Whiplash — Demopolis, AL to Wilton, CT

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We have pretty much closed the first half of Memsahib’s Voyage, 2,921 miles so far in 5 months.  We did the same distance in about 5 hours flying to LGA from Mobile, but that’s cruising.

Warmed up a bit after Pickinsville, and we spent a night on the Tenn-Tom in a beautiful anchorage called Tombigbee Ox Bow just below Howell Heflin Lock.  I thought my northern liberal constitution might go through some sort of lock on its own in a place named after Senator Heflin, but I guess my memoryof his memorable Watergate grilling of John Dean and others kept my blood pressure under control.  John Stennis Lock was a bit stressful, too, but the Deep South has been such a friendly experience for Memsahib and crew that politics can be put aside.  (If they ever name a lock after Mitch McConnell,  it might be a different story.)

We were going to leave the boat in Mobile for Thanksgiving, but ran out of time 200 miles short of our goal, so left her in Demopolis, AL, a very popular spot since it is just above the “no hurricanes” line.  The marina is brand new, with a great clubhouse/laundry/lounge facility and really great docks.  It’s paid for partially by the fact that Demopolis is a huge towboat refueling facility and these days you can make a fair amount filling up a 30,000 gallon diesel tank.

They are actually expanding the facility the Alabama way — marking off a soybean field and digging her out.  When I marvelled to my Demopolis friends about this approach compared to the decades of permits and hearings that would take in CT, they explained that the DEP, EPA, Shoreline Commission and Wetlands Authority in Alabama is pretty much a guy named Buck who is somebody’s nephew and somebody else’s grandson, and who takes these things pretty casually.  I think I saw Buck over at slip E7 in the new marina.

Demopolis and the marinas all over Alabama are full of retired Yankees, because it’s fairly warm in the winter, it isn’t high-rise Florida, and because things are just plain cheap.  We went to the fanciest white-tablecloth restaurant in Demopolis and he top item on the menu (a superb rib-eye) was $18.95.  There was no way to spend $50 for two.  But then again, the wine list was somewhat limited — red or white.

Great to be home for a while to see Molly, Fredi and friends,  even though I get lost in our house.  Lots of work, too, since we finally sold it and are doing a lot of packing while we have the chance. Sad to see piles of trees everywhere, and when I went down to the shore to drop some things off, the extent of the water damage even in a “mild” hurricane was frightening.

Breathtaking — on warm days, why go to a marina when you can stay here for free

You can’t see the club and pool, but this is a really nice place

Marina is getting even bigger as they dig out this field

Pumps do 7,500 gallons per hour, but it still takes all night to fill a tow

Prop Shafted — Part 2

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We were doing really well on Memsahibs’s March to the Sea.  Started witha a great grocery and dinner stop at tony Grand Haven Resort and a long run down the Tenn-Tom to a beautiful anchorage. Then we shifted into gear to enter a lock and nothing — no power forward or reverse, engine running fine. It was no fun looking in the bilge to see the prop shaft lying there totally disconnected from the engine.

A service company came out from Fulton, only to find that the bolts needed to hook it all back together were not easy to come by in Mississippi, since the shaft coupling came from Denmark. The diagnosis was easy as to what had happened, though, when we found all the nuts to the bolts lying in the bilge — the original bolts the installer used were too short and never hit the lock washers. So with the strain caused by the notorious jacket-on-shaft incident and 3,000 miles of cruising they simply rattled off.

So we had to be towed into Fulton and spent three days eating catfish at Midway Marina (great folks, great service) while bolts were eventually found from a European car dealer.  And we went to Walmart to buy hats and gloves because Mississippi is going through a cold wave. When we left yesterday we had to scrape the ice off the windshield with our pancake flipper.

The marinas down the Tenn-Tom are pretty rustic — kind of a combination of gas station, RV park and docks. The Tenn-Tom is pretty enough, but right now we just want to get home for Thanksgiving and down to the nice warm Gulf. We are leaving the boat in Demopolis for two weeks, so more from there next.


The Evidence


Mississippi Yachting Attire

Frost in the Sunny South

Not an easy gas dock

Anchorages like this make it all worthwhile

PBH Cruising

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We’re are now doing a style of cruising I have named for my great friend Pat B. Harris.  Here’s how it works: 1) Leave at dawn; 2) Go as far as you can as fast as you can; 3) Repeat until destination is reached.  This is necessitated by the fact that Chattanooga is really not on the Loop — it’s 250 miles up the Tennessee, which means a 500-mile side trip total.  That’s about as much as Memsahib used to do in a year.

Also we spent too much time touristing in Chattanooga and then got caught in Lake Chickamauga for two days when the Tennessee was entirely closed to traffic for a 2,000-boat crew regatta.  The Head of the Hooch is one of the biggest rowing events, if not the biggest, in the world.  So now we are really hustling south, doing 60 and 70 mile days, a lot for an old girl like Memsahib. That means leaving at first light, John’s favorite time of day, since between the switch to standard time and coming back to central time, it now gets dark at about 4:30.

Twice we decided to press on and come in after dark to marinas we had been to before and that have a straight shot in from the river through deep water.  John is excellent in these situations, since 16 years of video game playing has made his coordination between telemetry and the steering wheel flawless.  Also helpful is the huge LED lamp used in fire rescue work (Vulcan Streamlight) that Molly got me for my birthday.  We can pick up a buoy at almost a quarter mile.

The weather has warmed up some, but we are still pretty much locked into marinas so we can turn on the heat.  We’ll be anchoring more as we hang a left tomorrow and head from the Tennessee into the Tombignee Waterway, a series of canals, rivers and lakes that will take us 450 miles down to Mobile.

The Tennessee has been a wonderful surprise.  It’s a spectacular river running through beautiful country with virtually no navigational challenges.  Next to Canada and Chicago, it’s my favorite part of the voyage so far.

Tennessee River Gorge is spectacular going upstream or down

6 Rms Riv Vu

Decatur, AL — this is where they put the Meow in the Mix


Colors are at peak along the Tennessee

Colors are even brighter down by the river in the lower areas

Ran into Hennick the German journalist again in Florence. Still can’t believe he crossed the Atlantic and has almost finished the Loop in this boat.





All Aboard

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I would not have predicted at the beginning of the Voyage that Chattanooga, TN, would be a great stop.  But it was, and I encourage anyone coming near to spend a few days.  It was made doubly interesting by having the always entertaining and inquisitive Eric Brazil aboard.

First stop was the unique Tennessee Aquarium, a new, double aquarium with a traditional “ocean” aquarium in one building and an outstanding freshwater aquarium highlighting the world’s rivers in its own building.  Of course, the exhibits surrouding the mighty Tennessee are the best, including two of the most active river otters I’ve ever seen.

We also went up to Lookout Mountain, sight of the famous “Battle Above the Clouds” where Grant began the campaign that would drive the Conferates out of Tennessee and destroy much of their rail and transportation network.  And Eric stayed the night before he left in the unusual “Chattanooga Choo Choo” hotel, a train station that has been turned into a hotel and shopping area.  Of course, the hotel’s phone number is 1-800-TRACK29 and the restaurant is called The Diner.  John says Eric walked up to the counter and actually said, “Pardon me, boy, is this the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?”  but he denies it.

Of course, Chattanooga, as is true with most places, has it’s dark side.  Three terribly bloody civil war battles were fought here — Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge.   Ross’s Landing, exactly where the boat was docked, was the beginning of the “Trail of Tears” where the Cherokee, last of the Five Civilized Tribes, were rounded up and driven by the U.S. Army to the desolate Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in 1838.

Only problem with our stay is  that I’ve had gold fillings falling out of my teeth since Canada, and was out for a day getting a patch by an excellent dentist secured by the wonderful harbor host Hal Baker who took time from his day to drive me there and back.

Memsahib docked in the heart of the city

Tennessee Aquarium, about a five-iron from Memsahib

Lookout Mountain with Eric

View of Chattanooga from Lookout Mountain

Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel

Choo Choo’s Lobby

Hunter Musuem of Art — Land Side

Hunter Museum from the river side