Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Last Leg - We Are Home!

We've actually been home for 5 days now so I guess it's time we got some closure on this trip.  It's amazing how much stuff you accumulate on a boat in 5 years, but it was clear when we started moving things from the boat to the condo just how much it can be.  We only had about 6 extra inches of vertical clearance when we pulled in to the slip.  After all we've unloaded, we may not be able to get out!

Anyhow, back to the last leg from Florence to our home at Bay Hill.  By the way, we have new marina owners now and they have changed the name to Lucy's Branch Marina, so I guess I better get with the program and change with them - Bay Hill is now Lucy's Branch.  That was the name of it originally in reference to "Lucy," a local resident who used to come down to the "branch" and bathe.  There is a historical marker on site on her behalf.  She was born Lucy Bedingfield, daughter of a slave and a Cherokee Indian. She bought 107 acres in 1888 and was known for her story-telling abilities.  She sold the property to the TVA in 1935 and relocated to Oklahoma where she died and was buried.

The trip from Florence was only 30 miles and pretty uneventful except for two locks, Wilson and Wheeler. Wilson is pretty cool in that it is the third biggest lock drop/rise in the world - 93 feet.  Here's the approach and inside the lock.

Each section of the wall is a 5-foot rise.

Each section of the river between 2 locks is considered a "lake" and is named as such.  The lake between Wilson Lock and Wheeler Lock is Wilson Lake.  It's a short distance of only about 14 miles and is wide open water.  We had a short delay for a barge and another small boat exiting Wheeler Lock.

They were using the alternate chamber on the right that morning which is a lot smaller than the primary.

Here's another way to know you are in the south.  We say "Please" a lot down here.  Sort of like the signs in Georgia if you recall them.

There was quite a group of sea gulls hanging out on the exit lock wall.

After exiting the lock and looking back at the dam, you wonder why they left this one little section just a little bit vulnerable to those not paying attention. The tree tops are actually in the distance and a lot lower also!

After about another 7 miles, we rounded the final bend in the river and could see Lucy's Branch in the distance on the left.  It's a beautiful section of the river about 3 miles wide.  It sits in a bend of the river with a nice view down the river about 5 miles to the southwest and 8 miles up the river to the southeast.  All of the water is about 25 feet deep and no shallow spots to worry about.

This is home for us at Bay Pointe Condominiums.  The condo has been a new experience - we've always had single family homes before this.  The condo is not our preference but it works out for lots of travel since the HOA takes care of the grounds and property, and the marina slips are only a few hundred feet away. We were fortunate to have our younger son Scott live in it while we have been on the boat trip.  It provided him with with a nice bachelor pad for a few years, he paid us some rent each month, and it provided us with the peace of knowing all was OK and maintained while we were gone.  Before we returned home, he built his first home and moved in about 3 weeks before we returned.  Good job, Scott!  We got to visit his place last night and it's very nice. 

I guess I'll just have to be content looking out across the river for a while.  Hey, at least the view ain't so bad from the condo.  I need to get me a telescope so I can read the names of the boats passing by and hail them on the radio and find out where they are from and where they're headed!

We had to get a different dock slip than the one we had before the trip.  The Gulfstar is a lot taller than the Roughwater we left in.  Here are the two boats in their slips - both boats served us well with only a couple of minor service issues that we were able to fix ourselves.

For fellow Loopers and other cruisers reading the blog, you may be interested in this idea - it's not an original idea of mine, saw it somewhere else but it is a great tool for documenting your travels.  One of the greatest parts of the trip is reflecting on all the places we traveled, so we've taken the Great Loop map that AGLCA has available and marked every stop we made with colored straight pins.  You can develop whatever color scheme you want of course, but here's ours.

Red - marina stops on our Great Loop route.  
White - marina stops on Loop side trips or other trips.
Green - anchorages on any trip.
Yellow - other overnight stops such as docked at locks, barges, friends' homes, etc..

So, as you look at our map, we started our Loop trip at mm 287 of the TN River, headed downstream to a left turn on the Ohio River, left on the Mississippi River, side trip up the Arkansas River and back, right on the Mississippi River, right on the Atchafalaya River to Morgan City, LA, right on the Gulf Coast ICW for a side trip to Corpus Christi and back to Morgan City to rejoin the Loop route along the Gulf Coast, crossed the Okeechobee Waterway, side trip south down Florida's coast to Ft. Lauderdale (and we had covered the Florida Keys previously, also noted in white), back up the Florida Coast northbound to Jacksonville, FL, side trip up the St. John's River and back to Jacksonville, up the Atlantic Coast to New York City, up the Hudson River, left on the Erie Canal, right on the Oswego Canal, across Lake Ontario, through Canada via the Trent-Severn Waterway/Georgian Bay/North Channel, down Lake Michigan and across to Chicago,  down the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers, crossed our wake at the left turn back on to the Ohio River, then the Tennessee River back home.  The other trips noted in white are the Tenn-Tom Waterway and the rest of the Tennessee River from our home to Knoxville and the Little Tennessee River. Hope all that made sense.

It's pretty amazing how the details of each stop are still very clear in our memories.  The pins on the map just sort it all out, makes it easier to recall the routes and the stops, and kind of puts into perspective what a big deal this is! 

We've been super busy getting settled in the condo and it's a little weird to be on land full-time all of a sudden after so long on the water.  It's also a little strange driving a car!  Anyhow, that's it for now. I'm not too discouraged - Rhonda recently asked me, "We're going to take a fall boat trip somewhere aren't we?" That was good to hear. Also,  I'm working up some closing thoughts that I'll post when I get them all worked out.  In the meantime, thanks again for traveling with us.  We wish everyone the best.  Stay safe and keep in touch.

I believe this is still my favorite picture of the trip and I'll close with it.  We were traveling down the Arkansas River and leaving Ft. Smith with a bit of early morning fog just as the sun was rising above the bridge.  Our friends, Clint and Linda Bulkley, were traveling with us in their Silverton and got the shot of the Roughwater. Lots of memories that we will cherish for a long long time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Green Turtle Bay, KY to Florence, AL - Home Tomorrow

We are officially back on the Tennessee River and on our last few days of travel before being home again. This is easy and nice cruising now.  First of all, because it's our home territory and we know it well - no planning, we know the stops, mileages, and possibilities.  Second, because it is simply beautiful and the water is clean again after the waters of the Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio Rivers.  Third, just about all of the marinas have courtesy cars and that's helpful since most locations are somewhat remote and not close enough for a walk or bike ride to get to anything.

I'm going to do this post a little differently than previous ones - not many comments unless necessary, and I'd like to just plug in some scenery shots along the way so you can enjoy the ride with us.  This will cover Kenlake, Pebble Isle, Clifton, Pickwick, and Florence locations.

We departed Green Turtle Bay with no plans whatsoever.  We lasted 21 miles and decided to try a marina we have never visited before - Kenlake. Another Gold Looper couple helped us dock and invited us aboard for story-swapping time. That's always fun. Did you go here? Did you go there? What did you think about.......?

Houseboats are common and huge on the Tennessee.

We left Kenlake the next morning after waiting on some fog to clear out.  It was pretty cool to cruise with the Nina and the Pinta for a long time.

And do you remember the duck blinds on the Illinois River?  We go a little overboard with them here in Tennessee and Alabama!  Well, that might be an exaggeration.  This an old warehouse that was flooded when they dammed up the river many years ago and it's still standing.

Our next stop was Pebble Isle Marina in New Johnsonville, TN - it's a great and popular stop and has the cheapest fuel on the river - always.  They make cinnamon buns and coffee for Loopers in the morning, but we refueled and were on our way before they had a chance to get them ready for us.

And it's clear that even when traveling in Tennessee, people from Alabama aren't afraid to display their  team spirit.  Roll Tide!

After Pebble Isle, we headed for Clifton, TN with the gold burgee leading the way.

There are a couple of river stone dredges in operation.  We figure they are producing about a 20-pound bag of decorative pebbles every couple of seconds to sell at Wal-Mart and Lowes - there could be some profits there.

I was napping at the time so I appreciate Rhonda getting a shot of this really nice sign at Mermaid Marina.  I sure don't want to miss anything!

Thunderstorms had been forecast for the afternoon, only a 30% chance so we took that chance.  We barely skirted the edge of some pretty good ones but made it in to Clifton without any problems.  Exactly 4000 miles on the new chartplotter since it was installed in Jacksonville, FL.

The city was almost the state capital of Tennessee but it didn't happen, and it is now a nice small town resting on the bluffs/cliffs of the river (cliffs, Clifton - get it?). We also appreciated the marina courtesy car since we were out of a boater staple - ice cream.

Yes, this caught us by surprise also, a couple of goats out along the river (one is down low behind a tree).  OK Adam and Jen - grandkids picture.

Here's a good sign you are back in the south.  Wanna build a new home?  Just stack some truck containers  on top of each other!

And if you need a small utility trailer for your personal use, just take the tail end of a wrecked car and weld a trailer hitch to it.  Voila!  And park it on your back porch of course.

We did not recall all of the cypress trees along the banks but there are quite a few.

There are lots more homes along the banks now than when we were last through here 5 years ago.  Where there are no homes, there's farmland.

Kudzu is another sign you are in the South - great for preventing erosion as it grows very thick and quickly covers everything in its path.

This is a cool picture with the heron's wings barely touching the surface of the water.

There is some serious history in the area. 23,000 soldiers died in the Civil War battle at Shiloh.  Grant was at this home when he heard the first shots of the battle.

And this may be one of the prettiest homes and landscaping of the trip.  Beautiful.

You might want to have good brakes going down and four-wheel drive on the way up here.

When it gets too steep, just build your own rail lift/tram system - forget roads and steps!

This is inside Pickwick Landing Lock. It's huge, about 1200 feet long, and that's the smaller chamber of the two locks here!

There are three popular stops at Pickwick - Pickwick Landing State Park, Grand Harbor, and Aqua Yacht Harbor.  They are all first class but we went with the State Park because we wanted some good ole southern home cooking - meats and veggies.  Desserts like plum and peach cobbler and banana pudding don't hurt anything either.

Help Me Rhonda with all of the sailboats.

We only stayed one night at Pickwick Landing and headed out early the next morning for Florence, AL. You are in and out of TN, AL, and MS for lots of miles in this stretch as their state boundaries all meet in this area, but you eventually get to Sweet Home Alabama - I'm Coming Home To You!  The scenery remains beautiful and you pass under the Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge which runs from Jackson, MS to Nashville, TN.

Depending on the current water levels, you may see some sections of the earlier canals and locks before the newer and larger facilities were constructed.

Steep cliffs right before you reach the Florence Harbor Marina.

Here's the entrance to the marina and as you can see, the Nina and Pinta have arrived ahead of us.

And on an exciting but slightly sad note, THIS IS OUR LAST NIGHT OUT!  We are only 30 miles and 2 locks from home and should be there tomorrow.  Looking forward to being back at our marina and condo on the river at Bay Hill Village.  "Help Me Rhonda" is probably looking forward to a little rest also - she has certainly served us well.