Raft down the Mississippi

Discussion in 'Boatbuilding' started by qwist04, Jan 18, 2005.

  1. Hayaka
    Joined: Aug 2012
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    Location: Irvine, CA

    Hayaka Junior Member

    Wild hogs? Okay, I didn't see that coming. Alligators yes, although Louisiana has apparently not had any fatal alligator attacks in over 100 years. (Florida seems to have had several, however). Don't know about the wild hogs, but like most species if I stumble across a mother and her litter I'll probably want to be somewhere else. Actually the snakes scare me the most.

    I do intend to contact the Coast Guard, although I wanted to have more information before I spoke with them, given that most likely they will try to talk me out of it. As far as walking over the rocks, I've done a lot of hiking, so I can handle that, even for 10-15 miles or whatever the hiking portion turns out to be.

    Thanks again for your help, Sam.
  2. J1GSAW
    Joined: Jan 2013
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    Location: Minneapolis

    J1GSAW New Member

    2013 Trip

    Really glad I stumbled upon this thread/site.

    First off thank you to all the posters and providing all the information you have its been a wealth of knowledge and very helpful up to this point. So thank you & congratulations to all those who have made the trip.

    How this trip came to my door. Back in 2008 I got a job working as a zipline guide up in Alaska for the summer, and planned on driving from there all the way to the end of South America and back. however that was the year gas went through the roof and up in Alaska it was over $7/gallon and canada charging by the liter put it closer to $9/gallon & the lower 48 was around $5/gallon so I scrapped that idea and have been working globetrotting for the last 4 years working Ski resorts in the winter time & national parks or other hot tourist spots in the summer.

    Last year I bought a houseboat with every intention of taking it from Duluth, MN to macinack island Michigan and working there for a season than out to Bar Harbor, maine for a season and then down to the Keys for a season and then onto Corpus Christie for one last season before I headed down to South America for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Not even close to plausable to fund a trip a like that from seasonal pay so I have settled on rafting the Mississippi from start to finish this summer and then backpacking my way down through central america to Brazil in time for World Cup next Spring.

    I live right on the Mississippi North of Minneapolis for close to 10 years now and grew up fishing and exploring it as a kid. The current, debris and hidden dangers are no stranger to me. A couple guys I used to work with up in Alaska, one in Wyoming, and one in Romania plan on heading out mid May. We are planning on kayaking the first 151 miles until we get to Coon Rapids & from there tie the kayaks to the raft and head south.

    From everything I gather the average non motored trip takes about 55-60 days and about $10 day in food. We are going to budget $20 day and 90 days. We are planning on making two rafts 10x16 out of plywood and 50 gallon plastic drums. With backcountry technology & creative uses for other technology readily available & affordable nowdays we will have solar panels ($99 for a 2' x 4' panel) and deep cells running (truck driver refridgerator/freezers, oven, radios, lights, & of course chargers for phones laptops cameras and internet). We also plan on constructing both rafts with current sails (basically an underwater sail).

    We were thinking of buying a pontoon boot and putting an icefishing house on it, but Im worried about the winds and being blown around. Any thoughts tips or ideas on your dream raft? I have top of the line gear to be out in the elements so shelter isn't my main concern. Staying a float and mobile without the consumption of fuel is really are main goal.

    Before anyone starts about barges and tugboats and danger i am a heli ski guide who regularly goes out to play in avalanche prone full blown blizzard conditions. When the state shuts down schools, businesses and highways I go out to play with guests/clients who are about as nimble as 3 legged elephant on a ladder. I have worked in 26 states and 6 different countries and grew up on the Mississippi, been a sea kayak tour guide in the Bering Sea, a backcountry guide in GLacier National Park, and a zipline guide in the second largest rainforest in the world. I've hike the applaichan trail, Teton grand loop, and the Tahoe loop by myself. Along with a host of other outdoor related employments. I am not worried about a boat as big as a skyscraper coming at me with enough time to get out of its way as long as I am paying attention. If that is your concern and relevant input than please don't respond as it is no help to me and to be honest theres 50 posts in this thread that have already covered it for you. If I haven't gotten the warning/hint by now I highly doubt the next one is going to hit home.

    What I am worried about is fishing license? Someone said as long as you had a license from a bordering state you would be fine. Can anyone validate this for me? Realistically I only need to buy 3 licenses then?

    Hidden costs for anyone else that has done this trip?

    Must do's!! As in where should I stop and take in the sites?

    Must donts!!

    Casinos locations/protocols/recommendations?

    Town festivals, carnivals, events, anything?

    Pirating/shady situations?

    Can anyone provide details on gator hunting down south. I hear that you get $100/ft and the average size is 4feet. Unlimited tags with a license. Seen swamp men the other day who obviously know what they are doing and make it look easier than it is, but they are bringing in 8-12 gators a day. With the laws of probability and dumb luck I should be able to bag atleast 5 of them in a month, but Im a quick a learner, efficient, been hunting for over 19 years, athletic & ambitious. My goal is 20 a little less than 1 a day.
  3. michael pierzga
    Joined: Dec 2008
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    Location: spain

    michael pierzga Senior Member

    I guess there is no reason why you cant raft downstream. Plastic barrels sound like a really clumsy , primitive raft.

    Something that resembles a boat would be much better.

    American rivers were traditionally navigated in simple raft-like boats called "Bateau"

    Check with your library for plans.

  4. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    Location: Milwaukee, WI

    gonzo Senior Member

    If you are going further down than Baton Rouge, the USCG requires you to call in and register with Traffic Control. You need to have two VHF radios (required by Law). You then update your location periodically and talk to other vessels to negotiate who has right of way. For example, a barge may be backing off a dock and will ask a vessel coming up river to stop and let them maneuver. The usual rights of way don't apply.
  5. michael pierzga
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    Location: spain

    michael pierzga Senior Member

    On the Mississippi a home built barge is a boat ? a canoe ? what regulations
  6. cor
    Joined: May 2008
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    Location: Alaska

    cor Senior Member

    I made the trip myself a few years ago on an old pontoon boat. We went from Minneapolis all the way down to the Ohio and then part of the Tenn-Tom.

    A motor would be a lot of help. You wouldn't need to use it all the time, but there are a lot of situations where you need to be mobile. The rive twist and turns and there are a lot of little side channels and wing dams. If you rely on the current you will end up stranded on some little side channel and never get anywhere. You also need to get into the locks and not just swept over the dams with the current.

    The barges are dangerous in the same way that trains are, they don't stop. In order to stay out of their way you should probably have some means of propulsion.

    It is a great trip. We camped out on sandy beaches most nights of the trip. Every few days we would stop in a bigger town and get a hotel for the night so we could get cleaned up and feel civilized again. Take a bicycle with you for getting around the towns.

    We never fished on the trip, but everybody asked us how the fishing was?

  7. El_Guero

    El_Guero Previous Member

    The rattlesnakes are tame compared to your Mojave Rattler. Even the Eastern Diamondback gives you some time to get to a doctor, or you die. But, don't play with them.

    Hogs? Feral hogs and feral dogs are dangerous everywhere. Both will try to get out of the area if they think they can. BUT, both are territorial, and if they think they or their territory is threatened will attack.

    Besides the Rattlers you have cottonmouths. I don't think you would let a coral snake chew on you. Cottonmouths look just like most water-snakes until they open their mouths - white inside, hence the name. Understand they are slightly more venomous than western diamondbacks. Less than the Eastern, and much less than the Mojave.

    You also have walking catfish - their fins can leave you with a bad infection.

    Fire ants - once you are in them, you will know it. Vinegar kills the sting if I remember correctly.

    And a couple of other un-friendlies.

    And remember, Cajuns are great people until you offend them .... They usually will tolerate being called a Cajun by a stranger nowadays, but you might not want to push that. You will be in their waters, not yours.

    Some still speak, Creole, Louisiana French, whatever their English is called, and English. If they don't want you to understand them, you won't.

  8. myark
    Joined: Oct 2012
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    Location: Thailand

    myark Senior Member

    For a rafting holiday drifting down the Mississippi current it would be nice to take a small 4 x4 car on top to go around the dams and to be able to travel inland as well as use the raft for a camper when a tent is placed on top.
    A sail could be adapted as well as electric out board recharged by the car.

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  9. whitepointer23

    whitepointer23 Previous Member

    There seems to a consensus on these forums that if you put up a mast and sail you have a sailboat. I want to see your barge making way under sail and tacking. Should be good for a laugh.
  10. afteryou
    Joined: May 2012
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    Location: Southeast Alaska

    afteryou Junior Member

    I don't see why it wouldn't sail with some leeboards, dagger board whatever. Might not want to take it out in the ocean but on a lake with a short mast it might be fun. When I was a kid I made a lot of stuff sail to some degree. :D
  11. myark
    Joined: Oct 2012
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    Location: Thailand

    myark Senior Member

    The Myark raft if want to adapt a sail when the barge is in water I have designed keels to insert where the wheels are removed also the twin keels could rotate if wanted and for extra steering also the front region where the draw bar is inserted can also insert a rudder to steer from the front ..
    I needed to have this solution when I was hiring my barges to the film industry such as to Xena princes warrior and Hercules when the wind would blow the barge of course when I was following stunt men dressed as bad guys in primitive canoes chasing the Hercules or Xena, they could not look behind to see where the filming barge was so I had to avoid running them over.
    To have an out board slowing moving and the wind wanting to shift the front tracking to one side, but a rudder in the front gave me precession movement under those vital conditions especially when time to do each shoot was critical when night fall was closing in.,

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  12. gonzo
    Joined: Aug 2002
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    Location: Milwaukee, WI

    gonzo Senior Member

    Look at a map of the river. It goes South, then East, then North and so on. The wind is either shifty or non-existent. I managed to sail about an hour between Milwaukee and New Orleans.
  13. myark
    Joined: Oct 2012
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    Location: Thailand

    myark Senior Member

    An example

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  14. bigriverraft
    Joined: Aug 2009
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    Location: new york

    bigriverraft Junior Member

    This is for Jigsaw..

    first of all, don't let anybody talk you out of doing the trip...it really is an experience of a lifetime and a real adventure...

    see my post #164 for a bunch of links to things that will be helpful to you. You may also look at pictures from my trip here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/charleyq/sets/72157625309084189/with/5193957264/

    Link to my brother-in-laws blog which is still up: http://www.mississippi-raft-09.com/

    Before I left I did a lot of research and talked to people who had actually done the trip. Don't listen to the naysayers who haven't. I came away with a lot of info but the most valuable was this..

    1. You are going to want a motor. I met two guys on a raft much like the one that you are planning...55 gallon plastic drums with a deck on top...they had a 25hp and were fine with it...the drums were arranged in two rows so it was like a pontoon boat...easier to push through the water. On the upper part of the river you are behind dams and there is actually very little current. If you face a headwind you can find yourself going backwards. A raft like the one you are planning will be too heavy to row and fighting headwind and chop is only fun for the first hour...1700 miles of it will get old in a hurry. You also need to be able to manuever to stay out of the way of others and to get to the right side of the river for locking through...the Coast Guard will take you off the river if they feel you are a "hazard to navigation" and they get to define that. Before we left I requested an inspection from the Coast Guard and a very nice lady came to the marina where we put in and went over everything. She was impressed. I had done my homework and passed the inspection and she gave me a sticker showing that. This is not mandatory but you might want to think about it. You just need to be able to move your craft in a reasonable manner so that you can share the river safely with others. The real danger I found was not tugs and tows...they are huge, noisy, fairly slow and are driven by sober professionals. I was much more afraid of being hit by a drunk in a cigarette boat doing 90. There is no speed limit on the river and you can travel as fast as you want. The first Saturday out we were nearly swamped by a pack of cigarette boats that were going so fast they were past us before I knew it. After that we got off the river on Saturdays...found a marina and did our laundry and shopping and had a meal and a beer...you might want to think about having Saturdays as a day off...but get a decent, dependable motor. It will make a world of difference...you can't just drift because there is hardly any current in the upper river and you will find that the wind is a bigger factor than the current....in the lower river the swift current will occasionally pull you into places you don't want to be. Our craft was smaller and lighter than most and we could row it and actually did row often in the mornings before the wind rose....we could also sail it and sailing was great when the wind was right but could not be relied upon....in the lower river we used plastic buckets as a sea anchor and found that kept us from being blown out of the current as often....


    Get a GPS. I wasn't going to at first because I wasn't worried about navigation. The river is narrow, goes in one direction and every buoy is numbered and that number is on the chart....I have navigated at sea and have navigated a little by sextant and GPS but I thought the river was one place I wouldn't need it. You should have a VHF radio so that you can talk to the lockmasters and listen in to the tows and talk to the captains when needed. I had a VHF that also had a weather channel. I monitored it fairly often. You will want to keep an eye on the weather. I grew up in thunderstorm country and thought I knew...but we went through a couple of storms that were as intense as anything I have been through...but by monitoring the weather channel on the VHF, determining where the storm was and if it posed a danger to us, and in those cases finding cover and anchoring down we were ok...twice we went from sunny blue skies to serious weather in less than 1/2 an hour...when the VHF weather channel tells you a serious storm is in suchansuch county you won't know if that is ahead of you or behind you without a GPS...so get a good VHF and a decent GPS....we had a solar panel hooked to a 12v with an inverter...managed to keep everything charged up most of the time, occasionally we topped off when we were in port...you need a GPS for the weather, not for navigation...

    3. don't get complacent on the river....it is big and wide and can be slow and lazy...but just like on any boat somebody needs to be on watch...and when you see a tow you need to start to take action...at times you can see miles and miles on the river and it is easy to think that there is a lot of time...on a craft like the raft you need all the time you can get so as soon as you see a tow start to think about where you will pass, where you need to be, what you need to do...one good thing is that the tows on the upper parts of the river are small and they get bigger as the river gets bigger and you head south...you get to grow into it...but pay attention. Most times require 75% attention and a few times will require 110% attention but all times require some. I did not find the river dangerous (except for drunks in cigarette boats) anymore than I find driving dangerous...but when you are driving in heavy traffic or bad weather it requires you pay more attention then just cruising down a familiar open highway...same on the river...

    4. ask for help if you need it...remember the song, "people on the river are happy to give"....so many people helped us along the way...in Redwing I made some major changes to the raft, adding a sort of skid plate underneath that made the motor much more efficient...some stranger at the hardware store helped me cut a scrap piece of plywood and lent me some tools and got us underway again...meals were paid for and beers were bought and at least half the nights we spent in marinas were free...rides were given to hardware stores and grocery stores and several times we were invited into peoples homes for meals and hot showers...once a man told us where to find his house...he was heading in the opposite direction but told us it was unlocked and to go in and take a shower an help ourselves to a beer and he would catch up with us...apparently the Huck Finn myth runs deep and every summer intrepid souls come to the River to try their luck...if you do your homework and build a good raft people will respect you and go out of their way to help you and it will be a real adventure and a trip you will remember forever...if you don't prepare yourself and have a sloppy boat that is a hazard the Coasties will yank you off in a heartbeat...

    but I did it...so did a lot of others...so it can be done and it can be done in a craft made of plastic drums...just prepare, be ready to modify your design if it needs it and don't be shy about asking for help...take a look at the links in my post #164 and do a google search on everything you can think of...put your drums into two rows like a pontoon boat and you will be fine...DON'T let the naysayers on this board talk you out of it....

    if I think of anything else I will post it...if you have any questions, get it touch...

    all the best...


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  15. ecgossett
    Joined: Apr 2008
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    Location: Bremerton, WA

    ecgossett Member

    Puddle Duck Racer

    I'm not sure a Puddle Duck Racer could be compared to a raft... Of course the boat in question would perform better if it was a little bit longer.
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