138 Milwaukee, WI to Cumberland River, KY


The addition to Milwaukee Art Museum whetted our appetite to see what else had changed in Milwaukee since we’d started our live aboard lifestyle. The museum was awesome.

One of our favorite forms of transportation in cities are buses. They give us an opportunity to “learn” new cities and rediscover old ones. The bus to Wauwatosa now has TV monitors showing news, ads and exactly where we were on the route. A walk by the hobbit house we’d loved and called home for six years was a disappointment. The charming shape was diminished due to fading paint, gutters needing cleaning, overgrown shrubs and neglected gardens. It hurt to see the neglect. Mayfair mall, a two-mile walk further, presented a very different image. Its been remodeled, expanded and has a different mix of stores. Judging from the early morning weekday business the change is a success.

Downtown is becoming a very exciting place to live. Our old marina’s hand crafted docks are gone, replaced by factory made docks for the condo owners now resident in the old factory building behind the marina. We picked our way along one street, weaving around condo decks waiting to be installed in holes punched into an old brick manufacturing building fronting another part of the river. Elsewhere cranes raced to finish two new condo towers. The waterfront, the festivals, wonderful restaurants, shopping, museums, and several theatres all make Milwaukee a very special city. We both remarked that if it weren’t for cold and distance from family we would live here again.

The dockmaster explained the Racine Boat Show was starting but they did have a slip for us. Having attended the show when we lived in Milwaukee we pictured jammed docks and crowded restaurants. Neither happened. Once a power and sail show, it’s now a power boat and RV show. The sailboat portion is in Waukegon and a competing Trawlerfest in Manitowoc provided alternatives. For the first two days when we walked through the show area we probably brought the customer count up to 20 if that. Cutting through the RV section we fended off bored salespeople eager to talk to anyone to make the time go faster. We did look at a few RV’s but still haven’t seen anything that really interests us.

Wind and waves kicked up as we headed to Chicago’s Belmont Harbor. As we approached, wind waves gave way to the more annoying random boat chop generated by boats leaving harbors. The Chicago Air Show was starting and hundreds of boats headed out to watch. We worked our way in through a maze of moving and anchored boats, found our slip then joined the thousands watching the fly bys from shore. The waterfront was absolutely jammed with people.

Mike and Barb Linder arrived, and we spent a quiet weekday afternoon catching up since our last meeting in Florida. Instead of heading out to lunch and losing the quiet calm of the marina we stayed and enjoyed lunch aboard.

Fog and rain hid Chicago’s skyline as we ran the seven miles from Belmont to Du Sable harbor. Ruth’s sharp eyes picked out the outer harbor opening through the haze. Once inside we worked our way around Navy Pier, past the Chicago lock and on to Monroe harbor and Du Sable Marina inside. .

Getting a slip at Du Sable Marina in the heart of downtown Chicago was a treat. The City of Chicago runs all the marinas and hasn’t set aside transient docks. A second treat was dock prices. Expecting to be forking over big bucks to be in the heart of Chicago, we found instead prices less than most east coast marinas. There is a bit of eccentricity; here at the beautiful marina. Tucked behind the Chicago Yacht Club resides the city harbormaster for over a thousand boats working out of a junky trailer. He just laughed and said they ran out of money.

A steady deluge of rain started just before we got off the train. Umbrellas kept our heads dry, but we gave up on our feet when water began running a half inch deep on the sidewalks. We arrived at Ruth’s cousin Peg’s house looking like drowned rats. Jim greeted us at the door with a warm welcome in spite of our appearance. We spent the evening barefoot enjoying the wonderful dinner party Peg and Jim had casually put together to greet us. A fascinating evening of stimulating conservation with new found friends made the time go all too quickly. Peg’s son Jon gave us a ride back into the city as he lives in the Lincoln Park area.

The fountain in Milennium Park

The fountain in Milennium Park

Chicago was much more than we expected. The newly opened Millennium Park was a short walk from Odyssey. The band shell designed by Frank Gehry is stunning. The band shell explodes up and out in a symphony of curving stainless steel. A soaring latticework of thin stainless steel supports fill in lights high over the acres of grassy seating area and give the huge expanse a feeling of intimacy while still being wide open to the sky and Chicago’s skyline. In another park area kids stood expectantly watching water cascading down two seven-story towers into a huge wading pool. A face appears filling the tower faces. The kids gather and watch as the face looks down and slowly winks, smiles and then the lips pucker. Out comes a water stream, as the faces in the towers spits water out over the kids. The kids go wild dancing in the waterfall and then disperse and play a bit as they wait for the next cycle.

We searched out historic building we’d been reading about in the Devil in the White City, the story of the building of the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893. Seeing the buildings we’d been reading about was a treat and gave us a feel for the city’s history. The art gallery yielded both a outstanding Seurat exhibit and a collection of scale model rooms so outstanding that the museum built a room to make them part of their permanent collection.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio and a number of the early Oak Park homes he designed were just an EL ride away. Being Wright fans, we toured his home and studio then enjoyed walking the neighborhood finding the other houses he designed over a period of years seeing how his “prairie style” evolved.

Bad weather worked in our favor and marina cancellations allowed us to extend our stay. We thought we’d take a few minutes and watch the Chicago Triathlon. The swimming section was in Monroe harbor just a short walk from Odyssey. We were stunned, 7,500 people in 49 starting waves were competing. Every 5 minutes 30 people hit the lake and started their swim segment. Instead of watching for minutes we watched for hours, relocating to see the bike segment start and end and finally watching the extremely tired runners cross the finish line. Some of the participants caught our attention. They were obviously older than us. Ruth says if I do the Triathlon next year she’ll cheer for me and then do it the following year. We’ll see. We also had the fun of spotting Jon and friend , . She was competing so we got some first-hand information on what is involved.

Chicago’s free shuttle provided access to Navy Pier. In fading evening light we rode the huge ferris wheel and enjoyed the sun setting behind the Chicago skyline with a very tiny Odyssey visible off in the distance. We hadn’t realized until we read Devil in the White City that the ferris wheel was invented for the Chicago Columbian Exposition to “outdo” the Eiffel Tower which was built for the Paris World’s Fair. A city sponsored stained glass museum at the Navy Pier was stunning and was one of those unexpected discoveries that we delight in finding.

Another shuttle ride took us to Lincoln Park. We wandered through the zoo and then poked our way along through Old Town and the Gold Coast on our way back to Odyssey. Preserving some of the city’s gems the old Masonic Temple is now a Bloomingdales and worth walking through to see some of the interior elements of the old temple still evident in a modern department store.

Through the heart of Chicago early in the morning

Through the heart of Chicago early in the morning

We debated staying longer but the urge to move on won out. Early Monday morning we passed through the Chicago lock and headed downstream while watching commuters crossing the bridges above in the heart of Chicago—just like in the old Bob Newhart Show. Our exploration of Chicago just scratched the surface. We’ll be returning again to enjoy more.

Downtown rapidly gave way to industry and a look at the behind the scenes stuff needed to maintain our society’s life style. A scrap yard shredder stretched like a noisy dirty monster along the riverbank. It ate crushed cars for breakfast spitting out metal shreds that were grabbed by a crane with a magnet and dumped into a barge. Bulk loads of every description were being off and on-loaded to barges by a variety of loading methods. We worked our way around small towboats repositioning barges and drifted past six barge tows–3 long by 2 wide taking up almost half the river’s narrow width. The morning vanished rapidly as we picked our way through all the activity.

It was a hot evening in a lovely anchorage, and we sat on Odyssey’s bow to catch a bit more of the breeze. Another boat came in and anchored above us. The couple aboard went below immediately and didn’t realize they were dragging down on us. We were about to sound Odyssey’s horn to warn them when they came up saw what was happening and let out more scope. The dragging stopped with them just above us. We spent the evening trading stories as we talked across the small gap separating us—kind of like neighbors talking over the back fence.

Locking with a tow

Locking with a tow

The lockmaster said we’d lock down immediately. Then he realized there was a tow due and had us stand off. We took advantage and learned how to tie off the huge cells that tows use while waiting for the locks. After a few experiments we figured out the current and got tied off behind the 20’ round cylinder and watched the 15-barge tow approach. Another PC (pleasure craft as we are known to lockmasters) was approaching, and we invited them to tie off us and thus met The Pearl with Carl and Marsha aboard. We chatted while watching the tow break apart and let the first nine barges lock down. The lockmaster called and indicated we’d lock down with the last six barges and towboat. It was extremely noisy and a bit turbulent as towboats do not shut engines down in locks. The lock gates opened, and we hung on against the wall as the tow moved slowly forward to reconnect with forward section. Once everything was secure the towboat began making serious rpm’s and the huge configuration moved forward. One tow of 15 barges stretches ¼ mile and is the equivalent of 870 trucks of material. Finally there was enough clearance to allow us to leave the lock, accelerate and continue downstream.

Henry marina hadn’t changed since our visit five years earlier aboard Tranquility. It’s still fifty cents a foot with electricity to tie up. The only disadvantage was that our tie up was again along the old lock wall. Although it had a certain charm, we had to secure our lines to tree roots and anything else we could find. It’s a funky spot and we took advantage to take on fuel, eat at their nice restaurant and get groceries from the grocery store nearby. We also got to know Carl and Marsha a bit better. Their luck hadn’t been good. Just before entering the marina a submerged object had done major prop damage.

A few days later shortly after leaving our anchorage at Dark Chute we approached the Riverdock restaurant. We had had a wonderful “down home” dinner last time through so we couldn’t resist stopping and having a great breakfast. Spotting pulled pork on the menu we ordered two sandwiches to go asking for just the pork. For the price of a sandwich we ended up getting three delicious meals out of the generous portions they loaded into the containers.

The impact of all the rain we’d had in Chicago became evident when we talked to the La Grange and Peoria Locks. The lockmasters told us that because of high water the locks’ dams were down and to just proceed on. It’s an eerie feeling passing over a submerged dam for the first time but sure a whole lot faster than having to lock down.

Carl and Marsha on The Pearl caught up with us in Alton, and we partied celebrating their good fortune. The prop shop provided a same day fix, and they had been on their way again late in the day. As we talked we made one of those mutual friend connections that are always surprising when they occur. We discovered we had mutual friends who Ruth and I haven’t seen in years in Grosse Pointe Farms. Quite a connection since Carl and Marsha have never lived there and we’ve been gone over 30 years.

Hoppie’s Marina, a series of barges anchored along the Mississippi River bank, is unique. As the Mississippi rises and falls Hoppie’s adjust the anchors holding the barges close in to the river’s slopping banks. We sat chatting with Fern and going over charts to learn which downstream anchorages were currently useable and what areas to beware of on the always-changing Mississippi. The next evening we used Fern’s recommendation and tucked into a spot just above the junction with the Ohio River.

A three-hour delay at Lock 52 on the Ohio River messed up our timing for starting up the Cumberland River. If we’d continued we would have cleared the Barkley Lock and had to enter Green Turtle Bay Marina in the dark. Instead we tucked in behind the Cumberland Towhead at the mouth of the Cumberland and enjoyed a pleasant evening watching the sun disappear behind the tree line.


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