72 Gumdale, TN to Demolopis, AL

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Intermittent showers of leaves floated down adding flashes of gold to the scene before us as we walked the grounds of The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson’s home. Faint ticks of leafs hitting their crisp companions on the ground could be heard in the still air. The day was cool, clear with an earthy smell in the air. An unseen haze rendered the light unusually soft. We enjoyed poking around the grounds of The Hermitage as much as touring the house. At various points of interest we enjoyed listening to local school kids in period costumes as they recited their carefully memorized story.

Rugby in the hills of Tennessee was founded in the late 1800’s and then almost died. Now it is an intriguing historical tour of original buildings along the roadside. It made for an interesting diversion and a great place to stay overnight on our way to Annapolis and our second boat show.

At the restaurant we inquired about staying at the Newport boarding house, now a bed and breakfast. As we ate dinner, a lady stopped by, explained about the B&B, gave us a key and said we could go over, inspect and pick out one of the 7 available rooms. Our room selected we walked the area map in hand looking at many of the old buildings.

Our tour guide opened the door to the library and we stepped back into time. All 7,000 volumes of first edition books filled shelves from floor to the high ceiling. A reading table made us itchy to select a book, sit down and read. Our tour guide put on white cotton gloves and carefully opened one of the books our only tour companion a lady from Pennsylvania had inquired about.

We chatted with the man next to us as we waited for the gates of the boat show to open. He was making his annual visit to look at the biggest boats in the show, not to buy, just to look. We were on a mission and when the gates opened, we headed for the trawlers. Went aboard the few catamarans at the show and then by chance ended up spending almost an hour talking with Malcolm Tennant about catamaran powerboats. He designs catamarans for a living in New Zealand. We discussed catamaran design, safety, ride at sea and many additional factors about these unique vessels. He was extremely helpful, but was unsuccessful in convincing us to have him design a boat for us. We left the show knowing we’d now surveyed the market and would not soon find a boat we liked better than our current selection.

Shenandoah Skyline Drive through Virginia provided a welcome diversion from the interstate as we headed back to the Tennessee River and Tranquility. We wound our way through fall colors, patchy fog and overlooks giving us a glimpse of the valley below. The trail to a waterfall wound downhill for three-quarters of a mile. We poked around for a long while enjoying the falls then made the very long up hill climb back to our rental car. Having just read Walk In the Woods about hiking the Appalachian Trail and now experiencing again first hand what it is like to hike the mountains in the Appalachians, we took walking the trail from end to end of our list of things to do.

Gumdale Marina wouldn’t let us leave. The river had dropped slightly during the week and Tranquility was aground. I walked a long line around to the fuel dock, pulled Tranquility’s bow around and began pulling her forward. She came off the mud faster than we expected gliding forward easily. Her mast high above my head stuck out over the bow like a long battering ram. The mast was headed directly for the marina office window. We scrambled quickly and got Tranquility back under control inches short of the window. With that little jump-start to our adrenaline system behind us we headed on up the Tennessee to it’s junction with the Ten-Tom Waterway.

It felt wonderful being on the move by boat again. 7.6 minutes/mile suits us much better than the 50 seconds/mile we were doing in a car. We pushed on to an anchorage late in the afternoon just before the first lock on the Ten-Tom. A stream of bubbles drifted up as I tried to raise the anchor the next morning. The anchor didn’t want to come up, probably caught on a snag below. Fortunately we anchor with a trip line attached to a float and by pulling on the trip line we pulled the anchor out backwards.

Our next anchorage was just off the channel in a small cove. A small snag just outside our swing radius reminded us the bottom was full of snags. Here we were again on a beautiful lake and not a single light was to be seen along the shore. That night, dogs started barking. By their voices there were at least 6 and they were very close, running up and down the shore. We couldn’t be sure, but speculated they may have been barking at our anchor light, the only light on the lake. After a half-hour they moved on and we had a quiet night.

We felt like we were on a fast descending elevator as the Witten Lock lowered us 84′. The ride is easy. We tied off to the floating bollard so all we had to do was push against the wall occasionally to keep Tranquility parallel with the lock wall. The true size of the lock became apparent once we were at the bottom and the huge gates began to open.

The Wilkins lockmaster gave us permission to tie off to the exit pier below the lock for the night. It was a snug quiet shelter away from wind, waves and current. We were enjoying the fading light of evening when the lockmaster began to dump the lock for a down bound boat. No current disturbed us, but the huge volume of water being released from the lock raised the river level by two feet. We quickly added additional lines to keep Tranquility parallel to the lock pier and settled in to enjoy the evening. Fog settled in stopping all traffic and we had a very quiet night.

The cruising guide added this comment about the Aberdeen Marina. “Moving past the cypress trees is like being on your way to visit Pogo in the Okefenokee.” We couldn’t resist. We hung a left and headed down the narrow channel nothing in sight except trees and red and green stakes marking the channel. Deep in the trees we found the modern Aberdeen Marina.

The courtesy car died as we headed back to the marina. It slowed to about 5 mph, wheezed and sputtered. We limped along on the shoulder as cars sped by. Someone pulled in behind us matching our slow pace. The car died, restarted went a bit and died. I went back and talked with the gentleman in the car behind. He was a classic southern gentleman and said he’d continue to follow and make sure we were safe. We slowly stuttered back to marina and I went back to thank the gentleman for staying with us. As I offered my thanks he offered his card. It was then we learned we’d had a personal escort from the Mississippi Monroe County Sheriff, Ruble Maxey.

We stayed a second day enjoying the marina and doing domestic chores like laundry and fuel filter changes. As boats came in, we’d pause to watch or help new arrivals dock. To our surprise, South Pole showed up. We’d last seen Dan and Nancy 1.5 years ago in Washington, DC. Random chance had again brought us together and we caught up on each others travels.

Lying almost flat in the dinghy we drifted under a low bridge. The motor bumped the bridge bottom but we made it through. Ahead were miles of canals to explore. We poked along enjoying the view of boats and homes along the canal. A winding path out through the trees and tree stumps brought us back to the Tombigbee and then over to the Blue Bluff Park. A dock beckoned and we tied off and followed the path to the top of the bluff getting some needed exercise and enjoying our walk in the woods. Then we headed back to Tranquility.

Evenings are cold. Hatch boards go in, doors to the V berth and aft cabin are closed and we stay comfortable in the main cabin. Sleeping is great, we snuggle in under a goose down comforter and are warm and comfortable, snug in our down cocoon. Mornings are a scramble to dress quickly and warm up cold sweat shirts and pants. The morning sun quickly warms our enclosed cockpit and we are soon back in our cruising tee shirts and shorts. Many mornings our start is delayed as we wait for morning fog to burn off the water.

We called ahead for reservations at the Demopolis Marina. “We’re full, but come anyway” the lady said, “we’ll find someway to fit you in.” Hours later we rounded the bend and found 3 boats circling waiting for fuel and a place to tie up for the night.

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