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.

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