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Sunrise Behind Georgetown Island

OHIO RIVER

-----The most eventful days so often start innocently. It was our second day cruising the Ohio. The weather was perfect - warm, sunny and no wind - the engines were humming, and so were we. We had found a snug anchorage behind Georgetown Island the night before, and now, content after a good breakfast, we were happily cruising down the river. At 0930, we arrived at a lock.

NEW CUMBERLAND LOCK

-----You get a sixth sense about lockage. You monitor the lock frequency, marine channel 13 on the Ohio, and listen to see if the lock is busy with tows or other boats. Also, after you hail the lock, the way the lock tender replies often gives a clue as to the convenience of passage. The wind sock at the end of the lock indicates the direction and intensity of the wind, giving a clue as to the difficulty of snagging a bit or line. You notice if there are any other boats waiting for passage - especially the tows, with their strings of barges tied to cells above the lock. There were several above the New Cumberland lock.

-----"New Cumberland lock. New Cumberland lock. This is the pleasure boat Halcyon," El is our radio operator and well-experienced hailing locks, since this would be the 188th lock that Halcyon has passed through in the past two years.

-----"New Cumberland," came the terse reply. I suppose that the locktenders, working for the US Army Corps of Engineers, believe they should sound military and it does make radio communication clear and concise.

-----"We're a 22-foot pleasure boat, down-bound, and would like a lockage through at your convenience," El answered, parsing words almost as economically as the tender.

-----"Ma'am, our main chamber is under repair. All the lockage is passing through the auxiliary. We have tows backed up for miles. Looks like an eight to ten-hour wait for you." Erg! There goes the beautiful day of cruising - we wouldn't clear the lock until after dark with all the attendant problems of a small boat in a big river dodging logs and groping our way to an anchorage or marina. If we anchored overnight above the lock and waited for the next day to lock down, we would lose our place in the queue and might again come up for lockage after dark.

-----So, we anchored above the lock, well out of the way, took out our deck chairs and settled down for a good read as the warm sun flooded the cockpit. There was no choice - tows and all commercial boats have precedence over recreational boats. The view over the lock was somewhat overshadowed by the lofty towers of a power plant. But, it improved considerably when a curious deer walked over to watch us from the near shore. She briefly diverted us from both the power plant and our reading - as we did from her browsing.

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-----We kept the marine VHF tuned to channel 13 to monitor the tows and lock. After several hours, the only change in the situation was the arrival of several other south-bound tows, making the queue ahead of us even longer.

-----Then, fate took a nice twist. The locktender's voice came over the VHF. "Halcyon. If the skipper of the tow pushing into the chamber is willing to have you, would you accept any risk and lock through with him?"

-----We looked at each, nodded a quick yes, and El radioed back, "Yes, sir, that would be wonderful."

-----"You understand," continued the locktender, "that you accept all the risk if there is any damage to your boat?" He wanted to be sure we understood.

----- "Yes, sir," was El's quick response.

-----The captain of the tow, Harlee Branch, Jr., agreed and we packed up chairs, books and munchies. We had the engines running, anchor up, and were heading for the lock in a few minutes. The tow was in the chamber with his string ahead of him, filling it from wall to wall. There was plenty of room beside the tow, so we came in on his port side. "Just sidle on in - we'll have a deckhand tie you off," said the tow skipper.

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-----We sidled and he tied. The gates closed behind and we dropped the twenty feet or so with the thousands of pounds of steel and empty barges. El had a chance to visit with the deckhands and query about life on a towboat during the fifteen minutes or so of locking down.

-----Finally, the locktender blew his horn to signal that the forward gate was open and all clear. Gently the huge diesels of the tow pushed the string forward out of the lock, with us still tied alongside. As we cleared the lock walls and emerged into the river, lying alongside like a whale calf next to the leviathan, the deckhand untied the lines and we powered carefully away from the side of the tow. With a wave we were on our way.

-----El had handed our 'boating card,' with a picture of Halcyon, our web and e-mail addresses to the deckhand to deliver to the skipper. El radioed our thanks to him - because of his kindness in taking us through with him, we had a half-day of beautiful river boating ahead.

-----El also radioed thanks to the locktender, who simply answered, "Good thing you are such a small boat and could easily fit in the lock. Glad we could be of help. You have a safe trip, hear?"

-----We passed "our" towboat several times down river over the ensuing days and El always hailed him on the VHF. She had some long chats with him about life on a tow. The skipper was hoping to retire in a few years, buy an RV and tour the country with his wife. When he expressed an interest about our boating travels, El suggested he might check the stories on Halcyon Days to see how one couple has adapted to life afloat. He had almost finished with this 30-day tour and planned to check the tales when he arrives home.

-----He has continued the splendid relationship we have had with every tow captain and pilot we have 'met' on the VHF. They are courteous, skilled, concerned and professional skippers - without exception. We find it a privilege to share the waterways with such fine folks.

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(11-02)

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