Good Times *Sigh*

I can’t remember the particulars of the last time a bird shat on me. Actually, I take that back. I think it was graduation day for my Masters degree. In retrospect, I believe the bird was preparing me for the daily struggle of teaching. I haven’t determined the reasons behind today’s attack.

The day started in a mass of confusion. We were leaving Paducah for a resort marina near Land Between the Lakes. I was excited because all the amenities the condo people had, we also could use. Two pools. Massive lush grounds. Best of all, a spa for massages.

Unfortunately, we had to make it through a lock first. We’d heard rumors about work being done; times the lock was open to use were batted about. No one knew for sure and calling the lock led to endless ringing or static on the radio. We thought we’d leave at 8:30. Rick got a text from a boat that left the day before. They reported the lock closed six am to six pm. Plans changed accordingly. We were traveling with two other boats. One eventually got through to the lock master. We were instructed to come right away and anchor. If the crew knocked off early (Sunday), they would get us through early. We spent about five hours enjoying the scenery. The other two boats had beaten us. One had their anchor down; one was struggling. We held in place waiting to see where they landed.

We finally decided to just drop anchor where we were. It was my job to go to the bow pulpit. I controlled the anchor with up/down buttons I stood on. They are difficult to keep down unless I hang on to the rail for leverage. However, I needed to count the feet of chain we were putting out and relayed that back to Rick via hand signals. I also needed to use my arm to show the direction of the chain so he could adjust speed. So, I mashed the button with the ball of my foot placing all my weight on it. 

The windless with anchor at top.
The windless with anchor at top.

We were at 100 feet when Rick yelled out the door, “Hold it! We’re going to raft up to Jim. Bring the anchor up.” So, I reversed order. By now, I was sweating buckets. My hair was soaked on the back of my neck and my brow; drips fell off my nose. All but 20 feet was up and the chain slipped off the windless and fell back down into the water. It clanged down; I flailed my arms and screamed. It was a whole thing. There’s no way to stop it without injury, so we waited for it to stop.

This tends to happen when we let a lot of chain out. Rather than filling the chain locker evenly, it piles onto itself. When the pile reaches the entrance hole the chain becomes looser and slides off the windless. Poor locker design. We tried once more and were successful.

We easily shimmied up to the other boat and quickly tie off. So two boats were now holding on one anchor. Well, that was the theory anyway. Both Rick and I were dubious about the anchor holding since our boat was the larger and we were soon proved right. The current was pulling us back and we were pulling the other boat back, dragging their anchor. We untied, moved away and dropped our anchor again.

Anchored, waiting for the lock.
Anchored, waiting for the lock.

Except for the heat, it was quite pleasant. We finally bowed to the heat and turned on the generator to run the air. Around 4:00 the room crackled with a radio call to “the three pleasure crafts outside the lock.” The crew was knocking off. The lock master was willing to take us in the chamber with the work barge.

We all started to pull anchor. Ours again slipped down. Rick sent me to the locker with “my pole”. Built to snag lines or push off walls, the pole can extend and has a hook on the end. Although not ideal, Rick pulled the anchor from the cockpit and I managed the chain. As the chain entered the box I used the hook to snag it and pulled towards me. Then I reached in to unhook the chain and repeated. I got behind a few times but managed to topple the pile before it loosened the chain on the windlass.

The anchor chain is held in a locker in the forward bath’s shower.
The anchor chain is held in a locker in the forward bath’s shower.

We were ready to go, but the boat in front of us (we were last in line) was struggling to get their anchor up. The lock master called again. “The three pleasure crafts. We are doing you a favor. You need to get up here NOW.” Rick responded that one boat was struggling with his anchor, but we were all good now and heading in. That bought us time but they still weren’t actually anchors up. I told Rick to go around them. We’d buy time with the lock master and we wouldn’t miss getting in the lock. He wouldn’t do it in case they needed assistance. I then suggested we call the lock to say we will need to wait until later. I was worried about angering the lock master as they can make our lives miserable. It’s kind of like Seinfeld’s soup Nazi. You follow directions and say thank you or “No lock for you!”

The anchor finally came up and we double timed to the entrance. The lock master announced we should stay to our port to steer clear of the work barge at the entrance. We all complied. Boat one was instructed to move all the way forward. Boat two was instructed to move to the opposite side, once past the barge, all the way forward. He didn’t. He went behind boat one. Disaster! “What are you doing, man? Don’t piss off the lock master!” I whispered under my breath.

The lock master barked out the order again and boat two started to comply. Rick politely asked where we should go and we were told to move on up. Then, we were asked if we’d be okay rafting off boat one. They aren’t allowed to make us raft, but he wanted the pleasure boats as far away from the barge as possible. Both boats agreed and we made our way up.

Their boat, was about our size. As we got astride, I saw that Sue was holding their boat to the wall. Both boats would be attached to the wall by only that line. I handed off a forward line, it was looped around a cleat and handed back to tie on our cleat. I handed off an aft line. Gregg struggled to pull us in because our aft was drifting away as we secured forward.  He finally got enough line to tie to his cleat, but his aft was now drifting with us. He used his thrusters to pull us both to the wall. But now his boat was hitting the wall. Rick grabbed one of our giant fender balls to pass over. That helped.

We continued the dance. The aft would drift, thrusters were used, etc. At one point there was a shout from the wall. Sue called out she was losing grip. Boy, I’ve been there. If that happened our two boats would be tied together floating in the middle of the lock. Rick jumped across boats and took the line. At some point Gregg joked (I hoped) we’d settle up any damages later. 😮

Then we waited. And waited. The barge showed no signs of entering the lock. There was no biting remark from the lock master. Double standard. Grr. Eventually the barge lumbered in and the gates closed. By now an hour had passed.

We started rising and to my relief, it wasn’t quick. Generally you get tossed around tremendously if you are the forward boat. But this wasn’t bad. I took a sigh of relief and hung my head. That’s when it happened. At first I thought it was drops of water off the walls or the other boat. I felt it hit my hair and then my arm. When I glanced at my arm I saw it was white. *Sigh.* “Rick!” I shouted. “Here’s the topper. A bird just shit on me!” We laughed and laughed. Ahh…good times. *Sigh.*

Paducah on the Horizon

We leave tomorrow for Paducah, KY. It’s a three day trip; the first two on the Upper Mississippi and the last heading upriver on the Ohio. Unfortunately, there is no way to get Banjo to shore for potty stops. Let me rephrase. With the flooding, there is no way to be sure we can get Banjo to shore while anchoring and there are no marinas until Paducah. He has his grass on the foredeck, but as we all know, that’s reserved for playing and lounging. *Sigh.*

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Because of this, a dog-loving friend we met when we first put the boat in is driving seven hours from Oklahoma to us in Alton, IL. He and his friend will travel with Rick on the boat. Banjo and I will take our friend’s truck and drive to Paducah. We will hang out in a hotel and meet the boat on Friday. Banjo is oblivious to the lengths we go for his comfort. In fact, I expect he will be quite annoyed Rick isn’t there.

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My nights will be filled with a ten pound pup clucking out stranger danger messages at every sound.

The boys will leave in the early morning as soon as the lock master permits their entry. We will start our 3-hour drive when they leave. That’s right. Three days by boat or three hours by car.

We can’t check in to the hotel until 3:00. I’m not sure what we’ll do until then. Likewise, on Friday we will have to check out by 11:00, but won’t see the boys until late afternoon. Luckily, the high temps have dropped. I also think Banjo is the perfect size to sneak into a movie or something, but he doesn’t have the temperament. It’s difficult to explain why your purse is flapping around on your arm without assistance. So we will search for a dog-friendly lunch spot and then find shade at the marina.

It’s an odd feeling, this idea of leaving without Rick. We’ve been connected at the hip pretty much since we met. In the three years since we’ve started this journey, we’ve been together 24-7. Still, there is an upside. He gets to eat whatever he wants rather than sticking to my dietary needs and I admit to the thought of luxuriating in a king size bed all on my own. Nonetheless, Friday will be a welcome sight. In the interim, stay safe, my dear, and don’t get used to life without me! Continue reading “Paducah on the Horizon”

Zombie Wasps and Dog Poop Island

Some things defy comprehension. Like old men in shorts with black knee high socks and sandals, fragrance ads, and the popularity of the Macarena in its heyday. But those are all things that don’t affect you personally. You just observe from the sidelines, throw up your hands, and exchange perplexed expressions with your partner. Some things, though, you can’t ignore.

Last week, we were working on a cover for the bench seat on the foredeck. A wasp kept hanging around. We realized it was making its nest in one of the vent covers near our work area. Wasps are erratic little buggers; difficult to swat and kinda pissy about your attempt if you miss. We had no spray. At one point, it flew off to gather things to accessorize it’s nest. Seizing the opportunity, Rick sealed the vent with painter’s blue tape. I got a momentary sense of satisfaction when the wasp came back three or four times, obviously confused. Periodically throughout the week the wasp appeared, saw his home was barricaded, and flew away.

The wasp was back yesterday as we prepped for departure. He one upped us though; he had gotten inside the boat. I called to Rick. While he grabbed the spray we had purchased, I kept an eagle eye on  the wasp. He gleefully buzzed my head multiple times and I swear one of his little legs was flipping me off while he whizzed by. Rick appeared with the spray can. Shot after shot hit the wasp full on. He’d go down but mightily sputter back up. Eventually he laid down on a hatch cover and stayed there. Rick carried out the cover and shook it off. Mr. Wasp flopped to the ground, dead as can be.

Fast forward to afternoon. The first night out on the last leg of our Great Loop experience was an anchorage at Buffalo Rock. Absolutely gorgeous scenery and perfectly quiet.

Nautical Dreamer at our Buffalo Rock anchorage.
Nautical Dreamer at our Buffalo Rock anchorage.

No time to enjoy, though; we needed to get Banjo to shore to do his business. He still treats his grass plot like a party boat. He eats and plays on it. Although I have not caught him smoking or drinking yet, he is in a rebellious phase, refusing to use it as intended to piddle and poop.

Getting Banjo to the dingy is all arms and legs, herky jerky stops and starts. I hand the dog down to Rick on the swim platform and get down myself. Rick steadies the boat while holding the dog while I get in the dingy. He hands off the dog. I hang onto the dog while he attempts to climb out. I also hold the dingy to the boat while Rick climbs in. Everything is made more clumsy because we all have life vests on. Eventually we had success; no one fell in and the engine started. Hurrah!

We headed out in search of a sandy beach in an area mostly comprised of massive craggy rock. We had a lovely breeze while traveling to Buffalo Rock, but our anchorage was surrounded on three sides by sky high rock that allowed little air movement. I was sweating my ass off. Still, I tried to enjoy the vistas while noting a spike in the pup’s antsy-ness.

“Is that sand over there?” Rick questioned.

I squinted in the sun reflecting off the river. Sure enough, there it was. Our beacon of hope. As we turned toward the beach, I could see it was dotted with large pools of water feeding into each other with another “island” nearby holding some tall grass. As the water became shallower Rick pulled up the engine and began paddling. When we hit bottom, he jumped out to pull us closer to shore.

Banjo was flailing around to get out, but I was hoping he’d stay fairly dry. I got out first, then scooped up the mutt. I walked up on the beach and plunked him down, prompting “go pee.” Of course he didn’t. Even in desperation he had to be in charge. He started sniffing while I got my bearings. I snatched him back, commanding “leave it” just before he buried his nose in a pile of fly-infested dog poop. We shimmied past. I looked up to gauge the best route with the least pools of water. Stretched before me was mound after mound after mound of dog poop. Big piles. Little piles. In the water pools and out. Every color of the brown rainbow; every spectrum of consistency. There I am, holding my poop bags wondering why? Why? Why, why, why wouldn’t you pick up after your dog? Especially on a beach. Why? I’m here to tell you, IF Banjo had chosen to grace us with some poop, I would have PICKED IT UP surrounded by all the other crap, and taken it back to the boat. *Quietly steps off the soapbox.*

A little slice of Poop Island.
A little slice of Poop Island.

We wandered around the area threading the needle between shit piles and attempting to go around the water pools. Eventually I realized I had to pick one or the other and we all just walked through the water. This avoided the poop but filled our water shoes with muddy sand. Banjo did not add a poop contribution that day. However, wandering over to the grassy island did give him the inspiration to piddle. Back by the dingy I splashed water on the pup’s legs and belly and climbed in after him. Unfortunately, our shoes spat out more muddy water onto the dingy floor, which Banjo promptly laid in. We brought a towel, but now he and the towel were muddy. He needed a shower.

Back at the boat we reversed our struggle and climbed from the dingy to the boat. The plan was to take the dog directly to the shower. The plan was waylaid by the wasp. Yes. THAT wasp. I swear it was the same one. The zombie wasp was following us!

I screamed, “Wasp! Wasp! The wasp is back!” Rick, still on the swim platform monotoned, “Sigh. Ok. Give me a minute.” By the time he reaches me I have lost sight of the wasp. With Banjo squirming in my arms I head down to the shower.

When I handed Banjo off to get toweled off, Rick said he found and eliminated the wasp. Pfsh. I’ve heard that before. We shall see what we shall see. I only wish I had watched a few episodes of the Walking Dead so I could have prepared myself for battle because some things you can’t ignore.

Chugging Down the Illinois River

No, we have not dropped off the face of the earth. We have, however been in a state of limbo thanks to torrential rains.

My last post, gosh months ago, had us stopping in Illinois to help my mother-in-law after hip surgery. Nautical Dreamer was pulled out and stored for the winter. My mother-in-law  is healthy again and the boat was pulled out of storage in late April. We made it to Ottawa, IL, before the rains. Once they started, they didn’t stop. For weeks. Time was not on our side since the locks on the Illinois River were closing down for repairs.

Unfortunately, the rain raised the river system above flood stage through the Mississippi and kept it there. For weeks river water was above or WAY above flood stage. The boats were safe in the marina, but daily life became interesting. Blocks were placed on walkways so we could get ashore and we were instructed eventually we would need to use our dingy or call for a boat ride to shore. (Fortunately a side trip had us out of town for the worst of it.) Locks on the upper Mississippi were closed due to the flooding. We were going nowhere for a long time.

We learned that the locks on the Illinois River were allowing commercial traffic at night and pleasure craft could go through on the last lock through before shutting down for the day. So, we could travel on the Illinois, but down river still had nowhere safe to go. Several marinas we intended to stay were flooded out including their fuel stations.

Two weeks ago, the tap slowed to a trickle. We’re sitting in sweltering heat and humidity now with only an occasional afternoon pop-up shower, that does not prohibit the water on the rivers to recede. The Mississippi locks are open, the marinas have cleaned up, and the days are filled with sunshine. Much like a barometer tells of impending weather, my bowels are confirming what I knew was coming. We are on the move once more.

Despite the belly distress over worry of the unknown, I’m quite excited. Ottawa is a lovely town but we’re antsy. This afternoon we will head to an anchorage about a mile from the next lock at Starved Rock. Tomorrow we plan to lock down at six a.m. and stop in Peoria, IL.

We are moving slowly to give the Mississippi waters a chance to reach a “better” flood stage. It’s currently six feet above flood stage, which is a far cry from its peak of almost 20 feet above flood stage, but still, the lower it gets the safer I feel. Plus, a fellow traveler is passing through next week and we’ve decided to be Mississippi River buddies for safety.

The foreseeable future is:

Tonight: anchor by Starved Rock Lock

Tuesday/Wednesday: Peoria, IL

Thursday-Sunday: Grafton, IL (The Key West of the Midwest!)

Monday: travel to Alton, IL to await our travel partner