Friday, February 3, 2012

We Enter Iowa On Our Mississippi River Cruise

  We didn't get such an early start on Tuesday morning as we had the previous day. I mopped down the decks, using the heavy morning dew, as Rosie made us breakfast and we ate it on the hook.
  It's only fair for me to tell you that at the time of this trip, I had no intention of writing a blog; so the only notes I have is the ones on our fuel log. I'm using charts of the Mississippi and my scant memory to reconstruct our itinerary, along with some of the few photos I took. Details may be sketchy. I'm not one to enter every turn, or engine room check, into a logbook; seems too much like work to me. Recreational boating should not be a chore.
  That heavy morning dew indicated an upcoming bright sunny day, and weren't disappointed. One hour after pulling up anchor we motored into Lock and Dam 20 at Canton, Missouri, mile marker 343. As far as I remember, it was uneventful. The Mississippi became a bit twisty and curvy after the Canton Lock, with lots of islands and sloughs. The Des Moines River came into view on our left at mile 361, marking our entry into Iowa territory.

  As we neared Keokuk, Iowa, commercial traffic was heavy as there was a lot of industry along the river bank. The picture above shows Rosie on the bow as we approach Lock and Dam 19 at Keokuk. This dam is a hydro-electric outfit; supplying electricity for the city of Keokuk and surrounding areas.
  Our Quimby's guide told us that we would be rising quite a bit in this lock, some 18 feet or so. Compared to some locks on the Tennessee River down south, this elevation rise isn't much, but was considerably more that the 6-8 feet rises we had experienced on our trip so far.
  Rosie got the fenders ready after we called the lockmaster and was directed into the chamber. We were instructed to utilize the floating bollards, so Rosie wrapped a line from a midships cleat, and held the other end in case the bollard hung up. I stayed at the helm with engines running "just in case". As we floated up inside the lock, the attendant was close by and very chatty. It may have been the fact that Rosie may have been the first woman in a bikini he had seen all day. May have been the first one he had seen all summer.

  You can see here in this picture of how scarred the lock walls were in this lock, but that's typical of many of the locks we had encountered. The bollard sits in a channel within the lock wall, so proper fendering, and not allowing the vessel to drift too much forward or backward is critical for keeping the boat from getting damaged.
  We gave our customary thank you and goodbye as we left the Keokuk Lock. Our lock attendant gave us instructions for our return in a couple of days. I felt confident that announcing the approach of pleasure craft Swing Set on our way back through would be met with courtesy and consideration.
  The Keokuk Boat Club is on the left going upstream as you depart the Keokuk lock. We were given a recommendation from a friend in our area as the the quality of the restaurant there, but it wasn't time to eat and we otherwise didn't see any activity going on, so we kept going.
  The pool above the Keokuk lock is very broad. It may be the widest part of the Mississippi River we had ever encountered. I could see where a good wind would make for some treacherous boating, but we were to have none of that as we enjoyed the change of scenery.
  All of our dealings with lockmasters had been as pleasant as could be, but our next encounter with someone that had "authority" didn't go so well.
  Two and a half hours after leaving the Keokuk Lock, it was still before noon when the Fort Madison railroad swing bridge came into view at mile marker 384. The clearance was published at 19 feet, too close for comfort to just cruise through for me, so I gave a shout on the radio to the bridge tender. The exchange went something like this:
  "Fort Madison swing bridge, this is northbound pleasure craft Swing Set, you got a copy?"
  A couple beats later, "This is the Fort Madison railroad bridge", came a female voice over the radio.
  "Fort Madison, what is the chances of us getting a bridge opening to proceed upstream?"
  "I have no idea", came the reply over the radio.
  At this point I lost my sense of propriety, and as sarcasm is one of my stronger suits, I returned with, "Fort Madison, when you get some idea as to when we can get a bridge opening, would you let us know? Then, I can decide whether or not to get a room for the night in Fort Madison."
  "Being smart will not get you anywhere, captain", came the bridge tender's curt reply.
  "Fort Madison, I am not getting smart, but I still need some idea as to when we can get through this area. I'm in need of fuel and it's imperative that we get upstream at some point."
  "I'll check my schedule", she returned.
  About five minutes later, as I sat at the helm fuming, we heard a loud horn and shortly after, the bridge started swinging open. Now, I know better than to proceed through a lock or bridge opening without permission, but having gotten no call, I radioed the bridge again and said, "Can I proceed through?"
  "This is your bridge opening, Swing Set, do you want it or not?"
  What I was thinking is not fit to print here, but as we passed by the bridge, I still gave our usual good natured thank you, but I nearly choked on the words. Had we not been planning a return in a day or two, I may have pushed the bounds of good taste with a different reply.
  My concern about fuel was not a false one. We were nearly at the point of no return with our fuel supply. It was becoming necessary to get fuel somewhere upriver for the return home. We still had enough to get us back to Two Rivers, where diesel was available, but we needed to start our search for diesel upriver and make a plan for getting it.
  The Quimby's guide came to our aid again as we considered our plan for getting fuel. One harbor upriver advertised fuel delivery by truck: the next harbor advertising diesel at the dock was in Muscatine, Iowa, or further up at Rock Island, both within our range.
  Several locks were between us and Fairport Marina in Muscatine, however, and not knowing if delays would ensue, we called the number for the fuel truck to discuss our possibilities. The first thing to get out of the way was price per gallon. Once we established that, we were given a couple of options as the where we could obtain the fuel because the truck was on a route and could make a stop that was convenient to us if we were willing to wait.
  I told him I'd get back with him and we called Fairport Marina. The owner of Fairport Marina assured us as to diesel availability, he had fuel on a trailer and it was fresh. He figured he was holding about 300 gallons, more than enough for our needs. We didn't anticipate an arrival to his marina until the next day; after noon, is what I figured. His pleasant reply of being able to run his usual Wednesday errands in the morning before we got there made up our mind; we would call off the fuel truck and make way for Muscatine.
  Pressure was off, if there even was any. The sun was bright and shiny and there was very little traffic. We had no idea where we were going to spend the night, but with plenty of twists and turns in the river, and an abundance of sloughs to choose from, we decided to cruise as late into the day as possible.
  Rosie and I took turns catching rays on the foredeck. There is absolutely no noise but the wind on the bow of Swing Set. We have below water exhaust anyway, in fact, the only noise on the bridge is the swoosh of water around the swim platform and the stern as we cut through the water. The relaxing day meant that "beer thirty" came early as we grabbed a couple of cold ones in mid afternoon. Keep any comments about beer consumption and operating a motor vessel to yourself, thank you.
  Another railroad bridge loomed ahead as Burlington, Iowa came into our sights. Before I could even reach for the radio, we saw the bridge start to raise. As we passed under the raised bridge deck, we called our thanks on the radio and were met with a hearty "Have a good one skipper", and a friendly wave. They must have heard about the woman at the Fort Madison bridge and were making up for it. I like to think so anyway.
  We were tempted to stay there near Burlington, it looked very interesting, but we had a ways to go to get to Muscatine, and we'd have to spend another night on the hook before reaching Fairport.
  A mental note was made to consider Burlington as a stop on our way back downriver, and we continued upstream until the better part of the day was behind us. I called Lock and Dam 18 at the 410 mile marker, 75 miles upriver since leaving last nights anchorage.
  I think it was after 6 P.M. when we grabbed the lines in the lock chamber. Another chatty lock attendant gave us all kinds of helpful advice as to where we could anchor for the night up ahead. He even went so far as to make a call on his radio to see if a good place to eat would be open that evening, even though Rosie and I both knew he was taking pictures of Rosie in her bikini the whole time. Knock your brains out pal, I thought, she turns 53 in a couple of days and is appreciative of the apparent compliment. It must get really lonely at those locks.
  I figured to find a quick anchorage once we left lock 18 behind us, but even though there was lots of water, per se, anything off the channel was very shallow. We kept on, turn after turn, still not finding anything suitable for a proper night on the hook.
  We both still felt like a million bucks, and night time travel doesn't intimidate us, so I wasn't worried about our situation. As luck would have it though, I saw a promising spot on the Navionics chart and we made way for it. As the sun was dropping below the tree line, we got a good hook set far enough off the channel to not be a hazard to traffic.
  Even as a confirmed River Rat, I still have qualms about getting into the water at night. I like to see the snakes as they swim over to take a look, and I don't want to even think about the size of some of the fish. Without passing along these concerns to my unsuspecting partner, we completed our nightly bathing ritual and whipped up a satisfying dinner of leftovers, and caught some T.V. before turning in for another peaceful night on the hook.

1 comment:

  1. If you ever make the trek again, do stop in at the Keokuk Yacht Club. Very fun/nice place!