Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chased By Weather

Days on cruise:  191

Distance traveled: 55.7 miles

Travel time:  6 hrs, 12 mins

Total trip odometer:  4,279 statute miles

Our original plan for the day was to go 29 miles to an anchorage for the night. The weather forecast convinced us to change the plan as we were being chased by a humongous rain storm and hoped to out-run it to a marina instead. Here’s the radar image of the rain that followed us all day and didn’t catch up with us until we tied up at Ditto Landing Marina in Huntsville, Alabama.


Going back in time to this morning, it was beautiful at sunrise at Joe Wheeler State Park Marina. Hard to believe we’d be inclined to out-run rain all day, yes?


Mid-way through our trip we had to call for a railroad bridge lift as the clearance was only 10 feet, far short of our 18.5 foot air clearance. But no locks today.


Industrial facilities were interspersed with lots of undeveloped shoreline along the Tennessee River today.


Note in the photo below one of Decatur, Alabama’s claims to fame is being the maker of Meow Mix.  We bet people are happy to have the jobs such industry offers.


The wide lakes above Wilson and Wheeler locks eventually led, upstream, to a narrower river.


Limestone cliffs continued to be the predominant relief for otherwise tree-lined shores.


Mid-afternoon we pulled into Ditto Landing Marina at Huntsville, AL where we topped off our tanks with diesel fuel , which expense resulted in our getting a free night’s dockage. An hour later Craig and Barbara on Blue Heron pulled in, accompanied by their Atlanta visitor Cindy, and the five of us enjoyed a 3-hour visit on our sundeck, in the rain! But we were cozy and dry with the canvas and isinglass all closed up. The forecast for tonight calls for “100% chance of rain, and possible thunderstorms”. It’s the same forecast tomorrow, with sunshine reappearing Tuesday, so we may or may not leave in the morning.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

BIG Locks & Joey and Bailey

Days on cruise:  190

Distance traveled:  20.9 miles

Travel time: 3 hrs, 4 mins

Total trip odometer:  4,224 statute miles

The data above belies the true nature of our day. Our chartplotter records both “moving time” and “total time”, and the 3 hrs, 4 mins above reflects only moving time. Thanks to the Tow Nellie (with barges), we TWICE were held up waiting on locks. At the Wilson Lock, #1 for the day, we were told that Nellie was IN the lock and didn’t want to move OUT because the fog at the top was too heavy, and they can’t MAKE a tow move out in fog, for liability reasons, even if other boats are waiting. So we waited. An hour.

The Wilson Lock is by far the tallest lock we’ll transit on the Great Loop. It lifts you 94 feet! It looks intimidating on approach. Even in the fog which has softened its’ contours.


We entered behind a smaller boat and tied up to a floating bollard. The dock master had warned us to tie up way at the front or way at the back, not in the middle where the turbulence will “give you the ride of your life”. We complied.


Those doors . . . oh, those TALL doors! Cathryn’s mind was incapable of transiting this lock without her imagination running to how things might play out if a lock door failed and 50 MILLION gallons of water were suddenly let loose. Of course that didn’t happen. The ride was fine. But those doors!


On leaving Wilson lock and traveling down Wilson Lake we saw lots of pretty homes on hills or cliffs, most with boathouses and docks.


On arrival at our second lock of the day we were told Tow Nellie was just beginning her journey through the lock and we’d have to wait  2+ hours. It was a double lock-through in which they: push in the first half of the string of barges; unhook the second half;  pull them back out; then after the first half have been raised and pulled out of the lock via a cable, they lower the water and let the second half and the tow enter the lock to be raised. Then they hook all the barges together again and off they go. It takes a loooong time. Groan!

Ok, we know how to make lemonade out of lemons, so we dropped our anchor outside the channel, ate a late lunch, then took a nap. This is not part of the normal routine, of course, napping in the middle of our travel day.


The second lock of the day, the Wheeler Lock lifts you “only” 48 feet and has one  feature we’ve not seen before, shown below in a Found Photo. The concrete circle in the water to the right of the lock is actually a pipe through which the water is pumped when it’s forced out of the lock to lower the water level inside. It was built to prevent erosion on the lake.


Here, from our boat, you can see the 10-foot waves and turbulence raised by this pipe as the water exits.


Finally, only 21 miles but many hours later, we pulled into Joe Wheeler State Park Marina at Rogersville, Alabama. Friends Craig and Barbara on Blue Heron (met in Norfolk, VA in May) caught our lines, and a happy reunion began.


Craig and Barbara are doing their Loop with yellow labs Joey and Bailey on board, and Cathryn is wild about them. She really, really likes other people’s friendly, well-behaved dogs (as well as other people’s friendly, well-behaved children) and regularly makes Bob nervous about how much she enjoys them. Joey is on the left; Bailey on the right.


And Blue Heron, the boat, in the background, parked Next To Me (or next to us).

Sweet Home, Alabama

Days on cruise:  189

Distance traveled:  42.8 miles

Travel time:  5 hrs, 24 mins

Total trip odometer:  4,203 statute miles


This morning we visited with Jim and Sharon on Blue Angel for a few minutes, said our good-byes (until we meet again, in Florida) and cast off their lines and watched them turn southwest, then cast off our lines and turned southeast.


The Tennessee River, at least this stretch, is nice enough, but not spectacular. We spent most of the morning making our way down Pickwick Lake, and the air was hazy, steamy and warm.


Long segments of undeveloped shoreline, followed by a steam plant, then an adjacent neighborhood of higher-end homes, then an adjacent rock crushing plant. Really? Interesting mix of industrial and residential.


Early in the day we crossed from Mississippi to Alabama, our 17th and final new state: from here we re-enter Tennessee,  Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, but will see no new states. Makes it feel like we’re nearing in the end, despite we’ve got a couple thousand more miles and five or six months to go.


Cathryn was born in Montgomery, Alabama, and almost as long ago, Bob lived in Huntsville, Alabama for two years when his Dad was transferred to Boeing there. Neither of us has spent time here in the past 30-40 years, so we’ve talked some about when, whether and how to re-explore some old stomping grounds. Both of Cathryn’s parents, and all 4 grand-parents lived here a long time, and she spent lots of time each summer here and has fond memories.


We pulled into Florence Harbor Marina early afternoon and spent the rest of the day doing chores. There are things that might be interesting to see and do here, like a collection of grand old homes, including one Frank Lloyd Wright home that is the smallest Wright ever designed, and the one that holds the record for the longest-running continuous occupation by the family that had Wright build it, into the 1990s.

We’ll see what the weather holds tomorrow/ It rained this afternoon.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Shiloh & Hagy’s Catfish Hotel

Days on cruise:  188

We got up this morning and, along with Jim and Sharon on Blue Angel, moved  a half mile north to Grand Harbor Marina. The four of us picked up one of their marina courtesy cars, a Ford Transit van, and they let us use it for the whole day for the cost of putting gas in the tank.


We went north 20 miles to drive through about 10 square miles of some of the prettiest countryside imaginable: Shiloh, Tennessee.


In April, 150 years ago, these fields and forests were not nearly so beautiful.  Instead they were the site of some of the worst carnage of the Civil War. Over two days, 90,000 men fought a bloody battle that didn’t really impact the course of the war, often while standing within speaking distance of each other and firing volley after volley of musket ball at one other.


Other times they spent hours in the forest, firing their guns at the “enemy” and using canon and cavalry to kill as many as they could.


The Shiloh church above served as headquarters during the battle, first for the union army, then the confederacy. It struck us as ironic.


The Hornet’s Nest was so named to reflect the sound of bullets flying through the air and hitting trees. 


This creek served as one of the boundaries of the battlefield and was often the site of heavy fighting, and dying.


The northern army arrived by way of the Tennessee River. This cannon is pointed at a stretch of the river we traveled just yesterday afternoon.


After two days of fierce battle, the southern army withdrew;  over 3,500 men had died. Hundreds more would die of their wounds in the following weeks. Overall there were more than 23,000 casualties. While there were other battles during the war of similar size, none exceeded these casualties.

We were struck by human’s inability to find better ways to solve conflicts.  Still.  It was a profound visit.


After leaving Shiloh in a rather subdued mood, we found our way upriver a mile at Hagy’s Catfish Hotel.  This property has been in the same family since 1835, and the site of a catfish restaurant since 1938.

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We all had some version of catfish for lunch, accompanied by some kind of potato, their famous cole slaw, and hush puppies, an iconic southern meal.  This was Bob’s first catfish, and he found it quite good despite his misgivings based on how ugly these fish are.


We returned to Grand Harbor late in the afternoon, relaxed for a while, then reconvened for, what else? Happy Hour!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mississippi and Friends

Days on cruise:  187

Distance traveled:  46.5 miles

Travel time:  6 hrs, 6 minutes

Total trip odometer:  4,160 statute miles

We didn’t pull the anchor and get underway until 8:30, a bit late for us. The Tennessee River continued to twist and wind its’ way south, barge traffic remained light, and the weather was a bit warmer today. And we entered our 16th state late in the day:  Mississippi!  We’re spending the night at the junction of Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, but just a tiny bit over the line into Mississippi.

Old, abandoned barges, like this one on which trees are growing, are not uncommonly seen.


This remnant of a broken down barge and its’ freight sit high on the shores, presumably from a spring time when the waters were high.


Cherry Mansion on the banks of the Tennessee River, seen in the photo below, was built in 1842 and given to the builder’s daughter and son-in-law, the Cherry’s, as a wedding present. During the time leading up to the Civil War Mr. Cherry was a union loyalist, while his wife’s family were confederate supporters. Eventually the house was overtaken by Major General U.S. Grant and his Union forces and used as their headquarters. 


A newer replica of the Cherry Mansion stands on an adjacent property, shown below.


The Tennessee River, in the section we traveled today, alternates between pretty, undeveloped land and tracts of RV and mobile home parks. Riverfront lots are advertised for sale for as low as $19,500.  Boat ramps and small docks which look like they’re removed in the winter as the water levels rise are common.


Toward the end of today’s travel we arrived at the Pickwick Lock and Dam, a 57-foot lift from the Tennessee River to Pickwick Lake. We locked through with one other small pleasure boat.


This was our favorite kind of lock: those which have floating bollards requiring only one dock line amidships to secure the boat while the water level rises.


Pickwick Lake has steep shoreline in places, so construction methods include tall retaining walls below residential units.


Other large hillside homes have funiculars to travel down the hill to boathouses and docks far below on the lake.


Finally, we turned into Yellow Creek where we were scheduled to meet up with friends Jim and Sharon on their 40-foot Albin, Blue Angel, anchored in Zippy Cove. This is their boat seen on approach.


We met Jim and Sharon in the Florida Keys in February, liked them immediately, so re-connected on Lake Michigan in August when they were visiting home. They live on their boat full-time but spend a month or so each summer in Michigan with Sharon’s sister. For the first time on our Loop, we rafted up with Blue Angel, rather than setting our own anchor. Generous of Jim and Sharon to invite us!


We were intrigued to learn that Blue Angel has a stationary bicycle on her flybridge, and Jim is riding hard each day to stay in shape. Bob is threatening to order one to be delivered to us in Huntsville, AL! Cathryn is not so sure.


So we shared cocktails and dinner (delicious chili cooked by Sharon) on our sundeck, and Jim walked through our charts with us showing us all the great anchorages we shouldn’t miss as we continue down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in the next month.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Minor Hazards of Boating and Other Topics

Days on cruise:  186

Distance traveled:  21.3 miles

Travel time:2 hrs, 50 minutes

Total trip odometer:4,114 statute miles

Who can identify the object  below? If you guessed “a remote for something”, you’re right!  It’s the remote for our Autopilot (which lots of boaters refer to as Otto, for those who like to name components of their boats). Cathryn does something more than 50% of the driving on our boat, mostly because Bob is often busy with maintenance tasks while we’re underway (things Cathryn may or may not know how to do). And she mostly drives on Autopilot, which eliminates  the need to sit forward and steer with the steering wheel, but still requires regular adjustments to compass headings by pushing the buttons, which move the boat 1 or 10 degrees to starboard (green) or port (red). The occupational hazard is that she’s developed a mild case of tendinitis in her right forearm from punching the buttons so frequently! So last week she switched to using her left hand instead of right, and the tendinitis is 75% cured. Who knew this risk??? Not us!


Today we left our pretty anchorage at Double Island, and an hour later we had traveled almost 10 miles but were only one mile by land from where we started. See why below. Rivers insist on having their way.


The Tennessee River shoreline remained largely uninhabited, lined with limestone cliffs interspersed with lots of trees, and pretty. It was mostly cloudy today, with lows in the 50s, highs about 80.


Tiny islands of rock and trees or bushes dot the way.


Cows were drinking river water or lounging on the higher shores nearby.


We only passed 3 or 4 barges, and most were smaller and in wide portions of the river where passing was no problem.


This is an easy stretch, and we were relaxed.


The river remained wide most of the morning, with the current against us running about 1 knot, sometimes less.


Sunset in tonight’s pretty anchorage at  Swallow Bluffs is quiet and pretty, and the cicadas are noisy now that it’s dark.


We spent the afternoon online making airline reservations to go home for the holidays, as well as appointments with our eye doctor, dentist, dermatologist and cardiologist. Sheesh, sounds like fun, huh?