Friday, May 11, 2012

Cape Girardeau to Kentucky Lake

  It wasn't as dark as this photo indicates when we finally finished dinner and took hot showers before relaxing with some wine; one of our parting gifts from Duck Club friends Sonny and Neecie Robbins. I'm keeping a firm hand on Holly, as having her on my lap only wearing a robe is....dangerous, with the sharp claws and all.
  We slept so well in the Diversion Canal that we missed our early wake up time but as it turned out, we should have slept in longer. The sky was clear in the canal, lots of dew on the boat, as we hauled up both anchors with some difficulty. That Missouri muck didn't want to let us go.

  As we pulled into the Mississippi channel we were met with some wispy fog skating across the river surface and buoys were hard to see, but not impossible. I motored up to our now comfortable speed of 12 miles per hour at 1100 R.P.M., slipped on my sunglasses and sipped my second cup of coffee as we stole what warmth we could from the sun behind the welcome isinglass on the bridge.

  We came around a sharp bend in the river and was met with very thick fog, as the channel entered into a section of the river protected on the east by a tall bluff. Coming in our direction was what seemed to be a large house floating above the mist. Of course it was a towboat, but was far enough to my port to be of no concern. I hailed him on the VHF to let him know that I saw him and he said he saw us too, even better. He said the fog was thick as soup approaching the bridge, but was starting to clear up. I said I would slow down to let the sun do it's job and clear up the smoke. I also turned on the radar to help see the channel markers and by the time we reached the bridge, we could see the buoys just fine so we gave the radar a rest.
  The rest of the 50 odd miles down to the mouth of the Ohio River was uneventful except for a tow that felt a need to exert his authority over little old us and hogged our side of the river. I heard someone mumble something about a "pleasure craft" over the radio, so I answered back with something along the lines of "Are you hailing us?", to which he replied, "You're on a pleasure craft ain't you?"
  My answer was, "I sure hope so."
  He passed us on our port about a bass boat length away with our starboard nearly against the bank. We gave a friendly wave but really wanted to give a Sicilian Salute.
  The Ohio River was a welcome sight but our speed dropped off naturally as we started heading back upstream. I bumped the CATS up to 1400 RPM to keep us at a slow, but progressive 7 miles per hour. The still murky water of the Ohio looked like the Caribbean Sea compared to the Mississippi and was flat as my wallet.

  As we settled in for a three hour cruise to the first lock, Rosie went down below and left Holly on the flybridge with me to co-pilot. She was more interested in napping and was miffed that I woke her for this photo.
  Now my next few comments will give the more prepared captain the shivers, but is an indication of how much I prepare in the way of plotting our course, which in short, is minimal.
  So far, to navigate we're using our Navionics App on our iPad and a Quimby's Guide. Not bad until you learn that the Quimby's Guide is 12 years old. How I feel about it is this; any older chart or guide may not show a new bridge or lock, but a brand new chart or guide can't show you logs or other boats either. So you just have to pay attention. Sometimes you have a pleasant surprise.
  In my last post I mentioned three locks we had to negotiate before locking into Lake Barkley or Kentucky Lake. My old Quimby's Guide mentions Olmstead lock but no information, and then Lock and Dam 53 just two miles upstream. Even I know that the Corps of Engineers isn't going to put a lock and dam two miles apart, so I figured the Olmstead lock was going to replace the older lock two miles away. We could see some major construction up ahead and knew it was the Olmstead Lock, but didn't know at what stage the construction was in. I called channel 13, the supposed contact channel for locks on the Ohio, and got no one. I then called the phone number listed for Lock and Dam 53 and a sweet old lady told me to just call Lock and Dam 53 on channel 13 and they could direct me.
  As I was trying to hail someone on channel 13, we got closer to the Olmstead Lock and realized that we could idle through the construction zone on the Kentucky side of the river, so we just peeled our eyes for Lock 53 and the impending delay. We passed a pretty building on the Illinois side of the river at the point where Lock 53 used to be, now just a memory. Something tells me that the nice lady I talked to on the phone must be the great aunt of the current Colonel of the Corps of Engineers and no one bothered to tell her that Lock 53 has been demolished. They also didn't tell her that Lock 52 was demolished either, because the same pretty building was present where the Lock and Dam 52 was supposed to be. Still present was plenty of flags flying and dozens of cars parked outside of the official looking building. Our tax dollars at work, but we were happy about not having to lock through.
  My impression of the lower Ohio River was mixed due to this little misunderstanding on my part, but because two locks have come up missing and the third yet to be built, the members of the Corps who place the navigation buoys seem to have to supervision. In fact, the buoys on the last 50-60 miles of the Ohio River seem to be place with the aid of a B-1 bomber, with no rhyme or reason to where they go. Either this is the case, or the Corps folks are in cahoots with the fuel suppliers, because the sail line bounces from bank to back like a pinball.
  I was dutifully following my red buoys on the right when I crossed under the Brookport Bridge and the buoys disappeared. I saw a towboat way over on my starboard side coming our way and hailed him to ask if he had a preference on which side we were to pass, hoping he could give me some clue as to what side of the river I was supposed to be on. I wasn't too worried, because the depth finder always over rules a possible errant marker, but I try to gather my intelligence where I can.
  I hailed the tow and the captain asked where I was. I said I was right ahead of him just coming under the Brookport Bridge. He says, "Is that you waaaay over there on the Illlinois shore?" I looked to my right. I looked to my left. I said, "No, I'm right smack in the middle of the river", to which he replied, "Just stay over there". Damn pleasure boaters.

  By late afternoon we were pulling into Paducah Harbor and needed to formulate our plan for staying the night somewhere. The entrance to the Tennessee River was fast approaching and we had to make a decision whether to head up to the Kentucky Lock, or take the Ohio upstream for a few miles to the Cumberland River and then into Lake Barkley. There was anchorage there in Paducah, but was a bit too much industrial for our tastes, and I did see spots on the chart upriver at the Cumberland River entrance where spending the night was possible, but our future was decided soon after we rounded the island that fronts the Paducah Harbor and the slough meets the mouth of the Tennessee River.
  Nearly crystal clear water was mixing with what now looked like a filthy Ohio River. We made a quick phone call to the Kentucky Lock to ask how business was and then did the math. The trip upstream on the advised Cumberland River route to avoid a delay at the Kentucky Lock meant about 20 more miles to travel, along with the accompanying fuel cost. The lockmaster at the Kentucky Lock said we could do much better by coming that evening than waiting until morning. With over three hours of daylight left, we decided to head up the pretty Tennessee River.
  The current was slower on the Tennessee, so at 1400 R.P.M.s we were making 8 miles per hour, plenty of speed to get us to the lock and a place to get on a hook to wait. As I had mentioned the water was very clear, in fact, men were bow fishing along the waterway. The only thing taking the shine off the scenery was a lot of dead fish and plenty of industry along the route. If anyone remembers the Boat At Riverbend that was moored in Alton for a few years, they would be as surprised as us to find it moored along the lower Tennessee River, destined for the scrap yard perhaps.
  Here's Rosie at the helm as I stepped out onto the bow of Swing Set to enjoy the ride for awhile. The sun was trying to get below the horizon as we tried to beat it and make the Kentucky Lock before it set.

  Holly wasn't trying to do anything but stay nestled in my abandoned jacket and was disturbed just one more time for this photo. She's becoming quite at home aboard Swing Set except when we leave her below for needed potty breaks and we pass a towboat; then she hides behind the toilet until the boat stops bucking. She'll get used to it.
  We neared the Kentucky Lock and saw not one, but two tows in line to lock through. We hailed the lock and were surprised to learn that they were waiting for us to show up and would lock us through ahead of the two tows, just as soon as they got a southbound tow locked through.
  Rosie made a phone call to our friend Jen Dixon and we had dinner while we waited for less than an hour, but it was still dark by the time we entered the lock chamber. Our exit was met with the complete blackness of the vast expanse of Kentucky Lake and no moon. I had already decided where we were going to anchor for the night, but still had to find it. We employed our Navionics, the depth finder, our handheld spotlight, and the radar, along with good old eyeballs, to head over to Shedd Creek and our anchorage for the night.
  The radar was useless at our sphincter friendly speed of complete idle because it's designed for use at cruising speed, and the reflecting tape on the buoys here on Kentucky Lake seem to be the size of postage stamps. We followed the plotted course to a "T", but it was still nearly midnight before we were satisfied with the bite of our hook and turned in. I still set an anchor watch on the iPad.
  Thursday was an eighteen hour day, but we were able to wake this morning with nothing on our agenda except to write this blog and clean the bugs off the boat that did their best to find Swing Set last night, even a half mile off shore. Guess who got to write the blog.

  This was our view at 6:30 this morning looking into the back of the cove we are in. Rosie is out mopping, and as soon as this blog is published, I'll check the oil and dump the diesel we have in our jugs in the engine room into our fuel tanks. I don't know the tally on the fuel usage from Hoppies to here, but I'm guessing less than 100 gallons judging by our fuel gauges. Not bad, but you have to consider our slow speed. We don't care. We have more time than money.


  1. Sledd is probably the ugliest cove on the lake, but its close to the dam and easy in and out. Glad you made it.

    Some dams can be navigated over when they are "open" and do not have locks. Maybe one or two those dams on the Ohio are of that type.

  2. I'm hip to the "open" type dams, but I don't think these are them. Far as ugly goes, we both know that ugly don't count in the dark.

  3. Tom from Alton, ILMay 11, 2012 at 4:52 PM

    Really enjoying the blog. Thanks for your time and effort publishing it!

  4. James was correct. Lock and dams 52 and 53 are both wicket dams, but 52 is no longer in operation. 53 is still operating but with the high water we went right over it. Also, the reflectors on the buoys were so small coming into our anchorage because they were very small markers, not the big ones.