Saturday, November 5, 2016


        On Saturday morning, we wake up in the small bay by Sumter Recreation Area. A small island of water plants has broken loose somewhere during the night and drifted up next to us. It is cool outside, in low 40s, and we run the generator to cook oatmeal and run the heat to warm the boat up.  And I want hot coffee in the morning, perked, not by a spoon out of the jar. As Barbara and I are getting ready to leave, we get contacted by Onzereis anchored between us and the entry. They were the boat that appeared the evening before. We have traveled in a group with them before. They ask about traveling together, and I think that this is a grand idea. They travel at near the same speed, but more importantly we are about to travel some remote areas. Having a buddy boat will be a good thing.

We are under way at about 7:30. Onzereis is leading the way. We only go a few miles to the Heflin Lock. This will be our last lock on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. We are in and out before we know it. I think that all the tows must be off this Saturday, or sleeping late. I do not really care, as we can get in and out the lock as soon as we are lowered. As we travel along, I realize that I did not get the fuel tank totally filled. Usually the boat travels two days before the needle is moving, but today it starts moving after lunch. It is not much short of having been totally full, maybe 7-10 gallons, or 1/2 day. This  is a remote area. We do not see many fisherman. But the main site on this route is not fisherman, but the rock bluffs known as the Epes Cliffs. They are very white in the morning sun, and tall, probably well over 50' up in the air from the river. It is strange, as one side will be the cliff, and the other side will be low sand with vegetation growing on it.

We do occasionally see other boats and some fisherman. We pass three other boats on our way to Demopolis. Two SV, or sailing vessels, and a trawler, "SEASONS".  Onzereis makes quick work of passing these other vessels. One sailing vessel, "ANNA LEE" we saw when we were at the "Rockpile" anchored for the night. It is an easy boat to remember, as it has the high steering cabin of a motorsailer. And it is trimmed in Crimson colors on the white hull. And the "A" in "Anna" starts out like the script "A" in "Alabama". Barbara and the captain of this boat exchange communications about the cool temperatures, and heading to Florida for warm weather.


We continue on by more white cliffs. They are impressive, considering most of the land has been relatively flat that the river has flowed through. Right before we get to Demopolis, the Black Warrior River comes into the Tom Bigbee River. The waterway does not get appreciably wider of deeper. You only know because the guide book tells you what is happening. We see the occasional fisherman as we near Demopolis. And we catch up to another sailboat trying to get into the harbor. There is only one more marina after the Demopolis Yacht Basin. Onzereis is going to duck into Demopolis Yacht Basin while we continue on. The tugs also use this yacht basin for fueling.


     We continue past Demopolis for the dam. It is ready for entry when we get there, and we get a quick lowering. We are now on the "Black Warrior Tom Bigbee" waterway until the Alabama River comes in, and they all become the "Mobile River". This is our next to last lock. We continue down the river until we get to the "Chicksaw Bogue". It is supposed to be a good anchorage, after you get by the shallow entry. We squeeze over the bar in the entrance to the Bogue. I turn SummerTime 180deg so she is facing out. But this place is narrow. It seems we are under trees no matter how we maneuver. I do not like our anchorage, and move us back into the river. It is relatively deep near the shore, and we move to the shore to about the 8' line, which seems to be halfway between the water line and the edge of the channel marked by some red buoys. We anchor with the bow pointed upstream, and put out a stern anchor to keep SummerTime from swinging into the channel. I leave the AIS on so we are visible to the tows. And as the "Heloise" comes down stream, I announce to her where we are. We had passed "Heloise" earlier in the day coming down the river, and she is just passing by our anchorage about 9pm, or 8hr later. The difference between 8kt and 3.5kt.
      We stayed on position all through the night. And no tugs hit us. Most likely because it is foggy, and at some point they quit running. It is too crooked here to run in fog or other low visibility conditions. We run the generator again when we get up. To perk coffee, heat the boat, and to cook breakfast, our normal Sunday biscuits, as  it is about 42F outside. And we have time as we have to wait for the fog to burn off, so we bake while on anchor. And there is not a church nearby, so we do a short study of a previously missed Sunday School lesson. It is about 9:30 before the fog is burning off enough to make it safe to travel on the river. The tugs near us are just starting to move on the AIS screen. We get going before the tug just north of us gets moving again. There is very little activity on this part of the river, even for a Sunday. It is very crooked, with some really sharp curves to negotiate. We probably only see about a half dozen fisherman in the 6 hour run towards Coffeeville. But about mile 153, we see a new form of wildlife. There is a 5-6' gator laying on one shore, getting some sun.

I have been expecting to see one, as we were told they were in the waters by persons in Columbus, MS. This is the first one we have actually seen, about 180 river miles south of Columbus, MS. We also pass the tug, "Heloise" again on our way down. And we meet two other tows going north. Just before Coffeeville, we come by Bobby's Fish Camp. It has 100' of barges for docks, gas and fuel pumps, and a restaurant noted for its catfish. It is also the last place to get fuel before Mobile, about 130miles away. We pass Bobby's by and go to the Coffeeville dam. A radio call to the lockmaster, and he tells us it will be 20min before the lock is ready. I slow down, and we only have to idle around upstream for about 5minutes. We go through the Coffeeville lock, and there are two more alligators sunning just below it. I think they may be waiting to lock up. We are definitely in a new bio area. We go about another 15 miles to the "Ole Lock 1" stream. We are supposed to be able to enter it. SummerTime runs aground. We turn out, and anchor in the river again, just south of the entrance, parallel to the shore, well out of the channel, and with a stern anchor to prevent swinging into the path of a tow. It is dark by the time we anchor. A first time for us to anchor SummerTime after dark. Not something we want to make a habit out of.
     We get up and get going by 8:30. We run the genset again to heat the boat and cook. It is a little warmer at 48F. I also stick the tank to verify the fuel remaining, as we still have over 100miles to go. The gauge is showing just at 1/4 tank, which would be 47gal. It is more like 55. We could back track to Bobby's if the fuel is too low. This part of the river is like the last. Not much activity on it. There are only a few houses on the river, and a few fish camps. And almost no anchorages. We get passed by one pleasure boat, in  a crooked part of the river. They were crossing our wake before they notified us they were going by. They ask us to slow, and once by, quickly vanish off into the distance. We see almost no fisherman until we get near Mobile. We pass the tug "Heloise" again. And as we get near to Mobile we start to see some Industrial plants. The River is again crooked, with some really sharp turns. At one point you can see across the tree tops to the next leg of the river. And I meet a tug in one turn. I am hugging the buoys on the inside as he asked, and there is a shoal in the channel between two of them. I pull the throttle back immediately as the depth is showing 5' and decreasing. I think we are going to be grounded, but the little finger of a shoal passes under us and we are back in 10' of water. We are south of where the Alabama River has come in, and there are more tows, going south to pass and north to meet. We catch up to another PC, "BnB", and pass them. The first loopers we have seen in several days. We pull into Big Bayou Canot about 5:30pm to anchor. This one is deep even next to shore, and we have no trouble finding a place to anchor. We just have to stay to the edge of the creek to stay out of the fisherman's way. We are at mile 16.6. And for the first time since leaving Columbus we have good phone reception.
       Getting going on Tuesday morning is easy. We do not have to run the genset except long enough to heat coffee. And there is no fog. We have only a little ways to go this morning to hit the outskirts of the Mobile port. As we get near, just to the north of a major bridge, we catch up to "BnB", a looper we passed just about the 30mi marker on Monday afternoon. They apparently stopped somewhere overnight also. But this is no place to pass again. Tugs are moving barges around just north of the bridge to make up tows. And there is a tow coming under the bridge.


And just to the far side of the highway bridge, there are ships parked, and the tugs used for docking these ships, moving around. The "AIS" for the first time has become almost useless. The tugs are moving around faster than the screen can update, even in the close scale. We get through the bridge, by the northbound tows, and to a wider part of the channel. We now pass "BnB" as she is going about 2kt slower than we want to travel. We are headed to Grand Mariner Marina and Restaurant to get SummerTime serviced. We are supposed to be there before noon, and the GPS is giving an ETA of 12:35. We still have about 10mi of port to negotiate. It is mixed, with a shipbuilding company for the USN on one shore, freight and a passenger terminal on the other shore, and dry docks servicing vessels of all kinds including an offshore rig. It is congested on both sides. Eventually we get through and into the channel out to the gulf. We see a shrimp boat pulling his trawls up ahead. And behind him is a school of dolphins in the water feeding. A good sign we are in tidal waters again.

We continue south in the ship channel. It is plenty wide, but you do not wan to stray out of the channel. It is very shallow to either side. We have to continue south of the Dog River mouth on the bay. The channel to Dog River starts at the ship channel, and runs across shallow areas of the bay. This channel to Dog River is really narrow when we turn in to it. And it is shallow. Only 9' deep on average. And narrow, as the wind gets me just out of line, and the depth alarm goes off for shallow water. We get to the major bridge crossing the mouth of the River, and make a turn from the bay into the river right before we pass under the bridge. Just after we turn under the bridge, we can see our destination on the South Bank. A quick radio call, and there are persons waiting to help us dock.


We get tied up, and spend the afternoon relaxing. William, the marina manager, comes over early in the afternoon to look at SummerTime's fuel leak. The good news is that it is not the injector pump. And he says they will take SummerTime out on Wednesday. Wednesday rolls around, and William gets called home early. There is no pulling the boat out of the water today. On Thursday SummerTime is lifted out of the water. The bottom is not too bad with algae any longer, but there are way more zebra mussels there than I was expecting to see. They are dead from exposure to salt water. The pressure wash removes the algae and the mussels. The prop had developed a vibration about 2200rpm, so they look at it also. A prop repair shop is not available for over 7 days. We tell William to straighten out the one bent blade the best they can, as we will be back to board SummerTime on the second of November. We take a hotel near the airport on Thursday night so we do not miss our Friday morning flights. Friday morning we fly to Columbus to pick up our car at our daughter's, and drive to Cleveland for business, doctor, and dental appointments.


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