Day 11, Squaw Island to St Louis, to Hoppie’s Marina

Previous Day

Miles Covered:  81.5 river miles, um 221- to um 158.5  Upper Mississippi River

Closest towns or landmark (chart): Squaw island (near Grafton, Il) to St Louis, to Hoppie’s Marina

Original Post date: June 9

We tied off last evening to a log along this well used but very inviting beach with nice sand (Squaw Island) – there were chairs and a cook stove strewn about so to us it seemed to be a local hangout.  With the morning light we took our walks and then traded our old rickety chair for a raggedy one that was lying on the beach (which we later traded for another in Memphis).  As we were preparing to depart it began to rain.

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The weather radio reported storm clouds and hail on the way – so expecting the worse we ‘battened down the hatches’ (dropped the tarps and ran a rope around ‘the bird’) and settled in.  I took my ‘one-with-the-river’ morning bath as it all passed over (rinsing in the rain) –  the ‘weather’ passed and calmed to normal in about 45 minutes.

To this point weather has not been a major factor, its been overcast somewhat, but for the most part the breeze has been at our back, which is nice on the water.  We have experienced three pretty good lightning storms but have not had any real ‘hair-raising’ experiences (even though we have clearly seen bolts illuminating the ground at a distance).  I think there comes a point when you have done all that you can – so we find peace, and leave the rest to ‘the odds.’

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After shoving out in the current and having our morning Coffee, we hit our idle speed around five miles an hour, a gentle ride on the river – simple conversation with simple debates on any subject for throughout the day, and happy hour – well you pick the time.

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It wasn’t long when we came to the junction of the Illinois River, hardly noticeable.  That is where we stopped at the Grafton Marina for some supplies and a battery recharge.

Our Lady Of The Rivers” (212 mm) watched over us on this night

It was a wide expanse of the Upper Mississippi with wide gentle curves and a highway that ran along one side with some steep banks.

Our thirty-mile average a day has been exceeded by a long-shot and now float well ahead of schedule – at this point I’m not sure of the date to make New Orleans, but will keep you posted – still plenty of hurtles before then – plenty that I’m starting to see.


Alton Marina, Carl's turn for the 'buzzer'...

Alton Marina, Carl’s turn for the ‘buzzer’…

Alton, Ill was ahead so we stopped at the Alton Marina and ‘topped-off’ our fuel.  I had also hoped to go to ‘Fast Eddies’ for a burger but found it was a mile or so away – instead we headed to the Mel Price lock where we were ‘locked through.’  This lock was full of floating debris, the ‘bird’ struggled to get through it  – the most trash in one spot that I had seen on the river so far.

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Just above the confluence of the Missouri was another area full of Tow/barge work, adjustments, and rerouting – a busy place that I suppose was out of the greater current of the combined rivers.  Soon we came upon the confluence of the Missouri River – it is said that the Mississippi’s volume is increased 40% here, and where we couldn’t immediately tell – it became more apparent to us closer to St Louis, especially after exiting the ‘Chain of Rocks Canal’…

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The Chain of rocks

The Canal near St Louis was built for boat traffic to avoid an area of rocks in the river.  For me, this short video by a paddler (link here) best explains the chain of rocks (other information for paddlers).  Originally I wasn’t sure why another dam wasn’t built there – but the canal allows boats to avoid the potential shallows.  Some smaller boats and kayaks can make the rapids, but that is directly related to how much volume is flowing – a boat such as ours could not make it.

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The entrance to the ‘chain-of-rocks’ canal is well marked.  Traveling through the canal we crossed the path of several Northbound tows that we had worked with several times since our journey began southward, the Gene Herde and the Bill Berry – evidently their route is the one from St Louis North.  When we exited the Chain-of-rocks canal the volume, water-speed and other river traffic became more apparent to us – maneuvering our little craft took greater forethought and careful anticipation – we were to learn more about this later in the darkness of the night.

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It was a good feeling to see the Arch in St Louis where we spent the rest of the day into late evening, its a powerful place where folks must come for miles, states, and nations to experience the awe of this structure – you can just feel something about it in the air.

Our plans were to sleep in the boat there at the brick shore and then go up into the arch the following day – but as we settled for the evening the hull of the boat rubbed the shoreline (no dockage) and a simple reset of the anchor lines in the swift water turned into a twenty mile ‘flush’ through the highly commercial and busy tow-boat area of south St Louis.  Whew, an unexpected night ride……

My half-hearted intentions were to make a small circle in the darkness and return to the spot ( I say half-hearted because inside I was ready to move on from SL – Carl wanted to stay) but the current and darkness pulled me southward………

Soon in the busy darkness my trek became similar to riding a moped down a busy interstate. I was ‘out of place.’ Small tows were crossing back and forth in front of me; barges were being set and reset for routing – it was busy!  The beacons of spotlights would flash us, and being a tiny dot in the darkness I wondered if we were seen. Carl had got up to look once or twice and I told him with all the fireman’s calm that I could muster “all is fine, just go back to sleep,” which he did.  We did make it safely through.  Later, I wondered how many wing-dams we might have crossed…..

Our introduction addition of the Missouri River’s current channeling through St Louis was that of a noticeably stronger flow, the water seemed swifter and there were fewer obvious places to tie-off.  

Keep the motor running, think ahead and power on……

‘Hoppies Marina’ is made of old barges that has been in place (lm 158.8) since the days of hand-lit river markers.  It was a pre-planned stop, just hadn’t planned the midnight arrival – not sure how we found it, but it was a mighty welcome tie-down.  We slept late the next morning.

Grafton, Ill to St Louis, Mo. and the midnight ride to Hoppie’s.

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After walking a couple of miles through a small shopping village to Kimmswick, Mo and picked up some basic supplies in preparation of the next long stretch of river.  Fewer civilized stops ahead while riding that great big chute of water towards the Gulf.

I love it.


Noted ‘Tows’ for the Day;

The Cooperative Mariner

The New Dawn

The Prosperity

The Gene Herde

The Baxter Southern

The John R Operle

We did not notice the Towboat Ken Tubbs (current location)

Mississippi Men – The History Channel

Next day, Day 12 – ‘Feet-up’ at Hoppie’s


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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anonymous
    Oct 07, 2011 @ 14:13:19

    I live in St. Louis. What a fun trip! I’m researching for a float trip down the mississippi and noticed you had been posting on forums. This, however, is a boat trip.

  2. Tom Haynie
    Oct 15, 2011 @ 08:04:09

    Yes, we had idle-power which we used to maintain downstream direction in the tricky current while staying clear of the towboat action. When I look back on it and the kayak/camping that I do now, it was a luxurious way to explore the Mississippi. Hopefully this blog will provide some ideas and help with the setting that you will encounter.

    I’d do it again in a minute – life’s full of ‘little-circles’ awaiting the return pass..

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