09-14-09 Alton, Illinois

Betsy speaks: We spent another day in Alton, Illinois. As Rick said yesterday this is absolutely the nicest marina we’ve been in. Our slip is covered, so we’re not in the hot sun. And we’re right next to Meander and Still Busy. It is our plan to stay close to those two boats as we head down the Mississippi for a straight stretch of 250 miles with no opportunity for gas. We think we have enough range to make it, especially if we go at trawler speed following Meander. But just in case we have a problem we wanted to be with friends. Meander is a diesel powered trawler that has plenty of fuel capacity and is not concerned about the range. Still Busy is a gas powered motor yacht that has the same concerns we have about range.

We are right next door to a casino again, and my luck has not held out. That’s about all I’ll say about that.

Today we rode our bikes part way into town, then left them at the visitor’s center and walked around a bit. This is a typical riverside town in that you have to make your way over a levee to get anywhere. Also, the town is very hilly, and the hills are very steep. This picture shows a typical downtown street, brick paved. There is no touristy section, just a normal town. Alton was the sight of the 7th and final Lincoln-Douglas debate, so naturally there is a statue commemorating that in the city park. You will recall that just a few days ago we were in Ottawa, IL, the sight of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate.

This afternoon we rode our bikes along the bike path on the top of the levee about two miles to the Melvin Price lock and dam which we will go through tomorrow as we head downriver. This lock has a very nice museum that explains the lock system on the Mississippi River. We took a guided tour of the lock and dam which included going to the structure over the dam that gives a wonderful view of the locks. There are actually two locks here, once much bigger than the other. The large lock, 1200 feet, will accommodate a “full tow” which is 3 barges wide, 5 barges deep plus the pusher boat(tow boat). The smaller lock, 600 feet, which is the same size as all those we’ve already been through on the Illinois River, will only accommodate a length of 3 barges or 2 barges and the tow boat, which means the tow has to be broken apart to go through, a very time consuming process which we witnessed and waited for as we headed down to this point.

We will go through one more lock on the Mississippi River, and beyond that there are no more locks on the Mississippi as you head south. Therefore, there may be many more barges in a tow than those that we’ve seen because they are not constrained by the size of the locks. On previous travels on the River Explorer and the Delta Queen we’ve seen tows with as many as 30 barges, and the largest tow ever had 84 barges pushed by one boat. Also, the barge traffic is much heavier in the Lower Mississippi River. That’s one reason loopers get off the Mississippi as soon as possible and head down the Tennessee River and Tombigbee Waterway. The other reason is lack of fueling stations.

Tomorrow we head to “Hoppie’s.” Hoppies is famous among loopers as a must stop because it is the last place to fuel up before that 250 miles stretch. We’ll explain more about Hoppies when we arrive tomorrow.

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