By about 6:15am I was pushing away from the lock and turning south at the Mississippi's 117-mile marker. The Mississippi is a big river. But even more than its width is the speed of its flow. Today it is about normal and pushing close to 3 MPH. This is great on the downhill side as I am making about 28 MPH but I will pay on the return trip.
In places the Mississippi is very scenic. The bluffs along the Alton Pool are breathtaking in the fall. There are numerous other "spots" that are visually very pleasing but for the larger part it is not a "beautiful" river along this section. The banks are usually tree lined but low and there is extensive use of rock dikes to keep the channel in check. The water levels have remained high most of the summer but within the last couple of weeks it had dropped revealing some huge sand bars along its path. These are favorite play and camping areas for local boaters.
At the 80 mm is the small community of Grand Tower. Its name is derived from a geological outcropping in the river called Tower Rock. This large rock mound has stood solid, as the river has carved away surrounding structure.
Just a couple of miles downstream from Tower Rock I come to the scene of a very interesting situation I found myself in last year. I was making an early season run to Kentucky Lake in Therapy. I had just passed a large downstream bound tow on a fairly narrow sweeping bend in the river. Ahead I noticed a 19' open bow runabout and saw someone jumping off the bow into the water. It caught my attention because the water temperature was about 60 degrees - a little cool for a swim but, hey, there are all kinds of folks on the river.
As I was passing a young woman waived and I waved back. Then I noticed she started jumping up and down waiving and honking a small handheld air horn. I realized she wasn’t being friendly she was scared! I quickly pulled over to her boat and realized the guy in the water had a rope trying to swim and pull it toward shore. It wasn't working and the current was moving it into the channel directly in the path of the loaded tow. She was screaming that they had hit something and were taking on water!
You didn't need to be a genius to realize the seriousness of the situation. I quickly threw her a rope and told her to tie it to the forward cleat and I looped it over mine on the stern. I had the guy in the water get to the back of his boat so he could climb back in. All while out the corner of my eye I am seeing the lead barges swing around and point straight at us. Not right on us yet but still close enough to be a real problem if we didn't get moving quickly. I started dragging the boat out of harms way before he had actually pulled himself completely out of the water but he wasn't complaining.
While we were working our way to shore he explained that he was just cruising along daydreaming and chatting and he allow their path to wander out of the channel where he caught one of the submerged rock dikes. We made it to shore and pulled it up onto the sand bar as best we could to inspect the damage. It was an I/O and the outdrive was still attached but I could see that the housing was sheared in several places. It was taking on a little water but not bad. We watched it for a while and found that the bilge pump could easily keep up. But now what?
I checked the GPS and it showed we were on an island. And even if it wasn't there were no roads to the riverbank for several miles. We discussed the situation and he was confident he could keep it afloat if I would tow them in. I didn't mind trying but that was not without problems. The closest ramp was upstream about 2 1/2 miles but I really doubted I could make much headway against the high current of this narrow stretch of river.
He asked if I could tow him downstream to this trailer at Cape Girardeau, MO but that was 25 miles. I explained this was a bad idea for two reasons. First, we didn't know how long his battery would last to keep the bilge pump working. But the main reason was the time. I figured we could probably make about 7 MPH with the current but that meant it would take 3 1/2 hours to get there. And it 2 hours it would be dark! I was in no mood to be on the Mississippi at night, towing a disabled boat with waning battery AND dodge towboats that could run over both of us and not even feel the bump!
He the said he thought there was another ramp downstream a ways and about a mile up a creek. I checked the chart and found Apple Creek and there was a ramp. It would be about 3 miles down the river and then another mile up the creek. It looked like the best choice.
We made the tow to the ramp with no problems. We then left the boat and his wife there and I took him to his trailer so he could make the drive back to retrieve them both. On the way back he thank me over and over again and commented he didn't want to think about what might have happen if I hadn't come along. I didn't want to think about it either.
But that was last year. Today was not nearly as exciting as I droned my way towards the Ohio. The commercial tow traffic was light and I assumed it was because Lock 26 upstream was down for emergency repairs and the river up there had become a floating parking lot. Their loss was my gain as I advanced southward unimpeded by waters churned by huge propellers.