The advice given on this site is based upon individual or quoted experience, yours may differ.
The Officers, Staff and members of this site only provide information based upon the concept that anyone utilizing this information does so at their own risk and holds harmless all contributors to this site.
The week of September 24, 2017 - October 1, 2017 a friend and I traveled the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers in my Catalina 250 "Small World." Below is my story and photos. It is all written, just need some time to get the photos uploaded to the forum and the story posted here. I will do Day 1 this morning and follow up with other segments over the next day or two.
Started my Great Loop today (Sunday, September 24, 2017). Although, this is just a one week first segment. We departed West Alton, MO at 7:40 am. All was good at Harbor Point Yacht Club until we woke up and needed to use the wash rooms and showers. All water in the marina was turned off. So, we skipped the showers and a leisurely breakfast and just departed. Good thing we did.
We had no delay at the Melvin Price Lock and Dam. We were immediately cleared into the chamber and as soon as we were secure along the wall, they started our drop down. They dropped us over 20 feet. It was far more than I had expected.
We then made our way south on the Mississippi for a short while and detoured off the river into the Chain of Rocks Canal.
In the photo below we are cruising down the canal with our 29 gallons of gasoline on board. Hoppies Marina (Just south of St. Louis to Kentucky lake is the longest portion of the great loop with out fuel stops.) We brought more than enough to be sure we were good. (I know the bimini looks a bit sloppy, we folded it up in preparation for viewing the arch. Once past the arch it was folded out and stayed out for the entire trip.)
At the end of the canal we had one more lock to drop us lower. Again, we had no wait. Although the three power boats that locked through with us had to wait in the chamber at Lock 27 while we made our way as fast as we could. Once again, we pulled straight in without delay and started our drop as soon as we were secure on the wall.
We traveled a total of 33.32 nautical miles today and finished up at Hoppies Marina in Kimmswick, MO. It was pretty early in the day to stop. But this is one of those stops on the great loop that everyone says is a must stop. So, he were are. we had the legendary talk on what is to come from Fern. We then had a nice dinner of Pork steak and veggies.
Tuesday, September 25, 2017: Tonight we anchored in the Little Creek Diversion Canal just south of Cape Girardeau, MO. If you are following along on a chart, it is located at mile marker 48.9. We are tucked in off of the main river with five other Great Loopers. Same boats that we have been with since leaving Alton. As we were pulling into the canal, “Sweet Liberty” invited us to tie up along side and join the group for dock tails. We decided to pass and get settled in at anchor before joining them. We also desperately needed to prepare dinner. We really did not want to barge in empty handed and hungry. By the time we finished dinner, the party was breaking up. So much for being the slower boat.
Little Creek Diversion Canal
So, let's move back to yesterday. As mentioned before, we stayed at Hoppies Marina in Kimmswick, MO the first night. When we woke up in the morning, we had a leisurely breakfast. After breakfast, we walked down to join the others for some conversation about the days run. There was concern generated from a report that The Olmstead Lock on the Ohio was going to be closed indefinitely. So, most of the boats decided to stay at Hoppies until receiving word about the lock being reopened. This had me a bit worried. If I could not get to Kentucky Lake I was concerned about running out of time before having to report back to work. There are no marinas between Hoppies and the Olmstead Lock. So, I got to looking at the charts and saw that there is a boat ramp just down stream of the lock. I then called the lock master on the phone and discussed the closure and the usability of the ramp if we needed to make a change of plans. He reported that the closure was due to something blocking the down stream gates and that a diver was scheduled to go have a look. He felt they would not be closed too long. And confirmed the ramp was good for our needs.
So, I reported to the group what I was told and announced we were leaving. They said they would probably wait a few more hours before departing.
So, on Monday we traveled 36.51 nautical miles (42 miles) to the Kaskaskia Lock and Dam at the confluence of the Kaskaskia and Mississippi Rivers. We did discuss for a short bit that if the Olmstead lock was to remain closed, we could just head up the Kaskaskia River back towards Carlyle Lake. It looks like the Kaskaskia is navigable for about 29 miles.
The Kaskaskia Lock will allow recreational vessels to tie to the outer lock wall for the night. There are no services. Just a small area that we can walk along between boats. We were invited over for cocktails aboard one of the Trawlers "Resolute." We had an enjoyable visit before heading back to our boat to prepare dinner. We had hamburgers on the grill that evening. Kept it rather simple. Cell service was really poor there, so I did not do any internet posting.
Small World tied up at Kaskaskia Lock Wall
This morning we woke up with the sunrise and got an early start. We had a long run today. We traveled 54.49 nautical miles today (62.7 miles). It was another uneventful day. The most important thing on our mind was finding a place to go ashore to buy ice. We knew we were going to be a few more days before seeing a marina or any real good place to stop. First we thought that Chester, IL may make for a good stop. Looked promising on the chart, but in reality, nothing was close by. So, we pressed on. The next good possible place looked to be Tower Rock Campground in Grand Tower, IL. We scoped out the place with the binoculars and it looked promising for ice, but was going to involve anchoring out and a dinghy ride ashore. We elected to hold out to see what Cape Girardeau had to offer.
Tower Rock - Grand Tower, IL
As we approached Cape Girardeau we saw a dock. It was the Kidd's Oil Fuel Dock. I knew from reading Great Loop guides that they only have diesel. Anyhow, we pulled along side and tied up. The dock had a gate that was locked with barricades, so there was no going ashore via their ramp. However, I looked up their phone number on my phone and gave them a call and enquired about gasoline. When he said they only had diesel, I asked if he would mind if we tied up for 45 minutes to an hour and dinghied ashore to walk into town to buy some ice and gasoline. He told me that he had a key to the gate's lock hidden and that we could unlock the gate, do our thing and just be sure to lock up when we departed. So, we grabbed our gas cans. Just needed 8 gallons. That is all we had used traveling three days on the river. We also emptied out the cooler with wheels and walked into town. We had to go several blocks to find the closest gas station. Brice started pumping gas and I walked into the store with my cooler in tow. That freaked out the attendant. When I inquired about ice, he says, "Are you a boater?" I responded yes, and he says "that explains the cooler." So, anyhow - mission accomplished. We are stocked up with ice, gas and rum for our next few days of bucking the current on the Ohio.
Small World at Kidd's Oil Fule Dock, Cape Girardeau, MO
Selfie - Cruising down the river
After leaving Cape, we motored the few miles to our anchorage for the night.
Tomorrow we plan to finish up with the Mississippi. We will stop at an anchorage just shy of the Ohio.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017.
We woke with the sunrise and got busy right away. Breakfast was Sausage, Scrambled Eggs and cheese and coffee. We made fairly quick work of breakfast and then got busy getting the anchors up. They came up somewhat clean, so not too bad of a task. The canal had a lot of scum on the surface when we arrived. Looked better at departure in the morning. But, oh man the dinghy is a mess. It is going to take a lot of scrubbing when we finally get to a dock with a hose. I imagine the boat’s waterline is probably just as gross.
We got under way at about 8:30 am. After rounding the bend below Cape Girardeau, I saw that the mast head wind indicator was pointing to our stern. I figured if there was enough wind to keep it flowing from that direction while making way under power, then maybe there was enough wind to sail. So, we raised the mainsail and turned off the motor. We also unfurled the jib, but we really needed to rig to run wing on wing. Since our visibility was already quite limited and the job making matters worse I decided to not wing the jib out. I figured if we encountered barge traffic I wanted to be able to change direction quickly if need be. So, we sailed along under main alone. Our speed was good. We were making 6.5 - 6.7 knots with just the main sail and the current. We had a 10 mile section of the river that was fairly straight, and sailed all of it. As we approached the bend in the river, we would have been able to trim in and reach. However, at the bend, we encountered two very large tows headed up river. We decided to drop the sails and pass under power. After the bend in the river, the wind direction was no longer cooperating, so we motored the remainder of the day.
At an extremely sharp bend in the river, where the river actually doubles back on itself and heads north for awhile, we encountered a large tow. We radioed him and he said to come on, there would be room for us to pass. While, we probably should have waited and let him pass. The bends in the river tend to have a lot of turbulence without the help of an up bound barge. Well, this was quite exciting. We did some serious white water rafting in a 25 foot sailboat. Fern did warn us about this.
Large Bend in the River - at the top of the chart on the right it is almost a mirror image in the other direction.
Fern from Hoppies had recommended stopping to anchor for the night at mile 7 on the Mississippi. There is a wing dam that juts out into the river, just above the I-57 bridge. She said it was a good safe place to tuck in for the night. She said there really was no where good along the Ohio before the locks. Therefore, she recommended not attempting the Ohio until we could get an early am start. Well, the other Great Loopers had passed us earlier in the day. Brice and I placed bets on whether they would stop at mile 7 or keep going. I had already decided it was way too early in the day to stop and was game to press on and gamble that we would find somewhere appropriate to anchor for the night on the Ohio. I never dreamed we would actually make it through the Olmsted Lock. Anyhow, when we approached the recommended anchorage at mile 7. Our friends were not there. Brice lost the bet. Like us, they obviously decided to continue on.
I-57 Bridge Behind us. We did not stop for the night as suggested.
We turned the corner from the Mississippi into the Ohio and our speed promptly went from 8 knots down to 3.6 knots without touching the throttle. There is a definite color difference between the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers. The Mississippi is very brown and the Ohio is green. The Ohio is far cleaner.
Approaching the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers Confluence
The lower Ohio has a huge amount of barge fleeting areas. There was not crazy traffic, but just a lot to pay attention to. We had to decide what was anchored, what was underway and which way those that were underway were actually going.
The wind direction for awhile was work able for sailing, so we unfurled the jib and sheeted in tight and kept the motor running at the same speed. Having the jib out added about 0.2 knots. I was really considering raising the main as well, but we were approaching another bend in the river which would have us sailing too close to the wind, so decided to not raise the main. A short while later we rolled the jib back up and continued under power.
As we rounded the bend we saw the new Olmsted Lock and Dam structure. It did not seem all that far away, but was still a good six to seven miles. Which at our 3.3 knots was going to take a couple of hours. I decided to call Olmsted Lock on the phone and let him know I was coming and that I did not think I would make it to him before dark and could he recommend a safe place for us to anchor for the night. His recommendation was to come within a mile of the lock and then anchor on the Kentucky shore about 400 feet downstream of a specific barge which was powered on to the bank. He said the barge was not going anywhere for the night and would be a protected spot to anchor behind. So, we thanked him and made that our plan.
While making way up stream, a large cabin cruiser was coming up on us fast from astern and a barge was coming at us from the opposite direction. The cabin cruiser was throwing a massive wake and he had every intention of blowing between us and the barge. What I was seeing was absolutely unbelievable. So, I grabbed the radio and with no formal address just simply said into the mike, “You are not seriously going to go blowing past me like that are you? SLOW DOWN!” He did back down and the moment he was past me lit it up again.
A short while later, the lock master at Olmsted called us on the VHF. He said he saw me and asked if I still intended to anchor below the lock or if I would prefer to come on through. I responded that I would be interested in getting through, but only if he felt that I would have time to be safely anchored upstream of the lock before it got dark. He responded, keep on coming and he would call lock 53 which was just one more mile upstream and see if they would allow us to tie up to their lock wall. He responded back that indeed we could tie up to their wall and that even if it got dark before our arrival, there would be enough light at the lock to find our way to the wall. Well, we made it and successfully tied up before dark.
Speed Racer in the big cabin cruiser, went for locking through at Lock and Dam 53, he told them that he would be making tracks and continuing up the river. Anyhow, we were already settled in against the wall at 53 and as he was getting ready to depart the lock, he calls the lock master and says, “I don’t know the river and it is getting dark, so can I just tie up here for the night?” The lock master was obviously frustrated with him and said why did you not announce your intentions before locking through. The upstream side of the lock is not a safe place. Anyhow, they went back and forth and back and forth some more and had to enlist the help of a tow boat to shine his spot light on the wall to help him figure out where to tie up. It was quite entertaining. And we had cooked our dinner and finished eating it before he was finally settled in.
And to finish up our story for the evening, the lock master walked over to our boat to wish us a good evening and to say that if we call the morning lock master at about 7:00 am, they will work to get us underway quickly. So, sounds like we should not have any delays tomorrow morning.
The cell signal here is really weak, so no pictures with this post.
Tied up along the wall at Lock 53 on the Ohio River
Sunrise at Lock 53. This picture does not even come close to capture how magnificent this was. Just moments later it as all pink and purple and orange in those cloud bottoms in the foreground. I know a took a picture but can not seem to find it.
Sunday, October 1, 2017. The vacation is over with. I am in the back seat of Brice’s truck as I write this headed west on I-24 with the boat in tow. I guess I will work backwards to sum up the last couple of days.
First from Paducah, we had to make a decision of which route to take. The choices are the Cumberland River into Lake Barkley or the Tennessee River into Kentucky Lake. Ultimately, if Great Looping you need to get to Kentucky Lake to continue south. Most of the Great Loop guide books say that the wait at the Kentucky Lake lock is horrendous due to commercial traffic getting priority and there is typically a lot of commercial traffic. Even though the Cumberland River route is 22 miles longer. The guides say, it is faster because there is very little commercial traffic on the Cumberland.
Well, while tied up to the lock wall at Lock 53 on the Ohio River, I felt it would be wise to leave the VHF on all night monitoring channel 13. If the lock master needed us off their wall for some reason in the middle of the night. I wanted to be responsible and be able to acknowledge the request. Anyhow, I woke up to a conversation between the lock master and a barge captain around 5:30 in the morning. He had said that the river depth at Lock 52 was quite low and that they would no longer be taking up bound traffic. Instead, they would only be locking commercial traffic down. With this information, I stayed in bed for another hour until the dawn’s twilight appeared to be bright enough to start traveling. I then got on the radio and called the lock and notified them that we were awake (at about 6:30 am) and were ready to move when ever they were ready for us. That worked well. We were through the lock by 7:30 am.
This lack of water depth got me to thinking that we may have a shot at being able to get through on the Tennessee River route and knock off that additional 22 miles. I figured we would make the decision when we were ready to leave Paducah.
So, we cleared Lock 53 and proceeded to prod along against the current. The wind was out of a very favorable direction so, we pulled up the mainsail and motor sailed pretty much the entire stretch between the two locks (22 miles). Having the mainsail up gave us an additional knot of speed. We made good time, especially considering our early AM departure. When we arrive at Lock 52, they instructed us to hold out in the middle of the river below the dam. They said they had two tows in the chamber that were locking down and they would let us in as soon as they came out. I thought we would get through quickly. At Lock 53 it only took about 20 minutes for them to raise us out of the chamber. It ended up taking nearly an hour for those two tows to clear the chamber. I thought we were going to get our call to enter, but instead I saw the lower gate doors close. With that I suggested that we anchor. I knew we were looking at another hour. Brice did not enjoy raising the anchor the morning of our departure at the Little Creek Diversion Canal and strongly suggested that we just continue to idle around. I concurred. In hindsight, we should have anchored. We drove around in circles for over two hours before we were able to enter the lock.
Doing Circles at Lock 52
Right after we entered Lock 52 and the doors were closed and the valves open to start our rise, we heard the Great Looper “Independence” hail Lock 52 requesting to lock up. The lock master responded, “Sorry Captain we have one in the lock on the way up. After him we have a tow that will require two down locks before he is clear so it is going to be a few hours. Independence and two other private vessels arrived at the Paducah dock late that evening.
After lock 53 we made our way to the brand new transient dock at Paducah. We were expecting pretty much the same thing as Hoppies. Just a bunch off old barges strung together along the river’s edge. That was far, far from the case. This was a fabulous structure that the City of Paducah invested heavily in. It is ran by their park’s department and you need to call for reservations. Much thanks to Fern at Hoppies and her providing the information that there was indeed a dock at Paducah and providing a phone number.
Transient Dock at Paducah, KY
Small World At Paducah's Transient Dock
When we arrived at the dock in Paducah, we were surprised to see all of our Great Loop friends. Every last one plus some others were on the dock. As we approached, I saw one spot on the end that looked to be adequate for us. Although, I decided to do a fly by and cruise the length of the dock and scope out the situation. Once we reached the far end of the dock, we did a 180 and headed back to the spot we saw on the end. As we were making our way back, one by one each of the boats with our Great Looping friends came out on deck and said their hellos and then proceeded down the dock to help us dock. It was good to see them all again. And they apologized for leaving us in the dust. They said they did hear our conversation with Olmsted Lock and that we were initially planning to spend the night at anchor below Olmsted and how a while later Olmsted saw us and called to say that they had us in sight and inquired if we were still going to anchor or lock through? Our Friends did not hear our response. Turns out they all spent the night just above lock 53 anchored out at Bean Island and had a lazy morning. They had arrived in Paducah ahead of us with just enough time to get settled in and cleaned up and then we showed up.
There were a total of 12 boats tied up at the Paducah dock the night we stayed there. One of them was rafted outside of a friend’s boat and the other had to stay in the area of the fuel dock. There was enough space to fit another 30 foot or less vessel. The dock has power and water at most spaces. They have Diesel and Gasoline available. The price while there was $3.33 for Gasoline which could be bought at a gas station in town for about $2.50 / gallon (just for comparison). There was also pump out facilities, but nothing else. We were hoping for showers. Brice had commented and Pat from Resolute offered us the use of the shower on their boat. It is amazing how friendly and helpful other Great Loopers are. We passed, we really did not want to barge in and push their hospitality. We encountered more of this. Within a very short time of arriving at Lighthouse Landing Marina, we met a couple that were preparing to depart on their own Great Loop. With a mention of ice being our biggest struggle and our needing to go into town to buy ice we had an offer to use their car.
Back to Paducah. When I had called to make reservations at the dock, I had enquired if they had ice. He said no. So, I asked where the nearest place in town was that we could buy ice. He had responded that there was a BBQ Festival going on in town along the river front. He suggested that I ask the vendors who is supplying their ice. He felt that there would be an ice supplier driving around to all of the vendors. So, we headed in to the festival. As we were walking along, I really wondered which vendor would be the best to ask. After passing a few, I found one that was a catering company. That seemed a logical one to attempt. So, we went on in to their tent and I asked the lady taking orders. I said, “We just came in on a boat and are desperate for ice, who do you get your ice from?” She said, “Uh, I don’t know, talk to him” and pointed to a guy back by the grill. We walked back there and again shared that we had just arrived by boat and were in need of ice. He said, “How many bags do you need?” I responded, “four.” There was a big garbage trolley with loads of cardboard on the top. He pulled back the cardboard and behold, it was chuck a block full of 30 pound bags of ice. I quickly responded, “Let’s make that two.” He sold us those two bags of ice for just $5.00.
After getting back to the boat and loading our ice, we debated if we should cook the food we brought or go back into town and had BBQ. We elected to go back into town. How do you pick which BBQ vendor to eat at when they are a dime a dozen? Our decision was pretty easy. We went back to the caterer that sold us the ice. We were not disappointed.
Back at the dock we visited with the other loopers well into the evening. We first started with talking to Tom on Sweet Liberty. He invited us aboard for a drink just to discover that when his wife left to go shopping at WalMart with the other ladies, she had locked up the boat and he did not have the keys with him. So, we invited him to come down to our boat instead. On the way down the dock we picked up the looper from “Gump Stump” and invited him to join us for a drink as well. I am horrible with names. I missed his name. Anyhow, he is solo looping. While sitting in the cockpit with our rum and cokes, the crew of the solar powered boat “RA” returned. We then struck up a conversation with them. I had read about this boat about a year ago. They have been cruising for quite awhile and have covered over 16,000 miles on solar power alone. The owner of the boat is quite the adventurer and has been traveling most of his life. He had sailed all through out the Pacific as well.
"RA" Solar Powered Vessel
Later we met up with the crew from S/V Patches. RJ and Sydney are a young couple aboard a 1971 Grampian 30. He bought the boat for $1.00 about a year ago. The boat was sailable when purchased and he did sail it for about a year while preparing it for an extended cruise. He replaced the bulkhead and some floor timbers and put the remainder of the money into solar panels, batteries, etc. There is nothing pretty about Patches, but she is functional and has quite a bit more room than my Catalina 250. RJ had pretty quickly asked if he could get a look inside my boat. He was very impressed with the amount of available space and especially with the ops top. We talked about our only real challenge being the constant need for ice. He then invited us over to his boat and showed us his setup. He has six batteries that are charged by the solar panels. Two charge controllers and one large inverter. He has a 12 volt cooler / refrigerator that they bought from Walmart for $100. He said it has been working very well for them. They also had a microwave and a toaster oven. He said the microwave works great and presents no real challenges to the inverter or batteries. On the other hand, the toaster oven works, but it really zaps the batteries. A 12 volt refrigerator is definitely in my future.
Friday morning we woke up bright and early. I called Kentucky Lock on the phone. The lock master said that he was in the process of locking one down and there are no others to currently lock down because they lack enough water on the low side to move loaded barge traffic. I told him that we could potentially be there in 5 - 6 hours. He said, “Come on up, chances are good we can get you through.” So, my decision was made. We are going up the Tennessee River.
The Tennessee was really quiet. We only encountered the one down bound tow and nothing up bound. Also, since the water level was low, the release rate at Kentucky Dam was extremely low. We had very little current to deal with. We made great time. I had heard that there were five pleasure craft behind us. It appeared that they were just an hour behind us. Turn out one of them was “RA” and he was not moving fast. Four of them all decided to stay close to “RA” so they all arrived at the lock quite a bit later than expected. I had called the lock and told the lock master that I was the one that called earlier in the morning and we were close and that there were four behind us and three near the lock. He said that the lock was down at the lower level and they had divers in the water near the down stream door and would gladly wait for us all to collect at the lock and then lock up together. So, ultimately four of us were anchored between I-24 and the lock while waiting for “RA” and the two sailboats to arrive.
Cruising the Tennessee River
Once in the lock and tied up to the wall, we started our slow rise. The lock lifted us approximately 55 feet up into Kentucky Lake. This was my largest lift in a lock. I thought this was the largest on the Great Loop, but I was later informed that the next two at the other end of Kentucky Lake lift nearly 80 feet.
Kentucky Lake Lock
Depth Sounder before gates closed on left and after gates opend on the right.
Most of the Great Loopers went to Green Turtle Bay. Terri and I had stayed at Lighthouse Landing in the past. I debated on where to go and ultimately decided to go the shorter route and spend the next two nights at Lighthouse Landing.
We had just settled in at the dock and two guys (Mike and Phillip) arrived at the boat. They came down to welcome us, the “Great Loopers.” We definitely had the look of loopers, but had to disappoint them with the news that this was the end of our trip. Mike and his wife along with three other couples are preparing to depart on their great loop within the next few weeks. There was a Bon Voyage Party being held up on the deck that evening and we were invited to attend. It was a very enjoyable party and had great conversation with those that are heading off on the loop as well as many others who were interested in our trip.
As we were walking back to our boat, we made it about half way down the dock and were invited aboard “Dragon Fly” for drinks. We ended up spending the remainder of the evening with that group up through about 11:30 pm. I think their party went well into the night.
Saturday, early afternoon, Patti and Terri arrived with the trailer. Brice and I got the trailer unhooked from the truck and loaded up the dinghy and outboard on the trailer. In that short amount of time, Patti and Terri, who we thought were just going to the bathrooms, went off and found the boat. As we came down the dock, the group of ladies we had met the evening before, were all in the cockpit of a boat and as we passed called out to us that they have already met our wives and gathered all sorts of information and have sent them along to our boat. As I have said before, when looping you meet tons of friendly people. We took the ladies out for a sail on Kentucky Lake for a couple of hours and then settled into our bed and breakfast for the night. Although, we did attend a show at the Badget Theater (The Awesome 80’s).
Today, Sunday, we took the boat over to Kentucky Dam Marina to pull out there. The water level was too low to get out at Lighthouse Landing. Once out of the water we unhitched the truck and sent the ladies shopping while we broke the boat down in preparation to travel.
At the ramp dock at Kentucky Dam Marina, preparing to pull out.
Ramp area at Kentucky Dam Marina
This was a great one week vacation. It has lived up to all of my expectations and I look forward to continuing my Great Loop as vacation time permits. I am currently considering towing the boat to Canada next summer to do the Trent Severn Waterway and then in the fall launching at the north end of Kentucky Lake and continuing south for a week.
And to finish up. Here is the logo on my boat. The Great Loop is my Small World, and the Catalina 250 is the boat that is going to transport me along this magnificent journey.
Notice: The advice given on this site is based upon individual or quoted experience, yours may differ. The Officers, Staff and members of this site only provide information based upon the concept that anyone utilizing this information does so at their own risk and holds harmless all contributors to this site.