Last week I was walking through WalMart in Sallisaw, OK, gathering supplies for the first leg of our trip. The list I had was an eclectic array of things ranging from bungee cords, work gloves, and a battery powered radio to canned vegetables, coffee, and bottled water (three large 5 gallon containers). I was cruising through at a pretty good pace until I reached the canned vegetables. I selected a half dozen cans and started down the aisle, thought better of it and tuned around. In a sudden panic, I started filling my cart with cans and cans and more cans. My brain was going overtime, but not firing on all cylinders. I knew we only had three days to Little Rock and civilization; but in that moment, I was convinced we were going to get stranded and run out of food. It’s the Arkansas River for gosh sakes, not the Nile. I mentally talked myself down and headed to the checkout with my load (I did NOT put anything back, however).
With all my things piled onto the conveyor belt, the checker lady (who sounded exactly like Roseanne) said, “Are you an adventuress or somethin’?” So I explained our plan. She was enthralled and I regained my excitement.
Returning to the boat, I handed over the car keys to the new owner. Now our only means of transportation besides the beast were bikes or feet. We stayed up until midnight working on the things we meant to get to earlier. We even had to borrow the car again so we could go to Best Buy. Loading the navigation charts into the system, we found the system required a “mini” chip but we were given a regular one. We lost several hours to/from the store. Props to the Best Buy guy who figured out how we could load them since the store didn’t actually have what we needed. So our navigation was set but other things went by the wayside because we needed to be somewhat rested for the long day ahead.
In the morning, we headed out with our “crew.” We had another boat with us until Little Rock, which seemed safer. More important, several of the guys from the marina were coming with to the first stop. Ed was on our boat and Pat, Brian and Carrie were on C.A.’s boat. I was a little jealous, since the other boat also had Summer (a yorkie) and Swab (a little grey kitten). But I was too busy worrying about the first lock to get too worked up over it. At each lock, I had to climb down to the swim platform, pull in the dingy close to the back end of the boat, and tie it on a short leash. Picture all 125 pounds me pulling against this thing while we continue to move forward. The boat is kicking up waves that the dingy is riding, while I’m muscling the thing in. Next, I climb back into the boat and exit onto the side deck where I handle the lines to tie up to a post (called a b0llard) on the side of a ginormous wall. The bollard is what stands between us slowly slipping down as the water recedes in the lock or us being tossed around bouncing off the walls. Once we have the all clear, I need to quickly untie so we can move out of the lock. I also need to neaten up the lines. Finally, I have to head down to the swim platform again, to untie the short leash on the dingy and slowly let it out so we can continue. I was yanked toward the water enough times that I was finally able to convince Rick we needed to change what we were doing.
Thanks to Ed, I survived the first two locks. We encountered wind that worked against us in the first lock, but were able to secure it. I was too distracted to really listen to what Ed was saying when he told me to go over to the other side of the boat to watch as they “pulled the plug” and look for the whirlpool. He fessed up immediately that there was no plug. I already knew that, but foolishly was listening to the expert. At one of the locks, the bow of the boat hit against the concrete side of the lock, but there was no damage other than a little scrape to be rubbed out later.
We had a decidedly pleasant first leg. When we reached the first stop around Ft. Smith, the crew was dropped off. (I got teary eyed.) C.A. had two more people coming aboard, but Rick and I were alone from this point on. C.A. was having some issues with his boat, so we decided it would be best to stay for the night and head out early the next morning. He was tied up to the dilapidated dock and we tied up to his boat.
We left a little past first light and had no real issues until we reached the next marina. We were too big to fit anywhere and our attempt to get alongside the covered slips resulted in some scrapes and regular hitting against the dock’s tin roof. The woman running the place wasn’t much help in securing the lines and with as low as the dock was, Rick had to jump off to tie up to the cleats. When the others got secured, they helped up walk Nautical Dreamer forward so that we wouldn’t be hitting the roof. That effectively blocked off access to the river for the folks whose slips were on that side. The dock worker assured us that was fine—the parking area is gated and locked anyway so no one will be leaving until 8 the next morning. We planned to be out at first light. We spent the evening securing the dingy onto the swim platform and its engine onto the rail at the bow of the boat.
Before we left Sallisaw, we had watched the destruction of a bridge in Little Rock, along with the shut- down of river traffic for 24 hours. Unfortunately, the blast didn’t go as planned and there was debris all around the area in the river. Our Little Rock destination, Rockwater Marina, was just before that bridge, so it wasn’t going to be an issue for us. Or so we thought.
Getting up the next morning to set out, we called the first lock (just a few miles away) to check on traffic. Commercial traffic takes precedence over leisure and one barge takes at least two hours to get through. We had gotten up at 5 to leave by first light, but were delayed until 10:30 because of two barges. With the four-hour delay, we’d have to book to get to Little Rock before sundown. C.A. needed a crew change again, since we couldn’t guarantee we’d make it to Little Rock and both guys had to work the next day. That delayed us more.
But the capper was the mechanical trouble. One of his engines went out. Three times. We were the lead boat, and each time, I’d look back to check on them and they’d get farther and farther behind. So we idle and call them on the radio. His boat’s radio didn’t work, so we loaned him our handheld. They were busy working on the engine, so it would take several tries to get someone to answer back. Meanwhile, we were totally exposed in the middle of the channel and they were dead in the water. Eventually we’d hear about swapping out a battery or filter. As the day wore on and the sun started going down, we were quite worried we wouldn’t make it to the marina. We consulted out charts and didn’t really see a good anchorage. We might have to travel at night. But we’d not planned or attempted that ever and really didn’t want to do it. Rick implored C.A. to run on one engine, but he refused. He told us to go on without him, but we couldn’t do that in good conscience.
With the sun setting, the engine went out again. We told him to tie up to some posts along the edge of the river (or at one of the many docks the homeowner’s had built) and we would send back help. He didn’t listen. In desperation, we called his son-in-law (one of the guys from the second crew). We were five miles from marina. We got his blessing to leave C.A., book it to the marina, and send back help. Along the route we contacted a barge headed towards us to warn him of the disabled yacht.
When we reached the marina, C.A.’s daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter were there. As C.A. was in contact with us via radio on a regular basis, we waited him out (family’s choice). He slipped in under darkness and the guys got him tied up in his permanent slip at the Little Rock Yacht Club www.lryachtclub.com/ We tied up for the night at the fueling dock and fell into bed. In the morning, we talked with the owner of the yacht club and received some good info on the Mississippi River. He didn’t even charge us for staying the night!
In an hour we were at our destination: Rockwater Marina (www.rockwatermarina.com/ ). We are their first transients, so there were some things to work out. The transient dock is missing cleats, so we had to tie up to some posts on the opposite side of the dock. Although we had been told they had the electric we needed, they didn’t They did make a gallant effort to get us electricity and when they couldn’t, the owner brought a bottle of wine for our troubles. It’s a lovely place. The pump out is actually a mobile unit which is quite fancy compared to what we’d had seen thus far. The location is great. We were able to walk to many of the places we wanted to see and we have a beautiful view of the Little Rock skyline.
So, as it sit here reflecting to a few days ago in that WalMart, I’d have to say “yes, I AM an adventuress!” And I THINK I’m even enjoying it.