Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting Settled

I typed this one up last night when we were out of internet service. Sorry for the wait:

We woke up early yesterday, around 7 am, and headed down stream. I still didn't quite feel comfortable on the raft, what with all of the clutter and all. We had made great improvements from dropping all of the electrical gear and other things off at the mouth of the Minnesota. Aside from the clutter, the new vessel simply didn't feel right yet.

It wasn't far out of the cities when we found an old rotary bridge. We climbed around for an hour or so, found plenty of fire wood and took some good pics. I found an old rusty nut and bolt that was bigger than my fist!

Time was ticking and we had to cruise, but it wasn't even a mile down the river when we found a rope swing. We were all wanting to make good river time, but I had never been on a rope swing. And this was a HUGE rope swing, at least 75 feet tall. It was a low swing. If you hung on the bottom of the loop of the rope, you had to hold your chin up by your hands, an keep your legs up. The first time I went, I skimmed the water, then didn't quite want to let go and swung back toward shore. I yelped and stuck my legs down to drag on the water and slow down before the tree trunk. Of course, everyone got a kick out of it. After a few more swings, the other guys couldn't resist. Matt pulled the same move that I did and had to slow himself as he swung back toward shore. Josh launched out with strait arms and slid his butt on the water, but still had some good distance on the swing. I got a good first-person view of a swing with my camera. I had to hold it in my teeth to get the shot. We'll post it up when we find some high speed wi-fi.

We cruised for a few more hours and found ourselves just up river of lock and dam #2, which was our first lock and dam of the trip. We had an hour and a half wait because there was a barge coming up river. We could see the nose waiting in front of the lock and couldn't figure out why it wasn't moving. It was another day or so until I talked to Bruce Moe and he mentioned that a lot of the barges are too long to fit into the locks whole, so the split them in half. During the wait, we added some 2 foot high plywood to the front to act as a splash guard, but not quite extending across the full width of the deck. We later added two angled wings to run the full width.

The lock and dam is a unique experience. We were the last of about 10 boats to pull into the lock. "How you doin'?" I yelled out. He took one look at our boat and with a grin on his face he shouted, "Better than you." He threw us a few ropes and we hung on tight. The couple in the boat ahead of us got a kick out of our craft and we went along with the chit-chat. It wasn't until I saw the water mark on the wall about a few feet above the water when I realized that we were dropping. The lock-keeper said that our boat wouldn't make it down river. But we have confidence in our design. After dropping about 15 feet, the doors opened and off we went.

It's not too surprising that amongst all of the yachts and houseboats, the Sea Monkey sticks out like a soar thumb. Everywhere we go, people gaze, smile and wave. One family in a rather superb looking craft yelled out things like "that's the best boat I've ever seen!"

Josh drove most of yesterday while Matt and I wrote in our journals, fixed up the Sea Monkey, read books or just enjoyed the scenery and waved to all of the locals. The goal was to land in Red Wing by night fall. We couldn't yet travel at night because we didn't have the proper lighting. We glued 4 different LED lights to make one, over-the-top white stern light, but still needed some C batteries for the red and green bow light. When we were only a few miles before Red Wing, the sun was about to set when we found a giant sand mountain in the middle of the river. The side facing the barge land looked a little crowded, so we circled around the back side. The slope was nearly at a 45 degree angle. Matt and I then realized why we brought the mountain bikes. As we climbed the mountain with the bikes, the sand eroded and each step only gave us a few inches. After an absolutely exhausting climb, Matt took the first trip down the hill. First down the shallow side, then he took the corner down the steep side. I took the same route. It was steep, and fast, but the sand was so soft, there wasn't much worry of a painful landing. On the second trip, we each took the steep side right off the bat and on the third, we bombed it straight into the water, no breaks down the whole slope. Three runs was enough for us. So we headed back to the Sea Monkey, started a fire with the drift wood we collected earlier, and hung out on the soft, steep sloped beach.

Today we slept past sunrise quite a bit, about 8 I think. The raft was still dragging it's belly along the surface, and we would get water on the deck on almost every boat wake. When we went through lock and dam #3, we got a green light right off the bat and went through in a matter of 15 minutes. Much faster than our first lock. We found Red Wing in the late morning and pulled up to the marina to ask if they knew where we could get some more barrels. We were quickly welcomed with open arms by Cindy, co-owner of the marina, and she directed us to her collection of barrels and lumber. "Take anything you need" she said. Our jaws dropped as we realized that we stumbled right into the solution of the low buoyancy problem. Matt was the chief engineer and foreman in the upgrade process. It took us a few hours but we came up with a great design and put it together with no problems, except when we ran out of screws. By then we had installed one more barrel and could hardly believe the difference it made. There was a Runnings store a few blocks from a dock down river so we started to set sail. Before we left, we sparked up conversation with Smokey, captain of "The Smoke On the Water." He mentioned that we should have a fire extinguisher. With the extended length from the barrels, we are now required to have one. He went to his boat, and just gave us one. No questions asked!

I had heard that people on the river are just wonderful, but I was still surprised to see how truly gracious and friendly everyone really is on the river. Every so often, we'll stop and talk to fellow boaters, liqueur store clerks, or just people on the dock, and absolutely everyone is fantastic to be around and glad to help in whatever way that they can. Everyone you meet on the river may as well be your friendly next door neighbor, simply a delight!

Mother nature has favored us today. Lake Pepin, known to be the roughest part of the river, was calm and gave us no trouble. With all of our proper lighting, we cruised our first night ride. Between Josh's GPS mapping phone, the river charts and the spot light, it was no trouble to find our way in the dark. We put up some solar garden lights earlier today and now our boat is lit up like a Christmas tree! We made it to the end of the lake and docked ourselves in Pepin City. The marina was all closed up so we found a public dock to tie up to. The air over the water is a bit chilly, but it's not too bad in the cabin with the tarps dropped down. It feels like more than just a few days since we were just setting off in our barely-floating raft with piles of batteries, motors and bags everywhere on the deck. We've become organized, better engineered, and most importantly, very comfortable on the raft. It was a smooth transition. Life is good on a raft.


  1. Thanks for checking in! Glad that you're finding the people welcoming! And I'm sure you're out to prove that first lock guy wrong...!

  2. Awesome dudes keep on rocking

  3. I love the website and the adventure that you are on! Keep up the updates! May God Bless you on your adventure.

  4. Hey you didnt mention the Guy(brian) from the bar!!!!!!! hope all is well with you guys it was a fun night metting you 3 :-)