Wednesday, September 12, 2012

What a Ride: 3 States, 4 Rivers, 660 miles and 13 Locks in 9 Days!

Days on cruise:  173

Distance traveled:  74.9 miles

Travel time:  10 hrs, 54 mins

Total trip odometer:  3,898 statute miles

A couple weeks ago we posted about our decision to cancel a 10-day trip to Seattle and Houston last week so we could accelerate our travel down the midwest rivers which are suffering from low water levels because of the drought.

Our experience on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers suggests this was a good decision. Many of the marinas and anchorages that Loopers normally use this time of year were, in fact, unusable due to low water, resulting in many very long travel days, sometimes causing us to increase our speed so we could make a particular destination before dark.

We found the experience of traveling on these “super highways” of commercial river traffic fascinating but challenging. We learned a lot about the role these rivers play in moving freight and the interesting people who make it all happen, but we’re also glad to have this stretch behind us.

Yet again, we were up long before sunrise and underway as soon as it was light enough to distinguish red and green marks from one another. Our anchorage just below Lock 53 last night felt secure and easy, but we suffered from “alarm clock syndrome” again, which means we woke up every hour all night wondering if we’d overslept our alarm. We aren’t very good at doing alarm clocks since our retirement five years ago.


Locks 53 and 52 on the Ohio River are extremely old and extremely busy. We got through Lock 53 with less than an hour’s wait, but on approach to Lock 52 were told there were 30 tows with barges in the queue. Yikes! Fortunately all of them were southbound, while we were northbound, so they ran us through after an hour’s wait at a time when the chamber would otherwise have been empty. Lucky!

The river is wide, and the chartplotter chirped at us many times each hour, announcing yet another “dangerous target” (a tow) had been identified in the river ahead. Each time we had to assess whether it was moving, in what direction, and call on the VHF radio to ascertain which side they wanted us on. It became routine and easy, but nonetheless tiring after so many hours.


Going from the Mississippi River where we had a 3-4 knot current running in our favor and thus made great time, to the Ohio River where we had 2-knot current running against us, we saw our speed drop and travel times grow enormously. As a result, all day today we ran at 1400 rpms instead of our usual 1200 rpms, and still it was an 11-hour day. The Ohio River was so busy with tows, though many of them were parked, not moving, that it felt like chaos at times.


Finally mid-afternoon we turned off the Ohio River into the Cumberland River, and it felt as though we’d traveled into another world entirely. The Cumberland is narrow, scenic, FULL of zillions of birds, and very few tows with barges. What a relief!


There’s still a lot of infrastructure in support of tows with barges, but it’s pretty and quiet.


And houses! We saw very few of them for the past 600 miles which mostly were undeveloped shoreline or industrial areas, so it was nice to see homes again.


See the pretty heron below? There were also lots of storks.


We pulled into Green Turtle Bay at 5:15 and found several Looper boats we already know. Susan and Carolyn on Sojourner invited us to join them for dinner at a Barbecue place in the next county over (this one is dry and has only one restaurant that was still open for dinner) and we had a great reunion, not having seen them since a month ago. Craig and Barbara on Blue Heron are parked next to us too and we’ll catch up with them tomorrow.

We’re happy and exhausted and look forward to a good night’s sleep. We plan to stay here several days, and  then resume our trip down the rivers, but a much slower pace!

1 comment:

Ocean Breeze said...

Yay! (Deep exhale!) You are in gorgeous territory now and some beautiful, breath taking anchorages ahead. Enjoy the rest of your freshwater trip to Mobile.