Saturday, October 22, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

We don’t have too far to go today and only 2 locks to go through, so we slept late and didn’t leave Alton Marina until 9:45.  While we were at the marina, Joe met 2 couples there who have completed the Great Loop—Stan & Barbara Grogg, who own this boat “Grogger”, and Robert & Patty Mitchell who own “Orinoco”.

Our first lock for today, the Melvin Price L&D aka L&D 26, was in sight of the marina and just 2 miles downriver.  When we got there we were happy to find that there was no wait.  26 is different than any of the other locks we’ve been in; anyone on the outside of the boat during the locking procedure has to wear a life jacket, and instead of huge doors on both ends that swing open and closed, the upper side of the lock has a gate that rises to just above the level of the water. 

This lock has a drop of 24 feet and we’ve been lowered almost the whole way in this photo.  Phil is plugging his ears because there was painfully loud screeching from the floating bollards or something; I had to turn off my hearing aids too.

We had about 10 miles to go to the next lock and the cruising was uneventful—sunshine and relatively calm winds made it so much more pleasant the previous days had been.  This part of the river is somewhat industrial with lots of small barges and smallish companies.

We passed the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. I was surprised that it was such a non-event; I expected that there would at least be a small town or something but there wasn’t even a sign.  One of our guidebooks said to beware of extremely turbulent water there, but with the currently low water levels, it wasn’t a problem.  Maybe last spring it might have been a different story.

 Throughout the day we encountered smaller vessels that were also sharing the river with us and the barges; a kayak, a couple of fisherman in a canoe, a fellow who looks like he may be going a long distance in a very long canoe, and a shanty boat.

 Soon we came to the Chain of Rocks canal and L&D, aka L&D #27 which is the last lock we’ll have to navigate before we leave the Mississippi and head up the Ohio River at Cairo, IL. We were surprised that there weren’t a lot of barges in the canal with us, it was quite a nice ride.

At L&D 27 this boat in front of us turned out to be another Looper boat—Abreojos (“open eyes” in Spanish)--owned by Larry and Brenda Golkin.  We met them later in the day at Hoppie's Marina.

Finally, we saw St. Louis.  We all went up on the flybridge to get a better view and to take photos. 

The current was so strong that we were going 10.3 knots past the city which is nearly 12 mph--that's flying for us!

I called this a Frankenstein factory!  It was a power plant at some point, but we couldn’t tell if it is still operational.

Here’s the Gateway to the West; it’s REALLY huge!  In the late 1970s, I was on a business trip to St. Louis and rode up to the top of the Arch and looked out the windows—that was scary for me because the ride up was in weird little cars and I have a fear of heights!  But I’m glad I did it.

 More photos of the downtown area near the waterfront…

Joe and Phil went below and I was driving for a little while.  You'll notice that we took the bimini down (the canvas cover over the seating area; in strong winds it was acting like a kite and making Paradise difficult to handle, so the guys took it down on Wednesday.

The river south of St. Louis is heavily industrial for another 20 miles or so.  We saw dredging operations, row after row of barges filled with coal, abandoned barges, empty barges floating high in the water and waiting to be filled, a scrap metal yard, a power plant, factories that were operating and some that had obviously been abandoned, even a casino (cheap real estate prices, I imagine, and they never have windows anyway so the view doesn’t matter).   After that we saw a few miles of McMansions high up on the cliffs.  Then, the trees took over again. 

About 30 miles south of St. Louis was Hoppie’s Marina, a mom-and-pop operation that’s actually just a couple of old barges that serve as docks.  Hoppie’s is a must-stop just for the experience of meeting the friendly and colorful owners who dispense both fuel and advice on navigating the often treacherous waters of the Mississippi.  The marina crew secured Paradise within a couple of feet behind a sailboat, with Abreojos tied just behind us.  Several other boats were secured on the other side of the barge/dock.

We met and chatted with Larry and Brenda Golkin, the owners of Abreojos, as well as Hoppie’s owner Fern.  The main topic of conversation was the destruction of the Erie Canal by Hurricane Irene and whether or not the canal will be open by next summer.  Fern had photos that showed incredible damage; many boats and boat owners are stranded there and this is causing catastrophic economic damage to the small towns along the Canal.  Canal authorities have said that the canal will re-open by May 2012, but there’s a lot of scepticism about whether that will actually happen.  Hopefully they'll be able to call upon the kind of resources that rebuilt the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis so quickly.  If it is not open, we cannot complete the Great Loop in 2012 as we have planned.  We could go up the Hudson River and we'd have to turn around, which would still be a worthwhile trip!

 Once we got settled in for the night, Phil wanted to explore the small town that was close to the marina, so he and Joe got one of the two folding bikes down from the flybridge and we didn’t see Phil for a couple of hours after that.  Ed and Nancy, the former owners of Paradise left the bikes for us and they are great for getting around.  I haven't had the opportunity to ride one, but Katy and Joe used them in Grand Haven, MI when I was in the hospital.  I was tempted to try the bike yesterday after Phil got back, but I decided not to push my luck and to let it go for another couple of weeks.

After dinner, Phil walked back into town and when he got back he informed us that the town was having “Witches Night” and that the bars, restaurants and shops were all filled with women dressed as witches.  He said the proportion of women to men was about 12 to 1 and he felt pretty awkward being male and out of costume.  However, he stopped at a bakery/café and bought a slice of apple pie which he graciously shared with Joe and me.  It was delicious!

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