Iuka, Mississippi to Mobile, AL

Monday, November 19, 2018:

It was time to head south. Our plan was to get to Mobile and leave the boat there so we could go home for the holidays.  Mobile would be about ten travel days.  On Monday, we were bound for Bay Springs Marina; a trip of 39 miles.  I did all the requisite engine checks and borrowed a ladder to repair the anchor light that had been damaged by the too-low overhang at Hale’s Bar Marina.  All I really had to do was stand on the very top of the step ladder (not safe, especially on a boat), remove the globe and re-screw the base back into the top of the mast.  Thank goodness no boats went by with a big wake during the process.  And I was glad Jane stayed inside the saloon and didn’t see how I was precariously perched in wanton violation of the law of gravity.  I got the job done without killing or maiming myself and returned the dockmaster’s ladder.  At 1030 we slipped away from the dock as we were saying goodbye to Rick from Eagle One.   It was misting rain and overcast; a dreary 54 degrees, but we were determined to slide some water beneath the hull and make our way south.  The 54 degrees proved later to be the high for the day.  The space heater on the fly bridge made it tolerable.  At 1112 we passed under the Highway 25 Bridge and entered the man-made Tennessee-Tombigbee Divide Cut.  This incredible engineering feat finished in 1985 is visible from outer space and cuts through the high spot between the Tennessee River and the Tombigbee River.  At 1250 we passed the southbound Huckabee tow on his starboard side.  By 1325 we were at the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad Bridge and the highest point on the Tenn-Tom Waterway at 414’ feet above sea level.  We entered into Bay Springs Lake at 1400.  We docked at the Bay Springs Marina at 1508.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018:

We were off the dock at 0900 and headed for Midway Marina. It was only 20 miles, but there are three locks to negotiate along the way.  We arrived at the Whitten Lock at 0914, but had to wait about 30 minutes before we could get in the lock and secured on the floating bollard.  The lockmaster was super friendly and efficient and we descended 82 feet.  When we were exiting the lock at 1020, I told him over the radio that he won the Lockmaster of the year award as far as we were concerned.  We made it to the Montgomery Lock at 1056, went down 31 feet and out at 1116.  Shortly after, I left Jane at the helm and went below.  When I came back up she had contacted the up-bound Robert G. Stone on the radio and was passing on the one whistle (port to port), thankfully avoiding his two Benzene tankers.  At 1215 we were secure in the Rankin Lock to go down another 30 feet.  We docked at the rustic Midway Marina with Shane’s help at 1310 and made arrangements to borrow the courtesy car to go out to dinner later.  I refilled the water tanks and scrubbed down the decks since Shane told us that he’d be cutting the dock water off later because it looked like the freeze might pose a problem.  Jane stayed busy vacuuming and defrosting the fridge.  Then I helped her lug the laundry up to the facilities and we got showered while the machines did their thing.  Later, we took the courtesy van (after hours, they just leave the key in it) and we stopped at Walmart to purchase our anniversary gift – a proper spotlight.  And we enjoyed a great Mexican dinner at Mi Toro before heading back to the marina.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018:

We wanted to get going early, but we were totally fogged in. There was ice on the dock and I nearly busted it going up to use the facilities.  (That could have been an accident of epic proportions!)  All I need to do is fall, break a hip and slide into the cold water.  While on the way to perform my constitutionals.  Uh Oh.  We weren’t going anywhere until the fog lifted.  Finally at 0905 we were underway.  At 0917 we called the Fulton Lock to let them know of our arrival in 20 minutes.  He was very nice and by the time we got there, he was filling the lock chamber.  We entered and tied up at 0945, but we had to wait for another recreational vessel, the sailboat Duette with Bill Ackerman single handing from Illinois down to the St. Petersburg area.  It became a beautiful day with no clouds, but plenty of jet contrails.  By 1215 we were tied on a port pin in the Wilkins Lock and waited while Still Havin Fun and Knot Unusual came in and got secured as well.  At 1237 we were down 29 feet and let the two fast cruisers go ahead.  After five more miles we entered the Amory Lock at 1315, but had to wait while the lock mechanics did some repairs to the upper east-side gate.


Two hours later we were finally out of Amory and edged around Higman Mariner.


We changed our destination to the Blue Bluff Recreation Area free dock. The schedule tightened getting there before dark but we made it without having to use the new spotlight.  There is nothing there, but a park, and boat ramp.  They might have restrooms, but they were a long way away, so we didn’t even investigate.  It was a pretty sunset and the temp was rapidly dropping.


We heated up some boxed soup and dug into that along with a baguette. It was cold that night.  It was snuggle or shiver, take your pick.


Thursday, November 22, 2018 (Thanksgiving Day):

We got up early and ran the generator and heater. Hot oatmeal for breakfast fit the bill.  Content to take our time, I checked in with the Aberdeen Lockmaster and he said he had some boats almost ready to lock down.  We scrambled for a quick start to catch the lock-through with Still Havin Fun and Knot Unusual and we entered the Aberdeen Lock at 0803.  We were headed to Columbus Marina, a distance of only 24 miles.  We exited Aberdeen at 0830 having been let down 28 feet.


As I piloted, Jane went below to put on make-up and whipped up some black beans and rice. We docked at Columbus at 1115.  Duette came in shortly after us and we invited Bill to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, (black beans and rice).  He brought along some canned collard greens, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes.  We got into the greens and he and I enjoyed that.  Later we got invited by Dave and Claudia Fuller aboard Still Waters for some real dessert including homemade apple cake.  It was yum-yum-yummy.  It was a fine Thanksgiving Day.  The next day was our 33rd anniversary.  We borrowed the marina courtesy car for a trip to Kroger for provisions.  When we got back to the boat, Jane did laundry and I tightened the faucet handles on the aft head sink.  That project didn’t quite go as planned because after I finished, I kept hearing the water pump cycling.  So I had created a leak where there once was none.  I found and fixed the persistent leak fussing and groaning as I contortioned my body to access the water line.  I was rewarded with naptime before we dressed up for an anniversary dinner out at Huck’s Place.  We got the car again and were joined by Bill along with Ralph and Marti Donovan from Marti Time.


We had a fun time and excellent food.

Saturday, November 24, 2018:

It was a cool morning at 52 degrees, but the fog was light and we eased out of Columbus Marina at 0630 along with Duette and Marti Time.  Bill had coordinated with the lockmaster at the Stennis Lock and we slipped right in ten minutes later.  By 0700 we were down another 30 feet and headed for Kingfisher Bay Marina at Demopolis, Alabama.  It was cloudy and cold but at least it wasn’t freezing.  We continued to be entertained by the numerous eagles along the river.


At 1020 we were in the Tom Beville lock but we had to wait for the slower boats to catch up. Twenty minutes later, DeFacto arrived and at 1120 Marti Time and Duette showed up.  I didn’t really mind waiting because I was listening to the Gators play FSU through my phone app.  At 1135 we were back on our way downstream again, but due to the delay we changed the destination.  At 1453 we anchored in the Lower Cooks Bend Cutoff in 20 feet on 125 feet of rode.  It was a nice, secluded and well protected anchorage.  After a while Duette and Marti Time caught up and came into the anchorage.  We invited them to raft to us for docktails and had a wonderful time with one sailboat on each side of Sabbatical.

Once it got dark, I said that they should just stay tied up to us for the night. I have plenty of confidence in our ground tackle.

Sunday, November 25, 2018:

The anchor held perfectly as I knew it would but the early morning brought more fog with visibility of less than 500 yards. The sailors left before us since they go slower, and we waited until 0810 to pull up the anchor.  It was muddy and I washed it down as the chain came up.  We needed to get underway since Demopolis is just over sixty miles.  Around 0900 the fog was lifting and we entered the Howell Heflin Lock at 0930.  Twenty minutes later, Jane, the deckhand, had handled all the lines and did the dishes as well.  We were dropped another 32 feet closer to sea level and on our way running south to escape the cold.  We encountered a dredge operation at 1130 and passed without delay.


Soon we were passing the White Cliffs of Epps.

We also passed Marti Time and Duette.

At 1415 it began to sprinkle and we also were getting some fog. By 1430 it was pouring rain.  We docked at 1530 in the downpour with Anna Maria’s help at Kingfisher Bay Marina.  The wind howled during night, but we were plugged in and warm.  We stayed for a second night and went out to dinner again with Bill, Ralph, and Marti.  We enjoy their company as we do with so many folks we’ve met on this journey.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018:

Bill from Duette was coordinating with the lock for all the pleasure boats in Kingfisher Bay Marina that wanted to lock down.  The lock is only three and a half miles from the marina, so we waited to hear from Bill before untying the dock lines.  We were up at 0500 and getting our coffee and preparing to be ready at 0600 if need be.  His announcement was that the lock had commercial traffic and we would need to check in later.  At 0730 we were still waiting to get the all clear to leave the marina.  It was freezing cold and all the isinglass was frosted up as were the decks and docks.  I was ok with waiting until it warmed up some even though we would not be able to make it as far as we would like.  The days keep getting shorter and shorter (and colder).  Finally, at 0850 we got the all clear and headed out towards the lock.  It turned into another flotilla.  The 110 foot yacht, Sensation, from the Marshall Islands was already up at the lock.  We had eight boats in all and the lockmaster wanted each one of us to check in by radio with length, registration number, and vessel name.  We were the second to last boat to enter the lock, but went forward to the furthest bollard on the starboard side.  The wind was up and I didn’t really get Jane as close as usual to lasso the pin.  But she made a super toss and looped it on the first try from eight or ten feet out.  She was Annie Oakley for the day!

By 0958 we were down the 40 foot drop to the level of the river on the lower side and Sabbatical was allowed out of the lock first.  At 1020 we had reached mile marker 209.9 when we heard Duette and Marti Time trying to hail Steve or Linda on Forever Young. It sounded like something was wrong and we were informed that Forever Young had driven into the bank at mm 211.  Our first thought was that he may be having a heart attack so we came about and churned back upstream to see if we could help.  By the time we got there, Steve was out on the deck and had set the anchor.  He reported a steering problem and said that they’d be ok and have Tow Boat insurance etc.   Again, we came about and headed back down the river.  We had picked out a couple of possible anchorages and would decide as we got to them where we would spend the night.  At 1210 we passed the down-bound tow, George W. Lenzie.  He was pushing 6 loaded and one empty barge.  The crystal clear skies helped the sun to keep us warm even though it was a cold day.  At 1410 we anchored at the Edna 2 anchorage in nine feet of water on 55 feet of rode.


It is just a wide bend in the river and I had some concerns about if we would be out of the way enough for the tows to get by in the middle of the night. We surely did not want to be bumped by 30,000 tons.  It was a pretty and secluded anchorage and we were the only boat there.  After we anchored, we checked and rechecked the guides and websites and assured ourselves that we were in the right spot and out of the way.  We were soon joined by Marti Time and Duette and then Forever Young also came in and set the hook.  Steve on Forever Young had repaired the link in his steering cable that had broken.


At 1615 the down-bound George W Lenzie was coming by.


I radioed him to get his opinion as to whether we were all out of the way enough for the tows to negotiate the bend. He said he’d take a closer look when he got up to us.  He got fairly close to Forever Young but got around the bend ok.


He never called me back to say one way or the other, but Steve Young wisely moved his boat closer to the bank.


At 1530 it was dark and an up-bound tow came by and this one got very very close to our boat.  I could have tossed him a line.  These guys are very long and it takes a lot of room for them to get around the bend.  Jane and I exchanged glances and we decided that discretion is the greater part of valor so we re-anchored closer to the north bank between Forever Young and Marti Time.  There, we felt secure the rest of the night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018:

We were up early, but it didn’t do us much good. We were socked in with the fog.  I was ok with waiting for it to clear because the decks, rails, and isinglass were covered with a thick layer of frost.  It was 29 degrees at 0700 and forty in the cabin.  The decks were icy.  I cranked the generator so we could run the heater and coffee maker.  It was so cold I also ran the electric space heater.  The inverter was still on, but with the genset running it just passes the current right through.  The mistake was trying to run the central heater, coffee maker and space heater all at once.  The combination caused the main alternating current breaker to pop which then left the inverter and house batteries to supply the load.  It didn’t and the house batteries appeared to drain almost immediately.  Oops.  I reset the breaker after turning off the space heater and we were ok, but I kept watching to see if the house batts would recharge and they did not.  I was perplexed.  Duette and Marti Time left in the fog but we stayed on the hook for a while longer. Forever Young left around 0800.  Shortly after that I cranked up the engines and after warm-up we pulled the anchor and continued on downstream.  We set a route for Okatuppa Creek anchorage which was 54 miles away.  It was strange having so much ice on the boat in the morning, but the sun was warming us in the upper helm.  I had noticed after cranking that the tachometer wasn’t working and the volt meter was pegged at 16 volts.  Were these related?  I didn’t know.  By 1025 the volts had returned to a more normal reading at 14 and I assumed that meant that the house batteries were receiving a charge.  I know just enough about boat electrical systems to cover the head of a pin in a large font.  I added the issue to the list of maintenance items to get checked out when we get to Mobile.  We noticed that our speed with the current was good enough for us to easily make it to Bobby’s Fish Camp.  We knew that it was rustic, but a number of other boats seemed to be heading there and we thought that the interaction might prove to be a fun time.  They have a restaurant there, but it’s only open Thursday through the weekend.  We changed our route to go there anyway.  At 1103 a yearling deer jumped in the river from the right descending bank and swam across right in front of us at mm 158.  It’s amazing how an animal with no body fat and such skinny legs can swim so well.  We felt bad that he maybe had lost his mother.

At 1103 we met the up-bound Alice Parker with eight empties. At 1215 I rechecked the shaft seal leak and it had increased some to two to three times per second, but that’s ok and we’ll also have that addressed in Mobile.  We were then overtaken by three cruisers headed to Bobby’s and the lead boat radioed that he had called ahead.  He reported that the folks at Bobby’s agreed to open the restaurant tonight since they would have so many boats staying on the dock.  Great news!


We met Palacios on the two whistles (starboard to starboard) with his two loads of benzene at 1250 and then the Cooper Devell with one empty tanker at 1400.  At 1500 we came upon the Chippewa with 8 loads up-bound.  We arrived at Bobby’s Fish Camp and found Marti Time and Duette circling in the river waiting to get to the fuel dock.

At 1454 we rafted to Whiskey Business and Patty Time on the dock at Bobby’s Fish Camp. Marti Time gassed up and then rafted to us.  We got checked in and I asked where the showers were.  “It’s that little building between the two big buildings”, I was informed with a non-descriptive hand gesture.  I gathered my shower supplies and headed back up the hill from the dock.  I found the “small building”.  It was a plastic shed that you could bring home from Lowe’s in the back of your pickup truck.  It did have a sink, toilet and prefab shower, but cleanliness was evidently not a high priority in this neck of the woods.  I was thankful for the hot water and got cleaned up for dinner.  Jane had already gone aboard Patty Time for docktails with Wade and Patty and their friends Sam and Mary Martha who came along for the cruise.  The crew from Whiskey Business, Jerry and his brother Jim Rogers, were also there.  Eight boats were tied on the dock at this point rafted four abreast.  All the boaters went up to the restaurant for dinner.  Quaint does not describe the place.  Rustic comes closer, but lacks still.

The property has been in their family for 200 years. History drips from this place like water off a catfish pulled from the river.  The food was good and there was plenty of it.  A tentative plan was set for us all to leave at first light since the boats at the dock can’t go anywhere until the ones rafted to them leave.  After we came back down to the dock, the replica ships of the Nina and the Pinta were finally arriving and rafted together at the fuel dock right behind us.  They had called ahead with their dinner orders to the restaurant and once secure the crews headed up to eat.  They are supported by the Columbus Foundation and cruise the Great Loop for two years and then go up the rivers to Pittsburg every third year.


Thursday, November 29, 2018:

On engine checks, I computed our remaining fuel at somewhere around 140 gallons. That would be plenty for us to get to Mobile.  There are no opportunities between Bobby’s and Mobile to fuel up and I knew we would save some money by waiting until we got down there.  The house batteries were still not working, but we will get that figured out.  We released Marti Time at 0630 and then loosed our lines from Whiskey Business and headed for the Coffeeville Lock under cloudy conditions with a nip in the air of 43 degrees.  At least one of the other boats will need the Nina and Pinta to move from the fuel dock so they can re-fuel before heading out.


By 0700 we were secure on the front port-side bollard in our last lock of the Loop. We didn’t even know then how many locks we had been through. Hundreds.  Other boats joining us in the lock-down were Patty Time, Whiskey Business, Chrysalis, and Marti Time.


At 0730 the lower lock doors opened and we were down another 28 feet and essentially boating again at sea level. We encountered the upbound tow Miss Lilly in the bend just below Peavy’s Landing with eight loads up-bound.  By 1100 at mile mark 84.5 the temperature was up to 65.  It was so good to be getting southerly.


We passed other tows including Point Mallard, Bobby Joe James, and Alliance. Jane brought up some awesome soup that she had made.  The wind was starting to whip up a bit from the south and at 1210 I noticed that it had ripped off our burgee.  Not again!  At 1240 we passed Captain Earl Devall and at 1350 met Joe Cain and the J.O. Bradford. I found it interesting that the closer we got to Mobile, the tow captains use channel 16 instead of 13 and they only respond intermittently at that.  By 1530 we passed the Alabama River junction at mile marker 45.  We entered the Tensas River at 1600 and anchored behind the raft of Patty Time and Whiskey Business at 1616 in 13 feet of water on 125 feet of anchor rode.  I recorded our Lat-Lon as N31 deg 04.019’ W87 deg 56.835’.  We were invited to join the raft, but declined so we could enjoy the privacy of the scene and not have to be on their schedule in the morning.  I serviced the batteries while Jane cooked dinner.  Afterwards we enjoyed time on the fly bridge listening to music and were inspired to dance.  It was a beautiful and remote anchorage.


Friday, November 30, 2018:

We slept in and the other boats were gone when we got up. I ran the generator to charge the house batteries while the coffee pot brewed for us.  By 0830 we were warmed up and off anchor with glassy conditions on the water.  We were headed to Turner Marine in Mobile, some 55 miles so there was no need to get in a big rush.  At 1020 I called Brent Davison the mechanic in Mobile who came highly recommended from our friends on Wine Speed.  I discussed a list of items that I want him to address while we leave the boat at Turner Marine.  He would be coming by on Monday to take a look and get the details.  We would be heading home for the month for the holidays.  At 1115 we were approaching the 14 mile Railroad Bridge and radioed the tender so we could get under.  He had a train coming, so I backed off the throttle just a little while the 104 freight cars passed just before we arrived at the bridge.  We didn’t have to circle around and slipped right under without delay.

At 1135, Jane spoke with Leah at Turner Marine who would be sending a picture by text. It’s always good to have an accurate idea of the marina layout and know where the assigned slip is.  Going through Mobile, we saw some ships loading/unloading at the port and some cool ships that were under construction for the Navy.  Almost no commercial traffic was moving but is known as a very busy port.

By 1300 we were out of the Mobile River and into Mobile Bay. The wind was on our nose from the south and had picked up some, but it wasn’t problem. We entered the Dog River Channel at 1355 giving all due respect to the markers.  I noted that red number 4 had been run over and the top of the pile was just peeking out of the water creating a hazard.  We docked at Turner’s at 1427 through the narrow basin and into the rustic slip with a short finger pier.  We entered bow first which makes getting on and off the boat problematic given the shorty finger.  Later, Bill from Duette arrived and joined us for dinner at the Mobile Yacht Club, a short walk away.

The weekend was spent on housekeeping and maintenance items like changing the oil. Twice we took the dinghy across the Dog River to Mariner Marina Restaurant for dinner.  On Saturday night we ran into friends we had met back at Columbus Marina on Thanksgiving.

Monday’s meeting with Brent went well and I was glad to have such a knowledgeable expert on board. I left him with a detailed list of the minor repairs for the engine.  We took Sabbatical over to Dog River Marina for a pump out and on return I picked a spot on the south along-side dock to leave her.  I checked with Roger just to make sure that was ok before we picked up the rental car on Tuesday and headed home for the holidays.  Merry Christmas!


Chattanooga side trip – The Tennessee River

Friday, October 26, 2018:

The weather was not cooperative, but we were ready to get on the move towards Chattanooga, so we dropped the lines and eased off the dock from Aqua Yacht Harbor at 0925. It was drizzling and a little hard to see.  We don’t have windshield wipers on the isinglass.  By 0952 we were back in the channel of the Tennessee River and passed Jack Meade  on the one whistle.  Then we encountered the Emma Kate and Captain Anthony at the Natchez Trace Bridge.  At 1445 we passed Tanuki headed the other way.  I gave him a “Go Gators!” over the radio.  We made it to Florence Harbor Marina and Kyle helped us with a pump-out and then we docked in a slip at 1525.  Running time was six hours and it was a trip of 43.2 miles so our average speed going upstream was only 7.2 mph.  Good info to have to help us gauge ETA’s as we move on up towards Chattanooga.  We got the electric hooked up and met up with Kyle and Eva in the office to check in.  Florence is a quaint marina and they were very accommodating hosts.  We paid for two nights because we wanted to be where we could watch the Florida-Georgia game on Saturday.   Once back on board, I changed the engine oil while it was still hot and refilled the fresh water tanks.  There were a couple of other Looper boats at Florence; Roger from Miss Utah came by and invited us to join them for dinner at the Flo-Bama.  He had reserved the courtesy car and was willing to drive.  The Flo-Bama is a barbeque joint with great live music.  We enjoyed the visit with them and got back to the marina fairly early.

Saturday morning we borrowed the courtesy van and went to a couple of Tractor Supply stores to restock on oil. Then we restocked at Publix and made it back in time to get some laundry done before kickoff.  We found a great spot at the bar upstairs of the River Bottom Grille and enjoyed talking to some local young men while we watched the game.  The mighty Gators couldn’t keep up with Georgia, but I quit letting that spoil my day years ago.


Later, we walked downtown to the Pie Factory for pizza.  We had a great server who was dressed up for Halloween as a vampire.  She even had red contact lenses that really added to the effect.  The veggie pesto pizza was awesome and instead of walking back in the cold, we got an Uber to return us to the marina.

Sunday, October 28, 2018:

We called by phone and checked with the lock master at the Wilson Lock to make sure we could get through. He said to come on up and call from the arrival point, but there shouldn’t be any commercial traffic to hold us up.  With sunny skies, we backed out of the slip at 0830 and made our way under the bridge and up through the access canal to the lock.  By 0920 we had been raised up 95 feet and were out of the lock and into the wide and glassy waters of Lake Wilson.  Ten minutes later, I noticed that the oil pressure was down to 47 psi.  Odd, but not critical.  After another 15 minutes it was back up to normal at 55 psi and holding steady.  At 1108 we arrived on the wall at the Wheeler Lock but we didn’t have to wait long and by 1145 we had gone up another 50 feet and entered Lake Wheeler.

Water erupts from the draining of the Wheeler Lock Chamber.

Antonia was coming downstream and we met them going the other direction at 1242.  We will have to rendezvous with them another time.

Antonia chugs downstream with guests

We arrived at the railroad lift bridge in Decatur and were delayed while a 96-car freight train passed.


It didn’t take long and we docked at the Riverwalk Marina at 1525.  There is a restaurant there that probably does really well in the summer, but it was pretty dead that evening at the Hard Dock Café.  Decatur is largely industrial, but the sunset was still pretty.

Monday, October 29, 2018:

It was sunny but chilly (42 at 0730). By the time we got out of the marina at 0930 it warmed up to 51.  The sunny cold is easier to deal with than the overcast cold.  The sun warms the fly bridge like a solarium.  We were headed to Ditto Landing Marina.  It is only 28.6 miles and we had a lovely day to cruise.  Once we got passed the Meow Mix factory (stinky) and some other industrial enterprises the river was very scenic. Red Pearl passed us down-bound at 1050 and we got some information on stops upriver from them via the radio.  We docked at Ditto at 1335.  We were the only transient customers there.  Jane went for a walk and I worked on the blog.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018:

We eased out of the slip at 0930. At 0935 we passed the Margret Ann on the one whistle.  At 1040 we were by the Painted Bluff.  There are ancient Native American paintings on the rock.  It is beautiful, but I couldn’t recognize any specific images.


We arrived at the Guntersville Lock at 1110 and the lock master let us know he had a tow in the chamber.  At 1115 the doors were opening and the down-bound Tom Freeman emerged pushing five empties.


By 1130 we entered the lock and 20 minutes later we were up 38 feet and entered the scenic Guntersville Lake.

By 1530 we were all secured in the slip at Goose Pond Colony Resort.  (It’s a nice place, but not my idea of a “resort”.)  They have a good restaurant there and a bait and tackle shop that also serves breakfast and lunch.  They also have a boat repair facility.  The folks are all really nice and one of the shop workers let me use their vice to straighten out my bent weather head.  It had gotten crunched when the mast support broke in Lake Michigan.  It didn’t come out perfect, but it’s better than it was.  Jane did laundry while I worked on the repair.  We met Tom and Paula from Tango Papa II. They told us about a free dock just past the Nickajack lock.  We had a wonderful dinner at The Dock and a super waitress.  I always enjoy servers who are at the top of their game and Chrissy is the real deal.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018:

It was another cloudy day. We delighted in the warmer weather with no wind.  The Shell Mound free dock is 48 ½ miles so I figured it would take us seven hours to get there.  We exited the slip at 0835 and idled through the no-wake zone to the channel that would take us back out to the lake where we could turn left and continue our cruise up the Tennessee River which at this point is also called Guntersville Lake.  As we were making our way out the Goose Pond channel, I noticed a pretty good sized flock of coots in the water ahead.  Right about then, I saw a female eagle swoop down to attack the coots.  She then flew up to a tree on the bank and the male came out.  He was terrorizing the coots, but I didn’t see him grab one.  I’ve seen coots fly and I’ve seen lots of eagles fly.  The coots don’t stand a chance.

We continued on upstream towards Chattanooga.

We came upon the railroad bridge at 1355.  It has a 35 foot clearance, so we didn’t have to wait for the freight train this time.  This one had three locomotives and 93 total cars.  At 1500 we called the Nickajack Lockmaster to let him know we were getting close.  He said he would have it ready for us in ten minutes and he did.  He took us up another 37 feet and we left the lock at 1535.  I noticed that the lock walls were dry.  We may have been his only customers for the day.  We arrived at the free dock at Shell Mound at 1550.  It is just a dock at a park.

There’s not much else around other than the lock and dam and a camp ground.  We got out and walked about some and through the campground.  It was decorated for Halloween to the max.  We saw kids getting off the school bus and coming back into the campground so I guess some of them live there on a permanent basis.  I wondered if any of them would be coming down to our boat for Trick-or-treat.  We were hoping not since we have no candy.  We grilled veggies for dinner and no trick-or-treaters showed up.  It was a nice secluded spot and we were glad to be there.  However, sleeping that night proved to be fitful because the wind got up and we were getting rocked up against the dock.

Thursday, November 1, 2018:

We got up at 0445 and knew a big storm was coming. At 0630, I deployed all the fenders.


The radar did not look good and we heard tornado warnings on the radio.  The wind continued to build and pound us broadside against the dock.


At 0800 I put out additional dock lines to keep us secure.  We put together a ditch bag with our wallets, passports, and other things that we can’t do without.  There was a public restroom building of concrete block about 100 yards up the hill.  We planned that we’d high-tail it for there if things got too bad.  At 0845 the wind calmed somewhat and the rain started.  We rode it out with Jane cooking broccoli soup.  It was incredibly comforting.  Then we took a nap since we hadn’t had much sleep.  By 1300 the storm had passed and we decided to make tracks for Hales Bar Marina.  It’s only an hour away, but one less hour we’ll have to do tomorrow to get to Chattanooga.  We called and made arrangements for a covered slip.  After the incident at Lake Barkley Marina, we have learned to always ask about the height of the covering.  The girl that Jane spoke with said that the H dock covering is 21 feet.  That is no problem since the top of our mast is 19’ 6”.  We cranked up Big Red at 1356 and were off the dock at 1420.  There was no wind and the rain had stopped.  Nickajack Lake is like all the other “lakes” that were formed by the damming of the river.  Once the dams were built, lands were flooded.  In places, some old timber still exists under the surface as do the old structures of roads, bridges, and railroads.  These are marked on the nautical charts and in most cases are too deep to be of consequence to the recreational boater.  However, as we approached Hales Bar Marina and called on the radio for docking instructions, the harbor master responded with, “If that’s you out there just upstream from the anchored barges, you need to stop right there and back up.  You’re about to hit the old railroad bed!”  The chart wasn’t clear on the depth at that point, but I knew I’d have to bring it around quickly or risk running aground on the old track.  We turned in time, and he directed us in and a local in a pontoon boat hailed us to follow him.  Disaster averted.  So we got to the assigned slip.  There were no staff on hand at the dock to help, but we’re good on our own, so I began to ease into the covered slip.  Docking is always done at high speed of snails and it was good I was not in a hurry here.  We were halfway into the slip when all of a sudden, I heard a loud “POW!”  What THE??!!  Then I knew what had happened.  The air draft of the dock was not 21 feet as we were told and we had broken our anchor light on the beam.  I was livid.  Expletives emitted from the helm.  The nice guy, Mark that had led us in, helped us tie up and saw the whole thing.  We got checked in but didn’t have to pay.  I thought it incredulous that they are using a chart for heights that are clearly wrong.  The bath house was mediocre, but we got cleaned up and walked over to the restaurant on a barge, which was also somewhat of a hole in the wall.  The waitress and owner were nice and Jane and I made up half of their customers that night.  I learned that the whole property is for sale.  There’s an opportunity here for the right developer.

Friday, November 2, 2018:

The Chattanooga Bluff dock is 34.9 miles from Hales Bar and with no lock to go through, we figured we could be there in about five hours. I filled up the water tanks in an effort to get the boat lower in the water so that maybe we could slip what was left of the mast light under the eave beam of the covered slip.  It helped and we were free from the overhang at 1008.  By 1435 we were passing Baylor Military Academy and we were back in the Eastern Time zone.  At 1600 we arrived at mile marker 463 in Chattanooga and were told by the waiting Sheriff’s launch that we would need to wait until 1800 to proceed to the Bluff Dock due to the practice of all the crews prepping to race the next day in the Head of the Hooch Regatta.  This is the largest regatta in America with thousands of rowers.  We idled on over to the fuel dock of Erwin Marine and helped ourselves to a pump-out while we waited.  Finally, the rowers and the Sheriff dispersed at 1800 and we eased on up between the bridges to join several other boats at The Bluff Dock.  We enjoyed being there for the weekend with all the crew races.


There were even rowers from Gainesville and the University of Florida for us to cheer on.


Chattanooga has many great restaurants and the Aquarium to visit.


We got to meet up with our friend, Don Davis, after his Saturday race and watched part of the Gator game with him.


On Monday the fifth we moved the boat back over to the Erwin dock in front of their office so we could leave it for a week.  The current is pretty strong at this point.  We were getting tied to the outside of the along-side dock with our bow into the current.  There was no one to take our lines, but we’re pretty used to docking without assistance.  Jane looped a cleat with the breast line and I came down from the helm to attach the stern.  That was my first mistake.  I should have quickly moved to the bow and got it secured first.  The current was then taking the bow away from the dock and Jane couldn’t pull it in with the breast line.  So, unwisely, I stepped off on the dock to pull the line from there (mistake number two).  Did I mention that the current was strong at this location?  At this point, we were both trying with all our combined strength to pull the boat back to the dock, but wisely we are keeping the line fast to the boat and dock cleats.  If we released either one, Sabbatical would end up pivoting on the stern line and smashing into the next boat at the dock just some thirty feet away.  So I couldn’t get back on the boat because now it is ten feet off the dock and being held out there by the current.  I tried to direct Jane on what to do from the helm to bring it back into the dock and maybe if I had released the stern line maybe she could have done that, but I was very reluctant to release either line at that point.  We were both having visions of a breakaway and her at the helm having never docked the boat before.  After a couple of tries, I had her come back down and throw me the bow line.  A great deal of pulling and cussing ensued and after almost running out of strength, I finally got the nose turned enough to bring her alongside the dock.  That was an experience, which required me to just sit down for a bit not just to regain the strength to move but more so to absorb the education it afforded me.  I do try to learn from my mistakes.  I looked about to see if anyone had seen the tug-o-war with 18 tons of boat and the Tennessee River against the two of us.  No one had seen it.  We had won, but I didn’t feel very victorious.  Once we checked in with Jill in the Erwin Marine office we found out that she needed us on the inside of the dock and as far back as we could get it.  We made the move and backed down the length of the 200 foot dock and secured the boat without incident or assistance.

The next day we got a rental car for a week so we could go to Gainesville to see family and get some dental work done (that darn crown did not stay in place).  On the way out of town, we tried to visit Lookout Mountain, but it was socked in with clouds and/or fog, so we didn’t even get out of the car up there.

Marley and Leia went to the beauty parlor while we were home.

We also went over to St. Augustine for my Howey Academy Reunion.


We also were looking forward to investigating some marinas where we might keep the boat after we’re done with the Great Loop.  The week sped by and we returned to find Sabbatical safe and secure.  We were happy to have made it home to see some family and friends, but we were also happy to get back on board.  Except it was way too cold and rained again on Monday the 12th, so there we stayed for one more day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018:

We woke to a cloudy morning and 45 degrees, but we wanted to get moving to escape the cold so we got off the dock at 0905 and by noon we were back in the Nickajack Lock and out in 15 minutes. It’s always easier and faster getting let down than on the way up.  At 1245 we were making 11 ½ miles per hour and it never did warm up.


I think the high for the day was when we first got up.  We wanted our space heater for the upper helm, but the inverter can’t handle it.  At 1315 we passed back into Alabama again.  We kept pressing on in the cold and docked in the dark at Goose Pond Colony at 1650.  Jane did a load of laundry and we both got hot showers.  Then we returned to the Dock and the same waitress, Chrissy Cobb, waited on us and she was just as awesome as before.


The next day, we stayed put because of the rain. We did manage to edge over to the fuel dock and get refueled and pumped out between showers.  We took on 175.8 gallons at 2.969 per gallon.  One night of dockage was waived with the fuel purchase which saved us $36.00.  The forecast for Thursday was pointing to freezing with a high of 35 degrees.

Thursday, November 15, 2018:

We figured out that we could bring the space heater up on the fly bridge if we ran it on low.  The inverter couldn’t handle it on high, but was ok with low as long as the engine is running.  At 0857 we dislodged from the dock and started making our way towards Decatur.  It is 73 miles and would be a long day at 7 ½ to 8 hours.  The long day was compounded with the cold, brrrr.  The only other boats we saw that day were one crazy crappie fisherman and a sailboat.  At 1111 we passed under the 431 Bridge and conditions were getting rougher.  Approaching noon, Lake Guntersville was one to two feet.  We got secured in the Guntersville Lock at 1211, but had to wait 25 minutes on the sailboat.  They didn’t appear to be Loopers and we did not realize that we would meet these folks later on the trip.  We descended 57 feet and at 1253 we exited the lock with the sailboat, Marti Time following.  At 1530 Jane appeared on the fly bridge with a hot pot of grits.  God bless this woman!  We docked in the dark at Decatur at 1650 and enjoyed another meal at The Hard Dock Café.

Friday, November 16, 2018:

When we awoke it was literally freezing. It was 29 degrees and the deck lines that had been wet were now frozen.  The pungent odor of cat food hung in the air courtesy of the Meow Mix factory. There was a clear sky and that would prove to give us the solarium effect for the upper helm.  We backed out of the slip at 0906 and under the Decatur Railroad Bridge at 0914.  The bridge tender was very courteous and efficient.


At noon I radioed the Wheeler Lock and let the lockmaster know that we were only about a mile away.  He said that he had a double coming up and we’d have a wait of about three hours.  At first I thought he was joking with me, but he confirmed that it was not a joke.  We tried to be patient and tied to the back side of the lock wall.  Commercial traffic has the priority, so there’s nothing we can do but wait it out.  We discussed our options including retreating to Joe Wheeler State Park Marina and spending the weekend there.

On a double, the tug boat pushes some of the barges into the lock, but there’s not enough room for them all to fit, so they disconnect them and the lockmaster raises the barges up and then they get pulled out of the lock via a cable system while the tugboat and the other barges wait below. Then the lock has to be emptied and the second set enters the lock and the process repeated to float them up, the lock doors at the top are then opened and the barges are reconnected and finally (and slowly) they’re pushed out by the tug.  (Don’t call them tugs.  They are tows.  They just about always push, but they’re tows.)  Finally, after the William Neckel gets his load reattached and pushed out of the way, we enter the lock at 1526.

The William Neckel emerges from the lock


Our goal was to reach Florence Harbor Marina and we knew we are going to be pushing it.  Jane doesn’t want to travel in the dark, but I’m sure we can handle it.  By 1545 we are out of the Wheeler Lock and slip by another waiting tow.


At 1700 we are getting a beautiful sunset, but we still had the Wilson Lock to get through.


I called ahead and he was ready for us and we slipped right in at 1720.  At 1745 the lower lock doors opened to reveal the black of night had fallen on the river 95 feet below.


With running lights on and my best LED flashlight we exited the lock into the 2 ½ mile canal that would return us to the river.  If we can just make it that far then we’d only have to go under the bridge and turn hard to starboard and enter the marina.  Thankful that we had already been along here, albeit in the daylight and going the other direction, we eked slowly along dodging a bunch of logs and debris under the light of the flashlight that needs new batteries.  We agreed that a new marine spotlight would make a great anniversary present.  At 1815 we docked in the Florence Harbor Marina and got hooked up to the electricity.  We had hot showers in the marina and then went for dinner at the River Bottom Grille.

Saturday morning we borrowed the courtesy van and went to Walmart and then Publix. Our friend, Lucy, from Birmingham showed up for a visit.  We thoroughly enjoyed her company and watched some football and went back to The Pie Factory for dinner.  We got the same waitress that waited on us when we were here last month and she was great as was the food.  There was a nice sunset we enjoyed from the fly bridge, but my photos don’t do it justice.

Sunday, November 18. 2018:

I made pancakes for all of us the next morning and after Lucy got on the road, we pushed off the dock sideways. That was due to a cruisier that had come in Saturday and parked a foot off our bow.  It wasn’t hard for us, since it wasn’t windy.  Once back in the Tennessee River we enjoyed the current pushing us at 11 ½ miles per hour.  The day was pleasant even though it was only about 40 degrees and partly cloudy.  By 1330 it was up to 64 and we docked back at Aqua Yacht Harbor at 1420.  We dined that night in the Aqua Yacht Harbor Grille with Rick and Kris from Eagle One and Paul and Renee from Liberty.  They are fun folks and we know we will want to see them again.  And for the third time on this side trip we had the same waitress we had the last time we were here.  She was very friendly and adept.