Heading Out: Maumelle, Arkansas to New Orleans, Louisiana / July 1-8, 2002
July 1, 2002 / Little Rock, AR to Tar Camp, AR
Departure day is finally here. The last piece of business at home was to give Gary, the Today show addict, a "Matt Lauer haircut" (i.e., a crewcut). Nice pink scalp; he'll need to wear a hat for a while!
Coleen's mom, Gary's sister Nancy, and our niece Lauren (aka the Housesitter) saw us off at 1 p.m. We weren't sure how far we'd get, but however far, it was still good to finally be on the way.
The first of many, many locks was our familiar Lock 7 at Murray Lock and Dam. As we waited for the all-clear horn to signal us to leave the lock, we heard instead a series of bell tones. Then the lockmaster got on the radio and wished the Calypso Poet a safe voyage on her Great Loop Cruise, on behalf of the Corps of Engineers. We are honored to receive such a nice send-off from our friends at the Corps!
A hot and hazy afternoon, not much current or breeze. At 1700 hours (5 p.m. for landlubbers), we anchored beside Tar Camp Park on the Arkansas River above Pine Bluff, an easy dinghy trip to shore for Maggie's "walkies" with Gary. They rowed to shore, pulled the dinghy up on the rocks, and headed off to find some grass and squirrels. About fifteen minutes after they'd left, Coleen looked out the window and saw a little boy, maybe three years old, standing at the river's edge beside the dinghy. Scared that he would either try to get in it or that he would push it off the shore, she scrambled out on deck, where she saw a man, probably the child's grandfather, walk up. Feeling a little more relieved that at least there was an adult to supervise, she talked to the man and boy for a few minutes and then returned to the galley to finish cooking dinner. The pair didn't leave the dinghy, though. They stayed there until Gary and Maggie returned from their walk, and the man asked Gary if he would give the boy a ride in the little boat. Gary explained that he couldn't; he didn't have a child's lifejacket, he couldn't assume the liability, and at any rate, he needed to go back to the big boat. You have to wonder about some people and whether they have any sense at all.
We spent a quiet night at anchor, rocked only by a few fishing boat wakes.
July 2, 2002 / Tar Camp, AR to Pendleton Bridge, AR
Today was mostly a day of waiting--waiting in line with tow boats and barges, as the locks were bottlenecked with all the traffic heading south. We were underway by 0730. Not too long a wait at Lock 5, but we saw two tows going downriver ahead of us. We stopped in Pine Bluff to buy a little gas ("a little" means only 60 gallons), walk the dog, and make a few phone calls (no cell phone signal on much of the river).
At Lock 4, the towboat Pebble Beach invited us to jump ahead of her in line, which we gratefully did. Thus we got through this lock a little faster, but it turned out to make no difference in the overall day's run.
We spent about five hours anchored outside Lock 3--two double tows ahead of us, three behind us. It was finally our turn to go into the lock at about 2045 hours (8:45 p.m.). In retrospect, we should have just told the lockmaster it was too late and that we'd get back in line in the morning. But we were overly optimistic, and we thought we knew a good anchorage just on the other side of the lock. When Coleen stepped outside to handle the lines in the lock, she was enveloped in a cloud of hungry South Arkansas skeeters, and opening the screen door, she accidentally let in a few hundred to chew on Gary's ankles, wrists, and neck. We exited the lock at 2115 and headed downriver in the dark. (Yes, we do have radar, GPS, and a spotlight, and we used them!) The planned anchorage did not look safe, however, nor did the next contemplated anchorage prove deep enough. Thus we had no choice but to keep going to our original destination for the day, a familiar anchorage just below Pendleton Bridge.
Due to the day's lock bottlenecks, there was a tow not very far in front of us (Miss Dixie) and a tow not very far behind us (Cindy Brent), and we passed two northbound tows that were temporarily anchored to let the downriver traffic pass. Down around Semple Island, where last summer we sacrificed a propeller to the Boating Gods (misreading the chart and running over a rock jetty), Miss Dixie's captain instructed us to pass her. It is always a little unnerving to pass a big tow in a narrow channel, even in daylight. Fortunately, Miss Dixie knew right where we were and shone her spotlight ahead of us, helping us to locate the navigation buoys that mark the channel. We encountered no other tows tonight and reached our safe anchorage at Pendleton Bridge at 0100 hours (that's 1 a.m.).
1. Patience. Patience. Patience. Delays and tows are part of river boating. We just have to go with the flow--or, as the case may be, stop with the bottleneck.
2. Get in a good anchorage before dark. And if we're already anchored when dark is approaching, then choose to stay put and try to head out a little earlier the next morning, if possible.
3. A good radar system and spotlight are worth their weight in gold. (Glad we forked over the gold to get 'em ahead of time!) Coleen had the Arkansas River charts up on the laptop, and she kept track of the lights and bends, so we always knew right where we were and what the channel was going to do ahead of us. We do not intentionally ever plan to travel after dark, but we got some valuable experience if we will ever need it in an emergency one day.
4. Long pants and long sleeves, even though hot to wear in the summertime, greatly reduce the acreage for mosquitoes to plow.
July 3, 2002 / Pendleton Bridge, AR to Greenville, MS
We were awakened early by the wake of a passing tow, so we already knew we'd have at least one ahead of us at the two remaining locks on the Arkansas River-White River system. We took Maggie to Pendleton Park for her morning "walkies," then headed downstream about 0800. Sure enough, there was a tow in the lock and another one ahead of us in line, but the wait this time was only a couple of hours because these tows weren't as big as many of yesterday's traffic stoppers. These last two locks are actually on a canal connecting the Arkansas River to the White River. We'd enter the Mississippi River from the White.
As we exited the lock, we received permission to pass the tow in front of us and proceeded down the White River. At the confluence of the White and the Mississippi, the Corps of Engineers is busy building Montgomery Point Lock and Dam, a new lock and dam necessitated by low water levels on the Mississippi. They have made a lot of progress since we were here last year. We could see several cranes on the dam site, and as we passed a dredge going around the next-to-last bend, we saw a strange sight. The Nebraska City, a tow we knew quite well from yesterday's bottleneck at Lock 3 (she had been behind us), was now ahead of us on the river, but she was turned sideways. She somehow got caught in the current or couldn't make the last bend, and she was stuck. There was no room for us to get around her.
It took three Corps of Engineers tugboats to do it, but after an hour and fifteen minutes, they finally unwedged Nebraska City.(Would they come pull us off if we got stuck on a sandbar? Probably not.) We and some Corps of Engineers crewboats quickly scooted around the now-free tow and headed out into the Mississippi. Nebraska City and we were lucky that her mishap occurred in a place where help was readily available.
The Mississippi River's current was running about 6-7 mph, much as it was when we went to Greenville last summer. There was surprisingly little tow traffic on the river today. Our only concern was the threat of thunderstorms we could see to both the east (in the State of Mississippi) and the west (in Arkansas) as we headed downstream. We got caught in one short shower, but managed to avoid the other rainstorms we could see descending to earth, alternating between banks.
Our delay at Montgomery Point caused us to arrive later in Greenville, Mississippi than we had planned, but still before dark. We ended our day by docking at the Greenville Yacht Club about 2045. Shampoos and hot showers tonight!
July 4, 2002 / Greenville, MS
Today we rested, cleaned bug bodies off the hull and seats, rested, slapped mosquitoes, rested, walked on the levee, rested, bounced up and down from all of the 4th of July boater wakes, rested, ate good barbecue cooked by Charles at the Yacht Club, killed a few more mosquitoes, rested, and worked on this website.
As the Fourth is such a popular holiday for boaters, the marina was reluctant to sell us any gasoline until they were sure all their regular customers had full tanks of gas for the day. So it was late afternoon before we could purchase gas for the Poet (the other alternative requiring us to wait until the marina opened the next morning, and we wanted to be well down the river by then). Because we were docked a few yards away from the pumps, we had to disconnect the water hose and walk the boat back several feet to reach the nozzle. While the hose was still disconnected, Coleen went into the bathroom to wash her hands--oops, no water! Unfortunately, when the water didn't come out of the faucet, she didn't turn off the tap. Instead, she went back outside, helped Gary re-position the boat, watched him hook the water back up, and like the absent-minded professor she is, suggested to him that they take Maggie for a walk up on the levee, where holiday festivities were getting underway.
As the sun began to set, two things happened that made us decide to return to the boat. First, the mosquitoes started biting. Second, kids started lighting firecrackers. Maggie cringes at booms of any kind. We climbed back aboard, ready to settle in for the evening. Imagine Coleen's shock when she stepped into the aft stateroom and splashed! Splash??
When we reconnected the water hose, the bathroom faucet worked perfectly well, and water poured into the sink, which happened to have a stopper in it. Water poured into the sink, in fact, the entire time we were walking on the levee. When the water overflowed the sink, it ran onto the bathroom floor. When it filled the bathroom, it ran into the stateroom, where the carpet did its best to absorb the overflow. When the carpet couldn't absorb any more water, it just collected in the room. Gosh, why didn't Carver Yachts put scuppers in the staterooms? And why didn't we think to bring a wet vac with us?
It takes a long time to mop up multiple gallons of water from carpeting using just some towels and sponges.
Happy Independence Day, and yes, Happy Birthday to Gary, too!
July 5, 2002 / Greenville, MS to Vicksburg, MS
Today's theme song could have been "Rollin' on the River." We left Greenville early, at 0622. Although the river was technically closed under the Greenville Bridge at that hour, due to construction work, we received clearance to pass at no-wake speed and hugging the left side of the channel. Once clear of the bridge, we cruised all day at a steady 1900 rpm. Depending on the speed of the current and whether we were zipping around the outside of a bend, dropping down a chute, chugging across the channel, or meandering midstream, our speed over ground varied from 9.6 mph to 16.5 mph at that rpm. We preferred the faster speeds, as they meant we'd get to Vicksburg sooner.
We'd made arrangements with Moak Petroleum Products, Inc. to buy gas (telephone (601) 638-2823 for you Loopers who are reading this and taking notes), but we needed to get to Vicksburg before they closed for the weekend at 5 p.m. And we did, though not with a lot of time to spare. We turned off the Mississippi into the Yazoo River at 1610. We were met at the levee by a helpful Moak employee, who loaded Gary and our ten jerry cans into a pickup truck, filled the cans, drove him back, and helped him load the dinghy for his trips back to the Poet.
After refueling, we looked for a safe place to spend the night. We tied up to a barge just upstream of the levee. Vicksburg Harbor is a little farther up the Yazoo, and there was steady traffic consisting of small tows going back and forth all night from the Harbor to the Mississippi. The levee is also quite popular with fishermen, each of whom has his ideal fishing time--some late afternoon, some early evening, some midnight, some pre-dawn. Boats were being launched or brought back continuously. All their wakes bounced us a bit, but we were securely tied and in no danger.
We ate dinner, checked our e-mail, and read a posting on the Trawler World boating board about rude boaters in a certain state on the southeast coast. That's not the case here in Mississippi. In addition to receiving gas, goodwill, and assistance from the folks at Moak, we were hailed by a friendly gentleman on the levee, who offered to drive us to Wal-Mart if we needed anything.
We got some much-needed sleep after our long day, although it was punctuated at 0330 by the anchor drift alarm. We knew we couldn't have drifted, as we were tied to the barge, but something had to be wrong. Turns out we had temporarily lost our GPS signal, so the alarm didn't know where we were. And now we know that this alarm is definitely loud enough to wake us from a sound sleep.
Some technical info for anyone who's interested: Today's run was 109 miles at a steady 1900 rpm; we used 62 gallons of gasoline, netting us a very nice 1.758 mpg. If we can maintain this kind of gas mileage, we'll have no fuel shortage problems between here and New Orleans.
July 6, 2002 / Vicksburg, MS to River Mile 322.6 (Artonish Light)
More tow traffic today. We encountered our first several tows, one headed downstream and three headed up, as we passed under the bridge at Vicksburg. Nothing much remarkable about today, except the heat and the sunshine. Seems like the river went southeast all morning, and southwest all afternoon, and thus we were always headed into the sun. We've rigged our beach towels around the insides of the bridge curtains to provide more shade.
No marinas on this part of the lower Mississippi. We anchored at river mile 322.6, near the Artonish light, in a chute behind an island. The anchor held well, and we rocked gently 'til morning.
This was a long run today--118 miles at 1900 rpm. River current was not as fast as yesterday, so we plan to watch our gas consumption carefully.
July 7, 2002 / River Mile 322.6 to Baton Rouge, LA
Another long day, but not as many miles (89) or as many towboats (didn't count them) on our way. We woke this morning to find the bridge covered in bugs--little oval black ones, termite-shaped green ones, little thin wispy ones, and ladybugs. Coleen spent an hour and a half just vacuuming them up (yet another reason we wish we had brought a wet vac!), and she still didn't get them all. We decided to let the remaining bugs hitch a ride.
The river continues to impress us with its breadth and, in places, its depth; it often turns abruptly in hairpin bends. We keep a sharp eye on the bends, in case a tow should suddenly appear. Towboat captains cordially acknowledge our radio hailings, telling us their preferences for the side we should pass on--"one whistle," meaning we pass them on our port (left) side, or "two whistle," for the starboard (right) side. The terminology originated in the old steamboat days, before VHF radios were invented. A vessel could use its whistle to signal another vessel its intention. If the other vessel agreed with the proposed action, it repeated the signal.
We ran our 89 miles at 1400 rpm today, in order to conserve fuel for a longer and faster run tomorrow to New Orleans. We have read many things about boating on the Mississippi, much of it negative. Perhaps we have only been lucky in our encounters with this river, both last summer and now, but in our limited experience, it's been much better than we expected. We do get nervous when we anchor out, but no more so than when we anchor on the Arkansas. People write about the tows, but the river is wide, and there's plenty of room for us both. And when we're not sure which way is best to meet or go around a tow, the captains always courteously respond to our radio calls. This river deserves respect, but in the summer months at least, it does not deserve fear.
Baton Rouge Harbor is a slackwater harbor just upstream from the city. The entrance is a little hard to spot from upriver, but luckily for us, there was an egret on the entry point who caught our attention. We anchored at 1600 hours, walked Maggie, and did a little more bug-cleaning on the bridge. We saw a thunderstorm approaching and went inside. The storm was fierce, and our anchor dragged a little bit. Once the storm had abated, however, we reset the anchor, cooked dinner, and tuned in the TV news and weather. The weather map showed storms all around us. We got more rain, but no more strong winds, and we spent a quiet night with absolutely no traffic going past us.
July 8, 2002 / Baton Rouge, LA to New Orleans, LA
Today was a day we both had dreaded. It would be our longest run yet--155 miles--hot, humid, and lacking any safe place to anchor until we reached our final destination, Orleans Marina in West End Harbor in New Orleans. We left Baton Rouge Harbor at 0553, slipping under the bridges in the early dawn light. We had hoped to buy gas in Baton Rouge, but no one sells it on the river these days.
We ran at 1900 rpm for seven hours. When we got to Burnside, Louisiana, we called Weber Marine (a towboat service company) to see if they'd let us dock long enough to go to a nearby service station and buy some gas to fill our jerry cans. Not only would they let us dock, they said, they'd drive us over to the gas station. It's hard to believe, but from the time we tied up to Miss Rachel, a workboat at Weber's barge dock, until Gary and a Weber employee returned with 74 gallons of gas in cans and loaded them onto Calypso Poet's bow, we spent only twenty minutes. Understand that Weber does not sell the gas. In fact, Weber did not sell us anything, but they helped us nonetheless. (Remember what we wrote a couple days back about the good people in Mississippi? It applies to Louisiana, too). We are going to send them some Christmas cookies, if we don't find something more delectable sooner.
The extra 74 gallons of gas gave us the ability to run a little faster down to New Orleans. We bumped up the throttles to 2400 rpm. About this time we started seeing the big oil tankers and cargo ships on the river. And of course, there were still plenty of tows. While we had some pretty big wakes and swells to cross from time to time, we had no trouble navigating around and through the big boat traffic, all the way down into Orleans Parish and the Big Easy.
We had rain showers (no storms) periodically, which we welcomed, as the overcast skies and resultant cooler temperatures kept us from broiling another long day in the sun, and as they washed off more of the Artonish bug juice. We cruised through the downtown crescent, recognizing places we've visited in the past, like the hotels on Canal Street, the Riverwalk, the Aquarium, and the French Quarter. Inviting as the city looks from the river, there is nowhere for a pleasure boat to stop on the Mississippi. Instead, one must pass through the Industrial Canal lock and head for Lake Pontchartrain. We arrived at the Industrial Canal lock just as it was getting dark. Two small tows were waiting to enter the lock; the lockmaster told us to raft up to the second tow, the Judy Alaria, and we all went through the lock together.
We have heard and read many awful things about the Industrial Canal, but we experienced none of them. All of the low bridges opened when we called. There were no ships, no tows, no traffic at all. We just followed the track on our chartplotter and kept a vigilant lookout. As we exited the Canal into Lake Pontchartrain, maneuvering around several night-time fishermen, we could see the lights of West End Harbor a few miles down the shore. We stayed well off the shore but followed the street lights of Lake Shore Drive all the way to the harbor. There's a flashing red light at the harbor entrance, but in truth, it's easier to spot the bright lights from Joe's Crab Shack, where we hope to have dinner tomorrow night. We turned into the harbor entrance at Joe's, took the second right at Schubert's Marine, and found our empty slip waiting for us at Pier 5.
Today's technical tips: We discovered that boat-to-boat communications take place on channel 67 from Baton Rouge on down. We couldn't understand why we weren't getting radio responses when we tried to hail commercial vessels, when they had previously been so good about answering. Fortunately, a towboat captain called us and told us what channel to use.
A few other radio tips for those who will cruise to New Orleans: As you approach the downtown area, call the Gretna Light on channel 67, announcing who you are and where you're going. Despite what the cruise guides may call the lock and the bridges, refer to the lock as "Industrial Lock" (call on 14), and going up to the Lake, call the "Florida Avenue Bridge" (on 13), the "L & N Bridge" (on 13), and the "Seabrook Bridge" (on 13).
We'll stay here in New Orleans until July 14. More updates then, as we head north across Lake Pontchartrain and then eastbound into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.