So here’s a map of our stops, right down to our actual slips. We’ll keep it pinned to the top and hopefully fairly current.
Blue skies Saturday morning, but 25-knot wind gusts. The beautiful Orange Vol Navy flag was snapping like a bullwhip. Not a chance cowards like us untie a single line. Oh well. Nothing at all wrong with a day spent watching football.
This morning we took off for Pensacola. Out of the marina at cruising rpms we inexplicably were stuck at about 6.8 knots. Ugh. That’s slow even on the speed continuum between total engine failure and walking on the beach.
Eveyone always asks us “What’s the ICW like between The Wharf and Palafox Pier in Pensacola?” Actually nobody asks that, but Doug set up the time-lapse again just in case someone does. Dana says nobody bothers watching the videos we post, but it’s nice to have them even if just to remind us of the tows we dodged and the time we spent outside the marina in Pensacola waiting for the boats ahead of us to dock. And since we have video, no need to take many photos.
Damn. Doug screwed up the video AGAIN. Turns out if you forget to turn off the screen, the battery drains faster than you can say “Hey look there’s a dolphin I hope we get it on the video.”
We did eventually speed up. And we confirmed by signage that we’re now in Florida, which means progress.
Basically there wasn’t anything else to see along the way. Except some really cool houses. Which we didn’t photograph. And a lighthouse. And the navy base, where a Coast Guard ship was tied up.
We’ll hang around Pensacola for a few days before heading out for Thanksgiving. Unless plans change yet again.
Okay we know it’s a weak post. Sue us.
We’ll report in on Pensacola before we leave on Wednesday.
Once again, plan change. Rather than hang around The Wharf at Orange Beach until after Thanksgiving, we decided to knock a couple more days off. Unless things change again—and the wind forecast makes that a real possibility—tomorrow we’ll motor on over to Pensacola. Lola’s rainbows, Frankie’s sheep, the lifeguard’s Jeep, and all that. Pensacola is the home of the Blue Angels, which makes it the holy opposite of Durham, North Carolina. The last air show of the year was last week, which is about right since we seem to miss almost everything by a hot minute one way or the other.
Almost, but not always. For example, a few days ago the World Food Championships set up a 2-minute walk from our slip. Everyone was asking the obvious question:
We didn’t stick around to find out, but we did pop in for a bit of the opening round of desserts. They looked to be making some sort of tart but frankly we found it rather slow-paced so we left before anyone actually produced anything. There were a lot of people cooking and watching, however, so we surmise it’s a big deal for some.
Since it’s a competition, there must be officials. As in “Cheferees.” We ran into one of them at the hot pepper store, where he was taking the challenge to eat the ”hottest pepper sauce in the world.” An hour later we saw him back at the competition, but he wondered aloud whether his stomach would allow him to continue.
While docked at The Wharf, we did some non-cruising stuff we won’t bother detailing. Like errands. We also did some boat chores. Shortly after we bought Misty Pearl, Doug found a security system replete with sensors and cameras and other cool stuff. It all came in a spiffy cardboard box which was just the size and shape to fit—unopened—nicely under a small electric fan in the bedroom. Doug finally remembered that there was stuff inside the fan pedestal. If we accomplished nothing else in the past two weeks, at least we’re now fully secure. Plus when we leave the boys unattended we can check in remotely and watch to make sure they aren’t up to any funny business.
The highlight of our non-cruising activities was a trip up to the Smokey Mountain foothills with Lewis and Terri to meet the girls for UT homecoming. GBO.
On the way to our VRBO cabin we passed through Farragut. Farragut, Tennessee, was named for native son David Farragut, who may or may not have actually used the torpedo line with which history credits him. There is a most awesome and satisfying Tennessee gear store in Farragut. And a Pei Wei. We stopped at both of them.
On Thursday we took the ferry across the entrance of Mobile Bay to Dauphin Island, site of historic Fort Gaines. The sign says Fort Gaines was named after General Edmund Pendleton Gaines, which is interesting since Doug handled many litigation cases in the Maricopa County courtroom of one Judge Pendleton Gaines. Seems probable that the guy we knew as Penny Gaines’ parents either were huge history buffs or there’s a family connection. Pure coincidence seems unlikely. We thought about asking our family genealogy guru—Cousin Wendell—to look into it for us but then we realized it’s not that important.
The sign also says General Gaines captured then-former Vice President Aaron Burr after he was indicted for treasonously conspiring with Mexico. The charges didn’t stick, of course, as evidenced by the fact that just a few months ago we saw Burr on the Hamilton stage in Chicago.
Fort Gaines was a critical fort guarding Mobile Bay during the Civil War. The blockade to prevent supplies from heading inland was orchestrated by that same David Farragut, who added insult to injury by forcing the surrender of the CSS Tennessee after decimating the rest of the small Confederate fleet. Come to think of it, Farragut doesn’t really deserve a Tennessee gear store.
During our time here in the Mobile Bay area we also walked through a portion of an Audubon Bird Sanctuary. Actually we didn’t really walk much. It was more like sniff, pee, repeat. (It wasn’t Doug. The boys came along.)
The main excitement was when we spotted a gator in the lake along the trail.
The one we saw wasn’t quite as bad as the drug-dealing, gang-banging, Odin Lloyd murdering kind of gator infesting the swamps of Gainesville, Florida*, but he still was socially unacceptable. Which triggers the old joke about how to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile.** Thankfully he didn’t eat a boy.
Friday we went to the beach.
It’s quite probable that all of our river pictures have started to look the same. It’s equally probable that we are at the front end of a leg that will yield a bunch of nearly-indistinguishable beach pictures. Regardless, after spending some time in Gulf Shores and neighboring areas of Alabama, Dana allowed that she might not mind living here. WAIT WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY? ALABAMA? If we owned Edvard Munch’s most famous work, this would be the place to insert it. But we both do agree the beaches are pretty cool.
Since this post is replete with coincidences, here’s another one. Mallory’s roommate’s great-aunt and uncle—Jo and Jack—are Loopers.*** We’ve not met them, but they docked their Grand Banks trawler at the marina around the corner. Their boat’s name is Trust Your Cape. “Trust your cape” is a line from a Guy Clark song. We love Guy Clark.
Guy Clark was from Texas. Dana is from Texas. Downright spooky, isn’t it?
We spotted Trust Your Cape on Nebo and popped by their marina to meet them. The lady in the office said they were storing the boat there but had just left. For the winter. We texted them. They were headed east by car, but stopped at a Waffle House. We love Waffle House, although that one was in the wrong direction for us. Double spooky. The point is that we missed them by mere minutes.
Fingers crossed we can move tomorrow.
* Gainesville also was named for the original Penny Gaines, who seems to have gotten around back in the day.
** One you will see later and the other one you will see in a while. (Punchline added as a courtesy to anyone who missed out on the bad-joke phase of life.)
*** Mallory and Shannon also have a great-uncle Jack, although he’s no longer with us. We concede that the name Jack isn’t quite as uncommon as, say, the name Pendleton, but still.
Dog River Marina may not have been quite consistent with the marketing campaign they ran at the Rendezvous but it was adequate and we got the t-shirts they promised us. After collecting said shirts, we were ready to get on across Mobile Bay. You know, magnolia leaves, warm rolling seas, and sweet Rosalie. (Since we’re homeless and have nearly frozen to death in Flagstaff, we can identify with Cal Smith.)
Very surreal to be back in salt water again. The Bay was flat and blessedly stress-free, which we badly needed after a long string of decidedly-opposite-of-stress-free days covering 499.8 nm. We’re ready for something more than Little Debbie Nutty Bars for breakfast. And about that, we don’t at all approve of Little Debbie changing the name to Nutty Buddies. Nutty Buddies are those stale ice cream cones that you get from the freezer at Circle K. These are Nutty Bars. We actually—and quite agitatedly—complained to a McKee Foods corporate officer not only about this atrocity but also the decision to stop making the chocolate pies that Dana just discovered and already has come to love. Doesn’t seem to have made a difference.
After the mini-crossing—not to be confused with The Crossing (Gulf of Mexico) we face in a few weeks—we reached our entrance into the ICW. Very exciting. Maybe not exciting to read about, but very exciting for us to reach a new part of our Loop.
Speaking of Jimmy Buffett, his sister Lucy has a restaurant right on the ICW. We called to see if we could stop for lunch. Lucy needs better help. They weren’t too interested in us using their dock so we passed on by. Lucy’s loss.
On to the Wharf. Brent and Karen talked up the joint all summer so we had high expectations.
Expectations met. There are real restaurants and shops. Nice floating docks. Everything we need. They even put us in a slip right next to Second Wave for what surely will be the last time.
Brent and Karen cleaned out Second Wave for prospective buyers. We got one last meal with them before they headed back to Texas this morning. Note the minivan. They were snobs about minivans before we convinced them.
Anyway, the Wharf is pretty cool.
That’s a good thing, because we’ll be docked here for a month. During that time we’ll be traveling some—by car not boat—so probably no more blog posts until we head back out in December. Nobody wants to read about standard old car trips, as in “Today we stopped at The Home Depot after a nice sandwich at Goldstein’s Deli.”
In the meantime, here’s another sunset.
And here’s another heron.
* CCR was the soundtrack for Lake Michigan, but we’re back in Jimmy Buffett country now.
Thursday night we anguished with Hayley Rose over Friday’s travel plans. About 10 boats were heading to Bashi Creek—the preferred anchorage—but Bashi Creek is big enough for only about 6 boats our size. If you get there and it’s full, there aren’t any options other than to keep going another 3 hours or so. Which might well be in the dark. Which isn’t an acceptable option for cowards.
We basically decided that if we could get through the Demopolis Lock quickly and run at 8.1 knots the entire 98 miles, we could maybe barely hopefully reach Bobby’s Fish Camp before pitch black night enveloped us. If that didn’t look possible, maybe we’d just wait in Demopolis another day. One boat volunteered to call the lock-master at 6:30 a.m. to see when we all might pass. We went to bed with all options on the table.
Of course, nobody called the lock at 6:30, so Dana called at 6:45. Five minutes later the dude said to come on down, so we headed out just before dawn. As is typical, boats straggled in, slowing things down at a time when every minute counts. Some people failed to identify themselves, some people had trouble tying up, and then the gate malfunctioned. By our calculation, we needed to get out of the lock by 7:45 to have any chance at Bobby’s. With all the shenanigans it was 8:30 when we left. Oh well, let’s just burn more fuel.*
Along the way we passed by what’s left of the old Rooster Bridge at mile 201.6. We’ve passed a million abandoned pilings and supports and whatnot. The Rooster Bridge, however, is famous for the time in 1979 when a towboat—the Cahaba—got sideways in the current. Apparently the captain decided to shove his barges through the wider span, then back up, then go through the narrower span at the drawbridge, zip through, and catch the freed barges on the other side. What possibly could go wrong with such an objectively ridiculous plan? Fortunately for posterity, a reporter was stopped for the drawbridge and whipped out his Brownie to capture it:
The Cahaba was operated by Warrior and Gulf Navigation. More on them later. The most amazing thing was that the dude in charge stayed at the helm—albeit sideways—all the way under the bridge until the boat bobbed back up like a rubber duck. The whole “captain going down with the ship” thing is noble if that ship is a passenger vessel or a naval destroyer. A towboat pushing coal? No fricking way. Bail out and get a job at Walmart if you get blacklisted. Dude survived but one article said that months later his hands still shook so much that he didn’t need an ashtray when smoking. That’s pretty shaky. And pretty gross.
Mostly Friday was just work. Tows clogged us up at one point. Racing the clock is fairly stressful. Actually it’s very stressful when failure leaves no palatable options. Bobby’s or bust.
Bobby’s Fish Camp is different things to different Loopers, depending entirely on degree of desperation. If you’re planning to go past but get screwed by the Coffeeville Lock, Bobby’s is a disappointing bailout. Basically it’s just a 150-foot dock along the river, with a bathroom in a shed with the latch on the outside. The latch either is intended to keep out whatever wild animals Bobby doesn’t want using his toilet, or to entrap teenage girls who foolishly decide to pitch a tent in the middle of a horror movie.
We left Demopolis at 6:50 and tied up at 6:50, which would’ve been great if we simply had teleported. Instead we landed just as the last fingers of sunlight clawed back towards wherever in China is on the opposite side of the globe from bufu Alabama.
For us, however, Bobby’s was the proverbial oasis in the desert, much like Paducah. After 12 hours we just wanted to tie up somewhere. Anywhere. The bonus was dinner with Hayley Rose, Mahi Mahi, and Fratt House. Most of the group enjoyed the mess o’ catfish Sheila served up. We all went to bed early. And got up early Saturday morning to get a jump on the day.
Unfortunately the Coffeeville Lock guy advised us that our tow nemesis Piachi (Warrior and Gulf) was steaming down and had dibs. So we had to wait. Which wouldn’t have been too bad if we had a nice hot tub and steak waiting for us on the other end. Instead we had another long day to an anchorage. Once we arrived at the lock, however, we got through efficiently enough.
Coffeeville Lock is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it’s our last lock for at least 4 months. Yippee! Second, it put us back down almost to sea level. Back to brackish water, sort of like the Potomac. Except much prettier. (Except oh crap. That means we have to start factoring in tides again.)
Saturday basically was just another long day. We opted out of the popular Three Rivers anchorage in order to make Sunday a bit more manageable. We literally went north and south and east and west, which isn’t very efficient when the only helpful direction is due south.
Knowing that the Alabama River Cutoff was pretty narrow, we planned to raft with Hayley Rose port to port, with each of us setting an anchor. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and all that, said Robert Burns. We went in first and anchored quite close to shore, under what turned out to be DirecTV-killing trees that care nothing for college football. Hayley Rose dutifully came in and spun, but with the current Mike and Ann struggled to back up to us after setting their anchor. So we both decided just to set up separately using stern anchors. We definitely would have done a textbook job with the stern anchor, but the textbook required google and we had no cell service. So we did what we could. At least it was pretty out there.
Of course, we couldn’t sleep a wink. The anchor alarm app went kaput. Not only did we fear the anchors failing and sending us into the shore—which was perilously close—but one of us was concerned about alligators climbing up the trees, dropping onto the boat, and eating us, the boys, and the delicious brownies Ann gave us.** That may sound far-fetched, but did we ever mention the bear attacking boats during our trip through Georgian Bay? See, it could happen. Anyway, we didn’t sleep just in case. If God intended for people to anchor at night voluntarily He wouldn’t have created 3/4-inch braided docklines.
Sunday morning of course we still were in place and no alligators had molested us. However, our stern anchor snagged on a log, or an abandoned moonshine still, or a 1973 Chevy Mailbu with the undiscovered bodies of those 3 missing teenagers who picked up a hitchhiker and never made it home. The water was dark brown so we couldn’t be sure. Either way, the anchor was the very definition of a sunk cost so we cut the line and off we went in the light morning fog.
Sunday the Tombigbee was just as twisty and turny as the day before, but a perfect day for cruising. Clear blue skies. Temperatures in the 70s. Smooth. The shoreline morphed into cypress swamps as we neared Mobile. (No alligators to be seen.)
Just north of Mobile, we reached a Y in the river. Which way to go? Fortunately we had a chart plotter to mark the way. Unfortunately we forgot to take a photo of the other arm—Big Bayou Canot. Big Bayou Canot was the scene of another incident involving—you guessed it—those slopheads at Warrior and Gulf. This time a tow operator on the Mauvilla accidentally turned off the Mobile River in the fog and hit the Amtrak bridge in Big Bayou Canot just before the train arrived. Not good. Not good at all.
Pretty quickly after passing the Big Bayou Canot we reached Mobile. Mobile is the first legit city we’ve encountered since we left Chicago what feels like about 30 years ago. We forgot that with cities comes commercial traffic and huge ships.
The coolest ship we’ve seen so far was docked at the Austal Shipyard. We passed within about 50 feet of the newest Littoral Combat Ship. Stealthy, eh?
Out in Mobile Bay we met up with the brown cousins of the pelicans we photographed several weeks and about 1000 miles ago. Kind of bogus, though, to let someone else go get the fish and then just swoop in at the last minute.
Blessedly we now are back in the land of marinas, and restaurants, and real grocery stores. We’ll head off to The Wharf in Orange Beach tomorrow, very excited to see Second Wave again.
* At 1800 rpms, we burn 2.2 gph and ignoring wind and current hit about 7.5 knots. At 2000 rpms, we burn about 6 gph and zoom up to about 8 knots. We can’t go much faster unless nature gives us a push. That’s the crappy thing about a 23-ton full displacement trawler.
** How unexpected and exciting is a post containing 2 unrelated and distinct brownie references?
Nice start to this piece of the sprint—if a boat with a top-end of sloth-speed can sprint—down to Mobile. At 6:50 yesterday, 5 boats left Columbus just in time to catch the sunrise from inside the Stennis Lock. Once again, no delays. The magic continues.
By now most river photos are starting to look the same so we probably don’t take as many, but this part of the river is just easy and fun and cool. We took turns driving and napping on the bow, which Robin (on Crossroads) cleverly calls the “fiberglass beach.”
We did pass, however, an unexpected and exceptional piece of modern art, in which the artist creatively used a mid-century convenience as a commentary on how ongoing technological progress has interrupted nature and set mankind on the path of destructive laziness. Or maybe some dude just needed to dump an old phone booth and left it on the bank to be funny. Either way, there it sits.
The only excitement was when we realized that a tow ahead of us was going to reach the second lock of the day just 6 minutes ahead of us. The lock-master said he was ready to take down whoever got there first. Let’s ramp up to sloth +1 and try to catch him. Fortunately it was our old pal Graestone Express. Dana chatted him up and for the third time, he let us around him.
Along the way we started to notice what on the surface appeared to be a delicious tossed salad, topped with fresh watercress. Yum! Water hyacinth? Yuck. Hyacinth should be a nice old lady who smells of mothballs. “Do come in, Hyacinth. We’ll have tea and play whist in the parlor.” Nope. Water hyacinth actually is an invasive, evil, strainer clogging, thruster fouling, log concealing, mess introduced by Louisiana slave traders who found it pretty. Morons. We found a picture online that shows it up close. Here’s what it looks like in a lock:
Anyway, smooth cruising through all four locks put us at the anchorage below the Heflin Lock at 4-ish. Not too bad. The closest town to the Heflin Lock is Gainesville, Alabama. Just across the state line from Gainesville, Alabama, is Scooba, Mississippi. Nobody ever heard of Scooba, Mississippi, until potty-mouth Buddy Stephens put the EMCC Lions—and Scooba—on the proverbial map.
Anchoring would be fun, it it weren’t for dogs who strongly prefer to lay their treasures on solid ground. And if we had no fear of slippage. The spot was big enough for Cavara, Hayley Rose, and us, plus we found Tranquillo—who we met in the mud at Alton (Rob was the dinghy pilot who helped us after Alton’s fuel dock guy assured us there was 5 1/2 feet of water but it turned out he was off by 2 feet)—already settled in. Quick kayak rides for the boys for a walk, then some quiet time on Misty Pearl. Thank goodness for generators and DirecTV.
Doug would have shot some drone footage, except, you know, that drone-killing tree at Joe Wheeler prevented it.
This morning we woke up to rain. More accurately we woke up for the last time to rain. We were up several times earlier because of dogs needing to pee or snack and because of funny noises suggesting that the anchor was slipping and we were being swept over the dam, which in the light of day seems a bit foolish since we anchored below the dam. We were right where we dropped the anchor. After another quick kayak trip through the hyacinth—and through the rain—it was anchors aweigh this morning at 8.
“Don’t miss the spectacular white cliffs at mile 248.8” says Skipper Bob’s book Cruising from Chicago to Mobile. Meh. Mostly nothing is “spectacular” in gloomy rain. We dutifully got out the camera anyway. This time the battery was charged AND the SD card was installed. Dover they ain’t, but the cliffs were different than the rest of the shoreline so far.
At mile 217 we ditched the Tenn-Tom and entered the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway. The Black Warrior River goes to Tuscaloosa and beyond. No reason to go up there. There’s nothing at all good about Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa’s sister city is Gomorrah.
Some twists and turns on the river, some tows, some hyacinth, and the White Cliffs of Epes later, we landed at Demopolis. Demopolis is much smaller than it sounds. The marina doesn’t take reservations, and the Looper boats who were there last night had no interest in traveling through the all-day rain. We got the next-to-last spot for the day. Caught up with Jim and Susan on Gypsy and they joined Mike and Ann (Hayley Rose) and us for dinner.
A bunch of us plan to head out in the morning for an anchorage that holds something less than a bunch, so we’ll see how that works out. No service from here to Dog River for sure. Fingers crossed we’ll be there on Sunday.