Saturday, October 15, 2011

Missississississippi River

We spent 3 more days cruising down the Illinois River to the mouth of the Mississippi. Several nice peaceful anchorages and great weather.

The Mississippi, just below the Illinois River junction, is very pretty with high bluffs. The leaves are just turning. The river is wide and the traffic is minimal. Made for a nice afternoon introduction to the Mighty Mississippi. First stop for us is Alton, Il., just in time for Monday Nite football featuring the Deee-troit Lions. Good to see them playing well! Tuesday & Wednesday were chores time at the marina. Laundry, cleaning, waxing, fuel filter change and other assorted details. Tuesday nite was a beautiful night in the marina hot tub under a full moon! NICE!
I needed some extra fuel jugs for the long upcoming run on the river. I asked a dock neighbor where to go and he volunteered to drive me to the farm store. Always great people hangin' around the marinas.
The need for extra fuel jugs is because of a 250 mile run between fuel stops. There are no services from just south of St. Louis down the Mississippi to the Ohio River and up the Ohio past Paducah to the Cumberland River and Lake Barkley.
The fuel stop just south of St. Louis is called Hoppies. It's run by a great elder couple Fern & Charlie. Hoppies is just several barges strung together on the river. Very basic, rustic, primitive. But they have fuel & water so it is a must stop before the 250 miles. They also have afternoon sessions conducted by Fern on what to look for and where to stop. She is a very colorful character. Charlie is the last living "lamplighter" on the Mississippi. He used to light lamps on bouys every night. Made the stop worthwhile just to chat with her. We enjoyed our stay at Hoppies.
The Miss. river water levels are always down in the fall but this year is especially low. One good stop recommended to us is the Kaskaskia River just off the Miss. So we pulled in there the first night after Hoppies. Well, we TRIED to. WHACK!! Hard into a sand bar. OOOPS. Luckily, my solid fiberglass keel didn't mind a sharp encounter with a sand bar. But we sure did stop quick. So back out & head further down the river. Time to improvise. There are wing dams on the river to control the flow. We picked one and pulled in behind it. We weren't totally out of the flow of the river but good enough, barely. On top of the current flow, the wind was blowing pretty hard down the river as well. These two things combined for concern with a dragging anchor. So I set alarms of 11pm, 2am & 4 am to get up and check position. Made for a fitful night of sleep but we didn't move at all.

We got back underway at dawn. With all the current flow, we averaged 9 knots instead of our usual 6. So we managed to run 91 miles almost all the way to Cairo at the mouth of the Ohio. Another beautiful night at anchor with a little shrimp sauteed in the cast iron skillet. But the day wasn't without some excitement. We came upon a big barge/tow rig that was negotiating a sharp turn and holding up traffic, including us in the process. When he finally did make the turn it was time for us to pass. This rig was 5 barges long & 3 barges wide. Each barge is about 100' long & about 40' wide. He's moving about 8.5 knots and the best I can do is about 10 knots. It takes a LOOOONG time to pass. I hailed him on the radio to see if he was OK with it and if there was traffic ahead. He said to come on through! Well, we get about half way past and I can see another big barge rig coming upstream at us. The river is not THAT wide. I sent Chris to the bow with some vaseline to grease the hull so we could squeeze between them. It was a hairy moment running between those two barge rigs! Just another day of "Rollin On The River".

Tomorrow we head up the Ohio River. We loose the favorable downstream current of the Mississippi and our fuel consumption will go up fighting the current. How much will our fuel burn increase? Will we have enough? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Video: Cruising The Cal-Sag Canal

River critters

This is Chris.

I am always on the lookout for interesting wildlife on the water. We have been seeing Egrets and Great Blue Heron along the banks of the river. They are so common that we joke that they are mile markers! Saturday night we anchored behind Bar Island on the Illinois River. Just up from us was a point of land that had hundreds of Pelicans resting for the night. Sunday morning they formed into some interesting formations as they flew past us on their migration south. We have been seeing hawks and those CRAZY jumping carp. Early morning and just before dusk they start jumping. We have had them get so riled as we go by that one or two have thumped into the bottom of our boat. It has been very far. As the saying goes, it is all fun and games until someone gets hurt. I have heard, but not seen an owl and we saw a family (I think) of Bald Eagles, along the bank. Two adults with white heads and one juvenile without the white head. I will maintain my lookout and maybe there could be a critters video in the making?

Monday, October 10, 2011

A bad day on the river is better than a good day at the office!

Friday started out great. We had a good evening Thursday night in Peoria and the morning weather was perfect. We cast off at 8AM with the Peoria lock a few miles downstream. That’s when the day started to deteriorate. First, we had to dodge falling concrete from construction on the bridge just above the lock. Then we had to circle while waiting for a very large tow to lock down or anchor. Circling is tedious so we decided to anchor. Just as we were about to drop it, we were hailed by another working tow headed right at us. He needed room to enter a small creek with his barge. So we decided to head back upstream under the debris bridge to cool our heels in more open space. That lasted 4 hours! There was another tow in line ahead of us and he was a chemical barge so we could not join him even if there was room. As we’re finally getting ready to enter the lock, fellow cruisers who slept in came motoring up just in time for our opening. Nice timing! We also shared the lock with a canoeist who is paddling all the way to New Orleans. And we thought we were adventurous in our 42’ boat!

Places to stop for the night get sparse on this part of the river. And low water levels make it much more difficult for a deep draft sailboat. We pulled into the backside of an island after reading reports of deep water well past the coal docks. Well, the deep water ended right at the end of a line of barges. There weren’t any good alternatives, so we dropped the hook there along with our companion. Around 11pm, we were awoken by a tow with 4 barges wanting our space. We chatted with him on the radio, very friendly and helpful. We upped anchor and moved out of his way and re-anchored in a small space between two sets of barges tied to shore. He promised there would be no issues there. He did come back later and haul away the coal barges downstream of us. We had to be gone by 7am as the coal unloading would begin then. No need for coal dust showers in the morning.

Oh well, it all worked out fine. No real danger, just many inconveniences. Saturday made up for it with another beautiful day.

Sorry for the delay in posting. Internet was very thin on the lower Illinois River.