We have spent most of our adult lives in California or the Pacific Northwest. Hurricanes, tropical storms, tropical depressions: those all happened East of Interstate 5. So, when we heard the news about Hurricane Gordon coming ashore near Alabama’s Gulf Coast, we did the mental check to see if we knew anyone there (yes, but inland) and just let it fade out of our daily lives. Lesson 5: Always pay attention to the weather east of I-5!
We left Louisville, KY, on Thursday September 6th and stayed the night at a free dock in Brandenburg, KY, that was not very far downstream. It worked out great. Friday morning September 7th, we continued downstream and pulled into Derby, IN, at their free dock maintained by the community center people. That was one of the places we stopped at on the way up, with the Best Fried Chicken Ever. When we got onto the dock to go to dinner, things were little shakier than we remembered, and a lot shallower than we remembered. The weather was gloomy – rain expected. It rained while we were at dinner but had stopped by the time we got back to the boat and Lenny had taken the boys out for their nightly stroll.
As Lenny was bringing them back, it began to rain again. That was the start of a horrific thunderstorm, with gusty winds, lightning crashing all around us, and the rickety dock being moved about by wind and wave, with us tied to it. Chip is so afraid of thunder that he finally ended up in the top corner of the v-berth, on Louise’s head, and Dayle let out just the most God Awful Moan/Howl when he found out Chip was gone, and Lenny was up most of the night trying to figure out if the banging we heard on the hull was us being slammed into the rocks or just loud wave slaps. Basically, no one got any sleep, and as soon as we could get out of there Saturday morning September 8th, we did.
Louise had been trying for a couple of days to get in touch with a marina in Owensboro, KY, that sold diesel because we thought we should fill up when the opportunity presented itself. Well, no one was returning her calls, the rain was pouring down, there was fog so thick at times that we couldn’t see even a quarter mile in front of us and tows all around. So finally, she texted the guy at the Owensboro Marina, where we stayed last time, to see if we could pull in there. Luckily, he answered her text and said there was room. Look for the banner that proclaims “Redneck Yacht Club.”
So, while all this weather was going on Saturday afternoon, my sister Laura texted me to tell me Oklahoma was beating the crap out of UCLA (which was great news, but not great timing). Pouring down rain as we made our approach to the dock. Windy. Slippery. But… we successfully tied up on another somewhat shaky pier. At that point, the people behind us on the dock told us that all the boats need to be off the dock by Monday morning because the river will flood and the docks will be underwater. This action was all thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Gordon, thus Lesson 5 about the weather came into play. We replied, OK, not a problem, because we planned to leave Sunday morning anyway.
Once we were tied up, Louise resumed texting with Laura. We were chatting about this and that when Louise’s phone went off with an emergency alert for… TORNADO! And the Tornado sirens started wailing, but nobody at the marina was doing anything except drinking beer up at the beer shed. Meanwhile, the two of us were texting furiously, since all the good advice Laura (resident of Norman, OK) gave us about what to do wasn’t applicable. (No cement tables, no culverts, no storm cellar…) Eventually, Laura could let Louise know what was going on around us since she could see the weather on TV. Louise tuned into the audio of a local TV station on the FM radio and pulled up Google maps, so she could see where the tornados (two of them at once!) were compared to where we were moored. One of the tornados crossed the Ohio River from KY to IN, where we had been about 3 hours earlier! But, eventually, after 3 more rounds of alerts and sirens, things quieted down, and we had a minor rock and roll night (compared to the previous night).
Sunday September 9th, we were up early and Louise called the Newburgh Lock to see when they might get us through. They were all stacked up, having only one chamber (instead of 2) open. They said come down and give us a call when you get about 2 miles away. After dodging a large amount of debris in the river, we arrived about 11 am, radioed the lockmaster, and he said, it will be at least another hour or so, and, oh by the way, another boat coming from Owensboro called and they should be here in about an hour or so, is it OK to just do you together. The last was not really a question, but it gave us the opportunity to say, sure no problem, since we were dependent on staying on the good side of the lockmaster.
The other boat (Journey – a Sea Ray about our size) joined us and we begin to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. This is what the boat track looked like on the chart plotter as we motored back and forth, trying to stay out of the way of the tows. With these tows, the normal rules of the road don’t really apply. Lenny calls it the Law of Gross Tonnage and we obey it by staying out of their way.
About 2:30 pm, we were assured that we will be the next to go through downstream. We just had to wait for a tow to clear and reassemble itself. The only chamber that was working was the small chamber, which meant that most tows had to basically separate themselves into two smaller parts, then do one part at a time. These are tows that have three barges across and usually about four or five barges in length. Thus, the Law of Gross Tonnage again came into play, doubling the amount of time it took to get the tows through.
At about 3:00pm, we began to hear radio traffic that there was a person in the water. We and Journey “kept a sharp lookout” for anyone in the water but did not see anyone and thought maybe someone mistook some drift (aka tree branches) for a person. Unfortunately, that was not the case, as one person was pulled from the water below the dam. His fishing companion and their capsized boat were not immediately found, and the lock was shut down entirely to support the search and rescue efforts. At about 5:30 pm, it was clear that we were not going through the lock on Sunday. We conferred with Journey and determined that there was an acceptable anchorage behind some islands upstream. We checked out with the lockmaster before heading back upstream for the night. Neither of us wanted to try to anchor in an unfamiliar area in the dark.
Both boats anchored out in a sheltered area and, after we relaxed and ate dinner, we had a good night sleep. We agreed with Journey that Louise would call the lockmaster Monday morning the 10th after 7 am, to see if we could get locked through. Meanwhile, the flood (remember the flood from six paragraphs ago?) caused the river to rapidly rise and pull even more debris off the river banks. Lenny named the larger ones “Unmanned Watercraft,” which is very descriptive of their size and speed. Louise explained to the lockmaster that we had been waiting since 11 yesterday and he initially said, The Lock Is Closed Because Of The Flood.
However, he took her cell phone number and said he needed to check with someone before calling her back. About 10 minutes later, he called back, asked all sorts of questions about what our boats were like, and said, “Come down now!” It took us less than an hour to get the anchors up on both boats, dodge all the river debris and get to that lock. Very treacherous current getting in – we had been warned by both the lock master and a work boat/tug about that situation, but we made it without any damage. Just as we were approaching the opened gates, the lockmaster announced to everyone waiting that the lock was going to be closed until at least noon that day because of high water and the continuing efforts to recover the other body and the capsized boat. As we exited the lock, we saw the dive boat working along the Kentucky side of the river – a very sobering sight. As of this blog entry, neither the body of the other fisherman nor their boat has been recovered.
Lenny said that Louise sweet-talked the lock master into taking us through a closed lock, and the captain of the Journey said he was impressed that she got us in there. For me, I was just happy to lock through, dodge more debris as we motored downstream, and finally tied up at Inland Marina, in Evansville, IN, home of the Tiki Time bar.
Monday, while we were eating lunch at the Marina Pointe Restaurant, which is at the top of the ramp, we watched the LST 325, a decommissioned WWII era warship return to her moorings at the end of the point. She had been on a month-long tour of the lower Ohio and Upper Mississippi Rivers, educating people about this type of ship’s role in WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It was quite a sight and brought back memories of Lenny’s time as a Naval Officer off the coast of Vietnam. The rest of our time here has been spent on cleaning, laundry, working the with the Portland Pudgy dinghy, and just relaxing.
Meanwhile, the flood waters continue to rise. We are well-protected at our moorage on the fuel pier. (Same place as when we stayed here going upstream.) It’s a comfort to be at a familiar place, especially with the water continuing to rise. As you can see from the graph, it should crest Monday the 17th. We hope to be heading downstream towards the JT Meyers Lock soon after that.
Lesson 5 about the effects of long-distance weather events has not been lost on us, as we await Hurricane Florence’s addition of even more moisture to the tributaries that feed the Ohio River. We are anxious to make progress towards Nashville, TN, but plan to do it safely and slowly.
Our Trip So Far
As of Friday September 14, 2018…
- Days: 90
- Locks Passed Through: 36
- Miles Sailed: 1,493
- Engine Hours: 194
- Gallons of Diesel: 647