70 Mississippi River to Grand Rivers, KY


Here we were on the Mississippi-home to legends and river stories from our youth. Fitting its reputation, the character of the river changed as we poked out of the Illinois into the mighty Mississippi. Our quarter-mile wide and 6-knot Illinois disappeared into the half-mile wide and 9-knot Mississippi. Along the Illinois shore, high bluffs replaced levees. Intuitively and visually we were in a different river. You could sense the change.

At nine knots Alton came quickly. We took advantage of their huge, 1,999-slip marina and pulled in for the evening. The marina was unique. Everything, including the swimming pool, office and covered boat wells is built on floating docks held in place by pilings towering 15 feet into the air. A rip-rap breakwall extending equally as high protects the marina from the current but blocks any view of the river.

All Mississippi River traffic diverts to Chain of Rocks Canal just above St Louis. One last lock and 10 miles of canal brought us back into the Mississippi just before the Gateway Arch. We flew by at 10 knots, enjoying the view from the river, but frustrated because there is no place to stop to visit St Louis.

From St Louis south the Mississippi continues without locks or dams to control water level. Years ago, I’d enjoyed Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. Samuel Clemens stories about his life as a riverboat pilot were wonderful. Now here we were experiencing the same view and some of the same challenges as we headed down the Mississippi. Up bound tows still headed for the outside of river bends looking for deep water just as in Mark Train’s days. After our first few times of being squeezed tight against the outside bend shore, feeling like we could scoop sand from the beach, we began heading for the inside of bends as we encountered tows on the curves. This made life considerably more comfortable with the tow passing a few hundred yards to our starboard instead of 50 feet to our port.

Hoppies Marina

Hoppies Marina at Kimmswick, MO was another unforgettable stopping spot. The marina is nothing but a series of old work barges strung together along the river’s edge. A long, bouncy, slightly-tilted gangway gets you from the barges to shore. The look is very make-do but functional. Mr. & Mrs. Hoppie were wonderful and unique hosts. We chatted awhile, learning about what they had to do to save the marina during floods. As the water goes up, they use trucks to pull the barges in toward the receding shore. When the river starts back down they reverse the process to keep the barges from grounding. We could see the waterline on homes 30 feet above the present water level and marveled about their rebuilding efforts after floods. They were expecting a tour boat the next day with 80 people aboard and were concerned about all those people hitting the gangway at the same time. Mrs. Hoppie drove the 4WD truck down the steep slope lining up with the long gangway. Mr. Hoppie attached chains and Mrs. Hoppie pulled it over a few feet to take some of the tilt out. Then Mr. Hoppie added blocking to take some of the bounce out.

Kimmswick is a unique town. Built in the late 1800’s it hasn’t changed much. The town has become a shopping destination with many of the old houses converted to gift shops. The feeling, however, is one of an old quiet sleepy town. The local restaurant specialized in deserts and we indulged our sweet tooth with huge unique pieces of pie. Even the grocery store was unique. Not only did they sell groceries, but an odd assortment of antiques and junk. No room for grocery carts, isles jammed with odd items for sale were just wide enough to walk down. As we reached to pick up a loaf of bread, we could also reach down and pick up a nice used socket wrench set or some other odd goodie.

We had parted company with Innisfree at Mackinaw City and assumed they were ahead of us. To our delight, they pulled into the anchorage at Kaskaskia River and dam and joined in the happy hour on Casablanca. We rapidly sorted out how small our cruising world is. Dick and Pat on Casablanca had met John and Nancy on Innisfree at Oswego on Lake Ontario. We had met Innisfree when we towed them to Kingston after their steering broke in the middle of Lake Ontario. Here we all were again at a remote anchorage on the Mississippi.

Without locks to worry about, tows on the lower Mississippi grew in size. The standard tow of 15 barges above the locks now seemed small. Twenty-barge tows were common. One up-bound tow of 35 empty barges went by. The tow pilots made for interesting listening on the VHF. Slow southern gravely voices took getting used to before we could understand them. Always ready to help another tow pilot, they’d agree on passing sides sorting out who would be better on the outside of bends. My favorite was when one pilot would ‘park’ his tow, running it aground to wait for another tow to clear a tight bend. Deliberately running a 1,000 feet of barges aground, now that’s something.

Low water revealed some of the work the Army Corps of Engineers has done to keep the Mississippi navigable. Wing dams were visible. They are low piles of rocks extended out from shore constricting the river and keeping the level in the channel higher. When the water is higher they are invisible to the eye but are shown on the charts so boaters know not to venture too far out of the channel.

The Mississippi current helped us set a new record of 100 miles traveled in a day. We were still 16 miles above the Ohio when we pulled off for the evening. Hoppies had provided information about opened and closed anchorages due to silting and low water. We headed behind the channel markers on the inside of a huge S bend. 500 yards off the channel and close to shore we dropped anchor. Our knot meter registered 2 knots due to the current but the anchor was secure, and we sat steady in the water. We settled in enjoying sunset and tows working their way around the bend. After dark huge spotlights shot thick shafts of light forward as tows looked for channel buoys.

First light saw us back on the river heading around yet another S bend. For a moment something wasn’t right. The sun seemed to be rising in the west. There it was on the right side of Tranquility, not the left. A quick check of the compass and the chart got things sorted out. The Mississippi had curved back on itself and was heading north for a short distance. As we rounded the next portion of the bend, the sun shaped up and got back on its proper side of the river for sunrise.

The confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi River is a huge fleeting area for tows. Barges lined the shores. Tugboats scurried around breaking down tows and making up new ones. Floating dry docks were busy with repairs to barges and towboats. It was quite a show, and we got to see in slow motion. As we started up the Ohio, our boat speed dropped to 4-5 knots. Two locks later and we were at Paducah, KY tying up at a make-shift marina for the night. We decided to skip the Tennessee River at this point as there was a 3-hour wait at the lock due to heavy tow traffic. It took about as long to go further up the Ohio and then up the Cumberland River, but we didn’t have to sit and wait.

The Cumberland River was a treat. Tight bends and narrow width keep large tows from using it. Both of those qualities added to its scenic appeal, and we enjoyed the river. The lock and dam forming Barkley Lake are huge. The lock lifted us 55 feet to the lake above. Floating bollards made the lift easy. A line to the bollard held Tranquility in place. As the lock filled all we had to do was fend off occasionally as Tranquility moved with the current.

Green Turtle Bay Marina at Grand Rivers, KY became home to Tranquility for a week. We had her hauled to have the cutlass bearing supporting the propeller shaft replaced and the stuffing box repacked. Telling the yard we’d be back in a week, we rented a car and headed east.


Tags: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: