Wednesday, April 30, 2008

OK Boat Trip, Day 6, 4/30/08

That was pretty cool last night having our own L&D. We left at 5:50 hoping to get out before the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, or whoever enforces the law there showed up. How’s this for a nice shot of Olmstead L&D at 6:00?

And how’s this for another nice shot? Bet you think it’s the sunrise, huh? Actually, it’s a barge right behind us just as we left Olmstead with the searchlight still on from running at night.

Cairo, Il at the junction of the OH and MS Rivers. Notice the flood walls surrounding the entire city, just in case. If I understand it correctly, if the rivers do rise, they just close the gates to the city and wait it out. At least they don’t start out below sea level like New Orleans.

The last bridge on the OH River. We'll enter the MS on the other side.

As we entered the MS River, there was lots of turbulence, lots of floating debris, the water turned to the color of my coffee in the morning with one creamer, and we immediately picked up about 3 MPH. Later, the debris cleared up, the current stayed about the same and sometimes added 4-5 mph to our cruise speed, the turbulence remained, and the water still looked like coffee all day long. Take a look – our boat is a cream/off-white color for comparison.

We appreciated the comforting welcome on the hill after entering the “Mighty Mississippi.”

About the turbulence. Part of that was due to very strong wind all day long – 20 to 25 mph gusting to 30. But we finally figured out (actually it’s our theory at this point) that it is because of the constant irregular depth of the river. Constant swirls in the river, some looking just like a whirlpool, might be a better description than turbulence. We saw depths today ranging from 20 to 120 feet and they constantly change. The only time the water was smooth was when we had a flat river bottom contour. There are also man-made underwater dikes that stretch from shore way out into the river – these also create lots of turbulence.

One surprising thing about the MS was the frequent and almost white sandy beaches, sometimes for great stretches. We’re assuming the water is not always this dirty. If it is, how do you get the clean white shoreline?

Another interesting change on the MS is the size of the barge tows. For example, they are normally 2 or 3 barges wide and 4 to 5 deep on the TN. Here’s the largest we saw today, 6 deep and 5 wide. Sorry for the distant photo, tough to get a good shot of these huge tows.

By the way, we’ve had some questions about barges. The key is to always remember how much bigger they are than you and you feel compelled to stay out of their way! Seriously, a general rule on the waterways is that the least maneuverable boat in any combination has the right of way. With the barges, they all monitor channel 13 on the radios. We hear them coordinating with each other frequently and we call them if there’s any doubt where they want us in relation to them. Before the advent of radios (I believe this story is correct), they used whistles to signal each other how to pass. For example, 1 whistle for port to port, 2 whistles for starboard to starboard, etc. Those “whistles” have continued with the radios. For example, if we are approaching a barge and we are not sure which side the captain prefers, we will ask and if he wants us to pass starboard to starboard he will say something like “give me 2 whistles.”

While it was a tough and tiring day, there was time for some relaxation while cruising down the river. By the way, there's a reason only the cats and Wayne are in the pics - Rhonda likes taking pictures rather than having her's made.

We cruised into Caruthersville, MO at 3:15, mm 850 on the MS River, having covered 123 miles today! There’s no marina here and we had planned to anchor out in a slack water harbor (no current) where they load, empty, and sort out barges. The wind was so strong, we asked the barge service if we could just tie up to a barge. He said yes, at our own risk. So, last night we had our own L&D, tonight we have our own barge, fully loaded with corn.

We need to make Memphis, TN tomorrow as there is a big front rolling in with storms, possible hail, etc. forecast for the evening. That’s 115 miles so it’ll be another long day. Rhonda’s Dad asked today “When are you going to slow down and just enjoy the trip?” There are a couple of answers to that. We moved quickly on the TN River portion because we were already familiar with it. On the OH and MS Rivers, there are very few anchorages and almost no marinas so you have to take what you can get. You don’t want to end up in the river after dark without a secure home for the night. We plan to rest up in Memphis for 2 days, let the storm pass, resupply, refuel, maybe even go out for dinner one evening. We’ll have one more night out on the MS River in Helena, AR, and then we join the White River at MS mm 599. After 10 miles on the White River, we will finally be on the Arkansas River. We are going to slow down and try to visit all the marinas on the Arkansas so we’ll be knowledgeable for our customers at Three Forks who might be interested in traveling it as well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

OK Boat Trip, Day 5, 4/29/08

Our plan for today was changed about midnight last night – we decided to try and make 107 miles to Hickman, KY on the MS River. However, when I called the lockmaster on the TN River at 5:00 AM, he advised there would be a 3 hour delay. So, we went back to bed (actually, I went to bed, Rhonda never got up the first time), knowing that Plan B would not require as many hours on the water. We left Green Turtle at 10:20 and implemented Plan B which was to take the Cumberland River to the Ohio rather than the TN River as there was no delay at the Cumberland lock and there was a nice anchorage at the junction of the two rivers. The Cumberland runs from Nashville to the OH River and is only a few hundred yards wide for the 31-mile stretch we had to the Ohio. Rhonda particularly likes this type of river - close enough to see all the wildlife and details on the shoreline (and close enough to swim to the shoreline if we sink!).

The Cumberland River

Paducah, KY on the Ohio River
But the plot thickens. Before we left Green Turtle, the harbormaster had mentioned that some boaters have tied up to a lock under construction about 17 miles from the MS, Olmstead L&D near Mound City, IL. So, a few miles from our anchorage, I decided to make a couple of phone calls to the lockmasters in the area about that possibility. No one would give us permission but no one said we couldn’t. So, we decided to press on with Plan C now for Olmstead L&D, joined the OH River at 1:45, tied up to the lock at 5:30, mm 964 on the OH River, which gave us about 40 more miles of progress for the day. Get the idea? Have a plan and some options but be flexible and adjust as the conditions permit or require.

We’ll try a 120-mile run tomorrow to Caruthersville, MO but it will require some help from the MS River current which we’re told is running about 4 mph. If that doesn’t work out, we have options to stop prior to there at New Madrid, Mo or Hickman, KY.

Our dock at the Olmstead L&D

The security camera is straight ahead at the bottom of the pole. Caught in the act!

Leia again, Rhonda at right in the galley preparing dinner

Monday, April 28, 2008

OK Boat Trip, Day 4, 4/28/08

We had another great day, covering 73 miles, no locks. Rain and thunderstorms were again forecast for the afternoon so we left Pebble Isle Marina at 6:15 and arrived at Green Turtle Bay Marina in Grand Rivers, KY at 1:30. No sooner had we refueled and gotten settled in the slip for the night when the rain came pouring down. We borrowed the courtesy car, bought a few supplies in town, did a little laundry, had salad, French bread, and spaghetti for dinner, and are settling in for the evening.

The past two days the river had been a consistent 1/4 mile-wide channel with few changes. Today, there was a signifcant difference as it opened up to sometimes 2 miles wide and water as far as you could see. At one point, we saw a bridge on the horizon ahead, and checking the charts, determined it to be 14 miles away. You can actually sense the curvature of the earth in these conditions - pretty cool. I wish we could capture the beauty of this with our camera. Even if I could, the bad news is that I forgot to put the chip in the camera today and lost the few pictures we did take. So how about a couple of shots of the cats?

Meet Leia and Jag, cooling it on the couch.

Here's Skippy, who spends most of the day in her carrier sleeping. Then at night she concentrates her efforts on keeping us awake. She might want to consider swimming lessons if this keeps up (just kidding). She even looks guilty doesn't she?

And below, Help Me Rhonda docked at Green Turtle Bay.

Notice the stain developing on the hull of the boat. This is from the river water constantly flowing over the hull surface. It's referred to on the water as a boat moustache.

And a shot of the marina. Green Turtle Bay is huge and the two pictures we have here cover only a very mall portion of it.

We had some questions today on the internet about locks. Is there a charge? No. Actually, yes - it's called your tax dollars. We appreciate your contributions toward our trip. How do you contact the lockmaster? Normally by VHF radio. Another option is by cell phone but this is discouraged. If you have no radio, you can actually also pull a chain/rope at the end of the lock wall to let them know you are there. There is a signal light similar to a traffic light that indicates red to stay out and green to enter. There are also horn blasts to let you know you have approval to enter and later to leave. A siren signals to boaters below the lock when water is preparing to empty from the lock. Once in the lock, you tie your boat to a floating bollard in the lock wall which rises and falls with the water. How long do you have to wait? That is totally dependent upon the amount of traffic there at the time and it really is all about timing. Rhonda and I made a trip last February to Mobile through 19 locks and only had to wait for one. Yet, we've already been delayed for several hours at 2 of the 3 we've had on this trip. I spoke to one of the lockmasters on the Ohio River today to assist us in planning for tomorrow. He said there is so much barge traffic on the Ohio, they sometimes wait for 2 or 3 days to get through.

An interesting thing about the locks on the Ohio and I'll close. When the river is high enough (as is the case now), the dams have a section called a wicket that can be lowered 17 feet and boat traffic floats right over the top of the dam completely bypassing the lock. Pretty cool stuff.

All in all, a good day, even got a T-shirt. We have a very short day tomorrow. One lock (assuming we don't have to wait very long) and only about 30 miles to the Ohio River where we'll anchor out. Keep in mind we'll be anchoring out the next 3 or 4 days. Our next WiFi communication will be in Memphis. See ya then.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

OK Boat Trip, Day 3, 4/27/08

Since this was an "easy day" (good weather, no locks, no problems, etc), thought we'd note some things about travelling by boat. This is the pilothouse where we spend most of the day. There are 2 bench seats, 2 countertop areas, and we also keep our freezer here since it just so happens to fit in an available storage space. Pilothouses are nice because they are fully enclosed and protect you from the elements with a hardtop, glass windows, fiberglass/wooden walls. Some boats come with an upper and lower helm, meaning you can pilot the boat from the top deck and inside the salon area, and some only have the upper helm which can be open-air or enclosed with canvas and flexible glass materials. We have 2 VHF radios for communication with other boats, marinas, lockmasters, etc. There are 2 depthfinders to display the depth and contour of the river bottom. We also have radar which is very helpful in fog, bad weather, night-time travel (we don't recommend any of those but radar is nice if you find yourself in those conditions). Even though we have paper chartbooks for all our routes, we also use a computer program called MapTech which is a digital version of the same charts. Our GPS is coupled with the MapTech charts on our laptop and a digital "boat" displays our current position and updates as we progress along our route. That's enough of Boating 101.

We left Clifton Marina at 6:40 AM so we could get ahead of some bad weather forecast for the afternoon. Rhonda was a sleepyhead this morning so I did it all and she joined me in the pilothouse about 9:30 after getting everything downstairs organized. The pic above is approaching twin bridges in New Johnsonville, TN, about 5 miles from our destination for today at Pebble Isle Marina, mm 96 on the TN River. We had previously passed under the I-40 bridge also. So, we traveled 62 miles today and we did beat the weather. Since we missed church this morning, we managed to get to Trace Creek Baptist Church in New Johnsonville for the evening service. Most marinas have courtesy cars available for transient boaters for any supplies, needs, or interests they may have while in the area.

Help Me Rhonda at Pebble Isle Marina

Our destination tomorrow is Green Turtle Bay Marina in Grand Rivers, KY, close to the end of the TN River. Green Turtle Bay is actually on the Cumberland River which is connected to the TN River in that area by a short man-made canal. We'll probably continue to the Ohio River via the Cumberland since several boaters have recommended that route over the last few miles of the TN, primarily because the lock on the TN in that area is usually heavily congested. There's also a good anchorage at the Cumberland and Ohio rivers intersection for our first night on the Ohio.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

OK Boat Trip, Day 2, 4/26/08

Serious thunderstorms last night at Grand Harbor but no problems. Got up early at 5:30 and called the lockmaster at Pickwick L&D to check on delays. His best estimate was 10:00 which turned out to be about right. So, our plans to make Pebble Isle went out the door - we opted for Clifton Marina in Clifton, TN and an easy day of one lock and 56 miles. We went through the lock with a small barge, a first for us. Later, passed a very large barge, the Harvey Hall.

Locking through Pickwick L&D with small barge

The Harvey Hall, loaded with mulch.

The river from Pickwick to Clifton is beautiful but not much to report. It's all about 1/2 mile wide and lined with farmland and pastures (I guess, couldn't see over the banks) and frequent homes. One thing is for sure - if there are economic problems in the country, they haven't reached the fishermen yet. They were everywhere!

Leia enjoying the activity of Clifton Marina.

Clifton Marina and Help Me Rhonda at dock.

Three funny stories to share.

1. Rhonda and I decided to take a walk to the town of Clifton, about a mile from the marina. On our way back, a landscaper working on someone's front yard asked us if we were looking for some work - no joke. I didn't think we looked that rough and we didn't have a sign that said "will work for diesel fuel." Anyhow, I guess we'll have to freshen up a bit before our next walk. After all, this was after only 2 days on the boat.

2. One of our goals in going to town was to try and find a church service for early in the morning. Even though we're out on the river travelling, our Christian faith is important to us and we always try to find a service to attend on Sundays. So, while we were on a roll with the landscaper, thought we'd ask him if he knew of a church with an early service. Keep in mind that by this point, we had told him we were traveling by boat, were overnighting at Clifton Marina, and we assumed he had picked up on the fact that we were walking. After all, we told him we would be walking and there was the visual of us in the process of doing just that. Anyhow, he knew of a church that had an 8 AM and a 9 AM service and he proceeded with directions. "You just follow this road straight ahead until you get to the big curve, turn left and go about 30 (yes, THIRTY) miles." I guess we'll head out after dinner tonight so we can make the 9 AM service in the morning! Maybe someone will give us a ride back to the marina.

3. After we had seen the same 2 guys in the same truck at 3 different location in Clifton, we figured we had seen most of the activity there was to see and headed back to the marina.

In all seriousness, Clifton is a beautiful little town, perched along the banks of the TN River. Everyone is very friendly and apparently there is lots of significant history here as is much the case along our country's riverways. For example, we passed a home on the river today in Savannah, TN where General Grant was having breakfast one morning when he heard the artillery fire that began the Battle of Shiloh (the location of which we had passed earlier).

Tomorrow, we are planning another easy day, 62 miles to Pebble Isle Marina, New Johnsonville, TN. (They still have diesel for $3.49, yahoo! Don't have to get out the "will work for diesel" sign just yet.)

Friday, April 25, 2008

OK Boat Trip, Day 1, 4/25/08

Well, we're off and running on our trip from Bay Hill Marina in Athens, AL on the TN River to Three Forks Harbor in Muskogee, OK on the AR River. After 1079 miles and 22 locks on the TN, OH, MS, and AR Rivers, we'll begin a new chapter in our lives with Wayne's new job as Harbormaster of Three Forks. We hope this blog will give our friends and family an easily accessible update of our progress. Also, the Port Authority at Three Forks and Wayne's new employer, Arrowhead Boat Sales on Grand Lake, want to take this opportunity to allow folks unfamiliar with "riverboating" a way to experience a little of the joy and adventure of boating and traveling on America's waterway systems. Three Forks Harbor is a new first-class marina at mm 392 of the Arkansas River, positioned to allow access to that waterway system and providing access to anywhere in the world accessible by boat.
Our first leg of the trip today is from our home port at Bay Hill to Grand Harbor Marina at the convergence of the TN River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (waterway from the TN River to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, AL) . One of the highlights of this leg is the 3rd largest drop in a lock in the world - the Wilson Lock and Dam.

Inside the lock before the gates are closed and the water is lowered.

93 feet later

The gates open and out you go.

72 miles and 2 locks later at mm 215 of the TN River, Grand Harbor Marina and Condominiums