September 16 -17
This river is also very commercial, just full of barges, and in some places the river is quite narrow, which makes it tricky to pass them, especially when they’re bunched up. This lock in Joliet was interesting, marking the first time we got to see the joining back together of the barges and the tug from this close. If the barges are too big, like this one, they must be separated and locked through first while the tug waits for the next locking. The barges sit at the other end of the lock to wait till the tug locks through and they can be rejoined. We happened to be in the lock with one tug for which the barges were waiting and one that was alone. We didn’t know at the time that in a short while we were going to have more contact with the tug HARVEY C. Just south of the lock we saw these two big gambling ships, and then the First Mate went down to the forward head to wash her hands. What she heard while there sounded like the whole bottom of the boat being ripped off. She ran up to the bridge to see that we were hard aground. With the sun in his eyes and the navigator down below, the Captain missed the marker in the center of the river. In this river the channel weaves all over the place. Now, what to do? Well, along came the HARVEY C, that tug that we had passed after leaving the lock. We were able to toss them a line to try to pull us off, but all the tugging that tug did couldn’t budge us. What it did do was tilt the boat to starboard, making walking through the salon an interesting experience, but not one that we care to have again. By now it was nearly dark and we started phoning for help. After many calls we arranged for a TowBoat US rescue boat to be trailored from Chicago to come to our aid. Remember our SeaTow insurance? Well, they don’t cover this area, but they have a reciprocal agreement with TowBoat US. We have found in our travels that specific areas use one or the other, but not both. In general it seems the South leans toward SeaTow and the North uses TowBoat US, which is a division of Boat US. Anyway, they were ready to come that night, but it seemed foolish to us since it was dark, so they would come the next morning. In the meantime the Coast Guard, who we had also contacted, insisted on calling us at prearranged intervals all night until help arrived, just to be sure we were safe. They wanted to call every half hour, but we said every two hours would be fine. And they did. Every two hours on the minute someone called to check on us. We always have plenty of food on board, so that was no problem. The only thing we were short of was beer, of all things! Next problem might be sleep, whether or not we would get any. There was no water coming in now that could be seen and the bilge pumps were not running, but who knew what the night would bring. First Mate decided to sleep on the salon sofa, which is on the starboard side, in this case the low side, so she wouldn’t have to worry about rolling off. No way was she sleeping in the master stateroom aft, the lower part of which is below the water line! Captain decided he would rather not sleep aft either, and opted for the forward berth. Needless to say, it was a long night, and, finally, about 10:30 the next morning our help arrived in the form of four men in a small towboat with dual 250 hp motors. We were very skeptical, and looking at their faces, so were they. They spent some time assessing the situation and said they would be back in 45 minutes. Two hours later they back and ready to go to work. They first attempted to put a big sling around the whole boat with huge inflatable pillows underneath. They pulled and pulled and pulled, but to no avail. Again, she did not budge. Alternating between scratching their heads and shaking their heads, they decided on the next course of action. Using the curreny created by their props they would dig a trench to create deeper water, through which they would pull us out stern first. So back and forth they drove their boat for what seemed like, and probably was, hours. Finally, at sunset, with us looking on skeptically, they pulled, and pulled again. We started to move slowly, slowly, off that nasty flagstone into their trench and then into deeper water. We were free and able to resume south down the Illinois River. Only now it was dark, really dark. The vow never to travel in the dark, especially in unfamiliar territory, was about to be broken again. So off we went, following our new friends. This part was easy since they were guiding us. Luckily, there didn’t appear to be any discernable damage, such as, the feel of serious vibration or the sound of bilge pumps running. But when we got to the small marina where they had parked their truck, we found it was too shallow and the slips too narrow to accommodate our boat. So off we went again, only this time alone, with the guys promising to follow after unloading some equipment and probably getting some much needed food in their bellies. This was a very dark, hairy night, but we were managing quite well until just before arriving at our intended marina, when rounding a sharp bend in a narrow channel we encountered a large barge coming toward us. He handled the situation with expertise as he shined his big, bright spotlight in front of us showing us the channel and the shoreline as he passed close to us. These tug captains really know their business; we’ve found them to be friendly and helpful all through our journey. Since we had called ahead for a slip assignment and, luckily, had a picture of Harborside Marina, we knew just which dock was ours, right on the end with easy access. We got tied up, hooked up the water and power, and sat down to have a beer, knowing we only had two left. But our new friends came to our rescue again when they came to check on us. After assuring them we were fine, they headed back up the river to their truck, and we had a good night’s sleep in our level boat.