MN to FL Panhandle (Sandestin) - 10/07-23/02
Preparation for launching our Great Loop adventure culminated in late September, 2002, with family activities surrounding our daughter's wedding on 9/28, and completing our check list on Souvenir. With all systems "Go" including a new crane-accessible tender on top, we topped off the fuel tanks, loaded the final personal gear and provisions, and sent our "Prepare to Launch" e-mail to family and friends.
Day 1, 10-07-02: Our good friend and neighbor, Bob Ozboldt, gave us an early morning ride to the marina, so we could leave our cars at home. Frost was on the pumpkins as we departed slip B-20, at our home port of Afton Marina & Yacht Club, Afton, MN, Mile 12, on the St. Croix River at 0840 local time. It was a gray, chilly, fall MN morning, with drizzle and light & variable winds. The fall colors were right on schedule, about a week away from "peak."
We wanted to memorialize our dearly departed Golden Retriever, Wally, as we did Willie before him. So we made slow approaches to the local beaches (St. Croix Yacht Club's Catfish Beach and Miss Croix Yacht Club's beach) to sprinkle his ashes where he loved to play. Then we headed south, with our new 1 1/2 year old Golden "puppy," Billie Jo! As we passed through the Prescott, WI, railroad lift bridge and entered the Mighty Mississippi at Mile 811, we witnessed the first few flakes of snow drifting among the drizzle. What a send-off!
Winding down the familiar stretch past the Wisconsin bluffs toward Red Wing, the only pleasure boat we met happened to be some old boating friends, Brian and Jackie Smillie in their trawler, Finally, returning home from a fall cruise. After passing through our first of 42 locks on this stage of the trip, Lock #3, we tied up at the Red Wing city park levee for a lunch on board, and Billie Jo's first "relief" stop. Continuing on down through Lake Pepin (a wide spot in the Mississippi...roughly three miles wide and 20 miles long...caused by the entrance of the Chippewa River from Wisconsin), we recalled my last trip exactly one year earlier in Mind Sweeper IV, our previous boat, with our good friend Rich Grigos as my substitute First Mate. That's when we took it back to LaCrosse, WI, to leave it with the manufacturer, SkipperLiner, for sale.
The wind picked up to 10-15 mph across the lake, stirring up 1'-2' white-caps. But Souvenir rode them well; much better than similar crossings in our previous houseboats. Below the foot of Lake Pepin, we passed a tiny river town, Read's Landing, MN, where I always reminisce about my childhood fishing trips with my father back in the 50s. Then it's time to "call it a day" at the Mississippi Parkside Marina (Mile 760) in Wabasha, MN, exactly where we stopped six months ago, 4/25, on our Practice Run north (Mile 760, 63 miles traveled).
Betty, the friendly attendant in the marina office, advised us that our tie-along location on the end of Boom 100, had been occupied during summers by a 60' Viking named, Dee Light, captained by Marv Market, who on this very night was scheduled to be at Hoppie's Landing enroute to Ft. Myers,FL, for the winter. We'll have to try to connect when we get there in February.
Day 2, 10-08-02: A cool morning started at 44 degrees, partly cloudy, warming to a sunny 60 by mid-day. We covered the five familiar locks (4, 5, 5A, 6 & 7) to LaCrosse with no waits, and a total vertical drop of only 14'. Our first delay was at the Soo Line swing-bridge just above LaCrosse, waiting a half hour for a train to pass. The distance took us beyond any sign of fall colors. About 2:30 pm, we thought we'd try a "relief" stop for Billie Jo at the "wall" in dowtown LaCrosse. But the current was tricky and we lost a fender which floated lazily under the highway bridge and close to a couple of parked barges. We headed across the river to the gas dock at Pettibone Boat Club. The restaurant was closed and no one appeared, so Billie Jo got a little exercise in solitude.
A small boat pulled up to the dock with three men from Lindsay Park Marina in Davenport, IA (one a John Deere retiree who knew the man in charge of their Foundation whom I had befriended before retirement). They were looking for a gas fill, and finally roused an attendant. Meanwhile, one of them flagged another passing small boat with a man and his dog and inspired him to retrieve our lost fender making its way toward the marina across the river. A good example of a "boating incident" connecting new acquaintances.
With some afternoon travel after our LaCrosse break, we added Lock #8 (4' lift) to our day's achievement, and called ahead to the Lansing (IA) Municipal Harbor (Mile 664) for overnight dockage instructions. We found the entire harbor inundated in a solid carpet of green "seedy" growth. We eased our way up to the tie-along on the end of Dock 1, and broke out the "smart Y adapter" to make two 30s into a 50 amp power source. Billie Jo soon learned the "green stuff" wasn't a lawn to walk on when she tried to cut the corner to shore.
A small tent under a tree at the top of the dock turned out to be "home" for a kayaker making his way from the Mississippi origin in northern Minnesota to New Orleans. After dinner on the boat, a nice stroll for the three of us along the village waterfront took us to Main Street, Lansing, IA. On the way back, we met a woman who lived right across the street from the marina in a house already decorated for Halloween. She said they had three boats in the marina, and had recently sold a 50' paddle-wheeler.
Then it was back to the boat in time for the MN Twins' first game of the ALCS with the Anaheim Angels. They continued their unexpected success by winning 2 to 1. A great game! Unlikely contenders. The Twins surprised everyone by beating the Oakland A's in the first round, and the Angels had ousted the mighty Yankees. And our satellite dish system worked perfectly, after seven months of "tweaking."
Day 3, 10-09-02: Another cool, clear, very calm morning made the Mississippi as smooth as the proverbial glass, with copious amounts of the "slowly swirling green stuff" like a finger painting. Mid-morning brought us to our first wait at a lock; the second cut of a double tow only held us up a half hour at Lock #9 (3' lift). Five more tows, three more locks (10, 11 & 12), the Illinois Central swing-bridge at Dubuque, IA, and a train at the Sabula RR swing-bridge added up to a combined 7' drop and a one hour wait.
This leg re-connected us with the migration of white pelicans we had witnessed during our Practice Run north in April. We seem to be on the same seasonal cycle.
We were met at the Island City Harbor in Sabula, IA, by the after-hours volunteer, Ace. He guided us to our tie-along at the end of Dock 2, and helped with dock-lines and shore power. It turned out he was a dock-neighbor of our Sabula friends from our April trip. But Ace didn't join us as we re-enacted our "tradition" of borrowing Paul & Linda's Jeep, then inviting them to join us for dinner at Ken's Restaurant. It was good to renew our acquaintance, and to see they now had a back seat in the Jeep.
Then it was back to the boat and the discovery that Direct TV was well aware we had left their "local area" channel coverage, so we could no longer receive network television.......meaning no Twins game!! With a phone call, I learned about making application for a waiver so we could receive direct feeds from the networks, which MAY be granted within 45 days!! Apparently mobile dishes on trucks and RVs can access local channels anywhere, but the federal legislation "discriminates" against boats by leaving them out. What a country! Periodic checks with ESPN reports showed the Twins ran out of steam...got beat 6 to 3.
Day 4, 10-10-02: We pulled out of our familiar stop at Sabula by 9 am on a gorgeous, sunny, calm morning with a little haze on the river, and the promise of making it well down toward Burlington, IA (130 miles away). But progress slowed with increased barge traffic (half hour delays at Lock 13 & 15, and one hour at Lock 14) and a half hour wait for a train at the Clinton RR swing-bridge. At Davenport, IA, the Lock 15 wait allowed us a short tie-along at a concrete sea-wall in an industrial area which provided some relief for Billie Jo. It turned out that 24 hour noticed was required for a diesel fuel truck at Lindsey Park Marina where the guys we met in LaCrosse had suggested we stop. So it was 4 pm by the time we reached Sunset Park Marina where we had stayed during high water in April, and diesel was available at the pump. However, it was such an ultra-slow pump (less than 2 gallons per minute, AND high cost fuel @ $1.709/gallon), that we decided to cut the fueling and day short, and stay overnight, with only 54 miles behind us! A frustrating, albeit beautiful cruising (and waiting) day!
At the fuel dock, an uncharacteristically dressed man (suit and tie) introduced himself as Dick McDonald, VP of Field Operations for Quimby's (the popular guide book for marinas and points of interest all over US waterways). During a friendly chat, he mentioned his acquaintance with Mayor Charlie Devine, of Afton (our home port), and gave us a complimentary copy of the new 2002 Quimby's (now priced at $32 compared to last year's $25). During our evening walks from our tie-along at the end of a long dock, we were greeted by a local boater, Judy, and her dog "Dockside" who helped dissipate some of Billie Jo's pent up energy.
Day 5, 10-11-02: Another pretty day on the river, warming to a high of 78 degrees with a southern breeze restored our hope to make up for time lost the previous day. But after a couple of good hours, the optimism was interrupted by an engine overheat condition. Our first boat problem. A quick survey of our location (Mile 463) revealed a small marina called Fairport Landing, with a gas dock along the river just off the channel. A response to our radio call brought an attendant down from the service building to help us dock on one engine against a mild current with little difficulty. After learning they had no mechanic on duty, I got the number of a "diesel guy" in a nearby town who was expected sometime later to help winterize a couple boats. He agreed to show up "around one or two."
Meanwhile, with nothing better to do, I thought I'd apply my "trouble-shooting expertise" (those who know me are cleared to chuckle at this point!). My first check was the fan-belt, since I had previously noticed some "black powder" residue, which the Cummins mechanic had checked-out back home and declared "normal wear of new belts, and not a problem." Fan-belt OK. Next suspect was the strainer (filters sea water intake for cooling the engine). Though I was very familiar with cleaning strainers on four previous houseboats, this strainer was different, and I hadn't opened it before. My feeble memory bank vaguely remembered the Carver dealer describing a special tool to unscrew the top (which sounded pretty simple at the time). Where was that tool?? About twenty minutes later, my trusty hammer and Phillips screwdriver loosened the screw top, and revealed a strainer totally clogged with the previously described "green stuff" we had been plowing all through Iowa. At that point, my First Mate came up with the mystery tool which made checking the other engine's strainer much easier. After cleaning out a quart of the "green stuff" from each strainer and running the engines clean, clear and cool, another call to the "diesel guy" proudly declared his services unnecessary....and we were on our way after a two hour delay.
Six tows and three locks (16, 17 and 18; with a combined drop of 8') later, a 34' houseboat from So. St. Paul we had passed the day before, caught up with us again. With the boat name "Work Hard, Play Hard," Bill & Elaine Hooper were heading for Mobile, AL, where they planned to sell their boat and buy an RV to travel by land. A call ahead to John at Bluff Harbor Marina in Burlington, IA, where we had stopped in April, got no promise of a diesel fuel truck before morning. It seems they were busy delivering fuel to farmers in their fields. So again, we called it a short day (only 76 miles traveled) and met some nice local people at the unique boat club adjacent to the marina. It was unique because of the member owned and designed boat lift that raised their boats on special "dollies" on steel rails at a 45 degree angle up the bank to the storage building/club house.
A short walk along the riverfront park to Big Muddy's with Billie Jo on a leash, brought to the "happenin' spot" in Burlington. We'd had a great dinner there in April, and this time it was a comfortable evening on their patio where dogs were "appropriate." Meanwhile the local marina members were having a private party inside, which gave us the chance to re-connect with Tom & Sally Perrott who had given us a grand tour of the town in April. They are progressive farmers who are very involved in their local community college. Through an international intern exchange program, they had Bruno, a bright young man from Brazil, with them who added an interesting dimension to our evening. A great example of the friendly people and rich experiences one can stumble into on a trip like this.
So we reminded ourselves that it is the value of the journey rather than the speed of our progress that is important. While we are anxious to get back to our "paradise" in Florida, we don't have a need to "push it." And 130 miles in two days is OK. But the Twins lost again, 2 to 1.
Day 6, 10-12-02: The fuel truck had it's own mechanical problem after working overtime with the local farmers. So after catching up on some e-mail in the marina office, we finally finished fueling and got on our way shortly before noon......only to run into a 3/4 hour wait for a train at the Burlington RR swing-bridge. It was overcast and hazy, with drizzle and a light wind. Three tows and the Fort Madison RR swing-bridge later, we again passed "Work Hard, Play Hard" which had gotten a head start while we waited for fuel in the morning. When we arrived at Lock 19, the day got more dreary with increased wind and rain....and we were advised of a one and a half hour delay with a "double (barge) entering the lock." Forty-five minutes later "Work Hard, Play Hard" caught up to us again, and were informed that the wait was still one and a half hours! Decision time, even though it was only 2:15 pm, and 37 miles traveled. Right next to us on the Iowa bank was the Keokuk Yacht Club. Not familiar, but the Quimby's description looked OK, and there really wasn't a better option within a couple of hours downriver, and the weather was deteriorating. A quick call revealed they had ample space for both of us, this happened to be "Friday Night Steak Fry" at the Club, and they had Twins baseball on TV. Decision made!
They had a huge gas grill where at least a dozen people could cook their own steaks at the same time after they made their selection at the "meat table." With a giant baked potato and all the trimmings, and a wide choice of salads, fruit and vegetables, we had a hearty meal, good conversation..........and the Twins lost again 5 to 1 (down 3 games to 1)! A lot of St. Louis fans enjoyed reminding us how "we" stole the Series from their Cards in '87. We met three macho guys from Hannibal, MO, who had taken a cruise upriver for the night, and invited me out to their boat for a cup of home-made HOT venison chili for desert! Then it was back to the boat and the bottle of Rolaids....and noisy wave action off the river all night!
Day 7, 10-13-02: Departed Keokuk at 7:15 am after learning they could take us through Lock #19 right away. It's unusual among Mississippi locks as it has bollards, a 38' drop, and the upriver "gate" goes down under water, rather than opening like doors. It was a clear morning with a light breeze that picked up later in the day, but the barge traffic remained heavy. Five tows later, we were through two more locks (20 & 21, with a combined drop of only 5') with a one hour wait by 10:45 am. On a curve at Mile 319, we passed the Wm Thompson, a large dredging operation, then another tow and through the Hannibal RR lift bridge at Mile 310, with no wait, before noon.
A call ahead to Lock #22 revealed a southbound tow just leaving the lock, another southbound waiting, and a northbound approaching.......groan! A gracious lockmaster checked with the southbound waiting who agreed that if we could make it in 15 minutes, they would bring the chamber up for us, and let us go next....whew! So it was "balls to the wall" Souvenir! And by 12:15 we were through #22 with a 3' drop.
With 65 miles, 8 tows, a dredge, 4 locks and a RR bridge behind us, and a decent afternoon ahead, it was time to think about fuel again. A call ahead to Two Rivers Marina in Rockport, IL, at Mile 283 where we had made a fuel stop in April proved to be timely. While there we learned that Russ Putnam, the Bayliner dealer in Columbus, MO, whom we had talked to several times over the years, still had not sold the 4788 Pilot House he had kept at Two Rivers which we saw in April. So he had just left the day before to take the boat to Florida. Also, the three Carvers from King's Cove that had been running a couple days ahead of us lost a day here while Tuesday's Child (the 466) air-shipped in new props after bending them on a rock at the transient dock at Keokuk Yacht Club near where we had parked over-night.
A 1:00 call from the fuel dock to Lock #24 (there is no Lock #23!) ten miles downriver revealed that a southbound tow was waiting, but if we got there at 2:30 we should be able to get right through. Passing up the chance for lunch at Two Rivers, and hustling down to #24 precisely at 2:30, we waited another hour and a half. So much for "direction" by that lockmaster. So our productive morning changed into a search for a strange marina before dark, since we'd be unable to stretch it through another lock to Alton at Mile 203. A review of Quimby's showed a possibility called Timberlake Marina just off channel in a "quiet" back water at Mile 258. Just as we passed by, I thought I caught a glimpse of a gas dock through the binoculars, and a friendly woman on the phone indicated they had "plenty of water" in there, 50 amp power, and it was a "great place to stay." A decision was made to call it a day at 5:30 with 109 miles accomplished, and a quick 180 took us back to the entrance. Carefully moving around the "right side" of an island to avoid a wing dam, we pulled up toward the dock through "boiling water." On the radio, the woman advised that we were passing over a wing dam at the end of their gas dock, but it "should be no problem" since it was "12' under, and no one had ever hit it." But that did create a startling current at the dock that required a quick reversal of fenders to the port side (the First Mate wasn't pleased about the surprise!) so we could dock upstream in an otherwise calm backwater bay.
We were greeted at the dock by three young boys with most of their teeth, and six dogs, one of which resembled a Pit Bull (but not totally). They helped us with dock lines amidst a flurry of questions about our "three story boat" and satellite dish. This was definitely "Deliverance" revisited!! With careful apprehension, we found our greeters to be happy and friendly, and soon Billie Jo was enjoying a wild romp just behind a large sign announcing "Dogs Must Be Kept on Leash at all times!" Soon after the landing excitement settled, a "father figure" appeared and helped connect the 50 amp power through my twin 30 smart adapter! He then offered pizza for dinner, which sounded pretty good, until he directed Devon, one of the greeter boys to "go make it for them." We followed Devon into the "office" where he pulled a pizza out of a freezer in the back room, stuck it in an oven, and disappeared into the woods with the other boys and dogs. The pizza was actually "decent." The Twins lost the fourth straight game and the ALCS Series, 13 to 5. But the Vikings finally got a win....beat the Lions, bringing their season record to 1 and 4! And the bed felt REAL GOOD!
Day 8, 10-14-02: A clear, frosty morning, with clearing fog banks on the the river, allowed us to depart "Deliverance" by 8:30 am. We cruised nicely for almost 15 minutes as a SE wind picked up to 10-15 mph with white caps, before we ran into a two hour wait at Lock #25 at Mile 241. Three tows later, we spotted a deer swimming across the river directly in front of us. Then we passed the mouth of the Illinois River at Mile 218 coming down from Chicago, "officially" entering the Great Loop route. Near Alton, we passed another tow (actually it was "Co-op Mariner" which we saw three days in a row), went through the Melvin Price Lock #26 (Mile 201, 20' drop), then past the mouth of the Missouri River, and through Lock #27 (the last one on the Mississippi) at the lower end of the Chain of Rocks Canal (dual chambers, with bollards, and 20' drop), and trolled through tons of tows past the St. Louis Arch.
We called it a "good day" (exactly 100 miles) at Hoppie's Marine Service, Kimmswick, MO, at 4:30 pm, where we got the "usual scoop" on river conditions and anchorages from Fern and Charles, topped off the fuel and water, and borrowed their loaner van for an excellent Italian meal at Bambino's. We also got news of the three St. Croix Carvers, and Russ Putnam in his Bayliner passing through earlier in the day. Finally, we met our first actual "Great Looper" in a boat named "We 3" (a couple home schooling their 8 year old boy).
Day 9, 10-15-02: After watching the fog banks on the river clear with Charles Hopkins (proprietor of Hoppie's, originally built by his father) and Billie Jo, we got started about 8:30 am. With no more locks, the barges got bigger (30 loads; 5 by 6), but less threatening in terms of delays. We met two, and passed one, as well as a Bayliner from Red Wing headed for Dauphin Island on the west Gulf Coast near Mobile. Then we were by the Chester Highway bridge at Mile 110, and our former anchorage at Liberty Island, Mile 100, where we had spent the night with Mulligan in April. After more than a dozen tows coming and going, we reached the Cape Girardeau, MO, highway suspension bridge under construction, and the Diversion Channel anchorage at Mile 49 (recommended by Fern) by 2 pm. We decided we had time to go for the Angelo Towhead anchorage she had described just above the mouth of the Ohio River; a fairly major commitment, since there were really no other good options.
As we rounded the bend just above the Cairo, IL, bridge at mile 1.5 on the Mississippi about 4:30 pm, we looked up the inlet and saw a small Bayliner at anchor a few hundred yards off the river channel, on the downriver side. There was a decent sand beach at the entrance, and a large stump sticking out of the water right in the middle. Fern had said there was some silting at the entrance, so I carefully nudged Souvenir in toward the Bayliner, past the stump. Within about 50 yards, the depth gauge was down to 5'. I tried to call the Bayliner, and finally got the news that there was deeper water on the upriver side of the inlet. Cautiously moving above the stump, I soon found 15-20' of water and moved into the inlet another 100 yards. We set the plow anchor in front, and threw a Fortress out the back, and set about our first actual use of the tender. Working with the tie-downs and crane, we soon had it in the water, installed the lights, started the motor, re-set the aft anchor farther out behind Souvenir, and prepared to take Billie Jo to the beach. She had a GRAND time, and reluctantly got back in the boat. We cruised up to the Bayliner for a neighborly chat. It was a boat named Lomar from Michigan, headed for Ft. Pierce on the east coast of Florida. By then, a second Bayliner had entered the inlet and anchored about 100 yards above Souvenir. We passed by for a "hello" but they were busy inside, so we returned home for dinner before darkness settled in. Our location was well protected from the north and west, but somewhat open to wakes from northbound tows. But calm weather and minimal traffic provided a decent night "on the hook."
Day 10, 10-16-02: After a morning visit to the beach with Billie Jo, we stowed the tender without a hitch, cranked up Souvenir, and headed out of Lower Angelo Towhead into a clear, cool morning with a light breeze. We passed under the Cairo bridge over the Mississippi at Mile 0.0, and rounded the day-mark on the point into the mouth of the Ohio River at Mile 981. We reminded ourselves that after nine days downriver, we now had to keep "red, return, right" as our conscious guide upriver. Lots of industrial activity on the wide banks of the Ohio led us past the huge Olmstead Locks, still under construction. On channel 13 we found a helpful tow Captain who confirmed that the "wickets are down" at Dams #53 at Mile 963, and #53 at Mile 939, so we could pass over them while observing the crews working on locks almost totally under water.
It was nice to cruise the Ohio without the logjam we had found in the spring, and it was uneventful until we approached Paducah. Finding the not-so-obvious mouth of the Tennessee is a little confusing amidst all the barge traffic seemingly heading in all directions. But soon we were at Mile 935 on the Ohio, headed up the Tennessee (Mile 0) toward the huge Kentucky Dam where we caught up with Lomar waiting at the lock with the other Bayliner we had anchored with. After more than an hour wait, and a 56' lift at Mile 23 on the Tennessee, we left Kentucky Lock about 3:30 pm. At the suggestion of Fern at Hoppie's, we had called ahead to the Kentucky Dam Marina, a publicly owned facility with diesel fuel on the LDB (Left Descending Bank, aka the west end of the dam). We had confirmed an appointment for a full load of fuel and docking for the night. But the other Bayliner beat us to diesel pump, and we were asked to idle out in the harbor. Weary of "waiting" and uncertain about an unfamiliar marina, we called Green Turtle Bay where we had a successful stay in April, and headed back across the Tennessee, across the Barkley Canal connecting Kentucky Lake and Barkley Lake (on the Cumberland River), and into Green Turtle Bay Marina just above the Barkley lock and dam. Just inside the entrance, we were "greeted" by a transient mega-yacht, Valkyrie (125').
Meanwhile, a Nordic Tug had pulled into the diesel fuel position, and we were advised that we were now "third in line." Accepting the role of loser in the waiting game, we convinced them to let us tie-up for the night, and be "first in line" for fuel in the morning. We met an interesting couple from Dayton, OH, John and Susan, who really liked Billie Jo. Susan had Doberman show dogs, and ran a successful business with John after his retirement from the Air Force. They kept a sail boat that John dearly loved in the marina, but Susan only enjoyed it when they were "going fast." After another excellent dinner at the marina restaurant, and an after dinner chat with John and Susan, we "turned in" with the satisfaction that we had made it over half way to our Stage 1 destination.
Day 11, 10-17-02: After fueling and pumping-out on a sunny, cool, calm morning, we headed back through the Barkley Canal and re-entered the Tennessee at Mile 25 before 10 am, and headed down the long, and beautiful Kentucky Lake. With no locks, and minimal traffic, an easy cruise covering good miles was in store. A little after noon we passed the Scott-Fitzhugh bridge (US 79) at Mile 66, and the mouth of the Big Sandy River. In less than an hour, we by the old Louisville & Nashville RR bridge (center span removed) at Mile 78, and an abandoned building in the water that was used for shipping grain on the Tennessee before the Kentucky Dam was built in 1938. It was so "substantial" the engineers were "unable to destroy it" (according to Fred Myers' Nitty-Gritty Tenn-Tom Guide).
By early afternoon, we passed under the Johnsonvile RR bridge in closed position (25' clearance; we only needed 21' with the VHF antenna down), and by the mouth of the Duck River at Mile 110, averaging 17 mph for the day. So a stop at Cuba Landing Marina at Mile 116, where we had enjoyed an overnight in April, would have been premature. Yet we couldn't stretch the day all the way to Grand Mariner (formerly Pickwick Tenn-Tom) or Aqua Marinas, so we were faced with picking another unfamiliar stopping point. People at Green Turtle Bay had suggested Mermaid Marina at Mile 140, as "pretty decent." So we called ahead, confirmed diesel fuel and space available, and headed in. It wasn't quite as "earthy" as Timberlake (on the Deliverance Scale), but Grand Harbor it wasn't. We topped off the fuel tanks, and eased over to the transient tie-along ahead of Lomar. The advertised restaurant had closed early for the season, and Lomar had "first dibs" on the courtesy car whenever it returned from an early dinner trip for a previous user. The report on the restaurant in Perryville wasn't "glowing" so we declined an invitation to join Lomar, and our chef rustled up some fine cuisine on Souvenir.
Day 12, 10-18-02: After clearing fog banks on the river, we began another pretty day on the Tennessee that would reach into the 70s again. Though a little ahead of the regular maintenance schedule, it looked like a good time to arrange an oil change in the afternoon if possible before heading down the Tenn-Tom Canal toward Mobile. After several calls, we lined up a slip and service crew at Grand Harbor. We passed a trawler named Simon Sez, a Great Looper who had left Key West last spring. He really enjoyed the Great Lakes, and thought the Trent-Severn Canal and Georgian Bay were the highlights of his voyage. Only a couple of tows, but LOTS of fisherman caused frequent slow-downs. With no wait, we made it through Pickwick Landing Lock, at Mile 207, with a 56' lift, with Lomar, who just couldn't get ahead of us. Then it was around the corner at the junction buoy (Mile 215 on the Tennessee, Mile 450 at the top of the Tenn-Tom), and into a transient slip near the fuel dock at the first class, Grand Harbor Marina.
We missed connection with Mark, our friend from Baytowne last March. He lives in Memphis and I found his Carver 530 in its home slip, but it didn't appear occupied even though we learned by phone later that he had spent the night on the boat. We'll see him in Sandestin later in November. The maintenance crew showed up soon and got the job done with the oil change, while I hosed off the Mississippi mud and grime. Billie Jo enjoyed a romp on a grassy hill behind the marina condo's, and Diane used the loaner for a shopping trip to restock provisions. It was a refreshing stop for Souvenir and crew.
Day 13, 10-19-02: We were barely staying ahead of a serious front with lots of rain moving through the country's mid-section. The morning on Pickwick Lake was cloudy, cool, with a light breeze and a few sprinkles. We headed south about 8 am and passed the Scruggs bridge at Mile 443, which marked the entrance to the Divide Cut (the canal itself). At 9:25, we passed "The Divide" at Mile 426 which is the deepest point of the cut where it was dug 175' (see Nitty-Gritty Guide, p.81). At 9:40, Mile 419, we reached the end of Divide Cut, and entered Bay Springs Lake.
Calling ahead to giant Whitten Lock (Mile 411, 84' drop), we learned that the three St. Croix Carvers (Benediction and Sun Catcher -- two 530s; and Tuesday's Child -- a 466) were waiting along with three other boats. They waited for us, and by 10:40, we were "one down, 11 to go" on the Tenn-Tom "dirty dozen" locks. Fiesta (a 48' Krogan; purchased in Annapolis by a couple from Flounder Bay, WA) and Memory (a 30-something Mainship from Guilford, CT, with a lone boater) were the "pacer boats" for the next three locks, i.e. no point in going faster, because we'd just have to wait for them at the lock. So the seven of us mosied down the Tenn-Tom, locking through Montgomery (Mile 407, 30' drop), Rankin (Mile 398, 30' drop), and Fulton (Mile 391, 25' drop) locks together over a time span of three hours. At that point, the two trawlers, and seventh boat, Sea Venture (a 30-something Bayliner on the Great Loop from Woodbridge, VA) all headed for a marina or anchorage. With Benediction in the lead, and Souvenir bringing up the rear, the St. Croix "Carver Caravan" of four boats charged forward through Wilkins (Mile 376, 25' drop), Amory (Mile 371, 30' drop), and Aberdeen (Mile 357, 27' drop) locks. By 6 pm, after 115 miles and 7 locks with a combined drop of 251' in 10 hours, the four us of stopped at Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS, for a well-earned refueling and overnight rest.
Day 14, 10-20-02: With the slowly moving front on our tail, the sky was overcast, with a cool, calm, light rain when the "Caravan" departed before 8 am. A call had indicated the lock immediately below the marina would be ready for us, and by 8:15 we were through Stennis Lock (Mile 335, 27' drop) and headed for Beville (Mile 307, 27' drop) where we had a rare half hour wait for an up-bound tow. There also was a hefty collection of sticks, small branches, and green, leafy clumps (hyacinth-type weed?) dotting the surface. By noon, we were in heavy rain for about an hour, and made it through Heflin Lock (Mile 266, 36' drop) with the river populated by small fishing boats around every corner and little launch ramp.
Lots of speeding up and cutting back, with Sun Catcher in the lead and Tuesday's Child bringing up the rear. Cruising in the third position, we learned that the distance we left between us and the two 53' boats ahead of us was critical. In the narrow river, particularly with rock walls, they created a cross-hatch of reflected wakes, and it wasn't smooth sailing if we got caught at a point where they crossed in the middle. We had to gauge our acceleration, speed, and deceleration (at each slow-down) to be ahead of, or behind those cross points to avoid some serious "wallowing." Demopolis was easily within reach, and by 4 pm, Benediction and Sun Catcher were fueling up, while Souvenir and Tuesday's Child were directed to slips inside the marina.
We attracted lots of help from local boaters, who asked if we were "delivering boats?" A Bayliner pilot house from So. St. Paul had docked just ahead of us, and another couple doing the Great Loop from Virginia in another Bayliner pilot house were there. Then there was Larry, in his older 28' Chris Craft, who shared his life story as a policeman in Knoxville, claimed he had written 40 or 50 books, has a publisher committed to print a million copies of one this year, and a new 125' Bluewater on order!?!?!?!
It wasn't only a Carver Caravan, we were a "doggie" bunch. Steve and Deb Benedict had their champion Boxer, Tarzan, on board Benediction, along with Deb's sister Patty and their 8 year old grand-daughter, Ellie. Tom and Pixie Breslin had their Irish Setter pup, Murphy, on board. But Rob and Valerie were alone on Tuesday's Child. As were we approaching Demopolis Marina, Pixie advised the rest of us that the marina restaurant was closed, and organized a "group dinner" on their boat. So after we got settled, and darkness fell, we all brought something (after a quick trip to a local store in the loaner van by Diane) and enjoyed a grand buffet.
It was then, through a series of phone calls, that we all learned about the tragic fire back home at King's Cove, the home port for the other three Carvers. It was reported that 26 boats, winterized and shrink-wrapped in a parking lot, had been consumed in a short time. But the smoke closed the adjacent highway for five hours. Apparently, a new boater was shrink-wrapping his own boat with a torch that "got away from him" in a north wind. Fortunately, there were no human casualties or injuries, but obviously lots of property damage.....round up the lawyers!!
Day 15, 10-21-02: A mostly cloudy, calm, warm day that would reach the 70s again. The plan was for Benediction and Sun Catcher to get an early start while Tuesday's Child and we topped off our fuel. Then they could scout out the docking situation at Bobby's Fish Camp, the only option between Demopolis and Mobile, other than questionable anchorages. Unfortunately, a tow in the Demopolis Lock held them up just long enough, and we finished fueling soon enough, that the "authorities" wanted to wait for us to restore the Caravan formation again. We were through the lock at Mile 213, with a 40' drop, by 9:30. This lock was unique in terms of the "spillway" below the dam which provided a nice "waterfall vista" (with fishermen) to the starboard side as we were locking down, and leaving the lock.
Then it was "off and running" to Bobby's Fish Camp. Not much was in our way, so we arrived at Mile 118 by 2:30 (98 miles in 5 hours, averaging almost 20 mph). Really too early to stop, but the only reasonable anchorage for the night appeared to be another three hours, at least. And the word at Bobby's was that two other southbound boats had "booked" a fuel stop and overnight. So that left about 110' feet of tie-along dock space for the four of us. So the decision was made; raft up. Benediction docked on the upstream end, with Sun Catcher right behind. Then I eased Souvenir in along side Benediction, with lots of "rubber and lines" between us. And Tuesday's Child came in behind me, outside Sun Catcher. We were secure for the night. And the other two boats never showed up!
We settled in, and took the dogs for a stroll up the bank to find Bobby resting in a chair in front of the restaurant; well known for Catfish dinners, but of course closed on Mondays (today). We all slipped him 50 cents/foot cash for docking, and heard that things are typically "slow" on Mondays. Couldn't imagine what "fast" might be like. The Spanish Moss hung in the trees, and an island of the green leafed "hyacinth" weeds formed around the four boats, as the current collected them like magnets. This was the remote, Southern tropics. Late afternoon, Steve & Deb invited everyone to gather on the back of Benediction for a modest cocktail hour/snacks. Then it was back to our respective boats for private cuisine. After dark in a light drizzle, on the final dog-walk of the evening, we ran into a novel activity on shore. Three young men in camouflage fatigues, with bows and arrows, were stripping the hide off an animal, hanging by its back legs between two poles, under the glare of the single "yard light" near the fuel dock. The animal was identified as a "li'l ol' pig" (aka wild boar, about the size of Billie Jo!). They were planning on some nice po'k chops for breakfast! Good night. Sleep tight!
Day 16, 10-22-02: Just around the bend, down-river was the last of the 42 locks between Minnesota and the Gulf of Mexico. An early call on a clear, calm morning found that a north-bound tow was approaching, but if we could be there in 15 minutes, they'd take us through ahead of him. Souvenir was in the "outside pole" position, so I offered to take the lead, as it was our turn to scout the debris in the river and "no wake" opportunities for fishing boats, and ramps and docks along the shore. So the decision was made to hustle the Caravan, and we were through the Coffeeville Lock (Mile 117, 34' drop) by 7:45 am.......and on our way to Mobile Bay! Shortly after noon, we were through the "14 Mile RR Bridge" without a wait, and under the Cochran suspension bridge (hwy 90/31/98 @ Mile 3), with the Mobile skyline in sight by 1 pm. Entering the heavily industrial Mobile Harbor brought us to a crawl with serious "no wake" warnings, and Mile 0 of the Tenn-Tom Waterway at the Convention Center by 1:30. Large commercial and military ships, and one Norwegian cruise ship in dry dock provided good gawking and photo-ops at that slow pace. By 2:30, we finally moved out of the Harbor into the Mobile Ship Channel, heading for the Gulf.
Following our chart-link/GPS to the junction of the Dog River Channel between markers 63 and 65, our Caravan made a hard right turn to a heading of 300 to reach the markers leading under the bridge at the entrance of the Dog River. Sun Catcher had ordered some necessary parts to meet him at Grand Mariner Marina, so all three of the other boats had reservations there for the night. Since we were familiar with Dog River Marina, just across the river, after our stay in April, we called ahead for space at their fuel dock. Ricky, the Dock Manager, met us, and helped with lines, shore power, and fuel. We met Larry Byrd and his wife on a Trojan named Slo M'Ocean from Myrtle Beach, SC, who were on the Great Loop, and Marty and LaMar Nickelson on their trawler Martha Lou on their way to Marathon in the Keys. Then we borrowed the courtesy car, and headed for another wonderful seafood dinner and Key Lime Pie at Nan-Sea's by the Bay.
Day 17, 10-23-02: Could this be our final day of Stage 1 by reaching our destination in the Florida Panhandle? We had made it from Baytowne to Dog River, about 110 miles, on our first trip in April. But the weather always creates questions, and wind could be a factor. The front we'd been avoiding seemed to be catching up. It was cloudy with a breeze out of the east as we left the fuel dock at Dog River about 8:15 am. We swung around past the two familiar Carvers sitting on the dock at the marina across the way to say "Good-by" and "we enjoyed running with you." They were staying another day, and we were ready to move on. Then we headed out the Dog River Channel into Mobile Bay, and turned south in the Ship Channel. The one to two foot chop wasn't too bad, but it was pretty much broadside to port. With a depth of only ten to eleven feet, this open water require good concentration. We followed the Ship Channel with our GPS to a point where we could turn east and cross over toward the eastern shore and take the course we had plotted in the spring. We found the waypoints, and headed down to intersect the ICW (Intra-Coastal Waterway) at the prescribed marker 124. Along the way, another pleasure boat intercepted our path, cruising at an uncomfortable 13 knots. We negotiate to pass him, and entered the ICW about 9:45 in a light rain. By 10 am, we were in the protected channel across the Bay, and headed east, after our first Dolphin siting. An hour later, we were riding on the AL/FL stateline at Perdido Bay between Bear Point and Point Ono, and noon brought to west edge of Pensacola Bay.
The crossing ship channels and ICW at the mouth of Pensacola Bay create a maze of various red and green buoys and markers, and several red-and-green junction buoys. And about that time, the rain got heavier, adding clutter to the radar, and visibility was reduced to 1/2 mile at times. Again, the chart-link/GPS became a valuable navigation tool, as we crept from marker to buoy to marker, double-checking the chart for identification, making it across the Bay into Santa Rosa Sound in about 45 minutes. At that point, we came up behind another boat named Whim-Sea. As I was about to call him, he startled me with a call to Souvenir! It turns out, he had noticed us at the gas dock at Dog River Marina when he departed ahead of us.....and remembered our boat name! Talk about observant! He cut back and we eased around him, as we headed down the middle of Santa Rosa Sound. We made good time till we got into the Ft. Walton Beach area with extensive "No Wake" stretches. As we passed The Boat Marina where we had first found Souvenir, we felt like we were returning to our roots!
By 3 pm, we were past the Brooks Bridge, entering the western end of Choctawhatchee Bay where we had practiced setting waypoints and courses for using autopilot last spring. Good thing!! The rain and fog got heavier, reducing visibility to 1/4 to 1/2 mile. Without the GPS, we probably would have had to stop short of our goal in Destin, or even go back to Ft. Walton Beach. As it was, we stayed precisely on course to the Mid-Bay Bridge, where we turned to a heading of 120 to find the narrow entrance channel to our home-port-away-from-home at Baytowne Marina in Sandestin. Hallelujah! We made it by 4:15!! We made contact on channel 16, but couldn't connect on channel 9, so had to resort to cell phone contact. Our friend Chris Miller, directed us to our new spot on the wall at D-2, and met us in a down-pour, in his bright yellow rain gear to help with dock lines and shore power. The warm rain didn't bother us any more, but we put off worrying about other chores till another day. We were ready for a couple months' rest in paradise!
The End of Stage 1 of our Great Loop Adventure!