Monday, October 28, 2019

Running the ditch

We are under way in the ditch, a long section of man-made canal that connects Pickwick Lake, on the Tennessee River, to Bay Springs Lake, on the Tombigbee. We are now on what is officially known as the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, or the Tenn-Tom for short. The mile markers are now counting down to Mobile, Alabama. We're at about 435 as I begin typing.

Our final night in Savannah was pleasant. We tendered back ashore at dinner time and walked to Rowdy's, what passes for a steakhouse here. Just as with Ma Ma Fia's, it was BYOB, and I picked up a Chianti earlier in the day. The place was charmless but the food was tasty.

Sunset over Vector at anchor behind Wolf Island, near Savannah.

Thursday morning after a lazy coffee we weighed anchor for the relatively short trip to Pickwick Lock and Dam. Our timing was perfect, as they had just finished down-locking a double tow, and we arrived with no other traffic. We got right in and locked up solo.

Our destination was a very short ride from the lock, an anchorage near Pickwick Landing State Park. We had the hook down a little after 1:30 in Slate Creek (map), just outside the entrance to the park's marina. We picked this spot because there is a United States Post Office literally inside the park, and we had a number of items sent there, care of General Delivery.

One of those items was our accumulated mail, and another was an Amazon package with a couple of repair items. We knew both of those had already arrived, and we were expecting the final package, with a pair of replacement anchor rollers, to arrive the following day.  Since the weather was perfect, we opted to make the trip for the first two packages right after we got settled in.

We passed Shiloh battlefield and cemetery, but this is the most that can be seen from the river, at Pittsburgh Landing.

Rather than just zip over to the marina dock or the boat ramp, we instead ran back out into the lake and around to the courtesy dock for the lodge, which includes the restaurant. We scoped that out as a dinner option for one of our two nights, and then made the short walk to the post office, passing en route the park office and its raptor exhibit. These rescued birds are part of a conservation education effort; I wrote about a similar exhibit at Paris Landing on our last trip through.

As we were walking to the post office I got the notice that the anchor rollers had arrived, and we picked up all our expected deliveries in one trip. That meant we could leave after just one night, except that we had already made plans to meet up with new friends Dave and Stacey, who would be locking through on Friday. We're not on a schedule, and this was a fine place to spend an extra day anyway.

The tiny post office in the park. Basically a single-wide.

We decided to eat aboard Thursday evening, saving the restaurant for our meet-up. And since the weather was perfect, I opted to spend part of the afternoon and evening replacing the anchor rollers. These had been due for replacement for some time, but the wind and current at the Cheatham tailwater did them in, bending the roller carriage and literally breaking a chunk off one of the Delrin rollers.

I'm glad I got that done Thursday, because Friday it poured rain all day. We stayed warm and dry inside the boat; not so our friends on Stinkpot, who had a five-hour wait to get through the lock, and arrived to the anchorage soaking wet. We weren't particularly looking forward to a 15-minute dinghy ride through the pouring rain, either, and so we all agreed to put dinner off another day and just stay put. We had a quiet dinner aboard.

The damaged roller, well-worn before it broke.

The decision to stay put turned out to be fortuitous, as the remnants of Tropical Storm Olga slammed into us on Saturday. It was just drippy in the morning, and I took advantage of an hour gap in the rain to take the e-Bike ashore at the boat ramp and ride a couple of miles to the cheesy little grocery in Counce for some milk and a couple of other items. I was back on board and stowing everything when the weather alert went off to warn us of severe storms approaching at 50 mph and bearing winds possibly gusting to 60 mph.

We immediately let out more chain, increasing our scope by 30% or so, and Stinkpot followed suit. In short order we were slammed by three storms in succession, with another intervening weather alert warning of possible 70 mph wind gusts. The eye of the system passed right over us. At one point a tree along the shoreline toppled over, and our anemometer recorded winds over 35. Both boats held fast, and we were thankful to be in a cove with forested hills on three sides, which sheltered us from the worst of it.

We learned later that winds of 70 mph had hit several of the surrounding towns, and blew six or seven tractor-trailers over on I-40 near the Tennessee River Bridge, which we had just passed on our way to the anchorage. We heard on the radio that a barge had come loose near the bridge as well. It was fairly short-lived, and, as forecast, the skies cleared before 4pm and it was a beautiful evening.

We had the chamber to ourselves at Pickwick Lock.

We were looking forward to dinner at the lodge, but I had some trash to get off the boat and I did not want to bring it along with all four of us in the dink, so I schlepped it ashore after the storm cleared out. That, too, proved fortuitous, because I learned upon arriving at the marina that the storm had taken out the power. Nothing was working at the marina, the lodge, or the restaurant, nor likely in most of the town. From aboard Vector we had no idea, with the Internet humming along as normal. Perhaps if we had been using marina WiFi instead of our cellular modem.

By this time it was nearly 4pm, and we had absolutely nothing thawed or ready to cook. I texted Louise from the dock, and I swung by Stinkpot on my way home to pass along the news. It was a mad scramble, but we managed to throw a stew together at the last minute, along with a bag of salad I had just picked up that morning, and Dave made some delicious muffins for dessert. I picked them up in the tender at 5:30 and we managed to have dinner on the table by 6:30.

It was a fun evening, if a bit unplanned, and I dropped them back at their boat after a long evening of pleasant conversation. Between the trip to town, the storm, and the mad scramble, we both crashed early and slept in on Sunday morning. The power was still out at the marina when we crashed but came on during the night.

With the power back on we briefly considered heading to the restaurant for breakfast, but ultimately decided against it. Good thing, because when I headed ashore with the e-Bike to replenish the beer supply, I discovered the power was still out at the lodge, which is across the creek from the marina and cabins. Fortunately the gas station and mini mart had power, so I could get beer and another gallon of fuel for the tender.

Vector at anchor in Slate Creek, shortly before departure.

We're glad the marina, at least, had power, because we wanted to pump out before leaving. We decked the tender after my shopping excursion and then weighed anchor and headed to the fuel dock where the pumpout was, indeed, operational. We also topped up the water tank before heading back out. I felt a little bad that the only money we spent in the park was for a postcard on our first day, but it was not for lack of trying. In hindsight we should have had dinner there our first night.

There is no place to stop or anchor in this canal, and so yesterday afternoon we had a very short cruise around the corner into Yellow Creek, and past the two canonical marina stops, leaving Tennessee behind and entering Mississippi. We dropped the hook behind Goat Island (map), the last decent anchorage before the canal. The eponymous goats made a brief appearance, and we had a quiet dinner aboard. It was a very nice, quiet anchorage, except for the fact that we awoke to find the aft deck and cabin sides covered in very persistent bug excrement from we know not what bug.

The best I could do to capture a few goats on Goat Island.

Today's cruise has been pleasant, if a bit monotonous in a rip-rap lined ditch. We're now much further into fall colors here, and while the spectacular reds are lacking in this part of the country, it has nevertheless been quite beautiful. I can't really capture it with my camera. We are once again in "the pack," with several loopers who left one of the two marinas on Yellow Creek having passed us in the ditch.

Tonight we will be anchored somewhere near the Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam. We're at the highest elevation of this part of the trip, somewhere around 411', and tomorrow we will begin stair-stepping back down to sea level.

Update: We are anchored in a cove known as Cotton Springs, just off the dam at the downstream end of Bay Springs Lake (map). Just east of us is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which we will cross under tomorrow. It's a beautiful spot in the fall color.

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