I finally did it! I finally left the safety of the marina. The Outhouse Yacht Club or whatever it is our group of sailors at the Russellville Marina call ourselves would be quick to tell you that the Morgan, my Morgan, never leaves the dock. This is true. Like most things, there are different classifications of sailors. For the last five or so years I was classified as a liveaboard. Liveaboards are easy to spot because they usually have so much junk on their boat that it would it be impossible to take sailing.
I am now making the transition from liveaboard to cruiser. The key difference in a liveaboard and a cruiser is that the latter actually goes places. So, here I go. If you look at a map you will see that Lake Dardanelle is situated on the Arkansas River, which flows into the Mississippi River, which we all know goes to the Gulf of Mexico. From New Orleans, where the Missippi flows into the Gulf you can follow the coastline East and then South until you hit southern Florida. From there the options are limitless.
It has actually been a week since I set off. To be honest, it has been two weeks, but the first time I left I only made it five miles down the river before my engine quit running. After a day of troubleshooting I tucked my tail and headed back to my cozy slip. With the help from many of our “yacht club” members, family, and friends we diagnosed the problem to be either dirty fuel or a leaky fuel line. After emptying and cleaning out the diesel tank and then replacing all of the fuel line it has not acted up once.
The day of my second attempt was a cold and rainy morning. Ryan, a fellow endurance traveler, came bearing donuts and coffee to see me off. The donuts lasted until lunch time, but the coffee did not make it passed the first dam. When I came to the Dardanelle Lock and Dam (Lock 10) there was a row of gulls lined up along the long wall approaching the gates. One might say they were there to see me off. In my mind they were there to watch as I crash my boat into the side of the chamber wall. I did not, but the solar panels did take a beating, scraping down the concrete wall as the water level slowly droppe. This would become my greatest challenge once in the locks.
Having been raining the last few days, you can imagine that the water was up and running. I tested my speed capabilities before leaving and found that at 2000 rpm I can motor at 5 mph. Any faster than that will indicate that I am in moving water. Upon leaving the safety of the lock I motored along the long wall which separated the outflowing water from the somewhat still water of the lock. What I saw ahead of me was white water rapids, but with no similar orientation. The result was a rodeo. I clung to the tiller and watched as my junk both on deck and below was thrown around. This, included the cup of coffee.
Once I regained control of the boat and we were again moving in a straight line I attempted to settle in for the two weeks that I estimated it would take to get to the Gulf. Because I still had so much junk on deck it was difficult for me to see from the recessed benches in the cockpit so I placed my icechest atop the bench. Perched on the icechest I had a great vantage. Unfortunatley, this also exposed me to the wind and rain. I must have made three wardrobe changes that first day.
Lock 9, at Morrilton, was where I planned to stay the night. I had actually planned to stay on the down river side of the lock, but I followed a barge down from Russellville and it took two hours to lock through. By the time it was my turn it was nearing dark and I was exhausted and chilled to the bone, as they say.
I found a spot along the southern side of the river where the river had cut into the bank creating a small pool. I motored slowly up into the area checking my depth as I went. It was 10-15 ft deep the entire length. I set the anchor at the tip of the inlet and let the current pull me back until the line was taught. This being the first time I have ever anchored I was extremely nervous. Contrary to popular beliefs, I research and read about everything I attempt. I will rarely bring up a subject unless it is something I have studied a good deal on. According to the books and videos, when anchoring with all chain the standard is to use a 5:1 scope. When anchoring with rope you use a 7:1 scope. This means that for every one foot of depth, you deploy five feet of chain or in my case seven feet of rope. I anchored in ten feet so I used my entire length of rope, just be sure. Another recommendation is to back on the anchor using the motor. Setting the engine in reverse I gradually brought the rpm up to 2000. I did not move. I then settled in for what would be a very long night.