Days 23-25: Oct. 30th-Nov.1st: Counce, TN to Somewhere in Alabama

Grand Harbor Swinging Chairs

Day #23:  The Grand Harbor Marina, for all of it’s glitz and glamour, functioned and charged us the same as every other marina on the trip thus far has.  I have no doubt that for someone with a million-dollar yacht, or the desire to stay here full-time and year-round, the experience at Grand Harbor is going to differ significantly from ours… but we transients get the same treatment everywhere.  And it’s generally pretty descent.

Before we pulled away from the dock, however, we did a couple of important things:  We purchased charts for the waterway ahead of us, and we completed the process of voting absentee.  It’s already October 30th and we’ve come to terms with the fact that it is unlikely that we will be home by Nov. 6th.  Although a bit of a run-around, our home district was very accommodating and the scanning, and faxing capabilities at Grand Harbor were likely to be among the last we’d see.

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Pic:  One of many docks at The Grand Harbor Marina.  Note all the satellite dishes, grills and golf carts.  

After exercising our rights (and Dorothy) we set off for the official beginning of the next leg of our journey – the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

Since I first realized that I would not be taking the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans, I had been learning as much as I could about the ‘Tenn-Tom’ as boaters call it.  The Tenn-Tom is a river, but more accurately, it is several natural rivers with huge cuts of man-made waterway to connect them.  From Grand Harbor to the Gulf of Mexico, it is about 450 miles and one can look forward to 12 more locks.  

The Tenn-Tom was first conceived in the 1700’s when French and Spanish explorers realized that another path to the ocean would be really convenient could make a lot of money.  But it’s expensive and complicated and required moving more earth than the Panama Canal. It was finally completed in the mid-1980’s, but remained a fairly obscure way to do the trip for years.  There were very few marinas in the early days, but by now it is so well-traveled by snow-birds and idiots like us, that several guide-books now exist to give boaters tips on anchorages, locks, marinas, and even little-known history.

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Pic:  The Nitty Gritty Tenn-Tom Guide... with real dirt.

The upper part of the Tenn-Tom has the majority of locks and they are all comparatively close together.  To date, we were accustomed to a lock about every 25-30 miles (2-3 hours for us) but here they are – at times – less than 10 miles apart.  The timing then, changes significantly, as does the etiquette.

Not surprisingly, when we left Grand Harbor, we found ourselves in lock-step with some straight-up yachts.  Maybe not as grand as the Mimi, but newer, faster, and better-equipped than our modest boat.  

And for the most part, the captains and crew of these boats didn’t treat us any differently than any other boat on the waterway… for the most part.

A glaring exception is a contentious bitch of a yacht we’ll call Jay Bird.  I don’t want to use her proper name because I doubt our ill-treatment was the result of the boat’s rightful owner.  The Jay Bird was being driven by a captain-for-hire, a son-of-a-bitch we’ll call ‘Jack;. 

JayRenay Columbus marina

Pic:  The Jay Bird in all her douchery.  

To date, and remarkably, we haven’t encountered many assholes.  Fewer, I’d say than the general pubic usually affords, but indeed there are assholes everywhere and one must expect to find them eventually.

When we first saw the Jay Bird, it was inside of the Whitten Lock about 3 hours down of Grand Harbor.  We had entered the lock and were tied up and secure, along with River Derci (our flotilla) by the early afternoon.  Shortly after, the lock operator asked if we’d be willing to wait 30-ish minutes for another pleasure craft that was slightly behind us.  

Of course, we replied.  We’ve all had to wait for locks and it’s not cool to lock someone out who is less than 45min away. 

When Jay Bird arrived we were all a little star-struck.  What a beauty!  I’m not exaggerating when I say that one of her rails was worth more than our whole boat.  The skipper got on the radio and the first thing he said, is that he would need to lock out first and zip ahead of us because he was expected at the Midway Marina before sunset.  

Hello to you too…

He went on to say that this boat has “certain expectations.”

Of course, we said.  Go ahead and pass us, sir.   Open up your engines and go for it.  Frankly, if I was at the helm of your vessel, I’d do the same thing.  

What we wouldn’t have done, however, is gun it so hard that the resulting wake almost swamped us…

When we got our feet back and picked up all the shit that fell off the shelves, ‘Jack’ got on the radio and, in primo asshole style, instructed us that he wouldn’t have swamped us if we had come to a complete stop when he began to pass.

“I’m not sure if anyone has ever told you kids this or not,” (shiver… kids?!?) “but if someone wants to pass you, you should go down to total idle speed,” he said.  “That way I’m not forced to do that.”

Forced to do that, we pondered.  We’ve traveled over 1,000 miles of river and have passed and been passed by several different boats of all shapes and sizes.  That was the first time we hated him.

A few hours later, it happened again.

We got to the last lock of the day just before sunset – the Rankin Lock – along with a barge/tow, River Derci, and Jay Bird - all of us hoping to lock down together. Jay Bird had been waiting for awhile for the barge to enter, River Derci had been waiting slightly less time; and we pulled up, last to the party.  The barge and only two pleasure craft could fit in there together.  The lock operator – a benevolent people by nature - said that since he couldn’t take all of us, he’d prefer to lock the barge down first.  After, he’d open up for the three pleasure craft at the same time so as not to ‘cause a fight.’

Melby and I conceded that no fight was necessary.  As the slowest of the group, he should go ahead and lock through everyone and come get us last.  

This spurred the barge to say that he was okay with all three of us coming in with him if we tied up together and shared a bollard.  

River Derci and ourselves being virtually family, we tied up together and the lot of us locked through together.  Success!  It meant all of us would get to Midway before sunset.

And, of course, when the doors opened, Jay Bird gunned it and swamped us as she raced to the same marina that we were all putting towards.

Midway Old Glory

PIc:  The Midway Marina.  Fulton, MS.  MM:  394 - Oct. 30th

When we turned into the channel for Midway and tied up, we could hear heated words coming from the marina operator to the skipper of Jay Bird.  The specifics of the fight weren’t clear, but even without the benefit of our experience with him that day, the fact that he was an asshole had apparently been revealed.  

Having had no television, very little news, and not so much as a tabloid to read – these little dramas – a couple of guys having heated words - are irresistible to look at.  The long and short of it was that the Jay Bird had given orders to the marina operator about how to tie him up, to pump the gas for him etc… Wonderfully, the marina operator refused.  Said he could tie up there for the night but if he was going to be an asshole, he could refuel somewhere else.  When he caught our line and we tried to get from him what had happened with Jack he said – “I don’t have to take orders from that prick.”

And indeed he didn’t.  River rules…

Exhausted as we were, before calling it a day, we took advantage of the use of the marina car.  Jim and Pat of River Derci, and ourselves, took the drive to Walmart (the only grocery store for 28 miles) to re-supply.  A Walmart in the deep south is every bit as glamorous as one would expect.  Fat, angry mothers and very sticky children crowd every aisle and the employees are all woefully underpaid.  You can tell by their shirt-stains, acne, and pained expressions.  

When we returned to the marina, restocked and gassed up, we re-acquainted ourselves with a boat crew we had met first at Clifton – The Nightingale.  This boat is a sexy little catamaran that is making the trip to Texas.  Gene and Gale, the crew, couldn’t have been sweeter and said that we should stay in contact for the next few days.

They also warned us that from here on down we must watch out for ‘gators.  Dorothy, in particular, they said, was a worry.  



PIc:  The Nightengale.  

Day #24:  It was a dark and spooky morning when we woke up at Midway.  A dense fog hung low over the surrounding bayou and the accompanying sounds from the darkness were less-than comforting.  How appropriate for Halloween.  

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Pic:  The fog on Halloween morning at Midway Marina.  Oct. 31st

In addition to the fog and the holiday, we had 4 locks ahead of us that day and the hope that we could make it to the Columbus Marina, about 60 miles down, before sunset.  60 miles isn’t terribly ambitious, but the locks – as we’ve learned – can each delay you for hours if you time them wrong.  And we took that ‘gator warning seriously; the less unknown marching we had to do through the shoreline of the bayou, the better.  

We entered the first lock of the day in a light fog, along with Nightingale.  We held for another half an hour for (guess who)  Jay Bird to enter and then, as usual, he swamped us on the way out.  

The locks at this point are increasingly spaced out and we had hoped that Jack and his audacious load would remain ahead enough to be out of sight for the duration of the waterway.  


He apparently hoped the same thing and when we, along with Nightingale, arrived at the next lock, the operator seemed surprised.  

“Oh,” he said, “you’re here already.”  

We saw the lock doors were closed and were a little surprised since we had called ahead to let him know when we’d arrive.

“Another pleasure craft just came in and told me that he was really far ahead of you and that he should be locked down first…”

My head steamed a little and I said very hurtful and unflattering things about both the Jay Bird her skipper – none of which I regret.

It was all for naught, however, since Jack got hung up at the next lock and we all went through it – yet again – together.  We made no comment about them locking us out earlier in the day.  They made no apology.

The end of the day found us in Columbus, Mississippi (MM:334) – one of the last marina stops for a couple of days and so the best place to gas up, pump out, and use the internet before no-man’s land.  

Columbus water plants

Pic:  The view from Columbus Marina.  Those floating green plants were increasingly everywhere.  Themselves, harmless, but a great place for deadheads and other dangers to hide.

DAY #25:  The Columbus Marina is within spittin’ distance of the next lock – Stennis  – and several boats from our marina all planned on getting going at dawn and locking through together.  In order to keep up and not be the wrench in the fan, we untied and got going while still in our pj’s and long before breakfast.  

As usual, the first thing we did was call the lock to see how much time we had to get there.  “Take your time,” he said “this guy, the Jay-something tried to get me to lock him down before anyone else got here but I’m waiting til all the bollards are full.  What an asshole.”  

Is there an echo in here…

When the Stennis lock opened, Jay Bird swamped us for the last time, but had one more solid disservice to deliver before it was all said and done.

As I mentioned, the locks have an increasing amount of distance between them as you travel further down the Tenn-Tom.  As we approached our last one of the day, we discovered that there was a barge between us and them.  It was moving pretty slow, and gave us permission to pass.  The lock operator said that if we could be there quickly, they could get us through ahead of it and not make us wait.  This one was important to beat because we already knew that we would be anchoring that night and we wanted to reach a place that the Nitty Gritty said was dog-friendly.  The alternative might be playing it by ear with Dorothy as ‘gator bait.  

So we opened up the engines and went faster than usual for longer than usual to put the recommended distance between us and the barge and, hopefully, assure timely passage.

When we reached the lock, however, it was closed.  We learned that another pleasure craft (wait for it, the Jay Bird) said they had priority.  It would have been less than 20 minutes for them to wait for us…  Guh.

Topping our growing frustration with them and the fact that we would not need to sit still for over an hour, came the clincher.  The Starboard engine chugged to deathly silence as soon as we slowed down.

Oh shit.

Gratefully, there was a city dock up of the lock with friendly-looking cleats for us to tie up to.  I walked Dorothy, chatted with a couple from Canada, while Melby problem-solved the engine.

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Pic:  Tom Bevill Visitor Center.  Nov. 1st.

When, an hour later, the lock doors opened for us, the engine seemed to be running fine again but we had a choice to make.  Risk going ahead with a questionable engine, to a questionable anchorage; or go the half mile up-river to a marina called Pirate’s Cove to see if a mechanic couldn’t give us a more specific diagnosis.  Duh.  Pirates.  Our people.

Less than an hour later, the pirates had bolstered our confidence that the engine was fine – just a hiccup from having it open for so long – and we should carry on.

So we did.

At sunset, we found Nightingale already anchored in a lovely cove around MM: 277.  Gene helped guide us in to a good depth and when we were anchored and secure, Melby took Dorothy to shore in the johnboat to a ‘gator-free beach.  Success.

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Pic:  The Road at anchor at MM:  277.  Courtesy of The Nightengale.  Nov. 1st.

Tomorrow we hope to get to Demopolis, AL for fuel and a proper fix of the port engine.  For both the remainder of the trip and the sake of re-sale, we need to have both of little darlings up and running.  

But for tonight… man-o-man, I’ve never seen stars like this!

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Pic:  The night sky at anchor, MM:  277.  Nov. 1st.

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Pic:  The Parade of boats leaving Columbus Marina.  Nov. 1st.

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Pic:  The fog of Halloween.  Oct. 31st.  

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Pic:  Melby returning with Dorothy from anchor at MM: 277.  Nov. 1st

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