Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Swing Set Takes a Shake Down Cruise

  After all the work we had done on Swing Set during the previous winter and spring, we were getting anxious to take an extended cruise to give our new systems a thorough test. We had been spending days at a time on the hook last summer, and were more than confident about managing our water and electrical systems, but we had added quite a bit of weight to the boat with our modifications, and range with our vessel had not really been calculated to my satisfaction.
  We had been waiting for the river to settle down in the way of level and current, and by August  of last year, the Mississippi was pretty much back to normal; there is no reason to buck swift headwaters going upstream if it can be avoided.
  All last summer we kept Swing Set stocked with as much food as we could, trying to replicate conditions we would typically operate under while full time cruising. With no real special provisioning, on Friday the 19th of August, we pulled into Port Charles Harbor to fill the fuel tanks and we also emptied our holding tank.
  Port Charles is located at mile 222RDB, just next door and upstream on the Dardenne Slough from the Duck Club Yacht Club. We generally get all of our fuel at Port Charles, not only because they only sell Valve-Tect diesel fuel, the pump outs are cheap and the fuel dock service is fast and friendly. Swing Set is equipped with two 175 gallon fuel tanks, giving her about 332 gallons of usable fuel. We took on 192 gallons, and with a full fresh water supply of 120 gallons, we were sitting fairly low in the water but not below the boot stripe.
  Our plan was to spend the weekend on the hook at two separate anchorages, and then head upriver on either Sunday or Monday for a week long cruise.

  This raft up is in Lumpy's Chute on Memorial Day weekend of 2011, and is fairly typical. We headed for Lumpy's that Friday evening to meet up with some friends to spend the night before heading upriver the next day. Lumpy's is only about 3.5 miles from our home port and is where we like to spend a lot of time on the hook as it's a quick dinghy ride to the car if we stay out on the hook and Rosie goes to work. There is also a nearby "on the water" market at North Shore Marina, plus Sharky's and Sundowner's the St. Louis Yacht Club provide restaurants and entertainment if we want to get out at night in the dinghy.
  Lumpy's is an anchorage between Bolter Island and Iowa Island. There are no homes and it's off the main channel; a large raft up of boats is not an inconvenience to river traffic and there is no one around to be bothered by loud music, apparently a requisite item for some. A big plus for us is the fact that the more "family friendly" beaches are on the other side of Iowa Island; the party usually lasts into the wee hours.

  When Rosie and I are anchored out alone in Lumpy's Chute, this is the view we get as the sun rises...if we are up that early. I doubt if we were up at 5:30 A.M. on the morning of the 20th, but normally it's not much later than that.
  I'm usually up first; I turn off the anchor light even though it's an LED bulb and the current draw is negligible, but when I see a boat with an anchor light shining away until mid-morning, I usually think the captain is not paying attention or that everyone on the boat is dead. (On more than one occasion I've gone over to check on a crew because no one has stirred by late morning; respect for the dangers of CO poisoning will do that.)
  On this morning of the 20th, the battery banks were still at an adequate charge as the wind generators were spinning throughout the night, so I was able to start coffee without turning on the diesel generator; something our boat neighbors always appreciate.
  I'll usually get a cup of coffee and set in the cockpit and enjoy the view. I might dip a line if I feel like fishing, but what I really want to do is get the boat swabbed down, using the morning dew as my water source, preserving water. While I'm mopping the boat, Rosie gets up and makes the bed and usually starts breakfast. On this morning, as we had other boaters rafted up, it was going to be a pot luck breakfast with everyone supplying something our another.
  By the time everyone woke up and morning chores were completed, we all had a mid-morning breakfast, caught the early rays, and planned the remainder of the day.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Some Flooding Affected Boating on the Alton Pool

  The 2011 boating season on the Alton Pool of the Mississippi was one to forget for many of the boaters in the area, but not us. Flooding occurred for most of the summer, which made for uneasy access to people's boats, and for a swift current on the river itself.
  The Duck Club Yacht Club, while being a beautiful and well kept harbor, sits at a little lower elevation than some of the other harbors along the Dardenne Slough, so the road going in and some of the parking lot goes underwater.

  In this aerial view of the Duck Club, you can see the lighthouse on the upper left at the entrance to the harbor; the ground slopes up toward the right of the picture.
  Last April, Swing Set was berthed in the second set of docks from the left of the picture, and on more than one occasion, I waded through water up to my chest to gain access to the boat. This is no big deal to someone who has been through as many floods as I have living on the Meramec River, but in April, the water temperature tends to get your attention.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

That Helpless Feeling When Draft Exceeds Depth

  On a river, channel markers are nice guides, and charts have their use, but if channel markers get moved by wind or current, and the fluctuation of river levels make charts questionable, the depth finder may be a captain's only friend.

A haul out usually is mandatory after an incident involving the running gear hitting the bottom.

  Shortly after acquiring our current version of Swing Set we were headed to one of the larger boating parties of the summer in a slough behind Two Branch Island on the Mississippi, just upstream from the Golden Eagle ferry on the Alton Pool. Being July, the water was low; charts indicated no navigable depth approaching the sand beach where everyone was to raft up, so a few of the organizers of the annual Jamaica Daze party promised to mark a channel for the boaters to follow. 
  The morning of the party came; Rosie and I headed upriver early as we knew there would be  hundreds of boats and party goers making their way in that direction later in the day. As we approached the downriver end of Two Branch, we could see the early birds already gathered at the beach and the channel markers were also in place.
  The channel markers were made of balloons put in place the previous night, anchored by rocks. The wind was blowing pretty good and little did I know that the wind had blown the balloons off course. I was making way at idle speed through the markers at a minimum depth for Swing Set, which is roughly 3.5 feet when the depth finder starting complaining and we came to a sudden stop. I had enough presence of mind to shut down both engines to survey the situation, a first response that I have followed religiously since.
  Sometimes on a river with a current, a shallow water level can be overcome simply by shutting down and allowing the water flow to push the vessel back into deeper water, but such was not our luck on this day. I slipped off the boat from the swim platform to find myself in thigh deep water, not deep enough to float our boat free from the grip of the sandy bottom.
  Now, Swing Set weighs in at 11 tons dry. Add a few thousand pounds of fuel, water, groceries, and a fair amount of beer for the weekend and the prospect of me pushing her off on my own was a dim one. However, in the nearly twenty years since our episode in the Keys, when we ran aground in our 24 foot Formula, I hadn't killed all of the brain cells that recalled how I extracted us from that similar situation.
  I walked upstream to the bow of the boat, which was still floating, as we were only stuck due to the rudders being in the hard sand. Not bothering to send Rosie to the bow to shift some weight there, I pushed with my back to the hull and got Swing Set to turn around with the bow faced into the direction I wanted to go, which was downstream. We had slipped some and I was in slightly deeper water, so I climbed back in and fired up the Caterpillars and slipped the starboard engine in gear, only to get a THUNK in response, so I quickly got her back in neutral and shut down the engines.
  Realizing that I now had the current and the wind pushing from the stern, I climbed back into the water and attempted the seemingly impossible task of moving an insurmountable weight with muscle power. Again, I realize now why my back is a mess.
  Inch by inch, Swing Set found deeper water until I was able to climb back into the boat and pilot her out of our sticky situation.
  Two more times I got us into similar situations; once more at the same location behind Two Branch Island and another time as I approached what has become one of our favorite anchorages below Lumpy Island.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

There Are Some Boating Experiences A Person Could Just Do Without

  Some of my previous blogs have reviewed our boating history, but more of those had to do with what boats we have owned, as opposed to some of our actual experiences. Since our travels on Swing Set won’t start until later this year, I figured I’d keep my limited blog writing skills lubricated by relaying some of our more memorable moments to my faithful blog followers.
  There are a number of things that you don’t want to happen as the captain, or as the owner of a boat. The usual calamities such as fire, collision, and sinking are certainly ones to avoid; along with getting lost, getting stuck in a hurricane, and running aground. The list is longer, but our negative experiences involving our boats; with the exception of our trailering mishaps, mainly involve running aground.
  There are different stages of running aground, ranging from lightly touching the bottom, to "hard aground" where a crane might be needed to extract you from the hard. Our experiences have never been of the hard aground variety, but even the less critical groundings are nerve wracking.

  Back in 1988, Rosie and I took our second trip down the eastern Florida coast in a boat. The first time we traveled from Jacksonville to Key Biscayne, taking two weeks to do the trip down and back.  For the second trip, we trailered our 242LS Formula to Sebastion, Florida, which is roughly mid-state, and set our sights for Key West. Rosie is pictured above where we are anchored just off of Tank Island, which is directly across from Mallory Square in Key West.
  We spent five glorious days in Key West before we decided it was time to make our way back upstate. We had come down on the eastern side of the Keys, so in the interest of variety, we decided to travel back up to Marathon Key, and then on to Miami, on the "western" side, or the inside route. 
  Back then, I didn't have GPS, but I did have a paper chart and a compass; so I calculated a route that would take us necessarily far off from the sight of land, as the inside route is very shallow. My plan was to use dead reckoning, basically, knowing the distance to Bahia Honda Channel where we would turn east in the direction of Marathon. I knew I had to travel at a certain speed for a set amount of time until I found the channel marker I was looking for, and sure enough, with the aid of our binoculars, I found our channel marker far in the distance.
  As I was making way toward the marker, still very far off from land, we came to a grinding halt. My preoccupation with the compass and the binoculars distracted me from monitoring the depth finder, a most important oversight. 
  We were nearly "hard aground", as the boat was listing to one side, as sure sign that the whole keel was sitting on the sand. I immediately raised the outdrive and I put on some surf shoes to prevent stepping on anything, then jumped out of the boat into about 18" of water.
  The reality of the situation was sinking in as I ineffectually tried to shove us off into deeper water. I then decided to consult the tide tables and luckily found that we were on a rising tide and all we had to do was wait; however the tide in that area doesn't rise a whole lot, so the prospect of floating off was still doubtful. As we settled in for the wait, I did try to contact somebody on our handheld VHF radio, but to no avail. We were still pretty far from any populated area. I wasn't very enthusiastic about contacting anyone however, as I still had some hope of extracting ourselves from our predicament. Had I been able to raise anyone, I most likely would have had them stand by just in case. I don't suffer humility well.
  Once we arrived at the apex of the rising tide, the boat was floating level, but the stern was still sitting on the sand, and the lower gear case was also in contact with the ground. I had to work with the situation at hand, so what I did was to direct Rosie to the bow of the boat, using all 103 pounds of her hulking mass to offset some weight from the stern, but we remained stuck.
  I directed my efforts, then, to the bow of our boat; since it was essentially afloat. I pushed on the bow and got the boat at least turned around with the bow directed to deeper water, which was in the direction from which we had come. With Rosie bouncing what she could of her enormous frame on the front of the boat, I shoved from the rear with my back to the swim platform as I lifted up on it as much as possible. I am just now realizing why I have back problems today, as I write this.
  We finally got the Formula floating. Damage only amounted to a chunk of aluminum knocked out of the lower skeg that I later fixed with JB Weld. (Good stuff) I consulted the chart again and plotted a course through deeper water, and we breezed into Marathon for fuel.
  This story has a happy ending, as will the others about grounding, but a 24 foot boat is a lot lighter than our current 40 footer. The few groundings we've had with our larger Swing Set caused us a fair amount of anxiety; those stories are coming up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

First Boat Watch of 2012

  Dock space availability here on the Alton pool is cyclical. In 1998, when we brought our 28' Formula up from Lake of the Ozarks, it seemed that there were no slips available to lease or rent. We asked around, inquiring at the marinas we knew about, and also asked some friends we knew that boated in the area, and found out that after the mass exodus after the 1993 flood, people had been returning to the river in large numbers and slips were hard to get. We stopped by My River Home, a nice harbor in Portage Des Sioux, where we had known the owner for about eight years. Mike Dalwitz was full up like everyone else, but he made accommodations for us by moving a boat out of one of his slips he used for boats that were for sale. We stayed at My River Home until we bought Swing Set in 2005, along with the dock-o-minium where it was berthed. What I mean by dock availability being cyclical, is that flooding on the Mississippi is only natural, and when the farm fields get flooded every so often, so do the roads leading to all the harbors; people can't use their boats, or get to them, so they move to one of the nearby lakes. We have moved our boat to the Lake of the Ozarks twice for similar reasons, only to tire of the weekly drive, or the boat traffic, and then move operations back to a closer location. Once we bought Swing Set, we remained committed to the Alton Pool, and if we were to stay employed, would always keep our boat there, and the Duck Club Yacht Club is a fine place to keep a boat.

  A friend took this picture last Saturday at the Duck Club. The view is of the lighthouse at the entrance of the harbor, which is just at the downriver end of the Dardenne Slough as it flows into the main channel, around mile 222RDB on the Mississippi.
  The Dardenne Slough is home to many fine harbors and marinas on this area of the Alton Pool, some with service departments and fuel, but the Duck Club has neither. What the Duck Club does have is dock slips that you can purchase, and an on sight Harbormaster to keep an eye on things, along with the finest restaurant on this area of the Mississippi. The club is private, and memberships are required, but transient boaters aren't turned away; there is a transient dock just inside the harbor entrance. More can be learned about the Duck Club on its Facebook page or Website. Just search Duck Club Yacht Club.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Two Heads Are Better Than One

  When we first looked at Swing Set we were impressed that a boat of its size not only had two heads, (or bathrooms, for our landlubber friends) it also has two independent showers, separate from the toilet areas. As it has turned out, in the 6 years we have had Swing Set, the shower in the "day head" has rarely been used, although the toilet has been, as it is more convenient to access from the salon and galley.
  Once we decided to become full time live aboard cruisers at some point, the shower was converted into a hanging locker, perfect for gear that may need to be rinsed off with the shower spray, items such as rain gear, wet suits, life jackets, and snorkeling gear. We had also placed an older cooler on the shower stall floor to be used as our washing machine, basically a container with a drain, big enough to accommodate a few items of clothing, or some light bedding items. By adding water from the shower head, along with some Oxi-Clean, the action of the boat eventually gets the clothes relatively clean. Then we can easily wring out the items by looping them through the grab bar in the shower and twisting them, again use the shower spray to rinse. A clothesline strung up on the flybridge is ideal for drying items, mostly done overnight in the cover of darkness, or when underway. (We hesitate to allow any dock neighbors the benefit of scrutinizing our underwear choices, more importantly the ability to calculate our underwear choices by constantly noticing that there never is any hanging up.)
  Our decision to add a crew member in the form of Holly, our puppy, has changed the plan somewhat. Since Holly is being litterbox trained, we needed to decide where to put her "potty place", and the shower stall in the day head was the obvious choice. The swim platform will be an option when we are on the hook and outside, but she will need a place when we are underway, and one she can use by herself while we are sleeping.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Just About Had Our Fill of Trailering Boats

 By 1990 we had bought a used Ski Nautique and had sold our first condo at Lake of the Ozarks, and committed ourselves to life on the Meramec River once again. The trailer for the Nautique had no spare tire, but the trailer was only used at the boat ramp right there at our house, so I didn't think anything of it, but as things went, I wished I had.
 We had been limiting our boating to the Meramec River, but Rosie's boss had a condo at the Lake of the Ozarks, and offered it to us to use occasionally. We decided to make the trip to the lake one weekend, and Rosie's cousin Roseann, and her husband Denny, agreed to meet us there and spend the weekend boating with us. We had a fun filled weekend with only one mechanical mishap. Did you know that a blown exhaust riser hose repair can be accomplished with a beach towel applied tourniquet style and held in place by a slightly inebriated husband of a cousin? Might be good to know if you find yourself taking on water in the middle of a very big lake at two in the morning.
 Packed up and heading home late on Sunday afternoon, we were rolling along the interstate with Roseann and Denny bringing up the rear in their vehicle when our boat trailer started swaying side to side and I correctly determined the problem to be a flat tire. I pulled off onto the shoulder and Denny followed. The full impact of chancing the trip without a spare tire fell upon me right then, but regrets were not going to solve our dilemma, so I got to work solving ours. I jacked up the trailer and pulled off the wheel, threw it in the back of our truck, disconnected the trailer, and left the boat and trailer along the side of the highway, along with Rosie, Roseann, and Denny. I had to travel 25 miles back toward the nearest town to find a garage willing to mount another tire on our rim, so after a 50 mile round trip, we were burning sun as I hitched up the trailer to our truck and mounted the wheel and tire, as the interstate traffic returning from the lake and other places whizzed past us just feet away. Right here is where I made another key blunder. My routine concerning wheel mounting is to spin the lug nuts on with my "T" shaped lug wrench, with the wheel jacked up off the ground for clearance. Then, once the jack is taken away, each lug nut is then tightened completely with the ground preventing the wheel from spinning. The final lug nut tightening was omitted from my routine as the wind blast from each passing car became increasingly discombobulating.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

More Trailering Hijinks

 When we lived on the river in our first house we didn't have much need to trailer our boat, but during the years between river houses we trailered quite a bit. Our second boat was a 1976 19 foot  Tri-Sonic with an outdrive. A co-worker and I had spent the day boating on the Meramec River after working the midnight shift at the brewery, back in 1983 or '84. I will readily admit that copious amounts of Anheuser-Busch products were consumed during the day and we were in fine condition when the boat was loaded onto the trailer for the ride home. As we pulled up to the first traffic signal we came to, a couple of fellas in a car next to us were calling over to us about something or other, and I just smiled and waved like the unsuspecting idiot that I was, thinking, "Boy, people sure are friendly here in my old town of Fenton!"
 As we coasted up to the next light, the same guys were waving their arms frantically, hollering loudly, and otherwise gesticulating in a dramatic fashion. Finally, the lightbulb came on in my brain, albeit dimly, that something with the trailer or boat was amiss. For those not in the know, the outdrive is designed to be raised hydraulically for trailering, and it is essential for this important aspect to be performed as part of the preparation for trailering, or one will find what we did when we hopped out of the truck to check out the rig. Yep. The outdrive was sitting happily in the down position and the lower unit skeg was ground off nearly up to the lower gear case, along with two blades of the prop. I imagine the sparks being produced by the grinding nature of the road asphalt was a sight to see. If anyone reading this wants to point fingers and chastise my actions as being a just reward for "drinking and boating", then you haven't lived enough in my estimation. Learning lifes' lessons is just a series of mistakes, hopefully commiting different ones each time.
 Trailering our next boat, the Cobalt, was uneventful, except for one remarkable incident at a public ramp at Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks with some fella in a bass boat and camo gear. Let's just say he lived, and I lived to tell the tale, if I ever want to.

 After a brief flirtation with our first tournament ski boat, the attraction of traveling to other places and "getting on the hook" led us to another cuddy cabin boat even though we were back living on the Meramec River. The 1987 242 Formula in the picture above is sitting on the second trailer we got for it, on the way to the first of two trips to cruise the east coast of Florida on the ICW in 1988.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why I Think Boats Belong on Water and Not on Trailers

 If you've read my earlier post concerning the history of all the boats we have owned, you know that most of the boats we've had were of the trailerable variety. My dads' 13 foot Speed Queen in the late 1950s was no exception, but it was that far back that my first recollection of the pitfalls of boat trailering occurred.
 I know I could have only been 3 or 4 years old at the time when one Sunday our family made the regular trip to the St. Louis riverfront to launch the Speed Queen on the cobblestones that lay along the levee there. The routine dictated that my dad would back the trailer down to the water with me and my two older brothers inside so we wouldn't wander into the river or otherwise get lost. My mother stood as lookout until the car brakes were set, a bow line was handed to her, then the trailer backed in enough to float off the boat and then she would hold the boat just off the cobblestones until the car and trailer were parked. Typically, each one of us were picked up and placed as cargo into the little boat after the engine was started and we cruised upriver to Mosenthein Island, for an afternoon of playing in the sand for me, and swimming and water skiing for the rest of the family. The weather turned sour by mid afternoon and everyone on the beach made a break for it. The waves on the Mississippi River became monsters in the eyes on someone as young as me, as well as for a boat the size of the Speed Queen. My dad maneuvered the boat over to a barge piling where we hung on, apparently for dear life, if the hysterical antics of my mother were any indication. Her panic only induced my brothers and I to terrific crying and carrying on, certain that death was eminent. The wind let up enough for my dad to make a run for the riverfront to get the boat on the trailer. He somehow got us on land and the boat on the trailer and was pulling up the ramp of cobblestones in order to tie the boat down, when a sudden gust of wind blew the boat right off the trailer. My brothers and I stood off to the side with my mother and witnessed the whole episode. The granite cobblestones of the levee were pretty unforgiving to the thin fiberglass hull of the Speed Queen and a hole about the size of a softball was left in her bottom. What seemed to me to be a Herculean feat at the time, my dad and several bystanders lifted the little boat back onto the trailer for the ride home.
My dad on the left, my brother, a cousin and my mom on the Meramec in the mid 1960s

 Another trailering incident happened to my dad in 1967 before I ever got my own rig. My dad had just bought a new Buick Electra 225 a month before, a pretty cool car back then, I was home sick from school and he went alone for a day on the boat to the Meramec River, and launched it at his regular place, Minnie Ha Ha. When my dad returned later in the day soaking wet without car or boat, he had cooled down enough to tell us that while he was retrieving the boat to the trailer, he heard a loud POP, apparently the parking brake, when the car and trailer started rolling into the river.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Attraction of River Life Wears Thin

 During the best of times it's not hard to see the attraction of living on a river, or lake. We could get out on the boat every day, and there were plenty of times when we were water skiing at daybreak on a mirror glass water surface. In addition to the boating and fishing being readily available, there were less neighbors and noise to deal with. But by 1995, with all of the development in the Meramec River water shed, the Meramec changed from being a river to being a storm sewer. Rains upriver produced quicker floods than in earlier days, and an all day rain with already bank full river levels, didn't bode well in May of 1995.
 Monitoring the river gauges became religion, and my calculations based on past levels and the current predictions told me we were going to get water on our second floor. I called the movers and they took away all of the furniture on our first floor. I had the second floor set up so that almost everything could be placed up high. I even had our king sized bed perched up on two picnic benches, kept handy just for this purpose.
 Like always, our plan was never to evacuate if we could manage it and even though this flood wasn't like the calm back water flood of '93, I felt that our home set back enough from the main current that there wasn't a huge safety risk. Notice I said, "huge".
 We were as prepared as we could be on the day that the water was to reach our second floor and I went to work as scheduled. When I came home, the water was high enough for me to park the Jon boat on the roof of our garage where I waded through muddy water and into the house.
Note the Budweiser can...essential mood enhancer.

 Here's Rosie preparing a meal in our second floor kitchen in ankle deep flood water. I had separated the electrical circuits based on how high they were located on the walls, so we had power to make meals in the microwave or toaster oven.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Flood Lessons Learned

  One definition of insanity is "the act of repeating the same mistakes over and over". One might say that living in a flood plain is definition enough, as the constant adversity can wear a person down, but one saying I agree with is, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".
 We had experienced two floods in our previous river home and another major one in 1993 in our current home. In my previous post, I had alluded to a bigger flood in 1995, but before I get to that, I need to relay to you some of the lessons we had learned from the three floods we had gone through.
Our Meramec River Home

 After the flood of '79 in our first home I learned that a water well needed to have a sealed well head to keep flood water from contaminating the water supply. We also learned to put the main electric panel on the second floor as high as practical. We put the air conditioning and heating units as high as possible as well, and any materials used in construction had to withstand submersion in water for a period of time, at least materials used on the first floor.
 Even with the "traditional" methods of flood repair that we resorted to after the flood of '93, there was some improvements made to our home that allowed for us to continue inhabiting our home during a flood, and also helped prevent some damage and made cleanup after a flood easier.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

 Have you ever been married to someone, gone through a divorce, and then found yourself attracted to the same person later, having forgotten the "down side" of the relationship? We had been living up in the hills for three years after leaving our first home on the Meramec River after the flood of 1982 did us in, when I ran into my dad at his house on the river which had been setting empty since my parents left it too, after the '82 flood. Our attempt at purchasing their place in the spring of 1983 didn't go so well, so I was surprised when my dad announced to me that he was getting ready to sell the place to a complete stranger for what I had offered to buy it for three years earlier. Not only that, we had sunk a good chunk of money and labor into our new place and didn't have much hope of recouping our expenses in such a short time. However, the prospect of ditching a 12% mortgage on our High Ridge home and paying cash for my parents home appealed to us, and once my dad realized he could sell the place and still have access to the river and the property as he desired, a deal was struck, albeit at a loss to us on the sale of our place in the hills of High Ridge, MO.
 Round two of our life on the banks of the Meramec began then, in the spring of 1986. The river house at 92 Opps Lane had stood clean, but unimproved, since sustaining the flood damage of 1982, but we stuck a few bucks into it and made it our own. River life was idyllic for several years for us. After our initial move back to the river we bought a tournament ski boat, then another cuddy cabin boat, and were on our third tournament ski boat in July of 1993 when the "big one" came.
 When you live on a tributary to a larger body of water, floods come in a couple different forms. When the water shed of the river you live on experiences an abnormal amount of rain, you have floods which consist of "head water". If the river that the river you live on empties into has a flood, the water in the river you live on "backs up", as it cannot escape and you have a back water flood. If the two happen at the same time, you are in a world of trouble. But in the July of '93, we were in "backwater" conditions. The Meramec was backed up due to high water on the Mississippi, the sediment had dropped out as the current was non-existent, and the boating was as good as it ever gets on the Meramec. We were water skiing late in the day one weekend when the Missouri Water Patrol stopped us and informed us that the river was to be closed to all boating traffic due to the river level. The Mississippi River had been rising rapidly and was fore casted to reach record levels.

 Backwaters rise rather slowly, so we had plenty of time to prepare. Typically, river dwellers incrementally keep moving their belongings to higher ground, either outside of the house, or inside, as the river rises. Once you commit to leaving your furniture inside, you are stuck with your decision, as then the only way out with your belongings is by boat, as we had done with some or our furniture in 1982. The picture above shows our Jon boat, our method of transportation to and from our home for what was to be for over 45 days. The extension ladder next to the deck had to be climbed to get inside. I remember having to carry Rosie up the ladder fireman style, after she had to have some planned minor surgery. What is surprising was not in my ability to carry her in the first place, but in the fact that she was not dropped into the drink due to the amount of laughing during the process.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The River Wins a Round

 The flood waters receded slowly during that December of 1982. We were left with 2 inches of mud in our entire living area and everything that we had was ruined with the exception of what we were able to ferry out by boat. We had gone to stay at Rosie's parents house, but as soon as the river was back in it's banks, I took our van conversion/motor home and parked it in the spot where our garage used to be and took up residence in it. We had turned over the accommodations of the second floor of our house to our 85 pound Alaskan Malamute, Minga, as we had no where to take him. His only sanctuary from the mud was our king size mattress where he slept. The house was just a mess.
 I lived in the little motor home and spent time between work and getting a handle on cleanup, and dealt with insurance adjusters. The propane heater kept the motor home relatively comfortable as far as temperature went, but it wasn't until years later that I learned how close to death I had come during that time. I was using an upper bunk to sleep in while there, and I remember times when I woke in a grog, not really wanting to stir at all, lost between a conscious and semi-unconscious state. Had I been sleeping in the lower part of the motor home, I don't think it's a dramatic assumption that the carbon monoxide that gathered in the lower part of the motor home would have killed me. Once again I came out on the winning side of providence.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Our First Home Purchase on the Meramec River

 After what I thought was throwing away money on rent for a while, I bought our first home in 1978, just a few lots down from my parent's summer clubhouse, at 86 Opps Lane in Fenton, Missouri. Calling it a "fixer upper" is an understatement, but with payments at $125 per month, it fit my income of a whopping $3.75 per hour at my truck driving job at the time.
 My parent's clubhouse, (with additions, was becoming larger every year), got about 4 feet of water in the first floor during a flood in '73. My dad carried the brunt of clean up from that flood, and since it was a minor flood, he swore then, and maintains to this day, that he never needed to buy "any damn flood insurance". With a mortgage being held by a local bank, flood insurance was mandatory for us, and in the spring of '79, we found out just how beneficial national flood insurance could be.

 Here's Rosie, making dinner on the grill, probably hot dogs or something else "affordable", along with our first dog Gus, as I come home via the Jon boat after my day at work. One advantage about any of the homes on Opps Lane, we were only yards from high ground where Gravois Road snaked through old town Fenton and spanned the Meramec by way of the "new bridge".
 Our home suffered minimal damage, but with a modest flood insurance payout for cleanup, and my much improved income from my new job at the brewery, we commenced with home improvements in a big way.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Life in a River House

 The purpose of this blog is to tell our story about our life aboard Swing Set, but it's January here in St. Louis, the boat is shuttered up snug in its slip, and there is no work scheduled for her until the weather warms up in a couple of months...and I want to keep my minimal writing skills as sharp as I can so I'll steer off course here a bit.
 As related earlier in the posts about our boating history, we have spent a considerable chunk of our home owning lives taking up residence along the banks of the Meramec River. I thought I would take this slack time to relate some of our history of being River Rats, and why we would much rather live in a home that floats, as opposed to one that regularly finds itself at least partially below the waterline. What follows is some of the more "unglamorous" aspects of living in a river house. The really, really, good parts will be omitted at this time, but may be included in bits and pieces in later posts.

 This is the river house at 92 Opps Lane in Fenton, MO on the Meramec River in 1970, shortly after my dad bought it for use as a summer home. This "clubhouse" as they were called, is typical of the style in which they were built, many of them during the 1930s, as this one was.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Living On the Boat and Getting the Mail

 One question we get on a regular basis is, "What are you going to do about getting your mail?" It's one thing I've read up on, and our solution is to use a mail forwarding service. Mailboxes Etc., is one company that forwards your mail and is one we may use if we keep our Missouri residency, but I'm leaning toward establishing residency in the state of Florida, and there is an outfit down there called St. Brendans Isle that a lot of full time cruisers use. St. Brendans, for a monthly fee, will provide you with a regular street address where your mail will be delivered to. Mailboxes, Etc. provides more like a P.O. Box, and some things will not be delivered to a  post office box. St. Brendans Isle will forward our mail along to us when we get to a place where we may be staying for more that a day or two, via FedEx or UPS. They will also scan and send along documents via email, and they will identify mail to you so you can choose to have it sent or scanned, or just discarded. St. Brendans will also assist new residents in registering their vessels in Florida, help get driver's license's and help negotiate other governmental bureaucracy.
 Since we have been formulating our plan for some time now, we have already begun reducing or eliminating our snail mail. We don't renew magazine prescriptions, even the free ones. Anything that can be set up electronically in regard to banking or bill paying, we have done that too. Stock reports from our portfolio have been a sticky issue. Every fund wants to send a monthly, or quarterly report. We got that resolved, and then the annual reports started coming recently. Our financial planner, where the investments are made that generate these reports, has been helpful on getting everything sent to us via email instead. It's a work in progress.
 We hope this was the last year for Christmas cards. Need I say more?
 Whether or not we keep our condo will play a part in how much we can reduce our mail, and we aren't completely confident that we can eliminate it entirely, but as each new piece of mail arrives at our home presently, we try to determine how to eliminate it on a case by case basis, in the hopes of being ready when the time comes. "One less thing," as Forrest Gump would say.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Settled In For the Cold Winter

 I can see the towboats traversing the Mississippi River from the window of our condo in downtown St. Louis, MO and I honestly don't long to be out there on the water at the moment. Although the sun is out, it's a brisk 18 degrees outside, a sharp contrast to the comparatively warm 60 degree temperatures we had last week. On New Year's Day, the annual polar bear water skiing took place on the St. Louis riverfront and up in Alton Illinois. There were polar bear plunges in Fenton, MO and I'm sure there were various others around our area. I have a tradition of nursing an annual hangover on New Year's Day, and rarely leave home, spending the day in pajamas and lounging on the couch and watching the tube. Some friends decided to go wake boarding yesterday, the winds were approaching 45 M.P.H. and the temperature  might have reached 29 degrees at best. We watched the video on Facebook. No thanks.
 After cooping ourselves up in the condo all day on Sunday, we decided on Monday to take the 40 minute drive up to the Duck Club Yacht Club where we keep Swing Set. This was a momentous occasion for two reasons: It was the first car ride for our new puppy since bringing her home, and it would be the first time for her to visit Swing Set, which would become her permanent home, hopefully, for years to come.
 It was an uneventful drive to the Duck Club, although the wind was buffeting our Ford Explorer around quite a bit. The extent of the cold and wind hit us as we stepped from the warm confines of the truck to the boat dock. There were a few other cars around as there are a few live aboards at the Duck Club, but it was very quiet, the only sound was that of all the ice eaters bubbling away. We did encounter a new tenant as we stepped onto the dock.

 It may be hard to discern, but that ball of fur in that trap is a raccoon.

Monday, January 2, 2012

"So When Are You Starting the Loop?"

 We get the question on a regular basis as to when we are going to start out on "The Loop". For those who don't know it, "The Great Loop" is an approximately 6000 mile cruise of the Eastern United States, usually done in a counter-clockwise direction, that starts anywhere on the route and ends again at the starting point, months or years later, depending on how fast you want to do it. The route takes you down the Illinois River to the Mississippi River, up the Ohio River to the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee Waterway to Mobile Bay. Either by hugging the Florida coast, or crossing the Gulf of Mexico, you make your way around the state and head up the east coast and into the Great Lakes and back over to the Illinois River again. There are variations, but some parts of the trip are not optional. More information can be found on The America's Great Loop Cruisers' Association (also known as the AGLCA) website.
 I want to be very clear on one thing; We have never said that we were going to do the Great Loop, and we never said we wouldn't. Yes, we do belong to the AGLCA, and we do fly the AGLCA burgee on the bow of Swing Set, but that is a far as we have committed to the "Loop". We have a good reason to fly the burgee, however, as the following will reveal.