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Chapter Nine – The Tennessee River

The next morning was October first and we were on the Tennessee River by 7:30.  We were very excited to know that we would be in Green Turtle Bay sometime that afternoon where we’d be able to take a break from travelling.  Unfortunately, we had to pass through our first serious ascending lock—the Kentucky Lock and Dam—and we would be raised 54 feet!

As we got closer to it, our hearts constricted.  It was a fortress towering above us! Incredibly, we would be expected to tackle this monster in our little boat.  As usual, we ended up waiting for a couple of hours, so by the time it was our turn our fear had been replaced by impatience.

We had heard many horror stories about going up a lock—how the boat would get smashed around on the wall caused by the torrents of water rushing in at breakneck speed, so with much trepidation, we entered the lock.  We were all by ourselves and I’m sure looked ridiculously tiny.  However, the lock master assistant threw us down some lines and we held on for dear life, expecting imminent disaster.  As the water poured in, the boat did move around considerably more than when the lock was drained, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we though it would be.  With our sticks, we kept the boat off the wall reasonably well.  The mast at the bow did smash a few times against the lock, but no damage was done.

When we got to the top of the lock, four spectators cheered and clapped.  Dennis got very angry over this because they acted like we were the morning’s entertainment.  Since we could have very easily gotten into serious danger, he wondered why people would want to see that.   I suppose it was like those people who film accident scenes with their video cameras.  Nonetheless, the green light came on and we entered yet another new place to explore.

Kentucky and Barkley Lakes were a nice change from the rivers.  They actually had been rivers at one time before the US Army Corps of Engineers flooded them which resulted in two new lakes for recreational boating.  The Corps of Engineers also did something else that changed the balance of Nature but this was something I approved of readily.  Apparently every spring, they flooded the lakes to kill off the mosquito larvae, thus in the hot, humid days of summer, there were no bugs.  It certainly seemed to work!

As we got closer to Green Turtle Bay Marina, we spied Stars of Noon and Starlight anchored out in a bay.  We radioed them but there was no answer.  However, we were very excited to know we had friends nearby.

At 2:30, we arrived at Green Turtle Bay.  Although it was described as a first class marina, it was somewhat disappointing.  I was expecting another wonderful marina like we stayed at in Peoria and Alton.

The first thing I did was go and take a shower, and although was prepared to overlook the dirty washrooms, I got into the shower and discovered that there was NO HOT WATER!  I showered as best I could, and dried off.  So, when I opened the door and saw Pat (from Starlight) I burst into tears and gave her such a litany of complaints, so of course she reciprocated and we had a great C and C (crying and complaining) session. I actually felt remarkably better.  Not good enough to convince myself that this was fun, but bearable.

On my way back to the boat, I had to dodge food being flung off a balcony into the water.  I looked onto the lake and saw a hamburger, pizza, wilted lettuce and other disgusting bits of waterlogged lunch floating away.  I wondered at what sort of people would pollute the harbour like this.  I later learned that it was actually the employees of the restaurant that fed the turtles the leftovers.  I’m sure they meant well but it was not a pretty sight.

The claim to fame of Grand Rapids, Kentucky (which was a fifteen minute walk away) was Patti’s—a restaurant that offered two inch thick pork chops.  Of course, we couldn’t miss this opportunity of making pigs (so to speak) of ourselves!  So, we made our reservation and ended up having a delicious meal in a beautifully decorated restaurant.  The desserts there were out of this world.  Dirt Pie, Boo Hoo Pie, Mississippi Mud pie sounded very intriguing but I chose Chess Pie (fantastic!) and Dennis and Nick each had Green Turtle Pie (excellent!)  After supper, we staggered back to the boat and I had a wonderfully HOT shower.  Things began to look up!

The next day was spent making some serious decisions.  I had had enough of the trip and realized that even if we spent every night out (which would be out of our budget) I would not be very happy.  I had asked Dennis many times if the trip would get any better and he honestly answered “no”.  Thus, we called about having the boat shipped home ($5,000 US funds) and looked at other options.  We finally decided that Nick and I would spend Christmas in Florida and then fly out to Alberta for three months to go skiing.  My parents had a condominium there and we were more than welcome.  Dennis didn’t want to leave the boat and hoped to finish the trip so he would get as far as he could up the Atlantic coast.  Nick and I would join him in April and sail the boat home.

With this terrible decision having been made, I felt somewhat better and was able to focus on getting through the next three months to Florida.  I narrowed down what the real problems were and lack of regular exercise and being dirty turned out to be the worst of things for me.  I was also upset about Nick, who hadn’t played with a kid in weeks (they were all in school) but he seemed to be coping much better than me.  However, his schooling was getting to be a serious problem.

I had always taken pride in my work as a teacher and was quite well respected by parents and students, so when I had an opportunity to teach one child who was willing to learn and always had glowing report cards, it seemed like a dream come true.  It didn’t turn out that way though.  Nick and I almost never got anything done.  We made up excuses why we couldn’t do schoolwork.  It was too hot, too rough, too buggy—anything to get out of it.  When we actually sat down and did the basics (that was all we could manage) it was as though I was torturing the poor child.  He’d cry or get angry and refuse to do anything until I gave up.  When we weren’t doing schoolwork, he was a different person, so I packed in the books and called it quits.  Another dream turned into a nightmare!

Anyway, I kept up my exercise program to keep myself sane.  It was very hot during the day, at least 100 degrees plus the humidity was unbelievable, so I jogged at night.  I didn’t dare venture out of sight of the marina since I didn’t know the area and would probably get hopelessly lost (I have no sense of direction), so I ran around the parking lot again.

The other problem was that I felt dirty.  So, we borrowed the courtesy car from Green Turtle Bay and drove to Paducah (the nearest city) and found a Wal-Mart.  There I purchased the biggest plastic storage container I could find, and used it as a bathtub.  I stored it in Nick’s cabin when it wasn’t pressed into service and he used it to keep his junk (and did he have enough of it!)

The rest of the time at Green Turtle Bay Marina was spent very pleasantly.  We talked to all sorts of people who were very kind to us.  Most boaters went out of their way for us and offered to drive us places, help out with the mast being re-stepped and invited us on their boats.

There was one boater however, who was very unpopular with the Green Turtle Bay Marina guests.  One night while I was cooking supper, we were rudely interrupted by a person on a trawler playing the electric organ full blast!  It was funny though because someone else who was offended sounded his horn which set off a chain reaction.  Pretty soon, everybody in the marina had their horns blasting until this crazed organist abruptly ended his concert.

It was in Green Turtle Bay that we met the rest of our friends.  Fran and Ed from Manistee arrived with their cats and took Nick out for dinner one night.  Before he went though, I made sure that he knew to order from the children’s menu because Patti’s was quite expensive and I wasn’t sure about their financial situation.

As Nick was leaving, Dennis said to him, “Nick, remember—“

Nick cut him off by shouting loud and clear, “I know, Dad! Mom already told me to order off the kid’s menu!”

Ed and Fran and about twenty other people had a good laugh over that!

Dennis and I actually had two hours to ourselves and had a good talk.  He didn’t hold it against me that I was quitting and I thought to myself that if I had been in his shoes, I might not have been so gracious about being abandoned.

We stayed at the marina for four nights and then anchored out in a little cove just around from Green Turtle Bay, where we had spotted Stars of Noon and Starlight.  Sharon, unbelievably, had spent eight days on her boat without once getting off.  Not even for a swim.  So we invited she and John over one night to sit on our boat.  I made a great dessert with the outback oven and cracked open another cask of wine.  We had a good visit with them but I think they were disappointed that I couldn’t stick out the hardships of being a liveaboard.

We kept dinghying back to Green Turtle Bay Marina each day to get supplies and ice.  They had a dinghy dock, so we didn’t feel like free-loaders.  We finally got to see our good friends from the Insanity Era—Chris, John and their dog Cosmo. We shared all of our misadventures and were able to laugh about them.  The best story though, had just happened the day before.

We had bought a frozen pizza at the Grand Rapids IGA.  Dennis had heard that one could cook pizza on the barbecue.  Nick had gone fishing in the dinghy and I had gone jogging, but both of us were very alarmed at the clouds of black, wretched smoke pouring out from the stern of Hetarae.  Dennis had burnt the pizza so badly that it was scorched black on the bottom.  The cheese on top was a grayish green from all of the smoke and as we salvaged what we could, Dennis wouldn’t admit that the pizza was inedible.  So he ate the charcoaled mess.  Nick and I opted for no supper that night!

Chris and John had just gotten back from a side trip to Nashville, and to show how different their trip was from ours, they had booked an entire block of rooms at a very swanky hotel in Nashville, for the millennium and were going to have all their friends and family stay there to celebrate.  I could barely get through each day without cracking up and they were planning two years in advance!

We stayed at the anchorage for another three days but thought we’d better get moving once again.  As we said our good-byes and sailed off down the water, I can still picture Pat from Starlight waving heartily to us with tears streaming down her cheeks.  Pat, Don, John, Sharon, Fran and Ed had all become more than friends.  Maybe I would have waved a little longer to them if I had known I’d never see them again.

After spending a night anchored out at Jonathon Ledbetter Creek, we moved on to Paris Landing State Park.  The marina was thirty cents a foot, so for $8.10 we had a great time!  The state park had laundry facilities, a very nice park, a playground and even a restaurant.  We, of course, after a hard day sitting on the boat, thought that we needed to attend the buffet supper.  We were very impressed with the variety and quantity of foods available.  We ate far too much and waddled back to the boat, settled in for the night and slept like true lazy slobs!

Not being able to sleep was rarely a problem for any of us.  The boat was like a cocoon and even during inclement weather, we managed to get a good eight hours sleep whereas at home, I often spent many nights tossing and turning.  The good sleeps have continued since I’ve returned home.  Perhaps an extended boat trip is the cure for insomnia!

I kept up my jogging or often roller-bladed where I could and Nick and I had our baths in the storage container at night if showers weren’t available.  Swimming, of course, was out of the question.  The last good swim we had was in Lake Michigan.  The water was extremely murky.

On October 10th, we stopped off at Cuba Landing, near Waverly, Tennessee.  We had just missed John and Chris, so our only company consisted of three very old men who were staying on a houseboat.  They swizzled back the beer at ten o’clock in the morning and wore stained undershirts.  Every time I walked by their boat, one of them wanted to talk.  Good grief!

At Cuba Landing, we borrowed the courtesy car and drove into the nearest town to buy groceries.  The courtesy car was in excellent shape and even had air conditioning!  I said that we should just keep on driving, but it was not to be.  Instead, we debated whether or not we should go to the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch but ran out of time.

The next day, we motored on to Perryville and I had the brilliant idea of going into the Perryville Marina.  Of course, the water was too shallow and we got stuck in the mud, so we ended up anchoring near a park.

It was very hot that day and we sat under the bimini playing cards.  I kept waiting for the temperature to go down so that I could go jogging.  Finally, after supper, I went around the park in the dark.  I’m sure the campers must have thought I was a crazy person (at that point maybe I was!) but I persevered and felt much better after I was done.

We had showers in the park and I noticed a very unusual bright green plastic frog on the shower railing.  Suddenly it jumped and attached itself to the wall!  What beautiful bright green colouring it had.

After we were done, we stood outside of the shower talking to a man who was from the area.  Nick pointed out a very big spider on the cement.  He went to pick it up and the man quickly pushed him aside and stepped on it.  He then told us that it was one of the two poisonous spiders in the area.  I believe he called it a “reckless?” spider but I couldn’t be sure because I had such trouble understanding his accent.

We had to go fifty miles the next day in the blistering heat.  It was October and although the leaves were beginning to turn colour, it didn’t feel like fall.  We saw a flock of Canada Geese fly over top of the boat in the V formation.  Perhaps they had flown over Parry Sound.

We spent a very enjoyable night anchored out near Wolf Island.  We met a group of local people on houseboats and talked to them at length.  They greeted us like we were their long lost relatives.  Nick ran off and played with the two boys (finally—kids to play with!) and the adults really enjoyed listening to our “accents”.  They were very curious about Canada, so we told them all about the snow and ice, exaggerating only a bit!  The boys wanted to know if we had polar bears in Parry Sound.

The next day was the Canadian Thanksgiving and we were on our way to Aqua Marine in Luka, Mississippi.  We had to lock through the Pickwick Dam though first and because the current was so strong against us, it took us over an hour to go three miles.  We looked and felt ridiculous—we may as well have pulled the boat from the shoreline , we were going so slowly.  We had a good laugh though and praised our little 9.9 engine!

Despite the intermittent rain, we arrived at the lock, attached ourselves to the wall and were immediately told we were on the wrong side.  So we hastily undid our lines, moved our fenders to the port side and parallel parked onto the last available floating bollard.  We locked through, and entered Pickwick Lake.  It started to pour!

When we arrived at Aqua Harbor Marine, drenched and miserable, we were greeted by Chris and John!  They had planned on leaving that day but because of the bad weather, they postponed their departure until the next day.

We quickly had showers (nice and hot!) and hopped in the courtesy car with Chris and John to pick up Thanksgiving supper.  John expertly drove the van with no windshield wipers in the rain.  We went to the Piggly-Wiggly and purchased our supplies and made a delicious Thanksgiving meal.  It felt great to be celebrating!

We stayed at Aqua Harbor Marina for two nights, got reorganized and cleaned up the boat.  During the twelve hour rainstorm, we discovered many more leaks on the boat, so it was pretty mouldy in spots.  The worst leak was right above Dennis’ head when he slept, but he took this in stride and pulled his covers over top of him, rolled over and said good night.

We pulled all the mattresses out of the boat, let them dry on deck and scoured the inside with javex.  Nick had developed a continuous sniffle which could have been caused by the mould.  His cabin was the worst!

It was at Aqua Harbor Marine that we found a dog wandering up and down the docks.  A nice looking brown female mutt had been left behind by a boater.  She was being fed by many transients but we were extremely angry that somebody would just dump their dog and let her fend for herself.  How we wished we could have adopted her.

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