top of page

The Great Loop

Adventure of a Lifetime - Launched!

Oct 1, 2014 is the day I started the adventure of a lifetime called The Great Loop.

My son John became engaged to a wonderful person by the name of Victoria (she is helping me with the website). They came into Chicago August 15, 2014 for a family barbeque. That night I fell and fractured my knee cap. Because of that, I was not able to start the adventure until now.

My co-captain Mikey needs to have surgery and could not make the trip. So I now need a first mate. Who could I find that was crazy enough to go on this trip with me? An old friend Tom Jackson stepped up to the plate. In his past life he was a baseball umpire.

So the boat's namesake, Sharon A, gleefully got out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to drive us to Diversey Harbor in Chicago. This is where the boat was launched yesterday. Since the Chicago Marathon was being held today, we had to get out of the car on Lake Shore Drive and hike a mile to get to the boat.

At 7:05 a.m. the engine was started and we headed towards the marina exit. To get out of Diversey Harbor, you have to pass under Lake Shore Drive and then do a turn to the right beyond a wall. As we're going under LSD, I had a sense that something was wrong. As I got to the turn I realized that there was a stiff wind of 17 mph and the waves were crashing over the sea wall. So what normally takes 15 minutes to get to the Chicago Lock now took 75 minutes with waves crashing over the bow.

Interesting, the boat held up well and we made it to the lock.

Down the Chicago River to Cal Sag River. It was a little chilly but we had warm clothes, a beautiful blue sky, and a Cal River.

Our 2nd lock was Lockport. a 25 minute wait and a 35 foot drop.

The next lock was Branden Road Lock, after a 3-1/2 wait we were able to lock through and exited the lock at 4:45 p.m. It was drizzling, we had our rain gear on, and looked for a place to dock and sleep.

Tom spotted a marina and we pulled in. We met two of the nicest people, Al and his girlfriend. Not only did they help us dock, they drove us to a hotel in town.

Tomorrow we are hoping for better weather and less time waiting to transit the locks.

Boat on the Water

The boat has the fluids changed and is ready to go. Sharon and I discuss how we are getting to St. Joe’s. Once again my great neighbor Dave has come through. He has taken his boat to New Buffalo and his son needs to get home on Monday. So I drive to New Buffalo and Dave drives Sharon and I to St. Joseph. His son will drive my car back to Arlington Heights on Monday.

The boat is put in the water, and we prepare to go to Milwaukee.

Day Two of The Great Loop

Monday was a very interesting day.

We were up at 5 a.m., had breakfast at the Subway across the street from the Manor Hotel. I opted for a banana and Tom had a sandwich. We called for a cab and had to wait 20 minutes. That 20 minute wait cost us two hours at the lock.

Had we arrived at the lock 20 minutes earlier, we would of went right through but as we pulled up, a barge was entering the lock. The sun came out and we had a blue sky.

At about 9 a.m. it started to cloud up so we put on out rain gear. As we left the lock, it started to rain and it rained pretty much off and on all day.

At times the river was flat and calm and the scenery was gorgeous along the way. We did three locks today with the last lock we were the only boat going down. All the lock masters are great people and very friendly and very helpful.

At the last lock, Starve Rock, thunderstorms hit. Thunder and lighting. We sped up and outran the storm. As we got lower on the Illinois about 45 miles north of Peoria, we were hit with high winds, driving rains, 2-1/2 foot waves with caps. The weather alert on the radio went off. Two pushers pushed their loads ashore for safety. Now this is an adventure.

We pulled into Peoria at about 5 p.m. at the municipal dock cold, wet, and looking like prunes. As we pulled into the dock with a 15 mph wind, the Asian carp started jumping. And did they jump. They jumped higher than the gunwales and one landed on the back seat and jumped back out.

There were two other looper boats (sail boats) already docked and two people came out to help us tie up in the rain. I forgot his name but he looks at me and says, "You're that guy." I ask, "What?" He says, the guy whose wife bought him the boat and is doing the loop. So for a fleeting moment at the Peoria Municipal Dock, Tom and I were celebrities.

We stayed at the Mark Twain Hotel, had a nice dinner and early to bed.

So continues the adventure.

October 14

We were up early and down to the boat by 8 a.m. We were lucky enough to stay at the Mark Twain Hotel in Peoria. Every hotel was sold out because of an Illinois Fire Chief Convention being held in Peoria. They had a courtesy car drive us back to the marina. In a light drizzle, Tom and I loaded the boat and headed south to the locks. It was about an hours wait with on and off rain. The lockmaster fit us in and we were on our way. I needed fuel, and called Tall Timbers Marina in Havana IL. I talked to Bob the owner and while the marina was closed he said he would send Debbie over once we were close by.

We had do another lock before we got to Havana and that went very quickly.

We always have a nice discussion with the lockmasters and learn a lot of different useless facts, but it is fun to learn.

When we arrived in Havana, we spotted the marina on the left ascending bank. The sun started to shine, the temperature was rising and it look like the weather was changing for the better. I needed to get some new gloves and a hat because I lost my crab hat. Debbie lent us her car and Tom drove me into town the Dollar General store. Pick up some stuff and we were back on the river.

At about 2:30 p.m. the rain pick up and the temperature dropped. I was cold and shivering and Tom was tired. Our goal was to get to Grafton, Il.

On Thursday my brother Tom texted me and said he was going to be in Grafton this weekend. My mind was on this trip and I was trying to figure out why he was going to be in Grafton. While I was going to Grafton, IL...Tom was going to visit his grandchildren in Grafton, WI.

With almost 3 hours left to Grafton, Kate and Mary at the office looked for a hotel for us. In the meantime, Jim called and suggested staying at the Pierre Marquette Hotel at the Pierre Marquette State Park, they have a marina and rooms available. That would save us 25 minutes of time. It is about a half mile walk uphill to the lodge, in the rain. So imagine two guys that look like drowned rats walking into a lobby of a hotel wearing rain gear and life preservers.

We had a great fried chicken dinner and were in bed by 9 p.m. exhausted but happy. The Pierre Marquette hotel is beautiful but they have no wifi in the rooms and there are no cell towers nearby so I was out of touch.

Mikey had surgery today and things went better than expected. He will be off work for about 8 weeks.

Off to Hoppie

Today was going to be an easy day. We were only going to travel about 64 miles to Hoppie Marina. We stopped in Grafton to get fuel and I went over to Allez to meet Captain Helen and Engineer Bob. They are fellow loopers laying over for a couple of day to see the area.

It was nice to put a face to an email address.

More rain and drizzle as we left the Illinois River and entered the Mississippi River. We did two locks. The first lock we met a sailboat from CT and four canoeist who started out in Minneapolis and were going to New Orleans, paddling all the way. Two guys and two girls. Three of them work for outward bound as outdoor guides.

It was a srtong southern wind with an 8 - 9 mph current. We were waiting for a barge to clear and the lockmaster called me to see if I could pull them out of the way of the lock entrance which was were the barge was exiting from. So we pulled up, tossed them some lines and pulled them out of harm's way. While I know they could have paddled out of the way, it would have taken them about 25 minutes, when it only took me about 5 minutes.

By the way, the two guys are Eagle Scouts.

We passed the St. Louis Arch on the starboard side as we dodge logs and more logs that were floating in the river. Some barge traffic and some big wakes. The boat handled it well.

We arrived at Hoppies Marina and met the world famous Hoppie and his wife Vern. Docked the boat for the night and was given a wealth of information by Vern about the river and where we are going the following day. Thursday will be a challenge and a long day. The distance from Hoppies Marina to Green Turtle Marina is 270 miles. Vern didn't think I would have enough gas so I bought four 5-gallon gasoline containers to add to the 2 I already have on the boat. This will give me a total of 100 gallons on board.

Early to rise in the morning!

12 Hours, 3 States

What a day. 280 miles, 12 hours, 3 States.

Tom and I were up at 6 a.m. for a 5:45 a.m. departure to the marina. The cab was waiting for us. It was the same person who had picked us up at the marina the day before. A nice young man who is half Alaskan Indian. He is a part time fireman in Desoto. We need to get some extra gas cans for today's trip. You should see the funny looks you get carrying in four 5-gallon gas cans into a hotel room.

So with a quick stop at the gas station, we were at the marina by 6:30 a.m. Loaded the boat and was on the way by 6:45 a.m. It was still dark. With an ineffective spot light, we back out of the marina into a 5 mph current. Throttle up to 3600RPM, 33 mph and we were on the way.

The biggest problems are floating logs, trees, branches, and wood. The other problem is unbound barges that are three wide and five long and kick up a wake that is 4ft tall and last for 2 miles.

We passed 2 different paddlers. Two guys and a dog from out west who started at the head waters and a single girl from Minnesota whose mother grew up in Oak Park.

We watched a beautiful sunrise over the Mississippi with mist rising from the river. Very romantic...

Vern from Hoppie's Marine was deeply concerned about having enough fuel. So arraignments were made for a stop in Cape Girardeau at a fuel dock. We pulled up to the dock and proceeded to pour 20 gallons into the main tank. I called Charlie Brown about the owner of the fuel dock, and he said he was on the way down to the dock to refuel a tug at 11:15 a.m. and the dock would be in use for the next couple of hours. Since it was 11:05 a.m., we pulled away from the dock without having time to go into town to refill the empty gas cans. OH WELL. Now remember, my brother Jim tried doing this trip and never made it past Cape Girardeau, this was a big milestone.

Dodging logs and bumping thru wakes we finally made it to the Ohio River. With a left turn we were now leading up the Ohio River. The marker buoys switch, red on the left green on the right.

Out goal was to get to Green Turtle Mina at the entrance to Lake Barkley. They were not going to be open after 5 p.m. and the condos rented at over $300.00 a night. So brother Jim called Kentucky Dam Village resort and set up dockage and a hotel room. We arrived at the lock at 5PM and waited 45 minutes to enter the lock. We pulled into the marina at 6:30 p.m.

12 hours and 295 miles, we had to do the extra miles to get to the marina, tired and hungry.

5 Gallons an Hour

Tom and I had a great night and a very restful sleep at Kentucky Dam Village Resort.

We had a late start after a big breakfast. We got a ride back to the marina, loaded up the boat, paid our docking and filled up with gas.

I put 37 gallons of ethanol free gas in at the marina, plus the 20 gallons from the gas cans means I was able to get from Hoppies to Kentucky Lake on 57 gallons of gas. Not bad.

So I burned less than 5 gallons an hour. Today the fuel burn was much greater because we were fighting a 3MPH current and the clock. That's what happens when you leave late.

The weather was awesome. It started a little chilly but got up to over 75 degrees. The goal was to get to Pickwick Lake but that was modified to arrive in Clifton TN before 6PM. The Tennessee river is very beautiful. We pulled in and met Sonia, the marina manager. What a sweet lady. We also met the owner who is a character. He graduated from Old Miss in 1960, the year the football team won the national championship.

We had dinner at the marina and tonight's special was spaghetti with meat sauce made by Sonia. Tom and I both enjoyed it. We met six fellow loopers "Our Last Boat IV", "Bucket List" and "As the Crow Flies". We set around and told stories. Rick from "Out Last Boat IV" was amazed that we were on the Mississippi at Hoppies yesterday. John on Bucketlist burned over 270 gallons to get from Hoppies to Green Turtle.

It was a great evening.

My wife Sharon is famous, a lot of people know about My Sharona.

The Clifton Marina loaned us a car to get to the motel. When we arrived the owner/partner Tim Novak checked us in and when I said I lived in Chicago he said that he used to live in Chicago. He said that his Aunt was the former Police Superintendent of Chicago and Sherriff of Cook County, Jim O'Grady sister. I said, I am going to have to call you on this. Jim O'Grady has one sister and she was my mother, Veronica O'Malley.

Well it turned out that his Aunt is Ruth O'Grady, nee Novak, and Ruth is my Aunt, married to my Uncle Joe O'Grady, and Ruth is Jim O'Grady's sister-in-law.

It is a small world, I have to go all the way to Clifton, TN to run into a shirt tail relative.

Begin Again

It is the day after Thanksgiving and 17 degrees in Chicago. My Sharona has been stored at Aqua Yacht Marina, Pickwick Lake MS for the past month.

Tom and I are taking the 1 p.m. United flight to Memphis today. It has been a long time since I have flown into Memphis. It is at least a 1/2 mile walk to the car rental counter. We pick up the car and head into Memphis to spend the night.

The Doubletree Hotel is right next to the Peabody Hotel and is very nice. There is live music in the lobby as we check in.

As we walked over to Beale Street, we dropped in at the Peabody where they had a live jazz band playing and the place was hopping. We had dinner at the King's Place Cafe. The name has to do with Elvis, but everything on Beale Street has to do with either Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis. I found out that this is Kristen O'Malley's (Patrick R's wife) favorite restaurant. Dry rub Memphis style rib and ice cream for dessert. We walked around for a while and headed back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

End of This Leg of the Journey

Today is a sad day. My Sharona has been put on the hard (storage) at Aqua Yacht Marina on the boarder of Mississippi. Tom and I will return to Chicago on Sunday.

We woke up early and as we walked out of the room it was cold and foggy. It was 80 degrees yesterday and it was 38 degrees this morning. A short drive to the marina, loaded the gear and we were off.

It became a nice day as the fog burned off and the temperature went up. We passed a bunch of loopers heading south. We pulled right into the lock and our only problem was finding the marina.

Well, that was out first problem, the second was trying to get to Memphis for our flight home.

No cars were available... so...we rented a Penske Truck for the drive.

Gearing Up

I am up early to get ready for the 2 hour drive to the boat. We hit a local diner for breakfast and of course, Elvis used to eat there. On the way back from breakfast, we once again stop in at the Peabody Hotel. The ducks are going to come down the elavator for a swin in the fountain in 15 minutes and Tom and I stop in at the world famous Lansky Brothers Clothing store located in the lobby. I met the owner who knew Elvis. I touched the hand that shook the hand of Elvis.

We need to make some stops to pick up a new rain coat for me. Bo from the marina calls to make sure we are still a go and has the boat put in the water. We arrive at the marina and meet a family from New Zealand on a sail boat spending the night.

I received an email early this morning from Elvie Short so Tom and I drive over to the next marina and meet with her and her husband Roy. Very nice people and we learn from them about the next part of the journey and what to expect.

We head into Corinth to drop off the rental car and have dinner at Russells's Beef House. The T-bone was awesome but the best part was watching Big Dave, the gun toting cook grill our steaks over charcoal.

Good food and good company.

Tomorrow is the big day.

Off the Columbus

Tom and I were up early at 5:16 a.m. Breakfast at 6 a.m. and then off to Aqua Yacht Marina.

We returned the courtesy car, loaded up the boat and continued on our most excellent adventure. Pull out of the marina and turn right. We are now entering the Tennessee-Tombigbee Water Way.

I called the the lockmaster at Whitten Lock who told me if we rushed it, he could get us through right away. We first pass Roy-El who we met last night and then we passed the MY Sensation. Sensation is a 112 feet long and its bow gives off a huge wake, bigger than any of the tows we have passed. It rents for $45,000.00 A WEEK.

When we arrived at Whitten Lock, a tow was just entering the lock so we had to wait about 90 minutes for our turn. We locked down with Sensation.

The next lock was Montgomery Lock and once again it was a 90 minute wait because of the tow in front of us. After clearing this lock, we were able to dash ahead of the tow and with the permission of the tow captain, the lockmaster at Rankin Lock agreed to lock us down. Sensation heard this plan and called to see if they can lock down with us. The tow captain agreed and after waiting 30 minutes in the lock, Sensation finally pulled in and secured themselves.

A special shout out to that tow captain, because of him, we were able to pass through the next four locks very easily without any wait.

So we started at mile marker 448.7 and are now at Columbus Marina located at mile marker 335.0

Roy and Elie told us how great Columbus Marina is and they were right. T is the manager and lent us the company truck to get us into town for the night. Yea T, you are the man, and it surprised me that he was wearing an Obama shirt. That will make my son John happy.

Columbus is the home to Columbus Air Force base. It is a great small town with lots of restaurants.

The weather started out iffy but it turned into a beautiful day with blue sky and white puffy clouds. I hope we have more of the same tomorrow.

Rain or Shine

It was 71 degrees in Demopolis today.

But the day didn't start so well. It was upper 50's in Columbus when we woke up this morning. A very light drizzle and heavy fog. We waited 45 minutes to enter the first lock but we stayed tied up at Columbus Marina and talked sports and politics with T and his son Mikey.

We locked thru and we were in fog with a 1/4 mile visibility. We cruised at 23 mph looking for logs and barges. No logs but a barge came out of the fog. It was very different.

We called ahead to the second lock and they said they would be ready for us. When we got there is was a 40 minute wait do to maintenance. We went into Pirates Marinca Cove and met the manager. What a great guy and he explained how they were going to improve the facilities. He was expecting MY Sensation that afternoon.

We were able to pull into the third lock without any wait time. By this time the fog had lifted and the sun was out with a beautiful blue sky.

The last 50 miles we were cruising at 25 mph. The river was like glass and we were the only boat. The scenery was awesome and the sun was shining.

We are staying at the Days Inn and Nick Patel was nice enough to pick us up at the marina and he will drop us back off tomorrow. We had dinner at a restaurant down the street from the hotel and met 3 people from Chicago/Evanston. It is a small world.

Foghorn In Use

What a day. Yesterday was so nice and 71 degrees. We were up at 5:15 a.m. so we could get a ride to the marina at 6:30 a.m. Nick Patel, the manager of the Days Inn, offered the ride and we accepted. We walked out the door of our hotel room and it was 55 degrees and foggy.

OH Well. Away we go.

We loaded up the boat and called the lock before we pulled out of the marina and by the time we arrived at the lock the chamber was ready for us.

As we exited the lock, there was a natural waterfall, very cool. We need to do 240 miles before it got dark. After a lot of calculations, I new we needed to do about 40 MPH in order to make Mobile. It started out well but then we hit solid fog. Speed: 10 MPH. We were in and out of the fog, sped up, slowed down, sped up, slowed down, we pass two northbound barges and one southbound. The northbound barges appeared out of no where, a little stressful and scary. Tom continued to blow the fog horn hoping we were heard.

Finally the fog cleared and the sun came out. We stopped at Bobby's Fish Camp to get some fuel. Interesting place. Less than two miles and we were at our very last lock. YEA....

We locked right thru and with blue sky and little white puffy clouds we throttled up and on are way to Mobile.

The boat handled well and the engine responded, 30 MPH no problem. We were moving. The river has a lot of switch back but the scenery was just beautiful.

The plan was to go to Dog River Marina. We ended up at Eastern Shore Marina where Debbie is the office manager and she is very nice. She made us feel very welcomed. Before crossing Mobile Bay to the eastern shore we end up in downtown Mobile and saw a lot of different ships.

Tomorrow is a rest day.

You Might Also Like:
bottom of page