Nov 072021

As promised we are up with no sun and see the steam from the river drifting into the harbour lights. There is a slight fog starting. Scott starts up those engines, tests the spotlight and we are off into the abyss of the canal. With 4 miles to travel through the canal to the lock we keep an eye out for any tows and barges. Scott checks the AIS, (a GPS maritime system), us boaters use. Our AIS sends out our positions as well as receives the position of any other boat that has AIS on. The Tows do have the system and there are none in sight on this dark journey. The 4 miles takes us about a half hour as we carefully make our way toward the huge lock doors. We wait at Wilson Lock for another 20 minutes before heading into the deep cavernous lock.

The Wilson Lock’s original project was completed by the Corps  in 1927.  In 1959, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) completed the main single-lift lock, along with several related improvements, to replace the old and inadequate double-lift lockage system.  It began operating Nov. 10. 1959.  The modified auxiliary lock was reopened on Feb. 9, 1961.

The Wilson Dam was the largest hydroelectric installation in the world when construction began in 1918

Named for President Woodrow Wilson, located on the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, Al., was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide hydroelectric power for nearby nitrate plants, as well as to improve navigation for river traffic on the Tennessee River.

When construction began on the dam in 1918, it was the largest of its kind.  At its completion in 1926, the Wilson Dam was the largest hydroelectric installation in the world.  A test site for draft tube design, three different designs were incorporated in the first three turbines.

The dam is 137 feet high, 4,862 feet long and 105 feet thick at the base. The cost of the project was $119,000,000.

In addition to providing 630 megawatts of electricity, the Wilson Dam also serves as the basis for the Tennessee Valley flood control system.  The lock allows commercial and recreational traffic to flow up and down the river, while the 16-mile, 15,500-acre lake formed in the rear of the dam provides beauty and tourism to the area.

The design and engineering of the structures established two world records, one for the length of the dam and one for lock lift height.  The knowledge gained from ongoing studies of the ecology and environment surrounding the Wilson Dam may help to solve problems associated with most single large dams around the world.

Originally constructed with eight hydro generators, the Wilson Dam has been expanded to include 10 additional generators capable of generating 630 million watts of power per hour at full load, which is equal to or greater than many fossil power units built in the state or in the Tennessee Valley Authority system.  A new single-lift lock has replaced the original locks, increasing barge traffic and providing community and visitor access to recreational facilities up and down the river.

Even with these great engineering feats the problem with this lock is not the lock itself. From what we have heard is that there was a large floating dock wall, similar to the one in the pics of our journey from Costello Lock a few posts ago. The entire structure sank. The tows and barges would use this wall to tie up while waiting for the lock. Without that area there is no area for them to prepare to enter the lock. Along with this occurence happening just a couple weeks ago. the original chamber of flight locks has been shut down and under maintenance for the next 3 months. Traffic is now a problem and the lockmasters must schedule to keep the commerce moving

…and this is not the only lock. There is another about 10 miles down. Before we get there Wilson Lake presents some scenes of its own. The water seems clearer. The lake is still the Tennessee River but flooded with the dams many years ago so these open areas are said to be lakes within the river. On the charts there are again areas that were once structure but long since seen and likely decayed. Hills and valleys and the sun make for a great cruise to the lock

This is the Joe Wheeler Lock. Construction of the Wheeler Auxiliary Lock was started in 1933.  Although work continued on it until 1937, the lock was put into operation in 1934.  The main lock was begun in 1960.  It began operating May 8, 1963.  

The Wheeler Locks are named for a Confederate cavalry general named Joseph Wheeler.  One of his more famous encounters was a raid on the Federal forces as they moved from Nashville on Dec. 26,1862 on their way to attack the Confederate forces under General Bragg at Murfreesboro.  Wheeler skirted the Federal Union, destroying most of four wagon trains carrying Union supplies for the coming siege. 
Later, General Wheeler headed U.S. volunteers in the Spanish-American War.  He was eventually elected to Congress as well.  In 1898, he introduced a long series of bills proposing the Muscle Shoals be developed for navigation.  These bills eventually led to the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

It was an easy pass through with the lock waiting for us. It’s only 8:30 in the morning. We have decided to stay at a free dock at the City of Decatur, AL. It’s a long dock with approx 600 feet for cruisers. At this low winter stage water we notice that the charts are off at least 3 feet. The dock entrance shows 7 feet total depth. We’re good with a 4.3 ft draft. As we pass through the entrance it quickly elevates to 9 feet alongside the dock. There is 100 amp power but that is it. No water. Restrooms are a short walk at the adjacent park area. It’s fairly early so we head into the city. Walking we find a “Trails of Tears” that starts just after the community centre. It weaves throughout the city with historical plaques telling you the story of Decatur. For those interested read the next paragraph. We are able to view some of the old buildings, the downtown is very similar to the original in the late 1800’s.

Decatur, is on the Tennessee River. Sometimes known as “The River City,” Decatur has a rich and colorful history. A ferry crossing over the Tennessee River was established by Dr. Henry Rhodes around 1818. The community that developed around the ferry was known as Rhodes Ferry until 1823, when it was renamed Decatur for the U.S. naval officer Stephen Decatur. The City of Decatur was incorporated a few years later in 1826, by the Alabama Legislature. Its fertile river valley soil and relatively easy river access to other cities drew many settlers to the community at that time. In 1833, the State Bank of Alabama opened in Decatur, its building being an impressive edifice in pre-Greek Revival style. Decatur was a much disputed objective during the Civil War, with the result that the Old State Bank was one of only three or four buildings still standing. The Decatur Land and Development Company promoted a new city called New Decatur to the southeast of Decatur around 1886. The new city, named “Albany” was incorporated in 1887. In 1927, Albany merged with Decatur to become a single city. During the early 1900s, many new homes were built and civic improvements were made as the city focused on providing a better quality of life for its citizens. A livery stable was renovated to become the Princess Theater in 1919. Decatur is located on the banks of Wheeler Lake, which was created by the TVA when the agency dammed the Tennessee River with the dams.

Nov 062021

Leaving from the anchorage as the water steams and the sun comes up making the trees glow was a sight this morning. It was a cold night but we were toasty. Today we will make the left turn and follow the Tennessee River heading east instead of the usual confluence of the Tennessee and Tombigbee Rivers heading south. The bluffs along this area are beautiful, homes sitting atop high hill tops. We end up cruising with a couple other boats that came out of other anchorages. There are lots of osprey nests and a pack of white pelicans. It is the most we have seen together. We also were able to sneak a peak of a bald eagle grab a fish from just off the starboard side of the boat. He moved so fast we didn’t have the chance to catch a picture. It’s these moments that take your breath away.

The river narrows along the route to Florence, AL making for a bit more current against us. It is around 1 knt or so. The river weaves its way through the limestone and sand and remains around 35 feet deep on average. Nestled within Northwest Alabama on the banks of the Tennessee River, Florence is one of four cities that are collectively known as the Shoals, which technically is a shallow area of the river where once-plentiful mussels lured people for an easy harvest.

In this small corner of the South, the Shoals refer to the towns of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield, which blend into each other nearly as seamlessly as the Tennessee River’s lazy current. Helen Keller was born here, and somewhere under Main Street, outlaw Mountain Tom Clark’s body is buried. Clark terrorized local citizens after the Civil War and confessed to at least 19 murders. He was hanged in 1872. If outlaw lore intrigues you, the legend of outlaw Tom Clark met his end in Florence after supposedly bragging that “no one could ever run over Tom Clark. After the townspeople  lynched the murderous outlaw, The Mayor ordered the bodies buried “in one of the old fields near our town.” A local myth says that one of the men burying the outlaw remembered that boastful statement and got the idea to bury Clark underneath East Tennessee Street so everyone would “run over” Tom Clark. The University of North Alabama in Florence boasts of the only city-dwelling lions, Leo III and Una. Frank Lloyd Wright built one of his most gorgeous creations here called the Rosembaum House a mid century Usonian prototype of which the Rosenbaum House is one of the purest examples. The Stanley and Mildred Rosenbaum house was built in 1939 for the two newlyweds as one of only 26 Usonian houses in the United States. 

Heading out on a bike ride to see The American Queen Paddlewheel Cruise, as it was in town and its passengers returning after exploring Florence, she is quite a sight at 420 feet long. She is the largest steamboat ever built. The American Queen is gracious and elegant in her American ingenuity. Although filled with todays modern amenities, her rooms and accommodations display all the American Victorian era. Lacy filigree evokes memories of the many stately river steamers that preceded her and so inspired her designers.

We will be here a couple days as Scott does the 500 hour checks and maintenance on the engines. The marina has both fuels, laundry, showers and a restaurant called River Bottom. It’s a busy place and although we will not partake many of the folks we have chatted with love the food. Then there is Florence. We named the local Blue Heron Florence. She doesn’t mind people as long as you don’t interrupt her solitude. We have never been this close to a heron before as they are rather shy birds but Florence owns the dock. Scott greased up the pods as they were due. I went into town with the courtesy car to Walmart Grocery. After all the chores were done we were able to discover the area. We run out to play pickleball at Veteren’s Park. There are historic aircraft there and the sun through the trees and fog shows morning just waking up. After a few drills we head back for lunch then off on our bikes to the Wilson Lock and Dam to see what we are in for. We have been told that due to a problem at the lock that recreational craft heading upbound must be at the lock by 6:00 AM. That means that tonight, daylight savings time change, we not only lose an hour sleep but we must be up by 5:00 to get to the lock, in the dark. That’s new for us. We head out on the hilly terrain that tests our riding uphill skills. Although the hills are quite large we do okay for a couple old farts. We find the mile long bridge that overlooks the dam. We can now see what the channel offers us in the morning.

Nov 032021

 We have decided to do a side trip leaving the southern travel on hold for a week.  It’s been decided that we will anchor on the Tennessee River after the only lock of the Day.  We will be heading to Chattanooga, AL passing into the Smoky Mountains.  We have been to the Smokies in the past however that was a road trip.  The goal of the day is getting past the Pickwick Lock and Dam at a whopping 55 ft lift to Pickwick Lake.  The Lake of millionaire summer retreats. 

The homes and cottages are definitely becoming more prominent along the shoreline on the Tennessee River heading to the lock.  Most are built on stilts to protect from potential floods.  The bluffs made out of limestone and carved from the millennia of the river are stunning.  The tales they could tell.  In some cases we can see the history.  The limestone has given way and at least 3 homes, that we have seen, are swallowed up by the landslides.  The Kentucky red soil called Crider soil covers one half million acres over 35 counties in the state and can be found with the limestone when the landslides occur.  There are these trees that are hanging on by their roots in open water that resemble triangles. Left to their lonesome they stand picturesque on the shore with their booty showing. How do they survive the high waters?

It is difficult to show the scale of the size of these bluffs but if you find a boat or something to help with scale you can see just how tall they are.  The massive houses seem small given the mega houses beside some.  Having proximity to Nashville, Paducah and St. Louis this is an area that has some big estate properties. 

It’s a cold one today too.  We did keep the gen running for the heat all day.  The overcast skies and slight wind kept the temps low.  Tonight is will drop to 32 degrees, or 0 degrees C.  We plan on running the heat until bed then snuggling in blankets til morning where Scott will start her up again.

We have met up with 3 other boats and will be locking through with them.  The lock will be ready for us to head in once we are there.  It’s a good day.  Rounding the last bend in the river towards the lock another boat has joined in.  Now we are a team of 5.  Pickwick Lock is notorious for having delays so we are not unhappy about slow commercial traffic today.  We also made it to the Pickwick Lock facebook page. 

Pickwick: Facts & Figures

  • Construction of Pickwick Landing Dam began in 1934 and was completed in 1938.     
  • The dam is 113 feet high and stretches nearly a mile and a half across the Tennessee River.
  • Pickwick Dam is a hydroelectric facility. It has six generating units with a summer net dependable capacity of 247 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a dam can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the dam itself.
  • When Pickwick Reservoir is full during the summer, it has nearly 490 miles of winding shoreline and 43,100 acres of water surface.
  • Pickwick has a flood-storage capacity of 492,700 acre-feet.
  • To maintain the water depth required for navigation, the minimum winter elevation for the reservoir is 408 feet. The typical summer operating range is between 413 and 414 feet.             
  • The dam has two locks: One measures 110-by-600 feet and the other 110-by-1,000 feet.
  • Pickwick Landing Dam’s first turbine was the largest of its kind in the country when it was installed; its runner was more than 24 feet in diameter. New runners with a more efficient design were installed in the 1980s.   

After the lock we have about 10 miles to go to the anchorage at mile marker 211 on the Tennessee River.  It’s a large, deep anchorage tucked in a cove with hills and fall foliage around us.  Protected from winds in all directions this is one of our favourites. 

Nov 022021

Leaving the anchorage at mile marker 88 we are heading south out of Kentucky Lake where it will end and the Tennessee River will continue. Scott notes that the current is stronger at about 1 knt against us. In the narrower section it is running at 1.5 knts. The day started out cloudy and cold with last night dipping to under 50 degrees. The generator has been running since 6 AM and it is staying on until almost noon when the sun decided to show up.

The name of the river may have come from a Cherokee Indian village located on the Little Tennesse River and spelled variously Tanase, Tennassee, Tanasi, or Tinasse. The Tennessee was explored during the period of rivalry between the French and the English for the territory west of the Appalachians, and a few small forts and posts were established on its banks. Earlier, explorers and fur traders had entered the lower course of the river from the Ohio River. Although the Tennessee served as a route for settlers moving southwestward, its role as a westward passage was negligible compared with that of the Ohio.

Originally, the Tennessee could be navigated only by flatboats. Its upper course was shallow and filled with short rapids. Its middle course, through the Cumberlands, contained whirlpools and was interrupted by muscle shoals (rapids, now submerged by reservoirs) in Alabama. Only its lower course was easily navigable, but the advent of the railroads in the Tennessee River valley after the 1840s kept river traffic from assuming the significance it had on other western and more easily navigated rivers.

The river’s north-flowing lower course was strategically important during the Civil War, for its valley offered an invasion route into the western Confederacy. Part of the course downstream is paralleled by theCumberland River. The Confederate forts Henry (on the Tennessee) and Donelson (on the Cumberland) were only 12 miles (19 km) apart. General Ulyssess S. Grant Federal army, accompanied by gunboats, struck southward in the Tennessee River valley in February 1862. The Confederate forces fell back to Corinth, Mississippi, and the Federal troops moved almost to Tennessee state’s southern boundary, where the Battle of Shiloh (Pittsburgh Landing) was fought (April 6–7, 1862).

The development of the river system as an important inland waterways began in 1933 with the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority. The Tennessee now has a series of locks and reservoirs impounded by multipurpose dams for navigation, power, and flood control. 

We are heading into another anchorage just north of Shiloh National Park where some 23,000 men perished in the civil war. At mile marker 154 we drop the hook at Beech Creek Island and find our charts and the water level are similar. The purposely lowered levels are not a problem. We anchor in about 25 feet and put out a long chain. The winds are soft and the current keeps us in line. It is another glorious night on anchor as I write and Scott pulls out manuals and reads on the back deck.

Nov 012021

Leaving Green Turtle Marina the river you enter is the Cumberland River. It will take you to Nashville which is a beautiful trip that we had done previously. The Cumberland River (Barkey Lake) and the Tennessee River are connected by a dug canal called “the land between the lakes” because the waters from both these lakes are on either side connected by the canal. We make a turn onto the canal to head into the Tennessee River and Kentucky Lake. The 2 names are synonomous as they are the same body of water.

The history of the Kentucky Lakes Area is really amazing. Throughout the area, there is evidence of settlements dating back 8,000 years. Indian mounds dating to 1,000 years ago can be seen throughout the area and with the Tennessee Valley Authority creating Kentucky Lake and Land Between The Lakes in the mid 20th century, many modern-day archaeology sites exist throughout the area.

Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Dam

Kentucky Dam during construction.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began constructing a series of dams on the Tennessee River to provide flood control, cheap hydroelectric power and recreational opportunities for the people of the Tennessee Valley from Paducah to Knoxville.

The last dam to be built on the Tennessee River, and the largest, was Kentucky Dam. Construction began in 1938 with the completion done in 1944. During the process, entire towns, families, homesteads, farms and infrastructure had to be relocated for the permanent flooding of the Tennessee River.

Birmingham, Kentucky was one of those towns directly impacted. Located right on the banks of the Tennessee River in Marshall County, the town of a few hundred, for some reason, did not relocate and was simply abandoned. Now the old roads and foundations of the town are under several feet of water in the middle of Kentucky Lake.

Cemeteries were also relocated – although some graves were not. Some major US Highways had to be reconstructed and moved. Major rail lines were also relocated or moved to higher ground. It was a big undertaking.

US Army Corp of Engineers decided the Cumberland River would need to be dammed near the site of Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River. Due to extensive flooding of the Cumberland and also to help with navigation on the river, the Corps built a dam – Barkley Dam – and finished it in 1964.

Similar to Kentucky Dam where the lake was created, the situation forsome small towns was the same as Birmingham. The towns had to relocate or be faced with extinction. Thankfully, those two towns moved a bit up to higher ground.

Today Lake Barkley provides hydroelectric power to thousands of homes and businesses. Lake Barkley features great boating recreation and fishing opportunities for residents and tourists up and down the lake.

The Land Between the Lakes (LBL) began during and after the creation of Lake Barkley, authorities at the time saw that a large peninsula of land would be created and decided to create a massive 170,000-acre recreation area known as the land between the lakes. However, several hundred families and many communities would have to be relocated out to create the National Recreation Area.

For some, this was the second time they had to move thanks to the government – once with the flooding of the rivers, and twice with the creation of LBL. The last of the families left in 1969.

So basically the Cumberland River, at this area, was flooded to create Barkley Lake and the Tennessee River was flooded to create Kentucky Lake all to regulate natural flooding of the rivers and to gather the hydroelectric power that could be generated with dams.

As we watch charts we see underwater notations for old roads, highways, structure. The main channel is very wide as they have dredged over the years and the use of barges and tows keeps it well kept. The lake is very beautiful with the fall colours, black water and blue skies. Traveling south on Kentucky Lake there is wildlife again. Blue Herons and Osprey are back. Even the odd white pelican graces us with his presence as he migrates.

We are anchoring in a bay across from Harmon Creek. We were attempting to drop the anchor in Harmon Creek but our depth readings were off by 5-10 feet. With the low water and the lowering of the waters by the authorities for the winter months some anchorages on the lake are not usable. We find our way back out and scout out another anchorage on the other side of the main river/lake. Anchoring in 15 feet and sending out a good amount of chain we are all snug for the night.

Oct 312021

Leaving early from Paducah we head the remainder of the 60 miles on the Ohio River. The current is running hard against us at an average of 3 knts. We pass a couple sailboats who are hugging the shoreline to keep out of the heavy current. They will catch up to us at our destination. The water seems to be a low level. We estimate at least 3-5 feet lower than normal. It is easy to see the shoreline water levels that seem normal but we are not sure what normal actually is. The Ohio River has some traffic but nothing compared to where we have left. Despite the arrival of railroads, improved highways, and air travel, the Ohio River continues to serve as a major artery for transporting bulk items such as coal and grain. The northern bank of the Ohio River also is the southern boundary of Ohio, separating the state from West Virginia and Kentucky. In total it runs 981 miles but we will only traverse the 60 miles to The Tennessee River.

A couple French Explorers are said to have been the first European to see the Ohio, in 1669, and he descended it until obstructed by a waterfall (presumably the Falls at Louisville). In the 1750s the river’s strategic importance (especially the fork at Pittsburgh) in the struggle between the French and the English for possession of the interior of the continent became fully recognized. By the treaty of 1763 ending the French and British war the English finally gained undisputed control of the territory along its banks. When (by an ordinance of 1787) the area was opened to settlement, most of the settlers entered the region down the headwaters of the Ohio.

The colours are changing again. That being said so are the temperatures. It’s a cool 60 during the day but the nights can run in single digits. Must keep moving south…… As we approach our lock on the Ohio River, one of the largest depths at 57 feet, the doors were open for us. We had left many boats in our wake as we traveled from Paducah. Not because we were cruising fast, more that they were traveling slow due to the strong current against them. We pull into the lock along with Dark Side and wait about 10 minutes. Scott got on the radio and said they were at mile such and such and that it would be a 2 hour wait for them. I think the lockmaster looked them up on the Nebo App and realized it wasn’t worth waiting. He locked us up but nowhere near the 57 feet. The water is just too low.

After coming out of the lock we are now in the Cumberland River. The Barkley Lock is the beginning of the Cumberland River where we then must pass through a canal to reach the Tennessee River. We stop at Green Turtle Marina in Grand River, KY, fuel up, pump out and find our slip.

We were met by “001” Canadian Permit boat “Oh Henry”. We have been chatting on social media since they received their #001. So now #002 and #001 chat about how they and us achieved the permits. We exchanged stories and found that we helped them and they helped us get across. Apparently the escalation to Washington on these permits was a conversation between several “Chiefs”. All we know is that someone in Washington “high up” allowed the permits. The rest is history.

We stay a couple nights. The town is no longer a dry county so we do not have to drive to the next county to get our sundowner supplies up. There is a courtesy car available for a couple hours if you wish to visit outside the area. If it is only for local fare a golf cart will pick you up and take you to the local Town of Grand Rivers. There you will find a couple liquor stores, grocery store, restaurants. It is a touristy town but will cater to you with their southern hospitality. This marina has a spa, if so inclined, indoor and outdoor pool, pickleball and tennis courts, cottage rental (if you just need to get off the boat) gas, diesel, pumpout, small ship store and a well stocked parts store over at the working marina portion. There is a large lift for repairs.

We walk into town along the unbeaten path. Climbing a couple small hills, going under a parked line of railway cars and find a park with a small lake. We had decided on a pizza for dinner but the only pizza place was not open. The grocery store has fresh made pizza with all included toppings. While we wait for the pizza Scott brings me across the street to look at the 20 or so feral cats lounging in the sun. They will not allow me to get close but there are a lot of young ones. Our guess is that they are drop offs to the park. This realty place must feed them so they come and visit.

After picking up the pizza we wander over to the park gazebo for a romantic pizza dinner for 2. As the acorns fall on the tin roof and the birds fly above we notice that this park is not used much. It may be off season as there is a lot of structure to be used. It looks like bands play here, kids playground is not well used though. A few cars drive through. Before it gets too dark we head back through the woods, over the hills and climb under the railroad cars again to the marina.

Now that we have met many loopers waiting for their day to continue we decide to head out in the morning. We did get in some pickleball drills too. We will say goodbye to our buddy boat, Dark Side, as they head toward Nashville, TN for a couple weeks. We also will be heading out in the direction of #001, Oh Henry, so we will meet up with them again. We will be on anchor for the next few days as we travel south on Kentucky Lake.

I almost forgot, Happy Halloweenie!

Oct 282021

Another early start to the day as we leave this anchorage and head to Paducah, KY. Only 1.5 miles on The Miss and we take a swift left turn onto the Ohio River. The Ohio River current runs against us as it feeds the Mississippi heading south. We only have 60 miles in total on the Ohio River. Today we will run about half to Paducah where the city has built a dock complete with diesel, gas, pump out, water, power. The city is available to explore.

First we must get through the Olmstead Lock and Dam. In 2015 when we were through these parts it was under construction. It will be interesting to see the finished project.

The project consisted of two 110’ X 1200’ locks adjacent to the Illinois bank, and a dam comprised of five Tainter gates, 1400’ of boat operated wickets and a fixed weir. The proposed replacement structure will eliminate Ohio River Locks & Dams 52 & 53. Locks & Dams 52 & 53 were completed in 1929 and the temporary 1,200′ long lock chambers were added in 1969 at Locks & Dam 52 and 1979 at Locks & Dam 53. The antiquated design and age of these structures make it impossible to meet current traffic demands without significant delays. The existing structures have deteriorated structurally and are overstressed during normal operating conditions. Existing wicket dam has missing sections and wickets that will not raise making it very difficult to maintain pool during low water. The temporary locks at Locks & Dam 52 & 53 have significantly passed their 15-year design life. This strategic reach of the Ohio River provides a connection between the Mississippi River, Tennessee River and Cumberland River. More tonnage passes this point than any other place in America’s inland navigation system. In 2011, 91 million tons (Locks & Dam 52), traversed this portion of the Ohio River. 25% of all coal shipped on the inland waterways transits Locks & Dam 52, destined for many of the 50 power plants located on the Ohio River System or the 17 power plants located in eight states on the Upper or Lower Mississippi River.

As we pass into Kentucky we do notice a lot of coal plants on the shorelines. Barges are now carrying open loads of coal which we had not seen until now. We pass more tows and massive 30 piece barges being pushed along the current. There are dredging projects happening. Massive dredging machines line the channel. The Ohio River is a wide channel which makes it easy to pass. If it weren’t for the activity on the water there would be only shoreline as this area is again very unpopulated.

Paducah, originally known as Pekin, was settled around 1815.  Settlers were attracted to the community due to its location at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.  The community was inhabited by a mix of Native Americans and Europeans who lived harmoniously, trading goods and services.

In 1827, William Clark, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Mississippi-Missouri region,  arrived in Pekin with a title deed to the land he now owned, which was issued by the United States Supreme Court.  Clark most likely took stock of the settlers that had arrived at some point before himself, and offered the land for purchase, so they could occupy it with title in their name. If they did not choose to purchase the right to occupy the land, they most likely relocated to another area. The town was platted out and named in honor of the largest nation of Native Americans that ever roamed North America, the Padouca Indians. Lewis and Clark had made acquaintance with many of them while on their trek west.  A letter written by Clark to his son clearly states the reason for the naming of the town. (A facsimile of the letter and the original Paducah maps are on display at the Market House Museum in Paducah.) The community was incorporated in 1830.

Paducah thrived due to its port facilities along the waterways that were used by steamboats.  A factory that manufactured red bricks was established and a foundry for making rail and locomotive components was built, ultimately contributing to a river and rail industrial economy.

In 1856, Paducah was chartered as a city.  The community continued to capitalize on its geographic location by becoming the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and, in turn, headquarters for various bargeline companies.  Paducah also became an important railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad due to its proximity to the coal fields in Kentucky and Illinois.

In 1937, the Ohio River at Paducah rose over its 50-foot flood stage.  The flood was considered to be the worst natural disaster in Paducah’s history. As a result of the flood, the United States Army Corps of Engineers built a flood wall to replace the earthen levee that had once been in place which now has artists works painted on the walls for you to view.

Other significant events in the community’s history include the selection of Paducah in 1948 for the development of a new Uranium Enrichment Plant, and the development of the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah in 1991, which draws quilters from around the world.

Paducah has several museums , such as the Paducah Railroad Museum, the River Discovery Museum, the Tilghman Civil War Museum, and the oldest, the William Clark Market House Museum, founded in 1968.  Several festivals such as the American Quilter’s Society Quilt Show and Contest in April (AQS QuiltWeekTM), the LowerTown Arts & Music Festival in May, and BBQ on the River in September attract large crowds.

In 2017, the City of Paducah opened its 340-foot transient boat dock adjacent to a newly constructed park area that extends into the Ohio River.  The park provides a harbour area for the transient dock and creates the potential for the development of a future marina.

The dock, located downstream from the heart of historic downtown Paducah, provides space for transient boaters to enjoy Paducah by spending a few hours or spending several nights.  Amenities include fuel (diesel and marine grade gasoline), water, power pedestals, and a sewer pumpout station . We spend the next couple nights here along with 9 other boats.

Oct 272021

Costello Lock (Kaskaskia), MO – Angelo’s Tow Anchorage Cairo, MO

That is The Mississippi River. You on your own with only tows and barges and your buddy boat, if you are lucky to have one. We are still running with Dark Side to the anchorage today. With a good night’s sleep at Costello Lock we are off and running at sun up. Heading south on The Miss past the odd town here and there and tows aplenty. There isn’t much out here. The current is running about 3 knts today which is a welcome pleasure on the diesel consumption. On this stretch we are running about 11 knts and pushing only 8 knts on the engines making this long 100 mile day go by much faster.

The trees are back to being green with very little colour change. As we head south the air is warming but still chilly. Today we do notice a change in not feeling the cold in the wind. The Miss is a long stretch for boaters. Not many anchorages as the tows and barges take up most of the space available. They run 24/7 so hanging out off channel is not a great idea. It is in your best interest to find a good space where those worker bees just can’t get to. That is the few little areas off the main Miss which are few and far between. There are 2 really well marked areas for anchorages. On is Boston Bar and the other is Angelo’s Toe. The Toe is at mile 1.5 on the Upper Mississippi making it a quick run to the left turn for the Ohio River.

Angelo’s Tow is the southern tip of Angelo’s Island where there is a small tributary. We like to anchor off the shoal of the toe to keep the current of The Miss at bay as much as possible. It is possible to anchor in the tributary in about 10 feet of water but do not go in far. It shallows quickly in low water. There is a shoal on the shoreline that comes out a far distance. Look at google maps so you know where it is. It really isn’t a problem however it is nice to know where it is before you start. It is a windy evening and night. I couldn’t sleep so I was up most of the night watching how we swing in this wind. The wind is overtaking the current so our boat will move 90 degrees at times. If there are no winds the current will keep you in the same position. The pic below shows the island. The Toe is the point that sticks out toward the Ohio River.

It’s a busy area. Tows are running around pushing there loads to prepare for the movement of goods. It is amazing how they work in this dark. No city lights and no moon to show where obstacles are. I watch about 10 tows leave the confluence of the Miss and the Ohio River. It is one of the most traveled areas in commerce on these waters. The Miss heads towards New Orleans,. The Ohio Heads toward the cities and towns to Mobile, AL and the Upper Mississippi heads toward the world we just left in Chicago and the Great Lakes. It is the hub for the logistics of commerce to come together all in these barges.

After the Ohio River, the Mississippi river is the most polluted river in the United States and is considered genuinely the most polluted river as it lacks the diluting action of the Ohio River and also due to the recent oil spillage which occurred in the Mississippi river back in 2014.

Confluence of Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at Cairo, IL

The little town of Cairo, where Angelo’s Island is located, became a prosperous port following the Civil War due to increased riverboat and railroad commerce. Barges are seen as the white rectangles shown on the Ohio river, which indicate the continued importance of Cairo as a transport hub. Flooding of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers presents a continual danger to the city; this danger is lessened by the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway that begins directly to the south of the river confluence. During major flood events, the floodway lessens flood stages upstream (such as at Cairo) and adjacent to the floodway. Part of the extensive levee system associated with flood control of the Mississippi River is visible in the image. Barlow Bottoms (image right), located in adjacent Kentucky, is a wetland bird-watching location that is replenished by periodic floods and releases of Ohio River water. There are no areas to explore any of these areas.

Oct 262021

Finally the wind Gods have determined we are in the good books as the winds turn quiet. Up at the crack of dawn we stumble through the cabin getting all ready to take on this next leg of our journey. Yesterday we filled with the tanks with water, prepared meals for lunch and generally go ready for the next 250 miles of solitude and gumption.

Our first lock at at Mel Price Lock was easy. We contacted the lockmaster from the marina, all 3 boats headed down and we were joined by 1 more. We all head into our places with ease. We have met the folks on The Dark Side. A cute 36 ft American Tug. All I can think about is how PattiJo and Doug would love this cute vessel. With the name Dark Side it is a shoe in. Give up sailing and come to The Dark Side. The other vessel is a 48 ft Power Cat going by the name of Highwinds whose couple is enjoying their time between working and cruising with Mom and Dad. The other boat is being piloted by a professinal Captain.

We have 2 locks today. The first being The Mel Price Lock is 27 feet but we only lock about 12 feet to meet up with the Mississippi. This portion of our journey south on The Mississippi River is one where it can challenge you. Long travel days, massive tows with their barges, lots of debris and a current at anywhere from 2 -3 knots. At times the Miss can be wide and others she narrows where you should check for tows and barges as you don’t want to meet up on the curve in the narrow area. It can feel desolute out here. Not much around. No birds, no wildlife, just you and your wits.

The Mississippi River is one of the world’s major river systems in size, habitat diversity and biological productivity. It is also one of the world’s most important commercial waterways and one of North America’s great migration routes for both birds and fishes.

Native Americans lived along its banks and used the river for sustenance and transportation. Early European explorers used the Mississippi to explore the interior and the northern reaches of what was to become the United States. Fur traders plied their trade on the river and soldiers of several nations garrisoned troops at strategic points, at various times, along the river when the area was still on the frontier.

White settlers from Europe and the United States (and often their slaves) arrived on steamboats dispossessing the Native Americans of their lands and converting the landscape into farms and cities.

Today, the Mississippi River powers a significant segment of the economy in the upper Midwest. Barges and their tows move approximately 175 million tons of freight each year on the upper Mississippi through a system of 29 locks and dams. It is also a major recreational resource for boaters, canoeists, hunters, anglers, and birdwatchers and offers many outdoor opportunities. For our purposes the Mississippi is stated as the Upper Mississippi where we travel and only 2 locks and the Lower Mississippi that is less friendly to the recreational boater and commerce reigns.

The second lock, The Chain of Rocks Lock, has become notorious as a 44 ft sailboat took the wrong turn and ended up on the actual Chain of Rocks in rapids and had to be rescued. They too are Loopers. The river steers to the left to a manmade dugout canal to avoid the rapids and the rocks that traverse on the main part of the river. Unfortunately they went right instead of left. During our stay in Alton and the winds we experienced, the sailboat let loose and sunk at the base of the rapids. Very sad time for us Loopers when we hear of such tragedies.

We arrive at with our caravan of boats has us pull up to the side of the cement wall on the opposite side of the lock. Now we know it will be a long wait. The wait was about 2.5 hours until 2 tugs and their barges moved through heading north. Now all 4 of us quickly get into a moving pattern to move into the lock and find our spot on the bollard. We have also aquired a sailboat running south, which makes us a caravan of 5. Another easy ride down, our last on The Mississippi River. Now the challenge begins as we leave the lock into the vastness of mid America.

The river is filled with debris. Logs, trees, you name it is is swirling in the current and eddies. The push from the current is a steady 2 knots today making our long day to anchorage a shorter run. Traveling south on the Miss the brown, silty water with its chocolate chunks of debris make for a very boring run. At about 11 knots we pass many tows and barges in tight and open spaces along this deceivingly wide river. She is shallow on both sides. The weir dams are apparent in this low water. Weir dams are piles of stone about 6 feet high and several hundred feet long placed in a straight line out into the river, from both shorelines. These weirs divert water to the middle for the significant traffic of barges that travel here all year long. Some of these weirs are in a semi circle, some have shoaled up down river from the original weir dam. This is our first time seeing what they look like as the water was at least 6-8 feet higher when we came through in 2015. The entire Miss looks very different than we remember.

We are heading to the James F. Costello Lock (Kaskaskia Lock) for a free dock. The lock allows folks the opportunity to stay on the outside of the lock walls in a secure area. The anchorages are few and far between so this is a welcome opportunity. The water can reach extreme levels when the waters run. The entire cement wall is a floating dock that runs along 3 cement pilings to allow the entire wall of approximately 200 feet to float making this a great respite. The lock is located off the main Miss on a tributary so the current is almost none existent. It is a great spot to duck in for weather, quick fixes or a good night’s sleep before moving along the more challenging portion of the Miss. We stay here with Dark Side and enjoy sundowners and appies before the sun does go down and the cold kicks in. Tomorrow is a long day as we run 120 miles to the confluence of The Mississippi and the Ohio River. It will be an anchorage for us as we wait out a storm with some winds gusting to 15 mph.

Oct 242021

Alton Marina, Alton, IL

We missed the 13 Looper boats by 1 day. They had been here for a week. With the great special of pay 3, get 3 folks tend to stay longer than 3 days. Alton Marina is also one of the last reliable places to refuel and get water. After this the Mississippi becomes the area where very few amentities are available. Stock up on groceries, change your engine oils or impellers here at the dock. The marina has an oil disposal area available for the waste to be disposed of properly. This entire marina is a floating marina, including office, restrooms, all docks even those with covered slips. The massive poles allow everything to slide up and down depending on water levels. They are probably about 25 feet tall.

It is our intention to stock up for the trip southbound. After yesterday of laundry, engine oil changes, and pickleball today is grocery day. There is a butcher, bakery and grocery within 1 mile of the marina. Scott plans our route through the little city so we can take in the sights as well. First stop is the butcher not far from the marina. With “Carrie” in tow we cross the berm levy wall that holds back the majority of overflow when The Miss gets high water. At the butcher a large selection of fresh cuts and frozen prepared meats are available. Next stop the renowned Duke’s Bakery. In these here parts the place to adjust your sweet tooth is at Duke’s. It is very popular among locals and tourists. Once inside the store, the smell of sweet hits you. We are here for the fresh breads but walk out with a couple fresh apple muffins.

The town is on hill after hill. You will get your workout in if you walk around away from the restaurants and bars close to the marina. Old style churches, city halls, post office and cobblestone roadways await you as you wander. There is so much history here that it would be nice to find a local and learn about this town. We did find Schewgel’s Grocery and it was closed. Hmmmm……. As we contemplate our next move to the other grocery store which is not within walking distance a truck pulls up. “You must be from the marina.” Before we could barely answer the truck door opens and he say’s you need to shop. I’ll open the door and be back in a half hour or so. Huh? Again the southern hospitality is at our doorstep. He says he lock the door behind us and introduces us to Sarah who is doing some cleaning in the back. Take as much time as you need and if you don’t see what you want, just ask. Sarah goes back to cleaning in the back and off the fellow runs. Scott and I just can’t believe anyone would trust us wayward travelers. We fill our basket with everything we will need leg of our journey. We felt like celebrities with absolutely no one in the store but us. Thank you Schwegel’s. With Carrie full to the brim with all our goods, including the wine and beer we head off back to the boat. Somehow we still managed to have to climb another hill to get down to the marina.

There are a couple other Looper boats here so we chat with them in the evening. We all agree that tomorrow is a bad day to head out to a narrow canal area and cross through one of the busiest locks on the rivers. With a tornado watch in effect, later upgraded to a warning, we all will travel in 2 days. As the winds pick up we head back the boat secure more lines and wait it out watching youtube.

This will be our first lock on The Mississippi. The lockmaster likes to coordinate the lock for those that are leaving so there are less single boats going through. Traveling with other boats will be a fun adventure down this section of The Loop.