9/19 – 28/2016 Summary: We left Alton Marina early morning on September 20 and pulled back out on the Mississippi River, with our first lock just a mile downstream. We were back out with the big boys – tugs (also incorrectly called towboats… really “pushboats”) with as many as 56 barges. It was hard to comprehend the amount of weight pushed by the tugs, but it was simple to comprehend we did not want to get in their way! The current of the river pushed us along at 11 knots and as we passed the St. Louis Arch, the debris in the river was as bad as we had seen.
Our first stop was Hoppie’s Marine Services, which was a few old barges tied together in an eddy along the river. (Note the name was “services” not “marina,” as it had little resemblance to a marina.) Hoppie’s was a popular stop, not for the services, but for the local knowledge shared by Hoppie’s wife, Fern. Hoppie took over the operation from his father who was a lamplighter during WWI, going along the river each night to light the navigation buoy lights. Fern’s briefing was funny and informative, filled with rantings against the government, river stories, and places to either visit or avoid.
The next night, our group of Last Call, Sanctuary, Tiger, Jaycie Lynn (new Loopers we met at Hoppies) and Glorious Dei docked on a lock wall up the Kaskaskia River 100 yards off the Mississippi. The fog in the morning was thick and slowed our departure. All but Glorious Dei and Tiger went on to the Little River Diversion Channel to anchor together again the next night.
With no fog the next morning, we continued about 4 hours down the Mississippi before turning up the Ohio river to find clearer water, but also losing about 5 knots an hour. (The Mississippi’s current had provided a big push; on the Ohio, we were going against the current.) But there was very little debris and fewer barges, so it was a more relaxed day as we made our way to another anchorage.
To the sound of Steve’s trumpeting Anchors Away, we were back out on the water early and made it to Bean Branch Creek. We had more than an hour wait at Lock 52, where 7 of us ended up locking through tied to 2 barges. This was at the grace of the tow captains, as they were not required to allow pleasure vessels to lock through with them. We spent the next evening anchored at Cumberland Island Towhead with a potluck dinner for 8 on our aft deck.
Our last day of travel before leaving the boat for a couple of weeks (to go to Paula’s nephew’s wedding in Raleigh, NC and home to Phoenix for a week) was to Buzzard Rock Marina. (We’re not sure we would have named a marina Buzzard Rock!) It was a nice marina and we had a local mechanic come to look at our continuing alternator problems. Glorious Dei was there and we joined the rest of our traveling group for dinner at Pattie’s 1880 Settlement in Grand Rivers for one of the best pork chops we’d ever had.
When we return, it will be on to Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry.
Details – Early Tuesday morning, we moved over to Alton Marina’s fuel dock for fuel and a pumpout before leaving. The first lock was just a mile downstream and we had to wait 15 minutes before we could lock through. It was the first time lifejackets were required in the lock. Shortly after, we passed the confluence of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, then went into the Chain of Rocks Canal and its lock (20 minute wait) before rounding a bend in the river to a magnificent view of St. Louis and the arch. (See top picture.) As we passed the arch, there was a lot of debris in the river to dodge. We saw our biggest barges yet – one 35-barge tow (7 wide by 5 deep) and other configurations as wide as 7 barges wide and 8 long! There were big barges anchored mid-river and as we passed St. Louis, there was continuous barge traffic and debris to avoid. The barge captains were most helpful though, and when called, would always tell us on which side they wished to be passed. The current was very strong and we saw our normal 7-knot speed as high as 11.3. We were moving!
Although we did not see them, some of the barges on the Mississippi were so long, they have to be split in half when locking. The front of the barge was driven into a lock, the front half was separated from the unit and the barge backed out with the 2nd half of the load. The cargo in the lock was then free-floating and either floated out of the lock or was winched out. The back half of the barge locked through, then reconnected with the front half before proceeding.
When Paula tried to get a reservation at Hoppie’s Marine Services in Kimmswick before leaving Alton, they were full. But a return call about 6:30 PM got us in on a cancellation. Hoppie’s was sort of a “must-stop” place for Loopers. We didn’t know why until we got there. We arrived at Hoppie’s by 1:30 and were instructed to pull in behind the third boat on the outside (Glorious Dei, who we had first met in Atlantic City, NJ, was first, then Last Call and Sanctuary, with whom we had been traveling for about a week). Later in the day, Tiger (who we had met on Lake Michigan) pulled in.
Turned out Hoppie’s was basically 4 barges end to end and no restroom, shower, or other amenities one expected from a marina other than power. People socialized in the middle section of the barge where Hoppie and his wife Fern had a table and circle of chairs. Tom walked to town with Scott from Last Call to get some highly recommended pie from the Blue Owl Bakery before it closed at 3:00.
At 4:30, Fern had her daily river briefing, starting with how to get off her dock. (The river was moving so fast past our boats it looked like we were moving.) For about an hour she told us what we could expect downriver and suggestions for anchorages. The newest Loopers at the briefing were Scott and Mary Haws on Jaycie Lynn, who had started just 6 days prior; we were the “most seasoned,” being on our last third of the Loop.
Afterward, several of us walked to Kimmswick (all 4 blocks of it) about 1/4 mile away, and had a fun dinner at Smokee Robinson’s Cajun Smokehouse. It was a very cute town, a mix of residential, gift shops, and restaurants, with a post office and library. That was about it!
In the morning, there was some fog, so everything moved slowly. Teresa gifted us with a book she wrote chronicling her walk through brain surgery, a 90-day devotional book entitled Life is Good, Fragile, Precious. We gave her Tom’s Grand Canyon, A Different View. So good to be traveling with other believers. We toured Thad and Cindy’s boat which we hadn’t seen before and showed off our newly painted shower. Then Paula visited on our aft deck with Cindy and Mary while Tom helped Thad, Cindy’s husband, with their alternator problem.
When we finally exited the dock, it was time to remember what Fern had told us in her briefing about how to get off. First, we prepared the lines so only a mid-ship line was attached, leaving it secured to the dock but looping it back to the boat. Then after we started the engines, Paula put each prop in reverse to throw out debris collected during the evening. Then, with full right rudder, she pushed up only the port engine to begin moving the bow away from the dock. As soon as the current caught the bow and began pulling it out, she brought up the starboard engine and motored straight forward to get the stern away from the dock. Then we headed for the middle of the river to avoid the rock wier dams just below their barge. So glad this was not our first rodeo! We pitied the boaters beginning their Great Loop on the Mississippi.
Four of us left the dock together. Jaycie Lynn, then us, Sanctuary, followed by Last Call. Jaycie Lynn (with their 5 days of experience) was happy for us to take the lead even though they had the fastest boat. We felt like the “grandparents” of the bunch (having traveled the farthest, and well yes, we were the oldest). We all stayed within a mile of each other and as we met barges, informed them there were 4 PVs (pleasure vessels) in our group.
We passed some barges and had some turbulence and debris, but it was not excessive. The river had wing dams, chevrons, and bend wiers. All these to some extent were an attempt to funnel silt away from the river channel and keep it clear. Some were deep underwater and some just barely below the surface or even showing. Some also created turbulence.
After 41 miles, we led the line into the Kaskaskia River, a side river on port, where there was a lock wall and barge below the lock to which we could tie for the night. Tiger was already there and helped us tie up, then each boat came in one by one. We had been told there was room for 3 boats, but we got 4 of us on the lock wall and Jaycie Lynn tied to the fuel barge, all without rafting together. (We all found it funny that Jaycie Lynn was on the fuel barge as they were the only smokers.) About 45 minutes later, Glorious Dei pulled in behind Jaycie Lynn. We were all back together again!
It was a really hot day and everyone was withered by the heat. In late September it should have been much cooler! If only the Mississippi weren’t so filthy, everyone would have been in the water.
After we were all settled, Paula helped Mary learn a few knots and rope throwing. The learning curve when just starting the Loop is so steep. We were always so appreciative when someone took the time to “show us the ropes” and Paula was happy to share what she knew. Shortly after, people gathered on the fuel barge to socialize. Yes, we know that sounds a little weird, but it was actually more comfortable than the lock wall, as it had some stuff to sit on and a little shade. Signs told us we couldn’t leave our boats or climb any ladders at the lock.
After a pasta and shrimp dinner on our aft deck as the sun was setting (it was cooler than inside the boat), Thad and Cindy came over and we taught them Qwirkle. It was great to reconnect and they enjoyed the game. (Darn it. Paula won again. She was on a roll. Thad whined for days about that and started calling big tows “Qwirkles” and said he was adding those to his score and winning.) They would be leaving the group the next day, as they were trying to make more miles in preparation for leaving their boat to go visit family in China.
The next morning, several of us found little bright green tree frogs on our boats. Dense fog (much thicker than the morning before) again delayed our departure. By 9:00, the fog had lifted, and we started pulling out. Glorious Dei was in the lead, followed by Last Call, Sanctuary, us, and Jaycie Lynn. (Tiger had unfortunately hit something with his prop the previous day and had a diver coming to swap it out.)
We were headed for the Little River Diversion Channel anchorage 69 miles downriver. We again passed many barges and lots of debris. But the scenery was nicer (more trees) and it was a more pleasant Mississippi River day. The river was even wider and we made 11 knots the whole day. Once we were all anchored in a line, a few took off to explore the side river in their dinghies. Later, At Last and Seven Tenths (whom we hadn’t seen since Chicago) pulled in. We invited everyone to docktails on our aft deck as we had the most space. Steve even put on a collared shirt, saying “I had to dress up. I was going to the big boat.” (Our boat was a whopping 3 feet longer than theirs!) We had a really fun time, with everyone joining in the conversation. We had prayed before starting our trip God would bring other Christian boaters alongside us during our Loop, and we were finally experiencing that. Thank you, Lord.
The day finished with Steve playing Taps on his trumpet at sunset, a special request from Tom. What could be better…anchored in a very quiet and still side river just off the Mississippi, good fellowship, and Taps? Bet there were no other Loopers who got live Taps at night!
We were so thankful when we woke up the next morning with no fog, but we were still fighting spiders, and the spiders were winning! We were up for a long day to finish the Mississippi River, turn up the Ohio River, and get through Olmstead Lock and Lock 53. Paula’s nephew’s wedding on Oct. 1 was approaching, and we needed to get the boat somewhere and catch a flight. We pulled anchor at 7:00.
There was more debris and more swirly-ness in the river than any other day we’d been on the Mississippi. We really had to keep our eyes on the river and drive defensively to keep our boat going the right direction and keep debris from doing damage to our props. We traveled along with Next Adventure (but a different one than the Next Adventure we had met previously, we learned later), Seven Tenths, and At Last. Our AIS showed our previous traveling companions, Sanctuary, Last Call, and Jaycie Lynn, only 3 miles behind, so they weren’t too long pulling out of our anchorage after we did.
Finally, after about 4 hours, we arrived at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers. As we made the turn, we crossed a line into clearer water. As Sanctuary said, “The Lord giveth (clear water) and the Lord taketh away (speed).” Now we were going upriver and we immediately went from 11 knots (4 faster than our normal) to 6 knots (1 against us). There were still lots of tows, but almost no debris. It was a welcome relief.
As we traveled up the Ohio there were not as many big barges moving, but there were many barges being loaded in a variety of ways. Some facilities seemed to be “pumping” material into the barge, others used conveyor belts, dropping sand and gravel onto the bed. To us the most interesting (probably because we had toured the Caterpillar Visitor’s Center in Peoria) were the big loaders backing down a ramp and dumping right into the barge. At times, one end of the barge would be out of the water as the other end was loaded heavily. We also passed the Queen of the Mississippi paddleboat.
When we got to the Olmstead Lock, 14 miles up the Ohio River, we had an hour wait for an escort boat to lead us through Olmstead and Lock 53, 2 miles upstream from Olmstead. The Olmstead Lock was under construction, originally supposed to be completed in 2014, then revised to 2017, then revised to “indefinite” when the money ran out. It was to replace Lock 53 and 52, both old locks which broke often. We assumed the “need” for an escort boat was due to the construction, but as we went through, we felt it was a complete waste. We were required to follow behind a tow (which barely squeezed through the lock, crawling just a little faster than drying paint), then stay in line until we got through “Lock 53,” which really didn’t even exist. After that, we finally got to pass the barge and be on our way.
By the time we were allowed through the lock, Sanctuary, Last Call, and Jaycee Lynn had caught up with us, but the lockmaster would not allow them to lock through with us. They had to wait until the next tow went through and follow it, which ended up being about a 3-hour wait for them. They rejoined the group at Bean Branch Creek anchorage just after dark, something we pleasure vessels tend not to do. But, they were sort of between a rock and a hard place. Had they not locked through when they had the opportunity, they might have had to wait hours more in the morning and there was no other marked anchorage until the one where we were. But the river was clear, and everyone felt it was safe for them.
Saturday morning at 6:50, Steve trumpeted “Anchors Away” and the 7 of us pulled anchor and headed for Lock 52. After 2.5 hours, we arrived. At first, we were told an hour’s wait, which was later changed to a “few hours.” We all anchored and waited. At least it was morning and not hot yet. After an hour and 15 minutes, 2 barges entering the lock agreed to let all 7 of us lock through with them and tie off to their sides. In we went.
By the time we got out, we figured we wouldn’t get to Buzzard Rock Marina (6 hours away) until 7:10, only 20 minutes before dark. That was out of our comfort zone since there was another lock as well, so we went to Cumberland Island Towhead anchorage for another night with our friends. Everyone escaped to their cabins and air conditioning to avoid the heat for a while (what was up with low 90s and high humidity in late September?), then we all gathered for a potluck on our aft deck. Tom grilled salmon on our BBQ, Jaycie Lynn brought wild rice, Last Call brought apps and edamame, Sanctuary brought a salad. We had a great time, regretting we would be leaving them the next day, as they were staying at Green Turtle Bay marina while we went a bit farther to Buzzard Rock, a less expensive marina where we would leave the boat for a couple of weeks.
We got a great night’s sleep and pulled anchor to the bugling of Anchors Away around 8:00. It was time to leave the Ohio River and proceed onto the Cumberland River. The Cumberland was much narrower than the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, and a little clearer. As we traveled along, we still had a few barges, and with the river being narrower, we had to negotiate our passings. Odyssey (who we hadn’t seen since Alton) caught up with us before the Barkley Lock in addition to 2 other Loopers we hadn’t met, so the 7 of us locked through together with only about a 10-minute wait. Odyssey, too, had damaged a prop and bow thruster at Hoppie’s and was moving at a slower pace until he could get it repaired. These rivers were hard on boats and we were again thankful no bad stuff had happened to us. Steve serenaded us on his trumpet in the lock, but the lockmaster wanted to know what that “noise” was! When one of the other boats reported it was a trumpet, the lockmaster told him to stop. Obviously, he didn’t know how to appreciate good music!
Glorious Dei texted us that Buzzard Rock’s pumpout was broken, so we stopped for a pumpout at Green Turtle Bay enroute, where everyone else was staying. It was a huge marina, a great place for Loopers to meet each other, but we found it very disorganized. Everyone was made to go to the fuel dock and check in and then walked to see their slip before moving their boat there. It made for huge congestion, and it took us 1.5 hours to get a 15-minute pumpout.
We bowed into a 16’ slip next to the full fuel dock (leaving only 9” on each side of us), Paula not realizing until we were in just how narrow it was. When complimented by Odyssey’s captain, Dan, on how she squeezed Life’s TraVails in, she realized just how far she had come in her driving skills to have not gotten excited about such a tight spot. (Of course, if Tom had asked her to stern in, that would probably have been a different story.)
After the pumpout we continued down Lake Barkley, which widened to about 1.5 miles. It was very pretty with mainly undeveloped banks and a few big houses. We passed only 1 barge on the lake. Soon, we pulled into Buzzard Rock Marina, a marina for mostly locals and only a few slips for transients, where we docked just a few boats down from Glorious Dei. Thad and Cindy joined us for supper at the Buzzard Rock restaurant and we all had delicious dinners with lots of good-for-digestion laughter on the screened porch before turning in for the night.
It rained overnight, finally clearing the humidity and we awoke to much cooler temperatures. It felt like fall was imminent. We were so thankful for the previous week’s clear weather for our many anchorages that we didn’t mind the day’s overcast and wind. We got an invitation to join Sanctuary, Last Call, and Jaycee Lynn for dinner at Patti’s 1880 Settlement restaurant in Grand Rivers for their famous pork chops, flowerpot bread and mile-high meringue pies. Maybe they were missing us already (as we were them). Glorious Dei, now with a rental car, drove us over. We had a great time with the 10 of us together one last time and the food was excellent.
Before we left the boat, we found a mechanic who came and looked at our alternator and synchronizer problems. He took both alternators to a rebuilder with plans for reinstallation when we returned. The day was filled with preparations for leaving the boat for 2 weeks to go to Paula’s nephew’s wedding in Raleigh, NC and return home for a short stay. We used Buzzard Rock’s courtesy to drive the 45 minutes to Paducah, KY to pick up our Enterprise rental car. Early the next morning, we drove the 1.5 hours to Nashville for the flight out.