Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything. -Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day 37 thru Day 39

A Whole New Ball Game

Day 37. On Monday morning David and I left St. Louis, and got an early launch at the St. Charles boat ramp with gas, ice, and the good wishes of our buddy Ted Meeker, who had kept the boat in his yard over the weekend. Our goal was to get the remaining thirty miles down the Missouri River, through a lock in the Mississippi, and most of the two hundred miles down to the mouth of the Ohio before nightfall. That was a tall order.

We blew down to the confluence in short order, and I reflected that Little Sadie had made the first leg of the trip, the long 1,846 miles down the Missouri River from put-in in Montana. What a fine boat, more than equal to the task.

We immediately pulled across into a canal leading to the Chain of Rocks lock. The Chain of Rocks is a spot where the Mississippi River drops over four feet, over a rocky ledge. I wonder at how Samuel Clements and other steamboat pilots back in the nineteenth century were ever able to go up and down at that spot. But they somehow did. Now the towboats and "pleasure craft" step down through the lock.

A lock, as you may know, is an ingenious mechanism consisting of a huge concrete box (200'x600' or 200'x1200', typically) with pairs of huge doors at both ends. Water level in the box is adjusted to your height, you motor in and tie off to a large floating cylinder (bollard) recessed in the wall, water is pumped in or out to the level of the river at the other end, those gates open, and you motor on out.
The problem is that you might wait hours to get through a lock because of the volume of towboat traffic. We were now seeing a cluster of them waiting to "lock through", and in general a great increase in barge movement from what we saw on the Missouri.

David and I had read up on the correct procedure to follow, so when our turn came we motored in, tied up to a bollard with not too much lost motion, held there until the water was pumped down, and motored out when the gates at the downstream end opened. But, the wait had cost us three hours. We went downriver past St. Louis, getting a view of the Arch that not too many see. I was reminded that when I lived in St. Louis we thought of this Gateway to the American West as a grand croquet wicket.

When we refueled at Hoppe's Marine Service that afternoon, we were told that we wouldn't get anywhere near our objective in the Cape Girardeau area that day, but could motor into the mouth of the small Kaskaskia River a few dozen miles down on the Illinois side, radio the lock master at the lock there, and get his permission to tie up there. We did and cooked supper and had a quiet night there.

On the way into that quiet river, however, we heard a loud BANG on the side of the hull. Then we saw a sizable fish fly out of the water in front of us, and then another. We had been warned about the flying Asian Carp, which hang out in slack water and do jump out of the water, especially when excited by boat motors. We saw a dead carp on the concrete structure where we tied up, and it may have jumped there -- four feet above the water level. These fish grow to over two feet long and are stocky, so when one jumps up and slams your boat, it is attention-getting. They have been known to jump into boats, injure people on impact, even knock people out of their boats.

Day 38. The next morning we motored out of the Kaskaskia and ran at a rapid 30 mph down the Mississippi. We had to get down that stretch, up the Ohio River through two locks to the Paducah, Kentucky area, south up the Cumberland River to a lock, be lifted up into Barkley Lake, and find our destination, Green Turtle Bay Marina, before dark. Getting underway at 7:00 gave us 14 hours to make 210 miles and three locks. It seemed manageable, but a tall order. With all our spare gas cans full, we felt we had fuel enough to make it (there being no fuel short of GTB Marina).

The Mississippi was a bigger river than the Missouri, and the channel was wide and deep, so though there were frequent towboats encountered, we were not held up. The morning was calm, cool, and somewhat foggy. We made the 120 miles to the mouth of the Ohio before noon, and started up that river at Cairo, Illinois.

The last time I had seen that river scene was in August, 1965, when my brother Al and I carried out my father's last wishes. Being a lifelong riverman, he had expressed the desire to have, after his death, his ashes sprinkled over the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. So Al and I did that, from the platform aside the pilot house of one of the largest towboats in the fleet of the barge line Pop had been running at that time.

Today, though, David and I were on another mission, and problems were now beginning. We were held up three hours getting up through the first Ohio River lock just above Cairo. We motored on eastward, feeling a little anxious about gas and daylight. We lost nearly five hours waiting to lock through the second one, and by then the sun was moving down in the West. We slammed upriver to the Cumberland River, and started motoring the 30 miles up it as dusk came and went. This was a very narrow, winding river, with nothing but trees lining it and scarcely ever any sign of civilization. It was dark. We had to get to our destination, because there was absolutely no place to tie off out of the channel. If we were sitting along the bank, a towboat pushing barges might never even know that he had run over us. We did know that small towboats did push small tows up and down the Cumberland.

I had never intended to do any boating in the dark. But, I had months before responded to an ad in Boating magazine for a four-million-candlepower (that's bright) hand-held spotlight, just because I thought it would be good to have. It was. We proceeded cautiously up the river, one of us sweeping the beam from one bank to the other, to show the pilot where to go, and to spot any buoys marking where the channel narrowed to go around an obstruction. This went on for a while until we rounded a turn and found a strange large expanse of lights in the river ahead. Soon we determined that it was a towboat pushing barges ahead of us upriver. Since it was generally too narrow to pass, we radioed the captain and established that we would just motor along and safely follow him to the lock and dam at Barkley Lake. It was slow. We had a beer. After an hour we did the math and decided that at 3.5 mph it would be long after daylight before this flotilla made that destination.

At the next straight stretch we radioed thanks and adios to the towboat and moved on by, into the blackness. We pushed along at the fastest prudent speed, about 7 mph, with David at the helm and me trying to do the best job I could showing where the banks were going and scanning for buoys. This was a bit surreal. Remember in "Apocolypse Now" when they were sneaking Martin Sheen up the narrow winding river in darkness, on his mission to track down the renegade Brando? It was like that. Mile after endless mile, for hours.

We did, of course, arrive at the pool below the dam eventually, and the lockmistress got us through in under an hour. It was a tall lift to the lake, and David thought being down in that dark box of water with glaring spotlights all over the top was kind of creepy, and I had to agree.

Then we motored out into Barkley Lake and I realized that I knew only that the marina was in a little bay a mile up the lake from the dam. But it was dark and we didn't know what that really meant. Fortunately David thought we should go in the direction a down-bound towboat was coming from. We did that, and following contours on the chart on the GPS we did see some kind of a bay to the right, about a mile up. We made our way in there, nearly going aground, and saw a sign at the narrow entrance. We were too tired to be jubilant, but we were greatly relieved, to shine the light over there and make out GTB etc. I did know where our assigned slip was, so we eased in, tied up, shook hands, and sat back with a beer. At 2:15 in the morning.

Day 39. This day was an epilogue to the voyage we had done from Kansas City to Paducah. However, even though the adventure had been wrapped up, the entertainment had not quite. On the map I had seen that an interstate (I-24?) went northeast across Kentucky to a short distance south of Louisville, where I intended to drive to visit friends and drop David off at the airport.

We bounced out of the boat fairly early, rented a car in Paducah, and headed east. I was driving, with too little sleep, and we were playing with the Sirius satellite radio. We made good time along I-24, not paying attention to how the mileage to Nashville was steadily coming down. When we pulled into a rest area and found that we were just into Tennessee, we knew something had gone awry. The map there demonstrated that I-24 forked off right after Paducah from some turnpike that went to Louisville, and we were now entirely across the state from our destination.

This rookie blunder added an hour and a half to the trip, but fortunately we had a cushion and were able to get David to the airport in good time. He went to his plane back to Denver, and I went off to find my Louisville friends whom I had not seen for nearly a half-century. Looking back at the challenges David and I had worked through, and particularly the previous night's entertainment, all that my tired brain could dredge up was: All's well that ends well. We had had a fine and memorable time.

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