Category Archive: On the Move

Find This One on a Map

maria | October 19, 2013 | COMMENTS:1 Comment »

Beginning Location: New Johnsonville, TN
Ending Location: Cuba Landing, TN
Miles Traveled: 19
Stayed at: Cuba Landing Marina ($30)

Today was another short day, traveling only 19 miles to Cuba Landing. We didn’t even take any pictures!

Cuba Landing is yet another pretty place located in a wildlife refuge. The marina is pretty basic and there is nothing else around for miles. We went for yet another walk in the Tennessee woods and listened to the Tigers lose using the MLB phone app.

Just another day on the Tennessee River.

Category: On the Move

Why Is the Engine Coughing?

maria | October 18, 2013 | COMMENTS:1 Comment »
The remains of a railroad bridge and dock. The town they belonged to was flooded when Kentucky Dam was built.

The remains of a railroad bridge and dock. The town they belonged to was flooded when Kentucky Dam was built.

Beginning Location: Paris Landing State Park, Buchanan, TN
Ending Location: New Johnsonville, TN
Miles Traveled: 30
Stayed at: Pebble Isle Marina ($30)

Today we left as soon as the fog had burned off, intending to travel 45 miles or so. The weather is really starting to get cold. During the day the sun heats everything up to the mid-60s or so, but as soon as the sun goes down, it gets cold quickly. The nights have been in the low 40s or even the high 30s. This is pretty tough on us, traveling in a poorly insulated boat. It’s also the perfect recipe for fog – cold air on warm river water. We need to hurry South to stay reasonably warm.

Unfortunately, our plans had to change a bit. Back at Green Turtle Bay we had some routine maintenance done including an oil change and fuel filter change. Ever since then, we’ve been getting a bit of air into the fuel filters. We’re both pretty clueless about these types of engine issues, so we decided to pull into Pebble Isle marina to have a mechanic look at the filters. We were there in time for a late lunch and the mechanic was waiting for us at the dock. He removed our primary (Racor) fuel filter and re-sealed it. He also showed us how to bleed air out of the system more completely than we had been doing. Hoping the issue was resolved, we pulled into a slip for the night.

New Johnsonville is home to the Johnsonville State Historic Park, a prominent Civil War supply center for the Union. We took a walk over the park and learned a bit more about the area. After that we had another really good dinner at Pebble Isle’s restaurant. With our little heater cranking, we slept pretty comfortably.

Fog in a creek

Fog in a creek

White pelicans. A good sign!

White pelicans. A good sign!

Category: On the Move

A Whole Lot of Pretty

maria | October 17, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed

DSC00129Beginning Location: Kenlake State Park, Aurora, KY
Ending Location: Paris Landing State Park, Buchanan, TN
Miles Traveled: 24
Stayed at: Paris Landing Marina ($30)

Today was another short, easy day to arrive at another beautiful state park. We crossed into Tennessee and stayed at Paris Landing State Park Marina. We can’t say enough good things about these park marinas. Tennessee state parks now also serve beer and wine in their restaurants, so it’s just about perfect.

The only thing they don’t seem to understand is showers for boaters. Paris Landing has one (ONE!) shower for about 300 boat slips.

We must have said, “Wow, that’s really pretty” about a 100 times today. The whole Kentucky Lake area is gorgeous. It’s

really the first place we’ve been on this trip we intend to visit again. If we hadn’t had so many delays, we could easily spend a couple weeks exploring the area.

Maria's quest for the perfect Heron picture continues. This bird was a very cooperative model.

Maria’s quest for the perfect Heron picture continues. This bird was a very cooperative model.


Category: On the Move

Up Kentucky Lake

maria | | COMMENTS:2 Comments »
Barkley Lake on the Cumberland River

Barkley Lake on the Cumberland River

Beginning Location: Grand Rivers, KY
Ending Location: Kenlake State Park, Aurora, KY
Miles Traveled: 22
Stayed at: Kenlake Marina ($22.50, but no showers)

This morning we finally left Green Turtle Bay and began our trip up the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake. I say “up” because even though we are traveling South, we are heading upstream. The good news is, the current is quite mild for most of the 200 miles we will travel.

The first 100 miles or so of the Tennessee River takes place on Kentucky Lake, which was created when the Tennessee Valley Authority built Kentucky Dam in the 1960s. The lake is a couple miles wide and up to 70 feet deep. The shores are tree lined and peaceful. It’s an amazing contrast to the 500 miles of industrial ugliness we traveled on the Illinois, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

We have about 600 miles to go to reach Mobile, which is where we plan to leave Improbable for the winter. Although Fall is catching up to us, we like this area enough to go a little slower for a few days.

Today we traveled a few short hours to reach Kenlake State Park. This is the first of a couple state park marinas we’ll be staying at on the Kentucky Lake. Although our friend Tom will be a little disappointed in us, we’ve decided it’s a bit too cold at night for anchoring right now. With lows of 40 or 42, we need to run our little electric heater. Fortunately, the state park marinas are in beautiful parks, very affordable, and they have lodges that serve great dinners. We’ll take it!

A typical view along Kentucky Lake

A typical view along Kentucky Lake

Curt and Marilyn are doing the Loop on their 26 foot sailboat. They live in North Dakota and started their trip in Minnesota! They are tougher than us...

Curt and Marilyn are doing the Loop on their 26 foot sailboat. They live in North Dakota and started their trip in Minnesota! They are tougher than us…

Category: On the Move

A Different Kind of Tow Boat

maria | October 8, 2013 | COMMENTS:2 Comments »

On Tuesday morning we woke up and assessed our situation. The Ohio had risen about a foot overnight. During the night we started hearing sticks hitting the underside of our boat. Debris from up river could now get to us because the damn had been down for nearly 24 hours.

Bruce called the lock master and was told “conditions have improved dramatically” so we decided to make another run over the dam. We got about 5 feet farther than yesterday, but still couldn’t quite get over the hump. Frustrated and tired, we went back to our spot and anchored.

At this point Maria called Bill Gary, the TowBoatUS captain from Green Turtle Bay Marina. Bill agreed to come tow us over the dam and said he would be here by 11:30 am.

All morning, we sat on the boat watching the tows struggle to get over the dam. Some of them were revving their engines so much, it seemed they were using every one of their 12,000 horses to fight the current.

At the same time, the debris in the river was getting worse. What started out as sticks turned into logs. Soon the logs turned into trees with roots and all still attached. We felt very good about our choice to call for help.

Bill arrived right at 11:30 and assessed the situation with us. We tied Improbable to the side of his boat. After talking it through, the three of us decided the best course of action would be to put the cats in their box, hand them to Bill and for Bruce and I to ride over the dam in Bill’s boat. The situation was so precarious we left our boat in the interest of safety.

The next 15 minutes were very tense. Bill handled his boat expertly, but had to work very hard to get over the dam. The tension on the lines between our boats was tremendous. It’s amazing none of them snapped, or pulled a cleat right off one of our bows. We got over the hump, past the lock and Maria finally asked, “Can I breathe now, Bill?”

The worst was over and everyone was safe and sound. However, because the Ohio current was so strong and debris was so high and it was starting to get late in the day, Bill towed us up the Tennessee River all the way to Green Turtle Bay Marina.

Tuesday was far too stressful and busy to take any pictures, but there is one scene we would like to describe for you. Twenty two miles up the Tennessee River is the Kentucky lock. It is a monster lock, raising the water level over 50 feet to bring boats up into Kentucky Lake. For 5 days straight we had been on busy, dirty rivers navigating around barges and looking at the industrial core of America.

We rode the lock up and the doors opened to an entirely new world. Kentucky Lake is wide, deep and breathtakingly beautiful. We arrived just as the sun was setting to tree lined shores, calm water and a nature lovers paradise.

Bill is not only an expert boat handler, he is also one of the owners of Green Turtle Bay Marina in Grand Rivers, Kentucky. He and his family have built an incredible resort facility. After 5 days on a boat, there is no place better to come home to. We had dinner with Bill at the yacht club restaurant where he told us some of the history of the resort. After long, very hot showers, we passed out and slept very well for the first time since Little Diversion.

Category: On the Move

A Sticky Wicket

maria | October 7, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Putting the wickets down at Lock 52

Putting the wickets down at Lock 52

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.

Barges lining up before 52.

Barges lining up before 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.

Category: On the Move

Where You Gittin’?

maria | October 5, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
One of the big boys.

One of the big boys.

Beginning Location: Kaskaskia River
Ending Location: Little Diversion Canal near Cape Girardeau, MO
Miles Traveled: 65
Stayed at: Peaceful canal anchorage off the Mississippi

The Mississippi River is all about commerce. Barges full on anything you can imagine travel up and down, back and forth. Because we are little and want to stay as far away from them as possible, we listen to the towboat working channel on the VHF radio. Most of the towboat captains have very thick Southern accents and are hilarious to listen to.

Here’s an example of their unique language. The phrase, “Where you gittin’?” or “Where you gittin’ to?” seems to have two possible meanings. It is used to ask “Where are you now?” and might be answered by “I’m just round about here comin’ up Dago Point” (a real example). It might also mean “Where is your ultimate destination?” in which case it could be answered, “I’m gonna round the point and head up the Oho” (Ohio River to the rest of us).

They welcome you, but not enough to put out a dock!

They welcome you, but not enough to put out a dock!

Our second day on the Mississippi, we didn’t try to get as many miles in because we wanted to stop at the Little Diversion Canal, 65 miles from where we started the morning. This is a nice place to turn off the river into a very quiet and protected anchorage to get a good night’s sleep. We got there by 3pm, which was great because we barely beat a huge thunderstorm!

Our anchor never budged from the sticky Mississippi mud and we rode out the storm and had a quiet night.

Just beating the storm.

Just beating the storm.

Category: On the Move

You Can’t Stop in St. Louis

maria | October 4, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Being passed by a tow in St. Louis

Being passed by a tow in St. Louis

Beginning Location: Alton, IL
Ending Location: Kaskaskia River
Miles Traveled: 85
Locks: 2
Stayed at: Kaskaskia Lock Wall

On Friday October 4 we began the 300 mile trip from Alton, IL to Grand Rivers, KY. This stretch is particularly difficult because there is only one fuel stop and no real marinas. For a boat that travels at our speeds (6.5 to 7 mph without any current) this means at least 5 days away from civilization.

We talked with many people and read a lot of information about this leg. We stocked up on food, water and diesel. We were as ready as we were going to get, so it was time to go.

We woke up at 5:30 Friday morning and got ourselves prepped to leave. Another boat wanted to get going at first light, so we followed them to Mel Price Lock, just two miles from Alton Marina. After that, we were on our own, seeing only three other pleasure boats in the next 5 days.

The Mississippi River is deep and at times pretty narrow, which means we got an incredible speed burst by going downstream and with the current. At times our slow sailboat was traveling at 10 mph. We probably averaged 9 mph over our 200 miles downstream.

After Mel Price Lock, we got through the Chain of Rocks Canal, a skinny “ditch” where the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers come together. This canalized portion of the river avoids the rapids on the other side. At the end of the canal was the Chain of Rocks Lock. We had a minimal wait at the lock and then were is St. Louis Harbor.

St. Louis is a pretty big town, so you’d think there would be marinas, or at least day docks so boaters could visit the town. Not so much. The riverfront here is all industrial and very busy with barge traffic. We were passed by a small tow just as we were passing the St. Louis Arch and followed him through much of the traffic, so it all worked out pretty smoothly for us.

The rest of the day we just flew.

The current rocketing us down the Mississippi

The current rocketing us down the Mississippi

We were able to travel 85 miles is just over 10 hours, including our waiting time at two locks. We spent the night at the Kaskaskia River Lock. The lockmasters there allow pleasure boats to tie up to the lock wall, giving us a quiet and secure place to spend the night. We forgot to take pictures (!) but it was a really peaceful place after a busy day on the river.

Category: On the Move

Alton, IL Where Loopers Meet

maria | September 21, 2013 | COMMENTS:Comments Closed
Bluffs on the Mississippi River above Alton

Bluffs on the Mississippi River above Alton

Beginning Location: Grafton, IL
Ending Location: Alton, IL
Miles Traveled: 16
Locks: 0
Weather: A Beautiful Saturday. Bring out the SeaRays!
Stayed at: Alton Marina ($320 for the monthly rate)

On Saturday morning, we were in no hurry to depart Grafton and travel the short distance to Alton, IL. This was good, because Maria enjoyed a little too much of the “Key West” atmosphere the night before and had to wait for a bar to open at 11am and retrieve her cell phone! Fortunately, the phone was waiting for her and we were able to get on our way.

Just after Grafton, we entered the Mississippi River for the first time. We will only travel 220 miles on the Mississippi, but we are both excited and anxious to travel this legendary body of water. The views along the way are great. We motored past tall sandstone bluffs and wide lake-like expanses on river.

Stilt cottages on the Illinois River. Their height makes our house look short!

Stilt cottages on the Illinois River. Their height makes our house look short!

Because it was a Saturday and we left in late morning, we encountered many, many powerboats who had a fun time “waking” us. This means they traveled past us at high rates of speed creating large waves. We’re a slow, heavy boat so we have no choice but to turn into the wakes as best we can and ride them out as all of our stuff bounces everywhere in the cabin. We both believe anyone who buys a large power boat should have to spend an afternoon on a small lake sitting on a sail or fishing boat while power boats circle them at top speed. That MAY teach them a little courtesy!

On a completely different subject, Alton is one of the pinch points on the Great Loop. This is the last real marina for nearly 300 miles of pretty tough river travels. Many Loopers and other south bound boaters gather here to rest up a bit, victualise their boats and enjoy a last bit of civilization.

We have had an enjoyable couple of days here meeting a fellow sailor, Brian and his friend and crew member Sarah. We also got to know Margaret and Jim in their “small boat” an Albin 27 we both adore. We’ve been the “little boat” most of this trip, so it is good to meet up with people who have similar mindsets about traveling. Brian and Margaret and Jim will be leapfrogging past us, but we hope to see them all in Florida sometime soon.

Once we leave here we will have 5 to 7 days of tough going. We’ll be anchoring just out of the river channel, waiting at some of the busiest locks in the country, and battling the current upstream on the Ohio. It’s a stretch we all dread, but everyone gets through it okay.

Before we take on that adventure though, Bruce and Maria will be renting a car to go back to Grand Rapids for a week. Maria has job work to do and we actually sold the cottage!! Once we close, we will own no real estate in Michigan. This is an important financial and psychological milestone in our journey. Improbable will stay in Alton while Pudgy, Grace, Bruce and Maria go for a car ride.

Category: On the Move

The Key West of the Midwest?

Two great rivers collide near Grafton

Two great rivers collide near Grafton

Beginning Location: Hardin, IL
Ending Location: Grafton, IL
Miles Traveled: 21
Locks: 0
Weather: Just about perfect
Stayed at: Grafton Harbor ($39 per night)

After covering some major miles the last couple of days, we were able to sleep in a bit and enjoy a short trip to Grafton, IL located at the junction of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. The 21 miles between Grafton and Hardin were really pretty. We didn’t see another boat for the first 15 miles and just floated along slowly enjoying the scenery.

For the first time since Ottawa, IL nearly two weeks ago we were able to get into a proper marina with nice docks and unlimited power and water! We were definitely ready to unwind a little after our two long days down the Illinois. The pool was calling to us.

Grafton is a very pretty town that has reinvented itself from an industrial river port to a weekend resort for the St. Louis and Springfield crowds. It’s slogan is “The Key West of the Midwest.” They may be over reaching there, but the main street is only a block from the marina and is lined with wineries and restaurants. It would be very easy to stumble from winery to winery all afternoon sampling their wares.

Originally we had planned to stay one day in Grafton but we liked it so much we stayed two nights. We met a few local people, wandered around town, and caught up on email and other work thanks to the good wifi. Because we have a scheduled break from boating coming up, there was no rush to get to our next destination.

While Grafton may not quite be Key West, it is a beautiful stop. We’re glad we were able to stay there and enjoy everything the town has to offer.

Grafton may not be Key West, but they’re trying!

Grafton is really darn cute

Grafton is really darn cute

An old fashioned car ferry near Grafton

An old fashioned car ferry near Grafton

Category: On the Move