Sunday: Alton Marina is closing some of their seasonal services after today, so we go up to the deli for a hot cooked breakfast and Beth gives us a pleasant surprise. Since today is the last day of the season for the deli, all meals are on the house! So we have a nice breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast with two cups of their complimentary coffee. Nice deal. After breakfast, I go over to see Jeff and Lucy on Encantada. We met them yesterday in Port Charles Harbor just before we left there. They had some friends aboard who were from the area and had left their vehicle down at Hoppie’s and were planning on cruising together down to Hoppies today, but the winds are very strong, so they will stay in port until Monday.
Sunday afternoon is very nice at Alton Marina and we make arrangements to eat dinner at the Argosy Riverboat Casino tonight. They have a shuttle that will pick us up at the marina and bring us back so transportation is a non-issue. Also, for the month of October, the casino buffet is only $7.77 per person on Sundays. So again, we simply can’t go wrong there. At 5:30 pm we call the shuttle and five minutes later we’re getting picked up and driven over to the casino. The buffet is not as spectacular as some other casino buffets we’ve enjoyed, but hey, you can’t beat the price!
After filling our stomachs, Tracy has to try her luck on the slot machines. We agree that she’ll just take a twenty and when it’s gone, she’s done. So we are entertained at the slot machines by Tracy’s twenty dollar bill for the next 15 minutes or so and soon we’re walking out after having spent more money gambling than eating.
Monday: Today is our last full day here in Alton as tomorrow, we’ll continue down the Mississippi to Hoppie’s Marina in Kimmswick, Mo. So I get out my bicycle and take a ride to Bluff City Outdoors, a short but semi hilly 2.5 mile ride. There I buy some new fresh worms for Tracy and on the way back, I stop at the local Dollar General and get milk and bread to keep us going for the next week.
Later in the day, Tracy was thinking about going back to the casino for the buffet again, but for some reason, she found that the buffet was closed on Mondays, so she made a nice big salad for each of us and it was delicious. After dinner, I did some chores that needed attention before we spend the next week mostly at anchor. Together, we refilled the fresh water holding tank, than I used the marina’s city water supply to refill our two drinking water tanks with 4.5 gallons of Brita-purified water. Now, we’re all set for a few days of anchoring out. Tomorrow, we’ll cruise to Hoppie’s Marina, but they will be the last marina for 200 miles.
Tuesday: We are sitting just 2 miles upriver from the Mel Price Lock and Dam, so after walking Frankie and getting the boat ready for departure, I called the lock at 9:00am and he said that he would get the auxiliary (smaller) lock ready for pleasure craft for a 10:00 am lockage and hopefully more boats would show up because yesterday, he got a bunch of ones and twos all day for lockage and is really set them back on the commercial lockages.
After hanging up with Jason, the Lock Master, I checked Vessel Finder and NEBO to see of there were any other pleasure craft(s) coming downriver from either Grafton or Port Charles this morning. Sure enough, two pleasure craft showed up on NEBO and I contacted them to see what their game plan was for the day. They said they were two of four vessels traveling together today and they would definitely want to get into the 10:00 am lockage and they could be at the lock by then, so Tracy and I got Kailani ready for departure and pulled out of the Alton Marina at 9:50 am heading for the Mel Price Lock.
I called Jason back and he said the lock was ready for us and we could drive right in, so Kailani and four other looper vessels entered the lock and prepared for the 23’ drop. Once the water started going down, we noticed that the lock only dropped us about 2-3 feet, not 23 feet! Oh well, it’s always good to get thru a lock without much delay. We noticed AGLCA burgees on all four boats, so we were in good company and actually the lead vessel, Still Waters II had a gold burgee, so they have already completed one loop. Seeing that, I radioed Dave on Still Waters II and told him that since he had already passed these waters once before, he should lead the way and as the lock gates opened and the horn blasted, I let him go out first. Still Waters II lead for the entire day and it was all good because today we are passing through the busiest port on the entire loop. St Louis is supposedly the busiest port city on the Mississippi.
Shortly after Mel Price Lock, there’s an entrance on the left descending bank to Chain of Rocks Canal. This is a man-made 12 mile long canal which bypasses the only portion of the Mississippi that has rapids, so it’s important to not make a wrong turn here. There is virtually no traffic on the canal, but there is a long line of tugs lined up at the lock, but the lock master was very nice and she was just completing a single barge lift and getting ready to open the gates when we showed up so she let us enter right after the single upriver lift and ride down as she returned the water to the down river side for the next up river lift. As it turned out, there was also an empty tow vessel that needed to lock down and she let him in with us since she was locking us though the main chamber and not the auxiliary chamber. This chamber is 1100 feet long by 110 feet wide, so the five of us were virtually lost in this chamber. It’s certainly the largest chamber we’ve been in with Kailani.
After the lock opens up we are back on the Mississippi River with the St Louis skyline ahead of us and the impending port traffic coming up. Still Waters II does an excellent job of getting us thru the traffic and shortly afterwards, we’re rocking and rolling down the Mississippi towards or stop for the night. The Mississippi is often described as “mighty”, but today it was “might and choppy!” We had a strong 5 knot current carrying us southbound with a 10-15 mph wind in our face coming out of the south. So whenever the current and the winds are in exactly opposite directions, the water gets choppy and that’s exactly what we had today. If you recall, about 4 weeks ago on our last legs of the Illinois River, we had pretty much the same water conditions, but this is a bigger body of water, so therefore bigger chop!
Soon we’re approaching Hoppie’s Marina on the right descending bank and one at a time, we are called in by the dock master and there are two dock hands to grab lines in this strong current. They really know their business and after 5 hours on the water and 2 locks, we’re finally south of St Louis and ready to tackle what some refer to as the most difficult stretch of water for loopers. This next stretch gets its reputation from the fact that there are no marinas for 200 miles and based on weather conditions, the available anchorages are sometimes unusable. The owner here, Fern Hopkins conducts river briefings every day at 5:30 pm to go over these scenarios, so we’re all looking forward to that later on today.
There’s also a really neat restaurant here in town called the Blue Owl Restaurant with a great reputation for entrees and their ‘Levee high apple pie’, but we’ve arrived here at 3:00 pm and the restaurant closes everyday at 3:00 pm, so we’ll have to wait until tomorrow for taste bud stimulation.
Hoppie’s is literally barges anchored to the shore with power and cleats, so after all 5 looper vessels are tied up, we mingle about the dock/barge getting acquainted.
While sitting on the barge/dock passing out boat cards, someone jumps up and says, “hey, look at that red buoy floating down the river!” So I had to get a quick video of it. Three of the other four vessels have all started their loop from north of St Charles on the Mississippi and the fourth is Still Waters II who are cruising on their second loop. They all met when Still Waters II got to the intersection of the Mississippi with the Illinois and they turned north so they could eventually complete the entire navigable length of the Mississippi (after here, they are continuing down the Mississippi rather than turning onto the Ohio River with the rest of us).
At 5:00 pm, Fern’s daughter Debbie came down to give us the briefing since Fern is still recovering from knee replacement surgery. Debbie described the preferred method for leaving their docks utilizing the reverse transmission trick to clear the shafts and propellers from any potential debris before untying the dock lines. Then she described the current (up to date and water) conditions for the next 200 miles on the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers. Included with this information are the safe (and apparently only) locations for anchorage along the way. We had a plan that we thought was very doable, but Debbie squashed that plan and now we have to revise our strategy going forward. We will still be resting here tomorrow and enjoying the local town, but when we leave, our stop destinations may have to change for safety sake. In fact over the course of the presentation, the rest of the loopers all decided that it would be better for them to stay tomorrow, rather than leave as planned. So if they make their final decision in the morning to stay an extra day, we’ll all be cruising together again on Thursday. We’ll have to see how that works out in the morning.
Back onboard Kailani, some of the rocking (but not all) has ceased and Tracy whips up a shrimp scampi dinner that we enjoy on this fairly nice late October evening. There’s rain in the forecast for later on tonight with some scattered showers tomorrow, but we’re looking forward to enjoying this small town regardless.
Wednesday: This morning is decision time for the other four loopers (we had committed to spending two nights here). So after some coffee and some discussion, all four boats, Still Water II, Aurora, Blurred Lines and Gammal Dansk all fired up their engines, went thru the pre-departure process for clearing potentially fouled props and were soon headed off into the fog for Kaskaskia Lock. It’s a relatively short 40 mile cruise with the current, but I’m concerned for them in this fog (to complete their story, by 3:30 pm they were all safely tied up at the lock wall).
So today, Tracy and I are walking into town for the famous Blue Owl Restaurant meal. This is downtown Kimmswick, MO and this restaurant has been featured on the Food Network, Wall Street Journal, The Travel Channel and The Oprah Show to name a few. People come from all over the world to experience this small town gem and we weren’t about to pass thru without a taste! The home cooked meals are spectacular, but the desserts are the treasure.
They serve all in house prepared foods and desserts and the most famous dessert is their Levee High Caramel Apple Pecan Pie that has 18 apples in each pie! When our waitress described the available desserts I had to stop her at the carrot-cheese cake. This is a top and bottom tier of carrot cake surrounding a center layer of cheesecake, and for a simple request, they’ll throw a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top…Done! Everything was great and to top it off, our waitress’ folks are from Waterbury and Thomaston, CT. Her dad used to paint the faces on Seth Thomas clocks. And as we were leaving, we got to meet Mary Hostetter, the owner and she was very nice in sharing her pleasure to see so many loopers stop in for her home-cooked meals.
The sun never broke thru today but the winds died down and the fog eventually dissipated and two more loopers came into the marina for the evening.
Thursday: The overnight was a stressful night. Tracy spent the night trying to sleep in the salon because she was concerned about watching for logs and lines to snap. By morning, we were still secured safely to Hoppies barge but Tracy had gotten very little sleep. We spent two long hours trying to decide on whether to go or not. We both didn’t want another night like last night, but today’s weather outlook is bleak with rain all day and winds out of the north at 20 mph gusting to 35 mph. This is not a good day to be on the river. So with the desire to go coupled with the sensibility to be safe staying here, we finally decide to remain, add more fenders and wait it out because tomorrow is forecasted to be pleasant, partly sunny and negligible winds. Our new Canadian friends on Sea Wolf decide to stay and Duette says they’re going to go for it, then they decide to stay also.
The day is mostly overcast with periods of light and heavy rain. The barge traffic is still going strong in both directions, however most of the unbound tows are empty barges, but with the 4-5 knot current, they still throw out ridiculous wakes. Bill and Jim of Duette and I play some cribbage in the afternoon in Hoppies clubhouse. Afterwards Tracy and I get all bundled up for the rainy/raw walk into town for dinner at Smokey Robinson’s Cajun Smokehouse. They’re the only location open after 3:00 pm in this small town. We walk in around 4:45 pm and we’re the only ones in the restaurant besides the staff! We have a great meal with pulled pork nachos and fried pepperoni nachos for appetizers, then we share the combination plate for two of smoked ribs and pulled pork. We purposely over-ordered so we could bring leftovers back aboard for the next couple of days at anchor. As we are paying our bill and getting ready to walk back to the marina, the waitress asks if we’re going back to Hoppies and after confirming, she says to hang on because Mike, the owner/chef is leaving to pick up Bill and Jim at the marina and he’ll drive us back so we don’t have to walk in the cold rain. Another local helping out loopers.
Back aboard Kailani Tracy determines that the onboard heater is not functioning properly caused likely by insufficient raw water intake. The Mississippi River debris has probably clogged the intake and once we are tied up tomorrow at Kaskaskia Lock wall, and there is negligible current, we’ll be able to research and hopefully clear any blockage(s). For tonight we just use our electric heaters and the electric blanket on the bed.
Friday: I wake to a bit of low lying fog over the river. Not to worry, the fog is generated from colder air than the water and as soon as the sun works a bit, the fog will be gone. This is a non-issue since we don’t plan to leave until almost 10:00 am. So Frankie gets his morning walk, I get my three cups of coffee and Tracy gets her two cups of coffee and by 9:15 am we’re starting the engines and ‘flushing’ the props. This is a must when you are in moving water with so much debris scurrying by. It’s possible that something large (or small) can get fouled in the propellers so one the engines are running and the boat is still tied to the dock (barge here), you run each engine once in reverse, then in forward and see if anything spits out. We do it twice on each propeller and are satisfied that our propulsion is alright. Ray has already helped Duette and Sea Wolf off the dock properly (against the 5 knot current) and is alongside Kailani with Tracy ready to accept the lines from Ray. He un-cleats from the bow to the stern and leaves only the forward spring line which holds the boat from drifting back (with the current). Then with me at the helm, I give a bit of port forward and Ray tosses the line to Tracy. Once we’re free of the dock I head Kailani upriver into the current, then slowly turn the boat towards downriver once we’re in the sailing channel.
Once we’re on course, we have 37 nautical miles to get to the Kaskaskia Lock and Dam for the evening. The Kaskaskia Lock allows boaters to tie up to the lock wall on the dam side for the evening at no charge. The only stipulation is that you must call them to let them know your intentions and they keep track of the number of passengers, the homeport and the final destination of each vessel that ties up to their wall. That’s a fair deal and by 1:00 pm Kailani, Sea Wolf and Duette are safely tied up for the night. Paul from Sea Wolf also discovers that every thirty feet or so on the wall, there’s a duplex outlet with 110 volt AC power (since he’s Canadian he says that he found ‘Hydro’). But nonetheless, we have 110 power for small appliances like space heaters (so we don’t have to run the generator all night).
The location is perfectly calm and quiet and it’s so secluded that we let Frankie loose on top the lock wall and he runs free for a half hour or so blowing off some steam after being either cooped up aboard the vessel or leashed everywhere he has gone for the last couple of weeks.
Then we convene with the crews of Sea Wolf and Duette for some conversation about the day’s cruise and some plans for going further south to the Ohio River.
Saturday: Fog is heavy and not going away for a bit. We discuss with Sea Wolf and Duette the options looking forward and since Duette is a slower boat cruising with fuel conservation in mind, he can not make Little Diversion Channel if we leave at 11:00 am.
Plus there’s forecast(s) ahead looking at sever weather on Monday and since we would be in an open water anchorage if we left tomorrow, we decide that we may be here on the lock wall for a few days waiting out the severe weather. Our first decision is to stay put for today and continue to watch weather opportunities and pitfalls to navigation further south of here. We will have to watch our resources for the next couple of days as there are no marinas until we get to Paducah.
While we are passing the time in the afternoon a catamaran vessel cruises up the Kaskaskia River and we help them tie up. They are a French couple that started their adventure in June 2017 when they left France to cross the Atlantic Ocean. They’ve been to Florida, up the ICW to Maine, then around Nova Scotia on down the St Lawrence River to four Great Lakes, then into the river system in Chicago. The had their mast shipped to Mobile Alabama and once they have their mast again, they will be sailing to the Panama Canal then up to Hawaii and Alaska before turning around and sailing down to the tip of South America and returning to France! Now that’s an adventure!