“I’m going back out and down the river to find a place to anchor.”
“Why? We need to be in the cove,” I argued.
“I CAN’T SEE THROUGH THE FOG. I AM TOTALLY TURNED AROUND FROM THE EDDYS AND THE NAVIGATION SYSTEM SAYS WE’RE ON LAND. I DIDN’T WANT TO WORRY YOU, BUT THIS CHANNEL IS TOO NARROW TO DO BLIND.’
I’ve always admired the way Rick goes about things. He learns all he can and then just does it. Nothing fazes the man. Total opposite of me. When he shouted these things to me, I was stunned. He was totally shaken. Where does this leave us?
As we headed down river, the tension inside the aft deck was as thick as the fog surrounding us. You literally could not see a yard in front of us. Thank God I let Rick talk me into the AIS (Automatic Identification System). I like to exaggerate a bit in my writing, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that system and Rick saved our lives. Now, Rick will tell you he was just worried about smashing the boat or running aground, not anything life threatening. But I’m here to tell you, if he hadn’t done what he did through our whole cruise yesterday, we could have had a real tragedy. He’s my hero. (Cue sappy music here.)
Let me start at the beginning. The day began with high hopes. We were 35 miles from our departure point to leave the Mississippi (yay!). It was partly cloudy with chance of rain in the forecast until noon. With thunderstorms on the radar for tomorrow, we decided to risk a little rain now to get to our next stop early. The anchor came up easily and by 6:45 a.m. we were underway.
Light to moderate rain began about 9:00 am. No big deal, we have windshield wipers. Fog started developing along the banks. Possibly a result of the rain and river water temperatures. Who knows? It wasn’t too bad. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. We should have taken a cue from the barges upriver who were all along the bank waiting. We didn’t connect why until later. For now, we were glad we didn’t have anyone in our way. Rain became a little heavier about 9:30 a.m. and the fog seemed to be dissipating. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. By 10:00 a.m., visibility was down to less than a half mile. The AIS showed a multitude of barges near us and we were relying on the navigation software to stay in the channel.
By 10:30 we were at the Old River entrance. It was a sharp turn into a narrow channel, then a short distance to our destination. Using the navigation and radar, Rick attempted to make the turn and keep in the channel center. Our draft is 4-1/2 feet and we had been told we needed to stay in the center or risk running aground. Were we in the center? The navigation system had us on land. The current was swift and an eddy swirled us around. Where were we? Rick could not see the shoreline to get his bearings. At one point the fog cleared just enough to show we were headed directly for the shore about 100 yards away. We kept getting swung around; it appeared momentarily that Rick had lost control. Instinct told him to advance the throttles so our heading would properly register on the navigation display; we had been going too slowly for the nav system.
That’s when I learned what was really happening and we had the above discussion. Rick successfully edged us out of the channel and back onto the Mississippi. We went about a mile downriver. In good conditions, its not easy to find a suitable stopping point along this river and these weren’t good conditions. Relying on the nav system again, he maneuvered just inside the red buoy line and we dropped the anchor. Every commercial tow we could see on our AIS was doing the same thing, so we felt safe for now.
But mother nature wasn’t finished with us yet. While we waited, the sun set. Now we were in the dark and fog. Thunderstorms were on the way by 9:00 p.m. We unplugged all our electronic things—TVs, computer and the like. We couldn’t turn off the nav system though or the radio—we needed to know when (if) commercial traffic started to move. If we couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see us. The tugs got anxious and began moving. So Rick set his alarm for every 30 minutes in case we fell asleep. We sat vigil. He was able to track the movement of those tugs. When they headed our way, he contacted them to give our location, then he’d watch for them. Or more accurately, wait to hear them—we couldn’t see them. News of our location spread rapidly on the radio and all the tugs were great about giving a wide berth.
Rick sent me to bed around 11 (he insisted there was no point to us both staying up), but I couldn’t sleep. I just laid there listening to the crackle of the radio and his calls to the tugs. I also compulsively checked the Weather Channel radar for those thunderstorms. The predictions changed as rapidly as I checked them. The thunderstorms were cropping up around us but not traveling over us. I was glad, but it really just delayed the inevitable, since the prediction would just be pushed back a few hours.
By morning, we groggily peered out into the vast fog. It hadn’t changed. I felt a little less vulnerable since we had the light of day, but that was really an illusion since those commercial boats couldn’t see us any better than at night. The thunderstorms were still looming but had not hit us yet.
At several points things were clearing up. We hesitated to move yet since we could see our turn off was still shrouded in fog. Ten minutes later we were in white out conditions again and were glad we hadn’t pulled anchor. Finally, we took a chance and headed out. We were being watched over. We made the turn, got through the channel into the lake, and dropped anchor just before the thunderstorms hit.
This cove is protected basically on all sides (besides the narrow entrance). We feel safe enough to shut off the electronics and go to bed tonight. I’m grateful. Tomorrow we enter onto our final river. The Intracoastal Waterway isn’t far behind.