Saturday, December 25, 2010

Galveston Trip, Mississippi River, Vicksburg to Natchez

After a wonderful day from Greenville to Vicksburg and all things mechanical working now, we were anticipating another great day. We had even gotten word of another commercial stop, this one in Natchez (actually on the other side of the river in Louisiana), with the added benefit of fuel! (There are some things you just don't pass up when traveling on the rivers, especially the Mississippi - fuel, food, and laundry facilities). We had called the fuel company and the barge company on Friday to get the details lined up. The commercial facility was right on the river, rather than a protected harbor, but we would be docking on the inside of their barge that served as their fuel dock which would provide some protection from the barge traffic's wakes - "just call about an hour out." Only about 60 miles downriver and we would have a nice afternoon, refuel, attend church on Sunday morning, wait out a front moving through and leave on Monday. There was no more planning that we could have done, everything was set. Just one problem - the folks in the office that we coordinated with on Friday never told the Saturday crews of the plans. When we called about an hour out on Saturday, we got the above bad news, and it was worse than expected. A crane crew that operated off of a barge was using the fuel dock's location for repairs, and the fuel dock (our protected home for the next 2 days) was not even there. So, we're stuck on the Mississippi River with no protection, evening is approaching, and we have nowhere to go without traveling 50 to 60 miles. With the current roaring, they managed to slip "Help Me Rhonda" in between some of their other tow boats and the bank - it was a big deal and a very difficult docking, but we made it (below). I'll explain the fuel truck and the lines later.

There was still no room or protection for "Opus One" and after much persuasion, I was able to convince the captain on duty that we needed some cooperation getting them taken care of - "My friends are out there on their own, relying on me for any plans we make, and we need some help." He finally called the foreman on his day off who came in with a smile on his face and said "not to worry," he would have us situated shortly. The crane barge had to move, the foreman went and retrieved the fuel barge, put it back in place, and all was well again - another example of how most people are eager to help on the water. I have to admit, this was the most tense and serious event of the trip - I was seriously concerned for Clint and Linda's safety that night. No place to dock, nighttime approaching, and a front headed our way. When all was settled, we had about 30 minutes of daylight left and the front was approaching. Here's a shot of the fuel dock, "Opus One" docked inside, and the fuel truck pumping fuel on Sunday.

Back to the explanation of the extra lines to our boat. Remember I said you never pass up fuel on the Mississippi. However, after the very difficult process of getting "HMR" docked, there was no way I was moving her over to the fuel dock, so I devised a plan to get us fuel without moving. I ran three lines from land to the boat and convinced the fuel truck driver to park on the hill across from the boat. We ran one of the lines to "carry" the fuel nozzle across the water, another line to pull it across to the boat, and a third one to pull it back to the truck. Sometimes you have to improvise - it worked great.

Even with all the difficulties and challenges we faced at Natchez, we walked about a half-mile and had a nice visit to FBC of Vidalia on Sunday morning (on the Louisiana side of the river). The walk to church revealed some beautiful streets and old homes, with the live oak trees covering the streets from one side to the other. We got both boats refueled. The Comfort Inn up the street from the boats let us use their laundry facilities, and last but not least, we were able to get some short periods on their WiFi.

Because of the strong current, shallow water, and close proximity to the bank, it was a serious struggle to get "Help Me Rhonda" out on Monday morning without running aground on the bank or into the fuel barge, but after about 45 minutes of working lots of lines by hand and gradually getting her into a position where we could release her and control it, we were off and running for our last day on the Mississippi.

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