Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mississippi River

Update for 10/21/06

We set out from Alton in the morning and passed through both locks without any delays. In fact, at the second lock, the lockmaster held the lock open for about a half our waiting for us. Thanks to the lockmaster and to the crew of "Greenbean" for holding the lock for us.
Once clear of the locks and the "Chain of Rocks Canal" we roared past downtown St. Louis at an amazing 9+ mph. The current on the Mississippi at this point is so swift, I'm glad we were going downstream and not trying to buck the current upstream.
Passing St. Louis we got a good view of the Arch, but couldn't stop as there are no marinas and no city dock. The entire waterfront is dominated by commercial enterprises and there are huge barges everywhere.
Along this stretch we heard a radio call from a tow captain chewing out the skipper of a pleasure boat that got in his way. Later that evening at Hoppies, we met the crew of that boat and invited them over for a chat and some songs. "Hi," to the crew of Jacqueline II and best wishes for staying away from the tows.
The rest of the run down to Hoppies was uneventful. We just kind of rolled along with the current and stared in amazement at the speed numbers flashing by on the GPS.
We found out later, courtesy of Debbie at Hoppies, that certain parts of the river have little dams deep under the water that are supposed to help channel the water to prevent silting. What they do instead is create massive turbulence in the water. These turbulent areas make for very difficult steerage and our friends had gotten caught up in one of these areas when the tow chewed them out. The entire trip down from St. Louis I couldn't take my eyes off the river for a second. The eddys and cross currents would have driven us sideways into who knows what.
Thanks to Debbie, we now know how to read the chart to predict when these trouble spots will come up, and so we'll be able to relax a bit from here on down the river.

Update for 10/22/06

Today the forecast was for cool temperatures and wind gusts to 30 mph, so we decided to wait a day for warmer weather or less wind. We also wanted to wait because several boats were leaving Hoppies today and we would all be competing for the very limited anchorage space downriver.
"Hoppies" is a very interesting place. It is the last marina on the river and is run by two old time river-people, Hoppie and Fern, and their children. The marina itself is just a collection of old barges cobbled together to form a long floating dock along a steep embankment. The restroom facilities are, to put in mildly, miminal. (The bungee-cord door lock is legendary.) But this is more than made up for by the expert advice from Fern and daughter Debbie. They know the river pretty well and offer a seminar on places to anchor safely from here to Paducah.
We took advantage of the "day off" to explore the little town of Kimmswick. We're glad we did. The guidebooks don't mention this charming little town. That is a shame.
After a short walk up to the town, we stopped in at the Visitor's Center and were treated to a delightful salespitch by the resident "pitchwoman." She's a retired Flight Attendant and former mobile-home dweller who knows all the businesses in town and gleefully hawks all their specialties.
We stopped at "Mr. Ed's" and bought some wonderful wooden roses to brighten up our cozy little cabin. Then we went to Pameila's Gift shop where they specialize in pet-themed decorations. I got my sister a little gift - which I can't mention here as she reads the blog. We stopped at Kimmswick Korner to buy some licorice. They have all sorts of fudges and candies of the finest quality. Make sure you visit them if you're ever here.
We went to the museum and had a delightful chat with the lady who runs it. There is also an 1850's era log cabin that is fully furnished and on display, with another delightful Kimmswickian woman giving the tour.
We topped off our afternoon with a great dinner at "The Old House" restaurant. The Old House is in a restored log cabin. The waiter at the Old House was a very nice young fellow who had lived all over the US and has now returned to his roots in the St. Louis area. Having never made a "Painkiller" before he followed our instructions and made us some delicious drinks. Man, they go down easy! Good luck on your quest to get to Australia - maybe we'll see you there some day.
The other restaurant in town, The Blue Owl, specializes in breakfast, lunch and desert. Their pastries are rumored to be fabulous, but we just didn't have room after stuffing ourselves at the Old House.
Hoppies is at mile 158, meaning we have 158 more miles to go before we reach Cairo, our last stop on the Mississippi. The next 200 miles or so are going to be the most challenging so far. There is only one fuel stop, and no marinas between here and Kentucky Lake. The nights are predicted to be very cool - 20's and 30's and we won't have shore-power to run the electric heater. That means running the alcohol heater and putting up with the condensation it causes. Tuesday we will have a 65 mile trip with no anchorages available. At least it's all downstream at that point. Thursday, will also be a hard day as we will be making the upstream trek up the Ohio from Cairo to Paducah.
Things should start to get easier once we reach Kentucky Lake. There are loads of marinas, and from there on our course is ever southward.

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