September 22 to October 4, Quincy to Pickwick Lake

Our second day in Quincy was a good day for chores.  I took care of laundry, Dick defrosted the fridge, and then made a run for grocery shopping.  Sid on Tranquility arrived mid-afternoon, and joined us for dinner at Boodalu in the evening.  Good steaks and enjoyable company.

Nine Lives and Tranquility on the dock at Quincy
Quincy highway bridge at night
Quincy sunrise

The next morning, as we prepared to leave, the strap that I use to keep the power cords from sliding into the water jumped out of my hand as I undid it and landed in the water.  “Catch it!” I said to Dick, who instantly flopped full length onto the dock and retrieved it, just as it began to sink.  He learned the flopping technique in high school football.  You never know when lessons learned as a teenager will pay off in later life!  Sadly, Dick’s favourite white t-shirt is now relegated to painting and oil changes, as the Quincy dock had just that week been resealed and was still a bit tacky.  So a $30 shirt was sacrificed to save a $.99 strap…

Our trip to Two Rivers was very cold.  I needed to get out warm socks, insulated vest (gilet), winter gloves, and rain jackets.  It was certainly a big change from our trip up-river, when the temperatures were well over 90.  Fortunately, the rain let up at both locks, and we had no waits.  It also slacked off for our arrival and tying up.

Dredging the Mississippi south of Quincy

We had a bit of an adventure as we entered the channel to the marina.  I was standing on the deck waiting with the lines, and I felt the port-side pontoon climb a hill!  We had run aground at the channel entrance, with just one pontoon.  It was a very strange sensation.  We were fast aground, and the dockmaster was preparing to contact a helper to pull us off.  Dick powered backwards, hard, for several minutes, and we sort of slewed sideways without actually coming free.  At last, with a surge of very black smoke from the engine, we floated back out into the channel.  The engine stopped smoking almost immediately, but a muddy brown stream shot out from the exhaust for quite a while before it ran clear.

Dick changed the approach to come from downstream and we got through the channel without further ado.  Later, when Dick checked, the starboard strainer was empty, but the one on the port engine was ¾ full of mud.  The rest of the uncaptured mud would have gone through the engine heat exchanger and into the water-cooled exhaust before washing out of the side of the boat as a muddy stream.  Not recommended for the health of the engine.

Strainer full of mud

That evening we had homemade pizza on board.  This last couple of weeks there are fewer opportunities for eating out, and more for eating up what we have on board.

Misty morning at Two Rivers Marina

The next day was a very pretty trip to Alton, with no locks to contend with.  We passed many tows with a full load of 15 barges, all empty.  We wondered whether this was in preparation for harvest time further north.  Also, the Missouri River was very low, and tows were being advised by the Coast Guard to get off that river entirely.

Fishing on the Mississippi south of Rockport

We arrived in Alton with enough time to get fuel and a pump-out.  We discovered that we were at the end of the furthest pontoon in the marina, and as far from all the other Loopers as it would be possible to get.  We had hoped to resume friendly chats and possible docktails, but this was unlikely at such a distance. We did make an effort to visit one of the other docks, and Dick collected a few boat cards, but there really wasn’t the same easy interaction as happens when you share a dock.

Gentelin’s, on our third visit, started out wonderfully with delicious appetizers.  We shared potstickers, and toasted ravioli.  Dick ordered the duck for his main course, and it was good, although it was two legs instead of the half duck that was on the menu.  My tempura lobster was nothing like previous visits.  The wrong batter had been used, and the lobster was the mushy texture that you get when you overcook it from frozen.  Dessert did not salvage the evening, as it was too sweet.

Potstickers and toasted ravioli at Gentelin’s
Gentelin’s main courses
A pretty dessert, but far too sweet for our taste

A meeting was called for any Loopers who were planning to leave the next morning.  It is always more successful if only one boater contacts the lock, so coordinating the leaving times and appointing a spokesman is a good idea.  Unlike a similar meeting last year, nobody brought food or drink, and there was almost no socializing apart from polite introductions.  A very different group from our previous experiences.

We were up at 5am, and our group was in position in front of Mel Price lock at 6:45, 4th in line after 3 tows.  It took until 9:30 for our group of 9 boats to be locked through together.  The next lock south is Chain of Rocks, at St Louis.  Their second chamber was operating, and they were ready for the group to go straight in.  We had a lot of trouble holding Nine Lives in the lock, as we had misjudged the length of line needed to wrap around the floating bollard.  Dick didn’t want to use our normal long lines, but with the very short line and a strong wind, we were corkscrewing.  It took some jumping about to get a longer line in place plus a second stern line, and even then, I had both engines in gear to prevent corkscrewing for almost the whole lock down.  Two boats had to raft up, as there were not enough floating bollards for everyone.  Normally we would enjoy that, but as soon as we realized we were having trouble we had let the group know we could not be available.  We were all through that lock by 11:30am, a pretty good time for the morning.

Looper group waiting at dawn for Mel Price lock
Loopers leaving Mel Price lock 3 hours later
St Louis
Parked tows on the Mississippi at St Louis

Once past St Louis we speeded up, and with help from the current we got up to 20.4 knots, our fastest speed to date.  We had two long days in the plan, and needed to run hard to be able to make the distances.

Normally we would tie up to the lock wall at Kaskaskia, but we happened to be there in the week that they were dredging the area, so boats had to anchor.  The lock keepers were very cooperative, allowing anchoring, even though they could have just closed all access.  Given the distances involved, that would have been very difficult for many Loopers.  We were the first of our group to arrive, but 5 other Looper boats were there first, and had taken up most of the available anchoring space.  We tried to go well forward of the others, but the lockmaster sent us back as being too close to the dam.  It was clear from our interaction and that with later boats, that the lockmaster really didn’t understand anchoring and how far back a boat needs to go from where the anchor is dropped.  We made 3 tries, complicated by a large stump in the area, wind that pushed us too close to the shore, and unhelpful advice from another boater that we were too close to his anchor.  All this was done with an audience, and at the end I didn’t know whether we should take a bow or hide our heads.

Once we were finally set, a boat that had locked through with us earlier arrived, and when asked by the lockmaster if he was the last, he said yes.  This was not true, as he could not help but know, as he had passed the other boat on the River.  The final boat had a very difficult spot to try to fit into.  On the following night, the lockmaster arranged for all the boats to lock up and anchor above the lock.  This made more sense, and ensured less interference with the dredge as well.  The dredge had to move their boom out of the way for every boat that came through, so it would have been much more considerate if everyone had gone together.

Loopers anchored at Kaskaskia

Next morning the anchor came up much easier than it went down.  We avoided the stump and provided no entertainment for our watching neighbours.

On our second day of fast running and long distance to go we passed a loading terminal for coal and many full barges.  I was reminded of a country song on an album from Kathy Mattea, written in 2011, but still very much on point:


You might think I’m outta date
But if I’m out of style and old
Why do men still dig me
All around the globe?

Hello, my name is coal
And around here I’m the queen
Some say I’m cheap and easy
Oh but they still bow to me
They curse me now for what I am
But not that long ago
They sang my praises everywhere
Hello, my name is coal

(excerpt from Coal, written by Jenee Fleenor and Larry Cordle, 2011)

Coal loading terminal on the Mississippi
Loaded coal barges

We passed through the Shawnee National Forest.  This whole area of the Mississippi is part of the Trail of Tears, when 60,000 members of the “Five Civilized Tribes” of Native Americans were displaced and sent west between 1830 and 1850.  American settlers, mainly from the South, had pressured the government to remove Indians from the southeast, in order to free up the land for settlement.  Population growth, the expansion of slavery, and the rapid development of cotton cultivation after the invention of the cotton gin created tensions and the subsequent land grabs. Although there was some opposition, the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830 and allowed the government to extinguish any Indian land claims in the southeast.  Over the next 20 years this law was used to remove entire tribes from their ancestral lands and send them to newly acquired territories west of the Mississippi.  Up to 12,000 deaths during the journeys were caused by disease, malnutrition, and exposure during harsh winters.

Something was burning near the river, but we never found out what it was

We had decided not to stop at the usual anchorage at Boston Bar.  We found the two previous experiences quite unpleasant, with a very strong current, and high risk from riprap and bridge abutments if the anchor let go.  As we passed, we could see that the whole area where we had previously anchored was completely above water.  The next option also did not appeal to us, although many Loopers do choose to anchor there.  As we passed that anchorage, Angelo Towhead, we could hear chatter from tow operators that they were bumping the bottom in the area of the bridge, and to stay close to the red markers.  This put the tows with their large barge trains very close to the area where boats would anchor, so we certainly were not going to risk it.  We turned the corner into the Ohio River and headed towards a highly recommended anchorage at mile marker 974.

Boston Bar. When we anchored here in June there was over 8 feet of water under the boat, now it is high and dry

We heard from the Coast Guard that there had been a grounding at mile 974, and, sure enough, when we got there, we saw a tow with two barges full of coal, stuck fast beside the red markers.  We turned toward the shore, and fortunately Dick proceeded very slowly, as we suddenly had only 3 feet under the boat.  At that point we decide to back off and attempt to get to safer locations above the next lock.  The next day, Looper friends tried to anchor at mile 974, and they ran aground suddenly and did some damage to their props, so our decision was the right one.  By this time, it was getting quite late, and we knew that going through the lock plus 5 miles further upriver would take at least an hour.

Approaching Olmstead lock. Last year the wickets, the part of the dam on the right side of the picture, were well underwater and we were told to just drive over them instead of locking through.

The anchorage was straightforward to get to, and has plenty of depth.  It was not easy to tell whether the anchor had grabbed, so I set both alarms with a small radius.  It was peaceful, with little current.  Dick decided we would put on our underwater lights as well as the required white anchor light, just to be more visible.  So the blue lights went on, and we looked like party animals!  Later, Dick had second thoughts and turned the blue lights off to save battery power overnight.

The sun set as we anchored on the Ohio above Olmstead lock

After running hard so much, and forgetting to turn the icemaker off, a major defrosting project was required.  Nine Lives tends to sit a little low at the stern anyway, but when running hard, she digs in even more, and the bow is even higher, although she does her very best to level out on plane!  If we forget to turn it off, as the icemaker adds water it slops over and runs down behind the ice bucket, creating a frozen block at the back of the machine.  Not the project Dick had hoped for at the end of a very long, stressful, and tiring day!

We had a short run to Paducah the next day, so a leisurely start with time for a bacon and egg breakfast.  We were there and tied up by mid-afternoon.

We had a good meal at Cynthia’s.  So far this seems to be the most consistent of the nice restaurants we have revisited.  We started with house smoked salmon for me, and oysters for Dick.  For main courses, I enjoyed bacon wrapped pork with cherry sauce, while Dick’s veal scallopine with mushroom sauce was delicious.  Dessert is never to be missed at Cynthias, and I could not resist returning to the chocolate slice as previous visits, while Dick loved his peach cobbler. 

Smoked salmon at Cynthia’s
Oysters at Cynthia’s
Pork with cherry sauce at Cynthia’s
Veal scallopini at Cynthia’s
Chocolate slice at Cynthia’s
Peach cobbler at Cynthia’s

In the middle of the night, we, and several other boats were boarded.  The masked intruder was almost certainly casing the joint, planning to steal.  He even peered down one open hatch at the Loopers sleeping below!  Oh, and did I mention that he had a stripey tail? Apparently, this raccoon likes to visit the boats, and was checking them out on several nights.

I went to the National Quilt Museum.  I had missed it on our previous two visits, and I found it quite surprising.  I particularly enjoyed the more traditional quilts, but it was interesting to see some of the other exhibits, including one room with fabric totems, and another Black Lives Matter project with quilted swing coats.  While I enjoyed the Quilt Museum, Dick visited the Railroad Museum.

National Quilt Museum, Paducah

Our Looper friends limped in with damaged props (after attempting to anchor at mile 974), but they were still ready to join us for docktails, followed by dinner at Grill 211.  They had booked a haul out and were hoping for a quick repair at Green Turtle Bay. (note, we think the repairs were completed quickly, as they are now on their way again)

Paducah has changed their procedures with their docks.  Previously, there was one Parks Department employee, plus a helper, who had dedicated cell phones so that boaters would get straight through to them.  They would come to the dock, and help tie up, and also arrange where each boat would be best, knowing what other boats were expected.  For some reason, the Parks Department has decided that they are now completely hands off, and boaters are expected to “sort it out”, with no assigned dockage.  This can result in small boats taking up the outside spaces, leaving the inside (with shallower water) for bigger boats.  It also means (as we saw) that nobody with authority is there to arrange for boaters to close up and leave enough space for the rest.  The day we arrived there were two rafted up on the inside, and the next day one boater refused to close up and left a very tight space for the next boat to try to get into between the dock and the rocks.  I will mention that while we have met some lovely people as always, overall we are not impressed with either the friendliness or consideration for others of many of the Loopers we encountered this year.  Dick has received a request for his opinion on his Paducah experience, so he is hoping to suggest a return to the previous system, at least for the 6 weeks when they are fully booked each night by the Looper pack.

The next day, as we headed up the Cumberland River, we heard the Coast Guard reporting historic low water on the Ohio River between Cairo and Olmstead Lock, and also shoaling around mile markers 972 to 974.  It is quite a pretty trip up the Cumberland, in spite of some large quarry operations.  There must be good fishing in the river, as we saw many herons, and also eagles and egrets.

Cattle drinking on the Cumberland River
Fishing on the Cumberland River
Nine Lives on the Cumberland River

Dick phoned Green Turtle Bay to ask for our dock assignment and check that they were not putting us into a narrow slip.  He was very disappointed to be told we were to be on a t-head on the far side of the marina, once again, as far from other Loopers as possible.  When he told the lady that we were planning to walk to town for dinner, she told him that from that t-head, instead of a mile, the walk would be two and a half miles.  He must have sounded very sad, because the nice lady had a rethink, and changed us to Slip Number 1, right beside the bathhouse and the marina office.  She said it would be a bit tricky to get into, and she was right!  There is a rescue boat permanently docked at the end of that slip, and Nine Lives had to wiggle quite a bit to get in there.  I was glad to see our neighbour take his bikes off the finger pier, as I had visions of sweeping them into the water as we made the corner.  With lots of help ready from fellow Loopers and dockhands (and thus a large audience), Dick made it look easy and sashayed into the spot without any difficulty.

Green Turtle Bay Slip 1, a tight fit and a tricky maneuver for Nine Lives

We met fellow Endeavourcat 44 owners, and enjoyed looking through each other’s boats and comparing the similarities and differences.  They did the Loop in 2018, and sold their boat and planned other retirement activities.  Instead, they found that they did not enjoy RVing, so they looked for a new boat, specifically an Endeavourcat, that they could live on full time and repeat the Loop, taking a lot more time.

Deer at Grand Rivers

In the evening we walked over to Patti’s 1880 Settlement Restaurant.  It was a bit more than a mile, and undulating, with no sidewalks, but quite a nice walk and we saw deer in the gardens.  We had a great evening.  The restaurant was extravagantly decorated with lighted greenery with an autumnal theme.  The waitresses are dressed in flower print long dresses, and the waiters wear bib overalls.  There is a large shop with loads of junk that they hope you will buy while you wait for your table to be ready.  We started with an appetizer sampler platter.  It had fried pickles, something we have been seeing on menus everywhere this year.  I don’t eat pickles, Dick tried a few, but won’t be ordering them in future.  The loaded home-made potato chips were very good, as were the mozzarella sticks and the chicken tenders with accompanying sauces.  Dick ordered one of the signature pork chops for his main course, while I decided to be adventurous and try a Kentucky Hot Brown.  This was slices of ham, smoked turkey, and tomato, on toast, topped with cheese sauce and bacon, and completely buried under homemade potato chips.  It was delicious!  For dessert Dick went for their famous mile-high coconut cream pie, and I decided on a chocolate martini that was both pretty and tasty.  Given the distance and lack of sidewalks (or street lights), we asked for a ride back to the marina, and they took us straight away.  The restaurant will pick you up and return you to the marina if you call them, so we had been reasonably confident that we would get the ride back.  We will certainly return to Patti’s on our next visit to Green Turtle Bay.  It is a complete departure from our usual fine dining options, but very good food, and lots of character.

Autumn decorations at Patti’s
Appetizer sampler platter at Patti’s
The signature pork chop at Patti’s
Patti’s version of the Kentucky Hot Brown
Mile high coconut meringue pie at Patti’s
Patti’s chocolate martini

We were planning several more long days, so we set out shortly after 8am the next morning.  We had lots of help and good wishes from fellow Loopers.  Our exit was not quite as perfect as the entry, but still impressive.  One of the Loopers commented to Dick that he had been watching our progress on Nebo and could not believe how fast we were going.  We did set another new record at 22 knots.

Green Turtle Bay Marina in early morning

We were now into Kentucky Lake, a huge, long reservoir created from the Tennessee River by the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1944.  The TVA was created by Congress in 1933 as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Over time it evolved primarily into an electric utility.   We passed a derelict building that we have wondered about previously, and this time I was able to identify it as the Old Danville Grain Elevator/Terminal.  It is an enormous concrete structure.  It was built on the banks of the Tennessee River in 1914 for the purpose of transferring barge loads of grain and other products to railcars above on the L&N Railroad.  It was 6 stories high, and used two huge elevators to move goods from the barges to waiting trains above.  Cargos included peanuts, grain, limestone, iron, and cotton.  When the TVA began clearing land for the creation of Kentucky Lake the terminal ceased operations.  Nobody knows for sure, but the suggestion is that because the structure was so big, and made entirely of concrete, it would have been prohibitively expensive to remove it.

Old Danville Grain Elevator/Terminal on Kentucky Lake
Autumn colour on Kentucky Lake

That evening we anchored for the first time in Birdsong Creek.  Some of the reviews suggested a very complicated entrance and high risk of grounding, but Dick had good sonar detail on his chart, and seeing another Looper boat already in added to our confidence.  We stayed close to the green markers and always had plenty of water below us.  We anchored in 10 feet, beside the other Looper boat and well away from shore.  It was a very pretty, peaceful spot, in the middle of the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge.  Further up the estuary is a freshwater pearl farm, that we might visit on a future occasion.

After a quiet night I enjoyed watching the sun come up and egrets fishing in the shallows.  As we pulled anchor, a hunter showed up with his dog to refurbish the duck blind across the creek.

Sunrise at Birdsong Creek
Egret in early morning at Birdsong Creek
A hunter refurbishes his duck blind on Birdsong Creek
Fishing at the mouth of Birdsong Creek

A check on our fuel situation suggested that we had used more than expected on the fast runs from Alton.  We decided it would be prudent to add some, rather than risk running dry before we got back to Pickwick Lake.  Dick made some phone calls, and found that the next marina south no longer sells diesel, and the further one was not answering their phone and has a reputation for being very expensive.  We decided to turn back north and get fuel at Pebble Isle.  It was an hour back, so the whole operation added nearly 3 hours to our day.  The dockmaster at Pebble Isle was very friendly and chatty, with a real Tennessee country accent.  We managed to figure out most of what he said, and guessed the rest!

Abandoned railway bridge/causeway near Johnsonville

The detour meant that we were very late into our planned anchorage at Swallow Bluff Island.  We set anchor just as the sun went down.  Fortunately, we had stopped there on the way north in June, so we were confident about the location.  It was a very quiet night, little wind, and no wakes, and the light current kept us perfectly in place.

Anchored as the sun sets at Swallow Bluff Island
Sunrise and mist on the river at Swallow Bluff Island

The shoreline was sandy, and it was easy to see the evidence of the recent lowering of the water to winter pool.  The pool refers to the depth the water is kept at on rivers and lakes when they are controlled by locks.  Kentucky Lake has a winter and a summer pool, with a difference of about 5 feet.  Winter pool allows room for winter and spring flooding from runoff and precipitation, while summer pool keeps the depth for greater numbers of tow traffic and allows for drought conditions.  The pool is measured as the number of feet above sea level.  On the Mississippi, the locks and dams are there to maintain navigable depth of the water for commercial traffic, they are not for flood control.  Kentucky Lake and the Tennessee River are controlled by dams that generate electricity for the TVA.

It is easy to see the difference between summer and winter pool a few days after the water has been lowered for the winter. The dark brown sand on the shore was covered at summer pool.
Bluffs on the Tennessee River
Turkey vultures gather on the shore on the Tennessee River

Our last lock for this season was Pickwick lock, a 50-foot lift.  It was a very ugly experience.  Nine Lives twisted and I couldn’t get her straightened with the engine.  I had to take over handling the line on the floating bollard while Dick pushed off at the bow with all his strength to keep the bow from scraping on the wall.  We won’t forget that experience in a hurry, and will put out another fender as close to the bow as possible for future locking.  We will also request a spot further back in the lock, where there may possibly be less turbulence.

Pickwick lock and dam

Once in Pickwick Lake it was an easy run to our winter marina at Aqua Yacht.  We decided not to stay on board for the last 3 nights, which makes everything easier for packing up, cleaning, and preparing for winter maintenance.  We booked into a cabin at Pickwick Lake State Park, where we stayed at the beginning of the season.  They have a decent restaurant on site, so no trying to cook either. 

On our second evening we treated ourselves to a return to Corinth and Vicari Restaurant, that we enjoyed in June.  In this instance our return meal exceeded our previous great experience!  I ordered the trout pate again, while Dick tried the stuffed mushrooms.  We went onto the chef’s menu (last fine dining experience of this season!) and shared the chateaubriand.  It was absolutely delicious.  To finish we had crepes with fresh strawberries.  Although it is a half hour drive, we will plan to return when we are back to the boat next year.

Appetizers at Vicari
We shared the chateaubriand at Vicari
Strawberry crepes at Vicari
In case anyone thought we actually eat all that food at the restaurants, here is the stack of take home leftovers!

Dick has spoken with the service manager at Aqua Yacht, and handed over his list of maintenance projects for this winter.  He is feeling a lot more positive that the work will in fact be completed as requested, as the staff seemed to be more engaged with the projects this time.  The 2000-hour engine service is already on the schedule for next week, and the refurbishing of the gelcoat will be done shortly afterwards.  Poor Nine Lives is looking like a stray cat these days, especially after a season on the muddy Mississippi.  The gelcoat was already dull when we started out in June, with far too many black rubber marks and other dings and scratches.  The previous name was showing through as well, most unfortunate.  After refurbishment, the plan is to refinish Nine Lives with a new ceramic coating.  There will also be fresh lettering.  The owner of the boat cleaning company has also assured Dick that she will be properly cleaned once a month.

This is the final blog issue for 2022.  We will resume in late June next year, with plans to go north on the Ohio River to Pittsburgh and then beyond on the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers to the end of navigation.  We will return again to Pickwick Lake for the following winter.

Nine Lives 2022 Statistics

States: 8, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota

Locks:  58 (that’s 29 in each direction)

Miles:  2359

Bottles of Jack Daniels: 5 half gallon bottles

I will mention that unusually this summer, several of our guests shared our enjoyment of Manhattans as an adult beverage, so I am sure that contributed to the high number of bottles emptied.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Fastest speed at wide open throttle, 22 knots, fastest speed at normal throttle, 12.4 knots.

Rivers:  5, Tennessee, Cumberland, Ohio, Mississippi, St Croix

The map of our September travels. You can see the sections where we ran fast south of St Louis
I will leave you with a nice photo of Nine Lives passing the Arch at St Louis taken by a fellow Looper