Years ago I found out about the Intracoastal waterway. (Don’t laugh at me. I live in Texas-the idea of a riverbed with enough water float in is a foreign concept).
This system of rivers, canals, lakes and channels fascinated me. That one could boat from Brownsville, Texas to New Jersey without hitting the open sea was amazing to me.
It may stem from the Tom Sawyer in all of us, but the idea of cruising a vast distance on the river appealed to me.
Then I discovered the Great Loop. You take the Intracoastal as far as it goes, hop on the Erie canal, cut across the Great Lakes and head down the Mississippi. You have to go through locks and everything!
The historical sites alone would make this a trip worth taking.
There is a whole culture of Loopers out there that know the ins and outs of the rivers. They know the charismatic owners at the marinas, the best places to stop, where “the one” fixed bridge is that dictates the your boat can’t be taller than 19 feet 1 inch (I love the 1 inch, it gives it drama), what kind of boat is best, lock etiquette and on and on. There is so much potential for a great story here and it sounds like the characters are built right in.
It takes 8 to 12 months to complete the Great Loop, so I won’t be venturing out on the waterways anytime soon. But, it’s a nice daydream to have. It would be a great way to see the country. It’s an adventure within sight of land.
You know what else I learned about? Barges. Call me ignorant, but there was a part of me that was surprised to learn that so much shipping is still done by barge. It makes sense. I just never really encountered it aside from crossing the Mississippi into Tennessee. It never entered my mind.
The commercial traffic is the reason that there is a Federal law that states the Intracoastal must be maintained to a depth of no less than 12 feet. But, guess what. It isn’t. A lack of funding has led to shoals and shallow water in many parts of the system.
I’ll be putting a lot of things up here that I just find interesting, but this is one example of some time spent surfing that came in handy. The Intracoastal did not inspire a story, yet, but the bit about the Federal law fell nicely into place in my next book. It answered an otherwise troubling question that kept arising as I wrote.
I don’t want to spoil anything yet. You’ll see what I’m talking about when Tortugas Rising becomes available in the next couple of weeks. But, that nugget was the perfect thing to know at the time. It wasn’t just a nice fix, that little fact improved the story.
This is why I fully defend the time I spend browsing and the hours I spend watching things like Modern Marvels. I’ve always had a 1000 fascinations and this is just one example of how it paid off.
I grew up a few miles from the Mississippi River near one of many major loading areas for barge traffic. One of my friends worked at a towboat manufacturing plant, and they churned out several a year to meet demand. My hometown had three major industrial plants smack in the middle of nowhere purely because there was easy access to barges. Every day thousands of barges with volumes far greater than truck or rail haul stuff from these ag and industrial ports until they get to Baton Rouge and New Orleans to unload for processing and distribution. Why Baton Rouge? That’s as far upriver as the large open water container ships can go. And why is that? Depth? No. Because Huey P. Long had the MsRiver Bridge at BR built so low that larger ships could not pass beneath it, effectively limiting them to Louisiana, since up to that point there is no shared state border. Brilliant.
Even Long’s move amazes me. I know they built the bridges here in Dallas tall enough for ships to pass under. You can barely float a canoe in the trinity now. Again, I never lived near the waterway. Maybe that’s why when I found out about it I wanted to be a riverboat captain. Or, a river pirate, but like the friendly ones from the Davy Crockett movie.