LMRD No 403Saturday, April 29, 2017Saint Maurice TowheadWind/Storm Camp #4
Storm Camp Update:
The Rivergator crew holed up below Natchez in high winds (25-30 mph, gusting to 35) The next day was calm. We paddled about 62 miles in 8 hours, and ended up 2 hours before sunset opposite the spectacular Tunica Hills on a tow head island (with the same name) with a gar-shaped top end (long & skinny, water flowing down both sides of the "nose."). The next day the winds returned and we again sought shelter from the giant waves and dangerous gusts. Today the gusts are up to 43mph. We found the perfect spot in the deep woods of St. Maurice Island, which is where this dispatch is being sent from. The winds shakes the leaves of the trees, but on the shady sun-dappled forest floor we feel only periodic breezes, enough to cool you down a little, nothing too strong. Now we await a change in the wind in this protected camp. But the clock is ticking for some of the voyageurs... Andy and Magique have set dates for their flights home, and the Quapaws must eventually return home and get back to business. Will the crew reach the Gulf of Mexico in time? We are 273 miles above mile zero, and from there it's 12 miles down the South Pass. And then 20-24 miles back to Venice. Oh well, river time. We put aside questions we can't answer, and let the winds rule the day on the open water. The Rivergator comes to life in the deep woods as Boyce goes into a chain reading-and-writing binge, fueled by Meraki coffee, we only see him in between books, swims, and meals. Magique's creativity is busting loose in all kinds of unexpected directions, last time I checked in he was filming each of the crew swirling underneath the forest canopy demonstrating their voyageur clothing choices in a vortex of motion. Meanwhile, Andy was re-creating the entire Mississippi Valley in a series of sandy trails through the camp, each tributary ending at one of our tents. Lena has been keeping us all fed, and attending to emails & social media. I retrieved some live specimens to paint (a fuzzy caterpillar and a box turtle) and a dead one (a 43" Gar that we named "Janet" -- for that other Janet who is a survivor of the big rivers of North America -- Janet Mooreland!).What about Mark River?In between smoke-roasting tender loin supper and making long walkabouts, Mark River has been writing in his journal. Here is the first of 8 journal entries:Mark River's Rivergator Journal
Day 34: Wind, Wing-Dams, and Water
Throughout my travels up and down the Mississippi River, challenges present themselves of all sorts. The river with its strong, rolling current can be intimidating, with manmade structures creating boils and eddies, with powerful towboats churning up and downstream, but nothing can compare with the effects of wind.
Many think that the current will sweep you down river with little effort, but that can be far from the truth. In a canoe, you must travel a little faster than the current to control your vessel. Yes, the current will push you downstream, but it is not your choice where it will take you, and that can be a problem. Just recently, coming into Cape Girardeau on the Rivergator celebratory trip, I notice a fancy pleasure craft docked in an eddy, but as I got closer, it was caught on a wing-dike, forced to wait on the next rise to release itself.
Most wing-dams are set at 20ft. in height. It takes the study of Corps of Engineers maps and experience to know where they are located. These structures were built to disperse the majority of the water to the navigational channel to keep it deep, therefore limiting dredging. It's a unique tactic, but it creates eddies of slower water, which deposits silt, that should be deposited in the gulf. The nutrient pollution from farms are making it to gulf, but not the silt, creating the dead zone. They also create islands downstream from the eddies they create. You can tell the effects by looking at the new growth of willow trees along the river. Over time, the river will get more narrow, deeper, and stronger, which can be a problem during flooding.
I'm sitting on the border of The St. Catherine's Wildlife Refuge just outside of Natchez. Surrounded by sycamore and tall willow trees. It's a beautiful day, but windy. I can hear the winds hollering through the trees, but barely can feel them, as we picked a great spot to handle the high winds. White-capped swells flow over the front of a downstream barge, reassurance that this is not the day for paddling. Gust up to 35 miles per hour is dangerous conditions to be on the river. Most weather don't effect us as much, but wind can turn a surreal flowing river into a violent, washing machine-like, turbulent entity that could change your expedition for the worst. It just makes for a long day tomorrow in perfect paddling conditions, but it pays to be patient on the water, and take what the river gives you.