After flying down the Mississippi River at 10 knots, turning upriver onto the Ohio is a shock. It’s frothy with breaking waves, it’s running fast, and we struggle against its current. At one point, Soulianis slows all the way down to 1.5 knots, and we start to worry if we’re even going to make it — even at full throttle.
Our short 46-mile journey on the Ohio River takes us two days. We breathe huge sighs of relief after turning south onto the Tennessee River. Even though we’re still heading upstream, the Tennessee’s current is a much milder 1-2 knots.
The Kentucky Dam Lock — our first upstream lock transit — is rough. We quickly learn how much easier and more pleasant it is to be lowered down a lock than raised up. Compared to the muddy brown rivers, Kentucky Lake is a beautiful bright blue. We hop and skip our way down the lake until it turns back into the Tennessee River, pushing further south towards the sun and the warmth.
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Lauren & Kirk
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Oh, I think this is where it’s gonna get worse.
[Lauren] Last time on Sailing Soulianis we took you on a technicolor tour of Grafton, the town that sits at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. We got to see the inner workings of a towboat.
[Man] This is where the navigation of the vessel takes place.
[Lauren] And then we jumped in our own boat to tackle the mighty Mississippi ourselves.
If it gets much foggier though it’s gonna be pretty sketchy.
[Lauren] We made it.
[Kirk] There’s just one after another.
You can hear the crickets. We’ve been kinda dreading this part of the trip.
It hasn’t been that bad.
No, it’s sorta been the best part.
Yeah, it really has.
[Kirk] Alright, you’re gonna start letting us out? Oh, this line is frozen. Okay, let us back. Alright, I’m free I’m pretty sure, yep. Oh, there’s a lot of mud. That’s thick stuff. Hey Lauren, should I bump you forward?
[Kirk] Yeah, we need a wash down.
[Lauren] This was the end of the Mississippi for us. From Lake Michigan until now, it’s been all down river. But once we turn onto the Ohio, we’ll be pushing upstream for 300 miles until the end of our route on the Tennessee River.
We’re about to start pushing some serious water. We’re doing 8.3 right now. In about five minutes, we’ll probably be doing two. Maybe three.
Alright, maybe four.
[Kirk] We just crossed the line.
You’ve been nice.
Very very fast.
That’s our new speed.
Well, I think the current is probably still gonna pick up because it’s still swirling a little bit.
[Lauren] Yeah. This is the Olmstead Locks and Dam project, which was just recently completed. It was built to replace locks 52 and 53 which were both barely hanging on. It took the Army Corps of Engineers nearly 30 years to complete the Olmstead project due to its complexity and funding that came in fits and starts. It’s the largest and most expensive inland waterway project ever undertaken in the US It’s cost of $3 billion is estimated to pay for itself after four years of operation. After leaving Boston by that morning, it was just 52 miles to the transient dock in Paducah, Kentucky. But with the four to five knot current, we weren’t able to make it. Our hangup was Lock 52. We needed to be there before they closed at seven p.m. for them to allow us passage. That night we anchored, literally, on the side of the river in between several tows, playing the same waiting game until the lock opened in the morning.
[Man On Radio] You know, I’ve drove 22 of them since I’ve been a pilot. Maybe a couple more if you count steersman.
[Lauren] When we weren’t calling the lock operators on channels 13 and 14, our radio was always set to 12, the channel the tow operators use as we often call them while underway to ask on which side they preferred us to pass them.
[Man On Radio] Yeah, I mean, it’s something. But you always have different deck crew and different places and different personalities and stuff.
[Lauren] After dropping the hook, our radio was still on when a couple of tow operators decided to use 12 to catch up.
[Man On Radio] I kinda liked it when I had the same people to work with all the time, too. That was kinda nice, too.
[Captain On Radio] Oh, yeah, everybody knows everybody and you ain’t doin’ no guessing ’bout what kind of stunt they gonna pull next or why they didn’t do this.
[Lauren] We figured out the first guy was telling stories about his training to a more experienced captain.
[Captain On Radio] The deck hands flowed in and out, you know, couple of them. But, same old , you know? Don’t get in that old comfort zone.
[Man On Radio] Yeah, I just got off to Quinton Harris. I took, it outta the shipyard, took 42 up on it. Then they got me on, they didn’t let me take no big tows really on the lower anyway.
[Lauren] When steersman are training to become pilots, which is the equivalent of a first mate, they’re allowed to pilot northbound transits only because the tow is running into the current, increasing controllability. Once proficient, they can start southbound runs.
[Man On Radio] They’re talking about turning me loose on the 25, 30 .
[Captain On Radio] Maybe get posted up, you know, before they cut you loose like they should anyway.
[Man On Radio] Yeah, I’ve had a couple of trips postin’. But, I have a trip postin’ and I won’t post again for four or five months.
[Lauren] What’s posted mean?
[Kirk] You should just jump in. Hey guys, what’s posted mean?
That one wasn’t actually too bad. The Olmstead.
Ohio River this morning.
Oh, I think this is where it’s gonna get worse. Yeah, this is where it’s gonna get worse.
[Lauren] Damn, look at that wave. The closer we got to Lock and Dam 52, the stronger the current got. This was due to the dams forcing the water through a more narrow section of river. What’s our speed over ground?
[Lauren] Our speed over ground kept climbing and in a few miles, we’d made it. We had completed our trip on the Ohio River. ♪ All we really want is a change of pace ♪ ♪ So keep walkin’ ♪ ♪ Don’t speak softly ♪ Okay, back up there for just a second. A lot of things just happened that were hard to see. At 57 feet, this was our tallest lock yet. It was also our first lock heading up river. So, instead of being gently lowered down, the water boiled up all around us. It turned out to be our worst lock experience. It was incredibly turbulent near the end and even with fenders out, we struggled to keep the boat from bashing the wall. It got so bad, the lock master called us on the radio to see if we were okay. We pushed with everything we had, and as you saw, we made it out okay. We learned then, going up a lock is very different from going down.
[Kirk] We pulled into Kentucky Dam Marina to fuel up and stuck around to use their courtesy car to get groceries and some additional plumbing bits and bobs from the hardware store. This was our largest fill-up yet. The last marina we filled up at was 227 miles back on the Mississippi. We keep a detailed log of engine hours. So, knowing that it took 34 hours for us to motor those 227 miles means we averaged just under three quarters of a gallon per hour.
[Lauren] What’d ya find?
Something living in our water hose. This was the hose coming from our port-side water tank. The previous owners didn’t live aboard, so they only ever used the starboard tank. Whole lot of good stuff in there.
[Lauren] Oh, gosh.
[Kirk] It needs to go outside, though. With the rest of the moldy, moldy oldies. Replacing this plumbing was one of the dozens of things on our to-do list that we didn’t get to before leaving the dock in Wisconsin.
[Lauren] Looks like The Princess and the Pea is sleeping back there.
So, we just spent two nights at the Kentucky Dam Marina. I got myself a haircut. We fueled up, we groceried up. Uh, we did not clean the boat up. But, we cleaned ourselves up. Showered, shaved, all that good stuff. And now we are headed across
Hi. the glassy, flat, calm Kentucky Lake over to, what’s the name of the marina?
Lighthouse Landing Marina.
Lighthouse Landing Marina.
Yeah, I think it’s a sailboat paradise. I’m not sure.
It’s beautiful out right now, though.
Yeah. The forecast for the next two days wasn’t as pretty. So, we figured we’d hole up in a slip and crank out some computer work. We decided to leave Kentucky Dam Marina for Lighthouse Landing for a change of scenery and also their cheaper rate, 75 cents a foot.
We’ve got a straight up wind chime going here. Nobody knows how to secure their halyards, apparently. We are quite possibly the only boat in this marina not making a noise right now. Oh, man.
[Lauren] After the muddy Mississippi and Ohio rivers, Soulianis really needed a bath. Not too bad.
I am quite hot now.
[Lauren] That’s one way to get a workout in. Kirk so kindly took on the task while I was out for a run. Did you get all the dock lines up?
[Lauren] Do you need some help? Usually, we’re both on deck for departure, but sometimes he’ll prep the boat by himself while I’m still editing in the cabin. You don’t need any help.
[Lauren] Just with that haircut of yours. ♪ So, I flew on boots of leather from Murcia ♪ ♪ To the place where they had said they saw you last ♪ That was directly in the sun, huh?
Wohoo. So. Where are we headed, love?
We don’t know yet. South
There’s about two dozen bays that cut into the state park here, in between, it’s called Land Between the Lakes. And we’re gonna go pick one for tonight’s anchorage. ♪ And from where I clung all I could see ♪ ♪ Was swallowed by the sound of you in the cherry tree. ♪
[Kirk] We poked our nose into one bay but we weren’t really comfortable with the swinging room.
[Lauren] Nevermind, sorry no-name creek. Whoa!
Well, shoot, now we’re gonna get there at 5:47.
[Lauren] Are you sure?
[Kirk] They’re going like crazy again.
The next morning, we continued on South down the 184 mile long Kentucky Lake to Paris Landing State Park where we saw the familiar lines of another Tartan 37. This is the first sister ship I really got to inspect in person. It was really interesting to see all of the differences in the rigging and the way that the boat was set up. Without much notice, Kentucky Lake bled right into the Tennessee River. This would have been really difficult to do late at night. That night, we had a little time to finish the plumbing on the water tank.
[Lauren] What ya got going on here?
I’m heating up the hose to make it more pliable so it’ll fit smoothly over the nipple and so it’ll bend nicer. I’m gonna put it on. Cool.
[Lauren] Whatcha doing, love?
[Kirk] Bending metal.
[Lauren] One of the softest metals.
You wanna bend this? Okay, ready?
You’ll put your thumb over it. One, two, three.
[Lauren] I don’t think it’s leaking.
[Lauren] We got more water. Well, too bad water is clear because that’s not very exciting.
Not cool. Not cool at all.
Au contraire, it is so cool. Sorry, that was really bad. It’s actually not cool. It’s really really freakin’ cold. Where did you get that?
This is off of our deck. ♪ I can’t catch a break ♪ ♪ Because it seems that it would take ♪ ♪ Some love ♪
[Kirk] It’s very pretty this morning, huh?
Very pretty, it makes the cold not feel as cold.