Eagle Alley

Day 398: Monday, October 7, 2013

Port to Port: Red Wing to Hastings, Minnesota

Underway: 8:15 am      Motor Off: 12:53 pm      Miles Traveled: 23      Stayed At: Free Dock

Mile 791 to Mile 814: We had a short day planned today so we weren’t in a big rush to get moving. We at least waited until the sun was up and we had time to hit the “best bakery in Minnesota” for donuts and get something hot to drink. Boris must be ready to get home to rest too since, even though the wake up temperature was 47˚, he started on the second pull.

We meandered north on a beautiful fall Monday enjoying the almost fall colors and the dozens of bald eagles hunting the river for breakfast. What a treat. We easily transited Lock 3 before coming to Prescott, Wisconsin. We had originally thought about staying there again, like last fall, but decided to avoid hassling with the two bridges in the way and continued a few miles on to Hasting. We didn’t stop in Hastings on our way down so we had a new little town to explore.

Hastings is a cute little river town – noisy right now with bridge construction and bridge demolition projects going on but fun to explore. We found a Chinese restaurant to have a late lunch and came back to the boat to relax and get ready for our last couple legs. Tomorrow we plan to anchor somewhere upstream and then get to Watergate Marina early on Wednesday.

Total Miles:  6,667


Day 397: Sunday, October 6, 2013

Port to Port: Wabasha to Red Wing, Minnesota

Underway: 6:54 am      Motor Off: 12:05 pm      Miles Traveled: 31      Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: First time using a marina restroom in a converted train caboose.

Mile 760 to Mile 791: As expected, it was cold in the morning. And overcast. At least we had a favorable if chilly wind. Unlike on our way down last fall, we were able to motorsail all morning. We were excited to be regularly hitting 6 mph on a beam reach all the way across Lake Pepin. We made really good time and turned the corner for Red Wing before noon.

We had planned to tie up to the 300’ long wharf wall downtown but there was a rather large boat in the way – the American Queen was calling on Red Wing. We didn’t know how long they were going to be there so we pulled in to the Red Wing Marina and used their free day dock while we figured out what to do.

We were excited to be in Red Wing. Not only is it a nice town to explore and close to home, but Sarah, Jake and Snooter were planning to drive down to visit and go to lunch. They arrived early afternoon and, after playing with Snooter for a little while, we went to a late lunch and had fun exploring. Snooter is so cute! It really does feel like we are almost home.

We had a really fun visit but were soon alone again after saying our (temporary) goodbyes. We noticed on our walk that the American Queen had left the wharf so, after Sarah and Jake were gone, we moved Aurora over along the wall for the night. We took a walk around town and stopped at a grocery store for the last time this trip before buttoning up the boat and watching some Big Bang Theory reruns for the first time this trip. A nice way to relax and keep our minds off of all the things we need to do when we get home. One day at a time, right?


Day 396: Saturday, October 5, 2013

Port to Port: Winona to Wabasha, Minnesota

Underway: 8:38 am      Motor Off: 5:15 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: Congratulation Kent and Jane (and Squirt)/Carina on an amazing accomplishment – Gold Loopers. Thank you for traveling with us for so long and making our trip through Canada and the Great Lakes, great!

Mile 725 to Mile 760: After a wild and crazy night, we were still a little tired when first light appeared. We had the most amazing show of lightning last night – mostly cloud to cloud – that we have seen this entire trip. It rained buckets and got a little lumpy on the breakwall but not “I want off this boat” bad. Some places in southern Minnesota got 13 inches of rain overnight. Luckily, the red and orange splotches on radar slid a little to the south of us or we may have needed help getting up river. There were even mudslides in the area covering roads and making travel a challenge. Funny how we can travel for over a year and not have a storm like this until we almost get home.

We were going to cast off but a long single-wide tanker tow was going by so we were going to have to wait at the lock. We thought it would be a better idea to wait in town so we wandered over to the Farmers Market and bought the smallest pumpkin we could find to get into the Halloween spirit. This almost was a very expensive pumpkin time-wise. When we got back to leave, another tow –this time a 3×5 – was coming up river. Oh-oh! This means at least an 1.5 hour delay at the next lock…and the next lock…and the next lock. This was not a happy thought. After he passed we motored up to the lock to anchor and wait. Better to be in line than not. We finally go through and spent the next hour plus trying to catch and pass him but he was not slowing down and we only inched past him even at full throttle. We only passed him a couple miles from the second lock when he slowed down to park and wait for a down bound tow coming through the lock. We thought for sure we were going to have a 2+ hour wait but the lock master said he would sneak us through after the down bound got out. What luck -15 minutes vs another 4+ hours of waiting at this and the next lock. We thanked him and the tow we passed for letting us through.

The day started out humid, overcast and warmish. By late afternoon, the cold front finally started spilling in some colder air and we could tell tonight was going to be an extra blanket night. The wakeup temp is supposedly going to be 39˚ – brrrr.

We had the whole river to ourselves, except for a few inconveniently placed tows. The scenery was muted but, all in all, another good travel day. We didn’t have the rain that was expected and the winds were calm. A couple days ago the winds were forecast to be 15-30 mph – not good travel weather. We will be less than 100 miles from our starting point at the end of today. Quite amazing. It seems like a dream.

Mountains In The Mist

Day 395: Friday, October 4, 2013

Port to Port: Lacrosse to Winona, Minnesota

Underway: 9:13 am      Motor Off: 2:45 pm      Miles Traveled: 28      Stayed At: Free Dock

Mile 697 to Mile 725: We are back in Minnesota again, on Aurora, since last fall. We are less than a week from our starting point in St. Paul, Minnesota. According to Sarah, we can’t get back before Wednesday (she has a business trip) so we won’t which means we will have to dawdle for a day or so. Hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can have a little pizza party on the dock like when we started. Should be another fun docktails.

Today didn’t look promising yesterday. The forecast was for rain and wind all day which is not enjoyable so why do it. We have been incredibly lucky with the weather so far so one ugly day is not an unexpected hardship. Luckily, it was overcast with low clouds all day but the rain and thunder headed farther south so it was actually a wonderful travel day sans sunshine. The low clouds made the hills and cliffs even more beautiful covering the hilltops and valleys in wispy white blankets. The locks were a breeze and it never rained or thundered.

We anchored last fall just north of Winona but decided, with the weather forecast, that being at a dock was a good idea. Plus, we were bummed last time when we stopped in Winona to get gas in the morning when we found out they have a nice park/wharf where you can stay overnight right downtown. So that’s what we did. We explored downtown, got gas, went out to eat and were back at the boat before dark. Tomorrow we are aiming for Wabasha before the long trek up Lake Pepin that is around 20+ miles long. Only a handful of hops left. After living life to the fullest for the last year+, what are we going to do next?

We’ll Sleep Good Tonight

Day 394: Thursday, October 3, 2013

Port to Port: MM 662 to Lacrosse, Wisconsin

Underway: 7:13 am      Motor Off: 1:52 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Congratulations Eddy and Linda/Spiritus – the world’s newest Gold Loopers – wish we could be there to celebrate. First time seeing a sign marking the state border – Minnesota of course.

Mile 662 to Mile 697: Another beautiful day on the Mighty Mississippi. I wish we had a bigger boat so we could have friends join us for a day to experience the river at 5 mph. We were able to leave on time because the fog decided to wait for another day. As we were heading north, we noticed a large dredging operation and tugboat basically angled all the way across the channel. Since there are wing dams around, we radioed the tug for instructions and he told us to just follow the red line by the buoys. Well, we couldn’t see the next red – it was behind the tug. As we go closer, though, the tug slid sideways closer to shore to give us more room to get by. They have to do that every time a boat goes by.

We made steady progress and were soon in Lacrosse where we decided to stay at the Municipal Marina. They don’t get many transients but had one empty slip where a houseboat had been but was gone at the moment. It wasn’t a 5 star place but the price was right – $16 – and the showers were hot. We were docked early enough to wander around town. We were tempted to go to Octoberfest but it looked like rain and we weren’t really excited about paying $10 each for the privelage to pay more money for some fair food. That would be an expensive corn dog.

We stopped at a coop to get a few groceries to last us until we get home, took showers, filled the water bottles and were tucked in and exhausted after a tough day motorsailing up the Mississippi. We have had no trouble sleeping this entire trip.

Steady As She Goes

Day 393: Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Port to Port: MM 627 to MM 662

Underway: 7:51 am      Motor Off: 4:15 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 627 to Mile 662: Cut and paste yesterday’s blog into this space.

The only difference between yesterday and today was that we didn’t get a ride to the gas station from a fisherman – I had to walk two blocks – and we had fog in the morning. Otherwise, the days were pretty much carbon copies. The scenery in this part of the river is amazing. High tree covered bluffs dot the landscape like something out of the 3D version of Avatar. When they are shrouded in a little fog it makes us feel like we are on a different world.

We made steady progress all day and, after trying one spot that was too shallow, we anchored behind an island just downstream from Lancing, Iowa. Our perfect weather is going to start changing with rain forecast overnight and tomorrow. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Click Here: Close Encounters

In Passing: Schmidt Island (Hi Cliff and Caroline), Island No. 172, Snake Island, Pikes Peak State Park, Fish Lake, Hanging Rock Light, Ryan Island (Hi Ryan), Japan Slough, Harpers Ferry, Butter Lake, Crooked Slough, Lynxville, Atchafalaya Bluff Light.

Total Miles: 6,515

Land of the Train

Land of the Train

Day 392: Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Port to Port: Dubuque to MM 627

Underway: 6:46 am      Motor Off: 5:39 pm      Miles Traveled: 47      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 580 to Mile 627: We left our slip at the loneliest marina of our trip and headed north again at first light. We had to wait for a truck to move off the railroad bridge and made it through the lock a couple miles later without delay. Two barriers down and only one more to go later this afternoon.

It’s becoming a broken record but we again had wonderful travel conditions. The nice steady west wind would have been perfect but we spent most of the day going generally west, right into the wind. We are in a section of the river which takes a big bend east and then bends back west before heading north again. We sailed some in the morning but couldn’t pinch the sail enough to make it worth it in the afternoon.

Our only stop today was in the little town of Cassville to fill up a gas container. A nice old guy who just pulled his well used jon boat from a morning fishing offered me a ride to and from the gas station about 4 blocks away. An always welcome gesture. It won’t be long now that I can stop worrying about keeping all the cans full, just in case, because the towns get closer together and bigger as we get closer to Minnesota.

We are reminded that we are in the land of the train along the Mississippi River. One is going by not to far to the east as I am writing this. Between the time we anchored and finished dinner we counted 5 trains going by. You better love trains if you live in any of these river towns. They blast their horns day and night.

It took us a few tries to find a deep enough spot to anchor. Coves or channels that look good on the chart often are filled with trees and logs or are too shallow to get into. We found a perfect spot on our third try and enjoyed steaks on the grill with fried red potatoes and salad for dinner as the sun disappeared behind the tree covered hills to the west. We are excited about getting home but thoroughly enjoying our bonus trip up the Mississippi River.

 FYI – The Boat:  Aurora is a 22’ Hunter sailboat built in 1981. She has a draft of 2.5 feet with the centerboard up and 5 feet with it down. Her beam is 7’11”. She has a displacement of 2,200 pounds (without all our junk) and has 1,300 pounds of lead ballast (I should have removed a couple hundred pounds before we left). She was built in a time when they built these small boats to look like mini-cruisers. A nice teak bulkhead separates a surprisingly spacious V-berth (I can sleep their fully stretched out at 6’ 5” and still have a few inches to spare). Decorative teak slats run horizontally along the backs of the port and starboard settee’s. A fold up teak table sits in the middle of the salon on top of the centerboard trunk. Two long quarter berths provide lots of storage for extra food bins on the starboard side and a comfortable sleeping berth for me on the port side. There are 13 large storage compartments under the V-berth, settee’s and in the cockpit. For our 2002 trip, I added a SS arch on the stern to mount the BBQ grill and to attach and tow the dinghy from. I also added a small teak swim platform on the port stern side. Lots of plastic bins and storage containers mounted on the teak slats provide a place for everything we use regularly. We power everything off two 12v deep cycle batteries charged by an alternator in Boris and our handy little solar panel. Our little home away for home is small we I can’t say we have “suffered” living in our cozy home the past year.


Day By Day

Day 391: Monday, September 30, 2013

Port to Port: Little Soup Bone Island to Dubuque, Iowa

Underway: 6:53 am      Motor Off: 1:58 pm      Miles Traveled: 38      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Saw our fist gigantic preying mantis – it was huge.

Mile 542 to Mile 580: Another chilly start today but, again, the temps rose into the low 70’s making for shorts and t-shirt weather by late morning. The sun is still intense at this time of year especially when you are out in it all day.

We made steady, wind-assisted progress mostly north again today. We were actually cruising at or just below 6 mph upstream for short bursts today. Thankfully there wasn’t significant fog this morning so we could get an early start. Traffic was light again with only a few fishing boats, the Twilight and one tow passing us during the day. The scenery is beautiful with just barely turning trees, high bluffs and lots of small islands. It’s hard to believe that in a month or two all the leaves will be gone and the ground could be white in places.

We arrived at the Dubuque Municipal Marina early in the afternoon giving us time to get some boat projects done and have time to wander around town. This is a high quality marina – they spent more on the aluminum ramps down to the docks than most marinas spend on there entire system of docks. We stayed here last fall for free because they had not opened yet (they missed the whole season). We didn’t mind. This time it cost us $1/foot but everything was open and working. What was surprising was that there were only two boats in the entire marina – a couple less than last fall. It is late in the season but most of the marinas we have been to still have had most of their boats in the water. Downtown Dubuque is not a huge boating destination but hopefully they will figure out a way to attract some business. It is one of the nicest facilities we have been in all year.

We wandered around exploring and ended up splurging on the buffet at the nearby casino. It always sounds better than it is but we enjoyed it and won’t have to eat for a day or two (but we will anyways, I’m sure). We are within spitting distance of the southern Wisconsin border – we should pass it 10 minutes after leaving the marina tomorrow morning. Now we just have to get to the Minnesota border. But we can’t get home before Wednesday of next week. Sarah has a business trip on Monday and Tuesday so we will have to suffer and slow down and enjoy the scenery an extra day or two. Rough life.

It’s All Downhill

Day 390: Sunday, September 29, 2013

Port to Port: Le Claire to Little Soup Bone Island

Underway: 6:48 am      Motor Off: 4:24 pm      Miles Traveled: 45      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 497 to Mile 542: It was cold last night. The temperature was 50˚ in the cockpit when we got up. The sky was clear and a light wispy fog added a nice accent to the early morning scene. After getting ice and some warm drinks at the gas station, we bundled up in the cool air, started Boris and cast off our lines. What a beautiful and surreal sunrise over the river. We never get tired of the view from the water.

The current must have been light because we were making over 5.5 mph upstream at our normal motor setting. The water was calm. The fog gradually thickened as we moved north – you could see it flow down a shallow valley ahead and spread out over the river. We slowed a little and hugged the west shore where we knew there weren’t any wing dams and the water was deep. It took almost an hour for the fog to completely burn off but we were able to keep moving slowly north. We only saw a couple fishing boats on the water – also moving slowly – and never had to pass a tow, thankfully.

Another gorgeous travel day. We just cruised on a calm and mostly empty river. A couple hours after leaving Le Claire, the Twilight cruise boat passed us going north. They docked just a few hundred feet down from us in Le Claire. The Twilight looks like an old passenger boat from 100 years ago. It takes tourists on two-day excursions up to the casinos and hotels in Dubuque and then back home. That and a few bass fishermen was all the traffic for this Sunday morning. We soon came to our first and only lock – Lock 13 – for the day. We only waited about 20 minutes while they flushed a bunch of weeds out of the lock chamber and we were soon on our way again.

The afternoon was pretty much like the morning. We wound our way upstream with a nice gentle sail assist until we got to Sabula, Iowa where a convenient courtesy dock and gas station were ideally positioned just off the channel for a quick refueling stop. We only needed one can filled but when it is this convenient, it is wise to stop and refill. We passed the halfway point home on our Mississippi River journey at Mile 531 at about 1:36 pm in the afternoon. Our next milestone will be the Wisconsin state line near Dubuque and then the Minnesota state line later this week.

We passed our first tow late in the afternoon, on a sharp corner with a huge dredging operation in the way. It looked worse than it was and we passed each other on the one-whistle (port to port) with lots of room to spare. We passed by the anchorage where we stayed last fall to get a few more miles in on such a nice day and ended up at Little Soup Bone Island (right near Big Soup Bone Island) at MM 542. A good choice. Nice depths. Beautiful scenery. No train tracks nearby. And quiet.

We quickly checked off items on our to do list – clean rust stains from locks off hull, clean decks, scrub bottom, bucket bath, plot route – and made one of our favorite dinners, meat loaf with red potatoes and beans. We can’t make a loaf-type meat loaf so we mix the meat just like we do normally and make small patties out of it to fry in a pan just like a hamburger. It works perfect and we even have leftovers for meat loaf sandwiches the next day. What a treat.

As soon as the sun went down behind the hills, the temps started dropping and we quickly finished cleaning up before heading inside to relax and read until we couldn’t keep our eyes open. This seems to take less and less time each day. We’ll be turning the lights out by 8 pm by the time we get to Minnesota at the rate we are going. This Looping thing is hard work I quess.

FYI – Things I would do different: Aurora and Boris have performed amazingly well on this trip. There aren’t too many things I would do different but a few things come to mind. A simple, light, collapsible companionway cover would be nice to keep the weather out but still allow us to stand up in a small area in the cabin. If I did the trip again I would add an autopilot so we didn’t have to hand steer for 6,000 plus miles. We thought about adding a tiller pilot this trip but they were expensive, added weight, and were another power draw that we didn’t need. A smaller, lighter dinghy would have been nice because we have had the dinghy on deck for much of the trip taking up space and subtracting from our waterline. Bikes would be wonderful but they were too heavy and bulky for Aurora. New cushions with denser foam and divided into three sections instead of two would have made sleeping more comfy and allowed easier access to the many storage bins on the boat.  A wind meter would be fun to have for entertainment. Better phone service – the best for the Great Loop is either Verizon or ATT – would be a must-add even with the added expense. A custom 10+ gallon gas tank would have saved me a lot of time refilling – sometimes at difficult times – and would have allowed us to carry one fewer auxiliary tanks. I tried to find a bigger one before we left but didn’t have time to get one custom made for our fuel locker.

R and R and R and R and R….

Day 389: Saturday, September 28, 2013

Port to Port: Le Claire, Iowa

Underway: 0:00 am      Motor Off: 0:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 0      Stayed At: City Dock

First Things First: First free ice cream social.

Mile 497 to Mile 497: It was a day for rest, relaxation, reading, restaurants, rah, rah rah, rock and roll and rescue. Wait, what? Rescue? Thankfully, not us, but the universe gave us another reminder to be cautious out there.

We decided to be good little sailors and stay securely tied up for the day even though a nice south breeze was forecast for the day. A little too nice. By late morning the winds were expected to be 15 mph out of the south with gusts to almost 30. Not a fun day to be on the river going north no matter how big a boost we would get. Rain was also forecast for the late afternoon and we needed a little break from the daily grind. So we stayed and were really glad we did.

The morning was beautiful, of course, with light winds and sunshine testing our resolve. We walked a couple miles to have breakfast at McDonald’s (none of the restaurants in our part of town were open for breakfast) and get a little exercise. What a nice day so far. We stopped at a grocery store on the way back and briefly veered up someone’s driveway to look at a small motorhome – cheap but too small and too old – before returning to the boat. Cindy read while I did some internet research and ordered something online. I happened to look out the companionway and noticed a police boat in the channel and then another one and a white triangular thing sticking up out of the water and then some flashing lights at the boat landing near us. Huh. By this time, we were rockin’ and rollin’ pretty good with a strong south wind and waves rolling north up the river against the current. Not a good day to be on the water. It turns out three guys were out fishing in a small, open bow runabout just upstream from us trying to make headway in the waves when the transom section where the outboard was mounted started pulling away allowing water to flood into the little boat unimpeded. It sank almost immediately. All that remained above water was about 3 feet of the bow. By the time we noticed the commotion the three guys had already made it to shore – probably picked up by a passing fishing boat – soaking wet but okay. They must not have yelled or we would have heard them.

They spent the next couple hours towing the boat to shore and dragging it upside down up the boat ramp. The story even made the local TV news on WQAD in the Quad Cities. We were parked right where they set up the TV camera to film the boat floating mostly underwater right by the dock. This is the second sunken boat we have witnessed – the other was in Delaware City, again in nasty weather conditions but that boat hit an underwater dike. These are good reminders to be conservative sailors and not take anything for granted no matter how “experienced” you think you are.

After all the excitement, we decided to wander down to a free ice cream social a couple blocks down and enjoy some treats before the rain started. Well, we enjoyed the treats but the rain started a little early. It didn’t last long, though, and we were able to get back to the boat without getting wet. Off and on mist and sprinkles kept us inside for the rest of the evening. Thankfully, the wind started dying a little in the late afternoon making conditions less lumpy. We were able to find the Iowa – Minnesota football game on our EyeTV device and watched until it became too painful and switched to watching a couple of movies on Netflix  – we found a random internet signal that was decent and the movies streamed without a hiccup – better than most marina internet we have paid for. Tomorrow we head north again – we should pass the halfway point home. A nice milestone to look forward too.

Eagles In The Sunrise

Day 388: Friday, September 27, 2013

Port to Port: Muscatine to Le Claire, Iowa

Underway: 6:26 am      Motor Off: 3:01 pm      Miles Traveled: 42       Stayed At: Free Dock

First Things First: First time getting to lock through an auxiliary lock.

Mile 455 to Mile 497: I love traveling in the early morning (Cindy tolerates it) – the air is cool, the sunrise ever changing and the river is calm (usually). We were up especially early today. I was walking up to the gas station to fill our last container and get a coffee by 6 am – it was still dark out. Our first lock is only a mile away and we want to get through it first thing if we can so we called them on phone to see what was happening. It turned out that our timing was perfect. A tow was just getting done coming down and as soon as they were clear, we could sneak right in. We cast off and boogied down there just as the tow was leaving and we were ready to go up in minutes. It was especially nice of the lockmaster to call us back on the phone as we got closer to tell us to move over to the green side to allow the tow to pass easily – that was above and beyond the call (especially because it was still a little dark out).

We were rewarded for our early morning start with one of the best sunrises we have seen this entire trip. As we came around the corner, past a point of land outside the lock, a huge red/orange fireball surrounded by wispy purple and blue grey clouds greeted us. I took 20 or more pictures trying to capture the moment but they can’t do it justice. We were even treated to the sight of a bald eagle swooping across the sun heading off to find breakfast somewhere along the river. Another one of many Great Loop moments to remember.

Our weather luck held out again with warm sunshine and a favorable breeze. Except for the three locks we went through, we were able to motorsail on a beam reach most of the day. Amazing. We also lucked out with the locks. We thought for sure it would be a two or three hour wait at the second lock because there was a part of a tow sitting at the lock and another one was coming up a little way behind us. We were pleasantly surprised when the lockmaster said he would take us through the auxiliary lock – a first. The third lock was also ready for us when we got there. We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

We arrived mid-afternoon in LeClaire, Iowa – home of Antique Archeology and the TV show American Pickers. This is a clean, vibrant touristy town. We didn’t have much time to visit when we stopped last fall – it was one of the few really rainy days of our trip. The weather may be a little boisterous tomorrow so we might stay an extra day to shop and explore.

After securing the boat and getting gas, we wandered down to the Antique Archeology Store to look around – they are building a nice new building right next door so they must be doing pretty well. We were too lazy to cook so we found some amazing hamburgers (why is it so hard to get a good hamburger) at Sneaky Pete’s. We could even see Aurora at the town dock from our table.

Although we are traveling alone on the river, we are not lonely. We are trading texts with our friends traveling south and hearing fun stories about their travels and have been able to email and call home regularly. It makes the river a little less remote and home a little closer. We will pass the halfway mark up river on our next travel day. Wish us luck.

Hot Stuff

Day 387: Thursday, September 26, 2013

Port to Port: Oquawka to Muscatine, Iowa

Underway: 6:53 am      Motor Off: 3:09 pm      Miles Traveled: 40      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First time using our newly gifted 12v fan in the cockpit while underway (thanks Kent and Jane).

Mile 415 to Mile 455: It’s HOT! Who would have guessed in late September we would be traveling in shorts and t-shirts and still sweating in the afternoon. It was 86˚ in the cockpit today and it felt a lot hotter when we got to the marina. (We are not complaining, though, just pleasantly surprised).

I forgot to write about a memorable experience we had yesterday late in the day. It was a reminder that no matter how quiet it seems on the river, you still have to be alert and cautious. We were a couple miles above the lock heading for Oquawka and I could see a couple of tugboats off in the distance – one right behind the other. Not to worry as we were off on the red side of the channel and they should pass us easily on our port side – no barges to worry about. As they got closer I adjusted my course even farther over to the red side as they seemed to be cutting the corner kind of tight. Tugboats without barges to push go a lot faster so we were closing quicker than usual. Every time I turned a little more right, the tugboat kept aiming right at us. I finally took off at a right angle to get out of the way but it was a close call. It was especially disconcerting to look into the bridge windows of the lead tug and not see any people. It turned out a smaller tug was pushing a bigger tug downriver and I don’t think the “captain” even saw us until we passed by his port side. I was not a happy camper. I’m sure we showed up on his radar but you have to look at the radar to see anything. It was a definite wake up call to take nothing for granted on the water.

Today was a lot like yesterday – hot, light breeze and lots of sunshine. We left our perfect anchorage at sunrise and headed north again. Even though we “only” had 40 miles to travel today and one lock, for some reason we were exhausted when we got to Muscatine. Thankfully we got in early enough to get our boat projects done and still have time to explore and go out to eat. After getting gas and putting everything away, we wandered up to a combination Mexican deli/grocery store that popped up on Google Maps. The store was a little sketchy looking but we liked the guy who greeted us when we walked in and decided to stay and have some authentic Mexican food for dinner – it’s too hot to cook. We enjoyed the food and service – a lot more interesting experience than eating at a chain store.

Even though the sun was getting low in the sky, the days heat was still radiating from the brick walls of the buildings. Lots of people and kids were outside on their steps or hanging out on the sidewalks. This is definitely a working class town just trying to scratch out a living on the edge of the Mississippi River. We found a Hyvee Pharmacy nearby and went inside to waste some time and found a full service grocery store inside including a meat counter and fresh fruits and vegetables. A welcome discovery since we needed a few things and the closest grocery on Google Maps was several miles away. We stocked up on a few essentials and walked back to the boat sweating all the way. We shared a pint of cheap cookie dough ice cream (we’re thinking of you Eddy and Linda) and relaxed and read before calling it another amazing day on the Mississippi River.

FYI – Cooking: We have a pretty slick system for cooking. We are using the same cook kit I made for our trip in 2002. I mounted a standard Coleman camping stove on the removable top to a medium size cooler. There is a small air gap under the stove and I put a piece of fireproof cloth (used by plumbers) under there to provide a little insulation from the heat. We store all our pans, dishes, silverware and cups in the cooler. I just lift the top off and set in on the cockpit seat, attach the propane tank and we are ready to cook. There is a place for everything and everything in its place. We can even bake muffins, cupcakes, rolls and pizza in a camper oven that we have with too. Cleanup is easy. We just heat some water, add soap and wash the dishes in the cockpit. Everything goes right back into the cooler. We have been lucky to have nice weather most days when we need to cook – we have been forced to have cereal or crackers and cheese, inside the salon, only a couple of times in the past year because of wind or rain.


Paddling Along With Huck Finn

Day 386: Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Port to Port: Keokuk to Oquawka, Iowa

Underway: 6:52 am      Motor Off: 4:54 pm      Miles Traveled: 50      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 365 to Mile 415: We have been so incredibly lucky so far on the Mississippi – the weather has been phenomenal, the traffic light and Aurora and Boris keep chugging along. Today was no different – bright sunshine, wispy clouds, borderline hot by the afternoon and light winds. The piece of wood trim we keep knocking on is starting to get a dent worn in it.

We left early as usual just behind Randy on Timeless. He was soon way ahead and out of sight – he planned to go 90 miles today so we probably won’t see him again. We started noticing our first fall colors today. They are faint but some trees are definitely starting to change adding some variations in the green we see all over the hills and cliffs. The Mississippi is a gem that not many people get to enjoy. It is a bit of a challenge to navigate but, as long as you stay in the channel and use caution and a little local knowledge when you can find it, it is fun to explore.

We thought of stopping in Burlington but we didn’t need anything and we were making good progress. At least they had some nice courtesy docks to use, unlike many towns along the river. Our first anchor spot – the same one we used last fall – would have allowed us to avoid going through any locks today but we arrived there by 2 pm – way too early to stop on an ideal travel day. Plus a nice bridge operator at the Burlington swing bridge told us the lock wasn’t expecting any tows soon so we kept traveling 5 miles to the lock and were glad we did. We didn’t even have to slow down – we just motored right on in and we were out the other end in about 15 minutes. Well worth the hour travel. Our only challenge now was finding a new spot to stay for the night. There are a lot on wing dams, shallow water and stump fields surrounding the islands in this part of the river. We first spent time checking for any docks in Oquawka but they were too shallow (even for us) so we backtracked and slowly motored in behind a U-shaped wing dam in front of a small island. Thankfully, the wing dams are 4-5 feet above the water so they are easy to see and there weren’t any stumps in our chosen area. In fact, it was one of the best anchorages we have had so far on the Mississippi.

We enjoyed one of our favorite dinners – beef tips with rice – al fresco sitting in the cockpit watching the sunset get more and more stunning. We were serenaded by the ubiquitous cicadas on the islands surrounding us. Tomorrow we stop in Muscatine IA. And, instead of a 50 mile day, we have whittled that down to only 40 miles by “working” a little harder today. Rough life we live.

In Passing:  Nauvoo, Devil’s Island, Fort Madison, Lead Island Chute, Turkey Island, Goose Pond, Dollar Island, Two Mile Island (not the radioactive one), Willow Bar, Honey Creek Bar, Baby Rush Island, Burlington.

Only One State To Go

Day 385: Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Port to Port: Quincy to Keokuk, Iowa

Underway: 6:48 am      Motor Off: 4:10 pm      Miles Traveled: 38      Stayed At: Yacht Club

Mile 327 to Mile 365: After a surprisingly quiet night tied up at the small dock by the boat landing in Keokuk (we just couldn’t bring ourselves to pay $22 to stay at the Yacht Club dock like last time and not have any services like bathrooms and showers) we left at first light again. It was another ideal travel day – sunshine, moderate temps and a following breeze. As soon as we passed under the bridge (twice) to get heading north again, we put the main up and left it up until we came to our first lock. It was way better than we could hope for.

We lucked out on our first lock too – no tows in sight – but we had to wait a little while for them to finish some maintenance on the upstream gates before they lowered it for us and we went on our way. We weren’t so lucky at Lock 19 at Keokuk, though. A large tow was just entering the lock when we arrived and we expected a 2+ hour wait – you would be amazed at how slow these tows go in and out of the locks. Luckily, this lock was able to swallow the whole tow in one bite so the process was much quicker than expected. We were able to tie up to the outside wall while we waited, too.

As we were approaching the lock, Randy, the delivery captain we first met in Quincy caught up to us. We were surprised to see him because the boat he is piloting was having problems and he thought he would be stuck in Quincy for a day or two. Two bolts on the prop struts had failed and fallen out allowing water to pour into the boat. The bilge pumps kept up with the inflow but just barely. He was able to plug the leaks temporarily but he needed some special long bolts that were getting express mailed (and we know how well that works sometimes). Then he needed a diver to go down and install the bolts from below. Amazingly, his parts came in first thing and the diver had the bolts in and tight soon after. Everything else was okay so off he went by mid morning. Lucky (and expensive)!

We all locked through smoothly – this is a very deep lock but, thankfully, it has floating bollards which are much easier to use than the lines dropped down from the top. Cindy was a happy girl. Keokuk Yacht Club was only a couple miles from the lock and we both pulled in to stop for the night. They have a nice bar right on the water and we even chatted with one of the guys we met over a year ago here – I think he was sitting on the same bar stool as last time. After our boat projects were done, Randy called a taxi and we joined him on a short road trip to an Italian restaurant in downtown. We had a nice meal and listened to some fun boat delivery stories before heading back to the marina for showers and relaxation. I was able to get a hold of Gary and Pauline who we met last time also – he loaned us his truck to go to Walmart. It was too late to get together but we chatted for a while about our trip – he even offered to leave a car at the Yacht Club if we ever plan to come through again. Amazing! We just may have to come back some day…and stay a few days.

FYI – Refrigeration: We obviously don’t have a refrigerator or freezer on our little boat. Not enough power to run one. We do have a large cooler that we used on our trip in 2002. It fits perfectly, out of the way, in a space under the companionway stairs. I redesigned it for that trip and only added a 2” piece of insulation to the top for this much longer trip. I added three clear, deep, rectangular bins inside which fit perfectly side by side and reach to within 3/4” of the bottom. The two end bins are for food storage and they both have drain holes in the bottom. The center bin is for ice storage – we put the ice in heavy zip-locks to catch the cold filtered water for drinking and any water or condensation is captured in the bottom of the bin. We almost never have to pull the cooler to empty water out of the bottom, we have cold water everyday and our food doesn’t get soggy. We only need to add ice every couple of days.  It works pretty darn good.

Rollin’ On The River

Day 384: Monday, September 23, 2013

Port to Port: Gilbert Island to Quincy, Illinois

Underway: 6:42 am      Motor Off: 5:04 pm      Miles Traveled: 33      Stayed At: Free Dock

Mile 294 to Mile 327: After enjoying a quiet and gorgeous evening at anchor near Gilbert Island – the moonrise was particularly memorable glinting off the dark surface of the still water – we slept soundly and woke early with first light. Not only was there no fog to be seen but the sky was clear and the wind calm. And no tows in sight. What more could you ask for?

We were off quickly and made good time northward. We were able to put up the sail and get a good assist until we took it down for the first lock. We lucked out on our third lock – we were able to go right in and lock up without waiting. Third times the charm.

We made it to our first stop in Hannibal well before lunch. I walked to the post office to get a package we have been chasing since we left Chicago and I made a second trip to a gas station about 10 blocks away to fill one tank and get ice. We are set for a couple days now (or more).

The afternoon winds were a little stiffer than the morning – luckily straight from the south so they gave us a significant boost toward Quincy. We cruised, sometimes a little overpowered, upriver at 5.7+ mph until we saw a tow in the distance and decided to slow down. It was the David Griggs again. We keep meeting up with him. He was waiting along the side of the river for his turn in Lock 21 so we knew we were going to be waiting for a couple of hours again.

We didn’t let this “downtime” go to waste, though. We anchored by the shore, outside the channel and got to work. We had lunch, we took chilly but much needed bucket baths in the cockpit, filled the primary gas can, cleaned up the cockpit floor, worked on the blog and worked on a few other minor projects. By getting them done at anchor, we had more time to wander around Quincy.

Before we knew it, the Griggs was through the lock and we were on our way to Quincy. We stopped at the Yacht Club dock like last time. We met Randy, a delivery captain, bringing an older Hatteras yacht up the river to Moline, Illinois for the owner. He was having some problems with water infiltration (the boat was sinking for a while) and he was waiting for parts. We wandered into town – a long walk uphill away from the river bottom – to try to find a place to eat out. Little did we know that almost all the restaurants in town (not too many to choose from, actually) had chosen Monday as their day off and were closed. So we finally gave up and found some frozen gourmet White Castle hamburgers that we could heat up quickly in the camper oven and returned to the boat just as the sun was setting. We moved the boat over to the municipal dock at the boat landing – we didn’t feel like paying $22 for no services – and chatted with a local couple – Lynn and Kevin – walking their rather large dog Maggie (who lucked out and got some left over treats we had onboard for Squirt on Carina). Dinner turned out surprisingly tasty and we quickly ate and retired below before the bugs came out. Another interesting and productive day on the Great Loop.

Final Exam Time

Day 383: Sunday, September 22, 2013

Port to Port: Timberlake to Gilbert Island Anchorage

Underway: 8:41 am      Motor Off: 6:57 pm      Miles Traveled: 36      Stayed At: Anchor

Mile 258 to Mile 294: Today was a test – a test of whether we have changed our perspective on life after a year on the Great Loop or not. It is still a struggle not to be in a rush to get somewhere but we are learning.

We got up with the first light (easy to do when you are sleeping by 9 pm) and couldn’t see the nearest shoreline only 50 feet away. It was white everywhere. The thickest fog we have seen so far this trip. We decided to use the time productively by making a hot breakfast and some hot water for coffee and hot chocolate. It took over 2 hours for the fog to burn off enough for us to weigh anchor and motor upstream. Our progress was interrupted by a wall of stubborn fog on the main river which took another half hour to dissipate. Patience is a virtue, grasshopper….

We made steady progress toward our next obstacle – Lock 24. We knew this was going to be another test since we followed a long tow all the way to the lock. It didn’t pay to try to go around it at 5.5 mph since we wouldn’t be far enough ahead for them to let us lock up before they arrived. So we patiently played follow the leader and ended up waiting 2.5 hours before we were totally through the lock. We actually lucked out because another tow pulled up while we were waiting and could have requested passage before us but thankfully didn’t. We again used the time wisely – instead of wallowing for all that time, we anchored below the dam, had lunch and spent time reading. See, we are learning.

  On the way up river we stopped at Louisiana, Missouri just like we did last fall. Only this time the nice dock we stopped at last time was gone – probably a victim of the flooding this summer – - and instead tied up to a tiny dock next to the boat ramp. I wandered a few blocks to the gas station and passed by Isola’s Place on the way back – she survived the floods and her restaurant looks good. It was closed so late in the day but it was nice to see she recovered and is still in business.

The journey up river kept getting more beautiful. We were alone on the water. No tows in front or behind us (at least that we could see). The sunset was perfect. The skies were deep blue. And our anchorage was so quiet it is hard to get used to (after listening to Boris’ deep drone all day). Hopefully we are done with the testing and tomorrow will be a field trip day.