Wednesday, June 29, 2016

One Mississippi, two Mississippi...

We are anchored in yet another oxbow, this one the old river just before it joins the canal cutoff (map), downstream of Amory, Mississippi. It is a picturesque spot where we cannot even see the main channel. We're just hoping it's not too buggy as the sun goes down.

The white cliffs of Epes, which we passed Monday afternoon. The river scours to bedrock on the outside bends here.

Monday we dropped the hook in the oxbow channel that ultimately leads to the Howell Heflin Dam (map); the lock itself is in the straight cut-through. Despite being right next to a boat ramp and a park, we had the place to ourselves.

The Howell Heflin Lock. Not to be confused with Howard Heflin, Louise's cousin (hi, Howard!).

Tuesday we both started and ended the day with a lock. In the morning we called the Heflin lock before weighing anchor, and they were ready for us when we arrived. A pleasant five-hour cruise brought us all the way to the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam, where we ended up station-keeping just outside the lock gates as a triple-wide tug and barge lash-up slowly exited the lock.

Waiting on a tow to exit. Very slowly.

We knew there was a thunderstorm on the way, and the delay getting into the lock meant it was upon us even as we were being lifted. The winds swirled around the lock chamber and then blasted us as we rose above it, and even though we had hoped to anchor near Pickensville a couple of miles further upriver, we asked the lockmaster for clearance to anchor just past the lock entrance (map), near the visitor center.

Passing a tow in a more comfortable section of river.

We managed to get the anchor down and set before the worst of the wind or any of the rain hit; with plenty of chain out the winds had us just grazing shallow water off the visitor center. That gave us a nice view of the Snagboat Montgomery on display there. The visitor center has a dock, and we briefly considered heading over in the morning, but we've had our fill of CoE lock exhibits over the years, and we spent a week camped next to a snag boat in Anacortes.

The Snagboat Montgomery, a paddlewheel steamer, high and dry outside the visitor center. Yes, we were that close to shore.

Our route plan for yesterday had us crossing into Mississippi and going on to, and beyond, the next lock, the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam. However, as we approached the community of Columbus, Mississippi, we started to ponder whether there was any way we could make a stop here and get off the boat. No small feat, considering the oxbow leading to the town has shoaled to five feet.

Our options were to go four miles out of our way to come up the oxbow from the other end, with no guarantee we'd find a place to anchor, or else drop the hook somewhere in the main river and tender in. Dropping in the river means having to be out of the barge channel, and the first three places we poked our nose in to check were much too shallow for us. But a mile north of the highway bridge we found a channel marker that had plenty of depth for us on the outside, and that's where we dropped the hook (map).

It was early in the day, just 2pm, which was fortuitous, because I had two hours of work to get the now decomposing and foul-smelling mayfly carcasses out of every crevice in the dinghy. Fortunately it was a bit cooler and somewhat overcast when I started. It took a combination of compressed air, a wet vac, and the pressure washer, after deflating all the dinghy tubes, to get the beasts mostly out of the boat. Then I had to fill the gas tank and fiddle with starting the motor after a hiatus of a full month.

The city dock. Uh oh.

Our spot upriver meant we had about a three mile trip to get to town, but we were able to plane the whole way. Our guide said the city provided a free dinghy dock at the riverfront park, but when we arrived we found that the last set of floodwaters had, umm, rearranged things a bit. We scouted up and down the river a few minutes before deciding to treat the dock as a "steel beach" and tie up there anyway.

Just a steel beach.

With a tilted walkway...

I'm really glad we stopped. There are several well-rated restaurants in town, and we picked Harvey's, closest to the park, which was upscale and delicious. We split a large order of prime rib, one of those things we just can't make at home, and while it did not top our prime rib benchmark (Original Joe's in San Jose -- best I've ever had, and we did it often), it was well up the scale. After dinner we strolled the main street for a half dozen blocks; historic, well-kept, and still hanging on, owing, most likely, to the nearby Air Force base.

One of Columbus' tourist attractions, Tennessee Williams' first home.

After returning to Vector we stowed the tender and then doused all lights, save for the mandatory anchor light -- we are taking no further chances with mayflies. The night before, at the Bevill lock, we caught a glimpse of them in the aft deck camera, and scrambled to take the solar light off the dinghy and douse all the unnecessary indoor lights. Air raid drill, anyone?

Vector, looking quite serene as we returned from dinner in the last of the dusk.

Today we again had two locks, the John Stennis lock that we did not reach yesterday, and the Aberdeen Lock. We called the Stennis lock before we even weighed anchor, which was a good thing, because a tow was locking down and they figured a wait of over an hour, whereas we were just 20 minutes away. We called again a half hour ahead, just as another northbound tow came around the corner downstream of us. While the lock was still not ready, we scrambled to get out ahead of the tow and not lose our place in line. That had us, again, station-keeping just outside the lock as the downbound tow inched its way out.

Approaching Aberdeen Lock. We have many more to go; I'm trying not to overdo the lock pictures.

The Aberdeen lock was ready for us when we arrived, and we had our shortest locking to date, just 20 minutes. We are now 190' above sea level. North of the Stennis lock the lakes become more recreational, and the channel has been "straightened" in more places, with lots of oxbow cutoffs. And north of Aberdeen, we're seeing a lot more down timber in the water. And also a lot of turtles, the soft-shell variety. We have not been close enough to get a good photo.

Lots of down trees along the sides of the waterway. We dodged snags and deadheads all day.

Tonight we'll have the dinner we cooked for yesterday, before the last-minute Columbus detour, and in the morning we'll weigh anchor for yet another brace of locks. Tonight is our second night in Mississippi; we'll still be in the state when we intersect the Tennessee River and turn upstream for Huntsville.

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