Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 2-300 (sadly) leaving Chicago to head south on the river system

     Sadly, after 12 days (11 nights) in Chicago, it is time to head south on the Chicago River and points beyond... The Admiral took this last picture of a sunrise over Lake Michigan just before she woke me up. We (the Admiral, her Father (Jim) and I) left the dock at 7:00 am, and after a brief stop to pump out the holding tank, we cleared the marina about 7:20 am. Our trip was a long 55.5 miles, including three locks. In addition, we passed under a (whopping) 62 bridges plus one Amtrak bridge that had to open for us. Of course, the majority (43) of these bridges were in the first 17 miles.
     On our short trip to the lock at the Chicago River we did get some beautiful views of downtown Chicago with the (very) early morning sun reflecting off of the buildings and then off of the water back to us. The views (see a sample in the picture at the left) were so spectacular that I was almost happy to be awake this early.
     As we entered the lock between Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, we continued to see the beautiful views of sunlight reflecting off the buildings onto the water and back to us. This was our third time to enter this lock (picture at right), and the sun angles were very different each time, which also made each trip different.
     Since this is our third trip through the first 19 bridges, I will spare you any more pictures of downtown Chicago. Once we were into new territory past that nineteenth bridge, we were essentially out of downtown Chicago. The character of the town and in particular, the water front changed dramatically. We passed hundreds of barges with sand, gravel and (dry) cement. These are the basic components for cement used in building and highway construction, and in the case of Chicago, it is brought in by barge. The Chicago River was narrow enough that we had to wait several times for tows each with barges two wide to pass each other. Then we would have to hurry to pass the tow headed in our direction before it passed another tow headed in the other direction. Even though today was a Sunday, the traffic was fairly heavy as they were staging empty barges for later transport back down river.
     Inside the last two (of 3) locks for today, we had our first floating bollards of the entire trip. All of the previous locks either had lines hanging down the wall of the lock to grab onto or rods inside a recessed cavity in the lock wall to which you could wrap a line around. In the picture at the right Terry is holding onto a line that is attached to the floating bollard, which looks like a (rusty) vertical pipe with a mushroom on top. If all goes well, the bollard floats up/down with the boat as the water level changes. The reason that Terry is holding on to the line is that in the event that the bollard gets stuck, you must be able to let out line to allow the boat to continue up/down. So, while floating bollards sound like a nice convenience they are not fool proof.
      Since we are now in "barge country" where there will be a lot more barge traffic, both the tows and the locks will progressively get larger. At the moment, the tows are limited to 8 barges consisting of four pairs of side by side barges. For scale, the picture at the left shows Grand Finale, who was a travelling companion today, across and about halfway down one of the locks today. She is 40' long but is dwarfed by the bigger lock, and since the locks are larger, it takes longer for them to empty/fill. Thus our transit times for each lock will go up. By the southern portion of the Mississippi River, the tows can be as large as 72 barges with two tugs pushing them. We are not going all of the way down the Mississippi River so I think that the largest tows that we will pass will be 15 barges (5 long by 3 wide).
      We reached our final destination the Harborside Marina in Wilmington, IL after a long day of nearly 11 hours. Needless to sat, we all slept very well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Days 2-295-299 the Admiral's parents visit in Chicago

Day 2-295 Jim and Carita arrive:
     After about 24 hours of "rest", we set off via METRA train to Midway Airport to greet Jim and Carita G. about 5:00 pm. It was a long walk from the train station to the terminal, and of course the escalators and moving walkway were both out of service. The walk was all inside, but only about one-third of it seemed to be air conditioned. Fortunately, they were travelling very light in terms of luggage since we have a half mile walk to the boat at the end and there is not an over abundance of storage left on Lucky Us. When we got off the train downtown, we found a nice Italian restaurant where we all shared a large salad followed by pizza and other entrees. The food was great, but the walk back to Lucky Us seemed longer than usual, especially as it was already starting to get dark. There was lots of updating along the way of various parts of the journey from the airport to the boat. Once we were settled aboard Lucky Us, no one was awake very long, and we have a busy agenda for the next few days.

Day 2-296 Art Institute of Chicago and a boat trip on the Chicago River
     The ladies set off walking to the museum of the Art Institute at about 10:30 am. Jim and I stayed behind to do (unspecified) work around the boat. Later, Jim and I walked a short distance down the seawall to a hot dog stand at the foot of Randolph Street for lunch. In the process of sitting at a picnic table eating lunch, we discovered that there was an endless stream of taxis stopping here. It turns out that they use the restroom here on a regular basis. We were to walk the 100 yards back to here several times in the next few days, and there was always a cab ready for hire (sometimes after a short wait, ha ha).
     The ladies arrived back at Lucky Us about 2:00 pm after seeing some amazing art and having lunch at the museum. I guess that the art was really awesome since they were too busy to take any pictures... The weather predictions for the next two days is for some rain so at 3:00 pm we started up Lucky Us and headed for the Chicago River in beautiful weather.
    The picture at the left shows Lucky Us on the south wall of the Chicago Lock as we wait for the water to go down about 2 feet. The burgee (flag on the bow) is just hanging down in the still air, and you can see the beautiful blue sky.

     Terry's father has been through Chicago on the river before, but her mother was really excited about her first cruise through the city. For Terry and I this was our second in/out trip, and with each one we see more new building, views, etc. The picture at the right shows Carita and me enjoying some of the views.

      We passed some of the more classic Chicago buildings , such as the Merchandise Mart. When it opened in 1930, it was the largest building in the world with over 4 million square feet of space. It centralized the architecture, home furnishing, building trades, etc. A very massive but pleasing structure.

     Another classic Chicago landmark on the river is the Wrigley Building. Traveling on the river gives a completely different perspective of the building. In particular, the buildings all look much taller when you are looking up at them. Notice also the impressive stone work on the bridge control towers.

     The picture at the left is one of my favorites, as you can see five bridges in one picture. You will have to look close, but they are seen each one under the other in this picture.
     I get fewer really good views from the helm on the flybridge partly because of the bimini top above me. Also, there is a lot of traffic on the river. There are tour boats, water taxis and construction barges to worry about all the time. Also, the picture at the right shows one of the tour boats pausing in front of Lucky Us to let a "display" of water shooting over the river end before continuing its tour. Like I said the river is a busy place...
     We went under 19 bridges both down and up the river, and it was quite a beautiful trip in such great weather. As we headed back to the lock to end our trip, we had a wait while two US Corps of Engineers tugs and barges came out of the lock and turned around to dock just inside the Chicago River (picture at left). The Admiral and her father (Jim) watched as they sat on the foredeck cabin. As we entered the lock, it was their turn to go to work handling lines as we locked through and back into Lake Michigan.

Day 2-297 More museums and a Chicago musical
     After breakfast, we made our plans for the day. Carita chose to go back to the museum at the Art Institute, while the rest of us headed for the Museum of Science and Industry. We began by walking to the hot dog (cab) stand and got a cab for Carita to go to the Art Institute. She is quite an accomplished artist (my opinion) and really wanted to spend more time at the art museum. Then Jim, Terry and I took a cab to "our" museum (Science and Industry). As soon as we got inside, I managed to "steer" our group into the ship models, and as you can see in the picture at the right, I was still "dressed" for the weather outside. However, my slicker provided a great costume for the picture of me at the old ships wheel.

     Then we were off to the train exhibits for more fun. They hard part of a real steam engine, and the picture at the left shows Jim looking quite at home at the controls.

     They also had an extensive model railroad lay out with trains running everywhere. I found the working port very intriguing. There even had a working loader that took a shipment from a train and loaded it onto a ship. Given the history of Chicago as an important shipping and transportation center, the historical development of trains was of significant importance to Chicago.

     After a nice lunch in the cafeteria, we headed off to the farming exhibits, talk about impressive. They even had a brand new full size combine that was cut away on one side to show the inner workings. The picture at the left shows the Admiral and her father (Jim) standing beside the (small?) front wheels of a modern tractor. They had a lot of fun exhibits related to farming and illustrating its importance to the Midwestern US.

     We got back to Lucky Us about 2:00 pm just in time for much needed naps. We had dinner on board, and we left for the cab (hot dog) stand a little after 6:00 pm for our evening adventure.  We took the cab to the Apollo Theater for a performance of the "Million Dollar Quartet" (picture from the lobby at right). It is a musical about a one night get together on December 4, 1956 of four performers (Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins). They were all in the process of coming or going to the Sun Record label, and the musical features a "chance" meeting of the four one evening at the studio in Memphis.
     The show has run at the Apollo for over 6 years as well as on Broadway and national touring companies. It was all in one act, and it was full of very classic (early) rock and roll music. The picture at the left shows Jim, Carita and Terry waiting in the lobby for the seating to begin. I tried to take a picture of the stage setting before the show began, but I received a rather stern rebuke (?). The theater was literally next door to the elevated commuter tracks, but the theater itself was well insulted for sound. It was a very fun event, but once again, it was a very tired group that arrived back at Lucky Us.

Day 2-298 a trip to Wrigley field for an afternoon Cubs baseball game!
     What better way to make a visit to Chicago complete than to go to an afternoon Chicago Cubs baseball game at historic Wrigley Field. The picture at the right shows the street just behind the left field wall (at left) and some of the apartments with bleacher seats on the roof. This is the "classic" view where they show pictures of kids scrambling for (long) home runs hit out of the stadium over left field.

     The outside had the usual vendors selling all sorts of Cubs "stuff". Note the banners on the wall. They are not championship banners, but rather different Cubs logos over the years. Let's face it. The Cubs may not be the winningest team ever, but they have the most loyal fans.

     The picture at the right shows us decked out in Cubs gear. Carita actually had her shirt before coming to Chicago. She is a long time Cubs fan but had only seen them play in Houston before this game. So, she finally got her chance to see the Cubs play a game at Wrigley Field.

      The weather forecast was for afternoon thunder showers, which did arrive in the 4th inning with the Pirates ahead 2-1. You can see how black the sky was off to the north. That delay was mainly for the lightning in the vicinity so play did resume after about an hour (?), and the Cubs did tie up the game.

     After very little rain during the first delay, the rain really started hard during the second delay. Since it was getting late (about 4:30 pm), we only waited a short while during the second rain delay before we left. By the time that we got back to Lucky Us, they had postponed the game, and it is to be continued before the start of tomorrow's game. Unfortunately, Carita is going back to Texas tomorrow. The good news is that she got to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field and that they did not lose (the game was tied 2-2 when postponed). It was also Greg Maddux bobble head doll day so we all got them - oh joy. The picture at the right shows Carita very happy as she shows off her doll. A nice souvenir for a long time fan!

Day 2-299 Carita leaves for Texas

     Well, what do you do on your last morning in Chicago? I guess that Carita and Terry were up early enough to see the sunrise over Lake Michigan... The picture at left shows Carita standing on the bow of Lucky Us watching the sunrise over Lake Michigan (down the main dock to the right).

     Here is part of the view that they saw of the sunrise. It does look pretty, but as you can guess, I was still happily sleeping during all of this...
      After a very busy 4 days, Terry took Carita back to Midway Airport to see her off back to Texas. We were all sad to see her leave, but the good news is that Jim (Terry's father) is going to go down part of the river system with us!

     I took a train south to pick up a fuel pump that I had ordered for the generator. The marina where I ordered the part is on the Calumet River, which is the other entrance to the Illinois River from Lake Michigan. Loopers with boats taller than about 17 feet must use this channel rather than going through downtown Chicago on the river. The picture at the right shows the interior of the double deck commuter train that I rode. Part of what you see that looks like a grate is actually a luggage rack for the folks on the upper level. The head room on both levels feels more like an airplane. The only place that I could stand up straight was in the center aisle.

      Yes, you have already guess that these train pictures are for Grandson Will who had really enjoyed his rides on the trains during their visit.... It was an interesting ride since they had real conductors in uniforms with cool hats who walked down the aisle and punched you ticket.

Tomorrow, we are off south down the Chicago River to the Illinois River and points south...

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Day 2-294 Sad day as the Grandkids leave...

      Sadly, we had our last breakfast together today on Lucky Us. In the picture at right Will is finishing off his juice with Grandma and Bob. As usual, breakfast was a busy, fun time.
     We have flashlights all around the boat, and I think that at some point the Grandkids found all of them. In the picture at the left Katie is playing with one of the flashlights. Fortunately, most of them are LEDs so the batteries last a long time.
     The Grandkids had a few minutes to play before they headed back to the hotel to collect their bags. In the picture at the right Will and Sarah are "scouting out" the salon after breakfast. When they had first arrived, Will had picked out a book for looking at pictures. As luck would have it, he picked Chapman's "Piloting, Seamanship and Boat Handling", which is a classic must read for all boaters. So, everyday I got to read a page or two to him. He is just so inquisitive!
     On their way back to the hotel, they made a stop at the "Peanut", which is another of the classic outdoor art pieces in Chicago. Bob kindly sent me this picture with Jill and the kids in front of the peanut.

      The Admiral and I walked over to the hotel for an 11:00 am departure for the METRA station. As you will see in some of the pictures people are wearing rain gear since there was a light rain at times, such as the picture at the right. Katie was fascinated with the pole, and she loved holding on to it and lifting her feet up.
     In preparation for the visit, the Admiral had uploaded several read-along books to her iPhone. In the picture at the left Will and Sarah are sharing ear buds while trying to stop the train noise. All in all the 35 minute train ride seemed to be over far too soon.
     At the airport the realization the Grandma and Grandpa were not going along on the plane finally set in. At the security check point there were plenty of hugs and kisses, such as Katie hugging Grandma.
     Then after a final check to make sure that they had everything, they were about to disappear as they headed into security. Of course, that was a sad moment, but we had a really great time with all of them, and we are already looking forward to seeing them in Texas about Thanksgiving...

   For the Admiral and I it was time to head back to Lucky Us with a quick lunch and long nap. We spent the rest of the day taking it very easy in preparation for the arrival of Terry's parents tomorrow. We are looking forward to their visit and the opportunity to see even more of Chicago.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Day 2-293 with the Grandkids on Lucky Us on the Chicago River

     Once again we began the morning with breakfast aboard Lucky Us. Since the weather was near perfect, we decided to start the day with a cruise on the Chicago River. "Life jackets on?" Check, and then it was off to the mouth of the river where we go through a lock to enter the Chicago River. The river used to flow into Lake Michigan, but many years ago the flow on the river was reversed to send all of the sewage down the Chicago River and into the Illinois River. The lock now prevents Lake Michigan from draining out Through the Chicago River. It probably sounded like a good idea back then to keep Lake Michigan "clean" by sending the sewage elsewhere, but now environmentalist must cringe at the idea...

     After breakfast, the first order of business was to try on life vests, Katie was already excited!
     After having traverse something close to 100 locks, this one was easy since it only goes up/down about 2 feet so there is very little turbulence as large volumes of water flow into/out of the lock. Also, it was easier with two people (the Admiral and Bob) on the main deck to grab the holding lines on the side of the lock. During the locking process, Jill, the Grandkids and I were having a great view from the flybridge. Almost immediately, we started going under the famous bridges of downtown Chicago (see an example at right).We only went a couple of miles along the river, but in that distance we passed under 17 bridges each way.
     Personally, going through downtown Chicago and under these bridges is one of the BIG highlights of the Great Loop! I have been over some of the bridges during previous visits to Chicago, but I have seen pictures of these bridges "thousands" of times in movies, on TV and in pictures. So, for me the thrill of actually going along the river right through the heart of downtown Chicago was a huge event. Grandson Will is crazy about trains, and he was really excited when we saw a commuter train go over the top level of a double deck bridge similar to the one at the left. All of the bridges are in operating condition, but it takes 24 hours notice (and a good reason) to get any of them to open.
     In order to get under the closed bridges, we had lowered the radar mast before we left the dock this morning. With the radar mast down our vertical height is about 16 feet so we made it under the bridges with from 1 to 3 feet to spare. Our trip began about 9:30 am on a Sunday morning so there was no commercial (i.e. building construction of bridge repair) traffic and not a lot of tour boats or pleasure craft yet.  There are even tour boats that specialize in architectural tours of the river. However, I am afraid that I cannot give you much information about the buildings, except to say that everywhere you look the views are great.

     I could recognize some of the classics like the Wrigley Building, the Merchandise Mart and Marina Towers. The twin Marina Towers were one of the architectural marvels when they opened in 1964. Not long after they opened, I visited an old high school friend who was studying architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He took me around to see some of the incredible buildings in downtown Chicago, including the Marina Towers, which had just opened. In the picture at the left you can see one tower and a bit of the other on the left. One of their highlights is an actual marina under one (?) of the towers.

     After we got back to the dock, we had lunch on board Lucky Us. Then we were off to the Field Museum of Natural History, which is on the waterfront about 2 miles south of our marina. The Admiral, Jill and the kids walked there along the waterfront. Bob and I rode the electric assisted bicycles in order to rest our sore feet/ankles. Along the way we passed Grant Park and its beautiful fountain. The Field Museum is in a beautiful waterfront setting along with the Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium. The museum is excellent, but I am afraid that it was not terribly popular with the Grandkids. However, there was considerable interest in the two life size mammoths in the main hall (picture at right with the Admiral, Katie and Sarah.

     The main hall also contains a nearly complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is impressively big. Kids and dinosaurs just seem to go together (?). The picture at the left shows Bob and the Grandkids in front of the T-Rex. Given the camera angle and the fore shortening of the view, the photo really does not begin to show the huge size of the T-Rex.
     After the museum Terry and I headed back to Lucky Us on the bikes while the family went back to their hotel with a quick tour of the Chicago theater district along the way. We met up in the hotel lobby about 5:30 pm to go to dinner at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel. By the time that dinner was over, it was a very tired group that said good night in the hotel lobby. I suspect that everyone slept very well! I know that I did.

Day 2-292 with Grandkids at Navy Pier

     As planned, we met at Lucky Us for breakfast. It was a bit crowded trying to fit 4 adults and three kids around the table in the dinette, but we managed. All I can add to the scene at breakfast is "thank goodness for Dust Busters"... After breakfast and bathroom breaks, we headed out to Navy Pier, which is about a half mile north along the lake shore. The walkway along the shore is very pretty, and we walked across the first bridge over the Chicago River in the process. There were plenty of boats in the river below since it was the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.

     Navy Pier is 3,300 feet (1 km) long, and it was part of the original plan for Chicago. Its original purpose was for cargo and passenger steamers on Lake Michigan, but today it is Chicago's #1 tourist attraction. The picture at the left shows Bob, Jill and the Grandkids standing about halfway out on the pier. One of the attractions for visitors is the marvelous views of the Chicago skyline.

     We even paused briefly so that "Parrot Head" Bob could have his picture taken in front of Margaritaville". The original pier had a long warehouse with very ornate round brick and stone ends with tall columns. The original ends remain, but most of the structures in between look new.

     The stroller was really for Katie (the youngest), but as you can see, it was more of a group effort in terms of riding and pushing. It was probably most useful for storage of clothing, juices, food, etc.

     At the end of the pier the view of the harbor and the skyline was excellent. The photo at the right shows Grandma and the Grandkids looking at the waves (and the seagulls). It was a mainly cloudy sky with a 10 mph breeze off the lake so it was quite comfortable although no one seemed to notice as there was so much to see.

     At the end of the pier there is also this huge anchor, which is also a kid magnet... It is hard to get this group to sit/stand still, but the anchor slowed them down, except for Sarah who is swinging on the chain.

     We then walked back down the pier to the amusement park. Bob was assigned to "guard" the stroller and other gear while the rest of us rode the farris wheel. I felt sorry (not) for Bob as he had 15 uninterrupted minutes of peace and quiet. The picture at the right shows the Admiral with Sarah (left) and Katie. You only go one revolution on the farris wheel, but it takes 10 minutes so there is plenty of time to enjoy the view.
     Jill, Will and I sat in the other side of the same car. At the top there is a beautiful 360 degree view, but unfortunately there are plenty of pieces of the wheel in every picture that I took. It was one of those classic situations where your mind ignores all of the obstructions in your view, but the camera catches everything that your brain ignores in a picture.
     Then it was time for a ride on the merry-go-round. This time both Dad (Bob) and Grandpa (John) got to watch and try to take pictures. From all accounts it was a great ride. Sarah and Will are on the right and Jill is holding on to Katie on the left with the Admiral barely visible in between. Then it was time to find a restaurant for lunch.
     We had a 20 minute wait for a table, but we were entertained by an acrobat (Sarah in the picture at left). As usual, Katie, who is the youngest and smallest, packed away the most food.

      After lunch we took a bus from Navy Pier to the Willis Tower. Katie managed a brief nap, but everyone else was still doing well.  It used to be the Sears Tower back when it was the world's tallest building. As usual, most every one, including the locals, still call it the Sears Tower. When we arrived, we found that there was a two hour wait, and after a meeting of the minds (picture at right), we decided to "just enjoy the view looking up", and then we headed back to our respective abodes and rest a bit before dinner.
     This is the view looking up from the base of the Willis Tower. It looks endless from this point of view. We did some grocery shopping on the way back to Lucky Us, and before we knew it was time to meet up for dinner at Giardino's which is a classic place for Chicago style deep dish pizzas.

      Jill had made reservations and had already ordered two deep dish Chicago style pizzas. That way they start cooking the pizzas when you are seated, and then you can order salads, kid food, drinks, etc. from the table. It all sounded kind of strange to me, but these pizzas evidently take at least 30 minutes to cook. While we were waiting on the plaza outside, Will and Sarah found two new friends and pretended to be some sort of animals. We drew the line when the animals wanted to drink from the outdoor fountains...

     After dinner it was time for everyone to finally crash. We got back to the boat about 8:30 pm, and the Admiral immediately started talking about it being bed time. Indeed, we were tired, but it had been a wonderful day!