Cruising the Illinois River

View of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers

Our plan on leaving the Harborside Marina was to do the next night on anchor, but on a whim we decided to follow the couple we’d been cruising with to the Heritage Harbor marina. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision as one of the marina staff – Jeremy – would be giving a presentation for Loopers about the next section of the cruise – down the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. After wrapping up work, we headed over for the presentation where about 20 other loopers were already gathered! The presentation was extremely informational and apparently Jeremy gives one essentially every night during the season at which loopers are passing through this part of the journey, customizing the talk based on current weather/river conditions and local knowledge from his contacts downstream.

The next morning, we set off for one of the anchorages recommended by Jeremy. As I get off a work call, I go upstairs to see David starting to turn the boat around the south side of an island to head in to the anchoring spot. Remembering something Jeremy said, I checked my notes – yes, we were supposed to drive past the second red buoy and then turn around up the river. David was turning before the second buoy! I politely told him perhaps we should go further, but he said that he’d remembered Jeremy saying it would be safe 200ft south of the island and we were 500+ft past the island, and the chart showed it to be clear. In the next 30 seconds, the depth alarm sounded, David tried to quickly throw the boat in reverse, but no, we were completely stuck on a sand bar. Ooops. We tried a few times to put the boat in full reverse, but we just weren’t moving.

We called BoatUS to request a rescue. David had an idea to try doing some weight re-distribution on the boat, so we opened all the taps on the boat and basically emptied the fresh water tank. We pumped all the diesel from the up river tank into the down river tank. We dropped the dingy into the water (so it’s weight was not on the swimstep) and moved all the heavy equipment in the front lazarettes into the dingy. We tried reversing again, but no dice – we were still stuck. Then, David saw on AIS a tug boat coming up river towards us. He asked over the radio if they could come close to us and wake us – hoping that the rocking of the boat would help loosen us enough to back off the sand bar. The tug pulled right up to us, and as he was passing, revved his engines. The water swell was just enough for us to get free! What a fun 2 hour adventure. 10 minutes later, we were set up on anchor in a lovely spot on the river.

At this point, we had almost no fresh water — maybe 4 gallons or so — and it was either go back upriver ~15 miles to grab water from the nearest marina, or continue ~200 miles to the next source of water. We decided that showers are overrated and to just bomb south as fast as possible. So, we woke up Saturday and made 115nm on the river in one day, pulling into an awkward anchorage just on the side of the channel, just upriver from a bridge, right before sundown.

On Sunday we woke up early for the next leg to Grafton. Knowing that we would only have the one weekend day, we decided to arrive early, so that we could enjoy some activities in Grafton.

This flag marks the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers and is the largest American flag on the Mississippi River

First up, we stopped in the Marina Office that was also a wine tasting room. Unfortunately the wine here was not good. Next, we rode a ski lift to a winery at the top of a hill. While very fun, the chairlift was extremely slow! However, at the top, we had a fantastic view of the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi River that was surprisingly gorgeous. We had lunch and sampled some of the wine from the winery, which also wasn’t good.

Rather than riding down the chairlift, we chose to walk down the hill, since it would be much faster. David managed to secure us a reservation for a zipline adventure. We had a great time zipping through the hillside, with occasional views of the river!

Ziplining in Grafton

We rounded at the day with a final wine tasting (another really bad set of wines) and then headed back to the boat for dinner. Looking ahead, we only had one more cruise to Alton, where we would leave the boat for 10 days while we flew to Prague for a work trip for David. We decided to spend a few days in Grafton and head to Alton later in the week. One of David’s friends from autocross was solo road tripping around the east coast for vacation and met up with us to hang out and spend the night.

On Thursday, we made the short hop down to Alton. For our first night there, the night before we flew out, we headed to a local brewery, where I found wall decor that accurately summarized our personalities, and had a decent meal with good beer.

David even got to do a “beer pairing” with Halloween candy.

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