Part 3: Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico – Inland Waterways

Inland waterway system usWith our mast once again secured on deck we begin our journey south from Chicago along the river systems to exit into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama. This part of our journey will be very different from travelling the Erie Canal and the Great Lakes through the summer months. The route is fast, muddy and commercial. The journey is around 1300 miles taking us through America’s midwest and southern states.

Through the navigable inland waterways, we travel from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico. We begin the journey along the Chicago River and Sanitary and Ship Canal, then down the Illinois River where it intersects with the Upper Mississippi River at Grafton; 327 miles from Chicago. From Grafton, Illinois we travel 222 miles passing St Louis, Missouri, until we reach Cairo, Illinois at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. We then travel 46 miles to reach Paducah, Kentucky where we take a detour into the Cumberland River, through the Barkley Lock and Dam, then into the Kentucky Lakes. We take some time to visit Nashville before our journey south takes us along the Tennessee River and Tombigbee Waterway to reach Mobile, Alabama.


Week 14 – As we leave summer behind us, we begin our journey south along the Illinois River, passing through the corn belt of the midwest USA. A lot of traffic on this river, but after a few days the river shows us a side that most tourists don’t get to see – even a coyote!

US flagWeek 15 – this week we float rapidly through the heartland of America along the mighty and muddy Mississippi. From there we travel along the Ohio River for two slow days passing through two locks before entering the quiet and more scenic Cumberland River into the Kentucky Lakes. Finally a place to stop for a while.

Live lake loveWeek 16 – Taking time out at the Kentucky Dam Marina to fit a new gadget we meet some of the friendliest people on our trip so far. The small town of Grand Rivers is close by, while Paducah (and Walmart) is 30 minutes away by car. From Kentucky moonshine to mamma’s hoecakes, the folks here are welcoming and generous. Perhaps we’ll stay just a little longer on Pier 2…

sign 8Week 17 – With a new radar display installed and a few jobs finished, it was time to take advantage of the generous offer of a car and spend a couple of days down in Music City – Nashville. Already we’ve been at the Kentucky Dam Marina two weeks so now we are getting itchy feet (and cold feet!) and will start heading south soon.


Fall yallWeek 18 – We say farewell to the folks at KDM and begin our journey south along the Tennessee River. The autumn scenery is beautiful and it won’t be long until the trees are bare and winter saps the heat from every living thing.


imageWeek 19 – Pickwick Lake is a scenic place to spend some time if you’re lucky to get any sunny days at this time of year.

Once you leave the lake the journey is only 450 miles to Mobile. Have a look at our tiny anchorage, complete with waterfall!

ally coon dogWeek 20 – The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is narrow and thankfully fewer commercial tows. This week we travel from Pickwick Lake and end up at the town of Columbus at mile 330 on the Tenn-Tom. Here we meet a nice chap who drives us to and from the supermarket to help us on our journey. I also get to cuddle a three week ‘coon dog’ puppy!

Columbus house2Week 21 – Columbus is a pretty place to visit, stock up with food and water and meet yet another amazingly generous local. We cross from Mississippi to Alabama and leave the Tenn-Tom behind as we enter the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway on our way to Mobile.

waynenalWeek 22 – Mobile. Our final destination on our journey through the U.S! Here we have two reasons to celebrate as we patiently wait for our mast to be stepped. While we wait we work on getting Blue Heeler ready for blue water sailing!