September 27, 2019
Dear Family & Friends:
After capsizing, I invoked the emergency plan I devised long ago from my high altitude mountaineering experiences: stay calm, carefully evaluate options, pray and trust in the Lord.
Here was my dilemma. I had 1-1/2 hours of daylight left, and no idea how far it was to Caruthersville. I was soaking wet and all my gear was also wet since it had been submerged in water. If I stopped and pitched a tent, I would not be able to keep warm and could become hypothermic. Although I vowed never to paddle at night, my only option was to continue paddling downstream since this would keep me warm.
Soon, it was pitch-black dark, with no sign of Caruthersville. As towboats approached me from behind, I took shelter and let them pass, and then followed their lights as long as possible in the hope I could stay in the main channel and avoid sandbars and more dreaded wing dams. Over three hours later, there was still no sign of Caruthersville. At one point, I heard the sound of an approaching wing dam. Then, I saw I was about to pass over it. I paddled furiously to avoid the wing dam since there was no way to navigate through it in the dark. I just barely avoided passing over the wing dam sideways and capsizing again, this time in the dark.
Finally, I saw a towboat parked along the bank with its engines shut down. I pulled alongside the towboat and summoned help from the crew. A crew member approached me, and I recounted my dilemma. I said I was searching for Caruthersville and was cold. He was sympathetic to my condition, but said I could not board the towboat without permission from the Captain. Because of 9-11, towboats are heavily regulated by the Coast Guard and cannot allow anyone to board. I totally understand this requirement. After numerous calls by the Captain of the towboat, the Coast Guard allowed me to board on the basis of a “render assistance” exception. Several crew members helped me board and then pulled my canoe onto the deck of the towboat.
I was expecting the Captain and crew to be angry that I had interrupted their busy schedule. They could not have been more kind, caring and welcoming. As word spread that “a kayaker is on board,” crew members scrambled out of their beds to check this out. They offered me towels warm clothes, hot coffee and food. Honestly, I think they enjoyed the diversion and loved hearing my story. I was relieved to be told my debacle on the River was not a diversion since they had four hours of dead time while tugboats loaded more barges being pushed by the towboat.
I have always wanted to tour a towboat. These are powerful and magnificent vessels that ply the River delivering goods that are a vital part of our nation’s commerce. I was given a grand tour of the M/V Capt. Shelby House towboat. I saw the living quarters, with multiple big screen televisions featuring NFL football games, the large kitchen, the sleeping quarters, the Captain’s bedroom and the Wheelhouse, where the Captain steers the vessel. I met Captain Ken Gooding and some of his crew(Payne, Kenny & Tim) in the Wheelhouse. We exchanged wonderful stories. They were so excited to see me, hear my stories and talk about life in a towboat on the Mississippi River. I didn’t want to leave.
I was told Caruthersville is just 1/4 mile downstream. Captain Gooding called a hotel and booked a room for me. Two hours later, they lowered their zodiac into the River and lashed my canoe to this rescue vessel. I boarded the zodiac and then boarded my canoe and pushed off into the River in pitch-black darkness. Twenty minutes later, I arrived in Caruthersville and checked into the Heritage hotel.
I made some great friends on the M/V Capt. Shelby House. Captain Gooding is a Marine Corps Veteran. He runs a 4H Club Shooting program in Florida. After my River journey, I plan to present an inspirational program to his students. One of the crew members-Tim-called the hotel in Caruthersville and left a message expressing his best wishes for me and my journey. Captain Gooding sent me a nice email telling me I was an inspiration and the crew members were still talking about me the next day.
Captain Gooding and his crew gave me some wonderful souvenirs-an American Commercial Barge Line t-shirt, an ACBL flag that flys from the towboat and a headlamp to replace my headlamp, which was ruined from the capsize.
I will always be grateful to Captain Gooding and his crew for their kindness and generosity during this incident. And, I express my thanks to Captain Gooding for his service to our great country.
Here are some lessons I learned on September 26:
There are a lot of wonderful people in this world
Never pull up to a towboat. If the props start turning, you and your vessel will be sucked under
Always wear a life vest while on the River
Avoid wing dams
God is good
Some facts about towboats:The towboats have a Captain and a crew of about 15
The crews work in 4 week shifts-4 weeks on and 4 weeks off. During the weeks off, a whole new crew takes over
The twin diesel engine towboats have a combined horsepower of 7,200
The twin screw propellers are enormous and can turn large logs into toothpicks
If a crew members falls off a towboat, the chances of survival are less than 10%
On the lower Mississippi, the towboats can push over 40 barges that can be over 1,200 feet long and 200 feet wide
The area covered by the barges is longer than the flight deck of an aircraft carrier
The total are covered by the towboat and it’s barges is over 6 acres