July 22, 2003 / Wilmington, IL to Seneca, IL
After a wonderful ten-day visit with Jon, Katarzyna, and Stella at their new townhouse in Naperville, we brushed the spider webs off the Poet and set off on the last leg of our Great Loop cruise. Back on the rivers, our southwesterly route takes us from the Des Plaines River to the Illinois, then to the Mississippi, then off the Mississippi into the White River, and finally over to the Arkansas (since the Arkansas River, contrary to what Quimby's Cruising Guide indicates, is not navigable at its mouth).
Recent rains have the rivers running high and fast, full of logs, branches, and occasionally, whole trees. The current carried us downstream between two and three miles an hour faster than the engines alone would have made. We watched the water surface carefully and were able to stay away from the prop-eaters. Not much good can be said about fast, high water, but it does keep down the tow traffic. We were able to lock through Dresden Island Lock with a minimum of waiting.
Today's run was intentionally short, as we wanted to stop at Spring Brook Marina, which houses a big Carver dealership. We're not in the market for a new boat, but it's always fun to look. We had planned to refuel at Spring Brook, but their gas dock is a fixed structure, and it was underwater. We paid $1.00/foot dockage and enjoyed a good burger at Nicky's, the restaurant upstairs in the yacht brokerage building, overlooking the river. Had we been able to buy gas, we would have paid $2.36/gallon, so it is probably just as well that we couldn't. We've got enough in the tanks to make it quite a ways, but having full tanks does contribute to one's comfort level. Maggie thinks two squirrels is an appropriate rating for Spring Brook.
July 23, 2003 / Seneca, IL to Henry, IL
We were up and away at 0657, shivering a little in the 60-degree air. The Illinois River is still running fast and high. Northbound towboats and their barges lined the river banks. We called the Marseilles Lock to find out whether the river system was bottlenecked (or worse, closed), but the lockmaster said to come on down. There was a southbound tow in the lock ahead of us, but we didn't have too long a wait for the lock to refill and take us down.
Knowing that the southbound tow would have precedence at the next lock, we opted to stop for gas at Starved Rock Marina, just a couple of miles above Starved Rock Lock and Dam. The name "Starved Rock" refers to an 18th-century battle between two tribes of Indians. The winning Ottawa tribe besieged and starved out their rivals, the Illiniwek, who had taken position on a high sandstone bluff.
The fuel stop turned out to be a good decision, as we filled up for $2.11/gallon (25 cents cheaper than Spring Brook's price) and had a safe place to hang out while we waited for a good time to head for the lock. Coleen called the lockmaster, who advised us that after he locked down the tow ahead of us, he had a northbound "double" to lock up. A "double" has to break apart his tow, putting the front group of barges into the lock and then going back for the back half. If we timed our arrival right, however, we could lock down between the two loads.
It took two and a half hours to get through Starved Rock Lock; fortunately one of those hours was spent at the marina fuel dock. A second hour was spent tied to a mooring cell above the lock. The normal drop at Starved Rock Lock is 18.7 feet; today we dropped about half that. The lockmaster said the lower pool was seven feet higher than normal. It didn't take us long to lock down, but the overall delay meant that we couldn't make as many miles today as we had originally hoped to. At 4 p.m., we stopped for the day at Henry Harbor Marina, in Henry, Illinois, about half way between Starved Rock and Peoria.
There used to be a lock at Henry, and the old lock wall is adjacent to the marina basin. Larger boats normally use this wall for tie-ups, as the marina supplies power to it, but with today's high water, it was unusable. Fortunately, there was an available slip inside the basin big enough for the Poet. After a long string of varmint-less days, Maggie was delighted to tree a squirrel in Henry's Central Park. Coleen and Gary were delighted to pay only 50 cents/foot for dockage. The marina restaurant is good, and it's a short walk into town for groceries or other things you may need. Maggie agrees to let us join her in awarding three squirrels to Henry Harbor.
July 24, 2003 / Henry, IL to Peoria, IL
Gary got XM satellite radio for his birthday. We've enjoyed listening to a variety of music, especially as we are VERY tired of the CDs we've played endlessly for the past year. We usually alternate among the 60s, 70s, and 80s channels, but today seemed like a good day for bluegrass. A little banjo pickin' goes well with river cruising, and except for a few unfortunate bluegrass covers of rock songs (like the horror of Dolly Parton doing "Stairway to Heaven"), we liked what we heard.
The Illinois River between Henry and Peoria widens to lake proportions, but even so, it's still somewhat flooded right now--sort of a good thing, since this lake is normally quite shallow. The approach to East Port Marina in Peoria is well-marked; if it were not, boats not familiar with the lake would probably go aground trying to get into the basin. We didn't need gas, but prices were good at East Port--$1.82/gallon. Dockage was reasonable too, at a dollar a foot, and there's a great barbecue restaurant on site.
We were delighted to meet one of our fellow Carver 396 owners at East Port. Bill and his wife own Summer Place II, and they've corresponded with us earlier in our voyage to chat about our Carvers and how they handle long-range cruising. Nobody brought Maggie any leftover barbecue, but she still figures three squirrels ought to be given to East Port.
July 25, 2003 / Peoria, IL to Beardstown, IL
The weather is getting warmer and it's not raining, so we are trying to make good miles each day. Today we covered 77 miles between Peoria and Beardstown, our number of hours on the water helped by the fact that the Peoria Lock's wicket gate was down due to high water. In other words, we just went over the dam; we didn't have to lock through.
The Illinois River is still running fast. We watch the water a lot, as logs and tree branches keep popping up. Mostly what we see are clouds of mud. We ran most of the day at 1900 rpm, but averaged about 10.2 mph. Might have been even faster if not for the strong southerly headwinds. This current-augmented speed will certainly lessen our fuel consumption.
Beardstown has a fixed barge for visiting boaters. You can tie up on either side, and it's free. Our cruising guide said the south side had deeper water, but right now it was plenty deep on the north side of the barge as well. Maggie and Coleen walked around the little town, past the old building (now a museum) where Abraham Lincoln tried a murder case.
July 26, 2003 / Beardstown, IL to Alton, IL
A stronger-than-usual wake woke us up--hard to sleep when the swim platform is doing its imitation of a beaver tail. Even with Maggie's morning stroll, we were still ready to pull away at 0640. Lots of northbound tows encountered today; all of them were responsive and polite to our radio calls. We do our best to not irritate the towboat captains.
The La Grange Lock, like the Peoria Lock, has a wicket gate, and the river was still high enough that we didn't need to use the lock. The bigger problem today was the bridges. With the river running high, we've got to be more careful about determining whether we can fit under. Bridges that would normally be plenty high are now uncomfortably low. The Florence Highway Bridge was our first squeaker. The Hardin Highway Bridge was even trickier, as it has construction netting hanging down about a foot below the undersurface. The bridge tender said there was 20 feet of clearance (normally it's 26+ feet). We need 19 feet to clear. But we were also bucking up and down on the wake of a northbound towboat. Construction workers on the bridge looked down on us as we gingerly bobbed under the bridge, assuring us that we would make it. Just on the other side, a passing ski boat signaled Gary that we made it with about 8 inches to spare. Yeah, we could have asked for the bridge to be raised, but then we would have had to wait. Well, perhaps thatwould have been the smarter thing to do. . . .
Although our original plan was to stop at Hardin, IL, the dock there was crowded with Saturday boaters, and the favorable weather was holding. We decided to head on to Alton, Illinois on the Mississippi River. This will potentially shave a day off our trip--or at worst, give us an extra bad weather day for this leg. We arrived at Alton Marina at 1650, headed for the gas dock to fill up at $1.92 gallon. They gave us an easy access berth on the T of "E" Dock, and the dockage rate was just $1.15/foot.
If we resembled our younger selves, we would not be sitting at the computer writing a web site update on a Saturday night--we would still be in downtown Alton at the Jimmy Buffett-themed Block Party, where everyone else in Alton seemed to be. Glad this is a party town--we'll rest up before we visit next time. But for now, gotta get some sleep and be plenty rested for the Mississippi River segment of Leg 12.
July 27, 2003 / Alton, IL to Kimmswick, MO
Southerly winds bring both the heat and smell of the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River valley. We like the smell, can do without the heat. We left Alton at 0826 and got through the Melvin Price and Chain of Rocks locks with no trouble and little waiting. Fortunately our two Mississippi locks have double chambers, so if the tow traffic isn't heavy, pleasure boats can lock through the smaller chambers. Below the locks, we're beginning to see the big 42-barge Mississippi River tows, who push cargo between St. Louis and New Orleans. While some tows have institutional-sounding names ("Cooperative Vanguard"), others are more colorful ("American Beauty," "Marquette Warrior"). Most, however, are named for ordinary people, maybe relatives of the tows' owners--names like "Michael W.," "Bethany Dawn," "Ginny Stone," "Eileen Bigelow." Radio communications between the tows sound like a bunch of ol' buddies are greeting one another.
We docked at the legendary Hoppie's Marina at 1330, having run 42.9 miles in about five hours. Captain Charles "Hoppie" and Fern Hopkins are celebrating their 30th anniversary of running the marina, but there's been a marina at this spot much longer than that. Very friendly folks. The marina consists of several barges anchored along the bank; you just tie up alongside. You can buy gas and diesel, though we didn't need any, having just refueled at Alton. The village of Kimmswick is a short walk away, but felt farther due to the smothering heat. We were glad to be hooked up to electricity so we could stay air-conditioned. Once we got her off the boat, Maggie didn't seem to mind the heat, as there were a few squirrels scampering about the oak trees in Kimmswick. She'll award two panting squirrels to Hoppie's Marina.
July 28, 2003 / Kimmswick, MO to Cape Girardeau, MO anchorage
Today's run was a long one, 109 miles, which took us past the 8000-mile mark for our Great Loop voyage. Overcast skies meant we stayed relatively comfortable on the bridge for a large part of the day. Maggie was comfortable enough that she wasn't interested in drinking water. Coleen tried tempting her with Crystal Light-flavored ice cubes (got a couple of licks), fresh cool water (nope), dripping water into her mouth (stop it, Mom). We ran the generator to cool off the cabin, and Coleen was able to entice Maggie downstairs for a while, but she preferred to be on the bridge with us.
We had an afternoon appointment with Kidd's Fuel Dock in Cape Girardeau to purchase gasoline (last chance until Memphis), but got concerned when we heard the Coast Guard announce that a two-mile zone of the river at Cape Girardeau was closed to traffic until 5 p.m. due to construction on the new bridge. Kidd's dock was in the safety zone, and Kidd's closed at 5 p.m. Tows were stopped on both riverbanks. Things were not looking good, but we called the supervising vessel and fortunately got the okay to dock at Kidd's at 4 p.m. While we were filling the gas tanks, Coleen walked Maggie off the fuel barge and up to the floodwall for a potty break. Girl wouldn't go. Then Gary carried her up and down the steep metal stairs over the floodwall to find some flatter ground for her. Girl still wouldn't go. Dammit, dog!
Even though it wasn't 5 p.m. yet, we got the okay to pass under the bridge between the construction crane and the right descending bank. At the same time, the skies darkened and streaks of lightning started flashing to the west. Luckily we did not have much farther to go. We found our anchorage in Little River Diversion Channel, just south of town, about the same time as the storm arrived. We didn't go far into the channel before anchoring, seeing too many big tree branches and snags farther in. The channel was narrow enough that we thought it prudent to toss out a stern anchor, too. This arrangement kept us well secured through the rain and through the night.
After the rain let up, Gary put Maggie in the dinghy to take her over to the steep rocky banks. Girl still would not go. Okay, Maggie, you had your chances. Let's see how you feel in the morning.
July 29, 2003 / Cape Girardeau, MO anchorage to New Madrid, MO anchorage
She felt the same. No go. What?!? Please, Maggie, last chance for pee-pee. Nope. He brought her back to the boat, and off we went. Heavy clouds again, but at least that kept the sun from cooking us. We ran most of the day at about 1700 rpm, but the river currents boosted our speed to 10-11 mph. Early in the afternoon, we reached Hickman, KY, which has a small harbor channel we had considered using for an overnight anchorage. By this time, Maggie was obviously regretting her earlier decisions, so we pulled into the channel and took her to shore. Relief! Probably as much mental relief for us as physical relief for her. We decided to keep going a few more hours, now that the dog was in better shape.
We ended up running 117 miles today. Our overnight stop was at New Madrid, MO, just below a fishing boat access ramp in the town harbor. Maggie was very cooperative on her shoreside visits in New Madrid, and everybody slept better.
July 30, 2003 / New Madrid, MO to Osceola, AR
Not much to report for the day's cruise--lots of tows (seventeen, mostly northbound), lots of logs (hundreds, all southbound). It's best to stay out of the way of both. Still overcast, rainy at times. We reached Osceola, Arkansas late in the afternoon, after cruising 110 miles today. This town has a small grain-loading operation about a half mile up a chute. Barges, some full and some empty, lined both sides of the chute. There being no harbor facilities or boat ramp, we elected to anchor below a couple of empty barges that were stationed perpendicular to the east bank.
Ate dinner, watched a little TV, turned in early. At 10:30 p.m., however, we were wide awake, having just been jarred by a big tugboat wake. Looking outside, we saw the tug working on the west bank, picking up one barge at a time and backing down the chute with it, where a big multi-barge tow was being assembled. We determined that we were out of his way, but then noticed that the formerly perpendicular barges above us were now parallel to the east bank. In other words, they were swinging, and we were much, much too close to them. We fired up the engines and pulled the anchor, just as it started raining. Gary kept lookout on the bow, and Coleen shone the spotlight on the banks to find a clear spot well above the swinging barges and well, well above the barge-moving operations. We re-anchored, and after determining that we were in no danger, were able to get back to sleep, scratching at mosquito bites. Now we know we are getting close to home--nothing equals the welcoming ceremonies of the Arkansas mosquito.
July 31, 2003 / Osceola, AR to Memphis, TN
Pleased to find ourselves and the boat still intact this morning, we eased out of Osceola, noting that few barges remained along the banks of the chute. Still heavy clouds, light sprinkles, but not a lot of tow traffic in the morning. We might have encountered a lot more tow traffic, but we had a good reason for stopping early today. We reached Memphis by 1045, and by golly, we are going to buy some gas, get some barbecue, take that dog to find some grass, and generally relax a little.
Mud Island Marina is the home of the Memphis Yacht Club, and they're glad to welcome transient boaters for $1.00/foot. We bought gas and were delighted to find that we got about a mile-and-a-half per gallon since our last fuel stop at Cape Girardeau. If you stop here, don't fail to visit the Riverwalk, a truly unique exhibit that traces all the tributaries of the Mississippi and drains them into a wade-able relief map of the river itself. It was fun to walk along the bends, reaches, chutes, and towheads between the upper Mississippi and the Arkansas-White River mouths, where we'll be in a couple more days.
We rode the monorail over to downtown Memphis, walking on the Main Street mall and marveling at the new construction and development near the Peabody Hotel and Beale Street. But also be aware that they lock the gates of the monorail bridge at 7 p.m. (even though they will tell you it doesn't close until 8 p.m.). Thus you can't get back over to the island and marina without walking a long way north--up and around the Pyramid, over the Mud Island Bridge, and then back south to the amphitheater. If you've planned a night of blues on Beale Street, find a taxi or some other form of automotive transportation to get back to your boat.
August 1, 2003 / Memphis, TN to anchorage behind Montgomery Point Lock, White River, AR
We left Mud Island at 0704, slipping quietly down the channel between the island and downtown Memphis in a light mist. Tow traffic was heavy. We counted 18 northbound tows, and we were followed most of the day by the southbound tow Aurora. The current was still strong enough to boost our miles-per-hour, so we elected to make it a long day, heading for the mouth of the White River for an overnight anchorage. We covered 143 miles in 13 1/2 hours, anchoring just upstream of the Montgomery Point Lock on the White River.
As we entered the White River from the Mississippi, we technically "closed the Loop," yet we have another 130 miles and 7 locks to go before we're home. One year and one month ago today we set out on this voyage. It's hard to believe that it's almost over.
August 2, 2003 / Montgomery Point Lock, White River, AR to Pine Bluff, AR
The White River was calm and quiet as we left our anchorage at 0614. We reached Lock 1 at 0735, called the lockmaster, and found it open and waiting for us as we approached. We motored through the canal connecting the White and Arkansas Rivers, and to our surprise and pleasure, Locks 2 and 3 also opened for us without delay. Where are all the towboats?
Perhaps they knew--as we did not--that a dredge was working in the channel at Arkansas River mile 44.3. We didn't need a lot of room to pass, and the dredge Jolly Roger didn't give us any more room than we needed. For a tow to come up or down the river would have been far more disruptive to the dredging operations. Maybe that's why so few were running. On the Arkansas River, we didn't ever hear any Coast Guard scheduled announcements on the VHF radio, our normal mode of learning about things like dredges or other obstructions on the waterways. We didn't care--it was great to zip through our last lock of the day, Lock 4, well behind Pebble Beach, the only northbound tow we encountered all day. He called the Rob Roy Bridge for an opening, and the bridge tender was agreeable to keeping it up until we could also pass beneath it.
We arrived at Island Harbor Marina in Pine Bluff at 1627, having run 70.1 miles upriver since morning. Maggie was glad to go to shore, though she didn't act like she recognized this place we've visited so many times in the past. What will she think when she gets home?
August 3, 2003 / Pine Bluff, AR to Maumelle, AR
The weather outlook was threatening, and yet nothing would have stopped us from heading home today. Okay, okay--a bolt of lightning would have stopped us. We saw plenty of them, but they were either north of us or south of us. Maurice the Boating God must have been doing his thang--the storms went around us. Thank you, Maurice (who has not yet spoken of the Pompetous of Love, thank goodness).
What can we say about our last day on the Great Loop Cruise? It was a good day. The last three locks opened right up. The storms passed, and the day turned blue and sunny. (Of course, it did also get HOT, but it's August in Arkansas, and that is to be expected. Maurice cannot do everything.) We pulled up to our home docks at 1610, greeted by our neighbors Larry and Wista Jones, our friends Mike and Marijean Voss and Martha McAlister, and family members Pauline Miller, Nancy and Charlie Cowart, and let's not forget Matt and Lauren, who vacated the house in time for our return!
Today's run was 57.7 miles. The year's run (okay, 13 months) was 8559 miles. Today we went through three locks, the last three of 142 total. Tonight's dockage will be free, and Pauline is serving up the champagne. It's time to readjust to land. Hey, Maggie, is that a squirrel in the pecan tree?? Gotta go.