Hoppie’s to Paducah, KY on the Ohio River

To get to Paducah from Hoppie’s Marina, which is on the Mississippi River required four sailing days and three overnights in other than a marina. The first stop was at the PaducahDock Lock wall, a simple side-tie against the wall, a quiet place off the raging Mississippi. The next night was spent anchored in a storm water diversion channel for the city of Cape Giraudoux, another quiet non-stress night. The next run was to the confluence of the Ohio River where we turned upstream to get to Paducah. Some boaters, with faster boats, will attempt to make it all the way but it means a nine-to-eleven hour day on the water with a danger of arriving after dark, a risk we are most unwilling to take. So, we dropped anchor at the Olmsted Lock for the third night before moving on to Paducah.

The last part of the Mississippi became even more of an adventure. The river was at flood stage and running very fast. At one point we reached 16.5 MPH although generally we moved at about 15 MPH. Keep in mind that ours is a boat that moves at 8.5 MPH at normal engine speed so the current was 7 – 8 MPH. Plus, the river continued to have a fair amount of heavy debris which required a vigilant lookout and frequent course changes to avoid damaging logs and branches. Turning up the Ohio river turned out to be a welcome relief. The current was only about 1.5 MPH so we were able to go upstream at 7 MPH, not bad at all. And, there was virtually no debris in the water.

Paducah – the city often mentioned in a semi-pejorative way, turned out to be a delightful city. We ended up staying three nights (weather delay). In all of the towns we have visited we have sought out the local brew pubs. Paducah has a very good one, the Paducah Beer Works. The pizza comes well-recommended but we have been burned several times on this trip relative to good pizza recommendations. Having experienced the mecca of pizza (New Haven, CT) we are very discerning of truly good pizza. Turned out that the pizza here was quite good (7.5/10) as was the beer.

The picture of the dock – the dock master told us that in the spring the river water was over the rock wall that can be seen in the background.

Grafton, IL to Hoppie’s Marina on the Mississippi

We arrived at the Grafton Harbor Marina on 9/21. We decided to stay here for a month in order to drive (Enterprise picks you up but they didn’t, too far) to Connecticut for a high school reunion, to visit with family there, then down to Maryland to visit folks there, then back to Grafton, IL. It’s a two-day drive, both ways. Our route on the return drive took us through western Maryland on the very scenic and lightly traveled I-68 rather than the Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-70. After I-68 we dropped southwest down through West Virginia on I-55, then took U.S. Route 50 and then Ohio Route 32 to Cincinnati. Both were four-lane highways, lightly traveled, and with a 65 MPH speed limit. It was a low-stress drive, much better than using I-70 all the way to Cincinnati.

We choose Cincinnati, a good roughly half-way stopping point, in order to have dinner to eat at the Hofbrauhaus biergarten across the river. Yes, this is the same as the biergarten in Munich where the famous Oktoberfest is held. See the pictures. Great fun. Great beer, the best, not the overly-hopped, mouth-puckering craft beers that American brewers insist on brewing ad nauseum. The Germans know how to balance their beer recipes to produce fine-tasting beers.

We got back to Grafton on 10/15 and found it in full flood. The Mississippi had risen about 25 feet since we had departed for Connecticut. There was little ill effect on the marina. The entire place floats – the office, restaurant, pool, tiki bar and all of the covered docks. See the pictures of the flooding. The only ill effect was on our dock, the further dock out where the water supply needed to be shut off. Since we carry over 300 gallons of water, this was not a problem for us although we were almost out by the time we left for Hoppie’s Marina 58 miles down the Mississippi on 10/19. We spent the three in-between days cleaning the boat and installing a new fresh-water pump was installed. Now we have plenty of water pressure and no surging in pump pressure which makes for very nice showers on board.

Eighteen miles downriver we stopped at the Alton Marina for fuel, water, and a pump-out of our black water holding tank. The Mel Price lock can be seen about a mile away from the Alton fuel dock. We could see two pleasure craft waiting for an opportunity to lock down the river. Wait times at locks can sometimes be many hours. Well, after having endured a nine-hour wait and a five-hour wait at other locks, we finally got lucky with the lock opening just as we arrived. Three boats entered and floated free in the lock as the drop was only twelve inches.

Sixteen miles downriver is the Chain of Rocks Lock (Lock 27). It was mentioned earlier that the Mississippi is at flood stage. With that comes a very swift-running river. We got a 5 MPH speed boost which is huge for a boat that normally travels at 9 MPH. Lock 27 turned out to be quite an experience. Again, we got lucky and were allowed into the small chamber lock with no wait. The excitement started as we approached the entrance which has a long wall on the right and no wall on the left until just before the lock gates. The current did not dissipate until we reached the chamber itself with the approach being about one-quarter mile, one-quarter miles of 5 MPH current. The current creates an eddy (whirlpool) at the entrance. That eddy drew us in, turning the boat to a 45-degree angle with the stern perilously close to the lock wall on the right threatening to smash the dinghy hanging on the stern. We were swept along with draw of the eddy keeping us from crashing into the lock wall.

This all happened very quickly, then more fun, in the eddy. That eddy turned us 90-degrees perpendicular to the right lock wall and heading toward it for what seemed to be a certain collision. I reversed engines, applied power, and was able to stop our forward motion. Then it was starboard reverse and port forward to get the boat pointed into lock. Next problem – directly in front of us was a collection of logs locked into the whirlpool eddy, logs just waiting to bend our propellers. However, we gently pushed through the mess and got into the lock. An earlier boat got so turned around that he actually backed into the lock. The lock master told us about it, said he had never seen anything like it before.

Then it was 23 more miles past St. Louis to Hoppie’s Marina, where we met the backwards boater, constantly dodging floating logs and trees and passing so may barges above and below St. Louis. The pictures of the river debris are what is floating by Hoppie’s continuously. Now Hoppie’s is famous among pleasure boaters on the Mississippi. It is the last fuel stop for the next 250 miles and is a convenient stopping point there being very few places along the way to stop overnight. It’s not really a marina. It’s just several barges anchored against the right-descending bank (Kimmswick, MO), just a place to stop. Right now, anchoring on the river itself is impossible. We are staying two nights because we are tired even though it was only 58 miles traveled. Constantly on close watch, no chance to relax for a moment, and dodging all of those logs and trees was hard work. So, we prepared a meatloaf dinner it will be home-made pizza for the second night’s dinner.

From Joliet to Grafton harbor

After Joliet it took another seven days to reach Grafton Harbor Marina in Grafton, IL on Sept. 21st. Grafton Harbor is at the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers where we left the boat on Sept. 27th to drive to Connecticut for John’s 50th high school reunion. We made five stops along the way.

On the second day out from Joliet our destination was the Heritage Harbor Marina which is not far downriver from the Marseilles Lock. We pulled into a restaurant dock (Snug Harbor) and tied up there along with five other boats waiting for our turn through the lock. We waited nine hours. The lockmaster apparently does not like pleasure boaters even though the Army Corps of Engineers rules state that every third lockage should be for pleasure boaters. The night before nine boats waited into the dark of the evening. Finally, at 1:30am four, just four boats were allowed through with the remaining five boats getting through at 3:30am, never mind that the next day we locked through with twelve boats in the six-hundred-foot lock. The owner of the Heritage Harbor marina later got in touch with his Congressman about the poor treatment of pleasure boaters, his bread and butter. Pleasure boats are now being locked through according to the rules.

We stayed two nights at Heritage Harbor cuz we were tired out from having to wait nine hours at the Marseilles Lock. From there we moved on the Illinois Valley Yacht Club for two nights (one weather delay day) where an absolutely gorgeous 65-foot Fleming came in. the east coast Fleming dealer is in Edgewater, Maryland where we used to live before becoming full-time live aboards. We docked out boat for one year at a yacht club next door to the Fleming dealer. We talked with the owner. Turns out that they used to take walks in our neighborhood.

The next stop was Logsdon Tug Service in Beardstown. We tied up to their barges and tugs for the night along with five other Looper boats with three boats rafted to the other three tied up. On the way we had to pass through another lock. A fellow Looper had an untimely failure of his electronically-controlled throttles. They went haywire; the controls did not respond to commends. The captain was unable to stop the engines and the boat crashed into the lock wall, bounced off, shot forward into another boat already tied up, then bounced again and into the wall at a 90-degree angle where the bow pulpit shot underneath a steel railing and got stuck. Fortunately, through bouncing the bow the boat was freed. It was later learned that the 12-volt feed for the engine controls was wired to the bow thruster battery which had been depleted because of heavy use entering the lock thus reducing the battery voltage enough to cause the controls to do the unpredictable.

The next day all five other boats elected to drive all 88 miles to Grafton Harbor, a very long way at 9 MPH and a lock in between. We elected to anchor out for the night about half-way there. We chose well (Buckhorn Island). The anchor set well and kept us secure through a thunderstorm with winds that reached 37 MPH. The storm passed quickly and we spent a very quiet night at anchor except for an occasional tug and tow passing by.

The next day, Sept. 21st, we arrived at Grafton harbor where we met up again with most of our travelling companion Loopers. We were placed in a covered slip which was nice because we were going to leave the boat there for three weeks. A couple of problems there, however. First, our satellite TV dish was useless as it will not see a satellite through the metal roof. We streamed a lot of Netflix the next four nights before leaving for Connecticut. Also, Verizon cell service was spotty and sometimes non-existent all the way from Peoria to Grafton Harbor, not so for AT&T subscribers. We have no idea of how Verizon will perform further south from Grafton. We’ll soon see.

The pictures are examples of some of what we encountered. They include eagles and flocks of white pelicans.

The Wall in Joilet

We arrived on Sept. 13th after another long day along with twelve other boats who somehow all came together even though most came down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal while we reached the Illinois River by way of the Cal-Sag Canal. There wasn’t enough room for all thirteen boats to moor to the wall so three boats rafted to other host boats tied to the wall. We ended up getting the last spot but, unfortunately, we did not have a shore power cable long enough to reach a power pedestal. The good folks on Band Wagon 3 lent us their spare 50-foot cable. This is what Loopers commonly do along the way to help each other out. The next day we all left en masse bound downriver for various places. Most folks pressed on to Heritage Harbor Marina

, a long way. Some, because of delays at the Marseilles Lock, did not arrive until 3:30am. We bailed out at a marine half-way there and did not regret it one bit.

On the Cal-Sag Canal to Joliet

On Sept. 13th, we continued on the canal to Joliet where the city provides a free wall to moor with free electricity. The canal is very industrial for about the first 20 miles. As I mentioned in the previous post, at one point, we had to pull off into a side canal to let a long tow and barge pass by, there being no clearance at all. This was an area with large numbers of barges parked along side the canal leaving only one-half of the canal available for passages. Pleasure boats necessarily defer to the big boys. After clearing this area, the rest of the canal down to Joliet was through rural areas and quite peaceful. The pictures are examples of what can typically be seen along this waterway.

On to South Haven, Michigan City, and the Cal-Sag Canal

The seas finally settled down enough to allow us to leave for South Haven on Sept. 8th where we were to meet with friends from Battle Creek, Tom May, wife Gabby, Charlie and Julia, the children, and Randi, the matriarch. We were sponsor-parents to Tom when he was at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and became good friends with his parents as well. We had a wonderful visit with them. The kids loved climbing all over the boat with the engine room being the highlight.


The entrance to South Haven harbor had a remarkable lighthouse with what looked like a v-bladed snow plow. We think it is designed that way to fend off wintertime ice flows. Included are a couple of photos of the local American Legion hall which sits astride the entrance to the canal. It has to be one of the grandest Legion halls in the States.

We ended up staying three days in South Haven again having to wait for calm seas. And finally, for the first time on Lake Michigan the water was smooth as glass all the way to Michigan City. We stayed one night there and moved on to a working marina eight miles down the Cal-Sag Canal. The marina was quite basic, in an industrial area but we had the use of a courtesy car which enabled us to re-provision at Pete’s Fresh Market. This market had, by far, the best, most extensive produce section we have ever encountered along with the cheapest prices on most everything we generally purchase. From this marina our next destination was the free wall in Joliet which is the only place a boater may stop along the way, about 50 miles much of the upper part of which is quite industrial with many tows and barges. At one point we had to pull off into a side canal to let a long tow and barge pass by there being no clearance at all.

More Weather Delays on Lake Michigan

After having to stay four days in Frankfort, we left for Ludington on August 30th. Ludington is another Michigan port city that is very nice with a vibrant old-fashioned downtown. We had hoped to move on after one day but the wind-driven waves on Lake Michigan forced us to stay in port for three days.

Ludington is home port to the last coal-fired ferry, S.S. Badger, in regular use. It moves passengers, cars, and trailer trucks from and to Manitowic, Wisconsin. Our boar was docked very close to the ferry terminal which enabled us to witness the unusual docking technique the Badger must use because of the limited space in Ludington Harbor. As the Badger approaches its berth, it deploys its anchor about 150 yards from its berth. Then, the ferry uses the anchor point to pivot 180 degrees so that it may back into the terminal. The process often draws a crowd. The big boat pictured is the Badger.

Then, it was on the Grand Haven on a day that the lake forecast suggested a reasonably good passage. It wasn’t. We bailed out just twelve miles down the coast to Pentwater having encountered four-to-six foot waves. We had to stay two nights in Pentwater (a very nice town) waiting for the lake to settle down. The long pleasure boat pictured is a very old 100-foot wooden pleasure boat that happened to come in when we did.

Finally, we got a good day to travel, destination Grand Haven, for two nights. But, on the way we heard a weather broadcast for severe thunderstorms near Grand Haven warning boaters to get off the lake. We took refuge in Whitehall which is rather an uninteresting place to hole up, for THREE days. On September 6th, my birthday, we left for Grand Haven on seas that were pretty much benign. The waves were two feet and it was following sea.

Grand Haven is a very nice town. It has a museum that is surprisingly good. The Coast Guard has a long history here. Grand Haven is known as Coast Guard City, USA. The museum has many CG artifacts and displays. The museum also has a complete Bastian Blessing soda fountain counter. These could be found in many drugstores stores around the country and were manufactured in Grand Haven. Here with us in the municipal marina are several Loopers we have seen along the way in one place or another. It’s that way all along the Loop.

Grand Haven, although being a very modest-sized town, has two brewpubs. It seems that almost every Michigan of any size that we have visited has at least one local brewery. Last night (Thursday) we went to a local dive bar for Mexican food. The food was outstanding. The place was already packed at 5 o’clock, a place  obviously frequented by locals. We haven’t had good Mexican food since we left Maryland in early May. We are going for a repeat tonight.

Tomorrow we leave for South Haven, a 45-mile run. Seas are forecast to be 1-foot so we expect a smooth transit. On Sunday, friends from Battle Creek will be visiting us there.