itself through the ice.  Impressive.
We were awakened at 5:30 the next morning by a thunderstorm packing 40 mph winds.  We figured we'd just stay another day, but after talking to a more local boater and re-checking the weather, we decided to try it.  Now, we have certain preparations we make for rough water - our version of silent running - meaning nothing flying and crashing around the boat.  On this trip, things that had never moved before came crashing down.  The waves in freshwater  are totally different from those in saltwater.  They can build up fast and don't seem to make swells -  just waves close together for you to crash through.  Definitely not one of our most comfortable days with large steep waves crashing the boat from three different directions!  Joe had never seen anything like it, but Carolyn Ann just kept chugging and we just kept on holding on and we made it to Charlevoix exhausted.  We ended up staying two nights in Charlevoix - did some laundry and watched the tension filled US vs. Belgium world cup soccer game.  What a goalie that Tim Howard is!
Our next stop - after a day that was a little better than the trip to Charlevoix only because the rough stuff didn't last as long - was Leland, MI.  It's a small town with some nice little shops.  Joe was pleased to get an up close and personal look inside an Indian net fishing boat.  It actually looks worse on the inside than it does on the outside - interior pics on picasa.
On the lakes, and especially in Michigan, they have created harbors of refuge like this one in Leland.  They build a high stone walls all around leaving an entrance that does not come straight in off the lake. Five years ago when we were here, we could see the waves crashing on the wall but inside the harbor it was completely calm.
We worked our way down the Michigan shoreline to Manistee.  From there we could make one of the shorter crossings of the lake over to Wisconsin.  As we approached the lake the morning fog that was light on the river turned much thicker on the lake.  Joe switched on the radar which painted lots of little fishing boats for us to wind our way through.
Once the fog lifted, we had a great crossing - nice calm water all the way.  We went to Manitowoc, WI and had great seats for the fireworks.  Two  more days brought us down to Milwaukee.
We tied up at Discovery World and of course it was a festival weekend at the park.  They must have had five different music venues - all playing at the same time.  In the evening some of the music was actually good, which was nice because we wouldn't have been able to hear our tv over the music!
From Milwaukee we headed south past Chicago and into the Calumet River and Sanitary Ship Canal which would take us to the Illinois River.  It's not that wide, extremely busy with barges and tows and several bridges that need to be opened for us.
Commonly referred to as twelve miles of hell, it kept Joe on his toes (or tows!).  Then there is the dreaded fish barrier.  This is the electronic barrier they have installed to keep the Asian carp from coming into the Great Lakes.  In 2009 we had to pay $495. to be towed through that area.  In 2011 we went through without any restrictions.
This year they are doing some underwater repairs and will not allow any vessels through from 7am until 4pm.  If they have a break in work, they might let someone through during the day, but you can't plan on it and there is no place to wait.  So we timed it to get there around 5pm.  That part worked out fine, but when we arrived at the lock below that we had to wait an hour to get through.  Since the tows can't go through the fish barrier during the day either, everything ends up backed up.  But we got through and made the short trip to Joliet and were tied up there before dark.
There are several bridges in a row in Joliet that will not open during rush hours, so we didn't leave until about 8:30 the next morning.  When we got to one bridge a tow waiting to come through the other direction called on the radio and asked if we could move to the side and wait.  So, we eased over to a wall and tied up.  The bridge opened and a two barge wide tow came through, then a three barge wide one followed.  It took up almost the entire span of the bridge!  As it came toward us, we started wondering if we were far enough out of the way and started making plans to jump onto the sea wall if it was going to hit us.  It passed by safely, and then the bridge closed.  Once traffic cleared out it opened again and we went on our way - only losing about a half hour.
Three relatively uneventful locks later we arrived in Ottawa, IL and tied up between the fishermen on the wall.  After we got there, we saw small boats running through the shallow water and the carp were leaping several feet out of the water behind them.  Unfortunately we never managed to have a camera ready when they did it.
Joe wanted to make it to Peoria the next day so we left Ottawa at 5:45 am.  We arrived at the Starved Rock Lock at 7.  We were told we'd have to wait.  There was the second half of a double going up, a double going down and a single going up.  Then it would be our turn.  A double means that the tow is pushing too many barges to fit in the lock at one time.  They break the load apart, push half of them in to be locked up.  The lock comes down empty - because no one could get around the barges to get in - the tug goes into the lock with the rest of the barges, locks up and then secures all the barges back together again.
So, we went and tied up against a work barge called Hercules.  Joe was impressed with the size of things and really wanted to get up on the barge and go look at everything, but we didn't want to get kicked off so he restrained himself.  We ate breakfast,worked on our computers, made some phone calls - at least we had good cell service - and finally about 11:30 (a mere 4 1/2 hours later) we were told it was our turn.  As we were locking down we were told that the water level below the lock was up about 7 feet so we wouldn't have to wait  for any more locks on the way down.  If the water level is high enough they put the wickets down and you just go over the dam.
The high water also gave us a little extra speed - we were zooming down at over 8 knts.  Woohoo!  So, instead of an early arrival at IVY in Peoria, we got there around 7.  We tied up and walked over to their club for a great dinner.  We stayed here five years ago.  It was shallow and we tied up to a wall right in front of the club building.  It's where the big orange ball is sitting in the water.  The pluses and minuses of high water!
We'll stay here a few days and hope to visit with some of Joe's relatives.

More pictures on picasa

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