Alton, IL to Paducah, KY

Alton to Paducah Map

Alton Marina
Then Again decked out for the evening at Alton Marina.

We joined the “main” Looper route on Saturday July 21st, when we tied up at the Alton Marina in Alton, IL. What a beautiful marina, with the entire “H” Dock devoted to transient boaters. It’s also the most convenient dock to the office, showers, laundry, store and café. Many marinas put the transient docks as far away from the office as possible, although we are the ones most likely to use the facilities. The harbormaster was so welcoming, giving us the personalized grand tour.

Mississippi River Bridge
The view of the Mississippi River Bridge from Alton Marina.

Our intention had been to spend just one night there and then go through the Mel Price Lock and Dam on Sunday. That plan was thwarted because the main chamber was closed due to repairs, so all the commercial traffic had to go through the small chamber, and in two parts. When we called early Sunday, we were told that they were running up bounds for 12 hours, then down bounds for 12 hours. Our best hope was to call early Monday morning, the 23rd, and see if we could squeeze through during the turnaround period.

So, that is exactly what we did. We were listening to Channel 13 at about 6:30am on Monday July 23rd, when we heard them agree to take a “small boy” tug down, followed closely by another recreational boat asking if they could also ride it down. That was agreed to, and we jumped on the radio. The lockmaster said we needed to “hurry,” and we were able to get underway in about 5 minutes.

After the Mel Price Lock, we needed to pass through the Chain of Rocks Lock before we could reach St Louis. There are actually signs pointing to the proper direction; otherwise, you will be in some serious boating trouble. However, that lock was clear and no issues.

We sailed right past the St. Louis Arch, which was an amazing sight in the early morning sun. The numerous tug boats, tug and tows, and other watercraft transiting the harbor kept Lenny on his toes. We also enjoyed seeing the old architecture of some of the warehouses, with their attention to detail, such as arched brick window frames.

The view from Hoppie's
Looking across the Mississippi from Hoppie’s.

There is only one fuel stop between Alton and Paducah, KY, and that is Hoppie’s Marina in Kimmswick, MO. Well, calling it a “marina” is stretching the definition. It is actually a set of barges rafted together on the ends, which allows you to tie up alongside for fuel, or to stay the evening. We got there just a little after lunch and had planned to stay the evening, not knowing how long it was going to take us to get through the Mel Price Lock. We fueled up (both the boat and ourselves) and decided to stay rather than carrying on further downstream to an anchorage.

This was probably not our best decision, as it was a very rocky ride throughout the night. However, we were visited personally by Hoppie, who is in his 80s and gets around via a golf cart. We discussed the past and present river conditions and he let us know about his sunken barge. The floods have been very hard on everyone this year, and, in his case, he used to be able to handle 12-15 transients a night, but is now down to about 4 or 5. The rest room was up in an old barn and surprisingly clean, but quite a walk.

Tuesday July 24th would be our first time anchoring out with our boat. We decided to make some time down the river to make up for the extra day at Alton and the short stay at Hoppie’s. We needed to be in Paducah, KY, by Thursday the 26th so we could get our car and then pick up the dogs on the 28th. Even though Lesson 1 says all dates are flexible, some dates are less flexible than others, and the availability of the kennel to give us the boys back on a Saturday was inflexible.

Throughout our cruise down this part of the river, we saw many old brick buildings that supported river commerce and have since been decommissioned. The photo below is just an example of one of them. The old lock walls themselves are demolished and sunk in the river to a particular depth, usually about 15 feet, and it is carefully marked on the chart. We always pay attention to those information markings.

We ended up with a very long day but anchored in the Little River Diversion Channel just off the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau, MO. Compared to the rock and roll of Hoppie’s the previous night, the peaceful calm of this location was heavenly. Our anchoring system worked like a champ; we hadn’t forgotten the skills we used when on our sailboats in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Wednesday July 25th was another day to head to an anchorage, with this one being Angelo Towhead, in Cairo, IL. We were tucked in behind an island and had a million dollar view of the bridge that marks the confluence of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River. Our downstream time, with its excellent fuel mileage, was at an end.

Morning in Cairo, IL

We made the big left hand turn up the Ohio River early in the morning on Thursday July 25th. We will not be seeing the Mississippi River again until 2020. We were heading to Paducah, KY, but first had to lock through the Olmsted Lock and Dam, Lock and Dam 53, and Lock and Dam 52. The Olmsted Lock is a 30 year project that is due for completion some time in 2018. It will replace Lock and Dams 53 and 52, and should facilitate barge traffic by removing the congestion at these 2 points. We were able to transit the Olmsted project since it is not yet operational; Lock and Dam 53 has already been removed, and we had a minimal wait at Lock and Dam 52.

Lenny on the Ohio River
Lenny fulfilled a dream of his when he piloted Then Again upstream on the Ohio River.

We arrived at the Paducah, KY, transient and fuel dock late in the day on Thursday July 26th. It was quite a shock to discover that the funding for the restrooms and other boater facilities had been removed from the project. No restrooms at all on the pier! We are being very mindful of how much is going into the black water tank at this point. This is something you don’t usually have to think about when you are on land, unless you are in a drought situation. Having experienced several droughts while living in California, we knew how to treat liquid waste and solid waste to minimize water usage. That night we experienced quite a wind storm with some rain, and were rocking and rolling since we tied up on the outside pier. We moved over to the inside pier on Friday July 27th, since that is also where we needed to fuel and get pumped out. A much calmer ride.

Evening at the Paducah transient dock
Evening at the Paducah transient dock.

A big shout out to Enterprise Rent-A-Car, not only in Paducah but throughout our trip so far. They will always come to pick us up at the Marina, and it’s not always easy describing where we are since we did not come by land. Each of the local offices has provided us with places to eat, buy groceries, and do laundry, as well as places to see.

Also, a big shout out to Lenscrafters. We needed to get new glasses when we were in St. Charles, MO, and the Lenscrafters office there was able to send our glasses to the Paducah office. The Paducah office called us to tell us they had arrived and we were able to pick them on that Friday. We also were able to provision that day, and do other errands, just like we do when we are land-based. We were able to walk around historic Paducah at night, and especially enjoyed seeing some the of murals on the flood walls.

Saturday July 28th, Louise drove the car to Edwardsville, IL, and back in order to retrieve the boys from their kennel stay. Everyone was happy to see each other. While Louise was gone, Lenny was able to do boat cleaning. Again, all these day to day tasks that are similar to the ones we did on land.

We are also a “tourist attraction” and meet many interesting people who stop by to admire Then Again or to ask us about the Loop. We are OK with people hailing us, but it is annoying when people just decide to peer in to what is essentially our living room. Fortunately, there have been very few of those!

On Sunday July 29th, Lenny worshiped at the United Church of Paducah, KY. They have just sold their old building, are moving into space at another church, and trying to discern what their mission is. This sounded to us like what our home church Parkrose UCC in Portland experienced a few years ago, which had very positive results. We will keep these people in prayer. Since we had to return the rental car that afternoon, one place we did not visit was the Quilt Museum, even though it was very close. Neither one of us is a quilter and, although it is world famous, it just didn’t make it on the list of things to do within the time constraints we had.

Our Trip So Far

As of Friday July 27, 2018…

  • Days: 41
  • Locks Passed Through: 28
  • Miles Sailed: 962
  • Engine Hours: 121
  • Gallons of Diesel: 282


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