Day 161, October 4, 2012 (Hoppie’s Marine Services, anchorages): Here are a few images of Alton that I left out of my last post. At right is the ConAgra grain elevator with its patriotic welcome. The flood of 1993 rose to the base of the elevator and is marked with a red line.

Below are bronzes in a downtown park of Abe Lincoln and Stephen Douglas comemmorating the last of the Lincoln-Douglas debates before the 1860 elections. Below right, fall colors are beginning to show on the bluffs above Alton.

Leaving Alton on September 28th was the beginning of our 250-mile Mississippi adventure. The river is the commercial highway of this country. Tonnage in the billions passes up and down the river each year in gargantuan barge tows, some up to 30 barges in a single tow pushed by a monster tugboat that creates a mile long prop wash that will blow a 50-ton trawler around like a piece of debris.


The river suffers four opposing forces: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the men and women who captain the tows, businesses in the town that depend on the river, and recreational boaters. USACE does as it pleases, the rest be damned. And damned they are. USACE has, over the years, erected wingdams, weirs, chevrons, and dikes of rock, which are meant to change the course of the river or contain it. The result is that water gets pushed around but Mother Nature controls the faucet. These various rock devices are intended to channel river flow in an effort to diminish USACE having to dredge Mississippi mud. Wingdams create sandbars. Weirs redirect flow. Chevrons channel flow and silt. Dikes protect towns built on river bottom. The result of all of these structures is a roiling river with currents up to 5 knots, whirlpools and eddies, and hairpin turns. The turns trap barges. We have to admire the tow captains. To get up the river with their tows often they must move forwards and backwards incrementally to get their tow around a bend. At times the barges hit ground hard and tows break apart. The runaways wreak havoc as seen above left where a loading dock has been hit. There is a rather weak front of folks who oppose USACE, one that needs all of our support.

USACE owns the river, most of the locks, and its untried notions of how to bugger things up, royally. Most of the USACE lockmasters are helpful but others are not. The ones who work cheerfully will help pleasure craft into the pecking order for locking and some of the tow captains will let pleasure craft in with them, especially if they are not carrying dangerous material and have a short tow. Some lockmasters make pleasure craft wait all day to lock  through and are pissy when they do. Pleasure boats traveling locks in packs frustrate the impatient lockmaster. Pleasure boaters don’t know much about locks but they do know how to bring a boat to a wall and secure lines without a lot of shouting.

Lock 52 on the Ohio is a case in point (above left). This lock is a double chamber, one large and the other smaller. Pleasure craft are almost always directed into the small chamber when there are no small commercial tows or naked tugs locking. In this particular lock I missed taking an image of the lockmaster pacing the deck, a huge man with wild red hair and beard, and muscle tattoos who just came down out of the Kentucky hills ‘cause he got his first pair of boots for Christmas.

“I said hold it out in the middle of the river while we move the traffic down,” he shouts over the VHF. Evidently, he never held a boat in the middle of a river flowing at 3 knots below a dam spillway.

Despite all of the brain damage from USACE, the river run has been interesting and challenging. There are long stretches of wilderness, high bluffs, and birds. Many sightings of American bald eagle, heron, a kingfishers in  clouds that flit around in front of the boats. The fall foliage is beginning to appear on the river banks. Except for Hoppie’s Marine Services in Kimmswick, MO, 30 miles south of St. Louis, there are no pleasure craft service or fueling facilities for 270 miles until Green Turtle Bay on the Kentucky stretch of the Cumberland River, where we are now. Most of the trip is down hill  sometimes running 12 or 13 knots at little more than idle speed. Fifty miles in the Ohio is up current but it is not nearly as swift as the Mississippi. The Cumberland current is quite gentle for the 30 miles up to the Barkley lock and dam. We used 30 percent of our fuel load to make 270 miles.

Hoppie’s is an institution (above left).  Fern gives her river briefings every afternoon before supper (left). She has an encyclopedic knowledge of the Mississippi and Ohio. We travel the rivers in daylight. Moving at night would be treacherous because the barges move almost 24/7. We have noticed that the tows will nose into the riverbank between 23:00 and 03:00 to allow crews to take a rest. We are obliged to make the run to Green Turtle Bay in 2 to 4 days requiring anchorages for the nights. Anchoring on the river is impossible. Fern has up to date information on the anchorages available and she knows who is in them and how many boats each anchorage will hold because everyone stops to fuel at Hoppie’s.

Hoppie’s is a crucial resource on the river for pleasure boaters. Hoppie’s for us is a safety issue because the river changes quickly, anchorages silt in, and fuel is scarce. USACE is about to put Hoppie’s out of business. Four years ago without consultation with the town of Kimmswick, USACE enclosed Hoppie’s in wingdams at a cost of several million taxpayer dollars. The dam downriver has silted in Hoppie’s forcing Fern and Hoppie to move their docks farther into the river. At the moment they are the end of their tethers literally and figuratively. They cannot move out any further and they have lost about half of their dockage due to the silting. The Mississippi River Commission met in August 2012 at Chain of Rocks above St. Louis to discuss Hoppie’s, among other things. In the public meeting many came out in support of Hoppie’s, including America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association. Fern also testified. A decision was due 30 days later but after two months none has been rendered. A request to USACE for dredging has gone unnoticed as each day deposits more silt at Hoppie’s docks. It would be well for USACE and our government to remember that the river belongs to the people; the agencies are merely the custodians for the moment.

At the right it is my turn to direct a raft-up of five boats behind a wingdam at mile 102.4. This particular dam was erected at the mouth a a small creek that would not be denied. It has scooped out a little natural harbor below the dam leaving a small gap in  the manmade bar for boats to enter and shelter for the night from the barges.


At the left we are waiting our turn to raft up in Angelo Towhead. Cairo, IL, is off to our right. Below is sunrise over Cumberland Towhead Island where we rafted at Cumberland mile 0.0. It was the best anchorage to date where  we rafted six loopers who partied on into the night aboard One September.