On The Hook

3/29/2013

By Jim Favors

We departed Green Turtle Marina, at Grand Rivers, Kentucky, to sparkling waters and clear blue skies. It had been five years since we last plied the Tennessee River from the Lake Barkley, Land Between the Lakes, and Kentucky Lake south to Alabama. Because we have such fond memories of our previous times in this area we were eager to be back in this beautiful part of the country. Our goal, over the next few weeks, was to return to a few of our favorite towns and marinas, expose ourselves to some of that famous southern charm and above all enjoy Mother Nature as much as we could while "on the hook."

Typical shoreline view on Lake Barkley.

Right after leaving Green Turtle Marina, we immediately entered Lake Barkley, idling along a few miles before we made a turn into the 1.7-mile long Barkley Canal. Many people lined the canal’s shoreline fishing, walking and just enjoying the day. Up until the 1960s this short cut, from the Cumberland to the Tennessee River, was not possible and therefore deserves an explanation.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s there were nine dams built on the Tennessee River with the Kentucky Lock and Dam being the lower most one (downstream), its construction created Kentucky Lake. The dams were constructed for the creation of hydroelectric power, to improve navigation on the lower Tennessee River and to help reduce flooding on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Construction started on the Barkley Lock and Dam in the 1960s on the Cumberland River, a few miles to the east – it opened in 1968 with similar objectives to the Kentucky Lake Lock and Dam. Around the same time the Barkley Lock and Dam opened and a 1.7-mile canal was dredged between Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, thus creating a significant shortcut for commercial and pleasure craft alike.

This feathered friend has shown up early to the Wildlife Refuge marker in Duncan Bay.

The remaining, non-flooded land area, between the two lakes had to be vacated, with much controversy – dislodging small towns and the 2,800 folks who resided there. The ancillary benefit was that this "Land Between the Rivers" became the “Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area” (LBL). At 2 miles wide and 40 miles long the 170,000 acres of parkland became the largest inland peninsula in the United States.

As we exited the Barkley Canal we turned Kismet south and hugged the shoreline of the lake. Our self-imposed mission was to seek out and explore several of the seemingly endless coves for both scenery and potential anchorages. We weren’t in a hurry.

It’s wise to communicate with, and stay clear of, towboats pushing barges, like this one on Kentucky Lake.

Just past mile marker 30, five miles south of the Barkley Canal, we made a port turn into Pisgah Bay. Shaped like a T-bone, I thought the area would shield us from any high winds. Once inside though, I could tell Pisgah was not the right choice for us this time around. We made a sightseeing lap around the bay before heading out and down to Duncan Bay, which is located at MM34 of the Tennessee River/Kentucky Lake, only four miles further south.

Inside Duncan Bay there are no less than six coves to choose from for an anchorage. We idled back into a well-protected cove that, in only a few weeks time, would be closed off to boaters until spring. The area is an animal refuge from November 1st until March 15th – therefore it is closed to all humans during that time. As it was, we had the entire place all to ourselves – it felt great to be swinging on the hook again.

The total distance traveled on our first day out was a whopping 14 miles. This was absolutely by design. The reason we’re taking it slow has to do with the brisk pace of travel we previously experienced on this stretch of river on both our Loop trips. You’ve probably heard the saying about an overworked horse, “Rode hard and put away wet”? Sometimes, when cruising, you do need to get up early, travel long days, and do it all again for days on end to get to a desired destination. I guess you could say, when we’ve cruised these waters before, we felt a little like a horse, at the end of the day, who’d been rode hard. This time we were determined to take our time, smell the flowers along the way, travel short distances, stop cruising early in the day, leave late in the morning, or choose to stay another day if inspired to do so.

Surrounded by calm water and a beautiful shoreline, and with a clear view out to the river, Cypress Creek, a little cove off the river, was an excellent find. Anchoring just can’t get any better than this.

Although we are not fisherman or hunters, we do thoroughly enjoy Mother Nature and being immersed in her territory. Land Between the Lakes, being a National Recreation Area, is a paradise for cruising because it offers countless secluded, well-protected, and scenic anchorage choices. In addition to good fishing, the recreation area has camping and RV parks strewn along the peninsula, including an Elk and Bison Prairie, a Planetarium, hiking trails, horse riding, and hunting (in season) – all surrounded by Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.

While anchored in Duncan Bay, I was curious to know what the area looked like before the dams were built and the two lakes were created. The Internet can be your best friend when searching for something like this – I found the Kentucky Department of Highways, Lyon County, road map from 1937 in my search. What I found was that Duncan Bay is almost identical to how it looked 76 years ago. If you check the attached link you can see for yourself: http://www.explorekentuckylake.com/maps/docs/LyonCo1937.pdf

Duncan Bay is in the lower left hand part of the map. What astonished me was how changed the Cumberland River became. With the Barkley Dam completed and the subsequent flooding of the area complete, the landscape totally changed with the creation of Lake Barkley. On the 1937 map you’ll also see where several towns, farms and houses were that no longer exist, some, that were close to shore, became submerged beneath the water.

We woke up to a pea-soup kind of fog. It clearly told us we should stay put for awhile.

Except for the occasional fishing boat working their rods, we had the entire cove at Duncan Bay to ourselves. Being on the hook, surrounded by a scenic setting and calm weather, we could not have asked for a better evening. We took advantage of our environment to relax and play some games in the cockpit, followed by an early dinner outdoors. We left Duncan Bay mid-morning to clear blue skies. Our departure was scheduled to give us plenty of time to take in the gently sloping hills of the Land Between the Lakes peninsula, as we cruised 28.5 miles south to Cypress Bay Creek.

Cypress Creek Bay is unique in that the north half is in Kentucky while the southern portion is in Tennessee. From the river we made a starboard turn into the bay. As we made our turn at MM 62.6 we were in Tennessee. Our destination was the first small cove to our right, just past the mouth of the bay and completely within the State of Kentucky.

The fog swirled around and around, thinning out very slowly, due to the sun’s warmth, until finally land started to materialize through the thinning veil of fog.

Lisa and I love these uninhabited, natural cove settings for overnighting. Like Duncan Bay, we had the entire cove to ourselves, along with the occasional fishing boat that quietly made their early morning rounds around our boat. Being alone, on the hook, provides an opportunity to play music, appropriate to the setting, of course, without bothering anyone. It also provides us a sense of privacy you don’t get in a crowded anchorage, marina or residential setting. The privacy benefit especially comes into play when we want to use the cockpit of our boat as a showering station. We do have a wet head on Kismet, but it’s so much easier to use the cockpit. The advantages are that we don’t have to completely dry off the head walls and there is more elbowroom outside. If we’re in fresh water we have the option of using lake water instead of depleting our water tank – and really who doesn’t like a nice shower outside?

We woke the next morning, having had one of calmest nights on the hook in recent memory. As we lay in bed, the stillness of the boat and the quiet of the cove provided an excellent night’s rest. It was so quiet I could only hear the slight humming of our boats battery charger, emanating from the bowels of the cockpit locker.

With only a slight amount of fog remaining it was time to pull anchor.

Upon arising from our stateroom, I immediately saw the reason for our surreal state of being; we were socked in by a blanket of fog so thick it seemed it could be cut by a knife. In 2005, I learned a lesson about fog from a wise woman on the Mississippi River. Fern, of Hoppie’s Marina, imparts a very simple lesson during her "river reviews." Fern says, “If you can’t see from one side of a river to the other because of fog, stay put.” Remembering Fern’s sage advice, we remained at anchor for another couple of hours as we enjoyed watching the fog slowly move around and finally out of our anchorage. Finally we could see out into the river again, it was time to go. Oh, the things you’ll see while on the hook.