Sep 1, 201209:13 AM
Swing Set: Cruising Full Time
Last Lock on the Tenn-Tom To Mobile Bay
After three wet and soggy days sitting above the Coffeeville Lock and Dam, we were ready to get out of there last Friday morning. Isaac didn't bother us too bad, but we didn't sleep as well as we would have liked due to the boat swinging around at anchor in several directions. If I had any doubts about whether our anchors were going to hold, I found out that those fears were unjustified when we went to pull up our two anchors before we left.
I let out the bow anchor line until I could get over the top of our stern anchor. Pulling straight up on it, the anchor wouldn't budge. I have my physical health to consider, so not much pulling by hand was going to be tolerated by my back. I lashed the stern anchor line around the rear quarter cleat and fired up the Cats. We may as well have been tied to the Titantic; the anchor was not going to bust loose. I stowed away the bow anchor and made ready to give a try at seriously yanking our small stern anchor free. Rosie stood watch from the swim platform, and I put both engines in gear...but not much throttle. Rosie made a noise. I'm not sure what kind of noise it was, but at the time it sounded like a "better stop what you're doing" noise. The anchor line had gotten wedged under the end cap on our swim platform rub rail and popped it right off. Let's see, end cap to a rub rail...no big deal, right? Well, I know people running around with missing end caps on their rub rails because the piece is out of production and they can't find a replacement. To make things more interesting for us is that the rub rail on our swim platform was custom-made by cutting down a factory rub rail and making it fit, and the end cap was too. While I was contemplating what I was going to have to do to replace the rub rail end cap, I was also pondering just how dispensable our stuck stern anchor was. I gave it about a minute's thought and grabbed my dive knife and cut that sucker loose. The anchor is now living with the giant log or barge cable it was hooked to.
We had already called the Coffeeville Lock, and as we pulled around the corner to approach the lock chamber, an upbound tow was just pulling out of the lock. We let him pass, and the lockmaster called us right in. It was a quick ride down, and out we went. When we saw the spillway of the dam and realized we sat just above it for a week without going over it in the dead of night, we figured loosing one itty bitty old anchor was no big deal.
We had 116 miles to make before hitting Mobile Bay, and we knew we weren't going to do it in one day, so we began to consider our options and settled on three main ones. It's our typical plan for any given day if we are traveling; if we don't like the first anchorage we come to, we know we have a couple of back up plans. If option three is not the best, we make it do. As we were making our way down the river, I kept an eye on the weather radar. There were thunderstorms to both the east and the west of us, but all day there was a slim break in the rain and cloud cover, and it stayed right above us. I felt like Moses in a way. To be fair, I also felt like Barney Fife, but that has no bearing on this story.
We passed a trawler with some guys on it that we had met at Bobby's Fish Camp, and I asked where they were headed. They were headed back to Turner Marina, which is up the Dog River off of Mobile Bay. I asked them a couple of questions about their marina and then called the marina myself. Transient dockage is only 56 cents a foot if you are a Boat US member, and they had courtesy cars, too. A West Marine is right next door at Dog River Marina, so we decided to fuel up at Dog River Marina and stay at Turner Marina, spreading the wealth, so to speak. First on the agenda, though, was finding an anchorage for the night.
We didn't like the first option. For one thing, it was still too early when we got there, plus there was a public ramp up the creek it was in, which insured a steady stream of fishing boats passing us throughout the evening. We were approaching a cut-off over to the Alabama River when a bird landed on the boat.
Gull or tern, I know not what, but it sat on our fenders until we pulled up into the Alabama River cut-off and Rosie had to go forward to unhook the anchor stay. It flew away over 35 minutes after it landed on the boat. Not a bad way to travel.
We had around 15 feet of water well into this narrow channel, and we dropped the hook. A stern anchor was going to be necessary to keep us out from under the trees, so I used the little anchor we keep in the dinghy, and it held fine. We have another big fluke anchor we keep on the bow, you can see it in the picture, but it's very heavy and we'll only use it in an emergency, or in shallow water where I can retrieve it easily.
We sat in the cockpit and had a few happy hour beers and watched our friends in the trawler go by as well as two towboats we had passed earlier. Rosie kept the binoculars glued to her eye sockets in order to scour the bank in search of alligators. I thought it was funny, but after seeing the two gators on Thursday night, my river bath was completed with as little time actually spent in the water as I could possibly make do with.
I tried a little fishing, but nothing was happening. After a long day at the helm, we turned in early and had one of the calmest nights we've had for a few days.
We intended to get an early start in the morning but woke up to heavy fog. By the time we were finished with breakfast at 8:30, the fog was gone and we got under way.
The topography was changing, and we had constant reminders that we weren't on Tellico Lake anymore. There were some neat looking Cajun Cabins, but they were few and far between. This one had seen better days.
We started passing one towboat after another on a narrow and twisty river, but all the captains were accommodating and we started getting excited about getting to the bay. It was during the passing of one of the tows when I found out that Swing Set wouldn't run over 1600 RPMs, even at full throttle. When we got a chance, Rosie took the helm and I checked the vacuum on the Racors, and they were fine. The exhaust was smoking, which is very unusual, and that means the Walker Airseps aren't doing their job. One reason for this, and one we've run into it before, is that the air filters are dirty and we're starving the engines for air at the higher RPMs. Considering we've put over 400 hours on the engines since I cleaned the air filters last, it's a good guess that our problem is the air filters. We shall see.
We passed the marshlands and came upon heavy industry on both sides of the river, and our first view of Mobile. The water was a dark muddy brown, looked like coffee. Shipyards and docks lined each side of the river, and we had to keep a sharp eye out for floating debris.
These are two of the cool Navy ships we saw at a shipyard as we cruised down the Mobile Port. We could see open water ahead of us, and I swear I was feeling not only some excitement about the open water, but some anxiety as well. We started seeing buoys and channel markers the likes we hadn't seen in nearly 25 years since we took a boat to Key West from Jacksonville. Luckily, a large convertible sportfishing boat pulled out of the tug turnaround just as you leave the port and started down the ship channel ahead of us so we followed it.
It didn't take too long for us to figure out what was what. Everything boiled down to green and red, like it always does, and the rest was easy. Our main mission was to avoid the ships coming up the channel, and there was still a fair amount of big debris in the water. These ships passed us within a 100 feet or so, but put out less wake than a boat our size, at least at the speeds they were traveling at.
Our Navionics App on our iPad took us right to the cutoff to the Dog River, and we made a hard right. The secondary channel takes you back upstream and makes a couple of jogs before entering the Dog River. Turner Marina is on the right as you pass under the bridge, but we kept on to the next marina, which is Dog River Marina, where we planned on fueling up. Turner Marina doesn't have fuel, and they direct everyone over to Dog River for it.
Fuel was relatively cheap at Dog River Marina at $3.89 per gallon. I asked about transient rates and was told it was $1.00 per foot per night. That's not bad, but it wasn't 56 cents a foot either.
I called Kat back over at Turner Marina and asked if they still had a spot for us. They did, but when I inquired about a courtesy car, I was told they were closing in 15 minutes and no one would be there for the rest of the weekend to provide a courtesy car or anything else. That's a funny way to do business on a holiday weekend, especially at a marina, so we plunked down our money and made plans to stay at Dog River for the night.
West Marine was closing at 5 p.m., so we left Swing Set at the gas dock and walked over to get another anchor, some flares, and a guidebook and charts for Florida. We had gotten a gift certificate from Gary and Judy at our bon voyage party, and we got to use it today. We left with everything we needed except for the anchor. The size we need to fit the chocks on the deck was out of stock. It was out of stock at the other two stores in the area, as well. Not to worry, that size anchor is common and someone will have it.
We walked back to the fuel dock and got help moving Swing Set over to our dock for the night. We plugged in the power cords and turned on the air conditioning. We left Holly to watch the boat and went into the office to arrange for a courtesy car. In the course of conversation, it was learned that we belong to the American Great Looper Cruiser's Association, and Dog River gives "Loopers" the first night free. Our money was given back to us, along with the keys to a big Ford truck for us to drive to the closest store to reprovision. Walmart again. We made a lightening-fast trip through the store and got back to the boat and unloaded our stuff. The other marinas in the area had party's gearing up and music could be heard, but we had things to do. We learned long ago that you can't party every day.
I opened the hatches in the salon to the engine room, and the heat billowed up from the still-hot Cats. I pulled off the K&N filter elements and got them soaking in a big bucket of Oxy-Clean. I want them to soak overnight, and then they have to be hosed off and dried. We discussed what needed to be accomplished in the morning and felt like we'd be rushed to get things done and still leave at a decent time Sunday morning, so we decided to stay here another day. This will give us a chance to get all of the laundry done, get the air filters dry and oiled up, and get the oil changed in all three engines, because they are just about due and this is a good place to do it. By late afternoon, we should have our chores done, and we'll jump in the dinghy and see what there is to see around here for entertainment on this wonderful Labor Day weekend.