Monday, October 10, 2016

Happy Indigenous Peoples Day

I am typing under way in Watts Bar Lake on the Tennessee River. This morning found us in a mostly peaceful anchorage on the lake at Richland Creek (map), a tributary. How we ended up there is something of a story in itself.

Vector at anchor in Richland Creek.

Not long after my last post, we dropped the hook in the river, off-channel and tucked in behind a series of groins (map). Much of the Tennessee is scoured bottom with poor holding, and we knew there'd be a good buildup of silt near the groins, which would hold us in the fairly heavy winds we'd been experiencing all day. As a bonus, it was tucked up to the windward shore, and the trees offered some protection. We had a comfortable night.

I will note here that groins, along with other similar submerged structures such as training walls and wing dams, terrify me. They're usually made of either concrete or, as in this case, piles of boulders known as rip-rap, neither of which is friendly to boat hulls. The total loss of the Nordhavn 47 Ghost Rider, belonging to friends-of-friends, just a month ago after steaming into just such a structure does not help matters in this regard.

Vector would likely fare better in such a circumstance, but that's little comfort. And so I set about finding out exactly how far below the surface these groins are before getting anywhere near them. I was also careful to approach them from downstream. In coastal waters, underwater objects are charted with their depths below Mean Lower Low Water, just like bottom soundings, and knowing if it's safe to pass over is straightforward. Here on the inland rivers. you need to do some math.

Underwater objects here are charted with their height above sea level. To know their depth, you must subtract it from the current pool level of the impoundment. In this case, that's Chickamauga Lake, and the TVA publishes the gage level (sic) hourly on their web site. They're are also visual gauges periodically along the river, which show the tens and ones places of the gage height and have quarter-foot hash marks.

In this case, the chart said the top elevation of the groins was 668.2', and we had a river level of 680.2', giving us 12' of good depth -- safe to pass. We, nevertheless, opted to go around them. Because the river is navigable down to a gage height of 675', a line of buoys keeps traffic safely away, and it is these buoys that make it a very safe anchorage for us -- even at higher water levels, barge traffic will not excurse outside the buoys.

Approaching Watts Bar Dam under an azure sky.

Yesterday's cruise brought us through several more scenic stretches of rive and through yet another lock, at Watts Bar Dam. We're now at 740' above sea level, and we have yet one more lock before reaching Knoxville. It's hard to know where our day will end until we've completed lockage, since there is always a possibility of having to wait for the lock to turn around. We've had to drop the hook for an hour or so waiting for lockage on occasion.

Even though this little boat went in ahead of us, we were secure several minutes before him.

In this case the only delay was a small boat that locked through with us, who struggled mightily to get close enough to the wall to lasso a bollard. We cleared the lock by 12:30 and I started looking for anchorages about 28 miles upriver, a four-hour cruise. That brought us to the mouth of the Clinch River, or perhaps Long Island a bit further along. Honestly, if we had more than nine days, I would have liked to go up the Clinch as a side trip, and so I thought seriously about anchoring just inside the mouth near the town of Kingston.

Even with three aboard, two armed with boat poles, they kept hitting the lock walls on the way up.

As I was investigating anchorages I noticed, just a short way upriver. a dock associated with a boutique four-diamond resort called the Whitestone Country Inn. Online reviews said the food and atmosphere were good and that the dock was free, with power even, if you had dinner. That sounded good to us, and we went the extra hour to the resort. We made dinner reservations by phone and the desk clerk said she though there was plenty of water and that they got tugs and even a "riverboat" occasionally.

Upon arriving, the little basin with the dock was much too small for Vector, and it looked like it could be too shallow (it turns out, it was). The dock itself was a plastic affair suitable only for kayaks, PWCs, and perhaps a patio boat at best. There was a quay wall opposite, with power outlets, that looked promising, but not a single cleat or bollard was in evidence. A couple of garden stakes and the 4x4 posts to which the power outlets were mounted were the only options for tying off, and Vector would have ripped those out at the first gust of wind.

The little basin and dock at the Inn. Scalar is center-frame behind the houseboat.

It was past 5:30 at this point and we opted to just continue the half mile or so to Richland Creek, well off channel, which looked promising as an anchorage. We crossed a ten-foot hump on the way in, causing a moment of pucker, but once inside we anchored with plenty of room in 17'.

Having already passed the allegedly free dock without stopping, we ruminated on whether we wanted to tender back for our dinner reservations, or stick with our original plan to grill a steak aboard. After relaxing for a while with a beer we decided to go ashore and have a nice four-star meal.

This card was on our table when we were seated.

Good thing we had the beer first, because it turned out to be a dry establishment. We learned too late we could have brought our own bottle of wine -- we were already seated for the lone 6:30 seating, and the round trip to Vector to fetch one would have been a half hour. With the four diamond rating, neither one of us thought to even ask when we booked, and I must say this is a first for me at such a highly-rated establishment. The place also turned out to have decidedly religious origins, and we were subjected to a prayer before being served, something we're happy to sit through when dining with family or friends, but is disconcerting at a restaurant open to the public.

The food was fine and the grounds were nice, but I can't recommend it to anyone other than tee-totaling missionary carnivores (there were no vegetarian options on the menu whatsoever). At least the prices were reasonable for the quality, with a prix-fixe format where entree prices included appetizer, salad, entree, side dishes, beverages, and dessert.

We passed this red "nun" today, nearly unidentifiable due to an enormous nest built upon it.

We both poured ourselves generous glasses of wine when we returned to Vector, which proved fortuitous, as they were necessary to weather the train wreck that was the presidential debate. We'll have the steak we failed to grill yesterday at anchor tonight instead, accompanied by a glass of wine, as it should be.

Today we will lock through Fort Loudoun Dam and anchor somewhere between there and Knoxville, and tomorrow night we should be tied up downtown. Today is a holiday, so we are dealing with more recreational traffic than usual. We're hoping there's still room for us at the city dock when we arrive, and that we'll be gone before the rowdiness starts for the Alabama/Tennessee game this Saturday.

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