Sailing rivers??? Current?? - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 16 Old 09-12-2008 Thread Starter
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Sailing rivers??? Current??

I live south of St. Louis, and the closest big water is the Mississippi. Can a dinghy be sailed on the Mississippi? The current is very bad. If you drop anchor mid river in a small boat, and the anchor actually catches, a small boat will quite rapidly be sucked under by the pull against the anchor rope. Can you sail in those conditions?
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post #2 of 16 Old 09-12-2008
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I have read the speed of the Mississippi ranges from one to three knots, which can be sailed in. You would probably want a motor to get back up the river if the wind speed drops. You might end up sailing at 3 knots heading slightly up stream but moving backwards relative to land.
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post #3 of 16 Old 09-12-2008
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Correction: the Mighty Miss. ranges from 1 knot to almost six knots. There's not much sailing I know of that takes place on the Lower Miss (below St. Louis). But if you catch it now, when there's not much river height above sea level (check your local gauge), you might be able to sail with and against the current.

But watch for those really large barge tows. It would be good idea to carry a portable VHF just in case. The towboat skippers will be courteous, but only if they know what you're doing, and what side to leave you on. Tacking upwind is going to make their hair turn grayer than it already is, unless you tell them what's up. They don't see many (any) sailboats, at least not under sail.

So for dinghy sailing, I'd recommend a lake. Or the river at extreme low stage, but only if you're equipped, and careful.
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post #4 of 16 Old 09-13-2008 Thread Starter
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I have Winter's Park about 15 miles or so away. Guess that will be home for a while while I learn! I am kidding!
Thanks for the responses. I can not imagine sailing on water that it takes a 25 horse motor on a jon boat to stand still out in the middle when the current is at it's worst. At least in a small boat anyway. A person separated from their boat might be miles downstream before they could make it to shore if they were in the channel when they went over. That is figuring good health and a floatation device at that.
My question was more in the, can it be done kind of nature.
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post #5 of 16 Old 09-13-2008
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Sailing rivers

Keep in mind that when you are sailing you are moving through the water while the water itself is moving. You can sail against a 50 knot current and make way through the water. You just won't make way over the ground. I remember sailing a little day sailer out of Pamet harbor on Cape Cod. It's a little snail shell harbor on the Bay side of the Cape. I got the boat under way and was going out through the channel. I was sailing like mad, throwing a wake behind me, but when I looked at the light at the end of the breakwater. I was moving backward. Silly me, I didn't take the state of the tide into account. Kind of like one of those swimming pools where the water moves and you swim in place.

Dick Pluta
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Nassau, Bahamas
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post #6 of 16 Old 09-13-2008 Thread Starter
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So I can sail all I want as long as my destination is downstream!
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post #7 of 16 Old 09-14-2008
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It depends on your point of sail relative to the current. We sail on SF Bay where the current at times is 3-5 kts. If you are sailing against it on a tack (@45deg) to the current you won't make much headway because of the drift to the side. If you are tacking with the wind at 45deg to the direction of the river you can go upstream but you will be losing speed over ground to the current. If your max hull speed is 5 kts and the water flow is 3 kts you will only make 2kts SOG. Sometimes staying to the side of the river will help you stay out of the current and at times you can get reverse current flows to help you move up-river.

Sailing downriver can be tricky; if you are moving at the same speed as the current you will have no flow over your rudder. So be careful in that situation because you have reduced maneuverability and if the wind pushes you toward shore you wont be able to steer away. I had that happen once in a Cal 20 and unfortunately went aground (the current was high ~5kts in a narrow channel).
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post #8 of 16 Old 09-14-2008
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If you're going 5 knots "over the ground" downriver in a 5-knot current, then you'll have no steering. But if you have forward speed through the water, then you'll have flow over the rudder, and should be able to steer, but you need considerable speed of your own to have enough control.

One other point for Runner. The current runs hardest in the bends, and weakest just below the points. This may help low-powered vessels (like sailboats, or the slow steamers of the old days) make better time. Downbound run the bend, and upbound "hold the point". But so do the large river tows, who aren't all that fast even in calm water, so you'll be sharing that part of the river with them.

One more reason to find a lake. I'm from New Orleans, and the only sailboats to be seen on the river below Baton Rouge is the occasional delivery, under power, going to or from the Caribbean once a year. I've almost never seen a sail up, unless it's some kind of adventure thing that appears in National Geographic a few months later.
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post #9 of 16 Old 09-25-2008
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Runner! Sorry I did not see your post sooner. I live ABOVE St Louis, and sail on the Mississippi most weekends. Here in the Alton Pool, (behind lock and dam 26,) the current normally runs 1-3 knots except at flood stage, when it can hit 6 knots. The only reason to take a sailboat down river is to get to Kentucky Lake! Below lock and dam 27 at Granite City, the current runs 4-6 knots all the time! Since sailboats normally sail from 3-7 knots, depending on wind speed, hull shape, and the sailor's skill, sailing in the lower Mississippi is like beating your head against the wall! It feels so good when you stop! Take my advice, if the drive to Portage des Sioux (on the Alton pool) is too far, find a good lake! Do not go to Lake of the Ozarks on weekends, there are too many go-fast boats driven by idiots. Carlyle Lake and Crab Orchard Lake in Illinois are both good lakes for small sailboats. Come up to Sioux Harbor some weekend and I will show you some river sailing - it isn't the greatest, but it's what we have!

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post #10 of 16 Old 09-25-2008 Thread Starter
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Nice to meet ya Don! Part of the reason I asked was because my cousin decided that he was going to fish that part of the river. He tied a five gallon bucket filled with concrete on a hundred feet of rope and heaved it overboard out of a 16 foot fiberglass bass boat. It caught and the current tightened the rope. Luckily my uncle had his knife handy and cut the line as the bow was going under! If the bow had actually been captured in the current, there would have been slow walking and sad singing to do.
I have access to a ramp on the Missouri side up where you are at, but it is on a very shallow backwater. Putting a small boat in would be no problem, but sailing out might be with the center board up most of the way.
Winter's park is closest to me, but not very big. Council Bluffs is 550 acres, but a large part of it is shallow and filled with dead trees. The nice thing there is the no wake policy that keeps all of the big power boats off. It is about as far as Carlyle is tho.
Lake of the Ozarks would be a bad choice for sailing unless you have a big boat or actually carry a couple of cannon onboard! Drunk dudes in big boats making close passes at speed to see if they can swamp the smaller boats sounds like a recipe for trouble if you add me and stir well! A friend has a house on the water where the new bridge on 5 crosses the lake. The concrete ramp wall is actually about 20 feet from his parking spot! On the weekends I don't think you would be safe in that cove with a small boat, much less out on the body of the lake.
Anyway, like I said. Nice to meet you and maybe we can meet in person on the water soon. I need a hull or someone with aluminum welding skills and equipment that doesn't have anything to do for an afternoon before that can happen. I tried to buy a little Dagger yesterday to give me a functioning learner boat, but someone else wanted it more than I did. I don't know where or when the sailing bug bit me since I have never sailed, but it did!
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