Saturday, September 25, 1999. In the morning, we move the Interlude back to Hammond Marina in Hammond, Indiana (Suburban Chicago). This will be our staging area for entry into the river system. We need to take down the bimini, fold the bimini frame, fold the arch, check on clearances, inflate our large lock fenders, etc. before we start down the river.
At Hammond Marina we try again to track down the errant Graffeo Coffee shipment. (We have had coffee beans from our favorite roaster in San Francisco shipped to us.) They should have arrived a week ago, but they didn't, and they still aren't here, so we'll call Graffeo and have them try again. It's probably the best coffee in the world, and well worth all the effort. We've used their coffee for years and years.
We've enjoyed the Great Lakes more than we had even anticipated--and our expectations were high. This is a wonderful part of the world. The Great Lakes are really small oceans and they're surrounded by foreign countries, many states, and innumerable villages in addition to some of the great cities of North America. We have been privileged to spend so many weeks exploring this area. Even though we grew up nearby, and lived much of our lives in the area, seeing it by water and at 10 miles per hour has put it all into a wonderful new perspective. To our readers, if you haven't had an opportunity to explore this area, consider it.
Sunday, September 26, 1999. We fly early to Washington for meetings on Monday then on to St. Petersburg for a couple of days in the office. We notice upon leaving that Chicago is due for some strong winds with the passing of cold front. Winds may exceed 30 knots. We put double lines and double fenders on Interlude and hope for the best.
Thursday, September 30, 1999. We return to Interlude in the early afternoon. Much to do to prep for entry into the river system. First of all we notice, that lines and pilings are chaffed--we got the winds predicted. Our 4-step ladder is bent from the abrasion with the dock. Fortunately, someone removed the ladder and placed it on deck. But it will need straightening. Secondly, the dinghy cover is missing. Apparently it has worked itself off the dinghy and blown away. After a while we find it in the cockpit. Someone has stuffed it under a lip to keep it secure. Thanks somebody, we appreciate you looking out after us. Otherwise, Interlude is fine.
Bill has arranged for a helper or two from the marina to assist in lowering the arch. Before, Bob Birkenstock helped to lower the arch, but this time, we need to take it loose from the hinges as well as lower it. Ahead, less than 30 miles is a fixed bridge at nineteen feet and one inch. We called a nearby lockmaster last week, and he indicated that the pool level (the water level between locks) was essentially normal in spite of the drought. So, we need to get under 19'1". With the arch down, we're 19'8", so we need to do more.
First we take down the bimini, fold the frame and store it forward of the venturi. It's heavy, but Bill does it by himself. Next, we use the crane to lower the arch--with a helper, this is easy work for the two of us. Next, we remove the hinge pins and lower the entire hinge assembly of the arch. Three of us straining do it. Then we measure--19"4", we've got to go lower. So this time, we get a second helper and we lift the arch and reduce the cradle it sits in by turning it on its side. A big job for the four of us, but we succeed. We measure again, 19' even. We should clear the bridge by one inch! We call it a day.
In the afternoon, Kelly O'Connor from O'Connor Navigation stops by with four new lines for us. These are braided one inch lines, fully a third bigger than we currently have on board, and the size recommended for a boat with Interlude's weight. Kelly has a client who ordered these lines and they are too big for his boat, but they're prefect for Interlude. We pay him and he leave because he has a long drive home.
Friday, October 1, 1999. We awake at 6:30 AM -- neither of us having slept much. We're full of tension and anticipation...this is a distinctly new phase of the trip and we're full of questions and uncertainties. By shortly after 7:00 we're under way, the winds have diminished, and seas are much calmer than yesterday. We travel the two miles to the entrance of the Calumet Sag and that's the end of the Great Lakes in a big way. The Calumet Sag is steel mills, industry, pollution, etc. It's hard to describe the change; see the Current Photos page for some examples.
We encounter the first lock within a few miles and "float through"; that is, we don't tie up, simply hold our position in the middle of a lock that is 1000 feet long and 110 feet wide. We drop less than two feet. The next miles are very slow. We encounter tugs with barges, barges being unloaded and loaded, etc. We need to keep the wake to an absolute minimum less we cause barges that have flat bottoms to break their moorings and get people really upset. Our progress is little more than dead slow.
By shortly after lunch we merge with the Chicago Sanitary Bypass and traffic gets heavier. A few miles later we encounter the 19'1" bridge--our entire way home depends on getting under this bridge. Bill moves from the pilot house to the bridge, and navigates under duress (the arch is down and in his way), so that he can see better. They inch toward the bridge. It's looks terribly low. Both of us feel our heads will hit the bridge and if they do, it will be tearing the arch and much of the bridge superstructure off, too. Foot by foot we approach, and with rags prepared to serve as buffers, we get to the edge of the superstructure. We're going to make it, by three inches! Bill can chin himself on the girders of the bridge. We're on our way home! Wow! We're both shaking and hyperventilating, but we're under the bridge.
Within a few miles we're in the second lock, and meet up with four other pleasure boats heading south. The largest is another boat the size of Interlude called Amori. We docked adjacent to them in Burnham Marina in Chicago. They're of a different design, lower in superstructure, and came down the Chicago River. But, we meet within minutes of each other, and check in. They're going to the same location down river, and agree to assist each other in raising radar arches once we're docked. Peter and Margo are from Canada, doing a year plus cruise with their children and a parent.; We hope to get to know them better as we travel together. Wild Rose, a Krogan 49, is also with us. We've seen them before, too.
We pass third lock, and interestingly, we call the lockmaster and he indicates we can tie up to the port wall while the other four boats are required to tie up to starboard. This is a break for us because our huge fenders are set for port tie-up from the previous lock. What a break. We pull into the lock and the lockmaster asks us if we're a passenger ship or a private yacht. What a strange question! Of course, we're a private yacht. Then he explains that only steel hull, passenger ships are permitted to use the floating billiards in the locks. Well, friends and neighbors, these floating billiards are the best thing going (see Current Photos). We can wrap a single large line, close hauled around the bolland, and float to the bottom of the lock--more than 40 feet. This is probably 10,000 times less stress than holding the lines fore and aft. So, naturally, we indicate to the lockmaster that we're a steel hulled passenger vessel with Coast Guard registration. We're not stupid. So, we tie to the billiards, and enjoy the ride to the bottom of the lock. No sweat, no strain. (Why is he being so nice to us, am I supposed to slip him a $20 or something???) Nevertheless, this is the most pleasant lock yet--we literally stand around and watch the process.
By 4:00 PM, after 50 miles of industry, locks, and barge traffic, we dock at Harborside Marina in Wilmington, IL, south of Chicago. A really nice marina with really nice people. Wild Rose and Amori also dock with us. As agreed, I hike over to Amori and help Pete raise his radar arch. His wife and mother, and two kids pitch in and the job is done in less than half an hour. I return to Interlude and prepare for their arrival so we can do the same.
With a minimum of struggle we reverse the lowering process and return our arch to the upright position. Thank goodness it is over. That arch weights almost a thousand pounds, and spans nearly 20 feet. But, we succeed with no hitches. Pete and Margo return to their boat, and the two of us spend another hour restoring the bimini (less the canvas which we'll leave off for the time being). Then we do a quick washdown of the main deck and discover there is an oily coat on Interlude that doesn't seen to want to wash away with water. Tomorrow, if we have time, we'll mix some Simple Green and give it a good scrubbing.
In the morning Jan had begun a crock pot stew loaded with fresh vegetables and fresh herbs and by the end of the day, the smell is irresistible. What a gourmet! We have a wonderful dinner with a bottle of young Burgundy. Yummy.
All in all, this was a tension filled day that passed without problem. What a relief. Our plan tomorrow is to double our mileage (we made 51 miles today). We're now in the Des Plaines River, and tomorrow we'll merge with the Illinois River. While it is an important river route for tugs and barges, there isn't much for pleasure boats, so we'll try to make some distance. We plan to travel with Wild Rose and Amori so we're in good company.
Saturday, October 2, 1999. Well, friends, neighbors, and teeny boppers of all ages, this has been a day of high adventure and extreme beauty. We arose at 5:30 AM with the plan of a 6:15 departure. At six we called the lockmaster just south of us for a status update. Guess what, an hour wait, but that's OK because at 6:15 it is still dark in Central Daylight Time. So, we wait, and at 7:00 we depart and make it through the first lock. There are a total of three pleasure boats: Interlude, Amori, and Dutchess. Dutchess is also a St. Pete boat -- from Bacopa Bay, across the street from Bayway Isles in Isla Del Sol. Small world.
The Des Plaines River is a mix of tranquil beauty enhanced with the changing of the seasons and a staging point for barges of all sizes, shapes and colors. We alternate between 10 knots (12 miles per hour) and 6 knots.
At the second lock of the day, there are now five pleasure boats so we constitute a critical mass--enough that lockmasters will want to get rid of us. We approach the lock, and learn that we'll be ready to descend in about 30 minutes--there is a tow in the process of being raised. Three hours later, we're in the lock. It seems that the tow approaching the lock from the lower pool went aground diagonally across the approach channel and got stuck. So we waited and waited. But, finally we were through with the second of three locks for the day. It is now about 2:30 PM and we're far short of our goal of 100 miles for the day. Quickly we discuss plans with Amori and decide on a marina about 20 miles closer than our plan. They have room.
The third lock works like a charm, we sail through in 20 minutes. It couldn't be better. The rest of the afternoon is beautiful river travel. It is wooded on both banks; the river ranges from 200 yards in width to perhaps tenths of a mile. A beautiful river. With the merger of the Kankakee River, the Des Plaines River becomes the Illinois River. With the merger barge traffic increases--this is a real commercial route to the Mississippi--hundreds of barges, many loaded with grain from the corm belt. No wonder we feed half the world--this area is enormous and staggeringly productive, if they're filling all of the barges with food--we've passed hundreds of them!
Our marina-de-jour is Henry's Harbor (HH to those to know!). We're to tie up along the old lock wall, since we're too big. Amori and Interlude are two tie-up behind Compound Interest who is already here. We tip-toe in since the marina "dock" is a stone wall (see Current Photos). This stuff isn't forgiving, so we're very careful. And there aren't any cleats to secure our lines, we use trees, roots, and rocks. This is living.
For dinner, we visit the marina's restaurant which is having an Italian Buffet. Great, Bill's starved. We eat at a table near both Amori and Wild Rose (who arrived last and tied up to the gas dock). We're really getting a nice bunch of friends around us.
After dinner, we come back to Interlude, turn on the satellite TV to check on the weather, and start planning for tomorrow. We want to make more than 100 miles and we'll leave as a group about 6:30 AM. How's this for adventure. Off your duffs, you couch potatoes! And by the way, contrary to many comments, this river trip is beautiful. America is a wonderful country filled with endless sights that are world-class. The Des Plaines-Illinois River is certainly one of them, especially in the fall with the added color in the trees.
Sunday, October 3, 1999. What a yucky day! On a scale of one to ten measuring yuck, this is a 10. The high today was 46 and it rained all day. At 2:30 PM it was so dark, we almost needed headlights. But, this was indeed, a day to make miles and we did-110 to be exact, and that includes one of the notorious Illinois River locks.
Beyond complaining about the weather, there is little to describe since the river is much of the same, all the way. We did have an interesting situation just before noon when we came upon a tug and barge in the river running the same direction as we. We called for a slow pass and he agreed to two whistles (our starboard to his port). But this was at a bend in the river, and he was, in fact, trying to overtake a much larger tug and barge (15 barges in five rows of three). To complicate the matters more, we were at a bend in the river (tows need tons of space to make these turns), there is a third tug and barge train coming down river at the same point, and there was a dredge operating at that location, too.
So, this assignment, if you should accept it, is to negotiate the opposing tug, get around the dredge, and pass the two barges ahead of us, and do all of this in a narrow channel scarcely wider than enough for a single barge tow. We did it, and not without some anxiety, but the barge drivers are very friendly and helpful and we succeeded with their assistance.
The rest of the day was uneventful except for the rain and wind. When we arrive at Beardstown, there isn't any place big enough for Interlude except to tie to a barge at the Logston Tug Service. I will try to take some pictures tomorrow if the rain has stopped. The cleats on these barges must be two feet long and weigh 400 pounds. Our lines look so puny.
We are invited over to the Amori for drinks and end up staying for dinner, Peter and Marla are gracious hosts, and good conversationalists. They are home-schooling their children while they spend a year traveling aboard Amori. What an education! Marla's mother is spending some time on board, too; and she was the cook extraordinaire tonight fixing a marvelous dinner. The kids were wait-staff, and all it all it was a wonderful evening. Boating people are great.
Monday, October 4, 1999. Today began before dawn as Bill carefully climbed over a total of six barges, and then trundled up a long set of treacherous metal stairs to the top of the seawall dike to the office of Logston Tug Service where he paid $20 (cash) for the tie-up, and heeded the advice of the several tug captains standing around in the room that we had better head south quickly to get through the LaSalle lock because there is a stack of barges on the way down. We could be there for hours!
A special note about fenders in locks. Interlude lacks walk-around decks. When we need to move fenders from one side to the other, it is done with some risk since the mover is exposed to a narrow catwalk without railings, and the lock fenders are heavy and bulky. But Bob Birkenstock put together a solution that minimizes the risk and is very clever. There is a sail track along most of the length of the boat on both sides. On this sail track there is a series of cars which move from stop to stop (every couple of inches). These cars have an eye on them to which you can attach a line or ring. Bob rigged each of our large teardrop fenders with a carabiner (metal ring with a spring loaded gate) so that when the fender is hung from the carabiner installed on the sail track, it will be at the right height. The carabiner is tied into the long line on each fender. By hanging the fender over the sailtrack eye, using the rope to carry the weight of the fender, it is easy to slip the carabiner into the eye. The combination of having a rope to carry the weight, and a carabiner to easy the attachment works every time with minimum risk. Nice work Bob, very clever. And Thanks!
Meanwhile, back to Logston and the Interlude. We left immediately (6:45 AM) in partial darkness and headed south, four pleasure boats in a squadron. We arrived at the lock at 7:30 and were informed we had a 90 minute wait because a tug was stuck crosswise in the lock (sound familiar?). We hovered there until 10:15 when we finally got into the lock and were quickly through.
The last 75 miles of the Illinois River were generally quiet and remote, so when we could we put Interlude and Amori up on plane to speed the trip. It's a rush to send a big boat down a relatively small river at 20 knots. (Remind me to fill the fuel tanks in Alton...)
Early in the afternoon, we passed through the 40th parallel of latitude. We're coming home.
At 3:30 PM we arrive at the junction buoy marking the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. How exciting to begin our trip down the Mississippi--American's great river. Early on, on the Illinois side, are high limestone cliffs, while on the Missouri side are endless islands, and the river is enormous.
We travel about 16 miles to the Alton Marina (near St. Louis), where we're warmly welcomed to an absolutely first-class facility. Too bad there aren't dozens more like it, but we're grateful to be here, a good day with more than 100 miles under our belt.
Now, a few words about some maintenance issues. (1) The starboard navigation light (green) was out and while we waited for the lock at LaSalle, Bill replaced the bulb. Cross that one off the list. (2) The satellite TV seems to lock us out of all stations. We called DirecTV and they will reinitialize our received by satellite. That should fix it. We'll see tonight. (3) The depth sounder and the wind velocity indicator portions of the Datamarine Instrument stopped working a couple of days ago. We called Datamarine, a diode in the wind velocity indicator has failed, they'll mail us a reconditioning kit (must happen with some regularity). I should have it in a week, in the meantime, if I disconnect the red wire, it will restore the depth sounder portion of the instrument to health. I'll do that tomorrow. (4) the Nobletec refuses to load the Illinois or Mississippi River charts--gives us some screwy error message. Finally talked to Nobletec (their service department doesn't open until 9:00 AM Pacific time--some support!). They indicated these are new charts and Softchart (the producer) has changed the formats. I can download a large (2 megabyte) "patch" to the software to fix it if I can get to the Internet. (Alton Marina will provide me with a phone line in the morning-hurray!). So, it looks like we're getting through this series of problems with some measure of success. Nothing like being your own service department -- it brings out the creativity in you...
Now, another problem. We're discovering very low water--today Dutchess (one of the four boats traveling together) hit a deadhead (something solid) which was floating at or under the surface. They damaged a prop in a major way and will be laid up for days. We're trying to set up our stops for the next 250 miles--all we need are three stops. First of all, there aren't many pleasure boat marinas in this stretch of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The ones that are there are all telling us there isn't enough water depth for us. This is becoming a problem. To make it worse, we're trying to set up marinas to fit a visit by Bill's mother and her husband--but we're finding even the biggest marinas indicate they don't have much water, and what they have is being drawn down by the TVA. We may have to abandon our plans to travel up the Tennessee River for this trip for lack of places to dock and fuel. The drought has finally affected us. We're going to use tomorrow to make some calls and try to get some definitive information. Keep your fingers crossed.
By the way, tied up behind us is a Crescent Beach yacht called Dare to Dream. This boat is being featured in the October 1999 edition of yachting. It's gorgeous.
Tuesday, October 5, 1999. A day off from travel for clean-up and fix-up. Jan awoke with a sinus headache that righted itself by noon after she took some decongestant and Nuprin. Bill was in an industrious mood and started on the fix-it list. (1) He made the modification to the Datamarine system and was able to restore the depth sounder function. Fixed! (2) He downloaded the patch on the Nobeltec navigation software using the marina's credit card telephone line and was able to load the new format charts for the first time. Fixed! (3) He replaced the step light that was malfunctioning. Fixed! (4) He replaced the hour meter on the #1 genset. Fixed! (5) He got bills paid and mail sent.
After noon, we called the local grocery and had them send a car for us. Seriously! He even stopped at the post office first so that we could mail letters. After we completed reprovisioning, he returned us to the boat. Very hospitable just like about everyone else around here. The grocery shopping completely restocked our fresh fruits and vegetables which we had depleted. Nice to have green stuff around again.
About dinner time Bill's cousin, David Haueisen, his wife, Mary, and one of their children, Michael, came over to visit the boat. We gave them a tour then went with them to their beautiful home for dinner of grilled salmon. Delicious! We got to meet all three of their children for the first time. The Haueisen's are spread out all over the country and it was good to see some of the family again, and to get caught-up on other people's lives.
We've studied the map and the list of available marinas between here and Green Turtle (on the Cumberland River). There isn't much, but since we can't get reservations for Green Turtle until Sunday night (they're having a big fair and are booked solid), we'll split with Amori, at least for several days since they have a reservation for Saturday night at Green Turtle. Our plan is to push with hard days and stay where we can and simply get there as quickly as we can.
Wednesday, October 6, 1999. Another day in port in Alton (this place is too nice to leave).Bill spent the day writing a consulting report for the office, and Jan worked on a variety of catch-up activities. Midday, we saw Amori off--they'll be running a day or so ahead of us since they have reservations for Saturday at Green Turtle.
In the afternoon, we gave Interlude a bath on the starboard side. Looks a world better. We'll try to tie up to port soon, so that we can do the other side. I'm looking forward to getting home and having a detailing company give Interlude a complete rub out and buff. But, even without that, we look much more shipshape, as they say.
Dinner was an event. We went to Fast Eddie's...a local landmark. Get this: they come and get us in a van and take us to the restaurant/bar. We order a 1/2 pound hamburger, a dozen large shrimp, a basket of fries, two beers, two glasses of wine, four baskets of popcorn, plus a tip for the driver who took us back to the boat. Total cost: $16.60. Quite a place, put it on your list of experiences not to miss.
Thursday, October 7, 1999. We depart at 7:00 AM southbound and pass the first lock immediately. They use floating billiards so the trip down was almost effortless. Within ten miles we're at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and the current picks up from 1.5 knots to 4.5 knots. It's really ripping--suddenly Interlude is a 14 knots and we're only at 1050 rpm. That should help the fuel efficiency.
Shortly thereafter we're in the shadow of downtown St. Louis. There are half a dozen gambling boats (we've seen them everywhere in the lakes and along the way), but only one ugly floating industrial barge for pleasure boaters to tie to. Some joke. This is a world class city that has totally ignored its waterfront and pleasure boaters. Talk about head in the sand.
At 11:00 AM we stop at Hoppie's Marine Services to top up our fuel tanks. Hoppie's is a piece of work. It, too, is a series of old floating barges anchored at the side of the river. We tie up in short order and begin fueling. Bill inquires of the operators as to how this string of barges in held in place. He indicates that there is a sunken Civil War gunboat sunk about 100 yards ahead of the dock. They've tied cables to the gunboat to hold the docks in place.
At 2:00 we're stopped dead in the river. A tow with 15 barges cannot make a sharp turn in the river and has driven the lead barges ashore. He makes several tries, and finally, after an hour, lets us pass as he pauses to think things over. We slip by on the one whistle as quietly as possible with two other pleasure boats.
At 3:30 we turn into the Kaskaskia River and proceed about a mile upstream to a dam and lock, and, with permission of the lockmaster, tie up to the backside of the lower guide wall. It's blowing rather hard, the barometer has fallen dramatically, but we're secure for the night even if we are the only ones around. Tomorrow we make a run for Paducah, almost 160 miles from here, but with the current for 120 miles of the way, and sparsely settled lands, we should make it by dusk if we start at or just before dawn. A bit of adventure.
Heard on the VHF "Hal, are you there? Or is this a boerger on my radar screen?"
Friday, October 8, 1999. This one of those days that tries peoples souls, and their stamina. We got up at 5:30 AM to depart at first light for a long day. Unfortunately it was raining hard, and this was the day it wasn't going to get light. So at 6:45 with enough light to see the markers, and with the help of the radar, we set out. By 7:30 we were running at 21k in a strong current.
We got to the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at -12:40 PM having run 118 miles in six hours. Not bad, and we slowed for tugs and boats when we should. The turn onto the Ohio brought even more traffic--it is not uncommon to see within one view, half a dozen tows. And the tows are bigger, too. We've seen some as long as seven deep and as wide as six abreast--I'm not sure we've seen that maximum configuration in a single tow, but we've some of 36 barges several times. Each barge is roughly 50 feet wide and 300 feet long, so the combinations are huge, by any standard. At Hoppie's they claim the largest ever assembled was 12 deep and six abreast for a total of 72 barges--some 20 acres of steel! At the locks they would have to dismantle these platforms and move a section through at a time, then reassemble on the other side.
At 5:30 PM, having negotiated two more locks on the Ohio, we arrive at Big-E Marina which is nothing more than a floating pier in front of a huge hotel in Paducah, Kentucky. There are several other boats there and they quickly come out in the rain to help us dock. One of the boats, Nancy J, a 42 Albin trawler, is the one we met in Alton, Illinois, and helped him out by using our compressor to fill his big fenders. It is a good thing they helped us dock, because the river was rough, it has a 2 knot current running, and there is no one at this marina. You can't call them on the phone, you can't call them on the VHF. The pier is there, but there aren't any people. [Of course, about 9:00 PM, someone did knock on our door, and want $20 cash for docking for the night.]
About tows. There is a lot of tow etiquette to appreciate. First of all, tow captains all have southern accents--no matter where they're from. Secondly, they are very polite to each other, and even to "pleasure boats", as we're called. You always call a tow when you're passing one and ask where they want you to be. If you're meeting one head on, and he wants to pass you on your port side (how cars normally pass), he'll tell you to do it "on one whistle", or "on the one". If he wants to pass you on your starboard side (the reverse of how cars normally pass), then he'll ask you to do it "on two whistles", or "on the two". Sometimes, they'll ask you to hold back because they're in the process of making a tight turn, and they need it all. We've seen big tows tearing up the river bank with the lead barge as they try to negotiate a tight turn.
You always pass a tow as slowly as possible, because the wake from a boat as small as Interlude can cause the barges to oscillate and even break apart. We always assure them we'll pass as slow as we can, and they almost always wish us a safe trip. And passing tows, either way, is a challenge. If they are moving upstream and pushing a heavy load, their wakes can be horrendous--perhaps five feet! And the effects of their passing can be felt in the water a quarter of a mile behind them--we had the Interlude literally blown sideways in the slipstream behind a heavy tow. But, we're learning how to deal with tows. If they are coming at you, we've found a system that works pretty well: slow to about 8 knots or less, stay rather close to the barges (perhaps 20-30 feet), then when the tug is just past, accelerate substantially to overcome the force of the tow's wake.
If we must overtake and pass a tow, we try to stay roughly in line with the outside edge of the outside barge. This keeps us out of the tows direct wake and the slipstream created by the tows propeller(s). In shallow water conditions like now, not only is there a lot of turbulence in the water, but the tugs turn up all kinds of trash from the bottom of the river including tires, logs, etc. The water is so rough that you often cannot spot this trash and there is a considerable risk of hitting it. So, on an overtake, we take our offset position and come up on the tow with just enough power to pass. As we get abreast of the tug we pull to the side and slip by rather close. It is still a traumatic event, but it seems to work best.
Knowing what tow is what is sometimes difficult. The river charts are marked with mile markers each mile, so when we want to talk to a tow we might say "the northbound tow at the 937 mile marker" --sometimes this works, but it is better if you can identify a spot near them by name. There seem to be names for each turn, for each island, for each point, so more often, when we can, we might say "the northbound tow at the Jones Brothers Towhead". They almost always answer immediately to that kind of call.
Tows continually broadcast on VHF channel 13 their location and direction. When two tows pass, they will inform each other of who is behind them and thus, who to expect next. Even though these rivers are huge, the channels in them are not--the Ohio is surprisingly shallow, for example, and while the river is more than a mile wide much of the time, the navigable channel might only be 500 feet wide. If you're a tow that is 300 feet wide, and you meet another that is 300 feet wide, one will typically say he'll (they're all men) wait at a certain point, and they'll negotiate how they'll pass, long before they execute the move. We've seen tows pass each other with less than 20 feet between them--Interlude literally wouldn't fit between them while they're passing. And they handle them so well--these are, for the most part, really good tow drivers.
The lockmasters are also helpful, and very polite. They almost always give the commercial traffic the right of way and make pleasure boaters wait--but on the Mississippi and the Ohio there are usually two chambers, a smaller (read 'older') one, and a larger one. Most of the tows won't fit in the smaller one, so we've gotten through almost all of the locks on these two rivers almost immediately. Sometimes we'll share a lock with a small tow (once with a tug and a single barge), and occasionally with another pleasure boat.
About pleasure boats. We hardly see any! When we arrived at Paducah last night, to the only real marina (if you can call it that) within 100 miles, we found only three other boats there--and two of these were boats we'd seen and talked to in Alton, Illinois. There just aren't many pleasure boats making this trip, and for little wonder, it is not very hospitable to small boats. There aren't marinas; there is tons of commercial traffic; there are lots of locks to negotiate, etc. But, it is a great experience to see these historic and significant rivers--so far the Illinois, the Missouri, the Mississippi, and now the Ohio. These rivers were literally how the west was won and one of the reasons we're the great country that we are. As we plied the waters of the Mississippi it is impossible not to recall tales of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, and the writing of Samuel Clemens in general. I wouldn't trade this experience for the world.
Heard on the VHF: voice #1 "...glad to talk to you, which way are you headed?" voice #2 "I was northbound when I went to bed and southbound when I got up..."
Saturday, October 9, 1999. Got up leisurely today since the rain continues unabated. We don't like where we are, but it is difficult to make progress in the fog and rain. There is a quilt museum in Paducah, and Parsla Mason said it is worth the stop. We hike up the embankment through a long series of rather flimsy ramps to the hotel, and from there into town. (See Current Photos) Paducah is surrounded by a huge wall with gates that can be closed if the river rises that far. It is incredible to consider needing the wall since it begins at least 50 feet above the current level of the river.
About noon, we call Kentucky Dam Marina again, and they feel they'll have room for us at the gas dock, so we decide to leave. The rain and fog are still very heavy. We travel the 15 miles up the Ohio, past the confluence with the Tennessee to the Cumberland River. We could go down the Tennessee directly, but there is a huge lock that is very busy. It is generally recommended that pleasure boats go down the Cumberland, into Barkley Lake, through the Barkley Lock, then take the canal that connects Barkley Lake with Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River. This is the plan.
We start down the Cumberland and it is a beautiful trip. The river is narrow, heavily wooded on both sides and even in the rain, it is a beautiful trip. The distance to the Barkley dam is about 33 miles and we make it in approximately two and a half hours. We pass only one tow. The dam and lock are immense. It will lift us a total of 58 feet. We are fortunate to have to wait only about half a hour to enter the lock, tie up to a floating bollard, and rise with the flood of water. It is a quick trip up, these are new locks.
From the lock, we travel two miles in Barkley Lake to the canal. It is another mile or two in the canal, then we enter Kentucky Lake, part of the Tennessee River, and it is immense, too. We have less than four miles to go before we view off into a side channel and enter the huge Kentucky Dam Marina. We tie to an end of "T" among many very large house boats--some bigger than Interlude. It is 5:15 PM and the facility closes at 5:00 so a young guy helps us dock, calls out the code for the door, and leaves. The rain continues, but we're snug with shoreside power, water, etc. Such luxuries.!