Saturday, December 10, 2016

Natchez No-go.

We are under way on the Mississippi, somewhere downriver of mile 317, where we spent the night just outside the red buoy line (map). It was a less than ideal spot, close to the channel and with no cell signal whatsoever, but we were running out of daylight. If we had gone any further we'd be into the area of the Old River Control Structure, where anchoring isn't really possible.

Sunset from our anchorage at Vidalia.

Shortly after my last post we arrived at Natchez, Mississippi, and it's companion city, Vidalia, Louisiana across the river. My guide said there was a loading barge on the Vidalia side that offered a place to tie up when available, and I called them from just upriver. They were engaged in loading operations and could not accommodate us, but they were able to give us a little information about anchoring conditions.

As we approached we could see our old friend, the steam paddlewheeler American Queen, pushed up against the Natchez boat ramp where we had hoped to land. I talked with them and they had plans to shove off at 5pm; I did the best I could to snap a photo as we passed by. They were on their way to Vicksburg; had we stayed there one more day we'd likely have been in their way.

Approaching Natchez. New casino is left of our burgee staff; American Queen to the right and beyond that the bridges.

We made a quick pass astern of American Queen on the Natchez side, hoping to maybe drop the hook where the old casino boat was moored until sometime last year. But on the outside of the bend, the river is very deep until too close to shore for comfort, and the water was also quite turbulent, between the river current and some wind coming out of the north. We instead headed across to the Vidalia side and dropped the hook just downriver of the US-84 bridges, a stone's throw from the boat ramp at the Vidalia waterfront (map).

We briefly considered splashing the tender and going ashore for dinner in Vidalia, saving Natchez for the warmer part of Friday. But it was already in the low 40s by 5pm, and it would have been a 3/4 mile slog from the ramp to the nearest joint for dinner, and we opted to leave the tender on deck and enjoy leftovers aboard.

The American Queen as we passed. The buildings ashore are known as "Natchez under the hill." Ramp at far right is where the casino barge used to be.

Not long after that decision, we got a call on the radio from local colorful character Cappy, who's done the Great Loop and now owns the RV park just downriver. He offered to take us on a tour of the area in the morning, so long as we could be done by 1pm, and to help with anything else we needed. He also thought we could get WiFi from his RV park, which turned out to be true (thanks, Cappy). I told him we'd call in the morning once we knew our plans to splash the tender.

Overnight temperatures were higher than forecast, but still below freezing for several hours. Louise has reminded me that this is not the first time Vector's been in a freeze, as it happened while we were at the yard in Deltaville, too. That said, on this occasion we did not have dockside electric power available as we did then, to run the heaters full time.

The view across the river from our anchorage. American Queen is just getting ready to leave.

We left any upstairs lockers with plumbing in them ajar overnight, and I shut off all deck spigots below decks and opened their outside valves. Things were no worse for the wear and the inside temperature was still 50 in the morning -- the insulation is pretty good. We had a complete repeat performance last night as well. But the outside temperature was still in the 30s most of the morning, with several knots of wind, and even with our heavy parkas, we were not willing to mess around splashing the dinghy or making our way ashore until things got much warmer.

Around 10:30 or so the temperature had climbed to 41°, nearly as high as it would get in the afternoon, and I bundled up and braved the elements to get the dinghy in the water. Despite the fact that we'd used it just two days earlier, in Vicksburg, it would not start. We never ran it long enough in Vicksburg for the battery to charge; it was pretty flat from running the bilge pump through a few rainstorms and three weeks of sitting. But I've been able to pull-start it, even after sitting for days, usually on the fourth or fifth pull. It starts on the first pull if its been run within a day.

At 41°, it would not start no matter how much pulling I did. It seems we no longer own any jumper cables, and the 12v battery charger with a starting setting that we used to use for this sort of thing gave up the ghost a couple of years ago. With no alternative to pull-starting I ended up getting out my heat gun and warming up the block, intakes, airbox, carb, and fuel strainer until I could finally start it. By this time, it was noon.

We had planned on maybe breakfast in town, but now it would be lunch, and we crossed the river to the boat ramp. Sadly, it was way too choppy and turbulent to make a safe landing on either the concrete ramp or the revetted embankment. We traveled downriver to the old casino ramp as well, but found the same conditions there. Reluctantly, we gave up on landing in Natchez and headed home to weigh anchor.

I was halfway back across the river, under the bridge and more or less center channel, when I heard the propeller hit something very, very hard. The river is full of debris, which mostly bounces harmlessly off Vector but must be avoided in the tender, yet I had not seen a thing. I immediately shifted to neutral, but nothing at all was apparent in the water. Also, the strike sounded like something harder than a log, perhaps something metal. Mid-channel in 30' of water that seemed unlikely.

We couldn't very well sit there bobbing mid-channel in three knots of current; fortunately, when I shifted back to forward there was no grinding, although there was a roughness that I associate with a dinged-up prop. When we finally lifted the tender aboard, the propeller was badly damaged; it took me a moment to realize that, apparently, the bolt holding the anode (with integral trim tab) must have worked its way loose; both the bolt and the anode were gone, and I presume the propeller damage is from the anode itself. I have a spare prop (although I will probably just clean this one up -- again), and I have my fingers crossed that the shaft did not bend or break its seal in the episode. The last major prop strike did just that, and we later had to have the lower end rebuilt, to the tune of a boat unit.

The new Vidalia waterfront. Boat ramp is just below the bridge.

It's forecast to be much warmer today, and we might well have gotten ashore, if not in Natchez, then in Vidalia where we could have gotten a ride across the bridge. But I called the lock at the Industrial Canal twice yesterday, and it is still closed with no estimate on opening. That means we need to arrive at the canal no later than the 14th, rather than the 17th, and we simply could not afford another day. It's not a big deal, as long-time readers may know we stopped in Natchez several times in the bus, where the visitor center has free overnight parking. Still, it would have been nice to arrive the old-fashioned way, by river.

Today we will get most of the way to Baton Rouge, leaving the state of Mississippi behind. If we can find a good spot to anchor, and the weather cooperates, we can go ashore there tomorrow afternoon, and be on our way to New Orleans Monday morning. We change radio channels in Baton Rouge, and we have to coordinate with Vessel Traffic control as we approach New Orleans. Also, once we pass Baton Rouge, we can only anchor in designated spots and must not leave the boat until we are off the Mississippi.

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