Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Joe Wheeler to Ditto Landing (Home Port)

28 September 2016 - One of the most scenic legs of our trip was the last one, from Joe Wheeler to Ditto Landing in Huntsville, AL.  We had a gorgeous blue-sky day with a nip of fall in the air as we passed familiar landmarks that felt like home.  Decatur, AL has the busy RR lift bridge that may require a wait depending on the traffic.  After passing under I-65 the river from there to the 231 Hwy Bridge looks like itprobably did 200 years ago.  There is very little sign of civilization except for the occasional dirt boat ramp or a clearing along the bank.  Redstone Arsenal takes up the last 10 miles of the north bank and Morgan County backwoods on the southern bank. Viridian snaked through the last big S curves on the Tennessee before getting to the US 231 bridge where our home port of Ditto Landing sits on the Madison County side of the river.  We hailed the Harbor Master on CH-16 and were given docking instructions as we approached the inlet for the harbor. Viridian nosed her way in and around the harbor until we came to rest in a transient slip between the Nina and the Santa Maria replica ships.  These two ships were touring our area in celebration of Columbus Day and were staying at Ditto for a week to allowing people to come on board and see what life was like in 1492 on the highest-technology sailing vessel of that day.  It's not every day that the captain of the Nina walks over to you and says "Nice boat"!

We are here

That's the news and here's the views:

Leaving Joe Wheeler SP

A familiar landmark - US 231 bridge and Ditto Landing

What a way to end our Maiden Voyage!

This will be our home for one year until we set sail on America's Great Loop in October 2017

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grand Harbor Marina to Joe Wheeler State Park

28 September 2016 - One of the most scenic legs of our trip was the last one, from Joe Wheeler to Ditto Landing in Huntsville, AL.  We had a gorgeous blue-sky day with a nip of fall in the air as we passed familiar landmarks that felt like home.  Decatur, AL has the busy RR lift bridge that may require a wait depending on the traffic.  After passing under I-65 the river from there to the 231 Hwy Bridge looks like itprobably did 200 years ago.  There is very little sign of civilization except for the occasional dirt boat ramp or a clearing along the bank.  Redstone Arsenal takes up the last 10 miles of the north bank and Morgan County backwoods on the southern bank. Viridian snaked through the last big S curves on the Tennessee before getting to the US 231 bridge where our home port of Ditto Landing sits on the Madison County side of the river.  We hailed the Harbor Master on CH-16 and were given docking instructions as we approached the inlet for the harbor. Viridian nosed her way in and around the harbor until we came to rest in a transient slip between the Nina and the Santa Maria replica ships.  These two ships were touring our area in celebration of Columbus Day and were staying at Ditto for a week to allowing people to come on board and see what life was like in 1492 on the highest-technology sailing vessel of that day.  It's not every day that the captain of the Nina walks over to you and says "Nice boat"!

We are here

That's the news and here's the views:

Route From Grand Harbor Marina to Joe Wheeler SP

Wilson: Facts + Figures

  • Construction of Wilson Dam began in 1918 and was completed in 1924.
  • The dam is 137 feet high and stretches 4,541 feet across the Tennessee River.
  • Wilson Dam is a hydroelectric facility. It has 21 generating units with a net dependable capacity of 663 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power a dam can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the dam itself.
  • Wilson is the largest conventional hydroelectric facility in the TVA system. Only Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant near Chattanooga can generate more hydroelectric power.          
  • Wilson Reservoir provides 166 miles of shoreline and 15,500 acres of water surface for recreation.         
  • The main lock at Wilson is 110-by-600 feet. With a maximum lift of 100 feet, it is the highest single lift lock east of the Rockies. An auxiliary lock has two 60-by 300-foot chambers that operate in tandem.
  • On average, 3,700 vessels pass through Wilson's locks each year.  
  • Wilson has a flood-storage capacity of 50,500 acre-feet.

Deep Water Ship heading down the Tennessee for the Mississippi and into the Gulf

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Midway Marina to Grand Harbor Marina

25 September 2016 - It was still dark outside when I came back from the marina restrooms, but I could see the navigation lights of a huge tug rumbling past the marina.  I came on board and told the admiral that we may as well not get in a hurry to leave because a tug just went by headed north.  No sooner had the words left my mouth than a knock came on Viridian's port hatch.  I opened the door and there stood the pirate captain with a curved knife clenched between his teeth. (No, not really!)  He said he had just hung up his cell phone after talking to the Lockmaster at John Rankin, our first of three L&D for the day.  He said that there were two tugs down river at Wilkins in line to lock up and head north.  One was already in the lock and was about to start our way.   He said that if we would leave immediately we could slip in between the tugs and work our way north to Pickwick.  He also said that he had to leave now whether we were ready or not.  Fortunately, I had gotten an early start this morning and was just waiting for first light to depart.  All we had to do was fire up our engine, turn on nav lights, untie, and head out to the river.  The pirate captain asked me to first untie his lines and toss them on board to his mate.  Once he was heading out, Viridian and crew followed.  It was still dark, but we could just make out the hulk of the big tug pushing a stack of barges coming our way.  Both Viridian and the pirate ship slipped into the channel about a half-mile in front of the tug.  We knew that we would have to wait for the tug named Creek to lock through but should be able to pass her later.   The plan for the day was to get through the three locks but once on the Pickwick we were on our own.  The pirate ship was faster than Viridian and would take advantage of that speed once through Whitten.

Rankin L&D was only 5 miles north of Midway Marina,   but we were behind Creek and would not attempt to pass her until after locking through our last L&D, Whitten.  So we would be locking with the pirate ship all the way.  Montgomery L&D was 8 miles upriver from Rankin and Whitten L&D was only 5 miles upriver from Montgomery.

We arrived at Whitten L&D around noon and Creek was locking up.   The Whitten Lockmaster told us to stand by for him to clear Creek and we could slip in and go up as soon as he could cycle back down.  Fortunately, we were stopped in the river below Whitten L&D where the Natchez Parkway crosses the Tenn-Tom.  This bridge provided much appreciated shade from the noonday sun.  Both vessels, Viridian and the pirate ship, had to compensate for wind and current to stay in the shade, but that was not too difficult.  We held our position for about an hour until the gigantic doors on Whitten slowly opened, revealing its massive size.  Whitten was by far the tallest L&D we had entered so far.  It has a vertical lift of 84 feet and was intimidating at first sight.  But like all the other L&D, once inside it all looks pretty much the same.  This was our last L&D on the Tenn-Tom and possibly the last we would see of the pirate ship.  Once we were let loose on the top side of the L&D, the pirate ship went to full cruise speed, about 9 mph, and we watched her slowly pull away from our 7.5 mph pace while being swarmed by a number of pontoon rental boats used by locals and tourists, until she was just a dot on the backwaters of Whitten Dam.

It was kind of a relief to be headed for the familiar waters of the Tennessee River.  Grand Harbor Marina was just beyond the Divide Cut Canal that connects the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee River.  We traveled about 8 miles almost due north until we came into the Cut Canal.  This is probably one of the best examples of one of the greatest achievements for civil Eengineering on the planet.  The "ditch" looked as if it were a work of art.  Both banks were manicured down to the smallest detail and the water depth was 12 feet from bank to bank.  No sooner had we got a half-mile into the cut than I caught a glimpse of a tug going around a bend ahead in the distance.  That would be Creek, the tug that churned by us in the early morning hours at Midway.  The pirate boat probably was able to overtake Creek out on the open backwater behind the dam.  We would have to overtake her in the "ditch" or hang back and stay out of her exhaust and wake and bake in the hot air all day.  The "ditch" is fairly straight with plenty of long stretches along the way to pass.  We had 22 miles to go to get into the open waters of Pickwick Lake, so we just kept the throttle at cruise speed and caught Creek soon enough.  I radioed the captain of Creek and requested advice on when and how to pass.  The captain recommended we wait until we cleared a slight right bend and pass on the "one" on the straightaway. There was plenty of room to do this and the "ditch" was deep up to the banks. Once Viridian got even with the stern of Creek, I radioed the captain and reported my position.  It took a while, but we cleared Creek's bow and slowly started to seek the center of the "ditch" as the tug slowly faded away behind us.   Now we were really home free!  The "ditch" finally opened up into Yellow Creek on the Pickwick backwaters.  Viridian was cruising in one of the most beautiful bodies of water we had seen so far.  We took a turn to port and headed northwest past Goat Island and snaked our way in the channel past Lee Spry Marine and Boatyard.  The channel necked down as we passed Yellow Creek Island to port.  Once past the Island we swung ENE and we could see our destination ahead on the left bank, Grand Harbor Marina!

We had contacted the marina earlier that morning and made reservations and were given a description of where they wanted us to dock.  Google Maps view of the marina helped orient us with their description of the slip layout.  When we contacted the marina on CH-12 announcing our arrival, we got someone different who was not aware of our previous discussions.  He told us to pull alongside the transient dock in front of- you guessed it - the pirate ship!  We attempted to do just that bu,t the wind was too strong and we could not approach the dock with confidence and there was no one there to catch us.  The Dock Master told us to come around into the protected area of the marina and pull alongside the dock in front of the marina store.  This worked much better since it was on the windward side of the dock and there was a Looper boat there with someone to catch our lines.

Viridian was secure in a location just a few steps away from the Marina Store and next to a Looper couple who just arrived from the Great Lakes on their way south to complete the Loop.  We walked over to the pirate ship to talk with the captain and crew.  We wanted to thank them for all the help and guidance they had shared with us over the last two days.  This is where our paths would part. We were going east on the Tennessee and they were going north to the Great Lakes.  This was the last we would see of the pirate ship and her crew.  We bid them farewell since they were leaving at first light and we were planning on staying an extra day to explore the Shiloh Civil War Battlefield just down the road apiece.  We were a better captain and crew after sailing with the pirates.  We were fortunate to have met up with them when we did and slide through the 7 locks with their help.  By the way, did I ever mention the name of the pirate ship?  You should be able to guess it by now.  Her name was "GOOD FORTUNE"!

We are here

That's the news and here are the views:

John Rankin Lock  – Mile 398.4

  • Lift of 30 feet
  • Located in Itawamba County, MS
  • 1,992-acre lake
  • Cost $43.9 million
  • 2 recreation areas scheduled
Rankin Lock is named in honor of former Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi, one of the waterway’s earliest champions in the Congress

G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery Lock  – Mile 406.7

  • Lift of 30 feet
  • Located in Itawamba County, MS
  • 851-acre lake
  • Cost $47.3 million
  • 1 recreation area scheduled
Montgomery Lock is located in northern Itawamba County, Mississippi and named after a former U.S. Representative from Mississippi.

Whitten Lock and Dam  – Mile 411.9

  • Lift of 84 feet
  • 4th highest single lift lock in the nation
  • Located in Tishomingo County near Belmont, MS
  • 6,600-acre lake
  • Cost $75 million
  • 12 recreation areas scheduled
Whitten Lock and Dam is the northernmost lock on the Tenn-Tom. The Lock raises and lowers barges and pleasure boats 84 feet, the difference in the elevation levels of the water above and below  the dam. This is  the fourth highest single lift lock in the nation. The dam forms a 6,600-acre lake that joins the so-called Divide Cut canal, and ultimately connects the Tenn-Tom with the Tennessee River. The structure, named in honor of Jamie Whitten, a former Congressman from Mississippi who served over 50 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, cost $75 million.

Midway to Grand Harbor Route

Location of Grand Harbor Marina is at the Juncture of AL,  MS, and TN North of Whitten L&D

Breakfast on board VIRIDIAN

View Looking astern after sliding between tugs after leaving Midway

Waiting under the Natchez Trace Bridge with GOOD FORTUNE

Under Natchez Trace Bridge Below Whitten L&D

Approaching Whitten L&D

 Inside Whitten L&D.  Photo Taken by Pirate Ship Photographer

 Pirate Ship Leaving Whitten L&D

 VIRIDIAN Resting at Grand Harbor Marina


Met Fellow Loopers on Last Quarter of Their Journey

A Sun Set View from the Pirate Ship "GOOD FORTUNE"

Shiloh Battlefield Cemetery

Shiloh Cemetery

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Columbus Marina to Midway Marina

24 September 2016 on board Viridian started pretty much like any other day with one exception, the captain of the pirate ship came to us to introduce himself and asked if we were going upriver and at what speed.   I told him we don't tell Pirates our cruising plan... , nahh,  I told him who we were and that we were indeed headed upriver turning about 6.5 kts.  He said that he would depart Columbus after we did and time his arrival at the next L&D so that he could get up and out by the time we got there, cause he was in a hurry (typical pirate, always on the run).  Sounded like a fine plan to us so we swung Viridian away from the dock, dodged giant lily pads and slid over the bar around the fuel dock to backtrack our way back to the Tenn-Tom.  As we set our speed at 6.5kts and motored north toward Midway Marina, the crew tried to speculate as to what the story was behind the odd craft that would soon be catching us and passing us as it races north to who knows where.  What we did know was that we had to lock through four dams today to make our destination.  Depending on tug traffic, we could be in for an interesting day.

As promised, about 30 minutes later the pirate ship showed itself as it came around a bend.  The white bow wave looked like a mustache under a big black nose as it chewed its way closer to Viridian's stern.  We were overtaken by the pirate ship and found ourselves looking down the non-blinking black holes of her cannons as she came alongside us to port.  Her bow wave rocked us as we pulled in behind to follow in her wake.  The ship disappeared around the next bend and we thought that was the last we would see of her and never learn the story behind the mysterious vessel.

Our first lift for the day was at Aberdeen L&D.  We heard the captain of the pirate ship radio the Lockmaster and request a lift.  He also informed the Lockmaster that another pleasure craft, us, was headed north and expected to arrive about the time the lock cycled back down.  However, the Lockmaster said he would hold the lock open for us instead of putting each boat up individually.  Well, this didn't suit the pirates, which explains why they looked a little ticked when we pulled in the lock opposite them and tied up on our port to the last bollard.  Once we got secured, I radioed the pirate captain and asked what was going on.  He asked me for my cell # and called me back.  It turned out that he had been hired to transport this Federal boat from Wetumpka, AL, where it was made, to somewhere on Lake Michigan and deliver it to a Federal Park where it would be used as a tourist attraction ferrying passengers to islands in the park.  (Although he didn't technically have any passengers on board, he nevertheless invoked his unique privileges whenever he thought he should.)  The mast and rigging had been shipped overland where they would be mated with the ship once she arrived.  Anyway, he carried a Federal Transport Permit tucked inside his Pirate belt that allowed him priority over all vessels, with the exception of US War Ships.  He was also under contract to deliver the hull by a certain day, was not to allow anyone on board the ship and was required to stay at a marina overnight (no anchor).  He tried to explain this to the Lockmaster, but the Lockmaster was Boss and let him know, Federal Permit or not.  So it appeared that we would be traveling together, Viridian and the pirate ship whose captain had itchy feet.  The next two L&D's were so close together that it only made sense for the pirate to match our speed and lock through at the same time.  And that's what we did all the way to the last L&D and on to Midway under a clear blue sky and a relentless hot September sun.  We chatted with pirates while locking and learned about their Spartan living conditions- no beds and no chairs, kind of like rough, primitive camping.  No wonder they were in a hurry!  The locking process was now second nature to the crew of Viridian, but we still learned some good radio techniques listening to the pirate captain communicate in a professional manner.

Midway Marina was a mile or so north of Fulton L&D.  A 90-deg turn to starboard into the marked channel took us straight to the transient dock behind the Marina Store.  We could see a forest of tree stumps to our port sticking up about an inch above the water so we made sure to stay in the marked channel.  The pirate ship was already at Midway Marina all tied up and facing out.  The Dock Master motioned for us to pull in directly behind the ship and in front of a Looper trawler.  As we began our approach, (think of parallel parking in a 15-ton boat), the Dock Master shouted for me to flip her around 180 deg. and dock pointing out like the pirate ship.  Well, I shouted down to the first mate that we would be doing a port tie instead of a starboard tie. (While all this talking was going on Viridian was making way and last-second maneuvers to spin around and dock to port).  The first mate quickly moved the fenders from one side to the other as the bow thrusters swung Viridian hard to port.  At the right time, the captain shifted into reverse to stop forward momentum and took advantage of the prop walk to starboard that a counterclockwise rotating prop delivers to help swing the bow even faster to port.   A nudge into forward and a few thruster blasts happily landed Viridian perfectly in her spot alongside the transient dock, directly behind the pirate ship and in front of the trawler.  The dockhands simply tied off the bow and stern lines, Viridian was shut down in an orderly fashion and the crew plugged in the power cable like we had been born on the water.  Well now, for the first time I was addressed as "Captain" when stepping off the boat, and some old dockhands greeted us with a nod and a handshake saying, "nice job" as the crew swaggered down the dock looking for the restrooms.  The first mate asked, "What did we just do?"  The captain said, "It had to be a stroke of good fortune because I certainly didn't plan any of that and was not real sure it would work!"  But it did, so we let on like we knew what we were doing.

On our way back to Viridian there were several people gathered around a grill that was giving off a wonderful aroma of hamburgers cooking over coals.  As I went by I commented that they sure smelled good.  One of the cooks said, ”Well, why don't you just pull up a chair and join us?”  I said, “OK, let me get my wife and we'll be right back.”  There were about 6 people sitting around the grill at the intersection of the dock T.  They were marina employees and residents that live aboard their boats.  They explained that they had bought the cheapest hamburger meat and Bunny Buns at Wal-Mart and there was plenty to go around.  We built simple burgers with just mustard and ketchup and pickles and they were mmmm mmmmm goooood.  We learned that one young man was a Mississippi St. EE graduate and lived here on his non-working sailboat.  Another man was a big rig truck driver with lots of stories about his hauls.  A woman, who never spoke, rocked back and forth on the stern of her husband's boat, chewing her burger.   Her husband was the marina foreman.  A few younger men were marina employees.  We told them what we were doing and why we flew the Looper's flag but were going backward on the Loop to get home.  We finished our meal, thanked them for their hospitality and made our way back to Viridian.  Later that evening we got a chance to meet the crew of the pirate ship and discuss a strategy for going from here to Grand Harbor Marina on Pickwick Lake in the Tennessee River.  The captain encouraged us to tag along and take advantage of his special privileges going north.  (Right, so you can board us in some remote section of the Tenn-Tom and steal our new teal folding chairs!)  We smiled, agreed that he had a good plan and said we would be ready to leave first thing in the morning.  Our immediate future was looking good and confidence was growing in our abilities as cruiser boat captain and crew.  This does make for a good night’s rest, but we must keep our guard up and not get too overconfident in our abilities.  Some wise veterans of cruising boats all told us that just when you think you got it all figured out, watch out!

We are here

That's the news and here's the views:

Route from  Columbus Marina to Midway Marina

Midway Marina is just above Glover Wilkins L&D

Aberdeen Lock and Dam – Mile 357.5

  • Lift of 27 feet
  • Located in Monroe County near Aberdeen, MS
  • 4,000-acre Aberdeen Lake
  • Cost $43.3 million
  • 4 recreation areas
Named after the city of Aberdeen, the dam forms a 13.5-mile long lake covering over 4,000 acres. The project cost $43 million. This and the following three locks and dams make up the so-called River Section where the waterway generally follows the course of the Tombigbee River.

Amory Lock  – Mile 371.1

  • Lift of 30 feet
  • Located in Monroe County near Amory, MS
  • 914-acre lake
  • Cost $23.3 million
  • 1 recreation area
Named after the nearby Town of Amory, the lock is the southern most facility in the Chain of Lakes section of Tenn-Tom Amory Lock. It has a lift of 30 feet. The 914-acre lake caused by the lock was the site in December 1984 where the last remaining section of the navigation channel was removed. After 12 years of construction, this allowed the “mixing” of waters from the two river systems and permitted unimpeded flow of commerce through the waterway.

Glover Wilkins Lock  – Mile 376.3

  • Lift of 25 feet
  • Located in Monroe County near Smithville, MS
  • 718-acre lake
  • Cost $33.5 million
  • 2 recreation areas
The Lock is named after a former administrator of the Tenn-Tom Waterway Development Authority, who was instrumental in making the waterway a reality.

Fulton Lock  – Mile 391.0

  • Lift of 25 feet
  • Located in Itawamba County near Fulton, MS
  • 1,643-acre lake
  • Cost $28.3 million
  • 2 recreation areas
A look at the Pirate Boat in Aberdeen L&D as we Discussed his Situation

Amory L&D Opening Up

Another Shot of the Pirate Boat in Wilkins L&D

Entering Fulton L&D after the Pirate Boat is Secured (you can barely make out the canopy in the corner of the lock)
Nice Place to Anchor

Eagle's Nest

Midway  Marina

Friday, September 23, 2016

Upper Cook Cut-Off to Columbus Marina

The morning of 23 September 2016 started with the usual routine before bringing in the anchor.  The low rumbling, throaty sound of Viridian's diesel engine idling was occasionally interrupted with a splash/belch caused by cooling water building up in the exhaust system and forced out the tail pipe by back pressure (this is a good thing).  The crew was busy on deck as the sun painted the eastern sky with pink and lavender hues that gave way to clear blue as the first rays of our new day shot through the trees and broadsided Viridian.  The anchor windless came alive and pulled the chain rode across the bow roller, and every link sounded off before disappearing into the chain locker below.   We were so happy to see a perfectly clean anchor come up this time, saving us from the task of washing it down with buckets like we had to do back at Three Rivers Lake anchorage.   The anchor was tied off with a safety rope, and Viridian was easing back toward the Tombigbee River to turn north towards our destination of Columbus Marina in Columbus, MS.

Today's cruise would only be 58 miles but we would lock through twice before reaching Columbus.   The first lock, and the last one in Alabama for a while, was the Tom Bevill L&D located just south of AL 86/Brooksville Hwy Bridge.  This was just a little over halfway to our destination for the day and the beginning of our climb of the remaining 373 feet to Wheeler Lake in North Alabama.   On the other side of Bevill L&D we were in the community of Pickensville, AL for a little while, then ran north zigzagging back and forth across the state line before turning northwest into Mississippi.  The River takes a 90-degree turn port at the Eka Chemical Plant and stair steps northwest to the John C. Stennis L&D after passing under the Illinois Central RR lift bridge.  All along the way we kept hearing the whine of prop-driven airplanes but could never locate one in the sky.  Figured it was crop dusters from the way they sounded.  Turned out that we were just south of Columbus Air Force Base where pilot training happens daily.

We approached Stennis Lock after contacting it 3 miles down river.  The Lockmaster informed us that a tug was in the lock and we would be waiting about 30 minutes before he could cycle back to pick us up.  This is typical of what we expected along the Tenn-Tom.  It is unpredictable as to what delays you would encounter on a given day.  We did not know about ways to plan our departure to minimize tug encounters at the locks.  We did know that in the next two days we had to go through 7 locks!  The captain needed to find some alternate anchorages in the event we ran out of daylight waiting on tugs.  The only other possibility is that we just happen to run into a little "Good Fortune".

Our marina was just on the other side of the Stennis Lock.  The captain radioed the Dock Master who talked us in with a warning that it gets a little "skinny" alongside the fuel dock.  Well, that would be a fine place to run aground!  Our shallow water warning alarm buzzer went off as we slid over the bar close to the fuel dock, just like he said.  Viridian took a hard starboard turn and eased alongside the transient dock where we tied her up, shut her down and pumped her out.  (As a side note, it is customary to tip the dockhands.  We had been doing this since we left St. Petersburg, FL.  It is amazing what a few dollar bills will do.)

The marina was full of these large green lily pads.  Care was taken not to let the thrusters ingest one.  Not sure what would happen, but didn't want to find out.  The crew checked out the facilities, located the showers and laundry rooms and asked the marina operator where he would recommend we eat out on the town this evening.  He didn't hesitate and came back with "Huck's Place".

After some light small talk with the staff, the radio inside the marina store crackled alive and the captain of ap ship called and requested assistance with docking his 60-foot ship at the marina.  The first mate and I headed back to Viridian to do some laundry take showers and didn't think much about what we heard on the radio.  After we finished our chores, we climbed back up to the marina store to get the keys to their free loaner car and head out to Huck's for supper.  Sure enough, there was this 60-foot pirate ship tied along the outer fuel dock.  It didn't have its mast and rigging, just a blue tarp canopy rig like you get at Wal-Mart lashed down on the poop deck with a Garmin radar mounted on a 2x4 sticking over the top.  The crew consisted of the captain and one first mate that looked to be in his 70's.  The captain was probably late 30's but was definitely in command.  The pirates had gotten the better of the two loaner cars (what would you expect), so we were riding in this old minivan of some unknown make.  Since it was dark, we didn't pay much attention to the color, make or model.  As long as it had an air conditioner, brakes and cranked we were good.

Huck's was a cool place to dine.  We definitely overate and regretted doing it.  But hey, you only go thorough Columbus, MS once so why not.  We climbed into our minivan I looked back into the dark street and all appeared clear, so I started easing out of our slanted parking place into the street but sensed we had stopped.  I gave it a little more gas and nothing.  Like the parking brake was on or something.  It was something.  We were pushing into the right rear corner of a black SUV that was sitting there behind us waiting for the light to turn.  It was totally invisible.  I said Ahh Shhh and pulled back up to the curb.  We got out and talked to the young lady that we leaned into and took a look at the contact area.  There was no visible dent on her car but the minvan had a dent in the plastic bumper where it protects the left rear corner.  I believe that dent was there already but couldn't to prove it.  The young girl's car had a place where the dirt was wiped off the panel but no dent.  So we exchanged insurance numbers and all was good.  What a way to put a damper on the evening.  We drove back to the marina following our phone GPS and found everyone had gone home for the day.  We boarded Viridian to sleep off Huck's meal and didn't think about the traffic event any more.

We are here

That's the news and here's the views:

Route from Upper Cook's Cut-Off to Columbus Marina

Our Location just North of the Stennis L&D in Columbus, MS

Leaving Upper Cook's Cut-Off Anchorage

Tom Bevill Lock and Dam – Mile 306.8

  • Lift of 27 feet
  • Located in Pickens County near Pickensville, AL
  • 8,300-acre Aliceville Lake
  • Cost $45 million
  • 6 recreation areas
Bevill Dam impounds the 8,300-acre Aliceville Lake. The project cost $45 million. It is named in honor of former Alabama Congressman Tom Bevill. Bevill chaired the congressional committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that approved  the funding for the Tenn-Tom during its construction. Here is located one of the waterway’s most impressive and recognizable sights, the Tom Bevill Visitors’ Center. This majestic replica of a southern antebellum plantation home sits on the waterway near the MV. Montgomery, a retired paddle wheel river work boat. Both are open to the public. (ref:

John C. Stennis Lock and Dam – Mile 334.7

  • Lift of 27 feet
  • Located in Lowndes County near Columbus, MS
  • 8,900-acre Columbus Lake
  • Cost $44.7 million
  • 7 recreation areas
This structure was relocated about four miles from its original site to prevent the flooding and loss of Plymouth Bluff, the site of an early settlement and a unique geological formation. One of the waterway’s two environmental centers is located here. The center, operated by the Mississippi University of Women, offers unique educational opportunities in the earth sciences and is available to the general public. The lock and dam is named in honor of one of Mississippi’s greatest leaders of the 20th century, former U.S. Senator John C. Stennis. Columbus Lake is the largest of the ten impoundments making up the Tenn-Tom, some 23 miles long and over 8,900 acres in size. (ref:

Viridian docked at Columbus Marina in the Lily-Pad Farm

A Bad Picture of the Pirate Ship (note the Wal-Mart canopy, no mast/rigging)

Huck's in Downtown Columbus

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Demopolis to Upper Cooks Cut-Off Anchorage

22 September 2016

Every morning since we left St. Petersburg, FL, the captain performs the same inspections without fail on Viridian.  He gets up at 4:30 AM, careful not to disturb the sleeping admiral, closes the doors to the berth, turns on the lights in the galley and lights the 3-eyed galley stove.
Water is poured from one of several gallon jugs we keep on board for drinking/cooking.  While the water is coming to a boil, he cracks the hatch to the engine compartment and switches on the lights to illuminate the below-deck machinery.   He checks all fluid levels for both the main engine and the generator.  Next, the fuel sight glass tube valves are opened and fuel levels noted in both port and starboard tanks (then closed again).  Then, each fuel filter is inspected for signs of dirt/water for both engines.  Next, with flashlight in hand,the captain must duck walk and belly crawl over sharp hose clamps and battery boxes to inspect the bilge for any signs of excess water or oil leaks from the various sources.  All water hoses are inspected as well as electrical for any obvious issues.  Lastly, the shift/throttle cables are inspected to make sure they are in proper working condition.  Once everything passes inspections, he closes the three hatches to the engine room and takes the boiling tea kettle of fresh water off the stove.  Two cups of coffee are made, one is taken to the admiral who is now stirring around in the berth, and the other is consumed by the captain while he updates the ship's log and plots a course for the day's destination.  By the time this is all done, the multi-talented galley chef has prepared a breakfast fit for a hungry captain and crew.   This is how each day begins on board Viridian.  When the time comes to start the engine, the captain uses a checklist developed by his brother, Richard, while crewing in St. Petersburg.  (One of Richard's former occupations was an aircraft airframe and power plant mechanic/technician.  He developed a very thorough start-up procedure for Viridian and the captain has used it ever since).

As the captain was making his rounds on deck, he noticed a pontoon boat two slips over that had three unshaven men who appeared to have been sleeping rough the last several days.  They were in a huddle discussing some important matter, so naturally I wondered over to their area and eventually introduced myself.  It turns out the three men had launched their pontoon boat somewhere around Paducah, Kentucky and were on their way south to Mobile.  Once there, their wives were to pick them up and carry them back home to KY.  When I finished picking their brains, they picked mine.  It is good to get a current situational awareness brief about where you are going so it was a win/win for both Captains.  I can appreciate a trip like the one they were on.  I often dreamed of doing the very same thing.  Glad I waited and got a boat that had a more home-like feeling though.  We quickly exchanged emails as we all had itchy feet about getting back out on the water.

Viridian was fired up and the multi-talented firstmate unplugged the 50A power cable (otherwise known as the "yellow dock line", untied all the mooring lines and brought all the fenders on board to avoid ripping them off on the dock hardware.  Viridian backed slowly into the mirror-calm waters of Kingfisher Marina, and with a few burst of bow thruster she was pointed into the departure channel. Viridian was shifted into forward, and with a satisfying clumk, we eased out of the marina and back into the Tenn-Tom River, headed for our destination.

Our cruise to Upper Cooks Bend Cut-Off anchorage would be about 62 miles and require locking through the Howell Heflin Lock at MM-266.  We passed under the I-20/59 bridge at MM-239 and cruised within 3 miles of the Heflin Lock, where we called the Lockmaster on CH-16 by saying, "Howell Heflin Lock, Howell Heflin Lock, Howell Heflin Lock, this is the vessel Viridian."  The Lockmaster would respond by saying, "Heflin Lock, switch to CH-12".  I would respond by saying, "Roger, CH-12", and the multi-tasking radio officer would hand me our other radio, a mobile marine handheld, already tuned to CH-12.  I would say, "This is the upbound vessel Viridian, 24 minutes out.  Can you get us through?"  The Lockmaster would respond (sometimes minutes later) and tell us what the situation was and if there was going to be a delay due to commercial traffic or not.  We would continue on at 6.5 kts to find the gates open and the green light on.  All we had to do was enter the lock and maneuver Viridian to the innermost bollard and tie up.  Once tied, the captain would radio the Lockmaster and say, "Viridian is secure and ready to rise.”  The Lockmaster would respond, "Roger", at which point the gigantic steel gates would slowly moan closed.  Not long after, strange noises could be heard deep within the lock and the water would start stirring as Viridian was lifted skyward at a rate of inches per second.  At the top of the lock we would wait for a spell and then see the gates ahead of us start to creep open.  We waited, engine idling, for the LOUD blast from the lock horn situated too close to the gate.  Once we crawled back into our skins, the multi-tasking firstmate would release our homemade lock loop and say to the captain, " You have her now, captain".  At that point I wouldradio the Lockmaster on CH-12 and say, "Heflin Lock, Viridian is free and is exiting the lock.  Thank you for your help,”  The Lockmaster responds saying, "Roger, Viridian, Have a nice day.”  I would respond by saying, "Viridian.”  This is pretty much the dialog along the Tenn-Tom Waterway with the numerous Lockmasters.  We were told to remember that the Lockmaster was BOSS.  If we kept that in mind it would make our trip a lot more pleasant.

After exiting Heflin Lock, Viridian headed for an "oxbow lake" called Upper Cooks Bend Cut Off.  According to Active Captain, this was a highly recommended anchorage.  We approached the oxbow on the port side and followed the navigation recommendations given in the comment section of Active Captain.   We kept to port and slid over the sandbar with a foot to spare.  Once in the oxbow, we found a deep and wide channel that slowly bent to the left.  At the point where it turned due south we decided to drop the hook.   We anchored in a wide spot with plenty of swing room, and the view was a nice sea wall with several upscale houses situated among the trees.  There was no current or wind that we could detect.  The anchor set on the first attempt, the ship's engine was shut down, the generator was cranked and the air conditioners were turned on full blast.
It didn't take long to cool down the Salon (or Saloon).  The multi-tasking galley chef prepared a scrumptious dinner complete with adult beverages, and we watched the sun set on a perfectly calm location.  We talked about things like, if we had our dinghy we could..... and such till our eyes got too heavy to stay open.

We are here

That's the news and here's the views:
Cook's Bend Anchorage Location

This is the Tenn-Tom Waterway form Demopolis to Corinth MS

Heading North for our second anchorage at Upper Cooks Bend Cut-Off

Approaching the Howell Heflin Lock & Dam with Blueline Hwy 39 just behind

We have no idea either what this picture is trying to show

White cliffs along the waterway.  Haven't gotten my videos working yet

Howell Heflin Lock and Dam – Mile 266.0

  • Lift of 36 feet
  • 2nd highest lift on the Tenn-Tom
  • Located in Greene County near Gainesville, AL
  • 6,400-acre Gainesville Lake
  • Cost $32.3 million
  • 8 recreation areas
The Heflin Lock and Dam is the southernmost structure on the Tenn-Tom. From here, commercial and recreation vessels reach the connecting Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway some 53 miles away on an improved Tombigbee River and the impoundment created by the Demopolis Lock and Dam. From Demopolis, it is 215 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Its impoundment, Gainesville Lake, is 40 miles long and covers 6,400 acres. The lock and dam is named in honor of former U.S. Senator, Howell Heflin, of Alabama. (ref: