Monday, September 30, 2019

Gateway meetup

We are underway southbound in the upper Mississippi River, whizzing along at over 11 knots while making turns for just 6.5. A flood crest is working its way downriver and we're surfing the front side of it. The river through here will be in flood stage by Wednesday.

Shortly after my last post, we arrived at Lock 27, the final lock on the Mississippi River (from here it flows unimpeded all the way to the Gulf of Mexico) and again had no wait, heading directly in to the main chamber. We exited the lock into the swollen river, where the separation structure dividing the canal exit from the end of the Chain of Rocks was completely submerged.

Passing the Gateway Arch, with the Old Courthouse centered below.

From the moment we left the lock all the way through St. Louis I was very busy at the helm. Immediately south of the canal exit begins a gauntlet of seven bridges. Each has support piers in the river, and each of those piers creates a set of eddies and other hydraulic anomalies in the swift current that demand constant attention and hand steering.

The St. Louis riverfront and its famous arch are south of the worst offender in this regard, the historic 152-year-old Eads Bridge, an "impossible" engineering marvel of its day. This was the first bridge across the Mississippi below the confluence of the Missouri, and is the oldest bridge still standing on the entire river. While the longest fixed span ever constructed at the time, by modern standards the massive piers are closely spaced, and no part of the river is unaffected.

Approaching St. Louis. The arch is visible at right behind the graceful Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Of course, immediately after this bridge is where we made a hard turn to port, in the hopes of being able to anchor across from the arch and take in the spectacular nighttime view of the city. Much of the Illinois bank here is working waterfront, a loading terminal for Cargill. But there is an unused spot where the Casino Queen gambling "boat" once moored, before they rebuilt the casino on dry land, as I described on our last visit there.

In calmer river conditions we might well have been able to pull it off. But with the high water, the river was still 50' deep nearly to the mooring cells, and with 250' of chain out in the strange currents south of the bridge, we could not be sure to not swing out into the secondary traffic lane for the east span, or maybe even swing into the pilings. On top of that I was concerned about a foul bottom, which would have been a much bigger problem in 40' than in 20'.

The old pilings for the casino barge, where we had hoped to anchor. Eads Bridge at left; new casino right.

Ultimately we decided the safest course of action was to skip it and continue downriver to a safer anchorage. Ironically, the same conditions that made anchoring iffy would have made it a cinch to get ashore right downtown, as we could have pulled the tender right up to a paved ramp to the now submerged parking area, and tied off to a sturdy railing.

The river is industrial on both sides from downtown St. Louis for another dozen miles or so, with nary a place to anchor. As we were looking ahead for a place to get a bit out of the current and also well clear of the traffic, it occurred to us to call Hoppie's and see if there had been any cancellations. We had a reservation for tonight (the 30th), which was the "first available" when we called them from before Grafton.

Looking back upriver at the historic Eads Bridge. Behind it are the truss spans of the Martin Luther King Bridge.

As it turned out they did, in fact, have a cancellation, and could take us immediately and for two nights. This is unsurprising because they can fit only 2-3 boats, yet hold no reservation deposit. So boaters reserve for their expected arrival, knowing they can wave off at the last minute if need be. With the river running four knots and anchorages scarce, we told them we'd take it.

In hindsight, we should have just agreed to take one night on the following day, and anchored Saturday night, perhaps in the Meramec river, but that did not occur to us at the time. We arrived at Hoppies and were tied alongside the downriver barge (map) by 3:30. A 39' Mainship, Alegria, was on the upriver end when we arrived. A huge eddy just off the dock made for a challenging tie-up.

Vector tied alongside the dilapidated barge that is Hoppie's Marina. At least the power worked.

I hauled the e-Bike through the deep sand of the riverbank and rode into the small town of Kimmswick, Missouri, just a half mile or so away. I was surprised by how touristy it was, with two or three restaurants and gobs of tchotchke shops. There was a small music and food festival going on in the town park, and a few dozen tourists milling around. A historic log structure houses the offices of the resurrected Delta Queen steamboat operation.

Even with the dozen or so stores, there's not so much as a mini-mart in the historic downtown that is walking distance from the dock. For that you need to go another mile or so to the freeway interchange for I-55, where a couple of gas stations are located. A small grocery and even a hardware store are most of the way there as well. The e-Bike made short work of it and I replenished the beer supply.

The Delta Queen office in Kimmswick.

Since we had figured on anchoring we were already set to grill a steak for dinner, and we ate aboard with a nice view across the river. I caught up on some route planning and turned in. With friends not expected until mid-day or so, we looked forward to sleeping in.

That was not to be; at 6:30 I awoke to horns close aboard on the starboard (river) side. At first I thought I heard the "departure" and "astern" signals, and figured it was Alegria  doing due diligence departing the dock. But just a few seconds later I heard the five-blast emergency signal, and when I stood up I could see them out the port light just off the starboard side.

I hurriedly put on shorts and shoes and raced out to the dock; apparently they wrapped a line around their port propeller and were struggling to get it back to the dock By the time Louise made it out behind me we had them tied off and secure at the dock. They spent the rest of the morning working on trying to get a diver.

One of the lines holding the barges ashore is tied to this pickup truck, which they use to take the slack out of the lash-up.

We walked over to the well-rated Blue Owl restaurant when they opened at 10 and had a nice Sunday brunch. By the time we got back, the Hoppie's staff had cleared out a tree from the inboard side of the dock, and lined Alegria around to the inside to make room for two boats scheduled to come in that afternoon. That turned out to be Carolina Dream, whom we had met before Joliet, and Seas Today.

Our friends Cherie and Chris arrived around 2, just a hair ahead of the two boats. There was some brief chaos as some of us scrambled to catch lines and squeeze the two boats into the space available ahead of Vector. It was a tight fit; Chris got some good video of the arrival. After catching up briefly in the comfort of our air conditioned saloon, the four of us piled into their car and headed off to St. Louis.

A meetup of good friends. Photo: Chris Dunphy

Since the last time we were here, the park surrounding the arch and its subterranean museum have been completely renovated, removing an unsightly parking garage and extending the park across the freeway to connect to the Old Courthouse. The park is now a much more inviting space, and the additions and improvements to the museum make it a whole new experience. We've been looking forward to seeing it.

We parked at LaClede's Landing and strolled the new park grounds, then headed into the museum. One of the new sections is a map of the rivers inlaid into the terrazzo. Some of the rivers are notably missing, like the Tennessee and the Tombigbee, and the land borders are rather stylized. Nevertheless, Louise and I shuffled around the Great Loop route, starting from St. Louis (the center of this map's universe), while Chris videoed, making a rather hilarious sped-up clip.

We re-create our great loop by shuffling along the route. Video: Chris Dunphy.

We manged to arrive just in time for the ranger-led tour of the museum, whose theme was "why is the Arch in St. Louis," and we joined in just for fun. The tour ran about a half hour and I can highly recommend it. Afterward we walked back over to LaClede's Landing for dinner, drinks, and conversation at Más Tequila Cantina.

Chris and Cherie were also kind enough to swing us by Walmart on our way back to Kimmswick, where we stocked up on all the bulky items I was unable to transport by bicycle back in Peoria. It was quite the haul. We had quite a bit more conversation back aboard Vector before calling it a night; we're very glad they had a car and were willing to make the trek out to Kimmswick and back.

This walking path used to be a street, and the trees used to be a parking garage. Early on, before I started blogging, we tried to get to the waterfront down this street in Odyssey, only to encounter the "12FT 2IN" sign that still remains on the rail bridge. We had to backtrack through LaClede's Landing.

This morning the two boats in front of us dropped lines and headed downriver just as we were finishing our coffee. We gave them a bit of a head start and did the same ourselves. Alegria was still awaiting a diver for their fouled prop. It's been a pleasant cruise, a little bumpy when we pass a towboat, but otherwise calm. I've had to dodge a handful of large deadheads, but mostly Otto has been driving.

Update: We are tied up to the outside of the guide wall at the Kaskaskia Lock, near the mouth of the Kaskaskia River (map). This is out of the high current of the Mississippi, and at this water level, the tainter gates on the dam are full open and there's really no current coming out of the Kaskaskia, either. From here one could lock through and navigate up the Kaskaskia as far as Fayettville, Illinois, passing Evansville and New Athens on the way.

Bluffs along the Missouri bank.

The Corps of Engineers allows pleasure boats to tie up for the night on the outside of the guide wall, and has even installed some smaller, more closely spaced cleats in a couple of sections. We're on the big cleats, leaving the others for the smaller boats. Carolina Dream and Seas Today were already here when we arrived; since then, four more boats have arrived, including Alegria. The diver found no damage other than the line around their shaft, which was quickly cleared.

This, of course, now puts us squarely in a pack of boats. I suspect if we stayed another night it would just be a different pack, so surfing the gap now will mean making a later departure and anchoring in some atypical place. My goal is to get ashore in Cape Girardeau if it's possible, and I have a couple of anchorages picked out in the vicinity; we may make a stop before that, too.

1 comment:

  1. Sean, about 38 years ago I visited the Arch for the first time.
    The underground museum was dedicated to The Louis and Clark expedition.
    One of the most informative museums I have EVER toured!
    I look forward to seeing y'alls new posts sir!


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