Across the Southern Divide – 09/30/15

First of All -

  • First time cruising down a canal
  • First mink spotted from the boat
  • First day cruising south of the Tennessee River drainage (in the Gulf Coast drainage)
  • First barge passed on the Tenn-Tom, 30 miles past the start

Namely Speaking-

  • Doskie
  • Barnett’s Knob
  • Paden
  • Five Fingered Palm

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 37; Sail: (motor sailed 10 miles)
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,072
  • Hours Underway: 6
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.43 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 8-10 ; Wind Direction: NNW
  • Daily High Temperature: 78
  • Water Temperature: 76

DSCF8206Following breakfast we tend to chores we didn’t have time nor energy for last night. While Sandy puts the groceries away I write up and post the previous day’s blog entry. I fill the water tank, get rid of garbage and buy a sack of ice for the cooler. We leave the dock at 10:15, which is really late for us. However, we don’t plan on going all that far today, so we’re fine about that. The scenery is interesting to begin with, as we cruise through cuts and past small islands. Soon though, we enter the 26 mile long Divide Cut, a remarkable engineering achievement which involved moving more dirt than the building of the Panama Canal, or so I’ve read. Unfortunately, that’sDSCF8209 about all the superlatives we can express for it. The channel is mostly straight, with the occasional gentle curve thrown in. The banks are uniformly riprapped, and the vegetation which has taken hold in the 30 years since construction was completed, is young and uninteresting. When creeks flow into the channel they flow down elaborately constructed structures which appear designed to catch debris and slow current. The experience isn’t helped by the heavily overcast sky, which deadens color. Wildlife is scarce here, although while Sandy’s at the helm she spots a mink on the bank, just above water level. About midway down the Cut, we pass a sign demarking the Tennessee River drainage divide. From this point onward, the land begins to slope southward, toward the Gulf of Mexico. Tomorrow we’ll pass through the Jamie Whitten Lock, which will begin the process of lowering us down to sea level. Just before we leave the Cut and enter Bay Springs Lake we pass the first tow boat since starting down the Tenn-Tom. It seems that both commercial and recreational boat traffic is very light here this time of year. We DSCF8215 motor sail down the lake for an hour before the Jamie Whitten Dam comes into view. We swing into Cotton Springs Bay, a half mile above the dam. East Cotton Springs Cove, at the head of the bay promises to afford us a secure anchorage, well protected from wind and swell from all directions. Once we’re anchored we dinghy over to the nearby boat launch ramp to stretch our legs. We walk 3/4 mile up the road and, on the return walk see a sign at a side road for the Cotton Springs Cemetery. We walk a short distance up this road and come upon a lovely cemetery, perhaps half an acre in size. It’s neatly laid out, with an interesting mix of markers, both old and new. Many of the graves are decorated with colorful and tastefully done artificial flowers. Clearly this place is remembered and cared for. Some of the markers are simple slabs of native stone, with no inscription visible. Others are cut marble, with names and dates just barely visible. The earliest markers we find date to 1840. At least two Confederate soldiers are buried here. The Davis and Harris families have many members in this cemetery. I wonder if perhaps this cemetery was relocated when the waterway was built. I’ll ask about that when we visit the nearby visitor center tomorrow.

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We return to the dinghy and putt back to the boat. Sandy prepares dinner while I straighten things out above deck. Dinner tonight is a chicken marsala, with the ingredients we cooked up yesterday. Accompanied by a fresh green salad, we agree this is one of the best dinners on the boat to date.

 

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Stopped cold! 10/1/15

First of All -

  • First day of October
  • First day lost to travel by a lock
  • First Tennessee Warbler and Eastern Bluebirds seen

Namely Speaking-

  • Dogtrot or possumtrot cabin

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: .5; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1072.5
  • Hours Underway: 1/4
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.47
  • Wind Speed: 15; Wind Direction: N
  • Daily High Temperature: 72
  • Water Temperature: 76

The day begins typically enough. After breakfast I prepare the dinghy for a run over to the visitor center. It’s quite breezy, and we bounce a bit rounding the point and into Visitor Cove. We tie up at the dinghy dock and walk up to the visitor center. The exhibits are quite informative, telling the story of the building of the Tenn-Tom and also including exhibits and taxidermy mounts of local DSCF8234wildlife (including some examples of rather enormous horseflies). We pick up brochures and then walk out to a nearby historic cabin. I see a small sailboat pass by,DSCF8236 on the way to the lock. It looks like our friend Ron, whom we cruised with on the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland Rivers. I can’t be certain, though, and by the time we walk out to a viewpoint he’s out of sight. Apparently he was able to lock down without delay. Along the trail to the cabin we pass a dozen or more tree identification signs. Since we’re very unfamiliar with the southeastern forest, we’re happy to learn the names of local trees. The cabin itself is called a dogtrot or possumtrot cabin, referring to the fact that it was initially built as a one room cabin and, after the family grew, a second cabin was constructed next to the original, and the two structures connected by roof, covering an open passageway. DSCF8240

We get back to the boat around 10:30 and prepare to get underway. Just before pulling the anchor I radio the lock to let them know we’d like passage downriver, and to ask how soon they can accomodate us. The lockmaster comes back, saying he’s waiting to lock a tow downriver, and after that the lock will be closed down for a couple of hours for maintenance. He estimates they can take us around 2pm. This is disappointing news, but nothing we can do about it. We only need to go 19 miles to reach Midway Marina, where we plan to stay tonight, and we should still be able to make it if we leave by 2pm. Around 12:30, however, I hear another call on the radio. A second tow is heading downriver. The lockmaster tells him he’s just finishing with the first tow and he’ll take the second one as soon as the DSCF8241 chamber refills. I call the lock on the cell phone and my worst fears are confirmed. They won’t start their scheduled maintenance until the second tow locks through. Earliest we could go is 3:30 or 4pm, and I’m assuming that estimate is optimistic. This news, coupled with the fact that we would now have two tows ahead of us, as well as 2 more locks to pass before reaching our marina, makes the decision to stay put right here quite obvious. We’d been sitting tied up at the end of the little dock by the boat launch, but with the decision to lay over here made, I motor out into the middle of the cove just inside the boat launch and anchor for the night. It’s a pretty good place to hang out, with shelter from all but the southwest. Also, we have a fair cell phone signal here, and at least we can use the phone and run the computer on the jetpack hotspot.

We have an early dinner and row ashore for an evening walk. I spot a couple of new birds in the little park above the boat launch, andDSCF8244 while hanging out there I talk by cell phone with our stove dealer out in Seattle. We receive the welcome news that the stove has been repaired, under warrantee, and will be shipped back to us tomorrow morning. I arrange to have it shipped to Demopolis Yacht Basin in Alabama, which we should reach in about a week. Let’s hope, anyway.

We plan on a fairly early start in the morning. I’ll call the lock first thing and find out if there is any priority tow traffic which could delay our locking. The way I figure it, they owe us, just a little bit, for our lost day.

Pushed by a Norther past 5 locks – 10l/02/15

First of All -

  • First time rafting up with another boat
  • First sighting of water hyacinths (water lillies) along the waterway
  • First time transitting 5 locks in one day
  • First time running aground
  • First sighting of a Least Tern

Namely Speaking-

  • Saucer Creek
  • Itawamba County
  • Coaches Branch
  • Bull Mountain Branch

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 44; Sail: 1 (motor sailed 20 miles)
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,117
  • Hours Underway: 9 3/4
  • Fuel: NA (transferred 5 gallons to main tank)
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.28
  • Wind Speed: 11; Wind Direction: N
  • Daily High Temperature: 63
  • Water Temperature: 71

DSCF8254We’re up early, wanting to get underway as soon as the lock can let us through. We talk to the folks on Valentine, who are anchored just around the corner from us. They’re having problems with their chartplotter, and they want to take a look at our Garmin. The lockmaster tells us he has a northbound tow to lock up, and will be able to lock us down around 8am. This gives us time to swing over to Valentine. We raft up with them and enjoy a short visit, which is cut short by the horn at the lock, signalling that the tow is clearing their chamber. We uncleat from Valentine and motor the short distance over to Whitten Lock. This lock has an 84 foot drop, one of the biggest east of theDSCF8255 Mississippi. A north wind is briskly blowing right into the lock chamber, which will make for a challenging tie up. The lockmaster does his part to help out by closing the lock doors as soon as we enter. This gives us protection from the downlake chop, and offers some wind protection as well. I’ve finally learned my lesson about not attempting to approach a lock bollard with a tailwind, and so once well into the chamber I swing a “U” turn and ferry over to the west side of the chamber with our nose into the wind. I ease up to the bollard with full control and hold our position while Sandy loops our midships line over the bollard. The whole process goes well, and soon I’m able to radio to the lockmaster that we’re safely secured to the lock wall. The water level in the chamber drops rapidly, soon exposing rows of covered fill ports which line both sides of the chamber. These ports enable tremendous amounts of water to enter the chamber when it’s in the “fill” mode. Right now the covers are closed, however, they don’t exactly seal tightly. This results in a considerable shower of water from some of them, including the one just ahead and above Sandy. The north wind catches the spray and gives the boat a good washing, and Sandy gets an unplanned DSCF8264shower to boot. Nothing to do but take it as we drop a distance more than twice the height of our boat, from water line to top of mast. When the chamber water level finally drops to the downstream level, the great lock doors open and we are on our way. We repeat this pattern 3 more times during the course of the day as we pass Montgomery, Ranking and Fulton Locks, hitting each one with a green light. These 3 locks have an average drop of around 30 feet. They are spaced between 5 and 12 miles apart, and each seems to have its own personality. In one, the bollards shriek and howl like some scary sound effect at a Halloween haunted house. In another, the bollards clang against their grooves with a sound almost like kettle drums. We’re surprised to see a great blue heron flying through one lock chamber, down near the water. He pulls up and lands on a lockDSCF8256 door cross brace, looking for a snack. Clearly he’s done this before, and with success. This stretch of the waterway is known as the canal section, and below each of these locks the route assumes the form of a canal, with tall forest lining each shoreline. A short distance above the next lock down, the waterway widens out into small lakes. We pass Midway Marina after about 20 miles, and see our friend Ron’s sailboat, Talisker, tied up to the transient dock. I try hailing him on the radio but get no answer. We pass on by, since we plan on going further down the waterway. I target Smithville Marina, which is just about the right distance for the day, about 40 miles. When we draw near, however, I question my judgement in considering this place. It’s very exposed to wind and wave, and the north wind is hitting their transient dock with the full DSCF8261fetch of waves across 3 miles of open water. I look the place over carefully, and conclude that trying to get in there would invite a very uncomfortable night at best, and a boat wreck at worst. The next lock, Wilkins Lock, is a short distance past Smithville Marina, so I call the lockmaster and request lockage down. He says he’ll have the green light on by the time we get there, and he does. This makes a total of 5 locks for the day, and we’ve been lowered nearly 200 feet. Since we started the day at 414 feet above sea level, we’ve made it almost half the way to sea level in just one day. As I run down the canal below Wilkins Lock I scan the chart in search of a nearby anchoring option. The cruising guides list nothing within reasonable distance of here, and the charts have absolutely no depth information, which is essential in locating potential anchorages. Even the Garmin chartplotter lacks water depth detail suitable for identifying anchoring sites. I’ll just have to carefully nose my way into potential protected nooks. The 3 mile long canal stretch is out of the question, but I’m hoping the lake just above the next lock will serve our needs. I try a marginal place on the west side, shortly after we emerge onto the lake, but I quickly find water only 2 1/2 feet deep and back out of there. Next I try the port side, which has some deceptively inviting little bays, surrounded by low lying little islands and clumps of trees. A few snags threateningly poke up out of the water. As I attempt to approach, at idle speed and with an eye on the depth sounder, I feel the bow slide up on a mud bank. The transducer for my depth sounder is mounted on the stern, so it doesn’t give me any advance warning of shoaling conditions dead ahead. I tip the outboard up until the cooling water intake is just below the water, and slip into reverse. The engine easily backs us off the mudbank and into deeper water. Obviously this spot won’t work. I get back out into the main navigation channel and head down toward the next lock, Amory. It’s getting too late in the day to go through yet another lock and look for a place below, so I scan the eastern shore, down close to the dam. I’m hoping there will be deeper water there, which will afford a place to anchor for the night. I see a boat ramp across the lake, with a series of DSCF8263 small red and green buoys marking a channel over to it. I follow the markers, however am disturbed to see numerous deadheads projecting ominously a foot or so out of the water, well within the marked channel. We near the boat ramp, but find no dock we can tie up at. I explore the shoreline on either side. To the north it shallows up quickly. The water stays relatively deep to the south, around 10 feet or so, but I continue to see scattered deadheads. And, this shoreline is fully exposed to the north wind which blows at around 10 mph across 2 miles or so of water. It’s a poor option, but the only one we have. I pick a spot near the mouth of a small creek, about equidistant from the nearest deadheads, and drop anchor into about 7 feet of water. Surprisingly, the boat rides rather comfortably in the water here, so here we’ll stay. I’m quite chilled after spending a full day in 60 degree, breezy conditions, so it feels great to go below, where Sandy has warmed the cabin with a nice hot meal on the stove.

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On the River section of the Tenn-Tom – 10/03/15

First of All -

  • First day on the River section of the Tenn-Tom
  • First airboat seen
  • First palmettos seen
  • First time invited over to dinner on another Loop boat

Namely Speaking-

  • Dead River
  • Buttahatchie River
  • Tom Soya

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 39; Sail: 0 (motor sailed 2 hours)
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,156
  • Hours Underway: 7
  • Fuel: 17.l gallons ($51)
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.50
  • Wind Speed: 5 to 10; Wind Direction: N
  • Daily High Temperature: 60
  • Water Temperature: 71

Thus far we’ve cruised through the Divide Cut section of the Tenn-Tom as well as the Canal section. Today we’ll enter the River section, where the waterway cuts freely intersects with the natural channel of the Tombigbee River. The navigation channel is dredged to assure proper depth, and is relatively straight, while the Tombigbee River twists and winds its way across the landscape. Where the navigation channel crosses the river, oxbows and cutoffs occur. These make for good anchorages as well as attractive fishing holes.

DSCF8283I’ve just begun sipping my morning coffee at 6:45am when I hear the nearby Amory Lock horn sound. I phone the lockmaster up and learn he’s just locking some bass boats through, and he’s able to take us without delay. This spurs us into action and within 10 minutes I’m raising anchor and carefully motoring through the marked channel, toward the approach to the lock. That persistent north wind is blowing right into the chamber again here, so I do my “U” turn routine and we tie up to the bollard, facing upstream, without difficulty. ProceedingDSCF8286 downriver, we enjoy the start of the River section of the waterway, which is much more interesting than either the Divide Cut or Canal sections. We pass an active dredge operation, which takes up a good portion of the channel’s width. I radio ahead and am instructed to pass on the “One Whistle”, which means port side to port side. About halfway into the day’s run we approach Aberdeen Lock and this time our luck finally runs out. They’re doing maintenance and we’ll have to wait an hour or so. Fortunately, here an hour means an hour, and following our second lockage of the day, we’re again on our way. We’ll stop for the day before reaching the next lock. We plan on stopping at Waverly Marina, but when I check my smartphone app I find no mention of it. As we near the place, we see a large industrial operation and conclude that Waverly Marina is no more. Fortunately, 3 miles further downriver we have another good option in Columbus Marina. It’s a relatively new facility, with good reviews, just above Stennis Lock. I call them on the cell and let them know we’re on our way. They have plenty of space for us. We arrive at the fuel dock, and two guys are waiting to take our lines and help us secure the boat. I fill the gas tanks and am shown the location of our dock. Sandy and the dock hands walk over there while I bring the DSCF8306 boat around. We’re tying up right behind a 50+foot long Chris Craft, fiberglass hull (1976 model I later learn). We recognize the boat as one we shared an anchorage with back on Kentucky Lake. Mike, the boat’s captain, greets us as we tie up and invites us to come aboard after we get squared away. This invitation quickly gets upgraded to an invitation to come over for a hot bowl of chili. We take them up on this welcome invitation and spend a delightful couple of hours enjoying the chili and conversation. They’re an enthusiastic couple, in their mid 50’s, who decided to take a break from stressful jobs. They sold their house, sold their houseboat, bought this venerable Chris Craft and took off on the Loop. They and their trusty dog Lucy seem to be having a great time. We are given a tour of their boat, and it’s truly amazing, with two complete spacious cabins as well as a bunkbed room, perfect for grandkids. When Mike hears our stove/heater is out for repairs he insists on loaning us a little ceramic 110 volt space heater, to keep us warm for the night. It’s just about driving me out of here.

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Walmart and an antebellum plantation house tour

First of All -

  • First armadillo seen on the trip (unfortunately for the armadillo, he was roadkill)
  • First woodchuck seen on the trip (also a roadkill specimen)

Namely Speaking-

  • Waverly
  • Hoot’s Homes (manufactured home dealer)

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 0 (Layover day); Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,156
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.4 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 5-10; Wind Direction: NW
  • Daily High Temperature: 64
  • Water Temperature: 71

Last evening, while visiting with Mike and Cindy aboard their Chris Craft Imagination, the fact that our Wallas heater/stove was in the shop for repairs came up. Mike insisted that he loan us his compact ceramic portable heater. We tried to tell him we were fine, but he’s a salesman by profession and he can be very persuasive and insistent. We took his heater back to the boat and plugged it in last night. Needless to say, with 56 degree temperature outside, the warmth was greatly appreciated. I try to return it to him this morning, but he insists that the cold weather is still with us and we will certainly meet up again, at Demopolis. So, we have his heater yet, and are still thankful for its warmth, as well as the warmth and consideration of Mike and Cindy.

DSCF8307It wasn’t supposed to rain last night, however we awake to a steady drizzle, which has been going on for much of the night. EverythingDSCF8309 outside is drenched. They may not call this rain around here, but in Seatte it would definitely be classified as rain. I walk up to the office at 10am, when they open, and arrange to borrow the car for a couple hours. We drive into Columbus and stop at Walmart, just 4 miles away. We pick up a few items, and Sandy is able to get her flu shot at the pharmacy. We have just enough time left on the car for a quick drive into the downtown area. We locate a neighborhood which has many historic homes, some dating back to the 1830’s. They’re all well cared for, and still serving their original purpose. We wish we had more time, but reluctantly turn around and head back to the marina. We’re hoping that the car will be available in the afternoon so we can drive out to Waverly Mansion, which is reputed to be a great place to visit.

The drizzle has ceased, but it’s still windy and cold outside. Warmed by the electric heater, we have lunch down in the boat cabin. After lunch I mosey up to the office, and the manager says the car is ours for the afternoon. We grab coats and camera and head for Waverly. It’s a 15 minute drive, over a bridge we passed under yesterday. The mansion is hard to see from the road, but we find our way to their parking lot. From the moment we park the car, we’re captivated by the place. As we walk toward the house, off to our left we see an enormous magnolia tree. DSCF8332We’re later told that it’s around 300 years old, and the largest magnolia in Mississippi, which bills itself as the Magnolia State. We walk up weathered and obviously original white marble steps to the imposing front door. No one seems around. I try the knob and it doesn’t turn, so I give a wrap with the door knocker. We hear footsteps approach from inside, and Melanie opened the door, giving us a genuinely warm and hospitable greeting. We quickly learned the story of this remarkable home. It was built by a Col. Young in 1852, and once sat upon a 50,000 acre cotton plantation, which was worked by 1,000 slaves. Col. Young had 10 children, including 6 sons. All 6 served as officers in the Confederacy and remarkably, only one, Beverly, failed to return home. Bev was slightly wounded in the leg at Gettysburg,DSCF8315 but died when gangrene set in. Following the war, the remaining sons continued to work the plantation, with tenant farmers and sharecroppers providing labor. The last son died in 1913, and Col. Young’s grandchildren, who inherited the place, couldn’t decide what to do with it. They removed all the furniture and left it sit, open and unattended to. It remained that way for the next 50 years. Generations of locals, including hunters, fishermen, and youths would come out to the old place, camp out, and go inside. Aside from lovers writing their names on the inside walls, not a single bit of vandalism, theft or damage was visited on this great house. Hardly a single window was broken. Original crystal chandeliers, rare Venetian glass panes around the entry door, marble steps and fireplace mantels, enormous mirrors, solid yellow pine doors and finely crafted woodwork, including delicate staircase spindels, intricate ceiling plasterwork and more, all untouched or damaged over all those years. Nature took her toll, however, with dozens of possums living on one room, hundreds of bats and birds residing all over the place, muddawber wasps building nests all over the plasterwork, wild goats climbing up and down the stairs, vines covering the external walls, and mature trees growing up through the rotted front porch floorbooards. However, the basic structure of the house was sound, with a good foundation and construction using rot and termite resistant cypress and yellow pine. In 1962 our guide’s parents came upon this elegant, historic place, purchased it from Col. Young’s many surviving heirs, and made it their life’s work to restore it to it’s past glory. It took them and their children, including Melanie (who was 7 years old when her parents bought the home) a quarter century to restore the home. Melanie recalls cleaning wasp nests with toothbrushes and toothpicks for weeks on end. Mom would encourage them by saying “Isn’t this fun!” They kids didn’t think so at the time. Melanie still lives in the home with her 90 year old father, and the tour she give us is simply precious. She tells stories like how the crack in the great front room mirror happened. During the Civil War a great ball was held at the home. No one noticed a candle which had been placed too close to the mirror glass. It sounded like a gunshot when the great mirror cracked. The attendees thought they were under attack. The officers took the women upstairs for protection, but no Union soldiers were there. After the crack in the mirror was discovered, the party resumed. Melanie also relates that her upstairs bedroom was once occuppied, for three weeks, by none other than Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was recovering from a severe case of boils. Another remarkable aspect of this house is how it was designed to remain cool, without aid of modern air conditioning, through the clever use of cross ventilation and the design of the upper stories of the house, which serve to draw heat up and out of the house. The house’s remarkable history, coupled with Melanie’s warmth, hospitality and intimate tour, make for one of the most memorable afternoon’s of our trip, to date.

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Note the crack on the left side of the mirror, caused by a candle placed too close, during a Civil War ball.

Sweet Home Alabama – 10/06/15

First of All -

  • First time cruising in Alabama
  • First time seeing the sun in a week

Namely Speaking-

  • Oak Slush Creek
  • Luxapalila Creek
  • Alligator Hilton (houseboat name)
  • Broken Pumpkin Creek
  • Coal Fire Creek
  • Pickensville

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 29; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,185
  • Hours Underway: 4 1/2
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.4 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 5; Wind Direction: NW
  • Daily High Temperature: 80
  • Water Temperature: 71

DSCF8333It’s overcast again this morning, but the air is noticeably milder, and the sky brighter. Maybe today the forecast for sunny sky and warmerDSCF8337 temperature will actually pan out. During breakfast I call the lock, and learn that the chamber will be ready for us within 20 minutes. We prepare the boat for departure, and end up leaving along with 2 trawlers. We all lock down together. This locking experience is unique in that large rafts of water hyacinth have drifted into the lock chamber. The colorful but pesty water plant surrounds our boat, almost like a weedy lawn. As we begin today’s run down river, the sky continues to brighten and, by mid morning, the sun burns through. It feels great to start peeling layers off and feel warm once again. About 20 miles into the run we cross into Alabama, the 8th state we’ve now cruised in. We weave back and forth across the state line for a few miles before crossing into Alabama for good. Just short of the next lock, Bevill Lock, we reach the day’s goal, Pirate’s Cove Marina. We hope to bike over to the visitor center adjacent to the dam, after we get squared away in our slip. When I register, however, I learn that the visitor center is closed for the next 2 days, so we’ll not get our chance. Instead, we opt for a walk toward the small nearby town of Pickensville. We haven’t gone far up the road before a boater we have met in the marina pulls over in his pickup and offers us a ride to town. It’s getting quite warm and it looks like town is still quite a way down the road, so we gladly accept. On the way in, our new friend points out a building set a little ways back from the road, telling us that it once was a DSCF8353stage coach station. He also tells us that the whitewashed church with the big columns and tall steeple was used as a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. We get out at the crossroads and buy ice cream at a nearby minimart. We read an interesting sign in front of the small police station which summarizes the history of Pickensville. The town was founded in 1820, a few years before Alabama became a state. It was named in honor of Andrew Pickens, a well known Revolutionary War guerilla leader in South Carolina.DSCF8361 The stage coach station is mentioned, as is the Methodist Church, built way back in 1821. I strike up conversation with a game warden who is gassing up his pickup. He has a boat in the marina, and also has a MacGregor sailboat which is on a trailer back home. On our walk back he offers us a ride, but we want the exercise and so decline. We see several different kinds of birds on the walk, but can only identify the eastern bluebird. What little is left of the afternoon is spent lounging on the boat and chatting with the locals and other boat owners. This place has a very backwater feel. It’s quite rustic but very friendly. All the essentials are here, including water and power at the slip, restrooms, showers and laundry, a small store, and wifi. Their rates are the lowest yet, and I pay only $23 for our 26 foot long boat. Toward evening a small sailboat comes in, and we’re pleased to find our friend Ron, aboard Talisker, has finally caught up with us. We’ve been playing leapfrog with each other ever since Green Turtle Cove Marina on Barkley Lake. He reminds us that he still has 3 frozen steaks that someone gave him earlier on the trip, and so we make plans to have dinner together. He provides the steaks, I provide the barbque. Pretty good deal. After dinner we swap stories until long after dark. This part of the South is great dark sky country, with no nearby large cities. The moon is on the wane, so we have a brilliantly bright display of stars overhead.

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Long haul to Demopolis – 10/07/15

First of All -

  • First time cruising past white cliffs
  • First time passing a tow since getting off the big rivers

Namely Speaking-

  • Swilley’s Bend
  • Boligee Canal
  • Gladys Landing
  • Gum Pond Slu
  • McAcan Bend
  • Runaway Branch Creek

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 53; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,275
  • Hours Underway: 9
  • Fuel: 14.2 gallons ($41.24)
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 12.45
  • Wind Speed: 0-5 ; Wind Direction: S
  • Daily High Temperature: 85
  • Water Temperature: 78

DSCF8386Up at 6am and ready to raise anchor shortly before 7am. We’re first out of the anchorage, with Ron close on our heels. We run 4 miles down to Heflin Lock. I radio the lockmaster and he says to come on in, but don’t tie up to the second bollard, on either side. I tell him we are part of a 4 boat group wanting to lock down. By the time we’re secure to the wall Ron has likewise tied up, and the two power boats, Renegade and Around the Turn are in view. Soon all 4 boats are secure and we’re locked down. Then begins a rather long and mostly uneventful passage to Demopolis. Demopolis is located near where the Black Warrior River enters the Tombigbee. The Black Warrior is a navigable river in its own right. In fact, Alabama boasts of having more miles of navigable waterways than any other state in the Union. The Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior, Alabama and Chattahoochie Rivers all have dams and locks designed to serve commercial barge traffic as well as recreational boat traffic.

For the most part, the scenery is much the same as we’ve experienced all along Mississippi and Alabama. However, we’re in for a treatDSCF8389 about halfway into the day’s run, when we cruise past the white cliffs of Epes. Not quite the white cliffs of Dover, but at close range still very impressive. The rock appears to be a soft chalk or sandstone, and is very nearly pure white in color. The forest on top and along some of the ravines which break up the cliffs here and there adds interest, with some of the trees displaying fall colors.

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This section of river has very little recreational boat traffic. We’re passed by one large power cruiser (very courteously, slowing nicely to spare us from getting kicked around – I radio him to thank him for the slow pass). We pass 2 or 3 northbound tows, always with ample room. I notice a southbound tow about 5 miles ahead of us on the AIS and it looks like I’m gaining on him. He’s doing 6 mph and I’m going just over 7. It takes a long time, but finally I close to within 3/4 of a mile and he calls me on the radio. I tell him I can speed up to 9 or 10 mph when it’s time to pass. I ask him to let me know when I should start, and which side I should go on. After clearing a bend he radios for me to proceed and I run the throttle up to 4500 rpm, almost wide open. The boat accelerates, but only up to 9mph. Still, that’s good enough for us to pass him in a reasonably short length of time.

DSCF8392As 3pm approaches we pass the confluence of the Black Warrior River and turn in to the Demopolis Yacht Basin fuel dock, the conclusion of a long 53 mile run. I top off my tanks, pleased with the 8 mpg I’ve gotten since the last fuel stop. We are directed over the transient dock, which is in an entirely different basin. Apparently virtually all of the docks and slips on the fuel dock side of things are too shallow for use. We follow directions and tie up at the transient dock. It turns out to be well over a mile by road to the fuel dock/office. There is a satellite restroom/shower/laundry/clubhouse building on this side, but it’s easily 1/4 mile from where we’re tied up. The one good thing is the swimming pool, which is just a short ways from the boat, and there are restrooms at the pool. To make all this work, they have 2 golf carts which boaters can check out to run over to the office, where the courtesy car can be reserved and picked up. It’s a rather inconvenient layout, but it’s the only option available. We’re registered for 3 nights because it will take that long for UPS to deliver our stove (if it arrives on schedule). Our friend Ron is docked right behid us, however, he plans to move along in the morning. In front of us are Mike and Cindy aboard their big Chris Craft, Imagination. They just got in today and will be here at least through tomorrow. Maybe we can get together with them tomorrow for some sightseeing.

Figuring out how to get around in Demopolis

First of All -

  • First time driving a marina golf cart
  • First time renting a car during the cruise
  • First cockroach sightings

Namely Speaking-

  • Marengo County
  • Gaineswood

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 0 (layover day); Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,275
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.45 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: less than 5mph; Wind Direction: variable
  • Daily High Temperature: 83
  • Water Temperature: 78

We’re up at the usual time, 6am, despite the fact that this will be a layover day. Established habits can’t be simply suppressed by will power, it seems. I hear Ron start up his outboard, so I quickly dress and see him off. Hopefully we’ll catch up with him somewhere further on. After breakfast I start focusing on solving transportation logistics at this marina. It’s impractical to just walk over to the office, since it’s easily a mile walk around the basin to the office. So, I walk 300 yards down to where the golf carts are parked, grab one, and drive around on the dirt road to the office. Once there I check out the courtesy car, which comes with the usual 2 hour limit. I leave the golf cart parked at the head of the fuel dock but keep the key, and then drive back around in the courtesy car to pick up Sandy. I bump into our friend on the Chris Craft and give him a ride over to the shop where he wants to look at a VHF radio, and I turn the golf cart key over to him. Sandy and I then drive out to the Enterprise Car Rental agency, which happens to be at the local Chevy dealership (no sign out front, but “Mabel”, our smart phone navigation app, redeems herself by steering us right for a change). I go in there, only to learn that all their rental cars are out, and the next one won’t be back until 11am. Not to worry, though, since they will drive out to the marina, pick me up, and take me over to the rental agency where I can get the car. I only wish the guy at the marina office had mentioned that Enterprise will come out and get you. We still have a little time left with DSCF8418the courtesy car, so we stop at Gaineswood, one of several antebellum homes here in Demopolis which are open for tours. GaineswoodDSCF8414 just happens to probably be the most prominent historic home in Demopolis. It’s located on a slight rise of ground, at the location of an artesian well. It began as a dogtrot cabin, and was built onto in several stages until it assumed the palatial Greek Revival structure we see today. An Indian agent named Gaines built the original dogtrot cabin in the early 1800’s. Nathan Whitfield later acquired the property and in 1843 began its remarkable transformation. The home wasn’t completed until 1861. Gaineswood is especially enhanced by the fact that it houses the Whitfield family’s original furnishings and decorative arts. We are given an excellent tour of the home, with commentary on the architecture and construction, as well as on the rich and perfectly preserved furnishings. We even get to hear some music as played by one of the player type instruments in the music room. It’s apparent that our tour will take us over the 2 hour car time limit, so I phone the office. The guy says no one is waiting in line for the car, and says it’s ok if we’re a bit late. After turning the car in, we spot a guy just about to fire up one of the marina golf carts, so we hop on with him for a ride back to the boat. I give the rental agency a call and learn that our car is now available, so our friend Mike and I ride in the golf cart back to the office. I turn the cart over to him and then wait around until the rental car employee pulls in and drives me back to the car agency. I sign the usual papers, and pull away shortly before 1pm with our very own (for a day) automotive transportation.

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We decide to go out and tour another historic home, and this time head for Bluff Hall. While Gaineswood was a plantation home, Bluff Halls a townhouse. It was built by slaves for Allen Glover and his daughter Sarah Serena, at the edge of the town square, and on a lot overlooking the Tombigbee River. The shoreline here is in the form of white bluffs, much like those we saw further upriver, and so the home was named Bluff House. As with Gaineswood, most of the furnishings here are original to the home. Particularly notable is the garment collection, reflecting types and styles of clothing from the nineteenth century. During the Civil War this home was visited by Confederate General Leonidas Polk. It also happens to have been built near the location where the founders of Demopolis first stepped ashore. These founders were French supporters of Napoleon Bonaparte, who were exiled after Napoleon’s final defeat. They emigrated to Alabama, intending to start an agricultural colony based on wine and olive oil production. Unfortunately for them, grapes and olives didn’t do well here and, after a few years they left. Cotton, on the other hand, did extremely well here and provided the basis for Demopolis’s growth and development for many years.

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After our tour, we return to the boat to get cleaned up for dinner. We’ve heard about a place called the Red Barn, and when the dinner hour arrives, we head there, with Mabel guiding our way. Once again she flawlessly guides us in. Dinner is excellent, and finished off with a serving of the best blackberry cobbler we’ve ever tasted. We finish off the evening back at the marina, where we join a group of fellow cruisers at the clubhouse building for a “board meeting”. The conversation is great, with lots of stories about cruising experiences. However, when a group of cockroaches try to crash the party, scurrying around on the floor and countertop, the topic changes to stories about cockroaches, Africanized bees, and chiggars. These nasty critters really make us appreciate life in the Pacific Northwest.

Chore day – 10/09/15

First of All -

  • First day with no pictures to post

Namely Speaking-

  • Walmart

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 0 (Layover day 2; Sail: 0
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,275
  • Hours Underway: NA
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.45 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: calm; Wind Direction:
  • Daily High Temperature: 84
  • Water Temperature: 78

Today we’ll get all those chores done which are necessary to support this cruising lifestyle. In the morning I head over to Walmart for groceries, while Sandy does the laundry. This is a relatively big wash, which includes our bedsheet. The sheet is velcroed to the inside of the sleeping bag, which allows us to keep the bag fairly fresh. It’s easier to wash a sheet than an entire sleeping bag. After finishing my shopping I swing by Enterprise and turn our car in. The same nice young lady who picked me up yesterday brings me back to the boat. She’s going to school, and wants to learn to be a welder, because “they make good money”. She seems to have a good head on her shoulders, and I think she’ll do well in life.

After lunch Sandy hangs out in the laundry room with the computer, trying to do geneology research while I tend to chores on the boat. She has a hard time staying on task, since there is a steady parade of people into the laundry room, and they all want to chat. The people she meets tell amazing stories. One couple have sailed all around the world, and have lived aboard boats for many years. Another couple live here now. They lost everything but their boat during the financial crash. They came down here in November without heat on their boat, and about froze. Once they got here they discovered they liked the place, they found a bit of work, and they’ve been here ever since.

I get the laundry put away and patch the mosquito net on the forward hatch. Around 3pm I toodle over to the shop in the golf cart to see if our stove has arrived. Joy of joys, it’s here. I bring it back to the boat, reinstall it, and start it up. It runs great. Good thing too, since I’ve been having trouble locating suitable fuel canisters for our backup stove. It’s always something, but hopefully the Wallas will take good care of us for the duration. I’m really hot and sweaty after installing the stove, so I go for a cooling dip in the pool before dinner time. While Sandy’s fixing dinner the cell phone rings. It’s our friend Ron, who pulled out yesterday morning. He’s made it as far as Bobby’s Fish Camp, and he gives me a great report on what to expect downstream. This evening I’ll go back to the laundry room, which is equipped with a TV. I may try and catch some of the Dodger-Mets playoff game.

Goldielocks and the three pigs – 10/10/15

First of All -

  • First time cruising on the Lower Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway
  • First sighting ever of wild pigs
  • First blue wing teal seen on the cruise
  • First time setting a stern anchor on the cruise

Namely Speaking-

  • Washing Machine Bend
  • Pandora’s Landing
  • Indian Queen Bar
  • Old Rooster Bridge site
  • Sucarnochee River
  • Chickasaw Bogue
  • Kinterbish Creek
  • Sugarbowa Creek

Loop Log:

  • Miles Cruised today: Power: 70; Sail: 0 (motor sailed for 2 hours)
  • Total Miles Cruised to date: 1,345
  • Hours Underway: 10.25
  • Fuel: NA
  • Morning House Battery Reading: 14.45 (plugged in)
  • Wind Speed: 7; Wind Direction: NW
  • Daily High Temperature: 70
  • Water Temperature: 75

DSCF8428Today is a Goldielocks day: not too hot, not too cold, mostly just right. Up until today, daytime temps around here have either been 60DSCF8432 degrees and windy, or 85 degrees and humid. Today is different, and we actually got a taste of 70 degrees, which we really enjoy. We get up at our usual 6am, and around 6:30 I see the first motor yacht departing, and quickly followed by another. I phone the lock and learn that, right after the lockmaster told one of those boats to come on down, he got a call from an upriver tow. Pleasure boats would be delayed for about 45 minutes while he brought the tow up. He advises us to stay put for 30 minutes or so, before making the 3 mile run down to the lock. This gives us time to finish breakfast before we, too, head for the lock. We join 3 power boats in waiting our turn to lock down. Shortly after we arrive, the upriver tow exits the lock and we’re cleared to enter. It’s a calm morning and the tie up goes smoothly. The drop in this lock seem faster than in previous locks, and soon the great lock doors swing open and we’re on our way. We glance over our shoulders as we start our downriver run. Water is spilling over the face of the dam and then down some rock ledges, a very pretty sight.

The first 8 miles or so below Demopolis Lock and Dam are very scenic. One side of the shoreline consists of smooth, vertical rock, aboutDSCF8438 15 feet in height, and running for miles at a time. The opposite shoreline is more typical, with sand bars and sloping dirt banks. From time to time, however, the DSCF8442 rock face structure curiously switches sides. We’re puzzled about the geologic explanation. The vegetation above the rock face interest to the scene, with traces of fall color and a wide range of hardwoods and pine. Where springs emerge atop the rock face we see ferns growing. Not long after the rock structure plays out we motor past a creek inlet named Chickasaw Bogue. It is mentioned as a possible anchorage, so I give it a good look. I spot some dark 4 legged critters down near the water. At first glance the little ones look like pigs, but the big one looks like a big black bear. I call Sandy up to see them, and I put the binoculars on the big one. He’s looking face on at us, and he really looks like a bear. However, when he turns to the side, it’s clear that he’s a wild pig. It looks like a whole family of pigs, two large adults and 4 or 5 little piglets. Sandy takes pictures as we idle past them. This easily qualifies as the highlight of the day.

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For the next several hours we wind our way down the Tombigbee. This stretch of river becomes very convoluted, with frequent horseshoe bends. One takes 3 miles to go around and at its narrowest, the neck is only 1000 feet across. The shoreline vegetation varies from mixed hardwood forest to scrub woodland to monoculture pine plantations. We encounter a couple of tows, but this country feels very lonely, with no towns, almost no houses, no fishing boats. It’s been overcast all day, and as we near our anchorage around 5pm, it’s apparent that the daylight won’t be with us much longer. Bashi Creek is well known as the first decent anchorage below Demopolis, and a long run at 70 miles. The cruising guides also say that the anchorage is quite small. I am concerned that one or more of the power boats we locked down with will be anchored here. It’s late enough in the day that our options would be poor if we couldn’t squeeze in. My worries are needless, however. We reach Bashi Creek inlet and not a boat is to be seen. We will have the pick of our spots. It’s a narrow inlet, heavily forested on either side. A boat launch and small dock can be seen near the entrance. I secure the dinghy to the side of the boat, partially lower the centerboard, and lower the rudders, leaving them uncleated so they’re free to kick up if we hit a shallow spot. The water stays deep in the center of the creek, starting out at 18 feet and still holding at 15 feet when I turn the boat around so it’s facing out, toward the river. I pick a spot and lower the main anchor. Sandy backs the boat up, holding to the center of the creek as I pay out rode. I let out 120 feet before cleating off and returning to the cockpit. I have my stern anchor rigged and ready for deployment. With the engine in neutral, I lower the stern anchor until it rests on bottom, and then go back to the bow. Sandy pays out rode for the stern anchor as I draw up some of the bow anchor rode. Soon we’re securely moored in the center of the creek, with both anchors set right where I want them.

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It’s now dinner time, so I tend to above deck chores while Sandy sets us up for a hamburger dinner. Darkness settles in quickly after dinner, with virtually no activity except for a lone fishing boat, returning to the boat ramp. I hear a rumble outside and watch a towboat pass slowly by our little anchorage. His navigation and deck lights glow brightly and his engines rumble powerfully as he passes by. I find it impossible to avoid fantasizing, imagining that the tow is actually a great steampowered sternwheeler, paddling his way upriver 150 years ago. This place can do that to you.