Friday, October 31, 2014

Tenn-Tom. Day 3

Day 66
Miles today: 59.    Total Miles: 1,719
Hours today: 8.9
Locks today: 4.    Total locks: 28

The scenery did not change much today. We left Fulton early for a 7:30 am lockage through Fulton lock. 15 miles later we waited a very short time at Wilkins Lock.  5 miles after that we breezed through Amory Lock. Another 14 miles brought us to Aberdeen Lock. Then it was another 2 hours to Columbus. We traveled 59 miles in just about 9 hours today. Amazing to think that we could easily cover that distance in less than an hour by car! The wind switched to NNW this afternoon, and continues to blow about 30 mph this evening, so we were relieved to pull into the Columbus Marina and tie up around 3:45. We found many familiar boats and faces here. Foster and Susan from Quo Vadimus joined us for cocktails this evening. One of the boaters here did a reverse trick or treat and delivered candy to all the Loopers! Happy Halloween!

We have had 3 intense cruising days after our whirlwind 12 days in Iowa, so tomorrow will be a rest day. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

It was a long day

Day 65
Miles today: 54.2.    Total Miles: 1,660
Hours today: 9.8
Locks today: 3. Total locks: 24

Planned to leave Aqua Harbor at 7:30 this morning... Heavy fog kept us tied up till 8:30 when the sun finally appeared....we were stopped a mere 1 mile later by a thick (as in can't see buoys or buddy boats)  blanket of fog rolling up the river. Stopped dead in our tracks for nearly an hour. Finally on our way again. Breezed through both the Whitten and Montgomery Locks. Missed the downstream lockage at  Rankin Lock by a few minutes, so we had to wait an hour for the next lockage.

Looking back at Montgomery Lock.

By the time we made it through Rankin we left no seconds of daylight unused. Arrived shortly after 6pm. It's no wonder that "Looper Midnight' is 9 pm!

We are spending the night at Midway Marina in Fulton, MS.  As soon as we tied up and hooked up to power I made a pizza with pesto, prosciutto, kalamata olives and feta cheese. Much tastier than the local eatery fare! It has taken me several attempts to learn that in my boat oven the pizza is done in 5 minutes at 350 while on land it takes 9 minutes at 425! As we traveled to our home base in Iowa last week we realized that 1 hour of travel by car equals 1 day of travel by boat! 

Tombigbee Day 2

The fog was the proverbial pea soup this morning. We took off at 8:30 when it cleared. A mile later we ran into a solid wall with 0 visibility so we sat still for 45 minutes or so, as did our 4 buddy boats. 

Just as suddenly as the fog appeared, it lifted at 9:30 and we were happily on our way in bright sunshine. Good thing it's clear- this section of the waterway is man-made and only 280 feet wide. It's called the Divide Cut. 

We are now on the dotted line shown on this map. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On the Tombigbee

We had a big day today. We left Joe Wheeler Park around 9AM after hearing that Wheeler Lock would be ready for recreational boats in 40 minutes. We had just 2 miles to cover and we arrived in time to lock through with Panacea, Attitude Changer, and Integrity after a brief wait.  We were very fortunate, since only the small auxiliary lock is in operation, which means towboats take a really long time to break apart and lock through. There is quite a backup of tows at this lock.

Tow finishing up at Wheeler Lock

About 16 miles downriver we locked through the 93 foot drop at Wilson Lock. This time we didn't wait at all! Unbelievable! It did take 45 minutes to drop down- this is the biggest drop we will experience on the entire Loop. 

Given our good speed so far we decided to head for Aqua Yacht Harbor rather than Florence or Grand Harbor. We sped up to an atypical 10 a 10.5 statute miles per hour. We ran with Panacea all day and arrived at our destination just after 5 pm. After getting fuel and a pump out we were set for the night. This Marina gave us a free night with the purchase of fuel, and the staff and facilities are great. 

The other boaters went out for supper but I needed to use up a few things - so I made Smoked Sausage, Kale, Quinoa and Cider Skillet dish from Yummy!

Tomorrow will be another long cruising day for us as we take advantage of perfect weather.

We're Baaaack!

After a 12-day blitz of Iowa (Muscatine, Des Moines, Laurens, Guttenberg, each x2) we climbed back on Mara Beel last night. It is GOOD to be on the water again. The docks at Joe Wheeler seem eerily empty after the crowd that was here when we left. 

As soon as we return the rental car and get a pump out we will join the queue of tows and pleasure craft waiting to lock through the Joe Wheeler lock. Unfortunately the large lock is closed for repairs so all boats must use the auxiliary (small) lock. 

We are headed down the Tennessee to the Tombigbee Waterway. 

Mark's mother's health has improved and she is happily settled in the Laurens Care Center. As a bonus we got to spend some time with our kids and grandkids, see a few friends, participate in a walk for Parkinson's Disease, haul our dock out of the river, attend a family wedding, visit our Chiropractor, and get a haircut while we were in Iowa. We were busy!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Many Loopers Miss

We are still enjoying the river, even though we are off our boat for a quick trip home. The typical Loop route includes the portion of the Mississippi from Grafton, IL, to the mouth of the Ohio- where the current is fast, the towboats are huge, floating debris can be thick, and there are few marinas. The upper Mississippi,on the other hand, is much like the Tennessee as far as scenery and navigation. So glad we didn't miss out on the beautiful autumn colors after all.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Homeward Bound

Things have fallen into place for a trip home. We are concerned about Mark's mom and decided to rent a car and head back to Iowa. I'm sad to leave Mara Beel but excited to see kids and grandkids. It's amazing how quickly we are covering miles that took weeks in the boat!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

AGLCA Final Day

The AGLCA Fall Rendezvous wraps up today,  as did the chilly, overcast weather. It's good to have warm sunshine again. We are meeting lots of Loopers, past, present and future. The seminars have been very informative, although there are not as many to choose from as there were 4 years ago. What we are learning is helping us plan our itinerary from here to Florida and then on to Norfolk in the spring. We have been lucky to win 5 free nights at different marinas along the way!

Tuesday Mara Beel was one of the Looper Crawl boats, and we had quite a few people come aboard to take a look. We put some effort into cleaning inside and out, and our boat looked quite presentable. It was fun! 

Last night we attended the Global Impact Conference with our local friend Rhonda at Lindsay Lane Baptist Church. Missionaries from near and far are spending the week at this church teaching, sharing, and re-energizing. In was thrilled to talk to a couple from Quito, Ecuador (in Spanish!) which is where I spent a summer way back when. Of course these people were not even born then, but we had a good talk. The main event was the parade of flags into the sanctuary. It was inspiring- the flags were from nations that have religious freedom. The last few flags were solid black, representing closed countries. The 50- member choir was amazing, as was the message from Dr. Johnny Hunt. Wow!!

Today did not begin well. Mark's 94 year-old mother was hospitalized yesterday with congestive heart failure. She was unresponsive this morning, but then popped back and seems much better. We are holding tight here at Joe Wheerler at least until Saturday until we have a better idea of how she is. Mark's sister will let us know if/when we need to rent a car and drive back to Iowa. This was not expected, but is not surprising.

Mark was checking out lot of systems on Mara Beel preparing to leave her if necessary when he decided to pull up the floor in the lazerette. (This is what I refer to as the basement-the access hatch is on the cockpit, or back deck, and you descend via its ladder.) That particular bilge had water in it and the pump was not working. Guess we forgot to winterize that valve when we left the boat in the fall. Oops! Water evidently froze in the hose and popped of the 1-way valve cap and broke it. With some advice from Al on Teri Ann, Mark attached the broken piece with a hose clamp and rescue tape until we can get a replacement. He then cleaned out the bilge and all is well. Fyi , we have 3 bilge pumps, forward, engine, and aft, which activate automatically. All are clean and working perfectly now. Whew! Mark's fixit skills continue to amaze me, and I am honing my gopher talent. 

Obviously we did not attend the morning seminars.

Problem solved!

20+ boats plan to leave here tomorrow morning and head back toward Florence, Grand Harbor and the Tenn-Tom Waterway. When we leave on Saturday (?) the current plan is to head the opposite direction. Chattanooga is a 4- day trip, and that's where we intend to cruise. Several Loopers plan to head out on this highly recommended side trip, but we will not necessarily travel together.

Monday, October 13, 2014

AED- literally a lifesaver

A boat near us had a near-fatal medical event shortly after arriving yesterday afternoon. We heard a thud from inside our boat as a gentleman collapsed on his boat. Help was immediate and appropriate. A family practitioner, a hand surgeon, at least one nurse, a dentist and a paramedic are also here on boats and were performing CPR within a minute. CPR was not enough to get the man breathing again. Fortunately at least 2 boats are equipped with an AED, a defibrillator. That is what saved this man's life! The machine automatically identifies what is needed and gives instructions on what to do. What a God- thing-- an hour or 2 earlier this boat was locking through Wheeler Lock, where help would have been difficult.  It seemed that the ambulance (which is a distance away and run by volunteers) took forever to get here, and then had trouble knowing which dock to go to. Our role was to remain on our boat and pray, rather than get in the way. I was proud of how all the Loopers around us handled this crisis. A few people then went to the hospital to sit with the wife. No one seemed to know these folks, but everyone stepped up to help without being gawkers.

This morning's report says the man has 4 blockages of 70-100%. But he is alive. Mark and I are now strongly considering adding an AED to our boat.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Joe Wheeler State Park Day 3

This morning our friends Wayne and Rhonda picked us up early so we could go to Sunday School and church with them. We met them last year in Michigan while they were Looping on "Help Me Rhonda." They took us to Publix and to their home for dinner. In March a tornado destroyed their marina, and damaged their boat and their condo. Wow. Their boat is almost ready to cruise again and they were able to move back into their condo about 3 weeks ago. Here's a picture of the dry stack boat storage area that has not been rebuilt yet.

When we returned to our dock we were surprised to find two couples from home! Jennifer and Jim completed the Loop earlier this summer on Silver Fox. They are now ready to sell the boat, so Jim and his brother-in-law Joe brought the boat to Florence while Jennifer and Denise drove down. They will head home tomorrow- it was fun to see them! We have connections- Jennifer's brother dates my Pilates instructor/chiropractor and Mark already knew Joe and Denise.

Next we met a future Looper couple on the dock. They had lots of questions so we invited them aboard and subsequently went out to dinner together at Rigatoni's in Florence - a great Italian restaurant.

The Rendezvous festivities will begin tomorrow afternoon- bring it on!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Joe Wheeler State Park- Day 2

I don't have anything exciting to report today. We woke up around 5AM as usual, so Mark took our laundry and walked up to the store/laundromat/office. There is only ONE washing machine so demand is high, considering the many Loopers here. Even at that hour, he was second in line!

After a hearty bacon and eggs breakfast, we got busy on boat chores. We had not done much this past week, so the boat was dirty. Mark scrubbed the outside, which took several hours. Back at Green Turtle Bay a lot of leaves fell on the decks and left brown spots that were hard to remove. It seems like we collect plenty of dirt and grime going through locks, too. Meanwhile, I made hummus and yogurt. Several days ago I discovered that the cloth curtains (pleated dry clean only) in the  forward head were very mildewed. Yuck!  I moved the vinyl curtain from the aft head into the forward head. I cut out the moldy lining from the cloth drapes and threw it away, leaving the nice white curtains. I put those in the aft head since we only use that shower for storage. What a plan. 

We are contemplating having Mara Beel in the trawler crawl Tuesday- it's like a tour of homes on boats. Loopers here at the Rendezvous can tour the boats who volunteer for the crawl on Tuesday or Thursday after the seminars. Mark and I took advantage of this when we attended the 2010 Rendezvous, and it was very helpful to us. But to be one of the boats on the tour requires a whole new level of clean and tidy for us! Oh my. It is definitely an incentive to clean up!

This evening the local yacht club hosted a chili supper for Loopers on the big dock here. They had several kinds of soup, hotdogs, desserts, etc. They set up a huge TV screen since Auburn played Mississippi State. Very gracious folks! Sadly, it was not a good evening for the Auburn Tigers.

Here's a photo of our marina from Google Earth- we are on the dock to the far left. All the slips are now filled with Loopers, so it looks much different. The chili supper was on the dock on the right with the blue roof.

The seminars and meals will be in the Lodge starting Monday afternoon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Joe Wheeler State Park

It was day 2 of the bass tournament in Florence today. Four Looper boats pulled out of the harbor on the heels of the swarm of fishing boats. We cruised right into Wilson Lock with another Looper and about a dozen bass boats. We rafted alongside "Serenity"since there was no workable bollard for us- we were the last boat into the lock.   The 93-foot lift went surprisingly fast, and we were on our way again.

The shores of Wilson Lake are filled with beautiful homes. Much of the shoreline of the Tennesee is controlled by the TVA, so we haven't seen a lot of development along the water. When this dam was built in 1928-1925, 18,000 workers were involved in this project. The arches forming the spillways are based on a construction design dating back to the Roman Empire. The dam is a National Historic Land mark.

Next up, Wheeler lock, a mere 15 miles up the river. This is a much smaller lock, and we were again fortunate to move right into the chamber. We've had great luck avoiding towboats and the long waits associated with them.

Another two miles and we reached our destination, Wheeler State Park near Rogersville, Alabama, just minutes ahead of the rain. We are here to attend the Fall Rendezvous of the American Great Loop Cruisers Association, (AGLCA), which will start Monday. Many Loopers have already arrived, and there are more to come. We attended this event by car four years ago to learn about boats and the Loop, so we are excited to be here on Mara Beel! Space is at a premium, so they are putting two boats in each 32-foot slip. Two 15- foot boats is a tight squeeze, but Mark backed into the slip like the pro that he is. I am so proud of him! We are hooked up to electrical power and cable TV, and dinner is in the crockpot. Cleaning is next!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tom's Wall

Our day began with the sound of boats- many boats- long before sunrise. I woke up around 5:30 AM wondering what in the world was happening. As it turns out, we were in the middle of a regional bass tournament. 135 bass boats had entered the harbor all round us waiting for the 7 AM tournament start. I quickly threw on some clothes, made coffee, and joined Mark on deck. It was a sight to see- all these boats patiently awaiting the carefully staggered start. And it was dark! We talked to several of the fishermen from Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Texas, Alabama, etc. They all had to qualify to be in this tournament. At the end of the day (ending times also staggered) each team of 2 men will weigh 5 fish. Tomorrow the staring order will be reversed, and another 5 fish per team will be weighed. The top 12 teams will advance to the next level. The top prize for this competition is a new pickup and bass boat, so the stakes are high.

After the national anthem, boats raced out of the harbor according to their numbered spots. Some chose to head upstream, and others downstream. It was exciting to see them go!

Teams receive their numbers

Today we rented a car and along with Kathy and John from Serenity, we visited Tom's Wall. Quoting the website:

"In the late 1830′s, a young teenage Yuchi girl was living near the Singing (Tennessee) River. Unfortunately, this was also during the Trail of Tears, a dark time in American history when Native Americans were being forcibly removed from the Eastern portion of the United States to land out west. This young girl, along with her sister, were discovered by Army personnel and forced to walk to Oklahoma. She listened for singing waters in her new surroundings and found none. Convinced she would die if she stayed she escaped and spent five years walking back to Alabama. The journey was extremely difficult with many trials and tribulations along the way, however she returned to her singing river.
In the 1980′s, Tom Hendrix, her great great grandson, visited the Yuchi people and had her journals translated. He had heard her stories many times and after the trip vowed to honor the great Native American woman. A wall of stones was going to be the memorial and 28 years later, the monument is truly something to behold. It is the largest un-mortared wall in the United States and the largest memorial to a Native American woman. Each stone represents one step of the journey. Also, the shape, height, and width of the wall changes to represent the various obstacles she encountered. There are stones from over 120 countries that come in every size, shape, texture and unique geologic features you can imagine."
Tom Hendrix is now 86 and is incredibly active and healthy. He told the 4 of us the details of his great-great grandmother and his tribute to her, spending over an hour with us. Our visit was remarkable- this man and place touched us unbelievably- Kathy and I were tearing up as we walked along the now 1.5 mile wall. We bought his book, If Legends Die, the money from which goes to teach Yuchi girls their unwritten native language.
Tom Hendrix and Kathy

Dinosaur teeth

Sacred Circle

This rock was much, much colder to the touch than all the other rocks.

Rock faces

Part of the wall

I'm holding a meteorite- very heavy!

After this very moving experience, we had no desire to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house or Helen Keller's birthplace. We decided to go to the Rattlesnake Saloon for lunch. I was a bit skeptical, wondering how the restaurant came by its name. Turned out it was 20 miles away. We should have been wary when we were directed to park and board the "taxi" to the saloon.

Restaurant taxi- a bad sign!

Interesting setting- tucked under an overhanging cliff

They don't serve rattlesnake here, and they don't serve  beer till evening. So if it's not a saloon, and they don't serve rattlesnake, where did the name originate? I'm afraid to ask.

I'm losing my appetite now. Gross! The stuffed 6-foot rattler in the glass case made me want to throw up.

All 4 of us agreed- the food was worse than awful- not recommended!

So, after the drive back to Florence and a quick stop at Publix, we returned the rental car and welcomed our friends Connie and Jim on Patriot. Then it was time for cocktails and blogging. Another very good day.

Connie and I each got to fire the official sunset cannon tonight. We were rewarded with a "Sunset Salute" beverage.

Brian and Becky after the cannon salute (ear protection worn)>

Connie and Becky with "Sunset Salutes"

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Birthday Girl

Today is my (Becky's) birthday, made extra special by a blood moon eclipse! Very nice!

We borrowed the marina van and visited some of our favorite retail establishments this morning: Home Depot, Bed, Bath and Beyond, Sam's Club, and Publix. I LOVE Publix grocery stores! They make me forget that I miss Hy-Vee. 

John and Kathy from "Serenity" stopped by for a chat, then Mark and I walked to the nearby Florence/Laudedrdale Tourist Center. It's quite an impressive facility with exhibits, gift shop, and of course tourist information. As I was signing the guest book, the volunteer staffer asked where we were from. Lo and behold, she used to live in Davenport, Iowa! Listening to her speak, I said she obviously didn't live there very long! She said she had worked with a woman from Muscatine- when she told us her name I was amazed-- it is the mother of our son's best friend! If that wasn't coincidence enough, she told us her next job was with Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency!!  (This is where I worked for 10 years!) How crazy is that? We knew some of the same people. It really is a small world.

This evening six of us ate dinner at City Hardware in downtown Florence- Sue and Bud, fellow Iowans on When I'm 64, and Kathy and John on Serenity. The food was delicious. I decided to embrace southern cooking and had shrimp and grits- very yummy- while Mark had a crab cake sandwich that he enjoyed. We returned to our boat for a night cap.  A terrific birthday!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Florence, Alabama

Today we traveled 44 miles from Grand Harbor to Florence, Alabama, mostly in the rain. We drove from our lower helm for the first time ever, and it was fine- dry and comfortable. 

Errante with Linda and Robert was a mile or so ahead of us, and When I'm 64 led the way. We pulled into the Florence Harbor around 1:30pm and were warmly welcomed by the owner, Eva, and Linda and Robert on Errante. We parted company with Island Time and Young at Heart, as Steve, Gina Glenn and Brenda headed down the TennTom and we returned to the Tennessee. We traveled with these 2 boats for a month, so it was hard to go our separate  ways. We plan to meet up in Florida this winter, however. 

Shortly after arriving we walked to a nearby hospital so that Mark could donate blood. He has too much iron, and giving blood is the best treatment option. Mark declared this would be a 5-6 block walk, but I was not a bit surprised when it actually turned out to be 2 miles. Hey, we need the exercise. I chose not to donate, thinking that one of us should be at full strength. The ladies at the blood center could not have been more congenial! We all know that Mark can sweet talk just about anyone, but even I was surprised when both of us were presented with 'Bama tshirts and hats! Can't wait to wear it- "I bleed Crimson and White"!! They didn't have any Iowa Hawkeye shirts, although I could have chosen Auburn. 

Eva from the marina picked us up and gave us a tour of Florence. We saw the birthplace of W.C. Handy and the beautiful campus of the University of Northern Alabama, as well as downtown Florence. 

We met with most of the 8 other Looper boats for dock tails- Errante, Summerland, Halcyon, Navigator, Average Looper, When I'm 64, Jet Stream, and TaTa. One of the local guys showed up to fire a small but very loud cannon at sunset. Another memorable day!