Chicago to South of St. Louis
on the Illinois and Mississippi River

The summer of 2001 has been fairly dry in the Midwest.  Not the drought that some other parts of the country are experiencing but nonetheless still dry.  We have had a few showers off and on but have not had the long soaking rains needed to recharge the soil and maximize the farmers crops and residents lawns. That is until today - the day we are leaving to tow my Cabin Skiff to Chicago intent on a trip south down the Illinois River.

My plan called for a late Friday afternoon departure to make the 300-mile drive to the southern section of the Chicago area.  Motel lodging was in order for the night.  The next day I wanted to drop Therapy in at the Triplex Marina at the 320 mile marker on the Calumet Sag Channel.

Along for at least part of this adventure were my wife, Vickie, my good friend and fellow boating enthusiast (fanatic might be a better word) Aldie and his wife, Janet.  We have been friends for years and find ourselves on the water together a great deal of our leisure time.  I couldn't ask for a crew.  Although the girls will take the helms occasionally they are usually content to sit back and enjoy the scenery.  They do readily handle the fenders and mooring lines when locking and docking AND they do all the trailer work.  Yes, they both are very skilled at backing the trailers down the ramp while us guys relax and wait to drive to boats on.  You got to love women like that! 

At this point I need to explain a little about the rivers we are planning to travel. The main river between the St. Louis and Chicago area is the Illinois River.  Although it appears as one continuous stream the name actually changes several times along the way. From Lake Michigan there are two routes to reach this river. The southern path uses the Calumet River but again the name changes to the Little Calumet then the Calumet Sag Channel over its 30 mile length.  The mouth of the river is the Calumet Harbor that is about 13 miles south of the downtown Chicago area.

The northern route utilizes the Chicago River beginning at the Chicago Harbor Lock that opens directly on to the lake and flows through the heart of downtown Chicago. It too changes names when heading downstream to the South Branch Chicago River and then the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. When taking either path both rivers run about 30 miles to where they intersect and continue south.

Our plan was to spend Saturday making a loop from the marina up the Cal-Sag and out to the lake.  Here we would continue along the shore up to the Chicago River  where we would lock through and enjoy the sights while motoring through the skyscrapers. After about 75 miles total we planned to end up back where we started. Therapy would be left in a slip while we enjoy the rest of the afternoon and an evening in the Windy City.

A nice evening out was to be the reward for our wives.  You see they were not going to make the trip with us as they had agreed to return home driving the 300 miles with the trailer.  Surprisingly, convincing them to do this wasn't that hard. At first I thought that the evening in the city was the incentive that swayed their opinion.  But as Aldi and I heard their plans for the time we were to be gone I began to realize that just being rid of us for a few days may have been the real prize! 

Overall, it was a good plan but with one exception - Mother Nature.  We left home in a heavy rain that persisted about half way to Chicago.  But even worse, the weather maps showed that the front was moving northeast and would reach the city on Saturday.  Unfortunately they were right.  No more than we left the motel that morning and the rain started.  Therapy was still on the trailer so we decided to make our way to the marina in hopes it would pass.  During one break I did go ahead and drop her in ($20 slip fee for the night) only to be hit by another downpour before I had it secure.  The bilge pump got a good workout.

By about noon we decided that the Saturday trip with the girls was not going to happen and we decided to head into town.  Near the lock on the Chicago River is the Navy Pier.  This was formally an active loading facility but now has been converted to a shopping mall / entertainment center. We decided it would be a nice place to mill around as it offered shelter from the rain but still outside access to the lake if the weather improved.

After paying $15 to park in their parking garage we wandered around and found a nice restaurant for lunch.  The pier is right on the Lake Michigan and gave us a view of what we would have encountered if we had made the loop.  The wind was blowing in off the water at about 15 mph.  I have next to no experience on really large bodies of open water and 3 feet waves are probably the worst I have encountered.  I was humbled by the lake conditions.  There were few "small" boats out there. I did watch one that I thought in the 30' range and it was rock and rolling far more than I would have enjoyed. As for being out there in the 18' Cabin Skiff - not me.  Having it as a marina queen today was a good choice. 

The rain had stopped for the most part and we decided to kill some more time and take one of the free trolleys from the Navy Pier to the downtown area.  We rode along and got off at the Sears Tower which stands right beside the Chicago River.  Since we weren't going to be able to boat down the river at least we could take a look. The weather was looking a lot better at this point and I was starting to question my decision as to not boating today (but not about going out on the lake!).

While standing on the W. Adams Bridge I noticed that there were water taxis running back to the Navy Pier.  The twenty-minute trip cost $6 per person and would allow us to experience river passage through the downtown area.  It was a nice ride and although the solid top over the boat did obscure the skyline somewhat, it was welcome as it once again started to rain. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the ride and the rest of our afternoon.