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We made it through the massive Mel Price lock, and had a very long day to Kaskaskia Lock, arriving just before dark. The Mississippi River is a mass of eddy's, vortexes, massive tow/barges, and many twists and turns. Being exhausted we made salad and went to sleep.
Mel Price Lock on the Mississippi. This lock is enormous to accomadate the massive barges that run up and down the river.
Kaskaskia Lock Wall, the ONLY place you can stop after the first day on the river. This is one of those Loopers and cruises only kind of places.
On arrival at Kaskaskia to our utter dismay the Balmar was no longer charging the batteries to full capacity. On inspection the alternator bracket had cracked away from the casting that holds the engine in place, and was basically hanging on by the top bolt. For the next several days we ran the generator all day, to ensure that the alternator had no load on it. Thankfully, the little generator chugged along all day without complaint or failure.
We left Kaskaskia early in the morning. I called several mobile welders in Paducah, but they could not help, as there was no way to get the welding rig to the boat to do the work.
The morning fog was troubling, but we had run through fog before. A few miles down the river the fog went from manageable to pea soup thick, so thick that I could not see past the bow. I slowed to 2 knots, sounded fog signals, and put out security calls on VHF. We went through semi clear areas, and solid walls of fog. It was like being inside of a ping pong ball. Darina stood outside the lower station door with the Steiner's and tried to see anything through the thick fog.
Skipper Bobs and the radar agreed there was a bridge coming up. As we got closer and closer I kept reducing the radar range to get a precise distance. At 1/16th of a mile range I still could not get a visual on the bridge. I slowed to a crawl. The stress slowly increased. Seeing nothing, Darina started hearing cars on the bridge! At the last possible second a massive bridge abutment appeared directly in front of us, less than twenty feet away Darina shouted AL! TO PORT! TURN TO PORT! I put the wheel hard over, put the engine in gear, bumped the throttle for an extra punch and we missed the bridge by a few feet.
Another morning I was through with coffee early. Darina and I were both visibly shaken.
At the end of the second day we found ourselves at Hubbell Creek which is also known as little diversion canal. The entrance to this anchorage is very tricky given the strong river current. We attempted to anchor at the back of the canal next to the railroad bridge. In the deep silt I could not get a good set on the anchor. Subsequent loopers were satisfied with just dropping the anchor straight down and letting it settle, as there was only the slightest current, I was not comfortable with an anchor that easily dragged at just over idle.
We ended up near the mouth of the canal. If we had a stern anchor I might have been comfortable with the drop and pray approach. This meant that every boat that came into the canal had to pass by us which made the afternoon quite exciting.
The channel smelled of poop, and we renamed it little poop canal. Another early night to bed.
We managed to snag a space on the dock at Paduca, KY. the next day. My fears of not having enough fuel were ungrounded, we arrived in Paduca with half full tanks. In hindsight the extra fuel jugs were not needed at all, although they did give us a sense of security. Darina managed to find a barbershop that would take me in on short notice and I no longer look like the leading character in The Old Man and the Sea. We had a lovely Cajun dinner of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, and cornbread.
Ordered a new engine mount casting, and alternator bracket from American Diesel and had it sent forward to Paris Landing. The next day - with a proper wait for the fog to clear - we headed down the Mississippi again. The barges, eddy's, and vortexes in the corners kept our focus on steering the boat.
Just before the Mississippi and the Ohio meet there are two 180 degree bends in the river which create enormous current on the outside of the corners. This is a stressful part of the river. We made our way to the Ohio and started slugging our way upstream.
At the end of the day we anchored just outside the Olmstead lock. When we first arrived, we picked what we believed was a perfect spot behind the earthen wing dam, our of the current. Our new to us Lewmar Pro fish 1000 Windlass features "Free Fall Mode" which we do not like, in shallow water it dumps a wad of chain on top of the anchor. For this anchorage Darina dropped the anchor and paid out the chain to the bottom by hand and it set the first time perfectly.
We went up on the flybridge for cookies and coffee and it was spectacular. After we went to sleep, however, it turned quite rolly as the barge/tows went by all night long. Early in the morning we made our way through the lock, down the Cumberland cut, into the Cumberland and finally to Paris landing marina for the AGLCA fall rendezvous.
We spent a week at Paris Landing hobnobbing with fellow loopers and attending route planning seminars. We were disappointed by the marina, as it only had one working bathroom/shower for fifty transient boaters, and horrible Wi-Fi that forced us to hike to the lodge early every morning to work.
AGLCA events are tailored to looper wannabees, as loopers we didn't get as much out of it as we had hoped. We did meet some really nice people, and dined on overpriced medium quality catered food.
Down the Tennessee River we went, starting with two days on Kentucky Lake. The Tennessee was a larger, and just as beautiful version of the Illinois and we enjoyed every mile of it.
Kentucky Lake is absolutely spectacular and I wish we would have spent two weeks exploring side canals and anchorages.
Our next stop was Pebble Beach Marina. Although the entrance is a twisty maze of well marked buoys, the marina itself is picture perfect, a beautiful spot off the beaten path.
Billy, the dockmaster, makes fresh hot cinnamon rolls every morning and delivers them to the transient dock. We spent four days there. While at Pebble Beach, I installed the new engine mount and alternator bracket, along with all new grade 8 bolts. During this project I discovered that the alternator had been improperly mounted, that caused it to wobble which probably broke the casting. Another strike against the "professionals" who did the installation. With the spacer bushing properly installed, only a single thin washer was needed to obtain perfect belt alignment, and have a properly tight alternator belt that produced zero belt dust. It will take weeks to get the engine room clean from all the belt dust again.
Luxury Homes along the river
From Pebble Beach we made our way to Clifton Marina. Clifton is a very small marina with a restaurant on site that has three tables. We arrived at closing time - the staff told us if we were hungry they would stay open to feed us and we took them up on offer, dining on crab cakes, "smashed" baked potatoes, and alligator. Yorksie absolutely refused to eat alligator.
The deep south was new to Darina and she quickly fell in love with the slow pace of things, the family atmosphere, and the long warm friendly chats we had with everyone we encountered.
Our next stop was Grand Harbor Marina at the mouth of the Tenn-Tomm waterway.
Grand Harbor was light years from Clifton and Pebble Beach, shiny, huge, and luxury houseboats were everywhere. We had a covered slip. The Wi-Fi was once again disappointing, the first day we had 100/MB service in front of the office, subsequently both of those Wi-Fi networks vanished from existence and we were stuck with an on again/off again Wi-Fi experience. For the third weekend in a row, there were no television channels available at all, so we were two weeks without football. The staff graciously loaned us fifty feet of coax so we could connect to the Marina's dockside Cable TV system, and as a result we had two days of the SEC and the NFL.
While at Grand Harbor we rented a car for the day, and drove back to Paris Island to pick up the Balmar battery temperature sensor that Crowley's had lost, and to Home Depot in Clarkston, TN to pick up the HVAC system parts that we had ordered in Paris. We learned the hard way that "Available to Pick Up in the Store Tomorrow" means "At least one item will be there and good luck with the other ones". In any event it was a pleasant drive through the backwoods, and we stopped at Culvers yet again.
As we didn't want to get to Mobile Bay while it was still Hurricane Season, we hatched a plan to head down the Tenn-Tom to Midway Marina, and if it didn't suck order StarLink and sit there until it arrived; if it did suck go to Columbus Marina and repeat. Midway Marina turned out to be an awesome place that was perfectly suited to us, looks like we will be here two weeks as of today StarLink hasn't shipped yet.
At home the trees are bare, it is cold, wet, and raining. Here in Northern Mississippi we are in the middle of the fall color season, the nights are in the sixties, and the days are seventy five to eighty degrees. We started our day today with biscuits and gravy. Life is grand.