June 26, 2023

We departed PCH at 8:28a, went through two locks, then drove on from mm221.5 to Hoppies Marina, at mm158.5. 62 miles in five hours. Refueled at Hoppies. Took on 61.5 gallons (fuel burn at about 1g per mile)

The day went fast and flawlessly, only one casualty being we dropped a round fencer into the lock on the way out.  As we headed towards St Louis, Cap Paul schooled us on navigating the river, around tows (enormous barges lashed together to be 110’ wide by 600 feet long being pushed by a commercial tow), and hailing the tows when you need to communicate. It was a quick ride to the first Lock at Alton IL. We were able to drive pretty fast (16-17 knots) and there was little traffic so that when we arrived at the lock, it was open and ready for us to pull straight in. I drove us in, coached by Cap, while he helped Amy and lucy rig the fenders off the side of the boat and set up the line we would wrap around the floating bollard and cleat to the boat. This holds the boat to the lock wall as they let the water out and we descend about 8-9 feet. It was a bit windy on the approach but once in the lock it is protected. But the turbulence rocked the boat around a bit, and I stayed at the helm adjusting fwd/back movement with the engines and holding the bow in place with the bow thrusters. Pulled away from the wall perfectly and as we headed out and as they were pulling fenders in, the one ball got dropped (by cap). Hasta la vista baby.

Next was the Chain of Rocks canal entrance which is 9 miles of canal that you enter instead of going over the rapids just north of STL. At the end of the canal, we went through the Chain of Rocks lock with just crew working the boat and Cap supervising. Amy held the bollard, Lucy mediated, and I drove. We nailed it in all aspects. Yippee! Cap said we were perfectly capable of locking through ourselves.

Following was downtown STL and the arches. The closer we got, the more barges tied to the side at terminals, tows crossing the river moving barges from one side to the other and building tows (lashing barges together 3 wide by 7 long). The traffic was intense and there was plenty to steer around, with occasional turbulence from confluences and wing dams. We could only go about 8 mph for a long ways then about 9-10 the rest of the way to Hoppies because of all the marine traffic. This area is very much a working river and a commercial port, it’s important to our country’s economy. We saw barges going upriver and down river, moving scrap metal, coal, fertilizer, fuel, wind turbines, and probably many other commodities (soon they will be hauling crops).

We arrived at Hoppies (only boat here) at 2p. Paul Joe hung around for an hour and we toasted with a voddy. He was sad to leave us and wished he had planned to go with us ATW to GTB. But he said he has full confidence in us. We waited until after 7p to get the downriver debriefing, from Deb, Hoppies daughter) and it was not  what we wanted to hear. Most of the anchorages are too shallow to be safe. It was her strong recommendation to have a short day tomorrow and tie up at the Kaskaskia lock wall, only 42 miles south of here (three hours driving), then push hard the next day ATW to Paducah (ten hours going fast, one lock). So that’s the plan. We will hang out at Hoppies until about 10a then take a short ride to Kaskaskia.

6/23/23  Hoppies to Kaskaskia Lock wall

With only a three-hour cruise today, and nothing to do once we get there, we decided to hangout at Hoppies for the morning. Walked into town, went to some cute shops, then ate at the famous Blue Owl restaurant. Back onboard aby 1130, underway at 1208, with a clean departure. Minimal traffic this far down the river although we went through a few terminal areas where the tows were active. Only passed a few heavy tows all day. Cruised in one-hour shifts, taking turns with driving, and navigating, with one person free. Arrived at the Kaskaskia lock wall at about 315, with a perfect landing. We are the only boat here. In fact, we have not seen one other pleasure boat on the whole trip so far, and only a handful of fishing boats. We debriefed the day, planned tomorrow’s route, ate leftovers, then went to bed early. Tomorrow will be an early start and a long day of driving. Today went well and I think we all gained some confidence. Without Paul on board, we were truly on our own and it was a little foreboding at first. But with focus and determination, we soon felt like we had it under control.

6/24/23 Kaskaskia to Paducah

From Kaskaskia lock to Paducah City Docks is about 160 miles—117 down the Upper Mississippi River, then a left turn at the Ohio River, where we will beat upriver for about 46 miles, through one lock. It’s a big day! We prepped the boat last night and went to bed early. I was up at 415 and at 5a I will start the engines as a crew wake-up call.

We were underway by 525 and Pushing against a 2-3 mph current.  Took one-hour shifts—navigate for an hour, drive for an hour, then rest. Time went quickly, there was very little traffic on the river, and we averaged 17-18 mph on the Upper. We made the turn lefthand turn onto the Ohio River by 1105 (117 miles), entering the river at its confluence with the MS— at mile marker 981. Now we were pushing upstream against a 2-3 mph current, reds on right. At 1210 we arrived at Olmstead Lock and had to wait about 40 minutes while tows pushed their barges through. At 1250 we were tied in the lock and at 115 we were driving out.

After the lock, we drove off the loaded charts on the plotter and we could see the river and the AIS targets on the plotter, but no navigation aids were visible (the chart no longer showing red/green buoys or the “sailing line” which shows the center of the channel). The backup charts on the tablet couldn’t be accessed because the tablet was dead and not charging. Ended up using the phone for navigation to bring it all the way to Paducah (our third redundancy).

Sometime after the lock, the steering started getting stiff and grabby. We arrived at the Paducah Municipal docks at 4p. 10 ½ hours underway, 163 miles (121.55nm), average speed 12.6. We had less than a quarter tank on the STBD engine. We aced the docking (no assistance at the dock), got her tied up and settled for the night, then had a cocktail and took a little walk around the area. Exhausted but exhilarated, we were in bed by 830.

6/25/23 Paducah Rest Day

Slept in (so to speak) and had a leisurely morning, which felt great after pushing so hard yesterday. Disgustingly, the whole boat was covered in dead mayflies (we unfortunately arrived in the middle of a hatch). Literally thousands of dead bug carcasses everywhere. At about 8a, the dock attendant came down and fueled us up. We had to move the boat a short distance to the fuel dock and back. We took on 341 gallons, 144 to port and 197 to starboard (generator sucks off STBD), $5.25 per gallon, total $1790.26. $72.88 dockage for each night.

After some initial boat clean up, we walked into the quaint town of Paducah, most of which was closed up at 10a on a Sunday morning. Gradually things opened up and we had lunch. I got in touch with my cousin Skipper and he and his wife Jennie came by the boat for a visit. Super nice people and it was fun to see them.

Back on the boat, I had some important chores to do while Amy and Lucy took a nap. I figured out why the charts were missing data, got the tablet working again, and made sure we had all our navigation aids for the next part of the trip. I researched the steering fluid filling/bleeding and worked on that, with help from Lucy and Amy. Added fluid, bled out the air and searched for any leakage but found none. VERY hot today. The STBD side was facing west and caused the fuel vent to leak some fuel (over-filled). Cousin was here until after 7p, so we were late eating dinner, then went to bed.

6/26/23 Paducah to Green Turtle Bay

Today, we just have 46 miles and one lock to navigate—relatively easy after the long haul from Kaskaskia. We’ve got a few boat chores to attend to before shoving off and hopefully we will cruise without issues today.

June 22, 2023

After almost three weeks of scrubbing, repairing, equipping, provisioning, and crew training, today we embark on the long journey south. We are aboard a 2001 45’ Silverton 453 Motor Yacht, purchased in December 2022 at Lake of the Ozarks, then moved over land to Port Charles Harbor, St Charles MO, where it has been slipped for the past nine months, undergoing many repairs and upgrades.

I’ve spent a ton of time, energy, and money on getting Legasea upgraded, finding small issues, repairing things large and small, doing additional upgrades. Since purchasing the boat, we’ve added bow thrusters, all new electronics including auto-pilot and a Yacht Controller (remote control driving). The boat was hauled out last week to replace the shaft seals and found that the main shaft strut on the starboard shaft was bent. That’s all fixed now, along with a last minute replacement of the battery charger control unit which failed a few days ago, thankfully before our departure and not after.

Joining me on the first leg of this long journey are my two good friends Amy and Lucy. They have been awesome crew and have embraced this adventure. Yesterday, my crew and I were busy all day with pre-departure chores: washing, fueling, pumpout, last minute trip to town for supplies, return the rental car, install paddle board rack.

On our first day, we will be accompanied by Capt. Paul Joe Hopkins, who will give us some needed training on going through locks and general navigation on the river system. Today we depart from Port Charles Harbor, go abut 22 miles to our first lock, then another 10 miles to the second lock. From there it’s about 30 miles to tonight’s destination, Hoppies Marina.

This morning, we have some final chores—top off fresh water tank, one more trach dump, secure the cabin and prepare the boat for departure at about 0830. I have a little less anxiety now as we face the final exit. I think we are ready—at least ready enough—to start the journey. I know we will learn a lot every day about cruising, driving, navigating, locking, etc. I know every time we dock, we’ll get a little better at it and I am excited about the training we will get today.