The Big Challenge

Since last updated, we have traveled more than 300 river miles, have been in 4 rivers, hauled 7 cans of gas, have been through high winds, shallow water, and passed numerous barges.  This is probably the most challenging stretch on the whole loop, and we are relieved that we made it to our next destination! We left the Alton Marina on Monday, Oct 22nd after meeting up with Mark Rinker who brought us spare props.  He’s the one who was going to trailer our boat to by-pass this next treacherous section.

Mark delivered us spare props
After waiting for the hail and downpour to subside, we departed and locked through #26 amid lightning and loud thunder claps.  Then we passed the mouth of the Missouri River and went through the Chain of Rocks Canal.  It is a narrow canal which by-passes the main channel above St. Louis because of a small waterfall.  At the end of the canal is Lock #27, the last lock on the Mississippi.

Start of Chain of Rocks Canal

We cruised through St. Louis, as there is no place to stop.  And of course we saw the famous arch.

St. Louis

Half Sunken WWII Mine Sweeper

Clouds and rain were our companions until late in the day when we arrived at Mile 158.5 at Hoppie’s – the last gas stop on the upper Mississippi.  We gassed up our main tank and 7 other plastic cans and got tied up on the barge.  There we met up with 2 other boats from Minnesota – a trawler called the ‘River Rat’ manned by Kevin from St. Paul and Chris from Pensacola; and a houseboat called ‘The Road’ captained by Dawn Brodey (actor & playwright), and first-mate Melby (recording artist & photographer).  We commiserated late into the evening and decided to stay in contact over the next few days.

The ‘River Rat’


‘The Road’ – Dawn & Melby

Hoppie’s is operated by an old couple (in their 80’s) – Fern & Hoppie, and first opened in the late 30’s by Hoppie’s father.  They provided a wealth of information on the conditions of the river, places for safe anchorages, and talking to the barge captains.

Shallow conditions at Hoppie’s

We left Hoppie’s dock the next morning after the rain subsided.  Because we did not have enough fuel, we needed to top off our tank in Evansville, IL which is 10.5 miles up the Kaskaskia River.  Here we were to meet up with Dale from F&S who would bring a tanker truck down. The Kaskaskia is a small calm river with only one lock at the mouth.  The sun came out, the winds calmed and the temp climbed to 85 degrees.  Herons fished along the shores and we had our first encounter with the ‘flying’ Asian Carp. We got permission to dock at a closed marina, and walked into town for ice & pizza.  We had to climb and go over this wooden structure without railings which housed the gas and power lines (tricky maneuvering for someone like me who’s not fond of heights).

Jim walking over wooden ‘bridge’

At 7:00 a.m. Dale met us with his truck to fill up our gas tank.  From there we needed to cruise 126.3 miles to a safe harbor near the mouth of the Ohio River, where we would meet up with our MN cohorts.  The barge traffic was very high – as were the waves they left in their wake.  Because of the shallow conditions the channel was much narrower than normal and this required upstream barges to pull aside and wait for downstream barges to pass.  We passed at least 20 barges (lost count after 14), and we needed to communicate with most of them before passing.  It was a long day, but sunny and warm.  We arrived at our anchorage, which turned out to be too shallow to get into, but were able to beach our boat downstream from there.  We added all the carry-on gas to our tank, and before long ‘River Rat’ and ‘The Road’ joined us.  We had a beautiful fire on the beach, and talked about our experiences over the last 2 days.

Very difficult to pass barges in these turns

Campsite at Mile 1.0

We set off in the morning to our most grueling day yet.  First, we missed the Ohio as we were passing a barge, and ended up going 4 miles into the Lower Mississippi.  It doesn’t sound like much, but we had to turn around, and we knew we needed every bit of our gas.  The Ohio was a little daunting; nowhere to stop, with high current, winds & whitecaps.  The first lock and dam we came to was under construction, so we were able to go around it close to the Kentucky shore.  The next Lock (#53) has wickets instead of rollers, which are like wooden gates.  The Lock Master had to lower the wickets for us so we bobbed in the waves and waited.  We didn’t actually go through the lock, instead we went over the wickets, where there was tremendous current.  We forged on ahead, passed barges and made our way to Lock #52. Lock #52 & #53 are going to be removed once the lock under construction is completed.  Our experience in Lock #52 was the worst we’ve encountered.  The lock does not have lines or floating bollards, we had to throw our own line up to the lock guy.  He wrapped it around a large cleat above, and then we tied it off to our cleat.  Unfortunately, we should have had 2 ropes instead of 1.  On our way up the boat kept swinging and despite our best efforts in the wind and swirling water we could not prevent the bow and anchor from digging into the lock wall.  We rode up with another tugboat called the ‘Bill Rogers’.  After our 46 miles jaunt on the Ohio I was happy to see the mouth of the Tennessee!

The Tennessee River is narrower and much calmer with less barge traffic.  We passed under a new bridge being constructed, and the workmen were up there walking around.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was really high!

Workers on New Bridge

After 22 miles on the Tennessee we came to the Kentucky Lock.  It has a 57 foot lift, so the doors look gigantic in comparison to the size of our little craft.  We had to wait a short time for a tug in the lock, but soon we were able to lock through.

Kentucky Lock

When you come out of the Kentucky Lock you enter Kentucky Lake, a wide expanse of beautiful water in the Land Between the Lakes.  It was such a relief to make it there!  The temp was sunny and about 80 degrees again.  I got to see the cabin where I stayed with BFF Judy Lindgren on one of our annual mystery trips.  It brought back some great memories!

Bluff Cabin at Lighthouse Landing

Then across the lake we went into the Kentucky Dam Marina, for some much needed gas, pump-out, fresh water, and a slip for the night.  We showered and hit the hay early.

We made it!  I’ll leave you with an appropriate quote by Moliere:  “The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”

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1 Response to The Big Challenge

  1. blogan777 says:

    Whew, I hope your boar is holding up. Nice to know you have some MN companionship.
    It’s really fun to read the blog and live vicariously through it. Keep posting. Lots of love, B

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