Illinois River to Mobile Bay
On September 10, 2006, I flew back to California for 3 weeks and a friend whom we met in Alaska on our first trip in 1997, Karl House, joined Richard as crew for the next 2 weeks of the trip. Karl and his wife, Deanne, owned a Grand Banks when we met them in Lowes Inlet, British Columbia. We traveled with them for several weeks that summer. As an experienced captain himself, Karl was a real asset and a necessary set of hands for the trip leg that took them from Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, via the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland Rivers. During this portion of the trip they had to pass through a number of locks and navigate through the heavy tow traffic on these commercial waterways. Tow boats are actually large tug-type vessels that push barges up and down the commercial waterways of America. The tows range in size according to the loads they push. Each barge is approximately 200 feet long and 40 feet wide. They carry all kinds of loads, including rock, gravel, coal, grain, and chemicals (indicated by a red flag on the barge). The barges are hooked together in groups that can be as large as 5 long (1000 feet) by 4 across (160 feet). When they are approaching a bend in the river or a bridge, you don't want to be in their way. In fact, you never want to be in their way. So you contact them by calling them on the VHF and ask them where they would like you to be as they pass. These vessels also have precedence in locking through any lock in the system. It can take hours and sometimes days for the commercial traffic to clear. We were lucky in that the longest wait we had in the whole trip was 7 hours. Several locks in the system were closed intermittently throughout the months of September, October and November. That information had to be factored into our travel plans.
On September 11, Richard and Karl left Peoria and locked through the Peoria Lock and Dam, tying up to a barge in Beardstown for the night. Not a marina like situation. On the 12th they stayed at Alton Marina for their last night on the Illinois River. The next 200 miles were going south in the Mississippi River and passing St. Louis. There is no place to stop on the river front and pleasure craft (called PC's by the lockmasters) want to get off the Mississippi as soon as possible because of the heavy tow traffic. On the 13th and 14th they anchored just off the Mississippi and on the 15th entered the Ohio River. On the Ohio the you are going against the current until you get to the Cumberland River. Once you enter the Cumberland River you are still going against the current but the current is not quite as strong as in the Ohio. At this point in the trip you are entering the system of dams, lakes and rivers that were built by, and are controlled by, the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA was established in the 1930's by FDR as part of the massive public works programs undertaken across the US. Barkley Lake is the first lake on the Cumberland and it, and all the others, provides power, water, water level control, and fantastic recreational areas for the sports enthusiasts and residents of the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama.
Karl, Nikolas, the Captain and Lionheart reached Nashville on September 20, which gave them a few days to visit the Grand Ole' Oprey, the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, and find the good catfish restaurants in the area before Karl left on the 24th. By the time I returned to the boat in Nashville on October 2, the Captain had accomplished his maintenance tasks and shopping in preparation for the next leg of the journey and was ready to show me the sights of Nashville. We spent 2 days sight seeing in the capital of the American music scene, including the Country Music Hall of Fame, taking in a show at the Ryman Auditorium (the original site of the Grand Ole' Oprey), listening to new groups perform at the local bars, touring the beautiful parks of the city, and recording and publishing row. Nashville also has a new symphony hall which was opened in September. It was interesting to me to compare this Grecian style building that could be 100 years old in the eyes of this beholder, to the new symphony hall in Orange County which also opened in September and is very modern. Both are majestic in their own way and both claim to have the best acoustics of any hall in the world.
On October 4, we headed back down the Cumberland River, which actually meant we were backtracking north. When we reached the beginning of Barkley Lake, we spent 2 days at a lovely marina (Green Turtle Bay). We were really fortunate to receive the USC vs UW game on our satellite TV. Since this area is a dry county, it would have been impossible to find a sports bar which is the usual viewing site alternative. The Trojans were still undefeated at that time and we enjoyed the victory that night.
When we left Green Turtle Bay on October 8, we crossed a short cut channel heading west and entered Kentucky Lake which is part of the Tennessee River and is in the state of Kentucky. The Tennessee River is 650 miles long. It begins near Knoxville, Tennessee and runs south into Alabama, then west to where the states of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi meet, and then north in Kentucky to Paducah where it merges with the Cumberland River. I think that's kind of confusing and I really to put a map in here to clarify the river system for one and all! Anyway, on October 9, we stopped in Clifton, Kentucky, which is the site where Union Army General Forrest crossed the river 2 times in the Civil War. The only buildings predating the Civil War in Clifton were not burned because they were used as hospitals. The next day we passed Shiloh National Military Park on the western shore of the river. This park is one of the most historically significant sites on the river. Located on the 4,000 acres are 151 monuments, 217 cannon and more than 450 historic tablets that detail the Civil War's first major battle in the western theater. The battle of Shiloh, named after a church on the battlefield, was fought April 6-7, 1862. More than 103,000 Union and Confederate soldiers plus the Union gunboats Tyler and Lexington were involved. By the time the battle ended, 23,000 men were dead and dying.
Later the same day we locked through Pickwick Lock heading for Florence, Alabama, and the Wilson Lock which had been expected as a problem because the main chamber lock has been closed for repairs for weeks. We were concerned about reaching Joe Wheeler State Park in time to make the AGLCA fall rendezvous. No problem after all. We locked through with about 5 other Loopers and a really amazing paddle wheel houseboat, and made it to Joe Wheeler on October 12. We spent 8 days meeting up with old friends from the Penetanguishene rendezvous in July who were near completion of the Loop, and new friends who had just started the Loop in the fall by heading south in the rivers first. It turned cold for the first time since we left California. I had to dig out the sweats and fleece that I had buried in the forward cabin a year ago. The up side of the cold snap was that the trees accelerated turning to fall colors and treated us to a fabulous fall foliage tour for the rest of the trip.
With Lionheart and Nikolas safe at the dock in Joe Wheeler, after the rendezvous we toured Huntsville, Alabama, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, by bus and car. In Huntsville we visited the NASA Space and Rocket Center (fantastic) and learned that the reason Huntsville has such a huge aerospace industry is that Werner Von Braun and his group of German scientists who came to the US in 1945, settled in the Redstone Armory (after a year at White Sands, NM) and began America's space program. We also visited the Huntsville Arboretum which is entirely a volunteer run operation. It was too cold for the planned 3 hour tour so one of the docents called up her husband and they provided the group with a 45 min. concert. They play violin, harmonica and guitar and are professionally known as The Classical-Country Connection. They were a fantastic and unexpected addition to our day. In Chattanooga we visited the aquarium which focuses on the flora and fauna of the Tennessee River and other rivers of the world. There was also a great seahorse exhibit in their limited salt water exhibit section. We spent the day Sunday on Lookout Mountain visiting the Ruby Cavern, the Rock Garden at the overlook where you can see 7 states, and a major Civil War battlefield. We even took in a movie, "Man of the Year" with Robin Williams which we enjoyed very much.
On October 24, we left Joe Wheeler early and made it through the Wilson Lock with no wait. At this point we were headed north and west, backtracking on the Tennessee River to the convergence of the Tennessee River and the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (Tenn-Tom) which starts at about the point where Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama state lines meet and meanders south 398 miles to Mobile Bay. By late afternoon we had entered Mississippi and we anchored off the Tenn-Tom for the night. The fall foliage was beautiful along the way with the landscape getting flatter and flatter all the way to Mobile. On October 25 and 26 the weather was rain and more rain so we stopped early on the 26th in Aberdeen, Miss. There were 3 other Looper boats in the marina and we were treated to a tour of 2 antibellum homes in Aberdeen. Both houses survived the Civil War and were basically owned by the same families through the years until the 1990's. The oldest home, built in 1850 came complete with the silver flatware and serving pieces that had been buried under the floorboards of the house during the War. This treasure trove was discovered when the house was remodeled to include an indoor kitchen. In the 1800's houses were built with kitchens and bath facilities outside the house. The outside kitchen was due to fire hazard. Inside plumbing is most certainly one of the 20th Century's great blessings in this country!
A few more stops on our way south included: (1) a stop in Columbus to visit Mike Sheppard whom we had met in Mackinac; (2) anchoring just off the waterway so that we could watch the Trojans vs the Beavers on October 28 (a huge disappointment for us and certainly the team); (3) Demopolis, Alabama; and (4) tying up to the dock at Bobby's Fish Camp with our friends on Total Return who we originally met in Canada. Our last day on the rivers (Halloween 2006) included locking through Coffeeville Lock early in the AM, and our last night was spent in a lovely anchorage just off the waterway at a place called 3 Rivers. On November 1, we cruised the final stretch of the Tenn-Tom to where it merges with the Alabama River and cruised south into Mobile Bay in Mobile, Alabama, to the Dog River Marina. It was a beautiful balmy afternoon when we arrived, but as the wind picked up and as we listened to the weatherman, we knew we would be staying for more than one night due to weather and those capricious cruising gods!
The miles covered on the river portion of the Great Loop (Chicago to Mobile) for Lionheart is a total of 1,546. Total mileage for the trip from Long Beach to Mobile is 11,376. The next leg of our trip is taking us south to the Florida Keys where we will close our "Loop" in early December. The winter months will find us in the Bahamas.
Lionheart passes "The Gateway to the West" arch in St. Louis
Karl crews on Lionheart on the Ohio River
A big tow pushing a big load on the Cumberland River.
The Captain and Jack Daniels
Nashville Skyline -- Lionheart docked at lower left
Shiloh National Military Park viewed from the Tennessee River
A Blackbird "Spy Plane" at the Space & Rocket Center