Saturday, October 31, 2015

A few more bumps in the road!

Thursday, October 29 started out with a nice walk in a campground and the day warmed up.  We had a plan to lock through Bevill Lock, dropping another 30' and head to a cove about 40 miles downriver.  We knew 2 other looper boats had locked through ahead of us and also intended to over night in the same cove.  There are minimal choices the closer we get to Florida.  But just after we entered the lock, 4 other boats cruised down the waterway and locked through with us and then took off faster leaving us as stragglers.  So after using all the tools we have for navigation, we made a new plan and proceded on our way.
Not a great photo but I was trying to capture the tree moss growing along the bank, we are truly in the south now!
Smooth sailing!  But as we got closer to our destination which was a cut off from the waterway onto the Tombigbee River (as the river crosses the waterway, the curves of the river are called ox bows)  I called the next lock master  to see how much water was being released from the dam into the ox bow we intended to stay in.  He informed me that because of dredging oporations, we could not enter it.  To make a long story short, we were in a pickle!  We were the lead boat in our group of 3 so we nudged into the original choice for coves only to find it crowded with boats and shallow in parts.  So Al made the decision for us to backtrack to a cove back up river, one of our friends chose to tie up with a boat in the cove and the third took their chances and proceded through the next lock and anchored in the ox bow as the dredge captain said "come on down we'll make room for you".  So the night ended with our little group split up but all safe and sound.  The better decision was to stick to the plan and head to the ox bow, oh well!!
Al took this as the sun rose yesterday morning with sea mist floating above the water.  The air was crisp and cold. We headed down river early in hopes of catching up to the loopers and lucked out by reaching them just before the lock gates closed. So on we went on the last leg of the journey to the large marina and fuel stop in Demopolis, Al.
Not sure if you can see the eagle in the tree. 

Our eagle taking off, so magestic in flight.
Here we came upon the white cliffs of Epes and if you have sharp eyesight, you may see a tiny speck just below the left side of the cliffs which is Sandrobber our buddies that are in the lead boat today.  They are the ones who spotted the eagle for us.  Good to have travel buddies for many reasons!
This is the Black Warrior river which enters the Tenn-Tom and runs with it to Mobile Bay.  Its just like highways that run together at times and split off as well.  So this water highway was our route to get to Kingfisher Marina in Demopolis which is where we sit waiting for more rain and storms.  Spending Halloween with at least 20 looper boats gathered at this luxurios marina.  Last nights shower was the best so far.  We will stay here until Monday and then continue the run to Mobile.  We hope the crowd of boats will thin down and spread out because anchorages are few and offer limited space all the way to the Gulf.  Wish us luck!!

Cruising in the sunshine!

Wednesday morning dawns bright with the sun and the lock around the bend from the marina is open and ready for us.  So we lock through the Stennis lock which dropped us 27 more feet and onward we travel as a group of 3 boats including California Lady and Sandrobber, the folks we helped a week ago with lines at a State Park.  The new friendships keep swirling around making this trip very special!
We got a chuckle as we passed this sign, not sure if it is serious or a joke, but it made for a good picture.

With the sun partially shining, we get some glimpse of fall colors that are not fabulous as we are too far south, but we were reminded that it is October.
Yes, this is really a phone booth and I am quite sure this is a joke and another great photo opportunity!  The Ten-Tom moves between Mississippi and Alabama several times as we cruised on Wednesday.  But by the time we reached Pickensville, AL we were finished with the Mississippi part of this journey.  After dropping anchor in a widespread embayment, Al dropped Victory Lap into the water and played water taxi to take our friends' dogs to shore.  Then we dingyed (spelling?) a short way to the Tom Bevill Vistors Center where the Snagboat Montgomery is "on the dry" as a museum along with an antebellum mansion that provide information about the history of the Tenn-Tom waterway.  We took our walk on the center's grounds and had fun watching a large tow lock through the Bevill lock.
The snagboat built in 1926, used to pull trees and other major obstacles to keep the waterway clear for commercial traffic.

Note the nice haircut!
It was a good day until we came back to the big boats and noted ours was not turned in the breeze in the same direction as the others.  That could only mean it was holding still because it was mired in mud.  Victory Lap has a depth finder and told us that the boat had swung putting the stern in water less than 3' deep and we need 4.5'!  Thank goodness a nudge from the whaler against the haul moved it meaning we were in silt so Al was able to slowly move Inspeyered to deeper water to reanchor for the night in safe water.  Once more I am grateful for Al's level head and great captain skills!!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Running in the rain

It seems that Hurricane Patricia is carrying a heavy load of rain that she feels the need to dump on us as we continue to head South along the Ten-Tom waterway.  Our friends on California Lady reported to us later on Sunday night that their experience with a dilapidated and nearly empty marina south of where we stopped was a stressful event that included becoming nearly mired in mud.  So we agreed to move on down to Columbus, MS to meet up with them and cruise together in the next few days to come.
While on our way, the Tombigbee River crosses in and out of the Tenn-Tom waterway.  The river was not deemed to be a navigable waterway on its own for commercial boat traffic, but after the "ditch" was dug, canals were also added to make the waterway a straighter course so the Tenn-Tom is part river and part man made canals.  In this picture, the river, on the right is joining the waterway.  Have I confused you all?  Look at a map and it will be made more clear.  Note our lovely shades of grey sky, water and trees!
So with the much greater water flow, forests and fields were flooded and these trees that still struggle to live in shallow water are a reminder that this is not a Mother Nature created river any longer.
Once again, we pass working tows and barges making a living on the resources that the the waterway banks provide.  We are mindful of their work and slow as we pass so as not to rock their workplace, ashame that folks have to work at all!!!!
We made it to Columbus Marina late in the afternoon and suddenly the rain stops (only for a short time) and the sun shines on our transient slip.
We met up with California Lady (Nancy and Mike) and since Tuesday dawns as another rainy, albeit warmer day, we change our plan from cruising to galavanting around town.  The highlights of Tuesday 10/27/15 are a belt purchase for me from Belk's (I forgot to bring one), a lunch at a Mexican restaurant, an electric heater knob purchase for Mike, dog food purchase for pet Leroy their dog, a protein supplement find for Nancy and the best one of all, a haircut that is rather cute for me!!!  You see it doesn't take much to make people living on a boat happy on a rainy day!!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Heading South!!

We are truely heading due South to out run the cool weather and find winter warmth!
I mentioned that there were many looper boats gathered at Aqua Yacht and Al captured this photo of a new friend, Nancy, and I walking down to the transient dock after yesterday's morning walk.  As far back as you can see, these are all looper boats.
Yesterday was a gray day of cruising the "ditch" and then entering Bay Springs Lake to find anchorage in a beautiful eagle sanctuary on one of the fingers off the wide lake.  Problem was, it was so gray that no picture would show the lovely color changes in the trees and of course we saw no wildlife at all let alone an eagle!  Not even an owl hooted  last night as we slept listening to rain on the decks and water.

Passing a tow boat, he stayed in the middle of the ditch while we scooted close to the side to ride his wake!
Leaving the ditch behind and entering Bay Springs Lake.  This lake was farmland and forest before the ditch was dug, hard to picture.
Today continues to be cool and rainy and upon hearing that looper boats were nearing the Whitten lock around the bend from our anchorage, (Al often has the radio on so he can hear folks hail a lock) we quickly upanchored and cruised to the lock just as it was opening for 2 other boats.  The day was spent traveling with the other 2 boats, 6-8 miles between locks and after going through 4 of them we had lowered 169'.
Whitten lock was the deepest that dropped us 85', the others were much more shallow, droppping 25'-30' each.
Al is above supervising my expert looping of my midline around the bollard and then I remain, standing guard watching the poor bumpers get squished as they keep the boat off the slimey sides of the lock walls!  The rain quietly drops on my head!
Fulton lock was the last of the day where water was gushing from one side to the other to make energy for electrical consumption.
 Our "lovely" stop for the day!  Ugly all around but a spot that can provide wind and wave protection for the night.  It is only 2:30 but so dreary it looks like night is coming on quickly.  The next lock is 15 miles away with no other stops before it or soon after it, so we take a break from cruising.

This cute little caboose is situated next to us!
This is what a relaxing first mate looks like after cruising in the rain, with ice on the ankle, the remains of lunch on the plate and a fun new book to read entitled "The Golden Age of Charli RSVP" written by an old friend of mine from Ohio who has moved from being a terrific Speech Therapist, to a lawyer and mother and now a published writer!  Cheers to you Jena C. Henry!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

One last edition about what this trip is all about!

We cruised on Thursday into Aqua Harbor Marina hoping to find a way into Shiloh to visit the Civil War National Park. California Lady was at the marina, more new friends, and Nancy also was interested in a field trip.  We lucked out and the harbor master offered up a courtesy car, giving us 5 hours of time to become tourists so off the 3 of us went.  Nancy's husband had to stay back waiting for a repair man (also part of this journey-periodic repairs!!).  On our way, Nancy had a document to mail at a post office and our luck prevailed and my eagle eyes caught sight of a tiny post office for Shiloh that was only open until noon and it was 11:54!  Mission accomplished!
A sobering sight to see so many graves of Union soldiers that died miserable deaths in a 2 day span of the major battles that took place in Shiloh.  The Union soldiers were honored by being moved into proper graves by the US government.  The confederate sholdiers were left in the crude graves dug hastily by fellow soldiers.
Behind us is the Tennessee River, an area we cruised along weeks ago on our way to Joe Wheeler Park and the rendezvous.

Playing the tourist!  Experiencing the sight-seeing component of this looping adventure!  We lunched at Haug's Catfish Hotel which gave us a taste of  Tennessee home cooking.  We are in a corner where TN, AL and MS intersect, thus we keep hopping between states.  This was our last excursion into Tennessee so from now on, we will leave our home state in our wake and finally move beyond 2 hours (by car) from home :)
Being in a marina means more laundry, boat cleaning and also meeting up with fellow loopers so last night was fun as we all enjoyed ordering pizzas and eating dockside together.
Al always is the first one up and he took this yesterday morning from the marina.
This morning, several looper boats got an early start to their day. We however enjoyed our daily walk, filled the boat with water, recleaned decks that had an onslaught of weird green bug poop and ate yummy peach oatmeal that I made over night in the crock pot!
This is us an hour ago, entering the man made canal dug to connect the Tennessee River with the Black Warrior and the Tombigbee Rivers.  It is fondly called "the ditch" and has no place to stop along the way so we will simply cruise the 24 miles until the waterway opens into a wide body of water called Bay Springs Lake where we will anchor for the night.

Continuing on what this loop is all about

Don't know why, but when the blog gets longer, I run into snags and this time I just couldn't make it go on so I have learned to not fight the iPad and just do it her way!  Perhaps by January, I will have mastered this process.  I also have had photo challenges so am slow to get this other half blog completed.  But photo magic happened today and here we go...

We used Victory Lap to take side trips out of our cozy wildlife cove.
We also took our daily walk at JP Coleman State Park.  As we were about to untie from their public dock, a looper boat came in struggling to fit into a small space on the dock near us so the third part of this adventure was experienced when we went to their rescue and helped with lines so they could take their little dogs on an emergeny pee break.  That is what loopers do, and of course we exchanged boat cards and later had more social time with them at the next marina.  The comraderie goes round and round!!
Returning to our home cove with Inspeyered 2 awaiting.  Next morning we upanchored and look what Mother Nature gave to us.
With Al's engineering mind, a rope and a little help from 2 fishermen, we were able to raise the large branch, drop the anchor from it's hold, send the branch back into the lake and successfully raise our anchor.  One more part of the challenges and the people help along the way!!

Friday, October 23, 2015

This is what looping is all about

During the past 5 days we have experienced each of the four major components of looping. They are simply travel, experiencing nature, interacting with other like minded boaters and sight seeing around the US. We have retraced our path from Joe Wheeler State Park in Alabama and gone down river back to the mouth of the Tenn-Tom waterway.  After locking through the Wheeler lock which was open and ready for us since we called ahead, we found this embayment in Wilson Lake and had a peaceful evening watching the sun change the colors of the leaves around us.

Heading in to drop anchor for the night.

I am enjoying a second component of this adventure and that is becoming one with nature!  Nothing but fish and birds in this cove with us! 
The next morning we continue to move on. Entering Wilson Lock with other loopers who have left the rendezvous as well.
If you tap on this photo you can read our water depth below the bottom of the boat.  It reads 111.5 ft.
Now it reads 13.8 ft which means we have dropped about 97'.  Without the lock system, we would be traveling down rapids and the water levels would not be controlled for electricity generation.  
Once my line is secure I can take in some sun waiting for this huge lock to fill, wearing my cute pink lift jacket for safety!
We are back in Pickwick Lake. This cove is our stop for 2 nights because it sits in a protected wildlife area and we had more of that comuning with nature time.  My thrill was spotting loons migrating south for the winter and they gave us a lovely serenade both evenings!  I also think I spotted a group of soaring eagles off in the distance. Tried taking pictures but the birds were too small to see in a photo.
Al caught the early evening light just perfectly on his phone!

Monday, October 19, 2015

A fun week learning more about the loop!

We are winding up a 6 night stay at Joe Wheeler State Park.  We have had all sunny days and cool Fall temps.  We woke today to frost on our windows and the interior of the boat was in the 50's.  We do have heat but it is slow to warm up our chairs so we donned winter clothing and took our walk.  This park has allowed us to have very pleasant daily walks and my ankle is holding up but still sore.

There were about 260 people at this rendezvous, some came by car and the total number of boats was 60.  About 48% of the folks were loopers in progress, another 48% were mainly couples planning to start the loop sometime in the future and the rest were gold loopers, the ones who have finished at least one round trip on the loop.  We met so many people and had a wonderful time swapping stories. We attended seminars presented by gold loopers reviewing the route we will be taking from the Ten-Tom, around the Florida coast and all the way up to Norfolk, VA.  It made us excited to get moving again and thinking we may take more than 2-3 years because there are so many places to stop and visit.  We gathered lots of pearls of wisdom passed along by the gold loopers and then passed our knowlege on to others.  It was truly a community of like minded people!

Such variety of boats, all home to each couple for a year or more! Most boats are carrying just 2 people but a few have other companions.  Many have been traveling with pets and it made us miss Domino but also count our blessings that we did  not have potty stops to worry about and dog health issues.

A highlight of the event was a private concert by "Fathers and Sons" a rock n'rhythm and blues band (that is how they described themselves) from Muscle Shoals that entertained us with wonderful dancing music.  Even Captain Al was up there dancing with all of the other "seniors" on the loop.  It was a real taste of local music from a place where many songs were recorded over the years.  
Yesterday was clean up and laundry day and I have begun looking forward to doing the laundry.  Typically at least one other woman is also doing laundry so it is a fun time to meet someone new and share information.  Yesterday was a particularly fun time because I had a new friend offer to treat my ankle with acupuncture!  So there she was with her kit of needles sticking them into key points around my ankle, foot and lower leg! They stayed in place for 30 minutes and it was a tingly experience but didn't seem to make the ankle any less sore.  Where else would you find a licensed acupuncture therapist other than the marina laundry?

Took these pictures today of all the space made by boats that left in droves yesterday!  We chose to avoid the rush into the lock and will be leaving after noon today to meander back into Wilson Lake to head back to the beginning of the Ten-Tom waterway.  Onward we go!