Escape from Illinois

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Imagine a beautiful photo of the St. Louis arch as seen from mid-channel on the Mississippi River. That's what we should have here. Bonnie shot the thing, which looks great postage-stamp size on her cellphone, but we haven't figured out how to tranfer it to my computer, so it isn't here.

It's been a couple of days since I last posted partly because so much has been going on that I haven't had a chance to sit down and post. This is just a short synopsis to catch up.

Let's see. The last time I posted was Thursday, and we'd just settled down in Pekin, Ill. The folks at the Pekin Boat Club were fantastic! They bent over backwards to make sure we got in, and had all the services we needed. They're not set up for boats as large as Damifino!, but managed to make do. DR, in particular, took us under his wing. He chauffeured Bonnie around to the laundry in town, and the grocery store. He found me a couple of mechanics to consult with, and even scouted up a 5/8" deep socket to use instead of my missing spark plug wrench (plugs looked good, by the way).

Once again, the points had closed up just enough to cause trouble on the port engine. On DR's recommendation, we headed to National Marine on Upper Peoria Lake (the wrong direction for the trip, but the right direction to get competent help. The mechanic there, George, looked the situation over and said: "Nobody ever lubricated the distributor cam!"

That was why the points gap kept closing -- the rubbing block (cam follower) was wearing down rapidly, so every time we set the points, the rubbing block wore down and let them close up again. I always lubricate points when replacing them, but I hadn't replaced them, just reset them. George lubricated and set the points on the port engine, and, at my request, the starboard engine. So far (fingers tightly crossed), there's been no further trouble.

Friday we found out about the long stretch of the Illinois River without fuel services. With just an eighth of a tank left, I called a halt, and pulled over to the right descending bank at a ferry crossing.

"You can't tie up here!" one of the attendants shouted, echoing the big sign that said: "Don't tie up here!"

I told him we were running out of fuel and needed to call for help. That changed his tune, and he became very helpful, as just about everyone on the river has been.

Of course, just as we started trying to call for help, the thunderstorms started up, and cellphone coverage became nil. The folks at BoatUS connected us up with Mel of Mel's Riverfront Restaurant, just a few miles downstream. Mel had a floating dock we could tie up to, and offered to give me a ride into town to buy gas. Unfortunately, the causeway from the float to the shore was under three feet of water due to flooding.

Did I mention that the entire river system was 25 ft above normal? I should mention that. It's important.

To make a long story short, by the time I got fuel on board (wading across the flooded causeway with six gallon jerry cans full of gasoline), dusk was falling the rain was picking up, and we should have just stayed there.

But we didn't. I made an executive decision to push on to Alton.

Needless to say, about a half hour later, with the fuel gauge on "E," and darkness well and truly descended, I fired up the VHF radio, and issued my first "Mayday" call. The Coast Guard guy suggested that we anchor out of the channel (Where's the d**n channel? Where's the d**n shore? Those trees look awfully close in the searchlight beam!). Coast Guard suggestions are, like those of cops everywhere, more in the nature of commands -- if you don't follow them, you're asking for trouble. So, we anchored (also for the first time since I was 15) and waited for the Conservation Cops from the Sheriff's Department to tow us into Alton Marina.

At Alton Marina -- 2:00 am -- the starboard engine quit, and wouldn't refire. Not even a click, when I hit the starter! I guess it had gotten jealous of all the attention the port engine had been getting, and wanted its share.

Alton Marina is a beautiful spot, which we stayed at through Saturday just to sort everything out. They loaned us a courtesy car to go on a snipe hunt for a starter solenoid. The service manager at the Bayliner dealership, too far upstream to be of any help other than for information, helped me locate the starter solenoid, and explained that it was a standard automotive part, so I could get a replacement at any autoparts store.

So, Sunday morning, fully refueled, restocked, and revitalized, we pushed off out of the Illinois River and into the Mississippi. We got as far as the first lock, when the lock master mentioned in passing: "By the way, have you gotten permission from the Coast Guard to go downstream?"

"I didn't know we needed permission."

"They've closed the section of river below the next lock because of wreckage in the water."

We don't like the sound of "wreckage in the water."

So, we got a phone number for the Coast Guard from the lock master, and called. Rod Wurgler took down all our particulars, and said to stand by. He'd see if we could get permission.

Some time later, he returned the call and said his supervisor put us off until 10:00 am the next (Monday) morning. We were staring at Alton Marina, just under the bridge upstream of the locks, so we called them and arranged for a slip for the night.

Alton Marina is, perhaps, the best run operation we've seen so far. Beautiful covered slips, showers, clean bathrooms, etc. After lunch at their cafe, we met Grandpa Bob, who took me on a snipe hunt for auxiliary fuel containers and a means of lashing them to the deck. It took a couple of hours, but I came home with means to increase our fuel capacity by 30 gal.

Ten o'clock Monday morning came and went. Not having great confidence in our chances, I'd gotten to work on a couple of projects that needed doing -- expecially bolting down that microwave we'd had to pick up at the last minute when the built-in unit that came with the boat went up in smoke the day before we left.

When the job was finished -- about 10:30 am -- I called Wurgler. He hadn't heard, but promised to check and call back. Sure enough, a few minutes later, he called back with our clearance. It took about an hour to rig for sea, then we were off.

The next stop was Hoppie's Marine, about mile 158 on the Mississippi. It is a de rigeur fuel stop because it's 107 miles to the next possible fuel stop after that. Gotta fill up there, or we'll be calling the Coast Guard again!

At Hoppie's a nice little old lady named Fern sat down with us for about a half hour to disgorge all the information she had available about navigating the Upper Mississippi River. Between her wisdom, a few very thick and very expensive books on the area, as well as all the navigational charts available, we've come up with a plan. I'll explain it next time, and tell you whether it worked.

At least, after a week of trying, we've escaped the clutches of Illinois -- for now.

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We pray that those hurt by the Mississippi flood will be OK. Those are crazy over flowing water levels.

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This page contains a single entry by C.G. Masi published on August 3, 2010 8:18 AM.

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