Sunday – Tuesday, 9/22 – 9/24 – Alton. So we last left you having arrived Sunday afternoon to Alton. Had a leisurely afternoon relaxing and listening to the storm, then later in the day we met Dick & Sandi of Amazing Grace at the Bluffs Bar & Grill. It’s about a mile from the marina and up hill so we all decided to Uber it. Bob and I sat at the bar and enjoyed talking to the bartender until Dick & Sandi arrived then had a really nice meal inside. The photo with Bob standing under a red line under the American Flag is the marking showing how high the water came up during the flood of 1993. This is up hill and in town.
On Monday, the four of us took an Uber to the Great Rivers Museum at the Mel Price Lock & Dam. We arrived at 12:30 to sign up for the 1:00 tour of the lock as it is “first come” and a limited group. The tour was very interesting and our guide took us to the top of the lock & dam which is 80′ above the river. The Mel Price Lock & Dam is a relatively new lock having replaced a tired, old and smaller lock a bit further up river. Mel Price was the Senator that got the funds ($1 Billion) to build the new lock so it was named after him. The new lock & dam is huge with a main & auxiliary chamber. The main chamber is 1000′ long and 600′ wide. It was great to learn all about the building of it and the process of running the lock. Plus we got to see it up close before our upcoming transit through the lock in our boat. Incidentally, we asked if there were any fees to lock through and were told that pleasure craft does not pay anything but the tows pay a surtax on their fuel of .29 per gallon for the use of the lock. An average of 700 million tons of cargo transits through this lock each year which is mainly coal, petroleum and crops.
After the tour, we watched a couple of movies about the commerce on the Mississippi River & building of the lock and also one about bald eagles. A few fun facts about eagles. First, they are migratory and the Alton area is a favorite wintering home for them. Last year, 2000 of them were believed to be in the area. Many coming south from Minnesota when it freezes up there. Second, they mate for life and generally come back to their same nest or nesting area each year. Lastly, they live about 25 years. Now we know why we were having daily sightings of eagles.
After the museum, we caught another Uber ride into town to have a late lunch / early dinner at Chez Marilyn. BTW, the two Uber drivers we took to and from the museum were the worst drivers any of us had ever experienced with Uber. We were all terrified on both rides.
On Tuesday, Dick rented a car and the four of us went over to St. Charles, Missouri with a list of stops and errands we all wanted to make. Sandi, Dick & I got haircuts at a Great Clips which was fast, cheap and surprisingly good. Bob bought a handheld VHF for our tender as the installed one stopped working and we all needed to provision.
Prior to stopping for groceries though, we went to the Lewis & Clark Boat House. While the museum itself wasn’t as physically impressive as the Great Rivers museum, the story about Lewis & Clark is truly amazing and heralded as one of the greatest exploration trips of all time and certainly pivotal for the U.S. A few facts that we came away with.
Meriwether Lewis, was the private secretary to President Thomas Jefferson and an explorer. President Jefferson dreamed of exploring the lands west of the Mississippi in order to add to the US territories. Jefferson was able to appropriate the funds from Congress and the plan was set. Lewis chose William Clark as his partner in the adventure and the two started from St. Charles, MO in 1803. They headed up the Missouri River so the going was slow against the current. They took the Missouri River to its headwaters in Nebraska, crossed the plains and Rocky Mountains, had encounters (mostly friendly) with 50 different Native American tribes and made it to the Oregon coast and Pacific Ocean. Their journey took them 2 1/2 years. Absolutely amazing. After seeing the museum, we definitely want to read a book about this astonishing journey.
Wednesday, 9/25 – Imperial, MO / Hoppies marina. We departed Alton about 8:30am and headed to the Mel Price Lock about one mile south. We spotted two other pleasure craft heading that way as well. We hailed the lockmaster to let him know we were on our way as well so he would hold the lock for us. We locked through in the main chamber (the big one) with three other PC’s. The entrance to the lock chamber was full of debris, including big logs, and it was turbulent. Once inside it was calm and we tied off to a floating bollard and it was a quick transit with only a 2′ drop.
Our journey today would take us 40 miles with two locks including the Mel Price lock. Lots of tows north and southbound as we exited Mel Price. Next up the Chain of Rocks canal and lock which were easy. We were behind a tow going south and didn’t want to pass him in case we had to wait for him to lock through (priority to commercial). But as it turns out, they put us in the auxiliary chamber and we passed right on through. Short drop. There were three of us PC’s including Amazing Grace and Just Jilling.
Next up the St. Louis Arch. We had been cautioned about the commercial boat traffic in the St. Louis area and it was a bit rough. Between the wind coming from the south and hitting the current, the dodging of debris, dodging of tows, it was challenging. Sometimes the waves were 4′ high due to the back wash from the northbound tows.
One of the suggestions for this area is to transit it with a buddy boat so you can take photos of each other’s boat while passing the arch. So we arranged with Just Jilling (Dave & Jill) and Amazing Grace to do this. Although it was so rough that we almost said forget it. But we took some photos of Just Jilling and he came back around and took photos of us and Amazing Grace. It was pretty cool but we were glad to leave the St. Louis area.
We arrived at the iconic Hoppies marina without further incident. For years, Hoppies was a fuel stop in between Alton and Paducah, KY. However, this year’s flood wiped out (sunk) a few of their barges so they not only don’t have fuel but only have room for four boats to tie as opposed to 15. The stop was beyond rustic. It was like parking your RV in a junk yard for the night. Since its right on the river, the current makes it challenging to tie up and walking off the barge to get to town is another challenge. Bob and I had originally planned to stay two nights but left after losing power in the night. The walk to town was quaint with an old walk bridge (circa 1830) and the food at Smokee Robinson’s BBQ was very good but we couldn’t wait to make haste.
Thursday, 9/26 – Kaskaskia Lock Wall. We said goodbye to friends Dick & Sandi as they had plans with friends that live in the area. They agreed that if they didn’t have plans, they would not stay another night. Departed around 8am and headed downstream the 40 miles to Kaskaskia lock wall. This is a popular stop along the way as there are not too many options on the Mississippi. Kaskaskia lock wall is just that. There is a lock there for going up or down the Kaskaskia River and the protocol is to call the lockmaster and ask permission to tie up on the outside wall (not in the lock itself). We got there about noon and Lee & Cynthia from Desiderata were already tied there and assisted us with our lines. We had met them at Hoppies and assisted with their lines when they left Hoppies.
After settling in, Bob & I took the tender into the lock and headed up river 10 miles to Port Evansville (IL) and had lunch at Water Street Bar & Grill on the river. Not much to it as it sits on a barge but the owners were friendly and the bar food was acceptable. Most Loopers stay put on the wall and don’t go up river so the folks had not heard of Loopers and were amazed by our trip. We opened it up to 25 mph on the tender so the trip took no time and neither did locking through. The lock doors were open for us each way and as soon as the lock doors closed behind us, the other lock doors were opening. We didn’t even bother to tie up on the return as it didn’t seem to drop or raise but a few inches.
Later at the lock wall, three other Loopers (Journey, Talisker & Camelot) arrived and we assisted them with lines and told them what to expect via VHF as they were heading in. They were all very appreciative of the assistance. The lock wall was a nice quiet stop off the Mississippi with no current or wakes. Slept well.
Friday, 9/27 – Little River Diversion Canal. As mentioned, there are very few, if any, marinas or anchorages along the Mississippi so all 5 of us were headed to the same anchorage 70 miles away. Rough 5 1/2 hour day. A strong wind was blowing from the south and against the current which made it choppy and wavy and harder to see all the floating debris in the river. It was a 5 1/2 hour obstacle course and it took both our full attentions trying to spot the debris (telephone size trees, big logs, small logs). Many Loopers have damaged their propellers on the Mississippi and had to get hauled out of the water for repair upon leaving it.
We finally arrived at our anchorage which is a fairly narrow river and there were a total of 8 boats anchored in the river for the evening. We were invited for cocktails on Patriot but everyone was exhausted from the obstacle course and we all declined. Bob and I had a Cosmo and grilled some pork chops. Nice quiet anchorage with no wakes from the passing tows.
Saturday, 9/28 – Cairo / Boston Bar anchorage. Bob had a conference call in the morning so we didn’t depart until about 9:00. All but one boat had departed earlier. While he was on his call, I worked on the blog as I am a couple of weeks behind. What a difference a day makes on the river. Wind was down so it was a relatively easy 40 mile trip to our anchorage. Some of the Loopers we had been with the last 2 days said they might stop here but since it was an easy day, they all continued on so they could get off the Mississippi for good and on to the Ohio River. Our anchorage at Little Diversion is at MM 49 and MM 0 is the turn off for the Ohio River and so they opted to continue on. We on the other hand, opted to stop at MM 9 which is in the Cairo area. Easy in off the Mississippi River and we had the anchorage all to ourselves. A strong current (about 6 mph) but we were thinking this was a good anchorage. Not!
Our last night on the Mississippi would turn out to be quite a harrowing adventure. Did we mention the strong current? Well right about the time we were getting ready for bed, we heard a weird noise at the bow of the boat. Bob decided to go out and check in out and knocked on the hull side indicating I should come out. A huge tree (20-25′) had come streaming down in the current and snagged itself on to our anchor line. It is pitch black and there is a ripping current as we are discussing how to disentangle ourselves from this tree. We were worried that the tree would break our anchor line or dislodge the anchor from the bottom sending us spiraling down into the Mississippi River and the bridge that was close by. We tried launching the tender to see if we could dislodge the tree but no way. Too heavy and the current was dangerous for us. We called the Coast Guard but they said unless we were sinking and needed to be rescued they would not come out to remove a tree. No tow boat services for 60 miles. So we basically stayed up all night on watch detail to make sure the anchor didn’t fail. Bob took the first shift until 3:30am and I took the 3:30am to 6:00am shift. In the morning and in daylight, we decided on a course of action and were able to dislodge the tree. Nightmare over. We could not wait to get off the Mississippi so we weighed anchor early and set off for the last nine miles of the Mississippi River. The first photo below is of our anchorage. The other photos show some of the trees we have to dodge on the river and a buoy marker showing how strong the current rips by. Next up our turn into the Ohio River. Stayed tuned for our hopefully non eventful week ahead.