Thursday, December 8, 2016

Vicksburg Diversion

We are under way between Vicksburg and Natchez, making a long day on the river because it is too cold to do anything else. Tonight will be our first subfreezing night on the boat, and we'll be taking precautions to keep things from freezing. At least it will be only five degrees below freezing in Natchez, rather than the seven below in Vicksburg.

Washington Street, downtown Vicksburg, decorated for the holidays.

With no rush to arrive in Vicksburg, we got a late start Sunday morning. That allowed me to sit at the helm for an hour and watch two towboats transit the problem area ahead of us on our AIS display. The chart said they were driving over dry land. As the second of the two made his transit, I deposited route waypoints in his wake, so we'd have a track to follow. Our choice to anchor just upriver of this area proved fortuitous, as the trouble area was just in range of our AIS and I was able to keep tabs on all the movements.

We weighed anchor late morning and headed downriver toward Lake Providence Harbor. As we approached the trouble spot I was very glad we had been paying close attention to the daily Coast Guard announcements, and also that I had taken the time to plot one of the tows going through. While the new pointway channel cut by the river was well-marked with buoys, the old bendway channel was also still marked, and it would have been easy to miss the turn and follow the sailing line right into trouble. We steered the route I had plotted in the morning and had deep water all the way through.

Our track over "land," where the river has carved a new pointway channel. This is the latest chart.

Two hours later we passed an area of shoaling where several tows had run aground, but, again, by following the instructions announced by the Coast Guard, we had deep water and no trouble. It is worth noting here that the CG makes these announcements only twice a day. If we did not have a practice aboard of keeping watch on VHF channel 16 24/7, even at anchor or at the dock, we could easily have missed some of this critical information.

With weather conditions too lousy to be hunting for an anchorage in Vicksburg Sunday, and thunderstorms forecast for Monday keeping us from going ashore anyway, we dropped the hook an hour upriver of the Yazoo turnoff, outside the green buoy line at the Marshall Cutoff, mile 449 (map). This was just a mile upriver of yet another shoaling area, on the green side, which had the tows passing well away from us on the red side of the river.

Our anchorage at the Marshall Cutoff. The view is representative of most of the river. Note the current passing the buoy.

Monday morning we ruminated about weighing anchor and proceeding to Vicksburg. We knew the weather would be too lousy to splash the tender and go ashore, but we figured if we got an early start we could at least hunt for an anchorage and maybe get settled before we got drenched anchoring in the rain. Ultimately, two things swayed the decision in favor of just staying put another night: the fact that the thunderstorm and its associated winds would restrict us to anchorages with much more swing room than otherwise necessary, and the fact that the river would come up nearly a foot if we waited a day.

That turned out to be the right decision, as will be clear shortly, but at 3:30 in the afternoon we were regretting it. That's because, out of the blue, I got a text message from good friend and fellow Red Cross volunteer David, who was moving a Red Cross vehicle from the disaster relief operation in North Carolina back to the maintenance center in Austin, Texas. He was coming across I-20 and was planning to stop for the night in Vicksburg. We would have braved the weather to get ashore to see him if we had been close enough, but from where we were anchored there was no place we could even tender in, at least not anyplace he could also reach by land. It was frustrating to be so close yet not be able to connect.

We did see a bit of the storm Monday. Anchored in over three knots of current, it did not move us around at all, but we had enough lightning to prompt us to stow some electronics in the microwave for the duration. Wind and rain continued on and off through the night. I spent most of the day ripping apart the old flybridge chart plotter, extracting its keypad circuit board, and transplanting into the "new" flybridge plotter that had died an ignomious death. It's working now and back on its perch, with the old unit stored away as a hangar queen.

Approaching Vicksburg. Bridges and casinos to the right; Yazoo to the left.

Tuesday was overcast but dry, and the winds had dropped. We weighed anchor, headed over to the red side to clear the reported shoaling, and continued downriver to Vicksburg. As we approached the turn, with the Vicksburg bridges ahead and the left descending bank lined with casino resorts, we could see the waters of the Yazoo emptying into the Mississippi -- they are the color of chocolate milk, forming a stark contrast with the main river. I spun Vector around and powered hard against the outside-bend current and into the Yazoo for the final leg to downtown Vicksburg.

Murals on the Vicksburg flood walls.

Once upon a time, Vicksburg sat prominently and majestically upon the Mississippi River. Civil War buffs may know that Farragut called it the "Gibraltar of the Mississippi," unable to withstand the pounding from Confederate batteries high upon the hill, and unable to elevate his guns to return fire, his fleet turned around twice in defeat. But in 1876, the mighty river did what 3,000 Union troops and Ulysses S. Grant could not. It cut through the DeSoto Peninsula, bypassing Vicksburg and leaving the city landlocked, at the same time stranding a piece of Louisiana east of the river. A large part of the old, now cut off, river bend became the aptly named Centennial Lake.

Such has been the fate of hundreds of riverside towns and settlements over the centuries, but neither the denizens of Vicksburg nor the state of Mississippi nor even the federal government could let Vicksburg suffer this fate unchallenged. After years of planning and work, in 1902 the Army Corps of Engineers diverted the Yazoo River, which formerly emptied into the Mississippi several miles upriver, into the old Mississippi riverbed, giving Vicksburg back its waterfront. Vicksburg and its historic waterfront now sit upon the Yazoo, or more accurately, the Yazoo Diversion Canal.

Vector anchored just off the waterfront downtown. Working fleet area in the background.

We found two knots of current in the canal, which looks to have been dredged recently with evenly graded banks (and a mountain of mud piled up on the concrete riverfront). That current worked to our advantage; we were able to slip over to the very edge of the canal just upriver of the concrete, and drop the hook in 12' of water just a boatlength from shore (map). We talked to the harbor tugs to be sure we were far enough off center to be out of their way. The current held us in a straight line parallel to shore; without it, the risk of swinging into the shallow bank or out into the working channel would have precluded anchoring here. We also would not have been able to do so with the winds of Monday's storm.

Downtown waterfront with defunct casino hotel. Tall building at left is where we ate on the roof terrace.

That made for a very short dinghy ride to the boat ramp, the one spot on the concrete waterfront where the mud had been cleared away. We went ashore around 4pm and had a nice walk around the historic downtown, festively decorated for the holidays. Underscoring the touristic nature of downtown, the main drag, Washington Street, had speakers embedded in the shrubbery on each block, playing holiday music. We had a nice dinner at the rooftop terrace restaurant, Ten South, atop a historic bank building, with a panoramic view of the city and the Mississippi Valley.

Louise on the river side of the floodwall. Marks reveal the level of some historic floods.

Wednesday was the one relatively "warm" and dry day in the forecast, and after an early lunch we went ashore to do some provisioning. That involved taking a small shuttle bus called the N-Route from downtown out to the Kroger and back, adorned with backpacks. The transit system was a bit difficult to navigate, with no information available online or in printed form -- you have to call. Once we figured it out, it was a nice ride in a comfortable bus, with a chatty driver. We got to see a bit more of town and we came back loaded up with fresh food. This bus also stops at the outlet mall and Walmart, and a different line goes out to the riverfront casinos.

M/V Mississippi IV at the Lower Mississippi River Museum.

After returning from our shopping excursion, I dropped Louise back at Vector with the provisions, and returned ashore stag to do some more exploring before dinner. I had a nice walk around town and visited the brand new Lower Mississippi River Musem, with its star attraction, the retired M/V Mississippi IV, a Corps of Engineers "towboat" that also functioned as the inspection and public relations vessel of the Mississippi River Commission. Louise and I had stopped in to the Commission's headquarters downtown the previous evening, admiring the historic building and getting a peek at the enormous book, called "the bible" by rivermen, that once documented the changes in course and channel of the river over the course of a century. The Corps, the Commission, and Vicksburg go back a long way together.

Most of the bridge equipment was intact, but here in the Radio Room it was very sparse. I don't think this Radio Shack short-wave receiver is, umm, realistic.

The boat was palatial inside, a sort of odd cross between working towboat and river cruise ship. It was the fourth in a long line of such vessels, but the first to be powered by diesel engines. Its replacement, the Mississippi V, serves the same missions today. Its smaller cousin, the William James, passed us in the canal, both ways, on what looked to be a short river cruise for visiting dignitaries.

M/V William James pushing what looks for all the world like a party barge.

I also walked around the old railroad depot, now a museum, and along the floodwall, covered in murals. A gap in the floodwall allows vehicle and rail traffic to pass the depot; photos from the huge 2011 flood show the portable segments that close the gap being used (sadly, the depot is outside the wall). On my way back to the tender I passed a very cold looking model at a photo shoot in front of the murals; apparently, Miss Teen Mississippi.

Miss Teen Mississippi. It's about 50° out. The photographer and her assistant are bundled up.

We had a casual but tasty dinner at Rusty's Riverfront Grill right across the street from the M/V Mississippi, and decked the tender as soon as we returned to Vector. We wanted to get an early start today, so we'd have the option of going all the way to Natchez in the daylight. At this writing, the plotter says we will arrive there by 4pm.

The old depot. Vector is right behind it.

It's uncertain we will make it ashore in Natchez. Once again, we have to tender in to a concrete ramp. But it will be in the low 40s when we arrive, making for a very cold shore visit. We could spend all day there tomorrow, too, but again the temperatures will be in the 40s the entire day. Things warm up considerably on Saturday, but waiting to Sunday to depart cuts into the padding at the tail end of our schedule. We have friends flying into New Orleans on the 20th, and we really need to be off the river and well settled by then.

Considering we have less than 300 miles left to New Orleans, that would see a slam-dunk. You may recall me saying here, though, that it's dicey to have a schedule on a boat. The fly in the ointment here is that the Industrial Canal, which connects the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain, where all the marinas are, is closed at the moment. It was supposed to reopen on November 29th; then they pushed it back to December 7th. I just got off the phone with them and it's still not open; they are hoping to have it open "any hour now."

If the canal does not reopen in time, we'll have to go downriver nearly to the Head of Passes and cut across Baptiste Collette Bayou to Breton Sound and back up. This detour is a minimum of three (long) days for us, and would eliminate any buffer at all. I'm calling the lock daily now for status. Until they tell me the lock is operating, we need to proceed at a pace that leaves us the time to go around.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Gulf States

We have left Arkansas behind, and are now anchored outside the buoy line at Longwood Landing, just north of Lake Providence, Louisiana (map), river mile 494.  For the past two nights, we'd been anchored in the slack harbor of Lake Ferguson, in downtown Greenville, Mississippi (map).

Sunset at Wednesday's anchorage, from the aft deck. If you zoom in you can see the "wake" we are making in the three-knot current.

My last post here on Wednesday lacked some photos taken earlier in the day. That's because we had minimal Internet coverage at our remote anchorage on the river; a low-speed signal that came and went, and was mostly gone for good shortly after I posted. Most of the post had been written under way, and the photos I did manage to include were uploaded en route when we had better coverage; with such limited coverage I just posted what I already had, so these two are included here instead.

Army CoE bank grading and revetment project. There are no tolls or user fees on America's waterways, but millions are spent keeping them navigable.

Thursday morning we weighed anchor, thinking we'd go halfway to Greenville and stop someplace for the night. With no Internet access and little else going on, we got an early start. By mid-day, the plotter was forecasting an arrival all the way to Greenville by 4:30pm, and a quick check of the weather convinced us to just make it a long day and go the whole distance.

We passed the mouth of the White River mid-day. You can see the first lock and dam on the river just upstream. All traffic for both the White and Arkansas Rivers comes through here; the actual mouth of the Arkansas, a bit downriver of this spot, is no longer navigable (and did not photograph well).

The weather forecast was for clear skies and moderate temperatures Thursday and Friday, with rain moving in today. Since we wanted to spend a full day in Greenville, it made sense to arrive Thursday evening and have all day Friday in town. I bumped the throttle up from our lug-along setting of 1450 rpm to our normal cruise of 1500, and we were steaming up the harbor channel in plenty of time to anchor in full daylight.

Some of the very, very few houses we've passed along the river. This is the "Ozark" community at the junction of the White River.

None of my various charts has any bathymetry in Lake Ferguson, so we proceeded carefully through the busy working harbor. We squeezed over a few 13' soundings, but by the time we were downtown the lake had deepened to 35' in the center, and we picked a spot fairly close to shore.

Just like our experience in Paducah, the city waterfront is a wide concrete ramp. Once upon a time, two large barges were "permanently" moored at the foot of this ramp. One was a casino, and the other was the local "yacht club." Another casino, just a few hundred yards north, was on a permanently moored riverboat attached to a building ashore.

Vector anchored in Lake Ferguson, from the concrete ramp city waterfront.

The casino and yacht club barges are long gone, as is the casino riverboat, victims of the economy and river flooding. There is still one casino in town, where the riverboat used to be moored, but it's entirely on land now -- Mississippi learned from Katrina that mandating casinos to be floating can have dire consequences, and the law was changed. The yacht club has also moved to a shore-based building just north of the casino, with a ramp to some dilapidated docks in the lake.

We ended up calling the "yacht club," which is the only marina for hundreds of miles here on the Mississippi, in the hopes that they would have a pumpout. They do not, which makes us wonder what the half dozen large boats there do with their waste. (The rest of the boats there are of the patio or day-boat variety and have portable heads.) Staying at their decrepit docks was out of the question -- their posted rate is $4 per foot, or $208 per night for Vector. We've heard tell that they'll take half that if offered, but even a C-note is way too much for ten bucks worth of power and little else.

View of the waterfront ramp, at right, with the "yacht club" at far left, and the casino just left of center.

We had no trouble getting ashore at the enormous and under-used city waterfront. We opted to just walk to the closest joint, the Cajun Shotgun House, for dinner Thursday, splashing the tender right at dusk. They had good BBQ and cold beer at happy hour prices.

Yesterday we wanted to provision. We had identified a small grocery store just under a mile walk from the waterfront, but they apparently closed this year after storm damage over the summer. Thus I had a half-day project involving going ashore with one of our heavy folding bicycles and riding some two miles or so to the nearest store. Another mile would have gotten me all the way to the Walmart Supercenter or a nice Kroger, but we judged that unnecessary.

Getting the long-neglected bicycle in shape, into the dinghy, and ashore, on top of a four mile or so round trip to the store, took up most of my day, and plans to work on the failed flybridge plotter had to be deferred. I was home in time to stow the bike and relax a bit before dinner.

We left a bit early for dinner, so we could take a spin around the harbor in the tender and then wander the quaint little downtown a bit. In the course of our walk we came across Stein Mart Square, which is the name of the WiFi hot spot we'd been using since arriving, to some degree of amusement. Little did we know this was where Sam Stein started his retail empire. The city has placed its holiday tree there, but it was not yet lit when we passed.

Stein Mart. Who knew?

We wandered in to Spectators Pub, one of the better-rated joints near the waterfront, for dinner. We had a nice draft beer there, but despite being the only patrons, the place was just too "smoky" for us to stay for dinner. Mississippi may be one of the last holdouts to ban smoking outright in eating establishments; this place even had a vintage cigarette vending machine. No one was smoking while we were there, but it permeated every centimeter of the place, and by half way through our beer we were both teary-eyed and short of breath.

With very few choices in walking distance, we wandered in to the casino, hoping against odds that their restaurant would be partitioned off and smoke-free, but that was a pipe dream. We ended up right back at the Cajun Shotgun House for a second night in a row, which was more evidence than we needed that we were done in Greenville.

Today was forecast to be rainy and miserable all day, so we decked the tender as soon as we got home last night, but not before rescuing an errant Igloo cooler that was floating in the harbor, complete with live bait inside. We released the bait and set the cooler back on the concrete ramp. We lingered a couple of hours this morning, taking advantage of the free WiFi to update software and upload the photos for this post, among other things.

We were certainly in no hurry to rush downriver to Vicksburg, some 110 miles, because a 35-barge tow ran aground there yesterday and the river has been closed. It just reopened this evening, and perhaps a dozen tows that were stuck waiting are making their way through, even as I type. I expect a conga line of upbound towboats to pass us starting at 5am.

I had to do-si-do with a linehaul towboat this morning making his way into Greenville harbor; the drivers of the big boys have been unfailingly professional, polite, and accommodating. I can't say the same for one of the harbor tugs in Greenville, who seemed to make a point of shining his spotlight and blowing his horn at us each time he passed us at anchor.

Vector on Lake Ferguson at night.

Just downriver of Greenville is one of the trickiest stretches of the Mississippi, the Vaucluse bendway. Turbulence here can be so bad that the online database we use has a user-reported hazard mark here, one of the few on the whole river. As we approached we could see boils and eddies, two hydraulic phenomena common to these problem areas.

I had to hand steer for the entirety of the bend, cranking the rudder through a full twenty degrees myriad times. We still managed to get sucked into an eddy that heeled the boat fifteen to twenty degrees, once again sending the saloon drawer flying and unlatching all the stateroom drawers. We remembered to dog the fridge this time, at least.

As I finish typing it is still rainy and miserable, and also cold. At least we have a 3G Internet connection, and plenty of fuel to run the heaters. In the morning we'll transit another low-water problem stretch, just a few miles downriver, and we should be near Vicksburg when we stop tomorrow evening. The weather will not clear until Tuesday, so there's no rush to arrive sooner than Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Flexibility is key

We are anchored outside the buoy line at mile 604 on the lower Mississippi (map). It's been an interesting couple of days since last I posted here, including a reminder why one can never have a schedule on a boat.

Sunset at our anchorage last night. That's the port's massive trolley crane; the big river is behind it.

We had a lovely evening Sunday, much warmer than Saturday, although the season of dining on the aft deck is long gone. Around dinner time we started hearing the distinctive riverboat whistle of the American Queen, presumably calling the all-aboard. Around 7 or so she pushed off the dock, and by 8:30 she was passing us, upbound for Memphis. I did my best to snap a photo as she passed. I spoke to the skipper about the missing cruise dock, and he shared that the low water meant he'd be pushing up against the Greenbelt Park on the river side and using his gangways; when I looked on Marine Traffic on Monday he was pushed up against the boat ramp there.

The American Queen passing us upbound. We were still in the same spot a day later when she passed us downbound, too. The paddlewheel is brightly lit and makes for a spectacular mist effect at night.

Monday we went nowhere at all. Conditions were fine for a morning departure, but a forecast storm meant that we'd be trying to anchor at the end of the day in storm conditions. We opted to stay put and ride it out where we were; we knew we had a good set on the anchor and we had good Internet access.

The storm hit around mid-day, and our choice to stay put was soon confirmed by myriad towboats making the same choice, pushing up against the bank wherever they could. We don't have an anemometer, but we estimate the gusts we experienced at close to 50 knots, enough to overcome three knots of river current and move us around some. This same storm wreaked havoc with the fires in eastern Tennessee later on. We scrambled around on deck stowing anything that might blow over, and then just settled in and enjoyed it. At the end of the day the storm cleared and we had an interesting sunset.

Spectacular post-storm sky. My photo does not do it justice.

Yesterday we weighed anchor for a short day's cruise to Helena, Arkansas, where we hoped to drop the hook in a slack harbor and maybe get ashore. Alas, it was not to be. We had barely reached the mouth of the harbor when we promptly ran aground; the depth sounder went from 45' to 5' in the span of two boat lengths. Trying to back out we hung up on the starboard fin, spinning around and heeling over fifteen degrees. Fortunately, it's all river silt, and the big 370-horse Lugger easily pushed us back into deep water to lick our wounds.

We moved a few miles downriver and tried to drop off-channel behind some green buoys, which would have been acceptable if not entirely comfortable. But a couple of tow drivers called us to tell us there was another slack harbor just a few miles further down that would be perfect, and that's where we ended up last night, at the Phillips County Port. We anchored mid-canal just a short ways in, with enough room for the working boats to pass on either side of us (map). It was calm, peaceful, and quiet.

Not so the radio, which has been abuzz the last three days with groundings. The river is at an extremely low level right now; the Captain of the Port has issued a low water warning spanning 550 river miles. A large tow went aground near mid-channel at mile 493 and was stuck there for two full days, with one-way traffic restrictions around it. Last night 13 barges ran aground at mile 636, just a few miles downriver of our anchorage, but they managed to get off before we were under way this morning, and we passed them on our way out of the harbor.

Passing the Tunica Riverpark dock, where American Queen tied up. Fitzgerald's casino is to the left. Had we felt the need for a casino experience, we could have gotten ashore here.

The forecast calls for the river to rise as much as six feet starting just a couple of days from now, but that will be short-lived as winter sets in to the north. As long as the tows are getting through, we'll have no trouble navigating, but the low water makes finding anchorages a much bigger challenge.

When we were making ready to depart yesterday, I went up to the flybridge to fire up the "new" plotter, and it was dead. The storm had blown the cover off it (fortunately not overboard), and then doused it for hours with driving rain, which managed to infiltrate the supposedly weatherproof unit. It's predecessor had been up there in the same spot for nearly three years with nary a problem.

After we were well anchored I took the unit apart. Rust and circuit damage tells a tale of a long history of leakage; this storm was merely the last straw. One of the problems with used gear is that you can't tell what sins the last owner may have committed. In this case it looks like the unit had been opened up but not properly sealed on closure, and water entering the trackball area dripped onto the front panel circuit board. There may be other damage, too, but I won't know until I replace this board. Fortunately, I have one in the old plotter that I tucked away. It looks like I have my project for the next few days cut out for me.

Endless flat water makes you complacent, and the last couple of days have reminded us to keep the boat squared away. Under way yesterday we were passed in a narrow section by an upbound tow pushing very hard; his prop wake reverberated for over a mile behind him and had us porpoising over four footers for nearly ten minutes. I moderated the throttle to null as much as I could; meanwhile Louise stood in the galley holding onto the crock pot, which had just been sitting out on the counter with dinner in it. In the ocean, we put the crock pot in the galley sink. Then we had the aforementioned 15 degree roll at the end of the day, which, fortunately, happened in slow motion.

This morning I had to pass astern of two towboats pushed against the bank in order to exit the harbor. I had to pass close astern to avoid being pushed into the shoal by the combination of river current and prop wash. We were prepared for rough water but had neglected to dog the fridge door; with the stabilizers pegged that prop wash rolled us at least 20 degrees to port. We rolled quickly and snapped back almost as quickly, and a good part of the fridge contents ended up on the galley floor. A drawer launched out of the saloon table, and apparently every dresser drawer, all of which are to starboard, came open below decks, notwithstanding being latched.

Vector handles all of this with complete aplomb, and I had no trouble driving through it, but it was a good reminder. The cat was completely blasé about it all. A little later in the morning we had another porpoise episode after passing an upbound tow in a narrow stretch; by then everything was again secured.

At this writing, there are no tows aground, although that could change overnight. The river is rising slowly, and we've made a note of some shallow spots ahead that the Coast Guard has been announcing on the radio. We should be in Greenville, Mississippi in a day or two. There's a marina there, but it's very pricey, so we will probably anchor in the slack harbor and dinghy ashore instead. It will be nice to be able to get off the boat.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Walking in Memphis

We are again under way on the Mississippi, after a nice two week stay in Memphis. We'd only paid for half a month, which brought us to this morning. The river level dropped nearly six feet in that time, and we had just six inches under our keel in the slip last night. We saw one eight foot spot on our way out of the harbor this morning.

Beale at twilight.

It's been rather cold since my last post, with really only a couple of moderately pleasant evenings. We used one of those to stroll historic Beale Street, after which we had a nice dinner at the Peabody Hotel. We started our evening there, watching the famous Peabody Ducks march out of the lobby fountain and into the elevator for the nightly trip to their quarters on the roof.

The grande dame of Memphis, the Peabody. The ducks are about to leave the fountain.

Beale Street is perhaps the singular focus of Memphis tourism. As such, it has become something of a caricature of itself, much like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Duval Street in Key West, 7th Avenue in Ybor City, or any of a dozen similar historic streets around the country. It's no longer so much an authentic experience as one carefully crafted to separate tourists from their money.

We stopped at the second floor patio of one of the numerous clubs and had a beer, well before the evening crowds started to thicken. That was enough for us to experience the flavor of it, and we were content then to retreat to the Peabody for a more elegant experience.

We did eat out almost every night. On the very coldest nights we ate at home, and on the warmest we rode the scooters across the bridge to downtown, where we tried to sample the best the city has to offer. On several nights we split the difference, going only as far as the little Harbor Town retail area on Mud Island. Fortunately, this sports some of the best restaurants in Memphis.

For Thanksgiving we had a decent buffet meal offered at the River Inn hotel on the island, in their riverside banquet room. The room itself was charmless, other than the river view, but we had all the traditional flavors and went home satisfied. It was otherwise a quiet day at home.

On Friday we visited the National Civil Right Museum. It was crowded on account of the holiday weekend, and ultimately we had to forgo seeing inside Dr. King's room, featured prominently at the end of the galleries. We did, of course, see the balcony upon which he was shot, as well as the building across Mulberry Street whence the bullet likely came. The rest of the museum, however, was powerfully moving. I have not been so emotional in a museum since visiting the Holocaust Museum in DC.

The Lorraine Motel, part of the National Civil Rights Museum. The balcony where Martin Luther King was gunned down is center frame.

On the project front, with the new improved radar/plotter display working now on the flybridge and with much nicer charts, I pulled the trigger on ordering a second unit, for the pilothouse. I thought it would be pretty much a straightforward swap for the older generation unit that was in there, after moving one option circuit board between them, but it turned into a three-day project. There's enough geek detail there to warrant a separate post, so I will not bore you with it here.

Concerned with falling water levels and the possibility we might need to bail out in a hurry, we went over to the fuel dock on Monday to pump out. For fifteen minutes we struggled to get the pumpout to work; with our tank so far below the water line, many older pumps struggle. In this case, their hose had a straight connector on the end, and so between the fittings and the stiff hosing rising straight up, the pump needed to pull an additional two feet of vacuum, and it just could not do it.

With our tank nearly full and the next pumpout a full 200 miles downriver, we were beginning to think we'd have to shove off right then and there. Fortunately, when I inquired, it turns out they had a right-angle adapter lying around. Thus able to take the last two feet of lift out of the equation, we had no trouble pumping out. Lesson learned -- I will be buying a right-angle adapter of our own to keep aboard.

As I am wrapping up typing, we are crossing river mile 710, leaving us just a little over 600 miles to New Orleans. With over three knots behind us now, we could easily travel that distance in a little over a week. We have three weeks until our friends fly out from California to spend some time with us there, so instead we'll be doing short days and stretching out our time on the river as much as possible.

Tonight I imagine we'll be anchored somewhere near Tunica, Mississippi, where we should at least have decent cell coverage, if we can find a place to drop the hook. With three knots of current and no slack side channels, we'll be testing our river skills. At least the river is forecast to remain at about this same level for the next few days.

Beale Street Landing, as seen from Mud Island. The dock has been removed.

Update: We are anchored near Tunica, at the Arkansas/Mississippi line, and within sight of the Gold Strike Casino (map). Two miles downriver I can see the American Queen paddlewheel river cruise ship docked at the Tunica tourist dock (too distant for a photo). This ship, and the similar Queen of the Mississippi, call at Memphis, and we did a little do-si-do with the latter when we arrived at Mud Island. Since then, they took away the cruise ship dock, I assume due to low water. Perhaps that's why American Queen has stopped here instead.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Out of our depth

We are docked at the Mud Island Marina in Memphis, Tennessee (map). The marina is home to, and indistinguishable from, the Memphis Yacht Club, which is where we are having our mail addressed. After getting squared away here Saturday afternoon, we opted to pay for half a month at a much better rate than the daily transient rate, in the hopes that we might just stay through Thanksgiving.

Memphis skyline at sunset, from the Pyramid.

That may or may not actually be possible. The river level has dropped two and a half feet since our arrival just five days ago. We are now just below zero on the gauge, and the NOAA hydrologic forecast says the river will drop another two and a half feet by next Friday. At this writing we have just three and a half feet under our keel; we consider a full foot to be bare minimum for navigation.

Vector at Mud Island, from the visitor center across the channel.

If the forecast holds, or improves, we'll be able to just make it to the day after Thanksgiving, and then we'll need to shove off before we're sitting on the bottom. The river will not begin rising again until spring, and we don't want to spend the winter stuck in the mud in Memphis.

The river is low. I'm standing at street level on Mud Island. Orange lines near the tops of the pilings show the high water mark from the 2011 flood -- 47.9' gage. We're at about 1' gage in this photo.

Having decided to spend the better part of two weeks here, we had a few items, including our accumulated mail, sent to us, and I am once again whittling away at the project list. Louise is continuing her exercises and finishing up quilts; she has opted not to pursue any further physical therapy here in Memphis.

A different perspective on river level, with Louise for scale. You can see the normal summer level well above her head, and well below the orange marks from the 2011 flood.

In and among all that, we have been enjoying the town. The marina is, unfortunately, not walking distance from downtown Memphis proper, being located on a long peninsula (Mud "Island" is a historic name) across a former channel of the Wolf River from downtown. The bulk of this end of the island is occupied by a city attraction known as the Mud Island River Park, and a pedestrian bridge with a tramway underneath it connects it to downtown. The park, however, is now closed for the season, and along with it both the tramway and the pedestrian bridge.

Louise standing in New Orleans with the Mississippi behind her.

That said, we're already inside the gates -- when we go out for the evening, security has to let us back in with our marina passes. With no barriers or signage precluding us, we spent an afternoon walking around the deserted park. The principle feature of the park is a scale model of the Mississippi River, reasonably accurate both geographically and bathymetrically. With the park closed I expected the model to be shut down, but we were pleasantly surprised to find water flowing through it.

One of the many river bends, clearly showing the bottom contours of the model.

Falling leaves had collected and log-jammed in parts of the model and Louise got a kick out of breaking through the log jams and watching the leaves make their way downriver. While the model may be accurate dimensionally (albeit with different horizontal and vertical scales, as is common for such models), it's not accurate hydraulically, and so a few sections of the river appear to be a wilder rider than we actually experienced in real life. Similar models built for hydraulic study, such as the one we've visited of the San Francisco Bay, have flow mitigators to account for the difference in horizontal and vertical scales and other hydraulic inaccuracies.

Obligatory "you are here" shot -- Mud Island with the Interstate and pedestrian bridges.

The model was fascinating nonetheless, and we enjoyed walking from the Gulf Of Mexico, which in this case contains a pedal-boat ride, all the way back upstream to the Barkley and Kentucky dams, where the model stops on the Tennessee/Cumberland system. It stops just upriver of St. Louis on the Upper Mississippi, and a short ways upstream of the Cumberland on the Ohio. Other major tributaries such as the Missouri and the Arkansas are also modeled for a short distance upstream.

The Bass Pro pyramid rises above the Interstate behind the marina. You can see the tracks used to adjust the dock ramps for river height.

Even though we can not walk to downtown from here, a three quarter mile walk takes us to "Harbor Town," a small retail center in the midst of Mud Island's myriad residential complexes. A boutique hotel, four restaurants, and a small grocery/deli are here, along with a couple of miscellaneous shops. We ate at the very nice Terrace restaurant overlooking the Mississippi our first night, not wanting to venture out on the scooters, and we've since returned to eat at Tug's and shop at the market.

Approaching Memphis from upriver. Pyramid and downtown is at left, across Mud Island. Interstate bridge to West Memphis, Arkansas is dead ahead.

Just across the bridge to the mainland is the Memphis Pyramid, a nod to the city's namesake in Egypt. Built jointly by the city and county as a municipal facility and arena venue in the 90s, it was abandoned for nearly a decade before being reopened last year as a Bass Pro Shop. We have more than a passing familiarity with this retailer, as we spent many a night in one or another of their parking lots around the country in Odyssey. We usually ate in the restaurant that was often present in many of the stores.

Louise on the glass deck at sunset. Vector is behind the bridge at the lower left.

Of course we could not be this close to the Pyramid and not check it out, and so one evening we decided to eat at the restaurant in the pinnacle (there is also a restaurant on the ground level, along with a hotel). There is a ten dollar per person charge to take the elevator to the top, for those who just wish to sight-see, but this is credited back if you purchase an entree in the restaurant.

I had to avoid looking down to stand on the glass.

We went out onto the glass observation deck that protrudes from the pyramid to enjoy the view, in between cocktails at the bar. After sunset we were seated near the windows for an enjoyable dinner. The food was fine, if expensive for what it was, but, as they say, you are paying for the view. I can recommend it to anyone visiting Memphis.

The wing dams that control the river flow, and the turbulence around them, are clearly visible from up here. The resulting sand bar between them, and the rest of the wing dams themselves, are submerged at most river levels.

It was very cold when we first arrived, with daytime highs in the 60s and overnight lows in the 30s. It's been gradually warming up, and yesterday it was warm enough to warrant a scooter ride around downtown while running some errands. Today will be the warmest of our visit, with a high in the low 80s, and we'll return downtown for dinner this evening and to stroll Beale Street, the canonical Memphis experience.

The enormous Bass Pro sign is visible through the glass, on the side of the pyramid, below Louise.

Two of the items waiting for us when we arrived here were project parts. The more critical of the two being the replacement anchor light. You may recall that the anchor light quit working back in Florence, and I effected repairs to hold us over. The repaired light has been working flawlessly, but its days are numbered, and lest it quit again at an inopportune time, I wanted to replace it post haste. At least it has been warm enough in the afternoons to comfortably ascend the mast.

Working aloft. I'm standing on the radar platform; you can see my ladder off to the left.

The new light meant drilling some new holes in the top of the mast and using plenty of butyl tape to seal everything up. But it otherwise went in very easily, and is working well. As a bonus, the new light is certified to a visibility of 3nm, whereas the light it replaced was only a 2nm model. While not required for us, it's nice to have the extra visibility.

Close-up of the mounting area, with the new light hanging at right. The red spot is the loop of line I am using for strain relief. I sanded down the imperfections before mounting the light.

I also received the new chart cartridge for the upgraded radar/plotter I bought recently. Lack of charts has kept me from installing this unit, and now that it has the charts I swapped it onto the flybridge for the older unit that was up there. The old one is listed on eBay and should be gone by next week. It's all working well enough that I bought another of the newer models to swap for the one in the pilothouse, so we can use the newer and nicer charts downstairs, too. If it arrives on time I should have this whole project done before we shove off.

New light mounted and operational. I still have some paint damage to address up here.

I have not mentioned it here yet, but a week ago, on a routine pre-departure engine room check, I noticed a drop of oil on one of the stabilizer system hydraulic hoses. It's a short hose which carries the full pressure of the system to a relief valve when the stabilizer fins themselves are not calling for any movement. I cleaned the hose off, and the next morning the oil drop was back.

This shot of the boat ramp gives a better idea of how the docks are adjusted on a track to accommodate some 50' of river level change. Closed pedestrian bridge just behind.

We've been tracking this "leak" since we first discovered it -- me on every pre-departure inspection, and Louise on her hourly engine room checks. Try as we might, we could not find the source; finally I wrapped the whole hose in a layer of paper towel, and after two days of running we found two diffuse spots. It would appear the decade-old hose has permeated in two locations. At 1,250 PSI, if it had been even a pinhole, oil would be shooting across the room in operation.

New stabilizer hose in place. It's the U-shaped one.

Even without finding an actual hole, a permeated hose is a weak hose, and we wanted to replace it before it got any worse, or, more importantly, failed catastrophically. Unlike the interconnection hoses that run to and from the stabilizer fins and the engine pump, which are supplied by the installer and custom-made for the installation, this hose is a factory part that came with the stabilizers. I'm sure I could have ordered it as a completed assembly from Naiad, the stabilizer manufacturer.

The old hose, now a spare. Red caps keep dirt out.

That said, a hydraulic hose is a hydraulic hose, and I just took the old hose down to Ozark Fluid Power, the local Parker Hose store, and had them make me a new one. With tax it cost me forty bucks, plus an hour, round trip, on the scooter. The new hose is installed and the leak is gone. The old hose will be tucked away as an emergency spare, since it's still serviceable in a pinch.

This was the best my phone could do to to capture the super moon, over a dock piling and the convention and performing arts center.

I will try to post one more time from Memphis as Thanksgiving approaches. We should have a better idea of the river levels by Monday. If we have to bail out early, we will have Thanksgiving in Tunica, Helena, or Greenville, depending on departure day.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Racing downriver to Memphis

We are just zipping down the river, now with an average of three knots behind us. Yesterday's cruise from Caruthersville took us all the way to Osceola, Arkansas, some 66 miles, where we dropped the hook in a slack harbor in a now-dammed oxbow of the river (map). Today we'll be in Memphis before 2pm.

Sunset over Caruthersville.

After my last post we made our way ashore in Caruthersville, landing at the concrete city boat ramp right at the foot of the main drag. Unfortunately, the bank here consists of rip-rap revetment, so after disembarking the tender we had to push it back into the river and line it around to the bank, then tie it off to a couple of large rocks.

It was too dark after we landed to get any shots of downtown, which is typical rural small-town America. We walked the few blocks to A Little Pizza Heaven for dinner. The pizza was acceptable but not worth repeating, cut into squares in traditional midwest fashion rather than slices. At least they had beer. At the next table a large group of ten year olds was celebrating; it turns out their team won the flag football championship. I gathered from the jerseys that their team is the New York Giants -- perhaps all the teams in this league are named after pro teams.

Vector as seen from Caruthersville landing.

Landing the tender at last daylight has been sending us to dinner quite early, and so our whole daily schedule is also early. We've been getting up at dawn, and even after a leisurely morning with two cups of coffee, we've been under way before 9am each day. I had originally budgeted three days to Memphis from Caruthersville, but it was clear we'd make Osceola by mid-afternoon, and we figured arriving on a Saturday would be better for sampling the Memphis nightlife, anyway.

As I've written here many times when we were traveling in the bus, crossings of the Mississippi are few and far between. One such crossing is just downriver of Caruthersville, carrying Interstate 155 across the river. We crossed it several times in Odyssey; I never noticed until we passed under it on the river that the truss structure is asymmetric.

I-155 bridge astern of us.

When we arrived at Osceola, the slack harbor looked quite crowded with barges, and it was unclear if there was room for us at the back, beyond the working berths. Instead we crossed the river and dropped the hook in 15' over sand, between the wing dams. We had a good set, but even with a wing dam upstream, we were in so much current that our propeller was windmilling, and the upbound tows were passing close aboard to stay out of the worst of the current.

I hailed the small working tug in the harbor; our guide listed their working channel. He was able to inform us that there was a little room for us at the north end of the harbor with sufficient depth, and a pathway through the barges. He just asked us to keep clear of a diver in the water repairing one of the barges. We weighed anchor and made our way over to the harbor, where we had a quiet and peaceful night. We could have gone ashore here, too, but the town of Osceola is a very long walk, and there was nothing we needed.

Our view of the harbor this morning, with the main river beyond.

Today, in addition to already having passed several large tows, we've also passed two small fishing boats. We may well be the only cruising boat on the lower Mississippi, and we haven't passed a single marina since we turned onto the Ohio River. But there are boat ramps on both sides of the Mississippi, every dozen miles or so, and now that it's the weekend, we're seeing folks in trailerable boats out fishing.

Looking "upstream" you can see the dike across the oxbow and sand deposition. Our sounder went from 20' to 10' in less than a boatlength.

Today we also passed two small houses. You might think that with a couple thousand miles of riverbank, we'd be passing hundreds of riverfront homes, as we did on the Tennessee. But the flood reality of a meander river is that nothing built on the riverbanks is sustainable. In many parts of the river, the flood walls are nearly a mile back from the channel -- we can't even see them because the intervening space is basically a forest.

Rare riverfront house.

The handful of towns still intact along the river are either naturally elevated, or else have massive flood walls to protect them. A mark halfway up Cruthersville's wall shows the height of the historic 2011 flood level. So it is rare to see any structure along the river itself other than a commercial loading terminal, and these typically ride on pilings extending some 50' or so above the river.

We're looking forward to being in Memphis in just a couple of hours. We'll stay for at least three nights and perhaps longer; our mail should already be waiting for us. It's supposed to be very cold the next few days, and we'll be happy to have the heat available any time we want it.