Wednesday, November 29, 2006

More pics (I hope) and a comment.

First, the comment.
There are those who would say "But Mike you're off your timetable, you'll never reach Key West by New Year's day. Why are you stopping at all these places along the way?" To which I answer - I'm not just blindly trudging along some predetermined path, I'm exploring. This whole journey was intended to be a journey of discovery; to discover myself, to discover interesting places and people and to have fun. There's a song that says that what we remember of life are "The Stops Along the Way."
Bev and I have discovered that we get a lot of enjoyment from stopping along the way and exploring these neat little towns that cluster along the waterfront. Demopolis is a case in point. We hadn't planned on stopping here long, just refuel and resupply and be on our way. But the town is so welcoming, and the people here so friendly, and the symphony so good - how could we not stay a while and enjoy it all? The Keys will be there in January or February or whenever we get there.
We had planned on Chicago by Labor Day, but didn't make it until October 1. SO...October 1 becameLabor Day. Likewise, whatever day we reach Key West will be New Year's day. What law says we have to follow everyone else's calandar?
Now, how about a few pics of the last few days. The connection here has been unreliable, so I don't know if they will go through. Here's one of our last anchorage, Sumpter, and a few of the "White Cliffs of Eppes."


What an eventful few days it's been.
11/26: We motored 28 miles to Marina Cove. This is probably the smallest marina we've been to since we started out. The facilities are limited, to say the least. At least we had electricity for heat.

11/27: We motored 37 miles to an anchorage at Sumter Recreation Area. This was a beautiful spot. It was very quiet except for the sounds of nature - birds, crickets, etc. We saw a beaver swimming across the little bay with a branch in his teeth.
The weather has been nearly perfect. We've had some of the bluest skies I've ever seen. The kind of blue that looks like it goes on forever. "Deep blue" doesn't quite describe it, but it's the closest I can come.

11/28: We got up before sunrise and hauled the anchor just as the sky was getting bright. We had to travel 54 miles to Demopolis. It was partly cloudy, but it was still warm, near 70 degrees. Along the way we passed some fantastic white cliffs. I guess they must be made out of some kind of limestone. They were all craggy and weathered. The way the sun played on them made them really a wonder to see.

When we got to Demopolis we had some surprises. First, we found out that this week is their big Christmas bash. Last night we went to a free performance by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. They did a "Boston Pops" style program of holiday music. The highlight of the show for me was the fantastic arrangement called "Jingle Bells Forever." Imagine Jingle Bells played in the style of J.P Souza's "Stars and Strips Forever." It was a hoot.

On Friday there's a statewide competition for barbeque cooking. All the contestants will be giving free samples of their goodies. Yum. Friday night there will be a Christmas Parade of decorated boats on the river, followed by fireworks. Saturday all day there will be a street fair with craft booths and live music.

The problem is that there will be a cold front moving in over the next few days and the temps are supposed to drop into the 40's. Yuck! I thought this was the South!

Another surprise we had was meeting up with Floyd and Della, the crew of "Freddy Freddy." If you have been following this blog for a while, you've probably seen the picture of "Freddy Freddy" that I posted a few months back. Gotta luv a guy who builds his own boat a go off on an adventure cruising the countryside.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Just a quick update today.

We have finally arrived in Demopolis, AL. We are now more than halfway down the Tenn-Tom, only 216 miles from Mobile. For the last few days we've had no internet or cell phone access, so haven't been able to update or communicate with family, etc.
We are taking it easy here in Demopolis until the weekend. We need the R&R and we need to provision, clean, do laundry, etc.
Once we relax a bit, take in the Symphony, munch down some good ol' southern barbeque, etc, then I'll do a bigger update. We will have some great pictures.
See you in a day or so.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rolling along the Tenn-Tom

Update 11/25:
The weather forecast is now saying that we are getting a cold front coming in starting Wednesday, so we decided up move up our timetable and try to reach Demopolis by Tuesday night. That means doing a "double" today - 42 miles and 3 locks. That's an ambitious day, but we did it. We are now at a very nice marina in Columbus, MS.
We borrowed the courtesy car and went to dinner at "The Grill." Real Cajun-style food. Yum!

Update 11/24

A perfect day: lots of sun, temps in the 70's, no wind. We motored 17.7 miles to Smithville marina.
Bev and I took turns sitting up in the bow well for an hour at a time. At one point we traveled over an hour without seeing any signs of civilization. Nothing but trees and water. No sound but the muffled hum of the motor, the water rushing by and the birds calling in the trees.
Anyone worried about preserving wilderness should take a trip down this waterway. They will see mile after mile of nothing but wilderness. And the guidebooks say we're only just starting into the real wilderness area. Just south of here there are two stretches of over 100 miles each where there are no towns and no marinas, just wilderness.
If the weather holds we should be in Demopolis by Wednesday. The weather is supposed to get ugly on Thursday, so I'm really going to press to make it there before then. Tomorrow we cross the 34th parrallel. We're still seeing some leaves on the trees, lots of color. It's really amazing. This is the sort of relaxed cruising I was looking forward to when I started this trip - how long ago was it? Oh, yeah! June. Seems like yesterday, or ages ago. I'm really loosing track of time. But that was the whole idea, wasn't it.
One more note about the folks at Midway Marina. There are quite a few liveaboards there and they decorate their boats for Christmas. I tried to get a picture, but it didn't come too well. I'll post it here just so you can get a little idea of what the harbor looks like at night.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Southern Hospitality & Happy Thanksgiving!

You'll never believe it.
We got up this morning and called the Whitten Lock to see if we could get through early. The lockmaster told us to come on over, he'd put us right through. We locked through without any trouble even though the lock was 84 feet high. When we got to the next lock, the doors were open and we went right through. The same for the third lock of the day. I guess it was a good idea to run these three locks on the holiday - no traffic competing for lockage. We had made it through all three locks and were tying up at Midway Marina by noon.
No sooner had we tied up than we were invited to a "pot luck" Thanksgiving dinner the marina was hosting for the local boaters. We accepted and brought some dinner rolls and the strawberry butter from Patti's. I also brought my guitar and sang a few songs. I guess the phrase "sing for your supper" has new meaning for me now.
The folks attending the pot luck were friendly and gracious, and several come by the boat later to chat and see the boat.
It turns out that a sister ship, Zoella, had been here a few years ago. She stayed here for about a year undergoing an expensive repair/refit. I've heard that Zoella made it on down the Tenn-Tom to Florida. We're hoping to run into her while we're there.
What are the odds? There are only 12 boats like this in the world and two have them have been at the same marina. Who'd believe it?
Here are a few pics of our day. The weather was wonderful, the food was great, the folks were friendly, the marina is nice - there haven't been many days on this trip that were better. Can it get any better?

Again, Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Divide Cut

Today we made it through all 24 miles of the Divide Cut, and all the way to the Whitten lock. We are staying at Bay Springs Marina tonight, and will start out early tomorrow for Midway. We figure there won't be a lot of traffic on Turkey Day, so it might be a good day to get through the 3 locks between here and there.
Once we settle in at Midway, we'll have our Thanksgiving Dinner - chicken instead of turkey, but otherwise all the trimmings.
To all of you who follow our adventures on this blog:

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Ah do declayah!

Well...seein' as how it was just such a delahtful day, we decided to stay in Pickwick, borrow the marina's courtesy cah and visit Shiloh Battlefield.
The battle took place April 6 & 7, 1862 with Union forces under U.S. Grant trying to cut the nearby railroad lines and Confederate forces under General Albert S. Johnston trying to prevent the rails from being taken. The National Park Service has done a good job of recording the event and making it accessible to the public. We took the driving tour, but to really see the site would take several days of walking. One very reasonable price gets you access to the site for 7 days.
Driving through the site I found it fascinating to see how much ground the troops had to cover during the 2 days of battle. And the terrain was quite varied from field to forest to swamp.
23,746 men were killed during the two days of fighting. The day after the battle, April 8 was exceptionally warm and General Grant ordered his men to bury all the dead in mass graves. Years later, all the Union soldiers were exhumed and reburied in individual graves, but the confederate troops remain to this day in the mass graves. What's wrong with this picture?
During the battle, General Johnston was shot in the leg and bled to death before medical care could reach him. He was, and remains, the highest ranking American officer to be killed in battle.
After the battle, Federal surgeons set up the first of what would later be called M.A.S.H. units. They gathered all the tents they could find and set up a field hospital. Prior to that time, the wounded would have had to be transported to either medical ships or fixed hospitals.
During one action, called the Hornet's Nest because of the sound of bullets buzzing past the ears of the men, the southern troops carried out the biggest field artillery barrage in history up to that point.
One of the officers who took part in this battle was Lew Wallace who would later gain fame as the author of "Ben Hur."
One other fascinating aspect of the tour was seeing how the army units on each side were organized. Prior to the War of Northern aggression (as it is still called down here) each State thought of itself as a free and independent nation. Thus, army units were organized by state, and this is reflected in the monuments scattered throughout the battlefield. For example, on the ground where troops from Iowa fought, the State of Iowa erected a monument. Likewise for each state, north and south, that sent troops to the battle. There was no "Union Army" or "Confederate Army." It was "The Army of Ohio" vs. "The Army of Mississippi."

On another note, as of yesterday we are officially on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. This waterway system is 450 miles long and stretches from Mobile Bay to the Tennessee River. A waterway here was first conceived by the early explorers, but wasn't completed until 1985. It was the largest public works project ever undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers. In building the canal portion of the waterway, they had to move more earth than for the construction of the Panama Canal. This canal, called the Divide Cut, is over 25 miles long and we will be traveling through it tomorrow. It is 37 miles from here to the next marina, Bay Springs, on the other end of the Cut. There is no place to stop along the Cut, so we will have to make the trip in one day. After that, we will run the first of 12 locks that make up the system. The Whitten Lock is 85 feet high, one of the highest in the world.

Just think - 2 Billion of your tax dollars were spent just so Bev and I could make this trip. Thanks a Billion!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Mississippi - the state!

It's been a busy few days since leaving Nashville. I'm sorry it's been so long since our last update - we've had no internet service.

On 11/14 we left Pebble Isle and traveled down to Cuba Landing. The weather was cloudy and it rained a bit. We stayed here for 2 days due to lousy weather. While here we met a musselman (harvests mussels). After chatting a while about how he does his work and mentioning that I had built the boat and also played the guitar, he gave us a handful of mussel shells. These shells are the ones used to make mother-of-pearl and also for seeding oysters to make pearls. I can use this mother-of-pearl to make inlays for the guitar or maybe some part of the boat. Once I figure out how to do it and get the time, I'll post pics of the result.

11/17: It was very foggy in the early morning, but it had burned off by around 10. We made it down to Perryville Marina, about 20 miles further south ("up river" here is south - the Tennessee river flows south to north.) The staff at Perryville made us feel very welcome, gave us coffee, etc. They really exemplify the term "southern hospitality." We recommend the Perryville Marina very highly.

11/18: Another 26 miles south to Riverstone Marina. This is a very small but brand new marina near Bath Springs TN. The marina facility has no showers, so the harbormistress, Sharon, let us use the showers in one of the rental cottages that was not being used. Thanks, Sharon! We really needed those showers. The weather was just about perfect this day - clear blue sky, sun and temps in the 60's. Couldn't ask for more.

11/19: What a contrast! Today it was overcast, gloomy and cold, temps in the 40's. See the pic of me bundled against the cold. We made another 33 miles south to a little spot called Diamond Island. There's absolutely nothing here, but a little island that protects a narrow channel away from the main navigation channel. We pulled into this small channel and dropped the anchor. The current was so swift here that all night long we could hear the water rushing past the hull. As long as I was sure the anchor was holding, the sound was quite soothing. The anchor held and we had a very peaceful night. At one point we heard an owl hoot!

11/20: Another brilliant day. Lots of sun but a north wind at 15 to 20 mph made is rather cool all day. We locked through the Pickwick Dam into Pickwick Lake, leaving Kentucky Lake behind us. At one point on Pickwick Lake we could see three states at one time - Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. All three states border the lake. After about 10 miles on the lake, we entered the Tenn-Tom Waterway at Yellow Creek. We are now 450 miles from Mobile, AL.

All along our trip "up" the Tennessee we have been treated to some of the most beautiful scenery we've seen on the whole trip. Some of the way, the leaves have been off the trees, but we've had nearly 2 months of fall colors, so we can't complain. We started seeing fall colors as we left Chicago, and we've had color most of the way. Even here in Yellow Creek, there are still some trees with leaves of orange, yellow and red.

The Tennessee river valley is dotted with areas of sheer cliffs along the water's edge. I won't call them palisades as the striations are horizontal rather than vertical, but who's to quibble. At some places the water has eroded the cliff from underneath, leaving overhangs, and in some places, caves.

We've also seen quite a few of what we've decided to call "Redneck Rivieras." These are cottages, trailers and/or mansions built on stilts all along the shore. There's so much to see here, it really warrants a return trip in better weather to fully explore it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Antebellum plantations & wierd cars

We spent yesterday "museuming." We started at Belle Meade, a large antebellum mansion. Belle Meade was unusual in that their main product was horse flesh, not cotton. All the major thoroughbred blood lines can trace thier origin to Belle Meade.

After Belle Meade we went to the Lane Car Museum. This is a private car collection, started by a guy who just likes odd or unusual cars.

After breakfast this morning we're going to head back to the boat. Two locks on the Tenn-Tom close for maintenance tomorrow. We're not going to get ahead of the closings, they're too far south. The locks are scheduled to reopen on the 20th and we'd like to get to them the day after they reopen. We're hoping to stop in Demopolis, AL to haul the boat, clean the bottom, do some painting, etc.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Country Music Hall of Fame

Bev and I spent most of today touring the CMHF.

If you're ever in Nashville, this is a must see, even if you don't like country music. Don't forget that Rock and Roll started out as a blend of blues and country. Elvis was a country singer long before he became the "King of Rock and Roll."

Beatles/George Harrison fans will be interested in the guitars pictured here. All the way to the left is the original Country Gentleman guitar, built to order by Gretsch for Chet Atkins in the 1950's. When the Beatles first hit the big time, it was this model of guitar that was favored by George. All the early Beatles pictures show George holding this particular model. The one pictured here is the original.

Nashville Cats....

or a night on the town in Nashville.

(under 21 - please skip this post - LOL)

Our first stop of the evening was Coyote Ugly. Like in the movie, the bar maids dance on the bar. The girls were much better looking than at Hooter in Lexington.

We had dinner at B.B. King's Blues Club and heard some live music while we ate. Bev had the gumbo, which was excellent. A bit spicier than she usually likes, but she said she enjoyed it. I had the pulled pork sandwich, also very good.

After dinner, we went down the street to the Wild Horse Saloon. This place is huge. There are at least 3 bars, 2 balconies and a ceiling that must be 50 feet high. There's a big stage and nearly constant live music - country of course. We tried our feet at line dancing, but somehow neither one of us could quite get it right.

A few more steps down 2nd Avenue was the Charlie Daniels Museum.

The nice thing is that all these venues are within a block of each other. Right around the corner is Legends and Tootsies, two more famous night spots.

Today we will try to see the Country Music Hall of Fame and some of the other sights here in Music City.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Where have you been?

Yeah, I know it's been a while since we updated, but that's what happens here in the sticks where they don't know what the internet is.
Actually, we rented a car and drove to Lexington to visit my sister and her dog Winston. We got back to the marina Sunday afternoon and spent the rest of the evening reorganizing things in the boat. Monday it rained all day so we just settled in and relaxed.
On Tuesday, we started down the Lake. We stopped for fuel at Kentucky Dam Marina then traveled down to Kenlake State Park, about 24 miles. What a treat - we had cable TV for the first time in a month. We finally were able to catch up on the exploits of "House."
On Wednesday, the weather finally started to really clear and we made our way down to Paris Landing. With the weather clearing we could get some good photos of the scenery here. This lake is really pretty. There are lots of nice little coves where you can anchor for the night. I wish we had more time to explore this area. We're talking about coming back here in the spring instead of going up the East Coast.
Two of the other boat crews we've met along the way have decided just to stay in Kentucky Lake permanently. I can see why. It's just not an option for us as it does get cold here in the winter. Since we're trying to stay away from the cold, staying here won't work, but we will be back.
Today, we made our way down to Pebble Isle. The weather is fabulous - a perfectly clear sky and the temperature is in the 70's. Tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer. We're debating renting a car and going to Nashville from here rather than waiting till we get to Cuba Landing. The marina here will give us a very reasonable weekly rate and the car rental folks will pick us up here. We'll decide in the morning.
While we debate our next few days, here are a few new pics for you to enjoy.

Note the eagle's nest at the top of the daymark.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Grand Rivers

We spent the last 2 days exploring the tiny village of Grand Rivers. Quite an overblown name for such a tiny place. There's really not much here - except for Patti's 1880's Settlement. It's a collection of shops and restaurants centered around some old log buildings. The grounds are really quite charming, and the decorations are simply outrageous. Right now, they're setting up for Christmas and their full time decorating crew have been going all out.
Sunday night we had dinner at Patti's restaurant. We had their famous 2" pork chops, flower-pot bread with strawberry better (tastes like strawberry shortcake!) and some fantastic deserts. I had the betterscotch-pecan pie, and Bev had a "Boatsinker." (Chocolate brownie smothered in ice cream, hot fudge and whipped cream.)
Last night we went back to Patties for coffee and desert. Some of the wait staff had dressed up for Halloween.
Here are a few pics of Patti's and the wait staff.
For those readers who don't own a boat, the Lighthouse Landing Marina also has cottages for rent. When warmer weather comes you might consider a trip here. Stay at the cottage, rent a sailboat from the marina and eat at Patti's - a great vacation idea. Highly recommended.
Today, we're renting a car to go to Lexington and visit my sister. We'll start back south next Monday or Tuesday.