The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Chicago By Sea (At Last!)

Finally, the weather gods relented and Once Around made the crossing from South Haven, Michigan to Chicago on Sunday, 9/11/11.  As we had hoped, our patience paid off and the smooth water conditions for our seven hour crossing were incredible.  The sun shone brightly and the Admiral enjoyed some time basking on the bow as we crossed the lake.
It was a bit hazy as we neared Chicago, but the view was spectacular.
So was the skyline in the background!
The view as we got nearer.
Since we had spent several days touring the city last week we needed only a one night stay to prepare for the trip through town.  This involved lowering our mast, which lowers our air draft (clearance) from a little over 20 feet, to about 16 feet, 2 inches.  I know that might seem like a minor detail, but with bridge clearance through downtown at 17 feet, we had little to spare. 
Once Around with her mast dropped to clear 17'
Don't ask me???
View from our slip in Chicago Sunday, 9/11/11
It was sure worth the effort!  I cannot describe the feeling of piloting the boat between skyscrapers on the Chicago River on Monday morning.  Even though we had taken the boat tour during our visit last week, there was something magical about doing it on Once Around. 
Looking forward from our fly bridge from the lock into the Chicago River on Monday
A waterside fountain
Remember, we knew we could just barely clear these bridges
Moonstruck had a bit more clearance...but not much.
We were close enough to the bottom of the bridge spans to inspect the welds!
But, looking up all around us was breathtaking.
Just another skyscraper lined!
The story of the Chicago River is really extraordinary.  I will try and explain it briefly.  The river originally flowed into Lake Michigan, and was of little consequence.  Somebody in 1836 got the bright idea to reverse the flow, and dig 96 miles (by hand) to connect it to the Illinois River.  The hand work was done mostly by Irish immigrants who fled Ireland during the Potato Famine, and explains why so many Chicagoans are of Irish descent (and probably why so much beer is drunk in that town!).  Anyway, the canal was completed in 1860, and was the first canal to connect Lake Michigan to the inland water system.  When this and other canals were complete, it enabled huge shipments of goods to be carried from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes.  (Not to mention the ability of modern day boaters to do the Great Loop!).
Just south of Chicago we entered the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  This was a very industrial section.  Some might actually call it ugly, and the smell was everything from “eau de county dump” to wood chips.  We found it extremely interesting.  Here was the inner working of the country, laid out for us to experience as we passed power plants, barges full of coal and aggregate, refineries, factories and who knows what else.  Sure, it was not as picturesque as many places we had visited, but it was real life industrial America.
Barges of coal to feed the power plant
Empty barges lined the locks, narrowing our passage considerably.
We pass the "Electric Fish Barrier", more about the carp problem in a future post.
We also went through a couple of our first Corp. of Engineers locks on Monday.  These things are gigantic compared to the locks of the Erie and Canada.  They are 600 feet long and 110 feet wide.  They are the route these huge barges take to go from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes.  Pleasure boats look miniature in there. 

My first mate tends the line in the lock. 
We spent the night on the gas dock at Harborside Marina in Wilmington, IL, after a trip of 53 miles.  We were beat, and managed to get a pizza delivered before we crashed at about 9 PM. 
Tuesday we made another 32 miles down the Des Plaines River and the Illinois River to a great marina in Ottawa, IL called Heritage Harbor.  We actually could not believe how much some of this view today reminded us of the rivers around home.  Small marinas, agricultural vistas, tree lined shores and a few towns, factories, etc. thrown in along the way. 
Cornfields along the Illinois River
We followed Moonstruck and Trident for much of the way.
We dodged a few barges, too.
We had a Looper dinner here at the marina restaurant with crews from Moonstruck, Dockers Inn, Reality Check, Spirit Dancer and Trident.  Mark and Terry from TerMar also joined us for cocktails.  We hadn’t seen those Canadian crazies since Little Current, Ontario where we first met.  Good thing…Mark and I are going to get into trouble if we spend too much time around each other…can’t wait.
A happy group of Loopers.
For any other Loopers who might stumble upon this blog…this marina and its’ staff are one of the finest and friendliest you will meet.  Stop in…you’ll want to stay awhile.
For the crew of Once Around “awhile” means only two nights before we fly back to the left coast for my niece Emily’s wedding in Los Angeles, a visit to our daughter Carla’s new digs in San Diego and a trip home to Sacramento to do as little business as possible and see if the house is still standing.  For Once Around herself, “awhile” means nearly two weeks, as we will not be back here until Sunday the 25th.  Moonstruck’s crew is doing the same, taking the same break to visit their business and family in Minnesota. 
This is only our second trip home since we started in early May and we are excited to see all our family and friends at home.  We will miss a lot of the Loopers, but we will see them again somewhere down river…
Footnote:  When we entered DeSable Marina on 9/11, looking up in awe at the beautiful skyline of Chicago, we could not help but think about the tragedy of ten years ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.  As we passed a City of Chicago Fire Boat on the way in, we saw a homemade sign they had placed on the boat.  It read, “We will never forget”.

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