Monday, October 13, 2008

Drama on the Big Muddy

It was a little after 6:30 am when I heard the sound of a towboat that sounded louder than usual and closer than usual.

Since we are right on the banks of the Mississippi (in West Memphis, AR), we could easily check on the river traffic outside. Upon opening our front door, we were greeted with the sight of the towboat shown here.

Looking to the barges in front of the towboat revealed the reason nothing was moving upriver. (By the way, towboats and tugboats are both "pushers." The name "towboat" comes from the early riverboat days when steamboat fortunes began to decline and to survive steamboats began to "tow" wooden barges alongside to earn additional revenue.)

Here the 18 barges were headed directly toward the shore. Even with the towboat's engines shut off, the barges seemed to be tapping the shore.

I can only imagine the challenge facing the captains of these small but mighty boats as they push 12, 18, up to 48 barges along the Mississippi at all hours in all kinds of weather.

By moving sideways and allowing the current to help the barges and boat "back up," the cargo group moved away from the shore.

With enough distance between the barges and the shore, the towboat proceeded upriver. All seemed well.

However, for reasons beyond my understanding, the barges once again were headed for the shore after traveling from one end of the RV Park to the other.

Once again, the strategy of the towboat moving sideways while allowing the river's current to move the procession away from the shore was successful.

The difficulty navigating this channel made narrower and more challenging due to the lower water level was highlighted for us viewers along the shore--a viewpoint from which this task seemed deceptively easy.

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