140 Tennessee River to Demopolis, Al


Click to See Tennessee River Detail

Click to See Tennessee River Detail

A land cut just above the first locks on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers allows boat traffic to cross over without having to go to each river’s end at the Ohio River. We passed through and turned south to head up the Tennessee River. For the next 180 miles we’d be heading south but going upstream while running next to the Mississippi River flowing downstream just to our west. Then we’d finally turn east and travel another 260 miles up to Chattanooga. Boating traffic picked up immediately on the Tennessee. A boat came into view as we poked into what we thought would be a remote anchorage. It had been weeks since we’d shared an anchorage. Then a second boat came into view. By the time the whole anchorage was visible there were four other boats at anchor. We found a comfortable spot and joined the crowd.

Five years earlier, Mermaid Marina was named Gumdale Marina and it was from there we drove to Annapolis a second time and decided on buying the boat that became Odyssey. The dockmaster looked vaguely familiar, but it had it had been a long time. We were stunned when he commented that weren’t we the sailboat people that had been there years earlier? Turned out he’d remembered the pictures we’d shown him of the Trawlercat and our comments on returning from Annapolis.

“Roy El” a large Gulfstar motor yacht left ahead of us with Roy and Elvie aboard. The morning fog was just lifting as they disappeared around the corner and reported improving conditions on the river. Knowing we were a faster boat we took our time in pushing off. We’d no sooner started when our half-mile visibility suddenly shrank to about 10 feet. Unfortunately Odyssey’s bow is about 20 feet ahead so we couldn’t even see the bow. Ruth slowed us and began steering by radar. I scrambled and set up the laptop and got it interfaced to the GPS. Then the computer tracked our location on our electronic chart while we concentrated on keeping Odyssey between the radar defined riverbanks. A blob appeared on the radar screen off to port. We confirmed by VHF that it was Roy EL and slid on by seeing them only as a radar target. For an hour the fog persisted. Then, within minutes it disappeared and we were back to visual navigation.

Cruising boats backed up at Pickwick Lock waiting for a tow to clear. The lockmaster recommended using only the port floating bollards because of turbulence in the lock so we were into a rafting situation. We chuckled as one boater insisted on being against that wall instead of being on the outside of the raft. We backed off and let them take the wall as we rafted off another boat. We heard them complaining later about how hard the lock had been. We kept silent and didn’t tell them that riding on the outside of a raft is a no work lift since the inner boat fends off for both boats.

After the Pickwick Lock, traffic thinned considerably as most boats continued south on the Ten-Tom Waterway. We continued on following the Tennessee River as it finally turned east and dipped into Alabama. After our day of fog and rafting it was a pleasure to tuck into an anchorage that we only had to share with Great Blue Herons and an occasional fish jumping.

The French fry was in mid air when the water began churning with gapping mouth catfish. We dropped more table scraps and the turmoil increased. It was quite a novel experience feeding our scraps to the fish inside the floating restaurant through a hole in the floor. That along with the quirky but very friendly dock staff made our stop at the Florence Marina quite enjoyable. It was easy to tell we were in tobacco country. We went to listen to the karaoke and watch the DJ and his partner chain smoke, as did most of the bar patrons. We had to air out our sweatshirts that evening even though we’d been in an outdoor bar.

The dock staff provided the first indication of the impact of all the Florida hurricanes. The marina was full, jammed with boats that had wisely come north from Florida to escape the hurricanes.

We watched cruisers leaving and scrambling to get to Joe Wheeler State Park days early to have a “good” slip for the Great Loop Rendezvous. We arrived much later and anchored off to have privacy after we’d visited. Having heard all the speakers many times before and not looking for a big crowd party we said our hellos and headed on up the Tennessee the next day.

It’s interesting that all the coal fired power plants with their 1000 foot smoke stacks lining the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers are called steam plants. Steam powers the turbines, but the output is electricity and the gases drifting east to make acid rain.

Jim and Rita arrived in their RV just after we pulled into the Nickajack Marina. Over the years we have met in a variety of unique locations. This meeting was truly special since they had just officially retired and were off on their first adventure. They joined us aboard Odyssey for the 33 mile run to Chattanooga through some of the Tennessee River’s rugged area. In Chattanooga we had a ball visiting the aquarium, riding the electric busses to see the Chattanooga Choo Choo, and discovering good restaurants.

Glad we were elsewhere when Ivan' rains hit

Glad we were elsewhere when Ivan' rains hit

Evidence of why Ivan closed the Tennessee River showed up along its river banks. Torrential rains had poured into the Tennessee raising the water level 12 feet overnight. The dockmaster showed us the water marks high on the wall above the embankment. The marina had been within inches of floating off the pilings rising up through the roof of the covered slips. He commented that the gangplank we walked down to reach the dock was only reachable by a waist deep wade and then it was an uphill walk to the dock at the height of the storm. We were glad we were tucked in up on the Cumberland and missed Ivan’s impact.

Dave drove down from Knoxville to visit for the day. He’d just finished winterizing Rolling Stone. We enjoyed the day swapping cruising notes and enjoying his company. We had met five years ago when we “did” the rivers the first time. He also confirmed that we’d seen the best of the Tennessee and that we wouldn’t be missing much using Chattanooga as our high point.

Ralph is showing Dean Ruth and I some of the lake highlights.

Ralph is showing Dean Ruth and I some of the lake highlights.

The road up Tater Knob is a bit intimidating seeing it for the first time. It’s very steep, with tight curves and just barely one car wide. The rental car steering wheel may still have finger depressions from our grip as we inched up the first time. Near the top Ralph and Bonnie Jean welcomed us to where they live when they are not on AmmyBoo. Their warm hospitality made us instantly feel at home. It was quite a party since Dean and Linda off Seagull were there, and we all had a great time. Apples were on Bonnie Jean’s mind, and we enjoyed the aroma of cooking apples in applesauce, apple pie, baked apples and apple brown betty. Made for great eating.

We think of hurricanes as coastal storms that diminish quickly once they are inshore. However as we threaded our way through the central North Carolina mountains; the impact of the huge amounts of water Ivan dumped were painfully evident. Mud slides, rock slides, roads washed away, huge jumbles of trees piled like pickup sticks were evident as we headed north jumping from detour to detour.

Falling Water

Falling Water

The creamy railings of Falling Waters’ cantilevered balconies floated into view between dabs of yellow, orange and red leaves drifting down in a light fall drizzle. We’d studied the pictures of Wright’s masterpiece for years. Being there and discovering little touches we’d missed in the many books and photos we looked at over the years was thrilling.

We snuggled into the comfort of Mike and Cindy’s cozy hilltop home and just hung out enjoying each other’s company.

Lucy being teased into becoming a lap cat

Lucy being teased into becoming a lap cat

Lucy, their new cat seemed to find us interesting and worked hard keeping us entertained. I even got a bit of a workout by helping Mike spread stone on the driveway.

We stirred things up at Jeff and Debbie’s a bit as Dani bunked in with Heather for the first time as we used her bedroom. Of course, the girls didn’t want to settle down with their new-shared sleeping experience.

Heather, Ruth and Danielle making cupcakes

Heather, Ruth and Danielle making cupcakes

The urge to bake must be part of grandmother genes. Ruth gathered bowls, pans, Dani and Heather into the kitchen and had the girls help make cup cakes. All three had a great time, the girls sampling the dough and loving the frosting as more got on shirts and into tummies than on the cup cakes. It was a wonderfully messy fun project for grammie and the kids.

Brian and Jody got their first exposure at working at the old folks home as we all piled into Steve and Linda’s minivan for a trip to see fall colors. Brian and Jody were up front with us old folks in the back. Our tour guides did a great job Fall leaves in New York.taking us to an outstanding scenic overlook they’d found. The overlook brought our fall color tour to a beautiful high point. We’d been enjoying full fall colors at their peak ever since starting north from North Carolina.

Itchy to be back on the water we headed home. Fall colors faded to dull browns and bare trees as we headed into warmer weather. Working into the evening we got Odyssey restocked and cleaned up after our 16 day absence. The next morning we were again on the water heading down the Tennessee River. We stopped a bit early to enjoy a beautiful anchorage.

A light fog and no wind accompanied dawn. NOAA was predicting heavy fog. Having been sucked in at Mermaid Marina we decided to wait a bit before upping anchor. Ruth made me a cup of coffee and then started sorting out some of the odd literature we had accumulated. I worked on boat chores knocking some of the minor items off my to do list. A half hour later we looked up and found ourselves in a fifty foot universe. Even the anchorage’s shore had disappeared. We settled in for a leisurely morning while we waited out the fog.

Ruth had found an RV Trader we’d picked up months earlier and started casually leafing through it. An ad for an RV dealer in Huntsville caught her eye. Since we were going to get a late start we thought it might be fun to look at RV’s since we were planning on getting one in the fall of 2005. A phone call resulted in a salesman volunteering to come to the marina and pick us up.

Late Friday afternoon we were looking at RV’s and found one that was interesting. The salesman was great offering us a heart-stopping price break because it was now last year’s model and the new models were arriving. We decided to think about it. Over the weekend we searched the Internet, set up a rental car and by Monday afternoon we were in Georgia looking at a Safari Trek. That pushed us over the edge; we liked the RV and figured we’d just push our plan up a year. We had some reservations about the Trek we looked at and by that time had located another one and looked at pictures e-mailed to us that evening. Wednesday morning we were looking at another used Safari Trek at Lazy Days just outside of Tampa, FL. By Wednesday afternoon we were Trek owners.

Every two hours we switched vehicles as we moved the rental car and Trek back to Huntsville. Handheld radios made coordination a bit easier as we moved along the Interstate. Mixing in a bit of fun we tracked down Laurent and Judy in the Panhandle and pulled into the RV park where they were staying. It was a fun day visiting old friends and learning a bit from them about RV living. Then with a bit of juggling we got the RV to Demopolis, AL, the rental car back to Huntsville and finally Odyssey moved to Demopolis.

It felt a bit odd reading the owner manual I wrote to refresh myself on winterizing. Working much more meticulously than we had ever winterized our other boats, we slowly got Odyssey winterized (I think we were both hesitant to leave her). Odyssey with 29,000 miles under her hull will get a well-deserved rest until February when we become boaters again and start moving her to Florida and then up the ICW to be in Washington, DC for the Cherry Blossom Festival.


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