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.

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