Dick and Gayl's Cruising Adventures

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Saturday, September 17, 2005  Kimmswick, MO to Kaskaskia, IL
42 miles 
We awoke to a blanket of heavy fog, as Hoppie and Fern predicted we would.  Also as predicted, the fog burned off pretty well by 9:30.
When the fog lifted, we could see that a massive dredge with a long line of pipes stretching from the channel edge to the shoreline had materialized overnight, just half a mile downriver from Hoppie's. That explained all the working boat trips back and forth from Hoppie's late last night, rocking us with each arrival and departure.  The working boat shone its strong spotlight on the water ahead of it as it ran in the dark, and we could see wisps of fog rising off the water like steam from a witch's cauldron. 
The current pushed us along, increasing our speed by two to three miles per hour -- a 25-30% boost. We passed through several sections of roiling waters, where underwater wing dams built to divert currents into the center of the channel were doing their job very well.  The diverted currents scour the channel, keeping it deep, but they also can make a small boat like ours feel like it's in a bathtub where somebody pulled the drain plug.  We followed the tip Fern gave us, and stayed to the outside edge of the channel, and we did fine, but the experience does increase your respect for the power of the river.

Cocktails on Kaskaskia Lock

Despite our late start, thanks to the currents we were all tied up on the lock wall at Kaskaskia Lock at 1:25.  The lock wall floats, and we could see by the rust lines on the giant piers holding the lock in place that the floating lock deck has spent a lot of time at least twenty feet higher than it is now.
As the afternoon wore on, we were joined by four other boats who had been at Hoppie's with us the night before -- Pilgrim, who we have seen off and on since we met at the Beaufort Rondezvous, and three boats from Canada -- Joan and Mary Lou sailing Catnip Too, who we met while waiting for Starved Rock Lock; Bob and Wendy on Pelican, who own the marina where we stayed at Kagawong in the North Channel; and Ray and Cheryl sailing Perfect Peace.  The Canadians invited us to bring our chairs down to their end of the lock for cocktail hour at 5.  We enjoyed  getting to know them, and catching up on Pilgrim's exploits since last we connected.
Sunday, September 18, 2005  Kaskaskia Lock Wall to Little River diversion Channel (south of Cape Girardeau)
69.5 miles
We set a new speed record-- 14.4 mph
We had our first really rainy cruising day in months.  We started out in shorts and sweatshirts, expecting the rain to diminish, but as the rain intensified, the wind rose, the temperature dropped and thunder rumbled, we changed to jeans, and kept adding layers, always topping off with rain jackets.  After about four hours of cold and soggy cruising, the weather started to clear at mid-day, and we began shedding layers.
Just as the rain was starting to show signs of abating, we hit an all-time Starsong speed record -- 14.4 mph, pushed by a 5 mph current.  It was quite  a thrill.
By the time we passed Cape Girardeau in early afternoon, the sun was shining on an impressive mural painted on the city's long floodwall.  The freshly painted mural said, "Welcome to Cape Girardeau," and portrayed aspects of the area's history, but there was no place we could go ashore to visit, so we just cruised on downriver to our anchorage in the Little River Diversion Channel.

Diversion Channel anchorage

Approaching the Channel from the Mississippi, it looks like a little creek, but it is an impressive water project, running west from the Mississippi for miles.  It was built to divert runoff from land to the north, so it wouldn't swamp fertile farmland to the south. 
For us, it provided a quiet resting spot out of the currents and traffic on the Mississippi.  The Channel was so narrow, we had to toss out a stern anchor, to keep from swinging into the shore.
We spent a wonderfully relaxing afternoon reading, writing, checking e-mail, napping and watching the Great Blue Herons along the Channel banks as they posed and hunted.  We didn't retreat inside until the sun set and the mosquitoes began their attack.
September 19, 2005  Little River Diversion Channel off the Mississippi to Ohio River Lock 53 Anchorage
68.4 miles
This was our last day on the Mississippi, and it was a good one.  The river had lots of twists and turns, so we got a chance to take some thrill rides on the currents and to watch some masterful barge wrangling by towboat captains.
Not long after we set off, we came up behind the towboat James Ermer turning his 25-barge-load (five long by five wide) around a hairpin turn in a narrow river section.  Each barge has the cargo capacity of 16 tractor trailers -- so this captain was pushing the mass of 400 trucks! We just hung back and watched the captain alternately let the current push his load, then provide a power surge nudge to change the barges' trajectory.  Repeating this process over and over, he slowly and patiently moved his load around the curve, keeping the load in the channel.  We have the utmost respect and admiration for the tow captains who can maneuver the gargantuan mass of the loads moving on this river with such control and precision.  To watch them at work up close like this is an awe-inspiring experience.
When we are traveling the rivers, we keep one of our VHF radios tuned to Channel 13, the working channel, so we can keep track of the tow traffic coming our way. The tow captains announce their presence when they are approaching narrow or winding areas of the river, and they coordinate with each other to avoid meeting in tight spots.  Tows with small loads stand off to let bulky loads pass in narrow quarters.  We never heard a tow captain refuse a request from another tow (although we did hear some negotiations).  We imagine the fraternity of captains is probably pretty tight, and no one wants to offend, lest word get around.  Courtesy given and returned in good measure keeps the tow traffic moving safely. 
We turned up the Ohio River four and a half hours into our cruising day.  The water went from muddy coffee-with-cream brown to khaki green, and our speed instantly dropped from 12 mph to 7 mph.
The Ohio River is at least as busy as the Mississippi here.  The area where the Ohio flows into the Mississippi is a barge staging sector -- with tows running about in every direction rearranging loads. Conveyors from grain elevators fill barges with yellow corn, while tows bring the next barge to be filled alongside.  The pollen yellow dust from the corn rises off the load, and coats the river banks alongside the loading docks.
We anchored off the channel in a wide open spot near the first of our two Ohio River locks.  We had no shelter from the wind, which we knew could get strong with thunderstorms predicted tonight.  But, we had no choice -- there are not many anchorages along the river, especially now, with low water.
A few words about Illinois symbols:
The Illinois state flag has a white background with images from the Illinois state seal -- an eagle holding a shield with stars and stripes and a red banner with the state motto: "State sovereignty -- national unity."  This is pretty generic stuff -- so generic that they added the name of the state on the bottom of the flag as an afterthought, so people unfamiliar with it could recognize it.
The state symbols have a long history of being chosen by schoolchildren.  In 1907 schoolchildren chose the blue violet as the state flower, and in 1928 they chose the cardinal as the state bird.  In 1974, a Decatur third-grader suggested that the state adopt the Monarch butterfly as its official state insect, and after a lobbying campaign by schoolchildren, it was approved by the General Assembly.
The state song, with words by C.H. Chamberlain, mentions its rivers in the first line:
By thy rivers gently flowing, Illinois, Illinois
O'er thy prairies verdant growing, Illinois, Illinois
Comes an echo on the breeze
Rustling through the leafy trees,
And its mellow tones are these, Illinois.