Ending a three-day stay in Osceola to begin our trip to Memphis before we begin the final leg to Baton Rouge, I admit I felt a bit rusty.
I was eager to get back on the S.S. Hail Mary and proceed the roughly 50 miles to Memphis but was also a bit anxious about what the river would look like after days of rain, and what remnants would remain of Hurricane Delta.
Karl and I got picked up at 7:00 a.m. by a young man named Dalton who works for Wepfer Marine who have been our host for the time we have been at Osceola.
I cannot begin to thank Wepfer, its employees or owners enough for their generosity or Lee Nelson of Upper River Services for the kindness and courtesy he has extended to me and Spare Key since the beginning of this Hope on the River journey.
Lee and Wepfer came to our aid at a critical time in this trip when I was beginning to wonder if we had an end game that would work for the completion of this trip.
After a short drive from the hotel we got out from the truck and thanked Dalton for his ride and went about getting the raft ready for departure. I was pleased that it was no worse for the wear of several days of heavy rain and wind. We checked the water in the pontoons and it was minimal – mixed and loaded up our fuel and within an hour we were ready to depart. As we did so a Wefper towboat was beginning some fleeting and we passed them by and waved the captain, and Dalton who was on-board as a deckhand, our thanks for the safe harbor.
As we entered the river a southbound towboat was in front of us and, thanks to the guidance of the captain, in short order we were past him and on our way to Memphis.
The wind was stout today as I expected it to be however it began to get even gustier the further we went. I had originally planned for this to be a “leisurely” trip down the river at 9 miles an hour but the combination of current and the need to get through the wind had me pushing the raft upwards of 10 miles an hour. About two and a half hours into the trip we came upon a southbound tow called Rusty Zellar and began the process of trying to pass it – first, at his direction, on the port side.
However, as we began to set up that trajectory a northbound towboat appeared in front of us slightly to our starboard.
Prior to encountering the Rusty Zellar, I had been able to get in contact with the Captain of the Twyla Luhr, Mike Coyle, who I had met while in Kimmswick. He and several other towboats were waiting the passage of the Zellar before they, too, would begin again to head up north. Initially he indicated that the towboat we were seeing begin to proceed north, the Charles Southern, was likely going to stay put until we and the Zellar got past. However, it was clear that the raft wasn’t making enough speed to pull away from the Zellar as I had hoped.
A combination of wind, heavy waves and little current was making me rely on my boat motor skills — which, as you all know – are lacking! We could barely keep the raft about 9 miles an hour and that wasn’t going to get me past the Zellar which was keeping pace on my port side.
Suddenly, it was clear that the Charles Southern was most definitely underway. At this point I radioed the Zellar again and asked the Captain how he wanted me to proceed. From the angle of the Southern it almost looked like I would be passing on its port side – 1 whistle – but it would be a very narrow passage and it would bring me directly into the churn of its engine.
I wasn’t looking forward to that.
Nor was I looking forward to the answer from the Zellar whose Captain said, “Why don’t you all just run right in between the two of us!” As has been my practice from the beginning, though, I heeded his advice and, as usual, it was the right advice. Thankfully because the Southern had just gotten underway there was little current and chop from his engine.
That, however, was going to change quickly.
No sooner had we rounded the bend, the Zellar off to my port side, than I saw three north bound towboats on my starboard side. The second of those towboats happened to be the Twyla Luhr, the ship that Mike Coyle was captaining up the river. He texted me and radioed me on Channel 72 to pass them on the starboard – 2 whistle – and to just keep on running as hard and fast as I could given I had the Zellar nipping at my tail on the port side.
As I looked ahead of us the water looked like it was alive. The combination of the current in this particular area, with the three massive towboats keeping their engines going, had created a mess of water that, along with the wind, was making the raft hit waves like they were made of sand. Each wave hit hard and I wasn’t getting much speed. And, suddenly as I looked to my right I could see the first of the towboats that were waiting for the Zellar to pass begin to get underway!
That was going to create even more of a mess.
Nothing I could do at this point could get us going faster. I tried trimming the motors – which on a good calm water day barely works – and on this day did virtually nothing. I could tell that the butt-end of the pontoons were riding low in the water which meant we would need to begin bailing water out of the tubes soon. Unfortunately, Mike also informed me that after we got by these three northbound towboats and the southbound towboat there was a large towboat, the Martha Lynn, making its way ahead of me through an enormously narrow and fast current bend.
He warned me not to meet them in that bend and that once we got by him to call the captain of that vessel on Channel 13 and coordinate our encounter ahead. As we passed the Twyla Luhr, Mike came out and waved and took some pictures. Once we got past him he texted me “Good Luck! And call anytime!”
I am so grateful for his help!
Finally, because the Martha Lynn was coming upriver we made some distance from the Zellar which had to slow down to let the Lynn get by it before it could enter the bend we were soon to head into. I reached the captain of the Martha Lynn who informed me to come by on his port side – 1 whistle – and with trepidation I got closer to him. I was very concerned that I was going to get into that beginning of that bend and his engines would have ripped up the water so much that it would be massive waves.
Thankfully, for whatever reason, the water was relatively calm, though fast, in this turn. Karl and I got into position and started the process of removing water. I figured that given the time since we had left, and the condition of the water we had been in, that the starboard tube was going to have plenty of water. However, after 20 minutes the pump was still pushing water out of the hose.
That concerned me. I began to wonder if we had somehow, finally, ruptured the pontoon.
As the water continued to pour out I grabbed a pump I had bought back in Kimmswick. I am a redundancy guy. I always want a back-up to my back-up. In this case I had the two 1/10th horsepower pumps that had been dependable. But, given the fact we were still pulling water I was concerned we might be losing the fight with water coming into the tube.
The pump I got out is a self-priming pump that has a ½ horsepower motor attached to it. I had no idea if it would work. My plan had been several stops after Kimmswick to try it out when we tied up but kept forgetting. Now, I was hoping that it would hastily remove the water that the other pump was having trouble vacating.
As soon as I dropped the hose into the tube the water began pouring out of the pump hose’s other end. And, within 10 minutes it sputtered signifying that the tube was now free of reachable water.
I quickly did the same with the port tube which had very little water.
I told Karl that out of an abundance of caution we should do our water removal every 30 minutes on the starboard pontoon just to make sure that we weren’t finding ourselves in a situation with a tube that might have split open. The water we removed was nearly 40 gallons – 320 pounds – and that made me think about my previous travel days in which I would pull over 60 gallons of water out when I desperately was able to get the raft tied up. Gratefully, subsequent pumping of the tube provided us assurance that we probably were dealing with a situation in which the rough water and speed had combined to put more water in the tube than usual.
Each tine we pumped there was fairly limited amount of water in the pontoon. Once passed the Martha Lynn we had only one other towboat we encountered which was about 10 miles out of Memphis and it cut across the navigation channel to a dredging station and was out of our way long before we arrived upon the scene. With about and hour and a half to go, the wind became simply ferocious.
It was pushing us around like a weather bully on steroids and neither Karl nor I were enjoying it much.
The wind creates swells on the water and waves that keep punching the front of the raft. This coupled with some menacing looking clouds had me looking for shoreline to pull into if he would found ourselves stuck with a thunderstorm or worse wind. We continued to push and finally with about 45 minutes left before Memphis we got a reprieve from the wind as our course and its direction were finally with harmony to allow us to motor forward.
Our arrival at the Memphis Yacht Club was uneventful and pretty easy.
We will be here for two nights before we begin the final leg of this journey. Today I will go back to the marina and put on a replacement roof sign that Wendy Pajor from ASI Signage sent to me.
Wendy, Spare Key’s Board President, and her Team have had to send me a couple replacement signs during this trip. This particular sign ripped off from the roof without me knowing it until we reached Hickman.
There’s no way this trip could have happened without Wendy and her support and I am enormously grateful for all of it!
Tomorrow we begin our trek to Helena, Arkansas and beyond and we are optimistic we will continue to find Hope on the River.