Sunday: Today is our second day back aboard Kailani and we’ve already returned the rental car and re-provisioned for the upcoming leg, but we’ve made a decision to stay docked here because there is a bad forecast for Monday and if we were to leave today, Monday would be at anchor, so we’ll stay here for a few more days and look at leaving on New Years Day.
Monday: The rains make the forecasters look good and there are even tornado warnings, so we made a good decision staying tied up. We borrow the courtesy car once again and go shopping for some shelving that Tracy has been looking for lately. Lowe’s has a few of the shelves Tracy wants and soon we’re returning to Kailani and making sure we’re ready for an early departure tomorrow.
On the next slip is another looper boat that came in yesterday. Dave and Chris aboard Breathe First are cruising to Demopolis where they will pull the vessel out of the water and get an RV to travel to the west coast for the winter. So we agree to travel together and plan for an 8:00 am departure since we’re looking at a 57 nautical mile cruise including 2 locks. Even though today is New Year’s Eve we turn in early and the best we can do is stay awake long enough for midnight back home (11:00 pm here). Since we’re now in the Central Time Zone, we are 1 hour later and therefore, we miss the actual local midnight.
Tuesday: As has been the case throughout the entire adventure, every time I set my alarm clock for an early rise, I end up waking prior to the alarm going off. Today is no exception and with the alarm set for 5:30 am, I am fully awake at 5:00 am! Oh well, this gives me plenty of time to make sure Frankie is walked, the garbage is placed in the dumpster and Kailani is fully ready for the departure. Tracy wakes early and Breathe First is looking like they are ahead of schedule also, so after Chris calls the lock and tells the Lock Master that we’re ready to leave, he says to come right in and the gates will be ready for us, so at 7:40am we’re releasing the dock lines and pulling away from Kailani’s home for the last month.
As we approach the open gates of the Stennis Lock we cannot believe the sight in front of us as there is literally a wall of debris from wall to wall at the entrance to the lock. Using the binoculars we confirm that there are also some large logs in the pile, so we are extra careful entering the lock.
We pull Kailani right up to the starboard lock wall and move in very slowly so the bow has an opportunity to push aside some off the debris and to also make sure we don’t hit anything big. Once we’re past the debris field and into the somewhat clear water of the lock, we move over to the port lock wall for our tie up to the floating bollard. Tracy is giving the docking stick a try this morning while I drive us in and everything works out fine until Tracy’s nagging shoulder starts to ache, but we are already hooked to the bollard, so I go down and switch up with Tracy as I take the lock line and Tracy heads up to the bridge. Soon the lock is lowering and we come out 23 feet lower than when we started.
Breathe First pulls out and we fall in behind them as we cruise the next 25 miles to the next lock. We immediately notice that the river is providing a nice 4 knot push but it’s a good news/bad news situation as the current is also creating lots of floating debris and we must keep a sharp lookout as we enjoy the nice push. We now know that making the Sumter anchorage before dark will be a foregone conclusion as we are making 12-13 knots so we are no longer looking at an 8 hour cruise today.
At the Bevel Lock there is a Museum with the USS Snagboat Montgomery exhibited in dry dock adjacent to the lock. She is one of the last steam wheelers to ply the waters of the southern rivers and is an interesting sight as you approach the lock from upriver. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway is a little known waterway that when built in the 60’s was a larger canal project than the Panama Canal, yet very few Americans know about its existence. This waterway was designed and constructed to make the passage from the Tennessee River down to the Gulf of Mexico shorter and more friendly than the Mississippi River and today is shared by barges and recreational boaters 24 hours a day, year round. The lock masters are very accommodating to PC’s (pleasure craft) and the tows are usually not as large as what we saw on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. The design uses parts of the original Tombigbee River and man made canals to carry vessels from the Tennessee River to the Block Warrior River, then into Mobile Bay.
Today, at one point of the cruise while traveling on the original Tombigbee River portion, we cross the Mississippi-Alabama state line 5 times in 2 miles! While traveling with Breathe First, we actually get to a point where the 2 vessels are no more than 100 yards apart in the waterway and Breathe First is in Mississippi and Kailani is in Alabama!
After 2 locks and 57 nautical miles, we are safely anchored in the Sumter Recreation Area more than halfway to Demopolis, our next stop. The weather today gave us a mostly cloudy and somewhat raw 62 degree day, so even though we’re moving south, we’re not seeing nice warm weather yet, but it will be soon.
The river is extremely high and in some respects, a bit dangerous. We’ve gotten some correspondence from locals cautioning us to be very diligent and careful cruising to Demopolis and that they would definitely not recommend going past there until the high water starts receding. So we’ll watch carefully tomorrow as we cruise to Demopolis, then talk more with the locals there and the AGLCA local members about the safety of the river going further down to Mobile. For sure, we are recreational boaters, not risk-taking boaters.
Since we are at anchor and do not get off the vessel after dark, the evenings end earlier than usual for us so we are in bed shortly after 9pm and fully expect to get an early start tomorrow accordingly.
Wednesday: We are in fact, ready to depart by 7:00am. We can see the crew of Breathe First preparing to raise anchor also, so we move into our positions to raise our anchor and start today’s careful journey to Demopolis. Tracy is on the bow controlling the anchor with the windlass and I’m at the helm taking directives from her for using the movement of the vessel in conjunction with the windlass to facilitate the raising of the anchor. Once Tracy can see the shiny Ultra anchor break the surface, she can see that the bed here is about 5 gallons of clay lighter because that’s how much clay is clinging to the anchor claws. We move Kailani back and forth for a while with the anchor just hanging at the water level and some but not all of the mud comes off. Finally, we decide to just leave the rest of the mud on and move out into the river to start the day. We have three miles to the Heflin Lock and Dam, so once we’re out on the river and cruising south, I radio the Lock Master and he tells us to keep on coming and when we cross under the highway bridge, he will be ready with the gates open for us. Since we are talking to him on VHF 14 which all the tows monitor, he gets a call from a tow that is about 5 miles behind us and traveling down river also. The Lock Master asks him if he’s okay with locking us first while the tow is approaching and both agree that we can precede the commercial tow. The Lock Master tells us that the drop today is only 17 feet rather than the usual 32 feet due to the high pool levels, so the lockage will be somewhat quicker than normal and he’ll have plenty of time to raise the lock and be ready for the tow after we leave the lock.
As I’m approaching from 2 miles up river of the lock I can see that the Lock Master has opened the gates and given us the green light to enter, so I coast Kailani into the lock (with very little debris) and Tracy hooks us up to the floating bollard. Once we’re secure to the bollard, we switch up positions with Tracy at the helm and me tending the line so she doesn’t aggravate her ailing shoulder. As promised, the lowering is rather short and soon were leaving the lock with the Lock Master alerting us to the strong currents that will be hitting the starboard side of our vessels coming from the dam spillway. Tracy compensates for the strong currents and we are safely through the rough water and into calmer river. I take over for the 47 nautical mile cruise and slow Kailani down to 800 rpm’s which produces 8.4 knot boat speed and the current gives us 11.5 knots speed over ground. So all I have to do is remain situationally aware for debris and tows and make our way down to Demopolis.
The total cruise is very comfortable and all the warnings and alerts we received prior to departure are all welcome and helpful, but the cruise turns out to be very comfortable until we are approaching the confluence of the Tombigbee River (which we are on) and the Black Warrior River which comes in from the left descending bank. As we are approaching this intersection, we see our first commercial tow of the day and after a radio call to the captain, he confirms that we can keep on coming on the ‘one’ whistle. I instantly see that I’ll be able to use the 600 feet of barges to effectively ‘block’ the water raging out of the Black Warrior River and pas the tow in relatively calm water. The calm is short lived as soon as we are clear of the tows stern and as we are looking at the entrance to our marina, Kingfisher Bay Marina, the water is a boil just as we would expect just a mile above the Demopolis Lock and Dam. This is our destination, so all I have to do is navigate through a little bit of rough water, then the marina inlet will instantly calm down as it blocks the river currents.
We are on VHF Channel 11 talking to Anna-Marie, the Kingfisher Dock Master and she is waiting to grab our lines at slip B13, our covered home for probably the next few days. Tracy is on the bow and between Tracy and Anna-Marie, we are quickly secured to the pier and shutting down the engines. We have travelled 47 nautical miles and one lock in just over 4 hours (7am to 12:15pm) so this is definitely one of the quickest cruises we have experienced on this entire voyage. The river cooperated, the currents were somewhat friendly (not too extreme) and the lock timing was perfect. All the stars aligned for today’s cruise and we now know that our safety will come first as we wait out the cresting of the river, followed by lowering levels or the water. It’s truly fantastic that after posting on the AGLCA forum that we were cruising out of Columbus Marine and headed to Mobile, a fellow member wintering in Cape Haze, Florida recognized the potential danger to our vessel since these are his home waters and reached out to us to provide a wealth of information and data that reinforced the need to be extremely careful cruising to Demopolis and to accept that we definitely shouldn’t go any further south for at least a few days. Well informed advice and it was surely reinforced when I made the phone call to the marina to let them know that we were about 30 minutes out from arriving and he said “you’re on the river today?”.
Once we were all tied up and we walked over to the office to register, we walked by at least a dozen fellow looper vessels with both familiar crews and new to us crews. Isn’t this looper community great? We will have a boatload of vessels to cruise with once the water recedes.
Thursday: So we are able to schedule some projects aboard Kailani once again. The prognosis for the river is presently sitting at mid next week before safe downriver passage should be contemplated. We will continue to monitor and start enjoying the area and the loopers here. Today is a wet rainy day so outdoor projects are saved for another day even though we are in a covered slip.
Sounds like laundry is a good project for today. The laundry and lavatory facilities are a covered walk from our slip, so we have a very nice arrangement here. The laundry and lavatory are in a common area including a captain’s lounge with cable TV so it’s a very comfortable chore doing laundry and showering at the same time. We also get a chance to discuss downriver cruising with a few other boaters that are not loopers. They’re just working on getting their vessels to Florida for the winter.
Friday: Rains are projected to stop today, so we can start some outside chores. The setup for Frankie’s morning walk are fairly convenient. There are some other dogs in the marina, but it all works out for being able to prevent Frankie from doing his ballistic dance whenever he sees another dog.
The marina store is at the old Demopolis Yacht Basin site and the marina provides golf carts for transient boaters to get form Kingfisher Bay to Demopolis Yacht Basin. So we take a golf cart and run over to the ship’s store to check out the merchandise. Tracy picks up a few supplies for cleaning, waxing and caulking and we chat with the staff for a while about the river status. It’s always good to glean local knowledge and these people live and work on the river, so who better to get some education.
We also discover through Nebo that First Forty and Eagle One are leaving Columbus Marina today and should be here by Sunday afternoon if all goes well. They check in with us and we confirm to them that Sumter Recreation Area should be their plan A anchorage for the halfway point to here and we caution them about the increasing debris on the river. Tonight, we dine aboard again as Tracy cooks up some steaks.
Saturday: Today is Sunday, a day early. The sun is finally out and the weather is warming up to the mid sixties! Everyone in the marina is commenting on being surprised to see that new fiery yellow ball in the sky!
We borrow the marina courtesy car and go out for dinner at the Red Barn, the local steak house. We just beat the big crowds, but the meal is a slight disappointment. Oh well, there isn’t a Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse in every city!
Back aboard Kailani we continue our 2 episode-a-night regimen of watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. We’re nearly complete through the second season so soon we’ll have to come up with a new series to watch, maybe Bosch.