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.


  1. You east coast navigators amaze me. I consider anything under 10 feet to be inaccessible and I prefer to set my shallow alarm at 50 feet. I don't even like docking with less than 10 feet at low tide & I can count the number of times we've done that on the fingers of one hand.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Bob. The water dropped six feet while we were there, and we had just 6" under the keel when we backed out (into ~12' or so). It's all silt, though, not like the rocks up your way.

      If it makes you feel any better, most east coast boaters would be equally uncomfortable in the PNW; few boats here even carry enough rode to anchor in those depths.

  2. Are the spiral wraps on the hydraulic hoses anti-rub protection to keep the hoses separated?

    1. Yes. Chafe protection is important anywhere a hose touches something hard, which includes other hydraulic hoses. Vibration over time will wear a hole right through an unprotected hose.


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