05/03/15 AT 23:03:24
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Reminder that the race is July 28-31 with a mandatory safety meeting on the evening of July 27th. More details are in Dispatch #1 along with good info on the starting line, the double start, race strategy, checkpoint cutoff times, night paddling, etc. Review it when you get a chance!
Navigating the Missouri:
You should make every effort to get on the Missouri prior to the race. If you live too far away, you can hopefully get on a similar body of water like the Mississippi, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee, etc.
The Missouri is similar to these but has her own unique flavor. The river has been engineered, for better or worse, from it's historically braided, wide nature to a channelized, deeper and faster flow. This was done to facilitate barge traffic. More on that later.
The river was channelized and narrowed through the use of wing dikes or wing dams. These are rock structures that extend from shore and effectively create a swifter deeper channel. There's a good picture on this website...
In a sense, these structures are your friend in that they create a swifter downstream channel. But they are also something to avoid as you paddle so that you don't crush the front of your boat or damage a rudder.
If it's a low water year, they will be quite visible and easy to avoid. If we have a high water year they will be mostly underwater. If it's an average year, they will be partially submerged and tapering deeper as they reach toward the middle of the river. You'll detect them by spotting the rough water passing over them.
If you accidentally go over a submerged dike, it's not a huge deal.. but you'll immediately notice the slowing of the water..if not the actual reversal of the current on the backside of the dike. You'll know then to move toward the faster, deeper water on the channel side of the river.
The river, despite the best (or worst) efforts of man, still thankfully meanders a bit back and forth within the valley. These bends means the channel is moving from side to side also.. usually following the outside of each turn. The faster water is generally towards the outside of a bend with the slower, shallower water on the inside.
It's a very good thing to stay in the faster water as much as possible. There is a huge cumulative benefit to careful study of where the good water is. If you are in slack water paddling as hard as you can, it's frustrating to watch someone in the good water sipping a coke and still going faster than you. These are things you learn from being on the river... and you'll learn a lot day 1. But thinking it through now should shorten your learning curve.
Think of the river as a 5 lane highway. |12345| You should generally avoid hugging the shore tight as the water is slower within 15 feet or so regardless of channel side. So for the most part, we avoid lanes 1 and 5. Lanes 234 are the best. If the river is bending towards the right, you'd most likely be in lane 2, the outside of the bend. If the river is bending left, you'd gradually head to lane 4 as the river channel crosses over. Lane 3 is great for straightaways. And also a good safe choice at night regardless of bend if visibility is poor.
To assist you in gauging the channel side, there are shore markers maintained by the Coast Guard that show the channel. Green markers will be on the right bank and Red markers on the left. These are meant for the barges to follow but you can use them as well. They look something like this.
These will be about every 1-2 miles depending on the bend in the river. As you approach one, you can start looking downstream for the next. If you see one on the opposite shore and well downstream, you would make a gradual crossing towards it, roughly following an imaginary line between the one you just passed and the one downstream.
Another good hint.. As you pass a day mark, check the back side of it. As shown in the picture, you can imagine the paddler just passed that navigation aid, right bank while moving downstream. Photo is taken over their right shoulder. The solid green color means that the next sign will be on the same side. If the color was green and white in cross pattern, that would mean there is a crossing and that there should be a red crossing sign on the opposite shore but downstream. So as you pass these you look at the back side and it will tell you whether to cross or stay where you are.
Confused? Well, don't sweat that too much here in early May. Hopefully, you'll get out on the river and see for yourself. If not, we'll go over this again at the safety meeting. You'll certainly understand the system by the first checkpoint.
These signs are very handy when encountering a barge. Let's talk about barges for a minute.
There is relatively little barge traffic on the Missouri. We'll probably see 3-4 "through" boats pushing barges up or downstream during the race. We'll see a few more servicing sand dredges as well.
It's your job to stay out of their way.
They are confined to the deep water of the channel. You are not. Sure, the deep water is faster and better 99% of the race but when encountering a barge, you will want to EXIT the channel and get to the off channel side of the river.
This requires that you understand the crossings so that you know where the barges will be when your paths cross. For example, you may be on the right side of the river and you see a barge downstream coming towards you on the left side...so you think, GREAT! He's on the other side I've got nothing to worry about. But if you're in a crossing where the river switches bends he'll be crossing with the channel and may be on your side of the river by the time you meet.
The good news is that barges or generally slow as they creep along. You will see one and usually have 10-15 minutes to set up for passing. The last thing you want to do is try to cut suddenly across his path or make a radical move that he isn't expecting.
Remember those wing dikes? He absolutely can't go over those. One surefire way to avoid a barge is to go to the wing dikes and pull in behind one for a break as he passes. Sometimes a heavy, upbound towboat with barges will make a giant wake that churns up the river for 20 minutes after he passes. It's a good idea to give him space and see what that wake is like from the safety of a wing dike harbor. If it looks like something you can handle, reenter the current and continue down the river.
The barges have been pulling over at night the last few years but we can't count on this. If you see the light of a barge moving at night it's best to definitely move toward the safety of shore or a sandbar or behind a wing dike until you're sure it's safe.
Parked barges can also be dangerous and it's important to stay away from them. The raked front ends will have a strong current passing beneath them and a boat pinned against them will be pulled under. It's a wide river and there is plenty of room to avoid parked or moving barges. You just have to be vigilant, especially if paddling at night. IF the moon goes down or fog comes up you have to be honest with yourself about what your can see. Sometimes visibility is amazing and you can see clear water shore to shore all night long. Sometimes it deteriorates and you can no longer be sure. That's a good time to pull to shore and catch some sleep.
Sand is mined from the river bottom in about 5 locations on the race course. Sand dredges look a bit like huge towboats parked midstream. They are sucking sand off the bottom of the river and loading it onto barges tied alongside. These barges get full and a towboat comes along to grab the and to leave a fresh empty in their place. The biggest thing to be aware of with these dredging operations are the swapping of these barges. Keep an eye out for the servicing towboats and stay out of their way. Also, keep your distance from the dredges as they have cables anchoring them to the river bottom and these are hard to see. Again, big wide river... plenty of room to go around these.
The buoys are placed for the barges to show them where there is shoal or shallow water near the channel. They are marking places that are shallower than the 9ft required for barge traffic. They would rarely hold any importance to a canoe drafting 4 inches. But they are certainly obstacles to be avoided as they are heavy and made of steel and can move back and forth. Keep your distance from these and watch for them at night. They are reflective and a good flashlight will spot them from 200 yards easy. At night, you tend to hear them (water rushing around them) before you see them. Keep your flashlight handy so you can scan the water up ahead from time to time at night.
Wow, that's a lot of potentially scary information. Makes it sound like the MR340 is one long scary race spent dodging buoys, barges, dikes and dredges all the way to St. Charles. That's not really the case. Most of the race your looking at sandbars, shady banks, eagles, deer, jumping fish, a beautiful moon, your neighbors in the Milky Way and a bunch of other crazy folks paddling down the river. Don't let these paragraphs dampen your spirits. We're just giving you the information you need to deal with these things so they AREN'T scary. Because they really aren't. It's likely your morning commute is far more dangerous and you negotiate that every weekday. Every. Weekday.
So digest that and post any questions you have or email me direct email@example.com
Next time, among other things, we will talk about fog and storms.
Not THAT'S scary.