The Old Man River Project expedition arrived in the Quad-City area for a few days of drying out, getting a new mast and oars for its boat, Annie, and meeting local environmental groups, residents and businesses.
The crew is adjusting to new Douglas fir oars, which were built in a Rock Island shop and delivered to the crew a week ago while they were in Dubuque, Iowa, the boat's captain, Brett Rogers, said.
Although the oars are heavier than the fiberglass racing oars they are replacing, the weight keeps them in place and the crew doesn't have to work as hard. "We are using half the energy we were using before," Rogers said.
Annie will soon have a higher and stronger mast that should improve the group's sailing speed. The boat's original mast snapped in a wind storm south of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.
When the crew of six pulled into Port Byron, Ill., on Thursday evening, they had a dry, warm spot lined up for the night at the Main Street office of Art Norris, Quad-City Waterkeeper. Norris had been in touch with Rogers long before the group set off on the trip and had offered his hospitality.
In fact, the Quad-City area is the Canadian-based group's "first official stop," Rogers said. It was one of three that the team planned before setting out Aug. 21 from Bemidji, Minn., with a goal of reaching the Gulf of Mexico, 2,400 miles away, in three months without burning a tank of fuel.
In Port Byron, the crew plugged in electronic equipment and set to recharging batteries and drying out sleeping bags. Residents quickly stepped forward with Midwestern hospitality.
Big River Packaging president, Bob Simpson, brought his management team to meet the crew Thursday night and invited them to lunch and a tour of the Clinton, Iowa, factory. The team hung out at G's Riverfront on Thursday and Friday nights in Port Byron with crew member Doug Copping added some drumming to live music. Rogers was able to check off a small personal goal when he got his hair cut at a shop along the Mississippi River. And, a steady stream of people strolled down to the river to see Annie and talk to crew members.
The flat-bottomed wooden vessel is just 32 feet long, but weighs 950 pounds. Rogers and crew mates, Cliff Quinn and Copping, built it for the Mississippi River trip and will donate it to the Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper organization when they reach the Gulf.
The time in the Quad-Cities is a reprieve. Most days are long and physically hard. The crew rows for up to 10 hours a day. Part of the mission is "real-time storytelling" by blogging, tweeting, photography and video recording the experience, but that's a challenge some days, said Rogers. "There is barely time to do it. We fix problems and row."
Follow the crew
Annie and the Old Man River Project crew will set sail from Port Byron, Ill., at 9:30 a.m. Sunday, travel downriver through Locks and Dams 14 and 15, arrive at Sunset Marina, Rock Island and spend the evening at Nahant Marsh, Davenport.
Follow the journey online at www.oldmanriverproject.org/blog