Log #6C – Ohio River

November 30, 1998 in Log Series 02 - 07, Series 06 Mississippi - Ten Tom to Mobile Bay, The Logs

Log #6C – Ohio River

Joeyís Bayou, Destin Florida
Nov. 30, 1998

Our last night on the Mississippi was Oct. 21 at Angelo Towhead, tucked inside an island just above the junction where the Ohio River enters the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois. There were two other power boats at anchor with us, whom we were to meet on a few other occasions before we got to Mobile. The Christine left very early, by 0630. We were ready to leave about 0730 when Odyssey asked us to stand by to be sure they had not snagged on something overnight. When we started to haul up the anchor, we were in a fair current and had to use engine power to move the boat up to the anchor cable. Then, it happened THUNK! The engine seized up and stopped!

What a way to start up the Ohio River! When we anchored the previous night we decided to put out an anchor buoy in case we snagged and needed to use it as a trip line. We had very carefully measured it to be no more than 30 feet so it could not float back and catch in our propellor. However, as we were hauling up the anchor, it caught and we now had it wrapped around our propellor and shaft. In addition, the anchor was off the bottom, and was unable to be lowered as it was held by the buoy line to the prop shaft suspended under the boat. Now, we were drifting out towards the open Mississippi River! We lowered our starboard anchor to stop the drifting and launched the dinghy to check out the fouled anchor line. We immediately saw how it was hanging under midships, suspended by the buoy line. We cut the buoy line, hauled in the port anchor now that it was no longer fouled, and followed the buoy line back to the prop shaft.

We tried pulling on the line, then started up the engine to see if we could go in reverse and pull the line off. No go! So there we were in a side channel off the muddy Mississippi at 0800 on a cool late October morning realizing that we would have to go into that muddy, murky, debris strewn, fast flowing water to try to cut the line free. Judy went. She actually volunteered, saying if whoever went in had to be pulled out because of hypothermia or some other problem, she would rather have me pull her out than her try to haul me out. So, we got her mask and snorkel and a serrated carving knife and cutting pliers into the dinghy. We attached a safety line to her and with the dinghy secured on our starboard quarter, in she went. As our engine and prop shaft are off center to starboard, she was able to stay near the surface with half her mask and the snorkel out of the water while sawing away at the line.It was tightly wrapped and came off in shreds. She needed the pliers to pull and cut some of it free. She was working by touch as there was no visibility whatever. While she was sawing at the line, there was a pronounced increase in the current to at least three knots. A few branches and other debris floated down just to complicate things. However after 30 minutes or so the line had been completely removed, and Judy got out of the water. We towelled her down, wrapped her up and got some hot tea into her. Actually, she found the water temperature not too bad, but the air was very cold when she got out.

We were able to start the engine and go ahead and astern. We raised the starboard anchor and set off at 0935. Odyssey stood by and waited until we were under way before she left the towhead. We realized that what had gone wrong with our planning, of having the buoy line only 30 feet long so we could not have it snag, was that in having to power up to the anchor cable in the current, we over-ran the cable and the line got caught. Actually, we forgot we had the buoy line on, as we have used it so seldom, and previously hauled it in after the anchor was up. Now we have learned to secure the buoy line as the first part of weighing anchor.

When we originally started to depart at 0730, the water was slower and the wind conditions were calm. Now there was still the increased flow of about three to three and a half knots as we eased out into the Mississippi to go the half mile to the junction of the Ohio. There was quite a bit of turbulence, some large three foot standing waves, and a severe chop as the wind was southeasterly on the Mississippi, and easterly, blowing down the Ohio at 25 knots. We called back to Odyssey to inform them of the conditions and that they would have to power themselves through the turbulence.

Going up the Ohio, we were going against a two knot current this time, and our speed of advance was only about four knots. At the beginning of the Ohio, the mile mark was 981 statute miles from its  source. It was slow going. About an hour into the Ohio, Odyssey overtook us and went on ahead.

In the early afternoon, we were supposed to reach dam 53, but found no dam. Instead we just motored straight ahead over what is called a wicket. In high water conditions they sometimes bypass the locks and go right over the lowered dams. It sounded scary, but there was no problem.We still avoided the weirs, which are underwater dam-like constructions to focus the river current down the middle to control the flow and keep it from silting up. The amount of water flowing over these weirs is hard to determine, and so we avoid them. However we have learned that you can anchor downstream of a weir, beyond its turbulence, as such locations are out of the main channel. We have done this on several occasions.

The lower part of the Ohio is a broad expanse of river as wide as the Mississippi. In the late afternoon we actually unfurled our genoa for the first time since Chicago, and motor sailed for a couple of hours. Our speed over the ground went from 4.9 to 5.7 knots with the assist of the genoa.

We had to wait at lock 52 for forty-five minutes, then were asked to go in quickly as another tow was waiting to come down. At this lock there were at least three tows waiting to go upbound and another two waiting to go downbound. When we entered the lock, there was still a considerable amount of surge. We were going to proceed up to the further end of the lock, as there was no one on the lock wall indicating where we should go, except for one man sitting on a bollard near the lower end where we were entering. When we were abreast of this person, we asked where we should secure. He indicated right where he was. We were ten feet off the wall at that point and had to try to manoeuvre over, going astern. Well, what a mess! Backing a sailboat up in a confined lock with turbulence and another trawler astern on the wall was a nightmare. We found ourselves perpendicular to the wall,trying to get alongside as the gates closed. We finally drifted aft and asked the trawler if we could raft off alongside her as I didnít feel like trying to make another approach to the wall with all the turbulence. It was our worst entry ever into a lock. The people on the trawler Manatee were quite co-operative.

The rest of the locking upbound went smoothly, however it was 1800 before we got through and it was only a half hour to sunset. We went through a bridge and anchored on the right bank just beyond the bridge, downstream of Paducah, out of the channel at Mile 937. We had good holding and set our wheel slightly to port so the current would keep us over to the shore away from the main channel. We did not set an anchor buoy.

The next day, Oct. 24, we had to wait until 0900 before we could weigh anchor as there was considerable radiation fog due to the cool air over the warmer water. It was late October and the nights were getting colder. We had our wood fireplace going a few evenings to warm up the boat. We are happy with that little wood fireplace. It has a clear glass plate in the front to give off the glow of the fire, and heats the cabin up comfortably. We use the sawdust and wax fireplace logs that can be purchased in grocery stores. We cut them up into quarters, and wrap each in newspaper and stack them in a wood box below the stove. Each quarter burns for about two to three hours, and leaves very little ash.

As we proceeded past Paducah, we noticed that it too was a walled city with only launch ramps below the levee walls, and a large sign indicating the waterlevel to be 19 feet above pool level. Outside of Paducah there was a veritable fleet of tows going every direction, and we had to keep a careful lookout to identify if they were alongside or underway, and if so, in what direction. I am talking about thirty separate tows in a ten mile stretch from Paducah up to the Cumberland River. We entered the Cumberland River at Mile 923 from the Ohio and proceeded up this smaller quieter river up to the Barkley Dam, the entrance to Kentucky Lake, a broad stretch of the Tennessee River, and into the Ten-Tom Waterway. More about this confluence of rivers and waterways in my next log.