The Great Towboat Race…

Or how we beat two tows too Florence. As this adventure begins to slowly wind down you would think that things in general would slow down but that is never the case. We were off and running at 0700 because it was forecast to be very hot and we had 49 miles and one lock to go and no AC for little Trixie. Turns out it was mighty chilly upstairs with the eyebrows rooled up.

What are eyebrows you say? Several good examples are pictured above. I explained it once before somewhere in the archives, but for some new readers or those with slipping memories like myself, I will review. Canvas enclosures with glassine(clear plastic glass)would be like a sauna on any sunny day, so to allow ventilation someone invented eyebrows. They are semi circular sections with zippers that open, roll up and allow air in. You roll them up and there are straps with snaps that hold them up. Two in front, one on each side and a big one in back. Thus you are fully ventilated and can see out. Different combinations opened and closed produce different conditions. We nearly always keep the rear one open because it has an overhang that prevents all but the most driving rain from coming in. So now you can amaze your friends next time you walk down a dock on vacation by pointing and saying, “Nice set of eyebrows on that one.” Thus we did not have to worry so much about Trixie getting too hot while underway. Oh, eventually it reached 88 and beyond but by that time we were hooked to shore power with AC cooling away. It was what it took to get there that dominated our day.

The challenge was Wilson Lock, one of the world’s tallest. About four miles from the end of our day sits Wilson Lock. It is at the end of a two mile canal that you do not want to share with tows and barges. Absolutely nowhere to go if you encounter one there. The river is full of working tows today and timing will be crucial. You want to get to the lock ahead of all tows. That part can be simple. But you want to get there far enough ahead that the lockmaster, in his discretion, will let you ride up before they get there. It will take at least an hour if all goes well for us to get inside, tie off, ride up, get out and then empty the chamber to let the lock back down for a waiting tow. So if you have an hour lead and no tows are tryng to come downriver, he might give you a shot. But if a tow is only 30 minutes behind he will likely not help you because it means requiring a commercial vessel to wait and time is real money for them and trying to maintain their position in from of a lock emptying millions of gallons of water downstream can be dangerous. It turned out to be a mathmatical problem like you used to get on standardized tests in high school. If Train A leaves Chicago going 40mph and Train B leaves 45 minutes later traveling 50mph and it takes 12 hours for a train traveling 60mph to cover the distance between Chicago and NY, how much sooner will Train B reach NY? We found ourselves doing this all day. We were not concerned with any tows coming toward us as long as they are below the dam. We are concerned with with any tow ahead of us or too close behind us. A tow can delay you from 2-6 hours at a lock depending on its size. After 6 hours the regulations say the lock must allow one up and down for recreational boats but this is seldom enforced as you will soon read.

Two mile canal approaching Wilson Lock.

We encountered our first upstream tow around midday. Jan began doing some quick algebra. And you wondered in high school when you would ever need this stuff again. We were going 9.5mph and the tow was going 5.9mph. We know this because of AIS data. It was 30 miles to the lock. We needed to beat him by an hour and we also wanted to stop 30 minutes max for Trixie to relieve herself in Florence. No, it does not take her that long but we have to pull in, tie up, take her to shore, cast off and return to the main channel. Best estimate 30 minutes. It would be very close but we could sacrifice Trixie’s break and tell her to cross her legs if it came down to making the lock. All seemed well until we spotted another upriver tow even bigger that the first. It was the “Cynthia”. All calculations went in the trash and we started over. Now we were at mile marker 236. The lock is at 256. We are still traveling 9.5mph and this new tow is going 5.9-6.1mph! Can we do it in time? The answer is no. And if this tow goes ahead through the lock, the second tow behind us, named Joh Hamiton, will have plenty of time to catch up and we are looking at a minimum of a 6 hour delay. Looks like our luck just ran out. So Jan telephones Florence Marina and makes reservations for the night and we will try again in the morning. Little Funhouse agrees. He has a computer hooked to his navigation system that does all the math for him. Looks like we are toast and a similar problem may face us in the morning. So I decide to see if the captain of this tow might engage in some conversation. Some will, some won’t. I raised him on the radio and asked if he was planning to go through the Wilson Lock today. Sure am. I then said well then we give up. He radios back what do you mean. Now that is invitation to tell him our troubles. And he provides the solution we need! He has to stop at the commercial canal right at the entrance to the lock canal and drop off a barge which will buy us some time. And if he dallies around a bit he can buy us an hour which he assure us he will do. We are back in business if we just speed up a bit and convince the lockmaster to work us in. RPM’s up to 1400 and we are now moving at 10.5mph passing the “Cynthia” with profound thanks. Trixie will have to wait but not too long as our destination is only a few miles above the lock.

We phoned the Wilson lockmaster and filled him in on everyone’s exact location at that time. We told him about “Cynthia’s” projected stop and that her captain had no objection to us going through first. I had used the telephone because I did not want all this going out over an open mic. He agreed to lower the chamber and be ready for us which saved another 30 minute wait at the Arrival Point. Oh happy day. No-one has luck like this. My father once said to me, “Boy, you are the only one I know who can fall into a barrel of horse manure and come out smelling like a rose every time.” I wish that were always true, but it was true today.

Little Funhouse about halfway up Wilson Lock. Each of those lines of stone represents 5 feet. He has approximately 68 more feet to get to the high watermark. 

We made it to Turtle Point Yacht Club which is a sister club to LGYC and tied up just down from the swimming pool. An absolutely beautiful place that is a combination Country Club and Yacht Club. We stayed courtesy of the Club and had a delicious 4 star meal in the dining room overlooking the river and the 18th hole of the Robert Trent Jones golf course. This is smelling like a dozen roses tonight.