A String Of One-Night Stands
Once we left the Tennessee River, there were 444 miles to travel on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom) until we arrived in Mobile Bay. The navigation route runs south through the upper portion of Mississippi before it cuts into Alabama at around Pickensville, where the route continues the final 314 miles. This journey took us 11 days, traveling every day except the extra day we spent in Columbus, Mississippi. This figures out to be an average of 40 miles of travel per day.
When Lisa and I drive 400 miles from Traverse City Michigan to visit my parents in Ohio it takes roughly eight hours. Somehow a comparison doesn’t seem to compute until you break it all down. Here’s an example of how we compute our day’s scheduled travel time.
|We were glad to find our five-blade prop was in good shape.|
First of all, there are only nine hours of available daylight travel in November and, when you add in the occasional two-hour morning fog delay, things start to slow down a bit. Of course there’s all the tugboat and barge traffic to negotiate, plus there are 12 locks on this route to lock through. I like to factor in an average of an hour for each lock. Next, I subtract an hour of daylight to make sure we arrive at our destination in plenty of time before dark. It’s much easier to have some daylight left when arriving at an anchorage than trying to get settled in the dark. The final element to factor into our Tenn-Tom daily movement is the speed we choose to travel, which has averaged at about 8.5 MPH.
|So lets do the math:
9 hours of daylight
– 2 hour potential fog delay
– 1 hour before-dark arrival
– 1 hour average lock time (some days more, some less)
5 hours of average daily boat travel
divided by 8.5 MPH average speed
= 42.5 average miles traveled per day
As we traveled south, down the Tenn-Tom, with the exception of Columbus, Mississippi, and Demopolis, Alabama, we were literally in the pucker brush. No towns, no cell service, and very little Internet coverage. We had to check out with the civilized world for a while and just embrace the beauty of the river and surrounding countryside. This is really one of the tenets of our adventure, not to be so plugged in and during this particular stretch we weren’t. It’s actually a very freeing feeling to be un-tethered by phone or Internet for a period of time. Being unconnected adds to the experience of our time spent in these remote locations.
|Our Turn & Roy-El rafted together in Bashi Creek, just off the Tenn-Tom Waterway.|
The first five days of travel south on the Tenn-Tom, Lisa and I cruised by our-selves. We enjoy the variety of traveling with another boat or a group of boats as well as the solitude of sharing experiences between just the two of us. So, for these five days, it was time for Lisa and me to share some alone time as we continued our journey south. Our first scheduled stop was at a boat yard to have Kismet hauled out of the water for a prop inspection. There was so much debris in the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers I was sure the prop had been damaged. This was a good time to get this checked out before we traveled further on down the river system.
With the boat out of the water we were pleasantly surprised that the prop was in like-new condition, so we only ended up replacing the thruster and prop zincs along with replacing a thru-hull scoop. Kismet was back in the water and we were on the way by 10:30 a.m..
After a pleasant day of travel we made our way to an anchorage just above the Montgomery Lock where we enjoyed a beautiful river sunset and dinner for two. It really is nice to share this adventure with someone who loves it as much if not more than I do.
|The last of the early morning fog burning off as the sun starts to warm things up.|
We spent our next two stops at marinas to replenish our food supply, recharge the batteries, take on water, and quite frankly to be around civilization as there is only one other marina stop in the final 335 miles to Mobile, that being in Demopolis, Alabama. Midway was our first marina stop, a place we’d heard good things about but hadn’t stayed during our first Loop. We were surprised to find upon our arrival that there were 12 other Looper boats already there. Roy and Elvie Short on Roy-El were there and we had a chance to get caught up on each other’s trips. Lisa and I first met them in the Abacos, on our first 2006 Loop. They’ve been living on their boat for five years and have no plans to change their lifestyle anytime soon. This year they’re wintering in Panama City Beach, Florida. Our second stop was the Columbus Marina where we stayed an extra day to catch up on boat chores and correspondence.
|With limited swing room at anchor most boats raft up together with both putting out anchors.|
One of the added ancillary benefits of traveling from the Illinois River to the Panhandle of Florida is the courtesy car that most marinas provide for the transient boater. The loaner cars are what we’re always using to go to town to provision for the next leg of our journey, go out for lunch or dinner, or see the local sights. Although the cars, except for rare occasions, are basic transportation, we appreciate the opportunity to be able to borrow them. Our only obligation is to replace the fuel we use and return the cars in the prescribed allocated time so that others have their turn for a trip to town.
At Midway Marina we had a Wal-Mart and Post Office run and while in Columbus we took a driving tour of the Antebellum Homes and revisited a local restaurant for a delicious dinner of red beans and rice. In both situations it wouldn’t have been possible to walk to these places as the marinas on the rivers are typically far from town.
Lisa and I left Columbus Marina with an anchorage at Pirates Marina Cove in mind, as we wanted to visit the adjacent Tom Beville Visitor’s Center. We’ve read that the Center has a very in-depth display about the construction of the Tom-Bigbee Waterway and the 12 locks. They’re also home of the 1926 U.S. Snagboat Montgomery, a 108-foot retired steam-powered workboat. We arrived at our anchorage about 3 p.m. and the visitor’s center closed at 4 p.m. so we decided to take our tour the next day, a Saturday. Sounded like a great, well-thought-out plan that would give us more time to enjoy the center the next day.
|Close quarters are the norm when rafting up in the remote anchorages along the Tenn-Tom. Here we are rafting up with fellow Loopers on Freedom’s Turn.|
We settled in to our calm anchorage and retired for the night. At around midnight the winds kicked up, a rainstorm came through and our anchor alarm went off. Upon inspection I noticed that the boat had moved closer to shore. So we started the engine and pulled the anchor up so we could reset it. Once raised, we noticed why the anchor had not held its grip to the seabed. Instead of the lake bottom the anchor had attached itself to a water-logged, five-foot tree, complete with roots, and then on top of that, attached to the tree was a small anchor and rode. It was such a convoluted mess Lisa suggested we pull over to a dock so we could dislodge our newfound friends. After taking stock of our situation, we decided it was best to remain where we were, securely tied to the dock. After our shortened night’s sleep, I awoke to call the lockmaster to inquire about the visitor center hours for Saturday, and this is when we found out that they’re not open on weekends. So much for plans!
We hooked up with Roy-El, Freedom’s Turn, and Our Turn a few days later when we traveled the last five days on the river system. I mentioned that the travel through Alabama, except for Demopolis, is rather remote and because of the makeup of the river there aren’t a lot of quality anchorages, and those that are on the river are relatively small. With that understanding, it’s usually best to plan to share anchorage stops with other Loopers.
As Lisa and I left Pirates Marina Cove we were joined in the lock by Roy-El and traveled the balance of the day to our anchorage at Sumter Recreation Landing. Freedom’s Turn joined us a short time later when we all got together on Kismet for happy hour and to devise a plan for the next several days.
We woke to fog the next morning, which meant a delay. It was also very chilly with a 41-degree temperature in the boat cabin. Better than snow and ice but nonetheless colder then desired. Our overnight stop at the Demopolis Yacht Basin meant we had three more long days of travel in front of us before we would make it to the Mobile Bay on the fourth day.
|We locked through the last lock on the Tenn-Tom with the tugboat Tombigbee. What made this special was that in all the locks we’ve been through this is the first one we’ve ever shared with a tug.|
Some folks who’d just purchased a used 46 DeFever, Our Turn, and were on their way home to Texas, joined us shortly after Demopolis for the rest of the way to Mobile Bay. Bashi Creek, Lock One, and Little Lizard Creek made up our anchorage destinations over this three-day period. Because of limited swing room we usually rafted up in pairs, tying up port-to-port so each boat could get a good hold with the bow anchors. This maneuver kept us stationary pretty much throughout the night. Another benefit of anchoring out is the opportunity to view a pitch-black sky brightened only by the brilliance of the stars. Lisa and I would go out onto the bow of the boat each night at anchor, just before bed, to gaze into the night sky.
|After 11 days working our way down the quiet and tranquil Tenn-Tom Waterway, we were greeted by the busy activity of the Mobile waterfront.|
When our small caravan left Little Lizard Creek we only had a short 20 miles to travel before we arrived at the busy Mobile Port, the tenth busiest port in the United States. We looked forward to a well-deserved, three-day layover in Fairhope, Alabama.
When you emerge from the remoteness of the river system into this immense Bay with its industrial area, warmer climes, salty air, and tidal waters, you feel as though you’ve just surfaced from a tight, winding, tunnel into something busier, brighter, and expansive. It’s an almost indescribable feeling to close one portion of this trip and look forward to a whole new set of experiences. This is how we felt leaving the river system to say hello to Mobile Bay.
We were greeted by a great deal of tugboat traffic and large freighters escorted by pilot boats, military vessels, and of course the Mobile skyline. We’d moved into waters that required a complete new set of boating skills involving tides and currents — all part of the adventure as we move towards warmer weather.