Friday, May 9, 2008 — Aqua Yacht Harbor

May 9th, 2008 john

The morning arrived, sunny and clear.  The weather day had been well worth it.  We had three more locks to go through (10 locks total on the Tombigbee). 

The last lock was huge, the second highest water rise in the United States.  Its walls were 90 feet tall.  But we made it in on the first try and had a smooth ride up.  Now we were home free, just 30 more miles to go.  But this last stretch is a killer.  It is a “canal” canal, a very straight, pretty, ditch.  And at eight miles per hour, it takes forever.  

Finally, we reached our destination.  We pulled into Aqua Yacht Harbor Marina on Lake Pickwick on the Tennessee River at about 3:00 in the afternoon.  I made it in one day ahead of my planned deadline.  Barbara had committed for us to take the grandkids to Disney World. We were to depart in two days.

The first call I made was to the love on my life Barbara.  She had been so supportive of my new adventure.  She went through the almost two years of hearing me talk about it and then allowed me to purchase the Emery El without her even seeing it.  When I called her, she was so excited she excused herself from work and drove straight out to get us. (About two hours).

And lastly, I would like to thank you all for participating with this blog.  I know I am a bit wordy, but what can I say.  I have always expired to be a “story teller”.  It has been a real experience for me at the end of my 60th year.  But it is nice to continue to have new rewarding experiences.  I hope all of you can do the same in your lives.

And yes, what I am going to do next?   I am going to Disneyland!

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Thursday, May 8, 2008 — Fulton, MS

May 8th, 2008 john

Midway Marina — 0 Miles

When morning arrived, I was already sitting at my chart plotter watching the live XM weather.  It shows the NEXRAD radar displays moving across the screen right on top of the charts.  Just like on TV.  There was another front moving through and it did not look good for where we were nor where we were going, so I decided that we would spend anther day in Midway. 

Good thing we did.  I had just settled down on the sofa reading a good book when the ALARM went off in the pilothouse.  I ran up to find out that the chart-plotter weather feature had just notified us of a “Tornado Warning” in our vicinity.  I zoomed in on our chart and there was this purple cell with Red on one side and green on the other which indicates bad news.  I watched it’s path for a few minutes and decided that it was just going to miss us.  Just to be careful, I made Rudy join me as we walked up to one of the marina buildings, seeking safe harbor.  Well the technology was right, we got rain and lighting but the tornado hit down in Tupelo, 15 miles away, another reason to go to church on Sunday.

Well, remember that schedule, I was supposed to not have.  We were cutting it close. Here I had “wasted” another day.  I had committed to depart for Disneyland on Sunday May 12th and that was only four days away.  I was taking a weather day for safety, but I was still going to make it.  And after my new crew arrived, Rudy informed me that it sure would be nice to be back by Friday night.  He had a radio show that he published every Saturday morning and although he could do it from a telephone, it would be better to be on site.


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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 — Fulton, MS

May 7th, 2008 john

Today brought us four more locks and then a stop at Midway Marina.  This was a very simple marina just outside of the little town of Fulton MS, about 15 miles from Tupelo, the birthplace of Elvis. The marina restaurant was closed on Wednesdays so we borrowed the courtesy car and drove into Fulton.  Fulton is known for it world-wide cuisine, with restaurants all down the main road (a state highway).  We had McDonalds, Taco bell, Pizza Hut but ended up picking a small Chinese restaurant that really was not bad.  We asked to eat in, but they still served us at our table with takeout containers and plastic forks and spoons.  Oh well.

We spent a nice evening, rocking on the porch of the marina office overlooking the waterway.  Some say that those rockers are addictive.  Once you rock there, you never want to leave.  In fact we talked to four or five boaters who were traveling through and have now been there for several months.



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Tuesday, May 6, 2008 — Columbus, MS

May 6th, 2008 john

North to Columbus

The last note was from anchor, somewhere in Alabama on the Tombigbee Waterway.  The night was quite and when we awoke, we had a good breakfast and resumed our trip.

The only exciting moment was when we slowly backed out of the cut that we had so carefully sought out the night before.  You never want to anchor on the river, due to barge traffic.  What we did not need on this trip was a grounding.  Emery El draws about five feet and we were in six to seven foot water.  We backed out carefully the way we had pulled in and were off. 

By the way, no morning swim.


The next evening we pulled into Columbus Marina in Columbus Mississippi.  We walked up the hill next to the marina to a restaurant and were very surprised to be greeted by waiters in formal attire and white tablecloths, etc.  My only comment upon entering was to ask if I was “over-dressed” in my shorts and tee shirt.  They were most gracious and made us feel at home.  By the way they served the absolute best calamari that I have ever had with a sweet oriental sauce over it.  And the shrimp and cheese grits were also a delight.  This experience was a pleasant surprise for us traveling folk.  This will definitely be a “can’t miss” location for our planned return trip through the Tombigbee in November.

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Monday, May 5, 2008 — On the Black Warrior River

May 5th, 2008 john

Up River — 70 Miles

Today was an easy day, just 70 miles and we are now sitting comfortably at anchor in a little stream off the main waterway.  We passed one pleasure boat and one towboat in the morning and have seen no one since.  However, since my cell phone has such a strong signal, we are betting there is a Wal-Mart on the other side of all these trees.  Hopefully we are in for a quiet night.  See you and the morn.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008 — Demopolis, AL

May 4th, 2008 john

Still in Demopolis

The next morning I fired up the chart plotter and looked at the weather and confirmed that the weather line was going to be just above us, but if we were to leave, we would go right into it.  So we hunkered down and executed a perfect boat day.  After all we were now really on boat time. 

After planning the next day, I determined that we could not conveniently reach a marina the next night and would have to anchor out again.  The only problem with that was that we had another crew change scheduled.  Reese had to get back to Memphis and Rudy S. was coming down to join me for the final days of the trip.  To make it more convenient for Rudy, I called him and told him to come to Demopolis. We would spend yet another day in Demopolis.  So much for our schedule.  This extra day did give me an opportunity to join two ladies from two different boats that were staying in Demopolis and we drove to church.  It was very pleasant to be able to participate with the church service in the small church in town.

Rudy arrived about noon on Sunday and Reese departed.

In the evening, Rudy and I were sitting on our “porch”, (the aft deck), having a scotch and a cigar; in comes a new transient boat.  It was a Defever 49, just like mine.  Naturally I got a bit excited so I walked over and helped them with their dock lines.  Later they invited us over for drinks, so we set on his upper deck and swapped stories for hours.  They were from Pittsburg and were headed for Chesapeake Bay via Fl and the East coast. After killing two bottles of scotch, we slept well.  In the morning they will turn south and we will continue north.

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Friday, May 2, 2008 — Demopolis, AL

May 2nd, 2008 john

Bobby’s to Demopolis — 110 miles

This morning we were up really early, before dawn, and readied ourselves to leave.  The previous night I had rearranged all of our lines to the other boat so that we could release from our boat and not disturb them.  We had 110 miles to do that day and it would be the longest day of the trip.  Off we went as day was breaking, up the mighty Tombigbee.  We fought the current all day and I was worried that we would not make our destination until after sunset.  It looks pretty lonely on a strange river at night, especially with no headlights.  We pushed hard all day, burning a little extra fuel in the process to pick up the speed.  Just three miles from our destination we arrived at our next lock at 5:30.   Commercial traffic gets automatic priority and there was a towboat and barges just entering the lock in front of us.  The lock master was very nice but we were instructed to park it and wait.  Well unfortunately there really is no parking lot.  You simply have to hold station in a river that is moving swiftly because of water coming through the damn.  That means you stand there and continually shift.  Forward left engine, back right engine, left engine neutral, both engines reverse, etc, etc, etc.  Well one tow was not bad enough there was now a tow coming down river that had to be serviced. After 90 mins of shift, shift, shift, we finally were granted permission to enter the lock.  Ah, there are those big walls again.  Where is that apple?

When it was time for us to finally enter the lock, I started forward with another boat to my rear following me into the lock. I reached the gates and the swirl which is often at the gates of a lock started to catch the boat and push her sideways.  My answer was to apply a little more throttle to the port engine to push her back right.  However, it did not work.  I was not receiving any power from my port engine.What, it had been working all day, but now no power.  I could hear the engine running but still no power.  What to do?  Think!  Think!  The one thing I new was that I did not want to enter a lock with one engine. 

Then I noticed that the tachometer for the port engine was at zero, but I could stll hear the engine running.  Then I saw that all of the other engine gages for that engine were not registering.  Must be electrical!  I reached down and turned the key for the port engine back to the ON position and all was well.  (Lesson No 46)  Just before going into the lock I had reached down and flipped on the navigational lights.  It was getting dark.  The Nav Lights switch is located just under the on/off key for the port engine, so I must have bumped it.  Ok, slow the heart down and let’s do this lock.  Would you believe it,  I drove in slowly, went straight to the correct bollard, stopped one foot from it and Reese dropped the line on it and we were secure.  It was a small victory, but a very proud moment.

The trip through the lock was a breeze but now it was dark.  We carefully went the last three miles and was excited to see that the marina was a real marina with a lot of boats and a restaurant and above all lots of lights.  Of could our nightly docking wind picked up at just the right time but this time it helped us blow into the dock for a perfect landing.  Forget the apple; it was off to the restaurant for a delightful New Orleans style seafood meal.

I had been watching the weather really close on my chart-plotter all day and the front with all of the tornadoes was due to pass that next morning.  This meant an extra day in port. Now our “schedule” was going to be even tighter, but you can’t make a bad weather decision.  The decision was made, we would enjoy Demopolis for an extra day.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008 — Bobby’s Fish Camp

May 1st, 2008 john

To Bobby’s Fish Camp

We slept great last night in Alabama Cut until an alarm went off in the middle of the night.  I had set an anchor drag alarm on our chart-plotter, so up we jumped and we looked out into the night. Spotlights turned on and flashlights in hand we discovered that the boat was just where we had left her; she had not moved an inch.  Then I looked down at the alarm. It was not a drag alarm, it was a stupid timer alarm.  Somehow I had been fooling around with the new chart-plotter during the day and had accidentally set a timer to go off at 00:00 which is midnight.  We had a laugh and then back to bed we went. 

In the morning, it was again beautiful.  A low mist hanging over the water, birds chirping away with their morning songs.  We were anxious to get going because our target for the next night was a place called Bobby’s Fish Camp and it was 73 miles away and we had to go through our first lock, which can often delay you for hours.  This would be our new longest day. 

The first thing I did was to retrieve the stern anchor.  I am embarrassed to tell this story.  Here I am a Power Squadron member, a Coastguard Auxiliary member, a teacher in public boating classes and now I have to tell this story.   I was pulling up the stern anchor slowly, and of course it came up with a ton of mud on it.  I was leaning way over the stern, trying not to hit my swim platform with this huge 55 lbs anchor.  I pulled it up out of the water and then dropped it back down to try to dislodge the mud and then next thing you saw was the soles of my shoes.  I was in the water in a flash.  I came up laughing, with my toes curled, holding on my shoes and my glasses in my hand.  What a refreshing dip.  I had to yell at my crew member to stop him from laughing and get him to lower the swim latter.  In the end we successfully retrieved both anchors and were on our way.  Needless to say I was ready for a good breakfast, …. and a apple.

We entered our first of twelve locks on the Tombigbee Waterway.  It was like driving into a big concrete tomb.  Why would I want to drive my new boat up to within inches of a concrete wall that is 70 ft high?  Well it took me four tries to get the boat close enough to get a rope around the “bollard”.  The bollard is a large device that looks like a big spool.  You are supposed to put a rope around it twice and tie the rope to the middle cleat on your boat.  Then as the lock fills with water to bring you up, the bollard slides up with you, keeping your boat secure.  Well I finally got close enough but was embarrassed about the amount of time that it took.  (Only to find out later that it takes a long time for all boats.)  We made it through with a few tense moments.  No scratches so I guess it was a success.  Time for another apple.

Off we went for our reserved stop at Bobby’s Fish Camp.  We got there just before dark and there was already a boat there on the one small dock on the side of the river.  No problem we just rafted up next to the parked boat.  That led for a few more tense moments, pulling up close to another trawler, but we did it like we knew what we were doing.  No big deal.  I was amazed about how much the other boater did not know about tying up.  I was on the outside and wanted to leave early in the morning so I arranged all of our lines so that they would tie on our boat.  That way in the morning I could slip all the lines and not wake the other person by crawling all over his boat.

We walked up the hill paid our dues and sat at one of there few tables and were served great portions of fresh fried catfish.  As you can guess the menu was a bit limited but the fish were sure good. There was no electrical hookup at Bobby’s so we started our generators to charge the batteries for an hour.  The bad news was, the other boat decided to leave his generator running all night so that his wife could have air conditioning.  With the exhaust of his generator pointed directly at the side of my boat, I was very uncomfortable with the situation.  I slept on the couch in the salon and Reese slept in the bunk in the pilothouse so that we would not be low in the boat.  It was a very uncomfortable night.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008 — Alabama Cut

April 30th, 2008 john

The Tombigbee

Now it was time to start the last leg of our journey.  We left Dog River and went north through the city of Mobile.  It is the nation/s eighth largest port.  We were dodging ships, coastguard cutters, towboats and barges.  There were dozens of shipyards with entire ships in dry-dock.  There was a brand new US Navy ship that had be launched the previous day.  It looked like something out of star wars. (See pictures on this web site.)  This ride through the port made for a very interesting start of the day. 

The channel north then leads from the port of Mobile into the Mobile river, the start of the Tombigbee waterway which connects the Gulf of Mexico with the Tennessee river.  We will follow this waterway up the Mobile river, then the Black Warrior River, then up the Ten-Tom to its terminus on the Tennessee river. That juncture will be one mile from Emery El’s new home port at Aqua Yacht Harbor.

The first part of the river systems is nothing but curves, back and forth, back and forth.  We proceeded for another 30 miles not seeing a house or anything but nature but quite a few towboats with barges.  It can be quite tense meeting one of the tows with 9 barges (3 wide) coming at you from around a sharp bend in the river.  As soon as you see them you have to get on the radio and contact the captain and asked him where he wants you to be.  Don’t think for a moment that they can stop.  And of course to make it more exciting, they speak a different language which out of necessity you quickly learn.   For example and common reply from the towboat captain would be “I’ll meet you on the two.”  Technically what he is saying is that he would like for the two boats to pass on the two whistle side.  This comes from the days before radios and they used whistle signals.  By the way “two whistle” means that he is requesting us to pass starboard to starboard.  (My right side against his right side).  Believe me, whatever he says you do.  To make it a bit more interesting, most of the tow boat captains are Cajun.  Like I said, you have to learn a completely new language.

There are no marinas on the lower half of the Tombigbee so I had planned to anchor out at a recommended side cut call Alabama Cut.  We found it well before sunset, pulled off the river into the little cut and dropped the anchor in 12 foot of water.   I anchored off to the side of the cut to give plenty of room to any small fishing boats that could wonder in. To prevent the boat from swinging out into the cut or against the bank, I also put down a stern anchor.  Unfortunately I did not have a proper stern anchor, which is normally small, so I manhandled the spare 55 lbs fortress from the bow and used it.

 We sat beautifully with fish jumping and birds singing.  We popped our end of day can of beer, sat on the porch and enjoyed the sunset.  (Who am I kidding, “cans” of beer).  We fired up our generator to charge the batteries and cooked a fine meal of steaks, baked potatoes and salad.   This is roughing it, at its best.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008 — Mobile

April 29th, 2008 john

On to Mobile

We were on to Mobile.  For another four plus hours we proceeded West on the ICW then entered onto the bay.  Mobile bay looks so small on the map, but it is very large in a boat.  It took us five more hours to cruise our way across the bay to our next stop at Dog River Marina, about eight miles south of the city of Mobile.  The wind became stiff in the afternoon as forecasted with speeds up to 30 mph, but the Emery El just activated her stabilizers and on we went.  It really was a very smooth ride.

I called my sister who lives in Gulfport MS and she came over to the marina and had dinner with us.  She then spent the night in our guest room (the fold out sofa) and then left in the morning.  We ended up staying at Dog River an extra day, waiting for a part to arrive for the boat. It was a good rest and a very friendly place to stay.  They let us use a courtesy car to re-supply and to go out for supper.


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