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A Knot-So-Fast Getaway

Knot-So-Fast at Miller's Ferry Campground, across from Miller's Ferry Marina.

Knot-So-Fast at Miller's Ferry Campground, across from Miller's Ferry Marina.

Tom Smitherman

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After two years spent building my 20-foot tugboat cruiser, Knot-So-Fast, we were finally ready to plan her maiden voyage. Based on a request of my 8-year-old granddaughter, Abby, to go somewhere she could “see lots of animals and birds,” we chose to take a trip down the Alabama River.

The Alabama River is part of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the longest continuous in-state river trail in the US. Mostly remote and undeveloped, it has been described by many as one of the most beautiful stretches of river in the country, and we were not disappointed!

Our crew consisted of Abby; my wife, Glenda; and our miniature dachshund, Daisy. Our planned route would take us from Mile 288 in the capital city of Montgomery to the end of the Alabama, where it joins the Tombigbee to form the Mobile River. From that point, we would weave our way through the Mobile-Tensaw Delta area to Mobile Bay. Crossing the bay, we’d end our trip at Gulf Shores, Ala., for a total of about 380 miles.

On Monday morning, day one of our adventure, we motored out of the Montgomery Marina and headed down the Alabama toward Prairie Creek Campground, one of six excellent Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds along our route. As the scenery quickly changed from the metropolitan skyline of downtown Montgomery to wilderness, I silently questioned the wisdom of embarking on such an adventure. There would be little or no cell phone service and no one within VHF range for most of our trip. If we had a mechanical or medical emergency, we would be on our own!

However, my anxiety soon gave way to sheer amazement at the beauty of the river and wildlife. The limestone cliffs rose to more 100 feet high in many places, and the multi-colored rock layers gave witness to how long the river has flowed here. A half-mile upstream of Prairie Creek, we spotted a large alligator that silently sank below the surface as we approached.

Knot-So-Fast’s shallow draft allowed us to tie up at the campground’s floating pier, which normally is used for bass and pontoon boats. After a dinner cooked on our propane grill, we all declared our first day a success!

Henry Lock and Dam is just downstream of the campground, and we arrived there early the next morning. I got no answer on the VHF and had no cell phone service, but as we approached the lock, the doors opened and the lock tender motioned us in. When we got within hearing distance, he apologized for not answering, saying his radio was not working.

After clearing the lock, we continued down the river to Selma, passing under the Edmund Pettis Bridge, famous for its role in the civil rights era. Selma is a city filled with historical homes and sites that once were intimately linked to the river and riverboat traffic. Unfortunately, now there is no convenient access from the river to downtown.

Below Selma, the Cahaba River joins the Alabama at the site of the first state capital, Old Cahawba, now just abandoned streets and a historical marker. As we approached the site, we frightened a couple of white-tailed deer who were standing near the bank.

We arrived at our second stop, Six Mile Creek Campground, in mid-afternoon. The pier at Six Mile was small and in shallow water, but we managed to get the Knot-So-Fast secured to one end. Two friends, Marvin and Belinda Roye, brought their grandkids to the campground to see the boat and re-supplied us with ice for the coolers.

Early Wednesday morning, we puttered out of Six Mile Creek into the main channel for the 60-mile ride to Miller’s Ferry Campground, near Camden, Ala. Just before noon, we spotted two bald eagles circling overhead. This was the first wild bald eagles Abby had ever seen, and it was one of the highlights of the cruise. We stopped briefly at Miller’s Ferry Marina, the only gas stop between Montgomery and Mobile, before moving across the wide creek to a pier at the campground where we tied up for the night. Here, like everywhere we stopped, we were met by curious people who wanted to know about the “little red tugboat” and its occupants.

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