Once we completed the Loop at Alton, IL, on 9-5-03, we made the big decision to "turn left;" i.e. head south again in "Souvenir" for another winter (rather than "turn right" and go back up the Mississippi to our Home Port in Afton, MN, and w-w-winterize the boat -- GASP!!). So as long as I keep this website active, I'll continue to chronicle our cruises.
Alton, IL to Sandestin, FL - 9/8 through ?/?/03
Day 1, 9-8-03: Beautiful!! A perfect day. Sunny, warm, calm. Great conditions to head south with my new Second First Mate. My First First Mate got a really early start, about 4:30 am, headed home in my Buick with Billie Jo. Dan & I were ready to depart in Souvenir at 7 am! I called ahead to the Melvin Price Lock #26 (just a couple miles down-river @ mm 201; drop 23'), and they said "Come on down!" They opened the gates, and just as we entered and Dan lassoed the bollard, we heard another radio call from "Nina" to the lock-master. Uh-oh! I thought we were ahead of them! Nina is a replica of the original Columbus ship. We had seen her come into Alton Marina the night before. It was "demasted," and the scraggly crew talked about building it in South America and sailing it around the U.S. giving educational tours. They were headed for Green Turtle Bay to step their mast after coming down the Illinois Waterway. I don't remember passing them, but we must have. They sure didn't move very fast. In this case, though, they only held us up a few minutes, and by 7:40, we were on our way out of the lock southbound.
An hour later, we were through the Chain of Rocks canal, and "greased" Lock 27 (the southernmost lock on the Upper Mississippi River; mm 185; drop 12'). I anticipated slow going through the St. Louis area due to barge traffic. But it wasn't too bad, and as we passed the big Arch about 9 am, I called Harriett to report that I didn't see her down at the wharf waving like she said she would. It was a great photo-op; perfectly clear blue sky, unlike photos on our previous trips which were both very dark, gray days (though apparently blue and gray "blurs" easily on the internet??). Next stop would be Hoppie's fuel dock a little after 10 am (mm 158). Sure enough, there was Fern and Hoppie, this area's greatest welcoming committee. We topped off our tanks and got all the latest scoop on downriver anchorages, and were on our way again in a half hour. Could we really make it to the mouth of the Ohio River? Looks like it could be done before dark if all continues to go well.
A little before 1 pm, we passed the Kaskaskia anchorage (mm 117); looked like it was in good shape, but way too early to stop. A little after 1:00, we approached the big highway bridge at Chester Landing (mm 110). Just past the bridge, was a large paddle-wheeler (turned out to be the Mississippi Queen), cross-ways in the channel. A radio call determined that they had a medical emergency on board, and were attempting to get into position against the current to drop the big forward gangplank on a small boat launching ramp. Then we could see the emergency vehicles standing by at the ramp. The captain warned us to go slow, and be careful of their "paddle-wash" behind them. There wasn't much room between them and the green marker at the edge of the channel. There was no dock at the ramp, so that was quite a trick holding that big boat "off-shore" while landing the gangplank. But we got by, and didn't hang around to watch the final act.
At 1:30, we passed the spot where we had anchored overnight (mm 100, on the Illinois side) on our first trip north in the spring of '02. Obviously, the water was a lot higher then! It was no place to anchor now; the wing dam with pilings were well above the surface right where we had dropped the hook! But we're still making great time, and by 3:45 we're approaching Cape Girardeau. The construction of the new suspension bridge had made significant progress, and the barge traffic that had slowed us down there twice before, was non-existent this time. On the south edge of Cape Girardeau at mm 48.8 RDB (Right Descending Bank), is the well-known anchorage in the Diversion Channel. As predicted by Fern at Hoppie's, it looked like a good place to stop, and there was a big catamaran anchored at the mouth of the channel. We could have easily found a place to drop the hook, but it wasn't even 4 pm! The next "advertised" anchorages were still nearly three hours away at the mouth of the Ohio River. And we knew we had to get by a couple major dredging operations. But there was still very little barge traffic, and the weather couldn't be better. So we kept on cruisin'.
The luck was holding, and before 6 pm we arrived at the I-57 highway bridge (mm 7, LDB), where Fern had suggested a "new" anchorage she had heard about. I was familiar with the one at Angelo Towhead (mm 0, just above the Ohio), so I figured that was a good back-up if we found any problem here. There was some confusion between Fern and Hoppie about whether the entrance would be above or below the bridge. But it certainly appeared that "above" made more sense, and the chart showed a wing dam immediately above the bridge. They also said that all the rain on Labor Day weekend had the Ohio "running hard with lots of debris," so that meant the Mississippi was probably backed up with plenty of depth. So, with Dan out on "Souvenir's" bow, I very carefully and slowly headed into the Boston Chute. As I left the channel, the depth held around 20', then as I approached the mouth of the cut, it actually increased to 34'. This was a relief, since my experience at Angelo Towhead last spring was the mouth being very shallow, before deepening inside the anchorage. Then as we eased up inside the Chute, the depth gradually decreased, and about 100 yards in, I stopped with the depth at 10'. Dan released the shackle on the anchor chain, and I tried the control from the bridge. No contact! The switch didn't work! Good testimony to try the anchor periodically; certainly before you get to the anchorage. I hadn't used it for quite awhile. Fortunately, Dan was able to use the foot pedals on the bow, and we had no trouble securing the anchor. There was just enough current through the Chute to keep the boat centered, but since we weren't all that comfortable anchoring, Dan threw the Fortress off the swim platform. It was a gorgeous evening; a beautiful spot; and we had successfully traveled 194 miles; a one day record for "Souvenir." Since Billie Jo wasn't along, we didn't need to drop the dinghy and go ashore, so I followed the instructions on a frozen bag labeled "Skillet Sensation," and we had a great meal! All was well for a peaceful night at anchor at the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers!
Day 2, 9-9-03: Up and at 'em!! A good night's sleep! All systems go! We're on our way by 6:30 am! Except for a little fog, it's still sunny and calm. Yesterday, Dan had talked to the guy at Big E Marina in Paducah (46 miles up the Ohio) to find out about diesel fuel and accommodations (just in case we decided to run after dark). He reported high water, strong currents, and a HUGE debris-float, with large trees going down the Ohio. So of course we decided to wait till morning at our safe anchorage. But now we were faced with the Ohio. As we approached the day marker at the mouth, we could see the stream of debris entering the Mississippi. But it didn't look "HUGE" and solid with large trees. So we wove our way through the streaks of small-to-medium sized debris, and headed up the Ohio. By 8:15, we were approaching Dam #53 (mm 963) and confirmed by radio what Fern had reported that the "wickets are down" (which meant water high enough to pass over the dam itself, without going through the lock). So this was a repeat of the first two times I had passed this way. We cruised by the new (still under construction) Olmstead Lock (intended to replace #53 & #52 someday!) and it was also "wickets down" at Dam #52 (mm 939) as we passed about 9:40. The radio call for #52 also alerted us to produce "no wake" as we were about to meet three tows coming down river with a concrete section of "Lock wall" for Olmstead. Amazing how they get those things to float?!?! That would be a large anchor!
At 10:05, Dan docked "Souvenir" at the Big E Marina fuel dock (mm 935) in Paducah, KY. It was a little tricky getting in behind the dock, into the strong current, ahead of a couple trawlers tied up there. And we were warned to not swing too wide below the dock, as there were submerged pilings and rocks down there! This was my first stop at Big E, and they really didn't have much for amenities. And the fuel pump was REALLY slow. By 11:15, we were topped off with 380 gallons, and ready to continue. The trawlers were leaving ahead of us, and just up-river, tows were in the process of turning a big barge (3 by 5). The trawlers were slowly rounding the stern to the right (shortest route to the mouth of the Tennessee), so I chose to go the long way around the forward end to the left which allowed us to pass the trawlers at the same time. My plan was to get up the 22 miles of the Tennessee River to the Kentucky dam soon enough, so we wouldn't have to wait for the trawlers to lock through.
At 11:30, we passed the junction marker (mm 935 on the Ohio), and kept to the right to pick up the Tennessee River channel markers (mm 0). Weaving through the industrial area with minimum wake, we brought Souvenir up on plane. The Kentucky Lock is well known for a long wait if timing is off with barge traffic. In fact, many boaters take the alternative route 11 miles further up the Ohio where the Cumberland River comes into the Ohio. There the Barkley Lock has less and smaller barge traffic, so waits aren't as long. Then they go right to Green Turtle Bay Marina, and cut back to the Tennessee River via the Barkley Canal. The trouble is, if you're not stopping at Green Turtle Bay, you have to gamble on getting through the Kentucky Lock when you leave the Ohio, 22 miles downstream. And typically radio and phone calls to the lock don't help much. They just say timing could be anywhere from a half to two-and-a-half hours. This was my third time through the Kentucky Lock, and once I lucked out, and once I had a long wait. Since we were early in the day, and not planning to go to Green Turtle Bay, we gambled; and this time we won. A down-bound single barge was just leaving the lock, and we were cleared in immediately. As the gates were closing behind us, the trawlers called on the radio. They were told he was locking a pleasure-craft up right now, and would turn around and be ready for them when they got there. No more barge traffic nearby. Everybody won! Before 1 pm, we were out of the Kentucky Lock, headed up the Tennessee at full speed.
The rest of the day was uneventful, and at 5:25 we pulled into Cuba Landing (mm 115) for the night. We had made 169 miles; another really good day; and tomorrow would be a short day to Pickwick. The good people at Cuba Landing provided keys to a much improved courtesy van (since the last time we used it), and we enjoyed a ride, and good meal at the Log Cabin.
Day 3, 9-10-03: Another early start (6:30) on another perfect cruising day. Not much to report until we got to Pickwick Lock (mm 207). This time we passed an up-bound tow a couple miles below the lock. Hoping that we could get through before he got in range, we called in. Pickwick has an auxiliary chamber that isn't normally used. But as we approached, a tow was just departing the auxiliary lock, and turning around to pick up it's barges in the main lock. We were advised that as soon as he cleared the auxiliary lock, they'd take us up. So we were in and out of that one by 12 noon. From there it's only 8 miles to the mouth of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, and a couple miles around the corner to our destination, Aqua Yacht Harbor. So we were "home" by 12:40, with "Souvenir" in a covered slip, G57, where she will stay until after 10/15, when the hurricane season is finished (by insurance company policy). Then we can finish taking her on down to our "winter home port," in the Florida Panhandle.
Meanwhile, I met with the Aqua service manager to go over the "to do" request while we're at home. Then we made an arrangement with a private couple to get a ride to Memphis (90 miles to the west). There we had reserved a one way rental car to drive straight through to Minnesota. Dan and I alternated driving up through St. Louis and back up the middle of Illinois. At 7:30 am, Thursday, 9/11, we pulled into our driveway in Woodbury, MN. Without feeling like we had pushed too hard, we had covered 467 miles by boat, and 1,000 miles by car, in 73 hours. Job well done! Thank you Danno! You look a little "rugged" at the helm there toward the end!
Day 4, 10-30-03: After about five weeks at home, we implemented the new plan for taking Souvenir on down to the Florida Panhandle for the winter. Since my First First Mate had expressed a preference to not "do the Tenn-Tom again," and we wanted a vehicle to use in Destin, she volunteered to drive down, and I recruited a friend to crew for me on Souvenir. He's Rich Grigos, a good "non-boating" friend whom I'd met through my work in the St. Paul community the last few years of my 3M career. He actually "qualified" as my Third First Mate on Souvenir, by crewing for me a couple of years earlier when I took our last SkipperLiner houseboat down the Mississippi from St. Paul to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, to put it on the market at the manufacturer. After that trip, Rich had commented that he would "love to crew for me again sometime, but NEVER AGAIN ON THAT BOAT" (that's a whole different story!). So his calendar worked for this leg of our trip south, so he could "experience" the Tenn-Tom Waterway on the way to the Gulf Coast.
So, on 10/28, Rich and I and Billie Jo departed St. Paul in our Lincoln Navigator early in the morning, loaded with the necessities for the cruise. We made it all the way (over 800 miles) to Aqua Yacht Harbor on Pickwick Lake, just off the Tennessee River at the head of the Tenn-Tom Waterway (mid-way between Memphis & Huntsville), late that evening, giving us a day on the 29th to prepare the boat. We spent an easy day getting final supplies and settling up for the service completed on Souvenir. I also connected with our good friends Ernie and Priscilla Bush from Memphis, who used the neighboring Grand Harbor Marina as home port for their 57' Carver Voyager, "Slo Movin' Outlaw." We had met them in previous winters when their boat was left at Baytowne Marina. Coincidentally they were planning to depart for Baytowne again on 10/30, so we looked forward to cruising together. Due to other commitments, Ernie wanted to depart the Pickwick Lake area late that afternoon, and only go as far as the first lock (at Whitten Dam, Mile 412, Bay Springs Lake, Mississippi) and anchor above the dam overnight, so he could transit the lock at "first light" the next morning. So we decided to fit their schedule.
After another leisurely morning, we moved Souvenir to the fuel dock about 3 pm for the final trip preparation to fill the tanks. The Dockmaster, Mickey, and Attendant, Dooley, (in photo) had taken good care of Souvenir. While there, another "small world" coincidence occurred when a boat named "SeaQuestered" also pulled up to the dock. Not only was the boat from our home port in Afton, MN, (though we didn't know the owner), but it had been crewed this far by Dan Aspinwall, who had crewed for me this far in September. In fact, one of the reasons Dan wanted to join me on that leg was so he would have the experience to help SeaQuestered's owner who had never made the trip before. SeaQuestered finished his fuel stop before we did, and we still wanted to wait for Slo Movin' Outlaw to depart the neighboring marina, so he headed on down the Tenn-Tom. About 4:40 pm, Ernie came cruising by, so we fell in behind him and headed south.
It was about 36 miles to the Whitten Lock, so as we entered Bay Springs Lake above the dam, it was 6:30 and nearly dark. Ernie had arrived just ahead of us, and lo and behold, SeaQuestered was sitting there, waiting to lock through. Our previous crew, Dan, had not returned for this leg with Sequestered, so the owner had hired a Captain with experience in this area. He recommended to Ernie an anchorage behind the "barge cells" on the left descending bank, about a half mile above the dam. So while he was setting his anchor, he invited us to raft up with him for the night and join them for a cocktail. We had to make a decision about which side to raft on, since I needed to drop our tender to take Billie Jo ashore. But Ernie preferred that we raft on his starboard side, which meant we'd have to use his tender since I could only drop mine on the port side. We concluded that with only a two hour run from the marina, Billie Jo wouldn't need to go ashore till morning, so Ernie said he'd be ready with his tender at 5 am. Priscilla's mom and step-dad were along, and we all had a very enjoyable evening on Slo Movin' Outlaw before turning in for the night. It was good to be with boating friends we hadn't seen since the previous winter, before our Great Loop adventure.
Day 5, 10-31-03: At 5 am sharp, Ernie was ready to go with his dinghy, and it was totally dark! He said he knew of a small beach at a public park at west end of the dam. We could see a small group of lights in the distance, at least a mile away. So Billie Jo and I crossed over our swim platforms and got into the dinghy with a flashlight, and we headed across the dark water. As we approached the lights, we could see a couple rows of cables and floats parallel to the beach apparently marking a swimming area. So Ernie headed toward one end, and we paddled ashore and Billie Jo and I got out of the dinghy. Billie Jo quickly was VERY RELIEVED!! We jumped back in the dinghy, shoved off, and Ernie turned out into the lake. Across the darkness we could barely make out what we thought were two, tiny white flickering lights, in the direction we thoughts our boats should be. Off we went, and by the time we got to the boats, it was 5:30, and first light was beginning to show before sunrise. We climbed aboard, hoisted Ernie's dinghy, cranked engines, broke away from our rafting, and Ernie weighed anchor and called Whitten Lock requesting lockage by 6 am. After all that, we learned that a southbound tow with three barges was approaching. The Lockmaster took the initiative to ask the tow captain if we could lock through with him. He approved, and as we waited for him to enter the lock, I had the opportunity to circle Slo Movin' Outlaw for a photo-op in the light of the rising sun. By 6:30 am we were all secure in the lock, and we started down the biggest vertical drop of any lock on our entire cruise, 85'. As often happens, there are leaks in the lock walls, and Slo Movin' Outlaw, positioned right in front us, nearly got an unexpected shower for her crew (see photo, below left). Thirty minutes later we had dropped the full distance, and the lower gates began to open (see photo, below right), and were on our way down the Tenn-Tom....very relieved that didn't have to wait for the tow to lock through first. It is virtually impossible to pass a tow between the first three locks on the Tenn-Tom southbound since they only span a distance of 15 miles. In a previous trip, we had taken 7 hours to go those 15 miles because of three tows in the area.
By 7:40, we were through Montgomery Lock, and by 8:20, through Rankin Lock, each with a vertical drop of 30'. Then we clicked off Fulton and Wilkins Locks, each with a drop of 25', by 10:10. At that point, I received a cell phone call from Diane. She was underway in our Buick LeSabre southbound, and about half-way through Wisconsin on the interstate. She related what an incredible feeling of freedom she had felt the last three days since we had left home. She was virtually unaccountable to anyone, since no family or friends even knew she had stayed at home. Everyone thought she had left the same day we did. Though she was certainly reachable by phone, she came as close to "zero responsibilities" as anyone can.........and she LOVED IT! She deserved that feeling of the "ultimate" vacation. And now she had struck out alone in the car with really no commitment on where she was going except to be in Destin when we planned to get there after a planned five day boat trip (from Aqua Yacht Harbor to Baytowne Marina).........normally a two day road trip (from our home in MN) for her. So her "vacation from responsibilities" continued. The only requirement for her trip enroute was to stop at Aqua Yacht Harbor and switch cars so we'd have our Navigator to use in Destin. Then we planned to drive back through there and pick up the Buick on our way home from our Christmas visit.
We kept up the pace through Amory Lock by 10:40, but ran into our first wait for a northbound tow at Aberdeen Lock. At least it was only a 30 minute wait, so we locked through with six other pleasure-craft by 12:10. Then it was decision time. We had an hour run to a favored over-night stop at Columbus Marina, which would mean stopping very early in the day with gorgeous weather (mostly sunny, light breeze). But the next good stop was three more locks and over 100 more miles. Way too ambitious for us, but Ernie (who doesn't share the benefits of retirement!) could actually cruise a little faster than we do, and decided he needed to press on. So we eased back on the throttles, and Ernie went counter to his boat name (Slo Movin' Outlaw), and we watched him disappear around the next bend. We learned later that he made it to Demopolis well after dark, after 10 locks and a very long day since our tender-ashore with Billie Jo before sunrise! Meanwhile, we eased into Columbus Marina by 1:30 after a very nice day covering 77 miles and 7 locks. As we approached the fuel dock, I spotted a familiar boat secured around the corner of the transient dock, a 60' Viking. Could it be our old Great Loop friends, Marv & Betty on DeeLight? We hadn't seen them since August up on Lake Michigan, but I knew they were somewhere ahead of us. There didn't seem to be anyone on board, and after fueling, we tied up bow-to-bow with the Viking. I walked around to her stern and saw the name, Serenity, an exact sister-ship, but not DeeLight.
With several hours of beautiful daylight remaining, and my crew, Rich, having an "antique-ing" kind of interest, we decided to get some wheels and check the local plantation and restaurant features. Columbus Marina management, Chuck & Barbara, are well known, far and wide, as "most accommodating" for transient boaters. With all the boat traffic passing through, their marina courtesy car was already committed by reservation. So they offered us the use of their "very husky" 4WD, diesel pick-up truck. We got directions to the Waverly Mansion which was a half hour drive, and across the river. It was an unique experience as promised.....basically the main house was an octagonal shaped structure with a two-story atrium, and plenty of antique furnishings, some original "stock." Rich and I were the only visitors at the time, and there was a very interesting volunteer guide who provided a lot of fascinating stories about the history of the plantation. It was a terrific bonus of our short day of cruising. We then set out to find a recommended New Orleans-style restaurant, J.P. Broussard's. In all my travels all over the world, I can't remember being quite so frustrated at being so totally lost, and unable to find our way!! I still don't know what it was about Columbus, Mississippi, the maps and directions we were given (both by the marina folks, and several places we stopped.........YES........we were reduced to stopping to ask directions! Not just once, but several times! They did us no good whatsoever!! Fortunately we had plenty of time on our hands, and finally, by the process of elimination of being on practically every street in the community, we stumbled onto the restaurant. Of course we wondered all through an excellent dinner, if the directions they gave us to return to the marina would be any more helpful. As it turned out, we zipped right back to the marina with no problem. At the boat, we studied the map to try to ascertain where we had been, and why it was such a challenged. To this day, it remains a mystery.......must've had something to do with the ghosts of Waverly Mansion! But I don't think it took us more than a few seconds to fall asleep once our heads hit the pillows!
Day 6, 11-01-03: I was awakened early, before first light, when Serenity and a several other boats (including two big Hatties, the 74' Lucky Joe and 65' Nomad) in the marina filed out and headed for the Stennis Lock, which is adjacent to the marina at Mile 335. Since we missed the early flotilla, we had to wait for them to lock through. Then the lock came back up for a second southbound lockage, so we finally departed Columbus Marina at 7:05 am, and by 7:45 were through the Stennis Lock. Without incident or delay, we "greased" Bevill Lock at Mile 307, and by 1:10 pm, we were through the third and final lock of the day, Heflin Lock at Mile 266. By 4 pm, we approached Demopolis Yacht Basin, and as I called for fueling and docking instructions, I spotted not one, but two very familiar boats; 60' Vikings. One of them no doubt was Serenity, but the other HAD to be DeeLight. Sure enough, the "radio-voice" of our good friend Marv came back on channel 16 and welcomed us to Demopolis. We were going to enjoy a reunion!
The marina was crowded with transient boats, including the two big Hatties, Nomad and Lucky Joe. But they pledge to always take care of us at Demopolis. So when we finished fueling about 5:30, our assigned spot was rafted up on DeeLight's starboard side, just ahead of us on the fuel dock. We met a couple from Rochester, MN (where I grew up), also southbound in a 42' Jefferson, L'Orien, and Mitchell in a trawler from Lake City, MN, on the Mississippi, and arranged for wheels and dinner at a well-known local restaurant, Fescue House. As I headed back to the boat from the marina shower facility at the other end of the parking lot, I happened to notice a black Lincoln Navigator just like mine. Then I noticed it had MINNESOTA PLATES! Then I looked down the row of parked cars and saw a very familiar woman pacing back and forth, looking out over the docks. Surprise, surprise! It was my bride; just showed up, looking for Souvenir! It turns out she had driven all the way to the very southeastern tip of Missouri yesterday from home (almost 800 miles!), stayed in a motel on the interstate, then went on to Aqua Yacht Harbor in northern Mississippi this morning and switched cars, then came on down the back roads to Demopolis, to unexpectedly catch up with us. So what a "reunion" it was, with a wonderful dinner at Fescue House with Diane and Rich, Marv and Betty, John and Ann, and Mitchell. And it was great to have Diane back on Souvenir for the night. She hadn't been on the boat since she left us in Alton, IL, back in early September.
Day 7, 11-02-03: Early, but not so bright (BEFORE first light!), the flotilla of transient boats at Demopolis began to stir. As we were on the "outside rear" of the raftings around the fuel dock, we were "obliged" to be the first out. Someone said, "The lock is ready for southbound traffic," so we said goodby to Diane, and headed into a fogbank around the bend just as the sun's light began to show. We learned later that Diane tried to get into the lock area by car to see us through, but she was "locked out" (pun intended). We secured Souvenir on a forward bollard on our port side, and watched behind us as the boats filed in, and the sun began to burn through the fog.....a great photo-op! That's Nomad, the 65' Hattie coming in behind us. Then the others filed in on the other side, with our good friends in DeeLight among them (see photos below). It was great to be traveling with them again!
When the lower gates opened, we could see there was still some fog to deal with. So we ventured out carefully in a "convoy" of six boats with less than 1/8 mile visibility, for about 45 minutes until it began to lift. From then on, it was clear sailing with perfect weather, and no more locks all the way to Bobby's Fish Camp, 95 miles down the Tombigbee River. That made for a pretty short day with such an early start (tough duty traveling with these "first light" guys!), so we started the "re-rafting" exercise on Bobby's dock, shortly after noon. So we got hunkered down with the two big Hatties in front, then we rafted Souvenir again on DeeLight's starboard side, and behind us a 42' Sea Ray was on the dock. Finally L'Orien and Serenity fit in around us. So we wound up with eight boats, totaling 443' of length, tied up to Bobby's 150' dock. Interesting, but we've seen more! More photo-ops with Rich & Billie Jo next to DeeLight (below, top left), yours truly with Marv Market and Billie Jo (below, top right), and the two Hatties in front, the Sea Ray & L'Orien in the rear.
We had most of the afternoon to tinker around on the boats, and as the dinner hour approach, the plan was made to have a "pot-luck cocktail hour" around a couple of the boat cockpits, and to place a "community" order for catfish-dinner-to-go, with all the trimmings. The boats adjacent to the dock then hosted a "finger-lickin'" catfish dinner for all. It was a grand evening at Bobby's, seemingly a million miles from anywhere! Another fine yachting adventure!!
Day 8, 11-03-03: The up-and-at'em, First Light boaters started engines before dawn again!! Somebody called the Coffeeville Lock, just down the river a mile or two, and they were READY TO GO!! So, being one of the "raftees," we had to get Souvenir movin'. As the flotilla broke apart from Bobby's dock, we again formed a "convoy," with the slowest boat, L'Orien, leading the parade, then Serenity, the 60' Viking sister-ship of DeeLight was second; we were third in Souvenir, followed by Lucky Joe (the 74' Hatteras), DeeLight and the remaining three boats. I'd guess L'Orien was leading at "trawler-speed" (maybe about 9 or 10 knots). As she rounded the bend to the left, to head for the open lock, I happened to look at the wake Serenity was producing.....maybe 2+ feet! Then I looked over at the right descending bank, and noticed two small sailboats which we had seen cruise by us at Bobby's just before sunset last night. They were docked at a small, public park dock at the river's edge. A man was standing on top of the smallest sailboat, and we both looked at Serenity's wake headed right for him. I pulled Souvenir's throttles back to neutral, and advised the boats behind on the VHF radio what I was doing. The guy on the sail boat jumped onto the shore, and he and I looked at each other as Serenity's wake hit the boats.........there was a LOUD CRACK!......as the smallest sailboat mashed up under the docking timber along the bank. The next thing we heard was a woman's voice on channel 16 saying, "We've got damage here. We want L'Orien, Serenity, and Souvenir to come over and provide insurance information." She repeated the call a couple times, and then the Coffeeville Lockmaster came on and said, "None of you cruisers are getting through this lock until those people are satisfied!" The three of us headed toward shore, and provided our information. I called Lucky Joe, the boat behind me and confirmed that he witnessed my slow down in time to cut my wake. Later that day, I phoned my insurance company with a full report of the incident, and gave them firm instructions to admit no fault if they ever receive a complaint. We've never heard anything about it since. BUT, another yachting lesson learned: Be careful to not get trapped into a wake damage situation while following another boat!
After that unsettling and frustrating experience held us up almost an hour, we all finally made it through the lock about 7:25. After a little morning fog, it was perfect cruising weather the rest of the day, and we made great time for about three hours. We were weaving around the curves; some of them complete "switchbacks" (where it took about 4 miles to travel one), and S-curves. DeeLight was right behind us, so we some good photo-ops. As we had learned in previous trips, staying in the "belly of the bend" (the outside of the curves), provided good water depth. Then coming out of one of the S-curves and starting a straight stretch, where there were no channel markers, at 10:30, mile 70.9, Souvenir came to a very SUDDEN STOP! With both engines dead! We had definitely run aground! We were a little to the right of center of the river, but not close enough to shore to normally be concerned about depth. Thinking DeeLight was right behind us, I blurted on the VHF radio, "Souvenir's aground....stay left, stay left!" It was a beautiful day, 150 miles from Demopolis and 70 miles from Mobile (the nearest tows!)...and so peaceful in the middle of the river, although we could hear on the radio a northbound tow coming toward us from a few miles away. I tried re-starting both engines....no dice! The props were buried. I pressed the bow-thruster joy-stick and found I could move the bow a little, both directions. I took a boat hook down to the swim platform and found no more than 3' of water for our 4.5' draft. The props were REALLY buried. The good news was, it was a soft sand bottom. The boat hook sunk into the sand easily. But we had hit at full cruise-speed, on-plane, and had run quite a few yards into the sandbar, even though it had seemed like a sudden stop. We knew the Tenn-Tom was running low, and had been warned about unmarked sandbars in several places, but not at this particular mile point.
DeeLight tried to approach us from several directions, but couldn't get within 100-150 feet.....way too far to throw a line! The only thing I could think of, was to try to drop our dinghy and carry a line to DeeLight. So I climbed up the ladder to the top of the aft deck, and began to loosen the cover on the dinghy, and prepare the davit to lower it on the port side.....when suddenly, a small cruiser (about a 28' Bayliner), with a single outdrive came zooming out of the S-curve. He came to a halt behind DeeLight between us and the left descending bank, and we connected on the radio to discuss our situation. He offered to see how close he could get, raising his lower unit. He tried from a couple of angles, and finally did get close enough to throw him a line, and started pulling our bow sideways to port, toward deeper water. I used the bow-thruster a little to help, and he churned up a fountain of sandy water. He got us turned OK, but then seemed bog down.....but he kept pouring the coals to it, and slowly Souvenir began to move. I moved the bow back and forth, and he finally got us off the sandbar. WHAT A RELIEF!! That little boat saved us A LOT of grief trying to get a professional tow from Dog River. All that really only took a half hour, but it seemed like forever. But with a nervous eye, we were on our way again. But within an hour, running on ahead of DeeLight, we heard a radio call from L'Orien, who had been running last in the parade..........he had run aground, HARD, at about mile 50 (which we had been warned about). DeeLight turned around to go help, and after some discussion it was agreed that we couldn't add anything to the "rescue," so we went on....making it through the Mobile Harbor area (nearly an hour of "No Wake" industrial river area), and on to our destination at Dog River Marina by 4 pm. A very "routine" day.....except for the "wake damage" experience, and a couple of groundings! We actually heard some radio discussion from DeeLight's end of it (L'Orien was out of range), that it was much worse for L'Orien than our grounding had been. Instead soft sand, they had actually hit what was believed to be a concrete anchor for a channel marker that was missing. A passing tow had indicated the marker had been wiped out by a tow the previous week. And not only did L'Orien require a professional tow, but they had substantial damage to shafts, props and rudders, and were taking on water. We learned later that workers from a nearby barge loading facility brought pumps to their aid. Unbelievably, the professional tow that headed up the 70 mile trip RAN OUT OF FUEL and had to get help themselves.....so it was well into the next day and night before L'Orien got towed down to Dog River. Now THAT'S discouraging! They had to leave the boat at Dog River, and went home for a "few weeks!"
Actually, when we arrived at Dog River Marina, we were greeted by Diane. She taken a leisurely drive down the back roads from Demopolis, through Mobile, and wanted to check out the beach area on the Gulf at Dauphine Island. She had heard about people vacationing there, and looked forward to finding a motel on the beach, where she could relax with a good book, while we cruise down the Tenn-Tom. She was very disappointed to find NOTHING of interest, so headed back to the Mobile area to find a motel and wait for us the next day. So we were delighted that she could join us for the usual dinner at Nan-Sea's on Mobile Bay. Henry & Sue from Serenity also joined us for a nice evening....certainly much better than L'Orien's. And we found out later that DeeLight had found a safe haven at a small marina off the river just north of Mobile, where we had never stayed. Then they were going to head for the Fairhope area for the American Great Loop Cruisers' Association Fall Rendezvous. We were anxious to get to our winter home port in the Florida Panhandle and complete this leg of our journey, so we had not planned to joing the Rendezvous.
Day 9, 11-04-03: When dawn came to Dog River, we had 5 to 10 knot NE wind with 1' to 2' beam seas, with scattered showers, clearing through the morning from cloudy to partly sunny, and warm (high of 80+ degrees). So it was downright tropical and a little bumpy crossing Mobile Bay. But we were headed for Destin-ation by 7:30 am, as Diane "saw us off." By 9 am, we entered the ICW eastbound, crossed Pensacola Bay by 12 noon, cruised by Souvenir's "origination point" in Ft. Walton Beach, entered Choctawhatchee Bay, and were abeam East Pass at Destin by 2:15, arriving at our winter home port, Baytowne Marina at Sandestin by 3:05 pm......and of course, Diane was there to greet us.........HOME AGAIN.......just 9 months and 6 days after we had departed here for Key West last January. We had made flight reservations for Rich to go home on 11/6 (with a built-in contingency day that we didn't use on this leg), so he had a full day to "recuperate" and get to know the area with us, before ending his part of the adventure. So then we said good-bye, with great thanks for helping us get this far.
A few days later, after enjoying the Great Loop Rendezvous over at Fairhope, AL, DeeLight showed up at Baytowne for a brief visit before continuing on to their home base in Ft. Myers. It had been almost 13 months ago (on 10-07-02), after Day 1 of Stage 1 of our Great Loop, that we had first learned about DeeLight when we docked in their summer spot in Wabasha, MN. We finally caught up with Marv, Betty and Autumn, and had the privilege of traveling with them, off and on, over the entire period; and now we were honored to host them here at our favorite winter port. It was a celebration of a wonderful friendship developed through our mutual interest and in the Great Loop. We share lots of special memories that we'll cherish forever. Thank you, DeeLight, for "being there."
DeeLight's departure from Baytowne Marina on 11-11-03.
It was time to settle down for a long winter's rest. We've been very blessed to be able to accomplish an incredible retirement dream!! SOUVENIR has been a wonderful vessel. The following pictures were actually taken by Marv Market when we were in Oswego, NY, together. But they seem like a fitting way to end this key milestone of our experience. Thank you, Marv........safe cruising! And to all our good family and friends, especially the Mates who helped us along the way, thanks for the memories!
Dick, Diane, Paige & Blake, Billie Jo...and Souvenir!