Days 20-22: Oct. 27th-29th: Grand Rivers, KY to Counce, TN

Tenn RIver Road

Day #20:  We woke up early from our emergency anchorage spot on the Tennessee River - before sunrise.  It was cold and we were anxious to catch up with River Rat, get gas and put some miles behind us.  Melby took Dorothy in the johnboat to shore for her morning's contribution to nature, while I made coffee.

We were underway slightly before 7:30AM, as soon as the sun was high enough to illuminate our route.  


Pic:  Our anchorage spot on the TN River (MM: 37.5)  - Oct. 27th.

About 45 minutes later we arrived at the Kenlake Marina in Tennessee – where River Rat had been moored in paradise the night before.  River Rat had already left for the day, but we stopped there anyway to fill our gas tanks and give Dorothy another, more substantial, time on terra firma.  

By about 9AM we were back underway on the Tennessee.  The wide, lake-like portion of the Tennessee is about 100 miles long and very impressive.  By impressive I mean it is over a mile wide and, at times, over 80 feet deep.  For the most part, these facts don’t actually change our navigation, or the way we travel, but it does paint a much more terrifying worst-case scenario when your mind wanders.

When we picture worst-case scenarios – and with hours a day to stare out the window, we do it often – we generally lay out a similar line of responses: 

Suppose, for example, we hit a deadhead which pierces the hull and we are taking on water.  Sinking, if you will.

We aim the bow for the nearest shore and gun it.  Try to get wedged in the shoreline so that we can get ourselves and our valuable things to safety before it all glugs to the bottom.

Suppose, for example, our engines both die (which actually happened already just down of Moline) and we have no control.

We get on channel 16 on the marine radio, let everyone in earshot know the situation, and hope the current and wind put us somewhere gentle. 

But here, in the deep, wide channel of the Tennessee, those ‘solutions’ don’t work.  Here, we’d just hope that we got Dorothy and our laptops in the johnboat and that the insurance company finds enough of The Road to give us a settlement… and that the settlement is at least as much as the fine for polluting the river with the wreck.  

Tenn RIver waves

Pic:  The whitecaps we fought on the TN River.  Oct. 28th.

Before our fears could be realized, however, the Tennessee narrowed out and wrapped us again in something like comfort.

By the mid-afternoon we were back in radio contact with both River Rat and River Derci.  The three of us were all headed to the same marina – a place called The Birdsong Resort in Kentucky Lake, TN.  

The Birdsong was at the end of a winding, secondary channel through tall grass and lagoons.  When we came around the final corner, the flotilla and the marina operator were awaiting and ready to catch our line.  

Burm and Daddy 2Burm and dottie fight

Pic:  (Left)  The operator of Birdsong Marina with his dog, B.R.M.  (Right)  Dorothy and B.R.M hit it off...

Even Dorothy was greeted by a friendly face – that of BRM, a happy little mutt who was adopted by the marina and named after it (Birdsong Resort and Marina = B.R.M).  

That night, we joined the other two crews in the galley of River Rat for a truly communal dinner.  We provided roasted carrots and potatoes, River Rat brought burgers, and River Derci had plates and potato chips.  A Thanksgiving spread would have had a hard time competing. 

Day #21:  Of our flotilla, we were the first ones out of Birdsong in the morning.  Generally speaking, we tend to travel at the slowest pace.  Even with a two-hour jump on them, River Derci has time to sleep in, make breakfast, take a run into town and they will still pass us before noon.

Tenn RIver Bluffs

Pic:  The Tennessee River near Clifton, TN.  Oct. 28th

The landscape of the Tennessee changed a lot in the next 50 miles.  Tall white cliffs punctuated the shoreline, and between them, stunning little mansions – all on stilts.  Most of the houses here looked vacant, and many of them had for sale signs on them.  Like dinosaur bones showing evidence of a housing boom’s bust.  

By 4:30PM we arrived at the Clifton Marina in Clifton, TN.  Normally, we would have traveled at least another hour, but this was the final destination for River Rat.  Here, the boat would be pulled out and Chris and Kevin would drive to Pensacola, FL to see a blue angels air-show.  It seemed only right that we have something like a bon voyage. 

And that we did…

The Clifton Marina is not only a place that we would have stayed a few more nights, if time allowed, but with a comparatively gentle shove, we would have bought the joint.

The ship’s store and marina office were like a clubhouse.  Along the back wall were a couple of grilles and skillets, along with a giant walk-in refrigerator.  I initially thought it was a communal kitchen of some kind, but no – it is where a gal named Sonja will cook you anything you want.  At any hour of the day.

And more than that, beside her kitchen is another wall of beer and wine.  Floor-to-ceiling refrigerated cells, like at the liquor store, except you can help yourself to whatever you want, crack it open, drink it there, and they put it on your tab… all $1.50 of it.

Clifton Old man Laugh

Pic:  Sonja and Gene inside the clubhouse of the Clifton, Marina.  One of my favorites...  Oct. 28th.

It was the night of Hurricane Sandy.  I remember because the television had been turned to local football all night while we drank beers and told stories.  Gene owns Clifton, and Sonja is his longest-term employee…  Maybe also his wife… hard to say.  Regardless, they are a hilarious pair who poke constant fun at each other and didn’t object to us being there well past midnight.

Eventually the beer and laughs and bullshit outlasted even the last football games post-game and the news finally intercepted.  I just caught a glimpse of it, still on mute, and thought it was an apocalyptic movie… It was soon clear, it was all live.

Holy Hannah.  As someone who is pretty news-absorbed in my normal life, it was strange to be so unaware of something this massive.. And although we care deeply – I have a sister in Boston and we both have loads of friends in NYC - we have no idea what’s happening much beyond our bow.  The pendulum swing of being unplugged.

Deep lock doors open

Pic:  A very deep lock.  

Day #22:  The evening at Clifton was so fantastic that we let it hang it’s toes over into morning and before we completed our morning ritual of coffee and boat prep – we had breakfast in the clubhouse.  Heaven.  

Today was the final stretch of the Tennessee River and the entrance to the Tenn-Tom.  This is a big mile-marker for several reasons.  

Firstly, we will again be going downstream!  Hurrah.  Faster, further miles.  Also, this Waterway (or the Black Warrior River-Tombigbee Waterway if you want to be specific) is the one that will take us to the ocean.  We’ve got a long way to go, but it is the first time on this trip I actually feel close.

The turn from the Tennessee onto the Tenn-Tom is eearily ambiguous and although we have charts and mile-markers there was a moment of hesitation.  It sure looked like a narrow little divide into the hills, just like countless narrow little divides into the hills.  But indeed, two tiny bouys indicated the channel.  450 miles from here is the Gulf.

But to get so far had taken all day.  We connected with River Derci, shared a beer and tied up for the night at Grand Harbor Marina in Counce, TN.

Grand Harbor Wide

Pic:  Behold, the splendor that is the Grand Harbor Marina.  Counce, TN.  Oct. 30th.

Grand Harbor is just that.  Grand.  Polished, groomed and made for a certain class of people, we felt like the ugly stepchild that snuck into the party.  Dorothy, on the other hand can do her business just as readily on a tennis court as she can on a gravel driveway… good girl. 

We were conveniently tied up next to the laundry room and took advantage of the chance to make some of our smelliest things less so.  

Tomorrow begins a new waterway, a new landscape – and god help us – the deep south.  

Melby oil change

Pic:  Melby changing the oil (and drinking a PBR) at Clifton Marina.  Oct. 28th.

Midway Marina

Pic:  The lovely Tenn-Tom Waterway.  Oct. 29th.

Dottie Eats basketball on deck

Pic:  Dorothy and her rotten basketball we plucked from the ooze of Metroplis, IL.  Oct. 28th.

Clifton Bar wide

Pic:  Dawn telling Gene a joke he definitely hasn't heard before...  Oct. 28th.

The gang

Pic:  The Flotilla:  Left to Right:  Melby and I.  Chris and Kevin of the River Rat.  Pat and Jim of River Derci... and Dorothy, of course.  

Clifton, TN - Oct. 28th.  

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