The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

The river smashed us against the tower and tried to drown us.  Later she came to our rescue.  Somehow, by some miraculous current of water amidst the now two-mile wide torrent of winter water we were washed out of Cow Island Bend towards the top of Cat Island and floated into some shallows.  After fifteen miles we were washed up well into the mid-stages of hypothermia.  It seemed like a dream.  We were close to catatonic, moving slowly, thinking slowly, and reacting slowly.  Sean and I and the wreckage we managed to hold together touched ground.  We were able to place our stony cold sodden feet on solid sand on a shoals and drag ourselves to the nearest dry ground, a line of trees clinging to the top end of one of Cat Island.  I’ve gone back several times since then and camped at different water levels and tried to reconstruct the sequence of events, but it’s all very muddy now.  I remember sloshing to shore numbed from head to toe.  I remember the shape of the island, the trees, and seeing the open channel far upstream, and the endless lines of trees on the opposite shore above Star Landing.  The image of a towboat over the top of the island, far away in the main channel of the river is framed in my memory.  It was dusk.  It was windy and cold.  Operating on sheer survival energy we pulled ourselves up a short muddy bank full of tree roots to the forest floor and fell to the earth.  It felt so good to lie down.  We were well beyond the shivering point.  Everything was peaceful and dreamy.  We no longer felt cold. But we had each other if nothing else.   We encouraged each other to action and somehow located a stash of dry weather-proof matches amongst our salvaged gear and coaxed a pile of tinder and kindling into a flame, and then a smoldering fire.  The outside of the wood was wet, but the inside dry.   By dark we had a raging fire going as we added piece after piece of driftwood.  It seemed like our only remaining purpose in life was as fire-makers, and that was probably our salvation.


Another miracle that led to our survival: A passing tow had somehow spotted us floating downstream in our mess of raft wreckage and slowed its engines and then cut them completely and floated along with us as we were washed into Cat Island and then went into reverse as we crawled up the shore and built a fire.  It was the towboat I had noticed earlier now glowing with its running lights which were reflected across the face of the river.   Unbeknownst to us in our fight for life the tow pilot had radioed the Coast Guard, who were now racing downstream in one of their workboats.  How much time passed before they arrived, and what happened after they found us, I’m not certain to this day.  Even though we had a fire going we were getting colder and colder.  I think the heroic tow pilot stayed with us and had thrown his spotlight beam on us for the Coast Guard to follow.  Also, I am sure our fire would glow like a lighthouse over the cold dark river.  My only memory after that point is falling into the open Coast Guard vessel and looking into Sean’s contorted face as we sped back upstream to Memphis, and his voice, “it’s going to be okay, Johnnie,” he kept repeating that over and over.  Water has equal ability to sustain life and snuff it out.  While we were being rescued as survivors a thousand miles away on the Atlantic Ocean the US Coast Guard brought in 24 bodies and 3 survivors from the sinking of the coal collier Marine Electric with 7 missing and presumed dead off the shores of Virginia.

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Middle Mississippi & Bluegrass Hills / Bootheel 195-0, 954-850 ST. LOUIS TO CARUTHERSVILLE
Chickasaw Bluffs 850 – 737 CARUTHERSVILLE TO MEMPHIS
Upper Delta 737 – 663 MEMPHIS TO HELENA
Memphis to Tunica
736 LBD Memphis, Tennessee, Mud Island Harbor
Buoys and Docks  
Floating Underneath a Bridge  
734.7 Lower Bridges/Engineer’s Bar
734.7 The Frisco Bridge
734.7 The Harahan Bridge
734.7 The Ghost Bunker
734.7 The Old Bridge (Memphis & Arkansas Bridge)
733 President’s Island
Fleeted Barges  
732 LBD Hole in the Wall ##2
727.3 TVA Transmission Lines
727.3 RBD The Wreck of the Raft
Tennessee Valley Authority  
725.5 LBD Entrance to McKellar Lake
7 Miles Up harbor Riverside Park Marina On McKellar Lake  
724 T.E. Maxon Wastewater Treatement Facility
Paddler’s Routes Below Memphis  
727 – 712 Dismal Point/Ensley Bar/Cow Island Bend Area
726 – 717 Armstrong/Dismal Point/Ensley Bar
720 Josie Harry Bar
718 – 713 Cow Island Bend
Goodbye Tennessee, Hullo Mississippi  
The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and the Blues  
711 – 705 Cat Island No.50
710.8 LBD Starr Landing
712 – 695 Paddler’s Routes Around Cat Island and the Casinos
Pickett Dikes Back Channel  
639.8 RBD Tunica Riverpark Museum Boat Ramp
Tunica Riverpark Museum  
Basket Bar Dikes/Porter lake Dikes  
693.8 RBD Lost Lake Pass
703 Buck Island (No. 53)
701 Gold Strike Casino
700 Fitzgerald’s Casino
Tunica to Helena
700 Basket Bar
Paddler’s Routes Through Commerce and Mhoon Bends  
695 – 690 Commerce Bend
692.5 RBD Peter’s Boat Ramp
690 Rabbit Island
Switching to thhe Helena Gage  
Dikes and Water Levels  
687.5 Mhoon Landing
689 – 685 Mhoon Bar
690 – 683 Mhoon Bend
682 – 679 Whiskey Chute/Walnut Bend
680 Whitehall Crevasse
Paddler’s Routes Below Walnut Bend  
Stumpy Island, Shoo Fly Bar and Tunica Lake  
Main Channel  
677.4 LBD Tunica Runout
Behind Shoo Fly Bar  
Stumpy Island  
Walnut Bend Boat Ramp  
Tunica Lake Boat Ramp  
679 RBD Walnut Bend Boat Ramp
679 – 677 Hardin Cut-Off
677.4 LBD Pass Into Tunica Lake
677 – 676 Shoo Fly Bar
677 – 674 Stumpy Island
674.5 Harbert Point
672 RBD Mouth of the St. Francis River
Primitive Landing at the Mouth of the St. Francis Rive – Conditions  
RBD 3 Miles up St. Francis River Three Mile Ramp
Daytrip: St. Francis to Helena  
St. Francis to Helena: Paddler’s Descriptions  
For Intermedite Paddlers: Right Bank Route  
For Expert Paddlers: Left Bank Route  
St. Francis River  
671 – 673 LBD St. Francis Bar
669 LBD Flower Lake Dikes
668 RBD (A View of) Crowley’s Ridge D
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
668-663 RBD Buck Island (Prairie Point Towhead)
665.5 LBD Trotter’s Pass
663 RBD Helena Harbor
Helena Boat Ramps  
663 RBD Helena-West Helena
Quapaw Canoe Company – Helena Outpost  
Helena’s “Low Road” Into St. Francis National Forest  
King Biscuit Blues Festival (2nd Week of October)  
Helena to Friars
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
663 RBD Leaving Helena Harbor
Fleeted Barges  
Small Towns in Harbors  
Buoys and Other Stationary Objects  
Highlights of Civilization  
Pollution Within the Helena Industrial Reach  
661.6 Helena Bridge (Hernando De Soto Bridge – US HWY 49)
657 LBD  
How to Get Into the Old Entrance of the Yazoo Pass  
LBD: Alternate Route to Vicksburg: Yazoo Pass  
Yazoo Pass Milage  
Rivers & Robert Johnson  
656 LBD East Montezuma Bar
657 – 654 RBD Montezuma Towhead
654.7 LBD Montezuma Landing
Shuttle Route Montezuma to Clarksdale  
652 LBD Friars Point
652.2 LBD Friars Point Landing (Unimproved)
What’s to Come Further Downstream  
Middle Delta 663 – 537 HELENA TO GREENVILLE
Loess Bluffs 437 – 225 VICKSBURG TO BATON ROUGE
Atchafalaya River 159 – 0 SIMMESPORT TO MORGAN CITY
Louisiana Delta 229 – 10 BATON ROUGE TO VENICE
Birdsfoot Delta 10 – 0 VENICE TO GULF OF MEXICO