Day – 38,39,40 The mighty Mississippi

October 21st. Started out rainy and grey.  We called the Melvin Price Lock, which we could see from our marina, to see if they could handle us at 0700.  We were told to wait half an hour before leaving the marina and they should be able to handle us.  The St’ Louis harbour was currently closed due to high water levels but they expected it to be opened at day break.  We hummed and hawed with our group, Two Loons and Knot Diggin, about whether or not we should leave.  Bill is always ready to go, wanting to get to Florida as quick as possible.  Chris was also keen to get going and stay ahead of the large group that arrived at Alton the night before.  I was apprehensive being nervous about the high water levels and only having one engine to fight the large currents. In the end we all agreed to head out and left the marina at 0800. We only had a short wait to get into the lock and when the lockmaster gave us instructions he said we could pick either side or just float in the middle if we wanted. That was strange, usually they make you tie to the floating pins.  After securing to the pin on the starboard side it only seemed like a couple of minutes and the lock doors ahead began to open. We only dropped about 8″. When I looked back after clearing the lock the Dam looked more like a speed bump than a Dam.

That was our first clue that the high water levels were not an exaggeration.
It was rumoured to be a very busy harbour where the Mississippi meets the Missouri River but other than a few big tows, we seemed to be the only ones moving. A short 5 miles downstream I called the Chain of Rocks lockmaster before entering the canal toward the lock and was instructed to call when we arrived at the lock and he would get us through. We passed a number of tows waiting to lock down and I was nervous we might be expecting a long delay as the commercial traffic has precedence over Recreational boats.

It turned out that the Chain of Rocks lock is a double lock and we had the green light on arrival and sailed right in and right out like we owned the place. Locks are much more fun when there is no wait.
Shortly after clearing the Chain of Rocks lock it was time to take the traditional St. Louis Arch picture that all the Loopers have on their blogs.

Photo credit Knot Diggin.
I also got a few images sent from friends taken from the web cam. I love the technology that can keep us closer to our friends back home. Thanks for keeping an eye on us.
A short time later another iconic Looper photo-op came up. The diving girl sculpture.

Not sure why she is wearing stockings but it makes her stand out on an otherwise boring shore.
Navigating on the Mississippi was very challenging with many channel markers either missing or under water. Sometimes they would be almost covered like this one.

Then the next minute they would just disappear under water. We were worried about running over one so we stuck to the middle of the channel as best we could only moving over when we had to for barge traffic.
We had one small scare while I was in the cabin making lunch and one of the chains holding the dinghy popped off. There was a big tow coming at us and Jan had to keep the boat steady off to the side while I wrestled the dinghy back onto the lift. It all worked out in the end and will just be another Docktails story to share.
That night after 74 miles, we tied to a free wall at the KasKaskia Lock just off the river.

It was a relief to be out of the current and tied securely for the night. We slept well.

Up at sunrise on the 22nd. and right back into the current.

Another 85 Nautical miles of dodging barges and errant channel markers brought us to our intended anchorage at Brown’s Chute.

It was anything but the quiet secure spot of the night before. We anchored in 5 knots of current behind some wing dams. We were well off the shipping channel and the anchor stuck like crazy when we put it down, but every time a barge went by the current would pick up and it was like anchoring in the rapids. We did not sleep so well…
The next morning we couldn’t wait to get under way. Unfortunately the anchor was really stuck. It was the first time I every came close to stalling the windlass. We had to drive over our anchor and pull it from the other side to get it out. We did and hit the river again.
The current seemed stronger again and we hit a new speed record on Nautoncall of 14.4 Knots. While the speed was nice, we were “bookin it”, It was scarey because at that speed we couldn’t have turned into the current and made headway. Fortunately we didn’t need to and quickly made the 20 miles to finish the Mississippi leg of the journey.
As we were approaching the Ohio river we saw the biggest barge yet.

This bad boy was 6 barges wide and 7 long. That is 300′ wide and 1400′ long. He left huge standing waves behind him adding to the torrents. Just after that we rounded the corner and started up the Ohio river. It was like night and day difference immediately. It smoothed right out and our speed dropped to 6 knots. There was a lot of commercial traffic as the junction of the two rivers is a natural spot to marshal traffic and repair equipment. At times it looked like there were parked barges all the way across the river.
That night we made it to the town of Paducah and tied to the new transient docks with all the big boats…

Don McCulloch
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