Days 123-132; October 29-November 7; Add a seventh state, Alabama. We left Aqua Yacht Harbor taking a three day detour up the Tennessee River to meet back up with Vicki and Ron in Florence, MS. They attended the Joe Wheeler AGLCA (America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association) Rendezvous taking notes for us and then managed a color tour to Chattanooga while we were back in Michigan. Both boats then headed back down to begin the 450 mile long Tenn-Tombigbee Waterway of which this leg of the trip was 233 miles for a new total of 1492.
We are happily back on the water highway running into familiar looper boats while making new friends almost every day. The side-trip up to Florence was gorgeous with abundant fall colors, bright sunshine and beautiful homes to keep us entertained. We enjoyed a delightful marina here attached to a State Park with a good internet connection, long, happy runs for Sammy and the wonderful “City Hardware” restaurant – perhaps the best food, service and ambiance so far. Florence is considered one of the top retirement towns in the U.S. based upon practical factors that probably wouldn’t entice most of us but it is a quaint, college town with friendly, helpful folks.
In fact, we had the pleasure of meeting Charlie late one evening while walking Sammy. Charlie and his wife, retired truck drivers, would love to do the loop but for health reasons live vicariously through those of us stopping at this marina three miles from his home. Instead, he is the proud timing official for the Florence high school football games.
Another interesting Florence event was the bass fishing tournament. Over a hundred fishing boats launched before dawn to race up and down the river competing for who could catch the biggest five fish of the day with cash prizes awarded. There is more to say about bass fishing in these rivers. First, these men rightfully own the river (after the tow captains) so as a transient guest you had better slow down and calm your wake as you pass by. Second, they often wear helmets as their boats fly at up to 90+ miles an hour in an effort to find the best fishing spot. My dad was a fisherman and likely couldn’t have imagined fishermen wearing helmets but then who would?
After the fishermen were on their way, we (dressed in our black & orange and eating Halloween treats) headed back south again. This Waterway, 450 miles in length, is a bigger man made canal project than the Panama Canal and is one of the most popular vacation spots in America. Although never producing the commercial traffic and revenue expected, some barges use the route, pay big fees for the shortened distances and the waterway provides jobs and income for the entire region.
The five picture-perfect anchorages will be a most memorable part of this trip. It is now dark by 5:30 p.m. so we generally are in bed by 9 and on our way by 6 so that we have afternoon time on the hook to clean up the boat, read, write in the blog, take dinghy rides, and generally relax enjoying the wildlife. Early one morning we watched a deer swimming across the river just ahead of the Namaste. Seeing only it’s head we thought it was a duck until she gingerly climbed up a steep and rocky bank. Another treat was a gaggle of Black Scoter Ducks observed while on a dinghy ride one afternoon. Darn, didn’t have a camera. These are rare in North America and the only ones we have seen so far. Some days we see more Great Blue Herons than Egrets and other days more Egrets than Herons but always butterflies and many kinds of bees, fish and turtles. To watch Sammy’s nose go it seems there are wildlife message that she gets and we are missing.
A word about locks of which there were 10 on this stretch dropping anywhere from 30-80 feet each. There is a definite protocol to how this all works but suffice it to say that there is a sigh of relief when we call to the lock master on the VHF radio to report that the Namaste is secure. We have also learned that locking down is easier than locking up and that patient lock masters and personal experience are the best teachers.
The two exceptional marinas in this stretch were Midway and Columbus with many looping boats (and people) of every age, size and condition imaginable. In Columbus MS there are 675 registered historical southern antebellum homes including the one we toured where Tennessee Williams was born.
After a night of pouring rain (3.5 “+) we have completed half of the Tenn-Tom and are in the Demopolis, AL marina where we will take a few days before setting out to complete the remaining 217 miles to Mobile, AL.
As you may have guessed, the Namaste is performing better than we could ever have imagined – she is a true gem!
Boat Name of the Day: Lady Chateau on a spectacular 85 foot boat out of Stillwater MN. Perhaps the most memorably beautiful boat of the trip so far.
Bad Boat Name of the Day: “Insanity” – what more can I say?
Quote of the Day: “A ship in harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are built for.” –William Shedd
Happy Birthday Debbie Littlepage!