Saturday, July 2, 2016

414' MSL

We are underway between Bay Springs Lake, on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, and Pickwick Lake, on the Tennessee River. We are very near the end of the Tenn-Tom, and soon it will be behind us. We've risen some 224' since I last posted two days ago, more than our entire first week on the Tombigbee.

The massive sill in front of us at the Whitten lock, with an 84' lift.

Thursday we transited three locks after leaving our quiet anchorage at the old river cutoff. From that anchorage northward, the Tenn-Tom runs in a series of man-made canals that roughly parallel the old Tombigbee River, which was allowed to run in its natural channel, separated from the canals by a dike. We got off to a very late start, owing to a small crisis that developed overnight.

Wednesday night was the first night cool enough to just open the whole boat up and sleep comfortably without a bunch of fans running. And through no small measure of luck, that's the night the refrigerator decided to quit working. Louise heard a humming sound that presented for several seconds every couple of minutes. She woke me at 4am to help figure it out, and we eventually tracked it to the refrigerator.

I could hear the fan running, and it was still plenty cold, so we guessed it to be an early sign of some impending failure and went back to bed. In the morning, after our first cup of coffee and finally without the fog of sleep, it dawned on us that, while the fan was running, the compressor was not, and the sound we were hearing was the compressor trying, unsuccessfully, to start, endlessly cycling as the thermal overload cut in and out.

We quickly started up the icemaker, which we seldom use except as an overflow freezer on extended voyages -- it was packed with meat when we went to the Bahamas. That would let us keep our frozen goods frozen, and make ice to try to salvage as much fresh food as we could. At 8am, things were still pretty cold in both the fridge and freezer compartments. Louise started researching what we'd need to do to get a replacement fridge in the middle of nowhere, while I started working on getting the unit out of its hidey-hole so I could get to the compressor.

Our last floating bollard on the Tenn-Tom.

It turns out there is a Lowes in Tupelo, and we were just a half day's cruise from the Midway Marina, in Fulton, where the Lowes said they could deliver one the very next day. I'm guessing the delivery charge would have been nearly as much as the $360 the fridge itself costs. Fortunately, it proved unnecessary.

Long-time readers may recall that this fridge was causing momentary voltage sags on our inverter, and I added a "hard start kit" to it a couple of years ago. Removing the hard start unit and restoring the factory relay and capacitor got the unit going again, albeit with the same issue we had originaly eliminated with the kit. I autopsied the "sealed" hard start and found the capacitor burned out. I need to find a better electrical engineer than myself to help me size some more appropriate start components now, to eliminate the sag without risking burning up the compressor.

It's quite a maelstrom as the lock fills from the pressure of an 84' water column.

After about an hour or so the fridge was back down to temp, and I put it all back together and buttoned everything up to get under way. In the meantime, Louise went to open one of the blinds in the saloon, and one of the operating cords came right off in her hand -- I spent this morning re-stringing them. Some days you just can't win.

It was past 11am by the time we weighed anchor for Amory lock, about an hour away. As luck would have it, there was some problem with the lock, and we had a half hour wait for them to get it open. We dropped the hook right in the approach channel and shut down while we waited. As we were finally entering the lock, the lockmaster called to say he was going to wait for another pleasure boat about fifteen minutes downriver (it turned out to be more like 20), and so we ended up idling in the lock chamber for a half hour anyway.

Ocean's Outlaw, a sharp-looking Jefferson Pilothouse, locked through with us at two locks. We saw this boat on the hard at Snead Island.

After the morning's trifecta of misadventure, the remainder of the cruise was uneventful, and we passed the next two locks, Glover Wilkins and Fulton, at two hour intervals. We did, once again, have to drop the hook on the approach, to Fulton lock, as we came up to the lock just behind an eight-barge tow, and we had to wait for him to uplock and the lock to cycle back down. All of that was enough for one day, and we dropped the hook just past the Fulton Lock (map), near the city of that name, just after 5pm, and enjoyed a well-earned beer.

Waiting for this tow to uplock ahead of us. He's 105'x595'; the lock is 110'x600'

Yesterday was blissfully incident-free, and we transited the final three locks on the Tenn-Tom, including the Jamie Whitten Lock, the uppermost on the waterway, with an enormous lift of 84'. Bay Springs Lake is impounded by Whitten Dam, with a pool at 414' above sea level, matching the pool at Pickwick Lake and allowing the two bodies of water to be connected with a canal cut through the hills of northeastern Mississippi, the one we are on right now.

Approaching the enormous Whitten Lock, fourth tallest in the US.

120' tall doors closing behind us; the bottom 20' are under water.

With no good place to anchor along the canal until it reaches Pickwick Lake, we made it an early day and dropped the hook in the northern reaches of Bay Springs Lake (map), across from a popular boat ramp near Tishomingo, Mississippi. The lake is ringed by boat ramps and campgrounds, and is a popular recreation area. We noted all the campsites we could see from the water were occupied, and we know from experience they will all be at 100% for this holiday weekend. Nevertheless, it was dark and quiet at our anchorage, except for a lone airboat that blew in after dark to do some net fishing. Once they left we were blissfully undisturbed.

Passing under the Natchez Trace Parkway, a favorite of ours, with the Whitten Lock ahead in the distance.

We are now "over the hump," having pushed upriver far enough to complete our loop trip. From here it is all downhill to the Ohio River and then thence the Mississippi. That said, we've opted to continue on to Chattanooga up the Tennessee River, which will involve uplocking past more dams, these operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority rather than the Corps of Engineers, who operate every lock we have used thus far.

Even the approach to the Whitten dam is blasted from bedrock.

Speaking of which, we had been contemplating whether or not to continue upriver past Chattanooga, perhaps as far as Knoxville, but at least to Lake Chickamauga, where can be found the cheapest diesel we will see until we return to the gulf coast. Sadly, the Chickamauga Lock is closing on July 11 for maintenance, and will not reopen until August 11, closing the river to traffic. That's a full three weeks after we return from California, and we'll probably opt not to remain in Chattanooga that long.

Today commences the busiest boating weekend of the year. Before we had the anchor up, the lake had already come alive with speedboats, and we've been passed by them left and right as we transit the canal. I've already had to dodge two that were just floating in the water right on the sailing line. I expect things to only get busier as we enter Pickwick Lake, reaching a crescendo on the fourth as boats scramble for views of the fireworks.

The timing is such that we will be going right by Florence, Alabama this weekend, so we booked a couple of nights in the harbor there. That will get us off the water and away from the mayhem for the busiest part of the weekend, and we can take in the local festivities for the holiday. Tonight we'll be anchored somewhere between here and there, and I expect we'll be tied up by midafternoon tomorrow. We'll resume our journey to Decatur/Huntsville on Tuesday.


  1. This has all been very interesting. I had no idea there were all these locks and you can move around on the big rivers like that. Thanks for sharing. Good luck with your refrigerator. :)

  2. Have been enjoying your blog for some time now; but you have arrived in our old stomping grounds. While in Florence, visit Riggatoni's for a wonderful and inexpensive meal. Florence Harbor had a courtesy car, but even if they don't it's just a few blocks away. If you get a chance, go to Knoxville. Try Tellico Lake, it's beautiful. My favorite anchorage is at Fort Loudon State Park on Tellico. You anchor to the east of a reconstructed British fort from pre-revolution days, with a view to the east of the Smokies, while anchored over an old Cherokee village. Unique is the word. Anyway, safe travels!
    M/Y Travis McGee
    homeport Nashville
    currently Old Port Cove
    North Palm Beach, FL

    1. Hi Bill, thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, Knoxville is out, because Chickamauga Lock is closed for maintenance. If we still find ourselves in Chattanooga when it reopens for some reason then we can look into it, but that's unlikely.

      We'll be in Florence longer than planned... water pump is going out and we'll need to replace it. We'll enjoy returning to Ricatoni's as well as some other local places. Just hoping we'll get back under way in time to make Decatur for our flight; it's a long cab ride from Florence.

  3. Hi Sean and Louise, my son is moving to Chatty in the next year, was just looking at a home on Chickamauga, maybe next time you there we will have free deep water dockage for you, would have to be better than Nebraska ave., Niles

    1. Niles! Great to hear from you. We thought of you when we stopped in Tampa, but the city docks are a loooong way from you...

      We might do Chickamauga this trip after all. By the time we clear out of Decatur the lock will be just a week or so from re-opening.

    2. Believe it or not I ate lunch twice, once on Beach drive and once at the Vinoy while you were docked in St. Pete, next time let me know, I can drive that far to see you LOL

    3. We'll drop you a line next time we come through. Sometimes we forget that what seems utterly unreachable from the boat is an easy drive for someone with a car.

      When in St. Pete, we typically tie to one of the mooring balls there next to the Vinoy. Nice joint.


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