At mile marker 195 we reach the mouth of the Missouri River and the turbulence is quite strong as the to rivers converge. Just a mile farther places us at the entrance to the Chain of Rocks Canal (entrance shown in photo). The 12 mile canal was cut to bypass an area called the Chain of Rocks Reach. The Reach extends along the northeastern boundary of St. Louis and St. Louis County, and has been a hazard to river traffic since the earliest days of navigation on the Mississippi. At two locations on this reach, ledges of rock extend from the east bank under the river channel. These ledges act as submerged dams, causing a sharp increase in the slope of the river. This, in turn, increases the velocity of the water and makes this section extremely difficult and dangerous to navigate. Even the most powerful towboats were forced to divide their tows and take smaller groups of barges through the reach. At extreme low water, the navigable depth was reduced to as little as 5.5 feet because of the rocks, preventing full and efficient use of the improved waterway above and below the Chain of Rocks Reach. In 1953 the Chain of Rocks Canal and lock were placed in service. The dam is actually about six miles upstream from the lock. It is a non-controlled low water dam built from rock fill. All powerboats must use the canal bypass the dam except during times of extreme high water. The locks at #27 are the same size as Mel Price. As we approach I attempt to call the lockmaster but get no reply. A friendly tow captain suggest I make a frequency change to Channel 12. All the other locks we have encountered on this trip have used 14 as their working channel. I didn't ask but my guess is because of its close proximity to Mel Price and the high volume of traffic they handle a different frequency is used to avoid confusion.
Now that I am on the correct channel the lockmaster comes back and tells us as soon as he opens the gate we can enter the auxiliary. We pull in and tie off and I call back on the radio to inquire about one of their employees. A friend of mine works at the lock and I told him the next time I came though I would check to see if he was there. Unfortunately they inform me his shift had ended about a half hour before and he had left for home. I really wanted to show him I was making this run in Therapy. He has worked on locks for years and he has told me a number of times that there was no way I would ever catch him on the Mississippi in a wooden boat. In his eyes it's just too dangerous. He has hinted a couple of times that he thinks I'm nuts.
As we approach the St. Louis riverfront at mile marker 179, I am pleased, as Lock #27 was the last major obstacle between home and us. We do have one more lock but it is on the Kaskaskia River and there is never a problem getting through. We pass by the Gateway Arch and I try to take a photo but I am shooting into the sun and the results are less than optimal. Unlike many other river towns, St. Louis has no facilities for boaters. This is a shame as downtown area is in easy walking distance and offers all the amenities of a large city as well as access to the Arch. I am sure that part of the reason is that there are no locks on the Misissippi below St. Louis, which means that here the river runs wild. Swift and drastic changes in the water level can and do occur on a regular basis depending on the whim of Mother Nature. The city is fairly well protected from floods but trying to hold a marina with covered slips together in the heavy current and extreme level fluctuations would be a daunting task. The current on the Mississippi is considerably stronger than the Illinois and the increase in our speed is noted on the GPS. At about 4800 rpm I had been cruising between 25 and 26 mph on the Illinois but now we are hitting almost 29 mph. Also, the size of the barges we encounter are much larger than those that travel the Illinois river.
At the 159 mile marker we come upon Hoppie's Marina at Kimmswick, Mo. This is an important landmark for a couple of reasons. The first is it is the last fuel available for at least 100 miles. I say at least because Kidd River Fuel is at the 51.9 mile marker. There you must call at least 24 hours in advance of arrival and they have a 50 gallon minimum. Other than that, on the Mississippi the next fuel is at Memphis, TN which is 378 miles away! The only other choice is to head up the Ohio River at Cairo, IL and from there up the Cumberland River to Kentucky Lake. Still this is about 230 miles. This is my home court so if there is any question as to why I wanted large tanks on Therapy this should offer the answer! I need to point out that my Quimby's Cruising Guide states that there is fuel available on the Mississippi at Marina De Gabouri at 122 mile marker and up the Kaskaskia River at two locations. All of these entries are outdated. Marina De Gabouri did have gas until about 1999 but the channel to the marina is now silted in and cannot be accessed except during high water. On the Kaskaskia one location was taken out by the flood of 1997 and the other has not had fuel since the flood of 1993. If you are heading farther south plan accordingly! The other reason Hoppie's is important is that it offers access to the small village of Kimmswick, MO. Kimmswick is somewhat of the local Mecca for those into shopping for handcrafted items. From the marina a pleasant walk of about 1/4 mile will place you in the heart of town. I will add that is a location of high contrast. This is an old river community and over time had been allowed to decay. But then a local woman opened a restaurant called the Blue Owl and offered a somewhat rustic setting and world-class food. After a few years food critics in St. Louis "discovered" it and prestigious awards followed. Suddenly it was THE place to eat. With the influx of people (and money) some of the locals started to sell handcrafted items and before long many of the homes were converted to shops. On the weekends it is a flow with mostly females looking for a good lunch (the Blue Owl is only open until 3:00 pm - no evening meal served) and that perfect craft item to adorn their home.
But at the same time remnants of harder times still exist, as you will sometimes find rundown home with junk and abandon cars sitting in the yard right next to a nicely restored shop or home. Like I said, a place of contrast. Personally the wares of most of the vendors are of no interest to me but my wife loves the place. This is a 60 mile river trip from our home ramp and a couple times a year we take the ride. Often we take along a few friends and sometimes use my 19' runabout if we have more than two extra pasengers. We usually leave early Saturday morning and cruise up to Hoppie's Marina. Although I am not sure if it is required we always top off the tanks there and in return they charge us nothing to moor to their dock while we visit town. We normally eat first and then the girls spend a few hours hitting the shops before we return. As we pass Hoppie's I have a small dilemma to deal with. We have made very good time today with the river helping our speed. I know that Hoppie's is exactly 60 miles from home. The plan is to have my wife meet us at the ramp with the trailer. I use the GPS to check what time sunset will occur and then run the numbers through the calculator What I find is if we continue on home and try to make it to the ramp it will involve running about 30 minutes in the dark. After Sunday night I really wasn't wild about doing that again on this trip. If we decided to anchor out for the night I would either have to ask my wife to get up a couple of hours early before work to come get us or we would have to kill the day waiting for her to get off work at 5:00. I'm sure she would have agreed to roll out early but I just didn't want to ask her to do that. After all, she is at work running our business by herself while I'm out playing. Letting her get her sleep seemed the lest I could do.
But then the thought occurred to me if I had her to drive about 12 miles farther she could pick us up at a ramp 10 miles closer to the mouth of the Kaskaskia. With any luck we would still have a little light left to get there and if not the run in the dark would be very short. I stopped and gave her a call on the cell phone and made the arrangements , she was surprised we were back so soon but said she would meet us at the ramp about 8:00 pm. With this done I brought Therapy up on plane again and headed for home. In a way I was sorry to get home sooner than expected but the prospect of a hot shower was overwhelming the slight disappointment. As we approached the Kaskaskia River I called ahead to the lockmaster so he would have the gates open. As the Kaskaskia came into view we found the biggest towboat I have ever seen sitting right at the mouth. Coming closer we realized that it was a Corps of Engineers tow and that there was also two normal sized tows sitting beside it almost hidden by its enormity. I had to stop to snap a couple of photos as this thing was impressive.
We passed by its bow and headed into the lock. As we were being raised about 13 feet we chatted with the lockmaster whom we have gotten to know very well over the past couple of years. When we kind of boastfully told him of our trip his immediate response was, "Well, I got you beat." Naturally, I ask him to explain.
He told us that the previous night they had two women in a canoe camp out on the locks long wall. "So," I said. He continued that they were on a trip. They had left Minneapolis six weeks ago and were traveling down the Mississippi. At that point they had traveled 736 miles and passed through 27 locks hand paddling the canoe. And their quest was only half over as their final destination was the Gulf of Mexico. Now that's a boat trip! Here I am thinking I have done something in my 18' powerboat and I find my little three day adventure would be child's play for these two women. They certainly have put things in perspective and me in my place. To that the lockmaster adds that they are both single and very "easy on the eyes." He advises that we could probably catch them in the morning if we were interested!
Yeah, these are obviously my kind of girls but what are the chances that they can back a trailer down a narrow ramp? No thanks. I think I'll keep what I have if she is willing. After 30 years a change would be pretty tough anyway. We head out of the lock to make the final 10 miles to the ramp. It has just gotten dark as we pull in. My smiling wife is sitting in wait and backs down the ramp when she sees that it is us. In a few moments Therapy is sitting high on the trailer and we are on our way home to a hot shower and the comfort of our own beds. Vickie made the mistake of asking me how the trip went and I don't think I shut-up all the way home.