Sunday, October 19, 2014

-->Five Weeks - Four Rivers - Four States and Two 
Lakes - We're Back in the South!

 When we left Joliet, Illinois on September 16th, the weather was usually still warm enough by afternoon to change from long sleeves and jeans to tee shirts and shorts.  Today, October 19th, we're docked at Pebble Isle Marina near New Johnsonville, TN and it's 43 degrees with sunny skies, definitely jacket weather.
We've traveled 655 miles by water (which would have been 378 miles as the crow flies), following the bends and curves of the mighty Mississippi, turning north at Cairo into the Ohio River, east into the Cumberland River, then south into Barkley Lake, where we spent three days enjoying Green Turtle Bay Resort and Marina. Great showers and laundry, reunions with Looper friends, a trip to Paducah to see Unfair: Exposing the IRS the day we arrived, a memorable dinner at Patti's in Green Rivers (already decorated for Christmas), and boat repairs highlighted our stay. 
From Joliet, we stopped at Heritage Harbor near Ottawa, Peoria, and Havana, Illinois on our way to Grafton Harbor. It was Octoberfest in Peoria on September 19th, and Eastport Marina loaned us their old "dually" to cross the bridge and check out the action.  One regret: we should have visited the Caterpillar Center first, then gone to Octoberfest to enjoy German music, food and beer. We didn't get to try driving the bulldozer or backhoe in Peoria, but when we visited the River Discovery Museum in Paducah with Canadian friends Susan and Jeff, we each took a turn at the helm of a tow, speed boat, or Coast Guard cutter.   
Friday morning, after Mike installed a new bilge pump float switch, we continued south, with a west turn through a short channel into Kentucky Lake, formed in 1945 when the Army Corps of Engineers built Kentucky Lock and Dam across the Tennessee River and created the Land Between the Lakes. Tomorrow, we turn south again for a three day, 112 mile trip to Pickwick Lake and the beginning of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Although our compass heading shows we're traveling south, the Tennessee River through Kentucky Lake flows north. Instead of the three - five mph current we enjoyed cruising down the Mississippi at a blistering speed of 11.5 miles per hour, we're now cruising against the current, with one lock before Pickwick Landing Marina.
Looking back at our journey through America's great rivers, we remember locks, tows (tugboats pushing as many as 18 barges), and large limbs and trees floating down the rivers.

Three weeks ago, anchored out behind Willow Bend Island in the Illinois River with Eclipse, It Takes Two, Fruitcakes, and Estrellita, we heard a loud thump on the hull just as we were waking up. A large dead tree had snagged itself on our anchor line and was stuck alongside the starboard bow. The channel between the island and the shore was filled with large limbs and more trees.  
Cowboy Mike hurried to the dinghy, lasso ready, to pull the tree away from our bow. As Stel took pictures from the bow of Estrellita, Mike pulled more logs
away from our fleet and dragged them to the opposite bank.  We all hurried to get underway, with Midas Touch last because we still had to take Midas ashore for his morning "get busy" routine.
When we reached Grafton Harbor, just above the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, Andy & Julie on Fruitcakes and Burke & Stel on Estrellita, both faster boats, had already docked, and we were happy to tie up near them, next to Cooyon and near Roxanne, Free Bird, Eclipse, and more Loopers.  We took advantage of the "pay for four days/get three free" deal to visit St. Charles, the St. Louis Arch, the Lewis & Clark Museum and the confluence of the Missouri & Mississippi Rivers. We even rented a car to take Julie and Marian to an immediate care facility in nearby Alton to have Julie's sore ribs and Marian's sore right arm checked out. Pulled ligaments was the verdict for Marian, and with the help of a bottle of Naproxen, the arm is almost as good as new.  We also did some major provisioning at Schnucks, the midwest equivalent of Publix, in Alton. While Stel and Marian filled grocery carts, Mike found a hardware store.  
"Docktails" are a tradition whenever Loopers gather, and with at least a dozen Looper boats in port, we moved our gathering from one of the larger boats to the deck at Grafton Harbor's office/ship's store/winery. It's a BYOB event, and most Loopers also bring an hors d'oeuvre to share. We caught up with friends, shared tales of our adventures (and misadventures), and compared notes on how long we had waited at various locks.    
Above right, Sylvi (in the red shirt) is one of the many wonderful Canadians we've met along the way. On another evening, we enjoyed her husband Simon's description of his career working in the frozen northern parts of Canada to keep the country's "hydro" (electric power) running.                                             
Below left, our view of the Grafton Harbor Marina and Big Kahuna, the upstairs bar and grill where we enjoyed an impromptu concert courtesy of four boating troubadors on their way to Mobile. They have been friends for 40 years, and their virtuosity on guitar, fiddle and harmonica is a real highlight of our journey. At right, the Looper gang on what felt like a summer afternoon in late September.               
A new favorite from Grafton Harbor Marina is a spice mix that turns a box of ordinary saltine crackers and vegetable oil into an addictive snack. We have to keep them hidden from ourselves to prevent over-indulging; it's a good thing that they stay crisp in a sealed container for days.
Another treasured memory of our stay in Grafton was dinner at the Aerie, a winery at the top of a bluff. We rode up in two Gators and back down in a comfortable small bus.
Andy and Julie joined us for visits to the Lewis and Clark Boathouse in St. Charles and the Confluence Tower and Lewis & Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, IL.
Left, hanging sculpture of leaves graces the stairway leading to exhibits at the Lewis and Clark Boathouse.
Below, two of the excellent exhibits depicting life at the time of the expedition. 

 Left, the Confluence Tower. Above, fountain at the base. Below, one of many plants in the gardens. The Corps of Discovery recorded much of the vegetation they found on their journey and sent detailed drawings back to president   
                                             Thomas Jefferson.

Above and right, just a few of the many excellent exhibits at the Historic Site.

 Knowing that we would pass St. Louis as we traveled south on the Mississippi from Grafton Harbor and that the city has no places to dock, even briefly, along its waterfront, we used the rental car to visit the famous arch with Andy and Julie. Road construction nearby didn't deter us, and as shown below, Mike got some very creative shots of this amazing landmark, taken from the base as we waited to enter and ride to the top.  From the small portholes, we had a panoramic view of the river.

If you have the slightest hint of claustrophobia, don't even think about taking the tram to the top of the arch. The pods seat four people with reasonable comfort; a fifth passenger would have made our ride very, very cozy. 
From the luxury of Grafton Harbor with its excellent "en suite" showers and almost new washers and dryers, it was on to Hoppie's at MM158.5 RDB (Right Descending Bank), 20 miles south of St. Louis near the historic village of Kimmswick. Fern Hopkins is a legend among Loopers in particular and cruising boaters in general for her encyclopedic knowledge of the Mississippi River from above St. Charles (and perhaps farther north) to Green Turtle Bay on Barkley Lake.  She conducts daily briefings for boaters heading down the Mississippi, including safe, protected anchorages, meeting and overtaking tows, the current state of the river, and inside information on the three locks between Hoppie's and Green Turtle Bay. Which lockmasters will work with "PCs" (pleasure crafts) and which have no use for us? Is the water rising or falling and how much? Is there debris on the way from rain or storms upstream? She includes instructions for leaving the dock (several old barges tied together) and crossing the river to the channel: put engine in reverse briefly to dislodge any branches lodged under the hull; untie bow line, then stern line, leave your midship spring line around the cleat; turn wheel hard to starboard; shift to forward as you leave the dock, letting the current push your bow out.
Left and below, two views of the dock at Hoppie's on one of the beautiful days we stayed there waiting for repairs.
Below right, Fern's daily briefing. Pay close attention and take good notes.
Marian attended several in the nearly two weeks we stayed at Hoppie's, learning a bit more each time. Fern's knowledge and advice made one of the most challenging segments of the Loop a bit
easier and much safer. 

Next door to Hoppie's is a horse pasture, location of Ride St. Louis, a hippo - therapy organization, and a home that was the ancestral home of Fred and Mabel Ruth Anheuser. On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, on our way back from a walk into town, we stopped by and learned that an acappella men's chorus would be performing later that afternoon. We went on to Hoppie's and returned with three other Looper couples to enjoy an hour or so of terrific music.  
Midas needs regular baths, and Hoppie's dock was a perfect place. He stands patiently while Mike scrubs and rinses.
There's always more to tell, but our travels from Hoppie's to Green Turtle Bay and on toward the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway will have to wait for our next post. Please let us know what you think and ask any questions you have.
Thanks for sharing our adventures with us.