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!