Sunday, July 18, 2010

Down the Mississippi, to the Ohio, to the Cumberland (pictured). Almost "home."

Exiting the LAST LOCK!!

My first and last marina - at Kentucky Lake, TN. "Crossing my wake" 5300 miles later.

THE END • Saturday, July 17, 4:30 MDT
8 weeks and 1 day from start to finish. What an amazing adventure. Thanks for sharing in my journey, Lyn

Friday, July 16, 2010

The timing didn't seem right - I had a bit of laryngitis, scratchy throat and thunderstorm chance today was 50%. After getting my blog to Joanne for posting Thursday night I realized it was 10:00 and the taxi was scheduled for 4:30 AM. It was time for a day off and this morning I feel good and the chance of storms for today onward has been downgraded. The heat warnings remain however, and probably another reason to get myself back to normal today before undertaking the final push tomorrow. This leg of the trip, 250 miles, could theoretically be done in one day but the 3 locks I must traverse are the wild card potentially causing delays exceeding 2 hours.

Yesterday, after leaving the fine folks at Grafton Harbor, I should have been to Hoppie's Marina easily before noon with only the two locks in the St. Louis area. As it was it took all day to go 50 miles and the heat index was over 100. Both locks were making repairs so I had to wait for commercial traffic and the barges move at glacial speed. It was one of the worst days of the trip and the longest delays I've experienced in about 130 locks.

Despite some first aid on the middle pontoon, the Premier Pontoon has performed extremely well and garnered many comments from people who realized it wasn't the average pontoon. Of course people could not believe I was doing the Loop in it. Despite being beaten by waves there is nothing loose on the boat - the gates, 5 rail "fence," and wind screens remain very solid. The all-weather carpet looks great but will need a cleaning. The nano-technology seats look like the day the boat was delivered. Salt water is hard on materials and because I could not rinse it everyday the swim ladder and a few metal fittings may need to be replaced. I have put a few dings in the bow and stern plates which will need attention. It is the only boat of this type I would consider for big lakes and a comfortable ride. It is very well screwed together.

The technology I've relied on are my Asus Netbook, used every night for planning, weather and blog. Verizon Incredible phone for taking pictures, weather radar during the day, and g-mail, looking up motels, etc. on Google search. Used 12 v boat charger for it during the day. SPOT locator which I've already discussed - essential item especially for solo trips of any kind (does not depend on cell phone connection, uses satellite). Lowrance 7” GPS mounted on the boat for electronic charts, speed, distance, sonar for depth and bottom conditions. Use this in conjunction with paper charts for navigation. I don't recommend Lowrance due to a screen failure, failure of cursor keys to function periodically, poor corporate customer support and slow refresh rates which are maddening when you are attempting to use the other functions. Hallberg Marine, my dealer, saved the day by overnight shipping a new unit to me when the screen failed. I carried a compact camera but did not use it much due to adequate phone pictures and lack of time to use both. I also carried a handheld Garmin GPS in case the Lowrance failed and this was used the day the Lowrance screen failed. A marine portable radio is essential for safety, talking to other boats, locks and getting marine weather. 12 v and AC chargers are essential for any chargeable devices as well as extra batteries. The Yamaha engine included dash gauges that gave me fuel consumption at different RPMs, gallons used, MPH, trip miles, and engine hours to track maintenance. That summarizes most of the technology I used.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sally delivering goodie bag from Grafton Harbor folks in celebration of my trip.

A great harbor with friendly and knowledgeable folks.

Tow past Grafton into St. Louis Harbor

The Arch in St. Louis... drove by it in September and boated by it today.

The mighty Mississippi from Hoppie's Marina in Kimmswick, MO.

Hoppie's Marina from the River.

Fern Hoppie at the helm.

Tomorrow is it! Weather permitting... the beginning of the final two-day leg of this journey and the longest and most remote without fuel or services. At Hoppie's Marina this afternoon I filled up the boat and four 5-gallon gas cans. I have to have enough fuel to go 250 miles to Kentucky Lake. My best fuel economy balanced with speed is around 20-23 mph and that is fast enough on the Mississippi. It is at low flood stage so the occasional sandy banks are gone - just the tree lined river. This is a disadvantage if you just want to take a break or even camp. There are a lot of logs, trees and other matter floating down the river at 3-5 mph so you have to keep a good lookout.

The taxi will pick me up at 4:30 in the morning and I hope to make the mouth of the Ohio River and find a safe harbor off the river for the night - this is usually a creek or dead water off the main channel. I'm sure my mosquito netting will come in handy. The heat advisories continue and today was brutal, but I did drink more fluids on a regular basis. Then, on to Kentucky Lake via either the Tennessee or Cumberland River. Both have a lock that locks you up to the lake - Cumberland is a little less busy with commercial traffic but 30 miles farther.

If I were to have a mechanical failure of some sort I would press the "Help" button on my SPOT and Joanne would contact this region's Coast Guard and send them the coordinates of my location. If it were a life threatening emergency I would press the "911" button and it summons regional and local rescue immediately via satellite.

Fern Hoppie gave me the scoop on my route and said I will have cell service at times but no other services along the way. There will be an occasional "put in" ramp used by locals but no services. I will need one of these when it’s time to put my extra fuel in the boat. Fred Martin and I found out how hard it is to fuel the boat on the water while crossing the Gulf, and that was with two people. The newly mandated EPA cans make life more difficult, not safer. Thank you big government.

My next blog will likely be after the completion of the trip. I appreciate everyone's interest and support and know that many of you followed without posting comments. I hope this has been as fun for you as for me - but don't leave yet, we need to determine what I learned from this experience, what pieces of equipment were useful and what lessons you can apply to your next adventure. Alarm goes off in 6 hours so must close for now.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mississippi River where the Illinois River joins - and a tow.

Smaller tow boat

CHICAGO by Carl Sandburg

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders . . .

This is the beginning of Sandburg's poem that I have been reminded of the past few days as I've traveled from Chicago to the terminus of the Illinois River where it joins the Mississippi. The entire poem is one of my favorites. From the harbor south of Chicago to here in Grafton, Ill, a picture of industry in America emerges including agriculture with grain being loaded onto barges for shipping to New Orleans and the small towns where people go about everyday life living perhaps an entire lifetime within 25 miles. Despite the barges, power companies, grain elevators and small towns engaged in whatever they do, much of the river is long stretches of solitude and trees along the river bank.

As I said in the previous posting, tomorrow I travel to the famous Hoppie’s Marina, 50 miles below St. Louis and prepare for the final 240 miles. Increased chance of thunderstorms from tomorrow night through Friday. Why are there no boat services in that distance other than some public ramps here and there for the locals? Many of the towns along the Mississippi have continuously moved their river facilities and towns farther inland after each major flood prompting them to forgo river services entirely. Supposedly Paducah, along the stretch of the Ohio I must travel, has applied to build a public marina near town. This would be a plus for boaters traveling from the Mississippi up the Ohio 30 miles, then the Tennessee River a short way up to Kentucky Lake. I may have to "anchor out" Friday night along the river in a storm hole to complete the trip on Saturday. The SPOT may be my only communication. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Unloading a barge on the Illinois River

Leaving some of the Illinois River behind.

Approaching a tow boat.

Ottawa last night, Havana tonight - did I change course? Actually these are towns on the Illinois River and tomorrow I plan to arrive in Grafton, Ill where the Illinois joins the mighty Mississippi.

Thursday to Hoppie's Marina - 50 miles south of St. Louis where the longest stretch of my trip begins and gasoline is not available, nor any other services. That is the 240 miles from Hoppie’s, located in Kimmswick, MO to Kentucky Lake, TN where I began this trip and will “cross my own wake.”

Hoppie’s is famous as Fern Hopkins and her husband hold court every afternoon for those venturing south on the Mississippi. Their "marina" is actually several barge platforms tied together sitting along the banks of the River. Here is a picture:

But first things first. Most of my trip has taken place when heat advisories were taking place. Tomorrow there are heat index warnings again for this and the Mississippi area extending into the end of the week. I need to drink more water during the day on the boat, but usually what happens is I get to my destination and realize I'm a bit dehydrated and then spend the evening tanking up, not a balanced approached. Tomorrow I plan to stay at the Reubel Hotel in Grafton - if I begin by 7:30 AM I could get there early afternoon and "chill" out. It is 120 miles and at 25 mph about a 5-6 hr. trip.

The Illinois River is somewhat narrow in places and if you consider that navigation aids in places narrow it further then the space between me and a tow pushing barges ahead of it is not comfortable. Actually I slow down and determine which direction the end of the tow will hang out and cruise by the other side. When turning into a curve, the tow (actually it's pushing the barges) will swing to the outside of the curve. You don't want to be there as you will end up in his wake and maybe outside the channel markers.

While I can visualize the end of this journey it is important to take each of the final days one at a time. Don't make any mistakes, keep track of my location on chart and GPS and enjoy the scenery. I'm in corn and bean country and while I can't see that from the river I did see it last night from the 3rd floor of my motel - a corn field and water tower, just like the one in Goodland near where my folks lived their final years. Many memories all of a sudden came to mind when I opened the curtains of the motel and saw that scene - with a thunderstorm in the background thrown in for good measure. Wow, you just never know where the great river of life will lead. And so it flows . . . . .

Michigan City breakwater and harbor - July 11.

Lake Michigan allowed my passing over three days but not without an argument. Fog on first day and rough water the third.

Today, July 12, I left Michigan City, IL and had 30 miles of open water to the Calument Harbor 10 miles south of Chicago. Then via the Calument River to the Illinois River. It is 300-plus miles from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.

I arrived at Ottawa, IL after a long, 125-mile day. Have not encountered any flying carp yet but expect to tomorrow - will keep my head behind the windscreen! May make Havana, IL Tuesday. Passed through 4 locks today - will not miss the locks (about 130 on the Great Loop) but only 5 more before arriving at Kentucky Lake where the SUV and trailer are stored.

American industry is at work on the Calument River, the first 50 miles off Lake Michigan, where I passed today. Power plants, chemical, rail, auto, marine repair were all in evidence. The barges (tows) were numerous and up close as the Calument is not that wide. I had to stand by when barges approaching were passing barges tied up on the other shore - not much room to maneuver. Too late for more - a great day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Leaving Frankfort, MI at 0700 this morning.

Boat traffic in Grand Haven, MI this afternoon.

George Gershwin's, "Summertime" first verse, began to play in my mind this evening. "Summertime and the livin' is easy, fish are jumpin' and the cotton is high.” This does not apply to many Americans right now but I love the tune of the song. Some Canadian marinas are busy and the east side of Lake Michigan is way too busy at least on this weekend of my journey, and yet the "recovery" for many Americans is not happening. I have so much to be thankful for, not only for family but what this country has provided me. I give thanks along this journey knowing that many people in our world are less fortunate.

Yesterday, from DeTour, MI I traveled through the Mackinac Straights, around Mackinac Island and down Lake Michigan to Frankfort on the eastern shore. Intermittent fog and use of waypoints on the GPS was the rule of the day. Once again my horizons were land on one quadrant of the compass and a horizon of water on the other three. This is a huge lake and the small boater is constantly aware of potential weather changes that can happen quickly. One reason for this trip was to build on past experiences and my interest in weather, navigation and decision making. A constant assessment of current circumstances and the potential for those to change, taking nothing for granted, seems to be a good rule of thumb for most endeavors.

Today the water began with swells into my direction of travel limiting speed to 15 mph. Later, the water calmed and the shoreline with many sandy beaches was my view several miles to port. Accommodations, without reservations are almost nonexistent and the price for average amenities is near $200 - I dislike traveling on weekends. I almost camped on the beach yesterday after calling 7 hotels that were booked, but that would have prevented me from making accommodations for today as there was no phone or internet service unless you were near a town. Sunday nights and weeknights are manageable. The coming week should find me navigating the great Illinois and Mississippi Rivers... the "big waters" left behind, the Great Rivers offering their own challenges, and my own nostalgic version of Summertime playing a river tune.

Including a video this time - it's the stern view showing fog yesterday morning.