September 11, 2018
Beginning in Demopolis, Alabama at Mile Marker 217, we are cruising with the AGLCA burgee—the small flag proudly flown on boats cruising America’s Great Loop Cruising Association—this week for the first time. So even though we are “reverse-looping” in the wrong direction, clockwise rather than counter-clockwise, we consider ourselves Loopers now! We had hoped to start a day earlier, but storms spawned from Hurricane Gordon were in the forecast, and wow! was there ever a sustained deluge, a show of nature which we happily watched from our covered slip. Monday morning we were prepared for rain, but it turned out to be a very pleasant, overcast, jacket day on the water. Scenery is bucolic and remote, and except for a couple of tows with their barges, we have the Tenn-Tom Waterway to ourselves. We waited an hour to enter the Heflin Lock, and, having negotiated two previous locks with Captain Pat back in June, we felt confident. The lock master came and chatted with us, giving us info about a dredge upriver, and admiring both our “old salt” dog and our eye-catching, red boat.
A few miles upriver we arrived at our anchorage, an idyllic inlet by the Sumpter Recreational Area. Try as we might, however, we could not get the anchor to take hold on the mud bottom, and after four tries, anchor dragging and windlass (the anchor motor) slipping and skipping and misbehaving the whole time, we decided to try the other anchor. Having collected the required tools, and then more tools, Steve was nearly finished, when he sliced his finger on something around the windlass. Watching from the helm in the flybridge above, I could tell that it was a nasty cut. He calmly went inside, bandaged it up and returned to finish changing out the anchors. Then he dropped that anchor with 75 feet of chain on top—not by the book, but it did the trick! As we walked the dog ashore (Oliver was a great cruiser and became impatient only toward the end of the anchoring drama) and ate our soup and salad supper, we contemplated and discussed our options for treatment of Steve’s finger, which he had determined was in need of stitches if at all possible. Finally, we spotted a fisherman ashore, and decided to break his solitude to see if he could shed any light at all on our dilemma. We were hesitant to tip our hand, feeling vulnerable at the thought of either leaving the boat unattended, or Steve going for treatment and leaving me alone on the boat, because the anchorage was remote and out of cellphone range. The fisherman likely felt vulnerable as we approached him, too, but he turned out to be very nice, and directed us to a park ranger up the road a quarter-mile. I stayed there, chatting with the fellow, and when I asked what he does, he responded that he is a Doctor of Theology, a minister in the Pentacostal Church with a congregation in Cleveland and three down here in Mississippi and Alabama. He nodded to our boat and wondered if we brought it from Indiana. I told him that no, we bought it in Florida, and today was really our first day cruising alone and that we are trying very hard to love owning a boat…but don’t quite yet. Steve returned with the news that the ranger was willing to take him to the hospital, and bidding good-bye to both my husband and our fishing friend, Oliver and I dinghied back to the boat.
Ah, but I need to paint another picture for you: the pull cord of the dinghy engine, having torn off yesterday, rendered the engine unusable. To be honest, the darn thing wouldn’t start, anyway. SO—we have oars, and they happen to be very long ones! Steve had readied the dinghy for rowing, tightening the oar lock plates after the cord broke. But as we set off for shore, one of the bolts holding the oar pin onto the oar fell into the water! The dinghy is a pontoon-type flat bottomed boat and is very stable, and so now with no ability to use the oar locks, it is more comfortable to stand and row, gondola-style than to sit. And so, I rowed to shore, singing “O Solo Mio,” because that’s what a Gondalier sings, right?
Back to Steve: The park ranger, Don, returned home from his day job to find Steve talking with his wife in the front yard. He, too, proved to be a very kind soul, and he by-passed dinner to take Steve the 45-minute drive to the nearest hospital in Carrollton, MS—Pickens County Medical Center. A shout out to Dr. Manley Sullivan, who gave Steve first-rate care, although the hospital was out of tetanus shots. Steve returned 3 1/2 hours later at 11:00, with Don having stayed with him the entire evening, with six stitches over his index knuckle and a splint. I was grateful for a lighted boat ramp area as I watched for him, and shuttled him back to the boat.
This morning, our plan was to raise anchor at 7:15, not a particularly early start but reasonable, considering our traumatic evening. I donned my life vest, put Oliver’s on him and rowed ashore; but I happened to trip as I stepped from the dinghy and was lifting Oliver onto the sea wall. Down we both splashed into the river, and as the CO2 cartridge in my life vest deployed and inflated snug around my neck I thought, “Well, THAT works.”(Now I have to figure out how to purchase another cartridge, Amazon not being so handy in our current mode of travel). Oliver shook and shivered and I squished and squashed in my leather boat shoes on this necessary morning ablution for a dog and his owner. We returned to the boat chilled, dirty, annoyed and feeling stupid. After quick baths for both dog and human, we were underway 35 minutes behind schedule.
The rest of the day on the river was quiet and wide open. Lone and timid snowy egrets light up the shoreline, and something akin to gray herons are a common sight, as well. We negotiated two locks today, Tom Bevill and Columbus: the first, we pulled right in and was quick and easy, the second required a long and hot wait for a tow and its barges to go through ahead of us. Right around the corner from Columbus Lock is the marina by the same name. The town of Columbus, touted for its charm, seems to be a good place to take a break from the water tomorrow and rest up from our foibles.