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, however, we were ready to get on across Mobile Bay. You know, magnolia leaves, warm rolling seas, and sweet Rosalie. (Since we’re homeless and happily would drink a toast to Flagstaff, we can identify with The Possum and the Hag.)
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. Excellent 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 to pick up some zip ties 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 that time in 1979 when a towboat—the Cahaba—got sideways in the current.Apparently the captain had decided to shove his barges through the wider span, then back up, then go through the narrower but taller 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 may be 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 rickety 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 perfect location for 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 instantaneously. 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 awesome dinner with Hayley Rose, Mahi Mahi, and Fratt House at the restaurant that really was supposed to be closed. 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 east and west and north and south, which isn’t at all efficient when the only helpful direction is the last of those.
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-blocking 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 as night fell.
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’re now 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 only crappy thing about a 28-ton full-displacement trawler.
** How unexpected and exciting is a post containing two 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, five 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 (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 measly 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 up the Captain by radio 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 biscuits 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.Justacross 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 some 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’ve 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.
Midway Marina—our home last night—has no real facilities other than solid docks. But bless their hearts the owners put in some good WiFi. That’s quite important, because Bosch is hot on the trail of the Elias assassin and closing in on the arsonist who is trying to cover up Bosch’s hooker mother’s murder. No spoilers please.
Much better start to the day this morning, assuming that a pre-dawn departure in the cold actually is better. We avoided the stumpy water despite some wispy fog that real fog would laugh at. Five Looper boats got out just as planned.
We’ve seen a lot of rivers and canals along the way so far, and for sheer beauty this stretch rivals the best of ‘em. If there were good marinas to host us it would be perfect. We’d even take just a pub and an LCBO. Unfortunately there isn’t much of anything, however, which moves the area down our list.
Amazingly, we breezed through locks for second day in a row. We figure we’re reaping some additional rewards for our clean living.
While on the subject of locks, a couple of things to note:
First, is there anyone alive who hasn’t wondered how on earth butane storage bullets are transported? Well now we can provide the answer. Someone plops them on a barge and they’re towed/pushed along the Tombigbee River. We know this because we saw the setup coming out of the Aberdeen Lock. That’s another big bucket list item we can check off the list!
Second, while sitting in the Glover Wilkins Lock Doug tried to find out when it was built. Instead he stumbled on its Wikipedia page.
Really? The Glover Wilkins Lock is a lock on the Tenn-Tom and was named after a guy named Glover Wilkins? Darn right there are “page issues.” The issues come from the absurdly obvious information it provides. The most interesting thing about this web page is that someone actually took the time to create it. Kids, don’t use Wikipedia as a book report source.*
And actually the real reason we zipped through the Wilkins Lock was the generosity of our old friend (from yesterday) the Graestone Express. The lockmaster said we could lock down ahead of her, but we first needed the captain’s permission. The captain not only agreed, he even chatted us up as we all went around. He specifically warned us about the dangerous tides on the Georgia coast. Which is just great. We weren’t scheduled to start worrying about Georgia for at least another 4 months.
Along the way today we discovered that a fine line exists between patriotism and litter. We also discovered that pterodactyls aren’t extinct.
NOTE: We face a few long and tough days between here and Mobile Bay. Rain is in the forecast. There’s only one marina to be found in the next 350 miles. The boys will be miserable. We may have to travel from before sunrise through sunset, on an unfamiliar waterway. We’ll be exhausted when we stop for the night. In this part of Mississippi and Alabama we may have no cell service.
All of which add up to the excuse for no more posts until we catch up at Dog River.
* UPDATE: The Wikipedia page for the Glover Wilkins Lock has been updated (by us) to include more interesting and pertinent information. Now it in fact can be used for book reports.
UPDATE No. 2: After we added the note about Misty Pearl, a bunch of other Loopers added their own boat names to our list of vessels traversing the Wilkins Lock. However, some officious Wikipedia jackass has removed them all.
The third in what we suspect will be a stretch of long days means a short post. But since in part this sort of is our personal diary we gotta record something.
As we feared, we awoke for a dawn departure only to find fog hanging in the air. Not cool.
Depending on perspective, the fog either was patchy and not a real concern (“Let’s beat the Badger!”) or it was horrible and unsafe. When the TowBoatUS captain told Dana he wouldn’t go out if he was us, we opted to turn the engine off again. We reported to the day’s fleet and everyone agreed. Of course, 3 minutes later the dude took off in the tow boat. But he’s a professional and knows the area and is getting paid, so we heeded his advice. At least we were able to tidy up a bit, and Doug took an unexpected pre-travel shower. Dana walked the boys 3 times.
By 8, things looked better from the parking lot.
Unfortunately we don’t steer from the parking lot. At pilothouse level the visibility still sucked.
At 9, the fog parted like Moses and the Israelites were crossing it. We even looked back just in case there were wicked Egyptians on our tail. Nope. Just a suddenly beautiful day.
Yellow Creek was gorgeous in the sunlight. Still too cold for pansies like us to move up to the flybridge, of course, but we could see just fine from below thank you very much.
Much of the day passed while we were in the canal portion of the Tenn-Tom. It’s pretty narrow, and seems even more narrow when trying to pass a tow, which is going just a bit slower in the same direction, on a corner, through the prop wash. We closed ours eyes and it wasn’t quite as scary.
The good news—which saved us—was that by passing Graestone Express, we lined up for the three locks we needed to traverse. All the lights were green when we approached the chambers. Unheard of good luck for Misty Pearl.
After the Rankin Lock, we hit what sort of looks like swamp land. Dana bagged another cool heron shot. Poor dude. One minute you’re balancng easily with nary a worry in the world and the next minute 8 boats bounce you around miserably and make your wings flap.
We docked at Midway Marina just as the sun set on the river. Fulton, Mississippi. Still not sure we can get to Orange Beach by the end of the month. Maybe we won’t even try.