This is update #14 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
It is early September, and Sidonia and Fred have enjoyed their time in Wisconsin and all it has to offer the curious cruiser. But it is time to move on, and Chicago is next stop on the Loop map. As Kenosha is a suburb of Chicago, it is a quick trip down Lake Michigan’s western coast to reach the Chicago area, where they had made reservations at Belmont Harbor, the largest harbor in the Chicago Harbors system. With over 800 slips, the large facility is home to three yacht clubs, including Chicago Yacht Club’s own Belmont Station.
But before they left Kenosha ahead of the Labor Day weekend, they found the town inundated with classic cars and motorcycles. The 19th annual Classic Cruise-In was in town, attracting over 8,000 people to look at the collection of classic vehicles, which routinely exceeds 1,000 cars every year, according to the Kenosha News.
“Yesterday, we learned that there was going to be a car show right near the marina. We both enjoy car shows, especially Fred. So, instead of getting under way at 9:00 as originally planned, we went to the car show. There were roughly four square blocks of cars on exhibit lining both sides of the street near the marina, all polished to perfection.
“Lake Michigan was as nice as one could ask for on the way to Chicago and we were docked at Belmont Harbor by noon. We couldn’t get over the density of the population here, block after block of high-rise condos and apartments. The good thing is the amount of open space all along the lakefront. There is a highway across the harbor from us, with the noise of constant traffic sounding like water rushing down a stream. Other than that, it is quite a peaceful place to be.
“The next morning was a rainy Sunday, September 4. We thought about going to the Willis Tower today. But the tops of the taller buildings were lost in the clouds. Everyone told us we needed to go to the Navy Pier instead. While we didn’t think it would be something we would enjoy, we took an Uber ride down to it.
“We were very glad to see that we could walk the entire length under a roof as it rained steadily. We strolled to the far end and back and then had a delicious fried chicken lunch at Art Smith’s Reunion Restaurant (former chef for Oprah and Jeb Bush).
“Later in the afternoon, we took a long bike ride along one of the waterfront pathways. I nearly got run down by a bicyclist going at about 30 miles an hour and then Fred took a tumble when we were crossing some grass. He hit a hole camouflaged by the grass. It took some skin off his arm but otherwise he was okay.
“We read articles in the AGLCA forum about how bugs are a big problem here. Since our Nimbus Coupe is most always screened in, we haven’t noticed or suffered from a bug problem. But we have had lots of spiders over the past several weeks. Everyone complains about them. I don’t like spiders, but at least these are very small and seem to prefer staying on the outside of the boat, thank goodness.
“The problem is that they leave little smears of poop down the windows and on the outside cabin walls. They hide inside the upper window ledges where we can’t see them. The poop isn’t hard to get off, but it is a losing battle. Clean one day and there’s more the next. And when I untie a line from one of our cleats after being docked for a couple of days, two or three tiny spiders run out.”
Spiders aside, there is a lot to experience in Chicago, and it is a shame so many Loopers rush through the area before they have time to see the interesting and unique sights. For many, the Willis Tower is the main attraction. For 25 years, it was the world’s tallest building when completed in 1974. Originally known as the Sears Tower, it is now the third tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Its Skydeck observation deck attracts a million visitors each year, and is the highest such deck in the U.S.
But there are many other noteworthy attractions in the Windy City, and visitors can spend days or even weeks exploring this business and cultural center of the Midwest.
“We extended our time on Monday so we could go up the Willis Tower, but there were no tickets available. As it turned out, the top of the building was still in the clouds and we would again not had a view of the city below.
“Though we were disappointed about the Willis Tower, it turned out to be a good thing. We decided to go to Fields’ Natural History Museum and we were so glad we did.
What amazing collections they have! We saw Sue, the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. It is over 40 feet long and stands 13 feet tall. Amazingly, the skeleton is over 90 percent complete.
“The bird and animal collections are also wonderful and there is so much more. We were there for five hours and didn’t take it all in, but our backs began to complain.
“On Tuesday morning, we were excited to leave Chicago and start down the river system. We got an early start at 8:00. The first lock is between Lake Michigan and the start of the Chicago River. We had taken the tour through downtown Chicago before we arrived but it was still fun to do it in our own boat. Once we were out of the downtown area though, the interesting scenery turned into an industrial landscape for miles.
“A sign posted alongside the canal told recreational boaters that we were passing the first electric fish barrier. These barriers were placed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2010 to prevent the invasive Asian carp from getting into Lake Michigan and beyond. The expensive project is hoped to be at least 85 percent effective in stopping the fish from passing these barriers. While they do not electrocute the fish, they hopefully pose enough of a deterrent to keep the majority of these invasive carp from moving past the ship canal into Lake Michigan.
“We passed mountains of gravel on the land and endless lines of barges. The barges are filled with gravel, coal, and other material and they line the canal walls. Cranes work nonstop to move gravel to and from barges. The towboats (we don’t know why they are called towboats as they actually push the barges) push three or more pairs of barges at the same time up and down the waterway.
“We finally came to an empty stretch with nothing but bushes and trees lining the water’s edge. At some point, the Chicago River becomes the Des Plains River. By about 1:30, we were at Lockport, the second lock, but we were held up for over two hours while they shuffled commercial barges around. We were losing our enthusiasm for the waterway when the lockmaster called for all PCs (pleasure craft) to enter. It was a relief.
“The commercial locks are quite different from what we’ve been through in the Erie, Oswego, and Trent-Severn canals. They are 600 feet long and 110 feet wide. Instead of ropes or cables hanging down to grab, there are bollards the ‘float’ on the canal wall to loop your line around. Since the bollards are far apart, you can only loop around a bollard using a midship line. (Subsequent locks had lines hanging down as well as the bollards, but the lines are not secured to the bottom of the lock. You hang onto the line which slides through your hands on the way down. It makes it more difficult to stay close to the lock wall. Sometimes we had to use our own lines.)
“It took us 8-1/2 hours to go 38 miles. We tied to the wall in Joliet for the night with five other Loopers. The shorepower was free and there is even a small park alongside.
“We took off from the Joliet wall on Wednesday, September 7 at 8:00 only to learn that the Branden Road Lock was again closed between 6:00 am and 6:00 pm. While in Kenosha, we heard there would be a couple of random days of closure, but we never checked what those days were. So, we turned around and retied to the wall in Joliet. Most of the other Loopers had up to date information and transited the Branden lock before 6:00 am.
“Since we could not continue, we rode our bikes into town and had lunch at a very nice restaurant named ‘Juliet.’ We also passed by a lovely, old Rialto theater and the local courthouse. Old Joliet prison, reminiscent of ‘The Blues Brothers,’ would have been fun to see but it was too far away for us to get to on our bikes.
“The next morning brought another beautiful day, but we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves. There is a Harrah’s casino nearby but that is of no interest to us. We rode our bikes up to Haley House, hoping for a tour, but found they only do private wedding and special events. We kept riding through the area neighborhoods and found a very nice Mexican grocery store with great vegetables.
“Back at the boat, it was about 1:30 when I noticed two of our fellow Looper boats leave the wall and head toward the Brandon lock. We quickly called the lock and were told there was an opening.
So, we raced around, unplugging and untying the boat and quickly took off. I also called Springbrook Marina, about 30 miles farther down the river, to make sure we had a place to stay for the night.
There was no way we could make it to Ottawa before dark. All went well and we locked through with ‘C-Marie’ and ‘Jolly Green.’”
Distances and perspectives are so different when viewed from the helm of a boat compared to how we normally travel in this part of the country. Springbrook Marina is only about an hour’s drive to Chicago by car yet is an entirely different experience by boat. The Lockport Lock and Dam complex is located at Mile Marker 291, for example, with the Brandon Road Lock and Dam at MM 286. Five miles is hardly noticeable when traveling by car, yet despite the high-speed capability of the Nimbus Coupe, one’s day must be planned around these locations, complicated by the travel constraints imposed by the ongoing work of the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We were very happy to be on our way again. Once out of the Brandon lock, the industrial landscape soon faded into lush green riversides. There were very few barges tied along the edges and we passed only a couple of moving barges on our way southwest to Springbrook. We ran for just 3-1/2 hours and covered almost 30 miles.
“Springbrook Marina is a small but very nice marina and can accommodate boats of our size but not much bigger. They have a restaurant where we had a very good ribeye as we celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. At dinner on the balcony, we struck up a conversation with another Looper couple who were just about at the end of their loop. There are many multiple-time Loopers and this couple planned on doing parts of it again.
“Before leaving the next morning, Fred went to the store at the marina to see if they had a replacement shear pin for the outboard. They didn’t have one, but they did have life jackets. All the locks from Chicago on down require you to wear a life jacket while outside your boat in the locks. I had forgotten to bring our nice inflatable ones and had to use the awful, bulky orange horse-collar kind.
While the new one he bought isn’t inflatable, it is the same kind wake boarders and waterskiers use and so is much less bulky.
“As we prepared to get under way, Kevin, the marina service director, came by to say hello and to give us some helpful advice about the downriver canal leading into the Marseilles lock. There are no buoys to mark the shallow area, and the water on the south side of the canal gets down to one foot. There are rocks in these shallow waters, not mud. Kevin said many boats have returned to the marina for repairs. While he likes people to come back to his marina, he prefers it not be for this reason.
“We were lucky enough to come up on a towboat headed down the canal. It had no barges and Fred followed in its wake all the way. We knew the route this working boat took would also be good for us.
“The captain of the towboat asked us to enter the lock first and when he came in behind us, instead of putting his side to the wall and securing to a bollard like we did, he turned crossways, putting his bow against the wall and the captain kept the boat in gear the whole time the lock was emptying.
“As we entered the harbor at Heritage Harbor Marina, about two mile past the Marseilles lock, we noticed several big splashes. We were seeing the dreaded Asian carp for the first time. As boats entered the marina harbor, it seems to excite the carp and they start jumping. From a distance, their silvery bodies look like the salmon we are used to seeing in the Pacific Northwest.
“By 11:30 we were safely docked at Heritage Harbor Marina in Ottawa and enjoying a nice lunch at the Red Dog Grill. All in all, it took us less that two hours to cover the 8 miles between Springbrook Marina and Heritage Harbor.
“Late that afternoon, we noticed a huge V formation of Canadian geese flying south, way overhead, high in the sky. Then another group followed, and then four more groups. There must have been close to a thousand geese all flying together. It was quite a sight.
(Below: Check out all of the Great Loop Boats on the app NEBO staying at the Heritage Harbor Marina!)
“This is a sign of the change of seasons. Cooler weather is on the way.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: This Post
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland
Update #16: Heading Into Tennessee
Update #17: Cruising In The Tenn-Tom
Update #18: On To The Gulf Of Mexico