Main page (English)  -  Main page (Finnish)  -  Logbook index  -  Latest log

Previous  -  Next

Across the USA along the rivers: Chicago - Mobile 15.11.-20.12.2001

Updates: 15.11.  21.11.   27.11.  5.12.  13.12.  20.12.

15.11.2001 Illinois River, USA
After two weeks in Chicago, and six months on our way, we were off on Monday, the 12th of Nov., to the 1200 mile long river voyage to the Gulf of Mexico. We will be driving along six different rivers: Chicago, Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Tombigbee. Instead of our first plan of driving the whole way along the mighty Mississippi, we are taking the Tenn-Tom waterway, which means that we leave the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Tenn-Tom is said to be more interesting and safe. Instead of New Orleans, we end up to Mobile, some miles more east of the Gulf coast.

During the last week in Chicago we had good company: Italian sailor Laura with her two dogs arrived (see the log on 9.10.). It was really a pleasure to change experinces and get to know her. She tasted reindeer at the first time in her life, and we had a treat with Italian delicatess on her boat. We also have to thank once again our friend Bill, who took care of us during our stay in Chicago.
The Windy city was a positive experience, but the tele-communication facilities were really poor. Datacalls were not available most of the time, and when they were, the speed was a ridiculous 9600 bauds. (That's why the long pause in the updating.)
The last glance to the town was made under the bridges, because the Chicago River runs through the downtown and under about 45 bridges.

With the flag pole our height is 4,5 metres

The first experiences on the Illinois River remines those of our friends, who are on the Amazon River at the moment: water is brown and bottom is near. The first day we hit the ground three times. Fortunately the bottom is soft, so we got Kristiina free, although we don't have a mast from where to drag out a halyard to heave the boat. We even have two flies inside the cabin, but the temperature is somewhat different than on the Amazon; about +10 C in the morning and round +20 C during the day.
Because of the shallow waters, it has been difficult to find a dockage or anchorage. We spent one night alongside an old lock wall, an other beside a barge, and the third one anchoring, since we found enough depth off the route.

The tugs and barges are the kings of the these rivers. The tow boats are pushing some 18 big barges full of sand or coal, so you just can imagine the weight - and the distance needed to stop from 4-5 knots speed. The tugs have 6000 hp engines and propellers about 3 meters in diameter. Along the riverside are located various industry and loading stations for crain, sand, gas, coal and chip.
Illinois River has seven locks, that take you 48 meters down to the level of Mississippi. Lockage is slow because of the barges. The whole load is too big for the 180 meter long and 30 meter wide lock, so the first six barges go first, are winched out, and then comes the rest.

An evening on the Illinois river

21.11.2001, Mississippi River, USA
After four days, we began to wonder the miles on the chart and on our log.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are responsible for the inland waterways and navigational charts. The mile used on their chart is a statute mile (1.6. kilometers), not a nautical mile, as we took for granted. Our mistake shortens the way from 1255 nautical miles to 1115 nm.

We stopped in Peoria for two nights. The 100.000 inhabitant's town is the center for agriculture and industry in Illinois. The city also seemed to be the center for spiritual and physical treatment, it was full of churches and church hospitals.

300 metres of barge

We have hoisted the spinnaker bom as a flagpole, flying the Finnish flag on top and the U.S. courtesy flag on side, as it would be on it's normal place under the spreader. This was not the proper way, we were told by a tow boat skipper. "No flag above the American flag", is the rule. But having the U.S. flag above our national flag makes us an American boat, which we are not. Our intention was not to be unpolite, but have the flags according the international watercraft rules. In America we have our own rules, said the skipper, and told that he had called the Coast Guard, which shared his opinion. We solved the problem by making an own flagpole for the American flag, so now both flags are on the top of their own poles. However, our national flag is bigger and therefore flying higher.

Will this due?

One morning the Perkins would not start. Hannu managed to start the engine with a screwdriver, but then he discovered that the charger is overloading the batteries. The controller was broken. We turned all the electrical devices on, to gain maximum consumption, and to avoid stopping. So, there we motored, in the bright daylight, with all the 18 cabin lights, tv screen and the electrical heater on!

We found deep enough side river

On Monday (19.11.) at 12.20 we entered the wide Mississippi River, feeling a bit sad for leaving behind the narrow and beautiful Illinois River and it's forestry shores with deers, storks, beavers and white-head eagles. But at last we had reached the "real" river of Huckleberry Finn and Jim, although the traffic has grown up since their times. We passed St. Louis with 2.5 million people, there was no place to stop.

St. Louis

27.11.2001 Ohio River, USA
Mississippi River
is much broader an deeper than Illinois, and the flow is faster. It gave Kristiina extra speed and we were making 9-10 knots, sometimes even 11 knots. There are strong whirlpools which make the boat toss. Safe places to stop are rare, there are just a few marinas, and some safe anchorages can be found. The water level can rise several meters, over ten in a worst case. Now in November the water level is at lowest, and it's hard to imagine that the river can rise up to the shore hills and reach the towns. Most of the towns have a flood wall. This part of Mississippi has two locks, that lowered us 11 meters.
We have been making 30-50 nautical miles in a day. There is daylight from seven am to five pm. It's best to move during the day, although the towboats are clearly visible also in the dark because of their strong spotlights.

"A marina" can be two barges along the riverside.
The main thing is that it offers a safe stop.

Hoppie's marina office

A couple of nights were busy. We were going to spend a night beside a dock at the Kaskasia lock, but the lockmaster said that after the terrorist attack it's no longer allowed to stay there. But we could anchor above the lock. So we went through the lock and anchored. In the middle of the night Auli woke up to motor noise and bright lights. Three motor boats were driving around Kristiina and spotting us with the lights. Then they vanished into a small river. It was a hunting gang, it's the deer hunting season.
For the next night we anchored in safe and sheltered river diversion. There was already a big, 77-feet house boat, Misty-R, which we had met earlier at the Hoppie's Marina. There we helped them with the ropes and tried to start a conversation, but for the skipper we were air, he ignored us. A thunderstorm broke out at the night, and we stood up to watch the storm. Auli had already gone back to warm bed, when Hannu shouted that the motor boat is coming on to us! Their anchor had loosen. The speed was not fast, since the flow was slow, and there was no wind. But the over 20 meters long and perhaps 20 ton boat would have done a great damage to Kristiina. We had no time to get our anchor up and drive away, so Hannu started to blow the horn like mad. Just before they hit us, they managed to start the engine and drive away. Manouvering in the narrow space made them to almost hit us again. We had VHF on waiting for some kind of comment or thank, but nothing, the radio remained silent. In the morning they passed us without stopping, waving or anything. The VHF was silent. Misty-R remains a mystery. It was a dangerous place to miss the anchor, without us they might have ended under a tow boat.

On the Ohio River we got the current against us. Speed reduced to 5-6 knots. During the first day a hard wind was blowing from behind helping us, but it also rised quite big and sharp waves. The Ohio is even broader, at least on this spot, than the Mississippi. 
We missed Cairo, as did Huck and Jim because of the fog - we saw the town clearly, but there was no place to tie the boat up. We passed two locks, which took us up again, about seven meters.

Just before the Tennessee River we stopped at Paducah, a 100.000 inhabitants town. There is a marina, Big E, with rumbling and rolling floating docks, but it is a marina, a safe place to stop. It was really nice to be able to get out of the boat after three day's anchorage.

A remark on the height of the flag poles caused this version

5.12.2001 Tennessee River, USA
After all, we spent three days in Paducah and got a lot of things done. As a journalist, Auli got herself onboard a tow boat, Jeffrey J. It was without cargo, but still a very interesting experience, thanks to James Marine and skipper Tommy!
Located near four rivers (Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland) Paducah is a center for tow boat companies. About 20 companies have their office in the town, and there is also shipyards and other facilities.
The tow boat I was on, assists the local traffic and transports some short distance cargo. A typical job would be assissting in the lockage: when a 15-barge tow wants to use the small chamber in the lock to avoid the long waiting for the big chamber, the cargo has to be split and Jeffrey J. would take half of the barges through the lock.

After leaving Paducah it was raining for two days and nights. The river level went up one meter and a lot of wood, from small parts to big trees, were drifting with the flow. At the end of Tennessee River (it starts in Knoxville and flows to Ohio) is the Kentucky Lock, which took us 16 meters up. After the lock we entered the 300 kilometers long man-made Kentucky Lake. The numerous coves and bays offer beautiful and deep anchorages. Along the east shoreline are several state parks with great nature and wild life. When the rain stopped we went for a walk to the forest and in one cove we met Carl, who was preparing the next day's duck hunting. We spent the evening with Carl sitting beside a big camp fire, the full moon lighted up the forest around us and the wolves were howling. Carl told that it is a small red wolf, living in these forests. There are also deers, raccoons and possums, by the water live beavers and otters, and in addition to the already familiar white head eagles and blue storks, we saw kingfishers. The lake scenery is more varied than on the previous rivers, there are hills and limestone cliffs. We passed a few marinas with several sailing boats, not wonder, because the Kentucky Lake offers a fine sailing area.
After the rain, we got blue skies and warm sun. The temperature falls near the zero during the night, but the sun gets it up to around 20 C. This difference means also fog in the morning, and we were happy to have our radar installed.
Also the Tennessee River is very beautiful and has a variable scenery from the reddish brown cliffs and green cedar trees to the fields and lowlands. With the leaves in the summertime, it must be even more beautiful.

The evening of the first of December we drove in to the Cuba Landing Marina, where people were getting ready for a Christmas party. We were invited. After a long longed shower (the last time was in Peoria over two weeks ago), we joined the party and tasted the delicacies people had brought with them. The drinks were on the house. It was very different Christmas Party compared to a Finnish one: around 8 pm people strted to leave and by 9 pm the harbour was quiet. Well, it was easy to get up at six o'clock next morning and enter the river again.

13.12.2001 Tenn-Tom Waterway, USA
We have now left the Tennessee River behind us, and we have ahead the last, 720 kilometers long part before the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile. Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway consists of 374 kilometers long canal joining to Black Warrior and Tombigbee rivers. The Tenn-Tom canal with its 12 locks is a bigger construction than the Panama canal. Earth was digged and moved one thrid more than in Panama, 307 million cubic yards. The total lift is 102 meters and the highest lock the Bay Springs with 25 meters lift.
Already the early explorers, like frenchman Montcalm, suggested building a canal to join the inland river Tennessee and the Gulf rivers together. Similar proposals were made and plans drawn during the centuries and decades, but every project was too massive and too expensive. The building of Kentucky and Pickwick dams on the 1930's gave a boost to the project, and in 1946 a decision was made to build the canal. However, it took almost 30 years before the construction work got started in 1972. The Tenn-Tom canal was opened in 1985. It runs through the states of Mississippi and Alabama.
The Kentucky Lake was beautiful, but there are two other lakes on our route, Pickwick and Bays Springs. Both are man-made. The scenery is even more beautiful and there are plenty of sheltered and fine anchorages, where we have spent some time.
On the Pickwick Lake we stopped for one night near the dam and lock. Storks and kingfishers were on the spot, as well as small brown divers we did not regonise. It was nice to walk in the forest for a while. The shores were full of deer foor prints. 
In the next, a bit bigger cove, we spent two nights, also celebrating  Finland's Independent Day (6.12.) by having a sauna. In the eve of the Day, but already the 6th in Finland, we were heating up our tent sauna, sitting by the camp fire and staring at the odd star constellations. We had left the ceramic oven stones in Greenland, so now we had some washed American river stones. In the calm and warm night the sauna was warming up quickly. But a loud pang-pang noise started in the tent.  The stones did not tolerate the heat, and were cracking and flying around the tent. No matter what, we wanted a sauna! We hided behind the oven lock, but Auli got a couple of hot shots before the fireing stopped. After that we had a good and hot sauna bath. 
We also played music by Jean Sibelius - for all the animals in the nearby darkness as well.

From Pickwick Lake we motored  30 nm to the Bay Springs Lake, which had even more sheltered anchorages. This lake is the youngest of the three man-man lakes, so maybe that is the reason for the extraordinary shape. It is like an oak leaf, full of bays and coves, from where opens new and new, smaller and smaller coves. And they are deep - it's a lake full of perfect anchorages. The earth is red sand, and the shores are cut by erosion. There is a lot of pine trees, which makes the winter  landscape more colorful. Auli saw a special animal: a turtle.
We were out of food and water, and it was about the time to send the Christmas mail to Finland. So we stopped for one day in the Bay Springs Marina and drove with their courtesy car to Booneville, 30 miles away. With loads of food, water tanks full, and with clean laundry we spent two more days in the beautiful cove on the lake.

Tenn-Tom Waterway is quite boring canal-motoring, but we got some change by visiting a 1860's plantation mansion and a steam-wheelboat. The building of the Waverly Mansion in the state of Mississippi was finished just before the civil war. All the six sons of the family joined the war for the Southern troops. The plantation was a village in itself with post office and mills. During the best times, a thousand people, slaves and tenant farmers with their families, lived there. The four floor high, white painted pine wooden house was glorious, but rather small for the ten children family. There were five bedrooms. The kitchen was located separately from the house, to prevent the main building from fire and heat.
The steam-powered sternwheeler Montgomery was built in 1926, and used until 1982. The use of coal was changed to diesel at some point. Montgomery was a snagboat, it removed trees, sunken logs and other debris in the river. The 53 meter boat had a crew of 12-14 men.

20.12.2001 Tombigbee, Alabama, USA
Only 300 kilometers (220 statute miles), which is about 3-4 days drive from Mobile, we faced first time the river's force and had to live on it's conditions. The two days rain caused a flood and the river was running about six knots. That extra speed would have been nice, but the river was full of logs, trees, branches, grass and debris. It was not safe to go out, said the locals. Even if the solid steel hull of Kristiina would take the hits, the propeller, shaft and rudder were in danger. It would not be nice to drift without steering in that speed, maybe a towboat coming behind the next corner.

For a lucky coincidence, we would have stopped for a couple of days anyway, because we were meeting Auli's friend Ingjerd from Norway in Demopolis. We took a day trip to Moundville to see the ruins of an indian village. Only the big mounds, covered by grass were left. It is not exactly known why the indians built these hillocks.

Auli started the Christmas cleaning by washing the white ceilings of Kristiina so eagerly, that her back was hurting a couple of days afterwards. The odd position jammed the muscles. So, it was no hurry to the river.
We did some Christmas shopping at the Wal-Mart: both of us got 20 dollars and a half an hour. A couple of times we met at the same department... well, we'll see at the Christmas Eve, did we also buy the same things. That happened last Christmas, when both of us bought the Heavy Weather Sailing book for the other.

On Tuesday, the 18th of Dec., after spending five days at the Demopolis marina, we were off to the river, which still had a six knot current and quite much things in it. The day was clear and sunny, so it was easy to see the logs and trees. But we were exhausted after seven hours attentive steering. 
The underwater buoys are the most dangerous. A couple of times a buoy pumped up just beside the boat, sinking slowly under the flow again. We have an old chart missing some buoys. It's impossible to say where the edge of the sailing line or route is, because of the widened river.
Now, on the third day, the flow has diminished reducing our speed from 11 knots to 9 knots, and there is not as much debris as when we left Demopolis. The shores began to be green, and there are little palms among the trees.

Between Demopolis and Mobile are two locks with together a 74 feet lift. On Wednesday, we came through the last lock, so we are on the sea level now. It will be interesting to see when the tide effect begins. On the St. Lawrence river, at the beginning of our inland route, the tide was effecting as far as 300 nautical miles, up to Quebec. Four months ago we left the salty water, so it is time to go back to the sea, step the masts, and sail again!

About a hundred kilometers (64 statute miles) before Mobile we took an off-river route to look for an overnight anchorage. We motored about 20 minutes along the sideriver, when we saw a bay. But it was actually not a bay, but a wood clearing. There was seven meters depth, so we kept going into the woods. It was a real forest with thick trees, some having spanish moss hanging on them. Birds and squirrels were making noises up on the tops, but there were no land animals, because there was no land! Amazing place. We motored among the trees, depth keeping at 5-7 meters all the time. We had to stop when it turned so dense that we couldn't get Kristiina in. How many of you have droven a sailboat into a forest!? We tied the stern to a tree, and there was so much water beside it, that we could back Kristiina next to it. Incredible!

It is only a few days to the Christmas, so it's time to say


It is nice to know that we are not alone out here, but with all of you. Sharing the experiences via the log book has been a pleasure, and we hope the same of reading it. Despite the language mistakes and irregular updates. 

Previous  -  Next