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Trip Suggestion:

Downbound from Pittsburgh to Louisville


Editor’s note: Kurt Petry and his wife Beth purchased a Sea Ray 290 in early 2009, and needed to relocated the boat from the Chesapeake (MD) to Louisville. The Sundancer features forward and aft berths, and is powered by twin 4.3L V6s connected to Alpha One outdrives. Rather than truck the boat to Louisville, they decided to have the boat transported to Pittsburgh and take the trip down the Ohio to Louisville. Following is Kurt’s story:

 

By Dr. Kurt Petry of Bloomington, IN

Although the original plan was to do the trip in 7 days, we actually covered the 600 miles in 5 days. But I'm getting ahead of my story here....

After a great week in June, and another in July spent on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay, it was time to move the boat to Pittsburgh. The towing service delivered the boat without incident to Fox Chapel Marina on the Allegheny River.

Fox Chapel was a wonderful marina! Of all of the marinas we have seen in 5 years of chartering the Bay and Florida, this was overall the nicest marina that we have ever visited! The grounds were spacious and beautiful, they had a great restaurant and bar area, and an almost Olympic sized pool. The staff was unfailingly polite and helpful, and the service department was excellent, which we were to find out, unfortunately, on our departure day. Due to the hectic nature of our 2 days spent in Pitt, I neglected to get any pictures of Fox Chapel. You can visit their website at http://www.foxchapelmarine.com/

We departed Bloomington on Tuesday with our great friends, Jim and Ginny, and headed to Louisville to pick up a rental car, and then drop our car off at Admirals Anchor, awaiting our return. Before we hit Louisville, it started raining cats and dogs - difficult driving. Over the next hour, Louisville received over 6 inches of rain! I-65, one of the country's major north - south highways was at a standstill for hours , with 4 feet of water running across the highway at one point. We were caught right in the middle of a huge traffic jam. After sitting for 2 hours, wondering what was going on, we turned around, drove backwards down the breakdown lane, and backwards down an "on" ramp onto another highway, where we routed around the delay. Overall we lost 3 hours at that point. After we finally dropped off the car, we had to drive back through the same storm, which had moved east, on our way to Pittsburgh. After dropping off the rental at the Pittsburgh airport, and catching a taxi, we didn't get to Fox Chapel until 10:00pm, where Brad, a Fox Chapel employee, met us at the gate, and used his own car to ferry our stuff to our slip. Talk about great service! We got to bed about midnight after getting the canvas out of the cabin and installed (stowed for the transport), and getting the cabin in some semblance of order.

We awoke on Wednesday, and planned for a 9:00-ish departure. When we pulled out of the marina, the boat, which had run OK two weeks earlier in Maryland, would not make enough rpms to get up on plane! One engine also had a fluttering noise at WOT. I was beside myself at this point, as four people's vacation rested on that boat's ability to get moving, and it wasn't happening! We returned to Fox Chapel, where the marina manager, Roger, immediately pulled one of his mechanics off what he was doing, and put him on our job.

To make a long story short, after checking lots of possibilities and trial and error, the following picture emerged. One jet on the port carb was plugged, one of the plugs was fouled, and all had excessive black soot due supposedly to the long (15 - 20 minutes) idle zone out of Middle River back in Baltimore. Additionally, and this was probably the major issue overall, the timing on both engines was set wrong by the previous mechanic.

Apparently there is "a little purple wire" which must be disconnected on the ignition system to properly set the timing on the Mercruiser 4.3L. If this is not done, the actual timing will be off by several degrees. The previous guys apparently didn't do this, and I got to pay the price - twice! Once for their incorrect work, and again to have it fixed right. The excessive carbon from the incomplete fuel burn due to incorrect timing and excessive idling was causing a valve to stick, which was what gave us the fluttering noise and additional loss of power. The carbon burned out after about an hour of running. Fox Chapel's mechanic Loren worked heroically several hours on hot engines to finally get the job done.

Above, a service tech at Fox Chapel troubleshoots.

It was too late to leave Fox Chapel by the time we finished the mechanical work, so we stayed an extra night, and left early at 7:00 am Thursday. The boat ran well, and it was beautiful running down the Allegheny to "The Point", where the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers converge to form the Ohio River.

Here’s the first Lock 1 on the Allegheny, located just upriver from “The Point” in downtown Pittsburgh. The first of our 14 "lock throughs."

 

Here's a shot of the Pittsburgh skyline as we headed downriver:

Eric tells me this is a seasonal no-wake zone through here, but I sure didn't see any buoys or signs! I guess we were lucky it was early on a Thursday morning when we flew through!

Our plan was to try to make up the time lost to mechanical issues. We talked to a delivery captain in Pittsburgh who suggested we could make Marietta, OH in one day, so we picked up fuel in Moundsville WV, our first planned stop, and then pushed on through. It was a grueling day, encompassing 8 locks and 170 miles. We arrived 12 hours after we left Pitt in the beautiful town of Marietta.

If you ever get a chance to spend some time in Marietta, do it! It is a beautiful, quaint town, steeped in the traditions of the old sternwheelers which plied the Ohio many years ago. The Marietta Harbor, owned by the town, is excellent, and cheap ($0.75 a foot, including electric)! There is easy walking access to the town, which has dozens of neat shops and restaurants. Marietta is a frequent stop for the tour boats which run up and down the Ohio, so there's lots to see and do. We liked it so well that we stayed the whole day and a second night, which put us back behind the eight ball again on the schedule.

 



 

We left Marietta on Saturday morning, with beautiful weather. The river was smooth and the ride was great.

 

It started to cloud up around noon, and just as we arrived at Pomeroy OH, it began to rain. We decided to go ahead and eat our lunch on board and wait out the rain. Once the rain stopped we walked the short distance through a very nice waterfront park to downtown Pomeroy.

Pomeroy is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records twice! First, it is the only county seat in the country with no 4 way stops! The town is about two miles long, but only one block wide due to the cliffs rising behind the town up from the river. There simply isn’t enough room for anything else! Secondly, they have the only courthouse with three floors, and a ground level entrance for every floor, again, due to the topography rising directly behind the courthouse.

Here’s a picture of the famous Pomeroy courthouse:

 

Here’s a view of a small part of the downtown from the third floor of the courthouse:

 

After checking out several of the shops in the downtown area, we got underway again, and enjoyed a nice run the rest of the way down to Huntington, WV. The total for Saturday was 3 locks and 136 miles. Huntington was a very nice town, which we really enjoyed, but the overnight experience at the "Huntington Yacht Club" was awful. Momma does not look happy here! Yes that's a rusty pickup truck gas tank and an empty beer case greeting us as we tied up!

I suupose it give you an idea of what the low end of Ohio River marinas can be like! In all of our years spent on the Chesapeake Bay, we never saw anything even remotely approaching the Huntington Yacht Club! The good news is that we went downtown to Huntington’s Pullman Plaza and had a nice evening out.

Sunday morning we beat a hasty retreat from Huntington, and headed downriver again. At least we had a full tank of gas! We arrived at our next planned stop, Maysville, KY around noon. Our plan was to tie up at the Maysville River Park Dock and explore the town. When we arrived, it became clear that the town dock was nothing more than half a dozen 8’x12’ floating rafts, fastened loosely together. With the Saturday boat traffic in the area, the thing undulated wildly like a caterpillar! We managed to tie up, but while I was nervously surveying the dock situation, wondering if our fenders would give adequate protection, Jim noticed several tough young characters in the tunnel to the town through the flood wall. They appeared quite interested in our boat, as they puffed away on their cigarettes with their pants down to their butt cracks. Realizing that it wouldn’t take much for one of them to watch our progress in town as a lookout while the others stripped the boat, and considering the tenacious docking conditions, we decided to skip the town tour. In a few minutes we were again headed down river.

Here’s a pic of Maysville. Lots of nice historic homes. It would have been nice to have a closer look around.

 

All along the river we saw dozens of huge tug boats, also known as towboats, and their rafts of "tows". Although they are called tows, they are actually pushed through the water. The biggest tows were 15 barges in size (5x3). When fully loaded it can take over a mile to get one stopped! Needless to say, it is wise to give them a wide berth!

 

Since we had to change our plans in Maysville, for our slip Sunday night we intended to stop at the Cincinnati Riverfront Marina at mile 470. It was listed as having transient dockage and being close to the downtown. Looking forward to a nice meal, we arrived at Cincinnati around 5:00pm. The Cincinnati Metro area is known among the towboat captains as “The Gauntlet” due to the irresponsible actions of some of the recreational boaters in that area. The name is well deserved. Late on a Sunday afternoon there was large boat chop going in all directions, and boats of every size and description moving in all directions. To top it off, the marina we were looking for simply did not exist! There was nothing but a mass of concrete paved riverfront in what looked like a recently rehabbed urban area. I was busy enough avoiding other boats, so I didn't get any pictures. Tired and hot, we decided to push on to Aurora, IN where there were supposed to be several marinas with transient dockage.

Editor’s note: Kurt, you missed the Four Seasons Marina, the finest around! I can see how it would be easy to miss it some of the books.

A short 30 miles later we arrived in Aurora. Heading up Hogan Creek we soon found a great little marina - first one on the right after the bridge. Unfortunately, the name escapes me, since it had been recently changed! It looked like a nice place (remember, we had left Huntington “yacht club” earlier that morning), and it was obvious that the owners were in the process of doing several renovations. However, on a Sunday night, we could not locate the owner! Finding a nice slip, we helped ourselves to an electric hookup, took a quick dip to cool off right there in the marina, and then headed off to find some dinner. Luckily we found a very nice barbecue joint at the first intersection we came to. After a nice dinner we headed down the street to the local Walgreen’s drug store for resupply on our soft drinks. Walking back, we met the marina owner at the barbeque intersection! Apparently we looked like transient boaters carrying supplies back to our boat, and he knew he had an extra boat in his marina so he just asked if it was ours! After we settled up and had a nice visit back at the slip, we settled in for a well deserved rest that night – 191 miles but just two locks. We were beat.

Monday morning threatened rain, and not expecting any of Aurora’s shops to be open early on a Monday we decided to skip the town tour and head on down to Madison, IN, which we knew would have lots to see and do. Madison was an easy 60 mile run, with one lock at the Markland Lock and Dam. With a 35 foot drop, this lock was almost twice the drop of the locks around Pittsburgh, so it took a bit longer.

Due to the change in the topography of the countryside, from mountainous terrain to flatter areas, the locks of the upper Ohio River are closer together, and tend to have less rise/drop than their downriver counterparts. Locking through was always a simple but time consuming exercise, and the lock personnel were always polite, even with us “lock virgins” on our first experience.

Arriving in Madison, we docked at the town dock and walked 3 or 4 blocks to the downtown.

 

Madison is a charming town with tons of neat shops. They host several festivals throughout the year, and the local economy seems to thrive on tourism, which seems to include a number of boaters. Here’s a couple shots of downtown Madison.

 

After we had been in town for a couple of hours, I exited a shop to see a wall of black threatening clouds and lightning approaching quickly from the West. We all hustled down to the dock just in time to get the full camper canvas up. Not wanting to try to ride out what looked to be quite a blow while attached to the unyielding dock, we cast off and moved to mid river as sheets of rain and wind pounded us. It soon let up some, but continued to rain, which pretty much killed the exploring on land for the day. Even though we had planned to spend the night in Madison, we were just 40 miles from our home port, so we decided to head on home. We arrived at Admiral’s Anchor in Jeffersonville, IN, across from Louisville about 5:00 p.m. Everyone was tired and anxious to get home, so we unpacked and secured the boat, and headed out for the two hour drive home.

So what did I learn on this biggest trip of the summer?

One - The best laid plans will change. Be prepared to deal with adversity when it rears it's ugly head.

Two - Marinas, gas docks, and other river facilities change frequently. What was there last year, or even last month may be different or gone entirely. I believe this is due to the tenuous economic nature of business on the river. These places aren't cash cows like the marinas on the Bay. A good river guide is an immense help, but things do change.

Three - Grab gas when you can. Start looking when you get below 1/2 tank. You'll probably end up finding what you need at about 1/4. Below that can be nerve-wracking.

Four - Inspect the transient dock before you pay the slip fee. Words like “Yacht Club” and “Prima” in the titles can be misleading!

Five - Cruising is addictive! We're already planning next year's trip. I can hardly wait!

1999 Sea Ray 290 DA
Twin 4.3 Alpha Ones, Generator, AC/Heat

Ohio River, Admiral's Anchor Marina, Jeffersonville, IN, 596.0 RDB

 

 

 

 

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