Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything. -Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 44 thru Day 49

Rachel Bags Four New States, and Memphis

Days 44-45. Daughter Rachel and I headed south out of The Breakers marina early, up Kentucky Lake past the broad mouth of Big Sandy River. I was happy to have the GPS display of the channel up the Tennessee River, because it would be easy there to go up the wrong river valley. Our boating friend Larry McPhail had armed us with a list of marinas ahead, and after some research we decided to make it a long day and go for one he recommended at Clifton, TN, with the idea of laying over there for a day. We could afford that luxury because we really did not have too much distance to travel to our weekend destination near Tupelo, Mississippi.

In a few hours we saw the lake narrow as we approached the inflow from the river itself. On the river we saw practically no other boater activity, perhaps because it was a weekday. As we made our way up the river we passed a few towboats, but we had no problems passing in the fairly narrow channel.

The scenery was beautiful (I should be able to sell this shot to Mr. Honda for the big bucks, I think).
By late afternoon we came to the small town of Clifton and ducked into the marina's basin. As we pulled up to the gas dock, a lady hurried out to take our lines and tie us off. She helped us gas up the boat, and indicated that the only covered slip was off in a far corner. But, considering a moment, she rushed off and moved her own boat out of a nearby slip, so we could have easy access to the main building, showers, restrooms, etc. This lovely lady was the manager Sonja, and I later told the owner that I hadn't seen such a friendly and helpful welcome anywhere on my trip.

Rachel and I totally enjoyed our two-night stay at Clifton Marina. Owner Gene Davidson is a congenial sort, inviting boaters and locals to spend time in the store/office/cafe. We ran a couple of errands in their courtesy car, but mostly just relaxed at this down-home friendly place. We visited with a couple of yachtsmen whom we would see again further south, and I was put on guard by one fellow who had just come north out of the Gulf. He had spent the worst two days of his life slamming across from the Florida west coast to the Panhandle in 2-4 ft. seas and more. I was looking forward to that passage in reverse, in a lot smaller boat. The second night Sonja cooked up a tasty supper for a few of us boaters, then we got a picture of her and Gene, and said our goodbyes, anticipating an early start in the morning.

Day 46. We continued about sixty miles up the Tennessee River to the dam at Pickwick Lake, and Rachel was trained as a deckhand in her first lock. She was very interested in this process, and took dozens of pictures in this and subsequent locks we went through as the week progressed.


I had gone through four already on the trip, so at this point was fine-tuning the boat's approach to a bollard along the wall to which the deckhand would attach a line.

Then it took one of us in the bow and one in the stern to keep us attached and fend off the wall so the boat didn't scrape on the concrete as the water level was raised or lowered. We got fairly proficient with it, eventually.

A few miles after emerging into Pickwick Lake, we reached the exit point, where the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway starts off to the southwest, and our journey left the Tennessee River. In 1985 the Army Corps of Engineers completed this system of canals, locks, and dredged river channels to allow barge traffic to go between the Ohio River and the Gulf of Mexico, via Mobile Bay. I was delighted to learn, years ago, that my trip would not have to involve the lower Mississippi River, which is boring, boater-unfriendly, and potentially dangerous. Most north-south pleasure boaters, such as great-loopers, opt for this "Tenn-Tom" route.

The lock at Pickwick Lake steps a boat up, as the travel is still up the Tennessee River. Once on the Tenn-Tom, a long descent begins, through about thirteen locks stepping down to the Gulf. So at Pickwick Lake we were at a high point in our travels since leaving the Ohio valley. Also, since this is a popular pleasure-boating area, there are several good marinas to choose from. We settled in for the next two nights at the Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina, soon after leaving Pickwick Lake.

Immediately as we pulled in to the fuel dock there, I saw a familiar sight. Tied up along the dock was a large towboat, under conversion, named SUPERTUG. I had run into these folks a week earlier at Hoppe's Marine on the Mississippi, south of St. Louis. After we got the boat tied off in our assigned slip, Rachel and I borrowed one of the marina's courtesy vans and went down the road to a fish restaurant. After we sat down at our table, the people at the next table got our attention. I realized they were the SUPERTUG crew, recognizing me from Hoppe's. We chatted there, and then went aboard for a tour after we got back to the marina.

A. C. "Skip" Lembright and his daughter Kaitlynd were taking SUPERTUG from the Upper Mississippi River to Key West, FL, to set it up as a floating motel. Skip had already done substantial remodeling of the interior. After a career in the U. S. Merchant Marine, he is well equipped -- with experience, licenses, and skills -- to bring this post-retirement dream to fruition. Katy is a student at the women's merchant marine academy in New York, and was looking forward to hiring on with fishing boats in Key West, an apparently lucrative summer job. It was fun to visit with these guys and learn of their pursuits.

Day 47. This was a layover day at Aqua Yacht Harbor, and we spent a good bit of it sightseeing, using a courtesy van. We were very impressed with the nearby national military park at Shiloh. The park is beautiful, with drives that take you around through the various battlefield sites, set with plaques, statues, and shiny refurbished cannons. I was most impressed with the 20-30 minute film in the vistor center about the Battle of Shiloh. In very graphic action it puts you in the middle of two days in which over 23,000 men and boys were killed or wounded.

From Shiloh we went to nearby Savannah, TN to see the Tennessee River museum. This was very worthwhile, particularly because of my interest in the development of commerce on the inland waterways. That evening we again went out to eat, but the offerings were limited in the marina area. Pickwick Lake, incidentally, sits on the intersection of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. So, we crossed over Pickwick dam and went some distance to a little town in Alabama that had a few restaurants, and the fried catfish was very good. By this outing, Rachel managed in her week on the boat to see for the first time Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.

Day 48. Today was Friday, and our goal was Midway Marina on the Tenn-Tom at Fulton, MS. This was only about a 50-mile run, but included the first three of the thirteen or so locks that step the Tombigbee River down through Mississippi and Alabama. The first of these is the most impressive, dropping the water level 84 feet. All the others step down about 30 feet each. You are way down in a huge box by the time you are let out of the first one.
They call the canal part of the Tenn-Tom "the ditch". It is not very interesting scenery, being the same the whole way. But, there was no barge traffic and we made good time, not having significant wait time at any of the locks. We reached Midway Marina, checked in, refueled, and tied off in the covered slip where the boat would be kept until Monday morning.

Rachel and I were heading for Memphis on Saturday, to rendezvous with my son Adam (flying in from Denver) and their cousin Michael Baskin (driving over from Chattanooga). We all had blues and BBQ on the brain! But right now I was processing how to get the 20 miles to Tupelo to rent a car. Somebody at the marina didn't show, so nobody there could take me. But here came the kindly bystander. I had been chatting about my trip with Sam Evans there, and he volunteered to take me to town. It would create a long dogleg in his trip back north to Pickwick Lake, but he stepped up anyway. A very nice man.

During the drive and over lunch I learned that Sam had run a substantial crop dusting business, until genetic engineering of cotton shut down that industry. Then he had somewhat accidentally gotten into the boat-broker business, and now in a short few years had grown Captain's Choice into one of the most successful yacht brokerage companies in the Southeast. (I was to see his business cards and promo materials in marinas all the way to the Gulf.)

That evening Rachel and I had a nice dinner in the restaurant next to the marina, and then spent some time with other resident and transient boaters, sitting on the dock swapping stories over beers. One young man broke out his guitar, and I found that I could still finger some chords and croak out some lyrics, even though I hadn't touched a guitar for most of two months. The evening was cooling pleasantly, the setting was mellow, and the folks were great. Here's a shot I took over the marina on the way back from dinner.

Day 49. We made a breakfast stop in Tupelo at Waffle House (boy, does the South love Waffle House!) and drove the hundred miles to Memphis by late morning. We checked into a nice hotel around the corner from Beale Street (the blues-bar strip) and soon Rachel's cousin Michael rolled in.

To kill time until Adam's late-day flight, we toured the Civil Rights Museum and the Gibson guitar factory. And, we went to the Peabody hotel for a drink and to join a packed house of tourists watching the daily 5pm ritual where a bunch of ducks end their day in the lobby's fountain and parade out (on red carpet) to their home for the night. A long-standing tradition, I'm told.

After we retrieved Adam from the airport, we had a barbecue dinner at The Rendezvous that stood up to all the rave reviews we had heard. Wonderful place. By the time we reached Beale Street, it was getting dark and Saturday night was in full swing. They block off three or four blocks, where all the blues bars are, and the street is full of people.

Drinking out in public is encouraged, so it is a steadily jollier throng. I thought it was like Mardi Gras without the parade. We heard some excellent blues and soul music in four or five places, and wandered off to bed around midnight. We had done Memphis.



1 comment:

  1. Hope you are safe and far away from the huricane storms.