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Inland passage from Chicago to New Orleans


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Looking at a boat in Chicago that has a 8.5 foot keel.  I know I would have to take the mast down to motor to New Orleans but would the keel be a problem going down the inland water ways?  I have seen a couple of website and they imply 5 feet max for the keel but need to know if a larger boat can do it.

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Lower Mississippi is a bitch.  Its doable, but better option would be to cut off at the Ohio, skip over to the Tenn-Tom and after getting to Mobile sail to NO through the Mississippi sound.  

This time of year, Best option - Truck 

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I'm curious where you'd want to sail a boat with 8 1/2 ft draft around New Orleans, or anywhere in the Gulf. It's pretty shallow environs.

My wife and I did the Illinois/Mississippi/Ohio/Tenn-Tom route about 12 years ago. The Mississippi is miserable. Like trying to have a nice bicycle ride down the interstate. The other parts are a nice trip. Draft shouldn't really be the big problem I see.

The pushboats draw more than your prospect in Chicago, but they don't need a place to tie up. Going down the middle, you'd be fine but you would be very hard pressed for most of the trip to find either a dock or an anchorage.

- DSK

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4 hours ago, OccDave said:

Looking at a boat in Chicago that has a 8.5 foot keel.  I know I would have to take the mast down to motor to New Orleans but would the keel be a problem going down the inland water ways?  I have seen a couple of website and they imply 5 feet max for the keel but need to know if a larger boat can do it.

There is commercial barge traffic from St. Paul to New Orleans.  They sail past the relatively short stretch of the Upper Mississippi where I sail.  Officially the channel is maintained to 9' depth but in average water conditions the barges are loaded to 8'.  They brush the bottom occasionally and several get stuck every year at known bad spots locally but they are 105' wide and your keel is narrow.  I have never been on the Illinois Waterway but unless things have changed there's barge traffic there, too, that's loaded just as heavily.

Here is my $0.02:

1) You are unlikely to have a problem with draft as such in the main channel, though you may plow through some silt and soft mud here and there.

2) Debris and snags (sunken portions of trees that are firmly embedded in the river bottom) are a real, ongoing problem that you should be prepared for.  If you have an expensive folding or feathering prop that you like, take it off and put on a regular one.  Realize that you may get stuck on something.

3) The Tenn-Tom is the preferred route.  Official draft limits are the same.  You may find that it is just as fast to take the Tenn-Tom and then take the Gulf ICW west to New Orleans.  Services (fuel, pumpout, dockage, ramps, dinghy docks, ice, repairs, etc) are widely spaced on the lower Mississippi and there is a great deal of barge traffic.  Not saying it can't be done -- people do it every year -- but it is a journey that requires a great deal of independence and planning.  It is 900 miles from Paducah to the Gulf and there are essentially two places to stop along the way -- Memphis and Greenville (Mississippi).  From Greenville to Rio Fuel Supply -- the first fuel stop in the Gulf area -- is 386 miles.  There is very limited shore access through here with the only real options being some public ramps designed for fishing boats up to about 20' in length.  With planning you can find a handful of ramps that are within a couple miles of the nearest towns so that theoretically you could dinghy to the ramp and bicycle to town.  The Tenn-Tom also has stretches without services but they are shorter and there is less traffic.

The best time to go is in late June or July when the water is still high but the debris and flooding from the spring has abated.  The days are long so you can make better time.  It is unwise to navigate at night.

The Great Loop Cruising Association has good information on both routes.  I would suggest checking with them.

Depending on your destination and goals you can also proceed through the Great Lakes to the east coast, even with your mast up.

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Something else to consider.  Being from San Francisco, you will find the Gulf South to be all but unsurvivable. People traveling from cold climates suffer terribly.  Our temps may not look too bad, (to the uninitiated) but combined with our humidity, virulent insects and vermin, its a whole different world.  We who grew up here and live here have developed a tolerance, finding it livable, others, not so much.  

Ever wonder why all of our boats have air-conditioning units installed?  

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Sailing Soulianis did this trip in their Tartan 37, but did jog over to the Tenn-Tom. The Mississippi lacked amenities, but didn't look worse to navigate than other places with currents and commercial traffic. Some barges and tugs probably draw over 6-7', so you can go the same way.

Some friends did it in a Grand Banks 36 single screw, had a great time.

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Yes it sounds like the Tenn-Tom would be the better route.  Both should be dredge to 9 feet or more.  There is talk that even a barge drawing 8 feet will get stuck in places.  Just not interested in bouncing off the bottom for 1000 miles or so.

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