Three rivers down, two more to go.  And after we leave Green Turtle Bay and Grand Rivers, KY, we get a nice break on the Kentucky Lake.

Start:Paducah Town Dock, 0700
End: Green Turtle Bay Marina, Grand Rivers, KY, 1528
Total Distance: 39
Time: 8:28
Average Speed: 4.6 kts
Number of locks: One.

We have a decision to make when we leave Paducah. There are two ways to get to the Tennessee river and Kentucky Lake. We can push off from the dock, head up the Ohio for a half mile, take a right and head down the Tennessee River for 24 miles, get to the Kentucky Lock and Dam and then we are in! But the KLD is run by the Tennessee Valley Authority and follows some arcane rules about letting pleasure craft through and history has shown that if you are a pleasure craft, you are screwed. And will wait. Second choice is to continue up the Ohio river for 12 miles to the Cumberland river, take a right, head up the C.R. for 30 miles to the Barkley Lock and Dam which has much less commercial traffic. It is an additional 25 miles (or five hours for us). We decide the Cumberland River, even though it is longer, is our choice–we are tired of waiting at locks.

So another bright and early wake up and head out on the water. We brew our cup o’ coffee and sip it while watching the sunrise over our port side. The river traffic is pretty quiet; there are tons of tows/barges waiting to get up the Tennessee river, but not much moving up and down the river itself. We are following ‘Thinkorswim’, but Phil is obviously conserving his batteries–he isn’t going above 4 knots and we pass him in the first hour. ‘First 40’ blows by us as we enter the Cumberland River. And that is it until we get to the Lock. No traffic.

The Cumberland River is closer to what we imagined boating on the rivers would be. It is narrow, twisty and green on both sides. Wildlife abounds and there are some industrial parts, but those are few and far between. And there were no towns to speak of; we were alone puttering down the river. Jan and I tagged team driving/teaching, AJ got a full dose of class, Lucky and Sid slept. While we enjoyed the trip, we did wish we had a bit more top speed so that we could get done quicker…after an hour the scenery looks a lot like what you just saw five minutes ago. We weren’t blazing either. The river flows against us at about a knot. We were making just over 5mph (4.6 knots). There was no sense pushing the engines harder–we could see a tow ahead of us on AIS and he would be at the lock just before us; we would have to wait until he locked through, so no sense in us flying down.

As we got within a mile of the lock, we could see that the tow was moving into the lock with his load. We called the lock master and asked if we could lock through, he asked if we were all alone and when we said yes, he said he would put us in with the tow as soon as it was tied off. He would signal when we could move into the lock.


By this time we could see clearly into the lock. The tow was pushing six barges–a 2 wide x 3 long. And it didn’t appear that there was a lot of room on the side. We could see the crew working to tie off the barges on the left side of the lock so Jan and AJ got our fenders onto the right hand side. While I was wondering what the signal to enter the lock would be, my reverie was interrupted by the lock’s horn blaring at 220 decibels; this, apparently, was the signal.

We moved in to the side of the tow and the barges and there was plenty of room. We were looping off onto floating bollards and we targeted the second bollard from the front lock door. But when we pulled up, it wasn’t there! Crap! So we went to the most forward bollard which looked like we were going to be right up against the door. There was enough room. We went to loop off. In front of an audience.

If you have played a round of golf before, and you are concerned about the quality of your game, you know that the first tee box is the worst place on the course. Invariably there is a group or two waiting to tee off and you get an audience! And if you are like me, you shank it. Badly. Perhaps into the crowd. Or somehow behind the tee box.   And that could be your only bad shot of the day (it isn’t), but the audience ramps up the tension. We have gone through 70-80 locks. But give us a tow in the lock with us and it is like it is our first one. Jan has our bollard rope in hand and when we pull up and there is a choice–go high or low. High is about 6 feet above our deck, low is 2 feet below our deck. Jan goes high. She if five feet (ish) tall. Arms are two (ish) feet. Bollard is 6 feet up but two feet off the boat. In the eternity in which we have, I draw out the triangle and compute the length she needs to be to span the gap (a2 + b2 = c2 where a = 7 feet, b = 2 feet and c [distance to bollard]) turns out to be 6.3 feet. Jan has about 8 inches for a margin of error. She throws up the bollard ringer, hits the top and it comes off. And drops down.

Panic attack begins to build. I put engines in neutral and spring like a 50+ year old, slightly overweight and balding gazelle to the deck. Jan rescues the rope and we make another shot at the top. My extra foot gives us the needed margin for error and we get the damn thing around the bollard and are secure. All under the eyes of the crew and Captain of ‘O.A Henry’ (the name of the tow).  I swear we heard a golf clap from the front of the barges.

Our boat secured, I called to the tow to ask if we could leave the lock first and he said heck yeah! We went up almost 60 feet and came out into Barkley lake. A short mile to our stop for three days, Green Turtle Bay. Where we will take a short break to clean the boat, reprovision and wait out the rain/wind from Tropical Storm Nate.