Missouri River - Mouth to Hermann, MO
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Being consistent can often offer reassurance and eliminate unwanted surprises. Go to any Ramada Inn and you can be reasonable sure you will find a clean well maintained room for the night.  Go to McDonalds in Florida and most likely the Big Mac will taste the same as one in California. 

But consistency can have a downside – especially when it is in the form of something always seeming to go wrong at the beginning of a boating adventure.  I hoped that this time I could break my pattern. But as luck would have it I found myself sitting in Therapy once again with a problem facing me right from the start (actually “wadding beside Therapy” would describe the situation better but more on that in a moment).

After my Illinois River trip in September I had planned to keep Therapy fairly close to home until spring.  I had quite a bit going on in October and when November rolls around in Illinois the weather can get real questionable.  November also brings along shorter days that limit the amount of river miles I can log. Plus the nights are now lasting 13 hours and although the Cabin Skiff’s berth is comfortable it seems to shrink appreciably when occupied that long.  I decided I would be content just to run the Kaskaskia River and venture on the Mississippi off and on to provide the boating “fix” I seem to need on a weekly basis.

But November of 2001 brought along some pleasant surprises.  The weather all this month has been vary mild and has provided some excellent boating.  Still I was staying local.  But as the third weekend approached I just couldn’t stand it any more.  My wife was going to be busy all weekend working as a volunteer at a craft fair lunch stand so I was on my own anyway.  Plus the weather forecast was superb – the high temperatures were to be in the low 70’s with the lows only dropping to the mid 50’s.  To make it even sweeter the winds looked like they would be next to dead calm.  I decided Therapy and I were going somewhere. 

I wanted to explore some new water but since I was just planning an overnighter I really didn’t want to drive hours to get to a drop-in site.  By now my wake has parted most of the nearby rivers so I really had only one choice – the Missouri River.

Some might wonder why I had not ventured on to the Missouri by now.  It is just a little more than hour away and I have certainly driven much farther to explore lesser rivers.  In fact, the thought of navigating the 734 miles of water between St. Louis, MO and Sioux City, IA was one of the main reasons I decided to build Therapy and the lower Missouri River chart was the first chart I purchased. 

But I have to admit that I had become somewhat apprehensive.  I had studied the chart and read as much as I could find about the Missouri as well as talked to a few people that had some experience navigating it.  Here are a few of the “facts” that I found - 

  • The Missouri is one of the fastest navigable rivers of length in the world flowing at speeds between 2 1/2 to 7 mph. It’s elevation drops about one foot in each mile and there are no locks.
  • Rather than frequent dredging the Corps of Engineers holds the 300’ channel by installing wing like “dikes” built of large chunks of jagged limestone.  These become submerged when the river levels rise.
  • The dikes are very numerous – for example there are thirty-five in the first four miles.
  • A popular cruising guide used to state the Missouri is “very hazardous to all boaters!”
  • Channels are not well marked  - buoys are few and far between.
  • The only fuel on the lower Missouri is seasonably available at the 82 mile marker.  The next fuel on the river is 370 miles upstream from there.

Putting these all together did make me a little nervous so I guess I had been delaying my first Missouri River voyage.  But now the urge is strong which tends to dampen the apprehension (and sometimes good judgment!).  I decided it was time to take on the Missouri.

There are some negatives but also some positives so it is only fair that I list them too -

  • The fact that there is no locks (almost) certainly eliminated the chance of long delays
  • Mile markers are very frequent – usually at least one per mile .
  • The water level was down so the dikes would be fairly visible. 
  • The Missouri carries very little barge traffic.
  • Overnight anchorages out of the current are numerous behind the many dikes.

As usual, the first order of business was to pull out the chart and a calculator to address the fuel problem. Since I had not yet been on the Missouri I wanted to start at the mouth where dumps into the Mississippi.  The problem is that the confluence is between the Mississippi Lock 26 and Lock 27.  Since there are no public ramps in this area I will have to pass through one of these locks. 

I had originally planned to drop in at Alton and then use Lock 26 (Melvin Price) but then I learned about another ramp at Riverview MO that would be a little closer drive.  The gentleman that does my prop repair (I see him frequently!) told me there was a nice concrete ramp with a parking lot that was regularly patrolled by the police.  He stated he uses it often to access an island on the Mississippi where he hunts. 

Using this ramp will require me to use Lock 27 (Chain of Rocks) and then run about 14 miles to the Missouri.  Altogether it would amount about 23 miles on the Mississippi before I hit the confluence. In addition I calculated that because of the limited daylight the farthest I could probably make in one day was to Jefferson City (capital of MO) at the 144 mile marker for a total of 167 miles. 

In order to make Jefferson City I would need about 40 gallons of gas.  My tanks hold 25 and I was willing to take along 6 more in my portable tank but that would still leave me short. Quimby’s Cruising Guide stated that there should be fuel available April through November at the 82 MM so if I could fill up there the trip was possible.  I decided to call ahead but in my numerous attempts the phone went unanswered.

I decided to scale back my plans and shoot for Hermann MO at the 98 MM.  This would require about 29 gallons so with my portable it was within range. My guess was going upstream would reduce my actual speed to about 20 mph so time wise I would need about 6 hours for the mileage, another hour for the lock (Lock 27 is very good about using their auxiliary lock and getting pleasurecraft  through with minimal delay) and another hour for lunch and misc.  I would have 10 to 11 hours of daylight so it looked like I had a plan.

There was one problem with an otherwise perfect weather forecast – fog.  On Friday morning it was reported heavy around the Mississippi and they were predicting that Saturday morning would be more of the same.  I decided to conserve all the daylight I could so I left home early enough to reach the ramp just before sunrise. 

When I got to the ramp the fog was patchy but not bad.  I backed down the long narrow incline and noticed that the last 8 to 10 feet before the water was covered with mud left when the water had receded.  This didn’t thrill me but I was there and anxious to go so I decided to back on in.  I slid Therapy off the trailer with a rope attached to the bow and pulled her up beside of the trailer.  I then proceeded to TRY to pull the trailer out.  The combination of the muddy ramp and a pickup truck with no weight in the rear end allowed the wheels to just spin.  Fortunately, by rocking it back and forth I managed to drag it clear and head to the parking lot.

But here I am again.  I have a problem!  If I could barely pull out the empty trailer there was no way that I was going to be able to get the boat and trailer out!  I decided at this point it was too late to worry about it.  I knew I would have to deal with the situation at some point but I might as well make the run and decide what to do on the way back.

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