Welp, it’s about time we get moving south, eh? With all the boat dramas from the last few episodes now behind us, we’re finally making miles south down the Illinois River. And good thing, too, ‘cause winter is hot on our keel.
We encounter all sorts of fun stuff on the river: huge locks, herds of sheep, free docks located in the heart of several downtowns, electric fish barriers, duck hunters hiding in elaborate blinds, pairs of pelicans, flocks of seagulls, and possibly some golden eagles (they were too far away and we’re not very confident in our birding skills).
After a few stops in the towns of Joilet and Ottawa, and a marina to pick up some parts and supplies, we make it to Henry, IL, where we wake up to frost on our deck. It’s getting cold as, mate. Gotta keep moving’ south.
Hope you enjoy,
Lauren & Kirk
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[Lauren] Last time on Sailing Soulianis, we learned some really valuable lessons, making some pretty stupid mistakes.
We filled up that morning and forgot to put the fuel cap back on.
[Lauren] With the possibility of water in our fuel, we took the first step of cleaning and changing out our Racor Fuel Filter. Should it be this hard?
When you move on to a sailboat, there’s a lot of things to learn, and a lot, is really an understatement. So we had never changed our Racor Fuel Filter before.
[Kirk] Engine maintenance and repair is all new territory.
We have successfully cleaned the fuel filter!
There was a bubble, did you see that?
Yeah. After running the engine for 30 minutes, we thought we were in the clear. So the next morning, we set off down the river.
We made it about a quarter of a mile.
And all of a sudden, a little bit of different sound came from the engine. The engine has stopped. We think we have water or air bubbles in the line. Kirk is currently rowing us to that dock.
As we were stuck on the ground on a river, I wasn’t thinking all that clearly. So I went through kind of a rushed job of trying to bleed the engine.
[Lauren] But we couldn’t get it started. Then, we remembered our boat insurance included unlimited towing, and an hour later, Tow Boat US showed up to take us a mile back upriver to the marina we had just left that morning. That’s where we found a friend to help us figure out our engine problem.
Hey Kirk, I know you just replaced your fuel filter. Did you happen to turn the fuel off before doing that?
We deprived our own engine of fuel.
Our engine’s working now, yay!
So . Yay! Remember earlier we had that whole song and dance? ♪ We got our engine to work ♪ She’s alive!
[Lauren] What’s happening now?
Well, we got the hard part done. The engine runs, but we’ve got a lot of water in our fuel tank. Because someone was an idiot, and in the rush to keep moving, completely forgot to close the deck fill when we filled up with diesel. We’ve only done this twice in our boat, filled up diesel. So, it’s not really a process yet, in my mind, and it should’ve been.
[Lauren] Well, it would’ve been fine if we hadn’t decided we needed to clean the boat immediately after we filled up with fuel.
Correct. That was the fatal flaw. So I washed down the deck right into the fuel tank. But, thankfully, the fuel tank had just been filled and there wasn’t much room for anything to get into it. So, we have a little bit of water in our fuel tank, we replaced our Racor Fuel Filter, and we ran the engine for 15 minutes, and we have a bunch of water in the Racor. So, rather than go through that whole rigmarole seven more times, I’m going to try and use my little hand pump that I bought to change the oil. Since water is heavier than diesel, I’m going down through the fuel sender in the diesel tank, which is the fuel gauge, right here, and gonna use my pump to try and pump the water that is sitting at the bottom of the fuel tank, out. But in order to make sure I’m getting to the bottom of the fuel tank, I need to rig up this very janky coat hanger set-up to make sure I push all the way straight down, because the line that I’m using to pump this out is all coiled up and just wants to coil.
[Lauren] So we’ll see how that goes.
Current project is looking more like a sixth-grade arts and crafts project than anything else.
[Lauren] We pumped about a gallon of liquid out of the bottom of the tank that looked to be pretty clean diesel and called that project a success. And finally, we were off. Our route on the Illinois Waterway from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River is 333 miles. We badly needed to get south. In the race to the lower latitudes, the cold weather was definitely winning. So far, we had only made it nine miles down-river, but the next few days we were making moves. We would transit a handful of locks, stop at a marina to pick up some more parts and supplies, and spend a few days in the towns of Joliet and Ottawa.
Well, so far, our engine has been running, but we are leaking oil and we are leaking fuel, and there’s a lot of exhaust fumes. We did find the random spot that the bolt fell off the engine from, what, like three and a half months ago? So that’s cool. So I found that out, but we don’t have the right sized wrench to put it back together. I’m missing a 7/16 wrench and socket somewhere. So, hopefully we can find that and put that back together, but we gotta get these fuel and oil leaks fixed, ’cause we’re burning through a lot of oil, and we’re not in a very good spot where we can work on the boat right now. So, hopefully tonight, in Joliet, we can find a spot and do a little more research, and we don’t burn too much oil between now and then.
Yeah, we just passed the, on the other side of that, was the sign, entering electric fish barrier.
[Kirk] Oh, right.
So we haven’t left it, we’ve just entered it.
Yep, so let’s not fall overboard.
[Kirk] It was backwards.
[Lauren] It was an uneventful trip through the electric fish barrier. And we entered the Lockport lock, our second and tallest lock yet, at 40 feet.
[Kirk] I bet it’s a little more turbulent going up than it is going down.
Yeah, probably. I wonder how fast the water flows in going up. Look at this thing, it’s crazy.
[Kirk] You know what I feel like?
Do you remember Star Wars?
One of the first ones, I can’t remember which one it is, but Jabba the Hutt, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia are all stuck in a trash compactor thing.
And they’re going, That was a bad one. And then all the stuff’s compacting in on them.
[Luke] The walls are moving!
‘Cause we’re down in this dungeon now, look at this thing. Got all this debris and all this garbage. There’s a forest on top of the barges. They’ve been there so long, that’s crazy. Some of you savvy lock transistors may have noticed that in the last lock we tied a line off from the midship cleat to the floating bollard. This bollard is supposed to move up and down with the water level in the lock but on rare occasions it can get stuck. This would cause major stresses on the deck hardware. The lockmaster here at Brandon Road Lock, told us it’s just best to loop a line around the bollard and hang on to the end. In Joliet, we actually got to tie up to a free dock that even had power. There are a bunch of cities along the way in Illinois that have these free docks. 40 miles down-river, we stopped at a marina to have a mechanic take a look at the diesel and oil leaks. I was hesitant to overtighten the compression fittings, as I had read that this was worse than not making things tight enough, but it turns out the diagnosis was simple, everything just needed to be a bit tighter. Lauren got some editing done, and I installed a raw water strainer, something that we really needed to do before spending too much time on the river. You ready for this? Let me know if water comes spraying out. Also water should fill up that thing real quickly.
[Lauren] Which thing?
[Kirk] The strainer.
[Lauren] Oh right, right, yeah.
[Kirk] Okay, here we go.
[Kirk] We’re on both?
[Lauren] Yeah. Sheeps!
[Lauren] Wow, sheeps!
[Kirk] Alright, I’m gonna keep going, okay?
[Lauren] Is there someone herding them?
[Kirk] Maybe up behind them.
[Lauren] Hey guys! Hey, all you sheepers.
[Kirk] We got the wind at our back right now.
[Lauren] They’re so wooly!
[Kirk] Ottawa, another town in Illinois with a free dock, ended up being one of our favorite stops on the trip. But after our previous week of boat trials and tribulations, we really needed to catch up on computer work. So we spent most of our time at the library and in coffee shops, and rarely picked up the camera. We were also there in late fall so it didn’t look quite as green as this, but it was a lovely little town, and the free dock was within walking distance of all of the main attractions. What do you think, were they eagles?
Well they definitely weren’t bald eagles, but they could’ve been eagles. Look at those white pelicans over there.
[Kirk] Can’t see them, too far away. Okay, what are we doing right now, where are we?
We are at Starved Rock Lock, well about a half-mile out, and we’re waiting for a barge to get through. But it’s cool, ’cause Tow Boat US is there too, which means we can tag along on their coattails with priority . So, hopefully the lockmaster is gonna be efficient. Not like the last guy who was like, oh yeah, you might make it, come on down, we’re gonna make you wait two hours .
[Kirk] Where are you going right now?
Just making a loopski, is that alright? Look at all them pelicans! They’re right in front of us.
[Kirk] Yeah, they’re just little white dots. Hey, pelican! Haven’t seen one of you guys in a long time.
[Lauren] Oh, it’s wild!
So this is way too hot to drink.
Just barely warming my fingertips.
How long have we been waiting? Like an hour here?
[Lauren] Ugh. It’s windy, it’s nasty.
[Kirk] It’s not raining right now.
[Lauren] That is a plus. I’m sitting here waiting for this. I don’t know what we’re waiting for anymore.
We got white caps on the river.
[Lauren] Pleasure boat, pleasure boat! At Starved Rock Lock, we’ll get you in right after the tow boat, and then we’ll get you right out. There should be an 80 foot cut, I don’t know what he said.
Between them and the short wall, you should be able to squeeze right on through.
[Lauren] Did you hear that, pleasure boat?
This is not very pleasurable!
[Lauren] Woo! That is sketchy. A plus.
Yeah, we’re still getting pulled around right now. From Starved Rock Lock, we traveled to Henry, and woke up to this the next morning. Yep, that’s frost. What do you think about this morning?
It’s very refreshing!
[Kirk] Yeah, I would way take a morning like this over yesterday morning.
Yeah, I mean this is a half-dozen degrees cooler, and into the freezing temperatures, but it’s so much more pleasant. It’s calm.
[Kirk] The sun keeps you warm.
The sun is out.
The wind doesn’t suck the heat out of you.
Yeah, yesterday was windy and wet and miserable. Very cold, but warmer.
Okay, well, let’s do this.