Three days in which we chew up over 150 miles heading down the Mississippi and effectively bring our time on the big river to an end.
Start: Hoppies Marina, Kimmswick, MO, 0645
End: Kaskaskia Lock, Mile 117.5 Mississippi River
Total Distance: 42.3 nm
Average Speed: 7.9 kts. That is over 9.1 MPH! Crazy Speed!1
Number of locks: None that we went through, but we stayed at one….
Start: Kaskaskia Lock, Mile 117.5 Mississippi River, 0750, 0827
End: Little Diversion Channel, MM 48.8, 1609
Total Distance: 70.1 miles
Average Speed: 7.9 kts. That is over 9.1 MPH! Again!
Start: Little Diversion Channel, MM 48.8, 0825
End: Boston Bar, MM 7.7, 1309
Total Distance: 43.1 miles
Average Speed: 7.9 kts. Third day in a row. Consistency.
We tried to remember back to what we thought the Mississippi would be like when we were talking about doing this trip. Thoughts of Tom Sawyer, perhaps with idyllic days spent bobbing down the river, relaxing and looking at the abundant wildlife. Stopping at an island to swim, eat a leisurely lunch, relax. Anchoring in some isolated spot with the world to ourselves. We knew there would be barges and tows and enormous, mythical locks and those were scary. We could get smoothed by a barge and never be heard from again. Or get crammed in a lock with a tow with 762 barges and never be heard from again. Or get attacked by a wild asian carp frenzy and never get heard from again.
Reality is that the river is not relaxing. There is always something to look out for along the way. Logs floating in the water, rock dams from the sides, tows and barges all around. The scenery is nice when their are bluffs, but generally the river has been engineered to be more navigation friendly so the banks have rocks/rip rap, and industry has built up along the river. The major cities have their industrial sections along the river, and they ain’t sexy. The tows with their barges, after the first four or five are not scary–they are actually very good at helping you down the river (so that they don’t have to fill out paperwork if they run you over, one presumes). The locks on the Mississippi ROCK. Only two, fast, modern, efficient. There is wildlife to be seen–lots of eagles, cranes, herons and those damn asian carp. But in general, at least for this part of the trip, we are minimizing the stress by moving as far as we can as fast as we can while getting to a safe anchorage before dark.
The remainder of our trip down the Mississippi begins at the crack of dawn at Hoppies. We had it in our heads that we would be able to make a 110 mile run down the Mississippi to Little Diversion channel and so we wanted to get up and be on the way at first light. Reality was that we COULD make it, but it would be well after dark. And we both knew it, but neither of us would blink and just say “let’s get up late and stop early and enjoy the day.” Nope. Not us. So alarm off at 0530. And we are bundled up in all our snivel gear. The heat which dogged us for 10 days is officially gone–it is 50 degrees at most and the wind is whistling through the boat. We have sweatshirts covered by jackets and hats and gloves on as we start our morning. By 0645 we have nosed our way into the river, the current has taken us and we are off. We figure we need to average 9.5 mph to make it before dark which is RIDICULOUS in our boat. We push the throttle forward and though we don’t make 9.5 mph, we are up over 9.
Within an hour, two of the fast movers from Hoppies have burned by us heading south; they will make it no problem. After four hours we know that we aren’t going to make it and instead set our sights on the Kaskaskia Lock and Dam at mile 117.5. The Kaskaskia dumps into the Mississippi and the lock sits immediately up river from the junction. We call the lockmaster, he gives us the instructions to tie up to the dam side of the lock wall, which is weird. Because like there is a dam there. And we like not dying. But when we round the corner we see that the water is not going through the dam and it is a fantastically quiet place. One rule is that while we can walk on the wall, we cannot tie off to the fence, nor can we get to land; we have to dinghy to shore to walk the dog. No problem!
So we tie up to the wall and it is excellent. No tows. No current. Little noise. And we are the first ones there. Over the course of the next three hours we will be joined by four other boats who will become our traveling companions down the Mississippi. ‘First 40’ and ‘Crow’s Nest’, both fast moving trawlers. Wild Willy is a smaller Bay liner that is filled to the gills with red gas cans so that they can make the 200+ miles to next fuel stop. And Cormorant 2. Cormorant, Crow’s Nest and Willy are all from Canada and all are super nice. We set up on the wall at 4pm and share stories and agree that we will leave the next day at 8am.
It is a good thing that our days of travel are shorter due to the current of the river. It gives us more time to clean the mud off of our boat and off of our dog. There is something about the mud here that is magic. It stick to every thing and refuses to be removed. We know this because we have a four legged furry creature who needs to be watered 2-3 times (minimum) a day. And each and every time we take him to shore, he jumps out of the dinghy and sinks up to his belly in mud. Then spreads it all over the dinghy, the boat and anyone within licking distance. Lucky, right now, is not winning any friends.
Day 2 we arise early, take the dog into pee, spend an hour cleaning mud, drink a cup of coffee and are ready to go at 0750. We see two tows on AIS, one going up river, one heading downriver and when we see the second one is almost to the mouth of our river, we push off and start to head out on our trip. Until the tow calls and says that he is going to go into the Kaskaskia lock, and would we mind waiting. Why no we wouldn’t. So we head back to the lock wall and watch the pilot push his load of barges into the lock. We thought it was an extremely large lock, but that was before we watched him fill up all available space with his barges. Those guys rock!
Tow in the lock, we push off, for real this time, and head out. The two fast movers take off and three of us (Willy and Cormorant and Serenity) spend the next 7-8 hours traveling ducks in a line down the Mississippi. For this day, we were the line leader–we had AIS and could see the tows before we/they made a turn–and so spent the day talking to the tows passing us by. It is a sunny, windy day and the wind is from the south–right into our bow. It is Monday and the tow/barge traffic that has been low for a couple of days is definitely up. And these big boys are cooking along. The tow that passed our river on the way down in the morning was doing over 8 knots; we wouldn’t be catching him. But we passed others, including a dredge (the Dredge Potter) who decided to come out into the channel right in front of us, causing our little convoy to come to an immediate and sudden halt. We called Dredge Potter who told us to come on by, which we did, and then he proceeded to follow us for 4 hours down the river. I mentioned to the crew of Cormorant (later that night) that having the dredge behind us made me nervous and they reminded me that I was in the FRONT of the line of three boats and the dredge was actually right behind them!
The long day is broken up by Jan and I alternating between driving and teaching AJ. Or put another way, AJ’s day is broken up by alternating between annoying mommy then daddy. We have become experts and the ‘one whistle’ and ‘two whistle’ and Jan is all over the radio talking to the tows to get around them. The one time when she bailed was when she called a tow who was blocking the channel and he told her one whistle which meant we were driving our boat into shore to get around his front end. She wanted to part of running us aground.
The three of us slow movers made it to the Little Diversion Channel just after 4pm. The channel is on the right bank as we were headed down river, and John from the Crow’s nest came out of the river in his dinghy to tell us that the current in front of the channel was really strong–we needed to go past the opening, turn, “Gun the hell out of her” and crab up to the opening. Good advice. We passed the opening and as soon as we turned the current tried to slam us into the shore. So we did a Scottie (“I’m giving her all she’s got Captain!”), revved the engines and slowly made our way into the channel. All five of our boats were in a line in the channel, we were joined by two others later in the afternoon, and we spent a quiet night at anchor.
Our last full day on the Mississippi again started at 8am(ish). Or at least that is when we got underway. Little over 40 miles to Boston Bar at mm 7.7. It was uneventful, which is our definition of a good day. We got to the bar just after lunch, anchored way to close to First Forty and set up for the night. We are right on the Mississippi tucked behind a wing dam2 and under the I-57 highway bridge. Water is pretty shallow, but we managed to get our anchor set in 8 feet of water. Which leaves us a quick 7 miles for tomorrow morning (an hour) before we turn and head up the Ohio River. Against the current. So much for our fast trip!4
1 For us anyway. Any respectable trawler or power boat will scoff at our speeds, but we are positively giddy.
2 A wing dam is a pile of rocks. Pushed in a line into the channel to control the river current. At low water levels, like we have now, they are easily seen, but at high water levels they can be covered, but don’t go over them unless you don’t like your props or rudders. Then go ahead.
3 Last carp story. The morning of 3 October when we were getting ready to leave anchorage, I took Lucky to the shore for his morning constitutional. It was dark. I got the dinghy really close to shore before I cut off the engine and the carp were waiting. They LAUNCHED them selves out of the water at the dingy, I screamed like a five year old watching “The Exorcist,” hit the bottom of the boat and killed the motor and lucky jumped the 10 feet to the sand bar and took off at a dead run. Stopping the engine calmed them down, but that was the scariest thing TO DATE on the loop. Made me really sad because I had to change my underwear and I was only four days into this set.
4 Speaking of fast trip: We passed a dude on a stand up paddle board three days ago. He was standing and paddling down river and thank GOD we were going faster than him (though not much). He had bags on the front and the back of his board. And you could hear the tow captains talking about him as they travelled the river; they wanted to make sure that the poor guy didn’t get swamped by wake. His name is Dan and he is paddling down the Mississippi to raise money. Wants to do 50 miles in 50 days. That dude is crazy. His website is: http://www.damdaniel.com.