The Tenn-Tom Waterway: Aqua Yacht Harbor to Columbus and on to Demopolis

Second time around, our departure from Aqua Yacht Harbor was uneventful, and we managed the 54 miles to our next stop at Midway Marina, without mishap. We slipped quietly away from the dock early in the morning, and were off down the Divide Cut, the first section of the Tenn-Tom. This is a 25-mile, man-made, long straight section of the waterway which links Pickwick Lake and Bay Springs Lake.

The Divide Cut

Bay Springs Lake

 

Below Bay Springs Lake, a series of 10 Locks takes the Waterway down to Demopolis.

 

The first six locks, which are fairly close together, comprise the Canal Section.

The first Lock is the deepest. Jamie Whitten Lock, named for a local politician, is 84’ deep.

Jamie Whitten Lock

Jamie Whitten Lock

Midway Marina is halfway down the first flight of six locks.

Tree stumps at Midway Marina

Assistant dockhand at Midway Marina

As we left Midway, it was a beautiful day with the Fall tints lighting up the river banks.

Fulton Lock

Coming up to Glover Wilkins Lock

After Amory Lock you come into the River section. Here, the waterway broadens out and the remaining four locks are more spaced out. There are lots of oxbow lakes where the waterway has been cut through, and in some of them you can anchor. We stopped at Acker Lake and the next day went on to Columbus.

near Acker Lake

Fall colours near Acker Lake

Coming up to Aberdeen Lock

We intended to have two nights at Columbus, and leave early the next morning with a group of Loopers to get through the nearby John Stennis Lock all together. But on the second night we ventured into the town centre to eat at Huck’s Place, generally acknowledged to be the best restaurant in town. It was certainly very good. The town centre looked interesting, and on the way back to the marina, our Uber driver recommended a visit to Waverley Mansion, an antebellum house a few miles out of town.

So we decided to stay another day.

The journey to Waverley wasn’t without incident. What our Uber driver hadn’t told us was that the mansion was some distance away along narrow, country roads. It should have taken about 20 minutes, and after driving for half an hour through forest interspersed with the odd tract of farmland, we suspected that the satnav might have led us astray. Google maps confirmed this, but even when we were on the correct narrow country road, we still couldn’t see anything resembling an antebellum mansion.

Things were getting a bit tense. We had to get the car back to the marina by 12, and if we didn’t find the house soon, we wouldn’t have enough time to see it properly. It wasn’t quite a disaster in the making, but there was certainly the potential for a minor domestic, with unspoken blame being cast equally on the one who had programmed the satnav, versus the one who had insisted on the expedition in the first place. Eventually, we came to a country park and just before a dead end at the water’s edge, I caught a glimpse of white down a rough track through the trees. There had been no sign indicating the house’s location.

A young man was sweeping leaves in front of an imposing house. It turned out he was the guide, and we had just enough time for a tour.

Waverley Mansion

Jimmy told us he was a history graduate and he was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the house and its history. He had worked for the owners for 10 years.

The house was unusual. Two wings led off a central octagonal entrance hall, topped with a cupola. The upper storeys had balconies overlooking the hall.

Waverley was built in 1852 by Colonel Hampton Young. He named it because Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels were his favourite books. He and his large family came from Philadelphia MS and lived in a log cabin nearby, while the house was being built. In the Civil War, the Union armies didn’t get as far as Columbus, so there are a number of antebellum houses in the area which escaped destruction.

After Billy Hampton Young, the last surviving son, died in 1913, the house was effectively abandoned, the heirs being unable to agree about what to do with it. It became derelict and a favourite haunt of high school and college students.

In 1962 it was bought by Mr and Mrs Robert Snow. They did much of the restoration and repair work themselves and furnished the house with beautiful antiques.

 

Central Hall, Waverley Mansion

Library

Dining room, with a portrait of Mrs Snow above the fireplace

Bedroom,  bedspread knitted by Mrs Snow

Drawing room

Mr Snow died aged 91 in 2017 and the house and contents are now for sale. It is registered as an historic building and the hope is that an organisation will buy it and preserve it for future generations.

Front driveway and garden

In the afternoon we went into the town. It was a bit disappointing. It wasn’t as lively as it had been the night before, and sadly, a number of businesses seemed to be closed down. We did have a look in the Arts Centre though, where an impressive photography exhibition was being staged. We wandered round the tree lined streets looking at the lovely old houses.

House on 3rd Avenue

3rd St S

On 3rd St, as we walked past, a lady opened her front door and called to us. Apparently it is obvious that we aren’t Americans, and she wanted to know where we were from. It turned out that she was a British exile, having moved to Columbus from Birkenhead in 1979. We had a long chat on her doorstep. She hadn’t been back to the U.K. for a few years and she said talking to us had made her day.

3rd St S

Tennessee Williams’ childhood home

Scarecrow on 5th St – a local custom

Main St

5th St

Columbus Marina at dusk

We left Columbus the next day. We knew that the weather forecast for the next few days was miserable, but we needed to get going. There were only two locks to go through, and it wasn’t raining very hard at that point, so we didn’t get too wet. But it was a pity that we only saw this beautiful stretch of river in cloud and rain.

We anchored at Windham Landing, and the following day at Sumpter Recreation Area.

Tom Bevill Lock, with an egret looking for something to eat

Leaving Windham Landing

Mile 272

There are some quite sharp bends on the River Section, and a couple of times large tows took us a bit by surprise.

Crimson White appearing round a bend

Sumpter Anchorage

There was another thunderstorm in the night and we were woken by brilliant flashes of lightning, claps of thunder and heavy, lashing rain. The last stretch to Demopolis was over 50 miles and as it’s now dark by 5.30 (November seems nearly as miserable in Alabama as it is in England) we got an early start and were away by 6.45. But it was bad timing.

Howell Heflin Lock was 3 miles away. Ian hailed them when we got within a couple of miles, only to find that a tow was just about to lock down in front of us. This meant waiting, ie hovering about in the channel, while the lock emptied and then filled up again, so we lost about 40 minutes.

At Epes and at Mile 234, 18 miles from Demopolis, we passed spectacular white cliffs.

The geology of Alabama is complex and the white rocks along the Tenn-Tom are fossiliferous, clayey, sandy glauconitic limestones laid down around the  Eocene Period around 50 million years ago, in warm, shallow seas. Thanks to my friend Elizabeth Capewell for this information.

By the time we got to Kingfisher Bay Marina at Demopolis, it was raining hard again and we were grateful to Anna-Marie, the dockmaster, for finding a covered slip for us. Demopolis is the last marina before Mobile, more than 200 miles away, so we planned to have a few days stocking up and having a bit of a rest before tackling the last, difficult stage of this year’s trip. What we didn’t realise at that point was that once more, Fate and the weather had decided to overturn our plans and that Carina would be staying in Demopolis for rather longer than we had anticipated.

 

 

 

The Tenn-Tom Waterway: Aqua Yacht Harbor and Back

I didn’t mean this blog to be a long, introspective, self-pitying catalogue of all the mishaps that have befallen us on this part of the trip. Really.

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Leaving Aqua Yacht Harbor #1

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Flying the flag of the American Great Loop Cruisers’ Association on the Tenn-Tom

But when we realised, two hours out of Aqua Yacht Harbor down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, that hydraulic fluid was leaking from the lower steering helm and that we would have to turn around, go back, and get it fixed with no small loss of time and money, it felt as though we had reached a very low ebb.

Coming on top of everything else that has gone wrong on this trip, I felt that things were out of control, and that shrugging it off, going with the flow, and accepting that stuff happens, no longer seemed an appropriate response. Wallowing in gloom was much more comforting, even for an innate optimist with a belief that most things usually happen for the best.

It was Saturday, so no one could come out till Monday, to see if it was just a leaking seal or something more serious.

It was. Dave came and said we needed a new helm to stop the leaking, and we would have to source one for him to fit. This comes under the costing-an-arm-and-a-leg category of expenditure, but, ever resourceful, Ian went on the Internet and managed to find a reconditioned one at considerably less expense than a new one would have been. We paid for expedited shipping so it arrived the next day for Dave to fit on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the hours hung rather heavily. My usual method of working off frustration is vigorous polishing of the brasses, but Ellen McArthur-style, I had run out of Brasso. Mopping the floors and polishing all the woodwork had to suffice. The WiFi wasn’t that good so checking social media was rather tedious, having to wait longer than five seconds for posts to appear. I was reduced to staring at the laptop, deleting most of the 1500 emails that had somehow accumulated in my inbox.

The marina had a courtesy car which we could use for two hours at a time. So we could go out, but not very far. We went to Corinth, 15 miles away across rural Mississippi, to the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. This was a purpose-built facility and very well done, focusing on Corinth’s strategic importance in the war, and the battles of Shiloh and Corinth, in which many thousands of men on both sides were killed in action. Outside, there was a water feature with engraved stones, commemorating events in American history.  It was moving, and saddening.

Annoyingly, the weather was bright and sunny and would have been perfect for boating. Instead,we drove out to Pickwick Lake State Park, near the lock, but it’s mainly for boating and picnicking, with no walking trails, so we sat and watched a flock of geese on the water.

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Pickwick Lake State Park

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Pickwick Lake State Park

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Pickwick Lake State Park

Opposite the marina, a little further along the main road, a narrow road led up a hill through the woods, so we went for a walk up there instead. Scattered among the trees were a few houses, some modern and well-looked after, and others more modest. We attracted the attention of a gentleman busy sweeping the fallen leaves from his front drive, who came out and chatted to us. We got the impression that not many people here wander about in the woods for the fun of it.

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Little house in the woods, Iuka

Dave came back and fitted the new helm on Wednesday, so we were good to go. But the next stage involved a 25-mile journey down the  ‘Divide Cut’,  a long straight passage where the waterway was carved out of the rock and where you can’t anchor. We didn’t want to be doing that in the heavy rain and winds which were forecast for the next day, so we decided to stay at Aqua Harbor till Friday and enjoy the journey in better weather.

We went to the small town of Iuka, where the old Tishomingo County Courthouse is now a small museum. On a wet Thursday morning, we were the only visitors and Jeff, the director, gave us a guided tour.  His knowledge and insight gave us a much better picture of the history of the area than we would have gleaned if we’d just gone round by ourselves.

IMG_4226 (3)TishomingoCouthouse Museum

Tishomingo Courthouse Museum

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S Fulton St, Iuka

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The Old Tishomingo Courthouse, Iuka

The restaurant at the marina was open on Thursday evening and we deserved a treat. This time it took the form of Cajun-spiced red fish, followed by Mississippi Mud Pie.

That night, it poured down and Carina rocked on the waves washing against the dock. The extra day at the marina was a price worth paying for the knowledge that we were safely secured in the storm.

We had a very early start on Friday morning, because as well as the long passage through the cut, there would be locks to go through too.

The sky was grey and overcast, but this time the cloud had a silver lining.

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Leaving Aqua Yacht Harbor #2

 

 

Paris Landing to Aqua Yacht Harbor – Boating for Beginners

So the take-home message from this week’s blog is, just because you’ve parked your boat safely in a delightful anchorage, the sun is shining, the water is sparkling, there’s no one else around, you’ve had a nice dinner, and no adverse weather conditions are forecast, don’t imagine that adverse weather conditions won’t suddenly materialise when you least expect them, with unfortunate consequences for your boat and yourself.

We had a lovely week with the family. On the way, we had an overnight stop at Wytheville, just over the border in Virginia, but it rained all the way from Wytheville to Haymarket, and disappointingly, our view of the Blue Ridge Mountains was obscured by heavy mist. 

But on the way back it was different. Crisp autumn sunshine lit up the tree-covered slopes which were still only just beginning to show their fall colours, in the mountains where Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, West Virginia and Virginia all meet. The Great Smoky Mountains dominated the view as we drove through north-Eastern Tennessee. 

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The Great Smoky Mountains from US 321

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We stopped at Johnson City and just down the road from the hotel was the intriguingly named Cootie Brown’s Restaurant. The young woman on the front desk couldn’t recommend it personally, but other guests had raved about it. 

The exterior was not particularly inviting, looking a bit like a post-war prefab. 

Inside, the tables and chairs were painted a bright distressed yellow and were almost fully occupied with people enjoying good home-style food. They didn’t do wine, but the Sam Adams  seemed more appropriate anyway. There wasn’t a frie on the menu and my side consisted of an interesting combination of artichokes, whole bulbs of roasted garlic, roasted red peppers and spinach, garnished with crumbled blue cheese. Another one to try out on our unsuspecting friends when we get home. And our meal wasn’t expensive. 

All was well at Paris Landing, but not for long. On the Saturday night we anchored at Rockport Landing, where an oxbow lake forms a sheltered channel away from the main river. We had it all to ourselves. 

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Paris Landing to Densons Island

The day started overcast but gradually brightened.

012 (4)Just south of Paris landing

Just south of Paris Landing

013 (2)Richard Creek, Mile89

Richard Creek, Mile 89

Moderately strong winds were forecast for late afternoon, but they came and went. Frost was forecast for the next morning, but nothing else of note. 

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Near Rockport Landing

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The anchorage at Rockport Landing

Around midnight, we were woken by a noise on the deck. Ian went up and secured the little steps that we use to get on and off the boat. 

Ten minutes later, a much louder bang had us leaping out of bed and throwing our coats and life jackets on over our pj’s. 

Carina was bashing on a channel marker which we didn’t remember being there before, and was dangerously near the rocky shore. It was very cold, very dark, the winds were  strong and howling, and suddenly Carina was being tossed about in waves which had come from nowhere. 

The diagnosis was that the anchor had slipped, and it was only then that we remembered the words of wisdom and experience in the Captain Bob Guide, ‘the anchorage is relatively narrow and you may want to set a stern anchor’.

We hadn’t set the stern anchor. It had seemed a quiet and peaceful location and the stern anchor is very heavy and a faff to drop.

But now it seemed like a good idea. First though, we needed to reverse Carina away from the errant channel marker and to a safer position. Once we’d done that, and it seemed that the bow anchor was firm again, Ian dropped the stern anchor. Unfortunately, in the darkness and the panic, neither of us remembered that the engine was still in gear, and for the second time in a month, we had a rope wrapped round the prop. 

The boat was now firmly anchored and there was nothing to be gained by continuing to battle the elements. We went back to bed but found it hard to sleep with the winds howling and the worry of how we were going to extricate ourselves from this particular predicament. 

The next day all was calm and the sun shone, though the air was freezing. Ian was out of bed at 6, but I refused to emerge from under the covers. I saw no benefit in tackling the situation before the air had warmed up a bit and we had had breakfast. 

Eventually we went out and had a look. The plan was to lower the dinghy and try to reach the rope beneath the prop with the long boat hook, and lift the anchor that way. Miraculously, and after a lot of effort, Ian succeeded and we had the anchor back on the deck. Of course we still had the problem that the rope was entwined round the prop, and we had to get that off somehow. 

52 years ago I was Swimming Captain at school. No doubt that was what Ian was thinking of when he mused that actually the water was not that cold and I might like to dive down and take a look. Predictably, this met with a John McEnroe-type response but in the end I gave in, took off my many layers of warm clothing and put my swimmers on. 

He was right that the water didn’t feel cold at all. Relative to the air temperature, that is. But although I could feel the rope on the prop, I couldn’t stay under the water long enough to untangle it. 

We resorted to cutting the rope as close as we could to the prop. Then we tried the engine. Amazingly, it worked and Carina moved, so we were able to make gentle progress down the river to an anchorage at Denson’s Island. This time, we set the stern anchor. 

_MG_0001 (2)A few miles south of Rockport Landing

A few miles south of Rockport Landing

_MG_0006 (2)Evening at Denson's Island

Evening at Densons Island, the end of a long hard day

_MG_0008 (2)Morning at Denson's Island

Morning at Denson’s Island

After Densons Island, we moved on to the marina at Clifton, and then on to Diamond Island, and through Pickwick Lock to Aqua Yacht Harbour.

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South of Densons Island, the countryside became a little more hilly with limestone outcrops.

_MG_0013 (2)Outcrops at Beach Creek

Outcrops at Beach Creek

We had a couple of nights at Clifton Marina, borrowing the courtesy car, which was in reality a creaking pickup truck, to go to the small town to do laundry and reprovision. The only grocery store was Dollar General, which as the name implies, doesn’t strive to be high-end. Our previous experience of DG was that it sold masses of snack food, processed frozen food, hardware and not much else. So we were pleasantly surprised to find good quality fresh fruit and vegetables on offer, and the frozen salmon we got for dinner was fine. Apparently the stocking of fresh produce has only happened within the last few weeks, so I hope it continues. 

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The CocaCola truck

On the second night two more boats joined us in the marina – Angela and Bob on Aqua Vision and Vicky and Bob on Virginia Hawkeye. We all went for dinner in the little bar in the marina and swapped stories of our various misfortunes. We’ve realised that conditions in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers are much worse now than when we were there only 3 weeks ago, with water levels higher, and masses of impacted logs blocking the channel. Vicky regaled us with her account of setting off one morning in slightly misty weather, only for thick fog to descend, and getting completely confused and suddenly realising they were going upstream and not downstream. 

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Angela and Bob leaving Clifton Marina on Aqua Vision

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Vicky on Virginia Hawkeye

 

006 (2)NearClifton Highway bridge

Near Clifton Highway Bridge

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Limestone at Mile 169

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Near Mile 182

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Open country at Mile 182

  There was a little mist and fine drizzle as we left the anchorage at Diamond Island, but we rather optimistically assumed that things would brighten up. They didn’t. The rain and wind steadily increased and reached their high spot just as we had to negotiate Pickwick Lock, where the Tennessee River is dammed to form Pickwick Lake.  Ian always prefers to tie up on port, so I had put all the fenders out and was standing with my midline ready to lasso the bollard on the wall. 

We approached the wall but not closely enough. In the corner of the lock we’d been directed to, there was a particularly strong wind blowing us away from the wall. I’m not very good at moving targets and my attempt at rope-throwing failed miserably. We reversed, and tried again. And again. This went on for a while, before the lockmaster suggested turning around and tying up to the opposite wall. This worked, as the wind was blowing us into the wall, but we then had the problem that we were facing the wrong way to get out of the lock. A 9-point turn didn’t go well so Ian ended up having to reverse Carina 300 yards out of the lock. Steering in reverse is difficult, but we made it eventually, but not before the crew, who had to stand on the back in the rain watching out, got very wet. 

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Disgruntled crew at Pickwick Lock

We left the Tennessee River a little further down Pickwick Lake and entered the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Tenn-Tom for short, which links the Tennessee and Tombigbee Rivers. 

The waterway was first proposed in the late 1700s by French settlers, and engineering investigations were done in 1874. But the project was deemed impractical and although further studies were carried out at various times, it wasn’t until President Nixon finally approved it in 1971 that construction began in 1972. The Waterway was completed in 1985 at a cost of $1 billion. More earth had been moved than had been moved in the construction of the Panama Canal. 

We got to Aqua Yacht Harbor, where we were given a covered slip, which meant we didn’t get too wet walking in the pouring rain to the restaurant for dinner. The next day, Glen, a local diver, came and removed the rope from the prop. It had been twisted several times round the prop and he had to cut it to get it off. There was no way that I could have done it, and that made me feel a bit better.

Paducah to Paris Landing, and a taste of Nashville

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Just after Paducah, we had the choice of turning south on the Tennessee River, or continuing on the Ohio for a while longer, and then following the Cumberland River.  Both rivers lead to the Kentucky Lakes, the Tennessee forming Kentucky Lake and the Cumberland forming Barkley Lake. However, the Tennessee River carries most of the tows and barges and there is usually a long wait to get into the lock which leads to the lake, so we decided on the Cumberland River, and 3 nights at the famed Green Turtle Bay Resort and marina on Barkley Lake for a bit of a rest and to catch up with the laundry and shopping. 

_MG_0056 (2)Start of the Cumberland River

Start of the Cumberland River

_MG_0059 (2)Mile 9 near Bissel creek

Mile 9 near Bissel Landing

The cool mornings and autumnal feel appeared to have been a temporary blip, and it was very hot. We were a little disappointed to find the pool at Green Turtle Bay was closed for the season, but it was a very short walk to a little beach and we swam in the lake there instead. 

_MG_0005 (2)The beach at GTB

The beach at Green Turtle Bay

The resort is in a narrow piece of land between the two lakes, next to the small town of Grand Rivers. The marina operates a shuttle service to anywhere anyone wants to go, so we decided to try the Thirsty Turtle, the marina’s Bar/Restaurant for dinner, about half a mile away in the woods. 

The Thirsty Turtle  was housed in a low, dark wooden building and we weren’t sure whether it was an old building which had been renovated, or a new one made to look old. But it was quite atmospheric, full of other Loopers, including Carol and Tom, and Patrick whom we’d met at Kaskaskia. 

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At the Thirsty Turtle

I’m still puzzled on occasion by American menus. I totally get that biscuits are scones, and cookies are biscuits. And blueberry muffins are little cakes with blueberries in them, not the sort of spongy, rubbery-textured things that are English muffins. I understand that fries are chips, and chips are crisps. But if the menu says ‘Fish and Chips’, I imagine that the fish will be accompanied by chips. Or fries. 

At the Thirsty Turtle, you could choose a side to go with your fish and chips, so I asked for coleslaw. So I was a little nonplussed when the coleslaw came with a more than adequate amount of fish, but no chips. Or fries. 

I looked questioningly at the waiter, who was a little harassed because he was single-handedly waiting on the entire bar. He indicated that fish and chips actually only meant fish. We didn’t say anything. We just ordered an extra side of fries. In the event, because Ian had ordered fries to go with his basket of chicken, there were so many fries that we had to take most of them back to the boat with us in a box and reheat them for dinner the next day. 

We had a treat in store. It was an open mic night. A gentleman in a kilt played a few airs on his bagpipes and got a polite reception. 

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Then a young man with a guitar came on. He looked about 17, his name was Clint and his mum and dad had come with him. But he was very good and didn’t just sing and play his guitar, he engaged with his audience of elderly boaters and entertained us as well. He explained that a song only qualified as country music if it contained references to women, trains, a pickup truck, alcohol and prison. It then transpired that he had got married the previous Friday and that his new British wife was already on her way back to England, where he was going to join her when he had sorted his visa out. Then he hoped to play country music in pubs and clubs in Britain. 

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Clint at the Thirsty Turtle

At the end of the evening we went over and bought one of his CDs (recorded in Nashville, no less) and introduced ourselves, and said we hoped to see him playing somewhere when we were home. 

We stocked up at the village store in Grand Rivers. Village stores are as variable in the US as they are in Britain, but this one was good, with good fresh meat and vegetables and we got everything we needed, except for wine. 

We mentioned this to Elwood, who had driven us down in the shuttle. He indicated the liquor store next door, which we hadn’t noticed because of its very discreet appearance. While Ian went in to replenish our stocks of Pinot Noir, Elwood explained to me that the liquor store had only opened 17 months ago. Despite Kentucky’s economy being based mainly on the production of Bourbon, large parts of the state are dry, meaning that although possession and consumption of alcohol are allowed, it can’t be sold in shops or served in restaurants. Until recently, counties could hold referenda to decide whether alcohol could be sold or not. 17 months ago, the law changed so that communities, rather than counties, could have their own referenda. And Grand Rivers defied the rest of Livingston County, by deciding that selling alcohol was ok. This enabled the liquor store to open, and Green Turtle Bay Resort to open the Thirsty Turtle. Even to someone who generally disapproves of referenda as part of a decision-making process, this seemed like a result. 

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Ian and Elwood in the shuttle

The Captain kept disappearing off to see someone called Miss Wendy, who apparently operated the chandlery at Green Turtle Bay. It seemed we needed all sorts of things that we never even knew existed. During one of these absences, while I was getting lunch ready, something in the boat emitted an alarming noise. I grabbed all the phones in turn, but none of them usually made that sort of noise. Could it be the smoke alarm? Surely not. Then I remembered that that there was some sort of alarm that indicated the bilges were filling and that Carina was in imminent danger of sinking.  Panicking slightly, I tried to assess whether Carina was listing more than normally, and whether I should make a swift exit. 

The Captain came back. A few minutes later, the noise went off again, and this time it was definitely coming from our American phone. 

It was a Presidential Alert. A text appeared. ‘THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.’

Just as well, really, as I wouldn’t have had the faintest idea what to do. 

On our last afternoon, we went to the beach and watched as a flotilla of 12 Looper boats came into the dock, one following the other through the narrow channel,  in an elegant procession. Docktails was quite lively that evening. 

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We left Green Turtle Bay to head south down Kentucky Lake, formed by the Tennessee River, via the short Barkley canal which links the two lakes. As we came out of the marina, there was another trawler coming in through the narrow entrance. Between us, there was a small power boat sitting in the middle of the channel, with two men in it, fishing. This is most definitely not the thing. We stopped, and the other trawler stopped. Eventually the fishing boat moved out of the way sufficiently to allow us to get through. As we passed, the men waved. Then I distinctly heard the word ‘motherf*****s’. The Captain heard it too. In my British way, I assumed that they couldn’t possibly be addressing me, so I waved majestically back. 

_MG_0001 (2)leaving Green Turtle Bay

Leaving Green Turtle Bay

_MG_003(2)leaving GTB

Fishing boat obstructing the channel, Green Turtle Bay

_MG_0006 (2)Barkley Canal

Barkley Canal

The long finger of land between Barkley Lake and Kentucky Lake is known as the Land between the Lakes. It’s a National Recreation Area, a wildlife reserve with trails and camping grounds. Parts of the forest have been removed and prairie grasses sown, and bison introduced. But it has not been without controversy. When the two rivers were dammed to allow water flow in the rivers  to be controlled, and  the Kentucky Lakes were formed, a large area was flooded and many people lost their homes.

But the lakes are beautiful. There are numerous sheltered inlets along the lake shores that are good for anchoring. We stopped in Pisgah Bay, 12 miles south of Green Turtle Bay. 

_MG_0007 (2)Pisgah Bay

Pisgah Bay

We had the anchorage to ourselves. There was a little beach and we took the dinghy over and had a swim. Another couple had arrived by kayak, but there was plenty of space for us all. They were from Indiana and the Captain was impressed to hear that they were camping in a tent. 

Later, back on the boat, we could see fish leaping out of the lake, and on the opposite shore, two deer appeared for a while. 

Did I say it was unseasonably hot? We had planned this trip partly to avoid the humidity and heat of the summer months. Now we were sweltering.  The weather man on the radio said it was 20 degrees above the average for early  October. That’s degrees Fahrenheit of course, because we’re in America, but even so. We decided to chill for another day at Pisgah Bay, though ‘chill’ is perhaps not an apt word to use. Ian had a desultory look at the map to see if there were any walking trails we could explore. There were, but we decided we couldn’t face walking in the heat. The little beach was the only place which had any shade, and this time we took chairs, cushions, Kindles and beer with us. Meanwhile, Carina baked in full sun. 

_MG_0013 (2)Pisgah Bay

Pisgah Bay

In the evening, we put the generator on so we could run the air conditioning, and it managed to reduce the cabin temperature from 87 to 78 by the time we went to bed. A battery-operated fan is now on the shopping list. 

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Sunrise at Pisgah Bay

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Early morning sun on the beach at Pisgah Bay

We cruised down to another anchorage at Ginger Bay. Again we were the only people there apart from a few small fishing boats and a family we could see in the distance on the shore.

001 (2)leaving Ginger Bay

Leaving Ginger Bay

The next day day we stopped at Paris Landing, where we’re leaving the boat for 10 days while we take a road trip to Nashville and on through Kentucky to Virginia to see the family. 

We arrived in Nashville just in time for lunch and got an Uber from the hotel to the downtown, a couple of miles away. The driver recommended the Cajun pasta at the Rock Bottom Bar on Broadway. The pasta came with chicken, andouille sausage and shrimps in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce and it was delicious. We sat in the patio looking out at the crowds in a haze of sounds.

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Rock Bottom Brewery and Restaurant

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View of Broadway and 2nd Avenue from the patio, Rock Bottom

After lunch, we wandered up and down Broadway and along First and Second Avenue. Almost every building was either a bar or a boot store, and the honky-tonk music poured out of every door. The boots were very tempting, but I resisted. 

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Broadway, looking towards the Cumberland River

We were intrigued by the sight of what appeared to be small charabancs, powered entirely by the passengers pedalling furiously and without anyone obviously responsible for steering the vehicle. This was Nashville Pedal Tavern. For $39 you can pedal yourself  round Nashville, in the company of other crazy people, stopping off at carefully selected pubs and bars.

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2nd Avenue, Nashville

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Butler’s Run between 2nd and 1st Avenue

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Nashville Products Co

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Nissan Stadium on the Cumberland River

I didn’t have to wait long for my birthday treat. In the evening, we went back and had dinner at the Pinewood Social. This establishment consisted of a bar/restaurant in a large warehouse building, with a bowling alley at the back.

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Restaurant at Pinewood Social

The food was superb and when we get home I have to try to recreate the salmon with pistachio dish that we both had, and the cherry bourbon tart, served with homemade vanilla ice cream, that Ian had for dessert. 

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Outside the Pinewood Social

We went on to Layla’s, a bar in Broadway that was famous for Bluegrass. The Grass-a-holics were on and they were great. 

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The Grass-a-holics with Jenni Lyn at Layla’s Bar

We had only a brief taste of Nashville, but it was intoxicating.

Kaskaskia Lock to Paducah

Kaskaskia Lock to Paducah

We woke up early the next morning to cool, grey skies.

008 (2)Heading out of Kaskaskia

Heading out of Kaskaskia

It was my birthday. In the face of radio silence from the Captain, I decided to maintain a dignified silence of my own, while continuing to remain affable and exchange the usual pleasantries over breakfast.

Thanks to T-mobile’s patchy coverage, we had had no internet for a few days.

So I was feeling kind of lonesome. Magically, as soon as we got back on the Mississippi, the internet reappeared and I went on Facebook to find lots of lovely messages and emails from my friends and family. These included a couple of birthday videos which I couldn’t resist playing and of course the accompanying tune was unmistakable.

The Captain turned round.

‘What day is it?’

‘Wednesday.’

‘Yes, but what date?’

‘26th September.’

‘Oh b****r.’

He looked a bit contrite. I’ve taken a rain check on the meal in the expensive restaurant and something small and sparkly, or perhaps a better lens for my camera. Or both.

The sun did come out after a while, and by 2.30 we were safely anchored in Little Diversion, a small inlet off the main channel.

010 (2)Mile 100 looking upstream towards Chester

Looking upstream towards Chester

019 (2)Soulshine

Soulshine about to pass us on the two

025 (2)Outcrops at Mile 67

Outcrops at Mile 67

Anchored at Little Diversion

Birthday Prosecco

The Mississippi is very different from the other parts of the Loop that we’ve experienced so far. Unlike the Intracoastal Waterway, depth has so far not proved a problem. Although we’ve had to be wary of the tows with their big barges, which can’t stop or change their course within a quarter of a mile, and treat them with due respect, the wakes they generate pass within minutes and it’s not like crossing Lake Ontario or venturing out down Lake Michigan.

But the current is something else. Luckily we’re going in the right direction. It means Carina is managing 9.5 knots instead of her usual 6. But it also means you have to take that into account when anchoring or docking.

The River has a kind of turbulence with whirlpools and eddies everywhere. ‘Pretty, and menacing at the same time’ is the Captain’s verdict.

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Whirlpools behind us on the Mississippi

The banks are mainly enclosed by woodlands, so it’s hard to get a feel of the surrounding countryside. Just occasionally there’ll be a break in the woodland and we’ll be afforded a glimpse of what lies beyond the banks.

_MG_0005 (2)Gap int he woodland

Gap in the Woodland

Anchorages are few and far between, and marinas even less so, so the days have to be quite carefully planned. After leaving Port Charles on Sunday, we will have had 6 or possibly 7 nights at anchor, or on a wall with no access to any facilities. We won’t starve, but we might run out of milk or teabags. That might not qualify for disaster status, but it’s still a dismal prospect.

Turning into Boston Bar, our last anchorage on the Mississippi

On Friday morning we were fog-bound at Boston Bar, a few miles upstream from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. The plan was to go up the Ohio River to an anchorage 27 miles upriver, with the aim of reaching civilisation at Paducah, Kentucky the following night.

But the timing was critical. Because we’d be going upstream against the current on the Ohio, we would only be making 3 knots. To get to the anchorage before dark, we needed to be away by 10.

There were two other boats moored a few yards away from us. At 8 o’clock we could barely make out their ghostly forms. By 10, visibility was better but not good enough to go. The last thing we wanted was to be suddenly confronted with an enormous barge bearing down on us out of the mist.

At 10.15 we decided to go, and the other two boats left shortly afterwards. Everyone has Paducah in their sights. There was a conversation on the radio about what people were running out of.

‘I gotta get to Paducah, I ran out of wine.’

‘I ran out of water, bread, coffee but I still got wine.’

‘Then I’ll be on your boat tonight.’

As we turned east into the Ohio River, the sky started to clear. The sun caught the boats and the river turned a swirling yellow. We still had Illinois to our left, but now it was Kentucky on our right.

Turning off the Mississippi

The Ohio seemed even busier than the Mississippi. There were tows and barges everywhere, lining both banks.

Barges on the Ohio River

A large vessel seemed to be making straight for us. It was American Queen, which we had seen tied up at St Louis. But we kept out of her way and passed her ‘on the one’.

American Queen on the Ohio River

The Ohio River is running  16’ above normal. We would normally have had to go through two Locks, Olmsted Lock and Lock 52. The water was so high that the locks weren’t operating – we just passed by the side of them, but there was a lot of turbulence as we did so. Olmsted Lock is in the process of being rebuilt.


Olmsted Lock and Happy Destiny passing us on the two

By 3 o’clock we had 9.5 miles to go. We had left the industry behind and the river had widened out so it was more like a lake, with attitude. We could see how high the river was – the trees in the Bank were partly submerged.

Trees partly submerged on the Ohio River

The Illinois Bank of the Ohio River

Near Paducah

So far we haven’t met any other Brits doing the Loop. But suddenly, a rather cultured English voice appeared on the radio, conversing with a tow and some of the other boats. We anchored 300 yards behind them at Bean Branch Creek, and Steve and Diane obligingly got into their RIB and joined us on Carina for a drink. Ian thought that getting into a small dinghy on the river was a bit hazardous, given the currents and eddies, but it turned out that Steve and Diane were experienced boaters, Steve having sailed across the Atlantic a few years ago, so the river probably seemed nothing to them.

The first people we met in Paducah were David and Wanda who we’d met at Kaskaskia Lock and who had overtaken us on Soulshine, with their Peace flag flying, a couple of days before. There was a party going on – the Paducah Barbecue Festival, a 3-day event, and we were lucky to get there for the last day. The Riverfront was lined with hundreds of gazebos selling street food as well as clothing and knicknacks. Loud music played and a boy was having a go on the Bucking Bronco to the sounds of Love Shack and the enjoyment of onlookers. For what seemed like a fairly small town, the crowds were enormous. John, the dockmaster, told us people come from all over West Kentucky and Southern Illinois.

 

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Riverfront BBQ Festival

Sweatshirt stall

Tupperware stall

There were quite a few charity stalls as well, and we stopped to look at a temporary aquarium which housed some of the many species of fish found in the Ohio River. The young man in charge explained that they had caught the fish the previous day by luring them into a trap with an electronic device which emitted waves at a soothing frequency. The next day they would release the fish back into the river. He pointed out the long-nosed gar, what he described as a living fossil, unchanged for 30 million years.

Long-nosed Gar

We had a wander round the town too.

Main St Paducah

Checking out the department store, Paducah

A door in Paducah

In the evening we had drinks with John and Janice from Toronto and it was interesting to hear Canadians’ view of their country.

 

John the dockmaster recommended the Gold Rush Cafe on Broadway for breakfast the next day, and as we had actually run out milk and couldn’t go shopping till the afternoon, this sounded a sensible plan. We had to wait half an hour for a table, but the breakfast was a real treat.

Ian was vacillating over whether to have the sausage patties or the link sausages. Our elderly waitress wasn’t slow to advise.

‘Ya know what? I know link sausages have the flavour, but, I don’t know….. I just don’t like that, ya know….. that casing.’

I knew just what she meant. He had the patties.

We wandered back to the boat. Paducah has had catastrophic flooding at various times and there is now a flood wall along the river front. On the side facing the town, murals have been painted depicting the town’s history from when it was first settled in 1821, to its role as a distribution hub, to the present day, and including a portrait of its most famous son, Alben Barkley, who was Vice-President to Harry S Truman.

Wall Painting in Paducah

Wall painting commemorating Paducah’s role as a hub for telecommunications in the region until switchboards were replaced by electronic computer switching system in 1979

 

As we wandered back to the boat, we came upon the Church on the River, and sat down some distance away. We spoke in whispers, even though we couldn’t possibly have been heard. The preacher was using ‘Somewhere’ from West Side Story as the text for his sermon.

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The Church on the River

 

His sincerity shone through, but he was followed by another man who spoke in a rather accusing tone and whose words seemed banal, and we moved on.

Fishing on the Ohio River

We went to the National Quilt Museum near the Riverfront. It was opened in 1991 to celebrate the work of modern quilters. The quilts were very varied in design, ranging from patterns based on historical designs, to very modern ones. The amount of thought that had gone into the design, the effort made to find just the right colours for the fabrics, and the skill involved in sewing the quilts were all awe-inspiring.

National Quilt Museum, Paducah

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Cityscape by Lucretia Romey, based on the Toronto skyline

Aletsch by Michael James: ‘a synthesis of sensory responses to a particular space: the vast mountainous basin in the Swiss Alps that enclosed the Aletsch Glacier’

Escapade by Libby Lehman

Adventure Awaits by Susan McCarty
Based on the Hobbit

Detail from Adventure Awaits

Later, John drove us to the Mall 7 miles away to stock up. He had been working all weekend and said he would take us after he finished at 2.30. While we were out, he was messaged to say other boats were coming in. He was still on the dock as the sun was going down, helping latecomers to dock their boats.

John on the Dock, Paducah

Carina at Paducah

6.30am, Paducah

We had an early start the next morning. The Captain was worried about getting away from the dock. We were sandwiched between two other boats, and the current would tend to push us back into the dock. As ever, other boaters came to our aid and gave us a good push in our bow to help us get away.

3 hours later we left the Ohio and turned into the lovely Cumberland River. The leaves are just beginning to show a tinge of yellow, and that, along with the cool mornings, gives a hint of Fall.

 

 

 

 

 

Port Charles Harbor to Kaskaskia Lock – tomorrow’s another day

Port Charles Harbor has a well-deserved reputation among boaters for its expertise and efficiency. They had Carina out of the water and the rope untangled from her prop in no time, although at no small expense.

There was a group of Loopers there who all had varying problems with their boats which the boatyard staff were in the process of sorting out. We quickly realised that others were in a much worse position than we were. That’s not meant in a schadenfreude sort of way, it’s meant in a be-thankful-for-small-mercies-and-always-count-your-blessings sort of way.

The atmosphere was a bit like an old-fashioned doctor’s waiting room, where people actually talked to each other, comparing symptoms.

‘What are you in for?’

‘Got towed in Tuesday. Some logs hit the prop.’

Another boat’s engine had got clogged up with mud, the result of following a second boat into a shallow marina. The second boat had run aground and churned up the silt while doing so.

We didn’t get to meet the owners of the boat that had managed to slice the top off its roof, passing under a low bridge.

This is the first time while we’ve been boating that we’ve been able to join in the camaraderie of the Great Loop. On our other trips, we’ve always been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but finally we’ve caught up with some of the rest of them. Jim and Susan, who rescued us from LaGrange, were also going to Port Charles to get work done on their boat, and helped us tie up on the dock. Shortly after arriving Jeanne appeared and invited us to docktails on the porch of the marina that evening.

Docktails is a Looper tradition which I’d read about in other people’s blogs, but never actually experienced. It was great to sit in the evening sun with a beer in our hands and exchange stories with Jim and Susan, Jeanne, Art, Sandy, Kevin, Rhonda, Rick, Ruth and Ed, who like me was a retired dentist.

The marina had a courtesy car and the next day we were able to stock up at Aldi, which proved a far less time consuming, frustrating and expensive exercise than going to one of the larger supermarkets. And the Captain could no longer postpone a visit to Bed Bath and Beyond, that haven for all things domestic, to buy some curtain rails.

When we bought Carina, all the windows had been fitted with narrow, white Venetian blinds. I’ve always been of the opinion that Venetian blinds should never have left Venice, being awkward to clean and, dare I say it, not adding anything to the aesthetics of a room. That’s just my personal opinion, of course. The ones on Carina had obviously been in use for some time when we bought her, and became progressively more discoloured with each trip. No amount of cleaning, which involved difficult Pilates-type stretches and contortions, seemed to make any difference to their sad and by now rather grimy appearance.

I had already replaced the bedroom blinds with curtains and these had improved the cosiness of the bedroom. Last time we were at home, I had bought more of the same fabric and made curtains and roller blinds for the cabin and galley.

Far from being impressed by my industry and creativity, the Captain appeared almost to resent the extra burden that fitting the curtain rods and blinds would place on his heavy schedule of Things to Fix. The curtains and blinds were a low priority, and were continually being displaced further downwards, as newer, more urgent problems, as well as routine maintenance, vied for his attention. The air conditioner suddenly stopped working, just as the ambient temperature peaked in the high nineties. (This sorted itself out, and was probably the result of the boat being lifted out of the water to have the rope removed from the prop). Then the shower pump wasn’t working, and diagnosing and treating this was a tedious process involving getting the dinghy out and paddling round to the drain hole to poke a piece of wire up it to try to dislodge whatever was blocking the pipe.

But there was no escape from B B & B and after some drama, the curtains were hung. A few days later, the blinds were installed. Result! Being able to see properly out of the windows has made the cabin feel much more spacious and airy.

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Carina’s new blinds

In the evening, the Loopers, who by this time had dubbed themselves ‘The Broken Boaters’ Club’ all went to the Yacht Club next door to the marina for dinner. The food was very good and the company even better.

The Broken Boaters Club – L to R, Ian, Jane, Ed, Ruth, Rhonda, Rick, Jeanne, Art, Jim, Susan, Sandy, Kevin

We decided to stay another day. The marina had organised a Fall party on the grassy area next to the river, with food and music, and amidst the country music and the rock’n’roll, the DJ inserted ‘In the Mood’, to which we managed a quickstep on the rough grass, in our sandals.

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Loopers at the party – Ian, Jim, Susan and Sherry

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Drinks in the evening sun

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Playing on the swing, Port Charles Harbor

Sunday was glorious and we said goodbye to Susan and Jim, hoping to meet them again further down the Loop.

_MG_0015 (2)leaving Port Charles Harbor

Leaving Port Charles Harbor

_MG_0016 (2)Upper Mississippi at Port Charles

Upper Mississippi River at Port Charles Harbor

_MG_0017 (2)Limestone outcrops near Portage des Sioux

Limestone outcrops near Portage des Sioux

_MG_0022 (2)Pelicans at 208.5 mile

Pelicans at Mile 208.5

The river widened out and we passed St Louis, its famous Gateway Arch  glittering in the sunlight. There’s nowhere to anchor and no marinas in St Louis, so we’ve had to pass on the sightseeing for now.

_MG_0024 (2)New Clark Highway fixed bridge

New Clark Highway Fixed Bridge, St Louis

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Gateway Arch, St Louis

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American Queen moored at St Louis

We anchored 20 miles downriver at Oakville. There wasn’t a problem getting the anchor to bite, but the wakes from the passing barges, and the loud bangs when floating logs hit Carina were quite disconcerting.There’s nothing like cooking dinner in a boat which is rocking about, and then having to have a lie-down because you feel too queasy to eat anything. Dinner wasn’t very appetising anyway, a concoction of pasta and leftover pork and half a tin of tomatoes, with a few carrots, onions and courgettes thrown in, and the cheap bottle of Chenin Blanc in the fridge had obviously been an aberration. It was repurposed the following night as a substitute for rice wine in a Chinese-style stir-fry.

But I did get a nice photo.

Moon River

The next day it was raining and misty, but not enough to deter the Captain’s impulse to move. He decided that we would call in at Hoppie’s, a few miles further down the river. Hoppie’s is a marina which consists of a few barges tied together where you can moor for the night and get fuel.

The Captain thought we should get more fuel. Fog had descended on the river too, which was another good reason to stop. There was very little space in which to manoeuvre the boat, and a tricky eddy round the dock made it even more difficult. Even with the help of five other Loopers who magically appeared from their boats, Carina sustained a bump on her port side, fortunately not a serious one.

It seemed that we might be at Hoppie’s for a while, as the fog closed in. But we’d seen pictures on Facebook of enormous apple pies that could be procured from a nearby establishment, so this was a possible opportunity, rather than a snag in our plans. Gene, one of the Loopers, assured us that the nearby community was within walking distance, if we wanted to get off the boat and have a look around. He then said but unfortunately, everything would be closed.

I wondered if it was a public holiday.

‘No, it’s Monday.’

Eventually the fog lifted, and the boat sitting on the fuel dock decided it was safe to go, so we got some fuel and set off again, down Ol’ Man River, Illinois to our left and Missouri to our right. We haven’t seen any bridges, road or rail, since St Louis, 30 miles to the north.

002 (2)Kaskaskia Lock

Arriving at Kaskaskia Lock with thunderclouds above us

Our next stop was on a wall at Kaskaskia Lock, close to where the Kaskaskia River joins the Mississippi. There are no facilities, and you’re not allowed to trespass on the US Army Corps of Engineers property. As we arrived, the Loopers who had helped us dock at Hoppie’s were there to take our lines. They already had a table and chairs set up on the dock, so we got our chairs and a couple of beers and joined them. We were only slightly trespassing on US Army property.

002 (2)At Kaskaskia

Moored on the wall at Kaskaskia Lock

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Don’t mess with us

The weather forecast for Tuesday wasn’t good. Severe thunderstorms with hailstones were a possibility. We decided rather than tempt fate once more, we would stay put another night on the lock, although all the other Loopers set off.

Although there were threatening clouds on the horizon everywhere we looked, apart from a short burst of heavy rain in the late morning, we spent the day doing little jobs on the boat under the baking sun.

Later in the day, more boats arrived so we had company in the evening. It’s interesting and sometimes awe-inspiring to hear about other people’s experiences, especially when they are intrepid boaters like Tom and Dorothy, who had sailed across the Atlantic, the west coast of Ireland and Scotland, into Scandinavia as well as the coast of Chile.

As we were going to bed, the rain started and we slept to the sounds of the rain hammering down on Carina’s roof and windows.

Peoria to Port Charles Harbor – News of Fresh Disasters and the Kindness of Strangers

The Captain loves ‘dropping the hook’, aka anchoring in some remote place where we’re unlikely to have any other boats for company or be disturbed by noises off from cars or trains, and there’s no chance he’ll be required to go shopping. 

So this was what we did on our first night out of Peoria.

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Setting off from Peoria

McCluggage Bridge

There was some industry here and there, and we passed lots of huge barges, pushed through the river by powerful tows. But overall the river was bordered by unspoiled woodland.

The ‘tows’ which manoeuvre the barges through the rivers Leaving Peoria Lock

014 (2)Industry at Havana

Near Havana

Duck Island offered a pleasant refuge, after we had gone through the usual agonies of deciding where to anchor, dropping both the anchors, and then deciding that wasn’t such a good idea after all, lifting both anchors, restarting the engine, and moving the boat a few feet to another location deemed more satisfactory. 

The anchorage at Duck Island

The anchorage at Duck Island, looking downstream

It was peaceful, but very hot. Cooking in the heat was a bit of a trial, especially after a week of simply ordering what I wanted from a menu, and waiting for someone to bring it to me. 

Angie Gold in the evening light

6.45 seems an ideal time to wake up. The sun’s up, but not high or strong enough to be unpleasant, and there’s time for a cup of tea and a relaxed breakfast before the Captain wants to be on the move. 

South of Duck Island, under a cloudless pale blue sky, we passed Liverpool Levee, separating the river from drained agricultural land to the west. 

Liverpool Levee

Travelling distorts your perception of time. Was it really only a week since we were on the flight from Newcastle? Only two weeks today since Book Group and lunch in York with my friends? And only three weeks since the Calligraphy class? The present life quickly becomes the new normal, however much you didn’t want to leave home, friends and family. 

The barges on the river travel even more slowly than Carina does, which means we have to overtake them. The channel is quite narrow and there’s barely enough space to accommodate a big barge and a motor trawler. The Captain has to contact them on the radio and politely inform them that we’d like to pass, and could we have instructions. This is met with a terse response, ‘On the one.’ Or, ‘On the two.’ For some reason, this reminds me of ballroom dancing.  Occasionally, further instruction is proffered. ‘Pass on my port side.’ But no passing the time of day, as you usually get with bridge controllers or lock-keepers.  

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Overtaking Jeff Boat

Near Liverpool

Quiver Beach

Quiver Beach

Time for a selfie

We pressed on to Beardstown, 47 miles south of Duck Island. The current meant that Carina was making 7 knots, much faster than she had managed in the Great Lakes. There’s no dock there, but a limited number of boats can tie up at Logsdon’s Tug Service, and we were lucky to be able to squeeze Carina in.

Docking at Beardstown

Beardstown was described in the guide as a ‘lovely small town to explore……brimming with history’. Abraham Lincoln was a frequent visitor apparently, in the days when when Illinois was a rugged Frontier State, but it struck us as a rather sad and run down place, with shops shut and businesses closed, and not many people about. 

Main St, Beardstown

The Park

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The gas station

But there was a grocery store. We stocked up with beer, wine and water at the Save-a-Lot. 

We had a beer at the Riverfront Bar and Restaurant, on the next block to Logsdon’s, and went back there later for dinner. The owners seemed very pleased to see us as well as the few local people there. The food was basic American, lots of it and nicely cooked. We talked to the owner, who said that times were a bit tough. She’d petitioned  the mayor about improving the facilities for boaters, like having a town dock. Such things do make a place more attractive to transient boats and must help to support local businesses. 

Enjoying a beer in the Riverfront Bar and Restaurant

The next day we managed another (for us) early start, and set off in the calm sunshine towards LaGrange Lock, where Fate was waiting for us once more. 

Approaching LaGrange Lock

LaGrange Lock

One wouldn’t catastrophise. Of course, in a global sense, in the grand scheme of things, if you Looked at the Big Picture, or thought of all the people Much Worse Off Than You, it wasn’t a disaster at all. 

It just felt like one at the time. 

The Captain was pleased with himself, having overtaken a big barge, and having persuaded the lock keepers at LaGrange Locks to wait for us before they emptied the lock. Without that, we would have been delayed for hours, waiting for the barge to go through first. 

We tied up on the left wall. The lock emptied. The gates opened. The other small craft on the right wall went through. 

We cast off, and the captain tried to start the engine. It stalled. Repeat five times, until the realisation dawns that there’s Something Seriously Wrong and we are drifting about in the huge lock and the boat is out of control. I fend off with the boat hook to save Carina from bashing into the lock wall while Ian communicates to the US Army engineers manning the lock that we have a problem, compounded by the lack of signal on our cell phone, which means that we can’t call TowBoatUS, the rescue company we’re insured with. The immediate suspicion is that somehow, the transmission has failed and the clutch has burnt out. The differential diagnosis is a log or piece of debris jamming the prop, a frequent occurrence on our narrowboat trips, especially on the less salubrious canals in the north of England. 

The lock keepers call TowBoat US for us, but we’re in deepest rural Illinois at this point, and they haven’t anyone within 80 miles of us. 

They then call Logsdon’s where we’d been the previous night, to see if they could help. Logsdon’s said they would see if anyone could help, and get back to us. 

The Lock-men  were as anxious as we were to get us out of the way. At this point, we were preventing them from closing the lock and stopping other boats, including the all-important commercial barges, from passing up and down the waterway. In desperation Ian radioed all the boats were that had just left the lock, to ask if any of them could come back and tow us to a safe haven. To our great relief and immense gratitude, Gypsy, owned by Jim and Susan Merritt, turned around, came back 3 miles and towed us to somewhere where we could anchor. Susan then called Logsdon’s again for us and they said they could get someone to us by 4 o’clock. 

But after multiple other phone calls on our behalf, Susan and Jim worked out that if they towed us, we could just about reach a place called Hardin 60 miles down the river, before it got dark. Hardin is a small town with a Riverfront restaurant which has its own dock where you can tie up and stay overnight. And if we got to Hardin, TowBoatUS would come for us in the morning and take us to Port Charles, where we could be sorted out. It was a plan. 

Gypsy leading the way

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Lashing Gypsy and Carina together before the 60-mile tow. Photo Susan Merritt

On the way, Ian discovered the actual cause of the problem. The propellor was jammed, because one of the mid lines hadn’t been stowed properly, had fallen in the water and wound itself tightly round the prop.

A moment’s carelessness and negligence had caused huge inconvenience to other people as well as to us. That knowledge was perhaps harder to bear than mechanical failure and its attendant expense would have been.

We decided to not apportion blame, since neither of us could remember who had been in charge of the midline at the fateful moment of casting off from the lock wall. But we both still felt bad.

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The light fading near Hardin

We got to Hardin after sunset and just as the light was fading. We took Susan and Jim out for dinner and  contributed to the cost of the fuel used during our journey. But it really wasn’t enough to thank them for their kindness and generosity in coming to our aid and assistance. 

Going to the restaurant with Susan and Jim

014 (2)Riverdock Restaurant Hardin
The Illinois Riverdock Restaurant

The next day, TowBoatUS arrived promptly at 8 am with red lights flashing. They had seen it all before. 

TowBoatUS arriving Photo Susan Merritt

015 (2)Early morning, Hardin

Carina and Gypsy in the early morning

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Ian, Susan and Jim

Carina leaving Hardin Photo Susan Merritt

We were soon under way, and a few hours later, left the Illinois River and took a right into the Upper Mississippi and into Port Charles Harbor, where salvation was at hand, and where, as it turned out, we had a very jolly time.

024 (2)First view of Upper Mississippi

On the Upper Mississippi River