Up Diary 22 Diary 23 Diary 24 Diary 25 Diary 26

Section 12  (continued)

The Tennessee River.

(October 24 - November 9, 1999.)

Sunday, October 24, 1999.  Got up leisurely and enjoyed a quiet morning and an outstanding breakfast with Mom and Ed.  About noon we decided to move the Interlude to a different marina near Chattanooga since we wanted a more secure place to leave the boat while we're away on business.  We decided on Island Cove Marina about 10 miles away--six miles up the lake then a few miles back a "creek". (The creek was as wide as a major river, albeit the navigable channel was quite narrow.)

Our reception at Island Cove was first-class, and we docked very near the harbormaster's office.  He provided us with a 50A electrical connection, and was very cordial to us.  Quite a change from our previous stop.  He even offered to run us to the airport tomorrow morning rather than messing with a taxi. Nice guy.

Had dinner on board, and spent the evening watching a football game, some golf (for Ed), a little of the World Series, etc.  Very relaxing.  Later we packed in preparation to leave tomorrow.

Monday, October 25, 1999.  Got away by 8:30 AM via the dockmaster's truck and arrived at the airport by 9:00.  Nice airport. Before we left we arranged with Island Cove to have a Cruisaire serviceman check out the pilot house air conditioning system since we'd been getting a "Low-PS" reading for a couple of days.   From the manual that means low pressure, and probably means we need a refrigerant charge boost.  Hopefully, there is no major leak.  He will work on that while we're gone.

We bid farewell to Mom and Ed not in Chattanooga, but in Atlanta--we were able to do the first leg of our mutual travels together.  In Atlanta, we head to St. Petersburg and the folks to San Diego.  It has been wonderful having them on board, and being able to share some of the beautiful Tennessee with them.

Friday, October 29, 1999.  We return to the Interlude in the early afternoon.  We have the taxi stop at an Albertson's and we get some shopping done since we'll have guests aboard early next week.  As we get back to Island Cove, it is a perfect day--temperature is near 80, the sky is blue and it is a beautiful day.

Island Cove has managed the visit by the Cruisair service person and all that the pilot house system needed is some additional coolant.  We're back in business.  Island Cove is a wonderful marina.  As we said above, it is well off the big lake and very quiet, plus the people are wonderful--we'd come back here in a heartbeat. 

Bill spends time doing the bills and Jan does some laundry.  Chores all around. We turn in late, I guess a little wound up from all the events of the week.

Saturday, October 30, 1999.  Our travels today are less than 50 miles so there is no need to start early.  We spend a little time checking systems--the port engine needs oil as does generator #1.  We leave about 10:00, and have a lock within 10 miles.  The lockmaster informs us that it will be at least an hour and a half before we can lock down.  We reduce our speed to idle and approach slowly.  When we are at the arrival point, we recall the lock master, and he indicates it will be another hour.  We just drift along with several other pleasure boats.

Finally, the lock is opened, and because of our size, we enter first and take the port side all the way to the front of the lock.  Another power boat rafts off of us, another off of it, and another off of the third.  In addition, probably 15 more boats enter the lock and pack in--it's almost wall-to-wall boats.  We learn this is the second weekend of fall colors cruises.  During the day we see dozens of pleasure boats--quite a change from last week.

We pass through Chattanooga, and down the beautiful section of the Tennessee called the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee.  The colors are even brighter, and it is a wonderful day.  We'll come back here again and explore more of this wonderful river.

By 3:00 PM, we're at Hales Bar, a marina we visited on our way up the river.  Their crew gets us docked during the arrival of a dozen Sea Ray boats--they're having a rendezvous here this weekend.  So there is lots going on--and its fun to be here.

During the day we pass into Central Daylight Time again, so we need to adjust clocks. We'll depart early tomorrow and want to get our alarm set properly.  We'll stay in Central Time until we make the run across the Gulf of Mexico to Clearwater and home.   But, tomorrow, we change back to Standard Time--try keeping all of that straight!

Sunday, October 31, 1999.  We got up at 5:30AM, or was it 6:30 or 7:30?   The change to standard time plus the change to central time has  both baffled.   Nevertheless, we got underway shortly after dawn (about 0-dark-30!)  and made good headway on a river that was mostly free of barge traffic and pleasure boats.   What a beautiful day--the fall colors are better than ever, and we simply enjoyed the trip. 

Quickly we were through the Nickajack Lock and made about 70 miles by 1:00 PM.  As we were entering the marina we passed a tug with a triple barge.  The barge was loaded with a row of RV's and their automobiles at their side...this is a roving RV tour where they go by water rather than road.  Bill tried to hail the tug on the VHF, but didn't get through and we had to focus on docking so they got past us.  A very entrepreneurial idea, to say the least. 

Arrived at Signal Point Marina (been there before) and tied up at the same location as two weeks ago.  We spent an hour washing down the exterior and doing some interior cleaning as well.  While we were washing, some of the houseboat people in the marina came over to look at Interlude, and invited us to a fish-fry.  Nothing, but nothing, like southern hospitality.

About 7:30 , well after dark, we went for a walk up and down the piers.  Near the end of the adjacent pier, we said hello to a couple sitting outside their boat.  They invited us to sit and talk for a while--which we did.  It turns out that they are passagemakers, too.  They have traveled more than 18,000 miles on the rivers of America on their 36 foot trawler, including traveling the length of the Mississippi, the Ohio, and their tributaries.  They have also explored the tributaries of the Tennessee including many rivers we've never even hear of.  They are quite a pair, and we had a good time talking for an hour or more about passagemaking.

Monday, November 1, 1999.  Gulp, it's November!  Got away very early today, before 6:00 AM and arrived at Riverwalk in Decatur, AL about 11:30.  The scenery was beautiful in the rain today--colors are better and the hillsides and cliffs were beautiful in the light mist and fog.

When we arrived at Riverwalk, there was no one at the marina, so we entered the small turning basin and tied to the first dock that looked like it could handle us.   Shortly thereafter, Steve, the harbormaster, returned and suggested that we move to the next dock--which we did.

We borrowed a car (a 1999 Lincoln, no less) and did some shopping in a driving down pour (no pun intended)--this is the hardest rain we've had on the trip, and it's to last all night.  Bob and Faith Bedford are on their way to travel with us and should arrive this evening; some welcome.  For those of you who aren't up on Alabama geography, Decatur is a suburb of Huntsville on its western side.

The afternoon was consumed by cleaning, washing, and cooking--Jan is making apple cobbler, a special chicken and herb dish, and other goodies for the Bedford's arrival.  

After the rain passes, it is to get much colder--we might even have a freeze on Tuesday or Wednesday night.  Time to get further south.

Tuesday, November 2, 1999.  We're pinned down by weather.  We awake today to wind and rain--winds are sustained at 30+ knots, with gusts in the 40s.   We'll spend the day in port rather than risking damage to Interlude and others by trying to wiggle out of this tight marina in a gale.

We spend the day reading and talking, and taking a walk around the marina area.   It has really gotten cold!

At 4:30 PM Fred Meyers arrives. Fred is author of the wonderful boating guides to the Tennessee River, the Tenn-Tom, and the Cumberland River.  We've used each of his guides and they are "must have" for this trip.  After drinks on board, we head to Simp McGhee's in Decatur.  It turns out to be a wonderful restaurant in a fine old building.  And the five of us have a great dinner and good conversation about boating, passagemaking and the local waters.  Fred is a joy to have aboard and we're glad our get-together works out.

Simp McGhee is an historic local character.  During the last century he was a river boat pilot with a checkerboard reputation.  He finally lost his license for "running the rapids" in his river boat (sounds like fun).  He died at his girlfriend's house some years later. 

Wednesday, November 3, 1999.  We're off by 6:00 AM on a cold morning (37 degrees) but with little wind.  After about 20 miles we encounter our first lock of the day and zip through.  Twenty miles later we reach the Wilson lock and call the lockmaster five miles out.  He indicates we should proceed to the lock as the chamber is ready. [Wilson is a 93 foot drop, so you don't want to miss it, especially just miss it, since it will take time to return the chamber for another drop.]

We proceed at 10 knots until we can see the lock four miles ahead and with our binoculars, can tell that a pleasure boat is already entering the lock.  Will they hold it for 15-20 minutes for us to cover the remaining distance?  We wonder...and decide to pour on the coal and get there as quickly as we can.  We put Interlude up on plane and cover the distance in 8-10 minutes.  As we get close to the lock, we see the upper pool gate closing.  Bill calls the lockmaster, and ask him if we've missed the lock.  He indicates we should come ahead, he will open the door again.  This is very unusual--and we shortly enter the lock, and lock through.  Ninety-three feet is a long way to drop just as it was a long way up a couple of weeks ago.

By 2:00 PM we arrive at Aqua Yacht Harbor at the head of the Tenn-Tom and first fill with fuel (Interlude is very thirsty).  Faith offers buy the fuel, but we refuse.   [Does she have any idea of how much diesel we'll need?]

At 6:30 PM we head to the parking lot for our ride to Jon's Pier, a local restaurant with pick-up service.  As we arrive at the restaurant, we realize we've been here before--on our way up the Tennessee when we were docked nearby in Pickwick's Tenn-Tom Marina.  Small world.  But we do have a good dinner.


Section 13.  The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico

Thursday, November 4, 1999.  Since we have only fifty miles and three locks today, we wait until 8:00 AM to leave so that Bill can get a FedEx at the marina when they open.  It's a good thing we wait, since the foredeck is covered with a layer of ice--baby, it's cold outside!  The first day on the Tenn-Tom goes without a hitch--we pass through three locks, the first of which drops us more than 80 feet, without more than a few minutes wait.  We travel in the company of two other pleasure boats and don't even see a tow all day.  Some change.

During the morning, Bill works on Sterling business by telephone, off and on, since cell phone reception in the area is minimal.  But he gets the work done.

By 3:00 PM we arrive at Midway Marina and check in.  It's a first class place with a hot tub, restaurant, cable TV, etc. What more does a body need?  The people are very helpful and go out of their way to solve our problems and get us what we need.

For dinner,  we fix steaks on the grill rather than going out.

Friday, November 5, 1999.  Today we started at 7:00 AM and passed through three locks again without a hitch.  The lockmasters along the way call the next one and let them know we're coming.  Makes it a snap.  Maybe Faith and Bob are good luck! 

This stretch of the Tenn-Tom is much more swampy in appearance.  It is a pleasant change from the ditch.  We enjoyed the wildlife which included osprey, deer, eagles, etc.

About noon we arrived at Aberdeen Marina.  The entrance to the marina was a half mile of wandering up narrow estuaries and among cypress trees to the marina.  It was shallow/exciting, and only the third time on the trip we've rubbed bottom.  Stirred up mud along much of the way in even though we were running on one engine at dead slow.   Pretty exciting

After lunch we drove Bob and Faith to the Columbus (Mississippi) airport.  It was sad to see them go, they are our last guests on the trip and it means we must be getting close to home.  On the way back from the airport, we stopped for groceries at a Kroger store in West Point.  We used the car of one of the employees at the marina to run our errands.  People are very generous and anxious to help.

Steve Kelly called tonight with awful news that Kathleen is very seriously ill.   As you will remember, we spent a few days with them on Interlude both before we departed St. Pete, and while we were in their home town, Chicago.  Please join us in wishing Kathleen and Steve goodwill and strength in a time of such adversity.  Steve and Kathleen are dear, dear friends, and we consider them family. 

Saturday, November 6, 1999.  Today we are on our own again.  We started at 7:00 AM and re-thread our way out of the marina.  We touch bottom several times, we hear deadheads (logs and other flotsam) hit the hull, and even some stuff hitting the props.  Gulp!  After we're out in the channel we test various systems and determine no apparent damage.  We are able to negotiate the first lock immediately (it's only a mile from the marina), but the second lock, 25 miles later, is another matter.  We pass two tows (the only tows we've seen on the Tenn-Tom) just before the lock.  That's a bad sign, since they get first priority.  But the lock is already in use lifting another tow headed our way.  As a result, we wait 90 minutes for the lock to open, then the tow behind us goes in--but we get to enter with the tow!  A nice gesture.

We continued down the Tenn-Tom for another 20 miles and it's now the consummate southern river complete with cypress swamps, Spanish moss, etc.  We encountered a few fishing boats (mostly row boat size) but that is about all.

Around 1:30 PM we arrive at Marina Cove.  The entrance is so choked with water hyacinth, that we can scarcely recognize it as a channel.  But we persevere and make it into a pretty lagoon where we tie up for the evening. Puttin-a-Round, a 39 foot Carver with whom we've been traveling for a couple of days, enters with us.  We'll go on to Demopolis together tomorrow morning.

In the afternoon Jan finishes the laundry, and Bill works on the Tank Tender system.   The Tank Tender is a meter that shows the height of liquids in the various tanks (water, fuel and waste).  The meter is on the blink and after a full afternoon of work, it's still on the blink.  Bill is afraid it needs to be rebuilt since it is 10 years old and depends on very subtle vacuum readings for accuracy.  We can operate on careful calculations and a backup system until we get home then we'll have it serviced.  

Sunday, November 7, 1999.  We got an early start today, getting underway at 6:00 AM.  We passed the first lock in 45 minutes (we would have done it in 20 minutes except we had a laggard called Appointment, that said he was 10 minutes away but was actually 20...) then we had a quiet river all day.  Not much of any type of traffic, just a beautiful river and very rural surroundings.

Our second lock was waiting for us when we arrived, thanks to an early call to the lockmaster.  But we waited again nearly an hour for a laggard, Appointment again, who said he was 15-20 minutes behind us, but was actually more than 45 minutes behind us.   This guy is getting on all of our nerves.

Later in the morning, we were moving cautiously down the river because it is choked with water hyacinth--sometimes great masses of them.  And at a moment when things seemed very tranquil we hit a deadhead (a log which can cause damage that is floating in the river, sometimes under the surface).  It was a powerful hit that sounded awesome.   Bill quickly cut the throttles and put Interlude into neutral (to stop the propellers from spinning).  There didn't appear to be any damage--bilge pumps didn't suddenly come on, etc., so we checked out the engines at various speeds, and proceeded. Nothing hurt, but the noise was scary.  Part of the life on the river.

Later we passed a large sailboat doing only about 5 knots.  We asked him for permission to pass him slowly--and he acknowledged that he was having engine problem (naturally he wasn't sailing).  We offered to stay near him until Demopolis but he said at the slow speed he was OK.  We said we'd watch for him at the marina (in the end, he entered Demopolis before we did because we were left holding for the fuel dock).   He plans to have the engine worked on at the marina.  Glad he made it OK.

Well along on the day, we met a tow at a bend in the river; we called him to inquire as to which side to pass--he replied but his broadcast was garbled --we couldn't understand a word.  Bill asked him to repeat, but we still couldn't understand.   Quickly we asked him to give us a whistle (horn) signal, but by then it was too late.  We were on the right side of the river, and said to him we couldn't understand, so would take the one-whistle (right side) pass.  That proved to be the wrong side--we passed him within 15-20 feet of the bank of the river, in 7-8 feet of water, and he was within 10 feet of our port side.  That was scary.  We reviewed the situation after it happened, to see what we could have done differently.  As it turns out, it appears that our radio overloaded (the signal was very strong since he was so close).  Solution: we'll have the radio checked.  Secondly, we'll keep our portable radio handy so we can switch to it quickly.  Thirdly, we'll install a second radio at the helm.  Radios are very important.  But, no damage was done, nobody was hurt, so it turned out OK.

We called Demopolis Yacht Basin at 1:30, telling them that we were within five miles of the marina, as requested.  They said we would dock at the fuel dock, so we should slow down since there was a boat at the fuel dock.  We dropped speed from 11k to 7.5k and moved slowly toward the marina.  Then Puttin'-a-Round called in (actually we relayed a call for them, since there radio seemed especially weak), and the dockmaster, told them to pass us, and come to the fuel dock ahead of us (we're to spend the night at the fuel dock).  So, we arrived at the vicinity of the marina and held our spot in the river as Puttin'-a-Round fueled and pumped out.  Finally, we got permission to enter the marina, and backed to the fuel dock.  We took on about 600 gallons of fuel, and tied-up for the night.

For dinner we were invited by Puttin'-a-Round to join them, they had the courtesy vehicle.  But Jan is preparing a repeat of  the wonderful dinner we had yesterday--fixed in a crockpot, it is a whole turkey breast with artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, capers and other vegetables.  Wow, that's better than local fare, no matter what it is.

Monday, November 8, 1999.  This is potentially one of the hardest days of our entire trip--not because we have a destination, per se, but rather because there are so few places to stop along the lower Tombigbee River.  We have 140 miles to travel today and two of the busiest locks on the river to negotiation.  To get a full day of 12 hours of daylight we get up at 4:45 AM and were underway in the dark by 5:15.  We call the Demopolis lockmaster and he says the lock is not in use and he'll flood the chamber for us.  We tread carefully in the dark using radar, our huge spotlight, and guts. 

We have a plan that requires four hours at 11 knots, followed by two hours at 20 knots, then four hours at 11 knots.  That should get us in about 3:30 PM (excluding time for the locks). Well, Demopolis lock goes very well and we're coming out the lower pool just a dawn is affording enough light to see the banks.  There is light fog but the radar makes travel at 11 knots safe and relatively easy.

About 10:00 AM at mile marker 164 we accelerate the pace by taking Interlude up on plane.  We talked at length last evening with a tug captain who took us through the charts for the next 100 miles, page by page, and recommended that we use the space between mile marker 164 and the Coffeeville Lock to run fast.  This is a desolate and unsettled part of the river.  We see little barge traffic and make the run at 20 knots very carefully but successfully.  At 11:30 Bill calls the lockmaster at Coffeeville, this is the very last lock we'll traverse on our great circle trip.  He informs us that the wait will be three to four hours.  Ugh!  Our luck has turned. We decelerate to 9 knots and move up to the lock slowly. 

There is a major dredging rig trying to get through the lock.  The mass is more than 600 feet long, and more than 100 feet wide--so it means the tug and two tenders must divide up the load and pass it through the lock in several pieces.  As we wait, for hours, other tugs arrive and the queue builds.  We're at the bottom, and the bottom is getting lower and lower.

Finally, on the last load of the dredge rig, we're allowed to enter along with a huge load of pipe (see the picture).  We pull out of the lock at 3:30 PM, after waiting more than 3 hours to pass the lock.  The dilemma is obvious--it's dark at 5:15 and perhaps earlier on a river lined with high trees and banks.  We have 40 miles to go and only an hour and a half of good daylight.  Bill puts the pedal to the metal and we're back up on plane. It isn't the way we want to treat Interlude, but it is a necessity.   We pass some fishing boats, some working tugs, etc. and slow appropriately, but quickly we're back up on plane.

As darkness settled on the river, we are both at the helm trying to spot the buoys.   They're really hard to see down close to the water and often in the shadows.   We pass a couple of tugs who have slowed and have their enormous spotlights on the banks and buoys.  They're awesome.  As we pass the second, Interlude strikes a sand bar and we force our way over it--it's not much but it certainly sobers us.  We slow, and decide to follow a tow the rest of the way--fortunately it's less than two miles, and we spot Lady's Landing on the left descending bank. Thank goodness.

In spite of the time, we've decided, rightly or wrongly, to press on.  Others drop off along the way and anchor in lagoons,  outside the markers, on an old lock wall, or even against the rusting pilings of an old cement lock.  We look at each, reject them as unsuitable, and go on.  Nothing but the finest for us: Lady's Landing--a marina without a town, simply marked in the log as "along the lower Tombigbee River."

The dockmaster at Lady's Landing is one tough cookie--she grabs our lines, and help wrestle Interlude into the small space still left on the floating dock.  (Glad we called ahead, and kept them informed.  This isn't where you want to have a reservation lost.) It isn't an elegant place, but what a refuge.  It's wonderful.   We make Interlude fast, and Bill goes up the sand hill to the office to check in and pay for both dockage and the two steak dinners they're preparing for us.  He's met at the top of the hill by Billy (the goat).  It's been said you scratch his head and make a friend, but the guy on Patty Wagon , the boat behind us, said he butted one of the other boaters down the hill.

Puttin'-a-Round is 20 minutes behind us, and follows another tow to Lady's Landing and rafts off of us.  We're glad they're here and safe.  We've traveled together for several days. 

Now we're sitting in the salon with Headline News on the satellite TV, waiting for our dinners to arrive, and savoring the victory of 140 miles in one day down a beautiful river.  Tomorrow we arrive in Mobile, the end of the river portion of our trip. Dinner comes with a knock on the boat.  Let me describe it: green beans, mashed potatoes, a green salad, corn muffins, corn on the cob, a three pound t-bone steak, fixed perfectly...and brownies for dessert.  Gee. enough food for an army.  We bag the leftovers for another meal(s).  These people fix big meals. What a day.  We're safe and sound, and Interlude is tied up to a gas dock that she could probably break loose if winds build substantially.  But the weather channel says we're under the influence of high pressure, and we should have a calm night except for the occasional rocking caused by a passing tow with the two huge glowing eyes.  All is well.

Tuesday, November 9, 1999.  A post mortem on Lady's Landing and our night there.   Once we got Puttin'-A-Round safely rafted onto Interlude, we turned out all the lights we had turned on to help them see where we were.  With the lights out  and a new moon, the river took on a darkness that we've seldom experienced.  There were a couple of lights at Lady's Landing "office" but it was high on the bank above us, and provided only a little landside glow.  The view toward the river was of nearly absolute darkness.  You couldn't even see your hand in front of your face. 

Then a tow would come up or down the river shining its two huge spotlights like a Starwars' creature.  The lights are tremendously strong.  They make the one million candlepower spotlight on Interlude seem like a flashlight.  Then penetrate a quarter of half a mile of distance with so much light that you could read a newspaper by it.  The lights are as penetratingly white as the darkness is black.  The contrast in color is breathtaking and even frightening.  All night long,  these monsters would ply the river almost silently, but with penetrating, fearful eyes.

Today we were underway by 6:15 AM.  We had little to do to prepare since there was no water or power on the dock.  We simply released lines and shoved off after Puttin'-A-Round moved away to get fuel.  Our goal today is about 90 miles and no locks.

At 9:30 AM we arrived at the confluence of the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers.  These two rivers are succeeded by the Mobile River which flows into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  We're back in salt water--the first time since June.   The Mobile River is huge and wide--wider than we ever saw the Mississippi, and promptly upon entering it we went aground--the hardest grounding of the trip.  Bill called a tug captain we could see in the distance and asked advice.  He said to get back in the center of the river and stay there.  We were only slightly to one side.   Very touchy river.  With some effort we worked our way free of the sand and mud bottom and proceeded on our way, no apparent damage done.

Otherwise, we make the trip without incident passing a couple of pleasure boats and many tows.  About 2:30 we arrive at the marina and tie up.   Who should arrive behind us, but the same boat we've seen all along the river system--the boat that backed into us at Mackinac Island.  It was good to see him again and we greeted  each other warmly.  I think everyone we talked to was relieved to have completed the river trip in one piece.  Several of the boats in the marina were in for propeller repairs.