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,
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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