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.
We had spent many of our weekends in Lumpy's Chute and since we were heading upriver anyway, we went looking for a change of scenery and headed for Two Branch Island where a sort of Mini Jamaican Daze was being held. Two Branch Island is located between 230 and 232 mile marker on the Mississippi, so it's about three miles long. (Mile markers are located one mile apart along the banks of most major rivers; in the case of the Mississippi River, they increase in value as you travel upstream.) The approach to the beach area was the same one we had encountered several years earlier when we became grounded, but the slough behind Two Branch Island had changed dramatically and now there was a good channel leading to the upper, or upstream, end of the island.
Lots of boaters showed up for this unofficial event. Had it been "official", the authorities would have had to be notified, meaning unwanted scrutiny, and the turnout would have been tenfold of what it was, not always a good thing. Anchoring just off the beach was a peach; the current was non-existent and the sand bottom was smooth and hard. Most of the boats packed into the shallowest areas, making for perfect socializing as a person could walk around in the water from boat to boat to visit. I don't need to tell you what a pleasure this type of activity is to a guy with a full cooler and a small bladder.
The party was again a responsible one, as nearly anyone who was consuming alcohol stayed put at anchor with the partying lasting way into the night. The sleeping was pleasant too, as by nightfall a breeze kicked up and even being in August, no air conditioning was needed.
We slept in fairly late the next morning of the 21st. There were several pot luck breakfasts going as there were still probably 50-60 boats at anchor in the area. It was such a beautiful morning, no one was in a hurry to go anywhere. By mid-morning people were already swimming and doing some light chores on their boats. I may have even heard a few beers being popped before noon, but Rosie and I had our sights set on upriver. We pulled anchor and with a full cup of coffee with me on the bridge, we headed back out to the main channel to continue our cruise.
Larger vessels that transit the slough behind Two Branch Island need to travel back downriver to get out to the main channel, as the "head" of the slough is protected by a dike that runs from the tip of the island over to the Illinois bank. It was nearly an hour before we lost sight of our friends still on the hook behind Two Branch as we headed toward the Winfield Lock and Dam 25, at mile marker 241.5, and out of the Alton Pool.
The story of rest of our cruise is coming up in the next blog post.