The Tennessee River and Tombigbee River Waterway

The Tennessee River is beautiful, and such a welcome change to what we have recently encountered coming down the Illinois and Mississippi River systems. Before descending the Tennessee, we spent four days at Green Turtle Bay Marina, an upscale marina at the north end of the Lake Tennessee Reservoir. Most Loopers use this marina to recharge their (personal) batteries after dealing with the more stressful rivers north of here. We renewed a number of acquaintances we met earlier on our journey and re-provisioned the boat. There a number of really good restaurants in the vicinity, which we thoroughly enjoyed, including one, Patti’s that served 2″ think pork chops, which were great! Again, it was BYOB.

Sunrise on the Tennessee River

Sunrise on the Tennessee River

After our rest, we continued upstream on the Tennessee River. The river was very pretty with mainly thick forests and rocky bluffs on the side and very little signs of human habitation. We spent five days on the Tennessee, stopping at small but interesting marinas each night. We have been traveling with the same three boats since meeting them on the Illinois River.

After 215 miles we turned off of the river into the Tenn-Tom Waterway. This is a man-made waterway that connects the Tennessee River with the Tombigbee River. This waterway and the lock system was completed in the mid-1980’s and we were once again descending the river, which makes locking through much easier.

At the start of the Tombigbee Waterway, we had planned to spend two nights at another upscale marina on Pickwick, Lake which a major tourist area. The marina is located where Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee intersect one another. Most of these upscale marinas have courtesy cars which transient boaters can use for shopping, restaurant going and limited sightseeing. The Civil War Shiloh Battlefield was about 20 miles from this marina, and another couple we have been traveling with, Woody and Lucy, spent four hours visiting the battlefield and visitor center. Over 23,000 Confederate and Union soldiers fell in this battle. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the park has a driving tour which allows you to visit all of the major sections of the battle. When you enter the park you feel a sense of haunting. But yet it is quite peaceful.

Beautiful statue in Shiloh

Beautiful statue in Shiloh


"I'm going to get one of those Confederate Soldiers!"

“I’m going to get one of those Confederate Soldiers!”


No wonder they lost - they don't know how to hold a rifle!

No wonder they lost – they don’t know how to hold a rifle!


This area is also the catfish capital of the United States. The three couples we had been traveling with were splitting up the next day, so we crammed ourselves into a van a drove to the Catfish Hotel, the oldest family owned restaurant for an all-you-can-eat catfish dinner. Woody and Dave had a little competition going on with who could eat the most catfish. I think it was a draw! It was a fun, but sad evening. We all had bonded after having traveled about 900 miles together.
Woody finishing another catfish!

Woody finishing another catfish!


Great presentation in serving mini-tacos - in lemon wedges!

Great presentation in serving mini-tacos – in lemon wedges!


Ed and EJ

Ed and EJ

Dave and Cheryl

Dave and Cheryl

Woody and Lucy

Woody and Lucy


Our traveling companions left early the next morning. A fond farewell. We hope to run into them again in Florida. We decided to stay another night because we had “time to kill” so to speak because our boat insurance policy does not allow us to be south of the 31st parallel before October 24. Since we were only four our five days away from that latitude, we just thought we would spend the time there. We made the right decision, for that night a major cold front swept through the entire middle and southern states, spawning 50-70 mile winds, tornadoes and torrential rain. We had a tornado touchdown about 60 miles NE of our marina, but all we encountered in our slip was 24 hours of heavy rain. Again we were blessed with river flooding and waited one more day for the debris to work its way down, and then departed south down the waterway.

This waterway is much narrower than the Tennessee River and very remote, with little commercial traffic. We anchored out that night in a beautiful lake connected to the waterway in a deep forest. It was so dark and creepy feeling that Pauline made sure our doors were locked after having visions of the movie “Deliverance” in our minds!!
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The next two days we traveled with a convoy of 5-7 boats transiting the locks together and staying at a very rustic, but adequate marina the first night. We are now located in a more upscale Marina in Columbus Mississippi for three nights. Again, waiting out our insurance constraints. We are only 120 miles north of our southern limit of our policy and we have seven days before the deadline comes.

We are traveling with a new couple that have already completed the Great Loop 4 or 5 years ago and live on the Tennessee River, outside of Chattanooga. They are on their way to spending the winter in the Keys. It has been very helpful traveling with them as they know the river anchorages and their knowledge of the river, anchorages and marinas.

Columbus is a relatively large city with everything a way of shopping and restaurants. We will be here for two more nights before moving onto Demopolis, Alabama, which sits right on the 31st parallel. The weather has been very nice. Mid-70s, low humidity and once you get used to the southern drawl, the people we have met are very friendly. The ladies in particular are “sugary” sweet! You almost feel yourself wanting to begin talking like them. Everyone is so polite – “yes mam, no mam”, “welcome”, “can I help you mam/sir?”. We Northerner’s would do well to pick up on some of those manners!!

Here are a couple of cat photos. The girls are doing well. Pema still loves to jump ship when she can or cause some other sorts of anxt for us. Yesterday she crawled into a crawl space along the hull of the boat – cat treats to the rescue to get her out of there! Today she shot into the engine room – an off limits area for cats – cat treats to the rescue. Ming is an angel!

"Why are you on the dock?  I was getting ready to jump"  Meow….

“Why are you on the dock? I was getting ready to jump” Meow….


Ming getting some sunshine

Ming getting some sunshine

Pema - Packer Fan!

Pema – Packer Fan!

Pema exhausted after the Packer game!

Pema exhausted after the Packer game!

Until next time, hear the banjo strumming the “Deliverance” theme song and think of us here on the Tenn-Tomm Waterway. Next stop – Demopolis, Alabama! Florida is getting closer! Can’t wait! No more locks.

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The Illinois and the Mississippi Rivers

First of all, I don’t know how I forgot to add this photo to the last blog, but it is a special one – many of our Milwaukee friends joined us for a glass of wine aboard Next Dance before heading over to Scott and Jean’s home to carry on. This is a photo of them on deck. Thank you all for joining us and giving us a wonderful memory!

IMG_2333Many of our friends that we have talked to regarding our adventure are somewhat surprised to learn that the inland river system on which we are currently cruising, exists at all.

The river system we have, and will be traveling on, is comprised of the Illinois River (Chicago to Grafton, Il, 233 miles), a portion of the Mississippi River (Grafton, Il to Cairo, Il, 218 miles), a short leg on the Ohio River (Cairo, Il for 66 miles) to the junction with the Cumberland River, then 33 miles up to Lake Barkley (dammed up Cumberland River). From there we take a short man made canal to the Tennessee River, on which we travel 190 miles to we reach the Tombigbee/Black Warrior Rivers. From there it is 450 miles to Mobile, Alabama. The system has been in use primarily for commercial traffic since mid 1800’s (Il., Miss., and Ohio) to only as recent as 1983, Tombigbee.

We entered the Illinois River on September 8th. Our game plan was to average about 30-40 miles per day. Taking 30 to 45 days or so for the entire system. Boy were we wrong! On the evening of September 8th, a major front came through the upper midwest dumping 5 to 8 inches of rain in both the Illinois and upper Mississippi watersheds. Both rivers experienced significant flooding which lasted about ten days. When this happens many of the locks are closed (read underwater) and all traffic comes to a halt. Pleasure boaters, mainly Great Loopers like ourselves, can only wait it out until the water drops low enough to proceed. The floods not only bring high water but also very rapid river currents and a large amount of debris – read trees. At times a “dam” of floating debris crosses the river from bank to bank. When you hit those, you take the boat out of gear and hope momentum takes you through. Since all Great Looper’s hit the river system about the same time, there was a serious log jam in the few available marina’s on the river system. Anchoring was just too dangerous because of the debris and strong current.

As a result, once the water started to reside, we could only move down river when a space became available in a marina a day’s travel below us. Therefore, we had delays as much as five nights in a given spot. We got to know some towns we had never heard of very well….Beardstown, Ottawa, and Henry, Il to name a few. On the upside we made a lot of new friends among fellow loopers.

Car ferry on the Illinois River

Car ferry on the Illinois River


A tree in the river - one among many we had to maneuver past

A tree in the river – one among many we had to maneuver past


Sunrise - another early departure

Sunrise – another early departure

Well, as I write this, we are anchored on the Ohio River hoping to get through two remaining locks tomorrow and arrive tomorrow night at a nice marina on Lake Barkley, Kentucky. Getting through a lock, ONCE WE ENTER, only takes about 30 to 60 minutes. Waiting to get in can take hours, or in some cases experienced by a few fellow loopers, an entire day. Commercial traffic by law is locked through before recreational boaters. However, towboat boat captains often take pity on us, and squeeze us in between barge loads.

The river system experience is interesting and necessary, but definitely not scenic, nor relaxing. You see a very industrial, grimy side of America. Commercial traffic is extensive (2 to 4 encounters per hour) and at least at first, intimidating. Passing a towboat with up to 600 ft of barges (16 in number) out in front and leaving a wake behind of churned up water with waves up to 8 feet high in some cases, AND on a bend, is a little challenging. On top of it all, the towboat captains are all from the deep south and it is hard for this upper Midwest couple to understanding what they are saying on the VHF radio. (You must contact each tow boat and ask on what side and when it wants to be passed.) They will tell you either on the “one whistle” or the “two whistle”. We suspect that the history of this if from the days of steam driven boats and they would either give a one or two whistle to tell boats which side they should pass on. Only a theory – I have not looked it up!!

By far, the worst experience was the Mississippi, followed by the Illinois. At times on the Mississippi, our boat, that normally cruises at 8 mph, was being pushed along by the current at 13 mph. You have greatly reduced directional control and pulling into a dock is a one shot deal. If you miss, you really don”t get a second chance. So far we have been lucky!

Dinner out with fellow Loopers

Dinner out with fellow Loopers

One of the large locks we were in.  Our friends, Ed & EJ had to make a quick turnaround in the lock in order to grab the pin we attach a line to.  Fun??

One of the large locks we were in. Our friends, Ed & EJ had to make a quick turnaround in the lock in order to grab the pin we attach a line to. Fun??


Coming into St. Louis - the Arch is in sight!

Coming into St. Louis – the Arch is in sight!

US Bank Building in St. Louis - Mark visited here often!

US Bank Building in St. Louis – Mark visited here often!

The Arch in St. Louis - it's pretty big close up!

The Arch in St. Louis – it’s pretty big close up!

These are canoers doing the Loop; a couple and their dog, Jasmine!  And we thought WE were on an adventure!!  They started in Quebec City.  Amazing to say the least.

These are canoers doing the Loop; a couple and their dog, Jasmine! And we thought WE were on an adventure!! They started in Quebec City. Amazing to say the least.


The Canoers next to a tow on the Mississippi  - they are VERY strong rowers!

The Canoers next to a tow on the Mississippi – they are VERY strong rowers!


River Talk with Fern at Hoppies - an institution for all Loopers on the Mississippi River

River Talk with Fern at Hoppies – an institution for all Loopers on the Mississippi River

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Fern from Hoppies - she knows everything there is to know about boating on the Mississippi

Fern from Hoppies – she knows everything there is to know about boating on the Mississippi


We did hit 12 knots per hour, but I wasn't fast enough for the photo!

We did hit 12 knots per hour, but I wasn’t fast enough for the photo!


Ming and Pema cuddled up underway

Ming and Pema cuddled up underway

The winding river we traversed

The winding river we traversed

Beautiful sunset in a lovely anchorage in Little Diversion Channel

Beautiful sunset in a lovely anchorage in Little Diversion Channel

Oyster leaving the anchorage

Oyster leaving the anchorage


Leaving the Mississippi and entering the Ohio River - Heavenly!

Leaving the Mississippi and entering the Ohio River – Heavenly!

Today’s experience on the Ohio was a nice surprise in comparison, much less current, the river’s much wider and straighter, and less industrial, at least on this portion.

The Packer Pom Pom flying proudly - They WON!!

The Packer Pom Pom flying proudly – They WON!!


By now, you must be wondering why we are doing this. Trust us, we have asked the same question often during the last 3 weeks.
But the worst is behind us. The rivers we still must travel are much less commercial, pretty and relaxing…or so we have been told! We’ll let you know! It will be nice to slow down, if nothing else. We heard not too far down the river is a marina near Shiloh. We hope to visit the battlefield. From this point forward we hope to get some sightseeing in.

We cannot go any further south than Demopolis, AL until after October 24 due to insurance reasons – AKA hurricanes. So that should slow us down a bit and enjoy life a bit instead of long, tiring days trying to get somewhere.

Tomorrow is a busy day, ladies day out!! There is a courtesy car at the marina and Pauline and three other ladies are going to drive to Paducah to go to a mall, get nails done, shop, have fun and laughs. Can’t wait! I’m sure the hubbies will be doing boat projects. The ladies need a much needed break. It has been very hot. So a day away from boat things will be nice change. Upon our return to the Marina, the Marina is hosting it’s annual BBQ for the Loopers. They are providing all of the BBQ and sides – we just have to bring our beverage of choice. Oh, by the way, we are in a “dry” county. When we go out to restaurants here, we bring our own wine! We have to give it to the server and they open it and serve it. I’m not so sure about this Southern way of life . . . what are they thinking??

Whew! I am caught up on the blog. I’ll try not to wait so long to do it next time!!

Until the next time, calm rivers and cool nights!