Downstream on the Rivers: Ft. Loudoun & Tellico Lakes, TN to Mobile Bay, AL / October 14-November 9, 2002
October 14, 2002 / Ft. Loudoun Marina, Lenoir City, TN to Blue Springs Marina, Ten Mile, TN
We left Ft. Loudoun at 0745, with clear skies but choppy waters. Fall temperatures are finally here--it was 50 degrees as we departed--but the leaves are resisting the change to autumn colors. We ran at 2000 rpm most of the day, arriving at Blue Springs Marina at 1412, a total run of 51.2 miles. The marina restaurant was of course closed, but we were offered use of the courtesy vehicle for a trip into town if we so desired. Blue Springs (telephone (865) 376-7298) is not a large marina, but it has a busy boatyard, boat storage, and friendly staff, who monitor Channel 16. Increasingly we are finding that marinas reported to be open certain hours and monitoring the radio don't do these things once the summer season ends. Read the cruise guides (Myers, Quimby's) with a healthy skepticism if you boat in these waters in the fall.
October 15, 2002 / Blue Springs Marina, Ten Mile, TN to Island Cove Marina, Harrison, TN
Today's forecast was not promising, so we got away early (0650), as we were to cover approximately 70 miles today. The chilly rain started at 1100, and it continued the rest of the day. We had hoped to stay at Chickamauga Marina, but they didn't have any space left for transients, so we went back a short distance to Island Cove Marina, which we visited previously. (Note: despite the log entry above, both these marinas answered their radios when we called.) We don't ordinarily like to stay in covered slips, as they mean we can't use the satellite dish for TV, but with the steady rain, we were glad to be under cover tonight.
October 16, 2002 / Island Cove Marina, Harrison, TN to Chattanooga, TN
Even though we weren't able to spend the night at Chickamauga Marina, that didn't mean we couldn't stop there as we went past. The marina is just upriver from Chickamauga Lock, and it's the home of Erwin Yacht Sales, a Carver dealer, and we wanted to buy gas and do some shopping at the parts department--replacing a vent cover that we lost in a lock, repairing some decals that were scraped, and refurbishing a loose drawer lock. We found it all, plus some filters for our next oil change. Then it was on to Chattanooga.
Chattanooga is too nice a place not to linger a while, so on this visit we decided to stay two days at the city dock, giving us time to tour the downtown area by riding the free shuttle, shop at Warehouse Row, watch the riverboatSouthern Belle and the Chattanooga Ducks take sightseers up and down the river, and visit the Hunter Museum of American Art (a short walk from the city dock). We met up again with John and Laurie on Huckleberry, who were being joined by friends from Nashville for a cruise down to Guntersville, Alabama. They left a day ahead of us, but we are sure to meet again on down the river.
October 18, 2002 / Chattanooga, TN to Shellmound Recreation Area, TN
We left Chattanooga in a light fog, which slowly cleared as we cruised down Moccasin Bend and into the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee. What a glorious morning for cruising! Some yellow and light orange foliage is beginning to punctuate the deep green riverbanks. The peak colors will probably be here in another couple of weeks, but we'll be back in the state of Mississippi by then.
One of the long-standing traditions in this region is the Fall Color Cruise and Folk Festival, sponsored by the Shriners on Nickajack Lake. The last few years they've held it at Shellmound Recreation Area, where we anchored on our trip upriver a few weeks ago. Today as we came around the bend, we saw scores of boats in the bay, some anchored, many more tied to the docks and rafted to one another. Huckleberry occupied a prime spot on the end of the T-dock, and they invited us to raft up, have lunch, and then take over their space when they left to find a quiet anchorage farther down the river. The other folks on this dock were boaters from Scottsboro and Guntersville, Alabama, and we enjoyed swapping boat tales, and playing with Coppertone, the little Chihuahua-Papillon puppy who chewed jerky strips, cornstarch bones, peanuts, our shoelaces, and Maggie's ears.
Craft vendors had set up tents to display their merchandise and services, everything from a Tarot card/palm reader, to artisans of gemstones, hematite, and silver, to leather painters, to candy makers and candle carvers, to a feller who hewed wooden bowls from logs with his chain saw. And there was music--a lot of bluegrass, some gospel, a one-time star from the Grand Ole Opry (didn't catch his name), who was a better storyteller than singer. When the music was especially lively, some of the women would jump up and start clogging. Coleen resisted the urge, blaming/claiming her bad knee wouldn't let her join in. We were going to stay just one night, but stayed two--partly because we acquired a raft of three more cruisers on our port side. It would have been too much trouble to make everybody move. And we were having fun.
October 20, 2002 / Shellmound Recreation Area to Goose Pond Colony, Scottsboro, AL
Staying the extra day at Shellmound forced us to revise our travel itinerary, as we're scheduled to meet Coleen's mom at Pickwick Landing State Park on Friday the 25th. Skies were cloudy, but the rain held off, and we ran the 48.1 miles to Goose Pond in about six hours. No answer on the radio, but when we pulled in, the fuel dock hadn't closed yet, and we gassed up and paid for dockage just a few minutes before they locked the place for the night. Gas prices have gone up a bit--now they're charging $1.68/gallon, but the dockage rates were the same. If your boat is under 30 feet, it's $15.00. If your boat is over 30 feet, it's $15.00. Why they make the distinction is beyond us.
October 21, 2002 / Goose Pond Colony, Scottsboro, AL to Ditto Landing Marina, Huntsville, AL
We ran the 44.8 miles from Goose Pond to Ditto Landing in a little less than six hours. Cruising downstream, with a little boost from the current, helps you make better time. We chose to return to Ditto for four reasons--first, the harbor is sheltered off the channel; second, it has an easy-to-access laundry room and we had a lot of dirty clothes; third, it has more squirrels per acre for Maggie to chase than any other marina on this part of the river; and fourth, we knew we'd have a phone signal, a condition that won't last much longer.
October 22, 2002 / Ditto Landing Marina, Huntsville, AL to Joe Wheeler State Park Marina, Rogersville, AL
At Ditto we met Rick and Candy Weaver, on their ChrisCraft cruiser Kudy Tuf, who were cruising from their home in Scottsboro to Joe Wheeler State Park, where they'd meet up with their daughter, a student at the University of North Alabama over in Florence. We left Ditto a little before they did, but they beat us to the state park, probably because Coleen took a wrong turn, mistaking the park's location for Elk River, when in fact it's on Second Creek, just above Wheeler Dam. Oh well, no harm adding one more river to the log book. Today's run was 59.0 miles (including the detour), run mostly at 2100 rpm over six and a half hours. The marina was technically closed; the fuel dock was definitely closed (we didn't need any gas, luckily); but the lodge was open, and they were glad to take our money for a transient slip right in front of the dining room.
October 23, 2002 / Joe Wheeler State Park Marina, Rogersville, AL to Florence Harbor Marina, Florence, AL
It's a short run from Joe Wheeler to Florence, only 20 miles, but it takes over six hours when the locks are busy with tows. We didn't have too bad a wait at Wheeler Lock, but at Wilson, we had to park it for almost three hours. We had a particularly pressing need to get to Florence early in the day, as we needed to find a welder to fix the leak in our little hot water tank. It only holds eleven gallons, but when those gallons leak onto the carpet in the master stateroom, it makes getting out of bed in the middle of the night a squishy and unpleasant experience.
We made it to Florence by 1345, though, and harbormaster Ted helped Gary find a welder. After Gary got back with the marina van, Coleen headed to Wal-Mart for various supplies, including a one-gallon wet/dry ShopVac, the possession of which should pretty much guarantee that we'll have no more carpet puddles.
October 24, 2002 / Florence Harbor Marina, Florence, AL to Pickwick Landing State Park, Pickwick Dam, TN
When you travel on a boat, you wake up in new places almost every day. Some mornings you encounter a beautiful sunrise, sometimes witchy-looking wisps of fog, occasionally a hard rain. Today was different. We woke up to find ourselves surrounded by more than two hundred bass boats, queuing up for their Bass Masters Tournament, letting the judges check their live wells (must be empty) and roaring down the river, once they left the harbor's no-wake buoys behind. These were the pros, the guys who have their own fishing shows on cable TV, with flashy boats and corporate sponsors--for example, Crown Royal, Citgo, Visa, Stanley Tools, and Alpo. Alpo?!? Maggie is rooting for the Alpo team--maybe they will develop a bass-flavored dog snack!
October 27, 2002 / Pickwick Landing State Park, Pickwick Dam, TN to Bay Springs Marina, Bay Springs Lake, MS
Coleen's mom spent the weekend with us, and we had a great visit. On Sunday morning, we said goodbye and each headed for our respective destinations. Skies were cloudy, rain in the forecast, but our luck held out and the rain didn't start until after we had reached our next port of call, Bay Springs Marina, at the south end of Bay Springs Lake and just west of Jamie Whitten Lock. Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, we have even more reason to leave early and stop early each day. It was dark by 1715, though the heavy rain clouds contributed to the gloom.
We didn't stay at Bay Springs long enough to get to know it well, and the weather was not conducive for exploration, but Coleen did find the laundromat--one washer and one dryer, both in the Ladies' rest room. Ahem--guys DO wash their clothes, don't they? Or is the assumption that the women won't mind men walking through the room with their toilets and shower? Just wanted you all to know, in case laundry was on your agenda and you plan a stop at Bay Springs.
October 28, 2002 / Bay Springs Marina to Midway Marina, Fulton, MS
As Gary was taking Maggie for her morning walk, Coleen heard a southbound boat call the Whitten Lock, which is not far away. A few minutes later, she heard another. Shortly after Gary and Maggie returned, one of the transient boats at the marina took off in the lock's direction. We called the lock, and the lockmaster told us to come on; there would be room for us, too. We joined four other boats (one a 100+-foot houseboat) in the lock for the ride down. The Tenn-Tom lockmasters like to keep groups of boats together, and this group of five stayed clumped together for the next lock, the Sonny Montgomery Lock, and were going to do the same for the third lock in this short series, the Jesse Rankin Lock. Just short of the third lock, however, we came upon a slow-moving tow with six barges, who would have priority in locking through. By the time he finally entered, floated down, and cleared the lock, three more cruisers had caught up to us, so there were eight of us crowded into Rankin Lock. An uneventful ride down, but as we exited the lock, we could see that tow in the not-too-distant distance. While most of the cruiser crowd elected to throttle up and try to beat the tow to the next lock, we chose the lazy cruisers' alternative. We pulled out of the flotilla at Midway Marina, getting tied up and settled down before the predicted thunderstorms hit later in the day. Had we continued, we would have had three more locks to get through, with at least one tow in the mix and maybe more, and with worsening weather conditions, before arriving at Aberdeen Marina, our next planned stop.
Weather and crowded lock concerns aside, we are very glad we stopped at Midway (telephone (662) 862-7306). Dockmaster Pat met us and helped with lines. When we went up to pay for the night's dockage, he was waiting with a treat for Maggie. The cruisers' lounge is well stocked with books, games, puzzles, a desk and phone (from which this update is being posted), and a pot of hot coffee. It is also stocked with a huge variety of dog treats! The roomy deck overlooks the harbor, and to one side is a large hot tub, which would be tempting if it weren't going to start raining again soon. Several acres of mowed fields are part of the marina complex, where Maggie could run and play with the other resident dogs. One of those dogs, Hooch, has his own pets--a school of huge and hungry catfish swimming under his boat, who break the water's surface to gobble up dog kibble--or who knows, maybe even to gobble up a small dog, should it be unlucky enough to fall in. Maggie watched with cautious fascination, not coming too close to the edge of the dock. She gives Midway Marina four squirrels, even though the most plentiful critters here have fins, not bushy tails.
October 29, 2002 / Midway Marina, Fulton, MS to Aberdeen Marina, Aberdeen, MS
We left Midway at 0720 for the 37.4 statute-mile run to Aberdeen. We wanted to allow plenty of time for the three locks we'd transit today, as long waits due to tow traffic are always a possibility. Fulton Lock got us through quickly, and Wilkins was open and waiting for us when we got there. There was just one problem with Wilkins--after the water had drained from the chamber, the lower gates would not open completely. Nor could they close, which meant that the lockmaster couldn't refill the chamber and let us out the upper end. We were discussing whether we could squeeze through the small opening, assuming the lockmaster would even let us try, when the gates finally began to open the rest of the way. It was only six minutes of worry, but it went v-e-r-y slowly. We were glad to wiggle out of Wilkins. Amory Lock was open and waiting, and we breezed through it with no trouble.
Aberdeen Marina (telephone (662) 369-9803) is tucked away in a cypress swamp, and the narrow marked channel to the marina twists and turns sharply, with depths sometimes dropping to six-seven feet. We would not try to enter this little channel after dark or in any other conditions of low visibility. That large houseboat we locked with yesterday chose not to come in, allegedly because of foggy conditions (we saw no fog), but we think that with its length, it would have had trouble negotiating the turns. This little marina is right beside old Highway 50, and its marina "store" is really a roadside convenience store and gas station. The best thing is that their gas prices at the dock were the same as on the highway--$1.449/gallon for regular gas, $1.649 for premium gas, and $1.48 or so for diesel. If you can get in here, you'll find the best fuel prices on the Tenn-Tom. Maggie gives it two squirrels on the doggie scale--too close to the highway, but easy access to the dock from our swim platform, and there are some nice squirrelly trees in a field just a short walk north of the marina.
October 30, 2002 / Aberdeen Marina, Aberdeen, MS to Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS
The Aberdeen Lock was most accommodating this morning. We left the marina at 0725, and we were out of the lock by 0800. Cold weather has arrived in northern Mississippi, with brisk and chilly north winds. Never running more than 1900 rpm, we still arrived at Columbus Marina (telephone (662) 327-8450) at 1045, making this a mighty quick trip. This marina was one of our favorites on the trip north, and our opinion has not changed this trip. We'll stay two nights in Columbus, along with several other boats, as southbound traffic is picking up. We enjoyed talking to Jerry and Judy Gauthier, from Green Bay, WI aboard their Carver 440 Lazy J's, and to Bob and Cheryl Gural from Edwardsville, IL on their Carver 42, How 'Bout Us. If you stop at Columbus needing a haircut, ask Barbara to arrange an appointment for you with Stu at Hairdo's (he barbered a bunch of us transients, and we all look real good now!). If you're hungry in Columbus, ask Chuck for directions to Ruben's, one of the locals' favorite restaurants. The restaurant at the marina has not yet reopened, but they were working on it, and it's scheduled to start serving barbecue in December. And yes, Maggie still gives Columbus four squirrels.
November 1, 2002 / Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS to Sumter Landing Anchorage, Tenn-Tom Mile 270.6
Another of the boats docked at Columbus was Elusive, a sixty-six foot Cheoy Lee trawler. We went through Heflin Lock together, but his displacement cruising speed was a few miles an hour faster than ours, and he anchored at Sumter Landing ahead of us. We had discussed our plans over the radio, so he left us plenty of room to anchor. Maggie liked her dinghy ride to shore so much that she requested a second one after supper. How does a dog request a dinghy ride, you ask? She puts her head on your knee and gives you a soulful look. You ask, "What do you want, Maggie? Show me." She runs up the steps to the aft deck door and puts her nose against it. You open the door, and she runs to the transom door, poking her nose through the curtain opening and furiously wagging her tail. You pick up her life vest, and she wags even harder. We'll interpret that as a request for a dinghy ride.
Today's run was 65 statute miles, run at an average of 2000 rpm over about 8 hours. The entry into Sumter Landing was not too shallow for us--5.9 feet at the skinniest spot, but boats with deep drafts should be cautious. There's a lot more water hyacinth growing in here since our last visit in July. That weedy growth had the boat ramp choked up pretty badly.
November 2, 2002 / Sumter Landing Anchorage to Demopolis Yacht Basin, Demopolis, AL
At 0610 we heard Elusive calling Heflin Lock, whose lockmaster instructed him to "come on down." We pulled anchor and followed suit, arriving at the open lock at 0645. On the Tenn-Tom, lockmasters often ask for your vessel name and documentation number. When we spelled out Calypso Poet, the lockmaster quipped, "Why didn't you name her something easy, like Sam?" Good question, but we'll stick with what we picked!
We passed five northbound tows today, but even with all that traffic headed through the Heflin Lock, there were still a lot of transient boats pulling into Demopolis Yacht Basin (telephone (334) 289-4647) in the late afternoon, some coming from Columbus, others from Marina Cove. We were glad we had called ahead to reserve a slip. At least one boat had come from the southern reaches of the river, Escape Vehicle II, a Gibson houseboat piloted by fellow Little Rocker Al Garrett. We were glad to meet Al in person (having traded e-mails in the past), and we hope that neither he nor we encounter weather and water like that he endured in Mobile Bay a few days ago.
The docks at Demopolis resembled a small-scale boat show--a big Viking, a mid-size Hatteras, an Ocean Alexander, a Marine Trader, a DeFever, a Sea Ray, another Carver, and miscellaneous others of all sizes and designs. The boat that drew everybody down to the dock was a 40-foot Nordhavn, Morgan,piloted by two nice fellows from Barrington, IL, Pat Richardson and his son John. A sistership of this Nordhavn recently completed a circumnavigation of the globe, so we were most pleased when Pat offered us a tour of his fine vessel. Gee, if Arkansas only had a lottery, and if only we could win it . . . . But we did enjoy the tour.
November 3, 2002 / Demopolis Yacht Basin, Demopolis, AL to Bobby's Fish Camp, Bladon Springs, AL--oops, no, change that--to Old Lock #1 Anchorage, Tombigbee River
We left Demopolis at 0540, as we knew some of the other early birds would be calling the lock to beat the crowd headed downstream. And they did. The lockmaster put three of us down, and as we were in the lock, we heard a southbound tow on the radio requesting a lock down. We were glad to have beat him there. We encountered only two other southbound tows today, but six tows who were northbound. All this traffic is likely to keep the Demopolis Lock (referred to by a lockmaster on the evening shift as "D'mop Lock") quite congested.
Our original plan was to go to Bobby's Fish Camp, refuel, and dock there overnight. When we got there at 1430, however, two other boats were already tied up alongside at the dock, and the only space left was beside the fuel pumps. That early in the afternoon, there was sure to be more traffic and certainly more boats wanting to refuel. We couldn't stay there, but to move meant rafting to one of the other boats. We were not willing to pay Bobby $20 for the privileges of (1) rafting to another boat that did not match up in size and (2) having to use our dinghy to take Maggie to shore. After buying our gas, therefore, we went on, going through the Coffeyville Lock and finding an anchorage farther downstream.
The Coffeyville lockmaster had a tow on the way upstream, but the lockmaster told us to keep coming and he could put us through. We throttled up and made it in time, glad to get through our last lock for many, many months. Back in Demopolis, Gary had talked to a trawler owner who had anchored at Old Lock #1 (at river mile 100) in May and who told us that the Corps of Engineers had dredged the anchorage and that it was a good one. This information contradicted what was in Myers' Tenn-Tom guide, but it was more recent, and we decided to try it. We are glad we did. The river is up from all the rains, so we understand that the 25-foot depths at the channel entrance may not always be so deep, but depth should be adequate at normal pool, too. We anchored near the old lock walls and dinghied Maggie (for free) to the nearby boat ramp for her evening and next morning walkies. Today's run ended up being a long 117 miles, but that also means that tomorrow's run to Mobile will be almost twenty miles shorter.
November 4, 2002 / Old Lock #1 Anchorage to Grand Mariner Marina, Dog River, Mobile, AL
It rained all night and the rain continued to fall as we got underway at 0635. The river current was running at a good pace, and like yesterday, we were on a constant lookout for logs and deadheads, occasionally piloting a rather erratic course around these obstacles. Lots of tow traffic northbound today. We passed one southbound tow and six northbound tows.
Mobile Harbor was busy, and we slowed to a no-wake speed as we passed the ships and tows. We pulled into Grand Mariner at 1545, glad to arrive at a familiar marina where we knew we would be comfortable and where we knew we had easy access to an excellent restaurant. As we tied up, we sawHuckleberry across the river at Dog River Marina. Laurie saw us and waved; we made dinner plans over the radio, which meant that our friends would bring their dinghy across the river to join us at the Mariner Restaurant. The royal red shrimp were just as good this time as they were in July, we are glad to report.
November 5, 2002 / Grand Mariner Marina, Mobile, AL
Today's weather was terrible, with thunderstorms, even tornadoes in the area. Rather than cross the Bay to Fairhope, we decided the wiser and safer course of action was to stay put, which we did. We did some work on the boat, replacing our bridge radio, which had a bad buzz that distorted our transmissions. It made what would otherwise have been a miserable travel day into a productive day. Tomorrow's forecast looks favorable for the cross-Bay passage to Fairhope, where we'll stay for the next several days, attending a Great Loop Cruisers rendezvous. This wraps up our Leg 6, but we will post a Rendezvous Highlights summary before beginning Leg 7.