Squeezed (Day 56)

Many Moons (left) is dwarfed by a yacht, just feet from a concrete pillar.

Tonight’s post is titled “squeezed” because that’s what we are … squished, actually … between a 49-foot yacht and a concrete lock wall. Our boat is 34 feet long. Big boats are supposed to go on the inside, not the outside, when rafting up. (“Rafting up” means two boats are tied together.)

This wasn’t planned. But it’s ok. The winds are light tonight, thank goodness. We have lots of fenders out, including big ones borrowed from the yacht next door. We’ll survive.

We are seeing the results of so many boats — probably a record — doing The Great Loop this year. Many were delayed by COVID and many decided (partly because of COVID) to “just do it.” So here we are, 14 boats, tied up or rafted out or anchored out at Kaskadia Lock and Dam in Missouri. It’s a working lock, on a small river that enters the Mississippi, which allows Loopers to tie up for free on the wall that borders the lock.

Usually, it’s three or six or maybe eight boats. Tonight, 14!

They just kept coming.

We were the first to arrive here after an easy 44-mile cruise down the Mississippi from Hoppies. We were nearly last to leave this morning, but passed one boat after another until we led the group of six that left at nearly the same time. How odd it was to be the fastest and/or biggest today! (We are often the smallest or slowest.) Today’s scenery was calming and sometimes dull, but the river was anything but because constant eddies required constant steering. It sometimes felt like the prop wash of a tug! The Mississippi is indeed mighty. And kind of “alive.”

Speaking of tugs, we enjoyed our first successful use of the new AIS-capable VHF radio to identity the name of a tug before we could see it, then call it (by name) on the radio, and then receive concurrence about how to pass. I tried first to call it by its location … “tugboat captain up-bound and approaching Mile Marker XYX…” but no answer. Jeff pushed more buttons and told me the name of the tug. When I called it again by name, I got an answer. (It was just a grunt, but an answer.) We were told that Mississippi tug captains often won’t bother answering until you use their name. Yup!

Jeff was dogged about learning how to use that complicated thing. I tried, since it was my idea, but gave up after two or three hours. (User manuals are sometimes not user-friendly!) So we were both pleased with this small success. And since we were navigating the river alone, having left our companions behind, I felt much more relaxed knowing we could tell what was coming around the next bend.

Relaxation ebbed when we arrived at the concrete lock wall and … scraped it. Our first “injury!” 😦 I didn’t have our biggest fender in the right place. I’m sorry, Jeff! But it didn’t help that he changed his mind at the last minute about which way to come into the wall. (Wind played a role again. Also, keep in mind that we have one engine and no thrusters, which is rare among Looper boats and means that boat-handling is even more delicate.) Some sharp words were exchanged after the modest “skre-e-e” along the wall. This happens sometimes on a long boating trip to new places, as any honest couple will admit.

You think we had a tough arrival here? That big yacht that’s rafted out next to us is there because it could not navigate where it wanted to go. The many boats already here played one role. An unseen “sandbar” of sorts played another. (The yacht actually hit bottom, and another boat did also.) The wind didn’t help. The tight quarters were…well, tight! We are tied up just two feet from a tall concrete pyramid. The yacht was trying to tie up on the other side of that pyramid, but just couldn’t make it, and…ended up next to us. When the woman on board, dashing frantically back and forth on the deck to fend off the yacht from that pyramid and from us yelled “Can we bumper up to you??”…Well, what was I supposed to say? No? That wouldn’t be very neighborly.

So I said “yes.”

Jeff was not happy about that.

I didn’t realize that our heater exhaust is an issue. Or that a big boat could crush us. Or that…! Anyway, we tried, with the help of many other boaters, to move that yacht to another place. Four of us sat down on the gunwhale of Many Moons and pushed with our legs to help the yacht move out while its skipper did his best with the engines. Nothing doing, as my Mom would say. We’d get a few feet of movement and the wind would just push her back against us. She might still have her hull in the sand. We’re not sure.

I suppose we’ll find out tomorrow morning. We had a meeting on the dock tonight to discuss our exit plan for tomorrow. We also needed to discuss who is heading where, since anchorages are not plentiful in this part of the river and the low water, combined with number of boats, makes some coordination very helpful.

The meeting was very congenial and even fun, in spite of the earlier tension. It probably helped that most of us had a beverage in hand. (It also helps that we’re all Loopers, on a similar journey, trying to help each other make it work.) I dubbed it “locktails” — a take-off on the term “docktails,” which Loopers use to refer to dockside social hour.

I do wonder how this exit will go tomorrow morning. Three or four boats are anchored out in the narrow channel next to the lock, since they couldn’t fit on the wall. They’ll have to leave first. Then the biggest boats will leave. Then us “small guys.”

I’m confident we’ll make it work, because that’s what Loopers do.

I hope I remember to return the huge fenders that I borrowed from the yacht next door — to, you know, keep them from crushing us against the concrete wall! If I forget, I’m sure they’ll forgive me. Because that’s what Loopers do.

Photos and captions below. (This was posted 2 days late due to signal issues.)

Moon rising across our stern at Hoppies last night, above the boat which is rafted out next to us. Our bikes (on the fly bridge) await their next outing.
Boats starting to line up on Kaskaskia Lock Wall. We were first to arrive, and 13 (!) came in after us.
We gathered near Many Moons to plan the exodus the next morning and share some social time. I call it “locktails” (cocktails on the lock) which is a take on the Looper term “docktails” (cocktails on the dock).
Our friends from Joy Sea helped us push Many Moons off from the big yacht (Subject to Change) that was rafted up next to us so that we could shove a bigger fender between us. You can see two other big yachts on the wall right behind us.
Jim from Joy Sea (seated) put his literal back into it to help push Many Moons away from the lock wall so we could put a bigger fender there, too. Keep in mind that a 49-foot yacht is on our other side. It’s not easy to move two boats at once!
Subject to Change had to put a fender at her bow to protect her from the concrete column. This is crazy!
Each circle represents a boat at Kaskaskia Lock Wall, and this isn’t all of them. See how Many Moons and Subject to Change seem to be on top of each other? We almost were!

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