Ted655 - Coming Down the Mississippi - Pensacola Fishing Forum

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Old 09-08-2015, 06:43 PM   #1
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Default Ted655 - Coming Down the Mississippi

A buddy of mine (I am BananaTom) from Butte LaRose, LA, that I met on the Houseboat Magazine forum bought a houseboat in Evansville, Indiana and came down the Mississippi. He posted for a-bought a year before his adventure, during his shopping and dreaming of this trip. Once he was on his trip, we all wondered about him. Long after he was due to return he finally started posting about his adventure.

He wrote one heck of a story about this trip. It was such a heck of a story of the trip, that Houseboat Magazine published it. It took 4 months of publications to tell the whole story, as it was so long.

Everyone loves this story, as written by Ted Shelton, aka Ted655. I wish to share this story with this forum.

I will post it in sections over a period of time, as Ted did. This was his first post to a thread on the Houseboat Forum, as we were looking for him since he was over due to return to the forum as follows:
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Old 09-08-2015, 06:43 PM   #2
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By Ted655 aka Ted Shelton
Preamble
Summer of 2007

Sorry all. We got home & had no Internet. Levees, lines, digging, USC of Engineers. Oh what a mess it's been. Finally managed to get dial-up, still no DSL Anyhow, what an adventure! Not just the actual trip but the total experience. Shyster marina personnel, crooked transporter, thieves in motel rooms and more! Even a mutiny on board! Huck & Jim had nothing on our river adventure. Yes Virginia, there are STILL pirates on the Mississippi & Ohio. We managed to escape with our lives but not our moneys. We would do it again tomorrow, what a blast we had.

I don't want to bore anyone, as the trip has been done by many but I urge all who can to make the trip.

We had heard many warnings & been told a few myths about the lower Mississippi. At no time did we feel in danger or even have a close call.

Here are some figures; Total time on rivers was 12 days (2 spent at Memphis marina). We traveled only during daylight, average 12 hrs a day. The diesel got 4 MPG. We averaged 8 mph. on the Ohio (little current). We averaged 10 mph on the Mississippi.

We were SO bad at the first lock we never did get a rope around a bollard. The lockmaster just lowered the level & let us go. By the 2nd lock we had it together and by the 3rd. we were old hands. The rope/pvc pipe towline worked like a dream!!! Found out the hard way... there is no recreational fuel in Paducah. People there are NOT friendly (with 1 exception). Paducah was the worst experience of the whole endeavor.

We learned that Cairo is pronounced Karo (like the syrup) and not Cairo, like in Egypt. They also will not give a recreational boater the time of day but are more polite about it than Paducah. Greenville has brand new marina and were nice & fair to deal with.

There is much to recount about a lot of things. I learned the difference between a lake boat & a "travlin" boat.

Yipes! I better shut up now. Thanks for the concern, we are well & pleased we "did it".

Post script; We were here only a week & the Corps of Engineers drained our swamp. The Merrybobber sits high & dry on a mud bank until December. We "walk" to her to check on her.
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Old 09-08-2015, 06:44 PM   #3
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How about installments? #1....

Of coarse the trip began with preparation. Most of it was spot on. Everyone here was part of that step. Thanks. We thought we had understandings with people to do certain things to the boat at the lake & NEET us at the marina on the Ohio River. WRONG! Promises were broken, contracts rewritten. Things went South, fast.

Pirates, well.... none of the traditional type. In fact, one of the queer things about the whole trip was the lack of other boats on the rivers. Sans the barge traffic, which was heavy every mile of the trip. Our "pirates were opportunists. Taking advantage of our situation at exorbitant prices. Getting off the lake to the river was the worst part. When someone has you over a barrel, they want that barrel filled with $$$$$.

Once in Evansville thing went great. Untangled from the "transporter" & sitting on dry ground, we proceeded to install the thru hull transducer & other chores best done on land. The only exception was the motel owners who ransacked our room and stole a few things. 1/2 a day was lost filing with the police. Oh well.

Other than the foreign motel owners the rest of Evansville was GREAT! I just can't say enough good about our stay there & the people. Evansville has our hearts. NU Plaza Yacht Club and ALL the folks there went way above the term "hospitality". Jim Hall thank you! If possible stop there, you won't regret it. Also eat at the Dog Town Tavern. MMMMM, mmmmmm.

We had a fair bit of modifications & additions to do to the boat. We had repair of the genset to do & spare parts to buy. We spent a week @ the marina, All our dealings were fair and fun. On 1 occasion we had a parts dealer drive 10 miles to the marina, jump into the engine compartment, find the # he needed & returned to his store. He then returned with the part and charged only $30 for the impeller! The whole stay reflects that type of help/.

On Sat. June 22, our friends flew in from Arizona. We laid in last minute stores and left Sun. morning around 9AM. In spite of having made a tow bar as described on this forum, I elected to leave our 20" skiff tied to the side of the houseboat. Bad move! as we went along on the stormy Ohio, every wave was spilt into the skiff. It darn near sank. I arrived in time to bail it out. We held up & tied the tow onto it. It was safe & well behaved all the way home. Down stream we headed & I saw the hint of what was to be a problem all the way home.

Tomorrow.... 1st lock, how funny we looked!.
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Old 09-08-2015, 06:48 PM   #4
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#2.

I recount this trip as a newbe for other newbees OR wanna dos. You ol guys will no doubt be nodding up & down.

Away @ last, 4 babes, heading south to Louisiana. 2 with absolutely NO boating experience! The wives caught on fast/ they both learned the feel of the helm & how to read the depth "thingy". The radio remained intimidating to them but they both came to "get" what was involved in sharing the river with the barge traffic.

My problem was with my buddy. He NEVER ( the whole trip) learned the helm. Not the "feel", the throttle, the shift, the cense of speed & drift or coast. What was worse, he didn't want to learn. This was to prove almost fatal @ one point. More later.

I had been schooled by those @ the marina as to how to lock thru. It seemed simple enough, UNTIL we actually hit the first lock. How intimidating & at first confusing it suddenly became. The women bailed out on me, they wanted no part of being at the helm. That left my reluctant bud @ the wheel & me on the rope. I radioed the lockmaster when we were 2 miles away. He gave us immediate clearance & told us which chamber to enter. A bit confusing but apparent as we drove closer. It was the one with the doors open. Duh!

The plan was my bud would ease in, come along side & I would gently slip a rope over the bollard. RIGHT! He came barreling in, realized his speed & panicked. Hit reverse @ more than 3/4 throttle, lost steerage and never could get me (standing at my center cleat) within reach of a bollard. Back into forward, propeller ventilating wildly & my skiff bouncing from wall to bout hull, we shot across the lock to the other side, bounced and were out in the middle. This time he under powered & managed to get the boat turned headed back from wince we came. Our wake did that to us. This caused another wreak with the skiff & tangled things up good. We were SO wound up in the wreak at hand we never noticed we were sideways in the lock & the water had been lowered. The blast of the exit horn alerted us to the gates opening. Not our finest move!

I sheepishly radioed to thank the LM. "This was our very first lock" I said ". Really?, we would never have known" "Well thanks". NO no, thank you all.... for the entertainment. Good luck Captain".

So there it was, our 1st lock. An air of dread set in on us all. ONLY 4 more to go! Yippee.

Down we went, next stop... Paducah, KY & our next mistake.
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Old 09-08-2015, 06:51 PM   #5
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#3

The first time your boat gets "lit up" by a barge captain is startling. The whole interior is suddenly bright as day. We eventually got accustomed to it as we came down the rivers. Our second day meant our second lock. I'd had all night to review & had a few changes in mind. Since my friend was at the peak of his ability, then the rest of us would adjust.

I moved extra fenders (really cute ones made from used ATV tires) to the front corners of the bow. I showed the girls how to pull the skiff up (sideways) next to the transom. We did this with a long rope that reached to the stern cleat of the skiff. On one side only, as the rope was pulled in, the skiff simply folded up and fit nicely across the houseboats aft. Next I broke out 2, longer ropes & tied one end to the center cleat. I made sure the rope stayed outside of the many rail posts as I led it to the bow & coiled the rest up by the corners. This needs to be done on port & starboard, because you never know if the lockmaster will sometimes specify one side or the other in the lock. We were ready for round 2.

My bud is one of those guys who had rather "die" than look bad. The previous day had destroyed his image of himself. "Don’t worry,” I said, "We will shine on this one" (I hoped).

We passed the Golconda marina by, (this would come back & bite us), and approached the lock. 2 miles out I radioed the LM & he cleared us to enter a chamber. I picked the starboard side so I could coach thru the door to my friend. The ladies took their position at the stern. In we went. As we cleared the gates, the skiff was folded in, as the power was reduced. "Just hit that bollard with the corner of the bow & go into neutral I coached. THIS he could do & he turned towards the wall. "Cut the power,” I shouted & he did. As we hit, (not so hard), the little tires took the impact & scrape. I looped the rope over the bollard & began walking to the center cleat, taking in the slack. The boat fell in sideways & we were "locked". The only show this LM got was the sight of 4 GIANT smiles & some high 5s.

That was the best part of the day but Paducah lay ahead.
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Old 09-08-2015, 06:53 PM   #6
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#4.

Our plan was to refuel @ Paducah, ease through Lock #52 and find a safe mooring towards sundown. I had passed Golconda, thinking it was too soon to top off. My "internet" research said there was a marina @ Paducah. This was the edge I wanted to make it to Memphis. As we motored closer we started picking up radio chatter about the backup @ lock 52. It was 3 PM & the wait for barges (priority), was 6-7 hours! THEN, the boat started vibrating violently. We limped into Paducah and soon found that I had relied on old information. There was no marina in Paducah.

My friend had lost the little enthusiasm he had about this trip at the first lock. Now these new problems were the final straw for him.

We set about to first find fuel. No luck, we were run off from every place up the river. Often profanity & threats were used. We were "advised" to get our houseboat BACK up to Kentucky Lake ASAP. We did what any good explorers would do & sent a shore party inland. My bud volunteered as his opinion of the boat was that we would have to abandon it & catch a bus home.

The 3 of us choose to think that things had to get better cuz they sure couldn't get worse. A very hostile environment. A broke boat, no fuel depot & a busted lock, Yippee!
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Old 09-08-2015, 07:47 PM   #7
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#5

One of the things I did to the boat was pull the prop off. I did this while it was dry docked in Evansville. Being an old boat, I was afraid of frozen parts. Actually I put a new prop on @ the same time. I had a devil of a time getting the lock bolt & hub nut loose. The spline was dry also & removing the old prop also took some coaxing. I was sure glad I was "standing" on firm ground for the job.

Everything went back on with grease except the lock bolt.

So.... when I found the vibration to be the prop & not anything in the out drive, It was an easy task to use the skiff & put the old prop back on. I was assured that the new prop would fit both the long & short shafts of the Volvo, if a long shaft, just add washers as spacers. WRONG! The washers will shift & tear up the inside of the prop. An issue I am now taking up with the prop maker.

We were still having no luck in finding fuel. We were given permission (gotta love cell phones) by the Paducah police to tie up to the city fishing/swimming dock. We were once again met with a cool reception by the guy running the store & bait at the top of the hill there/ Actually he outright lied to my friendís inquiries.

Ah, but all was not lost! A gentleman in the store overheard the conversation & caught up with my friend. " That feller is lying" he said," There is diesel a few blocks from here". So for a tank of gas in his old Lincoln car he & my buddy made 3 trips to fill the 3 five-gallon cans we had & enough fuel was added to make Memphis.

By now it was dark. We stayed tied to the city dock for the night & ordered a pizza. (This took some doing because they thought it a hoax), but finally they delivered the pizza. Love those cell phones!

We were underway before daylight of the 5th day. We foolishly thought that the early bird would lock thru. Wrong! "Just paddle around up stream" That from the Lockmaster. Things obviously had not improved overnight. 52 was down to 1 chamber & it's gates were not working properly. They had their hands full. It was here that we had our one & only close call with a barge tow.

My poor buddy. He had tried to jump ship & the city dock and "Just go home to Arizona" His wife was having fun meeting all the challenges AND wanted the T-shirt that said she had come down the rivers. They choose to stay but my friend entered into a "zone" & became preoccupied with his own thoughts.

While we all were fixing breakfast (he at the wheel), we looked out just in time to stop him from going over the dam! We were alerted by radio blasts from a concerned tow captain waiting his turn for the lock. "Ya'll SEE that dam, don't you?" A very dry warning After that little "event" we ate, paddled around until almost noon. The banks were lined with barge traffic and other tows were coming & going everywhere in the channel. I had NOT enough anchor rope to drop an anchor out in the deep center. *Another thing learned). So paddle around we did.

Finally around noon it was our turn. We were to lock thru with another recreational boat & we were summoned. Just by chance, my friend was @ the helm. We had gone 1 of the 2 miles from the lock (a distance suggested to us by a tow captain worried we may again wonder past the white buoys @ the dam), when at the VERY last second my bud decided to cross in front of the tow that was leaving the lock & bound upstream, safely on our port side! Oh my gosh!!! What excitement there was. Horn blasts, screaming, wheel spinning, everything at once it seemed. He "woke upĒ, and barely managed to get back to the side of the barges.

Crew members were out@ the rails, shaking their fists & channel 13 was crackling with some VERY unkind comments from the tow captain. His wife moved to turn off the VHF but I grabbed her hand. I was mad & scared, my zoned out friend needed to hear the comments. The radio traffic continued for 30 min. or more. The lockmaster said nothing past the instructions on which side to tie up.

OL lock 52 is scarred with a million hits from years of traffic. It's bollards don't float, they are "fixed" at the top of the walls. A fellow will come out and loop your rope. As mentioned by others, by the 3rd lock it's old news. We had no issued & we and a very new cabin cruiser left the lock. He soon made our 8mph look very slow & we never saw them again. While the 3 of us tried to lighten the remainder of the day, my poor friend was sullen & quiet. On to Cairo (Karo).

Insert explanation to question

These were old friends, very valued/ They had combined a vacation with the offer to help us get the boat home. Yes... we wanted to kill him several times along the way. We are only human after all. I tempered this urge with the memory of me, signing on to things that turned out to be not at all what I'd expected. All he had stronger than water was Pepsi Diet. It was just his way of dealing with being somewhere he didn't want to be I think.

I am losing my eyesight to disease. Quite by chance, my wife suffered a detached retina just prior to leaving on the trip. Add to that mix the fact that he was not very mechanical & goofed every other job assigned to him. Most of the time, out in the channel, he did an adequate job of piloting. Usually he had another person sitting next to him, doing the navigation/barge watch' I was the engineer, porter & general step & fetch. One of the differences between lake & cruising is the long, all day JOB of wrestling the wheel back & forth, keeping a course. As we've heard about sailing, that it's 1/3 boredom, 1/3 excitement & 1/3 sheer terror. Well 12 hr river travel fits the bill with the exception of the terror.

Females do fine on this type of travel. My friendís wife actually was the smoothest pilot of us all. Both girls really got into the navigation program on the computer. My wife became the expert @ reading & interpreting the forward looking sonar, She was great on debris watch & reading the eddies. Engines & systems were my balywig.

That left the wheel to "zone man". He grilled a good burger too. As it turned out after a few days, he became the most alert to barge traffic. Wonder why.
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Old 09-08-2015, 07:54 PM   #8
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#6
Paducah & lock 52 are in our rearview mirror. To be fair, We didn't meet ALL of Paducah. I'll leave it there.

We "floated" over the next lock because the water level was high. They are building a new lock a few miles down. It IS something to see!!! Here is a good spot to tell about river traffic. The rules of the road don't apply to barges. They choose their course & stick to it. They have to, they are so big. It was up to us to get where they were not. If they overtake you going the same direction there is no "passing blast". There is no interchange with them on the radio either. Not that you can't talk to them, BUT...keep it simple and brief and respectful. A few times we were "the meat in the sandwich" In a narrow channel with 1 on the port, us, and another overtaking us on starboard. Stay cool, don't get froggy & start jumping around. We interacted with well over 300 tows. Not 1 time was there a danger. Use those binoculars, make your decisions early & get where they won't be. Its easy. One point you MUST know about bends in the river. Pay attention to your charts & know if there is a bend ahead of you. IF meeting a tow on a bend, you go to the inside (your starboard to his starboard) and pass. As a tow enters a bend, the rear will swing out as the turn is made, sweeping the whole channel width. On some channel bends there is no room for you to move over. Other than that, everything is like driving a car.

We swept into Cairo, mid afternoon in a rainstorm. How exciting! All hands on deck! My bud NOT at the helm. It was like rush hour traffic. Ferries crossing in front of us, big tows, little tow, crew boats, tugs & even a paddle wheel. Helter- skelter, everything alive & moving. Lightning and thunder to boot. I'll never forget it & for 30 minutes we were part of it!

Well, we werenít in Kansas anymore, that was for sure. We were on the Big Muddy. We bade goodbye to the sweet gentle blue-green waters of the Ohio. With a collective "gulp", we headed down the Mississippi.
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Old 09-08-2015, 08:45 PM   #9
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#7

I've crossed (by bridge) the Miss often. Until I was on it, I never got the full effect. We felt very small that afternoon. We were all 4 in awe of what we were seeing.


Our speed increased by 4+mph. For the first time we had debris & huge eddies added to our watch duties. Zone man decided getting the boat home ASAP was the cure to his predicament. He quit following the channel markers and adopted the straight line approach. All this accomplished was a big eddy grabbing the boat & pushing the boat OVER the top of a red buoy. KAPLUNK, rattle, rattle, squeak!! The full length of the houseboat, out & onto the skiff. It caught the skiff on only one side of its hull & because its weight was not enough to fully submerge the buoy, the skiff lifted & came very close to capsizing. Saint ted655 came unglued. The Golden Rule was suspended & the fur flew! I turned into Popeye, I stoods all I could stoods. Looked like airplane tickets would be bought in Memphis!


The Ohio (for us anyway) had offered no really neat places to moor @ night. We seemed to be out of sync. When we passed a good spot, it was too early. We just pulled over, away from the channel & spent the nights. Now it became imperative that we find better mooring @ night! The size of some of the debris & the amount made it dangerous to moor anywhere but on the "inside" of something. A jetty, sandbar, island, even an abandoned barge.

Our first night on Big Muddy was behind a nice neat stone jetty. Genset running smoothly, ice machine cranking out the next days ice supply & XM satellite radio playing. "Some" had their feelings hurt but Life was Gooood for the remaining 3 of us, the hotdogs & pork-n-beans tasted great. We were "lit up" many times that night. Laying in my bunk I came to understand the affection a sailor has for his/her ship. It is your home, without it you have nothing, you are nothing. Other boats (on lakes) were temporary diversions that you drove home from. The difference was "just" sinking in.
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Old 09-08-2015, 08:47 PM   #10
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8 Second day on the Miss.

Somehow the channel marker missed the out drive & the fact that we awoke to a dry bilge/floors meant there wasn't a hole in the hull. A good start.

Our "pattern" was to first get underway (start engine, raise anchors, & power up the nav goodies. Then as the girls "gussied up we gradually increased speed as it became brighter & we could see debris (and marker buoys) better.

As soon as someone was available to "aid" the zone man, I set about double checking all systems. Then the genset was started & breakfast was started. We ran the genset in the mornings to refreeze the fridge & ice container. This also recharged the house batteries. The navigational equipment was on a separate, dedicated 2 battery system. It did have a "maintainer" charger but was really charged by the engine alternator AFTER the start batteries were topped off.

This was done very simply by a VSR (voltage sensitive relay). The generator had yet another battery. In all there were 4 separate systems. I had big plans of using gel cell batteries but in the end I bought off the shelf Wal-Mart marine lead acid.

Actually this proved to be a better choice. I asked my bud to help me run some wires one evening. He managed to run the drill bit through the wall (as planned) & INTO one of the new batteries!

Spreading acid into the equipment space behind the cuddy. (I don't make this stuff up I promise). Well, at least Memphis would have a Wal-Mart for another one.

We usually ran the generator again in early afternoon & then in the evening for awhile. I have no idea how much diesel this used. It was worth whatever it was. Along about 3 PM, Just as I lowered the engine hatch after my usual look-see, a loud screaming sound began coming from the generator. I hollered to shut it off. Now what? With the engine roaring in my ears, I lowered myself into the engine space so as to get to the genset. I soon found that the water pump had frozen tight. No electricity tonight.

The remainder of the day went OK and we picked the lee of a BIG sandbar to spend the night. While our stove was electric, our grill was gas. Burgers it was to be & the freezer was still holding, so we had ice. My buddy’s milk for his morning Cheerios was going to take a hit though. He might have to have a cold bagel for breakfast.

As it was hot, we all decided to swim until bedtime. We had picked this sandbar thinking there would be few mosquitoes. After all, it was solid sand as far as you could see.

WRONG! right @ dark we were swarmed by "clouds" of hungry mosquitoes. We fled to the stuffy cabin. All was not lost, we spent the time talking of past escapades & telling stories on one another.

A cool breeze finally showed up & we all had a reasonable nights sleep. BUT... we all realized what the generator meant to us.

Tomorrow....Memphis! 1/2 way home, Yippee!!!
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