Progress Up the Tenn-Tom Waterway

September 13 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 … Continue reading “Progress Up the Tenn-Tom Waterway”

 


September 13

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. D8E07C46-C3C9-4B3F-8628-FB922FDF3843Oliver 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.

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Sept. 14

We were not sad to leave Smithville, setting off with a beautiful sunrise. 0AB6253C-E626-4E0D-98F4-47ABD6EE408AThe 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!

September 15

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. 

Reverse-Looping

September 11, 2018

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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? 

4413B200-A529-48CC-B341-0C9035D4A6E7Back 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. 

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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. 

Hello, Red Pearl

February 15, 2018

3A463896-C1DD-4F7F-AD71-AC0F1C444EFEHome sweet home. This entry marks our first outing with Red Pearl as her owners. We transferred the contents of our Prius onto her and then set out for local carry-out—opting to eat aboard so as not to overly traumatize Oliver, our 11 1/2-year-old Schnauzer, who has never been on a boat. After dinner, Steve and I settled into predictable roles, his with charts and boat manuals in preparation for tomorrow’s captain-assisted transfer from the Snead Boatyard to Suntex Marina in St. Petersburg, and mine in the galley, trying to make sense of my perception of necessities and cramming them into this small space. The previous owners generously left a lot of equipment on board, but I have my favorites and had planned how I would manage the downsize with equipment that I know and love. The result is that we have duplicates of nearly everything in a small space until we can make final decisions.

As I pour over these “earth-shattering” dilemmas tonight, there is a father just on the other side of this state who is grappling with the loss of his beautiful, vivacious 14-year old daughter in the Valentines Day school massacre at Parkland High School. I tell myself, “Just choose any pan, Kathy! What does it matter?!”