Those that have taken on the challenge of cruising the Great American Loop have often been accused of developing a “pack mentality”, but Stel and I have come to fully understand why it is smarter, safer and a lot more fun to cruise along side other couples for periods of time. It has become obvious that we need each other, and not purely for social reasons. Although having fun together is a major part of the overall experience, we have also found that strength in numbers equates to successfully getting from point A to point B when facing the challenges of each day’s journey. “Loyal” and “self-sacrificing” are words that describe the loopers that we have met along the way. We have been overwhelmed by an atmosphere of caring and sharing among all the people who are committed to this wonderful journey.
After talking to experienced cruisers and reading much of the information that was available, Stel and I understood that the Mississippi River might be one of the more challenging legs of the trip. With the swift running currents, changing water levels, increasing amount of log debris, leaping Asian Carp, monster tow boats, unpredictable lock schedules and busy mining ports, our boating skills were tested in conditions that we had never experienced before. During our days and nights on the rivers, we thanked God for giving us 4 consistently beautiful weather days, but were also grateful that we had some very experienced couples cruising and anchoring alongside us. Over the 4 day period, we spent a long days at the helm as we made our way from Grafton, Illinois down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. We ran with the fast current of the muddy Mississippi and reached speeds of 13 knots at very low engine rpm (pretty exciting when you are in a trawler!). It was favorable for our fuel consumption until we made a radical turn against the current into the clearer blue water of the Ohio River and immediately slowed to a crawl of 6.5 knots. We spent a memorable night at “Hoppie’s Marina”, an infamous barge-side tie-off where the owners, Charles and Fern Hopkins, give river condition briefings to each group of loopers passing through. We were fortunate enough to be there over a Sunday night when they cook and host a potluck supper for all loopers! After leaving there with our group of five boats, we spent 3 consecutive nights at recommended anchorages off the main stream of the Mississippi River. It was our longest period without stepping on land, so it was a great time to test our ability to live on the boat with a finite supply of food, water and power. The Estrellita proved once again to be a comfortable and reliable little “home” on the water!
After a long, but memorable journey down these two great rivers, we entered the winding Cumberland River for 31 miles to the Barkley Lock and Dam where we were quickly lifted 57 feet to the north end of Kentucky’s Barkley Lake. We exited the lock chamber and were immediately greeted by the beautiful Green Turtle Bay Marina where we joined about 20 other looper boats enjoying a respite from their great river adventure! We were excited to find out that the marina was hosting their annual Looper appreciation cookout that very night, so it was good to celebrate with couples that we had been traveling with, and also some couples that we had not yet met. There was no shortage of great stories to be told!