As we turned onto the Ohio River from the Mississippi, the current now against us, our speed was more than cut in half. Reaching our fastest speeds just the day before, now that we were going just slow enough to where someone walking on the shore could easily keep up pace, felt discouraging.The first lock we hit on the Ohio, Olmsted Lock, is still being constructed. It has been in the process of being built for nearly thirty years now and as we arrived we were behind five other pleasure craft. Listening to the lock master’s advice, we all stuck to the Kentucky side of the river, anchored, and waited for further instruction. Arriving somewhere within the one o’clock hour, we were told that there were divers heading to Lock 53, only a mile or so upriver, to get a large log out of the lock chamber.
One hour goes by. Two. After about four, the lock master told us it would only be a little while longer.
Late afternoon, it began to downpour. Stepping out onto the deck, I exclaimed to RJ, “the water pressure out here is actually pretty nice.” While I didn’t have him pass the shampoo, I soaked myself up, cooled off and felt better than I had in days.Getting closer to sunset, we were given the option of locking through in the dark or just staying put for the night. We easily chose the latter option, though a few of the other boats went back and forth about what to do before ultimately deciding to stay our neighbors for the night.
We woke up the following morning before sunrise to make oatmeal and get prepared to leave at first light if necessary. Though it wasn’t until nearly nine o’clock before we finally pulled up the anchor, it was worth the early wake up call to not feel rushed before we got moving again.
A train of boats, Patches pulling up the rear, we all motored through the soon to be Olmsted Lock, waving at all the workers as we inched along. There was a lot of current pushing against our bow through the lock chamber while the dam was being completed just to our right.
The plan for the day was to motor through Olmsted Lock, motor about 2 miles to Lock 53 and rise up to another thirty miles of motoring to Lock 52. After going through Lock 52, just a mile or so to a dock in Paducah, KY.
Lock 53 and Lock 52 were quite an experience. These locks were built sometime before the mid-1950’s and their age was definitely showing. The walls were so rusted that we didn’t even want to take Patches anywhere near them. Not to say that we don’t take care of her regularly, but usually in the locks we aren’t too concerned if Patches gets knocked around just a little bit. Through these locks, all the boats floated as we were locked up. This just means that instead of tying off to a wall, you try to keep your boat centered and from moving around too, too much.
Lock 53. Check. Now only about thirty miles to Lock 52. Easy.
Easy is how we should have taken it. Pushing our Atomic 4 motor nearly to it’s limit, we actually did just that… pushed it to it’s limit. Trying to keep up with the big, fast power boats is not what Patches was made for. The motor was skipping, feeling beneath our feet like a heart skipping a beat. Barely making it to Metropolis, IL, we anchored for the night to give it a rest and figure out the problem.
We didn’t get to go see Superman in Metropolis.
But thankfully RJ is our own kind of super-man and seems to be able to figure out just about any problem on the boat, at least so far. From what I got about the problem, there was a wire that was rubbing, against something or other, and needed protection.
Thankfully, we were moving again the next day, and making it to Lock 52 in just a few short hours that morning, we were told it would be about a four hour wait. At this point, we weren’t expecting to get off of the Ohio River any time soon, the lock master may as well have told us to be prepared to be there for a week, and I don’t think we would have thought twice about it.
Taking a short nap, sitting out in the sun writing in my journal, and calling my parents passed the time quickly. With a few other boats that showed up in the meantime, we headed for the lock. Time to float again. The boat floating behind us was one of the more interesting boats we have seen on this trip up to this point, and likely the most unique boat we will see as we continue. “Ra” is a solar powered boat, in entirety. With a long narrow cabin, a deck surrounding, and a large roof made up of solar panels, we didn’t know what to make of it. We would learn more about “Ra” and the crew aboard, during the following days.
Heading out of Lock 52, bound for Paducah, I was feeling free from being locked below the Ohio River locks.
Paducah, KY was an unexpected gem on the river. They just completed a transient boat dock recently and we got to be one of the first boats to officially spend the night. Patches even got to be featured in the background of a few shots from the local Channel 6 news as they interviewed a few of the other Loopers tied up next to us.
With a lot of current, wind, and wake, we secured Patches as best we could, and headed up the ramp into town. Walking through the door of an intimidating levee wall, we were greeted by people preparing for one of the towns largest summer festivals, Barbecue on the River. “What a perfect time for us to be here!” I say, sarcastically, as a vegan.
Truly though, it was no issue at all. The hustle and bustle of everything going on around us made our experience in this small town that much more enjoyable. Hand in hand, we walked down the streets, filled with local artwork, beautiful store fronts, and yarn wrapped trees. People sitting at the tables outside of every restaurant that we saw, the town was active for a Wednesday night. I had to keep checking, to assure myself that it was, in fact, a Wednesday.
After stepping into a Mexican restaurant for some guacamole and margaritas, we continued walking around the block and ran into the levee wall again. Except this time, we saw that the side facing the town is full of murals. Murals depicting the past of this town on the river.
One particular mural that caught our eye was from the perspective of a Captain driving a tow looking out on all it’s barges and guiding them down the river. After passing so many tows, it helped us to understand how stressful it must be to see a tiny sailboat coming towards you.
Dancing our way from mural to mural, a bit tipsy from the margaritas and getting closer to the live music from the barbecue, we inched our way through the history of Paducah. Did you know that after Lewis and Clark finished their journey, Clark came back to Paducah and is the one who basically created the town? My memory is hazy on exactly how that happened, as I’ve never been a history buff so I’m not super keen on memorizing exact facts, but I do simply remember that he must have thought the area nice enough to come back to, after so many miles of travel along the rivers.
After taking a detour to a local brewery for RJ to grab a beer, we retreated back to the boat dock, to find lots of people wandering about. Boat owners and some curious locals.
Walking over to Travis, one of the crew members on “Ra,” we didn’t know we were committing ourselves to a late night, though we are happy that we did.
The conversation ranged from the meaning of laughter to the existence of extraterrestrials. From food to engineering. From this to that all night long before Skipper Jim, the mastermind behind the solar boat, offered us a shot of cherry rum. He dubbed us official pirates of the sun and with that, we happily walked back to Patches.
After reading a chapter or two of Robinson Crusoe, we let the heavy rocking drift us into sleep, deciding to spend another day in this town known as Paducah.