First of all, I don’t know how I forgot to add this photo to the last blog, but it is a special one – many of our Milwaukee friends joined us for a glass of wine aboard Next Dance before heading over to Scott and Jean’s home to carry on. This is a photo of them on deck. Thank you all for joining us and giving us a wonderful memory!
The river system we have, and will be traveling on, is comprised of the Illinois River (Chicago to Grafton, Il, 233 miles), a portion of the Mississippi River (Grafton, Il to Cairo, Il, 218 miles), a short leg on the Ohio River (Cairo, Il for 66 miles) to the junction with the Cumberland River, then 33 miles up to Lake Barkley (dammed up Cumberland River). From there we take a short man made canal to the Tennessee River, on which we travel 190 miles to we reach the Tombigbee/Black Warrior Rivers. From there it is 450 miles to Mobile, Alabama. The system has been in use primarily for commercial traffic since mid 1800’s (Il., Miss., and Ohio) to only as recent as 1983, Tombigbee.
We entered the Illinois River on September 8th. Our game plan was to average about 30-40 miles per day. Taking 30 to 45 days or so for the entire system. Boy were we wrong! On the evening of September 8th, a major front came through the upper midwest dumping 5 to 8 inches of rain in both the Illinois and upper Mississippi watersheds. Both rivers experienced significant flooding which lasted about ten days. When this happens many of the locks are closed (read underwater) and all traffic comes to a halt. Pleasure boaters, mainly Great Loopers like ourselves, can only wait it out until the water drops low enough to proceed. The floods not only bring high water but also very rapid river currents and a large amount of debris – read trees. At times a “dam” of floating debris crosses the river from bank to bank. When you hit those, you take the boat out of gear and hope momentum takes you through. Since all Great Looper’s hit the river system about the same time, there was a serious log jam in the few available marina’s on the river system. Anchoring was just too dangerous because of the debris and strong current.
As a result, once the water started to reside, we could only move down river when a space became available in a marina a day’s travel below us. Therefore, we had delays as much as five nights in a given spot. We got to know some towns we had never heard of very well….Beardstown, Ottawa, and Henry, Il to name a few. On the upside we made a lot of new friends among fellow loopers.
Well, as I write this, we are anchored on the Ohio River hoping to get through two remaining locks tomorrow and arrive tomorrow night at a nice marina on Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Getting through a lock, ONCE WE ENTER, only takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Waiting to get in can take hours, or in some cases experienced by a few fellow loopers, an entire day. Commercial traffic by law is locked through before recreational boaters. However, towboat boat captains often take pity on us, and squeeze us in between barge loads.
The river system experience is interesting and necessary, but definitely not scenic, nor relaxing. You see a very industrial, grimy side of America. Commercial traffic is extensive (2 to 4 encounters per hour) and at least at first, intimidating. Passing a towboat with up to 600 ft of barges (16 in number) out in front and leaving a wake behind of churned up water with waves up to 8 feet high in some cases, AND on a bend, is a little challenging. On top of it all, the towboat captains are all from the deep south and it is hard for this upper Midwest couple to understanding what they are saying on the VHF radio. (You must contact each tow boat and ask on what side and when it wants to be passed.) They will tell you either on the “one whistle” or the “two whistle”. We suspect that the history of this if from the days of steam driven boats and they would either give a one or two whistle to tell boats which side they should pass on. Only a theory – I have not looked it up!!
By far, the worst experience was the Mississippi, followed by the Illinois. At times on the Mississippi, our boat, that normally cruises at 8 mph, was being pushed along by the current at 13 mph. You have greatly reduced directional control and pulling into a dock is a one shot deal. If you miss, you really don”t get a second chance. So far we have been lucky!
Today’s experience on the Ohio was a nice surprise in comparison, much less current, the river’s much wider and straighter, and less industrial, at least on this portion.
By now, you must be wondering why we are doing this. Trust us, we have asked the same question often during the last 3 weeks.
But the worst is behind us. The rivers we still must travel are much less commercial, pretty and relaxing…or so we have been told! We’ll let you know! It will be nice to slow down, if nothing else. We heard not too far down the river is a marina near Shiloh. We hope to visit the battlefield. From this point forward we hope to get some sightseeing in.
We cannot go any further south than Demopolis, AL until after October 24 due to insurance reasons – AKA hurricanes. So that should slow us down a bit and enjoy life a bit instead of long, tiring days trying to get somewhere.
Tomorrow is a busy day, ladies day out!! There is a courtesy car at the marina and Pauline and three other ladies are going to drive to Paducah to go to a mall, get nails done, shop, have fun and laughs. Can’t wait! I’m sure the hubbies will be doing boat projects. The ladies need a much needed break. It has been very hot. So a day away from boat things will be nice change. Upon our return to the Marina, the Marina is hosting it’s annual BBQ for the Loopers. They are providing all of the BBQ and sides – we just have to bring our beverage of choice. Oh, by the way, we are in a “dry” county. When we go out to restaurants here, we bring our own wine! We have to give it to the server and they open it and serve it. I’m not so sure about this Southern way of life . . . what are they thinking??
Whew! I am caught up on the blog. I’ll try not to wait so long to do it next time!!
Until the next time, calm rivers and cool nights!