Thursday, December 23, 2010

Galveston Trip, Arkansas River, Russellville to Pine Bluff

After such a pleasant day from Van Buren to Russellville, we were all expecting a similar run to Little Rock on Day 4. The weather forecast was good and the Dardanelle Lock was open. So we were off to a good start. We departed Russellville at daybreak and before we got a few hundred feet away from the dock, Clint checked in on the radio and said, "We need to go back to the dock, I've lost my steering hydraulics." Within a few minutes of returning to the dock, "Opus One's" generator quit also, no idea what was up with that. Clint caught a ride into town to try to buy more hydraulic fluid - he got some, but not exactly what was recommended. After a couple of hours and no improvements with the mechanical issues, we decided our best bet was to get to Little Rock where we would probably get the best mechanics. No generator is not a big problem unless we needed to anchor out. Driving a twin engine boat without hydraulics is not a problem at slow speeds, but a much bigger deal at cruise speed and very tiring. But hey, Clint is in the trucking business and he has some tough trucking stories to tell of his early days in the business. He could handle it. Regardless, that was our best bet at that point and off we went. Once we got through Dardanelle L&D, we decided "Opus One" should forge ahead at their higher cruise speed in hopes they would make Little Rock before dark. Rhonda and I would be OK in the dark with a little more experience in that regard. "Opus One" made good time and got about 30 minutes ahead of us when they reached Lock #9. We had also called Lock #9 so the lockmaster would understand that "Opus One" had mechanical problems and needed to get on through the lock. To everyone's surprise, he would not let "Opus One" through on its own and made them wait for us. Quite frankly, the lockmaster was very rude to all of us at the lock and seemed to have no interest whatsoever in assisting us with our plan.

By the time we got through the lock, there was no way we could make Little Rock without having to travel a long distance in the dark. So, we began to work on plan C. I called the lockmaster at L&D #8, also known as Toad Suck Ferry L&D, explained our situation, and asked if he could work something out for us to possibly dock somewhere at the lock. He was most helpful and gave us the phone numbers for 3 paint crews that had equipment docked there. The first crew we called was glad to help, gave us permission to dock at one of their barges, and even had extension cords and a couple of heaters waiting for us to use. They offered a ride to WalMart if we needed anything, also their construction trailer and their towboat as an option if we got too cold during the night as the forecast was for 20-degree temps that night. This is the kind of treatment boaters usually get when experiencing problems. The lockmaster at L&D #9 was definitely the exception to that rule.

So here we are, all settled in with the "Cathy J" paint crew's 100-ton barge. We got our heaters plugged in and settled in for the night. About 10 PM, Rhonda and I decided it was getting a bit chilly in the boat. Sure enough, we had thrown the breaker at "Cathy J's" dock and the breaker box was padlocked. So, you guessed it, we endured the 20-degree temps with no electric, and no generator on "Opus One." With the generator trouble "HMR" had at Van Buren, I was a little hesitant to run ours all night also. You can be sure we were ready to get up and running ASAP the next morning and the "Cathy J" barge locked through with us.

We arrived at Little Rock Yacht Club just after 10 AM. Shorepower is a wonderful thing when you are cold! I had called friends of ours there the day before (Gary and Colleen Barger) and Gary had recommended 3 different generator mechanics. One of those was on the boat after church, diagnosed the problem, and would need to get parts on Monday morning to complete the repair. To address the hydraulic issue, Clint had Harold Butler, mechanic from Grand Lake, drive down to work on that. We refueled and one of the LRYC full-time liveaboards loaned us a car as long as we needed it. So, we resigned ourselves to another day at Little Rock, made some trips to town for supplies, laundry, and a bit of WiFi at Starbucks. The generator was repaired on Monday, ran great, and parts were ordered for the hydraulic problem. Clint ordered two sets, one to be sent to Pine Bluff and another to Greenville, MS, not knowing exactly what our schedule would be the next couple of days.

We got ready to depart on Tuesday morning, and shortly thereafter "Opus One's" generator quit again. Yes, I'm not kidding. We found that the impeller had gone bad, changed it, but never could get the water flow we were expecting (probably bits and pieces of the impeller blocking the flow throughout the system). Clint called the mechanic and he agreed to meet us at the small floating dock in downtown Little Rock (below).

At this point, Rhonda and I had to get moving soon or we would not be able to make Pine Bluff before dark. So, we all agreed "HMR" would forge ahead and "Opus One" would catch up later after the generator was repaired (again). Here are a few parting shots of Little Rock.

Downtown Area

Downtown Bridges

Distant View

Southwest Airlines on final for Little Rock Airport with I-440 in distance

But the day was not over. Rhonda and I made it into Island Harbor Marina at Pine Bluff just fine, but by the time "Opus One" was repaired and underway again, there was no way she would make it before dark. We coordinated with the lockmaster at the L&D above Pine Bluff for "Opus One" to dock there for the night but Clint decided to continue for Pine Bluff. To quote Clint later - "when it got dark, it got dark." We coached them down the river by radio and had spotlights shining from the docks to help guide them in. They made it fine but needless to say, we were all tired at the end of the day. To top the day off for me, I decided to use the ship store's facilities for a long hot shower. It was very hot but about the time I got all lathered up, the hot water disappeared almost immediately. It was another of the twenty-ish temperature nights so I had to make a mad dash from the ship store to the boat to finish my shower. When it rains, it pours. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day.

Now before you go thinking it's all bad, just remember we are on the water, and take a look at the pictures again - beautiful blue skies, and with little rain for the past few months, the Arkansas River was as docile as we had ever seen her. Pretty nice traveling conditions - we can work through the obstacles.

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