Big Blue Island Anchorage

A hazy overcast morning quickly gave way to heavy downpours as we left Tall Timbers marina about 8 am.   There were hints of blue sky in the distance so with hopes for better weather, we continued southbound.   By ten it was clearing up,( luckily no fog), but the winds really picked up.   Comments were made about being glad the Great Lakes were behind us, or we would be weathered in due to gusting 27 mph winds.

The scenery  consists of high water (the trees along the shores are standing in water),  and looks like the cottage owners are prepared by building on stilts.



Multiple eagles too; bald eagles and golden eagles, heron and white pelicans.


La Grange Lock and Dam

Next lock is the La Grange lock and dam.   The lockmaster confirmed the procedure; we would stay in the main channel and pass right over the wickets that have been lowered to the river bottom.  Typically, the dam crosses the river at this point and we would go into the lock to be lowered.  Apparently the wickets are manually lowered to the bottom of the river when the water is high to allow the free flow of the water.


Here is an excerpt from a website

 This dam is known as a Wicket Dam, a style that is common on both the Illinois and Ohio rivers. It is a European design that was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The dam consists of a series of paddles (wickets) that are attached to the river bottom with a hinge on one end. The paddles can be pivoted upwards to create a blockage in the river to raise the river level. Braces snap into place to hold the paddles in place when they are raised. Since the paddles actually block the river and create a waterfall, navigation traffic needs to use a lock to pass the dam. The lock at LaGrange is the standard size for the Upper Mississippi, 110 feet wide by 600 feet long. ”

One low railroad bridge had a train crossing it; we waited for the train to pass, then the bridge tender bumped it up for us.  Due to high water, the bridge clearances have been about 8 feet less than posted on the charts!!   Even bridges charted as 28 feet, we call and ask them the clearance, or wait for it to be raised.   A few weeks ago, a looper friend went by the charts, and it caught his radar mast under an unexpected low bridge.

We met several barges coming up-river; we could see them on our upgraded AIS, hail them on the radio and get instructions to pass on the one or the two. (Captain Dave felt the “admiral” needed practice on the radio to better communicate with the tow captains, so good timing….)

Colleen would hail the tow captain on channel 13 (we can identify them by name on our AIS)  “ This is the down bound pleasure craft  hailing the Miss Mary Ann, we are approaching you around the bend, how do you want to see us?”    The tow captain responds “I see you, hug the green cans; see you on the one.  Plenty of water off the channel enjoy the trip”.  We scoot to our starboard (right) and sometimes have to slip outside the channel markers hoping it doesn’t get shallow too fast!    Big smile and high fives as we are beginning to feel more comfortable with the flow of the river traffic.

At one point we motored past a narrow area with elevators on each side loading and unloading barges.  The high bridge was visible to pass under.  There seemed to be a cluster of barges, tugs and piping beyond the bend.   On further inspection, it was a 100 foot dredging system!    We hailed the dredge captain on the radio and were told to stay to starboard and pass with no wake.  This was quite an operation.


The River channel is well marked with buoys and is a consistent depth.  Outside the buoys it gets very shallow-  thanks to the dredging company we can confidently motor down the river as long as we stay within the channel markers.


This portion of the river is short on Marinas-  we asked the owner of Tall Timbers for suggested anchorages to split up the 120 miles to Grafton.   A good anchorage is behind Big Blue Island at the half way point.    This leaves 60 more miles the following day to arrive at the next marina.  This island is not in our “Skipper Bob” book, but it does have good reviews on the Active Captain website.   (These are two of our “go -to” reference guides on this trip.  Skipper Bob is a spiral bound booklet, Active Captain is an on-line community for boaters.)

The winds were picking up to over 27 knots by noon, we did not expect white caps on the water after leaving Lake Michigan.  With the high winds, and the turbulence caused by passing barges, we were happy to approach Big Blue Island about 2 pm.   It is not marked, but we knew it was at mile marker 59, so we found the opening and motored in behind the island.  Moon Shadow dropped anchor in 12 feet and Enterprise pulled in off the channel and also dropped anchor.  The anchors set nicely – the channel is charted at 6 feet, we found it to be about 12 feet due to high water.  It is a narrow channel between the island and land- just wide enough to turn around and set the anchor.  We can see the barge traffic passing by, we are just off the channel. With our anchor lights on, it got dark about 8 pm-  another reminder of the shorter days.

As darkness settles in, there are no city lights or dock lights- it is pitch black.   Occasionally the sound of the barges going by at about 5 mph can be heard across the island.   Counting on our anchor to hold against the current of the river, hoping we will be in the same location in the morning.  We are traveling with Kurt and Patti on the enterprise.

One last listen to NOHAA radio advised of flood warnings along the river due to recent rain; left an uneasy feeling.  We have no internet service to check weather; hope for the best



The light rain was clearing by morning, leaving a haze creeping along the bluffs that overlooked the river.   Early morning pictures included photos of the river channel and the blue heron walking along the shore.


Enjoyed coffee and eggs for breakfast then pulled anchor to continue on toward Grafton and the confluence of the Mississippi. its been 7 days since Chicago.


About mnsailors

Our blog will highlight our travels along America's Great Loop. We sold our sailboat on Lake Superior for a Trawler to do America's Great Loop in 2016.
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