Sunday: As we planned, Sea Wolf is on the fuel dock by 8:00 am topping off their tank and by 8:30 am Kailani is on the water leaving this beautiful facility along with Sea Wolf. The temperature and the winds are very favorable today again and although it’s only been four days since we had our first snow of the year, it is now a distant memory. The cruise today is our last leg of the gorgeous Kentucky Lake as once we get to Waverly, Tennessee it marks the end of the flooded plain and the rest of our journey on the Tennessee River will be mostly the original profile of the river before the dam opened. So we will take in the beauty today as our last looks for Kentucky Lake.
As is the norm for boating, every once in a while, there will be issues with the performance of the vessel or one of it’s components. Well today’s component is the starboard engine oil pressure. Today’s cruise is 43 nautical miles and right about halfway thru, the starboard oil pressure gauge drops to zero. I had been watching the needle waver a bit so as soon as it dropped to zero, I shut off the starboard engine. Tracy monitored the helm while I went down to the engine room to evaluate. The oil levels were good and there was a slight loosening of the cap, so I tightened the cap and returned to the helm. After starting the engines, the gauge returned to normal, so we resumed our cruising. But alas, all temporary fixes don’t stay for long and after another few miles, the gauge dropped back to zero, so we shut her down for the last time and made the final 20 miles of the journey on the port engine.
As we were approaching the only bridge that was of concern to us today, I radioed the bridge to confirm the vertical clearance. I called the CSX Railroad Liftbridge and asked him if he knew what today’s vertical clearance was and he said, “I don’t know” so I asked if he knew if there was an elevation board on the bridge pier and again he said, “I don’t know”. OMG, we were sooo un-impressed with the lockmaster here. -tc So we were hobbling along on one engine by this time anyway, so we just took it slow and as we got closer, we were able to verify (with the elevation board!) That my calculation of 26’-4” was dead on for today’s pool levels and we were good to pass as we only need 18’ of clearance. The whole incident was frustrating to us both even to the point of discussing whether or not we should call the USCG. But cooler heads prevailed and we just chalked the incident up to experience. We’ve never had such an air of uncooperative-ness from a bridge tender in the past. We were simply trying to avoid an unnecessary raising of the bridge and he should have been more cooperative, but it was not the case.
So on one engine only, the last 18 miles against the current slowed us down to 7 knots and we didn’t arrive until 2:45 pm. It was as we were heading into the marina inlet that I fired up the starboard engine one last time for maneuverability and surprisingly, the gauge read 60 psi as it should. So we’re pretty certain that it’s a bad pressure sender unit which we happen to have a brand new one on board! Anyway, back to pulling into the marina. When we talked with the marina yesterday they told us that during the fall and winter, the office and staff are off on Sunday and Monday, so there wouldn’t be anybody there to help with lines, but to just dock on the fuel dock for the night and leave the check payment in their mailbox before leaving. So we are pulling into the marina inlet and we spot a looper sailboat already tied up on the fuel dock and there’s Brian (we met him in Green Turtle Bay) aboard Magnolia Glen waiting at our slip to take the lines from Tracy. It’s really great to have this looper network to ride on our shoulders wherever we go. Brian sailed into Cuba Landing Marina an hour before us from an anchorage spot and he would be leaving in the morning also. We got all the lines secured and the power cord hooked up and enjoyed the last hours of sunshine for today waiting for Sea Wolf to arrive.
Once we were all set in our slip I went to work trouble shooting the oil pressure issue. I went under the helm to check all the electrical connections to the gauge and with the engine running, there was 12 volts DC to the power terminal and 6 volts DC to the sender terminal, so the gauge was not the issue and I knew I’d be replacing the oil pressure sender with our new one before they was over. As I was re-attaching the helm fiberglass to its proper position and attaching the screws, Sea Wolf arrived, so Tracy, Brian and I went over to Sea Wolf’s slip and waited to grab their lines. Paul turned Sea Wolf around in a small area and Diane was on the starboard side ready to hand us the lines to secure the Sea Wolf to the dock.
After Tracy prepared a nice salad and leftover fried chicken (from the Cracker Barrel), I opened up the engine room again and went to work on replacing the sender. Surprisingly, the engine was still fairly hot even after cooling down for 3 hours, but we have moving blankets in the engine room and I took one of them and laid it across the top of the engine for comfort. The sender on the starboard engine is way over on the outboard side of the engine and I would have to work off the top of the engine to get to the location about a foot below the top. It’s an awkward spot and arm access is not east, but I was able to unscrew the old sender by running my arm through an opening in the engine and turning the wrench a quarter turn each time and re-adjusting the wrench for another turn. It was a long and tedious process but I knew as long as I was making progress, it wouldn’t be too bad. Soon I had the old sender off and the power cable disconnected from the underside of the sender. I then took out the new sender and noticed that while there was one terminal on the original sender, there were now two terminals on the new sender and this is the correct part number for the Caterpillar manual. So I determined that there was a power terminal and a ground terminal. I reconnected the power cable and installed the new sender. Pleased with my tenacity, I went up to the helm and fired up the engine and sadly watch the gauge do absolutely nothing!!! I was temporarily at a loss for what to do when I realized that maybe the ground terminal had something to do with it. Whereas the original sender didn’t have a ground, maybe since the new one had a ground I better use it. So I made a ground wire connection, took off the sender, attached the ground wire, re-installed the sender, reconnected the power cable and returned to the helm for the second time. When I fired it up this time, the gauge shot right up to 80 psi! Eureka, I did it! We were all set to cruise tomorrow again. Excellent work Nick! -tc
Climbing into bed felt real good tonight as I was tired and felt real good about the days accomplishments. Sleep came fairly quickly and we both knew that we’d be heading out again tomorrow.
Monday: With the new oil pressure sender working properly, we plan for an early departure to insure we don’t run out of daylight before reaching our destination, Clifton Marina. While I’m walking Frankie and putting our payment into the Cuba Landing mailbox, Sea Wolf and Magnolia Glen are readying their vessels for departure. Sea Wolf leaves first and is soon out of sight. Magnolia Glen is taking more time to prep for departure with his chartplotter and other safety equipment on board. Meanwhile, Tracy is reversing the dock lines on Kailani so we can release them from onboard when ready.
At 8:00 am we’re backing away for the fuel dock and headed back out into the Tennessee River for another day of battling the head current. In fact it’s getting stronger now that the river is narrowing, so today’s planned 38 nautical mile journey will take anywhere between 5 and 6 hours based on the currents and traffic. At least we don’t have any locks to deal with today. As we come out of the marina inlet and center ourselves in the river channel, we are quickly overtaking Brian in Magnolia Glen. He does not plan to go as far as us today because he travels at 4 knots. So his day is only about 20 miles to Perryville Marina. Right as we’re passing Magnolia Glen, there is a light mist coming down and visibility is diminished due to the precipitation. So Tracy turns on the radar and it stays on for the remainder of today’s journey. We are getting fairly good at reading the radar. We have left it on in good weather to practice reading it, it’s easier that way. You see a blip on the screen and look up to see a buoy shining in the sun. We would both exclaim “that’s it!” -tc Because of the rainy mist, the clouds hold back the sun from heating the flybridge, so it’s a bit if a cool trip today. But have faith, the sun does come out later in the day before we reach our destination. Within another hour, we’re passing Sea Wolf and then we’re all alone on the river, just us, the cool mist and the hazy fog.
We do end up passing a few tows with some decent barge counts, but the main view today is the change in the scenery as this portion of the Tennessee River is full of limestone ledges right up to the river’s edge and there are spectacular weekender house on top of these ledges.
Where there is flatland adjacent to the river, there are campgrounds galore and the style of camping down here is very different from what we’re used to back home. Here, people pour a concrete slab, then erect metal roofs over an area the size of ordinary campsites back home, then they back in their monster campers under the metal roofs and have boats, all cars, picnic tables, swings, etc. all under these roofs! We imagine that its for sun protection more than rain, but I think these RV’ers have more invested in their structures than they do in their campers!
Anyway after 5 hours and 20 minutes of cruising, we’re pulling into Clifton Marina and after checking in, we relax a bit before Paul and Diane show up aboard Sea Wolf. They dock right opposite us on the transient dock and we each make pasta dinners, discuss tomorrow’s even longer cruise, and turn in early knowing that we’ll be leaving close to sunup (if not before). This town, Clifton, Tennessee is the birthplace of Tennessee’s first Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, T. S. Stribling and there’s a museum in his memory, but alas, there’s no time for that on this trip.
Tuesday: Big day today as the travel distance is 51 nautical miles against the current and we need to pass thru Pickwick Lock, so Sea Wolf departs at 6:00 am before sun-up and Kailani departs at 6:40 am. As I’m walking Frankie, I see a large tow moving upriver in the same direction that we’re going, so I know as soon as we get out on the river, we’ll be overtaking that tow. So I get out the binoculars and read the name of the tow so I’ll be able to hail them by name when it’s time to overtake them. And as usual, when I return to the slip, Tracy already has the dock lines reversed and the utilities disconnected so we’re ready to shove off.
As we figured, we’re only in the river channel for about ten minutes when we’re hailing the tow, ’Greenwave’ for instructions on whistle pass and best spot to initiate the overtaking. He replies that his port side is the preferred side and we can keep down on the throttles right now and pass, so I confirm that we’ll overtake on the ‘two whistle’ and we make our run. In less than a mile, we’re totally clear of ‘Greenwave’ and continuing on our way until we come upon Sea Wolf and with today’s clear skies, we pull up real close to their Port side and Tracy gets some really good shots of their vessel underway which we’ll share with them as they were saying they would like some shots of their vessel underway.
After the photo shoot, we accelerate back to cruising speed and continue to try and make time on today’s journey. The current is really not bad and with the vessel moving at 10 knots, we’re netting 7.5 to 8 knots speed over ground, so the head current isn’t yet as bad as we thought it would be. The river winds through similar scenery as yesterday, however there is one special location that we pass and that is Shiloh National Park. Here is where a Civil War Battle took place and 23,000 American soldiers lost their lives just on this battlefield. We’re hoping that we can get transportation tomorrow to go visit this park.
As we’re making such good time, we get to the Pickwick Lock by 12:20 pm and this is way before I thought we would get here. But it’s all for naught as the chambers are down for repairs and the lock master tells us to proceed into the entry lane for the auxiliary chamber and tie off to one of the cribs as he’s not sure how long the repairs will take. Well, the repairs take nearly 2 hours and after getting bounced around for 90 minutes due to the currents in the lane, we are finally called by the lock master and he says to turn around and proceed back into the main chamber and tie up to bollard #7 on the starboard wall. At last! It’s 3:10 pm and we’re departing the lock for the last 10 miles to Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina. So we left Clifton Marina at 6:40 am and arrived at Aqua Yacht Harbor at 3:40 pm, 9 hours on the water. We knew it could potentially be a long day, but until Pickwick Lock we were having a great day timing wise. While 9 hours was definitely a long day, it was short compared to Sea Wolf’s cruise. They left the Clifton Marina at 6:00 am and we had to guide them into their slip with flashlights because they didn’t get here until shortly after 6:00 pm!
The great news is that now that we’re off the Tennessee River and onto the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, we are now going down river all the way to Mobile and there will be helping currents or at least neutral, but no more head currents for a while.
We’re going to stay here at Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina at least thru Thanksgiving, so we’re here in Iuka, Mississippi, our 15th state since we started. When we pulled in we quickly spotted Wild Goose, Sea Cottage and Journey. All three boat crews are back in their dirt homes, but Wild Goose and Journey are returning to the loop at the end of this week. It’s getting a bit warmer (but still cool nights) and the Gulf coast is closer now. The next 500 miles to the gulf will be more anchorages than marinas, so there will be different ways to spend our downtime. We’ve had a great run so far and we’re anxiously looking forward to the next leg with some new and some old boat buddies.
Wednesday: Today we borrow one of the marina courtesy cars and Paul, Dianne, Tracy and I go out for a nice breakfast at the R & B Diner recommended to us by Leonard at the marina fuel dock. After a delicious breakfast, we find a small grocery store to re-provision our galleys, then the crew of Sea Wolf wants to get some wine, so we have to drive to Savannah, Tennessee for the wine, but they buy enough to last a while. We were in a dry county, which no one had ever heard of except me. They were stupefied. -tc
Once we’re back at the marina and the sun is warming the air, I take a walk to meet some fellow loopers that are here in the marina. I meet the crew from Buy the Book and the crew from First Forty. Both vessels are here getting some work done so they’re not sure when they’ll be able to depart. Eagle One is also here, but the crew left the boat here, rented a car and drove to Memphis for a touristy Thanksgiving. Speaking of Thanksgiving, Bill and Bobbie from First Forty, Paul and Dianne from Sea Wolf and Tracy & I agree to have a potluck thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
Thursday: This is our second consecutive Thanksgiving away from home. Last year we cruised to Atlantic City from Staten Island on Thanksgiving Day. Today, we’re much further south, the weather is warmer, and we’re not alone, but rather, we’re with looper fiends for the day.
We decide to meet for thanksgiving potluck at 1 pm so we can take full advantage of the warm sun and we’ll be eating outdoors today. The meal is delicious as Bobbie prepares a turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, Tracy prepares a chicken stew and yams, and Dianne prepares hors d’oeuvres. We have a delicious meal, everyone is full and we’re able to clean up and breakdown the tables well before sunset so it doesn’t even get really cold on us. It turns out to be a delicious feast and a day to really be thankful for friends and family.
By nightfall, the crew of Eagle One has returned from Memphis and they bring along a turtle encrusted cheesecake. Rick and Kris stop by Kailani with their dessert and we have a nice time chatting and sharing some dessert from Memphis.
Friday: Paul and Dianne arise and decide to make their way south to Bay Springs Marina today, so we help them with their lines and wish them safe cruising. We learned from Bill aboard First Forty that he never says goodbye to anyone on the loop, he simply says that he’ll see them again real soon somewhere down the line, and it’s true! After helping them off the dock, I walk over to the fuel dock and make arrangements for a courtesy car so we can drive to Shiloh National Park to see the exhibits and battlefield.
The Battle of Shiloh is forever in the history books as one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War and American History in total. The battle was fought on April 6 & 7, 1862 and in those 2 days, the Union and the Confederacy suffered casualties totaling nearly 24,000 soldiers including the General of the Confederacy making him the highest ranking American Officer to ever die in battle. Imagine that, nearly 24,000 soldiers in 2 days, and they only fought in daylight hours, so while the entire 4 year long Civil War claimed an average of approximately 400 soldiers per day, this 2 day battle averaged nearly 12,000 soldiers per day!
It was really an experience to walk the grounds of the battlefield and to also go right by the Tennessee River that we had cruised down just 4 days earlier.
We got back to the marina in time for a nice dinner at the Aqua Grille with Bill & Bobbie and Rick & Kris. We all ordered pizzas and we each took home leftovers and we had a great time chatting about loop stops, past careers and friendship.
Saturday: Aqua Yacht Harbor is a great stop with friendly staff, great loopers in the marina and nice weather, but we must continue on as we have decided to make it to Demopolis, Alabama where we will leave Kailani for a month and drive home for Christmas. Today’s destination is Bay Springs Marina in New Site Mississippi. It’s a 32 mile cruise with no locks, so it will be a relaxing trip. First we will take on 100 gallons of fuel and get a pump out. Tracy takes Kailani out of our slip and over to the fuel dock where Leonard grabs our lines, fills our tanks and starts the pump out hose running for Tracy. By 9:45 am we’re leaving the docks and headed south on the Tenn-Tom Waterway.
Once we’re out of the Yellow Creek/Pickwick Lake portion of the trip, we enter the first of three distinct parts of the Tenn-Tom. This is the Divide Cut and it’s basically the northernmost portion of the man-made waterway. Most of it is straight for 3-4 miles at length with slight turns and bridges. The Divide Cut portion of the waterway also has unique features designed into it with the run-off areas having huge baffle walls to break u the run-off and deter erosion which would surely result for the other bodies of water emptying into the Tenn-Tom. Unfortunately the baffled spillways seem to get dryer and dryer as we continue south. I guess there isn’t much water running into the Tenn-Tom from other rivers, etc. We can verify that as we notice that the water level in the waterway is lower than it should be for this time of year. This is a dynamic we haven’t seen on any of the Inland Rivers ever since Chicago. The Illinois River was high, the Mississippi River was high, the Ohio River was high, The Cumberland River was high, and the Tennessee River was high. So hopefully, this does not impact our cruising. We’ll just have to continue to monitor the water levels as we cruise south.