A Kiwi couple's cruising adventures on America's Great Loop and around the coast of New Zealand

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

In the Sea - Finally

In the last travelogue installment, we were waiting for JADE to come down from Pickwick Lake so we could "buddy up" for the rest of the river trip, as they like to anchor and are great travelling companions. Jack is an ex Neurosurgeon from Brazil, who retired early in 2003 to fulfil an ambition to sail his 48 foot passagemaker trawler around the world, accompanied by his wife, Denise. Look at www.projetojade.com. However, after reaching the USA, along came Beatriz (now 3 years old) - so the bigger plan was replaced by a detour around the Great Loop, at least until Beatriz was a little older. We first got to know JADE in Hammond, Indiana, but I realised later that we had originally met them in Frankfort where I had taken a picture of a cute wee toddler having trouble with her dog tangled in its leash -and of course this turned out to be Beatriz.
Although we expected JADE to take three days to catch up with us, they arrived in two, so we were ready to go by 31st October.

The original plan was to spend two nights on the river to get to Demopolis, but a bunch of loopers were planning on heading downriver the next day and there are only a few anchorages available, so we prepared to go at 8.30am to cover the 65 miles and 2 locks to the Sumpter Recreational Area in one day. The first problem was that the first lock, immediately downstream, was in use so we had to wait till 9.00am for them to call us to come on down. From Columbus marina and through both locks, the river was full of floating islands of water hyacinths. While they looked kind of pretty, some of them hid rather large and ugly bits of wood. They were also easily sucked into bow thruster tunnels and wrapped around propellors, shafts and rudders - so it was necessary to dodge them all the way to Sumpter, where even the anchorage was full of them.
The next day was another 54 mile run to Demopolis, with only one lock. We lucked in there as a Northbound tow was coming, and tows get priority, but he dropped us (rather quickly) just in time to meet the tow heading towards the lock. If the lockmaster had given preference to the tow, we would have been waiting up to 2 hours - and you are not permitted to anchor, you just idle around until he is ready for you. We passed the interesting white cliffs of Epes (not quite as spectacular as the ones at Dover, England) and made Demopolis at 3.00pm. This is actually the end of the Tenn-Tom waterway, as just before Demopolis the Black Warrior river conjoins and it is then the Black Warrior -Tombigbee (BWTB) waterway.
We spent two nights at Demopolis Yacht basin, and during a shopping visit (Walmart of course), we passed an old mansion that turned out to be Gaineswood, a National Historic Landmark that started as a two room cottage in 1821, and was added to until by the 1860's it was one of the finest Greek Revival homes in the USA. All built by the original owner. Unfortunately nobody had brought a camera, so we've got no pix of it - but I'm sure those interested can look it up on the net.

Below Demopolis are two more locks and not a lot else. There are no marinas in the 216 miles to Mobile, and only one fuel stop at a place called Bobbies Fish camp, which is just a floating dock on the bank of the river. The miles start at Mobile which is mile 0, and Demopolis is mile 216. Bobbies is at mile 118.9, which is right on halfway - too far to go in one day. So we decided to bypass Bobbies and do it in three days, stopping in anchorages at Bashi Creek (mile 145), and Three Rivers Lake (mile 63.8). A bunch of 7 Loopers left at 7.30am to lock down, but we and JADE had to fuel up, and the dockhand didn't arrive till 8.00am. By the time we were done, the Lockmaster said he was ready for us and we locked straight through. Demopolis Dam was the most picturesque one yet so here are a couple of pix:

We passed a number of tows that day, going both ways, and of course, at mile 158, there was the 'Gator. I'll show him again, in case you missed him the first time!
We arrived at Bashi Creek just before dark and we, and another looper ECHO anchored up in the small creek, which required a stern anchor as it was so narrow there was no swing room. Four tows went by overnight, the first at 3.15am and the other three just before daylight - which is why you anchor off the main river overnight.
The Coffeeville lock the next morning was the last on the river, and once below that we were effectively in the sea, although still 116 miles inland from Mobile. This was the one where I had the amusing repartee with the lockmaster mentioned in the last posting. We got up at 7.30am to run the 80 miles downriver to Three Rivers Lake, only to discover that daylight saving had just finished and that it was actually 6.30. We finished up arriving again just before dark and, again, had to use stern anchors to hold us in the creek, as we now had tide currents to contend with as well. About 4.30am the following morning we heard an increasingly loud whine approaching which about an hour later turned into a very large tow going by. The reason we heard him for so long was that we were in a very winding section of river and, although he came around 8 miles downriver, in the beginning he was only about 3 miles from us as the crow flies. Here's a shot of that section of the river on the iPad, which is typical of that part of the BWTB.
The final day was going to be a short one, with only 64 miles to go. Still, we departed at 6.30 as it was well into daylight by then, and we anticipated being at the marina in Mobile by around 1.30pm, since there were no more locks. The terrain changed considerably as we got closer to the Gulf and by the time we were 20 miles out, it had become mainly swampy bayous and you could well imagine an ideal alligator habitat.

We began to see many more seabirds and even a racoon digging for shelfish in the sand along the riverbank.

We arrived in Mobile at the expected time and trundled quietly past the commercial docks with all sorts of interesting vessels, including this wierd looking naval vessel.

Once past the docks we began looking round for the marinas, but we suddenly found ourselves out in Mobile Bay, heading down the main shipping channel towards the Gulf of Mexico. It turned out that the marinas were in Dog river, on the western side of the bay. The problem is, that the bay is so shallow outside of the main channel that to get to Dog River, you have to follow it due South for about 5 miles before taking a dog-leg channel back North West for another 3 miles before you reach the marina. This channel is only 5-6ft deep and very narrow, so you drive it very carefully. The result was that  we didn't actually get tied up at the dock until around 3.45pm. The tidal range here is only around 2ft, so the marina has fixed docks, and there is only 1 tide a day - so that takes a bit of getting used to. We are staying here a few days to have a look around - there is the battleship Alabama here and an associated museum, which we are going to visit tomorrow. We plan to get away on friday, and we have been convinced by JADE that it is worthwhile to turn right instead of left at the entrance to Mobile Bay and run the ICW down to New Orleans, which is only 136 miles away.
So that's where we are and that's where we are going and that's probably where you will hear from us next.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like you are having a wonderful time. We are really enjoying reading your blog!