Sept 20-22, Days 270-273 Riverboat Gas Gamblin’

OK, so we went off scope again! Can’t really come up with a good excuse, but it’s tough to do these blogs and when you delay a few days everything becomes jumbled making it even harder so you decide to put it off and the jumble compounds! C’est la vie. Lots of pics on this post. We’re about 7,800 miles into our journey now and startin’ to smell the barn. There’s still about 300 miles to go including that long stretch without fuel to conquer, but we can count the number of locks remaining to transit on one hand. We left the tiny Tall Timbers marina and continued down the Illinois to its confluence with the mighty Mississippi at Grafton, Illinois.


9-23 tt 2
It was a little foggy when we got up at Tall Timbers, but we had a lot of miles to cover.



9-23 tt
Many marinas/anchorages on the river are little cuts off the main channel. These two posts mark the “hump” you go over to get in. We had about 2′ under the boat coming off the channel so the big boys can’t get in here in this low water. You go Bayliner!


As big as all these rivers are, they’re still subject to surprisingly large fluctuations in water levels. Indeed, on the Mississippi we were told to be careful to allow for a 2’ variation overnight when considering anchorages, but I get ahead of myself. As it is, low water on the Illinois has backed up river traffic with multiple days-worth of barges parked on the river banks waiting for more water. The problems were compounded by one barge having run aground and effectively closing the river to commercial traffic. Honestly, that was good news for us because we there was no waiting to enter the LaGrange Lock after which we zipped past the blocking barge on the downriver side.


9-23 rocks
All sorts of cool industry to observe along the way. Ok so maybe not everyone likes to see industry, but there’s only so many trees and birds you can look at. Besides, this place was weird. If you blow this picture up you’ll see a truck on the right dumping rocks into a barge while on the left an excavator is picking rocks out of a barge and putting them into another truck. WHAT??!! At the same location? Maybe there’s a communication problem and who ships rocks to a quarry? I think this place is owned by the same guys looking for funding to start shipping ice cubes to Alaska.


Many Loopers passed us during our fuel economy experiment yesterday. While it was great (and necessary!) to confirm our fuel burn at slower speeds, we were delighted to power up and get back to our regular 25mph cruise speed (life’s too short to worry about MPG unless you really have to). We had about 150 miles to travel and N spent the AM figuring out where we might catch up to everyone that passed us the previous day…… “if two boats are going in the same direction, but starting different places and travelling different speeds, where will they meet?”. Amazingly, he was accurate to about a mile after well over 5 hours of travel…. ok, ok, it wasn’t cold fusion.


9-23 nick
Here N points out “Nicholas Rock” while sporting what has now become his de rigeur piloting eyewear!


We made it all the way to the self-described “Key West of the Midwest” otherwise known as Grafton, Illinois at the mouth of the Mississippi. The marina was nice, but Key West?! Uhmm, an oyster bar, a winery and few biker spots doesn’t really equate to Key West. We did go for $1 taco night at a local bar despite being told the “best pizza” around was served at the local BP station.


9-23 grafton
When your town is on the river, you note the high-water mark. It’s what you do! Look at this mark from ’93 in Grafton.


You get the idea! Next day we made the short jump to Alton, Illinois to stage ourselves for the big run past St Louis, but also to stop and look at a boat that was there for sale.


9-23 alton
Here’s another line in another town! See the red line on the grain elevator?


We liked the boat, but didn’t break out the checkbook just yet as we still need to reconcile getting down to a sub 20mph cruise speed.  


9-23 cana
From Alton we were off to St Louis passing through the Chain of Rocks canal. The sign looks pretty obvious, but we were told some people go right instead of left. One guy on 38′ Tiara went right and hit “the rapids” on plane. Took them 3 months to figure out how to get the boat out.



9-23 work
So this IS sort of a ditch. There on the side you can see a crew re-doing the sidewalls (white rocks are new). We were lucky not to come across a barge coming the other way.



9-23 arch
There’s the “money shot”! How cool is that? Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Miami, DC, NYC, Burlington, Montreal, Chicago and now St Louis….ALL on our own boat!


Although a lot of people characterize river boating as variations on a common theme of travelling in a ditch, we enjoy the journey. Beautifully calm water, no compass headings, interesting scenery and not much traffic. Overall, it’s pretty relaxing.


9-23 barge
This guy is pushing a load 7(!) barges wide by 6 deep for a total of 42 barges! They can go as big as 49 or nearly three acres of space pushing up the river.


9-23 barge 2
OK, so we’re fascinated with these barges, but look at the size of this thing! BTW, they’re not actually called barges, but rather “tows”. Who knows why they’re tows because they never tow anything, but they won’t even respond to a radio call where you call them a barge…. ask how we know! Also, when passing you need to use the “one whistle / two whistle” vernacular as in “see you on the one” or “see you on the two”. Took a while to remember what meant what because it changes based on passing versus overtaking.


9-23 hop
This is the famous(!) Hoppies Marina. The last stop for gas or ANY kind of moorage for over 200 miles. It’s basically a few barges strung together sitting on the side of the river.


9-23 hop 2
So here you see the “marina” tied off to the riverbank…..


9-23 truck
….well sort of. You see that line goes up the bank and is tied off to the front bumper of this truck. Geez, that’s NEVER gonna’ hold… but wait that truck is then tied off to the truck behind it! Yeehah! That’s how it’s done in Missouri! Any questions?


9-23 mary
We arrived at Hoppies in time to walk in the brutal heat into the small town of Kimmswick where we went to the Blue Owl for lunch. The latter is run by this woman (Mary Hostetter) of Food Network, Oprah, blah, blah, blah fame and named a top restauranteur in the greater St Louis area. Gotta’ love the outfit.


9-23 pie
The Blue Owl is known for it’s “Levee High Apple Pie”. We’d knocked it over before taking the pic, but it was pretty tall… and yes, very tasty!


9-23 trips
Back at the marina, the guy on this boat was watching all the gas boats fill up. These are three electric motors powering a homemade  35′ boat. The boat has zero other systems and is going to go into the Guiness Book for the longest solar only powered trip. I suggested he go for a second category associated with patience since he can only go about 5mph and has to “tack” to make headway upstream.


9-23 sol
The entire roof of the electric boat was made up of solar panels.


9-23 calc
N built a little spreadsheet to better understand how we had to run the boat from Hoppies to Paducah. We tried to be conservative. We get the benefit of a 3 to 4 knot current downstream, but then face a similar upstream push against. Anyway we sliced it, we needed to carry extra gas cans to supplement our 113 gallons on board.


9-23 map
Not sure which is more remarkable…. crossing the 8,000 mile mark or N actually sticking to the speed strategy! Probably helped that he did the spreadsheet to convince himself.


9-23 gas
That’s how Bayliner captains do it! Lug extra gas and pour it in at the first anchorage. We had 21 extra gallons plus the dinghy tank if necessary. No, Z was not particularly helpful to the process.
2017-9-24 dinghy dock
So the Mississippi gets called the Big Muddy. Why might that be? Because it as muddy as freaking get out! B had to build this little landing strip to avoid losing her shoes when taking Z in to shore. We won’t talk about how filthy the dinghy got.
9-23 mud
Of course, Z had no problem with the mud and managed to dash around on shore while getting impossibly filthy. Dog and handler were not allowed beyond the swim step without a serious wash-down upon their return from shore leave!


9-23 food
Just because we were off the Mississippi in some filthy little anchor hole it didn’t mean we couldn’t eat well! B whipped up this colorful breakfast to fortify us for the push to Paducah


9-23 water
…and we’re off down the river following our float plan and conserving gas because it’s Paducah or bust… well not BUST, probably more drift downstream in the wrong direction!

















One thought on “Sept 20-22, Days 270-273 Riverboat Gas Gamblin’”

  1. It’s so good to have you back online that I’m not going to complain about how long we had to wait. You’re about to close the loop. I’m pulling for you on your trip through the “no fill” zone. Good luck and stay off that throttle!


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