Close Encounters and Homemade Cleats (Day 41)

You thought river travel would be relaxing? Um, no, not so far! Interesting? Yes indeed.

The graphic on the right shows our blue track into lock #5 of our trip. It looks like we drove right over the round concrete pier. Nope, just bumped it. But yes, that’s how we entered the lock. That’s where the lockmaster sent us, waving his arms in that direction. Really? He wants us to go in there?? We couldn’t even see the opening until we were on top of it, but trusted him — because that’s what you’re supposed to do with lockmasters. They’re “the boss” in this situation. With a foot or two to spare, we passed by that concrete pier and entered the lock just behind the exiting barges.

Once in the lock, we realized that he was doing us a favor by putting us through by ourselves, in between the barges that just left the lock and the rest of the load and pushtug waiting on the other side. (The barges were split up, and some were pulled through the lock by a cable.) This is Marseille Lock, and we’ve heard of some boats waiting hours to go through. Three Loopers behind us did just that. But we were through it within an hour of arriving. I guess that was our reward for being willing to trust the lockmaster.

Also at this lock, we found a novel way to secure ourselves while waiting — an example of Jeff’s mechanical ingenuity. At the locks we’ve seen so far, there’s no obvious way to tie up while waiting. You can either mill about, or try to hang on somehow to the round 12-foot-diameter concrete piers in front of the locks while making sure to stay on the shore side of them, as directed. The concrete pier we were nudged up against was wrapped in 1/2-inch metal, and that metal had a gap just big enough to grab. Aha. Vise grips! Jeff rooted in his tool bag, and — voila! — a home-made cleat that held us securely to the pier until the light turned green.

Exiting this lock was a bit exciting too. The lockmaster told us to high-tail it to starboard as we left, in order to steer clear of the remaining barges and pushtug waiting to enter. As the gates opened, it didn’t look like a lot of room to do that — but, no problem. No problem making it around the tug, that is. We did get pushed hard by the prop wash. It’s like driving in jello. Wobble, wobble. Jeff throttled it, and passed through. We were warned about this, but it still feels weird the first time.

This was also the first day we overtook a barge. This called for some calculation, since the river was narrow and the barge long — and not very maneuverable amongst river bends and turns. We did the required notification (by horn) of our intention to pass, but got no reply. Our horn is pretty weak, and probably wasn’t heard above the tug engines,so I called on the radio to state that we intended to pass on the port side. I heard a short grunt, which I took to be assent. It took longer than I wanted for us to pass by that barge and into good forward visibility again.

Like I said … not that relaxing. 😉

Photos and captions below.

It was hard for me to leave our beautiful anchorage at Sugar Island, steaming from the previous day’s storm.
The blue track shows how we entered the Marseilles lock. No, we didn’t drive over that round concrete pier–but we did nudge it. The lockmaster must have known we could fit, or would not have sent us that way.
These vise grips from Jeff’s tool bag made the perfect home-made cleat to hold us in place against the round concrete pier while we awaited our turn to enter the lock. It worked because of the gap in the metal.
We entered the lock to the left of that round silver pier. Don’t see any opening there? We didn’t either!
Leaving the lock, we had to stay to starboard to avoid the tug and two remaining barges waiting to enter.

Our first time overtaking a barge. Yikes! 😉 (But no problem, as it turned out.)
Prop wash from tugs can really push you around. It’s not waves, but it is disruptive!

3 thoughts on “Close Encounters and Homemade Cleats (Day 41)

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