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Old 18-01-2007, 10:59   #1
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Cruising the Mississippi

I am looking for information on cruising UP the Mississippi. I have a Gulfstar 36 Motor Sailer with 3.5 foot draft and a 4 cyl Perkins capable of 5.5 to 6 knots over the surface and am wondering what the best tactics are to travel UP the Mississippi.

When is the Missippi at its lowest flow? Would early summer be a reasonable time to try to go upriver?

What are the tactics of such a trip in total?

Is there anyplace where I can find information on such a plan? Marinas, anchoring, etc. I have been up as far as Tennessee in a paddle wheeler and I know that there are few villages/cities on the banks as the rivers banks are not firmly defined throughout the year, but I dont want to go at flood stage when the currents are the highest.

I would like to do it during hurricane season when cruising along the Gulf Coast is not the best. (Hot and risky if you are caught away from home in a Hurricane). It would be nice to go UP in the early summer and come back DOWN in the fall after the hurricanes have started turning up the east coast.

Winter time is NOT an option as the whole idea is to get away from the hot weather in summer, not go into the hell of winter when its prety nice down here.
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Old 18-01-2007, 11:18   #2
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There is a chart book of the Mississippi from the Army Corps of Engineers. I had one years ago when I came down. Really the only marinas were were cities were and they were not many on the souther river. We carried our mast of approx 50' off the water up all the way from the Quadcities in Iowa, Ill all the way down. Current in the S river can be strong and even a 5-6 kts you'll have problems in some areas. The later in the year the slower the flow as most all of the snow has melted off in the flood plain. Although this year there doesn't seem to be much snow. Don't know where your going up there but it would be a much easier trip going around to Lake Michigan and down to the Illinois river. Of course you'll have to pull your mast for that leg. Good luck. It's interesting but not enough to do it a second time.
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Old 18-01-2007, 11:36   #3
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I will be starting in Corpus Christi Texas (perhaps around the first of June) then to New Orleans and up river to an unknown destination. (dont know where but if I can get into the great lakes that would be nice to get to Wisconsin). Then after a rest, a fun ski ride back down stream and back to Corpus Christi by the end of October. From Corpus Christi I will continue south to Tampico Mex and return to Corpus by the end of November. This is all speculation at this point but I would like to do it this year.

It looks like a 30 mile a day run would be a good run going upriver and maybe 100 miles a day going downriver. So perhaps a month or more going north and then back down in something around two weeks.
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Old 18-01-2007, 12:03   #4
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I lived on the northern end a few blocks from Lock and Dam number 1. You'll find the Mississippi has several distinct sections. You'll find navigable waters north to downtown Minneapolis after that it's more for canoes for about 250 miles. From the Twin Cities south to the junction with the Ohio River (in Iowa) there is a system of lock and dams that help maintain a 9 ft channel. So draft won't be an issue at any time but there is a channel to observe some places more than others. I would say that section would be considered the only section that is scenic but it is very scenic any time of the year. Lots of birds and animals and scenery of high bluffs and thick trees. South of the Ohio the river widens a great deal and the topography flattens. The scenery drops to almost nothing though some towns along the route would prove interesting. Personally, I would suggest the Ten Tom Waterway:

Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Maps Page

for the lower section of your trip. There is more scenery and I think from the water is a better trip.

Current really is not a problem any time of the year but debris is. Spring time brings lots of debris from the winter snows. Whole floating trees can be in your path. Currents are only a problem in a few spots where the river is at the narrowest points that are very short sections. A 6 knot current in spring would be common in the worst places. When the river widens the current slows but in flood stages you will have a LOT of debris and I would worry more about that in early spring. The fine soils of the upper Midwest erode easily and so the water is dark and many trees are washed down.

There is commercial traffic in the whole river. Except during winter in the northern most sections in MN/IA traffic runs all year long. You would plan a trip down that would leave no later than early November from MN/IA. Maybe early October as it will freeze in November and snow storms can hit any time in November but generally don't. Fall color on the northern end begins early October and proceeds on down.

When dealing with locks no recreational traffic is permitted inside the lock with commercial traffic - period. A commercial boat has priority over any recreational traffic always. They generally open on demand though some times there may be a schedule when busy with recreational traffic. You always hail the lock when you are nearing. Bridges open on demand most of the time but you would want to check.

Get charts from the Army Corps of Engineers as they manage all the inland rivers as well as all the locks.
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Old 18-01-2007, 15:12   #5
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ps I averaged about a 100 miles, not nautical miles; a day heading down stream. That was the best, consider it much less going upstream.
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Old 18-01-2007, 15:20   #6
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I don't know if it would be of any use to you but a fellow by the name of Jonathan Raban wrote a book called Old Glory about a trip down the Mississippi. He did it in a tinny not a yacht but there may be useful information in there for you. If nothing else I reckon it would be a good companion for the trip. Sounds like a great trip btw. (The book is still in print, Amazon would be sure to have it.)
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Old 18-01-2007, 16:35   #7
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Thanks, sounds like a good book to read.

I am really interested in finding someone who has gone UP the river so I can see what the tactics are to find the slowest current etc.

Maybe I will go upriver on the Ten-Tom, but would prefer to do it on the Mississippi...just for bragging rights if nothing else.
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Old 18-01-2007, 18:09   #8
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Going up the river . .

My husband and I have a Gulfstar Hirsh 45 that we are going to be taking from Florida to Chicago. We had planned to sail around to Sarasota in the spring, then in June sail over to Mobile Bay and up to Chicago. We had the same question about currents (going up). We have considered shipping the boat, but would rather take it ourselevs.

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Old 18-01-2007, 19:50   #9
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Plabis offers alot of good advice. I have gone upstream from just above St Louis to Minneapolis in my 40ft tri with a 17 hp diesel. We did this in August and had no problem with current. It seemed to be 1 knot or less in a vast majority of the river. In a few short narrow sections (Quad Cities) it may have kicked up to 2-3 knots. A friend did the same trip a month earlier and had a bit more current but still nothing to cause any problem. The current will generally be faster in the spring and early summer and slow down with the dropping water levels in August. It all depends on how wet a summer we have here up north and the reverse could also happen. The current will be faster on the outside bend but other than that there are no tactics to avoid it except time of year. You should not go wandering about willy-nilly outside the channel markers.
Below St Louis it is another story. There are no more locks so the current picks up considerably as do the size of the barge trains. In the upper river about 15 is the largest and below it may approach 50. The scenery is less and the facilities for pleasure craft fewer. Bragging rights does not seem like a good enough reason to put up with the hassle. Take the Tenn-Tom instead and enjoy the trip more. I can't think of anything more frustrating than making 1 knot against a 4-6 knot current all day long day after day.
Get the Army Corp of Engineers chart book of the river. Pay attention to the location of the wing dams that are marked on the charts. With your shallow draft you should have little trouble with the marinas even tho many of them are set up for runabouts and fishing skiffs. We scraped through the mud in one marina with our 3.5ft draft. Never had a problem with the barge traffic and at times they were very helpful. One guy let us tie up to his front barge in each lock and after locking thru we waited outside the lock for him to take the lead and we would follow to the next lock. This was on the Illinios River.

Note to francie: You should have no problem with current on the Illinios River. The only place that it gets a little crazy is in the last 25 miles before Chicago and it has nothing to do with current. The barge traffic gets heavy and at places they will be tied to the banks with room for one way traffic in short sections. You have to do this last bit in one shot as there will be no place to stop and tie up. It splits here so you have two options. The northern route takes you thru downtown Chicago and has the most traffic. The southern route I think is called the Calumet or Cal- Sag, I don't remember which. This one has less traffic and the last few miles takes you thru a dilapidated, abandoned, rusted out industrial wasteland that is kind of interesting in it's own way.
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Old 20-01-2007, 07:59   #10
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We appreciate the information. We have taken a look at the Waterway Guide for the Great Loop Cruise, which also covers getting to the Great Lakes via the Erie Canal (a trip that would double the milage to over 2000 miles for us). Most of the Great Loop cruisers sail up the Eastern coast of the US follow the Erie Canal into the Great Lakes and then come down the rivers.

Our draft is 5'4, we have friends who have taken a deeper draft (9 ft.) boat down the river(s) and Ten Tom waterway and had trouble with depth in Marina's. We are familiar with short stretches of the rivers near Chicago, we have been up and down them often taking boats to winter storage.
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Old 20-01-2007, 09:31   #11
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Just a little caution about barges.

They do run at night. On the long hauls they always run 24 x 7. They also have about the largest spot lights in the modern world It takes a loaded barge going down stream 1/2 mile to stop even more when you see a raft of 50. Not unlike a freight train and almost as heavy. Freight trains have breaks on all the cars. River barges have only the tug.

The barge pilots are some of the very best in the world at what they do. Most of the time they set up for rounding a turn 20 - 30 minutes before they get there. They tend to favor the outside of the turn unless the channel dictates otherwise. You can hail the pilot and ask "one whistle" or "two". It's not always the case that port to port is preferred.

If you get in the way it is impossible for them to alter course. Most barge accidents happen 1/2 hour before the collision. Imagine piloting along and suddenly realizing that in 30 minutes there will be a crash with you involved and you can do nothing about it.

You basically are always the give way vessel in all instances when it comes to barges. Assume they are constrained even when empty.

You may see "fleeting areas" where they tie up barges. Don't anchor in or near those places as they can show up in the middle of the night. The big spot lights will only be the beginning.
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Old 20-01-2007, 11:57   #12
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Barges and tows are easy to get used to. MOST of them will talk to you on chanel 16 or 13...depanding on the local preferance. Generaly, west of the Harvey Locks its 16 while east of the Harvey Locks its 13. I said MOST, because occasionaly you will run into a barge that wont talk to a pleasure craft, but they are rare. I have also found bridge tenders that wont talk to a pleasure craft. But again they are rare. Just call the tow along with some identifying phrase, like his name if you are approaching from behind (BTW, wheather pushing or pulling, they are always a "Tow", not a Tug.) or if you cant see his name use his location and direction, like "Tow southbound at marker 34. This is the sailing vessel Isabella that is in front of you" After getting an answer, remember the name he/she gives (there are She tow captians) and respond, always remembering to address him/her as Captain or "Cap'n" with due respect. They will always call you "Cap'n" also, though I have also been called the "itty bitty sailboat" but with reverance and a grin. Then tell the captain what your intentions are and ask his/her preferance. ALWAYS give them the choice and always follow their desires. You are far more manuverable then they are. If you find that their choice will cause you to be in danger or a very difficult situation, call back and explain, they will usually try to accomodate you unless it will cause a dangerous/dificult situation for them. I have had tow captains defer to me on entering a lock when it was obvious that it would be better for me to be forward in the lock, or to be on a particular side of the lock. Usually in such situations it is better for both parties. But talking to them on the VHF is the key to an easy passage.

Something not mentioned above, is that if you anchor at night, outside the marked chanel of course, stay on the leward side of the chanel because if a tow runs into trouble he will push his load up on the windward side and may not even see you. And of course use anchor lights..BRIGHT...not some wimpy little 1 watt thing. Personally I would not tie to the bank in the ICW unless in a creek or bayou off the side, and only there if I didnt see any large bollards or huge lines tied to trees which indicate its a favorite stopping place for something BIG.
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Old 20-01-2007, 12:27   #13
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The biggest problem is finding an anchorage.Plan far in advance.The advice given above is excellent.Do not and I repeat DO NOT anchor in barge staging areas eg. the confluence of the Ohio and the Mississippi.The last time I went down a sailboat got hit in one of these areas and she had her lights on!!
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Old 20-01-2007, 14:26   #14
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Quote:
The last time I went down a sailboat got hit in one of these areas and she had her lights on!!
They can hit you in the day just as easy. Barges can not get out of the way of anything. It is impossible! 1 barge is about 50 tractor trailer loads of stuff not counting the hull or the tug. Take 15 of these at one time tied together and this is serious momentum. Next try 50!

Fleeting areas are designated on the charts but you may need up to date charts. They always are asking for more areas. You'll generally see large pylons in the water or ashore where they tie up the barges. There will be some sign they were there and if there have been there they will be back. They can not tie them up except in designated areas. Sometimes the areas are small.
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Old 20-01-2007, 15:47   #15
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Maybe on the river they cannot tie up just anywhere, but on the GICW they will tie up anywhere, that is why you need to look around for signs such is large ropes looped around tree trunks. Another clue is if there is an indentation on the bank that looks suspiciously square and looks like its been there a while...lots of usage.

I was once anchored in Spindletop Bayou, TX, well off the ICW, but it looked big enough to hold a couple of barges. After anchoring I hailed a passing tow and asked him if it was safe to anchor there. His response, "Sure is, only an idiot would try to take a barge in there...I did one time....and had to back out 3 miles!"

So the local tows do know the answers and they are willing to share their knowledge...if you call them and ask politely.
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