Sunday: Frankie’s walk is a change of pace today as I walk him towards the boat ramp which is on property, but directly on the Tombigbee River. It’s a slightly longer walk, but pretty nonetheless. We walk by a cotton field that is just stalks for the winter, but would probably be nice in the growing season.
Once we’re at the ramp area I can see that the river is still high. The boat ramp is completely submerged! I mean gone, not visible, not even an indication of where the boat ramp is other than the sign signifying that this is the boat ramp area. Isn’t Frankie’s shadow cute? -tc
By mid afternoon, First Forty and Eagle One are pulling into the marina and we walk over to their slips to greet them. Hugs and welcomes all around and it’s good to see them again. First Forty is on their second loop so their past experience is invaluable. After they register, we hear that the fuel dock over in the Demopolis Yacht Basin is completely blocked in and recreational vessels can not get fuel at this time. So I take a golf cart and ride over to check it out. Jimmy is on the fuel dock taking care of 2 towboats. When he gets a chance, he comes back into the fuel office and we chat for a while about the river conditions.
He confirms that the pile of debris accumulating on the recreational vessel side of the dock will be there until the river recedes a bit and the lock opens more times. He explains that when the lock opens slightly downriver, it starts to draw the debris out of their basin and poof, it’s soon gone. “He’s got 2 towboats fueling and provisioning on the commercial side which is not affected by the debris. He tells me that one of the tows has just come up from Mobile Bay and used 20,000 gallons of fuel to go 230 miles! I find that hard to believe, but I have no basis of knowledge to refute his story, I’m just glad that we get better fuel economy (by a long shot)!
Most of the day is spent doing spring cleaning in the sunroom. We wash the ceiling, walls, floor and re-arranging the furniture, all to have a fresh perspective for the coming months and also to prepare for friends and family to visit starting at the end of this month. We just need to get across the Gulf to Tarpon Springs before they arrive because we told them both to use Tampa International as their flight destination(s). So hopefully, we’ll be able to get into Mobile Bay soon, meet up with Wild Goose and possibly The Journey, then compete the gulf crossing so we can be in the right area to receive friends.
Monday: We know that there will not be any departures today for a reasons that include the river conditions and the fuel dock being inaccessible yesterday. But today there does seem to be some room for at least one vessel at a time, so vessels that are trying to get out of here fairly quickly are rushing over to fuel up including Kailani. We all agree to meet at 4:30pm in the clubhouse to discuss departure strategies and to coordinate our departures because if 12 vessels all left on the same day, the available anchorage(s) would not accommodate everyone. So Bobbie Bristow of First Forty leads the docktails in discussing the conditions of the river going down and the available anchorages. We learn thru the looper grapevine that Bobby’s Fish Camp is not taking any tie-ups due to the river conditions. So anyone looking to leave must use Bashi Creek.
Also, we’ve been in contact with Ed Ofshack for a week now discussing the perils and dangers of traveling in these conditions of high and fast moving water. Numerous buoys are submerged or out of place and hitting one of them would be instant sinking, not to mention the flotilla of debris to avoid. So Kailani drops out of the Tuesday morning departure, but First Forty and Eagle One are still planning on leaving. But it’s at 10pm when I get an email from Eagle One saying that they were changing their minds and would be staying in port tomorrow after all.
Tuesday: Everyone continues to watch the weather and river conditions improve slightly, but not enough for some’s liking, including Kailani, So Eagle One and First Forty make their final preparations for a Wednesday departure while Kailani hitches up with Then Again, Red Pearl and Buy the Book to sit longer and continue to wait for better conditions.
The waiting here has produced some tired emotions and the boat opposite us has a display that fits the mood perfectly as he has a skeleton lying on a hammock!
We make dinner arrangements with Lenny and Louise of Then Again for the Red Barn Steak House. We are all watering for a nice juicy steak prepared and cleaned up by someone else.
Wednesday: Eagle One and First Forty head out early and by day’s end, they are reporting back to us that the anchorage at Bashi Creek is totally unusable.
Bobby’s Fish Camp is their final destination and they must dinghy to shore from the docks and tie their boats to trees so Bobby’s doesn’t lose any docks due to boats pulling on them in high river currents. Still not a pretty picture, but at least they’re 70 miles closer to the gulf.
Thursday: Today, we have another get together and the four of us make a decision to go for it on Friday as Louise has learned that Bashi Creek is now useable after the river has now receded quite a bit in the last two days. So we all agree to target a 6:30 am departure and shoot for Bashi Creek before sundown tomorrow. Since we’re getting an early start, we all turn in by 10pm.
Friday: I start my day at 4:50 am and at 6:00 am, Louise is calling the Demopolis Lock for status of dropping 4 PC’s early this morning. The lock master says that there is a single tow going downriver who hasn’t arrived yet so it’ll be first come first served if we want to get a move on right away. She radios the other 3 crews and we all jump to prep our boats for departure and by 6:30am all 4 loopers are out of the marina and headed towards the lock some 2 miles downriver.
Lenny radios the lock and the lock master tells Lenny that the down river tug is ahead of us, but right now he has an upriver tow approaching the lock so it’ll be a while before we’re able to get into the lock. How did all this change in 30 minutes? Anyway, we all decide that better than hanging around in the current of the river, we should all go back to the marina and tie up to the docks while we wait this out, because if it’s 9am or later before we are given the green light, we should not try to depart. Otherwise we’ll end up dealing with anchoring after dark on the other end.
It all works out well as 8am we are getting the signal to proceed to the open gates of the lock. The water has gone down considerably since the beginning of the week as we will drop 18 feet today and on Monday the lower pool was only 2 feet below the upper pool. Once the four of us are out of the lock, we’re on our way to Bashi Creek. Today’s cruise is 65 nautical miles, so we need to make hay while the sun shines, but cruising at 10-11 knots will be sufficient to make it by 4pm. So downriver we go with Then Again leading the way followed by Kailani, then Red Pearl and Buy the Book. Then Again has AIS, so Lenny takes care of radioing the four tugs we will meet today. The first is an overtaking situation, being the vessel that preceded us into the lock going downriver, then we have 3 passing situations with upriver tows making their slow way against the current.
Actually the current is only giving us a 2 plus knot push, so even the flow of the water has gone down somewhat. All in all, we have a cool, but sunny day on the river and we have to keep a sharp lookout for bridge clearances due to the high water level. In the first 15 miles, we pass the old Rooster Bridge. This bridge was in use and spanning the river up until the 80’s but in 1979, there was a tug, Calaba that actually got caught under this old bridge during high water and the fact moving water buried the tug under the bridge structure, then it got pushed thru and dramatically ‘popped up’ on the down river side of the bridge and righted itself. To see photos and more story of this incident, just Google: “Rooster, Cahaba, Tombigbee”. This old bridge has now been demolished across the river, but the piers and bridge coming off the land are still visible today.
At 3:15pm, Then Again, Kailani and Red Pearl are at the anchorage and one by one, we enter the creek, set our anchors and watch the next vessel enter as we need to stay in single file to fit everyone into this creek. We set our bow anchors and deploy stern anchors to keep the vessel orientation correct through the night. We are all set in place and Then Again gets a call that the slower, Buy the Book sailing vessel is only about a mile upstream and will be entering the creek soon.
That’s awesome as we thought it was possible they wouldn’t arrive before dark. Once they are in the creek, we determine that the best way for them to secure the vessel is to bridle off Kailani’s stern cleats and drift down-current to the ends of the lines, then set their stern anchor to maintain orientation and just as daylight is disappearing, all four vessels are secure for the evening and tomorrow will be another long day to another anchorage.
Tonight will be a nice cool but dry short evening so we can start early tomorrow with the same type of schedule and another fairly long cruise as we try to complete the 215 mile cruise to Mobile in three days. Hopefully by the time we get to the gulf shore, we can start thinking about shorts and short sleeve shirts again. I need to work on my tan!
Saturday: The end of week 39 and we’re one day away from Mobile Bay and salt water. Today we went thru our last inland waterway lock and we’re now at theoretical sea level. I say theoretical because we should be at no more than 2 feet above sea level (depending on tides), however, we are still some 25 feet above sea level. The Coffeeville Lock should be a 34 foot drop and today we only dropped 4 feet! So at the lock (60 miles upstream) the water was still 30 feet high. The cruise today was one of the highest for floating debris.
Anyway let’s go back to the beginning. We turned in last night at 9pm and lights out by 10pm so I knew I’d be starting the day early. In fact we both woke up around 3am and Tracy actually thought that it would signal the end of sleep for us both and we’d be hanging around for 2 hours waiting for 5am but we both fell back asleep and I woke up to my 5am alarm, but didn’t get out of bed until almost 6am. I guess I really needed the sleep. As planned collectively last night we were outside and getting Buy the Book released from Kailani’s stern right at 7am so they could clear out the path for the rest of us to leave the creek. By 7:30am we were all out on the river and headed south towards the Coffeeville Lock and Dam which is 29 miles south of us. We weren’t sure of the vessel traffic so we agreed that we would call when we got close and see if there would be a long wait or not. As it turned out, when we were four miles upstream from the lock we learned that there was a tow going down the river already in the lock and four tows waiting on the other side for locking up the river!
This was not good news as the lock master told us to return further upstream towards Bobby’s Fish Camp (unusable for dockage) and wait for his instructions. As the PC Gods would have it, the lock master completed the down river tow, took the first up river tow, then as the first upriver tow was coming out of the lock, the lock master radioed us and said to come on in as he was going to lock us down while he was dropping the pool for the other up river vessels. Hooray for small favors! Our wait/delay turned out to be a reasonable 25 minutes, so no big deal. Soon we were turning our vessels around and heading back towards the lock for our previously described 4 foot drop!
After the gates opened, we passed the other three up river tows, thanked them for the accommodation and passed another three up river tows along the way. Today was a busy day on the river. And to top it all off, 7 miles before our destination we encountered Mr. David (we had overtaken him yesterday), another up river tow and an ‘ess’ curve in the river all at the same time! Since Red Pearl and Then Again have AIS they were able to anticipate the chance encounter and it was all worked out before any logjam occurred. Since Kailani is not equipped with AIS we rode in the middle of our caravan.
As a direct result of the high waters of the lower Black Warrior River there were more buoys missing today then there were buoys in place.
We saw at least 20 red buoys stuck in the trees on the shores of the river. If you think that’s amazing, get this: all but one of the red buoys were on the right descending bank whereas when they are anchored in the river, they would be on the left side of the channel! How’s that for a strong current? Not only yanked out of their anchorage, but drifted completely across the river. Now that’s some strong water current(s).
With plenty of daylight left even on this overcast day, we were pulling into Three Rivers Lake inlet at 4pm and looking for a suitable spot to drop and set the anchor. There’s so much surface area on this normally small lake due to the high waters that we are all able to anchor with just the front hook(s) and let our vessels swing in the wind and current without hitting each other. This should be a nice comfortable evening even with the rain and cooler temperatures. But what makes it the best is knowing that once we raise the anchor tomorrow and leave this anchorage we will be ending the day in Mobile Bay at Fairhope City Docks and into the Gulf of Mexico thereby ending our portion of the loop in freshwater. We’ve been in fresh water since entering the Hudson River last June so getting back into salt water will be a long time coming. Hopefully the weather will be a long time coming also. Were totally ready for shorts, tee shirts and bare feet!