When morning came, Karl and I were awake way too early.
Our plan had been to get up and be on the raft by 6:00 a.m. to be ready to go by first light. As it was we were both up around 4:00 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. Finally at 5:30 we made a break for the raft quickly and quietly. In the dark we made our way down the rock shoreline even more carefully.
As we climbed onto the raft it seemed none the worse for wear. I turned on the lights and we started to put things in place to be prepared to drain the pontoon and then at first light get under way. I made us some coffee and as we waited for daylight the raft would every once in awhile rock from side to side and seem to be scraping on something.
That made me very nervous.
I tried to use one of the push sticks to hold it steady as a couple towboats came by. Karl reminded me that it had been doing this all night while we were gone and he was right. If anything bad was going to happen it likely already had! Soon it was light enough to drain the pontoons. We did that and then I told Karl I wanted to get off the shoreline and just sit in the river outside until it was more light than dark and then get underway.
We went about figuring out how to get off the shoreline and proceeded slowly. Of course, as I was holding the front of the raft while Karl untied the rear line I slipped and my leg went into the river and my right hand came down hard on the rocks. It hurt like heck but my pride was hurt more than anything else. I added a few more words to be in the “Swearing Aboard the S.S. Hail Mary” book and then Karl quickly pushed us out far enough for me to feel safe to start the motors and slowly back away from the shoreline.
As luck, bad luck, would have it, two massive towboats were starting to pass the channel we were looking to get into. One south, the other north.
So, we had to at least wait until the northbound towboat got far enough past for us to then get in behind the southbound towboat. As it did we powered up and I radioed the captain of the southbound towboat who told us to go past him on his starboard side.
We throttled up as quickly as we could and did just that. The day was warm and the wind was calm and we were going fast. I had been warned that there would be a great deal of river traffic today and both Karl and I felt that being off the river sooner rather than later was the smart move for today. An hour into the trip we did our thing with the pump and the pontoon and then throttled back up.
We ran into a couple more southbound towboats and followed the same procedure as previous ones. About halfway into the trip we came upon a northbound towboat on a bend that hadn’t been on my navigation app. It was pushing fast and hard and it was full. I could see the rollers behind it and they were huge!
We would pass on its starboard side and where would pass was on the inside of a bend and then need to shoot straight into a very large pool of water. Of course, the waves from the wake were huge and pretty soon I was bobbing and weaving as slowly as I could through this violent water. Because I was in the bend I couldn’t really do much for several hundred yards but ride this out. Finally, I was able to get back into the channel and cut the waves a bit better with more room to spare from the shoreline.
However, this barge must have been pushing for awhile because the waves were relentless.
Finally, I was able to cut back across the channel again to the opposite side of where the barge had been pushing and get a reprieve. At this point we got back to nearly calm water, throttled up hard and got underway. As we continued we came upon another southbound towboat.
This one was pushing fast and when I radioed the captain to ask for advice on how to pass him he chuckled and told me to wait until I got closer. Karl laughed, too.
This happened the previous day when I asked a captain where I should pass and he laughed and said to wait until I got closer. The reason for the mirth is that I am not nearly as close to these ships at this point as I think I am.
Furthermore, the raft isn’t really that fast.
It takes me a lot longer to get closer to them than I think and by then my guess is that the advice the captain gives me is likely going to change based upon where we both are at that time. Finally, we got close enough and I could tell that it was obvious I was going to need to try to pass on the green. However, no matter how hard I pushed the raft this guy on my port side was not slacking off and was going just as fast as I was.
Finally, after a half-hour of this and knowing that a bridge was coming up and only one of us could go through at a time and knowing we hadn’t de-watered the pontoons recently, we slowed down and let it go by and proceeded taking water out of the pontoons. Soon, we were back underway at full speed.
We really needed to get past this towboat and finally we got back on his port side and the water was like glass and there was no wind. It took a good 20 minutes but we finally got past him and then far enough past him to get back over to the center of the channel and proceed. When we were 1 ½ away from Mile Marker 875 I texted James Myric from Wepfer Marine who was going to be out point of contact when we arrived to tie up.
He shared with me the plan and we continued our way forward. Based on my navigation app we had only one more towboat to reckon with and sure enough a northbound tow, very big one, was coming towards us. I radioed the captain who told me to come on by on his port side and we did and with a brief interval of rolling wake wave we were back underway at top speed.
At about Mile Marker 877 we turned the corner and got hit hard from high wind. This had been in the forecasts I had seen but it wasn’t supposed to be at this speed until a couple hours from now. There wasn’t much we could do but get through it.
I then radioed James and reconfirmed where we were meeting him.
We were to take a right turn into a chute at Mile Marker 875 and proceed up the channel for a half-mile to where we would tie up. We cut into the chute and slowly motored up the channel past massive empty barges. I joked to Karl and said “Look, the enemy!”
We got to a towboat and I radioed James again and there he was at a low floating dock and we pulled up. James is a young guy, 39, who has worked for Wepfer for nearly 20 years. He clearly works hard, knows what he is doing and is responsible for the operations at this facility.
Within a ½ hour we had tied up, emptied water, buttoned up the raft for the impending rain and James was driving us to our hotel.
He is another example of a good guy who goes out of his way to help people. That he was willing to help us out with this situation, give us a ride to a hotel, and be available while we are here is simply a repeat of people in all the places I have gone.
The good folks at Wepfer, the owners and those that work for the company, have been extraordinarily generous in supporting us with this trip!
James dropped us off at our hotel and Karl and I settled in. We made a quick trip to Walmart driven by a de facto cabdriver named Perry who is retired from 26 years of painting farm buildings. I bid Karl to have a goodnight and we retreated to our rooms.
This morning as I type this blog I can hear the pouring rain and I am grateful to have my brother with me, to be on dry land, and for the kindness and generosity of so many who have helped me find Hope on the River.