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The last stretch

We took the courtesy car to the store for one last grocery run as we had missed a few items when we last shopped at Columbus. Taking out the car at Demopolis/Kingfisher was an interesting experience, as the dock master there rules with an iron fist. Despite driving the car approximately four miles, we were required to stop at the designated gas station, buy gas, minimum purchase $2, and produce a receipt to prove we had fueled up. I believe the gas station and the marina have a little arrangement going.

We left Demopolis early in the morning and headed south. The fog was thick, making for some of the best lock footage we have ever taken.

Thus began the 234 mile transit of the last of the rivers before the Gulf of Mexico.

Between Demopolis and Mobile is essentially nothing. There's a lone stop, Bobby's Fish Camp, and that's it. Given the low water conditions, and the scarcity of decent anchorages we were a bit nervous. We had studied our guidebooks and made a plan A, plan B, and plan C for each day of the trek.

Plan A on day 1 put us in an anchorage was too shallow to even come close to. The second stop was Brush Creek. Skipper Bob's said "Finally, a decent anchorage". Brush creek turned out to be 15 feet wide, with less than two feet of depth at the entrance. There was a catamaran back in there that may have been stuck.

We ended up anchoring across the creek in a bend in the river, using another boat as a stern anchor so we wouldn't swing into the river and get taken out by a barge. Getting settled for the night turned out to be a quite the adventure.

  • Now that the mystery of Lewmar Free fall was solved setting the anchor in mud was a snap

  • I tried to throw a rope over for the stern line, but it was too far to reach.

  • Put the dingy in the water, so we could row the line over. Turned out we lost an oar somewhere between Lake Erie and Alabama, so I could only row in circles.

  • Pulled the brand new outboard down from the flybridge and wrestled it on to the dingy. Filled it with gas. Pulled, pulled, pulled, and pulled and it refused to start.

  • A good samaritan came over in their dingy and helped out...

  • I refused to give up. Pulled the spark plug on the motor, had Darina pull on the rope to check it for spark, it sparked bright and hard. Put the plug back in and the motor fired on the first pull. Why do little motors behave this way?

The next morning we cast off and made our way to Bobby's Fish Camp. This was one of our favorite stops on the river portion of the loop. The camp is basically a floating dock big enough for four forty foot boats, and a fuel dock. Every night Bobby rafts them up two deep, and when the sun starts go to down manages to add another boat at the fuel dock. We rafted up to a sport fisher at the south end of the dock.

The largest number of fish camp residents are cats. It is as laid back as laid back can be. There is no cell service, and no TV reception. If not for Starlink we would have been completely without any communication to the outside world at all. The marina facilities consist of one of those Home Depot plastic garden sheds with a shower, toilet, and sink inside. Here's the view inside at the door that doesn't actually lock, and doesn't need to.

Despite the appearance the bathroom had excellent hot water, and no low flow shower head.

The next day we continued south. It was a beautiful day to be on the river.

That night we had an epic fail trying to anchor in sunflower creek. Unable to stop Sea Moose due to the slipping transmission, I pulled too close to the other boat in the creek and dropped my anchor on top of their stern anchor chain. We pulled up the anchor and I attempted to back up in the channel using only the backup camera and put Sea Moose right into the trees.

On the back of the boat - where I could not see - Darina was desperately trying to stop a large tree branch from taking out the BBQ grill. I could hear her shouting "Alan! Alan! Forward!" but I didn't think I had enough room to turn around so I backed up another five feet or so. When I put Sea Moose in forward, turned the wheel hard over, and hit the throttle the tree snapped back violently and hit poor Darina smack in the face with so much force she chipped a tooth.

I had no idea any of this had happened until we were anchored safely, and she stepped into the Salon white as a ghost and explained what had happened.

At this point we were simply done with the Rivers. The tiny creek anchorages, the endless twists and turns, the barges, all of it. The Illinois River was awesome, the Ohio was wonderful, the Cumberland was spectacular, Kentucky Lake was absolutely beautiful - but the Tenn-Tom had just been one long slog. The last fifty miles was nothing but hairpin turns.

We finally made it to the CSX Railroad bridge, and popped out into Mobile Bay.

We went from being tired and depressed to total exhilaration. We had done it. We had transited the United States from the northern tip of Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico. Ocean going ships were everywhere.

We made our way down Mobile Bay to Dog River and Grand Mariner Marina. Mobile Bay is quite deceptive, it appears to be a large, deep body of water, but is, in fact, mostly very shallow. The approach into Dog River is very narrow, and the channel markers far apart. Do not attempt this in the dark unless you are very confident in your navigation gear.

At Grand Mariner we celebrated with a wonderful sea food dinner of shrimp, pasta, and cream sauce served with sweet chardonnay.

The next morning we crossed Mobile Bay, and joined the Gulf IntraCoastal Waterway. Right after we joined the waterway a pod of dolphins joined us. You can see the video of the dolphins here.

We arrived in Barber Marina mid afternoon. The Marina, having just been rebuilt after storm damage, was clean and empty.

At the entrance was one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen in a marina. This "art" is enormous, and occupies a corner of the facility.

That night, as we packed up our stuff for the holiday journey north, we were treated to a glorious sunset.

The next day we headed across the bay to another Marina to pump out the holding tank, and top off the fuel and water tanks in preparation for haul out. Around noon the most modern travel lift I have ever seen hauled us out and set us safely on the hard.

While Darina finished packing, a local taxi service took me in to Foley to pick up our one way rental car. When I got in the taxi the driver looked me over from head to toe suspiciously. After a few miles he asked me where I was from. I explained that we lived outside of a small town in Michigan. "Michigan!" he snorted angrily. "Thats just a bunch of d*mn Democrats, isn't it?" Taken aback I assured him that we lived in rural Michigan with normal friendly small town folk, and that we all owned guns and went to church regularly. At that he smiled broadly and we chatted happily all the way to town.

I was supposed to get a Nissan Rogue for the drive up. But when I arrived, the Rogue was out getting an oil change, and they said it would be an hour, so I ended up with a Tacoma pickup. I drove back to the boat, and we managed to squeeze everything behind the seats. We drove into Foley, checked into some Wyndham property, and got a very nice seafood dinner.

The spartan hotel room seemed impossibly large and luxurious. We took long, hot showers and crawled into the massive bed. The next day we were up at 5AM, and back home by 10PM that night.

We arrived on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. On Wednesday we went to the store as the house was completely empty of food, having been shut down for four months. We ended up cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday.

The plan was to have the transmission repaired, my new dental implant installed, all the doctor appointments taken care of, and a little R&R in between and be back on the boat Jan 3. As you will see in the next blog post, this did not happen...

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