Wednesday, May 16, 2012

St. Pete to Tennessee River (April 27 to May 15 )

 As planned, we spent the winter at the Club at Treasure Island again.  The weather was incredible all winter and we can't figure out where they keep their bugs - but we're happy that they stay out of sight. It was just like coming home - catching up with all the regulars at the Club and visiting with friends and family in the area.  Christmas was a real treat with both of our kids, grandson, daughter-in-law, Punk's two sisters and a brother-in-law all in attendance.

Before we left, we had to make one last quick visit with Alex.  Looked like he was having a blast painting his body with finger paints! We really enjoyed our time with him and hate to miss the next six months - he's turning into a little boy so fast.

As usual, our cruise plans for the spring/summer had changed during the winter.  Instead of crossing Florida to go up the east coast, we decided to re-cross the Gulf and reverse our fall route to go up to the Ohio River.  We'll hang a right on the Ohio and cruise up to Pittsburgh.  At least that's the plan.  We had spent the winter with Randy and Barb (Lazy Dolphin) again and they decided they were also ready for something different.  Since the idea had been inspired by Fred and Linda (Young America), we mentioned it to them and they jumped on it too.  Although to say that we'll be traveling together is a bit of a stretch, we'll at least see each other off and on and will stay in contact to trade information about what we find along the way.  As Joe learned once he started researching the route, not too many people make this trip in our size boat so information about services along the way has been limited.

As we set out, it was a beautiful day and the seas were calm.  With a good forecast ahead, Joe and Randy set our courses for Panama City - a crossing of about 275 miles which would take us to an anchorage after almost 38 hours.  As a parting gift, grandson Alex had given me a cold, and I have to admit to dozing most of those 38 hours, but I did manage to give Joe about 4 hours sleep early on the second day.  As it turned out, the sun set calmly on the 27th, rose calmly on the 28th, and set again calmly soon after we anchored near Panama City.
 In between, Joe even managed to catch a few fish. Can't ask for much more than that.

The following day Randy and Barb stopped at Fort Walton  to visit her parents for a couple weeks while Joe and cruised on to Gulf Breeze.  Fred and Linda were not yet with us as they were starting from the east coast of Florida. We anchored again that night and the next morning moved up our canal to dock behind our house.  Our tenant had again given us permission to use our dock.  (Thanks, Jeff!)

The mission here was to redistribute some of our belongings from Joe's sisters house into our storage unit.  The second order of business became a trip to the doctor for me as the cold seemed to be turning into bronchitis - no big surprise there.
Unfortunately, we didn't get to do much visiting while we were there.  I stayed on the boat with my germs and Joe took care of business.  We'll be stopping again in the fall and hope to be able to visit more on that trip.

Once we left Gulf Breeze, it was on to Mobile, AL and the start up the Alabama River to the TN/Tombigbee waterway.  As we started north, the weather pattern included daily afternoon thunderstorms.  Our routine was to get underway early in the morning and find a sheltered area to anchor before the storms arrived.  With a prediction of two days of storms, we anchored in Bashi Creek - very protected - and even tied Carolyn Ann's stern to a tree to keep us in position should strong winds arrive.  It was a beautiful creek so after kayaking the line to the tree I paddled around for a while.
 We didn't end up having any severe storms, but the anchorage was so protected that we also had no cell service, which also meant no internet, and no satellite, which also meant no Directv.  No big deal.  Except then Joe couldn't get the weatherworx to work either - that meant that we couldn't get weather radar on anything.  Then the ship's computer completely failed.  Joe's laptop is the back-up for navigation, but he couldn't get the radar to work on it.  Oh yeah, the AIS, which allows us to "see" tows coming, also quit working.  So we stayed the two nights based on the last forecast we'd had.  We had some rain, but no drama, and I fit in some more kayak time.  A nice little rest stop.  However, we did find out what happened to all the St. Pete bugs - they evidently moved to the Tombigbee and were happy to greet us at our anchorages and even tried to hitch a ride along the way.
We could see a little mist hanging over the creek as we left the following morning, but once out on the river it turned into pea soup fog in many places.  Between the twists and turns and limited visibility in the fog, it was white knuckle time worrying over the possibility of suddenly coming face to face with one of the many tows with their barge arrays.  Joe was on the radio regularly giving our position, hoping to hear from any of the tows before we saw them.  As luck would have it, traffic was light - or maybe the tows were hunkered down waiting for the fog to lift. Lift if did, and we continued on our way north without incident.
We had a good trip up - the current against us was not strong and the tow traffic seemed pretty light and our days were mostly uneventful.  We only saw one or two other cruisers along the way - unlike the hoard we'd come south with in the fall.  There was the time that there was a nutria in a lock with us.  We kept seeing him pop up and swim along.  We wondered if the filling lock was like a carnival ride for him with the water bubbling up and causing such turbulence.
One day we stopped early at Pirates Cove Marina and went to the visitor's center near the Bevil Lock.  The visitor's center has an observation balcony from which you can see the lock.  As we looked out, we saw a tow approaching to lock down.  From our vantage point it didn't look like it could possibly fit in the lock with all those barges.  As we watched the tow slid the barges in with very little clearance on each side - including the front and back.  It was fun to see it from that perspective.

Another day we stopped at a free dock near Aberdeen, MS.  There was a pontoon boat there with teacher and two students doing an ecological cruise to Mobile.  They had just come back from a walk to town and gave me their map for the architectural driving tour of Aberdeen.  "It's just right up that road," the teacher told me.  A good walk doesn't bother me and I love old houses so off I went.  Well, right up that road turned out to be a mile to get to the main road - then another good bit to get to town!  Once there the town was a bit abandoned looking, but it was late Sunday afternoon.
The tour map was well done, though, and most of the houses were well marked, many were interesting, though not always well maintained, and I met a nice lady with a malti-poo.  After a couple of hours, Joe called to see if I was still alive and I did finally make it back to the boat.  Don't get to walk often, so I guess I shouldn't complain.

Our last day on the TN/Tombigbee Waterway was a long one.  We went about 55 miles, through six locks in almost 12 hours.  For three of the locks, we were behind a tow and each time had to wait for it to lock up and then the chamber to drain again before we could lock up.  The locks were close enough together that we could never get around and far enough ahead to lock before him.  The commercial traffic is given priority at the locks - they pay for the service - so we're happy to let them go first!
The final lock on this waterway is the Whitten Lock with an 84' lift.  The other 11 we'd been through ranged from 25 to 40 feet.  It's quite impressive to be in that big cavern all alone!
After that long day we were rewarded with a beautiful anchorage in Bay Springs.  The water was so clear you could see ten feet down.  I even managed to squeeze in a little more kayak time in the peaceful setting.

So the first stage of the trip is complete.  Now we'll be cruising on the Tennessee River - one of our favorite places - on our way to the Ohio River.

There are more pictures on the picasa site:

No comments: