Swinging Free & Easy
By Jim & Lisa Favors
Anchoring out is either in your blood or not. I know we talk a lot about our time spent on the hook, so please bear with us as we share our last five nights at anchor on the Tennessee River before we backtrack and tell about the rest of our marina experiences. As we planned our fall trip last summer, Lisa and I discussed how our trip would afford us plenty of opportunities to enjoy one of our favorite boating activities, swinging free and easy at anchor.
We shared our Blue Creek anchorage with this “cat” while we had the balance of our Tennessee River anchorages to ourselves.
From east of Knoxville, Tennessee, running southwest into Alabama and touching Mississippi before heading north back into Tennessee and finally emptying into the Ohio River at Paducah Kentucky, the Tennessee River provides 652 miles of anchoring opportunities. From Pebble Isle Marina, our most recent stop, it is 165 river miles south to McKernan Creek, our last scheduled anchorage before ending our Tennessee River excursion at Joe Wheeler Marina in Alabama. However, in this section of our trip, before we made it to Joe Wheeler, we experienced a total of five more anchorages, two repeats, and three new to us. After leaving Pebble Isle Marina, Blue Creek was our first new, to us, anchorage followed by Lick Creek and Little Bear Creek, both further downriver, while making return visits to Diamond Island and McKernan Creek, as we worked our way to Joe Wheeler Marina. We purposely planned our Tennessee River trip so we could take our time. Having the luxury of a slow schedule we ended up averaging less then 36 miles and no more than four hours of trawler speed cruising time per travel day.
This was our seaweed surprise the morning after we set the hook in Chicago’s Harbor.
As mentioned above, the biggest draw to anchoring out overnight is that it provides us with an opportunity to be as close to nature as we can. As we’ve traveled all over the eastern United States, parts of Canada and the Abaco Islands in the last eight years, the surprise of catching a school of fish seeking shelter under our boat, getting the chance to see a black bear, moose, eagle, alligator, manatee or dolphin in the quiet of a secluded cove adds to the appeal of swinging on the hook. We both like the feel of the boat’s gentle movement as it’s tethered to the embedded anchor and rode, watching a spectacular sunset or witnessing Mother Nature burn off a bank of fog in the early morning stillness.
We ran into some fellow MTOA club members from Nashville, while anchored out in Lick Creek.
As I was pulling up the anchor, the morning after a peaceful night anchored at Blue Creek by Cuba Landing Marina at mile 115.50, in preparation for heading another 16 miles south to Lick Creek, I couldn’t help but wonder what might be attached to our anchor. We never know what we will find after the anchor has been submerged at the bottom of a debris filled seabed for a night. On that day, as our anchor emerged from the river water’s depths, a cloud of murky mud eased off of the flukes of the anchor and plopped into the water. I was glad to see I didn’t have to wrestle any foreign objects off the anchor like I have in the past.
The scenery along the Tennessee River is mostly natural. On this sunny day we enjoyed some autumn color as we made our way south to another anchorage.
A glorious fall day highlighted this beautiful stretch of the Tennessee River with a sand dune type shoreline.
Working our way towards Lick Creek, we encountered this trip’s first misty, rainy day. It wasn’t bad enough to keep us from heading out, so with a cup of coffee at hand Lisa and I began remembering some of our prior anchor entanglements. Close to our home waters, we recalled a time hauling up our anchor only to find the tip of it penetrated into a very old aluminum beer can. Another time we anchored out overnight in Chicago’s well-protected harbor, just off Lakeshore Drive (with a million dollar view of the city, I might add). Our anchor alarm went off several times during the course of the night. Each time we woke, we saw that the boat had dragged a short distance parallel to shore. With plenty of water real estate behind us I simply reset the anchor alarm and went back to sleep. We did this only to have the alarm wake us in two hours time, yet again. Noticing we had again moved another 100 feet I reset the alarm and went back to sleep, this time in the pilothouse just to be safe. In the morning, besides being 300 feet from where we had started the night before, we were still in good shape. When I raised the anchor it became immediately evident to me what had caused the anchor to drag through the harbor all night. Attached to the anchor was a ball of seabed so large it took us about an hour to get it all cleaned off of the anchor. I’m really quite surprised the anchor held at all.
We were having so much fun talking about our mishaps that we arrived too quickly at Lick Creek (MM 131) to remember the best incident, now fondly referred to as the Christmas tree episode. After following the deepest water route into Lick Creek, with the help of our GPS, a serpentine, deadhead strewn and unmarked channel, we set our anchor in seven feet of water. This time though I attached a trip line and float to our anchor. I’ve never lost an anchor before, but after talking about all the things an anchor can get caught up on, I thought the additional safety measure might be in order, especially after passing several deadheads on the way into this protected cove.
The advantage of a trip line is that if your anchor does get lodged into the seabed, a tree trunk, or rocks so firm your windlass will not bring it up, you have an additional means to try to release the anchor’s hold from the opposite direction. With our trip line in place and anchor set, we poured a couple more cups of coffee and retired to the cockpit to relax in our new surroundings as we began to recall our anchoring thriller in Pirate’s Cove many years ago.
Kismet is anchored off of Diamond Island, a return visit for us; we’ve anchored here three times now, in each of our three boats. One hundred and fifty-one years ago Union boats with troops onboard filled this channel during the Battle of Shiloh.
We vividly remember our one-night stop in Pirate’s Cove, located on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, by Tom Bevill Visitors Center and Lock and Dam in Central Mississippi. We mistakenly thought this small, well protected, cove would provide a peaceful night on the hook. We had decided earlier not to spend the night at the small marina just yards away from our chosen anchorage. The weather had turned sour sometime in the middle of the night. We woke up to a major storm and high winds whipped the boat around and around, the anchor alarm was sounding off and the boat was inching dangerously towards the nearby marina. We fired up the engine and immediately went to pull the anchor up so we could reposition the boat and reset the anchor. With rain pouring down in sheets and bolts of lightening igniting the sky, we weren’t terribly surprised to find an additional bundle attached to the anchor when it broke the water’s surface. A small-sized Christmas tree (or more likely the top section of a taller tree) was so entangled around our anchor we had to motor to a nearby dock at the marina and tie up so I could dislodge the tree from the vantage point of the dock. Upon further inspection, as we dragged the whole tree out of the water onto the dock, we discovered it was not the only culprit, a small anchor and line was wrapped around the lower branches at the foot of the tree. By the time we got the anchor released from its grip on the tree, we were soaked and covered with a murky mud so foul we had to strip down and leave our cloths in the cockpit. In the end, we decided to stay tied up to the dock for the rest of the night. We were amazed at how an innocent looking cove could turn so nasty with a bad storm. Although not funny at the time, as these experiences usually go, we’ve had many laughs since about our Pirate Cove thriller. We only wish we had thought to take a photo of that tree and small anchor.
Don’t get me wrong; even though I’m remembering our anchorage follies, ones that mostly involve junk attached to the anchor, most times our nights swinging on the hook come off without a hitch. However, even with the proper ground tackle, occasionally a situation will come up when a boater’s anchor will lose its hold; that’s when having an anchor alarm activated, while crew is resting, serves as an able assistant and a must-have piece of equipment for boaters who love to anchor.
A tranquil, autumn, morning anchored in Little Bear Creek.
Jim is doing a little dinghy exploration around our anchorage in Little Bear Creek.
After spending an enjoyable, and trouble free, anchorage at Lick Creek, we cruised further south the next day to Diamond Island for a repeat visit. Diamond Island is at MM 195.3 of the Tennessee River. The area is called Pittsburg Landing; a historic landmark where Union solders stationed themselves before the Civil War’s Battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest battles of the war. As we anchored on the east side of the island, off of the main channel, we couldn’t help but feel uneasy about the 3,482 soldiers who died in the two-day battle on April 6-7, 1862. To read more about the Battle of Shiloh you can visit: http://www.nps.gov/shil/historyculture/shiloh-history.htm
From Diamond Island, which has a great spot at the mouth of the inlet for watching beautiful sunsets over the river, it was only another 20 miles before we left Tennessee behind us; we entered and straddled the border between Mississippi and Alabama for another 9 miles of scenic beauty. Soon after we left Mississippi in our wake and entered Alabama with the goal of finding an anchorage somewhere west of Florence, Alabama, a stretch we’d not anchored in before.
With the aid of Active Captain (www.activecaptain.com), I scouted out several options electronically. I read some of the comments from a few captains’ prior visits that were noted on the site. Taking time to do a little research in advance helps to alleviate some concerns and eases the process of choosing one anchorage over another. When we arrived at Little Bear Creek, at MM 249.4, I knew, due to the prior captain’s remarks, on Active Captain, to take the channel entrance towards the west side of the creek when entering the creek. I also read that at about 300 yards into the creek there would be 8-9 feet of water to anchor in. We entered the picturesque natural setting of the creek and found it to be as reported. We dropped our hook and settled in for a tranquil night, feeling comfortable that we were off the river with its heavy barge traffic and in the stillness of a small, well-protected creek. As dark settled in it got quiet and still, we could hear the drone of tugboat engines as they pushed their barges past Little Bear Creek. Knowing we were safe and secure with a good hold on our anchor for the night, we spent the early evening laying out plans for the next day.
The white buoy float you see in the water is attached to our trip line, shown here at McKernan Creek.
The last anchorage, of our Tennessee River cruise, was at McKernan Creek, a revisit for the crew on Kismet.
We both had it in mind to return to a favorite anchorage in McKernan Creek, off MM 261 of the Tennessee River for our last anchorage of the trip. On our second Loop trip, in 2008, we enjoyed a night at anchor in this well-populated, almost lake-like setting with small homes and cottages. We traveled about 1-mile back into where we had anchored before. In our previous visit, we had encountered a very social evening in McKernan Creek as we were radioed a welcome by one resident and invited to another’s for happy hour at their house. Cocktails, in turn, led to an early morning breakfast for Pride and Kay Cameron on Kismet. It still amazes us how boating enables us to make new friends in unexpected places. We enjoyed a solitary, but restful, last night in McKernan Creek, swinging free and easy before we would arrive for a very active time at Joe Wheeler Marina, in Rogersville, Alabama, for the AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association) 2012 Fall Rendezvous.