New Friends, Old Friends

Day 26: Sunday, September 30, 2012

Underway: 6:50 am      Motor Off: 1:45 pm      Miles Traveled: 24      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First noticeable fall colors; first time we had to stop and wait for fog to clear.

Mile 2 (Tenn) to Mile 32 (Cumberland): The morning dawned bright with slight overcast as we left our cozy anchorage for our next stop – Green Turtle Bay Marina on Barkley Lake. Even though most guidebooks recommend traveling an extra 20 miles up the Ohio and then 30 miles down the Cumberland River, we decided to try our luck with the Tennessee. It is usually busy with barge traffic but early Sunday morning proved to be a quiet time to travel the river. We also called the lock early to find out their status and it looked like locking through would be fairly quick late morning. Our only challenge on the Tennessee was fog which rolled down from the hills midmorning forcing us to pull over to the side to wait till it cleared – probably a wise idea since we couldn’t see shore 30 feet away. We just relaxed, made some coffee/hot chocolate and ate breakfast to pass the time.

We were underway again in less than an hour and soon arrived at the Kentucky Lock. This lock is huge. And we were the only ones in it as we were raised 50+ feet up to the elevation of Kentucky Lake – a 184 mile long lake created by the dam after it was built in the 60’s. Barkley Lake is a parallel 118 mile lake created by the Barkley Dam. This is a boater’s paradise. The land in between the two lakes is called the Land Between the Lakes (creative marketing) – and is filled with parks, trails and campgrounds. What an amazing place to spend the next couple of weeks.

After transiting the lock and passing through a short canal between the lakes we finally arrived at Green Turtle Bay Marina near Grand Rivers, Kentucky where we are going to rough it for the next week – showers, electricity, water, ships store, Yacht Club restaurant, Dockside restaurant, indoor pool, sauna, fitness center, spa, courtesy van, golf cart rentals and free coffee in the marina office.  What more could we need. With our Looper Membership, it will cost us only $130 to stay for the week – it pays to have a small boat too at the usual $1.25 per foot.

Within minutes of arriving at GTB, Richard and Theresa on “It’ll be Alright” helped us get tied up to our slip a few boats down and we chatted for awhile. They are leaving on a 2-3 year Caribbean sailing adventure in about 10 days (but somehow seemed awfully relaxed about all the last minute tasks they needed to finish). They came by later to offer us pulled pork sandwiches for dinner, which, by the time we were cleaned up and settled in at 8 pm, we hungrily ate while enjoying lively conversation in It’ll Be Alright’s spacious main salon (with it’s 6’8” headroom). I can’t wait to read about some of their adventurers over the next couple of years.

While we were cleaning the boat in the afternoon, a 24’ McGreggor sailboat passed by our end of the dock slip and we started talking to the couple onboard. Forty-five minutes later we said goodbye to Carla and Craig on “Time Out” with plans to try to cross paths later. They stopped by our boat after dark to drop off some dessert – peanut butter cups – and hopefully we can get together later before we start traveling south again. They might be future Loopers – you could tell by the look in their eyes they may have gotten the bug.

The third couple we met was Ron and Lynn on Northern Spirit – a beautiful 33’ Beneteau sailboat. Cindy wants one. They are Loopers from Ontario, Canada near Toronto so we talked about our trip through the Trent Severn Canal System and all the fun we had in Canada in 2002. We made plans to stop by later for a tour.

Marina Rule #1 – always leave three times as much times as you need to do a project since you will always end up talking to someone you know or meeting someone new anytime you walk up to the office or bathrooms. I went to take a shower and start our laundry on our first night at GTB and didn’t return to the boat for over 2 hours. I made it to the laundry room/shower without incident and finished Phase 1 in only about 35 minutes. While waiting 45 minutes for the clothes to dry, I headed back to Aurora but only got as far as Northern Spirit. Bob and Donnell from Grand Cru were there chatting so I stopped to say hi and the next thing I knew I was invited aboard Northern Spirit for a quick tour and drink. Forty minutes later I remembered the laundry and thought Cindy might be wondering what had happened to me so I left to finish what I started 90 minutes before. The dryer had 8 minutes left so I went out to say hi to Rumpshaker who had just arrived and welcome them to GTB. It was like old-home week. We were really glad to see each other and made plans to get together the next day to get caught up and go to Walmart to restock. I finally stuffed our not completely dry clothes in a bag and got back to Aurora 2+ hour after I left. (Now you know one of the reasons the blog posts have been slow to be updated lately). Cindy had long ago finished her projects and already broken open a bottle of wine without me. Next time she’ll have to send out a search party.

In Passing: Gilbertville.

Slow Down and Enjoy the BBQ

Day 25: Saturday, September 29, 2012

Underway: 7:03 am      Motor Off: 12:25 pm      Miles Traveled: 13      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First time going through an upbound lock (Lock 52 on the Ohio river raised us about 10’); first random festival – Paducah, Kentucky Riverfront Rib Fest, first idiot drunk boaters of entire trip.

Mile 946 to Mile 933 (Mile 2 on the Tennessee): We passed into Kentucky yesterday – it’s starting to feel like we are getting closer to the south everyday. We hear lots of ads on the radio for Nascar and guns. After an early start we decided to make a gas stop in Metropolis Illinois – the home of Superman – at a small dock at the local boat landing in Fort Massac State Park. Keith, who just finished the night shift by spending a few minutes eating his breakfast while watching the traffic go by on the river, offered me a ride to the gas station which I decided to take advantage of to save a little time. Fort Massac is a beautiful park right on the edge of town with walking trails, a restored fort and a convenient boat landing. Gas and groceries only took a few minutes and we were underway in less than 90 minutes – a record I think.

After an uneventful passage through lock 52 – our first official upbound lock – we stopped in Paducah, Kentucky. The lock tender told us that the Riverfront Rib Fest was underway there with good music and great food – perfect timing too since it was lunch time. What was supposed to be a quick lunch stop for BBQ ended up being a permanent stop for the day. Paducah is another beautiful river city hidden behind a seawall but they have made the inside wall into an amazing work of art and history with dozens of large scale murals depicting historical events in the area. Well worth the visit alone. As we were eating our BBQ and treats, Grand Cru – a pristine Island Packet 440 sailboat arrived and, after helping them tie off at the end of the dock, we met Bob and Donnell who are also doing the Loop. We were jealous when they offloaded their bikes to go for a ride around Paducah to get some exercise.

Our first bad experience with other boaters also happened at Padukah. The owners of several speed boats (the kind of totally impractical boats that look like giant phallic symbols) that had tied up at the end of the dock came back well lubricated from the beer garden and decided to make some noise and show off to the other drunks standing around on shore. They went up the Tennessee River a little ways and came back at full speed within 100’ of the shoreline sending up huge wakes which caused the boats tied off at the dock to rock back and forth violently. They did this several times. Two bumpers on the boat behind us were ripped off and our toe rail caught on the dock leaving behind a gouge. It was lucky we stayed with the boat to try to fend it off or the damage would have been much worse. The Grand Cru came within a couple inches of taking out their teak rail on a large bollard (would have been thousands of dollars in damage). Its lucky the idiot boaters chose not to come back onto the dock – I would have been spending a little extra time in Paducah not having BBQ for supper. We decided we didn’t feel safe on the dock so we moved to a quiet anchorage a few minutes down the Tennessee River that turned out to be the best anchorage yet. Hopefully it will be at least another 4 weeks before our next encounter with the inevitable idiot boaters.

After anchoring along the river, we relaxed, read a little and crashed early – one more day to Green Turtle Bay.

Lessons Learned: If you don’t feel safe, move sooner rather than later.

More Dam Excitement

Day 24: Friday, September 28, 2012

Underway: 7:25 am      Motor Off: 4:35 pm      Miles Traveled: 35      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First:
First dam without a lock to go through; first time cruising uphill, first time (we think) that we didn’t stop somewhere along the way; passed by first new lock under construction (Ohlmstead Lock – a major decade long + construction project.

Mile 1 (Mississippi) to Mile 946 (OH): The day started overcast but calm. You can’t believe everything you read. We were under the impression that the Ohio River would be an easy 60 miles against a gentle downstream current. This information is critical to your mileage, speed and gas consumption estimates. The current turned out to be much stronger than expected. Probably 2.5 – 3 mph versus the expected less than 1 mph. Lots of swirls, eddys and whirlpools to navigate through. Boris had to work hard just to get us up to 3.5 mph average speed all day.

The one lock we needed to navigate is old and has an odd dam design that allows the wall to be dropped down to the riverbed so boats can go right through bypassing the locks when the upstream and downstream river levels are the same – yah! But there was a penalty (of course). We couldn’t figure out why the tow that passed us slowed down almost to a stop near the lock wall. We never dreamed that he was almost stopped dead by the current created by the flow of water through the opening in the dam. When we got there the GPS read “0” mph – not a good thing. Luckily (and thankfully), Boris had another 1/2 mph in him. At full throttle and after moving way too close to the lock wall for comfort, we were able to pull away to safety after about 20 minutes of high anxiety and stress.

Anchorages are few and far between on the Ohio River. One that we heard about has completely disappeared – probably under water. So we tucked in by a sandbar behind a huge power transmission tower well outside the channel, near Metropolis Illinois, in about 4.5 feet of water. Not perfect but better than out in the open completely unprotected. After a great meal of fried potatoes and steak, we cleaned up (ourselves and the boat), read for a little while after dark, and crashed about 8:30 pm (don’t laugh – we are usually exhausted by 7 pm).

Tows and Treats

Day 23: Thursday, September 27, 2012

Underway: 7:30 am      Motor Off: 5:40 pm      Miles Traveled: 59 miles     Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: Passed by first cajun restaurant in Cape Girardeau; first 30 barge tow (5 across by 6 long – yikes); first mail (woohoo!).

Mile 60 to Mile 1:
We were in the same place we were before we went to bed last night – that’s always a good thing. Only a 50% chance of rain today – do we go or do we stay?

Today we made a good choice. Except for a little high fog and early sprinkles, the day gradually switched over to puffy clouds and bright sunshine – perfect drying weather for all of our wet gear. Aurora looks like a laundry barge but dry stuff is better than wet stuff on a 22’ boat any day. After a short 8 mile motor from our slightly sketchy anchorage we found the dock we were looking for – the only dock anywhere on the waterfront along Cape Girardeau, Illinois. The dock is used by Kidd River Fuel to sell diesel fuel to powerboats and working boats on the river. Charles was nice to let us tie up long enough to go get gas and, more importantly, visit the post office to pick up some highly anticipated packages. The dock is 50’ long which is about as long as our dock at home but when a 46’ powerboat is docked there, 50’ is pretty short. We waited while they fueled up and soon docked and went to shore.

Cape Girardeau is a touristy college town with lots of interesting shops and restaurants. The town is hidden behind a tall seawall the top of which is probably 50’ from the current water level. A sign near the large metal sea gate (only closed during flooding) says that any boat tied off for more than 24 hours needs a permit. This is odd since the few large bollards (cleats used to tie off large barges) are currently 25’ above the river and 25’ back from the edge of the water – not much of a chance of tying off here.

It’s too bad we usually don’t have much time to sight-see – especially on this difficult stretch of the river. When there are docks, we usually don’t feel secure leaving the boat empty. Most of the time, though, we need to get to the next secure anchorage or marina and spending 2-3 hours in a town just doesn’t fit into the day’s schedule. Priorities are usually gas, restrooms, food and water.

We got to Cape Girardeau early and I hiked about a 3 mile loop up to the nearest gas station pulling our folding cart with two empty 5 gallon gas cans and a large bag with miscellaneous junk we are shipping home. After getting gas, I rolled my now much heavier cart to the post office to trade junk for treats. Luckily, all 5 packages/letters we were expecting from Jess, Sarah, Grandma A and Grandma G were eventually tracked down and I trekked back to the boat – this is what has counted as exercise on this trip so far. But it is better than nothing. But now we can celebrate by trying out the homemade goodies – what an amazing treat. We are going to need to ration them or we’ll need a bigger boat soon. Thanks everyone – it was worth the wait. We are now set for the next 140 mile stretch to Green Turtle Bay Marina – sounds tropical and we can’t wait.

Mike met Ron, a fellow traveler on the river heading down the Mississippi after starting in eastern Wisconsin on the Illinois River. We actually noticed his tent on a sandbar as we came into CG so it was nice to hear another river story. Ron was laid off from his job, his unemployment ran out and he lost his house so he packed up his dog and the gear he needed and left down the river for warmer climates and hopefully a better life. Surprisingly, he has been traveling 30-40 miles per day on the fast part of the river – kind of amazing since we only go 50 miles on our best days. Good luck on your search Ron.

I have a deal for you. Thousands of feet of riverfront property. All sand. Beautiful. Usually under water but a nice place to pitch a tent. We have seen dozens of long sandy beaches especially on this lower part of the Mississippi but haven’t been able to spare the 2-3 hours it would take to anchor, inflate the dinghy, get to shore, run around for awhile, get back to the boat, deflate the dinghy and get back on the river. There aren’t enough hours of daylight to get to a safe anchorage and take long breaks.

After getting past all the tow traffic near Cape Girardeau, we had a nice cruise down the last 50 miles of the Mississippi – wow! A nice milestone to check off. And we passed the 800 mile mark at Mile 45 at about 12:20 pm. We anchored in a large protected cove called Angelo Towhead at Mile 1 on the Upper Mississippi. We were joined later by Lady Barbara, a large motor yacht that came in and quietly anchored where we both enjoyed a nice sunset and quiet night. The captain of the Lady Barbara has been all over the river systems, up and down the gulf and east coast and through the Great Lakes. Definitely a nice way to travel. Tomorrow, we enter the Ohio to begin another leg of our journey.

In Passing: Deans Blue Hole, Stevenson Bayou (a new type of slough), Dogtooth Bend, Sliding Towhead, Angelo Towhead (looks like an island to me), Giboney Island, and Future City.

Wet and Wild

Day 22: Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Underway: 7:30 am      Motor Off: 5:30 pm      Miles Traveled: 58      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First thunderstorms while traveling during the day; first time really wet (we got more than 2” of rain in series of 4 or 5 storms).

Mile 118 to Mile 60: After camping out for a day at Kaskaskia Lock we left early even though it looked like there would be a pretty good chance of rain off and on all day. Bruce decided to stay and wait for a better weather day – he made a good choice. We didn’t hit anything severe but had to pull over to anchor and wait out several squalls with rain and thunder. Plus we got wet. We’ve had such nice weather this trip, we weren’t totally prepared when rain caught up with us (you can’t outrun a front moving at 30 mph when you travel at 8.4 mph no matter how much wishing and hoping you do). This is one downside of being on such a small boat – there is no good place to put wet people or stuff. Just pile it up and hope for better weather the next day.

Although we didn’t have phones or internet all day, one cool piece of technology which helped today was our EyeTV. It’s a little device about the size of a thumbdrive that you plug into your computer to get HDTV stations in the area. We were able to pick up a weather station in Cape Girardeau that showed the radar view for the area – lots of yellows and reds which helped us decide to wisely stop for the day when we did.

We were hoping to get to Cape Girardeau to tie up to the local fuel dock for the night and get our mail in the morning but we ran out of daylight about 8 miles short. We needed to find a safe anchorage outside the main channel and everyone we went by that looked good on the chart was now a sandbar or too shallow or to close to the channel. Finding a safe and secure anchorage is a challenge. Most of the boaters we are traveling with do not anchor out very often. It would be easy if not for invisible wing dams, stump fields, dead trees, shallow water, sand bars, wind and current. On the Mississippi below St. Louis there are hardly any coves, sloughs, islands or channels which are good potential anchorage spots – just a never ending series of wing dams – most well above the water this summer and surrounded by shallow water and sandbars.

After a stressful day dodging tows and storms we ended up tucked in a small space between two wing dams – one advantage of Aurora is that we can sneak into some pretty small and shallow spaces. Minutes after we got the bow anchor down, the strongest front of the day moved rapidly over us bringing heavy rain, lighting, thunder and wind gusts up to maybe 40 mph. After about 15 minutes testing our anchor, the wind died and the rain gradually let up revealing an amazing full horizon to horizon rainbow and beautiful sunset.

We set a stern anchor to hold us steady in the swirling current – before doing so, Aurora was swinging through a series of big loops. Not a fun ride when trying to eat or sleep. The second anchor held us rock steady.

Even though tomorrow will be a long day, we are excited to finally find out what kind of treats and treasures will arrive in the mail tomorrow. We can’t wait.

In Passing: Hat Island, Big Muddy Island, Hanging Dog Island, Swiftsure Towhead

Hurry Up and Wait

Day 21: Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Underway: At Lock      Motor Off: At Lock      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Lock wall

First Things First: First time using our battery operated fans to cool off – hot and steamy; first up close view of a moving barge (one barge a day goes through this lock – busy place).

Mile 118 to Mile 118: We decided to stay at the Kaskaskia Lock again today so we can get to Cape Girardeau Thursday morning to get gas and pick up mail. The next couple of days will be interesting. We have spent a good chunk of the day catching up on typing up our blog posts, downloading and organizing pictures and planning for the next couple of days. Sitting in one spot and resting is good for us but it is hard to do when we have a challenging 260 miles to go before our next marina stop. We just need to take it one day at a time I guess.

We met another fellow sailor – Bruce on Tango (a 24 foot San Juan) – who is almost done cruising single handed from the St. John’s River in Florida. All by himself. What an amazing adventure. Jack and Marilyn on Sea Spirit pulled in late in the afternoon – they are sailors but switched to a powerboat for this trip down the Mississippi to the Tenn Tom.

On Our Way to Green Turtle Bay

Day 20: Monday, September 24, 2012

Underway: 8:30 am      Motor Off: 2:10 pm      Miles Traveled: 41      Stayed At: Lock wall

First Things First: First time staying at a lock wall; first time averaging about 8.3 mph for the whole day; first time reading a book.

Mile 159 to Mile 118: Wind on our nose again for most of the day. Not too bad but just slows us down a little. We passed the 700 mile mark this morning. Another milestone. An uneventful travel day that ended after we securely tied up to the floating wall just downstream from the Kaskaskia River Lock – the last really secure place to stay for the next 5 or six days at our travel pace. We were soon joined by Jet Stream, Took the Plunge, and Joe and Tara on Seabattical. Time for another marina party. We chatted, laughed, drank and planned our cruising strategies while standing on the edge of the concrete lock wall. Who needs a pool and hot tub to have fun. Past Cindy’s bedtime again.

One thing we are finding out is that Loopers are all different ages, travel on all kinds of boats and have many different reasons for escaping the real world at least for a little while. We are all in different stages of the trip with some just beginning like us and others almost done like Seabattical. The only thing in common is that we all have or will have interesting stories to tell about our adventures on the Great Loop.

A Wealth of Knowledge

Day 19: Sunday, September 23, 2012

Underway: 7:05 am      Motor Off: 2:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 44      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Saw first zebra mussels on a lock wall, first time hitting 9.4 mph on Aurora.

Mile 203 to Mile 159: After leaving Alton at sunrise – just a little behind the powerboat Jet Stream – we cruised through the final two locks on the Mississippi without any delay and celebrated being done with the Mississippi River locks. There are lots more tows on this part of the river and the river is much narrower than we have experienced. We met 16 tows going upstream, 6 passed us going downstream and countless large tows were parked along the river north and south of St. Louis for as far as the eye could see. It takes two of us to watch traffic, the chart and the milestones so we stay out of trouble. The worst part was the Chain of Rocks Canal (that is a pretty accurate description) just after the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. Its narrow (a tow sitting sideways “wallowing” on a corner nearly blocked the entire channel), the tows have gotten bigger (saw one pushing 3×7 or 21 barges) and the tugs are on steroids. All traffic has to follow this narrow path because the main channel is blocked by a short dam where St. Louis has their main fresh water intake on the river – there is a 4’ drop off the end of it if you choose the wrong channel. Luckily, the tug Captains have been extremely patient and helpful. As long as we talk to them on the radio, they will tell us exactly where to go to safely pass or be passed without incident. One Captain even gave us a heads up to call Lock 27 to tell them we were coming to hold the lock for us – we didn’t realize we were so close – and that saved us a lot of time.

The current on this park of the river also changes drastically too. Instead of a gentle, hardly noticeable 1 mph current, the river speeds up to 2.5 to 3 mph and narrows significantly causing whirlpools and eddy’s which we have not noticed at all before this. The buoys are dancing a lot more in the current too. We were regularly hitting 9.0 mph after leaving the Chain of Rocks Canal which feels fast when you are used to 6 mph or less. All this makes steering more of a challenge but the speed increase is a welcome gift.

Passing the St. Louis Arch at 11 am on a beautiful, early fall day was a highlight of the trip so far. We timed it perfectly with the morning sun glinting off the stainless steel as we passed by simultaneously looking out for traffic and taking in the amazing view. Pictures can only tell part of the story.

After passing by St. Louis, things gradually quieted down and we relaxed a little and enjoyed the changing scenery as we headed towards Hoppies. If you are traveling this part of the river – especially for the first time – you have to stop a Hoppies – a set of 3 old barges floating parallel to the river where boaters can find safety, fuel and critical information to navigate the next 260 miles of the river before the next marina. They are an institution. For decades, they have helped travelers moving north and south safely navigate the river. Fern, the matriarch, is a wealth of knowledge on anchorages, navigation, river etiquette and history. I have 4 pages of notes from her daily info session that will help us figure out where to stay and what to do between here and the Tenn-Tom Canal System.

Hoppies is only about 1/4 mile from Kimmswick, Missouri – a quaint little town with a number of gift shops, antique stores and restaurants and lots of tourists walking up and down the middle of main street wandering from store to store. We ate a late lunch at the Dough Depot whose specialty was sandwiches on pretzel bread. We shared an awesome strawberry shake, a cinnamon sugar pretzel and a chicken marinara sandwich on pretzel bread – a real treat.

Sleep has been optional for several days now with all the impromptu marina parties/gatherings/ gab sessions and tonight was no exception. Scott and KC on Jet Stream (the boat we inadvertently made to wait at Lock 26 an 27) invited us (and other boaters) over for a tour in the evening so, after quickly reheating and eating some chili saved from Alton Marina, we joined them and Bert and Hillary (almost newlyweds) from Took the Plunge for some wine, pumpkin cake cookies and great conversation on Jet Stream. What a great way to spend an evening. Sleep can wait a week or two.

Wild Things: The St. Louis Arch as viewed from a 22’ sailboat after traveling 600+ miles down the Mississippi River.

A Not So “Lazy” Day

A Not So “Lazy” Day

Day 18: Saturday, September 22, 2012

Underway: At Marina      Motor Off: At Marina      Miles Traveled: 00      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First “day off”; first unplanned event – POW/MIA Wreath Laying Ceremony at the pavilion by the Alton Marina.

Mile 203 to Mile 203: Change of plans. We decided to stay at Alton for our first down day of the trip. We decided this would be a good place to hang out while we wait for some mail we are expecting in Cape Girardeau Thursday – 151 miles downriver or about 3-4 days travel. There isn’t anyplace to anchor there so we need to time it so we don’t have to wait for anything to arrive. We are expecting some parts for our gas cans and hopefully some treats and mail from Jess, Sarah, Grandma A and Grandma G. We also were having a great time meeting people, chatting and learning about the Great Loop and a whole new batch of Loopers will be arriving today. And Lock 27 just opened but there is a backlog of traffic to move through so it might be a long wait. And the daiquiris are still going to be $2.00. Not a tough decision to stay. We learned later that Hoppies – the next marina downstream and last one for 260 miles – was full so we made a good choice.

Our down day ended up being not so lazy after all. We got up early at sunrise and headed up to the legendary Duke Bakery – a real old school bakery with the piles of treats in glass cases ready to be selected assuming you can make a decision between all the different kinds of fresh, warm baked goods. We stocked up and stopped at the grocery store to get a few things, reorganized the boat, purged a bunch of extraneous junk to be sent home, cleaned, tested the dinghy (still leaks), adjusted the tiller, waterproofed the rain gear, caught up on some phone calls, went to the POW/MIA ceremony, chatted with a bunch of liveaboards and Loopers and had a couple more daiquiris. What more could you ask for on a “down” day? Our only disappointment was that we were too tired to take advantage of the pool and hot tub.

Wild Things: Pool and hot tub at the marina.

So Many Stories, So Little Time

Day 17: Friday, September 21, 2012

Underway: 1:15 pm      Motor Off: 3:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 10      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: Saw our first asian carp jumping in the prop wash from a tow; first real marina with pool and hot tub; first introduction to lots of other Loopers; first $2.00 daiquiris’.

Mile 213 to Mile 203: After sleeping in a little past sunrise, we lazed around having coffee, hot chocolate, pancakes and sausage on Rumpshaker while planning the next week’s travels through St. Louis and onwards to the Ohio River. We met Cookie (Mark) on Over Due. Cookie likes to cook. He used to work his 40 hour week at his real job and then spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday cooking where ever he could find a party or a gig. He also had a wealth of knowledge about the river. Good luck on your next adventure, Cookie. This next week is going to be an adventure for us.

We originally planned to stay at My River Home today but, in order to shorten our trip to our last marina for 260 miles – Hoppies – we decided to move downriver to Alton – just a little north of St. Louis – to rest, restock, and prepare for a long, lonely stretch of river.  What a great choice.  Alton Marina was an amazing place with a pool, hot tub, a hundred fifty plus big cruisers, $2 daiquiris, the best showers we will see for a long and lots of friendly, interesting people.

Within minutes of arriving at the Alton Marina, we met Robert and Patty (and Maggie – their official boat dog) of Orinoco who are the local hosts for the The American Great Loop Cruisers Association (ALGCA). They are an amazing couple and a great resource for us novice Loopers. At the moment, they are marina bound because Robert is working in the area on some consulting contracts so they decided to help other people on the Loop meet each other and share their collective wisdom and stories. They live on Orinoco full time although they frequently visit their “dirt” house in Montana. They have traveled the Loop, and many of the rivers connected to the Loop, many times and are a wealth of knowledge and experience for us beginners – and a blast to share stories with. They invited us to join them and some other Loopers for dinner at a local pizza place – an offer we couldn’t refuse.

On the way to the restaurant, Robert took us on a mini-tour of the area around the Alton Marina including those essential resources for long distance boaters like the local bakery and the closest grocery store. The architecture of the homes and businesses in the area was also amazing. The pizza was great but the conversation was even better. We learned a lot about what to expect over the next week of travel on a difficult stretch of the river, and, better yet, shared stories about our respective adventures.

There are very few people traveling the Loop on sailboats but we happened to share dinner with Ron and Lynne of Northern Spirit – a Beneteau  Their home port is near the Trent Severn Canal System which we traveled in 2002 so we shared stories about our trip and experiences that summer.

Did you know that Patty likes to go fast? She was a Captain for United Airlines for many years and went from going 700 mph to 7 mph on Orinoco. Quite a change I’m sure. She also likes to race airplanes with a group of women pilots and enjoys testing out the torque curve on her new, tricked out Mustang convertible – I think we hit 45 mph in the parking lot on the way back to the marina. Keep in mind, Robert and Patty are grandparents – they enjoy taking their grandkids with them on parts of their adventures. (Check out their website at ????).

After an entertaining evening and some great pizza, we got home way past Cindy’s bedtime and crashed. Tomorrow we plan to head for Hoppies.

Wild Things: The size of some of the boats at Alton Marina – Aurora would make a nice dinghy for some of them.

And The Journey Begins

Day 16: Thursday, September 20, 2012

Underway: 6:55 am      Motor Off: 5:30 pm      Miles Traveled: 45      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First happy hour; first “company” on Aurora.

Mile 258 to Mile 213: After a quiet night at the Timberlake “Marina” (we did not float away with the dock), we cruised downriver with much less wind and bright sunshine. What a difference a day makes. We passed the 600 mile mark at 9:13 am. We are starting to feel like we are making progress on our long journey.

One thing that you notice out here is the surprising number of airplanes flying over at any given time. We counted 15 contrails in the sky at one time from airplanes flying east, west, north and south. The central Mississippi River Valley is a major flyway for both birds and humans.

The Illinois River merges with the Mississippi River at Grafton Illinois. The only indication that it wasn’t just another slough or channel was the tow that turned right and went up the Illinois instead of continuing up the Mississippi channel. We are seeing a lot more tows as we get closer to St. Louis.

We officially started the Great Loop at Grafton – after travelling 600+ miles to get here. Less than one year from now, we will hopefully complete our circle by crossing our path at the Illinois and become Loopers. The adventure begins (officially).

We stopped in Grafton to get gas and stretch our legs. Aurora has now officially traveled up the Illinois River (for about a half mile). Grafton is a nice little town with everything we need – gas and honeycrisp apples – close to the river. We originally planned to anchor a little ways below Grafton but the potential anchorage turned out to be a stump field and pelican resting area – not a promising place to spend the night. We ended up going a little upstream and stayed at the courtesy dock for the Longshot Bar/My River Home Marina. I walked up to the bar to see where we should go for the night and was surprised to find that, of the 6 people in the bar, we knew two of them – Rob and Ann from Rumpshaker (check out their blog at We thought they would have been well south of us but they decided to stop here to hang out for a day. Random chance strikes again. We spent a fun evening enjoying cheap tacos, beer and buffalo wings. Rob and Ann came back to our humble home for honeycrisp apples and caramel.

Wild Things: Running into someone we know at a random bar along the Mississippi River.

Home Cooking

Day 15: Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Underway: 7:18 am      Motor Off: 3:20 pm      Miles Traveled: 28      Stayed At: “Marina”

First Things First: First restaurant meal of the trip; first time dodging debris (branches and logs) in the river; first batch of popcorn.

Mile 286 to Mile 258: We passed by Louisiana – Louisiana, Missouri that is. After getting an early start this morning we decided to stop at Louisiana, a short 20 minutes from our anchorage, to get gas, coffee and other essentials. Louisiana is the kind of town where if you are walking with a gas can, more than one person will stop to ask if you want a ride – even if the gas station is only 4 blocks away. We weren’t out of the parking lot of the landing area before someone pulled up to offer us a ride. We walked to get the exersize but the offers are appreciated.

On the way back from the gas station we passed by a tiny little restaurant – Izola’s Place – that looked interesting. We dropped off our ice and gas at the boat and walked back for our first restaurant meal of the trip – on Day 15. Izola’s has 6 tables and can maybe squeeze in 20 people if everyone inhales. Izola’s sister Vera was hanging out at one of the tables helping her sister (on her vacation) and we chatted for the whole time we were there. Izola likes to cook I guess. She cooks at her restaurant, she caters events and parties and she cooks great food for friends and family whenever anyone is hungry.

I love breakfast so I ordered the #3 – 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns and toast. I also love pancakes. Cindy was going to order 3 pancakes so I could try them out too. Well, Izola told her she didn’t want 3 pancakes. So she ordered two pancakes. Again, Izola said she didn’t want 2 pancakes either – “they are kind of big” she said. We ordered two pancakes anyways. Little did we know that they were 12” in diameter and 3/4” thick with a nice big slab of butter on top (blood pressure, what blood pressure). We had to clean our plates but it was a real challenge. And delicious. That might be breakfast, lunch and part of dinner today. Stop at Izola’s if you get to Louisiana – you won’t go away hungry.

Louisiana, Missouri is a nice place to stop, shop and check out the river. Even though it is another river town in transition, they are trying their best to make the town better. Nice murals cover walls on many building downtown, a convenient courtesy dock was added last year and the downtown is clean and well kept. The architecture is amazing even if many building are empty and for rent. Check it out on your way by.

On the way back to the boat we met Jim, a charter boat captain of the Dream from Key West Florida. We noticed his motorcycle – a unique all terrain bike with big aluminum storage boxes and built like a tank. We are supposed to stop by his old home base at Land’s End Marina/Lost Reef Adventures Dive Ship in Key West and say hi to Nick…in about 4 months.

Wild Things: Today the wildest thing was the wind – 15-20 mph on the nose with gusts to 30. Aurora and Boris did great. Mike and Cindy were wind blown and tired after only 28 miles so we decided to rest and try again another day.

Lonely Planet

Day 14: Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Underway: 8:27 am      Motor Off: 5:25 pm      Miles Traveled: 41      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First bakery visit; first time we didn’t have to wait at a lock – just drove right in; first time Cindy saw a dead fish; first time we heard about someone seeing an asian carp (we haven’t seen one yet but are keeping an eye open); first dish of Gelato.

Mile 327 to Mile 286: Before leaving Quincy, we decided to try to satisfy our craving for bakery treats so we walked several blocks to the downtown area and found Krazy Cakes – a combination bakery/coffee shop/sandwich shop/internet café. Great cinnamon rolls and the best bathrooms we’ve found in two weeks of travel (this becomes important when all you have is a porta-potty).

In 40 miles of travel we only saw 3 boats today – a fishing boat, a pontoon boat and a tow. We did not expect the river to be this quiet. We stopped at Hannibal, Missouri – the home of Mark Twain. Rumpshaker was still there after staying overnight the day before. It was fun to cross paths already – probably not the last time. Even with the advantage of having a famous author to celebrate, except for the tourist oriented businesses along main street, the rest of downtown is hanging on by their fingernails – not uncommon for many of the towns we have visited. The main shopping area has moved out to the main highways that pass by the area – that is where the shopping malls, Walmarts and other businesses have located. Sad to see downtowns in transition – its too expensive to properly maintain or tear down buildings and there are not enough customers for entrepreneurs.

We are anchored just west of Ducher Island north of Louisiana, Missouri. We passed through Lock 21 and 22 without having any new stories to tell. The next few days might be interesting. Lock 25 is closed for maintenance through midnight tonight – we will pass by there tomorrow afternoon and Lock 27 is closed because of some type of damage so there is uncertainty about when that will be fixed and then there will be a backup of tows waiting to get through. We may need to be creative in using our downtime.

In Passing: Goose Island, Gilbert Chute, Denmark Island, North and South Fritz Island.


Perfect Timing

Day 13: Monday, September 17, 2012

Underway: 9:25 am      Motor Off: 5:00 pm      Miles Traveled: 38      Stayed At: Boat Club

First Things First: First coast guard vessel (laying buoys); first time sharing a lock (with RumpShaker); first cooked breakfast (had time while waiting for lock to clear to make eggs, bacon and toasted bagels; first ferry moving material from bank to bank; first time in Missouri at 10:30 am; first 500 mile mark at 1:08 pm.

Mile 365 to Mile 327: Our record has been broken. We shared Lock 19 with Rumpshaker. We made it within 2 miles of Missouri before sharing a lock. Amazing. Lock 19 has one of the biggest drops on the Mississippi – 38’ at normal water levels. In 2004, the facility was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There is a beautiful old building housing the powerplant next to the lock. It also had a new feature – floating bollards (for tying off your boat) that rise and fall as the water level in the lock rises and falls. Rumpshaker’s crew, Rob and Ann, started in the Twin Cities too on a trip down the same route we are taking to relocate to Alabama where they have family. They are traveling on a large powerboat towing a skiff. Ann is going to look for a job down there and Rob will likely start a business making canvas products for large boats (the canvas on his boat looked great). Hey Rob, how much for a bimini for Aurora?

Its odd when you see cars whizzing by at 60 mph along the river. I try not to think that they travel in 40 minutes the distance we travel in an average day. The pace on the river is different – the tows travel about the same speed we do, the locks open and close slowly, the bridges seem to take forever to open and close and the river barely moves heading down river. It takes some getting used to in comparison to the way life operates in the “real” world but it does give you a fresh perspective.

We are comfortably and securely tucked away at a boat club dock in Quincy, Illinois. We couldn’t get into the municipal marina because of low water depths – some of the lowest water in history. It will be interesting how this affects the tows coming upriver. A great travel day with intermittent warm sunshine and big puffy clouds floating by to block the sun for some welcome relief. A cold front moved through just a few minutes after we got tied up to the dock bringing a little rain shower and a cool wind. It didn’t last long though. Another train is going by along the river. Hopefully the wind will die down and bring a quiet peaceful night of sleep.

Wild Things: Turkey vultures – lots of turkey vultures.

In Passing: Deadman Island, Hogback Island, Blue Goose Island, Buzzard Island and Pickle House Slough.

Margaritas For Dinner

Day 12: Sunday, September 16, 2012

Underway: 7:11 am      Motor Off: 2:40 pm      Miles Traveled: 40      Stayed At: Marina

First Things First: First fresh donuts for breakfast; saw first passenger train; first time someone offered to let us use their car (see Wild Things); first Walmart run of trip; first time buying marina gas (only 20¢ more per gallon); first impromptu marina party.

Mile 405 to Mile 365: Today was a day to meet people and share stories. The day started sunny and cool (46˚) with a light fog coming off the river. We motored a few minutes to Burlington where we stopped to hit the convenience store for coffee, hot chocolate and donuts. Down by the dock we met Bill from “the other side of the tracks”. He was looking at our boat and we started talking. We learned Bill’s life story. He served in the Army in the late 40’s and early 50’s. He made three memorable trips across the North Atlantic on troop transports. On one trip to Korea they delivered a plane load of five gallon jerry cans filled with gas which also served as their chairs on the flight. He got shot at on another visit to the front. One of his brothers was in the Navy and then the Marines for 39 years. Another brother served as a fighter pilot. He lived in California for a while before moving to Burlington, Iowa. He used to walk along the river every day until his hips started giving out. The VA took good care of him when he needed major heart surgery. It sounds like maybe Bill comes from the right side of the tracks.

The day ended as it began with us meeting a bunch of new people with many stories to tell about the river, their lives, and their families. We were having so much fun chatting, laughing and sharing stories that we forgot to have something for dinner. Do a couple of margaritas count for a balanced meal? Thanks Gary, Pauline, Bill, Buddy, Rob, Ann and everyone else we talked with and met. We hope to have many more evenings like this on our adventure.

Wild Things: We motored into the small harbor of the Keokuk Yacht Club and found a place to dock on the end of a long row of covered boat slip where someone getting his boat ready in the next slip helped us get securely docked. Before we knew his name was Gary, he was offering us the use of his truck (a beautiful, white extended cab Ford F150) to make the 2+ mile run to Walmart. Did I mention his name was Gary. We ended up using his truck (with Cindy saying the whole trip “ I can’t believe we’re doing this” and “Be careful – just don’t hit anything”) to make our first Walmart run this trip and, after he and Pauline came back from their boat ride, we sat and had a drink with them dockside. That might have to be the definition of hospitality.

In Passing:  Honeycreek Bar (sounds like a nice place to have a drink), Dollar Island, Bass Run, Money Pocket, TwoMile Island, The Swamps, Dry Creek and Devils Creek.

Welcome Gifts

Day 11: Saturday, September 15, 2012

Underway: 7:35 am      Motor Off: 5:58 pm      Miles Traveled: 50      Stayed At: Anchor

First Things First: First shipwreck – a half sunk old rusty barge; first 16 barge tow – 15 barges in front and one extra along the side of the tug; first time motoring with dinghy on deck (deflated); first hunters shooting geese along the river (right at us); first 400 mile mark at 9:14 am on 9/15; first bottle of sunscreen used up; first hot lunch (leftover rice and taco meat warmed up with melted cheese and chips –that might have to be a new favorite); first 50 mile day.

Mile 455 to Mile 405: Sunny, calm and warm. Is this getting boring yet? We have been incredibly lucky with the weather so far to have such nice traveling conditions. Gift #1. In addition to the beautiful weather, we received another nice gift today. The tug Joseph Patrick Eckstein was coming upstream to Lock 17 and had the right of way to start the process of entering the lock but was extremely nice and slowed a little so the lock master could allow us in the upstream pool to lock down. This saved us close to two hours of waiting since it was a big tow. Thank you Captain. You made our day (and our blog). Gift #2.

We have a lot more technology on this trip compared to our 2002 trip. On our last trip we had an older Ibook (ebay) that we didn’t really use and a Magellen Meridian Marine handheld GPS (ebay) and that was it. No cell phone, no Ipad, and only one source of GPS. We liked the handheld GPS so much we brought it with on this trip and use it everyday primarily for speed information but it also confirms where we are on the Mississippi River chartbook we are using (doesn’t need regular recharging). We also have a GPS hotspot ($100 for a Dual GPS unit typically used by pilots) which sends out a signal using Bluetooth so we can use it with our laptop, phone or Ipad. We are syncing it with a $49 app on our Ipad – I-Navx – and river charts we downloaded ($10 for all the rivers we are going to be on). We can see exactly where we are in full color and watch a little arrow move slowly down the electronic chart. Its amazing that, only 10 years after our last trip, we can have most of the capabilities of a multi-thousand dollar proprietary commercial chart plotter for about $160! We have no excuse for getting lost. We also have GPS in Mike’s new smartphone and even our camera has a GPS receiver which let’s you tag photos with location information. Now, if I could just find that doo-hickey I was looking for…

We are anchored in Rush Chute near Yeater Island just upstream from Burlington Iowa. Should be a quiet, peaceful night. Gift #3. We did 50 miles today (plus a detour to town and back) – great cruising conditions and limited options to dock or anchor kept us going to Burlington.

In Passing: Passed by Burnt Pocket Island (I wonder what the story is behind that island name), Benton Bay (bay, lake, slough, chute – what’s the difference?), Hawkeye Drain, Bogus Island and Keg Island.