While Hurricane Florence pummels North Carolina, we set out on a clear, cool morning here in Mississippi with a bit of mist over the wooded shoreline. Gorgeous. Oliver is getting into the rhythm of our morning routines and stood at the bottom of the stairs woofing impatiently to take his seat in the flybridge.
Our resting day in Columbus yesterday was delightful. Many marinas offer courtesy cars for boaters’ provisioning and errand running. In our limited experience, these cars are not usually anything that a person would want to make away with, so keys are often left in the car, even overnight. Because we were nearly the only transients here, we were told that we could keep the car for longer than the normally suggested 2 hours, and that allowed us to do some sight-seeing. We visited the Waverly Mansion north of town. It was a delightful step back into the 19th century, a time when Mr. Young, an attorney and man with many interests and skills could buy 50,000 acres and develop a cotton plantation with 180 slaves. These scenarios always create discomfort for me as, of course, slavery was a necessary fixture in this life. The docent who had degrees in history and had been employed by the old last owner of the mansion stated that owning slaves was a financially unsustainable model that was dying out and would not have survived, Civil War or not. From Waverly, we found some lunch that hit the spot at Harveys, and since we were first timers, dessert was on the house. We ran a few other errands, one of which was copying the boat key, because we forgot to get our second key from Anna Marie when we left Demopolis. By the time we returned to the boat, one of the new keys had disappeared from Steve’s pocket, and a few hours later the other new key jumped from the counter in the galley and very effectively hid someplace. How does one lose two keys, one at a time in one day?!
We set off yesterday morning with a near miss and that could have grounded the boat, as I failed to follow the channel out from the marina. It was an example of my not thoroughly focusing and clarifying before setting out. We had not taken the time to boot up the chart plotter and were too hasty in our departure. Lesson learned! The rest of the day was uneventful, and locking through at Aberdeen, Armory, and Glover Wilkins Locks was slow and hot.
In our planning, we chose to cruise 37 miles and navigate 3 locks; the alternate was 54 miles and 4 locks, which we thought was unnecessarily rigorous. We arrived at Smithville Marina and immediately realized that “rigorous” might have been the better choice; while Smithville is listed in the marina guides, it is not mentioned by boaters for a reason. Jim, who greeted us and helped with our lines, told Steve that he was surprised we didn’t get hung up on a sand bar—“the channel used to be marked but I’m not sure what happened to them markers.” The courtesy car touted in the book was inoperable, and there we were in the Mississippi back country. Our neighbor across the pier feeds hummingbirds and spends evenings on his computer. Most of the 8 or 10 boats in this marina look a lot like his.
We were not sad to leave Smithville, setting off with a beautiful sunrise. The challenge today was 4 locks, which we ticked off by noon. We ended with the awesome Jamie Whitten Lock with its 84-foot lift. We waited a while here in front of giant yellow doors for another “pleasure craft,” as we are called, to clear. It felt a bit like waiting to visit a fairytale kingdom. Weather forecasting a hot day, and anticipating waits like this, we used a trick that Captain Pat taught us and ran the generator while underway so that we could air condition the cabin. Despite being about twice as big as the other locks, Jamie Whitten seemed to take no more time than the others to lock through.
Leaving the lock, immediately to our left was the inlet in which Bay Springs Marina is located, a charming, quiet spot in the middle of nowhere, according to Verizon. We were greeted by friendly loopers, Captain Jack Lomax and first mate Jane Allen who were there on Dixie. As they assisted us with our lines, they told us that they had watched our approach, willing us to move more to the center of the channel to avoid trees that lurk just a few feet under the surface of the 40-foot deep bay. We were dismayed by the very real possibility of having had a nasty snag, but the channel simply was not marked. Evidently, our lucky angel sat on our shoulder again this afternoon. I took advantage of the free washing machine and $1 dryer and Steve took a brief nap before a big rain blew up which, again, we watched from our covered slip. We ate leftovers for lunch around 3:00, so hungry that our hunger had almost passed: pasta with chickpeas, tomatoes, and collards; and green beans, ham, and potatoes. One-dish meals work really well on a boat. By 8:00 we were too tired to fuss much with dinner, so leftover Asian peanut sauce became a dressing for salad greens and grilled chicken which we had cooked and frozen in Demopolis. Those who know us well know that 9:30 is a never-heard-of bedtime for us, but 9:30 it was for these exhausted neophyte cruisers!
We slept in until 6:30 and Steve walked Oliver while I hosed down the boat. It is nice to start out with the bugs and spider webs from the night washed off, and I’m learning how to do this without soaking the boat in the next slip and my entire front side. I will welcome Steve taking this over again once he doesn’t have stitches to keep dry, but it’s good to develop the full accompaniment of skills! We had a short cruise with no locks today, but the challenge was the small crafts, it being Saturday! Early morning fisherman morphed to mid-day wave runners, skiers, and jet skis. A wise and thoughtful cruiser watches for a variety of small crafts and shoreline structures which may be damaged or imperilled due to one’s wake, and cruisers are legally responsible for any damage caused, so we are developing a sense for how far our wake travels—often over 1/4 mile—and the lead time needed for controlling it in a variety of settings.
We arrived at Aqua Yacht Harbor in Iuka, MS, topped off our fuel with 160 gallons of diesel, and then tied up to the transient dock on the wall, open to wake action in the bay. It promises to be a roll-y evening, but hopefully quieter during the night! We were greeted by Charlie McVey, a genial 2017 gold looper, who offered some local knowledge, and later, on his recommendation, we ate a delicious smokehouse country meal at Outpost right beside the Pickwick Dam in TN.
I will close with a couple of photos of the inside of our boat, which many of you have asked to see. Clutter tends to explode in a tiny space, so these photos represent a rare moment of order and harmony in our current lives.