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Great Loop Cruise - Page 3

The Greatest Loop

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The Journey Within — Page 3

By Peter A. Janssen
Photography by George Sass Sr.

Early the next morning two new friends from the marina helped us step the mast, and we were soon rolling down the river, only to have a more than two-hour wait at Starved Rock Lock. We had to wait for barge traffic to be sorted out (it was blowing so badly that a large barge behind us couldn’t get off a wall). After that we hit the river again, but the wind picked up, and the river got wider and browner. As we entered Lake Peoria, our chartplotter had become useless because the Lake Michigan chip had run out, and we didn’t have one for this part of the trip. Fortunately Sass had brought paper charts from his earlier cruise (they dated from 1992, but they were better than nothing) and I opened up the approriate Navionics chart app I had downloaded to my iPhone from the Apple Store for $9.95. The charts were perfect; navigating by iPhone, a new concept. That night we walked up the road from the marina to a sports bar, watched part of a baseball game, and had a terrific dinner; the simple pleasures.

Downtown Peoria

The next morning the wind had died and the river looked more hospitable; as we proceeded along we passed some small, sandy beaches and lots of summer homes. Our only problem was that this was going to be a long day; there wasn’t an easy spot to tie up until we cruised some 144 miles down to the Illinois Riverdock Restaurant in Hardin, Illinois, which had a floating dock only 20 miles or so this side of the Mississippi. We ran into an immediate problem just downstream from Peoria, where we had to wait almost an hour for a railroad bridge, then almost two hours for a lock just after that. (I began to feel that the glaciers were melting as we waited for a series of barges to clear the locks.) Then another lock, which we left just before three in the afternoon, with still 60 miles to go to the Riverdock stop. We pulled in to Riverdock at 6:20 pm, and I don’t think a floating dock (which was totally empty) ever looked so good. After we tied up we walked up a little rise to the restaurant itself, first to pay the $25 dock fee and second to eat dinner. Our cruising guide said the restaurant “features exceptional food.” It was wrong.

The next morning, we hoped to relax, to cruise down to the Mississippi (something I had been looking forward to ever since I’d read about Huck Finn as a kid in San Francisco) and perhaps spend the night in the small town of Alton, Missouri, before we got to the end of the line for us, at Hoppie’s below St. Louis. Once we were underway, however, we started getting cell-phone calls that our relief crew was landing that day in St. Louis. We needed to turn over the boat that afternoon, 36 hours earlier than expected. We did have a good experience, however, at Grafton Harbor Marina, less than a mile before the Illinois River flows into the Mississippi. This is a wonderful spot, right on the river, with great service and friendly people. 

Merging into the Mississippi after Grafton, I felt a thrill. The river there was wide and oddly enough, on this morning, peaceful. The sun was sparkling on the blue water, and there wasn’t another boat in sight. Unfortunately as we worked our way down to St. Louis, the waterway became commercial again, with two locks to pass through, lots of barge traffic, and a not particularly appealing shoreline. We took the requisite pictures of the boat in front of the St. Louis arch and then headed 20 miles down to Hoppie’s, the end of the road for our ten-day Midwest adventure. It was time for someone else to take over. The Greatest Loop had served us well, though. The Beneteau hull performed admirably in a variety of sea conditions; the living spaces (for a 34-foot boat with two not-small men) were comfortable and well designed; the fuel efficiency and range were remarkable. There was a lot to like about the Beneteau 34 Swift Trawler, and we indeed liked it a lot. But now it was time to head home.