Ol Miss ( & the Ohio )
So we traveled the Illinois Waterway, through downtown Chicago & shipyards, barge fleeting areas, desolate wilderness & huge recreational lakes [on the weekend!]. We traveled both day and night.
But now the Mississippi River is another thing entirely. ol' miss geology.JPG
Most noticeable, the barge tows can be TWICE the size of the little river tows we are used to. pushin' a big tow.jpg The Illinois River tows are limited to 15 barges (3 wide by 5 long). On the Mississippi, there are towboats pushin’ 5x7 fleets! That’s the same cargo as five-hundred-twenty-five train cars – on ONE tow! passing barge.MPG WOW! Transporting bulk goods by river barge is far & away the least expensive and most efficient way to ship things across this country. It’s amazing that the lowest technology prevails. There’s a billion-dollar lock & dam going up on the inland river system, replacing two older locks; this lock will reduce transit time by FOUR hours per tow. That’s a $600,000.00 saving per year in transportation costs. What other billion-dollar project pays for itself in less than two years? billon-dollar ohio river lock&dam.JPG
The Mississippi is wide, and has a swifter and more deliberate current, motoring green can.MPG sometimes carrying Windigo 4 to 5 knots faster than the knotmeter reads. wrecked boat.JPG The barges are more numerous, and pass frequently. barge tows passing.JPG There are DOZENS of commercial docks along every populated stretch of riverbank; There is ONE recreational dock marked on the chart between Alton & Cairo, and we didn’t recognize it as we passed. (The dock we stayed at in Cape Girardeau is only marked as a launch ramp; a local club maintains the small floating dock. cape girardeau dock.JPG)
There are still bike trails joining the communities along the river. Some of them abruptly change into highways, but we manage, as drivers are usually quite courteous. In Alton, the bike trail has it’s own separate lane across this modern example of suspension bridge technology. The sunlight & shadows dance along the wires of the bridge during the day, and at night they shoot light from high-intensity discharge fixtures from the base of each pair – spectacular! alton bridge from windigo.JPG alton bridge from bike trail.JPG alton bridge on it.JPG
Oh yeah, the ‘important sign’ photo – above St. Louis there’s this sign. and now, an important sign.jpg
With just the ‘official’ US Army Corps of Engineers charts, you can see a little mark and it says “NAV SIGN” where this old, peeling sign is. Nothing else. The Corps has jurisdiction for all inland rivers, they run the locks & make the charts. Charts are detailed. Usually. Charts are correct - sometimes. It turns out that this hard-to-read sign must be followed or one would sail over a three-foot drop on a dam in the main channel. This sign tells you to ignore the prescribed sailing-line on the chart and enter this tiny channel. If that isn’t surprising enough, there’s a lock to transit on the tiny canal, but it is not annotated on the chart, I only guessed this little pencil-thin squiggle-line was a lock gate. One gate? Karin said, “yeah, so”, but it turned out to be a complete lock. I continue to critique the charts on a daily basis.
St. Louis’ arch is way nicer from the water than from in a car. capitol arch.JPG I have driven by it many, many times and always liked the way it sticks up through the freeway and surrounding city; But from a boat, it swells from the shoreline, framing downtown buildings with a bit of majesty. sepia arch.JPG It’s really close to the water, and with the riverboat casinos in the foreground and the trees blocking the street level bustle, only the tops of the buildings rise cleanly behind. It’s a very busy river port, but looks quite serene onshore.
After severe flooding in the early 20th century, many towns erected immense floodwalls separating their entire town from ol’ Miss. These walls definitely give the whole river an industrial feel, not something a recreational boater would be attracted to. Recognizing this, a few towns contracted artists to decorate these with huge murals. cape girardeau wall from river.jpg cape girardeau wall map.jpg Cape Girardeau’s is a backdrop to the amphitheater seating on the river steps facing a concert barge! We missed Eddie Money by 1 day, but saw an energetic gospel band there. cape gospel concert barge.jpg
[The historic wall in Paducah, KY is a work in progress, with 25 separate detailed, life-like murals depicting their past. If anyone is interested, I have the 25 photos . . . Paducah/Paducah.htm]
We stayed at that floating dock in Cape Girardeau for a couple days, cape barge.MPG and our stay was made more interesting and entertaining by the other travelers we encountered there. The photo is of the Tsu ‘n’ Ozzy, a tiny houseboat carrying a crew of two-to-seven from Minneapolis. tsu'n'ozzy.JPG They have left their land-based lives as Karin & I have, adopted the name ‘Clan Penelore’, and with a very loose, adventurous plan to find jobs along the way. Maybe they’ll find those commercial fishing jobs in Chattanooga as they plan. Maybe not, but their journey, as ours, is the purpose of their existence. Lots of people see them partying with locals, working jobs for 2-3 weeks and then moving on, and think – goofy kids. But I’ll tell you, if I would have been creative enough to come up with a plan like that when I was young . . . well, I’m doing it now!
Also in Cape Girardeau was Mark Shapyak, who had paddled his homemade canoe from the very start of a trickle of the Mississippi River. He is an adventurer, musician – a mountain climber and cyclist. These are the kinds of individuals and groups we expect to encounter throughout the world as we sail up to places by the backdoor. Sometimes the mayor will greet us with a handshake, but usually it will be another cruising couple . . . or the Tsu ‘n’ Ozzy.
My friend Michael says that Tom & Huck missed the turn up the Ohio River at Cairo, IL and continued on down the Ol’ Mississippi. Karin & I made the turn at night! We got a late start, and felt confident enough to navigate to the confluence of the rivers in the dark, then we followed a barge tow until almost midnight before anchoring near the billion-dollar Olmstead Lock & Dam construction site. Always an adventure on WindigoIII. digital handheld moon.JPG
One final note on adventures – remember Murphy’s Law? Well, you can’t sail away from it. Both of our major mechanical inconveniences occurred AS we were approaching a lock, AFTER we radioed our intention to transit the lock.
First, at Alton, IL, we had just exhausted our galley fuel tank and switched over to the salon tank for the first time since we left Door County. I had replumbed the entire fuel system last winter and left some teflon tape hang over the threads. Oops. This tape was cut loose inside the tank when I tightened the fitting, and was floating around in there. It clogged the fuel supply line, and caused engine malfunction as we approached Lock #26. I was thoughtful enough to include a vacuum gauge in the suction side of the fuel filtering section, and this was easy to troubleshoot, and was fixed in minutes.
Next, the engine oil pressure idiot light started to glow as we called Lock #53 on the Ohio River. An additional bilge alarm in the engine section of the bilge sounded, and when the companionway stairs removed, four quarts of engine oil had deposited itself, mostly on the oil-absorbent boom kept under the engine. The oil pan fitting had fractured and allowed the first part of an oil change to occur! The broken fitting turned out to be a metric threaded one, with no spare aboard. Good thing it was a long wait for lockage, and, as always, good thing Windigo is a sailboat. Karin kept tacking back and forth against the current to hold our position while I fabricated the necessary fitting to keep the oil inside the engine where it belongs. Also a good thing we carry enough oil for the next change.
Sometimes it seems to others [and to us] that we have abandon our routine of living and taken a carefree existence on a sailboat heading for the tropics. There is absolutely no substitute for good planning and “routine” maintenance, observations & procedures to keep a life at sea from turning ugly real quick.
Here’s to a well planned, carefree existence- little birdies.JPG