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  • Writer's pictureBecky Wagaman

Taking Off the Training Wheels

After our time in Peoria, we were up with the sun to travel to Grafton, IL where the Illinois River converges with the Mississippi River! We reached the Peoria Lock and Dam about an hour after leaving our marina in Peoria Heights only to find that there was a hold up due to an influx of barge traffic. Not wanting to waste our fuel, we tied off to an empty barge and "impatiently" waited our turn. About an hour after arriving, we called the lockmaster again to get an ETA on when we would be allowed to lock down. He said that they were just getting ready to start dredging outside of the lock and that it would be at least 2 hours, possibly longer. And we had already been there for an hour. The annoying part about that is that we had called the night before to confirm if there would be any scheduled closures or maintenance on the lock and were told we'd be good to go.....Dustin had taken the day off from work so that we could make some major ground on the long journey to Grafton (which was about 170 miles away via river). The fact that he was spending his paid day off bobbing around waiting for a lock was frustrating for us both, but there was nothing we could do about it. We ended up tying off at a nearby restaurant so that we were sufficiently out of the way of barge traffic while we waited. Around 11am, the restaurant finally opened. We had taken a look at the menu while we were waiting and thought maybe we could go there for lunch when they opened. They had pictures of these giant shakes that looked positively sinful but also too delicious to pass up.

Just as we were getting ready to go enjoy some, the lockmaster radioed and told us he had gotten permission for us to squeeze past the dredging that was going on so that we could get on with our day. A little sad that we missed out on the shakes, we were elated to be able to continue on our way. We quickly cast off the lines and headed into the lock.

A few hours up river, we passed a tiny little town called Havana. Docked there was the American Countess, which just so happens to be the largest steamboat ever built at 418 feet long! It was massive! We later learned that this vessel is a cruise ship made to look like an old fashioned riverboat and is part of the fleet for American Voyages. It does cruises up and down the American river system! We could see inside the dining room as we passed by and saw fancy chandeliers glimmering in the light. There were several guests out on their balconies waving as we went by. It was such a cool thing to see, as these are not frequent on the rivers!

That night as darkness approached, we decided that we had better find an anchorage to stop at for the evening. We had tried making reservations at one of the only marinas along the route but it was a tiny marina and we are a wide boat so they could not accommodate us. The nature center in Havana has a free dock that many people tie off at for the night, but this also was not an option due to the currently shallow waters. As most of you know, about a month ago just before we left, we witnessed a 43' Power catamaran drag anchor across Kalamazoo Lake in Michigan and smash into a 70' yacht and throughout the debacle, our dinghy was destroyed. Needless to say, we were a little timid about having to anchor out due to this, but it was our only option at this stretch of the river and we did not want to have to travel at night due to the dangers of so much debris in the river.

We ended up deciding to anchor at a nice little spot called the Grand and Snicarte Islands Anchorage. It was literally just a little side jaunt off from the main drag of the river so that we were out of the way of barge traffic overnight. This stretch of the river was very desolate and very peaceful. When we pulled in, there was a deer drinking on the river's edge and then we saw a beaver jump in the water and swim by. Not a house or soul in sight!

We got the boat situated with both a bow and stern anchor to hold us in place and keep us from pivoting in the shallow and narrow river. We put the dinghy in and drove until we found an area with a decent looking beach along the river so that we could let Bella go potty. We pulled our dinghy up on shore and when I took my first step off of it, my foot sunk down past my ankle into the stickiest mucky mud I've ever seen! I almost lost my sandals and it felt like quicksand! I finally managed to get out and onto more solid ground when we realized the entire river's edge was covered in tiny little spiral shells and oyster/clam shells. It was such a neat sight!

When we got back to the boat, we were perfectly positioned to enjoy a gorgeous sunset from our cockpit that evening. We were all alone in the middle of nowhere so we enjoyed a nice shower on the back of the boat in the rainstorm instead of inside the hot boat!

That night, we anxiously went to bed, not knowing what to anticipate with the night ahead. Dustin got up a few times to check on things and then a very loud thunderstorm sprung up and woke us with the booming thundering and bolts of lightning. Then around 3:30am, I awoke from my sleep with a bad leg cramp so I jumped out of bed to massage it out. Since I was already up, I decided to go check on the boat. When I looked out the window, I realized that we had dragged anchor and were uncomfortably close to shore at this point! I ran and woke Dustin up and we both ran outside (in the lightning storm) to assess the situation. We had no choice to pull up the anchors and reset them. After about 10 minutes of messing with the anchors in pouring down rain with lightning looming nearby, we decided that there was no point to reset the anchors only to stay for another couple of hours, so we made the spontaneous decision to pull up the anchors and just head out. In the dark. During a thunderstorm. On a river that we were unfamiliar with. That had zero lights along it. And lots of logs. It was very stressful but we were thankful that God had woken us up in time to avoid chaos! Dustin gave me the spotlight and I panned back and forth across the river so that he could attempt to see where he was going. Thankfully, the river markers were reflective - at least the ones that hadn't washed ashore!

After about 3 hours, daylight finally graced us with its presence again. Just as we were approaching the Lagrange Lock and Dam, we saw a coyote walking along the river's edge! Dustin radioed ahead when we were about 3 miles away and the lockmaster told him that if we could hurry and go as fast as we could, then he could probably get us in right away. Not having to wait is basically unheard of with locks so we went as fast as our (sail) boat could go, and barely made it. They were literally closing the lock doors behind us as we were tying off. The reason they were in such a hurry was that a barge down river had run aground and the towboat that we were in the lock with was the one going to rescue them! After we passed the grounded barge, we decided that we had better stop and let Bella out. She really has not gotten the hang of using these potty pads/astroturf so she hadn't even peed since dinner time the night before, despite our trying to get her to! We weren't about to stop in the dark to try and let her out so the poor little thing had to wait quite a long time to go. We anchored on the side of the river and drove the boat up to shore again. And again got super muddy in the process. The things we do for little cutie! After we got on our way again, I cooked us up some French toast and coffee to boost morale a little! It had already been a very long day and was only about 8am!

The rest of the trip that day was gorgeous! The terrain got prettier and prettier and more and more hilly as we went. Rocky cliffs started peeking out of the trees and pretty soon we finally made it to Grafton and the Mississippi River around 5:15pm Saturday night.

As we pulled in to the harbor, we heard someone yell our names and then saw a couple we had met back in Peoria standing on the docks. Doing the Great Loop has been so fun! Meeting like minded couples and running into them along the way has been so neat! We ended up meeting up with a really nice couple from Canada for dinner that we had met in one of our first locks. It was fun catching up and then after dinner, we all met up with another couple from Washington for drinks and soon the crazy day we had endured seemed like just a distant memory. We love meeting new adventurous people and making new friends!

Colin and Sara Williston, our friends from Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada (boat name = Riverbend). We met them in one of our very first locks near Chicago when we all rafted off to each other.

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