Thursday, December 5, 2019

Yard report

Today marks two full weeks since I last posted here. We are still in the exact same spot in the Metal Shark shipyard, but as of this morning, we are again hanging in the lift slings. This morning the painters sanded, prepped, and primed the five places they could not previously access due to the blocks holding the boat up.

Posts are few and far between when we are in the yard. In part, that's because I am incredibly busy. When I am not out dealing with the yard guys, I'm either tackling projects of my own that have been languishing, waiting on a block of downtime, or else I am on the Internet researching something for their projects or mine, such as going blind comparing antifouling paint datasheets. And in part its because we're not moving and there's not a lot of interesting stuff to report, other than yard progress.

Shortly after my last post the yard wrapped up installing the beefy new line diverters in front of the fins, and also popped the fins off and replaced the seals. All looked good, and there is no evidence that the shafts had been pushed in at all. The speed with which the fin project moved gave me some optimism about the rest of the work, but yards are often two steps forward and one step back, and a holiday week in the mix did not help the schedule.

It was fascinating to watch the new builds happening. Here part of the deck house, assembled in another part of the yard, is lowered onto the main deck of a new hull. We're still under the lift here and I had to shoot between the belts.

Friday afternoon at closing time, we walked out to the parking lot to wait for Enterprise to pick us up. There was quite a hubbub at the gate; the yard was handing out a frozen turkey to every worker. They even offered one to us, but with no way to cook it we politely declined. Enterprise was a bit late, and with a twenty minute drive back to their office it was nearly 4:30 by the time we were driving away with our car.

Pretty much anyone who knows me, and especially Louise, will tell you that I'm, uhh, "frugal," and I almost always book the cheapest available car, whatever that is. And in this case it was "pot luck" -- a lower rate offered at booking time to take whatever they had available at pickup. As it happens, that turned out to be a high-zoot Cadillac XT5 compact SUV. This car far and away had more bells and whistles than anything we've ever rented heretofore. Shortly after we got it home, I had to dig the ~500 page owner manual, still shrink-wrapped, out of the trunk to find out how to operate everything.

Our first stop after picking up the car was the local Costco, where I needed some items from the pharmacy. On our way into the store there was a nearly identical XT5 sitting in the entrance, from Costco's car-buying program, with the sticker on it: $52k. Holiday shopping had already begun there, but other than my pharmacy purchase, we walked out empty-handed. We drove to a nearby Italian place, Mirko, for dinner, which turned out to be mediocre.

Vector and her neighbors, towboats under construction. We were much more exposed when they finally moved the lift.

We don't get shipyard workers on the weekends, but the paint crew is a contractor that works whenever they can. Saturday, however, was rainy and so we had the day to ourselves. We took the spiffy new car out for a morning drive around Alabama bayou country, driving out past Coden and then back the other way toward the marine research station. I worked on projects in the afternoon, and then we drove out to Dauphin Island for dinner.

This proved to be something of a goose chase. The well-rated place I had my eye on turned out to be closed for no apparent reason, the backup choice closed at 6 and had only outdoor seating, and the third choice place had either a smoky bar upstairs, or a dining room with no booze downstairs. We ended up at Pirates on the beach, which happens to be the place you can dinghy to from the gulf-side anchorage. After years of "missing" Dauphin Island (there was no place to park the bus, and we can't get into the marinas), we can now safely say we don't need to return.

Good friend, long-time boater, and former master of this very vessel reminded me in a comment on my last post that he did his captain's license right here in Bayou La Batre, at Sea School across the channel. He asked if there were still shrimp boats up in the trees, and I am happy to report the answer is no. It took a very long time, but with federal cleanup grants the remaining abandoned vessels have finally been removed. One of the parks we passed on our drive had an informational sign about the program. The town, though, like so many, has never fully recovered.

One of a number of signs around the area discussing rehabilitation.

One of the things on my to-do list for the weekend was to find a restaurant within an hour's drive that was serving the traditional flavors for Thanksgiving dinner, and make a reservation. But after reading in my last blog post that we'd be renting a car, our friends Dave and Stacey on Stinkpot, who are spending a month in New Orleans, invited us to come over for the holiday meal.

It's a two-hour drive to NOLA, and we ruminated about whether we could make the drive back after dinner, or get a room nearby that would allow us to bring the cat. Or whether we could leave the cat aboard for one night with no heat in the boat (we won't run the little portable electric heaters when we are not aboard). Ultimately we decided to make it a day trip.

With that big question solved, we spent the first part of the week using the car to run errands every day after closing time. That included a giant run to the Mobile recycling dropoff, where we were finally able to get rid of our accumulated glass bottles, including some 60-odd beer bottles, that we have not been able to recycle since Illinois. We also made runs to Walmart, Lowes, Joann Fabrics, and a number of other stores for project supplies and provisions. We made a trip every evening so that we could also have dinner someplace other than Bayou La Batre, where we're now on our third trip to every restaurant.

In the meantime the paint crew began working in earnest, sanding down our bare spots and getting primer on all the damaged areas. I sanded the propeller down myself, and the yard had the local propeller guy come over to look at it with me. We've been concerned about dezincification since our 2016 haulout in Bradenton; the yard guys have been saying it looks fine, and the propeller shop basically confirmed that we had little to worry about, but suggested it was time for a tune-up at our next haulout.

Prop mostly sanded. You can see some pinkish areas where some dezincification has occurred.

Things wound down quickly as the holiday approached, and basically nothing happened Wednesday. Thursday morning we made a fairly early start for NOLA, as we wanted to take the longer US90 route. Long-time readers will know that we transited US90 many times in the bus, and not only do we enjoy the drive, but it is interesting to see how things have been slowly returning since Katrina. The debris is all gone, but many empty lots remain for sale, some sporting the parking lots of long-gone businesses.

We left early enough to make a big loop through the city when we arrived, passing by many of our old haunts from our long stay there three years ago. Without thinking about it, our drive ended up bringing us past the demolition area for the damaged remains of the Hard Rock Hotel project, and the rerouting around that dumped us right onto Canal before the Quarter. It's never a good idea to drive near the Quarter on a holiday, as NOLA uses any excuse to close off streets and have a parade, and we ended up being late arriving at the marina.

That marina is literally right next door to where we spent three months getting the boat painted. We're still a bit traumatized by that experience, so we did not stop in. Fortunately we were still on-time for dinner, which was wonderful. Dave somehow found a way to cook an entire turkey in a tiny galley oven, served with dressing, mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, squash, and homemade cranberry apple sauce. We brought a couple of pies, some hors d'oeuvres, and a bottle of wine along with us, and everyone was appropriately sated at the end of the meal. We returned home, leftovers in hand, via the faster I-10 route and were back in quarters before bed time.

Propeller freshly painted. Muddy red spots on hull are new primer.

With the yard closed, Friday would have been a good day to get out and do something fun, but I needed to take the opportunity with the painters gone to finish up the propeller. We did take a nice drive around the coast and back through downtown Mobile in the afternoon on our way to return the car. We had the leftovers for dinner.

Even though it was still a holiday weekend, the paint crew was in on Saturday and Sunday, and they got the second coat of primer on and a spot coat of antifouling. Two full coats went on earlier this week. We stumbled into the Alabama-Auburn game at dinner time at the Lighthouse restaurant; down here in bayou country they are Crimson Tide fans, but I'm sure our friend John was happy for his alma mater to emerge victorious in a close game. We kept a low profile.

Among the several projects we're having done here is to re-coat the tiller flat (lazarette) bilge with epoxy paint. Years of salt water leakage around the rudder gland had taken its toll, and way back in April, before my attention was diverted by a lightning strike and embarking on the completion of the Great Loop, I discovered significant rust damage in the bilge; thick chunks of epoxy-coated rust flakes came off on my scraper. So early in the yard visit, one of the yard guys came out and scraped and sanded most of the damaged area down to bare metal.

They splashed the Lawson just before the holiday. She takes up much more of the lift, and this photo sharply contrasts with the one of Vector in my last post. Monday the crane barge picked up the full-size crew van and put it on deck, the towboat faced up, and they headed back up the rivers.

After the sanding, the yard's opinion was that it was not bad at all and would likely not need reinforcement. Last week the yard brought out its audio gauging equipment and measured the thickness at the worst spots. We had readings of 0.268" at worst, and thicker in most places. I don't have the original specs on the steel, but the plans call for 1/4". With these readings, likely 2-gauge was used in this area. In any case, it's still over 1/4" and will need nothing other than sanding and a fresh coat of epoxy.

In and among all the yard projects, I've been knocking off a list of my own. Now that we're back in salt water, I needed to change the engine anodes. As usual, they broke off inside the heat exchanger, which I had to take apart in order to retrieve the pieces. I found an old impeller vane in there, too, so I also pulled the raw water pump and replaced it with the spare; all vanes were present but a couple were starting to crack, so it was due.

I've also been working, on and off, on the ComNav G1 satellite compass that I bought on eBay three full months ago. I did not realize it would come without a cable or connector, nor did I realize that getting the pinout of the connector or finding a cable would prove so difficult. I finally got through to someone at ComNav support, and while they did not give me the pinout, they gave me a part number for the cable.

Measuring the connector to try to find its mate. There are over a hundred circular 18-pin connectors on the market.

I was not about to spend $275 on a cable when the entire unit only cost me $800, but the part number led me to a site, in Dutch, with the connector pinout. No spec for the connector, so I spent a bit of time measuring it and trying to match it up online. After one failed attempt yielding the wrong part, I managed to source the mating connector, and with a lot of patience I got eight pins soldered to a CAT-5 cable I had lying around. I've been fiddling around with settings and updating the software, and my next challenge is to figure out where and how to mount it. Once done, this should put to rest all of the compass error issues we've been dealing with.

One project I had to knock out early on was to install another "dry" power outlet under the helm. Pretty much every outlet on the boat comes from the inverter, with two exceptions, one being deep inside a cabinet for the original refrigerator (abandoned since changing to a household fridge, which needs the inverter), and the other being on the aft deck. The former is essentially inaccessible without getting behind the fridge (in hindsight I should have left an extension cord back there), and the latter is outside the living space.

This generally has never been a problem, right up until we were sitting in the mud at Dog River and realized we could only run two of our three portable electric heaters at a time without tripping the 30-amp breaker on the inverter output panel. Even though we had two 50-amp feeds available on board, we were thus limited to a single 30 amps. At Dog River we ran an extension cord from the aft deck back in through a window to get another heater running.

After six years of service holding Vector at anchor, this Crosby alloy shackle is done, the pin worn to an unacceptable level. I've replaced it with a cheap import while I try to source a proper replacement.

Having the window open a crack, of course, lets some of the heat out, but here in the yard it would also let a bunch of nasty things in, such as yard dust, paint fumes, and the rotting fish smell that permeates the area some evenings. So I installed a quick-and-dirty non-inverter outlet under the helm, near the electrical distribution. With this setup we still need to use an extension cord to get the heater where it's needed, but it's entirely indoors. I could sprinkle some non-inverter outlets throughout the boat, but that's a lot of work, and this issue has literally come up just once in seven years of cruising.

One of the things we discovered after the haulout was that the "stationary" part of our line cutter on the prop shaft was missing altogether. Going back to the photos from the Green Turtle haulout, it was missing then, too. My guess is that the diver we hired in Fort Lauderdale to reposition it after our transmission work, who seemed baffled by the device, failed to get it back on properly and/or fully torque the two setscrews, which backed out from vibration. I had to have Spurs ship a replacement from Fort Lauderdale, which I installed myself to be sure it was done right.

We marched through this soft, sometimes muddy dirt multiple times daily on our way to and from the boat. At least we had beefy steel boarding stairs.

In between the rotating part of the cutter and the propeller hub itself we had a shaft anode that had been custom-cut to size for us and installed in Fort Lauderdale during our haul-out two years ago. That anode was done, and the yard could not source a replacement. I found a couple in California and bought both of them; the yard did a real butcher job cutting one to size (the last guys had a machine shop), but at least it's back on. We've also changed out three (out of eight) of the large hull anodes that were installed over three years ago.

Other projects included replacing the pump in the cat's drinking fountain, which failed completely one night, and installing a handheld nozzle in place of the spigot on our filtered drinking water system, so we can just pull it over to fill the coffeemaker rather than have to transfer the water in a container (rough life, I know). Lots of minor things got fixed around the house as well.

Life in the boatyard is a dirty affair, dirtier here than most. That's because the yard is neither pavement nor gravel, but just bare earth, with a fine coating of blasting media, metal dust, old paint, and hydraulic fluid and motor oil from all manner of equipment. The lack of surfacing is understandable considering one of the machines is a Manitowoc 888 crawler crane, which itself weighs over 150 tons and has a payload capacity of over 200 tons, nicknamed Mr. Marty. It routinely moves around the yard loaded, including once coming right up next to Vector. Not many surfaces can support that kind of weight.

Mr Marty approaching to squeeze between us and the towboat under construction to our starboard.

We have to traipse through this dirtpile multiple times each day, to get to the scooters which are parked off-yard on pavement, and to get to the bathrooms in the main building, in order to conserve waste capacity. Normally we can go three weeks on a tank, and it's been longer than that since our last pumpout at Dog River. We can probably go another week or two at the rate we are going, but only if we remain diligent about going ashore.

Update: It is the end of the day (blogging has taken a back seat to dealing with yard guys multiple times) and we are still in the slings. The primer took longer to set than expected, and the painters ended up having to do the topcoat after the lift crew ended for the day. We will splash first thing tomorrow. It will be nice to be back in the water, which is warmer than the air temperature most of the day, and where we can run the big heaters and use as much water as we'd like.

With any luck the topside work and the bilge work in the tiller flat will be done by the middle of next week, and we can be back under way before another weekend passes. We went to Kain's Mexican restaurant tonight, the best joint in town, and were recognized and warmly greeted by the staff, a sure sign we've been here too long.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Metal Shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo

We are on the hard at Metal Shark Boats, in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (map). While most Alabamans pronounce it like "buy you luh bat tree," locally the "you" all but disappears. Today marks a week since we arrived here. We spent the first five nights in the water, at their docks, where we could run the heaters as needed.

Friday morning the head of repair and refit, Mickey, came over to chat with us about the project and the schedule. We agreed that it made no sense to haul out before the weekend, since no work could happen and it did no good to be on the hard all that time. He sent the head electrician over after our chat to get us some power. It's only 208 volts, so all the lights are dim and the dryer takes twice as long, but at least we could run all the heat.

Vector on the hard under the enormous lift. Hull of a new-build towboat is behind the screen to our starboard, and beyond that the Stephanie Pasentine is undergoing refit.

After our meeting I got to work getting the scooters ready and on the ground. They've been sitting on the deck, in the weather and without being run, since Rochester, four months ago. Mine needed air in the tires, but otherwise started right up, and after warming up for a few minutes was ready to go. Louise's recently acquired Buddy 125, however, was a different story.

First off, it would not start. I start them up on deck, because I have access to unlimited 12v power up there, using a purpose-made cable connected to the davit winch. While my scooter is fuel-injected, the Buddy has a conventional carburetor, which does not do well just sitting, full of fuel, for four months, even with stabilizer in it.

Arriving to Bayou La Batre we were greeted with the sight of the Argosy Casino Lawrenceburg, a failed casino boat from Indiana, towed here to await its fate.

The much bigger problem was that when I released the front brake, which has to be applied to start, the handle went limp, with the plunger on the master cylinder remaining in the fully applied position. Not good. I will spare you all the gory details, but suffice it to say I spent much of Friday afternoon and most of Saturday working on it, to no avail.

With at least one working scooter I was able to run some errands on Friday, knowing that time to do them once in the yard would be limited. To wit, I rode the 20 miles to the sewing shop to pick up the replacement Juki motor that I had ordered, and afterward ran across the street to Home Depot for a couple of key project items and then Walmart to replenish the larder.

There is a Sea School professional mariner training here, and I've seen classes of students out practicing their lifeboat rowing in the turning basin.

Friday night we ended up going to dinner two-up on my scoot, at the nearby Mexican joint, Kain's, which was surprisingly good. It was also quite busy on a Friday night. Being one of just four restaurants here in town open for dinner, we've already been back there once, and it won't be our last before leaving town.

After conceding defeat on Louise's master cylinder Saturday, I ordered a used take-out on eBay as a replacement, and I put the rest of the scooter back together after adjusting the rear brake. It's only a few blocks to town from the yard, on low-speed local streets, and we reasoned she could get by on the rear brake alone for a couple of nights. I had finally managed to get it started still on the deck, with the brakes torn apart.

USACE Lawson just released from the slings.

Monday we were all ready for our haulout, but, as anticipated, a much higher-priority customer arrived and had to be hauled ahead of us. That turned out to be the US Army Corps of Engineers towboat Lawson, which arrived with its crane barge Choctawhatchee. They left the barge spudded down in the water and lifted the towboat with the enormous 600-ton Marine Travelift.

The Lawson displaces 434 tons, and somewhere during the lift the Travelift went into alarm. When we dropped by the office to sign the paperwork we learned we'd have to wait another night while they got the lift squared away. We were comfortable at the dock so that was fine by us.

Tuesday morning Keith, one of the foremen and also the lift operator, came by to pace off the location of the fins and where to place the slings, and told us to head over to the lift well at 9am. We got the boat squared away and took one last opportunity to discharge gray water overboard, and drove over to the lift promptly at 9. I'm not sure what Monday's alarm was about, but Tuesday morning the lift blew a hydraulic hose, so we tied up in the lift well to wait.

Vector coming out of the water, looking diminutive in the giant lift. The historic wooden Ship Island ferry, the Pan American Clipper, is at right, with the Choctawhatchee's crane behind her.

We're no strangers to hydraulic hose failures, and I am certain that someone from the yard had to drive to the exact same hose shop that I rode to when we blew a steering hose on Odyssey over at Dog River. That was a two-hour round trip, plus whatever time it took to make the hose, and it was well past lunch time by the time they were ready to lift us.

We're also no strangers to Marine Travelifts, but heretofore, the largest lift we've been in has been 75 tons. That's a comfortable capacity for our 55-ton weight, as opposed to the smaller lifts we've used, where I grimaced the entire time we were in the slings. Most recently a 70-ton lift was unable to move after they slinged us.

This lift makes Vector look like a tub toy.

Even at 75 or 100 tons, we sweat it every time. The slings are operating near capacity, and it does not take much of a nick or cut to cause one to fail; stories abound of heavy yachts dropped out of ill-maintained lifts. I can honestly say, though, that we had no such concerns whatsoever in the 600-ton lift, where the biggest issue was how to fit the enormous slings properly under Vector.

The spreaders on typical lifts are also always a cause for concern, usually coming quite close to our hull during the lift. Here the spreaders we so far above our flybridge there was no chance of that happening. In fact, Vector looked like nothing so much as a bathtub toy hanging from a lift that, just the day before, hauled a 96'x40' towboat.

The cat is always blasé about lift day. She's happy to have a new shoebox from one of Louise's fabric deliveries.

The bigger they are, the slower they move, and it was closing time by the time they had us blocked and out of the slings. The lift is still sitting here around us, though, while the yard continues working on whatever ails it. The operating machinery is so far above ground they need a man-lift to access it, and, much like the way some of my projects go, in the middle of working on the Travelift today they had to stop and fix something on the man-lift. There is a lot of heavy machinery here.

Speaking of blocking, there are no jackstands in this yard. Our keel is on sandbags on top of cribbing; the sandbags can be cut open later to move cribbing to access different areas for painting. And side-to side we are balanced by a single pair of enormous concrete blocks, topped with more cribbing and a dozen or so wooden wedges, driven in by hammer. It's the weirdest blocking for Vector to date.

This photo I took of our new pot diverters being installed also shows the cribbing and wedges holding us up.

This week we've received a number of items in the mail, including the custom-made tool to remove the stabilizer fins, since the yard does not have one of its own, a few miscellaneous project items for which I've just been waiting to have a good address, and the replacement master cylinder for Louise's scoot, which I installed yesterday.

There's a marine supply store across the street which is something of a cross between a chandlery and a well-stocked hardware store. They sold me the parts for a new snubber and found a guy who could make it up for me. I paid $19 for the rope and a thimble, and $20 for the marlinspike work, with the total easily less than half what I've been paying for snubbers. They also had the plumbing parts I needed for a project in the galley.

Almost to our spot. Lawson is behind us. Two workers at left show you how big the tires are on this lift.

At the rate things are going here, it looks like we will be here through Thanksgiving, even if we do not opt to increase the scope of work. But at least there are a few stores and four restaurants, the others being The Lighthouse and Catalina, both fried seafood joints, and Phnom Penh, which is sort of pan-Asian and not just Cambodian food.

Considering nothing in town will be open Thanksgiving day, we've rented a car for a week, which we will pick up tomorrow afternoon. In addition to getting us someplace for dinner on Thursday, that will also give us the chance to get a bit farther afield this weekend, and make it easier to run errands next week.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Stuck in the mud

We are underway southbound in Mobile Bay, headed for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), where we will turn west bound for Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Thus we are departing from the Great Loop route, after making one final canonical stop.

After my last post we made it a long day to a familiar anchorage at Big Bayou Canot (map), arriving at dusk. We like the south end of this bayou, near the infamous railroad bridge, rather than the north end. That end is apparently on the canon, because when we passed it there were five loopers anchored there.

Being at the south end also put us just eight miles from the Mobile Convention Center, where we wanted to make a day stop Monday, the last nice day before a cold front moved in. Regular readers may remember that we spent two nights at this dock on our last visit, and we liked it very much. Since then, however, things have changed; to wit, it now costs $50 per night to stay overnight, whereas previously it was free.

While that's a bit steep for a dock with no power available, it would actually be worthwhile in nice weather. And we certainly could have gotten one evening in on Dauphin Street. But we'd have to stay at least two nights, because the storm would make Mobile Bay untenable on Tuesday, and temperatures plunging below freezing Tuesday night would mean lots of generator run time and probably not a lot of pleasant time in town.

Sunset over the Mobile River, still under way to Big Bayou Canot.

So instead we took advantage of the day dockage, which is still free, and were tied up in time for lunch (map), after an early start from Big Bayou Canot. We walked down Dauphin Street and had a nice lunch at The Noble South. After lunch I spent some time walking around the waterfront, and got what few recyclables they take there off the boat.

I had called Dog River Marina in the morning to ask if they had room for us, and he allowed that he could put us on the fuel dock for the night, but asked that we arrive toward the end of the day. So we dropped lines at the Convention Center to arrive at Dog River shortly after 4pm.

We made our way out of the busy harbor and down the Mobile Ship Channel to the Dog River entrance channel. The entrance channel is narrow, and shallow in places. We made it into the river without incident and proceeded to the fuel dock, where we put in 25 gallons of diesel, which got us our first night of dockage for free. Not the best price on diesel, but it made for reasonable dockage. As expected, the transient dock was full.

We had figured to be the last boat in, but three other boats caught up to us in the ship channel and arrived right after us, including our friends on Stinkpot. We were taking up most of the fuel dock at this point, and as we fueled up the marina suggested to the other boats that they could fuel on their way out instead. But before anyone moved, the marina found a slip for us, and we headed to it (map) so the other boats could get their fuel.

Big Bayou Canot in the calm of the morning.

We had around 8' of water in the fairway, but after backing into the slip I noticed it was just 6.6', at a tide level of over a foot. We called back to express our concerns, but were assured it was soft silt, and we figured we'd rather be in a little silt than sitting at the fuel dock, in the way. That turned out to be a mistake.

The evening was pleasant enough, and had there been anything, such as a restaurant, to walk to, we would have done so. We enjoyed cocktails on deck and a nice dinner on board. And in the middle of the night, as forecast, the winds shifted from south to north and the cold front was upon us. We awoke in the morning to find ourselves not just touching the silt, but buried in it two feet deep. Our normal waterline was 8" above the water surface.

While the tide had only dropped a little over a foot since we arrived, the strong, steady wind out of the north blew the water out of Mobile Bay. Whereas the spring tide and the south wind had the marina parking lot awash at 10pm Monday, on Tuesday morning a dozen boats were sitting on the bottom. High tide would bring only another 1.5' of water, not enough to float us free, and that would not be until 11pm. We were stuck right here until the wind let up.

Just being stuck in that spot would not, by itself, have been a problem. We had 50 amps of power and were well secured in a good spot. But with the bottom buried in the mud up to the level of the sea chest, we did not dare run our reverse-cycle heaters. We shut them off the moment we had discovered we were in the mud. Instead, we fired up Meriwether in the pilothouse and pulled out our three little electric space heaters. That kept us mostly comfortable, at least in the daytime, although we did not dare run the space heaters when we were off the boat.

Approaching Mobile from upriver.

In the morning I bundled up and traipsed over to the yard office to see if we could get on the schedule for a haulout to touch up our bottom paint and service the stabilizers. While I was expecting them to be overbooked, they said they could haul us as soon as we got out of the mud. I got their rates and a work order form and told them we would talk it over.

One of the reasons we chose to come to Dog River Marina rather than one of the other neighboring marinas is that they have a courtesy car, and after several days on the boat we were ready for a nice dinner out. As soon as we checked in I signed up for the car from 6-8 Tuesday so we could go to dinner. Stinkpot took the car from 3-5 to go shopping; I tagged along with them on a Walmart run to restock our larder, and then we returned the favor by bringing them along to dinner at an unremarkable Mexican place in Tillman's Corner.

Tillman's Corner is the closest place to go from Dog River to get anything, and it's a 20-minute drive, which is why you get the car for two hours. This is the downside to staying anywhere on the Dog River and to getting work done there. The distance and speed limits make it prohibitive to use the scooters, and we'd probably rent a car if we ended up on the hard here.

Wanting to have some other options, I made some calls to other yards. Down here in the land of shrimp boats, towboats, and offshore service vessels, there are a number of yards that cater to the trade and have lots of experience with steel boats. I ended up calling Metal Shark Boats' Alabama shipyard in Bayou La Batre.

Tied up at the convention center in Mobile, with Austal shipyards building naval vessels in the background.

Metal Shark is a familiar name to many boaters because they build all of the Coast Guard's small response boats, as well as boats for many other law enforcement and rescue agencies. Well-known as an aluminum builder, they acquired this steel-ship yard after an ill-advised venture building ferries for New York Waterways sent the previous owner into bankruptcy.

The yard here builds and services towboats, work boats, ferries, and other commercial steel craft, and I can't think of a better place to have the below-waterline work done on our steel hull. Their rates are reasonable, and while Bayou La Batre is a tiny city with few services, at least everything is in scooter distance, including a grocery. They can get us right in, and we're not much further from Mobile proper here than we were in Dog River.

Tuesday night we were "floating," although still 6" into the mud, for perhaps an hour either side of 11pm, which gave me some hope we could leave the slip yesterday. The wind abated late Tuesday and water started flowing back into Mobile Bay, and, while we were still buried in the mud yesterday morning, the water rose much faster throughout the day.

We again took the car out for two hours in the afternoon, and rode out to Metal Shark after running a couple of errands. It's a messy yard and we'll be marching through loose dirt to and from the stands. But we liked the folks, and the town, and that sealed the deal. When we got back to Vector a little after 3, she was mostly afloat with the sounder reading a bit more than 5'.

Our waterline is normally where the bit of red shows through. Hard to see scale here but that's 8" above water.

I figured we could plow through the mud until we reached the fairway once the sounder read 5.6', and so at 4pm we dropped lines. powered out of the slip, and made our way to the transient dock (map), where the water was 8' deep. After enduring the coldest days of the week without them, we could finally turn the heaters on, and we did so just as soon as we had the power connected.

This morning we dropped lines at 11am and rounded the corner to the fuel dock for a pumpout. We were barely 1/4 full, but there is no way to pump out once we get to Metal Shark, so it was worth the $10 to start out with an empty tank. We were off the dock at 11:30, right at dead low tide.

While I would rather have left a couple of hours later with a bit more water, we needed to get under way to avoid docking in Bayou La Batre after dark. At least the tide would be rising for our entire cruise. We had to pick our way out, and I powered through a couple of sections where the sounder registered 6.0', but we made it without incident.

Update: We are tied alongside the customer docks at Metal Shark Boats in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (map). As expected, we arrived after closing, not knowing that electric power is run out from the yard as needed. We'll run the generator as needed tonight to stay warm.

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.