Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mobile Bay, Alabama

We crossed Mobile Bay on a calm, beautiful, late November Saturday afternoon—it had been so rough the day before, as we were told, with boaters fighting five foot waves—we were again, “lucky”. Coming from absolutely the middle of nowhere for five days (since Demopolis), we saw the skyline of Mobile (civilization!) and came into the busy port terminal where we saw cruise ships, navy and cargo ships, tall cranes, coal barges, and lots of people—yes! We crossed through what is known as the “shipping channel” with no difficulty. TYJ. We were on our way across Mobile Bay (a nice wide body of salt water) for a three night stay at Eastern Shore Marina—which was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina—everyone watching the horrible news on TV during that storm saw the destruction this place specifically suffered. The sailing Yacht Club also right here in front of us was, in fact, completely and tragically destroyed by Katrina—now a new and beautiful clubhouse has just been completed and overlooks our boat, as I am writing this.

We had just left the busy port in Mobile, and were out in the Bay when almost on cue, a pod of dolphins came right up out of the water on our starboard side—what a glorious sight—I’ve missed the wonders and beauty of salt water. (I’ve always said I was a salt water girl who happened to marry a fresh water guy!) But we arrived at the marina around 2pm, and had Linda and Charlie (Freedom’s Turn) waiting to catch our lines—they were two days ahead of us and we’ve missed being with them. Also at the marina were Lisa and Jim (Kismet) whom we’ve missed as well. BTW—Happy Birthday, Lisa—albeit a week early! We had several hours to catch back up with each of them—exchanging hugs and information—both boats were leaving here the next morning. We surely hope we’ll see them both somewhere on down the line before we leave for home, family, and Christmas.

The nearby town here, Fairhope, is absolutely precious. The marina has a courtesy van, which the guys—Larry, Robert, and Louis—quickly all signed up for on Sunday for two hour intervals. The quaint little town and shops were having their first-of-the-season Sunday Christmas Open House (complete with cookies, punch, and extras)—most of the shops, if not all, regularly are not open on Sundays at all. (Interesting fact: The super Wal-Mart closes at 6pm on Sundays here, every Sunday!) After a delicious lunch (gumbo, shrimp & oyster poor-boys) with the guys, Margie, Kay, and I spent four fabulous hours just wandering the shops downtown—enjoying a much-needed girl’s retail-therapy afternoon. I want to remember especially about Fairhope: the huge arrays of flowers at every corner, the heavily lighted tailored trees which beautifully line both sides of the streets at night, the welcoming “Azalea Girls” in their pastel antebellum hoop-skirted dresses, and the youthful adorable ballerinas in their light-pink leotards & tutus, touting “The Nutcracker”, which will begin here next week. It’s a magical and beautiful small, coastal town—almost with a “Pleasantville” atmosphere and attitude—I could easily live here (except I’d be way too far from our children and grandchildren). Then, as a perfect ending to a special day, we all went to a Chinese restaurant/buffet and stuffed ourselves miserably.

Monday morning was spent with Louis changing the zincs (I had done laundry the day before) and Louis chasing down a problem with our auto-pilot (which with greatly appreciated help, he fixed!) and afterwards, we got the courtesy van again and went to Hobby Lobby, Home Depot, Boater’s World, & Michaels. Margie has taught me a wonderful new craft (I’m not telling yet!), and I especially needed more supplies. The guys went one way, the girls the other! We’re getting very adept at getting in & out of the mostly awkward courtesty vans, shopping expediously, and being back at the marinas “on time”.

“Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Blue Max” pulled into the marina late this afternoon(Monday)—we had just enough time to get hugs from them, wish Shelly a Happy Birthday!, and give those three boats information we’ve learned since being here—sound familiar? Heavy rain is expected here tonight, so each of us has decided to stay on our boats (we’re all so spread out here anyway) and get to bed early. We’re on the move tomorrow—headed by boat to Lulu’s for lunch (Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s restaurant--another Looper favorite) and then to an anchorage, and then on to a marina in Pensacola, Florida for Wednesday and Thursday nights—which is Thanksgiving evening. We plan to be in Panama City sometime over the weekend—where we’ll leave the boat for a month and drive home for Christmas. Kay & Robert Creech (“C-Life”) who live in Southport, NC, are also leaving their boat in Panama City for a month—so we’ll rent a car & drive home together—then drive back to our boats sometime shortly after Christmas to continue on with our Loop. We hope to be back home @ December 3rd—after seven months of being on the water and going roughly 4300 miles, we’re both very excited to be coming home to "dry land" for a good long visit. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lower Black Warrior River to Mobile Bay

Wednesday, November 19th, we left Demopolis, Alabama and were headed for Mobile—our last “leg” of the river system. We would be traveling all the way down in what is called the Lower Black Warrior-Tombigbee River. Our just-around the-corner and early morning lock was crowded; all ten “pins” held a boat. The lockmaster there was extremely concerned with the positions and names and documentation of all ten boats, so it took a long time to get everyone situated on his terms—then there was the exiting of his lock—again, still agonizingly slow. But we all did get through safely (I believe/know we were more experienced at locking “pleasure” boats than he was!), and we were underway by 8am. Whew. We had a long day to go—about 70 miles—and to a small anchorage—we were dubious if all of us could get into the reported small anchorage. Luckily, 7 boats were able to get in the anchorage—with rafting—we set our anchors just at dusk and were all tired.

“C-Life”, “Wanderin’ L & M”, and “Bella Luna” decided several nights prior to leaving Demopolis that the three nights it would take—on anchor—to get to Mobile, we would raft together each night and each boat take a night to cook dinner and share it with the other two. First night was Kay and Robert’s; they decided to make a Frogmore Stew. Delicious it was too—and with North Carolina shrimp, no less! Thanks, Kay and Robert! We ate early, and turned in early too—these next few days will be long—with no chance really to get “off boat”, except at Bobby's Fish Camp which is out in the middle of nowhere!

Thursday, we left our anchorage after the first raft behind us had broken apart—around 8am. We were headed down river –about 25 miles—to Bobby’s Fish Camp—this is a must stop for all Loopers. As we were making our way down river, we noticed for the first time Spanish moss in the trees—and I saw a few Palmetto palms up in the banks as well—we must be getting to warmer weather! It’s been very chilly lately, cold even—all of us are ready to get south and back into shorts.

Bobby’s Fish Camp is about 4 miles north of the Coffeeville Lock, having nothing but a short dock just alongside the river. Each boat pays $1 a foot—no electricity, no cable, nothing available but a delicious dinner (for an additional price), served family style, up the bank at Bobby’s Fish Camp beginning at 4pm. By the end of the afternoon, there were 10 boats rafted up to the Camp’s short dock—3, 3, and 4 at the back. It was impossible to get a picture of all 10 of us, but what a pretty one it would have been if we could have just talked someone into taking their dinghy down and going out in the river to snap it. (Just like us, everyone deemed it too much trouble!) So, just as the sun set, we all walked up the hill and had a really delicious dinner of fried river catfish and seafood. Interesting note: beers were $2.50 apiece or you could order an ice-chilled-in-the-bucket-six-pack for $6.00! Guess what our table of six ordered? (Hint-it’s been a long time since I’ve ordered a six-pack!)

The largest boat in our three rafts, a 59 foot Marquis, came in later in the day and happened to be alongside the dock (in the back raft) with 3 other boats tied to him. This particular boat was being delivered to Mobile—and the Captains of that boat wanted to get it to Mobile on Friday (burning the owner’s gas, they would waste no time in getting there either). They had contacted the nearby lock and requested a 6am locking—so we all went with him—no sense in wasting a lock on just one boat—and with all the tows on the river, if we could get through, let’s go! Rising at 5:30am, we were underway at a dark dawn of 6am (our earliest departure on this whole trip)—with all our navigational lights on, it looked like a parade! But we all got through the Coffeville Lock—our last one of the whole trip. How ironic too—the Coffeeville Lock and we hadn’t even had our first cup of coffee yet. “C-Life” and “Bella Luna” took several pictures of each other documenting our last lock—what an accomplishment for us both with all the locking we’ve done (over 130!)—and TYJ, we’ve had no accidents, incidents, or problems.

The second night at anchor was Bella Luna’s turn to cook dinner—we had homemade chicken and dumplings—a nice hearty dinner on what-would-be our coldest night on the water. Sure enough, the next morning, it was 26 degrees outside—even Robert’s bow anchor-wash-off hose froze and broke! Margie and Larry will be cooking for us tonight—their turn.

From Chicago to Mobile Bay is approximately 1200 miles. With our side trip to Chattanooga adding another 400 miles, we’ve come a long way in just two months. Seeing the skyline of Mobile today was exciting—yes! civilization—we’ve been in the river system long enough—time for a change. Salt water, warm weather, Florida, and the Keys—here we come!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Demopolis, Mississippi

The afternoon before we left Columbus Marina, Bill from "Tortuga" had asked if he could follow our three boats down river for a while. Of course!, we said, four boats is manageable and good--we were glad to have him! So, we four left the marina in Columbus, Mississippi very early (6:30am!) Sunday, November 16th. We had a long day ahead of us and hopefully two locks—you either “get lucky” with the timing of the openings in the locks or you “get stuck” and have to wait as much as 3 hours. Like Robert (from “C-Life”) has always said, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good!’” Amen to that, Robert. We took the first lock just after we left the marina and never slowed down—that was “lucky”. We had a fairly uneventful day, not seeing any waterfowl or much else to note here—a fairly boring, but beautiful day. We wound up getting “lucky” again in the second lock late in the day, and pulled into a great little anchorage just down river of the lock— “Tortuga” rafted with the three of us (“C-Life” and “Wanderin’ L & M”). We all were invited over to see “Tortuga”—so we fixed drinks and appetizers and had a great couple of hours on his 1984, 38 foot beautifully restored boat. Thank you, Bill! We had another long day ahead of us on Monday, so we all went to bed early.

Waking up to ice/heavy frost on the boat has been an interesting and different experience for Louis and me. Thank goodness we have heat in the cabin (and Louis has rigged us a propane heater on the flybridge too!). But the generator on “Tortuga” had quit sometime early on in the evening, so Bill was really, really cold when he woke up the next morning—poor thing. Plugging his coffee pot into our galley and filling him with a nice hot breakfast helped his disposition greatly! (I’m sure he was glad he had rafted with us!) We were underway and half-frozen from pulling our anchors, but by 7am we were headed for Demopolis, Alabama—thanks to "lucky" locking yesterday, no locks today—but 43 winding miles. We figured we went in and out of Mississippi 3 times as the river took us on its meandering course—but what a pretty ride it was that day. We went through two long separate stretches where there were white cliffs rising straight up out of the water—almost like being in the Grand Canyon—beautiful, especially with the sun shining so brightly on them. And we saw several ospreys carrying fish in their feet (talons?), plus we saw another beautiful, mature eagle. I will never tire of that.

We got to Demopolis, Alabama fairly early in the afternoon, fueled at $2.89, and signed up for the courtesy car for several hours (Robert at 2pm, Larry at 4pm, and Louis at 6pm!). We toured by car some of the more historic and pretty old homes in Demopolis (just a small town), and made the customary trip to W-M. For dinner, we went to a great local place, The Red Barn. Red it was from top to bottom, rustic and good food too—another “lucky” and wise decision on the part of our Captains.

Tuesday, today, for me has been spent doing laundry, cleaning and computer blogging/e-mails. Louis has been busy organizing his tools and cleaning/polishing the windows up top. He gave “Bella Luna” a good “vinegar” bath yesterday—to get all the stubborn stains off her hull from the hard water we’ve been in recently. We’re both glad to have had this day to rest—rather—stop off the water. (There’s no “rest” on this trip for any of us!) We have 217 miles left to get to Mobile, which we think will mean three, long, 70 mile, days each one. We’ll be at anchor for those three nights in a row, somewhere just off the river in hopefully a quiet cove, and probably won’t have much cell phone service—much less any wireless. We’ll have just two more locks—amazingly, the last two of our whole trip. That’s so hard for me to believe—the locks have been such an important part of planning each day—now I wish I had counted them all. We figure the number of locks we’ve been through is somewhere around 130—beginning with our first, the small one in Elizabeth City, NC—and without each and every one of them, this whole trip of ours would have been impossible. We love locks!!!!
***More from Mobile in a few days.

Columbus, Mississippi

We arrived in the Columbus Marina Friday afternoon, November 14th, along with 9 other Looper boats. Several of us had to raft off each other to be able to fit in the marina, but we were all able to get power and water—that’s the important thing! “Freedom’s Turn” was rafted to us, and just behind us were “Little David” and “Gill Raker”, who were rafted together as well. We were all scattered around the marina, but there was continuous action on the end of “B” dock!

Friday afternoon was spent catching up on e-mails, visiting other boats, and laundry. Louis secured the courtesy van for dinner, and Margie & Larry, Kay & Robert and Louis and I went to a great local restaurant, J Brussard’s—simply wonderful. It was so nice to have linen tablecloths, pretty candles, great hot bread, gourmet food, and experienced waitresses----for a change! (Most places we’ve been recently have been either “family” restaurants or pub/bar food-------“OK, who’s got the ribs?” coming from our order taker, no less!)

Saturday morning, we sadly said good-by to "Freedom's Turn"--Charlie and Linda are a few days behind their schedule and want to catch up with "Kismet"--besides, 9 (or more, in some instances) Looper boats overwhelm most of these marinas and anchorages along the river--the marinas are not big enough to handle us all together. As much as we hated not traveling with them and Lisa and Jim, we all felt the realization/need to spread apart for a few days--at least until the waters get wide again.

Getting back to Saturday morning, we were able to get the courtesy van again, and the above six of us took off to do some sightseeing in Columbus—but we had to get the van back by 2pm (hustle, hustle, everyone!)—someone else had signed up for the much-appreciated courtesy transportation too. Our destinations that day were: The Tennessee Williams House, Friendship Cemetery, and Waverly Plantation (and maybe if time allowed, a trip to W-M!).

Born in Columbus in 1911, Tennessee Williams was one of the most important American playwrights ever. He wrote the Pulitzer prizewinning “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ and “A Streetcar Named Desire”. He also wrote “The Glass Menagerie”, “Sweet Bird of Youth”, “The Night of The Iguana”, and “Summer and Smoke”. One quote I particularly enjoyed of his was: “Home is where you hang your childhood, and Mississippi to me is the beauty spot of creation, a dark, wide spacious land that you can breathe in.” A several time Tony Award winning writer, he died in New York City in 1983, and from official reports succumbed from choking on a bottle cap.

We were also able to pick up information at his house on a self-guided car tour of nearby/downtown antebellum homes. We rode through the area, and saw some magnificent ones too—so nicely restored and maintained—the grounds were spectacular too. (These particular homes were spared by Union and Confederate soldiers because the area was used primarily as hospitals by both armies during the war.) The Magnolia trees there in Columbus were the largest/prettiest I’ve ever seen—we figured most of them must have been well over a hundred and fifty years old!

For all of us, the Friendship Cemetery was the most meaningful place we went all day. A huge area of land located within the city limits, it has several sections where Confederate soldiers are buried—a few named, but mostly the markers were “Unknown Soldier”. It was a somber but comforting feeling to see all those hundreds and hundreds of small white stones—we had been left with a bitter taste after being told in Shiloh that fallen Confederate soldiers could/would not be returned to their families from their mass graves for “proper burial” (military orders from General U S Grant). Small American flags dotted the graves of the soldiers and having Veteran’s Day just a few days back, we all were honored to be there. There was also another grave site which is very famous in the cemetery—a full sized granite carving of an angel kneeling on the headstone with her head resting there and arm draped over the front—it is titled “Even Angels Wept”—it is too precious for words—and I do have several pictures of it. We drove several times around the small narrow dirt paths in the cemetery—quietly and reverently taking it all in.
Founded in 1849, the cemetery was the site of the first Memorial Day Celebration in 1866.

Built in 1852, Waverly Plantation was about 5 miles out of town. Having been abandoned and left vacant around 1916, and left completely unattended for 50 years, it has been owned privately for the past 45 years by a devoted family who have been restoring it ever since. The four-story home once stood on 50,000 acres stretching from the river back. The foyer of the home rose 65 feet to a huge belvedere on top (reading this, Frank?!) where the entire plantation could be looked over—it was hard to imagine that piece of information—we were not allowed to go all the way up there! The original family had 10 children and over a thousand sharecroppers or slaves who worked the land—it was a completely self-sufficient “city” unto itself—even having its own post office! Most impressive there to me were the moldings, mantles, and mirrors—which all miraculously escaped theft in those 50 years of the house being left wide open and vacant. But I think each one of us was disappointed that the house and grounds were not in even better shape than we had hoped or expected—the furniture was lovely but not original to the house (the pieces were mostly “period accurate”). But glaring to us all, the house itself needed major, major work done both inside and outside to bring it up to others we’ve seen before--grounds too. Our tour guide was Marjorie who lives there with her elderly father; she told us some dear stories about her growing up in the house and the ghost who has been heard and seen for years there as well—a sweet young girl. I hope that some kind of a Preservation Society can take it on as a project and do justice to it, but there seem to be many antebellum homes all around here. Wonder what the qualifications for acquisition require?

We had “just enough time” to get in yet-another quick trip to Wal-Mart & Subway (love that tuna!) before getting the van back to the marina by 2pm. Christmas is all over that store now and is really upon us--boats in this marina are already decorated for the season! Since I haven’t even thought about it yet (much less started shopping), I guess I’ll need to hit the ground running when we get home the first week of December. (Or maybe we’ll just keep it simple this year—how ‘bout it, girls?!) We got back to our boats just in time for Louis to complete a major charging project on the boat's batteries, and for me to get started on this blog.

We had dinner Sunday—as did everyone else in our group (19?) at the marina’s restaurant, “Woody’s”. A cold front had stormed through Mississippi during the previous night with winds of 45 mph, and it had turned really cold outside, so when we walked the very long way over (in the cold dark too) to the restaurant and saw a fire burning in the cozy fireplace, color us ALL happy!—it was a fun evening with most everyone there and great food too. Sadly, we said our good-bys to “Sunshine”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Blue Max”—they will be coming a few days behind us, so we’ll all be able to get in the small and few anchorages as we make our way down to Mobile—about 350 more miles. More from Demopolis, Alabama.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Tenn Tom Waterway

We left Joe Wheeler State Park on Saturday morning, November 8th, headed down the Tennessee River on our next “river leg” towards Mobile Bay and salt water. We left with four other boats: “C-Life”, “Wanderin’ L & M”, “Freedom’s Turn”, and “Sunshine”. We were all headed towards an anchorage that we had been to about a month earlier when we diverted and went “up river” to get to the fall rendezvous at Joe Wheeler. (A side trip to Chattanooga also took up two weeks in that month.)

We did indeed get to the anchorage and rafted up, but it was just at dusk and we were all tired—it had been a long day on the water. We each pulled out left-overs and had an early evening get-together on “C-Life”. We were anchored right across the river from Grand Harbor Marina in Yellow Creek and were now officially at the head of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in Mississippi, the Tenn-Tom Canal as everyone calls it. It is a 253 mile man-made stretch of water, begun in 1972 and completed in 1985. This mammoth Army Corps of Engineers project moved more dirt than was moved to build the Panama Canal and it cost more than 2 billion dollars to complete. This Tenn-Tom Waterway is relatively unknown throughout the US to the general public, but its use saves travelers as much as 720 miles and the swift currents of the Mississippi River. There are 10 locks, 9 of which will take us down about 30 feet at each lock, and one will take us down another 84 feet—the Jamie Whitten Lock—the largest on the waterway. Commercial traffic on the Tenn-Tom has never reached the level that was originally envisioned, and it is doubtful it will ever “turn a profit” (thank you, Skipper Bob!). But we are mighty gratefull that we didn't have to do any more of the Mississippi than was necessary!

Sunday we left one anchorage for another—we would be just upstream of the largest lock and fairly early in the afternoon, we all decided we would wait for an early morning lock-through on Monday. There were 2 large barges ahead of us Sunday afternoon waiting to lock down, and we knew we would be behind them for the next few miles before we could get to our predetermined anchorage. With always a "Plan B", we turned into a nice cove and this time we all five rafted together--and early enough to enjoy the beautiful fall afternoon. Linda, from “Freedom’s Turn”, had all the ladies (5) over to her boat for a lovely and special “Michigan” wine tasting party and the guys went over to “C-Life” and watched the televised NASCAR race—drinking beer and smoking cigars! Thank you, Linda and Robert!

Monday, November 10th we all were headed to Midway Marina, located about 20 miles from Tupelo, Mississippi. After we got our boats secured, all 10 of us piled into the courtesy van and headed about 4 miles away into the nearby town, Fulton, to the only restaurant open that night—Mexican—and it was surely the best we’ve had so far—what a delicious surprise! Back at the marina, our boat was tied alongside the outside dock, and looking out our saloon window we had a beautiful view of a cypress filled marsh/swamp. There were thousands and thousands of coots swimming and feeding not 12 feet from us all day long, and I spent 30 minutes early one morning (with coffee and blessed silence) watching a majestic, beautiful eagle perched at the top of a dead cypress tree just outside our window. Color Diane, quiet and happy.

Tuesday, Charlie from “Freedom’s Turn” rented a 15 person, four row, “church van” and we all took off for Tupelo—wanting to see the huge antique car museum, a federal fish hatchery, Elvis’s birthplace, and the ever-needed stop at Wal-Mart. The car museum was very impressive with around 200 old cars dating back to the very first ones made, a collection belonging to just one man and donated by him to the city of Tupelo. By chance, for only two weeks, there happened to be a small mini-showing of street rods in the collection—color Louis happy! We all were given cards to vote on our favorite car and my vote went quickly to a black 1929 Duisenberg—all original and in outstanding shape. The federally operated fish hatchery was closed, due to it being Veteran’s Day—so was the Visitor’s Center, which we tried to take in as well. But not Elvis’s birthplace!!! We each had received a complimentary coupon at the car museum to get into the old, wooden, white house, on the actual spot, where Elvis lived until he was three years old. Built by Elvis’s father for $180.00, it was a very small, two room house (just a bedroom and a kitchen)—still with a few original furnishings, wallpaper, and linoleum flooring—a very depressing sight, in my estimation—I’m glad we didn’t actually have to pay to see it. There was an elderly lady sitting in an old chair in the bedroom (behind the roping) talking about the house there, answering questions, and obviously very much still in love with Elvis—I had to quickly get away from her and out of there! But I did enjoy the tranquil settings and grounds which were beautifully landscaped and groomed, with bronze life-like statues of Elvis as a young boy spaced here and there. In addition, there was a memorial chapel, which you had to purchase a ticket to enter and none of us chose to see the inside of that. And of course there was a new, large brick building that had all sorts of things to buy that were Elvis related—poor thing, people are still making big bucks off him anyway they can--he'll never "rest in peace".

Wednesday we had planned to leave Midway Marina, but with the impending forecast of 1-2 inches of rain we decided to remain there one more day. It gave us all a day to do laundry, defrost the freezers, and catch up on odds and ends—much needed too—and I actually got a couple of hours to get on “Wanderin’ L & M” and do a crafting project of Christmas ornaments with Margie. That was fun, thanks Margie for showing me how! (As a postscript in remembering Midway Marina, can any one of us ever forget the millions upon millions of tiny bugs that decended upon our boats in those three days?! Will we ever get them all off?!!)

Thursday, we had two locks to go through to get to the marina in Aberdeen—a must stop for all Loopers—and about a half mile off the river and up a winding, narrow, cypress lined ditch. On our 6 hour trip down river, we saw 5 mature eagles—still a thrill! All of us had been waiting to buy fuel in Aberdeen, which was selling in that marina for $2.69 a gallon—a welcomed relief from the fuel in Canada of over $6.00 a gallon—and the least we would be paying for fuel since leaving in May! The Aberdeen Marina is actually a family-owned “community” convenience store selling fuel at the same price for cars as well as boats—unheard of in the boating world! Plus, we had heard about their famous fried chicken and chicken livers cooked right there in the marina store—but we needed to get there before 2pm, because that was when the cooks “left for the day”. Fearing we wouldn’t make it by 2pm, Louis got an order in for all 9 boats, and our boxes were waiting for us when we arrived. As promised, it was delicious—even at 3pm! We all fueled (which took several hours to complete), and with the time change and it getting dark around 5pm, everyone just stayed at the picnic tables under the marina’s waterside overhang until bedtime—enjoying Susan’s and Jeff’s and Granddaddy Kelly’s unbelievable hospitality. More stories, more laughs, more cigars, and more alcohol were brought out over the course of the evening—even Kelly’s dark “shine” was passed around. (Make note—neither Louis nor I smoke, especially stinky cigars!) But most surprising was that cute, Granddaddy Kelly was up bright and early the next morning to cook for us all his famous southern breakfast—complete with country ham, eggs, grits (with garlic & cheese, no less), biscuits, and red-eye gravy. This was a truly-great charming spot which does a tremendous amount of local business too (for instance, selling over 90,000 cases of beer just last year!)—everyone of us wished we could have stayed more than just one night. I don’t believe we’ll find another marina half as much fun as there in Aberdeen!

Friday morning we were enveloped in dense fog—delaying our departure until around 9:30am. But as soon as the fog lifted, we called the lock (which will not lock anyone through in fog and was right at the turn-off for the Aberdeen marina) and the lockmaster said there were no tows waiting—making our only lock of the day very quick and easy. (We’ve had to wait at some locks as much as 3 hours for the tows to get through!) After the lock, we had a quiet/dull 4 ½ hour ride down the canal to the Columbus Marina—seeing no eagles, few waterfowl, no turtles, no towns, and maybe 3 houses total. It is here now-4pm-Columbus Marina-that I’m writing this week-long blog, and we’ll be here for two nights—seeing several antebellum homes tomorrow (Waverly being the most famous). More later, after this weekend.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chattanooga Back to Joe Wheeler

The 3 “marinas” in Chattanooga are all just floating docks right alongside the river—all 3 owned by the city and run by River Max. Employees use golf carts to run back and forth between the marinas, which are just 1 ½ miles apart. There are no showers or laundry facilities—ugh. But the location of our “marina” was otherwise perfect—we were almost at the base of the aquarium—right in the “official park” area. We had arrived mid-afternoon on Wednesday, too late to take in the huge aquarium with its’ freshwater side and other saltwater side—we understand you should spend a whole day there. Louis tried to get a rental car, but being so late in the day, it would have to wait until early the next morning.

Early Thursday morning, Louis got us a sporty rental car and we were off to do laundry—2 miles away and across the river. We had accumulated a weeks’ worth of dirties, and had “company” flying into Chattanooga Friday mid-day (we’ve really got to get the boat ship-shape now). Our dear friends, Mimi and Frank Liggett, were coming to spend almost a week with us! Knowing Frank’s rules for visiting other people, we were truly thrilled that they would take the extended time and extra energy to visit us. They had never been in these parts before and they wanted to experience the river system here with the all pretty fall foliage. We were also having a Halloween Looper gathering on our dock the next evening—complete with a pumpkin decorating/carving contest—another excuse for a party! Frank and Mimi would be the judges (they had no idea what was ahead of them!) and Louis and I would furnish the prizes!

After the great Halloween party (the Liggetts decided everyone was a winner!), the four of us walked up to “Sticky Fingers” for a delicious dinner—the restaurant is famous for its ribs, chicken, and bar-b-que. It was a fairly long walk up and upon leaving the restaurant; Louis spied one of the marina’s golf carts taking another couple back. It was cold outside—we were tired and full—and the street was festive and alive with costumed ‘young-uns’. Sooooo, we hailed the golf cart and all six of us piled on and had a welcomed-relief ride back to our boat. Happy Halloween everyone!

Saturday, November 1st was Frank’s birthday and our 39th wedding anniversary—time to celebrate again! Before breakfast, we brought out a chilled bottle of pink champagne and all had congratulatory hugs and cards from our fellow Loopers—what fun—and early too. We had to vacate our spots at the marina because there was a competition of high school and college scullers/rowers—out in the river just beside us and taking up the whole area in the park. It was so interesting to see all those long, skinny boats—we were told they were around 900 of them. Among the hundreds of competitors, we were lucky enough to see boats from UNC, Wake Forest, and Duke—they would be racing Saturday and Sunday in different categories and with different sizes of boats. It was the “Festival of the Hooch 2008”—a huge event—and multiple tents were set up within the park selling food stuff, tee shirts, and rowing gear. Huge speakers were blaring hip music and traffic was halted at each end of the park. Boats were piled on hundreds of racks sometime four high and eight long. Spectators and competitors were everywhere enjoying the beautiful clear morning—it was quite an event to pull off—the organizational aspect alone was awesome.

We left the dock and traveled a short distance (around 4 hours) to our anchorage near Nickajack lock and dam. We rafted with “Wanderin’ L & M”, “C-Life”, and “Kismet”. The others--“Sunshine”, “Freedom’s Turn”, and “Annie” chose to anchor nearby. To celebrate our anniversary and Frank’s birthday, Lisa and Jim had us over for her delicious Bloody Mary’s (complete with blue cheese stuffed olives!) on “Kismet’s” fly bridge. We watched a beautiful sunset on an equally beautiful boat—a Fathom—thanks Lisa and Jim! It was Saturday evening and Daylight Savings Time would be going off after midnight—ugh—our days on the water would be getting shorter and shorter and our nights longer. Little did we know how the time change accompanied with entering a different time zone would mess all our systems up!

Because it was now dark just past 5 (for the rest of the week) the four of us were hardly able to keep our eyes open past 7pm—and we were rising around 5am—an awful mess! It’s one thing to be on the water and not know the day, but coupled with not knowing the time is surreal. We just laughed a lot about the changes we all were experiencing and ate when we were hungry and slept when we were tired! (It’s now six days later and my body hasn’t caught up yet!)

Monday and Tuesday we traveled the beautiful Tennessee River with glorious days—there were still the six of us who were all together since Chattanooga. “Annie” is a very special boat—a tug of sorts—and handmade by her owners, taking 16 years to complete. Unique and simply gorgeous, she has a calliope on her bridge and has serenaded us on several occasions—but the most special time was in the lock. After all the locks we’ve been through (somewhere around 130), I can honestly say this one lock was the most enjoyable and fun. We listened intently to the Southern songs as we descended the 60 feet and with a big blast of her “toot-toot” whistle, we all left the lock smiling.

We arrived at Joe Wheeler State Park Tuesday afternoon—in time to enjoy this area with Frank and Mimi before they had to fly home early Thursday morning. Louis had a few “projects” to do on our boat and Frank was a willing and knowledgeable helper. Mimi had caught “the cold” and needed to get some meds and rest, so it was good we came in a day earlier than scheduled. The two of them took the two of us out to dinner Wednesday night, and we all four “turned in” early to bed yet again. We have so enjoyed having the Liggetts along for the short week with us—our fellow Loopers have too. Maybe a Loop is in store for them when Frank finally retires—who knows, we may do this again if they do! Time will tell.