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.


  1. Hi Sean;
    Thanks for the endorsement on LinkedIn. I was going to ask you if you are in California but I see you are in the Heart Of America.
    I didn't realize that Louise was a quilter, she must be in seventh heaven in Kentucky.
    I do a little quilting when I have the time.

    I finished up a project and am off until after the first of the year. Hoping for funding my other project. We are doing a cogeneration project in the Midwest with Cyber security. Cyber security is my little passion these days. Have about a third of the software written and found a shortcut for an other third. So if we get the go ahead coding should take about 60-days with testing, then off to the races like Covad.
    Have a great Thanksgiving.

    Best Regards


    1. Hi Marge, good to hear from you. Thanks for your comment.

      Louise has only been quilting for about two years... a relatively new pastime for her.

      Good luck with your new venture and please keep me posted on how it's coming along. I don't get to LinkedIn very often, maybe once every other month or so, but I do eventually see things over there.


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