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Entire Trip Blog Restated

I have trouble going back to read any of the trip blog since it’s all now in reverse order. So here’s the whole trip from start to finish, for the archives:


Learning about the Great Lakes
Monday, October 9, 2006 at 11:51AM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

I leave tomorrow to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin to do a little provisioning and then move the boat down Lake Michigan to Chicago. I’ve already learned a few things about winter in this part of the world. All of the Chicago area marinas close on October 15 and all boats have to be gone. This means we will have to start into the canal system and proceed about seven miles down to have a good stopping place. Out of curiosity, I checked the marine weather for Lake Michigan Wednesday and received the following forecast:

TO 10 TO 14 FEET

It should start subsiding Friday but it looks as if our departure from Sturgeon Bay will be Saturday at the earliest. Since there are so few stopping places, we will probably run about 25 hours straight to the canal entrance and then the remaining seven miles to a marina. This is going to be quite interesting. Stay tuned.

What in the world have I gotten myself into?
Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at 08:32PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

I arrrived in Sturgeon Bay Tuesday afternoon to do some provisioning and prepare the magnificent Steel Magnolia for her trip south to her rightful home. My first night aboard the new ship was nothing if not eventful.

My first discovery was that the shore power system on the boat is woefully inadequate. To make a complex story simple, there is not enough shore power to run even the simplest of onboard systems. The result is that if you turn on more than one of the air conditioner/heater systems, the breakers trip. You can’t have heat and also charge the batteries. If you want hot water, you have to turn off the heat and the battery charger. If you want coffee, you can’t have heat, etc. etc. Finally, to get a good night’s sleep, I just ran the onboard generator which allows everything to work.

I thought the hot water system was not working at all so I couldn’t shower last night or this morning. I figured this because I kept running the kitchen sink with the lever all the way to the left. Finally, I discovered today that there was hot water everywhere else and I just thought the kitchen plumbing had two cold water lines to it. Later, I found that the kitchen is hooked up backwards so hot is to the right and cold is to the left. 

Then there are the toilets which don’t flush correctly because they are the wrong type of toilets to be mounted below the water line. The only toilet useful for serious business is the powder room off the galley.

And then there’s the issue of space. I admit that I’m spoiled rotten from used to my 72’ boat with a 21.5 foot beam, but there is nowhere to put anything on this boat. The only way to access the closet and drawers in the master stateroom is to crawl across the bed. All of the kitchen cabinets are full and I still have five unopened boxes of “stuff” to put somewhere.

On top of all this, I have a cold and the weather up here is unreal. It’s been snowing lightly this evening and there are gale-force winds. It doesn’t look like we can leave until at least Saturday afternoon and then Sunday another front is coming in. I feel like crying.

So finally this afternoon, I decided to take charge of the situation and went to a local liquor store. They had no French Burgundy so I settled for a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon (101 proof). I brought that back to the boat with it’s one heater working and fortified myself for the remainder of this experience. Suitably relaxed, I then headed out in search of a warm pub where I dined on a grilled chicken sandwich and a glass of chardonnay. Now that things are under control, I’m feeling much better.

The boatyard has done some of the work I requested. I’ll spend the next two days trying to beat them into submission and buying provisions. I hope to get away Saturday, weather permitting. I was looking for a project when I bought this boat, so I guess I got what I was looking for. Right this minute, I’d rather be dog sledding, but I’m sure things will get better. I’ll keep you posted. 

Where was I?
Thursday, October 12, 2006 at 01:43PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Oh yes, when I reported last night I was well-fortified with Wild Turkey and full of complaints. I turned on the generator to have plenty of heat overnight and hit the sack. Ten minutes later, the generator quit. I went into the engine room to check it out and found that the engine room lights were not working. I said “to hell with it” and went back to bed.

This morning, I marched over to the office to meet with Scotty the Terrible, the Scotsman who runs the place. I gave him a list of the items that had not been completed, reminded him that I hope to leave this weekend, and also broke the news to him about the generator and engine room lights. I was quite polite but he got on the radio and summoned all the workers to the office to tell them to drop everything and get me fixed up. The generator had a bad temperature sensor causing it to shut down. It’s presently disconnected and the generator is running fine without it. A new sensor will be here tomorrow. The engine room lights were hooked to a breaker labeled “lazerette lights” while the lazerette lights were hooked to a breaker labeled “spare”. We solved that problem by switching the labels. The mast was put back up from it’s folded-down position, the dinghy was put in the water, run a bit, and hoisted back on the boat. The spare parts were put on board and a few others will arrive tomorrow. I did a temporary fix on the toilets by plugging an air vent in the line that was not allowing enough water pressure to properly flush the toilets. All is right with the world.

I went out for lunch and found a Target store for pillows, a blanket and some towels. With hot water and towels, I can now take a shower. On the way back, I found a gourmet market and picked up a few frozen dishes to have on board for the trip. I had some hot chile and grilled cheese sandwich for lunch which warmed me up nicely.

I’m back on the boat now. It’s snowing outside and winds are about 20 mph gusting to 30. But I have the generator humming away and all the heaters working so I’m snug as I can be. The workers are all off the boat and I only need them to finish a couple of things tomorrow and I’ll be ready to go. Deckhand Jaames was so concerned with my posting last night that he called today to cheer me up. I assured him I am now in good spirits and all is looking up…except the weather. After all the boatyard rush, I may not be able to leave this weekend at all. The Lake Michigan forecast looks like this:

14 TO 18 FEET.
5 TO 7 FEET.
We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, I'm preparing for a nap. 
All is right with the world…except the weather
Friday, October 13, 2006 at 06:25PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

As in all boatyards, everything comes together on a Friday afternoon…or it doesn’t until the next Friday afternoon. The generator is fixed, all the spare parts are on board, the toilets work, and the little ship Steel Magnolia is ready for her voyage to the Southland. Everything got done right at 3:00 p.m. when the workers go home. I went by the office and paid the bill by American Express, giving me enough frequant flyer miles to go back to Burgundy. I got a free sweatshirt and a warm cap from Sheila, the owner, and said my goodbyes to everyone here in case I get to leave this weekend…which is looking doubtful but possible.

It’s snowing outside and blowing hard. Seas in Lake Michigan are up around 14 feet. However, there is a chance that we can leave Saturday late afternoon and hug the western shore of the lake to work our way south. Since the winds are from the west, we will be in the lee (does this sound familiar to anyone?). Anyway, we’ll wait and see tomorrow.

My only remaining tasks tomorrow are to purchase groceries and a bell for the boat (Coast Guard regulations). Right now, I am fortifying myself further against the cold winds with a little glass of Wild Turkey. I am typing this entry only because there are no local TV stations here that can be picked up with the boat antenna. Deprived of news and entertainment, I move back and forth between blogging and checking the weather. I’ll report back tomorrow if I’m still here, or later if we actually get underway. 

We’re On
Saturday, October 14, 2006 at 10:30PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Looks like we have a slight break in the weather so we plan to head out at 6:00 a.m. tomorrow (Sunday) and hope to enter the canal in Chicago Monday morning. I feel better starting this trip in daylight and knowing we’ll arrive in Chicago in daylight Monday morning. With everything else that doesn’t work right on this boat, I just want to start out when we can see what’s happening.

 And Auburn won, beating Florida 27-17.

I’ll report in the next time I have internet access…probably Monday night from somewhere in south Chicago.

Wish us luck. 

When you travel by boat, sh*t happens
Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 11:18PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Day 1                                                                                                                                                           Distance Travelled: 84.5 nautical miles (73 miles under our own power and 11.5 miles under tow courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard).

We departed Sturgeon Bay at 6:40 a.m. The weather was fine and the boat performed well. Seas were 1 to 3 feet in the morning and built to about 2 to 4 feet in the afternoon, from the south, southwest. The boat was performing magnificently and the ride was very comfortable. I am accompanied by Peter Jacobs, a licensed captain and electrical engineer, a native of the area.

The day was uneventful until 3:45 pm. I had the watch and Peter was trying to nap. We had travelled about 73 miles and were at latitude 43 degrees 42 minutes north, 87 degrees 27 minutes west when suddenly there was a loud clank sound and we lost all propulsion. The engine was still running but we were not moving forward. I pulled back the throttle and put the gears in neutral while Peter rushed down to the engine room to check things out.

The engine is coupled to the shaft by a flexible coupling. All of the bolts holding the engine to the shaft simply sheared off, so that the engine turns without turning the shaft and prop. Peter got on the radio and called the Coast Guard station in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Since there is no commercial towing service here, they were kind enough to dispatch a boat out to tow us approximately 11 miles into the harbour. It took the Coast Guard approximately 45 minutes to reach us and almost two hours at 6 knots to get us into the harbour, where we arrived and finished tying up at almost 7 p.m.

We had a good dinner at a local waterfront place and we have a couple of recommendations as to good mechanics to try in the morning. I’ll report back when we know where we’ll go from here. We’re hoping it’s as simple as replacing the bolts and aligning the engine better with the shaft so that this doesn’t;t happen again.

Are we having fun yet?

Shaft couplings
Monday, October 16, 2006 at 12:43PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

No, I’m not referring to some pornographic movie.

Steel_20Magnolia_20004.jpgThe shaft coupling is a device used on the boat to connect the propeller shaft to the transmission at the back of the engine. Ours failed yesterday and sheared off the bolts holding everything together. Peter Jacobs, the captain who is accompanying me, is now officially to be referred to as Peter the Great. He has managed to remove the damaged shaft coupling, find the model number, determine that it was the wrong size/strength for this engine and gear arrangement, have the mechanics order us a new and stronger model for delivery tomorrow, and arrange for them to come down tomorrow to install it.

It is not a permanent fix, because something even stronger is needed if the boat is ever run with the throttle wide open, but this is the quickest way to get us moving again and should hold up in normal operation to get the boat to Mobile.

So now, best case, we fix the boat tomorrow, travel overnight to Chicago and arrive there Wednesday morning. At that point, Peter the Great could go back home and Deckhand Jaames can join me for the next leg.


The new Shaft Coupling is here
Tuesday, October 17, 2006 at 01:34PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

The mechanic arrived here about 1:00 pm and is working now on installing the new shaft coupling. We should know in a couple of hours whether this will do the trick. If so, the winds are light from the west and we can head out this afternoon for Chicago.

Well, Here I Am
Wednesday, October 18, 2006 at 05:57PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Days 3&4

Distance Travelled: 139.5 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 224 Nautical Miles

The repair of the shaft coupling was completed at about 5:30 pm yesterday (Tuesday) and after some preliminary testing at the dock, we shoved off at 6:30  pm to resume our trek to Chicago. Peter the Great took the first shift driving until 10 pm while I fixed us some dinner and took a quick nap. I took over from 10 until about 2:30 when Peter woke up and drove on until around 7 am this morning. Then we took turns back and forth until we arrived at Riverdale Marina in the Calumet River south of Chicago.

Of course, we were scared to death of the new shaft coupling and we kept checking it throughout the night to make sure it was not vibrating or coming apart. We also nursed the boat along at reduced RPM going about 7.3 knots instead of the usual 8 knots. But the engine and shaft performed flawlessly and got us here in good shape at 4 pm this afternoon. This is an incredible boat built for long-range cruising and it is simply a crime the mistakes made in building it and the neglect it has had over the last three years. It turned out that the shaft coupling was bound to fail. First, it was a model not designed for an engine of this size. The attachment to the shaft was made with different sized bolts than the coupling was designed to use, and the engine was badly out of alignment. The mechanic spent about two hours aligning the engine to the shaft, and the coupling we installed is vastly stronger than the original, although still not adequate to allow operation of this engine at wide open throttle. The boat is far better off now than when we started, and should be fine for normal operation on the trip south.

A trip in open water all night is an exhausting but fabulous experience. We had good weather and calm seas, but there is always the constant vigilance of following ships and other boats on the radar while peering into the night to look for their lights and the lights of buoys to make sure you are safe. The long quiet hours give time to fiddle with the electronics and learn to set everything up to give you the information you need. There is a constant battle to have enough illumination to read instruments and charts while not creating reflections in the windshield that blind you to other traffic. We hugged the western shore of lake Michigan for safety and shelter from westerly winds and saw the lights of Milwaukee and Racine and numerous smaller towns. After sunrise, we saw the skyline of Chicago through the haze and at 11:30 this morning we entered Calumet Harbor and started into the river/canal system that will lead to the Illinois River and on to the Mississippi.

The first several miles of the canal system is an industrial area crowded with barges and depots for loading and unloading coal, fuel, scrap metal, etc. We must have passed through 20 bridges, many of which had to be opened to allow us through. We went through one lock, stopped briefly at a marina to lower our fold-down mast, and proceeded through many more low fixed bridges that we could not go under with the mast up. Finally, we arrived at Riverdale and, after three tries in slips where we ran aground, we parked at the end of a long dock which has no electrical power. I’ll just have to use the generator off an on until we leave Friday morning.

Peter the Great took off about an hour ago to get back to the Sturgeon Bay area where he lives. He took a cab to Midway airport where he is renting a car to turn in at Green Bay. My choice of a captain, recommended to me by the broker who sold me the boat and one of the boat yard workers in Sturgeon Bay, turned out to be a perfect choice. Peter was easy-going and knowledgeable and, when the shaft coupling catastrophe occurred, I could not have had anyone better to diagnose the problem and figure out how to get it solved. I owe Peter a lot and I feel like I made a new friend in the process. Here’s to you, Peter the Great.

So, tonight, I get to take my first shower in three days and head over to the bar restaurant here for dinner. Tomorrow night, D*ckh**d (deckhand) Jaames arrives to help me through the next leg to St. Louis. He’ll be bringing some extra Scotch from Laura Lee for his own use since Peter the great got into his supply, and no doubt some extra culinary delights.

Onward, to the Southland for Steel Magnolia. 

An Uneventful Day
Friday, October 20, 2006 at 05:22PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Joliet, Illinois, Mile 288 on the Des Plains River

Distance traveled today: 30 nautical miles

Total trip distance: 254 nautical miles

Deckhand arrived on schedule last night and we had dinner and many drinks at the Riverdale Marina. We awoke to a beautiful day, although a little cold. We departed at 7:15 and made our way down what is known at the Calumet Sag Channel which is a combination of the Calumet River and some areas that are dredged out man-made canals. After some 25 bridges and 17 statute miles, we joined the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. For the next 5 miles, we were in a heavy barge traffic area. At one point, we had to pull off to the side for nearly 30 minutes while one tug turned in to park his barge and another tug waited to get through going north. Later we passed under the lowest fixed bridge we will see at 19 feet (when the water is high). Our mast is folded down and we cleared it by about a foot and a half.

At Lockport Lock and Dam, we were held up for about three hours while one tug with six barges was locked up and had to reassemble his barges before exiting, After he got moving, another tug with barges was scheduled to lock down and we had to wait for him to arrive. We rafted up beside him and came on down.

Just below Lockport, we joined the Des Plains River where we came a few more miles and stopped for the night at the free town docks in Joliet.

A word about mileage: I keep track of the total mileage of the boat in nautical miles since that is commonly used at sea. These are the numbers you see at the top of each log entry. However, the guidebooks and charts for the rivers use statute miles and I will commonly use these mile markers to refer to where we are. For example, I entered the Calumet Sag channel at mile 333.4. I spent the last two nights in Riverdale at mile 320. Joliet, Illinois is at Mile 288. We will reach the Mississippi River when we get to Mile 0 just above St. Louis. Even if you translate nautical to statute miles, the distances will not always agree since I’m measuring nautical miles from our GPS and the statute miles are actual exact mileage along the river path. Just ignore the nautical nonsense at the top of each entry and follow the statute river miles to see where we are. I’ve come from 333 down to 288 and the Mississippi River will be at Mile 0. We need to average about 60 statute miles per day to get down near St. Louis by next Thursday when Deckhand wants to head home. Then, a couple of days later, the lovely Laura Lee plans to join me for the next leg.

Deckhand is preparing a fabulous meal of grilled chicken breasts along with some mushrooms and grilled onions. We may even have a glass of wine with it. Tomorrow, we hope to cover a good bit more distance and hope for few delays at the locks.

We’re having a good time. The pace is slow and comfortable, the boat is running well, the food is good, and all is right with the world. The World Series starts Saturday and St. Louis is in the game. Perhaps I can get a ticket for one of the games while I’m there. 

Day 7
Saturday, October 21, 2006 at 10:41PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Hennepin, Illinois — Mile 207.5 of the Illinois River

Distance travelled today: 71 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 325 Nautical Miles

We departed Joliet, Illinois at 7:15 this morning. It was a beautiful day, hazy clouds, temperatures in the 50’s. Unsure about locks after yesterday’s three-hour delay, we called the first lock before getting underway. He told us to bring it on and we could get right through before a barge which had to disconnect everything and would take about three hours. Our luck stayed with us all day and we passed through three locks with no delays at all. We have only one more lock between here and St. Louis.

We had left the industrial areas and there was less barge traffic and more and more beautiful countryside. Fifteen miles down the Des Plaines River, it joined the Kankakee River to form the Illinois River which we will follow all the way to the Mississippi River just north of St. Louis. We made great time today moving from Mile 288 at Joliet to Mile 207.5 at Hennepin.

We passed any number of duck hunters in blinds along the river throughout the morning with decoys out and little wings circling above their blinds to draw in the ducks. We saw brilliant flashes of fall colors in a few areas with Maple trees being the most colorful.

Late in the day, around 4:30 pm, the sky clouded up and it began to rain. We understand that tomorrow is forecast to be rainy or snowy and turning colder. However, we are snug and dry in our pilothouse and only notice the weather when we have to get outside to dock or go through a lock.

We had read that Hennepin had a free town dock we could use. When we arrived, we discovered it was a few little slips for small boats on a floating dock about one foot above the water. No matter, it was almost dark and we had little choice but to make do in Hennepin. We docked up against the outside of the little slips so that our boat is at the end of the three little finger piers. We are tied up to both the floating dock and the old bollards along the shore. I think we’re safe for the night but it is a funny sight.

Right at six pm, I ran up the steps to find the little grocery here locked and closing up. I begged for mercy and they let me in to get a few emergency provisions. Our sandwich bread from Sturgeon Bay had molded and we needed a few other items to get through the next couple of days. Later, we climbed the stairs again and went to “Rays” bar and restaurant for dinner. We sat at the bar and got to be friends with Ray’s widow who now operates the place. We both felt as if we were in the Twilight Zone as the bar and everyone there appeared to be frozen in time 30 or 40 years ago. The food was digustingly unhealthy but nevertheless tasty. They served fried chicken and pastas on top of bread and smothered with cheese.

It’s looking now as if we’ll arrive in St. Louis Tuesday or Wednesday where Deckhand will head home and I’ll have to lay over a few days waiting for the lovely Laura Lee who cannot join me until Sunday. That’s OK. It will give me a few days to work on the boat and clean up. Besides, maybe I can attend a World Series game.

We’ll continue rolling down the river and posting the daily log. Please leave a comment if you’re following us. Later…

Days 8 & 9
Monday, October 23, 2006 at 04:51PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Anchored at Mile 61.6 of the Illinois River, about 80 miles from St. Louis

Distance Travelled these two Days: 127 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 454 Nautical Miles

Hey thanks everyone for all the comments and emails. It’s good to know some people are following our progress. Keep the cards and letters coming. If you want to read what others are saying, click in the heading for any blog entry where it says something like :5 comments”.

Deckhand James has been giving me a hard time because my blog appears to be self-serving in that I don’t mention my own screwups. Doesn’t a blogger have something like artistic license to control what is reported? Anyway, a couple of days ago we were coming through a lock. The usual procedure is to take one of their lines and give it only one turn around our cleat so it can be gradually let out as the boat descends. Somehow I looped mine with the end I was holding underneath the line going to the top of the lock so that as we descended, the line tightened up on itself and the tension made it impossible to loosen it up. Rather than have our cleat pulled out or the line break as it tried to hold up a 100,000 pound boat, we took the expedient route and cut the tight line with a kitchen knife. I tied it back together and was attempting to sneak away before the lockmaster noticed when Deckhand informed him that one of the lines had “come apart”. The lockmaster replied that it happened often when someone “green” locked through.

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 009.jpgOther than buying this boat without a more thorough inspection, my only other fault appears to be that I volunteer to do the dishes, put them in the sink to soak, and gradually wash one or two at a time over the next several days. So what’s wrong with that system? It seems a logical way to get through an unpleasant job without ever really doing more than rinsing a dish or two.

Deckhand, on the other hand, seems to be perfect. He’s a perfect gentleman, a perfect chef, and an overall perfect deckhand. Therefore, for the rest of his time on board, I will refer to him as “Perfect Deckhand”. (I’ll write the truth about him after he leaves.)

Sunday and Monday have been good days. After a night at the free town dock in Hennepin, the rain stopped but it turned bitterly cold and windy. The high Sunday was in the mid-forties and last night it dropped down to 30 degrees. We bought fuel Sunday at the last spot it would be available for about 175 miles. We really probably didn’t need any but I don’t trust all the gauges yet so it’s nice to have some extra. Since there are no marinas or town docks we can get into until St. Louis, we anchored out last night and tonight in quiet desolate spots. Although there are occasional towns or industrial areas, we are mostly in the countryside and the scenery has been beautiful. While my pictures can’t do justice to fall foliage,2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 012.jpg the photo below gives you some idea of the great colors we are seeing. We understand that we might already be past the peak fall colors in the area, but they are still bright and colorful.

We continue to find bizarre little problems with the boat that should have been fixed long ago. When we stopped last night to anchor for the first time, there was a steel pin locking the anchor on deck so it couldn’t be accidentally dropped.It was locked in tightly from the tension on the anchor 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 022.jpgwindlass so I pressed the “down” anchor button for a second just to give some slack. It turned out the switch was wired backwards so down raised the anchor while Up lowered the anchor. By pulling the chain tighter, the pin was bent so that it would not come out to allow us to lower the anchor. Perfect Deckhand suggested a hacksaw and I cut through the pin to get it out of the way. Fixing the switch took me literally 30 seconds today by just pulling loose the wires to the switch and reversing them. Not exactly rocket science but the problem caused me to lose the locking pin altogether by sawing it in half. I’ve reported earlier that the kitchen sink is plumbed backwards so hot is cold and cold is hot, another simple thing to fix that could have been done long ago. We also have the problem of no hot water in the forward cabin shower and we can’t locate the line to it to see if it is shut off somewhere. The previous owner has stopped responding to my phone messages and emails and I guess I can see why.

So there you go. We keep rolling down the river, making better time than I imagined. We should make it to St. Louis, or to it’s only marina about 20 miles north of town, by tomorrow afternoon. Perfect Deckhand will head for home and I’ll lay over a few days awaiting the Lovely Laura Lee. Thanks for checking in.

Days 10 & 11
Wednesday, October 25, 2006 at 08:53PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Alton, Illinois (Closest marina to St. Louis) Mile 203 of the Mississippi River

Distance Travelled Yesterday: 70 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 524 Nautical Miles

Yesterday was absolutely beautiful but still cold with a high in the upper forties. We departed our anchorage at 8:00 am. We were in beautiful countryside interrupted occasionally by industrial and barge loading areas. The autumn colors were the most spectacular we’ve seen. As we moved along, the river widened causing the current speed and our speed to drop. There were often high bluffs on either side. I’ll post some of the pictures in the photo gallery but they don’t do justice to the beauty of the area.

At around 2 pm we joined the Mississippi River (Mile 0 of the Illinois and Mile 217.9 of the upper Mississippi. The Mississippi was as much as a mile wide in this area. We had read to expect currents of 4 to 5 knots and were hoping for increased speed but the actual current in the Mississippi at this point is less than one knot and we’re told that is typical in this area. The Mississippi runs more than 1700 miles from Minneapolis, Minnesota to New Orleans. For navigation purposes it is divided into the upper and lower Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois where the Ohio River joins the Mississippi. Thus, the mile markers start at 0 in New Orleans and run up to 855 in Cairo. Then they start over at 0 in Cairo. So our present position is 203 statute miles above Cairo, where we will turn off the Mississippi and proceed about 60 miles up the Ohio to the Cumberland River and on to the Tennessee River.

I’ll be camping here in Alton awaiting the Lovely Laura Lee who will join me Sunday evening and we will resume travel on Monday, Day 16. Perfect Deckhand flew home tonight to rejoin the lovely Livy and resume work constructing his new home. After my sarcastic posting yesterday concerning Perfect Deckhand, it is now time to pay proper tribute. James 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile reduced 030.JPGtruly is a perfect companion on boating trips. He is knowledgeable in operating the boat and handling the lines, fenders and anchor. He is an outstanding chef who has prepared fabulous meals for us daily. He is good company and enjoys solving the mysteries of the boat with me. However, his ultimate accomplishment on this trip was the repair of the forward shower which has had no hot water since the trip began. This morning, he took out the mixing valve in the shower and pronounced that it was faulty. He dispatched me to Lowe’s to purchase a replacement valve and, Bingo, the forward shower is fixed. In addition to his other qualities, Perfect Deckhand is also an outstanding plumber, so I can assure the Lovely Livy that her new home will have both hot and cold running water.

So here’s to you, Jimbo. Thanks for helping me this last week, and for good food and good company. Have a safe journey home. I’ll have you as a deckhand anytime, anywhere. And, by the way, I successfully completed the installation of the inverter control panel in the pilothouse tonight. No drilling was required…it’s a steel deck.

Day 13
Friday, October 27, 2006 at 11:14PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

There is nothing like freezing cold rainy weather to sap your initiative. I have really been wanting to wash down the outside of the boat but today I was confined to indoor work. I decided to tackle the backwards shower control in the master bedroom and determine what was causing the master head to back up. Both were infinitely frustrating and required three trips to Home Depot and Lowe’s to try to find the correct tools. Finally, by 5 pm, I had successfully completed both tasks.

 Following the advice of Perfect Deckhand, I decided to try out the marina showers after such long and nasty work. It proved to be a great decision. Unlike the boat, the marina has high water pressure and an unlimited supply of hot water. I showered for at least 30 minutes, shaved my neck (not the whole beard), and put on clean clothes from home that are actually pressed. At about 7 pm I headed over to Tony’s, the local sports bar, to join the local fanatics pulling for the Cardinals in the World Series. I ordered a cheeseburger and fries and an entire bottle of red wine and settled in to make an evening of it.

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 054.jpgAnd what could be better than being in St. Louis when the team wins it’s first World Series in 20-something years.Tony’s was hopping and I was having a grand old time when a waitress informed me that I had a telephone call. There was only one person who knew I would be at Tony’s, and sure enough, it was Perfect Deckhand calling to wish me well. As you know by now, the Cardinals went on to win game five and the series. It was a glorious evening at Tony’s and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Tony’s went crazy at the end of the game and I was glad to have a chance to share the victory with the local fans

Tomorrow, the rain is supposed to be over and the temperature will begin to warm, getting up to 68 Sunday and 70 Monday. I’ll continue my projects until then and await the lovely Laura Lee’s arrival Sunday evening. I’ll check back in Monday night, assuming there is internet access. 

Day 16
Monday, October 30, 2006 at 02:41PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Hoppies Marine Services, Mile 158.5 of the upper Mississippi River

Distance Travelled Today: 38 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 571 Nautical Miles

The lovely Laura Lee arrived last night and we got underway again this morning. It was a short day for several reasons. First, I had to return the rental car this morning so we never got started until 9 am. Second, we had to go through two locks above St. Louis. Most importantly, Hoppies is the only “marina” between here and Paducah, Kentucky where Laura Lee gets off the boat Friday. There is barely a decent anchorage and our next stop tomorrow requires us to travel 110 statute miles, about 11 hours of travel. So, for tonight, Hoppies it is.

After a beautiful day Sunday with a high of around 70, today was warm again in the low 70’s. However, clouds are rolling in and we had 20 mph winds from the south all day. It’s is supposed to rain starting late tonight with a cold front coming through and for the next few days, highs will again only be in the 50’s.

After the two locks this morning, we entered an incredibly busy barge area with much maneuvering around by enormous tugs with barges. At one point, we passed a tug pushing 20 (empty) barges upstream. They were four wide and five long, the biggest arrangement I’ve seen yet. The heavy industrial and barge area lasted until well below St. Louis. We went right through the center of St. Louis2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 063.jpg and were able to see Busch Stadium where the Cardinals won the World Series Friday night. We took the obligatory pictures of the arch, not meaning to make it appear to grow out of the lovely Laura Lee’s head.

Several miles below St. Louis, we finally left the industrial landscape and again started passing through peaceful countryside.

Hoppies Marina is worth a comment. It is written up in all the guidebooks not only for being the last stop for about 200 miles, but also for being interesting and colorful. The marina was created by tying together four old barges (one marked as being built in 1949) and allowing boats to tie up on either side. There is a fuel pump on one of the barges, a covered area with old sofas and chairs called “the lounge”, a phone booth with no phone in it and, what most people have written about is Hoppie himself.Apparently Hoppie used to hold forth in the lounge and tell river stories or give advice on where to anchor and where to watch for barges in tight curves. Hoppie did come down to meet us but, sadly, he does not appear to be in good health. His wife did all the line handling and no one appears to be holding down the lounge as we had read about.2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 068.jpg However, Hoppies is still a friendly place to stop and still the only place to stop for quite a while, so we’re glad to be here.

As I’m writing this, the wind gusts are picking up to around 35 mph causing whitecaps in the river. The boat is gyrating around as if we were at sea and the old ropes holding Hoppies barges to the shore are stretching and straining. Hoppie and his wife came out and hooked four or five old ropes together and tied one end to the barges and the other end to their pickup truck on the hill which they used to back up until the rope was tight. The barges are anchored here and I think they’ll hold. I hate to tell hoppie that if the barges and boats come loose, their pickup truck is likely to go with us out into the river, if the rope doesn’t break first. Even as we bounce around, it feels good to be off the river and tied up on what promises to be a stormy night.

Sunrise is at 6:24 here tomorrow morning and sunset is at 5:05 PM. With 11 hours of travel scheduled, we’ll have to be out of here at first light. We’re hoping to pull out by 6:00 to arrive at our next anchorage by 5 pm. We barely have cell service here but somehow the internet is working slowly. If we can’t log in for a couple of days, I’ll keep the journal up and post it when we can. We’ll report back soon.

Day 17
Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 06:41AM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Anchored in “Little Diversion Channel”, Mile 48.8, Upper Mississippi River

Distance Travelled Yesterday: 96 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 667 Nautical Miles

Yesterday was a long one, made so by the total lack of facilities or even places to anchor along this stretch of the Mississippi. Knowing we had just under 11 hours of daylight to cover 110 statute miles at about 10 mph, I was up early looking for first light. As soon as I could make out the opposite bank of the river, around 6:10 am, we were off. Fortunately, we had strong currents and were making close to 12 mph or 10 knots all day.

It was rainy and cold with some lightening on the horizon to the south when we headed out. I have an astonishing little Garmin handheld GPS which displays weather radar received from XM satellite Radio so I could see that we were on the backside of a line of thunderstorms that should soon move on to our east. Even so, we had a light drizzle most of the day.

This stretch of river is quite desolate but there are areas of strip mines, plants and shipping terminals crowded with barge traffic. We passed a few small towns but none have any docks or shore facilities for pleasure boats. There is consistent tug and barge traffic and we overtook or passed probably 15 or 20 tugs yesterday. They use enormous tugs in this part of the world, both to accommodate a large crew and to push crazy numbers of barges. The most barges pushed at a time are usually empty ones. Yesterday, I saw one tug pushing 36 empty barges, six across and six deep.

We spent the night in a little diversion channel called “Little Diversion Channel” about two miles below Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The lovely Laura Lee is the second good cook in a row I’ve had as crew and we had a wonderful dinner of grilled veal tenderloin, snow peas and potatoes.

While the town has no dockage, it does have a small fuel dock which only can be used when purchasing fuel. Since we need a few supplies, we’re going back upstream a couple of miles this morning to buy fuel (which we don’t really need yet) so that, while I’m fueling, the lovely Laura Lee can run to the store for a few minutes. Then we’ll head back south. We have 50 more miles to go on the Mississippi, 58 miles up the Ohio River, and then about 32 miles on the Cumberland River to Green Turtle Bay where we plan our next crew change

Day 18
Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 06:19PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Cairo, Illinois, Mile 0 of the Upper Mississippi River, Mile 981 of the Ohio River

Distance Travelled Today: 53 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 720 Nautical Miles

In early September, 1861, General Ulysses Grant moved up the Ohio River from his headquarters in Cairo, Illinois with two gunboats and three steamboats filled with union soldiers. With little resistance, Grant took Paducah, Kentucky and Smithland, just upriver. In one short maneuver, Grant took control of the mouths of the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River dealing a severe early blow to the Confederacy. Tomorrow, we will retrace Grant’s steps as we turn off the Mississippi River and begin a 60-mile slog up the Ohio to the Cumberland River, and on to Barkley Lake. Despite Grant’s victories, there will still be a dramatic change as we leave the land of Lincoln and enter the land of Colonel Sanders.

It was cold this morning as we bought fuel and supplies in Cape Girardeau, but at least the rain has stopped and. by late afternoon, the sky was actually clearing. We had hoped to cover more distance today but fueling was slow and we didn’t get underway until 10 am. We have 90 statute miles to go (upstream) and three locks to traverse to get to Green Turtle Bay on Lake Barkley (Cumberland River). We’ll be lucky to make it by Friday afternoon and we are rescheduling our crew change to Saturday instead of Friday.

The Lovely Laura Lee had trouble sleeping last night because I was apparently snoring. During the night, she escaped to the forward cabin for peace and quiet. For the next several hours, she heard clanging noises which she finally figured out were logs coming out the diversion ditch and hitting the bow of Steel Magnolia. Perplexed, the Lovely Laura Lee found herself having to choose between clanging logs in the forward cabin and me sawing logs in the master. She chose the clanging logs as she was still forward when I arose this morning. 

We have been astonished at the lack of boating facilities in this part of the world. For almost 300 miles from St. Louis to Lake Barkley, there is only one marina and one fuel dock. Tomorrow will be our third straight night of anchoring out —fun, but every now and then it would be nice to get off, take a walk, and explore a town. The rivers fluctuate wildly up here though, and often flood. Pleasure boat traffic is light and transient, making it hard to run a profitable marina. So I suppose there will continue to be a lack of facilities for pleasure boats.

We get underway early again tomorrow, just after 6 am. We ventured out into the Ohio River this afternoon just to sample the current and we were only able to do about 5 knots upstream. We’ll have a long day tomorrow following in General Grant’s footsteps. 

Day 19
Thursday, November 2, 2006 at 05:43PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Ohio River Mile 923, Cumberland River Mile 0

Distance Travelled Today: 51 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 771 Nautical Miles

As we slipped off the Ohio River to anchor behind Cumberland Island Towhead, you could almost feel Steel Magnolia breathe a sigh of relief as she crossed the Mason Dixon Line and entered her promised land.With Kentucky on both sides of our anchorage, her little diesel seemed to perk up and begin to snort like a young foal on an autumn morning. Like the Acadians who fled Nova Scotia in 1755 and settled in the Mississippi Delta to become what we know as Cajuns, Steel Magnolia, built in Nova Scotia, has found her rightful home in the South.

While the day was absolutely beautiful, our trip up the Ohio River from the Mississippi was quite difficult. The Ohio River starts in Philadelphia and flows 981 miles to the Mississippi where we joined it this morning. Heavy rains over the last week have raised the water level to more than 30 feet above normal pool and the current is strong and turbulent. The water is filled with logs, many the size of trees, which we had to dodge all day. For most of the day, our normally eight knot speed was reduced to just over four knots, about 5 miles per hour. In 11 hours of running we covered 60 statute miles. We were scheduled to go up two locks today, but in both cases, when the water is this high, they simply fold down the dams and we drive right over them. In both cases, the entire lock portion was completely submerged. If there had been a flood in September, 1861 when General Grant followed this route to take Paducah, he would have never made the trip and the South might have won the war.

This is our third straight day of all day runnning and anchoring out at night. While I am looking forward to getting off the boat tomorrow afternoon at Barkley Lake, the lovely Laura Lee has severe withdrawal symptoms from her usual exercise routines. This afternoon, she calculated that a one mile walk would equal approximately 66 laps around the deck of the Steel Magnolia. Before I knew it, she was bundled up and walking round and round the decks, crossing in front of the pilothouse on each lap. She did half of the laps clockwise and half counter-clockwise, and in about 15 minutes she had completed her hike.

Barge traffic was heavy all day but all of the commercial traffic either turned off to go up the Tennessee River or continued up the Ohio. Tomorrow, as we move up the Cumberland River, we should have little traffic and much reduced current. Our destination tomorrow is only about 30 miles away. We are headed to Green Turtle Bay Marina on Barkley Lake, which we hear is one of the nicest stops of the entire trip. Saturday morning, I will be joined by George Broughton and the lovely Laura Lee will return to Birmingham to run our house, take care of our dogs, continue her design work, and resume her exercise routine.

I’ll report in tomorrow night to let you know we are safely in at Green Turtle Bay. Stay tuned.

Day 20
Friday, November 3, 2006 at 05:54PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Green Turtle Bay Marina, Barkley Lake, Mile 30.5 of the Cumberland River

Distance Travelled today: 31 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 802 Nautical Miles

We slept in this morning and it was a great relief not to be up and running by 6 am. When I did poke my head upstairs at 7:30, we were completely fogged in and I couldn’t see the shore 30 feet away. However, the warm sun began burning off the fog and by 8:40 we were able to hoist anchor and head up the Cumberland River. The current on the Ohio, which had slowed our progress to sometimes three and four miles per hour, quickly disappeared and we began cruising at a more normal speed of about seven and one half to eight miles per hour. There were a few tugs and barges to get by on the Cumberland and one gigantic gravel quarry with barges lined up to be loaded on both sides of the river. However, the majority of our 30 mile run was through beautiful countryside with old farmhouses and barns to either side.

By 1:30 pm, we had arrived at Barkley Lock and Dam which would raise us 54 feet into Barkley Lake. I called the lockmaster about two miles before our arrival to tell him we were southbound up the river, what mile marker we were near, and that we would be up to the lock in a few minutes. He called back when he understood our position and said “You’re not southbound, you’re northbound.” I told him, no, the river flows north and I’m southbound up the river. He politely informed me that that when you’re travelling up stream anywhere, it’s considered northbound, but that I was not the first person to make that mistake. As we left the lock awhile later, I thanked him for locking us through and told him we were going to continue on northbound until we got to Mississippi.

As we left the lock, an alarm started going off, and after a few seconds checking things out, we determined that it was the engine overheat alarm. The engine coolant temperature has run right at 120 degrees the entire trip and suddenly it was up to 160. I couldn’t check the coolant with the engine hot and it seemed to be stable at that temperature, so we continued to idle the half mile to the marina with the alarm blaring. I went past the marina to what looked like the last channel marker leading in, and entered the channel with the first red marker to my right (red right returning is the rule). Suddenly, we ran hard aground and could not back off the sandbar. While I continued to run the engine up in reverse, we could not budge and the marina tow boat had to come out and rescue us. It turns out that the markers for this channel entrance and those for the next bay run together in such a way that you cannot tell where to enter the channel. Strangely, the engine overheat problem solved itself while I was trying to back off the sandbar.

The overheat problem could either be caused by low coolant levels, a bad impeller in the water pump, or some trash or other obstruction keeping lake water from entering the engine cooling system. I’ll check it all out tomorrow but it seemed to be running at the right temperature when we finally got free of the sandbar and into the marina.

After three nights anchored in the wilds of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Green Turtle Bay is a dramatic change. It is a gigantic facility with a full boatyard, a yacht club where we will dine tonight, courtesy cars, condos and houses for sale and rent, and the most amazing collection of giant houseboats I have ever seen. We’re happy to be in from the wilderness. I bought 18 gallons of oil for oil changes tomorrow and the lovely Laura Lee and I took a brisk walk to celebrate our arrival. This will be her last night on board and we must have her at the Paducah airport at 8 am where she will head home and George Broughton will sign on for the next leg. George and I will continue south (but northbound) up the Tennessee River for more than 200 miles until we join the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. Stay tuned.

Day 22
Sunday, November 5, 2006 at 06:10PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Pebble Isle Marina, Mile 96.1 of the Tennessee River (Kentucky Lake). 8 miles from Loretta Lynn’s home.

Distance Travelled Today: 64 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 866 Nautical Miles

The lovely Laura Lee headed home yesterday morning and was replaced by George Broughton. She is, of course, always my favorite first mate and galley wench and I will miss her. She managed to sign on for the toughest portion of this trip with treacherous river currents on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and nowhere to stop for the night other than anchorages. However, she handled it all in good spirits and she too has now bonded with the Steel Magnolia. Thanks Laura Lee. I’ll be home soon.

George and I spent Saturday changing the oil in the generator and engine, a long and messy job. With new clean oil and coolant topped off, the main engine is running great at the right temperature. I’m feeling good now that I’m free to run the generator all I need for heat and power the rest of the trip. We also tried to figure a way to get the mast raised back up (it was lowered for the low bridges in Chicago) so we would have radar, but we figure it weighs between 600 and 800 pounds and we could barely lift it a foot between us. We’re going to have to wait for some help or a forklift to get it back upright. Since we couldn’t budge it, we decided to have a beer and watch football for the rest of the afternoon. We dined on homemade chile sent up by Gail and we turned in early.

This morning, we had planned on departing at a civilized 8 am. However, I was up by 4:45 so we went ahead and departed Green Turtle Bay at 7 am. We went around the corner and through the short canal connecting Barkley Lake to Kentucky Lake and turned south at Mile 25.4 of the Tennessee River. We will continue to Mile 215 of the Tennessee River where we will turn off into Yellow Creek to join the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (usually called the Tenn-Tom).

Kentucky Lake, created on the Tennessee River by the construction of Kentucky Dam, is the largest man-made lake in the eastern United States. It stretches for 184 miles across the western edge of Kentucky and Tennessee. It has 2,400 miles of shoreline, about double that of Lake Martin back home.

On our left much of the day, between Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River and Barkley Lake on the Cumberland, was an area known as “Land Between The Lakes”, a beautiful national park and wildlife sanctuary. Set up during the Kennedy administration in 1963, the area has always been devoted to creating natural habitats for all kinds of wildlife. It has hundreds of miles of trails and camping and hiking are supposedly fantastic. As we have been on the entire trip, we are a little late for the peak fall colors, but we still had beautiful colors and scenery as we ran down beside the Land Between The Lakes all day.

While travel on Steel Magnolia is slow and leisurely, there are occasionally startling changes which make you realize you are making progress. This afternoon when we stopped, I realized that in two days of travel, I have come from the Ohio River in Illinois to just 60 miles west of Nashville. We’re just down the road from Loretta Lynn’s house and not too far from home. The weather is warming up and the water temperature, which has been in the 50’s since Sturgeon Bay, is now in the 60’s.

George is working out to be an excellent first mate. He is several inches taller than I am and has managed to bump his head on every conceivable part of the boat with no visible signs of injury, thus earning him the nickname hardheaded George.

We’re staying at a nice little marina which operates a small grill where we had dinner tonight. Tomorrow, we’ll move on up the Tennessee River and probably reach the northern end of the Tenn-Tom on Tuesday. We’ll catch you later. 

Day 23
Tuesday, November 7, 2006 at 10:26AM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Clifton Marina, Mile 158.5 of the Tennessee River

Distance Travelled Today: 55 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 924 Nautical Miles

For the first night of the entire trip, my Verizon internet service and my Verizon phone are totally out of range. I am writing this at 8:30 Monday night but it will not be posted until we are within range of something, tomorrow we hope.

We continued travel on Kentucky Lake today until the lake disappeared and we continued up the narrower Tennessee River. It was cloudy all day and we could see from the weather radar that a 100–mile-wide band of rain was approaching from the west. We had planned on pushing on a little further but decided to turn in to a convenient marina at 3 pm. Fortunately, we got tied up and settled before the rain started hard at about 4 pm and it continues now. We can see, however, from the weather radar, that the backside of the rain is about 30 miles west of us and it should stop by midnight. We’re hoping for a clear day tomorrow. It has grown steadily warmer as we have moved south.

Hardheaded George proved his worth today by fixing the reversed hot and cold water at the kitchen sink and connecting up the little knob on the sink that opens and closes the sink drain. This will allow me to cross one more item off the “Things that were wrong” list I’m maintaining elsewhere on this website. He only bumped his head a few times today and still shows no signs of injury…hardheaded.

We’re in a nice little marina with a friendly owner who allowed me to use his cellphone to check in at home and offered us a courtesy car if we needed supplies. For lunch today, we finished off Gail’s homemade chile and for dinner, we borrowed the slightly dirty gas grill behind the marina to cook grilled chicken.

Since its after 8:30, we’re continuing our exciting nightlife and turning in for the night. I’m tired and ready to sleep but I need to get out of the habit of waking up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning so I’ll try to stay up until at least 9:00.

Tomorrow, we should reach the beginning of the Tenn-Tom after about seven hours of cruising, perhaps around 2 pm. We have one lock to go through about 68 miles from here and we plan to get to Aqua Harbor Marina in Iuka, Mississippi for the night. Wednesday, we’ll push on to Midway Marina near Fulton where hardheaded George will disembark Thursday to be replaced by the inimitable Uncle Randy.

Stay tuned.

Day 24
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 08:27PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina, Iuka Mississippi, Mile 448.8 of the Tenn-Tom

Distance Travelled Today: 51 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 975 Nautical Miles

I have had more than my share of lousy weather this trip. I think it would have been smart to undertake this in September rather than late October and November. It has never risen above the low 60’s and it has rained more days than it hasn’t. Today was no exception. We were hoping for it to clear after last night’s rain but it was overcast and misting rain all day, and still cool. Tonight, the cold mist continues. On top of that, the current in the Tennessee River grew all day as the river narrowed and we approached Pickwick Dam, where the floodgates were open slowing us to 4 and 5 miles per hour. Tomorrow, the forecast calls for partial clearing with highs in the upper 60’s and Thursday and Friday it’s actually supposed to be in the 70’s. And we’ll be headed downstream from here on, southbound and heading south.

At any rate, we’re still having fun, but it was a long slow day up the Tennessee to Pickwick Lock and Dam. We arrived there around 2 pm but it took more than an hour to lock through. We finally emerged on Pickwick Lake at around 3:30 and quit having to fight the current. We cruised about ten miles up the lake and turned right into the beginning of the Tenn-Tom where we begin a 450–mile downhill run to Mobile. With the current finally behind us, we sped up to 8.5 mph (7.5 knots) and cruised into Aqua Harbor for the night.

We’ve had a few overbearing lockmasters this trip but the one at Pickwick wins the award so far. He required that everyone on deck wear a lifejacket. He demanded that we speed up to get into the lock but also wanted no wakes from anyone. He required that the smallest boat enter first and so on until the largest of the five boats was last. This required all of us to converse on the radio to determine the length of each boat. It seems that the lockmaster is king of his domain and makes all the rules.

The only disconcerting news of the day was we learned that the Coffeeville Lock just below Demopolis will close November 14 for six days. A quick calculation shows that we can maybe make it there by the 13th so I will leave Midway Marina in Fulton, Mississippi at noon Thursday when the inimitable Uncle Randy joins me and we will do everything possible to make it. I had checked the Corps of Engineers website just this morning and saw nothing about this but, after hearing about it from another boat, I called the lock and confirmed the information. Such is the way of locks and dams on the river.

Hardheaded George had another major encounter with the doorways this evening, bumping his head hard as he tried to leave his cabin. He is now stating that there are major knots on his head, but he continues to be hardheaded, if for no other reason than he refuses to duck after countless encounters with the ceilings and doorways.

This is our second straight night with no internet service so this will be posted some time tomorrow as we pass through service areas.

We have an appointment at a boatyard about a mile from here at 8:15 to get our mast raised back up. This will give us radar, better radio and better GPS reception.

We’ll report back in tomorrow night.

Day 25
Wednesday, November 8, 2006 at 10:25PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Midway Marina, Fulton, Mississippi, Mile 394 of the Tenn-Tom

Distance Travelled Today: 49 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1,024 Nautical Miles

So, it is Wednesday night and I just managed to get last night’s update posted through the marina’s wireless service which works quite well about 1/2 mile from the boat. We have given up on Verizon until perhaps Columbus, Mississippi, Demopolis or Mobile. We are truly in the middle of nowhere. I’ll try to get this one posted tonight or tomorrow before we leave.

Hardheaded George has completed his duties and heads home tomorrow. It is a good thing. He bumped his head hard again today on his cabin door and I’m afraid he’s doomed to repeating this daily until we get him off the boat. After he went to bed tonight, I lined the top of his doorway with blue tape and hung little streamers down to remind him to duck. But he is hardheaded.

Today, we left Aqua Harbor and cruised over to Spry Marine nearby where they had promised to help us raise our mast. It would have been easy with their boat lift but it still had a boat in it so they just got four guys to come and help us lift it up by brute force. They charged me $20 for the effort and now we have radar, better GPS, better VHF radio, etc. We went through all the jokes about how I haven’t been able to get my mast up for four weeks, etc. but anyway, it’s done.

The lovely Laura Lee and the charming Gail are driving over tomorrow morning from Birmingham and bringing the inimitable Uncle Randy to replace Hardheaded George as my first mate. They promise to bring homemade meatloaf, two good steaks, a baguette from Continental Bakary, and maybe a vacuum cleaner. I’ll be off buying groceries early tomorrow while Hardheaded George does some laundry. I had planned on relaxing tomorrow and leaving here Friday but now the effort to reach Coffeeville Lock, 277 miles away, before it closes on Tuesday, requires us to depart around noon tomorrow as soon as the inimitable Uncle Randy is on board. We are on a mission.

I have been complaining about the weather but today we finally got the perfect day. It was clear and sunny and the temperature rose to close to 70 this afternoon. We also seem to have finally caught up with the brightest fall colors and we saw spectacular red yellows and oranges all day long.

We traversed three locks, all in pretty good time, and reached our target at Midway Marina just at sunset. When you’re heading down the Tenn-Tom with a group of pleasure boats, the lockmasters all talk to each other and pass you through as a group. Thus, no matter how fast you get to the next lock, no one passes through until the slowest boat arrives. While I’m normally the slowest boat cruising at the high speed of over eight miles per hour, today we had to wait at each lock for a sailboat in our group who cruised at about five miles oer hour. I felt like sabotaging his boat tonight so he would not be with us but he is leaving early tomorrow while I leave at noon, so perhaps we will not have to deal with him any more.

I’ll post this when I have some kind of service. And we’ll keep you posted as the inimitable Uncle Randy and I race against the lock closing schedule.

Day 26
Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 03:02PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Amory Mississippi, Mile 371.1 of the Tenn-Tom

Distance Travelled Today: 18 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1,044 Nautical Miles

We’re still in the land of no Verizon internet service so this will get posted when it does, perhaps not for a couple of days.

Big crew change and social event today. The lovely Laura Lee and the charming Gail drove Randy over from Birmingham and picked up Hardheaded George to take him back to Birmingham. With plans to leave Birmingham at 8 am, Randy arrived at our house at 7 am, earning him the name “the early Uncle Randy”. He’s already decided he likes the name better than “the late Uncle Randy”. The whole crowd arrived at the boat a little after 10:30 and at 11:15, we went into Fulton, MS for lunch at the Family Grill. For me, it was the biggest social occasion in four weeks…having lunch with four other people.

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 090A word of tribute is in order here concerning Hardheaded George. He is hardheaded and he continued to bump his head daily. However, he is great company and did more than his share of the work during his tenure here. He fixed the hot and cold mixup at the kitchen sink and fixed the knob which opens the kitchen sink drain. He took the horn apart and trouleshooted far enough to know that the compressor, not the horn, is causing the problem. He also responded to my nicknames by beginning to call me “Captain Blye” when I forced onerous duties on him and laughed at his head injuries. I enjoyed having him aboard and appreciate his help. Thanks George, hope the head gets better soon. And thanks to the charming Gail for lending me her husband for a few days.

After a tasty meal at lunch, the early Uncle Randy and I decided to get away at around 12:30 and get a couple of locks behind us in hopes of accomplishing our mission and reaching Coffeeville Lock before it closes on Tuesday morning. We transited two locks and moved down the Tenn-Tom 22 statute miles. Coffeeville Lock is at Mile 116.6, about 255 statute miles away. If we can average 65 miles per day, including the locks, we will make it.

We arrived at our third lock of the day, Amory Lock and Dam, at around 4 pm and we could have locked through, but there was nowhere to anchor before sunset. So we anchored just above the lock and we’ll get an early start in the morning locking through at about 5 am.

So follow us on the countdown. We are at mile 371 and need to reach Mile 116.6 by Monday afternoon. Stay with us.

Day 27
Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 03:09PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Anchored at Mile 278 of the Tenn-Tom, 25 miles above I-20/59

Distance Travelled Today: 77 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1123 Nautical Miles

We made a giant stride today in our effort to reach Coffeeville Lock before it closes for a week on Tuesday. Since we were anchored just above Amory Lock, which is well lit up, we could start before daylight. We called the lockmaster at about 4:30 am and told him we would like to lock down between 5 and 5:30. He told us he would be ready for us right around 5 am. We zipped through the lock, exiting around 5:30 at the very beginning of daylight and began moving with the first light. Getting started early and moving with the current all day allowed us to cover almost 93 statute miles and complete the Amory Lock, the Aberdeen Lock, and the John Stennis Lock all in one 12 hour day.

To make Coffeeville, we have 162 miles to cover over the next three days, including two locks to pass through. We will pass through the Howell Heflin lock tomorrow and the Demopolis Lock Sunday.

We’re in the old Tombigbee River now which was straightened in places and dredged to create the Tenn-Tom. There are numerous large bends where the Corps of Engineers simply cut a shortcut, leaving the ox bow as it was and we are anchored in one of those bends tonight.

There’s not much to report out here. Just two old goats taking turns driving all day. I hope I can post this and last night’s blog when we get to Demopolis today

Day 28
Saturday, November 11, 2006 at 08:02PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Location: Demopolis Yacht Basin, Demopolis, Alabama. Mile 216 of the Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway.

Distance Travelled Today: 53 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1176 Nautical Miles

After yesterday’s marathon run, we took it easy today, stopping at 1 pm in Demopolis. Not only are we feeling good about making it to Coffeeville Lock by Monday (100 statute miles away), but this is the last real marina between here and Mobile so we figured we’d better take a break while we can. The only other potential stop is something called Bobby’s Fish Camp just north of Coffeeville which we may or may not reach by tomorrow night.

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 107I’m sure that all of you have heard about the famous white cliffs of Epes. Well, we actually got to see them today. They are right along the Tombigbee River, near Epes, Alabama. We’ve always wanted to see them and we can check that one off our list now. We’re not sure why they’re white, but they are. Just like Dover.

The internet has been unavailable through Verizon for the last several days and doesn’t even work here in Demopolis. However, the marina here has internet access in their boater’s lounge so I was able to post the last two day’s entries this afternoon and this one will make it to the World Wide Web tonight. For the next three days, we don’t even travel near any small towns so don’t expect to hear from us until maybe Tuesday evening when we should arrive at Dog River Marina on Mobile Bay.

I’ve been so busy travelling all day and collapsing at night that I’ve barely had time to really talk about any of the interesting people I’ve met along the way. When I first got to Chicago after the shaft coupling incident, I was wondering if I had taken on too much of a project with this boat. In such a situation, it’s always good to see someone else with a bigger project.2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 006 The boat pictured here was parked in front of me and I met and chatted with the owner.

I asked him what kind of boat it was and he said it was a homemade river boat that he had bought and was fixing up. “Great,” I said, “How long have you been working on it?” “12 years,” he replied. He went on to tell me that up until a couple of years ago, he never stayed at a marina, he just kept the boat tied to a tree. He said authorities constantly asked him to leave but he would just move around until they finally got a court order and threatened to confiscate his boat. He told me that he got a good deal at the marina for dockage because he doesn’t need electricity. He had a wood-burning fireplace for heat and periodically got a small Honda generator from his car, hooked it to a battery charger, and charged up his batteries for light. I asked if the wood fireplace heated the whole boat and he said it heated up the two rooms that were “finished”.

So Steel Magnolia is going to be a project, but I felt much better after this comparison.

We’re still having fun but I’m happy to be on the final downhill run. Stay tuned to see if we make it through Coffeeville Lock before it closes Tuesday and to see if we accomplish our mission to get Steel Magnolia to Mobile.

Day 29 and part of Day 30
Monday, November 13, 2006 at 11:43AM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

Sunday: 8:45 am

Mile 195, Warrior Tombigbee Waterway

We left Demopolis at 6:00 am in company with four other pleasure craft or “PC’s”, as we are called by the lockmasters and tug captains, all heading south to get through the Coffeeville Lock today or tomorrow. The three faster boats took off after Demopolis lock leaving us and one sailboat behind doing about the same speed. We’re doing around 10.5 mph so we should be close to Coffeeville Lock this afternoon. There is a little dock called “Bobby’s Fish Camp” about two miles above the lock and it looks like we can get there by around 4 pm, tie up for the night, and get through the lock tomorrow morning early. This would put us just above Mobile by Monday afternoon and we should reach Dog River Marina Tuesday.

Sunday 5:45 pm

Location: Bobby’s Fish Camp, Mile119 Warrior Tombigbee Waterway

Distance Travelled Today: 84 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1,260 Nautical Miles

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 119.jpgWe made it to Bobby’s around 4 pm. This is a collection of trailers and shacks surrounding a fried-food restaurant (catfish, hushpuppies, french fries…leftovers are all fed to the resident hound dog “slewfoot”) with a floating dock out front which is about 150 feet long. We are right on the river tied up with two other boats heading for the Coffeeville Lock early tomorrow. Bobby himself was nowhere in sight but we’re told he only works weekdays and will be here at 6 am tomorrow.

We had an incredibly beautiful day on the river. The sky was perfectly clear, the colors were perfect, and the temperature was somewhere in the mid-sixties. We travelled for 10 hours from 6 am to 4 pm and covered just over 100 statute miles. We have 119 miles to go to Mobile and then about 12 miles across Mobile Bay to Dog River Marina. We should cover 80 miles tomorrow and the remaining 50 Tuesday morning.

Monday: 10:40 am

We awoke to a dense fog on the river this morning which delayed our departure until 6:45, at which time it looked like it was lifting enough to proceed. The photo above shows the river fog this morning, and if you look closely, you can see Early Uncle Randy on the aft deck of Steel Magnolia. In company with three other boats, we idled down the river about a mile but the fog got slightly worse. Stupidly, we didn’t call the lock before departing and when we did, he said a northbound tug with barges was still in the lock waiting for the fog to lift before proceeding. So we turned around and went back to Bobby’s to wait it out. Randy cooked another of his fabulous breakfasts and finally we saw the barge go by and left again at 8:45. By 9:15 we had cleared the lock southbound and right now we are at Mile 100 on the waterway. With about six more hours of daylight, we should anchor tonight around 40 miles north of Mobile giving us about 50 miles or five hours to Dog River Marina tomorrow.

We suddenly have internet and phone service right now so I’ll post this one and get back to you at the end of of the day.

Day 30 & 31
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 at 03:22PM
John Samford in 2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 125.jpgLocation: Dog River Marina, Mobile, Alabama

Distance Travelled yesterday: 72 Nautical Miles

Distance Travelled Today: 56 Nautical Miles

Total Trip Distance: 1381 Nautical Miles

As President Bush likes to say, “Mission accomplished, great job Brownie”, or something like that. The trip is complete and Steel Magnolia has been safely delivered to Dog River, where she will spend the winter getting fixed up and improved, a kind-of spa experience for the girl. I’m shown at right kissing the dock piling. After getting through the lock yesterday, we kept heading south until 5 pm when we pulled into a small lake around Mile 40 of the waterway to anchor for the night. We cooked a fine steak dinner to celebrate our last night on the river. As always, during the day we alternated for two-hour shifts at the wheel. There was only one incident all day while Early Uncle Randy was at the wheel but I promised I wouldn’t give him a hard time about it on the blog. But be sure to ask him and he’ll tell you all about it when we get home.

2006 Sturgeon Bay to Mobile 101A word about the Early Uncle Randy is in order here. Randy is Laura Lee’s uncle, and through that family tie, he has become a close friend of mine. He has now gone on six boat trips with me. He is always available when needed. He cooks a mean breakfast. He does more than his share of the household chores on the boat and is happy to handle his watch at the wheel. He really is early. He goes to bed early, gets up early, fixes breakfast early, fixes every other meal early, and goes to bed early again. He’s a joy to have on board and I appreciate everything he has done for me. Here’s to you, Early Uncle Randy. Thanks for the help. Let’s do it again soon.

This morning we awoke to another day of fog on the river, caused by air that is much colder than the 60 degree water. As usual, it began to burn off as the sun rose and warmed the air so we were able to get away before 8 am. By noon we were passing through downtown Mobile and at 2:15 we finally arrived at Dog River. There have been many times that I was anxious to get work completed and get a boat out of Dog River, but today I was mighty happy to get here. 

Now that we’ve completed our mission, I thought it would be a good time to begin summing things up. I’ll start with the literal summing up of what this has all cost. I don’t count expenses for groceries or dining out as these would be incurred even at home. I also don’t count travel expenses to and from the boat because, well, I just don’t count them. Maintenance so far is also not counted as it is considered a capital cost of bringing the boat up to standards. Fuel and dockage are not considered expenses because they are part of the delivery cost of the boat and are therefore capital costs. Therefore, the boat has no expenses so far.

Truthfully, the total costs for this trip have been $6,590.31. That comes out to $32.15 per engine hour or $4.77 per nautical mile. When we cruised our old boat at 10 knots, it burned 20 gallons per hour so the fuel cost alone was $50 per hour. If we ran it up to 18 knots, it burned 100 gallons per hour making the fuel cost $250 per hour. So this is beginning to look a lot more reasonable.

The largest items by far were the unexpected replacement cost for the shaft coupling which came to $1,549 and the cost and other expenses of hiring Peter the Great, which were $1,500. Both were necessary and Peter actually saved me money by troubleshooting the shaft coupling before the mechanic got there. Without these two big-ticket items, we’re running the boat at around $15 per hour and $2.50 per mile. Not bad for moving around a 100,000–pound house on the water.

To sum up the rest of the experience, I would simply say it has been an amazing trip. I’ve seen some great sights, met interesting people, and had a good time with the friends who have helped me out. I’ve learned a lot of geography about the river systems that I would never have known. While I’ve missed my wife and home and dogs, it’s pretty amazing to have the freedom to simply drop out for a month and do something like this.

Kris Kristofferson told us that “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose”, but I couldn’t disagree more. This kind of trip is a once-in-a lifetime experience. It requires that my children be grown and happy and healthy and pursuing their own lives. It requires an independent and understanding wife who knows and indulges my dreams. It requires good health, which I am fortunate to enjoy at the moment. It requires a degree of financial independence, although that’s entirely relative. There are many very wealthy people who have no freedom at all and then there are those whose only indulgence is a camper at Bobby’s Fish Camp who truly are free. I’m eternally grateful for the freedom I have at the moment, and I have enjoyed this adventure immensely. We only go around once, as far as we know.

Would I do the trip again? Probably not. It’s a long hard trip and I like ocean voyaging more than river trips. But I’m glad I did it and proud to have completed the mission. And the friends who have helped me out? I have felt all along that inviting someone on this trip is like asking someone to help you drive an 18–wheeler cross country. However, to a one, my crew members have seemed to really enjoy the trip. Each has made unique contributions in what they have repaired, the food they have cooked, the driving they have done, and the good company they have provided. To Peter, James, Laura Lee, George, and Randy, I cannot thank you enough for the help and I hope you have each gotten half as much pleasure from the trip as I have.

And I have come to love this steel boat. She certainly has her issues, but what great woman doesn’t? She’s solidly built, and her little diesel continues to chug along day after day and will still be running strong long after me. With a little work, Steel Magnolia promises to be a magnificent ship, destined to bring great adventures to my family and friends, and to me, for years to come.

I’ll post all of the trip pictures in the photo gallery over the next day or two. I’ll stay in Mobile until Friday afternoon to get all the work lined up with the boatyard. Then it’s back to Birmingham for a more normal life. Thanks for tuning in and I hope you’ve all enjoyed following along this journey with me. We’ll do it again real soon.

Article originally appeared on Ship’s Log (http://www.johnsamford.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.

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