Moving along the Mississippi

Trip Start Oct 17, 2009
Trip End Nov 15, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Missouri
Thursday, October 29, 2009

The last we wrote, Sat Oct 24 we were delayed leaving Peoria because the Peoria Lock and Dam was lowering the wicket dam. About 23 miles further downstream, the 8th and final lock on the Illinois River, La Grange Lock and Dam, also lowered the wicket dam due to high water (these are the only two wicket dams on the Illinois). Thus, we ended up locking through a total of 6 locks instead of 8. 

Lowering the wicket dams meant a couple of other things as well. It meant increased river flow as well as more river debris. Our cruising speed of 9 mph increased to over 10 mph. The day we left Peoria we traveled only 27 miles, anchoring outside the channel behind Duck Island.  We arrived around 3pm and this time to our relief it was pretty straightforward—no grounding the boat, no anchor trouble. Sighs of relief were followed by a couple of cold beers as we relished in the afternoon sunshine.
The following day, Sun Oct 25 was a big day.  We covered ninety-six miles, thanks to faster flows, to arrive less than 40 miles above the confluence with the Mississippi (Dad--every time I write Mississippi, I think of how you used to spell it out for me as a kid!). We pulled in behind Wing Island and anchored behind two other cruising boats that we had met at the docks in Peoria. 

We pulled up the anchor close to noon on the 26th. We had planned to stay at a marina several miles downstream on the Mississippi (M- iss-I-ss-ippi) but when we called to make a reservation were told that their normal 15 foot depths in the harbor had dropped to less than five feet due to draw downs of the locks on the Mississippi. So we turned to our Plan B and anchored between Island #526 and Mason Island right at Illinois River mile marker 0.0. It was a great spot. From the bow of the boat we watched the Mississippi River flow south. From the stern, the Illinois River.

Day 11 (Oct 27) we left behind the Illinois River and entered upon the “mighty” Mississippi River! With the region experiencing about 7 inches of rain above the October average, you may be able to imagine how we went flying downstream, moving over 13 mph and dodging river debris including everything from coolers, numerous footballs and soccer balls to many large tree trunks. We chatted with one cruising couple who watched an entire dock go by!

At one point we spotted something in the river looking at first like driftwood but then noticed it was moving decisively and perpendicular to the flow. As we approached and steered out of the way, we made out the head of a deer between the waves! We looked at the depth meter, 58 feet. River flow was at least 5 mph and the river had to be over 500 feet wide (and cold). And despite all these daunting factors, here was this deer swimming at a good clip across the current. We watched in awe as it arrived to the opposite bank.
Besides the increase in scale, there were other differences from the Illinois River as well. Wingdams appeared on our Illinois River charts at mile 63.5 but were not as prevalent as they are on the Mississippi. Wingdams are submerged dikes that run more or less perpendicular to river flow. Their purpose is to deflect the current towards the center of the channel to prevent both sediment deposition and bank erosion.  Running over one if you draft more than a couple of feet would be a very bad thing and thus made navigating a little more exciting. 

Another new feature for us were the weirdams which are spaced out around river bends but are sufficiently below the water surface to allow traffic to pass over them. Wingdams and weirdams caused increased turbulence, which when paired with a massive tow pushing 30 barges upstream, increased turbulence 100 fold.
  So between the cold wind and rain, poor visibility, dodging large hazardous debris, increased commercial traffic coming from all directions, wingdams, weirdams, and even charts that for the MS River don’t show the placement of the nuns and cans (buoys the indicate the navigable channel), Tom commented that he felt like he had jumped to Level 10 of some kind of maniacal video game. He managed the helm calm and collected and even enjoyed it. I helped with navigation (wing dam, wing dam!! Oh my god-large tree, large tree! Whistle, whistle…) and busted out a minestrone soup belowdecks while getting tossed around by turbulence from the enormous tows. Good beginner’s practice for cooking at sea. 
We passed through two locks but because of the draw down a couple of days prior, we only locked down less than a foot in both cases. These are the only two we’ll pass on the Mississippi.
After covering about 76 miles we pulled in around 2pm to the famous “marina” Hoppies at Kimmswick, Missouri.  Established in 1934, this place is an institution and is the last marina for 228 miles

Yesterday, Wed Oct 28 was another big travel day. The weather forecast had indicated thunderstorms for Thurs and Fri and with the river already full we wanted to be as far along as possible. We made 110 miles and are now only 48.5 miles above the confluence with the Ohio River. We pulled out of the channel just before 5pm and into Little Diversion Channel to anchor for the night. All day, despite a forecast of “partly sunny” it had been very cold and gray. Strangely enough, as soon as we pulled into our anchorage the cold blanket lifted to reveal a bright, warm sunny sky. Tom actually threw on a pair of shorts as we pulled chairs out onto the deck for sunset. 
Today Thurs Oct 29 we will travel to the confluence of the Ohio River at Cairo, IL.
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