Motoring a sailboat down the Mississippi River — a bit paradoxical, isn’t it? Back when buying a sailboat was still a distant dream, we can most definitely assert that motoring down a bunch of rivers was not on the to do list. But, sometimes you find yourself in strange situations. And it’s been one helluva journey!
This episode spans the 218 miles of Mississppi River which makes up part of the inland waterway connecting Lake Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.
We were apprehensive of the Mighty Miss. How would our boat handle in the swift 4-5 knot current? What would navigating around all the commercial traffic be like? Would there be safe places to anchor? Oddly enough, the Mississippi turned out to be one of our favorite parts of this journey. Fall was in full swing and the trees were a kaleidoscope of colors. Passing barges became more interesting and less nerve-wracking. A fog bank kept us on our toes. We found a couple of lovely anchorages, and watched one ahh-mazing sunset.
More music by Common Jack in this episode!
Hope you enjoy,
Lauren & Kirk
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Hey guys, if you’re new to our journey, here’s a quick recap to get you up to speed. After buying our Tartan 37 in Racine, Wisconsin, we sailed it around Lake Michigan, then started making preparations to head south to salt water. We decided to take our boat to the Gulf of Mexico via the Inland River System, which is made up of several rivers and canals, including part of the Mississippi. We unstepped the mast to clear a bunch of low fixed bridges along the route. We then prepared the mast for shipping south via truck and will put it back up when we reach the gulf. Now for the duration of our trip down the river, we won’t be sailing, but rather motoring Soulianis. Right now, you’ve joined us in Grafton, Illinois about 300 miles into our 1,300 mile journey from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama. We’re gonna go see a tugboat. It’s actually tow, but they call it a tugboat tour.
[Kirk] No, I called it a tugboat tour.
No, it says tugboat tour on the pamphlet.
Yeah. We know better . A towboat has a flat bow for pushing barges. A tugboat has a pointy bow, is much more maneuverable, and can push or pull a larger ship in any direction.
Under the Twyla Luhr where a twin screw, 6,800 horsepower pull. This is where the navigation in the vessel takes place. I’ve got two radars, my main radar and I also have two Zeon searchlights. The Zeon lights can pick up a buoy up to two-to-three miles away on a dark night. It’s a long white beam that can be reduced down to about a foot in diameter. From the bottom of the boat, the bottom of the bow of the boat to the river bottom is 9.2 feet deep, so actually the boat’s drawn 9-foot, so it’s about 18-foot deep right here. The electronic chart identifies and tracks other vessels in the area. It shows the direction they’re traveling, their destination, the speed. It’s very helpful. It does a lot of other stuff too. Alright. Alright . There you go.
[Kirk] What do you think?
That was pretty cool.
I wish we would of got that on camera.
[Kirk] I shot some of that.
No, when she was like, so what did you do all before all these computers and stuff like that?
[Kirk] Oh, yeah.
Looked out the window.
If any boat was on this boat, 57,000 gallons.
Wait, I don’t understand.
So that’s the most that they’ve ever filled up at one time.
[Kirk] But it will hold 236,000. Oh, he’s got a treadmill. All the stairs, wow. Oh, they can do laundry.
[Lauren] Oh yeah.
[Kirk] This is their oil. 140 degrees. Oh my God. Could you imagine working like that?
I don’t even know how like .
We’ll tow anywhere from 25-30 south, but we could bring 36 back.
[Kirk] So you do six wide by six long?
[Woman] Hey brother, how many days in a row do you guys work?
We work 28, get off the boat 14.
[Lauren] In Grafton, there’s a winery on top of a hill. Climbing up to it is a thing to do, especially for us boaters who could really use a light workout.
[Kirk] It’s not 50, it’s warmer.
[Kirk] Yeah. It’s supposed to get to like 69 today.
[Lauren] It was morning though and the winery wasn’t open. That was just fine. We were on a mission to see the fall colors. ♪ Far away ♪ ♪ Losing track of time ♪ ♪ Smoking cigars we dipped in honey ♪ ♪ Finding new ways to spend our money ♪ ♪ Along the way ♪ ♪ Trying to read the signs ♪ ♪ Walking the backstreets and the pathways ♪ ♪ Past the tobacco fields and bad days ♪ ♪ All the way out here ♪
[Kirk] This is probably gonna be our best colors, huh?
Yeah, it’s crazy ’cause there’s techno line like set back against, look at that. Do you see that blue-green moss over there?
[Lauren] On that tree? Everything’s a little bit wet, so all the bark is really dark and setting those colors off.
[Kirk] Screw the fall colors. I want to look at your hair. ♪ In the backseat of an old sedan that ran along the seaside ♪ ♪ To ease our lonely minds, oh honey ♪
[Lauren] She’s the only one there.
[Kirk] We planned to stay in Grafton for a couple of days to get some work done, but we ended up staying there almost a week. We checked off a lot of things on our to-do list, including laundry, a provisioning run, computer work, and more engine maintenance. The engine was due for an oil change, and we needed to change the primary fuel filter. This was our first time tackling these tasks, and as always, it takes longer than it should. Fortunately, everything went pretty smoothly. Lauren got some time to do yoga and take a couple of runs along the river.
All those beautiful colors and the Mississippi.
[Kirk] And we spent an evening checking out Grafton’s nightlife. This multilevel bar called Third Chute appeared to be the hot spot in town.
[Lauren] And now begins our journey down the Mississippi. With its swift four-knot current running in our favor, we planned to cover the 218 miles in just a couple days. Just 15 miles downriver lies the town of Alton, Illinois. It’s home to the last floating riverboat casino that’s still in operation on the Mississippi, and the flour mill that produces up to two-and-a-quarter million pounds of flour per day.
[Kirk] Are we going past Alton?
[Lauren] Yeah, we just passed it.
[Kirk] I thought you had it turned on.
[Kirk] Whoops. We didn’t get it. Just downriver from Alton, we entered The Chain of Rocks Canal. We’re in a canal, that’s all . This eight-and-a-half mile long canal was built to bypass a rock-filled section of river just north of St. Louis, which is unnavigable at low water and dangerous at best at high water.
[Kirk] Nine nine?
[Lauren] Yeah, woo!
[Kirk] After the one-to-two knots we had on the Illinois River, it felt like we were flying down the Mississippi.
Kirk, that was probably the first time that chart planner has ever displayed double digits. Oh, now we’re down to nine six.
[Kirk] That’s what I said. It’s a nice city to watch and wave as it goes past.
[Lauren] The cruising guide said this almost verbatim, not only because of the swift current, but also because there is literally no place to stop in St. Louis with a boat. No docks, no marinas, no anchorages, no nothin’.
We were in Grafton this morning. It’s still morning, and we’re now in St. Louis. We’ve already done 40 miles. I guess that’s what happens when you can do 10 knots.
See that barge thing lifted out of the water?
[Kirk] Oh wow.
[Kirk] What do you think about St. Louis?
It would probably be a lot cooler if this embarkment parking lot actually had a some sort of riverfront happening.
But yeah. I can see that there is literally nowhere to stop. ♪ She don’t stand like nobody else ♪ ♪ No, she don’t stand like nobody else ♪ ♪ The room will light up and she and I will lay the land ♪ ♪ Aooohhh ♪ ♪ Ooohh ♪ ♪ Ooohh ♪
[Kirk] My boat guide.
[Lauren] That night we stopped at Hoppies Marine Services, which is filled as the only fuel stop for the next 107 miles, and the only marina for the next 227. It also had a bathroom straight out of a horror movie. The next morning we woke up to a wee bit of fog on the river.
I got the radar up and running. The radar is pretty cool.
Yeah. I can see a lot.
[Lauren] We just have never turned it on before, right?
Well, I mean I’ve turned it on, but I never actually tried to use it. I could see the buoys. I can see the little weir dam things.
[Lauren] Oh really?
[Lauren] Eh. Hear that? It’s the radar. We couldn’t hear it, but the camera picked it up. We had quite the thunder set up at Hoppies because it was basically just a barge floating along the side of the river, so we were completely exposed to all the tows and currents, the wind and everything, so we were banging up against the dock pretty hard and yeah. We had six fenders on one side , so you’re not supposed to travel with fog. It’s not really completely foggy.
No, but if it gets much foggier though, it’s gonna be pretty sketchy.
We’re trying to make 110 miles today, and to do so.
We only have 10-1/2 hours of sunlight.
And it’s supposed to take us in optical conditions of three or four knots of current 10-1/2 hours . So we had to leave a little bit before sunrise to try to arrive so we had enough time to anchor. Any other notes?
Uh, it’s very cold. Poor guy needs some mittens.
Needs some mittens for sure.
Big wooly mittens. Better yet, just bring a couple of sheep, I think. Two lambs. He could one lamb in each arm.
It has to stick out of the water. So that’s a buoy we just passed. That’s a buoy we just passed, That is this buoy coming right up here, and that’s obviously our riverbanks. You can see the little weir dams and stuff on the side. So this one right here is that one over there. It was helpful. We just crossed 156. We’ve already done two miles this morning. We’ve only got 108 to go. ♪ Get me out of the desert sun ♪ ♪ Get me a drink and we’ll have some fun ♪ ♪ ‘Cause it’s all a game ♪ ♪ I’m not scared of a smokin’ gun ♪ ♪ My skin is thick and my brain is numb ♪ ♪ So it’s all the same ♪
[Kirk] I don’t know if I want to go in here Lauren.
[Lauren] Where does the river go from here? Does it curve or does it stay straight?
[Kirk] It curves, but it’s really great on the curves. We’re goin’ right into the sun. If we were going to the side, it would be okay.
[Lauren] Shit, that is some thick fog.
[Kirk] Yeah. I’m turnin’ around.
[Lauren] What do you want to do?
[Lauren] Are we droppin’ anchor?
[Lauren] I can sit up on the bow.
[Kirk] Yeah, go up on the bow. Keep an eye out for big fish and stuff too.
Okay. This is a little sketchy, but I can still actually see a good 200 feet in front of me so once I go sit on that bow pulpit and make it stop banging around, I should be able to hear more. We made it!
Today’s been our longest day. We’ve done 75-1/2 miles already, and we’ve got another 35 to go before we hit our anchorage tonight, and we have probably seen more tows and barges today than we have seen at any other part of the river combined. There’s just one after another, and this is gonna be a really wild ride through here. These guys are turnin’ up a ton of water. It’s gonna be bumpy for awhile. I thought yesterday with 10 was fast.
[Lauren] Our anchorage for the night was called Little Diversion Channel. The entrance was a bit narrow, and a few logs seemed to be stuck in the middle, which made us wonder what the shoaling was like under the surface.
Yeah, I’m like almost dizzy looking upriver. It’s kind of crazy. Do you think I want to be on the upriver part or the downriver part?
[Lauren] Oh, it’s pretty in there. I would try to go up.
[Kirk] Above it?
[Lauren] Yeah. Oh, there’s a railroad bridge.
It’s still 30-feet deep here.
[Lauren] There would be no nosing in with the swift current. We knew we had to pick an entrance point and go for it, otherwise, as soon as we turned broadside to the current, it would take us right into the bank downriver. It’s just swirling in the current.
[Kirk] Yeah. Alright. = [Lauren] Where does the shoaling happen?
[Kirk] I think the shoal happens right up there.
[Lauren] Oh, ’cause it was on the descending bank at Big Blue Island.
[Kirk] Alright, well I’m gonna go right above it.
[Lauren] I think you can. Perfect!
[Kirk] I feel pretty good about this.
[Lauren] Yeah. It’s super peaceful.
The only thing is it’s gonna be cold.
I know. You can hear the crickets .
[Kirk] I don’t think we need to go very far up here, do you?
No. I think it was just saying you could go all the way to the bridge if you wanted.
[Lauren] Look at the size of that barge.
[Kirk] Yeah, it is seven wide and eight long.
[Lauren] Holy crap. They’re all empty though, don’t you think?
[Kirk] Yeah. But still.
That is insane! Look at that thing . God .
[Lauren] It still doesn’t look that big in the camera. That’s a six-foot wave.
So this is our second night in anchoring on the river. Kirk’s on blow right now putting a rubber mat in the chain locker that we just got from Home Depot so that we protect the inside of our fiberglass of the chain locker from the 200 feet of chain that we just bought. Yes?
Will you drop the first few bits of chain into there?
And actually, before you do that we should set the anchor.
Okay, back up.
I can’t. I’m stuck against the, what is that thing called?
Maybe we can stand. So we’ve been kind of dreading this part of the trip.
And it hasn’t been that bad.
No, it’s sort of been the best part.
Yeah, it really has.
It’s been really pretty. Everything south of St. Louis has been really cool.
I mean even Grafton was cool, but yeah, it’s like really wild feeling, whereas as like the Illinois felt like a bunch of farmland and like agriculture. This feels like wild.
Yeah, and industrial. There’s so many barges.
[Kirk] THere’s nothin’ here.
Did we get any of that? I mean besides not getting showers which.
Yeah, and being freezing, sleeping in 29-degree weather. Um, I want to fill the fuel tank.
With the next fuel can.
With the next Jerrycan?
Look at that! Wow!
Wow. Oh, I think this is gonna be where it gets worse.