Tuesday —- BRIDGE DAY

August 31st, 2010 john

Day: 441   Miles Today: 36   Locks Today:  01   Total Miles:  4788   Total Locks: 135

 Today’s the day.  Can we get under THE BRIDGE?

We were up before daylight and left at 6:15.  The first thing I did was to check the website for the last reading.  At 4:00 a.m. the clearance was calculated to be 20.09 feet.  That is higher then the 19.1 (or 19.7 with an error factor) that we calculated yesterday. 

We’re off and running.

We still had a about 24 more miles to go before we would pass below the bridge.  The Cal-Sag has been delightful.  Yes, it is commercial but with a lot of rural in between.  We saw more wildlife on this section then any section of the loop.  We saw birds of all types plus three deer drinking on the edge of the water and a beaver.

After the merger onto the Sanitary and Ship Canal, it really turned industrial.  Because of the 19.1 foot bridge this is a massive staging area for barges.  The big towboats bring the barges up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers and then drop them off just before the bridge. The big towboats can’t get under.  Then the little towboats bring them under the bridge and stage them for yet another set of towboats to pick them up and deliver them.  That makes for a lot of towboats and a lot of barges on a very narrow waterway.  And then along comes the Emery El.

All the towboat captains were very nice giving us directions and allowing us to pass.

In the middle of all this area is THE 19 foot bridge. We came up to it and waited for the water to calm down from the last towboat.  Then we eased forward with Gary hanging off the top watching.  He was wearing headphone and communicating with me.  We went very, very slowly.

WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!         WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!

With inches to spare, no less!

We were jumping up and down, but soon had to stop the celebration, there was more to worry about. We had in fact two towboats running directly in front of us, each with a load of barges.  We contacted them by radio and they gave us instructions to pass.  “Two whistle, captain”! (That meant that he wanted me to overtake him on his port side, my starboard side.)  It was a narrow channel and they were so big, but I put the Emery El in full speed forward and around we went.  It is very turbulent when you are behind a towboat or passing it.  Their big propellers kick up a lot of water and it swirls in circles. So during this period you are constantly steering and counter-steering.

Now for part two of our adventure today.  The Carp Gate! 

For those of you who have been following the controversy, a species of fish, the Asian Carp, are in Mississippi and Illinois and are threatening to enter the Great Lakes.  The Great Lake States are up in arms and there has been a big fight to close the inner river waterway permanently.  If you saw all these barges going through you would laugh.  The matter has gone to the Supreme Court and the suit was rejected.  But the fight goes on.  If they close it, then there no longer is a “Loop”.

As an experimental measure to try to stop the carp migration, they have built a quarter mile long electrical gate.  This is a charged piece of water that discourages the fish to pass.  For a while last year, they closed this section of the river until tests could be done on the safety effect on boaters.  Three miles after the bridge we hit the carp gate.  There were signs posted.  No one was to be outside of the boat. And we had to issue a Securité  message when we entered and again when we left.  Only one boat is allowed in the zone at one time.  In less then 5 minutes it was over.  We were passed obstacle two.

We are going downhill (downstream, that is) from here.  Out next focus will be on the Peoria Lock which is closed for maintenance from 7:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. Mon through Sat.   Looks like we try to figure out how to be there by Sunday.

About 11:30 am we pulled into Joliet, IL.  It is a cute little river town with a casino, no less. They have a free wall that we are tied up to and there are now four other loopers whom we have never before met tied on the wall.

I am going to go ahead and send this out because I know a lot of you a wondering how we did on “the BRIDGE.”  We made it.  Thanks for your many prayers.  I only have one picture of the low bridge and it is from afar.  However Maggie shot a movie for me, but it is too large to send in an email.  I will have to ask Jason to edit it and load it to the web.

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Monday —- Chicago IL to Inner Rivers

August 30th, 2010 john

Day: 440   Miles Today: 23   Locks Today:  01   Total Miles:  4752   Total Locks: 134

Ok, here we go, into the next adventure.

First of all, if I could, I would travel the Chicago River right through down town.   But I can’t.  The Emery El is a bit too tall to get under the fixed bridges.  So the alternative is to travel 10 miles down the coast of Lake Michigan and enter the Inner Rivers via the Calumet Harbor, then through the Calumet Sag Channel (called the Cal-Sag) which joins up with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.  The Chicago Rivers turns into the Sanitary and Ship Canal so here is where they merge. 

We had been told over and over that the Cal-Sag was industrial and was a terrible transit, with barges and towboats all over the place and a very busy, busy lock.  Well, not for us.  We went through the first lock with one other pleasure craft and were instructed to just float free in the middle and not to tie up.  The water only goes down about a foot.

This lock has been specifically engineered to make sure that the water flows inland and none flows out into Lake Michigan.  If fact, the whole river system has been changed.  The Chicago River’s direction was changed to cause all the pollutants and sewage from Chicago to not go into Lake Michigan but to flow down through the rest of the country, down the SANITARY and Ship Canal, down the Illinois River, then down the Mississippi River to the Gulf.  Thanks Chicago!

We made it up the Cal-Sag passing one towboat with a barge, no big deal.  We then stopped at a small marina on the outskirts of Chicago. I wanted to stay at the closest place I could to the 19.1 foot bridge that I was not supposed to be able to get under.

We paid the marina to remove our radar dome, lowered all of the antennas and tried to get ready for the “bridge experience”.  I have had nightmares for at least three years about this bridge.

Before I left home, my son and I had measured the “air draft” of the boat and it was 21 feet with the radar.  With the radar dome off, it measured 20.1 feet. On the web, I found a site that showed the water levels in that particular pool every two hours.  I knew that some days it would go down far enough for me to get through. But it was not there today.

I filled the Emery El to the brim with fresh water (500 gallons)  I topped up all the fuel tanks (800 gallons).  We even filled the forward and middle bilges with water as far as we would dare.  We then rigged up a measuring pole (nothing too scientific) and it now measured 19 feet 1 inch.  No kidding.  We figured that we may have had up to a 6 inch error at the most which would be 19 feet 7 inches.

We will have to wait until the morning and see.

Maggie and I borrowed a courtesy car from the marina and went to the food store.  We loaded up. The store was big and brand new with the best produce section I have seen in years.  But we soon found out that it was very ethnic.  It was stocked to market to the African American and Spanish ethnic groups.  Couldn’t buy an sticks of pepperoni.  The really bad news was that this particular store as a policy did not sell beer. 

The next stop was to a liquor store.  We turned into the narrow driveway for the liquor store and immediately noticed a group of young men hanging out at the back.  Stop!  Back out!  Let’s find another store.  I finally found another food store and bought four cases of beer and one bottle of wine (for what I paid for one case of beer in Canada.)  Wow!  I bought the four cases because I wanted more weight on the boat. Right!

Maggie stopped at a beauty supply store to get some hair coloring, but they did not carry blond.  This was the wrong neighborhood; it was time to get back to the boat.

Another wonderful dinner on board and we were all ready to retire.

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Sunday —- Chicago IL

August 29th, 2010 john

Day: 439   Miles Today: 00   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4729   Total Locks: 133

Beautiful day!  I woke up to the wonderful Chicago skyline.  It hadn’t been a dream.

Maggie fixed a big breakfast with eggs and bacon, toast and blueberries.  That’s the way we should start every day.

I took off on my own in the morning and walked back over to Navy Pier and took a boat ride.  Go figure, one boat to another.  I wanted to take the Architectural Tour and would you believe I was the first passenger on board.  This tour takes you right down the Chicago River, under all the bridges and though all the skyscrapers. (Did you know that skyscraper was a nautical slang term for the tall sail on a tall ship, technically called the Royals?)

The tour was very informative but it sure was hot sitting in the sun.  I could not wait to get back to our cool boat.  After a light lunch, Maggie dragged me off to the Field Museum, “just down the street” on Lake Shore Drive.  Well, after another 10 mile walk in the sun (actually 1.8 Google miles) we made it to the museum.  I just wanted a bottle of water and a seat.  Actually we spent over two hours and saw but a small part of the museum.   It was time well spent.  Then we walked back to the marina.  When we got back I was ready for a beer.  It was hot!  After all the eating out that we have done, we never did eat out in Chicago.  Go figure.

At 9:00 that night we had another fireworks display.  Again I had a hard time coming down from the top of the boat.  I just kept watching all of the boats moving about the harbor, even at 11:00 at night.

Tomorrow is going to be our big day.  We enter the “Inner Rivers” system, our last leg down to Memphis.  And we have the 19 foot bridge to worry about!!!!!

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Saturday —- Michigan City IN to Chicago IL

August 28th, 2010 john

Day: 439   Miles Today: 39   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4729   Total Locks: 133

Last night we went to the little restaurant just across the marina parking lot.   All of our meals were great and not expensive.  But I did it again.  I had another gourmet pizza.  I have a new favorite pizza.  It had a thin crust, crisp but not burnt, it was their special and I found out why.  It had no tomato sauce but had ranch dressing as a sauce, covered with a great cheese with strips of bacon and chunks of chicken.  It was truly special.  All three of us raved about it. (I tell you when I get home I will have to open an International Gourmet Pizza restaurant.)

This morning Gary and I went to sneak out of the boat at 6:00 to have breakfast at a little deli on the dock.  It was supposed to open at 6:00 but they must have overslept.  So back to the boat we went for some more blueberry muffins and fresh peaches, supplied generously by Maggie’s sisters.

We had a little mishap when leaving the dock.  We had forgotten that we had two bow lines tied and tried to back out with one still tied.  After all the yelling and screaming I am sure the whole dock was now awake.  But there was no damage. We just retied, and then untied all the lines.  It works a whole lock better that way.

We went straight across to Chicago.  The forecast was for waves 2 to 4 and that they were.  The waves were from our beam, so we turned on the stabilizers and it was a real good ride.  Maggie just laid down on the couch and slept.  She didn’t even need her rosaries

By 11:15 we were across and made a slow entrance into DeSable Marina in the heart of Chicago.  There were boats of all sizes coming and going.  We just went slow as they buzzed around us and enter the harbor, found our slip that had been assigned to us and docked.  We sit here, right in downtown Chicago right next to Navy Pier.  This is the only way to visit Chicago.

Maggie and I took off and walked over to Navy Pier.  It is the largest tourist attraction in Illinois. There were literally thousands of people walking the pier, shopping, and eating.  I had missed lunch so when I saw my first McDonalds in three months I just had to have a Big Mac.  There were 20 lines of people placing orders and they were all at least 10 deep with people waiting in line.  It was big place but there still was no place to sit.  I enjoyed the meal anyway, but I have never seen so many people. 

We retuned to the boat and I went up top for an hour and smoked a cigar just enjoying the view.  The Chicago skyline is special, but looking out over the harbor was even better.  You should have seen the boats.  At least a hundred sailboats, power boats, fireboats, police boats, mega yachts, three tall ships, a four masted schooner, etc.  There was even a triple-decker yacht (guess at 130 feet) with a helicopter on top.  What a site.

Maggie is cooking up a good supper so went up to enjoy the skyline as well as boat watching at its best.  At 9:30, they displayed fireworks off the end of Navy Pier.  We had a ring side seat. 

Maggie and Gary went to bed and I just did not want to give up on the view.  Then just as I was going down to bed at 10:15 there was another display of fireworks just off our starboard side about a mile off.  Two shows in one night.  Wow!  (I tried to get pictures but the booms would not come out.) 

I have included enough pictures in this email, so I will stop here.  Look for a follow up email with pictures of Chicago, from a new perspective.

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Friday —- South Haven MI to Michigan City IN

August 27th, 2010 john

Day: 438   Miles Today: 47   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4631   Total Locks: 133

We left at day break.  We were tempted to go direct to Chicago which would have been about 85 miles.  But then the forecast came in and it called for waves of 1 to 3 increasing to 3 to 5.  I decided that we would continue down the coast and go to New Buffalo.  Then we would have a shorter trip across tomorrow.

The waves started out at 1 to 3 and then later in the morning they started to increase.  We were close to shore so they really were running 2 to 4 feet so it was not uncomfortable.  They when I called the marina they said that they did not have any room.  Ok!  This calls for a change of plans.  We looked farther south and found the town of Michigan City and called them.  They would take us so off we went.  Now we have an even shorter jump to Chicago tomorrow.

The bad news today was that the stabilizers are still loosing oil.  It is not loosing as fast but we need to do some more investigations.  I sure do not look forward to getting back down into the engine room again.

The good news is the engines just purred all day and the Emery El was having a blast in all the waves.

This is a good time as any to discuss the nemesis of this trip, the 19 foot 1 inch bridge. Well before we departed I knew about this bridge, we have to get under it and if I have someone crawl up on top and take the radar unit down, I am still at 20 feet 1 inch.  I think there is a problem.  There is no way around the bridge.  If I can’t get under I either have to have the top removed, which is a major task because of the ten solar panels that live on top.  Or, I have to turn around and go back. (Hey, that’s an option!)

I have researched the data on the web and the water pool for that bridge goes down in early September.  At least it has the last 7 years.  It is not down yet so we wait. 

We are going to Chicago tomorrow so we will enjoy the last of Lake Michigan

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Thursday —- Grand Haven to South Haven MI

August 26th, 2010 john

Day: 438   Miles Today: 47   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4631   Total Locks: 133

We were going to stay one more day in Grand Haven but the weather changed for the better so off we went.  It was a late start but the Lake was perfectly calm.  We ran the trip in 5 hours and it was a great day.  The engines did not miss a lick.

On the way a funny thing happened.  I looked up at my radar and noticed that it was not showing anything at all.  Oh no!  The radar has died.  I turned it off and reset the breaker and powered it back on.  No difference.  I sat back and shook my head.

Then I remembered that when we left through the channel this morning there were a couple of dozen boats fishing right in the channel.  I was wondering what I would have done if it would have been foggy because there were just too many spots on the radar.  So I zoomed the radar way in to see if it would make a difference. It was at maybe an eight of a mile scale.

Well now that we were out in Lake Michigan, there were no targets within an eight of a mile.  No wonder the radar screen was blank.  I readjusted it and all was well.  We had a good laugh.

We arrived at South Haven safely, cruised up the windy Black River to the Municipal Docks and tied up with a side tie on the main dock.  I had no more docked when a gentleman came up to me and introduced himself to us and said that he had seen us at Pentwater climbing the top and looking on top of the roof of the Emery El.  He asked if we needed a ladder.  We explained that we were just looking at how we would get up to remove the radar.  (I will explain why we want to remove the radar at some later date.)  But it was very nice of him to offer us his ladder. I can’t believe that he had a ladder on board.

Maggie had called several of her sisters and two showed up at the boat.  They live in central Michigan and drove over to see us. It was Elizabeth and Kathleen and Kathleen’s husband Phil. We pulled some chairs out and took over the dock for cocktails.  You should have heard the three ladies. (You would have thought they were sisters. Giggle, giggle!)  Later, we walked up the hill into town and feasted at Clementine’s Restaurant.  It was truly a great meal.

After dinner I let them say their goodbyes and went wandering though town looking for a pharmacy.  I never did find one but I did find a Dairy Queen and that satisfied me for the night.

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Wednesday —- Grand Haven MI

August 25th, 2010 john

Day: 437   Miles Today: 00   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4584   Total Locks: 133

Believe it or not the mechanic showed up first thing.  I shared all my woes with him and he just smiled and said we will just one at a time and will work it all out.

He took off the offending hydraulic cable and took it back to his shop to fabricate a new one.  While he was gone Gary and I went into the engine room and started changing fuel filters.  As expected, they were clogged with algae.   All three primary filters were clogged badly.  About that time the mechanic returned and he changed the secondary filters, two on each engine.  They were dirty but not as bad and the primaries.

The problem with the failed polisher pump was simply a thrown circuit breaker.  I was starting to feel better.  The mechanic came back three times today and I was very, very happy with his service. I will highly recommend his services on the “loopers Blog”.  And his fees were very reasonable too.

This evening Greg and Donna from the Lady in Red joined us for a dinner on board.  Maggie out did herself.  Then the lightshow began again at 9:30.  However we had a knock on the hull and it was a couple from the boat next to us.  They have traveled the Chicago to Tennessee route many times and had brought their charts over to share different anchorages with me.  I missed the light show but the information they shared was invaluable.

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Tuesday —- Pentwater to Grand Haven MI

August 24th, 2010 john

Day: 436   Miles Today: 57   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4584   Total Locks: 133

We were the first ones out this morning at 6:45.  The forecast was questionable but we really want to get off Lake Michigan.  As the month goes on, there are more and more windy days.

The first few hours we had waves 1 to 3 feet which was not bad.  There were thunderstorms forecasted but we were lucky enough not to see any.  Then the waves changed to 2 to 4 feet and it was a bit lumpy but still not bad.

I was sitting in the pilothouse and heard a change of sound in the engines.  I jumped up and my instruments looked fine and all was running well.  About 20 minutes later it did it again.  Now I was worried.  I did and engine room check and everything seemed to be running fine.  Then 30 minutes later it happened again.  It sounded like it was getting starved for fuel.  Another day, another adventure!

I turned off the automatic engine synchronizer and ran the boat manually. I wanted to see if it was causing the problem. Then it did it again.  I then went into the engine room and switched over to my backup fuel filter, thinking that the filter was getting dirty.  It did it again and this time the port engine stalled.  Not a great feeling, when you are out in the middle of Lake Michigan and now running on one engine.

I went back down and switch the fuel source to a different fuel tank.  We stopped the boat, and put a clamp on the port shaft so that the propeller would not turn. If it turns and the engine is not running, the transmission turns without getting any lubrication from the stopped engine.  We then ran the last 3 hours on one engine.  We entered the harbor of Grand Haven and I called the marina and announced that I might be coming in under one engine. (It has been difficult enough to dock with two engines; I sure was not looking forward to doing it with one engine.)

When we arrived slowly at the dock, there were dock hands waiting to help us plus other “loopers”.  Right in front of the dock I restarted the port engine and it ran fine, so docking was a breeze. (I never though I would say that docking was a breeze.)

After I docked, I left the port engine running for 15 minutes and it ran fine.  I am still suspecting that I have clogged filters.  The system has three filters in line with one of them acting as a spare.  Plus there are two secondary filters on each engine.

I suspect that all of the big waves we have been encountering stirred up some gunk from the bottom of the tank.  So I turned on our fuel polishing system while at the dock and ran it for several hours until it too failed.  Just what I needed, more adventure.

I have a mechanic scheduled to look at the boat tomorrow for the stabilizer problem.  It looks like the problem I was having with my stabilizers is a pin-whole leak in one of the hydraulic lines.  He will change that for me and hopefully give me some more insight on the engine problem.

All the loopers who were at Pentwater came down the lake with us. One boat, Magoo stayed back with me to escort us in.  It was very comforting to have them with us.

It looks like we will be staying here for at least two days.  We will play it by ear.

After all the problems today, I retired to the back deck and poured out a Gentleman Jack bourbon.  (It is bad when I switch from beer to scotch to bourbon.)

Every night at 9:30 p.m. the town of Grand Haven puts on a show for the tourist (shoppers.)  They have stadium seating just about 100 yards from our boat that faces the river.  Then on the other side of the river the lights light up and they play music (with great speakers) and have a lighted fountain show.  It lasts for about 45 minutes and is very well done.  We had the premier spot to watch the show so couples from two of the other looper boats came over and watched from the top deck of the Emery El.

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Monday —- Ludington to Pentwater MI

August 23rd, 2010 john

Day: 435   Miles Today: 15   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4527   Total Locks: 133

The weather was perfect today.  The waters were as calm as can be.  Gary wanted to make a long run today and take advantage of the good weather day but I wanted to stop at Pentwater.  I will only get this way once in my life so I want to see the Great Lakes.  It was a short 15 mile day.

When we went to leave we discovered that the swim platform was empty.  The extra can of gas that I carry for the dinghy was missing.  I guess that last big wave that caught us yesterday needed it more then we did.

We were in Pentwater by 11:30.  It is another cute little town with the main street running right down the harbor.  I found a little chandlery and was in my glory.  I needed to replace the two dock lines so I was happy.

By the afternoon there were four other ”looper” boats in the harbor.  Sounds like a get-together tonight.

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Sunday —- Frankfort to Ludington MI

August 22nd, 2010 john

Day: 434   Miles Today: 52   Locks Today:  00   Total Miles:  4512   Total Locks: 133

The weather report was marginal.  No storms were predicted but the winds were now out of the North 15 to 20 with waves predicted 3-5 feet.  I was ready to move and I kind of wanted to see how the Emery El would handle with big following seas.  (We were heading south.)

When we got out to the Lake, the winds were from the North and the waves were 1 to 3 feet.  So far it was a smooth ride.  Then about two hours later the waves picked up as expected. They were running 2 to 4 with an occasional one higher.  The wind was off our aft quarter most of the way and the Emery El did find.  Then the stabilizer system sprung a leak and we were forced to turn them off.  That made a difference.  For the most part, she did just fine and the autopilot held us on course.  Then when that occasional big wave hit us she would roll.  Twice she rolled severely, knocking over the helm chair and empting some of our shelves.  The counter in the master stateroom never looked so clean.  Everything was on the floor.

At about noon I called the target harbor in Ludington and while I was talking we took our second spill.  The dock person on the other end of the line wanted to know what was going on.  Great timing!

Then as we turned toward the harbor the waves were directly behind us and we surfed our way in.  I was proud on how the Emery El took care of herself and its passengers.

We are now tied up in Ludington Municipal Marina and the sun is bright and it is very pretty out.  Gary and I went into the engine room and worked on several projects.  We had two oil leaks from the port engine, but the previous day in Frankfort we tightened the screws on the value cover and that seems to stop the leak.  Then we worked on the stabilizer system.  It looks like all the fitting are tight, so I am afraid that I may have chaffed a hydraulic line and it is leaking.  It will take a mechanic to put new hydraulic lines in.  The good news is that the weather is supposed to be really mild the next couple of days ant then we will be at Chicago and will enter the river systems and won’t need the stabilizers.  We’ll see.

As much as I would like to go ashore to play a little, I think I will have to spend the afternoon researching the rest of the trip to Chicago.  It is Maggie’s birthday so we will have to celebrate tonight.

We had cocktails at a picnic bench with two other looper boats.  It was warm with a light gentle breeze for a change.  As we were sitting there we heard a very loud boat horn.  Whoooooooooo!   Whooooooooooo!  Whooooooooo!   Whoo! Whoo! Whoo! (That is supposed to represent a deep loud ship’s horn, three long and two short.)  It got our attention.

A few minutes later in from the channel (completely filling up the channel) comes a ship.  I mean a big ship.  We watched as she passed by the stern of our boats and up the channel just a little bit.  Then it did something I have read about but never saw.  She dropped her anchor and then used her one engine to back around the anchor and bring her stern up to a dock.  They she shot out a bow line to shore.  It was attached to a big bollard and then she winched her bow over to the dock. 

The ship was the S.S. Badger, a 410 foot passenger and car ferry, the last coal-powered passenger ship sill in regular service in the U.S.  She ferries cars, large trucks, motor-homes and passengers on a four hour trip across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc Wisconsin.

It was a real highlight for me to watch him pivot on his anchor and come up to the dock.  That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

We all went to dinner and toasted Maggie on her birthday.

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