Monday, July 2, 2012

Mississippi River Canoeing, Part 2: Mariners

Maybe the funniest name we were called was mariners. Our set of charts referred to us this way. Although a real mariner might have been insulted by our referring to ourselves in this way, we felt very smart as we learned to read the charts better and how to call into a lock properly.

It would go something like this.

Us: Lock 14, this is pleasure craft. (We didn't have a official name so we just said pleasure craft)

Lock: Lock 14 back. (This just meant they were listening)

Us: We are south-bound, about 10-15 minutes away. Can we approach or do you have something in there? (This was to check if there was a barge in the lock. Barges take a long time to lock through and it would be dangerous for our canoe to get too close to one.)

Lock: (we hoped to hear this...) Ya, just come on down Cap'n. We'll fill up the chamber for you.

They probably thought better of calling me Cap'n when they saw our tiny canoe.
The book of charts and the VHF radio, how we know where we were and got through locks.
It's interesting how you start paying attention to different things on the river.  We were always aware of things that you would never think of in the city. We got quite good at judging the speed of the current so as to be able to land on a certain beach rather than much further down the bank.  Being aware of wind direction became second nature to us since it affected us in paddling and knowing which way to angle our tents. They say you can't see the wind but we sure saw it in the waves it kicked up or in the dark water you see approaching when the wind is gusting. We got quite good at reading the surface of the water for eddies or objects just under the water. 
A barge exiting the lock as we approach.  This is three of 15 containers on this barge -- three wide and five long.
For all the skills we imagined we had, we had to respect elements much bigger and stronger then us, the main three being wind, barges, and locks and dams.

There was nothing you could do against the wind except paddle early in the morning or in the evening to avoid it as much as possible. But there were many days that we fought strong south winds and nasty waves which brought our speed down from 6MPH to around 2MPH. One day when fighting 35MPH winds gusting to 45MPH we did 30 miles. If there had been no wind we would have done 70.

We always gave the barges as much room as we could; they had the right of way because it took them 1.5 miles to stop.
This is a further-off shot of a full barge. We tried to stay far away from them because a number of people we met told us that we would be sucked under and die.

The barge captains assumed that we didn't have a VHF radio and were concerned about us, so we heard some interesting radio traffic.

As we where coming up to a lock early one morning we heard this:

Mary Sue: Lock 17 this is Mary Sue, you got Lewis and Clark up here, two boys in a canoe heading your way.

We had a good laugh about that but we were thankful that they were watching out for us.
Passing a barge early in the morning.

 The gates of Lock 19 opening. This Lock could fit the largest barge with no problem.
By this time we had gotten very good at getting through locks, and it was kind of old hat. Then we came to lock 19. It was huge. Remembering how small the canoe was we were thankful for radios and lock masters watching out for us as well.
Lock 19, one of the biggest locks we ever saw, 1200 ft long and a drop of 46ft. The darker brownish color shows how far down we came.

A tow boat at 1:00 AM with it's running lights on.  For size comparison you can see Andrew with the canoe dropping off one of the barge men  
Continued in Mississippi River Canoeing, Part 3: River Boys. 

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