The shortest distance between two points is NOT the Tombigbee River

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.

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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.*  

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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.

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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.

003a3160Bobby’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.

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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.

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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.)

img_6041Saturday 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.

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img_6034Of 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.

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img_6042Sunday 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.

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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?

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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.

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* 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?

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