The Email came from John Fairgrieve that he again was offering to host a Cruise on the Ohio River down to Pittsburgh, those interested should contact John or me to get details on the where, when and how to get there ! John’s first Email was back sometime in June and I sent out notices to everyone in hopes of having a flotilla of 8 to 10 boats ! We kept trying to promote the idea as those that had gone on the cruise last time said they had a great time. As the days went by we had a count of about 8 – 9 members that said they would like to come, at this point we hadn’t set a date for the actual event !
John sent me another email that he would like to do the cruise on the Saturday the 20th of July which just happened to conflict with plans of ours and several of those that said they might come. But having missed the last cruise I decided to cancel the plans we had and tell John to count Peg & I in for the 20th ! So now we were down to about 5 – 6 members and boats and this was early July ! John said he would send me the directions on where we would be launching from and how to get there, true to his word I had the information a couple weeks before the scheduled date and sent it out to everyone involved ! But if you’ve ever tried to arrange any kind of outing you know there are always a few that either lose the information or claim they didn’t get it ! No worries, we’re used to it LOL !
The plan was for us to meet at the Penn avenue extension off Rt 18 in New Brighten, Pa. The Monroe Muffler shop, John’s mailing address for finding the launch ramp which is directly across street !
As you all know our weather this summer has been about as predictable and a cyclone in the Southern Pacific, cool one day and hot the next with and abundance of rain thrown in just to keep things interesting (and submerged ) !
Our final count for those coming on the cruise was down to 5 members including John, Jerry and Lin Kay, Peg & I, Bill & Jan Mohat with Bob Davidson as their first mate, and Chip Rabbit and his neighbor Phil ! Jerry had his Chrestliner with a 40hp WestBend, Peg & I brought our Lowe with the 115hp Suzuki, ( Yea I know it’s not an antique or even a Classic, but comfort first ) Bill brought his Lund ( also not a classic or antique ) with a 40hp Mercury equipped with almost all the gadgetry an electrical engineer could rig up, Chip brought his Lyman with it’s 1956 Mercury Mark 30, as fine a running specimen of Mercury engineering as there is ! And John had his FeatherCraft Vagabond with a “57” Evinrude 35hp, a great combination !
” Two days Before the Meet ” As you would expect the weather was our first concern and I was checking it hour by hour and it was changing almost as quickly ! Our report was showing rain for Saturday the 20th so I send John a note asking what the predictions were for the Pittsburgh area, he answered, “me partly sunny all day” ! On the 19th our prediction was still for raIn, thunder and lightening Saturday. And the other half of the problem was the heat index, as there were constant warnings of extreme 95 – 100* temperatures forecast ! John and I talked about canceling but being the true optimist I told him, Hey this is summer in Ohio and Pa. it gets hot ! We can handle it !
I went to bed Friday night wondering if I had made the right choice ? About 3AM in the morning, I sat straight up in bed when a crack of lightening sounding like a Colt 45 going off next to my ear woke me, then the sound of heavy rain hitting the window brought thoughts of Oh Boy did I make a big mistake ! The rest of the night was sleepless as I lay there thinking should we go, will I be able to pull the waterproof cover off the boat in the morning or can I trailer it with the cover on ? Or should we cancel ?
Morning arrived with the sound of rain still hitting the windows with an occasional down pour in between ! I called John and asked again what the predictions were for their area, again he told me partly sunny and hot to the extreme ! Ok Gary, suck it we’re going ! Peg being my ultimate support mate said, ” It’ll be alright let’s go” ! My woman My love Always ready and willing to try something different !
The boat was ready all I had to do was hitch it up, I decided to leave the cover on as it was still raining, so I tightened the straps and made sure everything was loaded, cooler of water, Peach’s and snacks and we were on our way ! As we headed southeast I kept looking at the sky and every once in a while I’d get a glimpse of the edge of the storm where it looked like it was going to pass. But it just kept staying slightly ahead of us and it seemed like we’d never drive out of it. About 3/4 of the way there I called Jerry to ask if he was on his way, he said he was almost there ! John had called and said he was there but noone else had shown up yet, and he said it was partly sunny and the dark skies were leaving !
Just as we turned onto the Pa. turnpike I spotted Bill Mohat coming up behind us and he whizzed on by like his tail was on fire ! I didn’t want to go that fast because I still had the cover on the boat and didn’t want the wind to shred it ! We caught up to Bill just a couple miles before getting to the launch area and drove the rest of the way together !
By now things were looking a lot better weather wise, the sun was shining but the temps were still tolerable ! We pulled the cover off the boat unloaded all our stuff into it ! John & Jerry were already launched and tied up at the dock, so Bill and I were next ! There is a pretty strong current in the Beaver river so you have to be careful when launching as you need some pretty long dock lines to pass them to someone on the floating dock !
Chip was next but wasn’t sure if he wanted to launch ? I told him, you’ve driven all this way, come on give it a go and finally convinced him it would be worth while ! The Flotilla was wet and the motors were running and our tour guide “John” gave us the outline of where we had to go and some of the things we’d need to know about the area ! From where we launched, out to the Ohio River, it was a no wake zone, about a 1/2 mlle distance ! From there we could open the boats up and run at a good speed ????? Ok what do we consider good speed ? These boats of Yesteryear equipped with the various 30 to 40 HP motors among them, at best could achieve about 25 to 30 MPH ! Bill’s and my boat can do a bit better so we would be throttling back a bit to keep pace with the rest of the group ! According to my speedometer 20 mph was about the speed we settled into !
Once past the no wake zone we cruised comfortably as the cloud cover kept the sun from cooking us. Peg had brought her little spritzer fan that put a mist of water in the breeze it blew, a delightful little device on a hot day ! I had rigged a little fan that mounted on the dash with a suction cup that was about as helpful as the spit from a mosquito to cool you down ! Bill had a couple 30″ fans ( kidding maybe 10″) that were almost enough to push the boat without the aid of the engine, and he had their bimini top to keep the sun at bay ! Jerry and Lin were all out in the sun but with no windshield on the Chrestliner they had a nice breeze when the old WestBend was pushing them along. Chip and Phil were also out in the sun and had covered up with enough clothing to make an eskimo jealous, and John was also right there with them ! Smart on their part knowing how easy it is to get sun stroke !
It’s about several miles to the first Lock on the river and the ride was quite delightful ! None of us except John, being familiar with all the Lock’s rules and regulations headed right into the Lock opening expecting it to just open up and let us in ( open sesame ) ? Oops that didn’t work ! Ok now we’ve got the LockMaster’s attention and not in a good way ! What we didn’t happen to notice upon a our entering the smaller of the two Locks ( there are two Locks side by side one for barges & tugs and one for smaller boats ) was the Tug pushing the dozen or more barges exiting the larger Lock ! What isn’t displayed at the entrance to the locks is a notice that you must stand clear ( no information of how far is a safe distance ) of the Locks when a Tug with Barges is entering or leaving the Lock ! This apparently slightly upset the LockMaster as he with Bull Horn in hand was making hand jesters wildly for us to vacate the area !
Once we all realized what the Lock Master was shouting and waving about ( Not a Hi how are ya ) and moved what we thought was a safe distance away, we could see just how big and long the Tug & Barges were, and the most important fact that he was backing out into the river and would have to reposition the Tug to the other end of the barge’s in order to continue up river ! At this point we had waited about 45 + minutes, it took another 1/2 hr before the Tug and barges were on their way and going up river ! But the Lock Master not being one to rush things had his revenge and didn’t give is the green light for at least another 15 minutes !
The process of entering and going thru the locks is not very difficult but does take a a little while to understand the easiest and best way to do it ! As you enter the Lock the Lock Master directs you to one side or the other where you must have at least a 80ft of line which you loop over the hook they lower to you ! He then pulls your line up and places it over a Bullard or hook at the top of the lock. One end of your line is attached to a cleat on your boat while you hold the other end to keep you against the wall of the lock ! They then close the gates and start to fill the lock, as they raise the water level in the lock, you pull your line in to keep your boat against the wall of the lock ! When the lock is full and the LockMaster gives you the signal after they open the gates you pull your line into the boat and exit the lock. One of the things we learned is, depending on which side of the lock you are against, you attache the line to the cleat on the opposite side from the wall ! That way it helps to keep you against the wall as the turbulence can create a lot of movement in the water !
Another nice ride up river to the second Lock, this time we were a little better prepared knowing the procedure and rules for traversing a lock, and this Lock Master wasn’t aware that we were such trouble makers ! We passed through without so much as ripple in the waters ! Continuing up stream toward Pittsburgh on the third leg of our journey we passed several interesting landmarks one of which John explained was an old abandoned Prison, Peg even commented to me that she sensed there was something about the huge monolithic castle that it had a dark past ! Strange how these feeling can call out to you ?
As we approached the bridges before Pittsburgh there are signs saying “no wake Zone ” which includes a couple miles as we continued on to the Allegheny River that is part of the Three rivers area ! Another couple miles up the Allegheny to the Restaurant John had chosen for our Lunch ( Now for inner, and we were all starved ) ! As we approached the docks at the restaurant we realized there is a fairly swift current and it takes a bit of skill to get to the dock of choice and tie up, but these seasoned boaters did it with the finesse of a seamstress threading a needle ! A much need rest from the challenges of piloting small boats in a large river was welcome and a good lunch satisfied that need ! Bill’s dog Lilly who was also along for the journey was the hit of the restaurant as many a passer-by stopped to have their kids enjoy the love she brings everywhere she goes, and Lilly’s reward were the chicken fingers she got, Yum!
Disembarking the docks was the next challenge as the current had a couple of the boats pressed hard against the docks ! Sometimes the easiest way is to back out rather than trying to pull out, port side against the dock, put the engine hard over to Starboard and give it the gas in reverse to pull the stern out and away from the dock ! Easy Peasy once you’ve done it !
Back thru Pittsburgh’s no wake zone and on our way back down the river thru the Locks and the final leg of the cruise to the launch area ! By now the sun was low on the horizon and the temperature had dropped to a more comfortable 80* + – ! As we entered the final leg of the journey, the trip up the Beaver river ( another no wake zone ) it occurred to me that this had been one incredible Journey and indeed a fun day in the sun ! As we approached the docks of the launch area again the current was the element to deal with, I had forgot John’s warning of the shallow rock that are just before the dock and sure enough I hit the rocks, Thankfully I was able to raise the engine and get out of the jam. Being first to the dock, Peg helped me tie up the boat and I went up and got the truck. The launch ramp isn’t the easiest to deal with due to the current but with extra hands we managed ! I pulled the truck up to an area to unload and tie it down then went back down to help the others pull there boats !
There are those that just load up and go and there are those that stay a bit longer to make sure everyone gets out Ok and can be safely on their way ! I’d like to thank John Fairgreive for arranging the Cruise and keeping us aware of the perils we may have confronted had he not made us aware !
And Remember ~~~~~ Keep The Blue Smoke Flowing !
Gary & Peg