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.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Cheatham when you can

We are underway northbound, which is also downbound, on the Cumberland River. We have technically been in Lake Barkley since locking down at the Cheatham Dam, but now we're in a section that is more clearly lake than river.

Our encounter with the remains of Lock A, followed by a day underway where I had neither the heart nor the energy to write here, has put me behind on the blog. Today I will pick up where I left off at Nashville and catch all the way up.

As I mentioned in the last two posts, we had a pleasant and uneventful cruise back downriver from Nashville, ending right back up in Ashland City at the Riverview Restaurant "and Marina" (map). Apparently they used to fancy themselves a marina of sorts, with power, water, and even fuel, and they charged a buck a foot for overnight dockage. With 15' of depth at the dock, it was a perfect stop for us.


Vector at the Riverview, as seen from the Ashland City boat ramp.

Nowadays it's just a dock, and a rather lightweight one at that, with a row of inoperative pedestals. Dock and dine has always been free, and now they'll let you spend the night as well. We were tied up by 4:30, and opted to sit on their deck for our 5pm cocktail hour and buy a couple of beers rather than have them aboard, as is our usual custom. We returned to nearly the same spot at dinner time for typical riverfront fare (burgers and fried food).

With the lock still closed, in the morning I took the e-Bike across the bridge into town, after first convincing O'Reilly's auto parts to deliver my filter and eight gallons of oil to the restaurant first thing. I enjoyed seeing the town in the daylight, under much less stressful conditions. I stopped at the hardware store for a couple of items, rode past the firehouse where Angel had spent the night, and rode all the way out to the grocery store for a few necessities.

We dropped lines just before noon and slowly made our way downriver to the lock, passing en route the "scene of the crime." There was one downbound tow waiting, as well as three upbound plus the Queen of the Mississippi, who was still several miles off but, as a passenger vessel, had top priority for lockage. We dropped the hook off-channel upriver of the dam, in 40', and got a tenuous purchase in a thin layer of silt atop bedrock.


Ashland City Fire, and the engine depicted on our medallion.

The lock was unsure when they could fit us in. Maybe as number four after two full cycles, or maybe not until the morning. Daily morning fog has been closing the lock for a few hours each morning, so it looked like it might not be until mid-day or later on Saturday.

The lock opened shortly after 5pm, just a few minutes behind schedule, and promptly up-locked the paddlewheeler before taking in the downbound tow. Thankfully it was a "single," wherein the entire tow, towboat and all, fit in the lock chamber. Still it took an hour and a half. At that rate, we were figuring to lock through just before bedtime.

Surprisingly, the lock called right after taking the downbound, just as we were finishing dinner, and told us they were turning the chamber around for us, even though an upbound "double" was making its way to the lock. A storm system that had been moving slowly toward us was finally here, and the winds were slowing the tows down, so they fit us in.


The serene water belies the danger below. We grounded between the white tent at left (still here after a week) and the tree to its right.

We exited the lock well after twilight, and immediately turned back to the tailwater area to anchor (map). Our charts showed good depth, and while we knew the bottom would be rock, with enough chain we usually get purchase in a crack. The charts turned out to be plain wrong; the water was shallower than charted, with only a small area with enough depth for us. Still, we got a good set and were comfortable as we watched the big double maneuver into the lock.

Our comfort was short-lived, as our ground tackle released suddenly an hour or two later. When we brought the anchor up we learned why: we had hooked a rope, which in turn was wrapped around a piece of metal, which was probably jammed in a crack. Between shifting winds, towboat prop wash, and a short scope, we pulled it right out. We had to get permission to tie to the guide wall while we cleared the fouling from the anchor, then made our way back to the tailwater to set it again. We were off the guide wall in plenty of time for the next tow to come on up to it.

After trying a couple of different  spots, we once again got a good set, and Louise turned in for the night. I kept an eye on things, and turned in myself around 2. I barely had time to fall asleep when we found ourselves bumping against the bottom. We came upstairs to find the final towboat just pushing in to the lock, and the river not flowing at all. We also found our snubber line had chafed through from all the wind- and wake-driven horsing and had parted, sending our nice, and now unobtainium, chain hook to the bottom.


I snapped this photo today of the remains of Old Lock C, which at this lake level is proud of the water surface. This is similar to what we ran up on.

They turned the generators off sometime after midnight, shutting off the river, and the water was emptying out at a prodigious rate. We drove around the area looking for a spot to re-anchor, even trying in a couple of spots, but the only place deep enough was now too close to the navigation channel, and with zero river flow we would wander all over the anchor circle and not be held in a straight line downstream of the anchor.

Having run out of other options, and seeing that all the tows were now upriver of us, I called the lock and asked permission to tie to the federal mooring cells about a mile downriver. These cells had been occupied all evening, as they are where the tows wait their turn for the lock, but they were empty now. The lockmaster was very accommodating and even apologetic about the water level. Apparently it also stops the tows dead in their tracks.

It was nearly 4am when we finally got secure alongside a cell (map), a challenging operation even in calm water and broad daylight, made that much harder by winds gusting to 20, pitch darkness, and driving rain. But we were well secured and collapsed into bed, where we finally had a sound sleep. It was past 8 by the time we stumbled back upstairs for coffee.


Our lash-up to the mooring cell, in the calm light of morning.

As it turned out, the lock cleared their entire backlog overnight, the fog was short-lived in the morning, and they were back to locking through with more or less no waiting by late morning. In hindsight we should have anchored in the Harpeth River upstream of the lock and just come through in the morning, but, of course, hindsight is 20/20.

As we drank our coffee the towboat Tampa was locking down; they had just locked up the previous evening. Not wanting to end up behind him, we dropped lines just before 9:30 as we saw him shoving out of the lock. That put us in Clarksville just after noon, after a pleasant and uneventful cruise.

When we had passed Clarksville upriver we swung over to the city dock, where the water appeared too shallow. We quit at the 8.5' sounding and headed back to the channel. But while we were coming down from Nashville a few loopers docked here, and from them we learned there was 9' at the very southern end of the dock, whereas only 5' at the north end. Armed with this information we had called the city Friday and made a reservation.


When we tied up at 4am we found one of the rings we needed busted open. Louise managed to hook a like on it and get it all tight, but we put a "safety" on too, looped through the fender plate. River flow squeezed us back, slacking the first line, but it managed to hang on.

We arrived to find the dock empty, a relief since there are no assigned spots, and found almost 9' as foretold at the very south end of the dock (map). We were tied alongside by 12:15. We had paid the extra $9 for power, making a total of $36, and were glad that we did, as fall had arrived with a bang. Whereas we dined outdoors in shirtsleeves at the Riverview, it was in the 50s when we arrived in Clarksville, and dropped into the 30s overnight. With 50 amps of 250 volts, we ran all the heaters more or less our whole stay.

I bundled up and took the e-Bike out for a spin around town. In addition to scoping out the downtown restaurant scene and passing some historic landmarks such as the Montgomery County Courthouse and the 1898 Customs House, now a museum, I also ran over to Harbor Freight and a couple of auto parts places looking for shackles to replace the one now at the bottom of the river near the dam. No luck, sadly, so we are making do with what we had aboard.


Vector at the dock in Clarksville.

We walked back into downtown for dinner at the very popular Blackhorse Pub and Brewery, which makes some excellent drafts. Perhaps more appropriately I should say we climbed downtown; while only five blocks from the dock, the quaint downtown is some 150' above the river. The streets leading to it are quite steep.

In the morning I again took the e-Bike out, trying one more hardware store and again picking up a few grocery items at the supermarket. I also wanted to replenish the beer supply, but on Sunday you can't buy beer in Tennessee until after noon. I also ran some used oil filters over to O'Reilly's.


Quaint, but high, downtown Clarksville.

With a fairly short 4+ hour cruise ahead of us, we got the boat all ready to go and then lingered at the dock so I could pick up a six-pack at the closest gas station, dropping lines immediately afterward. We then had a pleasant cruise all the way to our old friend Dover Island, where we had the hook down before beer o'clock just a few dozen feet from where we anchored in the other direction (map).

Anchored near us at Dover Island were two other boats, one of which, Tuscarora, had been with us at Nashville and again in Clarksville. They had wisely spent the intervening night at Harpeth River and were only a couple hours behind us into Clarksville. They looked more well-rested than us.

On our outbound trip I stripped down to go swimming, but the water is ten degrees colder now, and the air temperature a greater difference than that. But in this direction I again stripped down, this time to descend into the hot engine room to change the main engine oil and filter. It was overdue, a casualty of our unfortunate incident. Having the oil a bit hotter than I like made for a very quick change.


Montgomery County Courthouse.

The rapid drop in outside air temperature, into the 30s or 40s at night, with the river still in the 70s, is a perfect recipe for fog, and we woke up in zero visibility this morning. It's a long day back to Grand Rivers, 8+ hours, so as soon as we could see the shoreline on both sides, we cranked up the radar and weighed anchor. The rest of the fog lifted within a half hour of getting under way.

It's been a pleasant cruise, over familiar ground, and we are on track to be back in Grand Rivers before cocktail hour. We've already crossed the state line into Kentucky. We'll find a way to get ashore and head over to Lawton's for dinner on the occasion of Louise's birthday. She's been talking to well-wishers most of the day, all of whom needed a detailed report on the allision.

We have a "quick haul" scheduled for Wednesday morning at Green Turtle Bay, and the insurance company is sending a surveyor. Unless we find some kind of show-stopping damage, such as a dent in the hull that is in jeopardy of perforating, we'll go right back in the water and continue on our way until we can get to a yard that can accommodate us, most likely in Mobile, Alabama.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Music City

After the drama of my last post, it's nice to return to a more pleasant set of memories for the travelogue. As I wrote in that post, we had no further issues upriver and it was actually a pleasant, calm cruise, with little traffic due to the lock closure. By the time we arrived at Nashville we were settled down from all the excitement, and looking forward to our visit.


Vector at the dock in Nashville, with downtown across the river.

We pulled up to downtown around 5:30 to find just one other boat on the dock, a looper who had arrived in town the previous day and was at the far south end. We tied up at the very north end of the dock (map) for a little shorter walk to get ashore. The city was not charging for power, because the pedestals all need repair and many are inoperative, but we found a working 50-amp and had power our entire stay.

Immediately above the dock is a pedestrian bridge, 80' above the river and a nice restoration of a historic highway truss bridge. A short walk from the dock ramp is an elevator to access the bridge, and the other end of the bridge deposits you directly in the center of the action of downtown Nashville. We did have to jimmy the latch to get off the dock, because the fancy code lock on the gate was completely inoperative.


Sunset view, from the pedestrian bridge. What looks like a coaster track to the right of the boat is a sculpture between old barge gantry tracks, in prominent view when walking down Broadway.

After a long day we went to one of the closer, quieter joints across the bridge, which turned out to be an odd Japanese-Tennessee fusion. We were too dog-tired to wander around town or along the "Honky-tonk highway" just a couple of blocks away. After dinner we walked back across the bridge and collapsed into bed early.

Nashville has a large homeless population, drawn here by the huge number of tourists that make for good pan-handling.  They are in every nook and cranny of the city, and the park adjacent the dock is no exception. Not wanting to continue breaking into the dock with a pocket knife with this sort of audience, I emailed the city about the lock. They sent someone right out the next morning, who assessed it as not repairable in-place, and took it back to the shop. We put our combination bike lock on the gate and gave the combo to the other boat.


This entertainer bus was parked at the Ryman. They stole our bus paint scheme.

Tuesday morning I started right in on trying to line up a diver. When we had spoken to TowboatUS about getting towed off the rocks, they told us they had a diver if we needed one, so I started there, leaving a voice message and later a text. I also called the nearby marina and boatyard, Rock Harbor, which is too shallow for us to enter, and they gave me a number for a diver as well. I left a message for him, too.

When I had not heard back from either of them by the afternoon, I called the scuba shop in town, to see if they had someone on staff or one of their customers who did this sort of work. Here again, I had to leave a message. Out of all the messages, not a single one returned my call the entire time we were in Nashville. We have friends near town, and I would have loved to message them and perhaps get together, but we could not make any plans for fear of missing a lone shot at a diver.


The riverboat General Jackson passing under the pedestrian bridge, which you can see reflected in the water.

I did take the e-Bike out and explore town both days. Louise had a very large box of quilts to ship off, and so my first stop was the UPS store, which happens to be in the Music City Center, the convention venue. Louise had looked up a rate of $24, so when the store told me $44, I plotzed. Turns out there is a "convenience" fee at UPS stores in convention centers. I asked if it would be any different at the one in the Omni Hotel down the street: nope.

I ended up taking it to the post office instead, for $32. The post office is a small facility in a building that once was the enormous main post office for Nashville, since moved to the suburbs, but is now  the Frist Art Museum. It's a great re-use for this art deco building.


The old L&N Union Station, now a hotel.

Considering most mail of the era moved by rail, it's not surprising that just a few steps away is the historic Louisville & Nashville railroad station, Union Station. The station has had a multi-million dollar facelift and renovation and is now a high-end hotel; I enjoyed seeing the lobby in the old waiting room.


The lobby of the Hermitage Hotel downtown.

I visited another historic hotel on my ride, the Hermitage, named after Jackson's nearby plantation. I went here, as so many do, specifically to see the lobby men's room, restored to its art deco glory, yet still a functioning rest room (and the only men's room for the Capitol Grill in the hotel). A brass placard outside the door warns that female tourists might be found within, and sure enough, I opened the door to find a couple inside taking photos. They beat a hasty retreat.


The men's room at the Hermitage. Shoe shining by request using the house phone.


Fair warning.

Of course I also rode by the honky-tonk highway, the Ryman Auditorium (which is nowadays impossible to photograph), The District, SoBro, and the riverfront park. Wednesday afternoon I rode out to the Capitol Mall and visited the Tennessee State Museum.


Capitol building as seen across the granite map of the state in the mall.

Tuesday evening we strolled past all the honky tonks at dinner time, stopping in front of a couple to take in the music. Frankly, it's a little over the top, and very touristy. It's not the Nashville from my first visit here 35 years ago, or even of perhaps just a decade ago. Like many such places, it's become a caricature of itself.


Union Station as seen from the trolley. Marriott Hotel at right.

While many long-standing local establishments are still here, such as Tootsie's, which celebrated its anniversary with an enormous block party Wednesday, every storefront is now filled in with such megalithic chains as Hard Rock Cafe, Margaritaville, Joe's Crab Shack, and the like. Honestly, I don't get it: go all the way to Nashville to eat at... Joe's? There are plenty of very good local places, and we enjoyed seeking them out.


Broadway blocked off for Tootsie's 59th anniversary party.

Wednesday morning we did the cheesy tourist thing we often do in places like this: we took the Old Town (another chain) Trolley Tour. These are great for someone who can't do much walking, as you often move through town at just over walking speed while the operator gives a live narration, often peppered with humor. In Nashville the tour makes 15 stops and you are welcome to hop off at any and hop back on another trolley, although we opted not to get off at any stops. We had a very good guide.


We had to laugh when the recorded intro message for the tour appeared on the monitors at this angle.

We lingered at the dock until after lunch Thursday, knowing no one else would be coming in, as the dock was closed Friday for the rowing race. That gave me the chance to pick up a few groceries and also go up to the Nashville City Club to take it the high panoramic view. We opted not to eat at the club on this visit as there were too many other good choices in town, closer to the boat.


One of the things you can see on the tour -- a 1:1 replica of the Parthenon.

We dropped lines after lunch and had a blissfully uneventful trip back downriver to the dock at the Riverview Restaurant in Ashland City, which I mentioned in the last post. The visit to Nashville was just a hair too short; I would have stayed another two nights. But we could not justify making a 50-mile round trip up to Old Hickory Lake and back just to have another couple of nights here.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Steel boat, FTW

We are downbound in the Cumberland River, just leaving Nashville. We had a very nice, if just a bit too brief, three-night stay there, right downtown. That will have to be the subject of my next post, however, as this one will be a very different topic. To wit: we allided with an underwater obstruction, and had to be rescued by the fire department.


The medallion given to us after our rescue by Ashland City Fire.

Sunday afternoon we arrived at Cheatham Lock a little before 4pm. The lock asked us to stand by while they finished another operation, and we tied to a mooring cell just downriver. We were in the chamber at 4:15 and proceeding upriver out of the lock not long after that, headed for an anchorage just a couple of miles further along.

As we continued upriver on the sailing line, a large downbound tow headed for the lock requested a two-whistle pass "in front of the park," just upriver of some mooring cells. We moved well over toward the Right Descending Bank and slowed to 1400 rpm for the pass. I was hand steering; we were only about 100' from shore, but in 37' of water and in the white area on both our charts. We had not even passed the tow yet when, suddenly, we ran hard aground (map).


Tied to a mooring cell downriver of Cheatham Lock.

When I say "hard," I mean we went from five knots to zero in less than 30', there was a very loud scraping noise, and when the dust settled, the aft end of the boat was nearly a foot out of the water, and we were nose-down at about the angle of the rake of our keel. The depth sounder, however, still read 37'.

"The park" where the towboat skipper asked us to meet him was a Corps of Engineers campground, which was packed with campers on one of the last weekend afternoons of the season. We had quite the audience for our grounding (and beyond), including the helpful folks who suggested we throw them a line so they could try to pull us off, oblivious to the physics involved.

After an initial damage assessment that included checking all bilges to make sure we were not taking on water, I made an effort to back off with the engine, to zero effect, and also to swing the still-floating bow off into the deep water to starboard with the thruster, also to no effect. Probing around the boat with a pole revealed we were on a 5' deep rock, with a precipice into deep water just two feet to starboard.

 We double-checked the charts. The official Corps of Engineers electronic chart showed us in "navigable" depth of at least 9', with a shoal some distance to port. Our backup Navionics Sonar Charts on the iPad also showed us in good water, on the steep slope of the side of the  channel, but it also showed us outside the buoy line, with a green buoy just ahead of us and to starboard (the buoys are not shown on the Corps charts). The buoy was nowhere to be seen, missing entirely. Had it been there, I would have kept it well to port.


Our main chart display. Coming from the left, we departed the "Sailing Line" you see mid-river to pass a tow. You can see the spot where we hit; the lighter color is all supposedly 9' deep. The meandering course afterward is from decking the tender, damage assessment, and testing.

After finishing damage assessment and getting our breathing and pulse rates back under control, we started making calls to address the situation. Louise called TowboatUS, our towing service, who said they had a boat in a land-locked recreational lake in Nashville that they would have to trailer down, with an ETA of 11am the next morning.

Concerned that an outboard-powered towboat on a trailer was going to be insufficient to move our 50-ton boat off a rock, I started calling anyone I could think of. That included the lock operator, as I knew the Corps had a large towboat on the upriver side of the lock. The lock referred us to Ashland City Fire Rescue, who had a boat. I also called our insurance company and left a message, so they, too, could work on finding us some help.

Ashland City Fire doubted they could do much with their rescue boat and its twin 225hp outboards, but they offered to come out in the morning around 11 to add their effort to that of Towboat. We thanked them and agreed to talk in the morning. With anyone else who might have been helpful closed for the weekend, we resigned ourselves to an ignominious night on the rocks, with our audience of campers.


Our backup display. I put a pin on our position (just under the blue circle). You can see the icon for the green buoy that happened to be missing.

Many of those campers soon left, as a thunderstorm that had been toying with us began in earnest. It was a real gullywasher that lasted most of the night. We had a nice dinner aboard, including self-medicating with a couple of glasses of wine. It felt so familiar to be there near the campground, warm and dry while watching some campers struggle with their campfires. We don't have "Not Under Command / Aground" lights, but we put our anchor light on, along with several deck lights.

Since the grounding, the boat had been at a slight nose-down aspect, not uncomfortable, and mostly level side-to-side unless we both walked to the same side of the deck. Our movement, or a wake on the river, would make us rock to one side or the other. After dinner the list got progressively worse, sending me to the bilges to re-check for water ingress. At some point I realized they were letting more water out at Cheatham Dam, and the lake level was dropping.

The final time we rolled to starboard we ended up at quite a list; I would estimate perhaps 15°-20°. At this angle, merely moving our body weight could not right us, and things were falling out of cabinets. The two loose chairs and ottomans in the saloon slid across the slippery floor to the starboard side; the cat could hardly walk, and we had difficulty going up and down the stairs. Sleeping at this angle was also probably not going to happen. The lake was at least a half foot lower than when we had run aground.

We called Ashland City Fire Rescue back and asked them to evacuate us. By this time we had the tender in the water and could get ourselves to shore at the park boat ramp, but then we could get noplace else. There is no Uber or Lyft here, nor even a taxi cab. Making matters worse, the lone hotel in town does not allow pets. The rain was coming down in buckets and the lightning was just a mile or two away. Even though we were well outside their city limits, they offered to come get us.

We secured the boat as best we could, including dogging all the lower port lights. We put the anchor out with enough chain (in a pile) for 40' of water, in case a wake or a rising lake floated us free. And I made my first ever Pan Pan call to alert the Coast Guard that we were abandoning ship. As hard as that is to type, it was even harder to say it on the radio.

We left the boat with just the cat, some cat food and litter, a dry change of clothes and some toiletries for each of us, and our identification papers. It was a short dinghy ride to the small dock at the Corps of Engineers park, but we arrived drenched and took shelter at a fish cleaning station. No sooner had we gotten all our gear under cover than firefighter Tanner arrived in a fire department crew cab pickup and drove us to the firehouse.

After meeting the whole shift, including firefighter Mike, who had taken all my phone calls, we spent perhaps twenty minutes at the station trying to get any kind of ride out to a hotel in Clarksville or Nashville that would take pets. In the end, the firefighters suggested we could leave the cat in her carrier at the station for the night, so that's what we did. They drove us a few blocks to Boarder's Motel.

We had a comfortable enough night, complete with luxuriously long hot showers. But I confess I did not get much sleep. Every time I got up for whatever reason, I checked on Vector with the remote access to our cameras. It seems the boat had a less stressful night than we did.

With a long day ahead of us, we were up at dawn. We gulped down some coffee from the motel lobby and started working on a way back to the park. Just as the night before, Uber and Lyft, while happily accepting our destination and calculating an arrival time and fare, both failed to find drivers. The lone listing for a local cab was disconnected, and the nearest other taxi companies told us we were too far away.

Once again Ashland City Fire came to our rescue, sending firefighter Matthew out to get us in the pickup, Angel already in tow, and take us back to the campground. We arrived back at Vector to find her sitting level side-to-side; all that rain brought the lake up over a foot since we left. Still, not enough to float us off.

I spent the morning making phone calls, trying to find a bigger boat to pull us off. Eventually I got a positive response from Glen at Hines Furlong Line, who had a harbor tug up in Nashville that he could send down if we needed it. At $400 per hour and a 20 hour round trip, we both agreed that was only a fall-back option. I also called the dam to see if there was any chance the water would come up further, but it was already overtopping the spillways.

Not long after we returned, I got a call from Matthew saying the fire boat would come down at 11 to assist. They actually arrived at 10:30, while we were still waiting on TowboatUS. Aboard were the chief, the deputy chief, and a civilian (we think) who had retired from the Corps of Engineers. They thought we might be sitting on top of the remains of the old Lock A.

While they waited they did a couple of loops around Vector with their side-scan sonar on, and that confirmed it. We were perched on the edge of the old land-side lock wall. That explained why our depth transducer, just a couple of feet to starboard of our keel, was still reading 37' -- all the way to the old lock floor. We joked about getting practice with the side-scan, which is aboard so they can find bodies.


Ashland City's fire boat. Deputy chief probing the water with the chief at the helm.

When 11 o'clock came and went, and Towboat allowed that they were still an hour away, we agreed with the fire department to give it a go without them. I didn't want to make the fire guys wait any longer, but more importantly, the lake was up 8" from when we hit, but the forecast said it was already going back down.

The fire boat has a pair of large vertical push bars at the bow, with rubber guards. With our bow already over deep water and just the after half of the keel on the wall, we had them ease up to the port side of the bow and give a mighty shove to maybe rotate us off. The push actually heeled us enough that we were floating, briefly.

One more big push, with me gunning our engine in forward, got us swinging to starboard to the point where just the aft end of the keel was aground. Pointed mostly out into the river, I ran the throttle up to full power, and with an enormous scrape we were floating free. I maneuvered out to mid-channel and we once again ran through the whole boat doing a damage assessment.

The fire boat did a loop around us as well to look for issues, and before leaving us to our own devices, they came up alongside to give us a medallion as a remembrance of our encounter. Truly a great group of people who went well out of their way to help us, above and beyond the call of duty. We'll be making a donation to the firefighters' fund.

We had to hover in the river briefly while we loaded the tender back on deck, and we ran the engine at all our usual RPM settings to see if there was any vibration that might suggest we banged the prop. Rudder control was good in both directions and I can't see that it got pushed up more than a quarter inch, if at all. The stabilizers are working and I found both to be generally intact when I probed with the boat pole, although there is a good chance the port one got banged up a little.

By this time it was after 11:30, but we still had enough time to make Nashville in the daylight. Reasoning that any services we might need, such as a diver to do an underwater inspection, would be easier to get there than in a remote anchorage near a town with no taxi, and with the lock behind us already closed for the week, we opted to press on to our planned dock for the night. We had no further issues throughout the day, and were tied up in Nashville before 5:30 with a well-earned beer.

We spent two full days and then some in Nashville, and despite making myriad phone calls, we could not get a diver to come look at the hull. Neither is there any place on this lake where we can haul out. At this point we are relying on our inspection of the hull from the inside, along with systems checks, to trust the boat is seaworthy until we can reach a yard to have a look.

We have, of course, done much soul-searching on how this happened. The electronic charts were wrong, but that happens and we know it happens. An important buoy was missing, but that happens and we know it happens. I was off the sailing line to make room for a towboat, and that happens often, usually with no consequence. I was piloting visually and by depth sounder, which never wavered from 37'.


Paper chart shows the old wall, but it's hard to reckon your position on here with buoys missing.

After the fact I went back to the "paper" chart from 2013, and the lock wall shows on that chart. It's not obvious that it's submerged, and the only good way to know where it is would be to spot the buoy that's supposed to be right next to it, which was missing. I'm not sure there is any information I might have gleaned from these beforehand that would have made me do something different at that moment. Mariner's call this "local knowledge": someone tells you to watch out for the submerged wall near the campground.

We are very thankful for the assistance of the Ashland City Fire Department, but we are equally thankful for our steel hull and heavy steel keel. Impacting a submerged concrete wall at five knots in a fiberglass boat would not have ended well; we know of even a heavy Nordhavn, known for sturdy solid glass hulls and keels, which sank shortly after hitting a submerged training wall. We were very, very lucky.

Update: We are tied up to the very lightweight dock at the Riverview Restaurant (map), in, of all places, Ashland City, Tennessee. Most of the town, including the fire station, is across the river. In the morning I need to take the e-Bike over to the auto parts store, so maybe  I will get to see everything in the daylight. The lock, just ten miles from here, does not re-open until tomorrow evening, so we are in no rush to leave.

I'm sorry I don't have more photos for this post. In hindsight it would have been good to capture the boat sitting nearly a foot out of the water, or all the spectators ashore, or various parts of the salvage operation. But in the heat of battle I just did not have the wherewithal to stop and snap photos.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

The last boat to Clarksville

We are under way upriver on the Cumberland in Tennessee, having left Kentucky behind yesterday. It's been a serene cruise, with Otto driving the whole way on a flat, still river. The trees are starting to turn here, but they are not the sort that show bright colors, mostly just shades of brown.

We finally entered the Kentucky Lock around 6:30 Friday evening, a full four hours after we arrived. By the time they locked us up it was after 7 and already dark. We rigged for night running while we were still in the chamber, and we ran the last couple of miles, past three waiting towboats, in the dark.


Finally tied up in the lock, just as the sun has set.

I had picked out an anchorage tucked between the buoy line and the shore, just upriver of Lighthouse Landing. It was too dark to see the buoys, but I picked them up on the radar and then Louise was able to get a spotlight on the correct one. We dropped the hook in a good spot (map) at 7:40 and had dinner aboard, having already given up on going ashore and trying the new joint in town, which, thankfully, is no longer dry.

The bottoms of these lakes are littered with inundated infrastructure: roads, rail lines, bridges, culverts, even buildings. Some areas that were not profitable to log before inundation consist of flooded timber. None of this shows on the official Corps of Engineers charts, but it's all on the Navioncs charts that we bought the first time we came up to the lakes. I had carefully chosen a spot away from the nearby flooded roadbed, complete with intact bridges, and we had no issues. The lake is at winter pool, some 5' lower than summer levels, and it was a tight squeeze.


Looking up 60' inside the guideway for the floating bollard.

With just two days to make it to the Cheatham Lock, we wasted no time Saturday morning. Our mail was waiting for us at the Grand Rivers post office, which opens at 8, so at 7:30 we tendered in to the courtesy dock at Lighthouse Landing for the short walk into town. We were early for the PO, so we had a quick breakfast burrito at the cafe inside the small market in town.

Long-time fixture and centerpiece of Grand Rivers, Patti's 1880's Settlement, where we'd eaten many times, burned to the ground a couple of years ago (we are not surprised; the place was a firetrap). We passed the replacement under construction and very nearly ready to open, from the looks of it. In the meantime the proprietors opened another place across the street, T. Lawson's, which sports (gulp) an actual bar.

We dodged and weaved our way through an exodus of sailboats headed for a regatta on our way out of the marina, returned to Vector, and had the tender decked and the anchor up by 8:45. We rounded the corner into the canal, passing a mastless sailboat, probably doing the loop, who was completely clueless about passing signals and very nearly hit us. Once we reached Lake Barkley and turned upriver there was no further drama, and we saw no other cruising boats.


Approaching the new US-68 Lake Barkley Bridge. They blew the old one up last year.

With the lake at winter pool, we're sticking to the sailing line. Here in the narrow part of the river there's not really any choice, but downriver in the wider parts of the lake, it's possible to shave off a few miles by straightening the curves. We used the Navionics bathymetry to do just that in one spot, and when we ended up in 8's where there should have been 12's we quickly decided it was not worth it.

As I wrote last time, several things had to align to make this cruise. Not only did we need to plan to be at Cheatham the night before the closure, we had to have the space booked in Nashville. Since being told by the marina about an event there on Friday and Saturday, I spent some time online yesterday researching it, and learned it is the Music City Head Race, and the entire river will be closed through downtown.


This Cypress speaks to changing lake levels.

With lots of time on our hands yesterday and working Internet most of the day, I spent a good deal of it trying to plan for Thursday and Friday nights. If we go upriver to Old Hickory that will add three more days. But downriver there are few options between downtown Nashville and the lock which will not re-open until Friday night. I called the two intervening marinas, both downriver of the closure, but neither has enough depth to get us in.

We'll see if that changes by Thursday, and also whether the lock appears to be on schedule for opening. But at this writing it looks like we'll spend both nights at anchor, somewhere between Nashville and the lock.


Passing the Kentucky State Penitentiary, looking straight out of the movies.

In a short while we will be passing Clarksville, where I would also like to stop. But with the lock schedule, that will have to wait until the return trip. It's been quite the challenge planning this whole excursion out on the fly.

We ended our day yesterday at a "chute" behind Dover Island, just upriver of Dover, Tennessee, where we had good depth and holding. A pair of loopers was already there, rafted together at the upriver end of the chute, so we dropped at the downriver end (map). We had the hook down at beer o'clock.


Sunset last night from our peaceful anchorage at Dover Island.

Water temperature there was 87°, and with the air temperature above that, I went for a swim, my first from the boat in a very long time, maybe since the Bahamas. By dinner it cooled off and we had a nice dinner on the aft deck, also our first in quite a while. It was a quiet night, with only a few tows going by just across the island from us.

This morning we passed the other two boats, still at anchor, on our way upstream out of the chute. Other than passing a couple of tows and dodging a patio boat fishing right on the sailing line, Otto has been driving. For the first half of the day, just as all day yesterday, we saw virtually no current and were doing full speed. As we caught up to the morning dam release our speed has dropped, and now just past Clarksville we have about a half knot against us. The plotter says we'll be at the dam before 4pm, and I expect we'll be the last pleasure craft through before the closure.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Hurry up and wait.

We are anchored in the tailwater of the Kentucky Dam (map), on the Tennessee River. It's a "lunch hook" while we wait for Kentucky Lock to lock up a "double" -- a tow so large they have to split in in half and lock each half up separately. We've been waiting two hours already, and I'm guessing we have at least another hour before they turn the lock around.

I wish I could say we had a quiet night Wednesday, anchored downriver of Angelo Towhead. And perhaps we might have if I had gotten tucked in a bit closer up the sand bar. But where we were, we ended up in 2-3 knots of current, and with the river running right over the training wall at the top of the chute, logs and other debris banged off the hull all night long.


Sunset (and soon moonset) over Angelo Towhead.

Nevertheless, we were comfortable, and the current was not enough to windmill the propeller. There was a little noise from the bridge, which seems to be exceeding its lifespan by a wide margin. A handful of tows passed us, but we were far enough from the channel that even the upbound ones did not disturb us.

Yesterday morning we weighed anchor a little before 8, and whizzed down the last mile of the Upper Mississippi at 11 knots before making the left into the Ohio. The difference between the two rivers is remarkable; as soon as we crossed the confluence line, the turbulence of the Mississippi disappeared and we were back in calm water. Even the color changes here.


This bow wake is at anchor, and the debris against the chain is pushing it against the bow. I cleared it with a boat pole several times, including one tree about 8'x1'.

We had less than a knot of current against us going up the Ohio, due in large part to the Mississippi rising and backing up into the Olmstead tailwater. Just across from Fort Defiance in Cairo we "crossed our wake" as I detailed in my last post. We got lucky making our way through the large fleeting areas at the end of the Ohio; very few linehaul boats were moving and even the fleeting tugs were not a problem. We ran the sailing line the whole way.

When we arrived at Olmstead Lock they took us right in on the "land side" chamber, even as they were working an upbound tow into the "river side" chamber. The last time we came through here the lock and dam were still under construction, and we were led through a different part of the dam by an escort boat. The dam is still not finished, but the lock is now operating. We had a lift of about six feet. The tailwater is so high that the floating bollards topped out before we finished our lift, and Louise had to pay out line as we went up.


Olmstead lock as we rise in the land-side chamber.

Immediately after leaving the lock we passed what little remains of Lock 53, with a number of excavators removing the last of it, now well below the surface. Lock 52, a bit further upriver, is in an earlier stage of demolition, but it, too, is well on its way to oblivion. Our last time through here we were locked through by Trump himself.

We arrived to Paducah, Kentucky around 3pm to find only one spot left on the Paducah Transient Dock (map). We had a reservation, made through the Dockwa website, but since there is no office or dock attendants, there is always a possibility that an unreserved boat will just show up and take your spot, leaving you with figuring out who the miscreant is.


Approaching Paducah. One spot left at the end of the dock. America is at the landing, where we beached the tender on our last visit.

We were very glad to see the open spot on the river side of the dock. The construction of the dock and its upriver protective dike have caused an enormous shoal to develop just downriver; where there was deep water on our last visit is now dry land. The shoal encroaches on the downriver end of the dock, and a couple of folks we spoke with said there was just 7' making the crossing to the inside. Somehow the city, who built the dock, is surprised by this.

By the time we were tied up the outside temps were in the mid 90s, and as soon as we were plugged in we fired up the air conditioning and settled in. Louise did start a couple of loads of laundry as long as we had power and water, and after cocktail hour I took the e-Bike into town in search of beer to replenish our supply. I came back empty-handed.


Passing what's left of Lock 53, all submerged except the house ashore.

Overnight the temperature plummeted, and this morning in 58° I rode the e-Bike three miles to the Kroger grocery store and back, stocking up on fruits, veggies, meat, some staples, and a case of OctoberFest. I rode almost the whole way on the very nice, well-paved, and flat Greenway Trail atop the levee system. When I returned there were just two boats left at the dock, and I think the other one was spending a second night.

We dropped lines right at the 11am check-out time and started up the Tennessee. This is new ground for us, since we diverted over to the Cumberland via Barkley Dam last time for our final leg to the Ohio. This closes another loop for us, and now we can say we have cruised every single mile of the Tennessee River. It's a shorter trip, at just 20 miles instead of 30.


Lock 52 still has parts of the chambers left. It, too, will be gone soon.

This sort of three hour (or more) wait at the lock for tows is precisely the reason we took the Barkley lock last time, which sees less traffic. But that lock is under repair right now and is closed daily from 6am to 6pm, so this was a better option on all fronts. In the nearly three hours we've already been here, two more pleasure craft have joined us in waiting.

Our plan after we exit the lock, whenever that may be, is to drop the hook in Kentucky Lake, not far from Lighthouse Landing Marine in Grand Rivers. They can't take a boat as large as Vector, but they have a courtesy dock where we can land the tender. Our mail is waiting for us at the Grand Rivers post office.


Sunrise over the Cairo Highway Bridge from our anchorage at Angelo Towhead.

Since our last visit here, the city of Grand Rivers has voted to permit alcohol sales by-the-drink in restaurants; previously it was dry like the surrounding county. We'll tender ashore tonight for dinner, and I'll return ashore first thing for the mail.

We've decided to take the ~300 mile side trip to Nashville and back. And while I thought we were done with scheduled lock closures for this trip, it turns out that Cheatham Lock, between here and Nashville, is closing for the week from Monday morning to Friday evening.  So this weekend we have two long days to make it to the lock by Sunday night, where we'll cross our fingers they can squeeze us in before the 6am closure on Monday.


Vector at the Paducah Dock. Most boats left before 8am.

We made a reservation for the downtown docks. Normally they want five days' notice for a cancellation refund, but we got them to agree that if the lock did not get us through, we could get a refund. It's a full day from the lock to Nashville, so that gives us four days in town. They're booting us off the dock Thursday for some Vanderbilt regatta event, so I am not sure where we'll spend that night.

Update: It's 6pm, and we've been here since 2:40. They are just lowering the lock now from the last lockage, with a helper boat. I expect the helper to clear out in maybe a half hour, and with any luck we'll have the hook down in the daylight.