How we finish out our last waterway and arrive in Mobile Alabama.
Start: Tuckabun creek, mm 167, 0751
End: Bobby’s Fish Camp, 1439
Total Distance: 41.8 nm
Average Speed: 6.1 kts
Number of locks: 0
Start: Bobby’s Fish Camp, 0639
End: Three Rivers Lake, mm 63.8, 1535
Total Distance: 49.3nm
Average Speed: 5.6 kts
Number of locks: 1
Start: Three Rivers Lake, mm 63.8, 0715
End: Turner Marine, Mobile, AL, 1712
Total Distance: 69.6nm
Average Speed: 7.0 kts
Number of locks: 0. FOR THE REST OF THE TRIP!!!
I won’t put you through a day by day, minute by minute, mile by mile description of the Black Warrior/Tombigbee (BWTB) Waterway. Its primary redeeming feature is that it is our last waterway.1 We have done about 1000 miles on the rivers from Chicago to Demopolis and it is 217 miles from Demopolis to Mobile, AL. The BWTB for the first half is much like every other mile of every other waterway. Green banks. Trees. Tows. Barges. Mosquitoes at night. After the final lock (of the entire trip!), it turns tidal and we have to deal with a slight tide in/out once a day. And as we get closer to Mobile, we get into bayous; swampy wet lands infested, we hear, with alligators, snakes and other things that want to eat small animals. Originally, way back when we were sitting in Maryland trying to figure out what we were going to do, we planned on 90 days on the waterways. We have been on just about 40 days, so are going much faster. And we really can’t go fast enough at this point. At Demopolis, we re-looked and decided to spend four nights, five days on the waterway; about 40-50 mile days or eight(ish) hours without killing our engines. That gave us time to deal with fog and not have to move until it was clear and still find a rare anchorage before night fell.
Our execution? Three nights, four days with the last day covering over 75 miles through wind, rain and waves to get off rivers once and for all!
Our highlights (or lowlights):
1. Anchorages/places we stayed.
Our first night on the BWTB was blissful. Our anchorage was in Hukabun ‘creek’ and it was AWESOME, assuming you don’ mind mud, snakes and driftwood. We had a canopy of trees over the top of the boat. Crickets chirping. Mosquitoes hunting for blood. We heard one tow pass in the middle of the night, but other than that, nothing. We awoke on Wednesday morning and I took Lucky to shore and on the way back a tow passed in front of our anchorage on her way unbound. I turned on the instruments and saw that there was another tow down bound (going our way) about 2 miles upstream from us so we went into ‘code red.’ We fired up the engines, pulled up the anchors and were out in about 15 minutes. Got ahead of the tow so we wouldn’t have to pass later.
Our destination was our second stop, Bobby’s Fish Camp at mile 119 on the BWTB. It is a dock along the river on which there is some power, a fuel pump and cleats. The dock is 150’ long, so the number of boats that can tie up is very limited based on the size of the boats. On Wednesday that limit was three. At least three tied directly to the lock, but you can put on many more if you raft up–tie to the boats on the dock. As we approached, we were hailed by the Hakuna Matada who told us to raft up with them at the front of the dock. We approached, backed in and were set. It worked out well–HM is a dog boat and they had a stern swim platform we could use to walk to shore without traipsing across their deck. No sooner did we connect power and being to watch “The Voice,” than did two other boats arrive. Jimsjoy tied up behind us and Pug 2 tied up to us; we were sandwiched between two 45 foot cruisers. By the end of the night there were eight boats rafted up along the dock and one boat anchored just behind the dock.
Bobby’s Fish Camp is a rustic place. It is along side a state park, it has a well used boat ramp and there are a ton of RVs, mobile homes and ‘temporary’ shelters around the camp. We walked around the neighborhood which was a dirt road heading into the woods. We turned around when we heard the banjo/guitar combo. We were told upon arrival that it is best to keep pets on leash because there are large numbers of alligators and rattlesnakes. Nice. It also has a restaurant that is open Thursday to Sunday that specializes in catfish in many forms. Because there were a bunch of us boaters at the dock, they opened the restaurant for us.
So at 6pm, the group of us trudged up the hill and into the restaurant for some fish. We setup in two large tables and Sally, the only person in the place, took our orders then went back to make the food. We could bring in our own wine, so one of our more intrepid adventurers went into the back to get some glasses which prevented us from drinking straight out of our bottles or boxes. Dinner was fried catfish goodness finished off with pecan pie a la mode. It was well worth the stop; we have eaten at nicer places and had a worse time…2
Last anchorage was Three Rivers Lake, or bayou, at mile 64. It is about 53 miles downriver from Bobby’s. The Three Rivers Lake is down the end of a long, narrow channel. We puttered through slowly and it opened up into a shallow, long lake. Our own personal bayou. The shores are muddy and the vegetation comes directly to the water AND there are alligators in this area, so Lucky is going to get a crash training course in how to pee on his mat. A fishing boat came by just after we finished setting the anchor and told us three things. We were the only boat left in the bayou. This place gets hardly any traffic. And we better have bug spray. And to enjoy our night!
2. 36 hours without going to the bathroom.
Our last anchorage, described above, was perfect in every way except one. We didn’t have a great place to bring Lucky ashore. Our thought was that NOW is a good time to learn to pee on a mat. Last time he went to the bathroom was 6am, it was now 5pm, and at some point he is going to have to go. So we put his grass mat and on the front trampoline of the boat. We clipped on is leash and led him up front. Lucky was excited thinking we were heading into shore, then was confused when we didn’t put the dinghy into the water. He was mildly interested in the grass mat, but no dice on the pee. Instead he laid down on it. And looked at the dinghy, then at us, then at the dinghy. So we had AJ pee on the carpet to see if that would help. We brough Lucky back to the carpet and he (Lucky, that is) proceeded to lick the grass. I threw up a little in my mouth.
This was not going well.
So we made dinner, played some Pandemic and put the leash back on and out to the front. Nothing. We got tired of walking to the front of the boat, so brought the mat to the back of the boat, and Lucky showed his appreciation by again, laying on the mat. On which he is supposed to go to the bathroom.
Fine. To bed then. He will have to go to the bathroom in the morning. Bright and early we rise and again try to get the young stud to go to the bathroom ANYWHERE on the boat–we don’t care anymore, but he is uninterested. So we do the only thing left–we get back underway.
At this point, we are pretty sure Lucky was undergoing some sort of toxic shock. He laid on the front of the boat the entire day, a glazed, painful look in his eyes. The only time he showed any interest was when we ran through Mobile and got close to the docks; he perked up until he realized we weren’t stopping.
We slogged through the Mobile bay in a squall and turned into Turner Marina arriving at just after 5pm, almost 36 hours since last poddie break. Lucky, upon realizing we were pulling into a dock, went freaking bananas. He whined and ran across the boat and when we were about 10 feet from shore, he threw himself off the boat and onto the grass, a rainbow forming in the arc of urine flowing behind him.
3. The importance of not being in a hurry. And of paying attention.
At Bobby’s Fish camp, we discussed the plans for Thursday. One boat volunteered to call the lock at 6am and he planned on leaving as early as possible to get to the lock. We would all listen in on the conversation and be ready to roll. The general consensus was that we would like to leave at 7am, with the sun over the horizon.
So at 6am the lock master was called and he told us that the barge traffic was stopped due to fog so if we could see our way to the dock, we could come on up. But he had to turn the lock. We told him we would leave at 7am, be there at 7:20ish and the lock master told us that was a good plan. They had a shift change at 0645 and would flip the lock and have ready for us when we arrived.
That conversation ended at 0605. And at 0635 the first boat started throwing off lines, which stated an avalanche of boats leaving for the lock just a bit earlier than we had planned. Someone was in a hurry, consequently we were all on the water. We cruised the mile to the lock entrance and were stopped by two things. First was the lock master saying they weren’t ready for us yet. And second was fog. Dense fog. So eight boats were bobbing in the water waiting for the lock to open the doors and we could barely see each other. Do we not learn lessons! 0710, doors open and 0725 we were locking down. Our quickly and down the river. Fog was lifting, though there were some heavy patches and into one of those patches went one of our boats and she ran aground temporarily.
Which seems like it would be hard to do. We have charts, we have GPS, we have a bunch of other systems. But a moment of not paying attention, or throw in some fog and a distraction and you find the bottom. We certainly can’t throw stones. There has been more than one occasion when our attention has wandered and we find ourselves in very skinny water going around a bend. Because when you are on the river for 10+ hours, you can lose focus and unlike on the Chesapeake Bay or the Great Lakes, there isn’t a lot of room for forgiveness. But at least the ground is mud. And we don’t hit anything fast!
4. 75 miles in a day
Friday morning, the no pee day, was planned to be a 50ish mile day with a stop at mm12 or mm6 with a chip shot for Saturday to Turner Marine. Forecast for the day was rain/thunderstorms starting at 1115. Not great. So we figured we would be ready to stop.
We were making pretty good speed–the tides were with us in the morning and the skies weren’t really getting cloudy. We kept checking the weather and the time for rain went back later and later in the day, from 1115 to 1300 to 1430 and finally to 1730. So we kept going. And our speed kept picking up. Like overtime I came onto the deck we seemed to be going faster, but Jan SWORE she didn’t touch the throttles. And after we got to the junction with the Alabama river our speed jumped a full knot and a half! We were flying. So we made the decision to see if we could make it all the way to the marina. Our ETA was 1730 which was the time the storms were supposed to arrive.
We arrived at Mobile about 1600 and puttered through the city. Lots of big boats and traffic. And then the river opened up into the Mobile Bay and we were back in big water. And it was a mite daunting! No trees! No banks! Wide open water. With storms directly in front of us. Our weather luck was about to come to an end.
While the water was wide open, the depths around us were not great. So we had to follow a channel due south for a couple of miles before we could turn to the west and back track to our marina for the night. Wind was coincidentally from the South, and they were pushing waves at us. Our speed went from 7 knots, to six, then to under five as we clawed our way south. We donned life vests. A Coast Guard cutter came along behind and then passed us TOTALLY waking us. We made the turn and made it into our marina, done with the rivers. Possibly forever!!
5. Alligators. Didn’t see one (other than the one pictured below, munching on AJ’s hand while Lucky pretends not to notice), but heard they were out there. So not a highlight, but not a bad thing.
6. Last LOCK!!!
1 OK. We have a very, very, very long waterway ahead of us known as the Intercostal Waterway. BUT this is the last RIVER waterway at least for awhile.
2 One last Bobby’s story. I took Lucky for his morning walk at 0515ish. 39 degrees was the temperature and it was a damp cold. It was dark–no moon and a crappy street light was the only thing providing any illumination. And fog everywhere. I expected to see no one, but was surprise when two dudes came walking down the trail towards the water. Full camo. One carrying a cross bow. I gave them the universal ‘what’s up’ and they grunted hello (I think) and apparently decided I was not the prey they were looking for and moved on to where ever they were going.