We’re In High Cotton — Or Is It Snow?

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It’s ironic that we’re down in the Gulf states while a hurricane rolls through Connecticut.  Hope everyone is all right.  The pictures we get here have been horrific.  No power at home and a tree (ours) is blocking the neighbor’s driveway, but otherwise okay.

Eric Brazil, an old friend and my first boss, has joined us for the trip up to Chattanooga.  Trip got off to a great start — a tour of a perfectly restored Frank Lloyd Wright house in Florence, cocktails and a buffet on the dock, and a neighbor with a satellite dish on his boat that let us watch the Giants in the World Series (Eric is a huge Giants fan).  Then off in perfect weather to a great anchorage up a winding, Heart of Darkness creek.  We took the dinghy to shore for a (long) hike up to Mooresville, AL a tastefully preserved tiny town from the 1840’s.

Then as the hurricane ran up the coast, it dragged every bit of cold air in Canada down to the Gulf.  We are in the 30s at night and barely in the 50s during the day, which is cold on an old wooden boat.  So we’ve been jumping from marina to marina so we can plug in the heaters at night.  Good luck on the Series — we were able to find a restaurant with a TV or get streaming Internet on the boat every night.

The Tennessee Gorge is a beautiful as everyone said it would be, but having just arrived in Chattanooga and plugged in, I’m glad it’s over for a couple days.

Fredi riding out the hurricane with her friend Moosie

Molly riding out the hurricane

Rosenbaum House. Not to everyone’s taste, but you sense the creativity and thought given to every detail.

Cotton is in bloom or being harvested everywhere in

Eric and Paul heading up Limestone Creek to Mooresville.

Mooresville Post Office — selling stamps every day since 1840.

Mooresville Diner — still in operation, but you might want to take a quick look at their health certificate.

Unidentified mansion, Mooresville.

Old Brick Church, Mooresville, AL. A multi-denominational church since 1839 since there are so few people around here.

Note the filial on the Old Brick Church. I’d say Microsoft’s copyrights on the clicking finger are now trash and they owe these people billions.

Limestone formations are even more spectacular than downriver.

We’re really getting up in the mountains — bridge shows the scale.

Gorge of the Tennessee River. Exquisite, but you tend to take a look then run into the cabin to get warm.

Hey, It’s Really About the People, Isn’t It?

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At the age of 60, I was finally roped into taking a Myers-Briggs personality test because I already knew the result.  I am in the box in the introverted upper left-hand corner.  I belong to only two organizations — the America’s Great Loop Cruisers Assocation and the Democratic Party (which is the poorest excuse for an organization on the planet).  I do not like to talk to anyone I have not known for at least 10 years.So it was with great trepidation that I signed up for the AGCLA annual rendevous at fabulously beautiful Joe Wheeler State Park in Rogersville, AL.

It was great.  Three days of really solid information on the upcoming segments of the loop from expert navigators, technical details from the gurus, a great group of low-pressure sponors who really were there to help (I had to flip a coin between two for our upcoming Thanksgiving haulout).

And a really open, wonderful group of people who took all us new loopers in, even the shy ones. Because of the Internet you read the blogs and articles of all the people who are big in the AGCLA — Jim and Lisa Favors, Bob and Kay Creech, Alan and Susann Syme, Betsy and Rick Johnson — and you wonder what they are really like.  They are exactly like they sound — smart, funny, doing what you love to do, on the same wavelength.

John was the only young person there other than a four-year-old looping from Brazil.  He was a huge hit because he is outgoing and all these people miss being around children.  John is the honorary grandchild and Memsahib is the honorary funky old boat of the 2012 Loop.

Not too many pictures this time, because I sense my audience has a pretty good idea of a conference — 3 days in an exotic location sitting in a dark room watching PowerPoint slides.

Yup, it’s a conference

Looper boats lined up in front of Joe Wheeler Lodge

They let us dock with the big guys since we’re so pretty. At least 50 people toured Memsahib — most of which left thinking we were super-hardy guys for “roughing it” on a 50-year-old woodie.

Kismet — mini-tug owned by our favorite Loopers — Jim and Lisa Favors



Bass Mania in Florence, AL


The national anthem, invocation and finally a shotgun blast rang out over Florence Harbor Marina at 6 am as the first tendrils of sunlight came over the hills surrounding Pickwick Lake.  The Walmart Bass Fishing League Mid-South regionals were underway.

It was an exotic scene to a New Englander — 160 metal-flake, superfast bassboats loaded with gear and guys heading out to battle the wiley bass. And this wasn’t even a big-league event — the Walmart league fishermen are supposedly “weekend” bass hunters, even though they were going for a $75,000 truck-motor-boat combination as first prize.  The “pros” fish for a $1 million purse.

All 160 boats fish for the first two days and the top 12 on Saturday.  The idea is to catch the greatest weight of bass within a five-fish limit each day over a roughly eight hour period.  At 3 pm the boats come roaring into the weighing area and the results are announced one-by-one to the crowds in the stands.  Yes, people sit and watch their heroes get their fish weighed, since bass fishing is almost as big as Friday night football in these parts. The weigh-in is also broadcast on radio and cable TV.  The fish are then released back into the lake (the bass all tell one another “I didn’t get caught, I just happen to be swimming by this part of the river.”)

Virtually all these guys run 250-horse Mercury Optimax engines ( a super high RPM two-stroke detuned to meet the emissions limits) so they can travel at 50 MPH from secret spot to secret spot.  They tow the boats with four-door pickups with shiny mag wheels — mostly GMC with the occasional Dodge or Ford.  It seems that in Florence, AL, you don’t show up at the launch ramp with a Toyota or Land Rover towing a boat with a Suzuki or Yamaha engine hanging on the back — unless you are a very large persion with a lot of tatoos, one of which is “Semper Fi.”

Anyway, everyone seemed to be having a great time on a lousy, windy day.  But we Loopers have learned that you don’t hit these guys with a big wake unless you want a shotgun to “accidentally” misfire at your stern.  The rule of thumb is 16-gauge birdshot for Mainships and Bayliners who don’t know any better and 12-gauge buckshot for Cabos and Vikings who should.

The Walmart Bass Fishing League

Typical bassboat — the poles at the back are rams that go down into the bottom and hold the boat so the fishermen don’t have to waste time anchoring,

Bassboat — they cast for the fish from those things that look like bar stools.

Weigh-In area — announcer had two lines for 320 guys — “Hey, you’re right in there, Jimmy Joe,” or “You’ve still got a chance to catch up tomorrow, Jerry Jeff,”

Fish get dunked into these tanks on the way to the way in to keep them alive,

Release area. Little girl was very concerned that Daddy get his fishies back in safely. She’d should also be concerned about that Yamaha jacket.

Pickwick Perambulations

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The day after Shiloh we again borrowed one of the terrific (free) courtesy cars from Grand Harbor and went to Corinth, MS, to reprovision and make a critical visit to Game Stop.  There is a rare, old game that John wanted and in all our previous Game Stop visits, they had said, “The only copy left is in Corinth, Mississippi.”  At the top of Lake Michigan visiting Corninth seemed a pretty slim possibility, but The Loop takes you to a lot of  remote places you never thought you’d see.

Another highlight of our Grand Harbor visit was finally meeting up with the Cal 27 Louise and crew Jessie, Katie, Reggie the dog and Bird the cat.  These are two 22-year-olds that fixed up a derelict sailboat in North Haven, MI, figured out things like navigation and motor maintenance and are well on their way to Florida to refresh their cruising kitty.  Loopers help them whenever they can since we admire their pluck and determination.  And yes, Molly and Lauren, they are very cute.  Memsahib was able to help with an outboard problem, since we have the same engine and they didn’t have a manual.  With the help of the book and about 12 other Loopers, the fix was easy.  Their blog is terrific — http://www.jessieandkatieonaboat.com.

Then into beautiful Pickwick Lake for two days in Florence, a pretty river town with a very nice marina.  When the manager found out it was my birthday, she rolled out the red carpet with a tour of town and a ride to a very good Mexican restaurant.  I am now 62, and proud to be a REAL senior citizen, not the AARP/Dunkin’ Donuts kind.

Florence is home to the University of Northern Alabama, where they have a beautiful habitat for their mascots, two real lions.   The lions were in their cave, but we could hear them growling and moving.  Every game day the whole town turns out at the habitat and walk the lions down to the game.

Grand Harbor Marina, Counce, TN — a great stop


Pickwick Lake — hard to take a picture of something this big. Very hilly, almost mountainous right down to the shoreline.

A row of hills down the middle of Pickwick lake became these beautiful islands

Katie and Jessie polishing up Louise




Lion Habitat at UNA

As close as we got to a lion.






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On 9-11 3,000 people were killed and it changed our world and the way we live our lives.

150 years ago in a two-day battle at Shiloh there were 23,000 casualties.   My generation focuses its abhorence of violence on Vietnam, John’s on 9-11.  I am often reminded on this section of our trip how the bloodletting and horror of our own Civil War make our modern focal points pale in comparison.

The people at Grand Harbor Marina were kind enough to lend us a courtesy car for the trip up to Shiloh Battlefield.  The introductory material, museum and self-guided battlefield tour were first-rate having just been redone for the 150th anniversary of the battle.  Factual without being dry, moving without being maudlin.

John and I both found our attention concentrated on an area called the Hornet’s Nest, because the bullets were flying so fast they sounded like a nest of angry hornets.  There were many areas of the battlefield where strategy and timing and sheer luck were important.  At the Hornet’s Nest, it was just cannon-on-cannon, musket-on-musket, man-on-man.  No drones.

Grant had been surprised at Shiloh Church the first day of the battle by an equivalent Confederate force led by Albert Sydney Johnson.  After a period of chaos, the Union center formed up in a wooded area behind a field and sunken roadway.  The Union soldiers from Minnesota and Iowa held the center for eight hours against constant attack from thousands of Confederate troops and Riggins Battery of 62 cannon.  Then they were finally surrounded and 2,000 captured.

In the meantime, Union reinforcements had arrived and the next day came out of the Hornet’s Nest and across the field.  By the end of the day, the Conferates had been pushed back across the field into a small pond after thousands of casualties of their own. They didn’t have the energy to even move themselves out of the water.  An aide to General P.G.T. Beauregard, who’d taken over the battle after Johnson was killed,  said, “These men are like a wet  sugar cube — they still hold their shape, but in a few more seconds they will crumble”.  Beauregard pulled them back and the battle ended.

Fought in 1862, this was one of the first major battles of the Civil War.  Grant, a tough character,  thought that the unprecedented level of casualties, death and horror would bring the war to an end since he could not conceive that the leadership of either side could let it happen again.   He was wrong.

Shiloh Methodist Church

The Hornets Nest — so peaceful on a beautiful fall day.

Riggins Battery — 9 cannon left of 62

The small pond where it finally ended after two days of fighting.

Wonderful monument to Union and Confederate dead at Shiloh. Tennessee could have gone either way so “brother on brother” really happened.

Alabamee Bound

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Beautiful and relatively uneventful trip up the Tennessee (since the Tennessee flows north, that means we’re generally headed south).  Getting closer and closer to the big Looper Rendevous at Joe Wheeler State Park in Alabama.

Took dinner over to the Copes boat anchored at Cuba Landing (strange name for a remote fishing camp in Tennessee) to spend more time with these delightful people and so John could play cards with Nathaniel.

Then on to the postcard-perfect tiny southern town of Clifton, where all the Loopers gathered for a wonderful gumbo dinner cooked by the marina manager Sonja.  We  were  watching boats come in the tiny channel at Clifton, when a skinny, unfamiliar sailboat came putting in.  “John, I could swear the hailing port on that boat is Hamburg, Germany.”

It was indeed and on board was journalist Hinnerk Weiler, who has been one group behind us and is very well known to this year’s Loopers.  Memsahib went all the way from Connecticut to New York to start the Loop.  Hinnerk started from Germany, sailed North Atlantic to Nova Scotia, then south to the Bahamas to start his Loop in Florida.  In two hours with Hinnerk eating gumbo, I’m sure John learned more than he ever will in a class at Miami University of Ohio.

Then with weather threatening and the current treating us kindly, we came into Pickwick Lake and caught up with Copesetic and had Nathaniel over for cards in yet another calm, tree-lined anchorage.

While researching the last day’s run, I found this reference to a place we passed near Shiloh Battefield, which does a good job of contrasting our run up the river in yachts to a run up the river 150 years ago by the Union gunboat Lexington.  (From the New York Times, March 7, 1862):

“Eight miles above Savannah we came to a little town called Pittsburgh, a miserable looking little hamlet, as they nearly all are in this region. There is an island here in the river, called Diamond Island, and just as we came out of the channel at its head, bang! went a rebel cannon, and a 24-pound shot came plunging toward us from the rebel battery situated less than half a mile in our advance. It was followed by two other shots from smaller guns, before our big guns responded. We steamed right on toward them, and opened at about six hundred yards, with shell. Their battery consisted of one 24-pounder rifled gun, and three 12-pounder howitzers. The 24-pounder fired only six shots, when it was silenced, either by our fire or from some other cause. The three smaller guns blazed away for about twenty minutes, when they also ceased firing, not a single one of their shots from the beginning having touched either of our boats. Our gunboats kept up their fire for half an hour longer, shelling the woods in all directions.

When the firing commenced, a small body of rebel infantry was also discovered, who undertook to put in practice the plan which some Memphis newpaper editors proposed, viz.: To conceal themselves on the bank and pick off the pilots of our gunboats. They soon found they might as well attempt to swallow an oyster without opening the shell. A few discharges of grape sent them helter skelter over the brow of the hill.”

No one took a shot at the pilots of the Memsahib, but we watched the woods a bit carefully in this spot.

Memsahib steaming up the Tennessee

Limestone formations add interest to the view.

Medieval Italian palazzo is certainly the architectural style I would choose for a Tennessee River vacation house

Clifton, Tn

Hamburg to Clifton, TN is a long way to come for gumbo in a 31-footer.

Gumbo-fest in Clifton. John’s presence lowers the average age by a decade.

Where the Yanks and Rebs shot it out at Diamond Island

Copesetic at White Sulpher Creek

Fall is here –the difference is it was 83 degrees today!

Tennessee Waltz

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I have often mentioned that one of the great things about this trip is its diversity — no one week is really like any other week.

The Tennessee/Mississippi contrast really highlights that.  The Tennessee is wide, calm, marina-and-anchorage lined and with the leaves starting to turn, stunningly beautiful.  We have been in the Kentucky Lake region on the upper part of the river, which is  a big inland sea that was created by the huge dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority.  What were creekbeds are now beautiful anchorages.  What were hilltops are now islands.  What was a wild river is now a wide, almost barge-free channel made for recreation.

We spent four days at the swanky Green Turtle Bay Marina, comparing notes with other Loopers and visiting the town of Grand Rivers, home of a famous Patti’s restaurant. Patti’s feature attraction is a 2-inch thick porkchop, of which we consumed our share.  John got a deep tissue massage for a back strain he got pulling the old Captain out from under the engine when we were looking for the coolant leak.  Couldn’t seen to locate the spa at Hoppies.

The highlight of the trip was finally running into the Copes famil — Ralph, Sandy, and two 18-year-old twins, Marissa and Nathaniel.  They have so much in common with John that’s it really nice to have them all together.  They are all camp counselors, they all are expert video gamers, they are all nice kids.  After the Loop Marissa is bound for Gettysburg College, Nathaniel to Princeton.  Sandy is a chemist and Ralph an engineer and entrepreneur with vast boating experience, so they are great to be around.  More on Copesetic II’s voyage at www.copesafloat.wordpress.com.

Another thrill (for me) was running into Jim and Lisa Favors, who pulled in on Kismet.  They are among the very first Loop bloggers,  publish some very useful and influential websites and are columnists for Boat U.S.   As I explained to John, “In my world, these are the rockstars.”  He said that was a world he did not want to inhabit, but has 8 more months of it nevertheless.

Not much else to report, since cruising on Kentucky Lake is so effortless — anchored with the Copes in perfect Ginger Bay the first night out,  Harmon Creek night 2 (a maze of little islands that create perfect, protected coves,) at Cuba Landing Marina tonight so we can plug in the heaters against the effect of predicted frost.

One of our army of blog followers asked if water levels were as low on the Tennessee as the Mississippi.  They are down, but not much.  The Mississippi is barely controlled by a patchwork of Army Corps of Engineers dams that has been put together helter skelter over the past 200 years.  The Tennessee structures are big and much more modern.  Case in point — lock 52 on the Ohio was built in 1928.  The water levels behind the dam are controlled by an 80-year-old steamboat that goes out into the river and lifts wooden “wickets” from the bottom to stem the flow.  It’s replacement is 20 years behind schedule and billions over budget.  Barkley TVA dam, by contrast, is a huge 87 foot lift of push-button controlled super-machines.  You see no human, it just happens.

I want to look into it more, but I am really wondering if having the nation’s central artery controlled by a small branch of the military trying to ride herd on a vast bureaucracy of contractors is a good idea.

Green Turtle Bay Marina — never seen anything like it.

A two-inch pork chop at Patti’s. Dan Brand just got a chill.

Kentucky Lake.  Any tows trying to run us over here? No sir!!

Beautiful, wide Kentucky Lake.

Copes boat in the morning mist at Ginger Bay.

Leaves are starting to turn all along the Tennessee.

Harmon Creek islands make a perfect place to anchor.

We passed Aurora, a tiny 22-footer with a teensy engine. They’ve already made it from St. Paul, MN. And people think we’re roughing it on Memsahib!

We Just Keep Rollin’ Along

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The trip down the Mississipi and up the Ohio was grueling, fascinating and a little scary in the low-water year, but never really dangerous.

The problem all Loopers with slower boats face (and we are probably the second-slowest boat in our group) is that the anchorages have simply dried or silted up.  There are only  two good anchorages, and two okay anchorages in a 280 mile stretch and ONE marina where you can get diesel fuel.  The deep water channels are getting so narrow that the barges can’t pass and in several situations have gone aground.  When a tow 220 feet wide and 1000 feet long with 24 barges strung together hits a sandbar at 8 knots and stops, it breaks apart and the free barges take off downriver on their own.  In the day, they’d be pretty easy to manuever around, at night at anchor your dead UNLESS you are in a protected area.

This is a dangerous situation, because some day a boat is simply going to run out of daylight or have a tired crew, go over by the bank and anchor (which is possible) and get destroyed in the night.  With a couple of days of dredging, the Corps of Engineers, which runs the rivers, could carve out a couple of good anchorages, but apparently they are 99% interested in serving commercial interests and recreational boating just isn’t a priority.

Is it worth it to run the rivers, for all the problems?  Absolutely since 1) it’s the only route; and 2) the rivers are unique — big tough, majestic, challenging.  And we, and everyone else out here right now, are very safety conscious and cognizant of the situation.  The tug captains are on the radio with info all the time, and I actually felt safer around them than on the Illinois, because in 99% of the spot there’s more room, and everyone is just taking things slow.  Of all the Loopers we’re with now, I’d say there is only one slightly shakey crew in the bunch — if you’ve come this far, you’ve probably gotten to know your boat and your crew pretty well.

Anyway, after St. Louis we ran down to “Hoppies” the only “marina” on the river — three giant barges tied together.  These are terrifically nice people.  Fern Hopkins gives a daily briefing on downstream conditions, and we call her up with news as things change — and they do since the Corps is out moving buoys constsantly and the anchorages get good and bad as the river flows. Fern’s is at Kimmswick, MO, a well-preserved little river town kind of trapped in the time of Lincoln.

Then just grind, grind, grind — 102 miles between achorages in one day — helped by the current that got old Memsahib up to 10.2 knots — about 12 miles per hour, a speed she will never again equal.  As we headed up the Ohio to get the Cumberland and start running south in a big way, another challenge — too much water.  They are desperately trying to get water down into the lower Mississippi, so the dams are open and we had so much current that 4.5 knots was average.  So I did the safe thing and forgot about our planned stop and pulled into a spot that folks and the guidebook had been talking about behind the Harrah’s Casino in Metropolis, IL.

Finally, Green Turtle Bay Marina in Grand Rivers, KY complete with pool, spa, golf carts to get to town, and all the trimmings.  At least 15 Loopers, since everyone is beat, and no one wants to leave even though the rest of the trip clear to the Gulf isn’t bad.

For any prospective loopers, I think the four good anchorages are:  Rockwood Island, Angelo’s Towhead, Harrah’s Casino and Cumberland Towhead.

The Mother of Waters

Hoppies — keepin’ that electrical right up to code


Kimmswick, MO — cute town, well-preserved, but 12 places to buy Halloween decorations, and no place to buy milk


Kimmswick — log house

No, this is wood John, not plastic like Disney World

I bought John soul food at the Blue Owl in Kimmswick — chicken and dumplings and coconut cream pie

First night anchorage — all that sand is supposed to be water

At one point in a 12 mile stretch we were going, north, south, east and west

Our post 102-mile day anchorage, Angelo’s towhead

Confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at dawn — Ohio to the left. We had to leave at first light every day — not popular with the crew


Final night’s anchorage on the Ohio — casino boat kicks the current (and barges away) and the mud holds like iron




I Don’t Want To Wake Up

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Thirty-seven (37) years ago I stopped in St. Louis on my way to graduate school in New York  to visit my sister Sue, brother-in-law Bob (also my best friend in high school) and baby Brian.  Of course, we went to the Arch.

If I had said to her, “Sue, in 37 years, I will be sailing down that river in a 51-year-old wooden motorsailer built in Hong Kong with my strong, kind, terrific 18-year-old son,” she would have immediately taken me off Mexican food and martinis. (There was no Thai food then and I had already learned martini-drinking from a dissolute group of assistant district attorneys and newspaper ad salespeople in Salinas, CA.)

The Arch is not only a symbol of the great American West where I grew up, it is also a symbol for Loopers — start down that Mississippi and the only way to get back home is to keep going around, because there’s no way to get back up the Mother of Waters.

On the way to the arch, we did another symbolic act and ducked up the Missouri in honor of my friend Bjorn, a student (from Sweden, no less) of the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery.  So three great rivers this week — the Mississipi, Missouri, and Ohio.  More on that later, but once again, we are in the middle of nowhere in the middle of America with a weak wi-fi signal.