We headed upriver to Lock and Dam 25, the first lock of our trip, which is about 10 miles upstream from our anchorage behind Two Branch Island. The only plans we had for our week long cruise was to just travel upstream, and to travel at an economical speed.
The only other "long range" cruise we had taken with Swing Set was during the first summer we had her. It was a trip to Peoria, Illinois, on the Illinois River; roughly a 320 mile round trip, and we only took a long weekend for it. We traveled at cruising speed, for the most part, which on Swing Set, is around 26 M.P.H. At this speed, fuel burn is substantial, and the size of the boat wake is unfavorable. We wanted to find a reasonable speed to travel at with a favorable fuel burn.
This time we had a whole week, so traveling slow was not objectionable. The hull speed of Swing Set is around 9 M.P.H. Exceeding that speed would necessitate us getting on plane, increasing fuel burn, and greatly increasing the boat wake. I had set a ballpark figure of 8 M.P.H. for our speed; fast enough so that we wouldn't get too bored with the views, yet slow enough for some economy. There is a most "efficient" speed for our boat, but this is not necessarily the most economical. Once you put the transmissions in gear, fuel usage is always an upward curve, it's only the curve that fluctuates, but it always increases. You always want to get where you are going eventually, so some throttle is required, and overcoming a 2-3 M.P.H. current is also something to consider. I had no idea how much range Swing Set had at 8 M.P.H., but I knew where fuel was available; I also knew that in the simplest scenario, if we traveled upriver against the current, if we just turned around once we were at 1/2 fuel, it would just be a matter of turning around to get us home without running empty.
I don't get too bogged down with planning for a cruise like we were on. Being very comfortable with overnight anchoring, we were just seeing how far upstream we could travel in 3-4 days at an economical speed, to determine a reasonable range for our vessel for future travel.
In the picture above, Rosie is consulting our Quimby's Inland Waterway Guide as we approached Lock 25 at Winfield. There are no charts in the Quimby's Guide, but the Locks are described, along with listing of towns and marinas along the route. Our Guide is at least ten years old, but the locks don't move, and the towns don't move, and marinas generally stay in business. For river travel, a guide like Quimby's, a good pair of binoculars, and a marine radio is really the only essential equipment needed.
Our routine for approaching obstacles like locks and low bridges on the river is to call them on the appropriate channel with our marine radio once we have established visual contact; which on a straight section of the river is about 4 miles away. With our binoculars, we could determine if the gates on the lock were open or not, giving us an idea on how long a wait might be.
Once we contacted the lockmaster at lock 25, we were told that a "southbound tow" was just hooking up and we would be able to lock through in about an hour. Since leaving our anchorage at Two Branch, the sky had become overcast and the wind had kicked up some. We approached the lock, but stayed out of the way behind the dam, and dropped the anchor to wait.
Waiting for our turn to lock through is a good time to consult charts or guides and find out how far away the next lock is; even with no established plan, it's a good idea to have some concept of where our location may be toward the end of the day.
In addition to our two pairs of binoculars, two permanent VHF radios, one handheld VHF radio, onboard GPS, radar, and depthfinder, I had installed a Navionics application on my iPhone for inland rivers. I have a holder for the iPhone at the helm with a plug and charger, and the phone is hard wired with a plug to our stereo system, so I can consult the charts on the iPhone while playing our favorite music and also get phone calls and check email from the bridge.
As the southbound tow exited the lock I pulled up the anchor and watched for the light to signal permission to approach the chamber. Usually an accommodating lockmaster will also call on the radio to give permission. Some contact is usually made while entering the chamber to receive any special instructions from the lockmaster. Although there are specific rules published by the Corps of Engineers, each lockmaster is different and has different policies on how they run things; it's always important to remember that they are king of the realm, and what they say goes.
Generally, and I mean generally, locking through for a pleasure boat of our size requires "tying up" to a lock wall when locking upriver. Most of the time, lockmasters allow a vessel to "float" free in the lock when transiting downriver. A captain must be aware of the wind, and his ability to control his vessel when floating free in a lock. In addition, "tying up" doesn't mean really tying up, but hanging onto a line suspended from the top of the lock wall unless floating bollards are present. We always ask for two lines when they are required and are always cheerfully accommodated.
I feel a need to interject here, that my blog is in no way meant to be a handbook, or tutorial on piloting boats, or river travel, but I'll describe what it is we do, offering some tips as to what works for us; our readers can offer some alternatives or critique of our methods. Everybody gets to learn from others experiences. Some people are also reading this blog that are not boaters, but are interested in how things are done, so please be kind if offering tips.
One thing we are always cognisant of when locking through is that the lock walls are concrete, and not very forgiving to fiberglass. Some type of fendering is necessary when locking through. We keep six 10" by 24" fenders in holders on our bow. The routine when approaching a chamber is to deploy 3 fenders on the side of Swing Set that will rest against a lock wall, whether we tie up or not. Our fenders are black: I've had enough experience with scrubbing rust and slime off of white fenders to avoid that color. Fender covers get torn and dirty too. We've also experimented with placing garbage bags over each fender for protection, but in the end, using the black fenders and applying some occasional elbow grease to them works best for us.
Locking through is usually a pleasant experience for us. Rosie takes a line on the bow, I leave the engines running in case of emergency maneuvering is required and take a line from the cockpit. It's best to place yourself at the opposite side of your vessel away from the lock wall while holding onto a line. This provides a better angle and leverage for control, the idea to keep the vessel snug, but not tight, against the lock wall.
Turbulence can be substantial while locking "up", so some agility is required. Less turbulence occurs when locking "down", and is also why a lockmaster will allow "floating free" during this type of locking. One thing we learned long ago was to never lock through with a towboat, especially when locking "up". A tow can "float out" when locking down, but the horsepower and propwash required when pushing their load upstream when leaving a lock can suck even a large vessel away from the lock wall and into the sides of the steel hull of a towboat. Our experiences with towboat captains have usually been positive ones, but some of them cannot resist seeing the pandemonium caused to a "fancy" power boat when they pull out of a lock shared with them. Most of the time, this happens when a captain gets pissy at the prospect of a long wait and pleads with the lockmaster for permission to lock through with a tow vessel. We avoid it.
Wow, this post is one of my longer ones, and we aren't even through our first lock of the trip!
As I said, locking through for us is usually pleasant. The lock attendants will chat with us when they can. We learn whether the traffic is heavy or light, giving us an idea of whether or not a wait at the next lock will be required. Other local knowledge is share too, restaurant recommendations are always appreciated, if not taken.
The lock up at the Winfield lock is only a few feet at normal pool, and doesn't take long at all. Once given the signal, we toss off our lines and proceed out of the lock chamber. We always thank the lockmaster and give our vessel name when exiting the lock. This courtesy is appreciated and consideration is provided when returning back again, which in this case would be in a few days.
The sun had reappeared by the time we exited the Winfield Lock. The next lock at Clarksville was about 32 miles, or about 4 hours travel time given our speed.
The scenery changes once boaters leave the Alton Pool. There is not much development, and the topography is different as there is not as many bluffs along the river. Boat traffic is sparse too; but on a Sunday, the beaches still had some boaters populating them and there were still plenty of other boaters to give a friendly wave to.
Lunch time had arrived, so Rosie went below to prepare sandwiches. Traveling at a comfortable 8 M.P.H. allowed for a relaxing meal. After that, we resumed our teamwork on the bridge; Rosie notifies me of our location using the binoculars, via the mile markers along the river, while I use the other pair to look far ahead to the buoys marking the river channel. We both watch for approaching vessels and any debris floating in the river.
As we came into view of Lock and Dam 24 at Clarksville, I gave the lockmaster a call on the marine radio.
"Clarksville lock, this is the northbound pleasure craft Swing Set. We are about 30 minutes away from arriving at your lock. What's the chances of a lock through?"
"Northbound pleasure craft, we have a tow approaching for a lock through downriver, but he is a few miles away. Our gates are open for you, and if you can skedaddle up here, we'll wait and get you through first."
"Thanks, lockmaster. I'll kick 'er up some and be there as soon as possible".
With that, I spooled up the Caterpillars and got us on plane. The huge wake I caused affected no one, as there were no other boats in the area. We still had almost full fuel and water tanks, so Swing Set was a bit sluggish. I was only getting a speed somewhere in the upper 20's and I noticed a change in engine noise. I also saw the starboard tach reporting a much higher RPM than the port engine. I quickly deduced that our engine synchronizer had quit working and the starboard engine was not being controlled by the throttle. I switched off the synchronizer and the problem disappeared.
Once we had successfully locked through, I visited the engine room to discover what I had suspected; the mechanical cable that runs from the flywheel of the starboard engine to our Glendinning Cablemaster synchronizer had snapped in two. This was not a catastrophe, but for the duration of our trip, synchronizing the throttles would have to be done manually; not a big deal.
Our next obstacle was a railroad bridge at mile marker 282, and just past that was our destination of Two Rivers Marina across the river at Louisiana, MO. The railroad bridge at Louisiana is a swing bridge, and had long ago been put out of service, so we waved at Louisiana and pulled into Two Rivers Marina at closing time, around 6 P.M., and a little over 50 miles from our previous night anchorage at Two Branch.
We made pretty good time, with traveling at 8 M.P.H. and locking through twice. Our fuel gauges had only moved a little. We didn't need fuel, and I knew there was diesel available further upriver, so we asked the dock attendant if the restaurant was open and she directed us to a tie up along one of the floating docks. We decided to treat ourselves to a chicken dinner after a long day.
The Lighthouse restaurant at Two Rivers had a pretty good crowd, a good indication of the quality of food. We got a table, and the prompt waitress brought back two ice cold Bud Lights in a hurry. A group of friendly people at the table next to us asked if we had a boat, cause they did too, and boy were they having fun that day. We were able to show them Swing Set, right out the window, tied up and looking pretty in the setting sunlight.
We don't really like staying in marinas if we can help it, and I had consulted my Navionics on the iPhone, looking for a nearby anchorage. I had seen some possibilities, but local knowledge is always best. I asked our new friends about a good place to throw a hook. Even though they were boaters, they didn't boat out there on this river, so they directed me to a salty looking fella behind the bar.
As we were waiting for our chicken, I took my beer up to the bar and introduced myself, also pointing to Rosie, and told him where we were from, along with our preference for anchoring out that evening as opposed to staying at the marina. He allowed as to that being his preference too, and even though it had been a few years since he was able to enjoy a nice evening on the hook, he knew where to direct us.
His suggestion of an anchorage about 4 miles upstream behind Ducher Island was one I had also noticed on my Navionics Chart. He said it was out of the channel and very deep: a perfect spot.
By the time we finished a couple more beers and a delicious dinner, we said goodbye to our new found friends who were settling in for some serious drinking as the shots started to arrive in number.
The sun had dropped below the tree line as I pulled Swing Set off the channel. There was no one around once I dropped the hook and made sure we would stay put in the almost non-existent current. A river bath ensued, as is our custom, if no one is around. If someone was to be around using binoculars, then we can't be liable for their eyesight following a good look.
Squeaky clean after a long day, we relaxed in the cockpit with a couple more beers. Once the sun set proper, we retired to the salon and caught the early news before turning in for the night.
Our anchor light was turned on, as well as our anchor watch. The temperature was pleasant and our hatches were open. We slept like babies, and if heaven isn't anything as good as this was, you can keep it.