Beginning Location: Olmstead, Ohio
Ending Location: Lock 52 on the Ohio River
Miles Traveled: 14
Stayed at: Anchored below the dam at Lock 52
On Monday morning we got going at first light knowing we would have a long day of battling the current ahead of us. Before we had even sipped our coffee, we had our first test of the day.
Here’s a little explanation, so you can follow what we were dealing with. Every lock has a dam associated with it. In many places, these dams can be raised or lowered entirely to allow more water to travel down stream. When the dam is up, boats have to travel through the lock to get over or below it. The individual sections of the dam that are lowered are called wickets. Each wicket is lowered individually, but generally all the wickets are lowered at the same time. When they are lowered, they disappear under water and you’d never know there was a dam underneath the surface.
The section of the Ohio river we had to travel has two locks and dams, 53 and 52. These things are OLD. Something is always broken on them. They’re rusty, inefficient, slow down barge and pleasure traffic and are generally hated by any boater who encounters them. They will eventually be replaced by the new Olmstead Lock, but that is still at least a year away.
We anchored less than two miles below Lock 53, where the wickets were down. This lets more water downstream and helps prevent flooding. It also increases current.
Our boat is pretty low powered. We have 21 horses on an 8000 pound vessel. We can’t fight a 6 mile an hour current. The good news is, we were able to run over the dam pretty close to the lock wall. The wall actually helps break up the current and we never saw less than 2 mph going over 53. We proceeded upstream and started to see the traffic jam waiting to go through Lock 52.
When we arrived at Lock 52, the lockmaster told us to anchor off to the side of the river because they were having a “technical problem.” Workers had begun lowering the wickets that morning, but one wicket was “stuck.” They couldn’t allow any boat traffic through until this problem was resolved. We hung around from noon until about 4pm, when we had another conversation with the lockmaster. It turned out the stuck wicket was about 200 feet from the lock wall, so we couldn’t run next to the wall, even though our boat is only 10 feet wide! We made an attempt to head upstream in the middle of the channel, but we just didn’t have enough power to get over the dam. At that spot, the current was at least 6, maybe 7 mph and our boat just couldn’t do it.
Tired and frustrated, we started calling around for possible help getting over the dam. The lockmaster told us the dam would be down at least for a week and no one knew when the current would die back enough for us to get over the “hump” in the river. We stayed anchored below the dam that night, quite safe but worried about how this story was going to end.