A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Monday, 17 September 2012

The Mighty (Meagre) Misssissippi

We headed out from Grafton onto the Mighty Mississip and at first it was everything I expected. The river was wide and fast

At 1300RPM we were travelling 10.7 knots, where we would normally be 8.5. However once past the first lock the landscape changed and past the second the river narrowed and there was significant eposure of the riverbanks. Apparently the river is 15ft lower than normal and is anticipated it will get worse. At St Louis a barge with a crane warned me to go to deeper water as he had just grounded and he only drew 5ft. Several other tows were reporting groundings as well and one captain told an upbound colleague from further south "you will see some scarey stuff up here!"

We arrived at the famous Hoppies Marina in the early afternoon and were lucky enough to have this beautiful riverboat pass us by in the afternoon.

A couple of other Loopers were with us and at 5.00pm the owner Fern gave us a breifing on what to expect downstream. First she told us that this was the lowest she had seen the river since 2003, when they actually closed the river. She also said she expected it to get worse. The advice was to ignore all the anchorages suggested in the guidebooks and gave us a few options for the rest of the Mississippi. These were anchorages up to about 50 miles downstream, a floating dock 100 miles away and an anchorage at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers 158 miles away. We decided to go for the floating dock (Kidds in Cape Girardeau) and everyone retired early for an early start the next day.

At 6.00am it was still dark but one Looper departed, followed half an hour later by another and half an hour after that we got underway as well. By now the current was running around 3 knots and we were hitting speeds of 11-12 knots, with the highest we saw that day at 13.8 knots. We overtook our fellow loopers and were in the lead for the race to Kidds Landing. There were lots of tows, both directions - we probably passed 20 or more that day. The river got narrower and shallower with a typical sight like this one of the Little Rock Ferry ramp (which wasn't operating for some strange reason.
We reached the dock about 3.00pm and didn't like the look of it and its exposure, so we decided to head for Angelo's Towhead. About 10 miles out from it, it was starting to get dark but we were committed. About 6 miles out we ran into a large slow tow going downstream at a norrow part of the river and we had to get past him or we were not going to make the anchorage by dark. We got past and made it to the Towhead right on nightfall. We anchored in 18ft of water, well away from barge traffic and had a pleasant night after 158 miles in 13 hours, averaging 12.2 miles per hour.

The next day we entered the Ohio River and it couldn't have been more different. Firstly the river was wide and had water in it. It was also running against us as we were heading upstream, so we were doing 7 knots at the same revs as yesterday. We made good time until we reached the first lock, where there was a backlog of tows and we had to wait two and a half hours to lock through. This lock is just upstream of the new Olmstead Lock and dam under construction - an awesome looking project.

We past Metropolis, but had no time to stop and check out the Superman painting on the water tower. We got straight through the second lock, but the delay at the first did not allow us to stop at Paducah, either. We went on to stay at another towhead anchorage at the junction of the Cumberland and Ohio rivers. Another nice quiet night.

The next day was a short (30 mile) trip up the narrow but deep Cumberland river to the Barkley Lock, which has a 57ft lift to Barkley Lake.

From there it was a 2 mile trip to Green Turtle Bay Marina and Resort, where we have booked to stay a week while our Kiwi friends, Dennis and Kathy, come to stay with us. They will have a rental car so we intend to explore the local area and places like Memphis, Nashville etc.
Another frenetic few days, with a lot of travel (304 miles in 4 days), so it will be good to relax for a bit.


  1. I have a suggestion for you.

    Ribs for Lunch at Blues City Cafe, Memphis. On Beale St., of course.

    It is a greasy spoon in the classic sense of the term and Excellent ribs. Enjoy.

    1. Had the ribs at Blues City and they WERE excellent. Our NZ friends were a little taken aback by the style of presentation, which you can clearly see from where you are seated, until I explained the chef (cook?) had been specially trained to dispense fries by the handful then pick up the ones that missed and return them to your plate from the bench.

    2. LOL, yeah, I experienced the Falling Fries phenomenon on one of my visits there, too. Since I can't eat fries, I felt a little better, but only a little. But then I did warn you that it is in fact a greasy spoon in the classic sense of the term. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. I make it a point to stop there for lunch if I'm even passing through Memphis.


  2. I'm guessing that steamboat was the new "Queen of the Mississippi" operated by American Cruise Lines. We took passage on a similar riverboat -- American Queen -- operated by an unfortunately now defunct steamship line, in the lower river from New Orleans to Memphis. Fantastic trip (not inexpensive!), but likely different from what you'll see on the Tenn-Tom route.

    What did you end up with for your DC system?


    1. She WAS actually the American Queen. Very pretty.

      The DC system, as I write this, is made up of 2 of the original diesel start batteries per engine, charged by the engine via charging isolators and separate from the house system. Plus 1 x 126A/hr deep cycle battery per engine charged by the alternator or the converter from shore power or genset. The genset has a separate battery and is also charged by the converter/charger, and its own alternator of course.

      I have found that overnight at anchor the inverter shuts off early in the morning on low voltage cutout, even though there is still reasonable voltage (just under 12V) in the house batteries so it looks like there just isn't enough storage - which was not unexpected. So today we are going to hook the 2 surplus start batteries to the house system (2 start one side 2 deep cycle the other) which will approx double the storage - even though they are not strictly the correct battery types. Then we'll see if that keeps the inverter going all night. Its not really an issue as you don't tend to open fridge and freezer doors at 4.00 in the morning and I can always fire up the genset, but at least now the engines will start no matter what the state of the house batteries.

    2. Thanks, VERY interesting to know the American Queens is back in service! Last we'd heard, it was still in hock, with US Govt holding the paper... so hadn't realized a new company has been formed to operate her again.

      So you'll end up with only 1 engine start battery per side, then one bank of house using 2x starting batteries, and another house bank using 2x deep cycles. Er... yes? Which group sizes for each? Nominal amp-hours per bank?

      I haven't seen a 12v battery with nominal 126-Ah spec; which one is that?

      FWIW, our system is two banks of 3x each Group 31 AGMs (nominal 100-Ah, although some mfgrs quote higher), and each bank starts an engine, runs approx half the house, and either bridge electronics (stbd) or bridge electrics (port). Separate genset starting battery. Our oldest AGM bank is just finishing up the 7th season, still seems fine...

      Quite common Silverton set-up, although I think they often still only fitted Group 27 batteries in the larger boats.

      No inverter and no isolated "house bank" in our case, but then our fridges both run on DC anyway (the AC feed is simply a converter to DC to run the fridge's DC compressor). I've thought about an inverter installation, but we tend to not use much of anything at anchor that needs AC except for morning and evening meals... and that's an OK time for us to run the genset, make hot water, and recharge batteries anyway... so the whole inverter idea keeps getting bumped by whatever new shiny object attracts my attention du' jour.

      FWIW, several members in the Owners' Club -- of those who actually have house banks (I think mostly 43 MYs from memory, but at least one 42C with an aftermarket inverter/battery bank installation) -- have swapped to pairs of 6v "golf cart" batteries for house services, especially some who have inverters. I'm guessing you'd know all the advantages...


    3. No... We now have 2 start batteries per engine, 2 house per engine (yes on the mix of them - not ideal but the surplus start batteries were just sitting around so I may as well use them), 1 separate genset battery - 9 in total All are group 29. I worked out the 126Ahr based on specs written on the battery, but now suspect they are only around 100 from testing I did on them.

      When the inverter is on, all the house batteries are effectively coupled together at the inverter inputs but that could not be avoided with the way this one works. I considerd the 6v option for more storage capacity (as well as using 4D's), but space to put them has been the limiting factor as well as price.

    4. Ah. Got it. And in the meantime, I remembered that Odyssey's PC2250 does spec at 126-Ah. Given that you've got a parallel switch, and also a separate genset starting battery... I suspect I'd be inclined to do a short test for a couple overnighters where all 4 batteries per engine are feeding the house, just to see how close that whole set-up would come to meeting your requirements. If it turns out to be close, and if the engines will still start (especilly if you find you rarely have to use the parallel switch), then you'd be able to consider just gradually upgrading each bank as your current batteries die (assuing they do, over time). I don't know off-hand what Ah your Group 29s are providing, but I do know Group 31s will fit in the same footprint. Using Odyssey specs (thinking Sears Platinum Plus), their PC2150 Group 31 batteries would give you 1150 CCAs and 100-Ah each, so 400-Ah per bank -- eventually -- with decent retained starting capability could simplfy everything. Probably other battery manufacturers offer similar options. Just thinking out loud, as it were... Are you running house functions from the genset while underway? That's pretty common out here in our neck of the woods (Chesapeake). -Chris

    5. The parallel switch only couples the 2 sets of engine batteries together. The house are now totally isolated from them, although I can connect them up with a single positive cable between them if I have to. The inverter runs the house AC while underway - that was the whole point of the excercise. We can run all the refrigeration, microwave and toaster while running, plus any other AC appliances (although the Admiral knows not to use the oven or stove top), other than the water heater and converter, which are isolated by the transfer switch. We only use the genset when anchored and want to use the oven, stove or airconditioning, or to recharge the house batteries. I used the surplus start batteries because they were surplus, and if they don't last I will replace them with deep cycle. But it was worth a try rather than just buying new ones.

      I borrowed a battery tester and did a storage test on the deep cycles. When I input that they were 126 Ahr, it came up "Bad battery". When I input 100Ahr it came up "Good battery - 100% charge". That's why I figure they're probably around 100Ahr, despite what's written on them. 400Ahr storage would normally be more than adequate on a boat back home, but here they are power hungry and, in our case, particularly with the Subzero full size residential fridge and freezer.

      If you want to send me your email address to loopykiwi@xtra.co.nz, I can send you the wiring diagrams, if you like.

  3. Those American Cruise ships are built right here in the town I am living. A friend used to be the plant GM. They just finished that new paddle wheeler this summer. Didn't realize it was in service, already. I would bet Dollars to Donuts, the "American Queen" was also built here. I think every boat they build and operate has the word American in the name.

    1. What town? Beautiful boats. American Queen is apparently now operated by the American Queen Steamboat Company, and the new Queen of the Mississippi is operated by American Cruise Lines. ACL also operates Queen of the West (Columbia/Snake Rivers) from their acquistion after the Majestic America Line went bust. Haven't heard anything about Empress of the North, which Majestic America used to operate in the Alaskan Inside Passageway. I grew up dreaming about riding on the Delta Queen and later, the Missisippi Queen. -Chris

    2. Salisbury Shipyards in Salisbury, MD In addition to building the cruise ships for its parent company, they do maintenance work on the massive tugs that work the bay pushing barges.

    3. Heh, I had no idea there's a shipyard there. I'm near Annapolis... -Chris