Title Photo: View from the pilot house of the snagboat Montgomery at the Tom Bevil Visitor Center on the TennTom.

May 4 - Cochran Cut-Off (TennTom Mile 287)
We made forty miles and one lock to Demopolis, where the call of civilization was too strong to resist. The two hundred miles of river to the south makes this town look like Zanzibar to weary travelers. Dockage is just a dollar a foot and the restaurant serves a mean fried catfish filet. We took on 22 gallons of diesel and I changed the oil before we took the courtesy car over to Food Lion for late afternoon shopping. Laura and I played for a while with some kids at the excellent playground opposite the marina basin, where a sign proudly proclaims Demopolis as home to Boyd Duckett, 2007 Bassmaster Classic Champion.

Demopolis Yacht Basin
Photo: Demopolis Yacht Basin with one of those big tugs at the fuel dock. I asked what their record for fueling a single tug might be, and was told it was around 40,000 gallons. Will that be cash, or charge?

Today we motored an uneventful seventy miles north, passing through our third lock, to a nice anchorage at Cochran Cut-Off. The Cut-Offs are places where canals were cut to shorten the old meandering horseshoes in the river. You don't find them south of Demopolis since that wasn't part of the TennTom project, but the abandoned river channels in this stretch make good anchorages assuming they haven't silted in.

It was a typical day on the move: Laura and I played "Go Fish," Annie crocheted and read books, I listened to music and read a book in the cockpit between course corrections and Go Fish games. Although we had high speed Internet in Demopolis, cell service is scarce on the TennTom so we will probably wait a couple of days to upload this report. Given the low-key nature of the TennTom, that seems appropriate.

May 5 - Hairston Cut-Off (TennTom Mile 318)
Since we hadn't stopped at the Tom Bevel Visitors Center on the way south, it was an absolute must-see today. Just above Tom Bevel dam is a replica of a southern mansion housing the Visitor Center, with the huge paddle-wheel snagboat Montgomery out in front. The steam-powered Montgomery operated from 1926 to 1982, clearing an average of a hundred trees, logs and other snags a day from rivers in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. Inside the mansion are some excellent exhibits. We made use of the small day-use dock for our visit, then hopped over to Marina Cove to get a pumpout and take on eight gallons of fuel while we were there. Dockage at Marina Cove, which has a new owner as of February, was a tempting 65/cents a foot, but it was too hot to sit still that early in the day.

Surly Snag Operator Bevil Mansion Mongtomery snagboat

Photos: (1) Annie was determined to operate the 45 ton lifting boom on the Montgomery, but I couldn't get the boiler lit because they had it welded open. Imagine my surprise when I accidentally triggered the incredibly loud steam whistle, which is running on a separate compressor. They did that on purpose! (2) In keeping with the surroundings, I thought this fountain might be spouting champagne, but it wasn't. (3) Although propellers eventually proved more efficient than paddlewheels, this one was good enough to move 471 tons of boat for almost five decades.

The Rumsey guide and the chart make it look like there are a lot of anchorages in this stretch, but some have silted in since those references were published. In fact, some are now dry land! Attempting to enter the Hairston Cut-Off, I kept to the downstream side since my cruising instincts told me a shoal would have built upstream. Hmmm, we were aground no matter how tightly I hugged the downstream bank. As usual, my instincts were wrong and the deep water was just upstream of the centerline.

We're now just 400 river miles from home.

Hairston Cut-Off Anchorage

Photo: We found another peaceful, if hot, anchorage at the Hairston Cut-Off, just a hundred yards off the TennTom. Laura and I cooled off by going swimming.

May 5 - Canal Section Anchorage (TennTom Mile 366)
We had an easy trip through two locks to the Aberdeen area, where we thought we might spend the night at Blue Bluff. However, our 5 1/2 foot keel was dragging in the mud on the entrance channel and the lockmaster reported he would be dropping the pool a couple of inches overnight, so after visiting the playground at Blue Bluff and going swimming, we traveled another eight miles north to the "last anchorage on the Tombigbee River" just before the waterway enters the "canal" section. This one is a deep cut (almost too deep) but overall another pleasant spot to spend the night.

Blue Bluff anchorage Blue Bluff swim

Photos: (1) Climbing the stairs up Blue Bluff with the anchorage in the background. (2) We went swimming before and after visiting the playground.

May 8 - Panther Creek, Tennessee River Mile 218
After ten days and 450 miles on the TennTom, we have reached the Tennessee River. Yesterday was a particularly memorable day as went through no less than six locks, culminating in the 84 foot ascent at Whitten Lock, the third highest in the east. We went right through the first three locks but had to wait at the others due to towboat traffic, but this is the nature of the TennTom. Those barges, not our little boats, are what justify having the waterway in the first place. At 8:00 PM, with daylight still remaining, we anchored in Corps Cove just north of the last lock. The cove was pretty enough, but along with the owls and whipperwills, we could hear the giant tree grinder going at the chip mill downstream. There are more isolated coves all along Bay Springs Lake--one could spent weeks at anchor here and never spent two nights in the same cove--but we wanted to be close enough to dinghy to the Corps of Engineers Visitors Center near the dam.

bollard tie-off Whitten Lock bubbles Whitten Lock Bay Springs Visitors Center

Photos: (1) We used to run a single long line from the bow to stern, wrapping it twice around the bollard in the lock, but lately we're just using a loop or two from an amidships cleat. It's simple and it works fine. (2) Whitten Lock made a lot of bubbles. (3) Our mast didn't even come near the top of Whitten. (4) The Bay Springs Visitors Center was well worth a stop.

This morning we enjoyed the visitors center and a nice nature walk which led us to a view of the dam. Then we motored northward, first through the broad and pretty expanse of the lake and then into the Divide Cut, where the Corps of Engineers connected the Tennessee and Tombigbee watersheds. The Corps dug a 300 foot wide channel through up to 175 feet of rock and earth for 29 miles, moving more dirt here than was removed for the Panama Canal. The mind can't grasp moving that much earth.

At Grand Harbor Marina, the top of the TennTom, we took on 14 gallons of diesel, filled up with water, and ate ice cream, then motored up the Tennessee a couple of miles to the Cooper Hollow Waterfall anchorage at mile 217. Where else, short of Alaska, can you anchor just a few feet away from a waterfall? Well, maybe next time! An expedition was already encamped there, with boats in the anchorage and tents on the beach, so we went a short distance further to Panther Cove on the opposite bank. In contrast to the mud of the TennTom, the water here looks clean and green, although as Laura and I can attest it is still a bit chilly for swimming.

Panther Creek anchorage

Photo: Seaductress at anchor in a peaceful Panther Cove on the Tennessee River. Not long after this picture was taken, veggie burgers were sizzling on the grill.

May 9 - Joe Wheeler State Park, Tennessee River Mile 277
Two weeks into our trip south, I remember coming into Joe Wheeler State Park in the darkness, tying the boat off the wet dock and feeling like we were experienced travelers, so far from home. Today, some 10,000 miles later, I came into the dock with that same delusion of being some kind of old salt--except that it now seems that we're ridiculously close to Chattanooga.

Although I wasn't expecting this, at this point I am actually looking forward to getting home. Maybe, as Sale Creek's own Captain Jim says, you can only drink so many rum drinks. As fabulous as the Bahamas were this winter, by the end of three months I had seen enough perfect deserted tropical beaches. I was ready to do something different for a while. Exactly what that might be, I'm not certain, and I'll no doubt be wishing I was back on one of those beaches soon enough.

Wilson Lock Wheeler Park Hotel Lobby Wheeler Park dock

Photos: (1) We did 49 miles and two locks today, including the 93 foot tall Wilson lock shown here. (2) For a girl who is often restricted to a small boat for days at a time, the Wheeler Resort Lobby is a huge place. (3) Here's a 30 second exposure of the boat tonight at the dock at Wheeler State Park, reminiscent of the one I took here on our way south. Amazing how much light the camera captures--it was really quite dark out there on the dock.

May 13 - Revere Ware Cove, Tennessee River Mile 379
It was too hot stop along the river, so we found ourselves back at Ditto Landing in Huntsville by Thursday evening. For 50 cents/foot, it's a fine marina experience--especially since the water was high enough and the channel deep enough this time that we could get in and out with no problems. Being in Huntsville, especially the southeastern part of town, is always somewhat dream-like for me since I grew up there. My family had a small horse farm not far from Ditto Landing and we used to plod along on the dirt roads that are now four-lane streets. Today, the only trace of the old Ling Ranch are aging subdivision streets called "Gallup Lane" and "Ling Circle."

Over the next couple of days we saw lots of friends and family, and also visited the Earlyworks History Museum and Kid's Space, one of our all-time favorite playgrounds. What a relaxing, enjoyable weekend! Huntsville may be four days away by boat, but it's only a couple of hours in one of those new-fangled automobiles, so perhaps we'll find time to visit more often in the future.

We are just 90 river miles from downtown Chattanooga and 120 from Sale Creek now. It's definitely a strange feeling to be so close to home.

Lamont, Annie, Laura Randall and Rodger Laura and Tessa Earlyworks Museum Cass Family and friends

Photos: (1) Lamont Brown provided good company and good deeds throughout the weekend. (2) As always, Randall Blackwood was the keystone on which the weekend turned. (3) Laura got to meet her newest cousin, Tessa. (4) The only vessel slower than a sailboat--a keelboat. This one is at the Earlyworks History Museum in Huntsville. (5) David, Ryan and Donna Cass on top with Scott down below, joined by Tiffany Blackwood and the Million Dollar Girl. Behind them on the stairs is Brent Blackwood.

May 14 - Shellmound Recreation Area, Tennessee River Mile 425
It's hard to believe this could be our last night at anchor, but by tomorrow we will be docked in Chattanooga, and back at the dock at Sale Creek within a couple more days. After a peaceful night at Revere Ware Cove we made our way upriver through Jackson County, past the profiles of mountains I have known for years, passing through our last lift bridge (one that almost cut our trip short on our way south) and our second-to-last lock (Nickajack, our 36th on this cruise).

Cedar Mountain is the preferred anchorage on this part of Nickajack Lake, but I was afraid to look since TVA had completed a controversial land swap that would allow development before we left. We can hear heavy equipment moving earth and trees just over the hill. Instead, we anchored off Shellmound Recreation Area, just above the dam. This was a good stop since we could go ashore and visit the playground. Later Laura and I took the dinghy a couple of miles over the lake to Nickajack Cave. Most of the huge entrance to the cave was flooded when the dam was built, and the cave is off-limits because it's a gray bat sanctuary. This is the cave where Dennis Curry and Buddy Lane saved the life of a SCUBA diver who had gotten lost in the underwater passages inside and given up for dead (see Miracle at Nickajack). When Laura and I arrived at the cave today, a teenage girl was poised at the top of the cliff over the entrance, getting up her courage to make the fifty foot plunge.

Shellmound Playground Nickajack Cave

Photos: (1) Laura on the Shellmound playground with Seaductress anchored in the distance. (2) As Laura was posing for this picture in front of the flooded entrance to Nickajack Cave, she kept telling me she heard a strange hissing noise. She was right! There were two buzzard chicks under a ledge nearby making a terrible fuss at us.

May 15 - Ross's Landing, downtown Chattanooga, mile 464
Coming up through the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee this morning, the mountains soaring on both sides of the river, was an inspiring journey. "You know," Annie said, "we haven't seen scenery quite like this anywhere else on this cruise."

"You're right," I said. "And the climate is certainly agreeable." The skies were blue and temperature was perfect springtime. Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga's most famous landmark, came into view looking like the bow of a huge green ship. It all looked so familiar and yet so new.

We agreed: of all the places we had cruised, this was a good choice for a place to settle.

Ross's Landing Bridge to Hunter Museum Walnut Street Bridge Walnut Street Bridge

Photos: (1) Seaductress had the dock at Ross's Landing all to herself. Unfortunately, the power was out at this dock so we had to move to another one in the distance. With the Aquarium, the Riverwalk, the museums, and park-like surroundings, Chattanooga has the best waterfront of any town we have visited. (2) The Hunter Museum of Art and the "glass bridge." (3) On the Walnut Street Bridge. (4) The world's longest pedestrian bridge at Walnut Street.

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