Off we went on a clear, sunny morning. Now that we were a motor boat, with our masts awaiting shipment at Pugh Marina, we hoped for flat water, and got it… mostly.
We found the rolling motion of Pearl Lee was much quicker without masts, so waves that normally would be almost unnoticed were getting our attention, but we made it with no drama. Still, we were happy to see the Chicago skyline coming into view.
Our original plan was to anchor for the night in an area Chicagoans call the Play Pen. Being a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon it was just too crowded and busy, so we decided to take a mooring at Monroe Harbor, and what a view we were treated to. Monroe does not have pennants (lines to attach to) on their mooring balls, so beware. We were forced to double a dock line and lasso the ball. That worked fine until time to leave. Our (new) dock line had become impossibly tangled on the mooring chain and we finally had to leave it behind. Luckily we had plenty more.
At first light, after our dock line wrestling match, we headed to our first lock. In order to continue onto the Chicago River we had to lock down a couple feet. We found we had been worried about nothing, but kept in mind we had much larger locks ahead, including one with a drop of 84 feet!
Once through the lock we were treated to a trip few get to take. We cruised the Chicago River inside the concrete and steel canyon that is downtown Chicago. Because it was early Sunday morning we seemed to be the only boat on the river. If you can clear the lowest bridge on this route, 17 feet, it is definitely the one to take. Just be aware there is one railroad bridge that is 11 feet closed, but they will open on demand. The alternative is the Cal-Sag channel, but you still have to get under a 19 foot bridge. For more pictures of Chicago by boat and more check out our gallery: Racine to Parts South Gallery
As downtown Chicago gave way to a more industrial setting we encountered everything from factories to homeless camps, but even adjacent to piles of scrap nature supplies beauty for those who would look.
Continuing down the Chicago Shipping and Sanitation Canal (it’s best not to give too much thought to that last bit) we encountered the electric fish barrier. This is too keep Asian Carp, an invasive species, from entering the Great Lakes. It was also here that we began to encounter tows pushing barges. Yep, they’re called “tows” even though they push their barges. For the most part these were a non-issue for us. Just contact them by radio and they will tell you which side is safe to pass on. Interestingly, they still use the old “whistle system” that boats used before radios. So typically they might say, “I’ll see you on the one (whistle)”, meaning “put me on your port side”.
Much of the canal is a true canal, meaning it looks like a trench filled with water. Because that’s what it is. Not troubles though, it’s maintained at a minimum depth of nine feet for the tows. This is especially convenient if you happen to be on a sailboat that needs 5.5 feet of water.
Eventually the Chicago Shipping and Sanitation and the Cal-Sag
Canals meet up, with a nice marker to mark the spot, and tell up-bound vessels where to turn. From this point you’re on the Des Plaines or Illinois River, the charts seem to go back and forth for a while, so maybe it’s both.
More to come!