Barges, Tug Boats, Lock and Dam- Check!

Written on: 8/22/16

We are currently on day 7 of our adventure! The last few days have been filled with friends, learning, “open water”, barges, tugs, and our first lock and dam under oar. It has been quite the journey already and there have definitely been ups and downs, but fortunately as a whole we couldn’t be happier and enjoying ourselves more. After waiting out some storms that brought endless amounts of rain and mud, we headed south for our first lock: Lock and Dam #3 just north of Red Wing. It was a stormy morning so we didn’t get going until after noon, but around 4pm with some clouds and wind we headed for the lock doors. Kyle and I have been through many locks in our Ben Bow Cutter, but that is a much bigger boat with an engine and there were not huge barges and tugs boats around so I was bit nervous going through in Solvi. We called the lock master on our marine radio and let him know we were heading for the lock and were requesting a lock down under oar. He told us to head to the other side of the shore and wait near some other recreational boats. At that moment there was a big tug coming down the river so I hailed him on the radio to make sure he saw us and we communicated about how to cross paths. I was feeling very fortunate we had our radio. It was rather windy and the current was strong, but once we had the green light we were able to row slowly into the lock. There were 3 other power boats in the lock with us and once inside it was really calm and easy going.. It only took a few minutes inside the lock as the water only had to go down about 2 feet. We rowed out behind the boat in front of us and headed for the east shore. Once we were clear of the lock by a couple hundred yards over the radio we heard: “Row Row Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Stream!” Kyle and I laughed really hard as it was the lock master on the main radio station singing goodbye to us. I couldn’t help but get on the radio and sing back “Merrily Merrily Merrily Life is but a Dream”. It caused a huge grin on my face- strangers really can be so kind and fun. Overall the lock was a complete success and I feel much more confidant for the next few locks we have on the way to New Orleans.

Around the same time that we experienced the lock we experienced many tug boats and barges, which is what most people warned us about when we told them about this journey. I was hesitant at first because they are huge- one passed us that was literally 1000 feet long and about 60 feet wide! But to our surprise the wake wasn’t bad, they were slow moving, and we really have had no issues with them thus far. In fact, our biggest issue has been recreational power boaters on half plane that really wake us out. Little Solvi just bobs up and down as we turn her into the waves in order not to take them on the beam. I have been fascinated with the tugs and barges, I find the tugs beautiful. Kyle and I have talked about looking into working on a tug boat as a way to make our way back up the Mississippi once this journey is over. Who knows if it will ever happen, but it’s fun to day dream about while I watch the people moving about the serene tug boat.

After the lock we arrived in Red Wing where we were meeting up with our friend Ryan, who trailered his boat there for the weekend. We got permission to share a slip with Ryan as the slip was way too big for his boat. It was comical having Solvi tied up behind Ryan’s nice power boat in a big slip. We spent the night there with Ryan and his mom and her husband who were camping nearby. It was a great evening and wonderful to spend time with friends. The following morning Ryan took us grocery shopping to resupply- I kept saying that we were spoiled having our first resupply be so simple! That afternoon Ryan took all of us out on his boat. It was an awesome day and we really appreciated all the support and time spent together- Thanks Ryan and Sue and Rick!

At this moment I am sitting in the grassy mud on a small island just South of Red Wing. The sun has been out for two days so everything is dry- even the mud! It’s amazing. I can’t even begin to explain how much three days of rain makes me appreciate sunshine. I am so thankful for the rain just for the fact that it caused me to enjoy sunshine so incredibly much. That’s something that I really enjoy about trips like this- they make me appreciate the small things in life more than I ever do when I am busy with the hustle bustle. For example, last night I was laying in our tent and I heard a large boat pass by. I heard the boat coming and listened while it passed by our campsite. It wasn’t until a few moments later, after the boat had passed, that I heard the waves, caused by the wake of the boat, lapping on the shore near our tent. It made me really think about how similar that situation is to our life as human beings. The boat being a person, and the waves lapping on the shore being the impression that person leaves, even once they are gone. Some people come into our lives for a short period, they come, make a huge impact, and then are gone. And often it isn’t until after they have passed that we realize the impact they made. So just like the waves lapping on the shore leaving an impact after the boat passed, it’s important to be kind, be good because even once you leave an impact is left behind. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes which I read on a Yogi Tea bag: “In order to be remembered, leave nothing behind but goodness”. As humans we are all so unique and each one of us knows something or has something to teach or to learn. We need to remember to be open, really talk to people when you have the chance, even strangers, because you never know once you’re gone, what kind of impact was left.

Anyway, on with the water part of the journey! Today was a pretty intense day. Not going to lie I was rather scared at one point and almost in tears. (Mothers, don’t worry! 🙂 ) We were completely safe the entire time, and the boat was under control, but things did get a little intense for a minute. Although the ENTIRE time, Kyle had the biggest grin on his face- he was having the best time ever- I on the other hand struggled a bit. At least one of us enjoyed the beauty of the day! We have been checking the weather pretty diligently in order to find a weather window to make it across Lake Pepin. Lake Pepin is a large lake that the Mississippi River goes through. It is 5 miles wide at some points and 20 miles long. It is one of the largest parts of the river and not something to be taken lightly, especially in a small craft. We need to cross the entire lake in one day as there is no where to stop along the way because the shore is so rugged and steep. Today was forecasted 10-15 knots with gusts. Well, the wind was stronger than that, and the direction changed on us, making it so that we were beating into the weather. Being a 20 mile lake it had a lot of time to build fetch and the waves got big. Definitely 4-6 feet at some points. We were doing great until we rounded a corner and it was clear that we needed to retreat back to where we came from. That is never an easy decision to make as going backwards is not what we really wanted to do, but it was clear that while we could have made it, we really could have, it would have been wet, long, tiring, and for me scary. We turned back and started running with the wind and waves in the direction we came, we were going sooo fast surfing down the waves! That part was really fun, I enjoyed it. What scared me was that I hadn’t been in Solvi before in such conditions. I didn’t know how she was going to handle, if anything was going to break. I didn’t know if the weather was going to get worse. I was just being what Kyle calls a “worry warrior”. But I must say, even when I was scared, I had a strange sense of calm. It was as though I knew everything was going to be okay, but couldn’t let go of the fear, even though deep down I think I was calm. It is something I am working on, not just acting on my first reaction, but really letting myself think about how I am feeling and paying attention to that gut feeling. Anyway, I am going to have Kyle share his take on the day, because it really is quite positive and as a whole it was a fun and exciting day. Solvi handled AMAZING. I was on the tiller the entirety of the day and I must say she is very well built, a perfect rig, and just an all around awesome boat.

**Kyle’s Perspective: The forecast was 7-14 knots with gusts of 26. The wind was also forecasted in a southerly direction, which should have been a mostly beam reach based on the charts and weather predictions. But due to the shape of the hills that make the valley which creates the lake of Pepin, the wind ended up much more south easterly than south. When we made it to Long Point and were opened up to probably 2-3 miles of fetch, the waves became much larger and the wind directly ahead. So we decided that we could try one last idea and we ran to the far shore in order to get in the lee of a large bluff. Crossing this wind tossed valley in Solvi turned out to be quite the experience. It was very exciting to be pushing the boat this hard for the first time, with two reefs in the sail and us holding the sail hard into the wind, the boat really was very fast for her size. I might have gone for the third reef but then we would have been too slow in the lulls so we were sailing a bit over canvassed in the gusts and it got really wild at times. When we made it to the other shore and realized that there just wasn’t enough cover to make the run worth while, that was our final decision to turn back. Once we started running, every once in a while we’d catch a large wave train and the boat would actually rise and surf a little from the wave and it was exhilarating when she was picked up and rushed along. Up until this point I had always been holding the main sheet in order to prevent a gust from knocking the boat over, during the run it was the first time I got the chance to relax a little and enjoy. It’s a beautiful little valley, I envy the people who live there. I found myself feeling very happy and proud of the boat. She really is a testament to her heritage. While many modifications have been made towards modernization, her shape is entirely fearing and what a wonderful sea boat. I want to give my crew my greatest thanks- there were times where the only thing Danielle wanted to do was be out of the boat and on shore, but she never stopped concentrating on her job. She never stopped working and keeping the vessel under control at the helm. Someone who experiences fear is completely human, the person that puts that fear aside in order to remain a part of the greater good, is a sailor.

The only photo I managed to take today: Once back in calm waters!

The trip up until this point has been a lot of rowing, which out of necessity means a lot of shorter days easing into the physical demand of such a sport. While we have had a few days of rain, we’ve generally had good weather and the days on the water have been really enjoyable. It’s a nice feeling of beginning, of freedom. The realization of a lot of hard work. Camping has turned out to be very rugged, I am thankful for our backpacking trips to teach me the ropes as it were. It’s been really rewarding to see ideas that came from my head to the notebook, from the notebook to the shop, actually function as intended and be successful. I also didn’t realize how much I had missed the quiet- there’s not sirens every two minutes going by, the noise of a 100 cars an hour crossing the bridge. Instead we listen to beavers smacking their tail as they dive, cranky herons screeching as they take off. It’s been really nice.**

I thought it might be fun to hear from Kyle once in a while, I’m going to try to do that more often! Anyway as I mentioned above we are currently on an island at the top of Lake Pepin. We will be here for 3 nights until Thursday morning when we have a perfect weather window. The wind will be much much less and most importantly it will be coming from behind us! Yay. So we will keep an eye on the weather and go when we have slower speeds, and fortunately we are not in a rush 🙂

As I sign off I hear Kyle playing his harmonica on the hammock we have hung in a felled tree. We are about to cook dinner as the sun goes down over the river. I look around me and see my home. Even if it’s just for a few nights, I am home on this muddy rugged island covered in spiders, frogs, and mosquitos, and to be completely honest, I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.

4 thoughts on “Barges, Tug Boats, Lock and Dam- Check!”

  1. Wow, what a great story! I would never have thought that today I would pick up a FREE newspaper at the Chisago house after what I thought was an adventurous 4 mile hike 😊 Super excited to follow you guys. I get incredible motion sick easy so I’m getting to feel your journey and love the pictures. Be safe!🚣🏼⛺️🌄🌅


  2. I am overwhelmed with admiration for your venture … in 1971 in Minneapolis, a friend and I had too much beer and decided to build a boat, and run away to sea. In 1975 he, his wife and two kids, two other adults and I launched the 38-foot trimaran Whynot in the Mississippi and headed south. In some ways ours was very different from your adventure, in some ways joyously familiar. Your construction video brought tears to my eyes; like you, I came to view the construction as its own adventure. And like you, I’ve long loved the St. Croix, the BWCA and the Apostle Islands. (Unlike you, we had no idea what we were doing; building and sailing were pretty much learn-as-you-go projects; amazing we survived.) Smooth sailing and safe travels.


    1. Hi Blair, Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful story! Great things seem to start from conversations over been 🙂 So awesome you guys followed through with your plans and launched WhyNot. Would love to hear more about that journey one day! We really appreciate the support and kind words. With love and gratitude, D & K


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