73 Demolopis, AL to Fairhope, AL


Demopolis was crazy. All docks were filled and boats were rafted. “Mooring buoys” had been added, but stern anchors were still needed because just past the buoy it was shallow. We lucked out, South Pole called and we rafted off with them and Rolling Stone for the evening. This was the first time on the trip where we encountered “boat bottleneck”-a whole bunch of southbound boats ending up at the same place at the same time.

Our dinghy served as a taxi, and we all headed for town. Dan stopped a clergyman to ask directions to a restaurant. His friendly reply was “6 blocks south and 4 blocks east.” We talked further and learned he was the Catholic parish priest for Demopolis. He invited us to the parish house for dinner. We almost accepted his invitation of steaks and beer. However he had plans to first watch his altar boys play soccer, and we were looking for food immediately. Instead we opted for Mr. G’s Pizza which we had originally passed and rejected. Dinner turned out to be excellent.

Fifteen boats ended up in the Demopolis lock as the fog cleared. Ten tied off to the floating bollards and the rest of us rafted off. Once outside the lock, speed differentials quickly separated boats, and we traveled along with the river to ourselves.

The trip from Chicago has been more of a wilderness experience than we anticipated, and we have loved it. Because of springtime flooding few towns touch the riverbanks. At Demopolis we walked about a mile away from the river to get into town. We headed out again into the unknown with the next anchorage being a wide spot in the river. The cruising guide cautioned about anchoring fore and aft so the boat wouldn’t swing out into the river and be hit by a passing tow or swing into shore and go aground.

Wooded shore and changing conditions of the riverbank provided continual entertainment. Rock gave way to clay then to sand and then back at nature’s whim. Oaks gave way to Cyprus and then to pines. At some places we could see deep into the woods, at others brush crowded the shore blocking any view inland. Some river bends looked like they were at peace with the river, others were the site of a slow motion raging battle with the river chewing away the riverbank in angry clumps. Snags lined shores or poked an occasional stub of a branch out of the water to remind us of dangers below. We bumped a few unseen logs hidden below the surface. Great Blue Herons became commonplace standing along the shore or on snags watching us pass by, or voicing their displeasure about being disturbed and flying off to find a better concealed viewing spot. Signs of man were rare. There were a few homes on stilts, or travel trailers along the riverbank, but few and far between.

Along the Illinois and Mississippi, grain elevators were the primary industry. Along the Ten-Tom it was logs. We watched fascinated a as the thumb and forefinger of a giant crane picked up 10-15 long thin logs much like you and I would grasp pick-up-sticks. The giant arm swung and dropped the logs into the hopper of a huge wood chipper. Conveyor belts deposited the newly created chips into a waiting barge filling it to overflowing with a mound of chips 10′ above the barge. Towboat captains confirmed they had to look around the mound and had limited visibility forward.

Power plants gave us our best cue about how far away from major metropolitan areas we were. Along the Illinois River, it seemed like we saw a power plant once or twice a day. Now one showed up about once a week.

The anchorage we’d been nervous about showed up. It was indeed just a wide spot in the river, but a beautiful spot. We anchored off with 5 other boats. Only 20 feet from shore, in but in15 feet of water, we got our two anchors down and enjoyed a wonderful evening on a windless night. One tow passed throwing just a ripple of a wake. Fog rolled in shutting off all river traffic for the night.

The following night we headed for a creek barely 75 feet wide, but 10 feet deep which was listed as an anchorage. We crept in and by careful maneuvering turned Tranquility around and anchored off along the creek side barely 5 feet from shore in the shade of the trees on a hot afternoon. Bass boats flying up the narrow creek at 30 mph occasionally disturbed our peaceful anchorage. The noise and speed was more unsettling than their wake.

Dock at Ladys Landing

Dock at Ladys Landing

Everyone told us Lady’s Landing was a must-stop. Even the cruising guide had a positive write- up. It was indeed unique. First time we’ve ever tied up to a dock that was underwater–at least the section where we tied off. Other parts of the dock were just barely above water. The dock section we were on was held together with a truck tie-down strap. An old piece of 2×10 let us get off the dock to the sand beach where the climb 50 feet up the sandy, eroded hill began. If we wanted electric power, there was an extension cord strung down the hill and through the water to the dock. A goat watched us dock and then came down to the water’s edge looking for a handout. We trudged up the hill only to find the docks were probably in better condition than the mobile home that served as living quarters, office and store. Having seen Lady’s Landing we’ll anchor off next time and save the dock fee.

“Southbound tow, southbound tow this is the pleasure craft Tranquility on your stern.” For the first time we had caught up with a down-bound tow. It was just coming up on a river bend. “Yes, sir, capt’n, we see you back there” was the reply from the tow in a slow, gravely, southern drawl. “We’d like to pass when it’s convenient for you” I called. “Capt’n, come ahead. I’ll see you on two whistles. I’ll be swinging wide in this bend and there’ll be room for you on the inside” he replied. “Yes sir, we’ll come by on two whistles” I verified and headed for the inside of the bend. Slowly ever so slowly, we crept up on the tow leaving it to our starboard. Friendly waves were exchanged as we pulled even with the towboat pilothouse high above us. We had a slight advantage passing in the bend because the tow slowed to make the turn. However, it felt like it took forever to creep past the towboat and 3 barges. Far ahead was a red buoy, and I steered for it. The tow seemed to be heading that way too. Just as we pulled even with the buoy we were even with the front of the first barge, 40 feet off to our starboard. Slowly the gap between the tow and us opened, and when we finally had a half-mile lead I stopped looking over my shoulder to confirm the barge was not gaining on us.

A railroad swing bridge seemed to be the dividing line between wilderness and city. On the north side, we felt like we were in wilderness. Once we passed through, city and industry sprang up with little transition. We continued past Mobile marveling at the huge ocean going tugs, freighters and waterfront. Down we went into Mobile Bay feeling uncomfortable because the wind was up and the mast was down. Calm river waters gave way to a two-foot chop as we headed to Fairhope on the Eastern Shore of the bay. There we planned to have the mast stepped. We smiled and congratulated each other for having run the rivers-another milestone for us. We’ll come back some day and do it again. There was so much more we wanted to see.


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