Day 50. After cousin Michael Baskin left and we dropped Rachel at the Memphis airport, my son Adam and I drove back to Midway Marina on the Tenn-Tom Waterway at Fulton, MS. Very generously, George (the fellow on duty at the marina) loaned us his nice car so we could run the twenty miles to Tupelo and drop off the rent-a-car. Nice man. Let me comment: all down through the "deep South" I was repeatedly struck by the hospitality, courtesy, politeness, and generosity of folks we came into contact with. It was a real pleasure to me to have practically everyone I passed look me in the eye and offer some pleasantry, respond to my greeting, etc. This is not the case everywhere I go, and the difference was very noticeable.
Since it was Sunday evening, the restaurant at the marina was closed, so we cooked on the boat. Our pantry was not well-stocked at this point, but Adam cooked up some red beans and rice burritos, which really hit the spot. As it turned out, this would be the last supper cooked on the boat, because of the heat at day's end and the availability of restaurants near our docking places. Tonight it was hot into the evening, but the marina was quiet and we slept all right.
Day 51. We were already 50 miles along the Tenn-Tom, and still had 400 miles to Mobile, Alabama. Today we had an easy cruise to Columbus, MS and the river was beautiful.
Some days earlier I had gotten a call from another of my WMA high school classmates, Loren Horn, in Tuscaloosa, AL, and we had arranged to meet in Columbus. Again, this was a first contact after 49 years, but living four years in a military boarding school makes pretty strong bonds. Loren came and picked us up and we had a great visit over dinner in Columbus. He retired after a career in the Marines, and then retired again after a career in the aerospace industry. Hopefully I will see him again next year at the 50th reunion. (50th reunion?? How the hell did that happen??)
Day 52. By this point on the Tenn-Tom, ACE had started dredging out the original channel of the narrow Tombigbee River as much as possible, and were only cutting a new straight stretch through the forest where the river was too tightly serpentine for reasonable navigation. We saw these spots, on the chart and along the river, where oxbow side channels departed and entered the waterway. All along, there was very little of interest to look at. T. Caldwell at Columbus had warned us that "Up here you have some homes along the river from time to time, but further down, nothing but trees for days." During this day the river wandered across the border into western Alabama, and T's prediction was more and more correct.
Because, of course, it was impossibly hot and humid and the marina had no "customer area", we fueled up, secured the boat in a covered slip, and repaired to the on-site restaurant/tavern. During happy hour we got into a very interesting conversation with Jim Goodreau, a local fellow at the bar.
As we were setting up our bunks, we noticed a few little brown ants filing along the gunwale. We brushed them off and I thought "Okay, somewhere along the way we've picked up some ants. We'll see if they become a problem." I think we established that they didn't seem to bite, and they weren't very numerous. We went to bed. It was hot.
Day 53. Imagine my surprise, as I quietly crept out to the bow the next morning and found it fairly swarming with little brown ants! I stepped off onto the dock and looked at the stern line, where we had trussed up the side of the boat snugly against the dock bumper. The line tying us there was covered with ants, scurrying back and forth. They were coming aboard from here!! I cast off the stern line, leaving us secured at the bow, which line did not yet show a brown parade coming down its three feet to the boat. It would shortly.
I thought it was interesting that, when I asked in the office/shop about borrowing a courtesy car to go out and buy ant spray, they had Raid on the shelf right there. A known issue. I went back to the boat and Adam was up. His Therma-Rest pad lies on the deck, but he hadn't gotten bitten during the night. At least that was a good thing about our little brown stowaways. We recognized a serious management problem now. We could not spray anything we would be handling (lines, etc.) because the danger of getting Raid in our eyes, etc. would be too great. We did a little spot-spraying and set about getting out of there as fast as possible.
But, that brought up another issue. We were at the end of the row of slips, next to the shore, and for some reason every bit of driftwood in the marina basin had drifted over in front of us during the night. This was a logjam, with logs up to 5-6" thick.
The only haven for boaters in the last 218 miles from Demopolis to Mobile is Bobby's Fish Camp, about 100 miles down the line. It's just about the only sign of civilization through that stretch, as I recall. We had called and reserved a small cabin there, so went through the last Tombigbee lock and ran the hundred miles by early afternoon. Bobby's is an interesting spot, with a dock running maybe 150' along the river bank as the total accommodation for boats. If there are too many boats, they then double-park, one tying off outboard of another, their fenders and good graces making this a workable deal. Actually, a sign in the office prohibits tying up more than four abreast! It would block too much of the river.
As soon as we tied up and checked in, we removed all the storage boxes, coolers, etc. from the boat and laid a heavy stream of Raid around the perimeter of the deck area. Ants had not gotten into food, though they were in the storage boxes. Thank goodness for zip-lock bags. We closed up the boat to fumigate, as we had a cabin to go to for the night.
Lora Jane Dahlberg McIlwain runs Bobby's. Bobby was her dad who ran the place all his life and passed away a couple of years ago. Her great-grandfather started the business in the 1880s as a place for steamboats to refuel, presumably with wood. What a tradition. Lora Jane runs a good operation. There is a sign as you come off the dock prohibiting a list of activities, ending with "Bad Behavior". Among their claims to fame is Best Catfish in the Southeast, but this was a Wednesday night and the catfish were off on Wednesdays.
The other yacht, "La Marie", is owned by Brian Morisset and Susan Fisher of Adelaide, Australia. The boat's master is Capt. Bruce Peterson, whose boat services business Yacht-Pro is out of Aventura, Florida. The three of them were taking La Marie (soon to be re-christened "Invictus") from its previous owner in Chicago to Mobile. Then the owners would fly home to Australia, and Bruce and a first mate would take the yacht to Ft. Lauderdale for painting, then to Savannah, GA where it would be loaded onto a ship and taken to Australia. Bruce will fly there to meet it in Melbourne, and he will pilot it a thousand miles down the coast to Adelaide. I know, and the answer is: They don't make boats like this in Australia! It is an absolutely gorgeous 58' craft, and Adam got a distant shot of it before other boats had come in to dock.
Day 54. By the time we rallied the yachts had gotten underway. We set out into the pleasant morning, again having the river to ourselves, again having nothing to look at but trees. Unlike the Missouri River country, where cottonwoods dominated the riparian strip, here the unbroken thicket was a mix of many deciduous varieties, and gave the impression that if you left the river you would be jungle-crashing through it for miles.
As I had read in a boating guide, the sudden shift from pristine forested river scene to industrial frontage opening to the Mobile area was a little shocking. The changing weather as we passed the downtown area was as well.
The prescribed approach was to go past that point down the main channel toward the Gulf, then turn back to the northwest and enter the mouth of the river. In this area of the bay, getting out of a channel could quickly mean running aground. Because rain and wind and waves were picking up rapidly, I elected to try a shortcut showing some depth on the chart, as an alternate access across the bay to the river mouth. We followed the line on the GPS and the depth gauge intently for fifteen minutes, bouncing in two-foot waves and heavy rain and depth hovering at 4-1/2 feet with momentary dips, and we were very quiet. Then we were through the shallows, joined the channel into the river, and were much relieved to pull into the marina, albeit in a downpour.
Dog River Marina is a good place to stay, and Little Sadie was set up in a covered slip now for three nights. With some coaching from another boater we tied the boat so it would properly handle tides, which was an issue for the first time. If the dock doesn't float and you tie up too tightly, then you can have problems with the water level rising or falling, sometimes a couple of feet or more -- potentially tipping your boat over. We teamed up again with the Invictus trio, as we knew they were also going to stay here for a few days. We continued to get to know the Aussies Susan and Brian and the Floridian Bruce over dinner at the nearby yacht club that looked out over Mobile Bay.
We turned in for the night on the boat, but during the night Adam had to rearrange his bed because the fumes from the Raid had not dissipated yet. It was hotter and muggier than ever.
After I returned to the marina I enjoyed the company of the Invictus folks at dinner, and then I returned to the boat to get ready for an early departure south across Mobile Bay. I was a little concerned but mostly excited, to be venturing out into such a big open body of water, and going alone.