September 7 to 21, Dubuque to Quincy

We arrived in Dubuque, and looked forward to our second visit to the restaurant, Brazen.  It was enjoyable, but not as good as the first visit, and certainly not worth the 45-minute walk.  The other problem was crossing the railway tracks.  Dubuque’s downtown is divided from the new waterfront area by the Interstate highway (elevated), and railway tracks with level crossings.  Trains get held up, often enough and long enough to require special signage suggesting alternate routes for drivers.  We had been lucky before, but this time, on our return from the restaurant, we were held up by a train.  After waiting for a while, we had to walk back into town, and then make our way to the elevated bridge that allows passage over the tracks.  This added quite a bit of time to the walk, on a hot and humid night, and it was dark by the time we got back to the boat.  Even then, we could see that the train was still across the tracks and blocking the road.

Sunset in Dubuque

The next morning, Dick picked up the rental car, and we made a grocery shopping trip.  We had dinner at the Copper Kettle.  It is a long-established neighbourhood restaurant, in what is quite an unsalubrious part of town.  However, the pub was packed, and it is rated as one of the top restaurants in Dubuque.  It was incredibly noisy, but the pub food was excellent.

Pub food at the Copper Kettle

Dubuque is an odd mix.  There are some areas with major urban renewal projects, but a lot of areas show neglected turn of the century buildings and homes.  The downtown particularly is very spread out, and the division caused by the Interstate and railway through the centre makes access difficult.  The roads are in poor condition, except for the new ones in the redeveloped waterfront.

One of the interesting sights in Dubuque is the restored Shot Tower, built in 1856.  A shot tower is a structure that uses gravity to create lead shot.  Molten lead is poured through a copper grate at the top of the 120-foot tower, that ensures that all the shot is roughly the same size.  It then falls to the bottom, landing in a trough of water.  As the lead falls, it assumes a spherical shape, and begins to cool, and the water finishes the cooling process and fixes the shape.  The story of the shot tower is an unpleasant indictment of common business practice.  The tower was built at a time when it should have been a viable business venture, particularly as there were lead mines in the local area, but there was significant competition from a competing shot tower in St Louis.  An economic downturn, plus cutthroat pricing on the part of the St Louis business, ensured that the Dubuque tower was never a success.  The St Louis company eventually purchased the tower with the sole purpose of shutting down the competing tower.  It was never used for its built purpose again.  It is the only remaining shot tower west of the Mississippi, and one of the last still standing in the United States.

Dubuque Shot Tower

Dick set off for the 780-mile drive to Brighton Ontario, where he, his sister, and several members of the local church gathered to help move his Mum to a very nice assisted-living complex in another town.  The move was successfully completed, and it was also an enjoyable family reunion with sister Betty, brother Ed, and other friends and family.

I remained in Dubuque on the boat.  Fellow Endeavourcat owners Erika and Holger stopped for a visit as they were passing through the area on a road trip.  Holger was able to solve a mystery for us.  We have a connector on one of the side steps that has developed a very slow leak of dirty water.  Holger immediately knew that it is caused by a stuck and rusted pressure reducing valve in the connector that allows you to hook up the boat’s water system to town water on the dock.  Since we never use this, preferring the safer method of filling our own (clean) tanks as required, we were entirely unaware of the purpose of the connector.  It is a relief to know that this is not a big enough problem to be concerned about, and it can wait until we are back in our winter marina to have the problem addressed.  Erika and Holger and I went over to the Stone Cliff Winery for lunch.

I visited the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which surrounds the marina.  Although I was told that there were several exhibit areas that were under renovation, it was still a most enjoyable visit.  There are displays both indoors and outside, with several raptor aviaries and a few indoor tanks with Mississippi fish and other aquatic species.  There is also a lot of information and equipment from the days when Dubuque was a major shipbuilding port.  I find it interesting that in both of the museums we have visited on the Mississippi the aviaries house raptors that have been injured and, although healed, cannot be returned to the wild.  Other places we have visited house captive bred raptors, and are able to offer flying demonstrations.

Barn Owl at the Mississippi River Museum
Wood Ducks
Bufflehead Ducks (female)

There is a calliope on display, and most days around noon it is set to serenade the surrounding area.  Calliopes are driven by steam, and were situated at the top of cruise boats near to the steam escape pipe.

The Calliope at the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque

Some of the boats built in Dubuque during its heyday included towboats, submarine chasers, steamboats, and even a pleasure cruiser for the King of Siam.  One of the biggest was the Herbert Hoover, the largest diesel towboat in the inland waters when it was launched in 1931.  One of the 100-ton engines arrived on the train backwards, and had to be sent to a turntable 100 miles away before it could be repositioned for loading onto the boat. 

Historic Tug at the Museum
The tug offered all modern conveniences!

Another visitor to Nine Lives was Sid and co-captain Nana (a beautiful Goldendoodle) from the sailing catamaran Tranquility.  Dick had met and chatted with Sid in Bayport.  Sid is doing the Loop single-handed, with a progression of friends and relatives to help out and enjoy various sections of the Loop.  I enjoyed his conversation, and we hoped for another meeting further down the River after Dick’s return.

I mostly ate on board, but one day I walked over to the Stone Cliff Winery for an excellent lunch, accompanied by a flight of 5 of their wines.  The winery is located in a lovely restored historic building, the former Star Brewery.  The chicken bacon ranch wrap was very tasty, and the chocolate lover’s cheesecake was delicious.  I bought two bottles of their fruit wines, which I really liked.  They were described as sweet, but I found them intensely fruity (raspberry), not sweet at all.

Star Brewery
Wine flight at Stone Cliff Winery
Chocolate Lover’s Cheesecake at Stone Cliff Winery

As I walked along the levee, I enjoyed reading the various plaques and looking at the interesting modern art installations.  One of the information tidbits was a comparison of cargo capacities for various modes of transportation.  One river barge carries 1500 tons of cargo.  A 15-barge tow carries 22,500 tons. A jumbo hopper car on a train carries 100 tons, while a 100-car train will hold 15,000 tons.  A large semi-trailer (articulated lorry for our UK friends) carries just 26 tons.  90 million tons of cargo moves each year on the Mississippi River between St Paul and St Louis.

Dubuque levee walk
Cargo capacities comparison

One evening, Twilight arrived at her regular berth.  Twilight is a pretty river cruise ship that brings passengers back and forth from Le Clare, just north of Quad Cities.  The passengers stay overnight at a Dubuque hotel and return the next day to their starting point.  Immediately behind Twilight, a much larger cruise ship, Celebration Belle, moved into the harbour.  The ship turned around, passing just about 15 feet from Nine Lives.  She then took up a position across the harbour, with her gangway extended to the T-head dock next to ours.  She was bringing her passengers on a one day, 100-mile cruise from Moline.  The passengers got off and were returned to Moline by bus.  I was not concerned, not at all… I wasn’t sure whether to brandish a boathook, or put on a life jacket!  Celebration Belle was still in place when I got up the next morning.

Twilight enters the harbor with Celebration Belle behind
Celebration Belle arrives in the harbor
Celebration Belle, very close!

The next morning began a day of juggling cruise ships and their respective passengers.  Twilight set off on her return journey, having embarked her passengers after their night in a hotel and breakfast, with time to visit the museum.  Two large cruise ships arrived during the morning at the main dock outside the harbour, one of them our old friend Viking Mississippi.  Both ships stayed for several hours, and offered sightseeing bus trips for their passengers.  Celebration Belle ran 3 sightseeing trips on the River, 2 from the dock next to us in the harbour. Their 3rd trip was a dinner dance, and I would have liked to watch the passengers arriving, (presumably) all dressed up, but by then the main cruise dock was available, so they were outside the harbour and I couldn’t see them.  A friend tells me that Dubuque is the largest city in Iowa that is on the Mississippi, and it is clearly doing well at attracting tourism from the River in the form of cruise ships.  Such a pity that they can’t quite get their act together for individual boaters with their outstanding marina.

Laundry uses quite a lot of water, so it was necessary for me to fill the tanks.  Normally this is one of Dick’s jobs.  He had conveniently left the hose hooked up to the water connection on the dock, and the hose was ready on the deck.  I got off the boat, and gave the connector the half turn required to start the water flowing.  Well, city water tends to be under quite a lot of pressure, so immediately I opened the valve, the hose on the deck started dancing around, ultimately directing a stream of cold water underneath my bike and showering me.  Dick shakes his head, but I braved the still dancing hose to seize it and wash down the decks before inserting it into the fill on the front deck.  The high pressure meant that the tank seemed to be full when it wasn’t, so water gushed up from the tank and more sprayed all over.  At this point my brain engaged, and I got off the boat again and reduced the flow by half.  The fill then completed properly.

Army Corps of Engineers tow and barge in Dubuque Harbor

The day of Dick’s expected return, some more Loopers arrived in the harbour.  Asea and Bob were just one week into their Loop.  They joined me on board for a glass of wine in the evening, with the plan for proper docktails once Dick was back the next day.  I really enjoyed their company, lovely people, with a great sense of humour.  The next morning, Bob came by to tell me that their forward compartment was full of water.  They were able to get an immediate haul out at a marina just up the river, and once the extent of the damage was revealed, they realized just how fortunate they were, as they could very easily have been sunk at the dock.  Their story continues, but they have repairs already underway, and the insurance company, and the boatyard, could not have been more helpful.  We hope to see them again, if not on the rivers, perhaps in Hilton Head in the spring.

Dick returned a little later than he expected, mainly due to a lot of traffic from construction in the Chicago area.  On arrival at the marina, he discovered that our gate code no longer worked.  Our keycard was also disabled.  It is a very good thing that I didn’t go out before we found out!  It turned out that the wrong dates had been entered in our record, so our card and code were automatically disabled.  The helpful dockmaster reinstated our card as soon as he found out, having picked up my phone message even before his 11am arrival for work.

Dinner at the nearby Woodfire Grill, located in the casino, started well but rather tailed off.  The waitress was very rushed, running about like a chicken, and forgetting to deliver bread until we asked for it.  I started with very tasty, crisp avocado rolls, and Dick said his calamari was some of the best.  For main courses, Dick had prime rib, and I ordered their filet steak.  Dessert was an overly sweet cheesecake with fruit topping.  The food was good, but after the excellent appetizers, it was not very memorable.

Calamari at Woodfire Grill
Avocado Rolls at Woodfire Grill
Prime Rib at Woodfire Grill
Filet steak at Woodfire Grill
Cheesecake at Woodfire Grill

An 8am start the next morning, and we were at last embarked on our final push to return to Pickwick Lake.  At the first lock there was entirely unexpected rain, and when the lockmaster offered to allow us to float free, we accepted the opportunity to stay dry.  We figured the lockmaster probably didn’t want to get wet coming out to give us the lines either!  Fortunately, our rain jackets fit over our life jackets, so when the time came for me to retrieve the fenders, only legs and feet got wet, along with my gloves.  The gloves are definitely in need of replacement, or at least a good wash.  As I returned to the cockpit, Dick, who, like most husbands, usually has no sense of smell, commented on the strong eau de wet dog, that seemed to be emanating from his lovely wife. 

The rain continued on and off during the day.  As we passed a southbound tow just a few miles north of lock 13, Dick heard the chatter on the radio, and it was clear that a lock down was scheduled for 2:15 pm.  He made contact, and was told to come ahead.  A bass boat fishing tournament was scheduled to lock down at exactly 2:15.  There were more than 40 bass boats in the lock, with fishermen holding onto the lines along the sides, and a few needing to raft up.  The timing was set precisely, so we had about 20 minutes to wait after we took our own lines.  Strong winds meant that I was unable to hold Nine Lives in place using the engine, certainly not for that length of time, so I took the stern line, and had to cleat it until the gates finally closed.  Meanwhile, it continued to rain, and all those poor fishermen, two per boat, had to stand there getting wet while waiting for the rest of the contestants.  At 2:15 exactly the gates began to close, and then to everyone’s great disappointment, they opened again for two stragglers.  Finally, they closed for good, and the lock down started, to everyone’s relief, I am sure.  We were advised to let the tournament leave first, a decision we had already made!  It was a surprisingly orderly exit.  As the last boat left the lock, a buzzer sounded, presumably to resume the tournament timing.

We arrived at Clinton Marina.  It was raining hard and very windy.  This will be another marina with a poor review from us.  The marina was built with the piers perpendicular to the current, resulting in awful swirls and great difficulty getting into the slips.  Dick had to make 3 tries at getting Nine Lives into the 20-foot wide well.  The other disappointment was that nobody cleans the docks.  The finger piers were covered with droppings from the local ducks and geese.  Walking on them required a curious dancing step as one tried to avoid the worst messes.  As it was, we had to remove shoes outside the cockpit, not fun on a wet day.  The marina is bouncy, subject to wakes from passing tows and pleasure boats, plus wind and the strong currents.

Clinton Marina after the rain

The onsite Candlelight Restaurant is very good, and we enjoyed our meal.  Dick tried sticky pork belly pieces in a ginger sauce to start, while I took advantage of possibly the last chance to order cheese curds.  I ordered their specialty Chicken George, battered chicken tenders, served with an onion and brie sauce, and Dick had whitefish.  Chocolate mousse cake was an excellent finish.

Candlelight Restaurant cheese curds and pork belly
Candlelight Restaurant Chicken George and Whitefish

Getting out of the slip the next morning was almost as difficult as the entry.  More black rubber marks on Nine Lives.  In hindsight, it may be just as well that we didn’t get the new gelcoat that was planned for last winter!

Just before the lock at Quad Cities, we passed the kayaker we had seen earlier.  In 12 days, he had made about 150 miles.  Quite an adventure.  We were sorry we have never been anywhere to speak to him, we would love to know where he started and his ultimate destination.  A little further south we passed Twilight on her northbound journey to Dubuque.

Long distance kayaker
Twilight heading north on the Mississippi towards Dubuque

We are seeing a lot of Great Egrets in this stretch of the River.  I read that in the Upper Mississippi they are migratory, so they must be starting their journey south.  You don’t usually see so many except in a rookery at night, as they tend, like all members of the heron family, to be both solitary and territorial.  The pelicans are also migrating, and we see large rafts of them resting.

Pelicans
As we approach a railroad bridge we always wonder how accurate their reported height above the water is!

Our next stop was Muscatine.  I had not been looking forward to the difficult docking on their floating dock at the former boat launch.  This dock has only two cleats, one at each end, and we had previously had problems docking as we tried with a bow line.  On this occasion, Dick had a plan, and it executed perfectly.  He used the boathook to put a loop from the midship over the upstream cleat on the dock, and then I was able to back Nine Lives toward the downstream cleat and Dick could easily jump off and make everything secure.

Having found previously that the local restaurants were mostly indifferent, and also we were told that there would be an evening event at the facility right beside the dock, we had decided to eat on board that night.  We had a lovely evening.  First, we watched two men launch their boat with several remote control boats on board.  These are not the pond yachts we have seen in the past, instead they were racing speedboats.  It was great fun to see them buzzing around.  They go really fast, and throw quite a big spray for their diminutive size.

Remote control boat in Muscatine

Dick chatted with a young man on the dock, who came down and asked if we were the same boat he had seen earlier in the summer.  Nine Lives bobbed appreciatively at being recognized.  The young man chatted with Dick about his ambitions to be an inventor.  He showed Dick a book he carries around with all sorts of engineering and mathematical calculations and tables.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t plan to get an education before starting on his inventing career.  Dick did his best to encourage a rethink on that, without being too negative about his ambitions.

Later in the evening there was an incredible lightning storm.  It was to the north of us, so the show was above the colourful lighted bridge.  There was both sheet and fork lightning, but no thunder.  Apparently when the lightning bounces between clouds, there may be no sound. Either that or the distance was too great.  It was quite something to watch, and while I did get a couple of pictures, I found it impossible to catch the most spectacular moments.

Muscatine lightning storm

The next day we had an easy, but long, run to Ft Madison.  The Mississippi was like a millpond.  We were lucky with timing for the locks and barge traffic, as well as having no wait for the Ft Madison railroad bridge to open.  The marina has been under reconstruction since 2019, and although they celebrated a Grand Opening in July, it is not even close to being finished.  There is no power or water available.  Also, it is in a very unfortunate position, right where the railway tracks curve to enter the bridge.  There are almost continuous trains running in both directions, and the wheels squeal horribly on the tracks.  It would be an awful place to stay even if the marina was completed.  We had planned to stay two nights, and had hoped to visit the reconstructed Fort Madison, but after reading that the fort was only open on weekends, and expecting temperatures over 90 the next day, we decided to leave early and look forward to power and water at Quincy.

The Mississippi like a millpond
Nine Lives passes moored barges

Sid and Nana from Tranquility arrived in the harbour, and joined us on board for a steak dinner.  All was going well until Dick tried to start the stove to pan-fry the mushrooms, and discovered that our propane tank was empty. Why the propane has to run out during dinner preparations instead of tea making is down to Murphy’s Law, I am sure.  I read a comment today from someone who said that Murphy had left their boat, but kept getting back on!  Clearly, Murphy likes Nine Lives as well.  Anyway, with the grill out of commission just after searing the steaks, Dick handled the dinner emergency with great aplomb.  He got out our induction burner, and finished the steaks and the mushrooms in the new frying pan.  A good purchase earlier this trip, as our old frying pan did not work on the induction burner.  Dinner was excellent, in spite of the challenges, and we enjoyed the company very much.  Sid has some great stories.  When he was 16, he and a friend bought a pontoon boat and a 25hp motor and travelled down the Mississippi from La Crosse to St Louis.  He is now enjoying revisiting the various towns and cities he saw on that trip when he was a teenager.

Early morning bridge opening for a cruise ship at Ft Madison
Lock 20, we floated instead of taking lines, so photography was possible
A model waterwheel at Lock 20

We arrived in Quincy mid-afternoon, after what is a quite boring run south from Ft Madison.  It was very hot, temperatures up to 96 and the weather app telling me “feels like 100”.  It did.  We docked without problems, and one of the members made a point of coming down to ask if everything was fine.  We enjoyed our stay in Quincy last time, and are looking forward to visiting two of the local restaurants.  Later another member dropped by with an information pack for the town, and also offered to help out if we needed a ride to a grocery store or any other assistance.  Very friendly people in this boat club, who really enjoy meeting other boaters, and especially Loopers.

Dick set off the next morning on his bike with the trailer attached to get the empty propane tank refilled.  He arrived at the hardware store, whose website said they refill propane tanks, to discover that the website is wrong, and they only replace, no refilling.  Since ours is a non-standard tank, it must be filled.  The next suggestion was to go to the local propane supplier for the area.  Back on the bike, but Dick was not quite sure of the location, so he returned to the boat after a brief exploration, and looked it up online.  Armed with the address, he set off again, and duly arrived, only to be told that they would not fill his tank since he was on a bicycle.  They suggested another company, and this time Dick called me to get the address and phone number before heading out.  After confirmation that they would in fact fill the tank, Dick rode there and was greatly relieved to get it filled.  Now with a 30-pound load on the trailer, he returned to the boat, more than a little disappointed that while the trip was mostly downhill, he didn’t get much benefit as it was also into the wind.  So, after a total of 20.2 miles riding up and down the Quincy hills (instead of the planned 3-mile journey), we are again able to grill and to use the stove.

Dick gets ready to take the empty propane bottle for refilling at Quincy

For Dick, the fun was not quite finished for the day.  Upon realizing that the wind was blowing, and he needed to secure his bike to a post in case it blew over, he got off the boat, detached the trailer, and began to secure the bike.  At that moment, the trailer decided to go for a swim and casually rolled off the dock into the water.  Dick dropped to the deck and made a successful snatch, just as the trailer proved that useful as it is, it does not float.

Later in the afternoon as I sat in the cockpit reading, I saw a fishing boat with several good old boys pass by.  To my surprise, one of them was sitting in the back with a strung bow and an arrow nocked.  Not sure whether he was planning to fish with that, or hunt from the boat.  Most likely he planned to shoot Asian Carp or another invasive species, since the season for bow hunting does not begin until October, and bow fishing requires only a sport fishing licence.

We tried a different restaurant in the evening.  This was an Italian restaurant called Tiramisu.  It certainly appeared to be a well established and popular family run restaurant.  White tablecloths and plenty of wait staff, all smartly dressed in black.  Our server was different, an older lady, somewhat casually dressed, and it was very much like being served by your mother-in-law!  Dick started with a portobello mushroom topped with spinach, in a delicious sauce.  I liked my shrimp with mushrooms and artichokes in a scampi sauce.  For main courses Dick had Guazzetto di Pesce, a Roman style seafood stew, and I tried Rolli, pasta sheets stuffed with spinach, ham, and ricotta, rolled up, baked, and served with a four-cheese sauce.  Desserts were the signature tiramisu for Dick, and I had a heated flourless chocolate cake.  The meal was excellent, as were the wine options, and surprisingly inexpensive.

Tiramisu Restaurant Portobello Griglia
Shrimp scampi at Tiramisu
Guazzetto di Pesce at Tiramisu
Pasta Rolli at Tiramisu
Signature tiramisu at Tiramisu
Chocolate dessert at Tiramisu

Rain had unexpectedly appeared in the forecast, so we closed up the cockpit before we went out and made sure to take our umbrellas to dinner.  That definitely did the trick, as the rain held off until after we returned to the boat.

Quincy is an interesting town.  I wrote about the history earlier in the summer.  We were given a bag full of interesting leaflets and brochures by a Boat Club member.  There are still some buildings in the town of historical interest.  They are very proud of their record as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and also that they welcomed persecuted Mormons.  There are some famous actors and actresses from Quincy, including Mary Astor (Maltese Falcon), John Mahoney (Frasier), and John Anderson (Gunsmoke and Twilight Zone).  Other more notorious former residents include Albert Cashier, born Jennie Irene Hodgers, who enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War, fought in many battles, and continued to live as a man, without discovery, until shortly before death.  James Earl Ray was well known to Quincy law enforcement before he escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary and shot and killed Dr. Martin Luther King.  Michael Swango is thought to be the most prolific serial killer in American history, and is serving a life sentence in Florence, Colorado.  Jonathan Browning invented a sliding breech repeating rifle while living in Quincy, and one of his sons was John Moses Browning, one of the most important figures in the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms.

Downtown Quincy

This is a good place for my annual review of interesting boat names.  We always enjoy the clever ones.  As we passed a tow on the River, he hailed us and asked if we were called Nine Lives because we are a catamaran.  When told, indeed yes, he told us that he always enjoys working out the reasons for clever boat names, and he was glad to have his conclusions confirmed.  Some of the interesting names we have seen this year include DahlHouse for a houseboat, as well as Hadtohaveit.  Next Chapter is nice. One boat was expediently called Social Distancing.  Another was Boat Ox (hmmm), and another was Blood Money (not sure about that one either).  Soggy Dollars evoked the memory of one of Dick’s more spectacular exits from a dinghy some years ago in the Caribbean.  Second Wind is rather a nice name for a retirement lifestyle.  Noah Genda is very clever, and we enjoyed chatting with them (fellow Loopers on their way home) on the radio as they passed us.  One of the names that, in my opinion, is not going to work well is Miss Is Tipsi.  It’s clever, but one needs to remember that when you hail a tow, a lock, a marina, or a fellow boater, the correct procedure is to call the name you are hailing three times, followed by your name three times.  While common usage reduces this to twice for each name, it is still going to be an incredible tongue twister, not to mention coming out as “Mississippi” to the listener, and causing confusion.  We continue to watch for interesting names, and enjoy the clever ones.

We will stay one more night in Quincy before resuming our southbound voyage, hoping to be back in Pickwick Lake by the first week in October.  We are looking forward to catching up with the rest of this year’s Looper pack, and perhaps enjoying some docktails and shared adventure stories.

August 23 to September 7, return to the St Croix River and south to Dubuque

We said goodbye to Saint Paul and began our return journey with another visit to the St Croix River.  This was one of our favourite places on this trip, pretty scenery, and nice towns.  It is unfortunate that one of the most interesting towns is Stillwater, now sadly lacking in accommodation for transient boaters.  There are several marinas, but most have rented all their available slips on a seasonal basis, and the remaining one was in the middle of a major dredging program.  Our only option was to stay at Bayport, a few miles south. 

Nine Lives leaving Saint Paul
Kinnikinnick Narrows on the St Croix River

First though, we returned to Hudson, anchoring in the wide harbour for the first night.  It is a very popular day spot, at least 10 boats enjoyed the afternoon, but by evening we were the only ones remaining.  It was a lovely evening, with distant sailing races on the lake below the bridge, and a surprise hot air balloon passing over.

Hot air balloon passing over Hudson

I had found a new recipe for pizza dough that I was looking forward to trying.  Our early arrival in the anchorage allowed enough time for dough rising and pizza preparation.  The recipe is definitely a keeper.  We enjoyed a peaceful night, and were ready to move to the marina transient dock in the morning.

Hudson sunset in the anchorage

Three large Sea Ray fast yachts had passed us the previous day, and all had tied up at the Hudson transient dock.  Dick had made our booking by phone, but apparently it had not been written down.  Fortunately, the marina staff were able to shuffle the large boats a little, and move a small one to make room for us close to the shore.  This required a somewhat tricky maneuver, passing between the Sea Rays and the shore, to shoehorn Nine Lives into our allotted space.  Marina staff were on hand to help.  As we slid carefully past the other boats, a loud siren went off.  I couldn’t hear it, as I was on deck getting ready to throw lines, but Dick was quite concerned that this was law enforcement chasing after us for some strange reason, either that or a major issue with boat systems, or possibly proximity alarms.  Apart from being a distraction Dick could have done without, it wasn’t anything to worry about.  When we anchor, I set two alarms, one on the iPad and one on my phone.  I had carefully disabled the iPad alarm before we raised the anchor, but I completely forgot the one on the phone.  Since I had set a very wide radius, we were nearly at the shore before the alarm went off.  I am glad to know that it works anyway.  And it is Loud!  As we slid past the Sea Rays, I saw heads pop up and men come up on deck.  We know the feeling.  Any time a boat arrives at a dock and passes Nine Lives very closely, we wonder about the experience and skills of the captain, and rush out to fend off if required!  As we maneuvered carefully into our spot, the waiting dockhand commented that we were looking like a million dollars.  My reply was that it would probably cost a million dollars if we messed up!

That evening we enjoyed a good meal at Black Rooster.  Dick ordered pork belly, and was delighted to find that it was prepared in the European style (far more fat than I care for, but he loves it).  I had a delicious and creative presentation of ricotta dumplings.  Main courses were walleye for Dick, and chicken with mushrooms for me.  Desserts were equally tasty.

Pork Belly at the Black Rooster
Ricotta dumplings at the Black Rooster
Walleye at Black Rooster
Black Rooster roast chicken with mushrooms
Desserts at Black Rooster

The forecast called for rain later, and usually, carrying an umbrella will ensure that it stays dry.  Not this time.  We were barely out of the restaurant before the heavens opened.  Here is a piece of advice, never share an umbrella with someone who walks so much faster than you that he is normally 20 feet ahead of you.

The marina at Hudson between rain showers

The next morning the Sea Rays left, so we were able to reposition to our preferred spot at the end of the dock.  Not only does this afford a nice view of activities in the bay, it also allows for an easy undocking when we are ready to leave.  Repositioning was an interesting exercise.  No dock hands were available, so Dick and I each took a line and walked the 12 tons of Nine Lives down the dock.  No engines required.  Dick did the strongman part, pulling from the stern, while my easier job was using the midship line, as well as pushing, to keep her in position, not too far off, but not so close that she was rubbing along the dock.  The moment of truth was stopping, accomplished by a quick half turn of the line around a dock cleat.  It is really amazing how little strength is required to stop motion when you use the cleat effectively.  A lesson that most of the (male) teenage dockhands we encounter would do well to learn.  The girls figure it out very quickly.

Early morning at Hudson

Later we walked into town and enjoyed a little shopping at the excellent cookery shop and the bakery, followed by an interesting meal at Lolo’s.  The offerings were well prepared, and quite creative.

Interesting starters at Lolo’s
Desserts at Lolo’s
We followed a tour boat through the railway bridge on the St Croix

It was a very short trip up-river the next morning to the marina at Bayport.  In hindsight, the anchorage across the river from Stillwater would have been a better choice for that first night, allowing a much shorter dinghy ride to the town.  Instead, we had a four-and-a-half-mile trip in choppy conditions with many criss-cross wakes to the town dinghy docks. As we see so often, the docks have been almost entirely given over to sightseeing passenger boats, leaving very few spaces for visiting boaters to access the town.  Dick thought the dinghy ride had been fun.  My thoughts are not to be repeated in polite company.

Downtown Stillwater

Stillwater looked like a nice town, with some interesting boutiques and lots of cafes and restaurants, definitely a tourist destination.  However, given the distance, and a choice between a long bike ride on busy roads, or another dinghy excursion, we were not able to visit when the shops were open.  We went to a Serbian restaurant and wine bar.  Dick’s filet steak was delicious, and I enjoyed my risotto with mushrooms and beef tips.  The wine list included very nice choices, including quite a few sold by the glass.

Beef filet at Domacin
The beef risotto looks unappetizing, but it was delicious
Cheesecake at Domacin
Pannacotta at Domacin

The bouncy return dinghy ride required the application of an extra-large glass of whisky once we were safely back on Nine Lives.  Dick managed to restrain his impulses to shout “Yeehaw” at intervals during the passage.

In 1837, treaties were signed between the U.S. Government and the local Ojibwa and Dakota tribes, to allow settlement of the St Croix River Valley.  By 1843 a settlement was founded when four partners formed the Stillwater Lumber Company.  In what seems to me to be a rather odd division of responsibilities, Stillwater, Saint Paul, and Minneapolis were each given important public institutions.  Saint Paul was made the capital of the new State of Minnesota, Minneapolis got a university, and the short end of the stick went to Stillwater, in the form of the territory’s first prison.  The city didn’t even get to keep that dubious honour, as in 1914, the Minnesota State Correctional Institution was moved a few miles south to Bayport.  Putting the town on the map for another reason, in 1921 Charles Strite invented the automatic pop-up toaster in Stillwater.

We spent a quiet day.  Dick rode his bike the five miles to the grocery in Stillwater.  Rain was on and off, and unfortunately it was very much on just a few minutes before he got back to the boat.  That evening we chose to walk the 1.5 miles to the restaurant rather than risk riding bikes in the rain.  We stopped to chat with a couple who were refitting a very nice-looking classic centre-cockpit sailboat.  They were getting ready to move her to Pickwick Lake, and we were able to offer suggestions for marinas and routes.  They are also thinking about doing the Great Loop one day.

We enjoyed our meal at Manger, a very authentic French restaurant.  Dick tried the duck, and I enjoyed my ravioli. Fortunately, the rain held off, and the forecast heavy thunderstorms with 60mph winds waited until 9pm to pass over.  It had been forecast for 2 hours earlier, and would have been most unpleasant if we had been out in it. (although I had brought my own umbrella in anticipation of the worst case)

Duck at Manger in Bayport
Ravioli at Manger
delicious desserts at Manger

In addition to being the site of the relocated Minnesota State Correctional Facility, Bayport is also host to the maximum-security prison of the same name.  Beginning as three small settlements on the St Croix River, in 1873, the St Croix Railway Improvement Company incorporated them as the village of South Stillwater.  The name proved to be confusing, and was later changed to Bayport.  The early economy was centered around lumber, and the Andersen Lumber Company moved to Bayport to take advantage of the railway lines.  Eventually becoming the largest window and door manufacturing company in the world, the Andersen Corporation is still headquartered in Bayport.

early morning at Bayport

The next morning we filled up with fuel.  Prices are definitely improving.  It was $1.75 a gallon less than our last fill at La Crosse.  Dick took time to ride to the headquarters of Andersen Corporation in the hopes that he could speak to someone about our missing order for replacement windows for our Hilton Head home.  They were initially ordered in November, arrived damaged in March, and we have been unable to get any information since.  Sadly typical of large companies, the front desk was manned by a security guard who had no access to the internal phone directory or knowledge of who Dick should ask for.  A phone number was eventually offered, but it was the wrong person.  She helpfully suggested a different number, but that resulted in a circular routine that ended with a hang-up.  So, a wasted effort on Dick’s part.  Fortunately, the fuel fill and pump-out took long enough that Dick had already returned from his fruitless quest before they were complete, so we did not lose any time.

As we left the St Croix River and moved into the Mississippi, there was a distinct colour change in the waters.  Blue water from the St Croix stayed separate from the brown waters of the Mississippi for a surprising distance.  I guess we know why one of the nicknames for the Mississippi is Big Muddy. 

Colour change in the water where the St Croix meets the Mississippi

We had planned to stop on the Wisconsin side of the River, across from Red Wing.  Once again, that marina is operated by a restaurant, and although their website indicates that they welcome transients, they neither answered the phone, nor returned calls or emails.  As we went past the next morning, we could see no empty spaces on the docks, so one presumes they had rented all their slips for the whole season.  Our plan B was the free town dock, but the town website made it clear that there is no overnight docking allowed.  We returned to the marina we stayed at on our outbound journey.  It was just as well, as it was blowing a gale and we would have been pounded against the docks, and very uncomfortable if we had been docked on the waterfront.

White Pelicans roosting

Eating on board allowed another experiment.  We had bought some cheese curds, with the idea of trying them on board.  I don’t deep fry, and I really don’t care for oven chips, so I made crispy roasted potato wedges.  They were topped with the cheese curds, and brown gravy, to make a dish I am going to call Nine Lives Poutine.  I liked it.  Dick didn’t think it was worth bothering with, although he did eat the leftovers the next day.

Nine Lives Poutine

It was a short run again the next day across Lake Pepin to Wabasha.  This is the town where Grumpy Old Men was filmed.  The waterfront pub, Slippery’s, makes much of the connection, but reviews suggest that the food has gone badly downhill in recent years.  We made a point of having a drink on their verandah, but ate dinner at the local Irish Pub instead.  Dick was in Celtic heaven with 2 pints of Guinness, and pot roast with mashed potatoes and carrots.  My food was not enjoyable, and the seating was backless bar stools, very uncomfortable.

Slippery’s in Wabasha

Dick admired some real Midwest ingenuity.  A clearly home-made travel lift was positioned at the end of the marina dock.  Readers may remember seeing my pictures of Nine Lives being taken out of the water in the more usual travel lifts at the beginning and end of each season. This lift was steel beams welded together, with the required slings and wheels at the base.  What Dick found intriguing was the use of an old Ford truck, set on a large wheelbase that had clearly been taken from a tractor trailer with the frame shortened.  The cab was set backwards so that the driver can sit in the seat and be facing the lift.  The whole thing is powered by the Ford truck engine, with a generator driven from the front of the engine to power the hoist electric motors.

Midwest ingenuity in a home made travel lift

As we walked into town, we were surprised to see a white squirrel.  They are apparently very rare colour variants of the Eastern Grey Squirrel.  If you see a white one, it might be albino, which is caused by a congenital disorder.  Our squirrel was leucistic. This is a partial loss of pigmentation caused by a recessive gene.  Eye colour is not affected, so they do not have the distinctive red eyes of albinos.  More famous examples of leucistic mammals are white tigers and lions. The white squirrel we saw seemed very healthy, foraging in a garden.

A white squirrel

Wabasha downtown is attractive and clean, but too many of the stores are occupied by professional businesses, doctors, and lawyers, leaving little scope for shops or restaurants.  The town was preparing for its annual month long SeptOberfest.  The main attraction, and the reason we stopped in Wabasha, was the National Eagle Center.  This year it is completing a major renovation and upgrade.  It was well worth the visit, in spite of a mile walk on the hottest day of the week.

SeptOberfest decorations in Wabasha
downtown Wabasha
A pretty waterfront garden in Wabasha

The National Eagle Center began as Eagle Watch, in 1989, a volunteer organization dedicated to assisting visitors to Wabasha with eagle watching on the Mississippi River.  They opened a storefront in town, in the year 2000, and took on the care of their first two injured eagles.  Eagle Watch conduct annual surveys of migrating Golden Eagles.  By 2007, they were able to open a 15,000-square-foot interpretive center on the river bank, and in 2022 a $27 million expansion and renovation project is nearly completed.

There were a lot of information displays, not just about the eagles, but also a section on the symbols of eagles, particularly in the military, and another section on Native American associations.  The Center currently houses 5 birds, 4 bald eagles, and a red-tailed hawk.  All the birds were injured in such a way as to prevent their return to the wild.  I enjoyed the aviary, watching the two birds that were present, and asking questions of one of the keepers, while Dick read all the interpretive boards and exhibit explanations.

Some of the information on the displays and at the lecture we attended was fascinating.  Newly hatched bald eagles are fully grown in just 12 weeks.  At that point they leave the nest, but their parents do not teach them how to survive.  50% of juveniles do not make it to adulthood.  Dick wondered whether this is due to teenagers making bad decisions.   It is, but only in part.  It takes 5 to 6 years for them to reach adulthood and develop the distinctive white head and tail.  Juveniles are a mottled brown, and are easily mistaken for Golden Eagles.  The further north eagles are bred, the larger they are, so eagles from Florida are considerably smaller than those found in Alaska.  This was explained as the extra size needed to survive in cold temperatures.  Bald Eagles are a type of Sea Eagle, and eat fish and carrion.  They do not hunt live prey apart from fish.  They certainly do not hunt small dogs and cats, although they are quite happy to eat what other predators such as coyotes have left.  The biggest causes of death (including for the juveniles) are vehicle encounters, and lead poisoning.  Their stomach acids are so strong that they dissolve lead in a matter of days.  Lead in fishing tackle and/or lead shot in carrion may be eaten and when it has dissolved, lead poisoning will kill the eagle in just a few days.

As we browsed the shop, Dick ignored my increasingly strong hints and declined to buy an ever-so-slightly tacky, but interesting, eagle mug.  However, a t-shirt with a bald eagle’s head and “Tough Old Bird” proved irresistible, and I will wear it with pride.

Nine Lives at the dock in Wabasha

We made an early start the next day in anticipation of transiting 3 locks.  The first, Lock 4, was our first time floating free instead of taking a line.  It was a very still morning, so we were not blown about, and I was able to hold the boat in place with the engines.  Even so, we drifted close to the lock wall, not a problem, as we had put out fenders.  Although we are offered the choice of floating free or taking lines at most locks, I would not want to float free in even light wind, and we expect to continue to request a line.

Mississippi Bluffs

We tied up overnight at Winona town dock, which allows 24 hours free dockage.  Our lines were caught for us by a lady who had been sitting on the wall enjoying the sunshine and reading a book.  She turned out to be a Gold Looper.  She and her husband did the Loop in 2015, although at the time they were not yet retired.  We enjoyed a very nice chat, and we regretted that our visit was too short to issue invitations for docktails.

As we sat at the dock in the evening, a large Viking cruise ship passed, certainly the largest passenger vessel we have seen on the River.  Dick later found a news report about the voyage.  Unimaginatively named, Viking ‘Mississippi’ was running empty as she passed Winona, on her way north to Red Wing, where she would pick up crew.  She would then travel to Saint Paul, where she would embark on her maiden voyage down the Mississippi to New Orleans.  Viking Mississippi holds 386 passengers in 193 staterooms and carries 148 crew.  The voyage from Saint Paul to New Orleans will stop at 12 cities, and take 15 days.  At some point we knew she would overtake us, but we thought we would be unlikely to see her again, as it she would probably pass us at night.

Viking Mississippi passes Winona

We had an outstanding dinner at a restaurant called Nosh.  Dick asked, in the words of Billy Joel, “man, what are you doing here?”  This was one of the most sophisticated fine dining restaurants we have been to on this trip, certainly it would hold its own in any big city.  My caprese salad was probably the best I have ever tasted, and Dick’s warmed beet salad was delicious.  Dick enjoyed an authentic paella, while my lobster and shrimp roll was excellent.  The desserts were also outstanding.  I tried their salted cheesecake with caramel sauce, and Dick loved his peach crumble.

Caprese salad at Nosh
Beet salad at Nosh
Lobster shrimp roll at Nosh
Paella at Nosh
Desserts at Nosh

Winona has beautiful architecture, but there is a sad mix of tattoo parlours, professional offices, and very few small shops spread over too many downtown streets.  These small towns and cities really need a visionary, as well as a consistent, long-term strategy to pull it all together.  They also need a focal point to bring in outside visitors.

Early businesses in Winona were based on lumber, wheat, steamboating, and railroads.  The architecture of the downtown shows the level of craftsmanship of the immigrants who were attracted to the area during its heyday in the late 1800’s.  As early as 1969, the town governments began to try to counter the effects of large retail stores opening outside the city by pedestrianizing part of downtown and encouraging shopping.  Unfortunately, the results were mixed, and the pedestrian mall closed in 1993. In the 1970’s, enthusiasm for urban renewal resulted in many blocks of 19th century buildings and local landmarks being razed.  Just ten years later, federal funding encouraged redevelopment of the remaining old buildings.  Second and third floors were remodelled into residences, in hopes that people would move back to downtown.  More efforts are clearly needed.

Oddfellows Block, Winona
Merchants National Bank, Winona
Architectural details, Merchants National Bank
Sunrise at Winona

A two-lock day got us into La Crosse by 2pm.  We were a little concerned about the weather forecast, as we were again docked at the marina across the river from the city.  We had planned to have dinner at Lovechild, the top-rated restaurant in the La Crosse.  The food was delicious, and so well presented.  Dick started with arancini, and I had piping hot and delicious triple cooked fries with horseradish sauce.  Lamb shank was on the menu for the first time in a while, to Dick’s great satisfaction, and I enjoyed my shrimp and arugula spaghetti very much.  We shared peach shortcake for dessert.  We also commented on the large number of staff in the obviously successful restaurant.  We hear so many complaints that staff can’t be hired, and restaurants have to be closed several days of the week, and yet Lovechild has obviously found the formula for hiring and keeping staff.  

Lovechild arancini
Triple cooked fries with horseradish at Lovechild
Lamb shank at Lovechild
Shrimp and arugula spaghetti at Lovechild
Peach shortcake at Lovechild

Fortunately, the expected thunderstorms kept moving to later in the forecast, and did not arrive until after midnight.  Although it didn’t rain, the River was a little more lumpy than I like, and on the return trip a large wake from a tour boat ensured that in my spot at the front of the dinghy I was completely soaked, including my shoes. Dick found this highly amusing, but managed to restrain his laughter, or at least keep it quiet.

An extended stay in a marina is always a good time for laundry, so I put through several loads of washing while Dick worked on the print version of the Nine Lives blog.  We have a couple of relatives who do not use computers, so Dick takes the time to transfer my text and all the pictures into a format that can be printed and mailed.  Our dinner reservation was a little later than usual, so we headed across the River at 6pm.  On arrival I looked in vain for the cute muskrat that we had seen the previous evening, bustling along the riverbank before disappearing into a hole underneath a huge tree.  Sadly, I didn’t have the camera ready at the time, so no photos.

We returned to The Chateau, where we had enjoyed an excellent dinner on our previous visit.  Unfortunately, the earlier experience was not repeated.  The food was merely okay, and the building was overly warm.  The waitress let slip that the owners were out of town.  The whole experience seemed to lack the special something that had made the previous meal so good.  It was also quite slow, so we arrived back at the dinghy in twilight.  In some ways this was the highlight of the evening.  Dick was able to set up the all-round white light that is required for night boating, and we were glad that the red and green lights also worked as expected.  The River was quite calm, and there was enough light from the shore to easily see, so it was quite an enjoyable experience.  As the days get shorter, we are more likely to be out after dark, but the stop in La Crosse will probably be our last that requires the dinghy for getting to restaurants.

Eagle sculpture on the waterfront in La Crosse

Sunday was the day to finish the laundry, and then we dinghied over to the city for dinner at The Water Front Restaurant.  We were early, so first a drink in the bar, followed by our meal at a window table overlooking the River.  The waiters and bartenders were all smartly dressed in black, with collared t-shirts with a logo.  Slightly unfortunate, the logo read tWf.  I doubt that I am the only person who reads the large letter first.  Dick enjoyed his oysters Rockefeller, and I had very good giant shrimp with two sauces, the herby tarragon remoulade was delicious.  Our steaks were good, but “au poivre” in this restaurant turned out to mean a black pepper crust, rather than a peppercorn sauce.  It made the steaks rather dry, and the crust was unpleasantly crunchy.  Peach cheesecake with home made peach ice cream finished the evening.  We returned to the marina in the dark, but now that we were experienced, it was quite enjoyable.

Shrimp starter at The Water Front
Oysters Rockefeller at The Water Front
Ribeye steak at The Waterfront
Peach cheesecake at The Water Front

Monday morning we booked a Segway tour.  As we headed over to the dinghy dock, we were surprised to see Viking Mississippi docked on the levee.  Up close, we could see just how huge she is.  We were the only guests on the Segway tour, which made it very enjoyable and a little more informal than usual.  The tour included the waterfront park, and a nice ride around the marsh.  The marsh was very pretty, with purple loosestrife and reeds at the edge of still water with duckweed.  Plenty of birdlife.  I didn’t get an opportunity to take pictures.  From the marsh we went through the very clean and modern University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus, then the best part of the tour was seeing some of the lovely turn of the century homes in the older part of town.

Segway tour in La Crosse
Holway Mansion, now a B&B called The Castle
Another lovely historic home in La Crosse
A beautiful garden in La Crosse
Viking Mississippi at La Crosse
Viking Mississippi from the water

La Crosse is named for a game with sticks that was observed being played by Native Americans when the area was first visited by the white man.  As did many of the settlements in the area, the city began as a fur trading post.  By the middle of the 19th century, it became a centre for lumber, brewing, and railroads, and was one of the largest cities in Wisconsin.  By the 20th century it also became a centre for education, with 3 colleges and universities.  In the fall, La Crosse hosts the one of the largest Octoberfest celebrations.  It has the dubious distinction of having broken the Guinness Record for having the most bars on a single street.  They are also proud of having more bars per capita than any other city in America.

Statue depicting the game of La Crosse

As we returned to the marina, we saw Viking Mississippi making her majestic way down the river.  Later, we returned to the dinghy dock for our last evening in La Crosse.  As we crossed the river, I was wondering what the large black something was, that I could see on the levee where the cruise ship had been docked.  Then we heard a lot of sirens.  After docking we had to walk that way through the park, and we could see that an SUV had come to rest with its front wheels overhanging the river.  The driver was still inside, and there were at least 5 fire engines, plus ambulances and a lot of police cars, and even a police boat on the water.  I don’t take pictures of accidents, but later, as we left for the evening, I did take a picture of the vehicle recovery in progress.  The SUV had been winched back, but you can imagine how terrifying it must have been to be in that car when the wheels were over the river.  For the driver, it was a bad day, or a good day, depending on how you look at it.

A good day or a bad day?

Dinner at the Charmant started with great traditional American style onion soup.  Dick ordered steak frites.  The fries were outstanding, and there were plenty for me to enjoy half of them!  I liked the chicken pate that I had on the previous visit.

Onion soup at Charmant
Frites at Charmant

We left fairly early the next morning for a long but uneventful trip, with no delays at two locks, to Marquette.  Autumn colours are starting to show, and the bluffs of the Driftless Area are looking very attractive.  There is mist on the River in the early mornings, and beautiful reflections in the still waters.  We shared one lock with a man on a long distance kayak voyage.  He had foot paddles instead of using a conventional paddle.

Mississippi morning
New markers ready to deploy
Fall colours begin

We docked at Marquette on a tour boat dock that allows transients on a first come first served basis.  There was no power or water available, but it was a vastly better option than returning to the awful facility at McGregor.  Dockage was not supposed to be free, but there is nobody there to take your money from Monday through Wednesday, so we couldn’t pay.  Dick explored the village, and enjoyed a brief stop at the local winery, tasting, and buying a couple of bottles of red.  However, this village has noting to recommend it, unless you enjoy a casino.  Prairie du Chien, across the River, is a larger and more interesting town, but there is no easy access for larger boats like Nine Lives.

Marquette docks
Still morning on the Mississippi
Mist on the River

Another early start for a long run to Dubuque, with two locks to transit.  On this occasion we were not quite as lucky, and had a long wait for lock 10.  Fortunately, the weather was fine and almost no wind, so stooging at the lock was less tiring than usual.  We are still seeing lots of bald eagles, as well as white pelicans and the usual cormorants.  We passed the docks for Pattison Sand, a large mine/quarry that produces silica and limestone.  As we move south, the landscape will be getting flatter, and the scenery will become more industrial.  We arrived in Dubuque just after the staff were finished for the day, but Dick had been able to speak on the phone to the attendant, so we had the gate codes, and they left the key card for the washrooms tied to the cleat on our dock.  We will be in Dubuque for an extended stay.  Dick will be renting a car and driving to Ontario to help to move his Mum to assisted living.  I will remain on the boat, and have plans to visit the extensive Maritime Museum and Aquarium.

Pattison Sand at Clayton
The map of our August voyages

August 7 to 22 The St Croix River and Saint Paul

Leaving Red Wing, we headed north and through Lock 3 as far as the St Croix River, then left the Mississippi, going upstream towards Hudson.  The St Croix Marina at Hudson, Wisconsin, is situated in a very wide, protected part of the river.  There were quite a few anchored boats, and lots of sailboats on mooring balls.  This is the first Caribbean style anchorage we have seen.  The transient dock at the St Croix Marina is one long finger, fortunately as close to the facilities as one can get.  This is a full service marina, with excellent showers/rest rooms, keycard security, a good ship’s store, and a boatyard to help out with problems.

Boaters enjoy the beaches on the islands that protect Hudson’s anchorage

Hudson was settled in the mid-1800’s.  Like many mid-west towns, lumber was a major attraction, and sawmills were built throughout the valley. US Highway 12 runs from Detroit to Washington State, and a toll bridge carried the important cross-country highway over the St Croix River at Hudson, providing revenue for the town.  When Interstate 94 was built, the toll bridge was no longer required, but the long causeway that terminated in the bridge was left in place and is now a public park.  It also serves as a dyke, forming part of the excellent anchorage in front of downtown Hudson.

Anyone who has seen the Little Free Libraries dotted around the USA might be interested to know that Hudson is the headquarters of the nonprofit organization and the site of the first of these neighbourhood book exchanges.

We walked to Pier 500 Restaurant.  Good pub food, and, for a change, comfortable seating.  Next door we noticed Dick’s Bar and Grill.  It has been in business since 1870, and quite frankly, looking at the outside, it does not seem to have changed much since it opened in a frontier town!  Definitely not our kind of place, so we didn’t try it out.

Dick’s Bar and Grill, opened in 1870
At Pier 500 we started with cheese curds, and Szechuan green beans
I tried the traditional Mac and Cheese
Dick’s healthier choice was parmesan crusted walleye with wild rice

The first night at Hudson was a wild night for weather, with incredibly heavy rain and strong winds.  We hoped the anchored boats were okay, but most were there for a day stop and only a few were left to brave the storm.  We are getting better at remembering to check the weather forecast before bed time, and closing up the cockpit if there is any rain in the forecast! 

Next morning the light went on to tell us we needed a pump-out.  It is such a relief to have that working again, after nearly 5 boating seasons of having to guess the state of the tank.  Dick had planned to pump out on our departure the next day, but thanks to the light we knew we had to untie right away and head over to the fuel dock.  There was a slight miscommunication with the marina manager over equipment, so we got to the dock and discovered that we did not have the required fitting for self-service.  Since it was business hours there was no problem calling a dock hand to help, but if we had gone the next morning before opening, as originally planned, we would have been out of luck.

I enjoyed watching a sailing school in the bay.  The fleet was made up of small, single sail dinghies, sailed by quite young children, while older students raced boats with a mainsail and a jib.  There were the inevitable miscalculations resulting in a dunking, particularly for the younger children, but watchful instructors in RIBs quickly helped anyone who got into difficulty.

The sailing school at Hudson
Oops!

We walked into town in the afternoon.  Hudson has some interesting galleries, and a very nice cookery shop.  We were able to replace our aging frying pans.  We were also looking for a highly rated fine dining restaurant called Black Rooster.  Dick eventually saw the name painted on the window of an office block.  He read that the restaurant was on the second floor, so we tramped up a very long staircase and explored all the office corridors, without success.  Back down the stairs, and looking again at the window, we saw that it actually said, “lower level”.  Dick immediately headed down the stairs into the unlit depths, but I stopped to read the rest of the sign, “Open Wednesday to Sunday”.  Today was Tuesday, so no wonder everything was dark.  We will be re-visiting Hudson and the St Croix River, so we hope to try the Black Rooster then.

Dinner was at San Pedro, a Caribbean restaurant.  The food was very good, and a pleasant change from the standard mid-west pub fare.  For dessert, I tried the chocolate habanero torte, an unusual recipe for a dense chocolate cake with habanero chilis, that sounded interesting, but unfortunately it was too spicy to be really enjoyable as a dessert.

San Pedro lobster shrimp rasta dip
San Pedro seafood pasta
San Pedro ginger shrimp stir fry
San Pedro chocolate habanero torte

Leaving Hudson, we retraced our way south on the St Croix River and returned to the Mississippi.  We passed through Lock 2, the most northern of the Mississippi locks we will transit, and arrived in Saint Paul by 3pm.  Soon after docking, we were joined for docktails on board by the local Harbor Hosts, Sharon and Mike.  We had a great evening, enjoyed hearing about their Loop and trading stories about places we had visited. It is quite telling that we are half way through our trip this summer, and that was our first opportunity to host docktails.  Clearly, the Mississippi side trip is not one taken by most Loopers.

Pelicans hang around Lock 2, Mississippi River

Saint Paul is the farthest north stop of this year’s voyage.  It is one of the Twin Cities, often referred to as Minneapolis Saint Paul.  This urban conglomeration is the third largest in the Midwest, and the 16th largest in the United States.  The marina in Saint Paul, and its location in the middle of extensive waterfront parks and attractive, safe neighbourhoods, made this part of the Twin Cities a better stopping place for Nine Lives than attempting to find a place in Minneapolis.

Approaching Saint Paul

Minneapolis has become somewhat notorious in recent years, but life in a big city goes on for everyone, and one can always hope that bad situations will turn around eventually.  Meanwhile, in spite of my usual concerns about big city stops, we enjoyed our stay, and we never felt worried or threatened.

Saint Paul was the site of one of the earliest of the Ford Motor Plants outside Detroit.  The first plant was built in 1914.  Hydropower was available from the Mississippi River, and a large hydroelectric plant was built in 1924 at Lock 1, also known as the Ford Dam.  The bluffs above the River in Saint Paul were mined for the silica used in auto glass, and there was an extensive tunnel system beneath the plant to provide access to the river for transportation. The plant was closed in 2011, and the 125-acre main assembly plant site is now being converted to urban high-density housing in the Highland Park area.

Mississippi Lock 1, aka Ford Dam

The next morning, Mike kindly drove me to the airport, and I flew home to Hilton Head for a week.  I enjoyed some time by myself, plus taking care of some furniture deliveries and other household chores while Dick buzzed all over Saint Paul on his bike.

Dick enjoyed exploring the many bike paths and dedicated bike lanes in about a 10-mile radius of the marina.  There is a friendly mix of weekenders and liveaboards in the marina, so it was nice to be able to exchange greetings with fellow boaters.  One evening Dick grilled a pork chop, and as the enticing aroma of barbecue drifted across the docks, he had several visitors who wondered whether he had any extras!  Shortly before my return, Dick took a $10 cab ride to the airport and picked up a rental car.  The roads in Saint Paul are in dreadful condition, and between that and the distances to the nice shops and restaurants, we knew that I would be most unhappy being asked to ride my bike.

Watergate Marina, Saint Paul

I returned on Thursday, and after a chance to rest from the flight, we headed out on Friday to explore one of the local attractions, The Mall of America.  Self-described as a top tourist attraction in Minneapolis, and also touted as one of the top attractions in America, the accolades are sadly not borne out by TripAdvisor.  I could not even find it in the top 30 attractions for the area.  However, as a huge shopping centre, it is certainly impressive.  In addition to over 500 stores, there is also a theme park with a roller coaster, an aquarium, and the usual theatres, bars and restaurants, and several anchor department stores.  Unfortunately, since we are no longer in our twenties, and thus out of the demographic for most of the chain stores, there are few shops of interest to us.

Mall of America

I had seen from the online directory that there was a store selling alpaca woollens, so we headed there first.  We found a very nice throw that will look well in the condo on the new chairs, and I also bought another ruana.  The one I found last year is so warm and cozy for sitting and reading on cool mornings, that I was looking for another to take to our home in Yorkshire.  Dick found a new pair of winter slippers in his size.  Alpaca mission complete, we made our way to a Sketchers shoe store.  There we discovered that shopping in person has very little advantage these days over online outlets.  Dick hoped to try on two styles, and I found 4 of interest, but the store had none in our sizes.  I was able to try a half size smaller in one style that fit, but Dick was entirely out of luck.  If retail stores are to survive, they are going to need to offer added value over online.  Complete inventory, as well as higher staffing levels, are going to be key factors.  We noticed a Lindt store as we made our way back to the parking lot, so added a couple of bags of chocolate goodies to the shoes and woollens!

After the Mall, we drove to Kowalski’s, a large supermarket.  A local chain, Kowalski’s offers an in-store bakery, kitchen, and a wine/liquor store.  The grocery offerings include high end brands as well as locally produced items.  We filled our shopping cart and are now set for the next couple of weeks.  I even bought a dragonfruit, one of the few tropical fruits I like, and haven’t had since we lived in Houston. While I was away, Dick had also ordered some of the excellent cheese and bacon that we get from Zingerman’s, so we are not going to starve!

Dragonfruit

Later in the evening, after a very good meal at a local Italian restaurant, we enjoyed a postprandial glass of whisky in the cockpit, while watching the sun go down across the marina.  We then went below, and discovered that the water pump was not working.  The first check was the breaker.  No, no problem there.  Second, unscrew the breaker panel, and look behind at the rat’s nest of wires and mysterious bundles and conduits, to see whether there might be a fuse that needed replacing.  Nope.  Having exhausted the high-tech options, we moved on to a low-tech effort.  Dick draped himself over the steps to the swim platform, opened a cover, and, shining a flashlight into the depths, smacked the pump sharply with the water pump restart tool, more commonly known as an adjustable wrench (spanner for our UK friends).  A welcome telltale burping sound told us that the pump had woken up and was operational again. 

The next morning, in daylight, Dick climbed into the lazarette.  The main access to the water pump is between the pontoons, and below the lazarette.  (what’s a lazarette? It’s a large locker below the walkway between the pontoons at the stern of the boat.  You lift a small metal ring and turn it to unlock the cover, that can then be lifted to reveal the generous storage space below.)  Being a generous storage space, it is naturally full of a variety of necessary things.  Hauling out pool noodles, deck brushes, fender boards, bike bags, buckets, and cleaning supplies first, Dick then shoehorned himself into what had been a generous space before he tried to get into it.  He stuck his head right over the pump in order to see what could be seen.  In much the same way as men open the hood of the car (bonnet), tut tut several times, and then close it again, there was nothing to be seen from the lazarette.  Dick closed everything up and we crossed our fingers.

Dick attempts to diagnose the water pump problem from inside the lazarette

On Saturday, we had booked a Segway tour of Saint Paul.  This was a 3-hour tour, quite long compared to most we have enjoyed.  Much of it took place on Summit Avenue, admiring the stunning Victorian era homes and some of the later mansions of the super-rich.  Summit Avenue has the longest street of Victorian era homes in the USA, and even new builds are beautifully in keeping in style and colour.  Saint Paul is the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and two of his homes were seen on the tour. There were two guides, who did a great job of shepherding their flock across busy streets and onto sidewalks and bike paths.  The main guide, a former teacher with a loud voice, had a somewhat irritating manner, but more than made up for that with a wealth of knowledge about the history and architecture of Saint Paul.  At the end of the tour we were presented with Segway Driving Licenses.  On the back it says (in part), “This very official-looking Segway driver’s license confirms that you had a pulse when you successfully completed the Segway Magical History Tour.  As holder of this license, you are now entitled to very little!”

Summit Avenue, Saint Paul. One of the apartments in this building was the birthplace of F. Scott Fitzgerald
James Hill House, James Hill was a railway baron
A beautiful Summit Avenue home with an unusual slate roof
Another home on Summit Avenue that was lived in by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The skyline of Saint Paul from the Cathedral steps

In addition to the lovely homes and mansions of Summit Avenue, we visited the Minnesota History Center, the State Capitol, and the Cathedral of Saint Paul.  The dome of the Capitol building is the second largest self-supported dome in the world.  Only St Peter’s Basilica in Rome is larger.  The cathedral sits on a hill with commanding views, and is the fourth church on the site, completed in 1915.  It is a stunning building, both inside and out.  We were able to go in and admire the beautiful ceilings and the stained-glass windows.

Saint Paul Cathedral
Saint Paul Cathedral
Saint Paul Cathedral

There are extensive landscaped grounds in front of the Capitol building, much of them dedicated as various war memorials.  One particularly poignant park is full of large boulders.  There is one from each of the 87 counties in Minnesota.  Inscribed on each stone is an excerpt from a letter written by a serviceman from that county to his family during wartime.

Memorial Stones
Minnesota Capitol Building
Segway Tour, the group listens to the guide
Dick poses for a photograph
Leaving the Minnesota History Museum

That evening, we enjoyed an excellent meal at one of Saint Paul’s top steakhouses, the Saint Paul Grill.  It is in the Saint Paul Hotel, a beautiful old building, built in 1910 and kept sympathetically updated, with stunning flower gardens across the front.  The menu was the perfect combination of innovation and traditional fare.  I started with a warm cheese plate.  Three different cheeses, lightly toasted, and served with black garlic and a delicious peach chutney and toast.  Dick’s escargot dish was also very unusual, snails stuffed with boursin cheese and encased in wontons, lightly fried and served with a light cream sauce.  Our main dishes were more traditional, we both had filet steaks, and accompanied them with some of the best asparagus I have been served this year, house made fries, and several excellent sauces.  Dessert was tempting, but we were both too full to consider it, so Dick finished his wine, and I had a cappuccino.

Landmark Center, across from the Saint Paul Hotel
Saint Paul Grill warm cheese plate
Saint Paul Grill escargots
Saint Paul Grill main dishes

Sunday morning, sadly, the water pump was definitely on strike, and the “hit it with a wrench” activity was required every time water was needed.  This unfortunately also included using the toilets.  It was a fair walk along the dock, up the hill, and around the road to the marina facilities, a disappointing requirement every time there was a call of nature.  We had a spare pump, but the tight access meant this was not something Dick could easily install himself, so we hoped that there would be a tech available Monday morning.

Chatting with the friendly boaters on our dock, we were directed to Grand Avenue for boutique shops and ice cream.  That morning, following one of Dick’s excellent full English breakfasts, we investigated the possibilities.  There was a shop selling Irish goods, and another cookery shop, so armed with the addresses, we set out for Grand Avenue.  The cookery shop was one of the best we have been in, although there was nothing we needed, or had space for on board.  The ice cream shop was a great disappointment.  The ice cream was crystally and quite tasteless regardless of flavour.  The amount served was ridiculous.  Dick had a so-called single scoop, and I had two half-scoops so I could try two flavours.  The photo of my two half scoops tells the story.

This was described as 2 half scoops. The dish is about 5 inches diameter.

In the evening we went out to a Spanish restaurant.  I can tell you that while I am very fond of Spanish wines, in general, the food does not appeal to me.  Dick was looking for something a little different, and the restaurant was highly rated, so I suspended my doubts and agreed to try it.  The restaurant was certainly busy, and the wines were as excellent as expected, but the menu was very limited.  There were only 7 tapas choices, and 6 main dish selections.  We ordered 3 tapas to share, and Dick chose a pasta dish with fennel sausage as his main course.  The shrimp dish was delicious, and Dick enjoyed the other selections, but the evening was not a success for me.

Upon our return to the boat, we saw that the light calling for a pump-out had come on, thus piling additional inconvenience on top of the issues caused by the inoperative water pump.  A long walk in the dark to the marina facilities was now essential, especially as the “hit it with a wrench” technique was no longer effective.

In the morning Dick hovered around the marina office, hoping to speak to the service manager as soon as possible.  He also took the time to return the rental car to the airport.  After he was back from that task, we untied Nine Lives and maneuvered to the fuel dock to get the pump-out.  At least after that exercise we were able to use the toilets on board, with the aid of a bucket of water to add to the system.  Dick had another word with marina management, and was assured that a tech would be able to install the new pump some time in the afternoon.  As Dick prepared by taking all the stuff out of the lazarette, I noticed two children, well, teenagers, coming down the dock.  In fact, they were the tech and his assistant (and only looked like teenagers I am sure).  They were very quick and professional, and it was the assistant, a girl, who actually did the work of swapping out the old pump for the replacement.  She was small enough to fit right down into the space under the deck and could see what she was doing.  Less than half an hour later, we were back in business!

Dick enjoyed taking the old pump apart to see whether it could be repaired and perhaps diagnose what had failed.  On the outside, except for the various dings from hitting it with the wrench, it still looks brand new, but it is completely seized, and Dick believes improper assembly allowed water to get into the motor.  Our first water pump lasted 7 years, this second one is just over a year old, with perhaps 6 months of actual use.  A replacement will certainly be ordered and kept on board in case the newly installed one has a similar short life.

The seized water pump looks brand new

On our last evening in Saint Paul we were delighted to be invited by Sharon and Mike to join them for dinner at their home.  They live in a high-rise condo building on the south side of the Mississippi River, across from downtown Saint Paul.  The views are spectacular.  It was a lovely evening, with great food and company, and a wonderful finish to our stay.  The next morning we left Saint Paul and began our trip back towards our starting point at Pickwick Lake.

Saint Paul skyline at dusk

July 25 to August 6 Sabula to Red Wing

Leaving Sabula, we continued passing through the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Reserve.  This reserve stretches from Rock Island, Illinois to Wabasha, Minnesota, a 260-mile stretch of the Mississippi River.  It is an important element of the Mississippi Flyway, a migration route for roughly 40% of all migrating North American shore birds and waterfowl.  I read that Asian Carp are also migratory, but I suspect that the reserve was not actually intended to benefit them!  National Wildlife Refuges provide management of over 560 tracts of land and wetlands in the USA for conservation, management and even restoration.  I was surprised to see that hunting and fishing are permitted in these areas, with appropriate permits.  One hopes that the various ducks, game, and the fish have read the fine print before they decide to take up residence.

A calm morning on the River

As we made our way north, I noticed a warning note on my chart alerting us to the danger of unexploded ordinance.  The note suggested that it might not be a good idea to anchor there…

The signs warn boaters of unexploded ordinance

We passed a prominent wing dam.  These are barriers that extend out into the river, usually created using spoil from dredging, but also tons of rock may have been brought in to create the barrier.  A few are visible above the surface, but most are underwater.  Their purpose when built was to increase the flow, and therefore the depth, in the main channel, while calming the areas between the wing dams and the shore.  Since the construction of the lock system, they are not being maintained, but they are almost all still in place.  They are a huge hazard to boaters.  Some may be just one or two feet below the surface, and since they are made of rock, not mud or sand, hitting one is going to be a big headache for the unwary boater.  Wing dams show up on charts as a thin black line stretching into the river.  Interestingly, they do not all show on all charts.  Dick and I use two charts.  He has Navionics on Nine Lives’ chartplotter, while I have AquaMaps on an iPad.  This gives us two perspectives for navigation.  Often wing dams only show on one or the other chart, not both.  The lesson of course is, stay in the channel!  Not only as marked on the chart, but also using your eyes to see where the red and green channel markers are placed.  Just to make things a bit more exciting, occasionally markers are missing, or worse, they have been moved off station by the force of the water, so one needs both the chart and the markers for careful navigation.  Running aground will always ruin your day, even if the bottom is sand or mud.

A wing dam

The wing dams were built as part of the first efforts to control the flow of water and create a reliable channel for commercial traffic in the Mississippi River.  In spite of several construction campaigns, increasing the initial channel depth of 4 feet to 6 feet, by 1918, barge and passenger companies could not compete with the railways, and river traffic essentially died.  After a campaign by commercial interests and farmers, the 9-Foot Channel Project was included in the 1930 Rivers and Harbors Act.  This project increased the river depth to a reliable 9 feet, by construction of 29 locks and dams between 1931 and 1954.  As did other major infrastructure programs, the first part of the project provided jobs during the Great Depression.  Skilled workers were paid $1.20 per hour, while common labourers got $.50 an hour.  Jobs were given first to workers who were married and had families to support.  The system stretches between Minneapolis and Granite City, Illinois (just north of St Louis).  Unfortunately, one of the negative impacts of the lock and dam system is that some of the migratory fish can no longer move freely up the river to spawn.  As a result, stocks of sturgeon, paddlefish, and skipjack herring, among others, have decreased considerably.

Dredging a narrow channel. Note the position of the red marker behind us, we would normally pass that on the other side, but there was no room!
Lock 7 and the scenery of the Driftless Region

One of the interesting features of locks in this part of the River, is the specially constructed public viewing platforms at each lock, with easily accessible parking.  Further south in Missouri and Illinois, we noticed that access to locks was mostly restricted or made difficult for the public.  On one of his outings, Dick enjoyed watching the full sequence of locking through a tow with 15 barges, requiring the lock-through to be split into two parts.  We are usually stooging below the locks when split tows go through, and it always seems to take forever (it does take a minimum of 1 ½ hours, and often longer).  Having seen it up close, it is easier to understand just how complicated the operation really is.

What is stooging, you ask? Well, this is a highly technical nautical term. It essentially means going nowhere while keeping the engines engaged. Having had a very unfortunate experience last year, when we anchored instead of stooging, we prefer the latter, tiring though it may be. The captain has to keep making minor adjustments as the wind and currents push the boat away from the chosen waiting position.

The first section of barges has been pushed out of the lock, while the second section is being pushed in
the tow pushes the barges into the lock
At last the barges have been lashed together again and the tow pushes the whole lot out into the channel

We arrived in Dubuque Marina at 3:15pm.  The marina is protected by a levee and huge gates, that are normally open, but can be closed if the River floods.  This is a “full service” marina, with a severe shortage of actual service.  Apparently, it is now only staffed between 11am and 3pm (and we had already discovered that the phones are not answered when it gets close to quitting time).  We had hoped for a pump-out on arrival, but instead we had to wait and get it done the next day.  Untying and retying Nine Lives is not a trivial exercise, so it is irritating to have to go through it unnecessarily.  We knew our dock assignment, because the marina has the best booking system we have seen, but we had to call a different number from the main marina phone to get the code to let us back through the security gates after visiting the town.  The showers require a key card, so no joy there until the single staff member arrived the next day.

A cruise boat arriving in Dubuque marina, passing through the huge gates
Dubuque Marina with the museum, and Nine Lives at dock
Dubuque sunset

In spite of lack of marina staff, Dick and I were very impressed with Dubuque.  This is just as well, as I am going to have to stay there by myself for about a week on our return trip.  The historic downtown and the revitalized waterfront are spotless and undergoing major improvements, much already complete.  Old warehouses are being repurposed to both dining and living options.  The marina is surrounded by a major museum. A large casino, a resort hotel, and an extensive business park have been built south of the main downtown area.  It was an easy and safe bike ride for Dick to an excellent grocery and a good hardware store.

Dubuque Courthouse

Our back door latch has been giving trouble, with the door suddenly flying open while underway.  Just before Dubuque it gave up entirely, remaining firmly shut regardless of how much twisting and tugging was applied to the handle.  Fortunately, we have two side doors with zippered entries, so we weren’t trapped!  Eventually Dick did manage to get the door open, and for a brief while we had to use a piece of string to hold it in place (the low-tech option for sure).  Thanks to the useful Dubuque hardware store, and after some considerable fiddling once the latch mechanism had been taken apart, Dick managed to find the correct one of 50-odd ways the pieces could go back together, and the door is working again.  We are treating it like the precious, delicate, and valuable almost-antique it is, knowing that the repair was temporary at best, and until Dick can get a replacement latch mechanism.

Our first evening we walked across the bridge over the railway tracks to a downtown hotel and had a mediocre meal in their dining room.  The Jalapeno maple glazed shrimp were unusual and tasty, but the rest of the menu was uninteresting.  The next evening, a longer walk brought us to Brazen, where we had an excellent evening.  We brought back a lot of boxes, because the waiter explained that theirs is a “sharing” menu.  I didn’t take pictures of the desserts, pot de crème for Dick and Basque cheesecake for me, but they were some of the best we have had.  Both were very “grown up”, in other words, not sweet but very flavourful.  Interestingly, the desserts were also true single portions.  We are definitely going back when we return to the city!

Jalapeno maple glazed shrimp
Dick loved the duck confit at Brazen
I tried the delicious smoked trout pate, with the best house-made chips I have ever had
Fried chicken at Brazen for Dick
I added a few shrimp to the signature pasta dish at Brazen

The next morning, with a relatively short trip and only one lock, we were able to make a more civilized start at around 9am, instead of this trip’s more usual 7:30.  There was zero rain in the forecast, but just as we pulled into the lock the heavens opened, making it a very wet transit for Dick.  My responsibilities in the lock are indoors at the helm, and I was delighted to see the lock doors open and the sun coming out just when it was time for me to get outside and pull in the fenders!

We spent one night in Guttenburg Marina, an excellent example of a well-run but essentially unstaffed marina.  It shows this is possible.  After booking online we received an email with dock assignment, wi-fi code, and shower code.  A follow up phone call was made, a few hours before we arrived, to make sure that we had received all the information.  The marina is quite small, maneuvering is tight, and it would have been tricky if the second space on the transient dock had been occupied.  The shower facility was spotless. Dick explored the town, returning to report that although it is clean and has nice parks, there is little to see or do.  One of those nice places to live but not so much for a visit!

Guttenburg marina

It was a very short run to McGregor.  We arrived before noon, and then had to hold in the channel while a workboat pulled several logs out of our assigned slip.  That marina is just about the most rickety we have ever experienced.  It has wobbly wooden docks, most with no rubber, and the whole marina is a magnet for debris.  New owners are trying to make improvements, but a lot more money and time is needed to bring it up to any reasonable standard.  The staff were friendly and helpful, but that was it.  Various pieces of rope and an old rag were trip hazards on our dock, not to mention a large weed rake left right in the middle, tines facing up.  The railway line is just 30 yards away, and trains blow the whistle because the town has a level crossing.  Why is it called a whistle when it is in fact a very loud horn?  I don’t know.

McGregor Marina

We explored the town.  McGregor was once a thriving community, began when Alexander McGregor started a local ferry service.  By 1870, it was the busiest port west of Chicago.  As we are seeing everywhere, it is clean and old buildings are being renovated, but this one has farther to go than most.  One interesting item, McGregor is where Augustus Ringling’s sons, the Ringling Brothers, got their start by giving penny shows to the townspeople.  The house they lived in is still there.

McGregor downtown
A pretty, somewhat neglected, garden in McGregor

There are more boats out on the River than we have seen until now.  We went through Lock 8 with 2 fishing boats, a speedboat with drunks on board, and a jet ski.  Above the lock were probably 100 fishing boats, all speeding (and throwing large wakes) toward a small marina and motel off the main river.  Apparently it was a large annual college fishing tournament.

Spiders love boats. If I forget to spray the lines when we tie up, they invade.

6 years ago, when we drove across the country, we stopped for one night in La Crosse, Wisconsin.  We liked it very much, and have been looking forward to returning.  The La Crosse Boat Club is across the river from the town.  The marina is well protected from waves and currents, and is very active, with boaters coming and going all the time.  They also have a very popular onsite restaurant.  The Boat Club is a short dinghy ride across the Mississippi to the town courtesy dock.  I say courtesy dock, they charge $10 to tie up!  Usually these docks are free, encouraging visitors to stop and enjoy the shops and restaurants.

Dick pays $10 for the La Crosse town dock
Downtown La Crosse
La Crosse waterfront park

We returned to the Charmant Hotel, where we stayed before, and enjoyed an excellent meal in their restaurant.  It was so nice to find that standards hadn’t slipped, in fact they are even higher.  Dick’s starter was the creatively named “Ants on a Log”.  It was escargot (without the shells) arranged on large split pork bones with marrow.  I enjoyed my more traditional chicken pate.  The rest of the meal was equally good.  The hotel is in a repurposed and sympathetically renovated former candy factory. 

The beautifully restored candy factory that is now the Charmant Hotel
“Ants on a Log” I am told it was delicious
I enjoyed a more conventional chicken pate
Duck for Dick and trout tartine for me at Charmant

Our visit to my favourite Duluth Trading store was disappointing.  This season apparently has nothing on offer that is my taste, and most of the old standbys that serve me so well are apparently no longer being made.  We hoped that the Red Wing shop has better offerings.

The next evening, we walked a little farther to Le Chateau, a beautifully restored 19th century mansion.  We started with drinks in the basement bar, accessed by a scary, although gorgeous, spiral staircase.  All wines and drinks for the dining room are dispensed from the basement, and staff use the spiral staircase even when carrying trays of glasses and drinks!  Dinner was delicious.

Le Chateau
Le Chateau cheese plate to start
Le Chateau filet steak
Le Chateau elk chop
Le Chateau desserts

We spent a quiet Sunday.  Dick did some small jobs, including replacing some lights in the salon and the bedroom that had been flickering.  I took care of some laundry, and after Dick went round with the vacuum cleaner I managed to get rid of some of the dirt in the cockpit.  It has been just too hot to tackle that cleaning until now.  The eisenglass is still filthy, but that is a major scrubbing job still to do.  We had dinner at the Boat Club.  It was basic fare, but good, and they did have cheese curds.  These delectable morsels do not seem to have migrated far from Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. A great tragedy.  Cheese curds are usually encased in batter and deep fried, served with a sauce, perhaps marinara, or ranch.  Even Dick suspends his health-conscious objections to most fried food and is happy to share an order when they are on offer. We order them whenever we find them on the menu, but they have proved to be very difficult to photograph.  They disappear before I am able to get the phone out to take the picture!

disappearing cheese curds

Monday we set off with no sure destination.  There are 2 marinas in Trempealeau, and the one that Dick had chosen did not answer any phone calls or emails, or return messages over several weeks.  Their website says they have space for transients, but apparently it needs a revision.  The second marina only answers calls on weekdays during regular business hours.  We were able to make a booking there while we were on the way.  We were the second transient booked that evening, and sadly for us, the other boat got the better dock.  Theirs had full rubber, and was slightly further from the railway track, while ours had one end tilted and nearly under water.  We were about 60 yards away from the tracks this time, and with another level crossing, the horns were blowing all night.  While listening to the blaring of the horns and the clack-clack of the cars rushing past, I couldn’t help but think about photos one has seen of train derailments.  I wondered whether two jackknifed cars would reach Nine Lives….

One of many trains passing the marina at Trempealeau

There are very few places on this trip that we have not been very close to trains, on both sides of the river.  We have seen no passenger trains, only freight.  Dick read that the freight companies in this country own all the tracks, and give priority to freight.  They will not allow a passenger service to keep a schedule.  Friends took a cross-country train trip a while ago, and the delays were so bad that all the scenic parts of the trip were travelled during the night, and the train even ran out of food!  On the waterways, passenger vessels have top priority, followed by freight, and pleasure craft (that would be us) are lower in the pecking order.  On the Illinois River we observed that the lockkeepers would keep pleasure craft waiting for hours (some Loopers have experienced 10 and 12 hour waits), unless they were travelling in a group.  Here on the Mississippi, we have been very glad to find that we are treated fairly, and never made to wait for a tow if we are first to arrive.  Lockkeepers seem to be more used to locking through fishermen and pleasure boats, and they are almost always friendly and helpful when Dick calls.

We passed huge dunes of sand, many of them not natural.  These piles are created from spoil from dredging the river, and the sand is used in winter for gritting the roads.  An information sign at one of these giant sand piles tells readers that anyone can take the sand and use it for free.  They even suggest additional uses, such as general fill, aggregate for concrete, sandboxes, road building, and habitat rehabilitation projects.

sand dune created from dredge spoil

As we travelled north on the River, and thanks to one of the interesting information boards that Dick enjoys reading, we could see how geology has shaped this part of the Upper Mississippi Region.  This area is called the Driftless Region.  During the last ice age, a small part of the region was left untouched by glacial erosion and deposits.  While the surrounding lands were leveled to plains and rolling hills, no glaciers entered this small area, leaving it as the last remnant of the formerly rugged terrain that once spanned the whole of the Upper Midwest.  Tall, tree covered bluffs in this upper stretch of the River remind me very much of the Rhine (without the castles).

Mississippi Driftless Region

After a 3-lock day we arrived in Alma, a good town-run marina.  It was elderly, but well maintained, and Dick was delighted to find immaculate new showers.  Being well off the River in a calm backwater, there is a lot of weed in the marina.  The dockmaster was very helpful, agreed to adjust our location when we pointed out that our assigned dock was very weedy, and also could be quite difficult to maneuver in.  A bike ride into town showed that although clean, this is another town with little to offer tourists.  We ate on board as planned.

Alma marina
Somebody enjoyed building this treehouse in Alma
Shrimp Destin, a favourite dish, cooked on board

We are seeing incredible numbers of bald eagles, often in pairs.  Mature females are 25% larger than males, and the pairs we see are usually different sizes.  Juveniles take 4-5 years to develop adult plumage (white head and tail).  As we passed Wabasha, we noticed the attractive modern National Eagle Center on the waterfront.  We expect to stop in Wabasha on our return trip, so will look forward to visiting the museum.

Bald eagles
National Eagle Center at Wabasha

Just south of Lake City, the River opens out into Lake Pepin.  It is a wide lake with good depth right up to the shores, a sailors’ paradise.  We were put in the sailboat part of the large Lake City Marina, because of better depths.  This is the most sailboats we have seen in ages, hundreds of them.  I enjoyed watching them come and go for afternoon and evening sailing on the lake.  There were also a lot of rental pontoon boats from a local Boat Club.  These were some of the best rental craft I have seen, all in nearly new condition.  A great way for visitors and second home owners to enjoy the lake without the expense of maintaining their own boats.  There are more than 85 species of fish in the lake, so it is also a magnet for commercial and recreational fishermen.

Lake City Marina

In 1922, 18-year-old Ralph W. Samuelson built a pair of water skis by steaming 8-foot-long pine boards in boiling water and curling the tips.  He had first tried barrel staves, and then snow skis, being convinced that if you could ski on snow, you must be able to ski on water.  Over the next 15 years, he put on one man water skiing exhibitions, donating the money he earned to Lake City for purchasing harbor and park land.  Lake City is officially recognized as the birthplace of water skiing.

Early morning at Lake City

Beautiful houses line the shores and can be seen on the bluffs above the lake.  We had thought this would mean some nice boutiques and fine dining opportunities in Lake City, but once again, as with Pickwick Lake, we were mistaken.  The highest rated restaurant in town is a Mexican Restaurant.  The food was good, and the establishment was very clean.  On our walk back to the marina we stopped for ice cream.  The amusing board outside noted that they sell “proper” ice cream, made from real ingredients, not low fat, low calorie, or low anything.  They conclude by suggesting that if you want nutrition, eat carrots.  The ice cream was delicious, although I must say I was sad that they had only rather strange flavours, and not my personal favourite, salted caramel.  Dick is a plain vanilla man, and they did have that, so he was happy. The next night we went to a so-called Italian restaurant.  Sadly, it was actually a pizza joint with a few tables.  Trying to eat pizza from paper plates with plastic cutlery is one of my least favourite things.  Most of the shops and some of the few eateries in Lake City are only open on weekends, although there is a very good supermarket.  We can only conclude that it is not really a tourist destination, rather a place of second homes, and the residents bring their own food from the big city instead of supporting local shops and restaurants.

Excellent ice cream

We enjoyed a very short, lock-free day to Red Wing.  As he has begun to do in advance of each destination, Dick phoned the marina to request our slip assignment before we arrived.  Here on the Mississippi none of the marinas answer radios (and many are erratic with phone calls as well).  When given our slip assignment, Dick asked about the width, and was told happily that it was 15 feet.  When Dick pointed out that Nine Lives is 19 feet wide, and that this information is always given as part of the reservation, they put him on hold.  One can imagine discussions while they decided what to do, but eventually they came back and said we would be on the fuel dock.  While this is never our favourite choice, it does offer opportunities for people-watching, and in this case, there was power and water available.

Not too long after we arrived and got settled, a large (60ft?) Hatteras arrived in the marina, and I could clearly hear an indignant “He’s in my spot!” from the captain.  There followed much negotiation with dock hands and various others, while the boat moved majestically into the slip between the two gas docks.  The engines were left running for over half an hour while people scurried about and, I presume, the owner tried to arrange (without success) for us to be moved elsewhere.  Eventually the engines were turned off, and the boat stayed there for the rest of the weekend.  Marinas double booking the few docks that are usable for large boats has not been uncommon on this trip, another good reason to arrive early when we can.

Red Wing sunset

Like many American cities, Red Wing began as a native village.  Over many years, the village chiefs were always named Red Wing, and carried a staff topped by a swan’s wing dyed scarlet.  The first white settler arrived in 1849, and the village was named Red Wing in honour of the Dakota chiefs.  By 1870, Red Wing had become one of the primary wheat markets of the world, shipping over one million bushels annually.  The waterfront is still dominated by huge grain terminals.  The early years of Red Wing featured a variety of industries.  In addition to the expected flour mills, breweries, maltings, and lumber, there were also vinegar works, and button, cigar, shoe, and hat factories.  The Boots on the Bridge exhibition features a series of decorated fiberglass boots, created in 2005 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Red Wing Shoe Company.  Started in 1905, The Red Wing Shoe Company made boots for workers.  Over the years they branched out, including making military footwear for the US Army.  Their first womens’ footwear was a pair of incredibly elegant hiking boots that featured an ankle-breaking heel.  Red Wing Shoes still concentrate on work boots, hiking footwear, and short, soft boots they call mocs.

We took the dinghy to downtown.  This one was the nicest we have seen since St Charles, with shops and restaurants in restored buildings, and an attractive waterfront park.  It was River Days weekend, so the parks were full of tents, food trucks, and an incredible number of bouncy blowups for kids.  There was also a sound stage with live music.  Fortunately, the music was not so loud that it was annoying, but on the other hand, it was not quite loud enough to enjoy from the boat.  We felt sorry for the organizers of the annual event, because it rained all weekend, but we did see that the car park was nearly full, so they did get a fairly good turnout.

Downtown Red Wing
Former Iron Works, now an attractive apartment complex
One of the Red Wing downtown churches
Another interesting Red Wing church

Duluth Trading was again a disappointment, obviously this is not my year for shopping!  Dinner at a downtown restaurant was merely okay.  They put us at a small table in the front window, and the waitress couldn’t see us.  She kept forgetting about us, and I had to wave at the hostess for attention.  We could clearly hear the “Oh!  I forgot them!” from the waitress after we had waited a long time to order, but she continued to forget us for the rest of the meal as well.

Instead of covered boat slips, some marinas in this area allow boaters to build houses for their boats

The next day was very wet indeed, so plans to explore downtown more fully were cancelled.  Dick dodged raindrops and walked into town to the bakery to find some nice fresh bread.  He did manage to do a little exploring, in particular, he noticed that Red Wing seems to have arranged for all the churches to occupy the same 6-block area in the city.  Some interesting architecture.  In the evening we crossed the bridge over the railway tracks, admiring the Boots on the Bridge Exhibition on the way.  The pub had cheese curds, and other tasty pub food, and the forecast rain held off so we didn’t get wet.

Boots on the Bridge
The Boots were originally created to celebrate the 100th birthday or Red Wing Shoe Company
At last, a photo of cheese curds before they disappear!
The last cheese curd
The July summary

Above is the July summary of Nine Lives Voyage. The green bits are where we travelled at “normal” speed, red and yellow are where we speeded up!

July 10 to 24, Port Charles to Sabula

Our meal at Toni’s on Main, in St Charles, was so good that we immediately booked to return the following evening.

Let me take a moment to tell you about marina courtesy cars.  We have only taken advantage of them occasionally, preferring to use our bikes whenever possible.  All these cars are unique in their own way, except that they are universally in such poor condition that you would not even be able to give them away.  One had a locking mechanism that if it was used, the car could only be unlocked if someone crawled into the vehicle through the back window.  Although use is usually free, in all cases you are required to add fuel (fair enough), but sometimes the amount you are required to add exceeds what you could possibly use.  One place charges a $15 fee, and restricts use to one county while all the good shops are in another county, and closer.  The car we had exclusive use of at Port Charles was by no means the worst example.  There was no fee, an honour system request to replace the fuel you used, the vehicle ran well and use was unrestricted.  On the downside, especially given the temperatures, the AC did not work, and the headliner had been covered over with muslin, held in place by Velcro and the sun visors (making the sun visors inoperable).  One does not even want to think about what that muslin was hiding!  Given that there was absolutely nothing in Port Charles, and St Charles was 10 miles away, we were very grateful for the vehicle, regardless of its condition!

Missouri farm

St Charles was founded in about 1769 by a French fur trader.  At the time the area was ruled by Spain following France’s defeat in the Seven Years War.  Originally settled mainly by French Canadians, the city was an important river port, and was considered the “last civilized stop” by the Lewis and Clark Expedition before they headed upriver to explore the territory gained by the Louisiana Purchase.  There is still a French Quarter in the middle of town, although it was clearly never as prosperous as the area now included in the Riverfront and Main Street areas that make up the St Charles Historic District.

On Sunday we returned to St Charles, driving through beautiful farmland, and spent some time wandering up and down Main Street.  Major refurbishments have been made to all of the buildings, and many of them have been repurposed under a downtown business revitalization scheme.  Here and there were clever and amusing sculptures of dogs, dressed up in interesting costumes.  The street is full of independent shops and restaurants, and is clearly a mecca for visitors from nearby St Louis and farther afield.  The best of the shops we stopped at featured beautiful glass work, unique Christmas decorations, and interesting art and sculptures.  We were very tempted, but managed to resist and instead bought some oatmeal cookies from a nearby bakery and a couple of small tubs of herbs from a spice shop.  Our dinner at Toni’s was tasty, although we decided on lighter choices after walking around in the heat.

Main Street, St Charles
St Charles
St Charles
St Charles
One of several dog sculptures in St Charles

On our last day in Port Charles we took time to thoroughly clean inside the boat, a chore that had not been done before we started the voyage, as we had planned to engage a cleaning service.  Dick also hosed down the outside and vacuumed the cockpit, but it was too hot for any other outside cleaning.  I washed all the sheets, but we made a note that in future we should try to do that on a cooler day.  The dryer draws a lot of power, so while it is operating, we have to turn off one of the two AC units, and a single one struggles to keep up when outside temperatures are above 90F.

The new engine pump arrived and was duly installed.  It took some hours, and goes to prove what we have observed, boat yards do give priority to emergency repairs, especially for customers who are in transit.

After a busy day, we settled down to sleep.  I was just drifting away, when I became aware that Dick was going up on deck.  He tromped up and down for a while, pausing here and there.  I assumed he was closing the dryer vent (he wasn’t).  Finally, he came back inside and shortly after, he turned off all the lights and everything was peaceful.  Of course, I was now wide awake, and wondered whether he had for some obscure reason started the water tanks filling and then forgotten (he hadn’t).  I was woken abruptly at 5:50am by a wide awake, fully dressed husband requiring my immediate assistance in tracing the reason why the freshwater pump was running continuously.  Apparently, that was what the tromping about had been.  Failing to diagnose the problem in the dark, Dick had turned the pump off completely, and then lay awake half the night, mentally tracing lines and outlets, trying to work out what the problem could be.

Wife duly rousted out of bed, the pump was turned back on, only to find that it was operating normally.  The whole exercise did reveal an up-to-now undiscovered storage area below the washer dryer.  The previous owners used it for laundry supplies.  I have always assumed it was just one of the many mysterious hatches that are all over the boat and give access to the various mechanical gubbins for boat operations.

By our 7:45am departure, the problem was still a mystery.  The pump has since performed as normal, touch wood.

At last, we set off up the Mississippi River, our first day of previously unknown (to us) territory.  We passed the Golden Eagle Ferry.  Our first impression was that this small car ferry runs from Nowhere Illinois to Nowhere Missouri.  In fact, it does, but it was surprisingly busy with several vehicles waiting on both sides as it buzzed back and forth.  Apparently, this ferry allows drivers to bypass St Louis and the inevitable congestion associated with a big city.  There are few bridges over the Mississippi River.  At this point, Alton, to the south, was closest, and then the next was 80 miles north.  It is not surprising that there are several ferries in operation on this stretch.

Golden Eagle Ferry

In time we arrived at Lock 25, and were pleased to be able to go straight in.  This was our first lock in a while with nothing to wrap a line to.  Instead, the lock keeper dropped a line to Dick, and instructed him not to cleat it.  Trying to hold 12 tons of sailboat-shaped boat in place without a helping cleat is difficult.  I used the engines as I do in UK locks, to keep Nine Lives in place and stop her turning and banging against the sides of the lock.  Easy enough with practice, which we have a lot of, but I feel sorry for boaters who experience this for the first time.

That day we went straight through both locks with no wait, and saw no barge traffic at all, even though the lock reports from the previous day had suggested we could expect at least an hour’s wait.  We were tied up in Rockport by 4pm, a long day even without any lock queues.  The marina is very shallow, just 2 feet of water under the boat.

Two Rivers Marina, Rockport

Louisiana, Missouri was across the river, over a highway bridge.  Dick took his bike across and reported that there are signs of former wealth, but 90% empty stores.  However, there is a lot of cleaning and improvement going on, so that may change.  Otherwise, it is an industrial town with little to recommend it to tourists.

Louisiana, Missouri

We passed Hannibal, having had difficulty determining whether or not the marina had a slip for us.  This town is clearly capitalizing on the Mark Twain association.  Mark Twain this, Mark Twain that, even a never-functional Mark Twain memorial tribute lighthouse.  We skipped Hannibal on this occasion, but now that we know they do have space for a boat of our size, we may stop and see what the fuss is about on our return.

There was a delay of about 45 minutes at Lock 22, waiting for a split tow to go through, but we were tied up at Quincy Boat Club by 3:30pm.  We were the only boat there, but a member saw us arrive and came down to catch our lines and invite us to their dinner event the next evening.

Quincy Boat Club

The city of Quincy has an interesting history.  In 1838, the governor of Missouri issued an extermination order, forcing Mormons to flee their homes.  They crossed into Illinois at Quincy, and were made welcome in the town.  In 1839 they purchased land upriver and founded the city of Nauvoo.  Nauvoo was the largest city in Illinois by 1844.

Quincy downtown
Quincy downtown

Quincy was an important port on the Mississippi in the years leading up to the Civil War.  They flourished partly because they managed to be cagey about their sentiments over slavery, and traded enthusiastically with both sides.  Negotiations with President Lincoln by 3 of his friends from Quincy, ensured that the city was allowed to continue trade with the south, in spite of embargoes.  The city supported the northern war effort by producing cannonballs and military hardware, but they also accepted, processed, and traded tobacco products from Missouri when other ports were embargoed.

We had a good dinner at the strangely named Boodalu Restaurant, fortunately only a short walk up the very steep hill.

Boodalu shrimp cocktail
Boodalu carpaccio
Boodalu steak with portabella mushroom
Boodalu creme brulee

The next day was a most enjoyable evening at the Boat Club.  The Club was started in 1933, based in a ranch house on the water’s edge.  The floods of 2019 destroyed the clubhouse and the docks, but there happened to be a failing restaurant in a very attractive building just a few yards along the waterfront.  The Club was able to buy it, and it makes an outstanding venue.  The food was very good, some of the best I have had in a club setting, cooked by volunteers.  Members came up and chatted with us and made us welcome.  The live music was wonderful.  The singer was Liz Bentley, who offered a mix of covers and her own songs, mostly country music but with some country takes on folk and light rock.  Dick even agreed to stay for one more set than his usual tolerance, possibly because of the very comfy seats, but he was also enjoying the music.

Liz Bentley at Quincy Boat Club
Quincy highway bridge at night

We headed up the river to Keokuk.  In this area the river has long stretches of various wildlife reserves, and there is little to see except trees.  We have seen bald eagles, golden eagles, deer on the banks, and of course herons.  As we move north, we are starting to see white pelicans again.  They are migratory, spending winters in Central and South America, and summers as far north as northern Canada.

Bald eagle, not much of a picture, but you get the idea

After seeing very little traffic on the river, we were suddenly overtaken by a lot of small boats.  On the Illinois side we could see a large building that turned out to be the former Warsaw Brewery.  The brewery closed in 1972 after brewing beer for over a century, but the beautiful old building has been transformed into a restaurant.  Lots of the boats had docked there and we could see people walking up the hill to the restaurant.  It always surprises me how few waterfront venues offer any sort of docking for boats.  Those that do are invariably very popular.

Warsaw Brewery
Hydroelectric plant at the lock at Keokuk

At Keokuk Yacht Club we had to tie up on the outside, very subject to waves and wakes, and the day was surprisingly rough. The first evening we rode bikes (my first time this season) 2 miles to a downtown restaurant.  There are some beautiful large homes along the bluff on the way, but for the rest, the roads were in very poor condition, and downtown, although clean, was mostly empty shops.  We did have excellent pizza, but I was not a happy bunny having to ride on the rough road.

Keokuk bluff top homes
Keokuk bluff homes
Keokuk bluff homes
Keokuk Rand Park Garden
Keokuk Rand Park Garden

Sunday afternoon the Yacht Club had an event with live music.  This time it was The Boys, who played mostly rockabilly with lots of covers and some of their own music.  An older couple danced through almost every song for several sets.  Apparently, they are big fans and attend most of their events.  We had a perfect front row seat in the cockpit of Nine Lives, and enjoyed a bottle of wine and a few nibbles.

In late afternoon a sternwheeler arrived, the Mississippi Princess II.  She is the real thing, built 50 years ago in St Paul by a retired admiral.  She has had only 3 owners during that time, and is a private vessel, not a charter.  There was a bit of a flurry on her arrival while a small boat was moved to make room on the other dock.  They had not realized that our dock was the one with power, so after Dick spoke to the owner, we agreed to move Nine Lives back a few yards and use the other power pedestal, making room for them in front of us.  It was wonderful to watch the sternwheeler reposition.  There are two separate paddlewheels, and two rudders, and the captain turns the wheels forwards and backwards as needed to maneuver the boat.  The engines appear to be gas rather than diesel, but Dick didn’t get an opportunity to ask.  Later on, the local Harbor Host, his wife, father, and another couple joined us on board Nine Lives for a drink and chat.  Before they left, they toured Nine Lives, and were most impressed with the space and comfort below.

Mississippi Princess II
Mississippi Princess II

The next morning there had been a mayfly hatch, and the entire windward side of the boat was covered with them.  One can easily knock them off the screens from inside, but you daren’t try brushing or washing them down, as they are extremely delicate and make a disgusting mess.

Mayfly hatch

We passed Nauvoo, the city founded and still occupied by members of the Mormon Church.  The area was very tidy and prosperous looking, quite a contrast to what we have been seeing on the shores so far.

Fort Madison

There are lots of areas of waterlilies along the river’s edge.  Since they only grow in still water, you begin to understand just how wide the Mississippi River is.  The deeper channel can be only a very small part of the whole width, and the shallow areas do not have the strong current.  Wing dams contribute to regulating the flow of the water, as do the frequent locks and their associated dams.

waterlilies at the river’s edge

We came through a railway bridge, that was double decked, with the lower section for trains and an upper deck for cars.  The bridge opened for us, and then stayed open for more than 45 minutes waiting for the sternwheeler behind us to pass through.  We heard someone on the radio complain, I imagine the drivers waiting on the bridge were feeling very hot and frustrated.

Ft Madison railway bridge opening

Further on we passed a barge being loaded with corn for the first time.  Now we know we are in Iowa! A plaque in one of the towns told us that northbound barges mostly carry coal, fertilizer, sand and gravel, and wind turbine blades.  Southbound they carry corn and beans.

corn being loaded onto a barge
coal barges

We tied up for two nights in Burlington.  The marina is very shallow, in fact Dick had spoken to them a couple of times and they were not sure they could get us in.  There had been rain earlier, and while we did churn the mud, we got in and tied up to the fuel dock.  This was fortunate, because while there is an alternative dock (without power) closer to town, we had been a week without a pump-out and knew we were getting close to full.  Opportunities to pump out are pretty scarce on the Mississippi.  Not all states are as enlightened as South Carolina, which not only subsidizes facilities, but requires them to offer free pump out service to any boater who requests it.

Burlington waterfront
Burlington homes

One of the tourist attractions in Burlington is Snake Alley.  No, nothing to do with reptiles, this is a street, built in 1894 to make it easier for horses, vehicles, and pedestrians to move between the residential district on the bluff and the business district on the waterfront.  It still has the original brick paving, with the bricks laid at an angle to keep the horses’ feet from slipping as they went down the turns.  While the whole idea was a good one, it turned out that horses would lose control at the top if they tried to go up the street, so it was, and still is, one way down only.

Snake Alley, Burlington
Snake Alley with cars descending

We walked to Drake’s, a huge restaurant on the waterfront.  It occupied the building that was formerly Drake’s Hardware, once the top distributor of hardware in the Midwest, serving customers from the Appalachians to the Rockies.  Many of the features of the old business have been kept and incorporated into the restaurant.  Dick ordered a duck salad as a starter, that turned out to be a huge meal size, then his pot roast came with a side salad as well!  I ordered spinach and artichoke dip, followed by an interesting lobster chipotle pizza.  Both were tasty, but to be honest, they tasted the same, in spite of being completely different dishes.

lobster chipotle pizza at Drake’s

We had a much better meal the next night at Martini’s, excellent food, professional service. The waitress made sure that Dick’s appetizer salad was not duplicated with a second “side” salad.  It is an interesting (and annoying to us) assumption, more and more, that any starters and all desserts will be shared.  Portions now serve 4 as appetizers.  We don’t always want to share, it means that neither of us gets to enjoy our first choice from the menu.  On several occasions the server has whipped away to put in the order for one appetizer, and we have to call them back to order the other.

Martini’s shrimp cocktail
Martini’s salad
Martini’s ribeye steak
Martini’s filet steak oscar
Martini’s cheesecake selection

We had a small amount of concern the next morning as we left at 7:30am to be well ahead of 3 upcoming tows.  We knew the marina was shallow, and we had churned mud on the way in.  We backed out of the slip okay, but then came to a gentle halt in the marina entrance.  Dick reversed and tried again, slightly more centered and with a bit more speed.  It’s a finely balanced judgement, too much speed can result in getting thoroughly aground with no chance of backing off.  More mud later, we popped out of the entrance and were on our way.

Once again, we set off without being sure that our destination would work.  This uncertainty has defined our voyage so far.  Some marinas don’t respond to enquiries, those that “think” they can accommodate us are not sure.  Keokuk was first come first served, no way of knowing whether the space would be filled with small boats, and no nearby alternative.  Fort Madison marina is only partly built, in spite of having had a grand opening on July 1st.  What is working in our favour, is that there is no competition for any available transient spaces.  Nobody is boating!  We assume it is the heat.  Another aspect of this trip that adds to the uncertainty is a lack of current reviews of marinas and anchorages.  There was major flooding in 2019, and many docks were destroyed or damaged.  Any reviews dated before 2019 cannot be relied on if there is nothing recent.

A couple of pelicans swam into Lock 17 ahead of us, but they did not care for our company and flew away.  Locks would be great locations for photography, but unfortunately, we are far too busy to take pictures.  Pelicans like to hang around during the summer, as the water churns up lots of fish, and eagles congregate during winter, where the moving water is less likely to freeze.

In Muscatine, there is a municipal marina, and our reservation was accepted and money taken.  We were assigned to a dock downriver from the marina.  On arrival, we found that it had no centre cleat, only a large one at each end of the dock.  Nine Lives is sailboat shaped, which means that a bow line cleated first makes it impossible to bring the stern in.  Cleat the stern first in a fast current, and the bow will swing out too far to throw a line.  We managed to tie up, but it took several tries, and eventually Dick had to leap off the boat when it was close and then run to grab lines.

A man who had used the boat launch was quite unhappy with us, as he had difficulty tying his boat while he got his trailer.  He settled down when we explained that we had been assigned (and paid for) the dockage.  There was no power or water, so we ran the generator for over 48 hours, happily with no issues.

Nine Lives at the dock

Situated at last, we were very surprised to see Mississippi Princess, the sternwheeler, arriving beside us.  They had also made a reservation and been assigned the same space!  Once they understood what had happened, they got on the phone and were directed to tie up across 3 open slips in the marina proper.  Dick walked over and helped catch their lines.  The next day he chatted with a Parks and Recreation Dept worker, who told him that the marina was badly designed and has always silted up.  The man said he was surprised that the sternwheeler had got out at all.

In 1833, at the end of the Black Hawk War, the Iowa Territory was officially opened for settlement.  Began as a trading post, by 1840 the town, originally named Bloomington, had grown to 507 residents.  Growing quickly, the town soon had a gunsmith, a hatter, tinsmith, cigar maker, flour mill and packing house, in addition to its main lumber industry.  To avoid confusion with other places of the same name, the community voted to rename the town Muscatine.  In 1853, Orion Clemens brought his family to town and took over the newly renamed Muscatine Journal.  He employed his 18-year-old brother Sam at the paper.  Under his pen name, Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens wrote “Life on the Mississippi”, commenting on Muscatine’s beautiful sunsets.

Muscatine sunrise
Muscatine County Offices

Just before the turn of the century, John Boepple came to town from Germany, and started a button making industry using the shells of freshwater mussels.  Muscatine became the world’s capital of the pearl button industry.  By 1894 there were 43 button factories in the area, employing 3500 people.  H.J Heinz also set up a pickle factory.  A unique feature of the town is the light system on the bridge.  In 2008, 43 LED fixtures were attached to the bridge, capable of generating 16.3 million colour combinations.  It is believed to be the first of its kind to be installed on a bridge over the Mississippi River.  It was certainly pretty to watch from our ideal location at the dock.

former button factory in Muscatine
Muscatine bridge at night
Muscatine waterfront

Our dock was actually intended for the small boat launch, although a newer launch has been built further upstream.  While Dick explored the area on his bike, I sat and watched a group setting up for a hovercraft meet.  It was fascinating to see these small craft, especially when two arrived by water and just zipped straight onto the land.  They maneuver very like a boat on the water, but on land they are somewhat clumsy and tricky to park.  Several of the men simply stopped where they were and then lifted and manhandled the craft into place.  The meet was set up, but the main events were not until after we left.  It would have been fun to see 15 or 20 of these interesting craft zipping around, although it would have been incredibly noisy!

Hovercraft meet at Muscatine
hovercraft
hovercraft arriving by water
hovercraft arriving by water

I watched a fisherman retrieve a huge net and empty it of quite a few fish, just a few feet from our stern.  There are still plenty of fish in the Mississippi River, in spite of the invasion of Asian Carp.  Catfish is found on menus up and down the river.  Walleye, Sauger, Bass, Crappie, Perch, Paddlefish, Bluegill, and Pike are some of the fish to be found on the waters of the middle and upper Mississippi.

Muscatine fisherman hauling in his net
sorting the fish

The first evening we walked over to an Italian restaurant.  I had very good pizza, and Dick’s choice was an indifferent lasagna.  The next day was a shorter walk, to a hotel restaurant right on the waterfront across from our dock.  The menu looked interesting, and Dick’s grouper was tasty, but my portabella sandwich was awful.  Far too many unrelated strong flavours competing.  I thought of it as the Jackson Pollock chef’s style.  Throw a bunch of stuff into a sandwich and hope it works.

the grouper was tasty
the portabella sandwich was awful

We left quite early the next morning, with no idea where we would dock the next night although our destination was the Quad Cities area.  Dick was never able to get an answer from the marina in Moline.  Finally, we tried making contact with Lindsay Park Yacht Club (which had in fact been recommended), and we were able to make a reservation.

Davenport (Quad Cities)

We called Lock 15 from a little distance downstream, and were told come on up, they were just locking down another pleasure craft.  Dick asked if he should hurry, and was told it would not be necessary, so we proceeded at our usual trawler speed.  As we arrived at the railway bridge south of the lock we were disturbed to see the other pleasure boat was already there.  When we called the lock again, we were told there would be an hour and a half wait while they locked down a split tow.  Quite a disappointment!  Eventually the tow slid slowly out of the lock, but they needed a tug to help align them into the channel, so there was a lot of churning water.  The lock keeper called us in long before the tow was clear, as he had another two tows waiting above.  Dick made three tries at getting into the lock through the roiling water, on the third, Nine Lives spun around through a full 360 degrees before Dick could get her into the channel, meanwhile avoiding hitting the lock walls or the unfortunately placed dredge on our port side.  There was also a railway bridge right above the lock and the operator had said there was 20 feet of clearance, so Dick had expected to have to get out and drop the antennas.  This was impossible while he fought the roiling waters.  Although Dick is generally not pleased that Nine Lives has oversized engines, I am sure that on this occasion we were glad of them.  We were also happy to see that there was enough clearance under the bridge without lowering the antennas, as I can’t reach them.  Rather more excitement than we like!

Eventually we were through the lock and arrived at the Yacht Club.  Three members came out to help us get into an admittedly tricky spot.  Nine Lives is wonderfully maneuverable, but driving sideways is not her best thing!  For a change there was lots of depth.  Everyone was very friendly, and offered advice on what to see and do while we were visiting.  We had already made plans while we were there on this stop, but we will return on the voyage downstream and spend more time.  In the evening, after sampling the offerings at the on-site restaurant, we were invited to join two members for drinks.  We enjoyed a very pleasant interlude, telling stories of life on the Great Loop, while they regaled us with their own tales of handling a new-to-them cruiser through Mississippi locks.

Appetizer sampler at Lindsay Park Yacht Club

Saturday was our 45th wedding anniversary.  I occupied myself with laundry, while spending most of the day writing and preparing pictures for the blog.  Dick launched the dinghy.  The dinghy has no name yet, perhaps it will never get one, other than dinghy, or perhaps dink as an affectionate short form.  Dick scouted the route and the dinghy dock where we planned to go for dinner, and he also went up to the Moline marina that we had been unable to contact, in spite of trying for weeks.  There are lots of large boats there, so plenty of depth.  Dick chatted with a guy on the docks, and found out that the restaurant, whose staff are supposed to take bookings for the marina, would rather keep the docks open for short term diners, so now we know why calls are not returned.

That evening we crossed the Mississippi in the dinghy, and after passage through a very narrow channel that was distinguished by a huge Danger, Strong Currents warning sign (!) we tied up at an excellent town dock.  The steakhouse was just a block away.  It is highly rated, but I noticed that it was surprisingly dirty, cutlery, menus, even the tables were greasy and had food remnants on them.  Dick’s prime rib was excellent, but my beef wellington was truly awful.  No relationship to the menu description, and very overdone, although I will concede that the meat was tender.  The dinghy ride back was somewhat choppy, and I am hoping that in future we won’t have to cross the river to get to dinner.

Danger, strong currents
dinner for our anniversary

The next morning, we passed American Countess, a sternwheeler cruise ship.  She was originally a casino boat, but when Iowa changed their laws to allow casinos on land, the ship was sold for scrap.  Bought by a cruise ship company 3 years later, she was taken to a St Louis yard, where she was cut in half and extended with a new 60-foot middle section to increase her passenger capacity.  She now cruises up and down the Mississippi, still with true sternwheeler propulsion, although we noticed that she appears to need to have her own accompanying tug pushing as well.

American Countess
American Countess
narrow channel after exiting one of the locks
Windmill Cultural Center, Fulton

After lock 13, we came into what is the widest part of the Mississippi.  It is like a shallow lake with many islands, and the channel winds back and forth.  We passed a large pelican rookery.  The scenery is definitely getting prettier as we travel north, with more nice homes on the bluffs and less industry.

Pelican rookery

At Sabula we entered the marina and were assigned a 16-foot wide slip.  We tied up on the t-head instead.  Although our 19-foot beam is always the most important piece of information that Dick gives to a marina when he is booking, and he always stresses it several times, as often happens this was ignored.  The dockmaster apologized and said he was just told 44 feet long.  After the inevitable question, “are you sure you need 19 feet?”  and carefully pacing off the slips to confirm that they really are only 16 feet wide, he calmly made the necessary arrangements and we were able to stay on the t-head.  It meant a little bit of holding my breath in the morning, when the large tug from the next well came out and rounded the corner and passed us with just a few feet to spare, but all was well.

2022

June 20 to July 9 Pickwick Lake to St. Charles

At last Nine Lives is underway again.  Not our most auspicious start, on several levels.

In October last year, we left Nine Lives at a marina on Pickwick Lake, in a covered, in-water slip, where she will spend the next two winters as well.  As usual, there was a list of work to be done (this is boat ownership), and 8 months in which to do it.  Dick also arranged for monthly cleaning, and a major refurbishment of the gelcoat.  In November, Dick returned to the marina to check on things, and finalize all the arrangements.  Through the winter, he sent emails and made phone calls, to no response.  The local harbor host even visited on our behalf. Eventually, Dick visited in person again in April, discovering, and he was not particularly surprised, that nothing had been done.  The boat was filthy, and none of the mechanical work had been started.  He managed to get the most important item on the list, the check of the house batteries, done while he was there, and the required replacement batteries were ordered.  Assurances were made that the installation of the new batteries, the 2000-hour engine service, the bottom paint, and a thorough cleaning and waxing, plus other minor items, would be completed before our arrival in late June.  Follow-up phone calls were made, and further assurances given.

We set off from Hilton Head on Monday, June 20, with the vehicle loaded with all the pantry items that we had removed in the autumn, plus fresh and frozen provisions for the first few weeks.  As we drove off, Dick commented, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we got there and found Nine Lives out of the water!”  Nine hours driving later, we arrived at the marina, and as we drove toward the parking lot, there she was, up on blocks, out of the water.  We later learned that she had been taken out just two hours before our arrival.  It wasn’t funny at all, deeply annoying would be a better description!

A great disappointment!

There was a bit of a scramble to find local accommodation for a few days, with a full-size fridge-freezer to ensure that all the food did not spoil.  For all that Pickwick Lake is a vacation destination, and with many very expensive homes along the cliffs, the area has little in the way of accommodation or restaurants.  We stayed at a hotel and conference center in the State Park at the top of the lake, and Dick checked on the progress of the bottom paint and other work twice a day. 

A large adult beverage was required.

Nine Lives was finally splashed on Thursday, and on Friday morning we were able to move aboard.  Even then, there was  work still being done.  Some things did not happen, including the 2000-hour service, but Dick felt confident that it could wait until we return in the autumn.  The promised waxing did not get done either, just a cursory wash-down, and inside cleaning was impossible to arrange at short notice.  So, Nine Lives is not looking as beautiful as she should.

One thing I can tell you, appalling as this seems, not getting the work done in a timely manner is absolutely normal at all the boatyards we have dealt with (so far, we are 4 for 4).  There is huge demand for skilled work, and constant boating emergencies, so regular maintenance work and non-essential repairs are given low priority everywhere.  Friends ask, can we go somewhere else?  The short answer is no.  All of the reputable boatyards are the same anyway, and this is an ideal location for our next 3 year’s plans.  We have a covered slip at a good rate for the time we need it, not easy to find.  That said, the yard manager assured Dick that this will not happen next winter.  We will keep fingers crossed, and Dick will have to attend in person more often.

We spent Friday and Saturday on various start-up tasks, including sanitizing the freshwater tanks, launching the dinghy and testing the motor, adding new cords to lessen the sway of the dinghy while we are underway, fuel, pump out, and fresh water fill.  I occupied myself with various jobs, including of course bed making, putting away all the provisions and pantry items, and preparing fresh bags of cloves.  A number of other inside jobs were completed, and some were postponed until later.

Fuel fill, pity we didn’t do this last autumn.

I was surprised and pleased to find no evidence of unwanted critters inside the boat, and almost none in the cockpit.  This, in spite of the condition of the outside, and the lines, fenders, dinghy, and power cords being festooned with spider webs.  I put this down to multiple precautions.  All food that is left on board is kept in plastic storage bins.  Bounce sheets are placed in all drawers and closets, bags of cloves are distributed generously in the pantry cupboards, and I did a careful and complete spray inside and out with spider control as we left.  No way to know which of these precautions is working and which are boating myths, and I have no plans to “test” by leaving any of them out!

freshly prepared clove bags

We tried several local restaurants during our enforced stay in the area.  The only upscale eatery was in Corinth, a 30-minute drive away.  The town is an interesting mix of new and old, and everything is well cared for and clean.  The meal in the restaurant was good, and we will certainly return.  As we drove out, we saw three middle-aged men, sitting on chairs on the sidewalk, with guitars, jamming with no audience but having a wonderful time.  Nice town.

Corinth downtown
Smoked trout pate at Vicari
Bananas Foster at Vicari
Bread pudding at Vicari
Pizza on our last evening at Aqua Grill

We were finally able to get underway on June 26th at 8am.  Unfortunately, there was already an up-bound tow at the Pickwick Lock, and we had a 3-hour wait until it was our turn to go through.  Later in the afternoon we were caught by thunderstorms.  The winds were so strong they lifted up the fold-down seats on the bow, then the rain came down in sheets.  This helpfully dropped the temperature from 95F to 71F, at least temporarily.  We anchored behind Swallow Bluff Island, first time for our new anchor rode (chain) and markers.  Dick had to wear his bathing suit in the rain for the anchoring exercise (fortunately for me, my role in the anchoring process is inside at the helm!)  I posted on facebook to complete our first day, and Dick wondered why nobody asked for a picture of him out there in his swimming trunks!

Bye bye Aqua Yacht
Pickwick Lock

With the sun shining, and our first day successfully complete, we enjoyed our traditional toast to the season’s boating of bubbly, accompanied by cheese and crackers.  Dick fired up the grill for an excellent meal of steak, baked potatoes and mushrooms.

First night toast
Ready for the grill

Before dinner, Dick took time to fix the new boarding ladder. He used his purpose-bought pipe cutter to trim the supports. When that broke (mutters about cheap piece of junk), he made a second attempt using the vastly more time-consuming hacksaw. Sadly, the supports were still far too long and the boarding ladder was still unusable.

Fix the boarding ladder part one
Fix the boarding ladder part two

When we anchor, I set alarms on two devices, to ensure that we are alerted if we move more than an acceptable amount during the night.  Of course, deciding how much is too much, is somewhat of an art. One has to take into account currents, distance from shore, amount of chain we have out, and whether or not there are tides.  On this occasion the research said that the current would keep us in line in the channel, so I set a fairly small radius on the alarms.  At 4:38am I was rudely awakened by a loud Whoop Whoop Whoop a few inches from my ear.  I leapt out of bed, calling for Dick to wake up, and rushed up to the cockpit.  Instant relief to see that we were nowhere near either shore, followed by absolute puzzlement when I could see from the anchor light on the other boat in the anchorage that we had turned completely around and were facing the opposite direction.  This would be expected in an area with tides, but on an inland river it was mystifying.  We could only conclude that the upstream and/or downstream dams had stopped moving the water, thus minimizing the current.  Later that morning the other boater came by and told us that a huge wave had come through during the night and completely repositioned his boat.  Since we were already wide awake after the excitement, coffee was made, and we watched the sunrise and got an early start.

Sunrise at Swallow Bluff Island

This first part of our summer voyage required retracing our route from last autumn for nearly two weeks.  In order to catch up with the plan, we ran for two long days and missed a couple of anchorages.  Our second night was at Pebble Isle Marina, an okay spot, but it will be too shallow when we return in autumn, and it has little to recommend it.  This area is all part of Kentucky Lake, a long ribbon of artificial lake created by the Tennessee Valley Authority through the beds of several rivers, including the Tennessee River.

The basin outside Pebble Island Marina

We passed the Tennessee River Lighthouse, a 70-foot structure, high on the bluff, that used to show a continuous white light.  Anecdotally, it was used as a navigation aid for some years, but it is now sadly derelict and falling further into disrepair each year. 

Tennessee River Lighthouse

Ospreys nest on the taller daymarks, and some had nearly grown chicks still being looked after by their parents.

Ospreys nest on the daymarks
Repairing pylons

We arrived as planned at Kentucky Dam Marina.  As is not uncommon in this part of the world, there was no response to the radio, and our phones did not have enough signal to call.  We had to go to the fuel dock, and ask for docking instructions by calling out to the attendant.  The first suggestion was to “take any of those slips”.  I pointed out that they appear to be 14-foot-wide slips, and Nine Lives is 19 feet.  Oh.  The uncovered slips in the marina were mostly empty, but we elected to go all the way to the end and take the t-head.

The nearby restaurant was closed except for weekends, so I made jambalaya on board.  It was the first time for that recipe, won’t be the last!

Dick took the time for one of the undone chores, installing the new TV.  The previous one, although working fine, was not a smart TV, so Dick decided to replace it.  This will allow us to stream regular programs (acceptable wi-fi permitting).  We also installed a new DVD player, and are continuing with our usual evening tradition of watching murder mysteries and other box set programs.

Installing the new TV

Kentucky Dam Lock was very backed up, and the lock keeper advised Dick that pleasure craft have a difficult time using that lock, plus the river above has heavy barge traffic.  We decided to take the longer route through Barclay Lock and up the Cumberland River, expected to be faster even though it is considerably longer.  We had an hour wait for the lock, and met several tows on the river in both directions, but it was an easy day to Paducah.

An attractive waterfront property at Green Turtle Bay
A tow enters Barclay Lock, only a few feet of clearance, skilled driving required!
Osprey nest above Barclay Lock

There were a lot of dead Asian Carp, and Barclay Lock smelled like a bad fish fry.  Not sure which is more unpleasant, dead ones, or the live ones leaping out of the water, hitting under the boat, and potentially jumping into the dinghy.  A tree in the river even had dead fish festooned in its branches, which also speaks to how high the river gets during spring flood stage.  We saw lots of turkey vultures, ospreys, and a bald eagle on the shore was deciding whether a dead carp that had washed up looked tasty.  It was clear from how undercut the banks were that the river has been particularly high this spring.  Tree roots were exposed, but the trees themselves still had leafed out.

Exposed tree roots show how high the water was this spring

At the turn into the Ohio River, there are two Federal Mooring Cells.  These are huge steel structures that are set up for barges to moor to while waiting for locks.  One of the two at this inlet had collapsed.  You can see in the picture the sheer size of the structures, and imagine the power of the water that caused the collapse.

Collapsed Federal Mooring Cell

We liked Paducah last fall, and were not disappointed on this visit.  We stayed two nights.  I had time to do a quick load of laundry, and Dick spent the day running errands on his bike in 100-degree heat.  He found some great bread from the bakery, beautiful fresh strawberries and other fruit from the market, and he made a run to both the grocery store and the hardware.  There were so many items, he sadly forgot the main reason for the hardware store, which was a replacement pipe cutter.  As mentioned earlier, the boarding ladder that replaced the one that we lost last fall (oddly enough at Paducah), needed the ladder supports to be trimmed to fit the boat and make it useable for me.  Getting on and off has been quite a challenge, the step from the back is usually too long for me, so without a ladder I can be stuck on board.

Paducah Docks

On our first evening we tried a highly rated and trendy new restaurant.  It was in a re-purposed freight warehouse, but unfortunately it was rather too trendy for us.  Leaving aside décor that consisted of a basic coat of paint and hard metal chairs, we were told to scan a QR code to see the menu, which we refused, so paper menus were reluctantly provided.  The only option for the wine list was the QR code, go to the website, or order completely blind from the choices rattled off by the waitress that gave only varietal, not origin, winery, or price.  We did choose from the website, but requiring patrons to bring and use a smart phone does not endear us to any restaurant.  Dick’s food was quite good, mine was not.

The next evening, we returned to Cynthia’s, a restaurant we enjoyed last fall, and it was a much nicer experience.  The setting was another historic warehouse, but sympathetically renovated, and there were tablecloths, wine glasses, and menus!  The crepes Dick had for dessert rank as one of his top ten restaurant desserts ever.  Given the number of business and personal restaurant meals he has had all over the world, this is saying something.

Chicken pasta at Cynthia’s
Dick enjoyed the Grouper
Chocolate dessert
Crepes, one of the best desserts Dick has ever tasted

After filling up with water, we set off by 9am, but we anticipated a 3 to 4 hour wait at Olmsted Lock.  We arrived at the lock at 11:30 and went straight in.  Last fall when we came through the water was high enough that we didn’t even go through the lock itself, instead we were directed to pass right over the wickets (dam).  Olmsted replaced two other locks on the Ohio River, and yet it can still be under water when the river is running high.  The 30-year lock building project was both the largest and the most expensive inland waterway project ever undertaken in the United States. Olmsted carries the most tonnage of any lock in the entire Army Corps of Engineers system. 

A dredge on the Ohio River

As we made our way down the Ohio River to the Mississippi, we passed many barges at anchor, and being gathered together for transit of the river system.  Barges are the containers, huge floating steel tubs usually 195 feet long by 35 feet wide.  They get lashed together and are pushed by a tugboat, called a towboat, more often shortened to tow.  Boaters learn very early to call the tow, if you try calling the oncoming vessel a barge they may not answer, as that would be a bit like trying to speak to a railway car instead of the driver.  There are essentially two types of tow.  Smaller tugs, amusingly referred to as lunch bucket boats, push and pull the barges into place for loading and for lashing together.  The reason for the name is that the 3-man crews work the same tug in the same part of the river, bringing their lunch aboard and going home after their shift.  Larger tugs handle the transport up and down the rivers, and may have more crew, who of course sleep on board.  Last autumn on the Illinois River, we saw barge trains of up to 3 wide and 4 long.  This spring we have seen several that are 5 wide and 6 long, for a total of 30 barges.  These exceptionally large barge trains are only possible south of St Louis, because of the limitations in the size of the locks further north.  The tonnage of the materials carried is staggering, and these run 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  We will easily meet or pass 10 that are underway each day as we travel.  Mostly the barges are filled with sand or different types of stone.  Some carry chemicals, and some are carrying scrap metal.  Many are covered, so we don’t know what is inside.  Later in the year there will be many carrying grain and flour.

Barge 5 wide and 6 long

At Cairo (pronounced Kay Row to our private amusement), we turned the corner, and were at last in the Mississippi River, a week after leaving Pickwick Lake.  We stopped for the night at Boston Bar, an anchorage we visited last fall.  Naturally, just as we got into position to set the anchor, the heavens opened, and there was no time for bathing suits, so Dick just had to get outside and get soaked.  The rain stopped as soon as the anchor was set.

anchoring in the rain
He got wet!

Boston Bar is not our favourite anchorage.  There is a strong current, and it was particularly strong that night.  Our anchor held, but there is a large bridge abutment and a wing dam of riprap directly behind.  It would have been very close getting the engines started in time to prevent disaster if the anchor had come loose.  We are planning a different stop on our return in the fall.  To add another reason, as if one was needed, Dick thinks that the combination of the strong current slightly starving the intake of water to the raw water pump, and sand in the river getting into the impeller, contributed, if not fully caused the generator to break down.  In the morning, when I came up to the cockpit with my coffee, there was a strong smell.  I mistakenly identified it as diesel, and Dick duly sniffed and said, no, he could not smell any diesel.  In fact, it was burning rubber.  Next time I smell something strange I will not try to be specific.

The next evening, we anchored in Little Diversion Channel, just south of Cape Girardeau, Missouri.  This is a pretty, but narrow channel, and one of the few safe anchorages between St Louis and Cairo.  It took several tries before the anchor set, most unusual for our trusty rocna.  There didn’t seem to be a lot of current to hold us in place, but as Dick discovered when he jumped into the water, there was plenty!  He immediately found himself 10 feet behind the boat, and had to swim very hard to get back.

Dick started up the generator, and was just getting ready for our traditional beer after stopping for the day, when the generator stopped.  Several tries more and it was clear there was a problem.  It was humid, 90 degrees, and we really, really wanted the air conditioner!  The air conditioners cannot be run without either shore power or the generator.  Dick began his investigations and found that the impeller for the raw water pump was completely worn out.  We carry replacements, so he installed that, and then cleaned the strainer.  Still the generator overheated, and it became clear that the pump was not moving the water.  The only conclusion (after Dick jumped into the water to examine the outlet, just in case a piece of dead fish had been caught there) was that somehow there was a problem with the pipe.  (Ultimately, we learned that the problem was the bits of the worn impeller blocking the pipe, something Dick could have fixed if he had realized the issue.)

Worn impeller and the replacement
Maybe the problem is out here!

Little Diversion Channel was quite a pleasant stop, well off the busy river.  There were butterflies flitting around the boat, and a hummingbird circled us a couple of times, but I had nothing to offer them.  A couple of fishermen went by, and some pontoon boats.  Local law enforcement passed several times, carefully slowing right down to pass us without a wake, most considerate!  We enjoyed a very nice dinner, another new recipe, but it was awful cooking in the heat.

Sunrise at Little Diversion Channel

Although it was really hot, we made the decision not to stress the engines by running hard for the 8 hours it would have taken to get to Hoppies, and we proceeded as planned to Kaskaskia Lock.  Running that far against the current at high speed would have cost an extra $250 in fuel, plus it would be quite hard on the engines.  At Kaskaskia we tied to the lock wall, and spent a quiet night (sadly no fireworks visible, although it was July 4th).  We did skip the planned exploration up the Kaskaskia River to Evansville, and proceeded the next morning to Hoppies.

As we travelled up the Mississippi River, we were struck by the amount of coal being carried on the many barges.  It had been my impression, from reading news reports and articles concerned with climate change, that coal is on the way out, having been replaced by other fossil fuels (and of course other forms of energy such as solar, hydro, and wind power).  We have passed generating stations that are clearly coal-fired, many with piles of coal waiting, but they have all been shut down, or are on standby.  There are two other critical uses for coal, steel making, and cement production.  Electricity does not get hot enough for these processes, so coal is still being used. Also, coal is now being shipped to China, Japan, and other Asian countries.  Coal production declined after 2013, but it had increased steadily between 1950 and 2013, and in 2020 it was still higher than it was in 1980.  In fact, this year, 2022, coal production is up, predicted to be 22% higher than last year.

Loading coal at Knight Hawk Lone Eagle Dock
loaded coal barges
coal barges waiting to offload at a cement plant

We passed the interesting Tower Rock, a huge rock formation in the river.  First mention of this rock was in 1673, when missionary Jacques Marquette wrote that this was a place dreaded by the savages because a manitou, or demon lives there.  Later a band of river pirates occupied the rock, and preyed on Mississippi shipping.  The outlaw base was destroyed in 1803 by US Army dragoons.  Sailors passing the rock would celebrate with a drink of spirits.  We did not follow that particular tradition, we are strict about saving all alcoholic beverages until we are docked or anchored for the night.

Tower Rock
Tower Rock

Hoppies is a Looper legend.  It is called a marina, but a better description would be to say it is a fuel dock that has extra space to tie up overnight.  They are the only fuel stop between St Louis and Paducah, and many Loop boats may not have a 225-mile range.  Nine Lives can make that trip southbound in 3 days, but coming up-river against the current it took 5.  We are fortunate to have a 1000-mile range, so seldom have to be concerned that we may run out of fuel.  Hoppies is 3 somewhat rusty steel barges lashed together beside the shore.  They had docks, but they were destroyed in flooding in 2019.  I had thought they had no power, but I was delightfully wrong, and we were so glad to be able to plug in and use the air conditioners again.  The temperature was 99F, and the weather channel reported that with the humidity it “feels like 112”.  Even the fuel was worth stopping for, as it was $.70 a gallon less than the other marinas we would be stopping at over the next few days, so we filled up.

Hoppies, a Looper legend

We had understood that the only nice restaurant was a 2.5-mile bike ride away, but an alternative in town was suggested.  LaChance, a local winery, has opened a restaurant in a historic tavern building, so we decided to brave the heat and try it.  Although supposedly a 15-minute walk, I was immediately regretting the decision, as the sun beat down, and the road was slightly uphill, but to our surprise, the owner of Hoppies drove up in his car and offered a ride into town.  It was a very kind gesture.  Tuesday is a limited menu, but Dick enjoyed his enormous catfish po-boy sandwich, and I had outstanding chicken quesadillas.  We each tried a flight of wine tastings (Dick red, me white), and Dick came home with a bottle of one of their red blends.  Kimmswick is a pretty and historic town, founded in 1859.  The log tavern, built in 1770, that LaChance has taken over was once a favourite haunt of Ulysses S. Grant.  There are a number of attractive old houses in the village, as well as the Anheuser Estate and Museum on the riverfront.  The town is a regular stop for river cruise boats.

La Chance Restaurant, Kimmswick
La Chance
Anheuser Museum, Kimmswick
Anheuser Museum
Sunrise at Hoppies

After an excellent night’s sleep in air-conditioned comfort, we left early to allow for delays at the two locks we would pass through on our way to our next stop at Alton.  As we approached the outskirts of St Louis we could see beautiful homes on top of the bluffs.  One has a huge sculpture in the garden overlooking the water, depicting a pair of legs diving into a pool.  I can’t imagine the cost of building this enormous structure, and what could possibly be the point.  We passed the Gateway Arch in St Louis in mid-morning, and were very pleased to be directed straight in at Chain of Rocks Lock.  A couple of hours later, there was again no wait at Mel Price Lock, so we arrived at the marina in Alton and were tied up by 2:15.

Wealth and taste…
Oh my!
A red-winged blackbird hitches a ride

We had booked a meal at Gentelin’s on Broadway, a fine dining restaurant we enjoyed last fall.  Alton, although historic, is not an attractive town.  Some efforts are being made at gentrification, and there is a pleasant waterfront park, but they have a long way to go.  I was glad we were walking both ways in daylight.  We enjoyed the meal, although the restaurant was surprisingly noisy.  There was a man singing and playing a keyboard, and unfortunately between the amplification and acoustics in the restaurant, diners had to raise their voices to chat, and the result was an incredible din that did not add to the experience.  We expect to return anyway, as the food is excellent.  My lobster tail cooked in tempura batter was delicious, and Dick enjoyed his crispy roast duck.

House salad at Gentelin’s. A salad is always included with your meal in the midwest.
Crispy Duck at Gentelins
Tempura Lobster Tail at Gentelins
Chocolate dessert at Gentelins

We had only a short run to Port Charles Harbor in St Charles, just past the confluence of the Mississippi and the Illinois Rivers.  North of Alton we passed our first Mississippi cruise ship.  While very large, it was still dwarfed by the barge that we passed at the same time.

Mississippi Cruise Ship

In Port Charles, we are tied up for several days.  The generator repairs were completed almost immediately.  In some ways it is fortunate that the problem happened, because while investigating the generator problem, Dick became aware of water in the port-side bilge.  He knew from our experience with the starboard engine last summer that this could be the beginning of a problem with the raw water pump on the port engine.  Further examination determined that the pump is definitely failing, and a replacement has been ordered and will arrive Monday.  Of course, if the 2000-hours service had been done, this problem would have been identified at that time.

Dick borrowed a pipe cutter and fixed the boarding ladder at last.

We walked next door to the interestingly named Duck Club Yacht Club.  A very nice club, with a lively bar and a nice restaurant that is open to transients staying at the Port Charles Marina.  Dick had pizza, followed by cherry pie, while I liked my shrimp wrap.

Pretzels and beer cheese at Duck Club Yacht Club
Pizza at Duck Club Yacht Club
Shrimp Wrap at Duck Club Yacht Club

Saturday we took the courtesy car into St Charles.  As the only transients currently in the marina we have exclusive use of their somewhat beaten up Dodge Caravan.  We made a grocery and liquor run, and scouted the downtown in advance of tonight’s meal in a highly rated Italian restaurant.  Tomorrow we plan to spend some time wandering through the historic Main Street with its many boutiques and cafes.

September 15 to October 3, Peoria to Iuka

We and other Loopers were made wonderfully welcome at the bar and in the restaurant of IVY Club in Peoria.  This is just the way the yacht club reciprocal arrangement is supposed to work.  Members stopped by and asked about our travels, and shared some of their own boating experiences.  In the past we have found that this level of friendliness and welcome is sadly lacking at most other yacht clubs we have visited, so it was a nice change.

IVY Club marina, Peoria

The next morning, we were up early and moved to the fuel dock to be ready at opening for a pump out.  It was an easy run to the only lock of the day.  The lock was ready for us, but we were happy to wait for two other Loopers who we knew were a little behind us.  The rest of the day was surprisingly boring.  After all the interesting sights and wildlife further north, there was little to see.

We anchored behind Quiver Island, along with 6 other Looper boats.  It’s an obvious stopping place, especially as the water is very low this year, and many docks at marinas are inaccessible.  For dinner I tried a modified recipe for pizza dough, that was much more successful than the previous effort.  It also was helpful that I found the proper pizza pans!

Early morning at the anchorage behind Quiver Island
Home made pizza, ready for baking
A tasty slice

On Friday morning we left the anchorage a little later than we had planned, especially with a long 60-mile passage ahead.  Again, it was mostly uninteresting scenery, with a few highlights to relieve the tedium.  We met a 15-barge string on a bend.  The big tows like this take up the whole river when they negotiate a corner, so we were glad to be able to talk to the tow and arrange safe passing.  A little later, from around another bend and only a few feet above the water came a bright yellow airplane.  It rose a little to pass over us, and then dipped again and continued to follow the river northward.

Passing an abandoned tower on the Illinois River
Scenery on the Illinois River

Eventually we arrived at LaGrange lock, shortly after noon.  We were advised by the lockmaster that as soon as the tow ahead of us was finished he would refill the lock and put us through.  We floated quietly in the channel, as we had done at every other lock, nudging with the engines to keep position.  There was no other boat traffic above or below the lock.  Unexpectedly, the lockmaster came on the radio and told us we could not wait in the channel, and we should move over to near the bank and anchor.  The reviews on Active Captain and Waterway Guide indicated that this was a bad place to anchor, with poor holding, but we did as we were told.  It took a couple of tries before the anchor held.  Just 15 minutes later, we could see that the tow had cleared the lock, so we called and asked if it would be our turn.  The lockmaster told us to pull our anchor “now”.  Well, we tried.  It absolutely would not come up.  Dick made many attempts, and the bow of the boat dipped alarmingly as the chain tightened.  The Illinois River has a strong current, and due to our width, and proximity to the bank, as well as the current, we were unable to bring Nine Lives around to be above the anchor and try to pull it out that way.  We called for help from TowBoatUS.  They had to come more than 60 miles, and could not get to us in daylight, so we stayed where we were overnight.  No worries about the anchor dragging anyway!

A bald eagle at LaGrange lock
Chili and home made bread for supper

I made a new recipe for chili for our dinner, very tasty, definitely a keeper, although Dick commented that he might prefer it on a cold winter evening instead of in 80-degree heat!  The next morning there was plenty of time for one of Dick’s famous bacon and egg breakfasts.  TowBoatUS arrived shortly after 10am.  The first attempt to free us appeared successful, until we tried again to raise the anchor and it was clear that all that had happened was the rescue boat had dragged us and the tree along the bottom!  (We are presuming it was a really large sunken log that we were caught on).  The rescue boat then took all of our anchor chain onto their boat.  This involved cutting what is known as the bitter end, the line that connects the very end of the chain to the boat.  Nine Lives then moved out of the way, and the rescue boat was able to maneuver with their powerful engines and work the anchor free of whatever it was that had caught it.  We were very glad that the last option, cutting the chain and abandoning the anchor on the bottom of the river, was not required.  To remind us just how lucky we were, on the day I am writing this, there is a posting from another AGLCA member who had a similar experience, catching a large submerged log at an anchorage.  TowBoatUS was too far away to travel to help them, and they were forced to cut their anchor chain and leave a very good, expensive anchor on the bottom.

Dick cuts the bitter end to release the anchor chain
The anchor is freed by the towing service

Next, we had to wait for the lock.  Although TowBoatUS has priority as a commercial vessel, there was a split tow already negotiating the lock.  When a string of barges is too large to fit into the lock all at once, the string has to be split, and locked through in parts.  This takes a very long time, as the tow has to maneuver to and fro, the barges have to be uncoupled and recoupled, and the lock has to be emptied and filled several times.  After about a 2 hour wait, we could see that the tow was finished.  Dick overheard a conversation between the lockmaster and the tow operator, that suggested that there were no tows waiting for locking, “just a pleasure boat”.  That would be us.  We watched for another hour while nothing happened.  We are quite sure that the lockmaster and the tow were enjoying a leisurely lunch together while we waited.

Finally through the lock, after more than 24 hours, we ran fast to try to catch up some of the lost time, slowing occasionally to pass villages, and tows with their barges.  We were undaunted, and got right back on the horse and anchored behind an island off the river that night.  Is that the right metaphor?  Back on the horse?  Hmmm.  Anyway, we were fine, very tired after a stressful day, and we slept well.  In the morning the anchor came up without problems, although we noticed a certain amount of strain on the electric winch.  We decided that the lesson to be learned from our experience is to anchor well away from shore when in a river, as the debris on the bottom gets washed to the sides of the channel.

So how do we anchor?  Once we are roughly in position, I take over from Dick at the helm, and after donning life vest, gloves, and headset, Dick goes up to the bow and lowers the anchor using the electric winch.  We have marked the chain at 20-foot intervals, so he knows just how much rode (chain) goes out.  Once the anchor is on the bottom, we allow the wind and current, with a little help on my part from the engines, to gently move us back, first until we feel the anchor take hold, and then further as more rode is paid out.  After a ratio of 7 to 1 is achieved (that is, if the bottom is 10 feet down from the bow, there must be 70 feet of chain), the bridle is attached.  This is two lines, one from each pontoon bow, clipped to the anchor chain.  More rode is then paid out.  This means that any strain caused by wind or wakes is taken by the bridle lines rather than the winch.  In the morning, the whole process is reversed, and I am always glad to hear Dick tell me, “the anchor is up” as it comes off the bottom!

Dick attaches the bridle while anchoring

A few low hills varied the scenery the next day.  We saw lots of bald eagles, showing that the river is a clean environment in spite of the amount of industry and commercial traffic.  We also started to see kudzu.

Kudzu is a highly invasive plant that has been dubbed “the vine that ate the South.”  It was imported to the USA in 1876 as an ornamental garden plant, and was used for erosion control in the 1930’s to 1950’s.  The vine grows up to a foot a day.  It is gradually spreading northwards, and has been found in Oregon, and in Southern Ontario.  Kudzu smothers everything in its path.  It spreads by runners that root where they touch the soil, by rhizomes underground, and by new vines that root at the nodes and form new plants.  It destroys native grasses and plants, and even mature trees, as it covers them and prevents the leaves from photosynthesis.  Despite its negative environmental impact, kudzu does have some uses.  It is used as animal feed, the fibres are used in basketry, it can be used to make clothing and paper, and it is an ingredient in food and folk medicine in Asia.

Trees and bushes covered with kudzu

We found the tows we met were universally helpful.  The procedure when one meets a tow is to call, and depending on whether you are meeting to pass, or wish to overtake, you explain your intentions and ask where they want you.  They will tell you, “on the one” or “on the two”.  This is quite confusing at first!  “On the one” means that you will meet or pass with the tow on your port side.  “On the two”, is starboard.  You need to remember that it is your port or starboard, not that of the tow! 

We arrived in Grafton shortly after noon.  Note to selves, not a good stopping place on the weekend!  The marina was chaotic, reminding us of Henry’s Fish Camp in Georgian Bay.  Mostly little boats arrive and depart, and a lot of smaller slips are kept available for them.  The very popular Grafton Oyster Bar is located in the marina, and many boaters arrive for lunch and dinner.  At one point I overheard the dockhand telling another to “help this pontoon boat, he says it is the first time he has ever driven a boat!”  Well, conditions were not good for a complete beginner, it was windy and choppy, and the space in the marina is tight.  In spite of my warning to Dick to see if he could fend them off, the neophyte boater managed to add another scrape to Nine Lives hull.

Grafton Marina. The empty slips are for day boats visiting the restaurant

Another interesting few moments occurred when a very large houseboat arrived in the marina.  They did not use their radio.  The dockhand called out to them that there wasn’t room for them, and I could clearly hear a man on the boat call out to the driver, “just keep going!”  They swung into the open space at the end of the dock we were on, a space that was clearly reserved for another boat.  There were at least 15 people on board, and the men were aggressive and (I later learned) quite drunk.  One can hardly blame the teenage dockhands for not wishing to challenge them.  Unfortunately, the Loopers whose spot they had taken arrived long before the entitled idiots departed, and had to spend the night on the fuel dock.  We were not surprised when they chose to leave the next day rather than taking up their second night’s reservation.

We will return to Grafton Marina I am sure, but not on a weekend!  The food at the Oyster Bar was excellent.

Chowder at Grafton Oyster Bar
Crawfish enchiladas at Grafton Oyster Bar
Sunset at Grafton Marina

We had a very short run to Alton, a suburb of St Louis on the Mississippi River.  No restaurants nearby were open that night so we ate on board.  We were now in delivery mode, travelling as quickly as possible to our final destination this summer.  We expect to travel these rivers several times in the next few years as we complete our various summer voyages, so there is less incentive to stop at this time.  Unfortunately, the weather was filthy, with rain and fog all day, so we stayed an extra day at Alton.  Docktails was arranged for Loopers in the evening.  It was the largest group we have participated in for some years!  We agreed on a spokesman for the boats leaving the next day who would negotiate with the lock for all of us.

The extra day did allow for an excellent meal at a nearby fine dining restaurant.

Lobster risotto and a half duck at Gentelin’s restaurant in Alton

The next morning 10 Looper boats plus one TowBoatUS rescue boat transited Mel Price lock together by 7:30am.  It was a very early start, with engines running at 6:15am!  It really does make a difference when we travel as a group through the commercial locks.  There were no delays at the second lock of the day, and we were all through by 9:30am, unprecedented!

Dick read that 30% of the world’s grain passes through Mel Price lock, which gives you an idea of just how busy the Mississippi River is.

Waiting for Mel Price lock at sunrise

It was a very long run that day.  While St Louis was interesting, this part of the Mississippi is very industrial.  We passed many tows, the last one pushing 24 barges.  We also had a chance to look at a popular Looper stop.  Hoppies is the only fuel stop for many miles on this stretch of the waterway.  It is not a real dock, instead it is several barges that boats tie up to, then later arrivals must raft up.  Although it is part of Looper legend, we are thinking that we may well give Hoppies a miss when we pass through in future.  We tied up at that night at another popular Looper stop, on the wall below Kaskaskia Lock, a short detour up the Kaskaskia River.  There were 5 boats that night, so there was room for all and nobody had to raft up.

A 12 barge string passes under the bridge in St Louis
St Louis, the Arch
Hoppies, a famous Looper stop on the Mississippi
A tow passes derelict moorings on the Mississippi
Dredging near the shore on the Mississippi

The next day was a 100-mile run with a 7am start, but we were still anchored by 4pm, thanks to a 4-knot current in our favour and a stretch of running fast.  Now that we were on the Mississippi (Huckleberry Finn country), the accents of the tow operators became increasingly impenetrable.  It was quite amusing to listen to them on the radio when they were talking to each other, clearly a lot of important information was passed along, and we couldn’t understand a word of it, between the strong accents and the jargon.  Fortunately, they were easy enough for us to understand when we hailed them to ask for passing instructions.

The lock wall at dawn at Kaskaskia
Morning mist at Kaskaskia

We stopped at a good anchorage just north of the town of Cairo, where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi.  Unfortunately, while well off the river, it was under a highway bridge, so quite noisy.  Two other Looper boats joined us.  This was our last anchorage of the season, and while the anchor came up cleanly, the winch was really struggling, so we will need to get it looked at.  We suspect it was overstressed when we were stuck at La Grange lock.

Once again Nine Lives was covered in mayflies.  It was a surprise to see them, so I looked it up and discovered that mayflies are not just for May, they hatch right through September!  We were also troubled for the first time by small biting gnats, and even larger biting flies.

The anchorage at Boston Bar
Sunrise at Boston Bar
Nine Lives at anchor at Boston Bar

The next day we turned up the Ohio River.  We went from travelling with help from a 4-knot current on the Mississippi, to fighting against at least 3 knots resistance.  Some of the time on the Ohio we were making as little as 4.6 knots against the current (our normal speed is about 8 knots).  There were a large number of anchored barges, but fortunately not many underway, possibly due to construction operations at Olmstead Lock.

Anchored barges on the Ohio River

We arrived at Olmstead Lock at 11:30, and had to wait for the day’s blasting program to finish.  We had to anchor in 25 feet of water against a 3-knot current, not ideal.  We could have been held up as late as 2pm, but fortunately we were allowed to proceed at noon.  The water on the Ohio was so high that the lock was not operating.  Instead, we passed right over the dam, against a strong current that increased to 4.5 knots over the wickets.  It was a strange experience.

Passing over the dam at Olmstead Lock

We were at Paducah town dock by 3:30, but the free dock was already very busy, so we had to stay on the fuel dock the first night.  It is a rather stinky location, because that corner traps a lot of dead fish and algae, and the power pedestal is too far away for our cords to reach, so we cannot run the air conditioners without the generator.

Paducah was definitely the most interesting town on this part of our journey.  The town was laid out by William Clark (remember Lewis and Clark from your American history classes) in 1827.  It is believed he named the town Paducah after the Comanche people of the Western plains, who were known as the Padoucas by regional settlers.  The town became an important port on the river system, as well as being a railroad hub.  It is clear from the beautiful old houses and downtown buildings that there was once a great deal of wealth in the town.  The area has been prone to flooding, with a flood in 1937 that rose to more than 60 feet.  The earthen levee that should have protected the town was overwhelmed, so a substantial concrete flood wall was built.  Part of this wall has been painted with over 50 murals depicting the history of the town and the area. 

Paducah town dock. The incredibly tall pilings are in anticipation of flooding.
The murals on Paducah’s town wall.
House smoked salmon at Cynthia’s
An interesting fried mozzarella dish at Cynthia’s
Grilled scallops at Cynthia’s
Sea Bass at Cynthia’s
Cheesecake to finish a great meal at Cynthia’s

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner that first evening at Cynthia’s, excellent fine dining.  The town looked fascinating as we walked to the restaurant.  After several very long travel days I was glad to have a quiet day while Dick explored the town.  He returned in time to help 6 Looper boats tie up.  We made plans to head out to dinner an hour early, so I would have time for a few pictures.  As Dick set the ladder into the slots at the side of the boat for me to get off, a big Sabre came round the point and waked all the boats so badly that our ladder fell into the water (it was 10 feet deep under the boat, and in spite of fishing with our longest boathook, there was no chance of retrieval).  The owner of the Sabre happened to be coming into the dock for fuel and an overnight stop.  He was very sorry, and said he would replace the ladder, even offered to build something temporary.  When we returned from dinner there was a step ladder on our deck, kindly left for us by a fellow Looper, but unfortunately it was not useable.  Dick was able to pull the stern of the boat in closely enough to the dock for me to get on.

Our dinner that second evening was interesting.  Clearly a talented chef, but much better quality control was needed.  The steaks were tasty, but neither the asparagus nor the potatoes should ever have left the kitchen.

Paducah downtown
Another view of historic downtown Paducah
Lobster dip at the steakhouse
The steaks were delicious, the vegetables not so much.

In the morning Dick was able to find and order a replacement ladder.  He showed the receipt to the owner of the Sabre, who immediately handed over the full cost in cash.  Interestingly, while the owner was full of apologies, his adult son, travelling with him, had nothing to say and scowled the whole time.  If we were to make a guess, we think it was in fact the son driving, and he didn’t see anything wrong with his speed and was annoyed with his father who likely told him off for it.  Perhaps a good lesson for him anyway, the law says that you are responsible for your wake, regardless of whether it is a “no wake zone”, if you cause any damage.

We had an uneventful passage to Green Turtle Bay, except that the current was even stronger against us on the Cumberland River.    At one point we could see the current push a red marker right under the water.  Even when it bobbed up again only the top third was visible. We ran fast for part of the day to make up some time.  We passed several huge quarries on the journey, an enormous scar on the landscape.  The first, and largest, was purchased in 1903 by Barrett & Son.  The company was based in Cincinnati and ran barges on the rivers.  At the time, the quarry extended for a mile along the bank of the Cumberland River.  Today the quarry is operated by LaFarge Aggregates.  As we passed, we could see a barge being loaded with sand.  The loading is done from one end, and you can see in the photo that the stern of the barge is only a few feet above the water, while the bow is still very high.  The sheer weight of materials that these barges hold is incredible, and then to think that they are attached together in strings of 12, 18, even 24 barges, all pushed by a single tow.

Cumberland River. The current is so strong only the top third of this marker is visible.
LaFarge Aggregates quarry on the Cumberland River
Loading a barge at the quarry
Approaching a tow on the Cumberland River

Barkley Lock is a 57-foot lift into Lake Barkley.  As we made our way in, we could see that the port side was roiled by jumping 3- and 4-foot silver carp.  Unfortunately, we had already committed to tying that side!  It proved impossible to snap a picture that captures the sheer number of jumping fish, but you can see how big they are and how high they jump.  Some jumped under Nine Lives, hitting the tunnel between the hulls with a loud crack!  Fortunately, none ended up on board (or worse, in the dinghy).  We have heard from others that if they get on board, it is a heck of a mess to clean up, because they bleed all over as well as slime.

Jumping carp in Barkley lock

Green Turtle Bay is a large resort and marina on Lake Barkley.  Many Loopers stop there, often for a few days or even weeks.  It is a very pleasant resting stop after a fairly gruelling trip down the rivers.  We only stayed one night, expecting to be back several times in future.  We walked up to the tavern, and enjoyed the evening.

Loaded fries at the tavern in Green Turtle Bay
Sunrise at Green Turtle Bay

The passage to Paris Landing State Park was straightforward.  The docks were nearly empty, but we were delighted to catch up with fellow Loopers on Island Girl, who we first met in 2018.  We could see from our Nebo app that there was a very large pack of Looper boats making their way south.  With limited transient slips available this year, and the concerns about our anchor winch, it was better to stay ahead of the group.

As we headed south on Kentucky Lake, it was a little confusing.  We were actually up-bound, as the lake/river system is flowing north at that point.  Dick had to remember which direction we were travelling when calling the tows.

Kentucky Lake is a reservoir created by the construction of Kentucky Dam in 1938 to 1944.  The reservoir drains the entire Tennessee Valley watershed, which covers an area of 40,200 square miles.  It is part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, helping reduce flooding on ten million acres of the lower Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  The top of the gates on Kentucky Dam are at 375 feet above sea level.  The TVA requires that all permanent structures be built at 381 feet above sea level.  This results in what we thought were very strange looking houses and cabins on enormous stilts along the waterway.  The lake is long and narrow, and for much of its length it appears to be more like a river, and has a fairly strong current.  Where it widens, it tends to be very shallow, as we discovered when we tried to follow a more scenic route closer to the western shoreline!

Houses on Kentucky Lake must be built with the main floor above 381 feet above sea level.

Although the lake may help with flood control, erosion can still cause problems where the banks are sand instead of shale or other rock.  We passed one area where there was evidence of land slips, and at one point we could see a house perched precariously on the edge of the hillside, with debris at the bottom where another structure had been completely destroyed.  In spite of the obvious danger, it appears that the house is still occupied.  We could also see places along the water where the limestone banks had been undermined by the flowing water.  Some quite substantial houses were built above, and we thought that the owners would likely not have chosen to built there if they had seen the site from the water!

Erosion on Kentucky Lake
Shoreline of Kentucky Lake
An old lighthouse and homes on the shore of Kentucky Lake

We stopped next at Cuba Landing, and enjoyed dinner on Nine Lives with Ken and Karen from Island Girl.  I tried a new recipe for the pressure cooker, a sausage and bean cassoulet.  Another keeper!  We traded stories of people we had met and places we had been on the loop since our last meeting.

Nine Lives underway
Nine Lives running fast to make up some time

The run to Clifton was pretty, with the leaves just beginning to turn, and bald cypresses looking picturesque in the afternoon light.  There was a lot to look at, mostly cottages and homes along the river, rather than the industry we had been seeing since Chicago.  Clifton was not the most salubrious marina, with many small biting insects, especially after dusk, and the restaurant is outdoors.  The food was rather strange, but we had a lovely evening in company with Loopers from California who were only 5 days from their start.  Unfortunately, those small biting insects thought that Dick was dinner, and by the end of the evening his legs were covered in bites. 

Bald cypresses and early autumn colours on Kentucky Lake
An abandoned dock on Kentucky Lake

It was another easy trip from Clifton to Aqua Yacht at Iuka.  Dick phoned Pickwick lock when we were an hour away to get a sense of how long we might have to wait.  The lockmaster said that if we could get there within half an hour, we would go straight through with the boat that had been waiting two and a half hours, otherwise we would have to wait several hours for a big tow to lock through.  Dick radioed Island Girl and asked, “do you have another gear?”.  They did, and our two boats took off and made it with time to spare.  We were tied up in our covered slip at Aqua Yacht on Pickwick Lake in Iuka, Mississippi by 2:30pm.

First though, we had to find the slip!  Then once we were in, we discovered that we had no mobile signal whatsoever, and no way to contact the marina to ask for the wi-fi code.  Fortunately, the owner of the slip, who we are renting from for the next 3 winters, showed up very soon after we arrived and was able to give us the information we needed.

The covered slip where Nine Lives will stay for the next 3 winters

The next morning, we had Nine Lives hauled out to check the situation with the sponsons.  We suspected that they were filled with water again, as happened the last two seasons.  I have never been on the boat when it was being lifted by a travel lift before, not really an experience I wish to repeat.  Once we were at grade level, we had to climb off over the bow pulpit.  I declined the privilege of returning the same way, and chose instead to walk over to the fuel dock to meet Dick and the dockhands.

On the travel lift
Nine Lives is lifted out of the water
There was no water in the sponsons!

We were very surprised to find that the sponsons did not have any water in them.  Also, the props are in excellent shape.  The tech was very impressed that they were not dinged.  Good driving on Dick’s part!

We had dinner at Aqua Grille, the onsite restaurant.  The food was very good pub food, but they do not serve wine, only beer and mixed drinks!

Shrimp and fries at Aqua Grille

After a day and a half of sorting, organizing, packing, and cleaning, we were ready to head out on Sunday morning.  Nine Lives will snooze until next June in her covered slip, in the water for the first winter in some years.  Dick will be back to check on her and take a couple of small space heaters to keep the engine room warm in the case of freezing temperatures.  He will also drain the water system.  We took off all cans and jars this year, again, in case of freezing weather.

We stopped overnight outside Atlanta, and were happy to arrive home in Hilton Head by noon.  This concludes the Nine Lives 2021 voyages.  We travelled 2112.5 miles, underway for a total of 244.1 hours.  We passed through 13 locks.  We spent time in 7 states, and our journey took 119 days.

The story will resume some time in June of 2022.

Nine Lives route and speeds for September 2021

August 24 to September 14, Milwaukee to Peoria

The swallows visited our rail on our last morning in Milwaukee, twittering to each other, and generally enjoying the perch out of the wind.  Yes, the wind.  Our voyage to Kenosha was the worst yet this summer.  Even though we went at fast speed, we pounded through waves that were twice what was forecast.  I needed to lie down for hours after arrival.  The bedside lamp fell over for the first time since our miserable experience on the Neuse River in North Carolina in 2017.  To add insult to injury, my bathroom was filthy, as the pounding made water come up through the sink and threw the dirty, semi-diluted contents of the S-trap as high as the top of the mirror and even onto the ceiling.  If you can imagine taking the contents of the trap under your sink and flinging it all over your bathroom you have an idea of what it was like.  Dick thought I should take a picture and share it, but the photos in this blog are meant to be enjoyable, not an emetic!

Milwaukee, swallows on the rail

Kenosha was very hot and humid, and except for walking to dinner one evening at the best of the limited restaurant choices I stayed on board.  Dick is made of sterner stuff, and set out on his bicycle to explore the extensive waterfront parks.  Kenosha is mainly a bedroom community, for both Milwaukee and Chicago, with a lot of attractive townhouses and a very nice waterfront centered on the marina.  There is even a water park fountain for kids.

Kenosha marina and the remains of an industrial chimney
Kenosha waterfront garden and sculpture
Another sculpture in Kenosha’s waterfront park

Kenosha was once an industrial city, but today, nearly 50% of the city’s residents commute to other locations.  There are several educational institutions, and it is the headquarters of Snap-on Inc, and Jockey International.  Initially called Southport, Kenosha was an important Great Lakes shipping port.  For much of the 20th century cars and trucks were built here, including such well-known brands as Rambler, Nash, AMC, and later Renault.