Chapter Ten – The Tennessee—Tombigbee Waterway
After the rainstorm, the weather turned cooler and we wore our fleece jackets for the firs time since Beaver Island in northern Lake Michigan. The crisp, cool air was out of this world and we were able to sail part of the way on Bay Springs Lake. Being able to move and not hear the motor was a real treat!
We tied up to the Army Corps of Engineers Visitors Centre for the night even though we weren’t supposed to but there was nobody there to ask us to leave. We toured the centre and saw how much work making the Tenn-Tom must have been. It was a worthwhile visit because we certainly got a new appreciation for the rivers.
The next day, we were able to walk over to the Bay Springs Lock and watched a towboat locking through. We then prepared for our departure.
We called the Lockmaster and he told us to come right away. We moved into the lock, got a floating bollard and held on. The doors remained open and a wicked north wind kept smashing us onto the lock wall. We waited for over an hour in this position, knocking and banging until four other pleasure craft arrived. The boats gave the all clear signal to the lockmaster. We hoped that he would close the doors because our arms were aching by this point from holding on. We groaned as we saw another boat in the distance coming towards the lock. Surprisingly enough, when the boat got within three minutes of the lock, the lock master slammed the doors on him. Away we went down the lock, but were very puzzled at the turn of events.
We had heard many stories from people along the way about pleasure boaters who were overly obnoxious or belligerent. Their lives could be made miserable by making them wait for hours on end at a lock. If they became even more offensive, the lockmaster might pass this information along to the next lockmaster. By the time the boater made it through all of the locks, he might be known as the most obnoxious person on earth! Needless to say, we were always polite and did what we were told in the locks.
After the Bay Springs Lock, we swiftly got through Locks E and D. It seemed as though we were racing, but it was simply a matter of good timing and luck. We were becoming very proficient at the locks and I was gaining confidence about my ability to steer the boat up to the floating bollard. Nick and Dennis kept us off the walls easily with their sticks. When we got the green light, I’d start up the engine, the guys would pull up the fender board and fenders and away we’d go, into another unexplored part of the river.
That night, we stayed at Midway Marina. The owners were very nice people and had actually sailed in Georgian Bay and knew Parry Sound. They lent us their courtesy car and we ventured into Fulton, Mississippi. It was a pretty town that had a big grocery store and lots of beautiful trees that hung down over the roads.
The next day, we made remarkably good time. We locked through Locks C, B, and A and even saw two bald eagles. The way into Aberdeen Marina was a real adventure. It was quite swampy and had Spanish Moss hanging down from the trees. The route into the marina was very long and winding. We felt as though we were in a horror movie and expected a swamp monster to jump out at us at any moment.
Aberdeen Marina was a combination gas bar and marina. It was clean and had a take out restaurant, so we ordered chicken for our supper. I went jogging, Nick went biking and then we had a good game of football. That night, we played Monopoly for the millionth time. Nick beat us soundly, so although his education suffered greatly during the trip, he sure could collect money from us!
From Aberdeen, we had to go fifty miles to get to our destination. We locked through the Aberdeen and Columbus Locks with no difficulty. As we cruised along at our usual six knots an hour, we were stopped by an Alabama police boat. The officer asked us if we had seen a boat making a big wake. Some people along the shore had complained on the radio to him and it was his job to find the boat. Of course, every boat that passed us went faster than we did, so we weren’t able to offer much information. All we knew that it couldn’t have been us! We pitied the poor boater though for not respecting the laws of the river.
We arrived at Cove Marina fairly late that afternoon and spied the police boat. We didn’t discover though if the officer had caught the offender.
Way back in Tennessee, Dennis had bought two cans of pork barbecue and he was finally going to have it that night for supper. Nick and I declined when we saw how it very strongly resembled canned dog food. It smelled bad, too. But Dennis cheerfully ate it and seemed no worse for wear.
We didn’t have very far to travel the next day, so we delayed our departure until mid-morning. We stopped at the Tom Bevill Visitor Center. The building was constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and resembled an 1830-1860 antebellum home. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and explained what life was like along the Tombigbee in the 1800s. We picked some cotton and toured the snag boat Montgomery. We left our card, under a glass table. It was amongst hundreds of other cards left behind by other travelers.
Along the waterway the next day, we saw the spectacular chalk coloured cliffs in Sumter County. That night, we shared our anchorage with one other boat at the Sumter Recreation Area. It was a pretty little cove, clean with many trees. We wanted to swim but didn’t dare as we had been advised in the guide books that we were in alligator country. So, the next day as we motored downstream, I kept my eyes peeled for the reptiles. I thought I spied one on the bank and turned the boat around.
I called excitedly to Dennis and Nick, “Look! An alligator!”
“Over there, along the bank!”
Nick looked carefully through the binoculars and emphatically stated, “That’s a log, Mom.”
I grabbed the binoculars from him and sure enough, he was right. How disappointing!
Nick then shouted, “Look, Mom! A whole forest of alligators!” as he pointed to the trees.
He still often reminds me of my alligator sighting. Kids these days…
Although we never did see an alligator, on our way to Demopolis while Dennis was at the helm, he spotted a four foot long rattlesnake swimming past the boat. He stopped the engine and we watched it nonchalantly slither past us. It was quite a sight!
As we neared Demopolis, we radioed ahead to see if there was room at the marina. They were full but would let us stay at the gas dock for the night. When we got within sight of the dock, Dennis made his approach but suddenly, without any warning at all, the engine revved up and we crashed right into the gas pump! What an entrance! It sure made the dock boys run! I jumped off Hetarae and told them to put the damage on our bill. They laughed.
We stayed for two days so that we could straighten out the damages we caused with the insurance company. During that time, we borrowed the courtesy car and obtained food at an excellent grocery store. We also toured the Gainswood Mansion. The guide was a young man who explained thoroughly how the mansion was built (by slaves). The guide made it much more interesting for us than if we had wandered around on our own. It was definitely worthwhile.
The marina was equipped with an air-conditioned common room for guests and had a T.V. It rained one evening, so Nick watched television continuously. He was completely mesmerised. The alternative was to play another exciting round of Monopoly in the soggy boat, so I was quite happy to let him be.
Dennis checked and rechecked the motor and although it needed a good cleaning, he couldn’t find anything wrong. So, we crossed our fingers and continued on our trip.