Remember that time Shannon scared the crap out of us when she was creeping around on the bow at night and shined a flashlight through the hatch above our heads? Happened again. Only this time it turned out to be a terawatt moonglow. It was light enough in the cabin to quilt. Since we aren’t quilters—although the National Quilt Museum in Paducah almost persuaded us to give it a try—we opted for rolling over.
Off at 8. Nothing like a little bluegrass gospel music on a beautiful Sunday morning on the Tennessee River. Everything’s just a smidge better south of the extended line formed by the crownstones set in place by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Certainly Dana would say the iced tea is better and more readily available than in, say, any town that sports an LCBO. Today we even saw the first colors of autumn. Even the graffiti seems more genteel.
If possible, the cruise to Cuba Landing in Waverly was even better than yesterday’s journey. Smooth as Tennessee whiskey. Or Wyoming Whiskey. Distilled in Kirby, Wyoming by our old friends Brad and Kate Mead before they sold out to Big Liquor. We’re sort of guessing here, however, since we aren’t whiskey drinkers. Anyway, the water was calm and the scenery was awesome.
There was of course one minor issue, which always seems to be the case. As we approached the Highway 70 bridge, we had no worries. Something like 50 feet of charted clearance. Hey wait just a minute here! That’s not 50 feet. What the hell is a second bridge doing there? The CSX Railroad bridge has a 24 foot clearance? Quick Dana, pump the fake brakes just like in the car. We need to figure this out. Oh great, now a tow captain wants us out of his way too? Fortunately we’re all professionals here, so the bridge operator lifted the bridge, we maneuvered out of the tow’s way, and order was restored.
Of course, behind every gorgeous day on the Loop lurks monsters under the bed. Today the fear relates to the East Tennessee floods that are pushing a wall of water our way. High water brings current and debris. Current and debris respect no cultural boundaries, imagined or otherwise. This could jam up our plans. But we’ll figure it out. If we need to kill some time, Doug’ll take off his shirt, Dana’ll throw on a tank top, and we’ll do some fishin’ from an abandoned old bridge support like the locals.
In the meantime, we docked at Cuba Landing for the night. These small Tennessee marinas are as cool as they come.
Not much to report about Green Turtle Bay. We did see lots of turtles though. Hung out with some old friends and met some new ones. Boys got nails trimmed. One day it rained. One day it was sunny. We enjoyed some music with Island Girl and Second Wave. That’s about it.
Oh yeah, Brent and Doug installed the new refrigerator and Dana restocked it. Ain’t it a beaut?
More importantly, we started the Tennessee River leg. There’s a Billy Ray Cyrus song about the point we passed where the Cumberland meets the Tennessee. But it’s a Billy Ray Cyrus song. So we’ll leave it out. Truthfully we’re kind of embarrassed about even knowing who Billy Ray Cyrus is, although this part of Kentucky is mullet country. Anyway, although neither of us truly can claim to be a mountain man in the usual sense, we’re happy to get together with this river anytime we can.
On an unrelated note, our photos seem to be getting fuzzier. We’ll try to work on that.
The cruise down Kentucky Lake was picture perfect. Flat water. Blue sky. No tows and barges. Chilly for a bit but still pleasant. We needed a cruising day like this to help us forget the Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio rivers. At noon we passed into The Great State of Tennessee. Greenest state in the land of the free. God’s Country. Vol Nation. If only the state university could remember how to play football again.
We pulled in to Paris Landing State Park, a marina Dana immediately noted is “very comfy.” No comment on the Vols.
After more than four months, our memories of what happened where and when aren’t always aligned. In case we need immediate information to resolve an argument, er, debate, we’ve tagged blog posts to the pins on the map. Although having readily available proof seldom works out for any of the males on the boat.
Although the skies looked to be cloudy all day—so obviously where no buffalo roam—a bunch of Loopers took off from Paducah towards the next stop. That would be the famous Green Turtle Bay. We were two of those Loopers.
After Paducah there are two options. The short route is to take the Tennessee River through the Kentucky Lock and cut over to the marina. But the commercial traffic gets priority and you may wait at the lock for multiple hours. Waiting at locks is horrible. So we skipped that one.
The second route stays on the Ohio for a stretch, then turns off on the Cumberland River through Barkley Lock. Twenty miles longer but often faster. At the junction we plainly could see the point where the brown crap water flowing from the north mixed with the clearer southern water. Not shocking at all, is it?
Lest anyone think all we do is complain about rivers, we found the Cumberland to be awesome. Although there were stretches with erector-set industry along the shore, the river was narrow, the trees were green, and the current was modest. A great day of traveling, even upstream.
We know, we know. All the river pictures are starting to look the same. Trust us though. Some rivers—like the Hudson and the Cumberland—are way better than others even if the photos don’t show it.
As an aside, Old Crow Medicine Show has a catchy song about rocking like a wagon wheel, which sort of makes no sense. What really makes no sense is the line about heading west from the Cumberland Gap to Johnson City. Anyone from Tennessee knows full well you can’t do that.
Anyway, a few miles up the Cumberland, Dana discovered another stowaway. The little feller was sticking to a bow rail in a most precarious manner. We watched him carefully until we tied up, at which time Dana relocated him to an appropriate spot on shore. (Under other circumstances she might have kissed it, but what would she do with TWO princes?)
There’s a newish boating app called Nebo that many Loopers use to keep track of other boats. It’s kind of a cross between VesselFinder and Find My Friends. We were able to confirm electronically that our little pack was intact through the day. Which we could have done by just looking behind us, of course, but we also could see the progress of people who weren’t at Paducah last night. We’re not sure what Art and Jeanne were up to but eventually they straightened up.
As we neared the Barkley Lock, the clouds left and it turned into a gorgeous fall day. Know what doesn’t fit in with gorgeous fall days? Flying Asian carp. We finally saw them, bouncing around in the lock chamber. They’re known to jump onto boats, smack into people on said boats, and bleed all over. That’s a true story. There are YouTube videos to prove it. Dana may or may not have wet herself a little when the first one jumped towards her head, but because she’s a professional she hung in there long enough to take a couple of pictures. We wished we had some of those bows and arrows the Peoria Carp Hunters use.
Just past the lock we pulled in to Green Turtle. We plan to stay here a few days before heading up the Tennessee towards Chattanooga.
What feels like a year ago, we couldn’t imagine a longer, more tiring day than the run from Atlantic City to Staten Island. Boy were we wrong. It’s like a 1-year-old feeling accomplished when he successfully stacks blocks only to realize he has to solve quadratic equations. 220 nm on the Mississippi River plus a tough stretch on the Ohio River—over 3 straight days—makes what we saw of the Atlantic Ocean seem like child’s play. The Mississippi may or may not be the Mother of All Rivers, but we can vouch for it being a Mother. Somehow, however, we made it to the city dock in Paducah, Kentucky.
Those of us from the next state south think of Kentucky mostly as an annoyance. Not a state to revile like Alabama, but not a state to embrace by any means. The flagship state university stole Tennessee’s checkerboards, for goodness sakes, and the other major university hired Rick Pitino and Bobby Petrino. Not much to feel good about there for sure.
However, after the Death Cruise from Alton, Paducah is a veritable oasis in the desert. Food for the starving. Warmth for the freezing. You get the picture. Paducah last night was all that and more. But first we had to get there.
After we pushed through the Alton muck, made it through the lock delays, and worked around the barges, the Kaskaskia Lock Wall was a welcomed spot to pull over. Not too bad a day overall, although we do love shore power, WiFi, and a good restaurant, none of which was available. The boys are used to running off docks to do their business as soon as we tie up someplace. At Kaskaskia they jumped off and literally hit the wall. No way to shore. Have to do it on the concrete.
A moment to discuss dogs and boats. Short travel days and nice marinas with grassy areas or walking paths are the goal, at least for Oscar and Benny. They don’t at all like peeing or pooping while aboard Misty Pearl. Which is a very good thing in most circumstances. Long days are tough for them in ways far different than for us. Put an AstroTurf pad on the back deck and train them to use it, you say? If you say that, you haven’t met these dogs. Early on we got them a pad—The Pad of Despair and Frustration—and sprayed it with the guaranteed-super-trigger-pee-spray. Oscar sunned himself on it. Benny looked at it sideways and then ignored it. The spray stunk up the entire boat until we washed off the pad and buried it in the lazarette.
Knowing we had a tough stretch where there might not be shore access for 48 hours or more, we pulled out all the stops. And by that we mean we traded dog pee (in a Tupperware container) with Long Story, who faced the same problems with Millie. Maybe if we spread some strange pee on the PDF it will fool/entice the boys to use it. Nope.
Back to Kaskaskia. A pack of coyotes on the shore howled a good part of the night, which we assumed would stir an instinctive response from at least one of the boys. Maybe it did, but if so that instinct was neither to flee nor to fight. Apparently through generations of coddling they’ve learned that the best way to handle nearby predators is to sleep. Although Benny will bark at birds and Oscar will bark at his reflection, neither of those does anyone any good.
Anyway, after a great night’s sleep we pulled off the wall for our second day on the Mississippi. The best thing about this river—at least going downstream—is the speed. With the current we made 12 knots, which is blazing fast for us. The downside to going downstream in that current is that it’s much harder to control the boat. And the tows heading upstream push wakes that would embarrass the waves we encountered on the Atlantic. And when we left Kaskaskia it was gray and miserable like we assume is everyday on the Mississippi. Not cool.
That’s not to say there isn’t a raw and often uncomfortable beauty along the way, because there is. The barges are interesting and periodically entertaining. The captain of the Stan Humphreys was flying a Vols flag. Another Vol fan-tow captain radioed Doug to commiserate.
Just out of Kaskaskia we passed the maximum security Menard Prison. Pogo the Clown was an inmate here. Richard Kimble was on his way to this prison when he lucked into the type of train wreck that only happens in movies and escaped and then proved to Tommy Lee Jones that he was innocent and that all along Big Pharma was responsible for his wife’s murder.
Along this stretch there are no marinas with the facilities we’ve come to view as necessary. Plus we have no refrigerator yet. So after a second long day we ducked into Little River Diversion Canal and dropped the anchor. Crossroads and Second Wave beat us in, and Erben Renewal and Magic Jeanne followed in to fill the narrow channel.
Brent was gracious enough to pop by with Micro Wave to take the boys to shore a couple of times, but there really was no safe place for relief. Poor guys missed their usual last walk of the night.
The thing about anchoring is the fear of the anchor slipping in the night. We don’t anchor out much because (1) the boys need shore access and (2) we strongly prefer shore power, WiFi, and a good restaurant. We generally use the former as the excuse, of course, because they don’t care if we do.
Anyway, we set the anchor alarm and had no issues until we took off yesterday morning. “Dana, what’s that beeping noise? Something’s wrong!” Nope, just the alarm when we left the swing area, as evidenced by the blue trail. No crisis after all.
That set the stage for the Day from Hell. It wasn’t the scenery, which actually was pretty scenic. Mostly the drudgery. And the rain. And the fog. Although at one point Doug asked the captain of the upbound Cynthia II if it was still foggy further south. His response—“There ain’t no fog, just a little mist”—dripped with derision and condescension.
Getting to the mouth of the Ohio River wasn’t too bad, although we really didn’t need to hear all the tow captains discussing the SeaRay that collided with a barge and sank just before the confluence. We saw it a bit later. Tough to be the dude who ran into a tugboat. What do you tell your friends?
The thing about current is that it also stinks going the other way. We hit the turn to head upstream on the Ohio and it was like someone threw out a drag chute. We immediately went ftom 12 knots to 5 knots as we fought like spawning salmon.
Two hours later we reached the Olmstead Lock, which supposedly was a pass through. Not for us. We had to wait for the tow Whitewing to transit. Then the rain hit. Then the fog set in again. (The lockmaster agreed that he couldn’t see anything at all, so suck it Cynthia II.) We were supposed to follow the Gerald Majors (which had been causing us trouble since we left the Mississippi), but could barely see her.
The Olmstead Lock Tainter gate piers and foundation sit on about 900 plate jacks, a few of which you can see here. We think a better name for them would be flapjacks, since they look like pancakes. Dana’s dad designed and built them. Very cool, although we still found the experience tricky. Not because of the jacks, of course, but because of the weather. With the help of radar and AIS, however, we safely emerged from the fog on the other side. Obviously.
Speaking of radar, ours picks up channel markers and those ball thingys on power lines. Tows are huge. Here is what the tow Nashville looked like on radar before we left the Mississippi. The little green triangle is Second Wave, some thousand feet ahead of us. The huge blob is the pile of barges. We love how AIS shows the potential collision point with an icon of a sinking ship. AIS also is unaware that the barges stick out well in front of the tug. Maybe the guy in the SeaRay was unaware of this as well.
One interesting thing about these rivers is the barge cargo. On the Ohio, we saw coal. Who even uses coal these days?
On the Mississippi we saw a lot of what looked like dirt. Going in both directions. It’s like that scene where the warden made Luke dig a hole and then fill a hole as punishment for trying to escape after he was imprisoned for cutting the heads off of parking meters. Why would dirt go both directions? Why not just keep the dirt in place on both ends? Maybe it’s sort of a busy-work thing to keep tow captains employed. Strange either way.
As we neared Paducah, the sky cleared and the sun shone. We passed Fort Massac. Fort Massac supposedly was built by the French in the 1700s while battling Indians. We think the people of Illinois may have built it to keep out people from Kentucky even though we haven’t seen much in Illinois that other people would want to fight over. Dana photographed eagles.
Tied up at the Paducah City Dock almost 12 hours after we hoisted the anchor. Along the way Oscar finally peed on a tarp out back. Benny finally peed on the deck, but still was at about 50 psi when he hit land. We couldn’t have been happier to be in Kentucky.
Today we visited the National Quilt Museum. Who knew there was such a thing? Who knew that Paducah, Kentucky, is a Holy City for both Loopers and quilters? Out front there’s a statue of Indians. We looked around inside for evidence of the connection between Indians and quilting, but all we found were quilts. The museum was far more interesting than one might think.
The thing about the Loop is that even the tough days are good days. These were tough days but we’re glad we did them. We also can say that the food in Paducah is surprisingly excellent. We had a great time with the other Loopers on the dock tonight, but look forward to Green Turtle Bay.
All the angst about leaving Alton was for naught. We worked Misty Pearl back 20 feet, pushed her bow out, and plowed silt at 1800 rpms until we hit the channel. The water she was peeing through the pump was as clear as the muddy Mississippi can be. Sweet. The sailboat needed a jet ski AND a tow boat to get out, and another boat pumped mud into an engine and had to be towed back upstream to St. Charles, but we dodged any mishap. Probably a reward for our clean living.
Next hurdle was the Mel Price lock. We have no idea who this Mel Price guy was, but his lock is a canyon of swirly currenty crappy mess. We kind of tired of the long wait and may or may not have drifted into the current at the top gate a bit early. We pulled out of it, barely, but then started back in involuntarily. Abort! Oh crap, the current is so strong that even with full power we can’t move upstream away from the looming 1200′ x 20′ ugly concrete wall. Assume crash position everybody! Oh wait. Let’s put her in gear and see what happens. Whew. We made it in safely. Certain death and/or a lifetime of embarrassment avoided, and off towards St. Louis.
Along the way the Missouri River poured in beside us. Supposedly this creates crazy dangerous cross-current but somehow we missed it. The Missouri is famous as the path taken by Meriweather Lewis and whatshisname Clark as they explored the West. How they went upstream remains a mystery, but keeping the engine in neutral probably wasn’t part of it. Hard to believe some poor bastards had to row. The Missouri also is famous for that time The Outlaw Josey Wales shot the ferry rope and sent the union carpetbaggers on a boatride.
We wanted to swap photos with Second Wave like we did at the Statue of Liberty, but time was a wastin’. Fortunately there’s a webcam, so we took a screen shot instead. The couple posing for selfies probably didn’t know about the webcam—or Misty Pearl—but that’s us framed on the river. Hard to tell who photo-bombed who.
Through St. Louis and the locks, tugs, tows, and barges were everywhere. One of them announced a load of pig iron. Which is funny all by itself. Pig iron, pig iron. He was here to do some business with the pig iron on his ship*.
As expected, it was a long day. But we made it to the lock wall on the Kaskaskia River. This is pretty close to where Popeye is from. Yup. That Popeye. We got there just in time to watch a really bad football game. The only good thing was that Steve from Sabbatical was 100 miles away.
The tough part of today always was going to be the first 100 feet. That went better than expected. Tomorrow is another long day, with anchoring out the only option. Hopefully that’ll go as smoothly. Either way, tonight we get a sunset and a good night’s sleep.
*Apologies to Marty Robbins and to everyone who reads this silliness.