After a several-week “land break” during which Sojourner rested, Carolyn had cataract surgery, we both visited with friends in Lexington, family in Woodridge, IL, and Susan visited family in CA, we all reassembled to begin the 600+ mile trip down the lower inland waterway to Mobile AL, the Gulf of Mexico, and warmth in the winter!!
Crew ready to roll!
On our way from Lexington to Green Turtle Bay Marina (GTB) near Paducah in western Kentucky, we picked up Sue, a good friend from Syracuse, who volunteered to join us on this last leg back to the land of palm trees and fresh seafood. As it turned out, our timing was almost exactly the same as Sojourner’s first trip along this route some 4 years ago. Not much has changed on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in the interim, and our original blog posting provides general information and describes much of the topography experienced on this trip: see “Heading South Before Winter” (double click to see that posting and accompanying pix).
Our GTB provisioning day dawned sunny and in the 70’s, but an unexpected storm front delayed our leave-taking and took the last vestiges of Indian Summer with it. Our departure two days later occurred with fog and temperatures in the 50’s! And so the river trip went! Often sunny but frigidly cold!
Beginning Fall colors
As we pulled out of GTB on Saturday, 10/27, our bow thruster conked out (the technical term), and after some discussion, we decided to go on without it rather than wait out the weekend in place. A long and cool but pleasant day of cruising down the beautiful blues waters of Kentucky Lake (Tennessee River) took us out of Kentucky and into Tennessee, where we stopped at Pebble Isle Marina, home of the famous Cinnamon Buns as well as great people and a good mechanic. High winds kept us there for the remainder of the weekend, and on Monday, the bow thruster problem was diagnosed as a bad solenoid. The part had to be shipped from a company in Massachusetts, but no one was there on Monday because hurricane Sandy’s ravishing of the east coast. So, just as we might begin to grumble about trip delays, we were instead incredibly grateful to be where we were! The last several years we were on the east coast at this time, and had we not decided to finish the Loop this year, we would probably have been somewhere along the Jersey coast when Sandy hit!
Moon over Pebble Isle
Surprisingly, the parts company returned to work Tuesday; the part was ordered and shipped ahead of us, and we headed on, first to Clifton, TN and then to the Aqua Yacht Harbor marina and full-service boat yard in Iuka, Mississippi. In getting to Aqua, we did several marina dockings/undockings and one lock without the bow thruster. Luckily, all went well, and after another down day for part installation, a fully healed Sojourner resumed her southward trek.
Sunset on Yellow Creek
After traveling through the Divide Cut (the long, straight, human-dug, canal section of the Tenn-Tom waterway), two more marina stops (at Midway in Fulton MS and Columbus, in Columbus MS), and 9 more locks, we experienced our first anchoring out of the trip. While we had several, seemingly good options, we decided to drop the hook in the Warsaw Cut, the same anchorage Sojourner used on her first trip. It’s a deep, protected oxbow off the river, and we spent a quiet, uneventful night…with 200 feet of chain rode out we felt quite secure and even slept some!!
“Smoke” on the water at Clifton
Election night found us in Demopolis, AL, in a covered slip within the brand new, upscale marina there! We even had TV (only time on the rivers) so we could enjoy the evening’s developments in the comfort of our own salon!! The election part was quite similar to that of the trip 4 years ago, thank heavens!!
Crew Sue staffing the lock wall
Leaving Demopolis, Sojourner joined several other vessels heading to the lock and ended up traveling with them for the day. Their planned destination was Bobby’s Fish Camp, and after some discussion and time tracking, we decided we could make that too. Getting to Bobby’s would save us anchoring out one night and get us all the closer to Mobile. Because of weather and repair delays, Sue’s generous 2-week time budget for the trip was rapidly running out. So we pushed Sojourner to run “fast” all day and she seemed to love it!! We made Bobby’s in time to be in the second row of the rafting-off scheme and to try the famed fresh-caught catfish- Sue had a whole one fried; Susan had grilled filets; and Carolyn had shrimp!!
Pass on which side??
And then the adventure really began! Our nightly engine check revealed a fuel leak… and suddenly the game plan changed. Not knowing the extent of the problem, we were unwilling to move ahead for the two-day trip and one night anchoring out required to get to Mobile. We secured passage for Sue on Sandpiper, 47 ft. Endeavor Cat run by Ann and Robert. By 6:15 and shrouded in fog, the other 4 boats left Sojourner tied to Bobby’s Fish Camp dock and felt their way toward Coffeeville, the last lock before Mobile.
Yep, that’s it!!
Rafting at Bobby’s
As best we could tell, Sue experienced something akin to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”, running down to Mobile at 15-18 mph, but she got in safely that night and caught a plane home early the next morning. Sadly, another vessel in the Bobby’s Fish Camp flotilla was not so lucky. They ran aground passing a tow, did severe damage to their props and shafts and had to be towed to Mobile….
Sojourner in the fog at Bobby’s
Meanwhile, back at the Fish Camp, we waited until full daylight and then began testing out our various options. By walking to the top of the hill above Bobby’s restaurant, Susan could get some minimal phone service. Luckily her first call was to Dog River Marina, and within the hour, a mechanic was on his way to Sojourner, some 120 miles north of Mobile Bay. With intermittent Internet service, Carolyn picked up note from cruising friends Cathryn and Bob on Next to Me. They were across Mobile Bay in Fairhope AL and just “hangin’ out”… When they heard of our situation, they graciously volunteered to drive up to Bobby’s, and Bob said he’d ride to Mobile with us if the mechanic declared Sojourner seaworthy for the trip! After another catfish dinner, they spent the night with us on Sojourner who, by virtue of her troubles had secured the dockside/first row position for the nightly rafting off. Long story short: Sojourner was cleared to proceed at normal speed to Mobile; Bob joined us for the two-day trip, including a night of anchoring out in the beautiful Alabama River Cut in between! We met more tows the last day out than in the entire trip combined, but other than that, it was a much appreciated, uneventful journey! Midafternoon Cathryn caught our lines at Dog River Marina, after her very first experience single-handing their 42-ft. Jefferson across Mobile Bay!!!! That is no small feat, and we are impressed!!! At the end of the day, we all enjoyed dinner at the Mobile Yacht Club in celebration of all our good fortune!!
Sun and “smoke” in the morning
The trip was not all “mechanical” adventures- we had some great cruising days, especially on the Tennessee River. The fall colors brightened as we headed south, and the bitter cold but sunny days created some fascinating “smoke” on the water in the mornings. Tho’ the cold probably kept the alligators from view, we did see more wildlife than on the rivers thus far. That 12 locks (all uniformly 110 ft. wide, 600 ft. long and ranging in height from 30 to 84 ft. high-second highest in the country) garnered nothing but an aside or two in this story is proof-positive of the difference that 4 years, almost 18,000 miles and literally 100’s of locks can make! We certainly do not take any lock for granted, but under normal conditions, they are no longer the focal point of the day-
Bald eagle soaring
All in all, it was a great trip, but arriving in Mobile without Crew Sue just didn’t seem right- She adapted to the cruising life right away, picked up the routines seamlessly, and learned basic docking/undocking, locking, and navigating like a natural! We had a great time with her aboard!!! We only hope the adventures beyond “routine” cruising will not dissuade her from joining us again!
Downtown Mobile Convention Center
Sojourner’s minor fuel pump leak will be repaired quickly, and after 4-5 days of rest, relaxation and re-provisioning, she’ll head out across Mobile Bay to begin the trip east along the Florida Panhandle. Here’s a slideshow with more pix of the trip: