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.

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