Tuesday, October 22 – Pickensville, AL MM308. We bid farewell to Columbus, MS and departed for an anchorage in Pickensville, AL which is our 18th state visited on our journey. Today’s journey would take us through 1 lock and 28 miles. We departed the marina with the crew from Pearl and two other boats and headed to the Stennis Lock which is less than a mile from the marina. One of the boats was Camelot whom we had met at Kaskaskia lock wall several weeks before. Pearl, Camelot and us were traveling at the same speed and headed to the same anchorage before the Tom Bevell Lock. Island Time took the lead today so we were the official “log masters” which meant we were the ones watching for debris and trees sticking up in the river and notifying the others. Sometimes you see what appears to be a small stick or object in the water but discover it is a branch that is attached to the entire tree so one must be vigilant. The Tenn-Tom river is quite scenic with lots of rock bluffs, wild life and tall trees. The foliage is just now turning so every day we are seeing more of the fall colors. The anchorage was on one of the offshoot rivers or creeks and was very nice. We all came in and anchored close to each other.

Later in the afternoon, Bob and I (you guessed it) went to explore in the tender. We headed south to check out the next lock then came back to the anchorage and stopped in to say hello to Camelot & Pearl. We synchronized our plans for the morning where we would call the lock at 7am and report back to the group on VHF channel 17. Just as we were headed back to the boat, another boat entered the anchorage and anchored a bit farther away from us. Enjoyed a relatively calm, cool and quiet evening aboard.

Wednesday, October 23 – Tombigbee Oxbow MM266. Morning brought more fog so we all agreed to wait until it cleared a bit. Samantha, the boat that joined our anchorage later in the day, hailed us and said they would be locking through as well. They had just started their loop adventure and this would be the first time locking through with other boats and they wanted to know the protocol. At around 8am, the fog had cleared significantly enough so we all weighed anchor and headed to the lock after confirming the lock could take us. Our travels today would take us 42 miles and 1 lock. Samantha told us that they travelled slower than we did so probably would not make it as far as we were planning. Our planned anchorage was just beyond the Heflin lock (about 100′ past) in the Tombigbee Oxbow. An Oxbow, and there are many of these along the river, is a u-shaped river or creek with an upper and lower entrance into the main river. The upper portion of our particular anchorage had the Heflin dam so current could be an issue if the dam was releasing water but Camelot called and spoke with the lockmaster and he said we would be good. Today was a longer travel day so all three boats anchored and enjoyed a quiet night.

Thursday/ Friday/ Saturday, October 24-26 – Demopolis, AL MM216. Another foggy and spider web morning and delayed start. One thing I have been meaning to mention is the spiders we have encountered on our great adventure. We have never seen so many spiders in our lives and certainly not in Florida compared to the hoards of them we see on the docks, our boat, wherever you walk, dock lines, power cords, etc. I don’t know how they manage to constantly get on the boat but we seem to have to do a spider sweep every day. We don’t kill them but try to relocate them off the boat with a brush. The attached photo is an example of what we find on our boat. The webs are beautiful and a work of art but it creeps me out to walk into a spider web.

Once the fog started to clear, Camelot decided that they would venture out and would call back on the VHF radio as to the condition on the main river. About 15 minutes later, we decided to depart as well and got underway behind Pearl. Since we were right next to the lock and monitoring the radio, we learned that Samantha and about 4 other boats were just coming into the lock which means 5 boats coming right behind us. Two of the boats ending catching up and passing us. Today’s travels would take us 50 miles with no locks to Kingfisher Marina in Demopolis, AL. Most, if not all the boats were headed here as marinas are few and far between so a good time to fuel up and provision. The marina is a few miles out of town but provides a courtesy car (if you are lucky enough to reserve it) and a shuttle bus that runs into town at 10am & 5pm which you have to sign up for as well. There were probably 20 or more looper boats here so reserving a spot can be challenging.

Originally we were planning on staying the one night but the forecast for Friday was calling for lots of rain, thunderstorms and a new tropical disturbance so we decided to extend our stay. Made plans to take the shuttle into town for dinner at the Mexican restaurant with Don & Glenys at 5pm. Rained all day and it was pouring at 5pm when we went to catch the shuttle so everyone had on their rain gear. We had been told that the Mexican restaurant served good margaritas but the food and margaritas rated fair at best. The company was good! We said our farewells to Don & Glenys as we thought we would be leaving. They would be staying here for a few more weeks as they were planning on flying home to Spain and while gone would be having their boat hauled out for prop repair and a good detail and wax.

Saturday morning, we were preparing to leave and had topped off our water tank and unplugged our shore power. But several local boaters and the dockmaster said they wouldn’t advise leaving due to the flooding, current and debris that we would encounter on the river because of all the rain. It was reported that the Coffeeville lock with a normal river gauge of 4’ was up to 20’. We don’t really know what all that means but we decided not to risk it and paid for another night at the marina. Several loopers at our dock said they were staying put as well but had plans to leave on Sunday morning and would coordinate the locking process with us and the group. Before plugging back into shore power, we decided to go to the marina next door, which is part of Kingfisher, and fuel up. The attendant at the fuel dock cautioned us on the radio about the debris that was floating around the entrance. Sure enough we saw lots of debris out in the river and a huge tree sitting by the fuel dock which we had to maneuver around so we’re glad we made decision to stay.

In the afternoon, the dockmaster Anna Marie, arranged a briefing for the loopers from Edward, one of the seasonal slip holders, who travels back and forth between Florida and Demopolis every year and so has lots of river experience. About 40 loopers attended the briefing. Also in attendance was the crew of Seabatical who had just that afternoon “crossed their wake” at Kingfisher Marina where we were staying thus earning the gold looper status and AGLCA gold burgee. They had begun their loop from this marina 12 months ago and thus this was the finish line. We all cheered and congratulated them when they came in.

Edward’s briefing basically warned us not to go as the river was flooding and in “action stage” and he normally would not go when the river is this high. After the briefing, a group of us (7 boats) that were planning on leaving in the morning, got together to coordinate a departure. The feeling of this group was that there was more rain coming on Tuesday & Wednesday and we didn’t want to then be stuck longer and then having to travel with a whole lot more boats. Mike from Carousel volunteered to lead the pack. We agreed to chat at 6:30am on VHF channel 71 after talking to the lock to check on locking status.

Sunday, October 27- Bobby’s Fish Camp MM119. At 6:30am, we tuned into channel 71 and Mike informed us that the news was not promising. The lock was undergoing some maintenance and we might not be able to leave until after 9am but for all of us to chat again at 7am. At 7am, we got the go ahead (unexpectedly) and all seven boats scrambled to unplug power, cast off lines and make our way down to the lock 2 miles away. Mike did a great job of communicating with the lockmaster and with the group and setting up everyone’s placement in the lock. Travelling in our group today were One Eye Dog, Curt’s Dream, R & R, Boyl-N-Water, Carousel, us on Island Time,  & Passages.

While there was quite a bit of debris in some areas, it was not as bad as we had expected. A piece of cake compared to the Mississippi River. Originally, we planned to travel about 70 miles (which is further than we normally travel) and anchor out but everyone was concerned about the floating debris so all of us opted to get to Bobby’s Fish Camp which is 100 miles. Long day but Bob and I took one hour shifts at the helm so it wouldn’t be as tiring. We were locking through at Demopolis at 7:45 and were tied up at Bobby’s by about 4pm.

Bobby’s Fish Camp is another iconic stop on the Tenn-Tom River with a dock, restaurant & fuel. It is basically a long dock that can accommodate 3 or 4 boats on the dock itself but rafted off is another story. We were hoping to raft off to One Eye Dog but April texted me that we would be rafting to a sailboat because they already had two big boats rafted to them. Rafting was challenging in the strong current where you had to sidle up to another boat without damaging it. And to make matters worse, the three big boats (One Eye Dog, R & R & Boyl-N-Water) were directly behind the sailboat so if you lost control, you would be slamming into them. Very nerve racking but we managed to get in unscathed or un-embarrassed. Some times, watching other boaters docking can be “entertaining”,  sometimes you are the “entertainment”.

We were informed that the restaurant stops taking orders at 5:30 so the crews of all seven boats headed up there. Bobby’s is known for their fried catfish so as they say “when in Rome”, Bob and I both had the fried catfish dinner which was very good. After dinner, the group had a brief pow-wow about the next day’s travel with Carousel leading the group. Then, most of us went back to One Eye Dog’s boat for a tour of their 48′ Aquila Power Catamaran and enjoyed drinks of Bailey’s provided by R & R.

Monday, October 28 – Convention Center Wall, Mobile, AL MM2. Another 6:30am chat on VHF channel with the group of 7. There was a bit of fog when we got up so the group decided to wait a bit before heading to the Coffeeville lock 2 miles away. But first, we had to un-dock/ un-raft ourselves in the strong current and floating debris. Larry from One Eye Dog told the group that we should clear our props before heading out so if any debris was caught in the props, you could dislodge it before causing damage or getting into trouble. To clear the props and while still tied up at the dock or the other boat, you briefly engage your engines, one at a time, first in reverse then in forward. We were lucky and didn’t have any debris, R & R dislodged a huge tree (photo) from under their boat. Soon we were on our way and headed to the Coffeeville lock 2 miles away. Our last lock! Yay!

Another super long day (117 miles and longest travel day on the entire loop so far) as we were pushing to get to the courtesy dock at the Mobile Convention Center at MM2. The debris field was worse today so you were constantly dodging it. The tow traffic was heavier then what we had encountered in the entire 450 miles of the Tenn-Tom. Once again, Bob and I took one hour shifts at the helm but a 12 hour day operating on the water is tiring. Added to this was we knew it would be a close call getting to the wall before dark. Sunset was at 6:07pm and we got there at about 6:30pm and Mobile is a very busy port with cargo ships, barges & tows. It was just getting dark, but fortunately Larry & April of One Eye Dog came out with spotlights and helped us tie up. Curt’s Dream was following us most of the day and followed us to the wall as well.

One of the advantages of using the Convention Center courtesy dock is that town is a few blocks away with restaurants, bars and shops. However, the crews from our 3 boats were too tired to go anywhere. Bob and I fixed ourselves a Cosmo and celebrated the end of the Inland Rivers, the end of the locks and the reentry to salt water! Happy Dance! Larry came over for a chat and we made him a Cosmo as well and we toasted to the fact that they would be “crossing their wake” in Fairhope, AL which is 15 miles away.

Tuesday, October 29 – Gulf Shores, AL. No mile markers as we are not on the Inland Rivers anymore! Well, there are mile markers on the Gulf Coast Intercoastal Waterway (GCICW) but they aren’t relied upon as much as in the rivers. Today’s forecast was calling for rain, and lots of it. We were just getting ready to leave when the sky opened up and a downpour ensued. Shortly thereafter it stopped raining and the radar showed a break in the weather heading south so we lit out after saying farewell to Curt’s Dream and One Eye Dog.

Our destination today would be Saunders Yacht Works in Gulf Shores, AL (48 miles) where we had set up to have the boat hauled out of the water for bottom painting, oil change and to check the propellers. Mobile Bay is huge and at first we were in the shipping channel as we headed south but then headed southeast towards the GCICW. The rain came and at times we had to slow down due to the reduced visibility but luckily boat traffic was non-existent once we left the shipping channel. Immediately upon entering Mobile Bay we spotted dolphins which we had not seen since south of Norfolk, VA. So good to be back in the salt air, the cleaner green water and sightings of pelicans and dolphins.

Arrived at Saunders just after 1:00pm and tied up to a dock. While they were ready to haul us out that afternoon, we wanted to spend one more night on the boat as we would be leaving the boat for at least 5-6 days and needed to pack and prepare. Later in the afternoon, we took the tender up to the famous Lulu’s restaurant which is owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister. This is a huge restaurant on the water (GCICW) with a retail shop, beach and activities for kids. Our bartender, Jason, told us that in the summer they seat 5,000 people per day and employ 400 servers. Lulu is very active in the business and owns another one in Destin, FL and North Myrtle Beach, SC. He did say that they are slow in the winter and close for the month of January but that Lulu keeps a core staff of 100 servers and is generous in benefits. Jason has been there for 10 years. We sat at the bar and enjoyed fried green tomatoes and peel and eat Gulf shrimp.

Wednesday, October 30 – Gulf Shores, AL. Haul out and farewell to Island Time for a few days.

Well that wraps up our week and our adventure on inland rivers and return to salt water! We will be doing a road trip this coming week so stayed tuned and see you next week.