Fairhope Yacht Club, Fairhope, AL to The Wharf Marina, Orange Beach, Alabama — November 11, 2013

It was a great morning with light winds and cool temps that warmed with the sun.  I went to the office at the Yacht Club to pay the bill and talked to the manager about the forecast weather.  The winds tomorrow are supposed to be out of the north about 20 mph with gusts to 33 mph.  I was concerned about any surge in Fly Creek.  She called one of the members and I talked to him for a few minutes and decided we needed to move.

We originally planned on 4 days in Fairhope and then a 1 day stop at Lulu’s before spending some time at the Wharf in Orange Beach.  Lulu is Jimmy Buffet’s sister and we stopped there last year for lunch.  There is a marina right next door but not much else.  It is real touristy.  We decided to skip Lulu’s and go directly to Orange Beach.  I called and they were able to assign us to a slip in the main basin right in front of all the restaurants and shops.

We got underway about 10:00 and it was a great cruise on Mobile Bay.  The wind was light and then it pretty much died.  There was a lot of traffic on the ICW and a couple of boats we have seen along the way and talked to (Sun Drum and Sanctuary), were at Lulu’s for lunch.  They waved as we went by.

We are starting to get used to seeing the pelicans again.  They like to sit on the pilings looking for fish.  There is also an abundance of herons around.  They make a loud screeching sound when they take flight but graceful to watch.

We arrived at the Wharf in the early afternoon and the temps were in the mid 70’s.  After we were tied up Candy and I did a walk thru the complex to get a lay of the land.  Last year we stopped for 1 night and it was later in the day that we arrived.  We tallied 6 different restaurants, a cigar bar and a whole raft of boutiques style shops.  There is also a 12 screen theater complex and a ferris wheel. Not sure what the story is behind the ferris wheel.

I did get a call from a friend of ours in the Detroit area.  He was lamenting the weather and wanted to know where we were and what it was like outside.  He said there was a hint of snow in the air in the Detroit area.  We chatted for a few minutes and he was able to find Orange Beach on his road map atlas as we talked. We are going to feel some of the effects of the weather that is in the Midwest.  The wind coming in tomorrow and on Wednesday the high is supposed to be in the mid 50’s.  They also say that it will be 70 again on Friday.

We are waiting for Pete and Carolyn on Humbug.  They are having some work done on their boat and they went to New Orleans for a couple of days.  They should be back on the water Friday or Saturday so we will hang around the Wharf and enjoy the place a little.

Dog River Marina, Mobile, AL to Fairhope Yacht Club, Fairhope, AL — November 9, 2013

The day started with a pretty cool morning but warmed nicely with the sun out.  Wind was light from the Northeast so we would be headed partially into it as we went east to
Fairhope on the other side of Mobile Bay.

The most stressful part of the trip was undocking at the Dog River Marina.  We had been tied up at the lay along dock on the inside, bow in. There was no place to turn around and we needed to back out.  There were boats on both sides and a set of what they called hurricane piles down the middle.  We had a guy on his 56’ Sea Ray sit on the boat to fend us off if need be.  We were backing into an outgoing tide so I think that helped us maintain some control but we probably backed up 800’ before we had a chance to turn around.  Overall it went smoothly.

During the trip on the bay we saw the Active Captain Boat, Accapella, as they were getting ready to enter the channel to Dog River.  They are in a 56’ Defever Trawler.  We had seen them previously at Green Turtle Bay.  These are the couple who maintain the Active Captain site. It is a great site for a cruising boat.  All the information regarding marinas and anchorages is provided by the users. I do not think I go a day without looking something up on the site.

It was not a long trip today but we found out that Mobile Bay is probably 8 or 9 miles across and following the channels we went 12 miles. I saw some crab pots just out of the channel near Dog Rive but no other ones which is good.

As we were getting tied up at the Fairhope Yacht Club (FYC) another boater advised me to make sure there was power available on the dock before I got everything setup.  He was also a transient.  They only have room for about 4 transients.  FYC is a private
club and will only extend dockage to those with reciprocal privileges.  We have those thru the Great Lakes Cruising Club.

The FYC was heavily damaged during Katrina in 2005 and was rebuilt and re-dedicated in 2008.  One of the oak trees that died as a result of Katrina was carved by a sculpture and I took a picture of it.  They have a restaurant and a bar and it was busy last night with an awful lot of people rooting for Alabama in the Alabama-LSU football game.

FYC also had a wedding on the lawn yesterday late afternoon and then the reception was in the club. They had a live band and the groom (at least we think he was the groom) was dressed fairly casually as were a lot of the guests.  The band did not play the kind of music you would normally associate with a wedding. They played several Johnnie Cash songs and many other country songs. I guess we need to take into account we are not in the Midwest now.

The other boater that we talked to the dock is a Gold Looper.  They did the Loop 7 years ago and have been traveling on the boat ever since that time.  They have done most of the side trips and taken most of the rivers as far as they are navigable.  I had a few questions for him and he was happy to answer them. One of the questions was about navigating Mobile Bay outside the marked channel to get to the ICW. He gave me a photo copy of a chart with the course marked on it the he has used in the past. They are leaving tomorrow.

Bobby’s Fish Camp, Bladon, AL To Dog River Marina, Mobile, AL — November 6, 2013

Well we were ready this morning and actually off the dock at 6:00.  We had called the lock and the lockmaster did not seem very helpful.  He said he was clear at this time but it could change by the time we got there.  Fortunately it did not change and the lock doors opened as we approached the lock.

This is the Coffeeville Lock and it is important in that it is the last lock we will see until next spring. We are now in brackish water headed to Mobile Bay.  We will get into the delta area near Mobile at about 30 miles out of the Bay.

There were the usual fishermen out and we even had one person pulling their boat out of the water and it was before 8:00 in the morning. Tow traffic was light on the upper end of the river and got a little heavier when we got closer to Mobile.  We also were in an industrial area so they were loading and unloading barges.

The river scenery changed also as we moved south.  We went from the sand banks to the trees and bushes being right down to the water’s edge. Lots of greenery and no fall color at all.  There were areas along the shore that the fir trees were growing right down to the water and these were long stretches of bank.  The fir trees really stood out from all the deciduous trees in the area.

A couple of other rivers joined the Black Warrior River, the Alabama and the Tensas rivers. The river widens when the other rivers come in.  There were sections of the river
that were probably ½ to ¾ of a mile wide. The normal river was only a couple of hundred feet wide.

We passed several sailboat headed south.  We were real close to 2 of them as we approached the 14 mile railroad lift bridge. It made it easy because the bridge tender already was raising the bridge when we approached and he left the bridge open to get the 4 boats thru.  He must have had a big break in the train schedule.

The delta area has a lot of saw grass type areas with many cypress trees in the water.  No development in this area as it is mostly marsh. You can tell when you are getting close to Mobile because the barges are parked along the side.  Most of the traffic is in the last 3 miles of the Tenn-Tom. Mobile is ranked 8th in the amount of inbound tonnage into the US and 16th in outbound shipments for an overall ranking of 12th.  The numbers are pretty impressive if you were unaware.

There are also some Navy vessels along the east bank.  One of them is the USS Alabama and they have tours of the boat.  I know some of the Loopers are going on the tour.

Humbug is getting a little work done on the boat and the boat will be out of the water for about a week. We will stay at Dog River for a few days and then go across the bay to
Fairhope before going down to the ICW to Lulu’s and then the Wharf Marina.  Lulu is Jimmy Buffet’s sister and has a restaurant on the ICW.  We will wait at the Wharf for Humbug to catch up for the trip to Carrabelle.

Bashi Creek Anchorage, Campbell, AL To Bobby’s Fish Camp, Bladon, AL — November 5, 2013

We had a leisurely start today because we only had 26 miles to go to Bobby’s Fish Camp.  The temps last night were pretty much as predicted and it was not too cool in the boat this morning. The sky was overcast and it did not warm right away.

We got underway and there were several tows on the river.  We passed one going southbound and 2 more going northbound. One tow were passed that was upbound was really turning up the water and right behind the tow the water was churning 3’ in the
air.  He set up a pretty good wake also with wave probably 2’ and the roll in the water lasted for about 2 miles after we passed the tow.

The river was relatively quiet, other than the tows.  We arrive at Bobby’s at about noon.  We both wanted to get just a little fuel to make sure we had enough for the run to Mobile tomorrow.  We plan on an early start and being in Mobile by the end of the day, about 138 miles to Dog River.

We sat at the fuel dock waiting for Lora Jane, Bobby’s daughter.  Bobby died 3 years ago and she is running the place now.  We waited for about 2 hours.  We had called and she knew we were there but she had told me she needed a little time.  We each added a little fuel, Champ III took 50 gallons and Humbug took 60 gallons.

We were hoping that a couple of more boats would come in.  Tuesday is not a normal day for the restaurant to be open but if there are enough people they will cook for
them.  They did that last year when we were here.  It did not happen tonight.  No other boats showed up so we did not even ask them about the restaurant. We have plenty of leftovers on the boat and that is not the problem but we thought the restaurant would be nice to do.

It is strange with the time change from daylight savings to standard time. It is getting dark at 5:00 now and although the actual daylight time is not getting much shorter now the daylight ends an hour sooner.  We are going to try and get on the river tomorrow at 6:00.  We will see if that happens.

Kingfisher Bay Marina, Demopolis, Alabama to Bashi Creek Anchorage, Campbell, AL– November 4, 2013

I was out on deck this morning getting ready for a 7:30 departure.  It was about 6:50 and I noticed 2 boats leave.  I talked to Pete as we were going to travel with Humbug to Mobile.  I then called the lock and asked about the lock status.  He said they we getting
ready to take a group of pleasure boaters down.  I told him we were at Kingfisher Bay getting ready to depart and asked if he would hold the lock for us.

Well we went into high gear and were on the water in less than 10 minutes.  The lock was 3 miles away and we were part of a 4 boat flotilla headed to the lock.  It ended up with 8 boats in the lock and I was sure that a few of them were trying to get an early jump to get to Bobby’s Fish Camp for the night.

The lock master was very particular in his operation and what you did.  He assigned the floating bollards to the boats as they entered and made sure to warn everyone that no wake was allowed in the lock.  He asked every boat for it registration number or Coast Guard Number.  One boat tried to get a jump on the other boats when we were exiting the lock and he came on the radio and told the boater to wait to exit as there was no passing in the lock.  He then told each boat when to leave the lock.

The sun was out and the temperature warmed considerably to about 70.  We started he day at about 40 so the warmer temps were really nice, especially considering we were going to anchor out tonight.  The forecast were for temps to be about 10 degrees warmer tonight.

We had a variety of scenery today with a lot of sand banks but there were also some stone bluffs. Nothing like the Epes Bluffs we had seen a few days ago above Demopolis.  We did pass a trawler called Osprey that Pete and Carolyn has talked with before and they had gone thru the lock at 6:00 and had a bet on when we would pass them. The captain won.

We arrived at the anchorage Bashi Creek.  A lot is written on this anchorage, both good and bad.  The good is that it is easy to get into, the water is not too deep and it is pet friendly.  There is a boat ramp and it goes back off the river quite a ways.  The real problem is it is narrow and you need to use a stern anchor in addition to the bow anchor. Although it goes in quite a way, the trees hang over the channel and it is
really narrow.  There is a boat launch area and while we were anchoring one of the locals drove up and waved to us.

The launch area was pretty nice and Candy liked being able to walk around without a leash on.  I did put the leash on when it was dark but the other times, no leash.

We had a nice cocktail hour on Humbug and a dinner cooked by Pete and Carolyn.  While they were underway today Carolyn had baked a blueberry pie.

In the morning we had a tow stop on the river and they changed crews at the launch area with the help of a small tender from the tow.  We do not know how many days the crew stays on board but we know they change crews.

Sumter Twp Recreation Anchorage, Alabama to Kingfisher Bay Marina, Demopolis, Alabama — November 2, 2013

We got up early today and Candy and I took the dingy to shore.  It was still dark and the number of stars you can see without any other light around is just incredible.  When we were ready to come back to the boat a tow went by northbound on the river and that was good to see.

I had looked out during the night and the Champ III was swinging on the anchor while the other boats appeared to be just sitting in place.  We came close to Blue Moon and Humbug but no problem.  I think their anchor rodes were all chain and the chain went straight down while we have 20’ of chain and the rest is rope.  This allows the champ to move even in the slightest breeze where their chains provide a lot more resistance to movement.

We tried to raise the 2 Looper boats that anchored 7 miles north of us at Cooks Cutoff.  We were only 3 miles from the Heflin Lock and wanted to find out their intentions and maybe everybody could lock thru together. No luck on getting them on the VHF and nobody had a mobile number for them.  We called the lock and he had no commercial traffic and could take us as soon as we got there.  All 5 boats made a mad dash out of the Sumter Township Recreation Anchorage.

The lock went smoothly and it was the only lock of the day.  We did pass several tows on the river and we were able to catch them in straight sections of the river so there was no delay getting around them.  We really made good time to the Kingfisher Bay Marina in Demopolis Alabama.

One of the really scenic parts of the day was passing the Epes Bluff not too far north of Demopolis. The Cliffs are white rock that has been carved by the water over the decades and centuries.  It was interesting that the fall color was fairly abundant right at the Epes Bluff but the other parts of the river did not have any fall color.  The cliffs are what are known as the Selma Chalk Formations and are the only part that is exposed for maybe a mile along the river bank.

We went with Pete and Carolyn to dinner last night at the restaurant that is on site at the Demopolis Yacht Basin. The Yacht Basin and Kingfisher Bay are owned by the same family. The distance from the boats to the restaurant and marina office are quite far so they provide courtesy golf carts to use.  Our cart ran out of gas about ¼ of the way there. Fortunately we were able to get a ride there from the restaurant and the marina had somebody gas up the cart and bring it to the restaurant for us to use to get back.

Anyway we were treated to some real southern hospitality at the New Orleans Bar & Grill.  We asked for a non-existent wine list but the waitress did offer that the bartender could write out a list.  Pete asked for a bottle of house Cabernet and we asked for a bottle of house Pinot Grigio.  The waitress brought 4 glasses of wine and Pete said we ordered a bottle. The waitress brought two 1.5 liter bottles.  The Cabernet looked like it was freshly opened and the Pinot Grigio was ¼ full. I don’t think that the normal patrons order wine by the bottle.  It was really hard not to laugh at the whole situation because the waitress was really trying to do the best she could.

Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS to Sumter Twp Recreation Anchorage, Alabama — November 1, 2013

Thursday was a rainy day with some reasonably heavy rain in the afternoon.  Lenore was not feeling well so I went with Pete and Carolyn (Humbug) to see the Waverly Mansion.  This Greek Revival home was built during the Civil War, from 1852 to 1857.  It was occupied by a George Hampton Young and his 10 children from 1857 to about 1913 when it was left abandon.  It was purchased in 1963 by Mr. Robert Snow and his wife, an antique dealer and he has occupied the house ever since. When they bought it they renovated a kitchen and a bedroom and moved in. They painstakingly renovated each room themselves over the next 25 years.  The house is on the National Historic Register and is still occupied on a daily basis by the family. The magnolia tree in the front yard is over 150 years old.

We did get an early start this morning because about 5 boats pulled out at 7:00 and I called the lock and asked him when he would have the lock ready for the 2nd lock thru.  He asked how long it would take us to get to the lock and I told him about 1/2 hour.  He said it would be more efficient to lock everyone thru at once and they would wait for us. I am sure that did not make the 5 boats happy but it was not my call.

We did get to the lock in about 1/2 hour or less and he locked the 8 boats thru.  The weather was clear and about 55 with hardly a breeze.  It took a little while for the sun to burn off a little bit of river fog.

2 of the boats took off when the lock doors were opened because they wanted to make Demopolis for the evening.  I sure they had no problem because it is only about 120 miles.

The day warmed nicely to the low 70’s and the sun was out all day.  We saw a few birds along the way.  Lenore thought she saw an eagle and there was an osprey and a couple of cranes.

The 2nd lock did not go as quick as the first lock.  We had to wait for over an hour while they locked down one tow and brought another tow up.  After we were locked down we caught up with the tow that had locked down.  He was at a narrow part of the river with 2 sharp bends in the river.  We crawled behind him waiting to get to the next straight portion of the river.  In the 2nd turn he slowed down and determined that the loaded barges were dragging on the river bottom so as he inched forward he let us pass.  Nice tow captain to let us go around like that.

Not much color down in this part of Mississippi.  Later in the day we did pass back into Alabama where tonight’s anchorage is.  We stayed here last year and it is a nice protected anchorage off the Tenn-Tom that has a boat ramp, picnic tables, restroom and a pretty good sized parking lot.  Last year Candy stirred up a hornets nest during her morning walk and we are not going to let that happen again.

There are 5 boats in the anchorage tonight and it could hold probably another 3 or so. We thought that there would be a lot of boats here but some went all the way and others stopped at anchorages closer to Columbus.  That was fine with us.

Tomorrow will be another early day, 7:30 or 8:00 so we can get into Demopolis at a reasonable time.  Good weather is forecast.

Ditto Landing Marina, Huntsville, AL to Joe Wheeler State Park, Rogersville, Alabama — October 26, 2013

Today was a cold morning with temperature at 31 degrees.  There was steam off the water with frost on the canvas and dock.  I used a pair of lock gloves for my morning walk with Candy to keep my hands warmer.

The river was quiet with only a few bass fishermen out.  A couple were launching their boat at Ditto Landing just about the time we were leaving, 8:30. They were going fishing.

We did have to wait a short while for the railroad bridge in Decatur Alabama but it was only about 10 minutes.  There were tows along the side of the river and there was one active tug moving barges around for specific shipments.  We could hear the chatter on the radio.

The tow captain even acknowledged a sailboat on the river that had its mast down and was flying a skull and cross bones flag.  At first he was not sure what he was looking
at and then it got closer.  He and his friend had a good chuckle about that.  The sailboat was not moving real fast and we passed him about a mile or so past the barges.

While the day started sunny by about noon it was mostly cloudy.  We did not have any rain and it was kind of nice to get off the river early. We arrived at Joe Wheeler State Park at about 2:00.  A lot different view coming into the harbor then when the rendezvous was on, there were only 2 boats at the transient dockage.  The rendezvous had 60 boats.

The sailboat with the skull and cross bones flag came into the marina about 1 1/2 hours after we had come in so he was traveling really slow.  He is towing a small Boston Whaler behind the sailboat.

We had a relaxing afternoon doing laundry and picking up around the boat.  Somehow that never gets done when you are underway. There is always something to do on the boat.

Dinner was at the restaurant in the Joe Wheeler Lodge.  They had a buffet but we decided to order off the menu.  The menu was a “Limited” menu because of the buffet.  Even though it was limited we were able to order a couple of items that we had previously seen on the full menu (good waiter).

Goose Pond Marina, Scottsboro, AL to Ditto Landing Marina, Huntsville, AL — October 25, 2013

It was a cold, crisp, morning with a temperature of 33 degrees. There was a breeze this morning so the wind chill was a factor.  Tough to keep both hands warm when you are walking the dog carrying a cup of coffee.

We did not leave until 8:30 this morning because today should be a relatively short day with one lock and the current in our favor. The wind was out of the northeast and there were times it was blowing in the cockpit because it was behind us.

We had 1 lock today, Guntersville. We were not quite as lucky as yesterday.  We called the lock from 4 miles out and he said he was dropping a tow and should have the lock ready in about 40 minutes.  Right after we called there was more radio talk from a group of boaters going upstream and they were below the lock.  The lockmaster had them enter the lock when the tow was clear. The delay was about 20 minutes so it was not too bad.  There were 3 houseboats, one small Ranger Tug and a 33’ Nordic Tug.

The guy on the Ranger Tug sounded (on the VHF radio) like he needed to be on oxygen. His voice was raspy and strained but it did not stop him from talking to the lock and his fellow boaters.  We never got a glimpse of him.

The stone walls and bluffs really looked good in the sunshine between the lock and Ditto Landing. There were several of the rock outcroppings with a lot of color variation along the wall.

Overall today we made good time and it was an easy day.  We did meet a few other Loopers at Ditto Landing but no Docktails tonight.  We had a nice dinner on board with Humbug.  Carolyn has an oven and baked a pear dessert that everyone but her liked.

Lots of good walking area with an adjoining park by the marina.  Ditto Landing is really on the outskirts of Huntsville Alabama so we did not take the time to try and get into town.

Aquarium Dock, Chattanooga, TN to Goose Pond Marina, Scottsboro, AL– October 24, 2013

We left Chattanooga at 8:00 eastern time.  The sky was overcast and the temps were in
the mid 40’s.  Some wind blowing but that is really not an issue on river travel. We did get some nice photos of the Chattanooga riverfront as we were departing.

Chattanooga was fun. They have a saltwater aquarium and a fresh water aquarium and we visited both.  There was a lot of walking as the exhibits start on the 4th floor and you walk your way down on ramps thru the various floor levels going from exhibit to exhibit.  We even saw some Macaw Parrots, a butterfly room and a screech owl. The turtles were interesting in that there were so many different types.  Several hands on exhibits were available including one with stingrays.

We also went to see an IMAX movie.  The movie was about the construction off the
trans Canada railroad.  It was started back in the 1850’s and it showed how some bad decisions were made on the route and what it really cost in terms of life and effort for those building the railroad.  The movie was really good with great visual effects and sounds.

We got the boost in boat speed on the river that we had hoped for.  For most of the morning we were able to run at 11.1 mph and made great time.  There were a few boats on the river but they were fishermen. We made great time to the Nickajack Lock just was west of Hales Bar Landing.  2 Pleasure craft were coming out of the lock as we approached and there no waiting, we drove right in.

The day did warm up some and we had mostly sunny skies so it just felt better because the day looked good. We did gain an hour when we went back into the Central Time Zone.  We had left Candy on Central Time because it was a short couple of days we were back in the Eastern Time Zone.

We arrived at Goose Pond Marina a little after 3:00.  This gave us time for some laundry, grocery shopping and going out to the local restaurant for dinner.  The marina itself did look different when we arrived because there were no boats at the transient dock and we had our choice of where to tie up. We did see one of the boats that had been in Chattanooga the first night we were there.  They are on their way home to Decatur Alabama, just a short ride for them.

The restaurant was not as crowded as last Saturday and the noise level was not quite as bad.  The acoustics in the place are terrible so when there are a lot of people there is
a lot of noise.