Thursday, September 20, 2007

Traveling to the Promised Land

This will be a rather long posting since we have not had good connections for internet and we have been running down the rivers to get to the place Ed Miller on "Miller Time" called the "Promised Land", the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.

We left the wall at Joliet after many days of discussions about the river levels and headed down the Illinois river. There were seven boats leaving at the same time. We headed out into the river and formed into what looked like a navy convoy.

The group had various destinations planned for the first day and we headed down the river to Starved Rock Marina. The next day we headed out into the fog making our way through the final lock we would actually use on the Illinois. While we waited for the lock, some other boats came out of the fog bank to where we were.

We pulled off the lock wall and into the swollen waters of the river. Prior to this point the locks contolled the level of the water. Since this was the last lock, the river was in its natural state below this point.

We could look at the trees along the sides of the river and easily see where the water level had been only days before (the lighter colored leaves). The level was still flood stage and the next lock was almost completely under water as we just drove over the lowered dam. We had more debris with us and even had turtles riding the logs downstream. The debris would catch against anything structural and we just hoped that this would not all release with the next rain and come down on us at our next stop.

We stopped at Tall Timbers marina and met two other boats that had left the wall in Joliet before us. We all left the next morning to go to Grafton Marina at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. It started raining again and we stayed at Grafton for three days trying to make a decision about leaving. There were quite a few boats at Grafton and also at Alton marina a few miles down the Mississippi. We had meetings to discuss the situation and morning radio conferences.

We finally decided to leave on the 7th and were headed toward Hoppie's on the Mississippi. Hoppies is a favorite stop and one of only a few stops along the Mississippi.

We had talked with Hoppie's and they thought they could handle all of us if a boat left there that morning. We decided to go for it and headed out into the Mississippi.

The current was running much faster in the Mississippi and we were traveling at 13 to 14 miles per hour. We passed by St. Louis and the famous Arch along the way. Incredibly, there is no place to stop in St. Louis so we could only admire the arch as we passed by.

As we neared Hoppies, Stacy and I and Bill and Birute on B& B decided to make a longer day and go to Kaskaskia lock to tie up for the night. The Kaskaskia river joins the Mississippi about halfway between the Illinois and the Ohio. There is a lock about half a mile up the river and the lock allows boats to tie to the back of the lower wall. We had a good night there and then made another long day trip to the Ohio river. We anchored at Angelo Towhead where the Mississippi and Ohio join.

After a relatively quiet night we headed out in the morning for our run up the Ohio River. The weather was not cooperative and we had rain off and on all day. The Ohio runs into the Mississippi so we would be working against the current. The water levels in the Ohio had been reduced so the current was not nearly as strong as it could have been. There were two locks on the Ohio and the first had the wicket dam down so that we could just cross over the dam.

The second lock had many tows (barge groups being pushed up and down the river) waiting and we thought that there could be a long delay in the locking. On the Mississippi and Ohio we were seeing larger tows than previously. The largest we saw was 6 by 6 for a total of 36 barges. This one is a 5 by 5.

This would not be good as we had no alternative and must make the Cumberland Towhead by dark. It turned out that the water level had been dropped so much that most of the tows could not be locked without hitting the underwater sill of the lock. We were able to get right in the lock but it was the slowest lock we had been through. After we were finally up (standing in the rain the whole time), the doors to the lock would not open. The lock tenders had to run up to another building and start a standby generator as the power to the lock and local area had gone out. After a cloud of smoke that we assumed was the exhaust and not a fire, the lock tender came out of his shack and kicked at something on the doors and they started opening. The low water here turned out to be a blessing as boats a couple of days later were waiting for hours to be locked through due to all the higher priority tow traffic.
After the final lock we headed to the Cumberland Towhead. We anchored there for the night and then the next morning headed up the Cumberland River to Green Turtle Bay marina. We had to go through the Barkley Lock into the Barkley Lake and when we exited the lock we realized we had reached the "Promised Land". The scenery had changed and the water was much cleaner. We stayed at Green Turtle Bay for 3 days as we rested after our trip on the rivers. We were joined that day and the next day by most of the boats we were with on the wall at Joliet. We got together and celebrated our arrival in the Land Between The Lakes.

After three days we headed out from Green Turtle Bay. This is the place where many people were staying for a week or more to travel back home or take care of needed repairs. We worked on B & B's dinghy davit motor while we had a decent Ship's Store available.

One other boat, "September Morn" joined with us and B & B and we headed out to cross over to the Tennessee river and up to Joe Wheeler State Park in Alabama.
We all three anchored in a cove off the lake. Actually, we dropped our anchor and the other two boats rafted to us. We stayed here for two nights.

While we were there we swam in the warmer water and I dove down to check our zincs and running gear. I also checked September Morn's bow thruster for damage after he caught a stick in it during locking.

SEASEA and September Morn left after two nights and headed further up the river. B & B are not planning to go to the rendezvous at Joe Wheeler so they wanted to stay in the lakes for a few more days before heading out. We once again had to say goodbye to friends we had made. We hope to see them again sometime. They untied from us and we waved our farewells.

We stopped at Pebble Isle marina to pick up some fuel and spent the night there. The next night we headed on up the river and after anchoring behind an island on the river that night we headed for the split between the Tennessee river and the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway that connects the Tennessee to Mobile Bay. September Morn planned to go to a marina just south of the split and we were headed to Joe Wheeler on the Tennessee so we said goodbye at the split and will see them again at the rendezvous in a few weeks. We could tell that we had been traveling between Kentucky and Tennessee by the turf war being waged on the river.

We traveled through two more locks and into the lakes of the Tennessee. These are beautiful lakes that remind us of Lake Burton in North Georgia except we don't have tows in Lake Burton. We had beautiful and peaceful anchorages and were able to watch a sternwheeler go by our selected cove on the lake.

On Tuesday the 18th we left our anchorage looking forward to entering the highest lock we will go through. The Wilson lock lifts us 90 something feet and is mighty impressive when entering. We tie to floating bollards that are in the sides of the lock and then hold the boat against the wall as the water level is raised in the lock chamber. The bollards float up slots in the wall so it is not extremely difficult to hold position. Leaving this lock put us out onto Wheeler Lake.

Just before entering the lock we passed by a unique bridge. This is what remains of a double deck bridge built in the early 1800's. It originally was built for train traffic on the upper deck and pedestrian, horse and wagon traffic on the lower deck. It is obviously no longer used but is historically interesting.

The Tennessee river is a series of lakes formed by the dams and locks. These lakes have many fine homes along the shores. Since this is mountainous terrain, the houses are usually high on bluffs overlooking the lake. We saw quite a few interesting methods for the occupants to get from the house to the lake. Everything from long stairs to rail cars and this one dock elevator.

We anchored in a cove close to Joe Wheeler State Park so that we could time our month slip rental beginning on Wednesday. These small coves are great anchorages. It still gives me pause when I see a large tow working in what appears to be a recreational lake. This one came right by the entrance to our cove.

Wednesday September 18 we pulled into Joe Wheeler State Park where SEASEA will stay for a month.

We will be leaving here on Saturday by car to go by Chattanooga then to Athens for a visit before coming back to Wheeler State Park for the America's Great Loop Cruisers Association rendezvous in mid-October. After that we will be taking the boat on up the Tennessee river to her permanent home.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Doing time in Joliet

Prior to leaving Chicago we helped Skinwalker lower their mast in order to clear the bridges headed downstream.

We had been together in a nice cozy spot right in the middle of town for longer than we wanted but the rivers seem to have subsided enough to make a run to Joliet.

Skinwalker and Juwika headed through the center of town but we had to go down lake Michigan to the Cal-Sag channel at Calumet harbor. We could not lower our radar arch so we could not clear the fixed bridges going through the center of town. The Cal-Sag channel is a very industrial place with lots of barge traffic moving materials. This channel also had a number of places where debris had rafted together and we had to work our way through. The photo shows an area with a smaller amount of the debris.

There was one fixed bridge that we had to clear and we cleared it with about 8 inches to spare. We were concerned because of the high water levels that we would not be able to clear this bridge.

We rejoined the Chicago river and met Skinwalker and Juwika at the junction. We could not have timed it better if we had planned to meet up there. We traveled on down to the city of Joliet where the city has put in power pedestals along their wall. This is a free wall so we took advantage of their hospitality for a few days. We had determined that the river levels were reasonable at least through a few locks then we would be in flood conditions. We stayed in Joliet for 5 days while we waited. During that time we had as many as 14 boats along the wall.

We spent time exploring the area around the town wall. The wall is directly on the river between bridges and is heavily traveled by barge tows. These tows come close (sometimes uncomfortably so) to the boats as they come through and some boats have been hit here but we had no problems at all. This was a single width barge but some tows were three barges wide and four barges long.

There was a very good pub/restaurant nearby and many of us walked over the bridge to eat here. It was good enough that we ate there again the second night after many additional boats arrived.

Juwika left us after one night here as they were to get down the river to Spring Brook marina to have their boat put on a truck to go back to Washington state. Their loop trip completed, we said our goodbyes to our good friends and saw them off.

Joliet is most well known as having one of the largest federal penitentiaries in the country. We did not see this facility but we did find a great old Vaudeville/Movie House theater in town. Stacy arranged for about 20 of us to get a tour of the facility and the guide knew just about everything about the theater and the town.

The theater was restored in the 1980's and is used today by many headlining acts for stage productions and concerts.

Since we were right next to the town park, we walked over one night for a free concert. Quite a few of the towns we have visited have a greater sense of community than to what we are accustomed. Many towns have these type parks with free events.

In the cruising boating world we have our own community and any time a few boats are gathered together there is some type of sharing of meals, repairs, etc. We had a pot-luck dinner on the wall and Wayne gave Lynn (of Skinwalker) a haircut while we were there.

On our last night there Stacy's long time good friend Sharon Albrecht (along with Everette) drove two hours to visit with us. They are with WDA at Purdue University. It was good to get to see them and catch up with what is happening in their lives.

Most of our time on the wall was spent looking at river hydrology trying to determine the best time to head downstream. After 5 days we decided it was time to go and left to see what our timetable would be working downstream with the locks. Our plan is to head on down the Illiois river and then the Mississippi to the Ohio and Cumberland before we slow to a crawl to enjoy the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.