We woke up early the next morning to cool, grey skies.
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?’
‘Yes, but what date?’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Ohio seemed even busier than the Mississippi. There were tows and barges everywhere, lining both banks.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We had a wander round the town too.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.