Saturday, November 9, 2019

Sea Level

Well, OK, not quite sea level; the river is still flooding and the tailwater elevation this morning at Coffeeville Dam is still over 13', down from 24' just a few days ago. As I type, we're passing stands of willows with their feet underwater.

We had a very peaceful night Thursday at Edna Bend. An eddy there in the river had us facing every which way during our stay; that same eddy is building an enormous sandbar on the outside of the bend (normally, the outside is scoured and has the deepest water). A few tows passed while we were there, setting their noses on the very inside of the turn and then kicking their sterns around. We were far enough to the outside that their prop wash did not disturb us.


Anchored in the mist at Edna Bend. At one point it was thick enough to run the fog bell.

Yesterday we had a pleasant six-hour cruise, some 44nm or so, without any lockages. We ended up in a stretch of river without any buoyage, and so we dropped the hook in a small indentation in the left descending bank, a good 450' from the sailing line (map). We anchored in 15' and ended up lying just a boatlength from shore, but it was a great spot, dark and quiet.

Just another few miles downriver is the small dock at Bobby Dahlberg's Fish Camp restaurant; I've been watching (online) in horror as 10-12 boats have been tying up there nightly, rafted three or four deep (the dock can accommodate at most three boats alongside). So this morning we waited for the 11 boats that spent the night to shove off and head into the lock before we weighed anchor.

Just as we were weighing, two more loopers passed us, and we ended up falling in behind them and locking down with them at Coffeeville Lock. Still, it was just the three of us, and no rafting was involved, as each of these locks typically has six to eight usable floating bollards. We locked through an hour ago, and the other two boats are now nearly a mile ahead of us.


Approaching our final lock, Coffeeville, behind two other loopers. Still some nice fall color at this level.

Here at roughly mile 100 of the river, and with this much flow, we are still in fresh water. But over the next 100 miles the water will become increasingly brackish. Mile 0 is in Mobile, where we will be at sea level and in mostly oceanic salinity. We were last at this elevation on the Hudson River back in early June, and we saw our last brackish water just a couple of days before that.

Tonight we will again be anchored along the river. From there it will be one or two days to Mobile, depending on how occupied the dock is at the Outlaw Convention Center. We don't want to arrive late in the day to find it full. Where we go from there is something of a question mark; I am trying to line up a yard that can haul us out so we can get some paint on the bare steel before we spend too much time in salt water.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Penultimate lock

We are underway southbound on the Tombigbee River. We locked through Demopolis Lock this morning and are now just some 40' above sea level; we have just one lock still ahead of us. We have also left behind the Tennesee-Tombigbee Waterway, which ends at the confluence of the Black Warrior River in Demopolis.


Vector at anchor in the fall color at Demopolis, Alabama.

When last I posted here, I mused that we might make Demopolis Tuesday night. We would have arrived just before sunset had we pressed on, but I learned from boat-tracking app Nebo that there was already a boat in the very tight anchorage. Rather than risk anchoring in less than ideal conditions at the very end of a day, we opted to stop short.


We passed many white cliffs yesterday; this one sported some fall color.

Instead we turned up an oxbow called Rattlesnake Bend, which we had used on our last trip. The oxbow is wide and deep, and it gets used by the tow companies to store barges, so we had to steam a half mile up the oxbow before dropping the hook, in 35' of water (map). We made sure to be well past the last set of barges to leave maneuvering room for the towboats.


Sunset from our lovely spot in Rattlesnake Bend. You have to look hard to see the barges lined up on the left bank.

It was otherwise an idyllic setting and we had a nice dinner aboard. Current in the oxbow was less than a knot, not nearly as high as out in the main channel, and we were amused to watch herons perched upon floating logs gently flowing past. We saw some in the main channel, too, but with the boat underway they eyed us suspiciously and flew away before we got too close.

Shortly after midnight I heard an announcement on the radio from the towboat Gilbert Taylor that he was turning into Rattlesnake Bend to work tows, and I went on deck to watch him steam up the channel. I called on the radio to make sure we were in a good spot, and I'm glad we left plenty of distance. We saw him again at the fuel dock in Demopolis.


Gilbert Taylor working barges under a setting moon.

The stop at Rattlesnake left us just 8 miles, or about an hour, to Demopolis. We got a leisurely start, to let the inevitable gaggle of departing loopers clear out of the marina and head toward the lock, and also so that the boat that was in the anchorage would also have departed. Upon arriving in Demopolis we made our way to the fuel dock in the old yacht basin.

We did not really need fuel, or even a pumpout, but we wanted to take on water. The cold weather has had us blowing through our limited number of long-sleeve shirts, and we needed to do a load of laundry, which Louise started before we even arrived. The washing machine goes through our fresh water supply at a prodigious rate.


We both liked this view of Vector through the trees from Foscue Creek Park.

We put in 30 gallons of diesel just to make ourselves customers, and got a pumpout. Between those two activities we had enough time to fill the water tank. They only charged me for the diesel, and their price was close enough to the lower gulf coast prices as to be a very reasonable stop. Certainly a better deal than paying $73 for a slip.


This picture does not really capture just how much water is coming over Demopolis dam. Down two feet, though, since our arrival the day before.

The yacht basin is a wreck. Since building the newer marina basin next door, this basin is all but abandoned. The on-premise restaurant where we ate our first time here (in the bus) is long-since closed and nearly falling down. Only two dilapidated boats remain on the old docks. The fuel dock is the only going concern -- they did not put a fuel dock in the newer basin, as they still need to fuel towboats here in the deeper water. The basin is full of debris, and the dockhands are jaded.

After a half hour at the fuel dock we continued downriver to Foscue Creek, a small tributary that is navigable for half a mile or so. A marked channel leads to a Coast Guard station, home port to the buoy tender USCGC Wedge. We went just past the station and dropped anchor in 15' (map). The lowest we saw at the entrance was 10', with the river up 3' from normal pool at the dam.


Our view from the anchorage, CGC Wedge and her barge full of buoys.

Across the creek from the CG station is the day use area of the Corps of Engineers Foscue Creek Recreation Area and Campground. This is where we stayed in Odyssey on our first visit. On this occasion, it's where I was able to get ashore with the e-Bike to make a provisioning run to Walmart, about two miles away. The boat ramp and dock are in the next creek over.


It's not often you get to peer into a dense evergreen forest with the edge trees peeled away.

Before pulling into that creek I ran the 2+ miles back upriver to the public boat ramp near the marina. We had spotted an old concrete dock in the park there and I wanted to make sure we could use it to get ashore for dinner. While there were no cleats and the river had left some mud on it, it was usable. We returned here at dusk, so I could still see the debris on plane, and had a nice half-mile walk to dinner at SVH Bistro, right downtown.


We used this old landing as a dinghy dock. Those are my footprints in the river mud.

We enjoyed strolling the main drag, Washington Street, and the row of historic old homes along Main Street. We stopped at the Marathon station on the way back to the tender for a gallon of gas. Everything is much closer to this dock than to the marina.


This sailboat anchored at high water -- his anchor is still set, straight out ahead of him.

Update: We are anchored in the river, outside the buoy line at Edna Bend (map). It's an early stop, but anchorages are few and far between here. We have several nights at anchor now before our next chance to get off the boat, in Mobile.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

No bearing on the matter

We are under way southbound on the Tombigbee River, en route to Demopolis, Alabama. The river here in Demopolis pool is flooding, running nearly ten feet above normal pool. Since locking down at Howell Heflin lock, we've had two knots of current behind us.

We had a quiet and pleasant night Sunday; below decks in the stateroom you could hear the sound of the water rushing through the Bevill Dam gates. The water was glass calm, reflecting the sky. Other than one tow locking through in the evening, we had the whole place to ourselves.

Monday morning, fortified with my first cup of coffee, I called Juki, the sewing machine manufacturer, a little past 8am. Their US office is in Miami, an hour ahead of us. I was put right through to a support technician, Brian, in the home machine division (Juki actually makes and sells more commercial machines, but there is no overlap between lines).

After I spent perhaps a minute and a half describing the problem and all the diagnostic steps I had already taken, Brian knew immediately what the issue was. He first suggested bad brushes in the motor, but when I reported that I had checked them, that narrowed it down to a bad spot on the commutator on the motor armature.


Another view of the Snagboat Montgomery, from the visitor center.

The entire motor is considered what we used to call in the mainframe industry a "FRU" -- Field-Replaceable Unit. That means that when there's any kind of problem with it, you replace the whole thing; it's not meant to be taken apart and serviced. So, of course, I had not torn it down during my diagnostics, other than to check the brushes.

My ecstasy at learning that we only needed a $110 motor and not a whole sewing machine an order of magnitude more expensive was short-lived: replacement motors seemed to be on a two-week backorder from every distributor. I've already replaced this motor once, and it did not seem hard to find last time.

I had not really planned on spending the whole morning anchored at Bevill Lock, but we needed to figure out how to get either a new motor or a new machine before we missed the window to order things to Demopolis. So we hunkered down right there and I tore back into the machine.

The original motor died of bearing failure. Knowing it still had plenty of useful parts, including the armature, field windings, brushes, and the other bearing, I had squirreled it away as a hangar queen. I tore it open, looking to salvage the armature out of it. I also tore open the newer motor to discover that Brian was dead-on: there was a burnt spot on the commutator.


The seized bearing from the original motor, after I cut it off with a Dremel.

At the risk of oversharing the gory details, suffice it to say I ended up cutting the seized bearing off the old armature with my Dremel. The shaft was badly scored, but is at least functional installed in the newer motor. I put it all back together and the machine is again running like a champ. It's only a matter of time before the worn shaft wears out the newer bearing, so we still need a motor, but now I have time to wait for one a bit further along the route.

The repair took all morning, and we did not end up weighing anchor until 11:15. Two other pleasure boats were approaching the lock at that time, and so we scrambled to get the anchor up and lock through with them, rather than wait another full cycle or ask the lockmaster to do the extra work. We exited into the river by noon, and the other two loopers left us in the dust and were out of sight within an hour.

We had a very leisurely cruise, stopping right around the four-hour mark at a lovely oxbow of the old river at a place called Warsaw Bar. Both the river and the oxbow run to 40' deep in sections; we entered at the upriver end and dropped the hook in 22' along the north shore of the island (map). It was a quiet night with just a couple of tows passing out on the river. We had the whole oxbow to ourselves, whereas at least five loopers crammed into a much smaller anchorage downriver. Part of the canon, I suppose.

This morning we weighed anchor after a leisurely coffee, figuring to take two days to get to Demopolis. After an hour or so we arrived at the Howell Heflin Lock to find a tow locking up. We would have been in the lock in a jiffy had it not been for the fact that the tow did a crew change there, tying up the lock for an extra half hour. No matter, as we were in no rush.


Towboat Mr. David in the lock. If you look closely you will see he's sideways, pushed up against the lock wall for a crew change. He came through the lock hipped to the barges, and after the change he faced up to them and shoved out.

That having been said, even with the late start, we have so much following current that the plotter is telling me we will be in Demopolis before 5pm. Given that we have gorgeous weather this afternoon and again tomorrow, after which it will again become cold and miserable, we are considering pushing all the way to Demopolis today. Of course, a lot can happen between here and there, and this two-knot push can dwindle away to the point where we would arrive after dark. If that happens we will anchor upriver as planned.

Our last time through, off-season, we stayed at the marina there. It was nice enough, and that let us ride the scooters into town, but we have no need now of a return visit. We'll head to the anchorage instead, if there's room. As charted I would be concerned about depth at the entrance, except at nearly ten feet over pool we will have no trouble. Just as we did in Columbus, we'll lay down tracks for our exit in soundings good for the lower water level.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Critical equipment failure

As I begin typing we are under way downriver on the Tombigbee, headed for the Bevill Lock and Dam from Columbus, Mississippi. It's a short cruise today and I expect we will be anchored for the day before I finish the post.

When last I posted here, we were securely anchored in a lovely oxbow near the Barton Ferry recreation area. What I did not mention here was that, shortly before ending our cruise in that lovely spot, Louise reported to me that the sewing machine was acting up, stopping at random mid-stitch.

And so it was that I spent the entire afternoon with the sewing machine up on the chart table, poking and prodding at it. I was so engrossed in the project that I did not notice our friends aboard Stinkpot go by, headed for an anchorage downriver. They had looked at our anchorage but reported that it appeared to be "fully Vectorized," which we've now adopted as a new catch phrase. In fact, there was plenty of room for several more boats in front of us, but that was not obvious from the river.

I tore the machine down as far as I dared without messing up the timing or alignment, and I was able to rule out a number of safety switches that might have been causing the symptoms. But eventually I hit the wall; the service manual is silent on the internals of the electronic control module, and I more or less determined the module was shutting it down.


The sewing machine in pieces on the saloon table yesterday.

Sewing machine repair is a highly specialized business dominated exclusively by small repair shops in larger towns. There happens to be one in Columbus, but Juki is not on their brand list. More importantly, the nature of the business is that it's usually at least a week before they can even look at a machine, and often 2-3 weeks beyond that to repair it. Neither could we stay here for 3-4 weeks, nor can Louise really be without her machine for that long.

After some hand-wringing and much discussion, we decided the right path forward was to order a new machine on Amazon Prime, and I would either strip the old machine down for parts, sell it as-is, or else try to fix it with a donor machine and then keep it as a spare or sell it as a working unit. Which left us with the next problem: where to have the new machine shipped.

Friday morning after a leisurely coffee, we weighed anchor and continued downriver to the Stennis Lock. On our way, a local in an express cruiser passed us on full plane, throwing quite a wake, and made it to the lock well ahead of us. So it was with much glee that, when we called the lock from ten minutes out, we learned they had just taken in the other vessel, and would hold the lock for us.

Stennis lowered us to the level of Aliceville Pool, which was up by nearly five feet. Water was racing through the gates at a prodigious rate, and we had a speedy cruise downriver to Columbus. At that river level, we could have turned off onto the oxbow at the upriver end, and had a very short trip to the anchorage. But we knew the river would drop, and we wanted to lay down tracks from the downriver end for our eventual exit.


Vector at anchor in Columbus, under the port access bridge. Tender is at the dock on right, in better shape than last visit.

From that direction it's a little over two miles to the anchorage, through a working port. We had to pass a giant towboat who apparently was not monitoring the radio; after five tries on both 13 and 16 I finally sounded an actual whistle signal, which also went unanswered. I called the port authority later to see if I could get a working channel, to no effect.

With the water still 4.5' above normal pool, we had no depth issues on our way in, but noted a couple of spots where we'd just be grazing past at normal pool. I was glad to have the tracks. The official head of navigation stops just past the barge terminal, after which we passed under three bridges without marked spans. The first two, the railroad bridge and the old highway (now pedestrian) bridge are swing bridges now locked in place, but at 61' normal clearance they were plenty high even at this water level.

We dropped the hook just past the new road bridge, a stone's throw from the dinghy dock (map). This is the same dock where we landed the tender three years ago, except back then it had been displaced and partially sunk by flooding. They've repaired the floats and put it back where it belongs since then.

It's only been warm enough for outside activities lately for a few hours in the afternoon, and so I splashed the tender and went ashore to explore a bit. The dinghy dock lands at a nice riverfront park, and a short walk up the hill is the old downtown Columbus. I walked most of the old town, past the Tennessee Williams house and up and down the two main drags, Main and 5th, which intersect right in the middle of town.


Tennessee Williams' childhood home. Just as it looked on our last visit.

Like many such places, the commercial and retail epicenter of Columbus moved out of downtown and along the new alignment of the highway, which now crosses the river north of town. That's where Walmart, Kroger, and all the chain restaurants can be found. But downtown still sports a few restaurants, some shops, and the civic center. I was able to drop some packages off at the main post office, and, importantly, replenish the beer supply at the mini-mart close to the dock.

We returned ashore for dinner at regional favorite Harvey's, which we remembered as having excellent prime rib. We shared the larger cut and were not disappointed. With temperatures already down in the 40s when we returned home, we fired up the genny and started the heat, something of a theme of late.

Yesterday we awoke to find the water almost two feet lower than when we had arrived, dropping much faster than forecast. I again spent most of the day up to my elbows in the sewing machine; having already made the decision to replace it with a new one, we reasoned that I could attack this one more aggressively than I had been willing to earlier.

Spending another few hours with the machine stripped down on the saloon table allowed me to rule out several possibilities, and it's now down to either a bad speed sensor or else a bad main board. I will be calling Juki in the morning to see if they can confirm the diagnosis and help narrow it further; we've held off placing the order for the new machine until I speak with them. In the meantime, Louise is muddling through with her old Kenmore that she's been trying to give away for the last couple of months.


Vector at anchor near Bevill dam, as seen from the visitor center.

Our friends Dave and Stacey on Stinkpot spent Friday night at the Columbus Marina, needing an address for an outboard motor shipment. We had tried to connect Friday evening, but the marina is a long way from town and the courtesy car schedule did not work out. But yesterday afternoon they came steaming into the anchorage, and dropped the hook just a bit further upriver from us.

We agreed to get together for dinner at Huck's Place in town, and I went back ashore in the warmth of late afternoon to do some more exploring, this time taking the e-Bike. I rode the entire length of the riverfront trail, which goes out to the main river and up to the new highway bridge, and I also went across the pedestrian bridge, which used to be the main highway decades ago. While I was riding around I got a text saying Huck's was fully booked, and we ended up reserving at Harvey's for a second night.

We awoke this morning to find the river had dropped nearly four feet since our arrival. It still had another foot to go to get down to normal pool, but I know we passed a couple of spots on our way in that would be squeaky at that level. In the interests of our own anxiety, we decided to weigh anchor and head out while we still had an extra foot of depth. We could easily have spent another night here, and I was hoping to try the well-rated Thai place in the middle of town. As it turned out, the least depth we saw was over 8', and we would have had no problem had the water dropped even another foot.

Update: We are anchored just upriver of the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam, in front of the Visitor Center and historic paddlewheel snagboat Montgomery (map). We are in more or less the exact spot we anchored three years ago, at the end of a longer day having just cleared through the lock.


Looking back toward the lock with the Montgomery at left. The lake was mirror calm.

The visitor center, a reproduction of an antebellum plantation home, is closed today, as is the snagboat. Nevertheless I splashed the tender and went ashore at the courtesy dock there, just to have a walk around. It was a nice walk around the snagboat, where most of the interesting stuff is visible from outside. The visitor center was in surprisingly poor exterior condition, which I suppose lends it more verisimilitude.

In the morning we will lock down through the Bevill lock and anchor somewhere less than halfway to Demopolis.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Gulf bound

We are underway southbound in the Tombigbee River. We're whizzing along, with a giant slug of floodwater pushing us downriver. The river is forecast to rise five feet in the next 24 hours, cresting just below action stage before dropping slowly to normal levels.


The release from Aberdeen Dam this morning. Quite impressive, and I had to steer aggressively when we merged.

After I last posted here from Bay Springs Lake, we splashed the tender and headed ashore to the small dock at the Corps of Engineers Resource Center, the management office for this part of the waterway. Within is a small visitor center with some exhibits. We were disappointed it lacked a small book/gift shop, as Louise wanted to buy a postcard, but when we asked they had free ones with a nice photo of the lock and dam.


Flux at the courtesy dock, as seen from the trail. The lake is pretty in the fall.

Also on the site is a paved trail that leads to a historic dogtrot cabin, relocated here from its original location, now inundated by the lake. Further along is an overlook for the dam. The trail was littered with broken tree branches, many, we think, from the storm which we rode out at Pickwick Landing. After returning to Vector we decked the tender and had a quiet dinner aboard. We had the anchorage to ourselves our entire stay.


Vector in her private cove.

Tuesday we weighed anchor after a leisurely coffee, and ran three locks in quick succession: Whitten, Montgomery, and Rankin. We had no wait, and locked through by ourselves. That brought us to Fulton, Mississippi, where we dropped the hook off-channel about halfway between the Midway Marina and Fulton Lock (map).


Blissfully alone in the locks.

It warmed up nicely in the afternoon, and I spent an hour taking the anchor roller apart again and trying to straighten the carriage a bit. We tendered in to the marina for dinner at their restaurant, Guy's Place, and a chance to get off the boat. Once again we decked the tender as soon as we returned home.


The mud in Bay Springs Lake is very yellow.

Yesterday was a rainy day, but we were on a mission. We weighed anchor early and headed down through Fulton and Wilkins locks, making our way to a wide spot near a channel for the boat ramp in Amory, Mississippi (map). We had the anchor down by 12:30, in time to catch a forecasted break in the rain. I tendered ashore with the e-Bike to make the two-mile trip to the Piggly Wiggly for groceries.


The CoE was kind enough to provide a boat ramp with a dock.

We have about a week of remote anchorages ahead of us, and this was the most convenient grocery stop we'll see for a while. I returned to Vector loaded to the gills. I got everything on the list except beer, which apparently is not sold in grocery stores or mini-marts here. We decked the tender before the rain started back up.


The Amory Armory. (I couldn't resist.)

Our plan had been to just spend the night in that spot. But we were a bit close to the navigation channel for comfort, and especially so with fog rolling in. Given the fog, the weather, and the flooding forecast, we opted to weigh anchor right after a tow finished locking up, and continue downriver through the Amory lock.


Downtown Amory. Struggling but still in business.

We knew that just another four miles downriver was a lovely anchorage we had used on our last trip, well off the navigation channel and, in fact, in sight of nothing at all except trees, which right now are sporting their fall fashions. It is in the natural course of the Tombigbee, now bypassed for navigation by man-made cuts. We went in past the second bend, out of site of the canal, and dropped the hook (map). We were just a half hour late for cocktail hour.

It was a perfect spot; we never saw another soul, although we could hear a couple of towboats go by on the canal. It was warm enough to have our beer on the aft deck, if a bit damp, taking in the fall color. The rain continued all night. This morning we woke to temperatures in the 40s, and it will remain cold for the next few days.


It was so cold this morning that our ball fenders have gone flat.

We've just finished locking down through Aberdeen Lock. We again got right in, gleefully making the guy who waked us while overtaking wait in the chamber a full ten minutes. Tonight we'll be anchored somewhere between here and Columbus, Mississippi. Tomorrow we'll make our way up the oxbow to anchor near Columbus, where we'll spend at least a couple of days. We have just a little over 350 miles to Mobile.

Update: We are anchored in an oxbox of the river at the Barton Ferry recreation area (map). We turned the engine room blower off early in the cruise, and now we have the ER door open to let the heat flow into the staterooms.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Running the ditch

We are under way in the ditch, a long section of man-made canal that connects Pickwick Lake, on the Tennessee River, to Bay Springs Lake, on the Tombigbee. We are now on what is officially known as the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, or the Tenn-Tom for short. The mile markers are now counting down to Mobile, Alabama. We're at about 435 as I begin typing.

Our final night in Savannah was pleasant. We tendered back ashore at dinner time and walked to Rowdy's, what passes for a steakhouse here. Just as with Ma Ma Fia's, it was BYOB, and I picked up a Chianti earlier in the day. The place was charmless but the food was tasty.


Sunset over Vector at anchor behind Wolf Island, near Savannah.

Thursday morning after a lazy coffee we weighed anchor for the relatively short trip to Pickwick Lock and Dam. Our timing was perfect, as they had just finished down-locking a double tow, and we arrived with no other traffic. We got right in and locked up solo.

Our destination was a very short ride from the lock, an anchorage near Pickwick Landing State Park. We had the hook down a little after 1:30 in Slate Creek (map), just outside the entrance to the park's marina. We picked this spot because there is a United States Post Office literally inside the park, and we had a number of items sent there, care of General Delivery.

One of those items was our accumulated mail, and another was an Amazon package with a couple of repair items. We knew both of those had already arrived, and we were expecting the final package, with a pair of replacement anchor rollers, to arrive the following day.  Since the weather was perfect, we opted to make the trip for the first two packages right after we got settled in.


We passed Shiloh battlefield and cemetery, but this is the most that can be seen from the river, at Pittsburgh Landing.

Rather than just zip over to the marina dock or the boat ramp, we instead ran back out into the lake and around to the courtesy dock for the lodge, which includes the restaurant. We scoped that out as a dinner option for one of our two nights, and then made the short walk to the post office, passing en route the park office and its raptor exhibit. These rescued birds are part of a conservation education effort; I wrote about a similar exhibit at Paris Landing on our last trip through.

As we were walking to the post office I got the notice that the anchor rollers had arrived, and we picked up all our expected deliveries in one trip. That meant we could leave after just one night, except that we had already made plans to meet up with new friends Dave and Stacey, who would be locking through on Friday. We're not on a schedule, and this was a fine place to spend an extra day anyway.


The tiny post office in the park. Basically a single-wide.

We decided to eat aboard Thursday evening, saving the restaurant for our meet-up. And since the weather was perfect, I opted to spend part of the afternoon and evening replacing the anchor rollers. These had been due for replacement for some time, but the wind and current at the Cheatham tailwater did them in, bending the roller carriage and literally breaking a chunk off one of the Delrin rollers.

I'm glad I got that done Thursday, because Friday it poured rain all day. We stayed warm and dry inside the boat; not so our friends on Stinkpot, who had a five-hour wait to get through the lock, and arrived to the anchorage soaking wet. We weren't particularly looking forward to a 15-minute dinghy ride through the pouring rain, either, and so we all agreed to put dinner off another day and just stay put. We had a quiet dinner aboard.


The damaged roller, well-worn before it broke.

The decision to stay put turned out to be fortuitous, as the remnants of Tropical Storm Olga slammed into us on Saturday. It was just drippy in the morning, and I took advantage of an hour gap in the rain to take the e-Bike ashore at the boat ramp and ride a couple of miles to the cheesy little grocery in Counce for some milk and a couple of other items. I was back on board and stowing everything when the weather alert went off to warn us of severe storms approaching at 50 mph and bearing winds possibly gusting to 60 mph.

We immediately let out more chain, increasing our scope by 30% or so, and Stinkpot followed suit. In short order we were slammed by three storms in succession, with another intervening weather alert warning of possible 70 mph wind gusts. The eye of the system passed right over us. At one point a tree along the shoreline toppled over, and our anemometer recorded winds over 35. Both boats held fast, and we were thankful to be in a cove with forested hills on three sides, which sheltered us from the worst of it.

We learned later that winds of 70 mph had hit several of the surrounding towns, and blew six or seven tractor-trailers over on I-40 near the Tennessee River Bridge, which we had just passed on our way to the anchorage. We heard on the radio that a barge had come loose near the bridge as well. It was fairly short-lived, and, as forecast, the skies cleared before 4pm and it was a beautiful evening.


We had the chamber to ourselves at Pickwick Lock.

We were looking forward to dinner at the lodge, but I had some trash to get off the boat and I did not want to bring it along with all four of us in the dink, so I schlepped it ashore after the storm cleared out. That, too, proved fortuitous, because I learned upon arriving at the marina that the storm had taken out the power. Nothing was working at the marina, the lodge, or the restaurant, nor likely in most of the town. From aboard Vector we had no idea, with the Internet humming along as normal. Perhaps if we had been using marina WiFi instead of our cellular modem.

By this time it was nearly 4pm, and we had absolutely nothing thawed or ready to cook. I texted Louise from the dock, and I swung by Stinkpot on my way home to pass along the news. It was a mad scramble, but we managed to throw a stew together at the last minute, along with a bag of salad I had just picked up that morning, and Dave made some delicious muffins for dessert. I picked them up in the tender at 5:30 and we managed to have dinner on the table by 6:30.

It was a fun evening, if a bit unplanned, and I dropped them back at their boat after a long evening of pleasant conversation. Between the trip to town, the storm, and the mad scramble, we both crashed early and slept in on Sunday morning. The power was still out at the marina when we crashed but came on during the night.

With the power back on we briefly considered heading to the restaurant for breakfast, but ultimately decided against it. Good thing, because when I headed ashore with the e-Bike to replenish the beer supply, I discovered the power was still out at the lodge, which is across the creek from the marina and cabins. Fortunately the gas station and mini mart had power, so I could get beer and another gallon of fuel for the tender.


Vector at anchor in Slate Creek, shortly before departure.

We're glad the marina, at least, had power, because we wanted to pump out before leaving. We decked the tender after my shopping excursion and then weighed anchor and headed to the fuel dock where the pumpout was, indeed, operational. We also topped up the water tank before heading back out. I felt a little bad that the only money we spent in the park was for a postcard on our first day, but it was not for lack of trying. In hindsight we should have had dinner there our first night.

There is no place to stop or anchor in this canal, and so yesterday afternoon we had a very short cruise around the corner into Yellow Creek, and past the two canonical marina stops, leaving Tennessee behind and entering Mississippi. We dropped the hook behind Goat Island (map), the last decent anchorage before the canal. The eponymous goats made a brief appearance, and we had a quiet dinner aboard. It was a very nice, quiet anchorage, except for the fact that we awoke to find the aft deck and cabin sides covered in very persistent bug excrement from we know not what bug.


The best I could do to capture a few goats on Goat Island.

Today's cruise has been pleasant, if a bit monotonous in a rip-rap lined ditch. We're now much further into fall colors here, and while the spectacular reds are lacking in this part of the country, it has nevertheless been quite beautiful. I can't really capture it with my camera. We are once again in "the pack," with several loopers who left one of the two marinas on Yellow Creek having passed us in the ditch.

Tonight we will be anchored somewhere near the Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam. We're at the highest elevation of this part of the trip, somewhere around 411', and tomorrow we will begin stair-stepping back down to sea level.

Update: We are anchored in a cove known as Cotton Springs, just off the dam at the downstream end of Bay Springs Lake (map). Just east of us is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which we will cross under tomorrow. It's a beautiful spot in the fall color.


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Off canon

We are anchored in a chute behind Wolf Island, in the Tennessee River just south of Savannah, Tennessee (map). We've been here two nights already and tonight will make the third. While we've been sitting here, perhaps a dozen or so Loopers have passed by, most of them on their way from Clifton Marina to Pickwick Lock, and beyond it, either Aqua Yacht Harbor or Grand Harbor Marina.

Those, after all, are the canonical stops on the Loop. Long-time readers may notice I use the term "canonical" a lot, owing to my nerd background in the computing and networking industries and in particular the DEC 36-bit community (see "jargon file"). But in this case, it's true: there really is a Great Loop "canon," and, like actual religious canon, it's promulgated at meetings where the faithful gather to listen to the elders.


Got a kick out of this sign in Saltillo. To be fair, the road ends in the water.

While we have made our fair share of the canonical stops, and especially in places where the choice of stops is limited, such as on the canals, we are definitely not on the usual program. Perhaps that's because we are full-time cruisers, and the various sections of the loop for us are just another cruise and not "The Adventure of a Lifetime" (really). More likely it's because many of those stops are at commercial marinas charging anywhere from $1.00 to $2.50 per foot, and we just can't see the need to spend that kind of money every night just to have a place to sleep. Even anchorages, when used, are canonical; we overheard some folks on the radio discussing stopping at an "approved anchorage."

The last time we did this stretch of waterway, we were going the other direction, which is decidedly uncanonical. Most of our time on the Tennessee was outside of "looper season," and we just caught the tail end of the migration as we came down this stretch. So it was not really noticeable that we were "off canon." Now that we're in the middle of the pack, as it were, I think we kind of stick out, and we can almost hear the other loopers scratching their heads as they go by.


The end of the road, now a boat ramp, but formerly the landing for the last ferry across the Tennessee in the state.

Since the last time we came through here, we more or less perfected our technique for getting ashore in riverfront towns lacking marinas (which is most of them). That was forced on us by our decision to take the Lower Mississippi River route, where there are just two marinas in 900+ miles of river, and we began that exercise in Paducah, Kentucky (which is on the Ohio), which also lacked a marina at the time.

Fortunately, we've found small docks at the boat ramps in these towns; the last place I had to do unnatural acts to get ashore was in Cape Girardeau, where I had to land at the riverboat landing. And so it is that Sunday afternoon around 1:30 we dropped the hook off Dickey Towhead, in the chute behind Swallow Bluff Island (map). We had anchored at the other end of that chute on our last trip.


Downtown Saltillo.

From there it was a 1.75 mile dinghy ride to the public landing at Saltillo, Tennessee, and I headed ashore to scope things out. There was a nice floating dock for the ramp, with its shoreward side aground but the other side in water plenty deep for the tender. I walked the 3/4 mile to "downtown," a small cluster of mostly defunct buildings with a handful of going concerns.

One of those was a well-rated Mexican restaurant, El Potrillo, and I stopped in to make sure they would be open and that they served beer. I also stopped at the market/gas station; they had a few essentials but nothing we needed. I did fill up my 1-gallon gas can so we would have some more tender fuel on hand. We returned together at dinner time; the food was excellent, other than the chips and salsa, which were uninspiring.


Sunset over Wolf Island on the Tennessee.

Monday we had a lazy morning and weighed anchor for the short three hour cruise here. This spot is just about two miles from another small dock at Savannah's public boat ramp in their riverfront park. That's only a seven minute trip in the dinghy, whereas it's nearly 20 minutes in Vector. It rained most of the day Monday, including while we were setting the hook, so we remained aboard with the dinghy snug on deck the whole day, enjoying a nice dinner in.

Yesterday after lunch I headed ashore to scope things out, this time with the e-Bike in the dink. That was to get me the two miles or so out to Lowes and Walmart and back, the first ones we've seen since St. Louis, and the last ones we'll see until Demopolis, Alabama. As long as I was running errands on the bike, I dropped off a package at the post office, and deposited a couple of gallons of used engine oil at Advance Auto Parts.


Monument to Grant's HQ.

I also spent a little time before my shopping spree wandering around the historic downtown, even spending a half hour in the Tennessee River Museum. Some exhibits are dedicated to the nearby Battle of Shiloh, and some to the Union occupation of Savannah and General Grant's headquarters here. The town also has the nicest farmer's market pavilion I've ever seen.

We returned ashore for the 3/4-mile walk to dinner at Ma Ma Fia's Italian restaurant. The food was good, notwithstanding all the corny Godfather references. I had stopped in earlier in the day, learning they had no liquor license but allowed BYOB. Thus I picked up a nice Italian Pinot Grigio on my shopping trip, which we brought with us.


Cherry Mansion, overlooking the river. Grant's actual HQ.

One day was plenty for Savannah, but we have some packages en route to our next stop, and they have another day or two before arrival. That stop, near Pickwick Landing State Park and the eponymous lock and dam, has fewer services and unknown Internet connectivity, so we opted to remain here an extra day and take advantage of what Savannah can offer.

That gave me a chance to go back out to Lowes and exchange a couple of items that didn't quite work out, and also pick up a few more things at Walmart for which I had no room in my pack yesterday. Those chores would have been daunting before I got the e-Bike, which makes fairly quick work of them. Tomorrow we will weigh anchor and head upriver through Pickwick Lock.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Lazy river

We are underway southbound on the Tennessee River. The river here is much more river-like, deep, with steep banks and the occasional towhead. Even though Kentucky Dam is now some 125 miles behind us, we are still technically on Kentucky Lake, and will be for another couple of days until we reach Pickwick Dam.


Passing the old Danville Elevator, inundated by the lake. There are two more floors below the ones you see.

We remained at Paris Landing all morning on Friday, taking advantage of unlimited power to run the heat. I took the e-Bike out on a little sightseeing trip to the other side of the park, where the Inn and restaurant where we ate on our last visit has been bulldozed, and construction is under way on its replacement. In the meantime the park has turned the dockside marina store into a bar and grill, where we had a casual dinner Thursday evening.


Sunset from our open-water anchorage Friday evening.

Since leaving Paris Landing and clearing under the highway bridge, it's been two and a half straight days of very calm, lazy river. We've passed a few tows and a few other pleasure craft in both directions, as well as dozens of bass boats either fishing, or skipping along just above the water racing to the next good spot. Mostly, though, we've had the river to ourselves.


About to pass under I-40, something of a milestone. I had to slow to avoid meeting the oncoming tow under the bridge.

Friday night we dropped the hook outside the buoy line, in a small pocket of water just deep enough for Vector, near New Johnsonville, Tennessee (map). Even though we were basically in the middle of a large section of lake, it was flat calm and we had a peaceful night.


Our lovely anchorage behind Kelly's Island. The island is tiny, but we were too close to capture the whole thing in one photo.

Yesterday we had a longish 40nm cruise, as anchorages are now fewer and farther between in this narrower section of river. It being Saturday we saw many more bass boats. We ended the day behind a tiny towhead known as Kelly's Island (map). At this water level, the downriver end of the island is basically a large beach, and there is evidence that it occasionally gets visitors who build fires. There was even a plastic Adirondack chair on the beach. We had the place to ourselves and another very quiet night.


We found this stowaway this morning during our walk-around. We returned him to the river.

Today's cruise is more of the same, but the towheads are more frequent and so there are more anchorage options. That gives us a chance to slow down a bit, and today will be a short day ending at a towhead just a mile and a half from the town of Saltillo. It looks like there is a small dock at the boat ramp there, and a well-rated Mexican joint a half mile up the street, so if all goes well we'll dinghy ashore. Tomorrow will be another short cruise to a towhead near the much larger community of Savannah, Tennessee.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Damage report

We are underway southbound on the Tennessee River, just about to cross out of Kentucky for the final time this trip. We had a pleasant and productive three night stay in Grand Rivers.

Monday evening we made our way back over to Kentucky Lake via the canal and dropped the hook in the exact spot we had used after coming through Kentucky Lock a week ago (map). While that meant an extra eight mile round trip back to Green Turtle later, it also meant we could dinghy ashore at Lighthouse Landing for a very pleasant walk to town. We had a nice birthday dinner at T. Lawton's.


Sunset over Kentucky Lake.

After losing our nice Mantus chain hook, now discontinued, in the Cheatham Dam tailwater, I had ordered, based on online recommendations, a Kong climbing carabiner on Amazon Prime, having it sent to General Delivery in Grand Rivers. It was due to arrive Tuesday, and since the post office opens at 10, we left the tender in the water overnight. That let me spend a half hour in the morning installing the spare snubber line on the bow eye, and we tendered back ashore just before 10. Louise headed to the store for some groceries while I picked up my package.

I also called the spa over at Green Turtle first thing in the morning and booked their last two massage appointments, at 1:45 and 3:00. So as soon as we got back to Vector from the grocery/post office run, we decked the tender and got under way for the 45-minute cruise. After a brief stop at the pumpout dock we were docked in our slip, just a couple down from our last visit, by 12:30, in plenty of time to make that first appointment.


Positioned in the slings. Photo: Stacey Guth

Sadly, the Commonwealth Yacht Club on premise is dark on Mondays, so we walked over to the Thirsty Turtle Tavern instead for draft beers and dinner. At least we had a coupon from the marina for free chips and salsa. The sandwiches were fine and the beer was cold. Before dinner I also made a stop at the marina store, which had the shackle I needed for attaching the carabiner to the end of the spare snubber.

The lift ways was literally immediately across the basin from our slip, and so we dropped lines at 8:50 for our 9:00 haul-out. The surveyor assigned by our insurance company, Bill, met us at the lift dock. This yard has you shut down outside the ways and they line the boat in; they had us in the slings and out of the water by 9:45.


No damage at all to prop or rudder. Skeg appears straight. Reddish color is due to the layer of black paint wearing away (it's supposed to) exposing the layer of red paint underneath. Even the zinc paint on the prop is in good shape.

Even though the yard has a 70-ton lift and billed itself as being able to haul us, once Vector was up in the air, the tires on the lift were so compressed that the yard manager deemed it too dangerous to roll the lift off the ways and back to solid ground. Instead, Bill and I boarded a small skiff and drove underneath to conduct the inspection. We had to forgo the power wash.


Underside of keel is scraped up. That's ~1/2" steel plate.

I was very relieved to find virtually no damage at all. Bill characterized it as "cosmetic only." Naturally we ground all the paint off down to bare steel along sections of the heavy keel. There is also a clear impact scar on the leading edge of the keel near the aft end of the thruster bay, just forward of the integral water tank, and the weld bead that had been run along the keel edge is worn away there. But there are no compromised welds and no dents or even dings in the hull plating.


Point of impact. Grey material is spalled concrete. Weld bead is worn down. Hull-to-keel joints are undamaged.

The propeller was untouched, and even my fear of dinging the rudder was unfounded as it appeared untouched. The skeg did not appear to be bent. We did grind off the very inside edge of the port stabilizer fin, through the paint and into the fiberglass, but it was a clean line and it, too, is cosmetic.


Scrape on inside edge of port fin.

Oddly, we also found that both line diverters ahead of the stabilizers had been bent back and were impacting the leading edges of the fins, wearing holes in them. We both agreed that this was prior damage, likely caused by numerous log strikes on the Mississippi. I had wanted triangular plates for diverters, and the yard that made them used pins instead; this is just one more reason to be miffed at that yard, which bungled quite a few things. We'll replace them with plates when we fix the paint. In the meantime, Bill and I borrowed a crowbar and a sledge from the yard and pried/bashed them back out of the way.


Line diverter bent toward fin, digging into it. Same both sides. Not from this episode.

We were back in the water by 10:30, our wallet a bit lighter, but with an enormous weight also lifted from our shoulders. We can continue our cruise with complete peace of mind, and we don't really even need to worry about the bare steel until we get back to salt water in Mobile. I'll be talking to the insurance company to see if we can cancel our claim, as we're not likely to even hit our deductible.

While we were back in the water in plenty of time to make some progress upriver, we decided we'd had enough excitement for the day, and we'd just anchor locally for the night. We pulled around the peninsula to a familiar anchorage in the next bay (map) for the night. That put us immediately adjacent to the Thirsty Turtle, which did not exist on our last visit here. We decided to tender over and try their pizza for dinner.


The snubber which parted during the storm at the dam. Louise remembers hearing three loud bangs, corresponding to each of the three strands parting.

At dinner we met up with Dave and Stacey from Stinkpot, whom I have been following online since our paths crossed back at Marseilles Lock. We had only met them "across the water," so to speak, and it was nice to finally be able to sit down and enjoy some conversation together. Good conversation was an excellent distraction from mediocre pizza, a reminder that it was high time to leave Grand Rivers.

Tonight we should be at Paris Landing. The state park lodge where we had dinner last time has been bulldozed to make way for a newer facility, but in the interim they've opened a restaurant right at the marina. I'm hoping to also find a place to pick up some milk as well.

Update: We are docked at Paris Landing State Park (map), more or less the same place we docked three years ago. We had planned to anchor, but with another night of very low temperatures and a very reasonable dock rate of $0.85/', after we added some fuel we decided to take a slip for the night. That let me ride the bike over to a nearby c-store for milk and beer.

We arrived just before a horde of bass boats arrived for their tournament weigh-in. It's been bass boats akimbo since we tied up; we sat on deck with a beer watching the action for a while. In the morning we will shove off and continue upriver.