Log # 6G Tombigbee River to Demopolis

January 10, 1999 in Log Series 02 - 07, Logs by Series, Series 06 Mississippi - Ten Tom to Mobile Bay, The Logs

Marathon, Florida Keys

Jan. 10, 1999

Hi Folks,

We finally left Caloosa Cove after two luxurious weeks with Judy’s folks and her sister Jacqui and her husband. We actually had the last few days to ourselves as Judy’s parents and Jacqui had to go back earlier than the end date for the time‑share condominium resort. Veleda was anchored on the bay side and we dinghied around each day for meals and socializing and other activities such as shopping and snorkelling, and returned to Veleda each nightuntil after the New Year. Then we stayed at the resort, and dinghied out to Veleda to complete hooking up our second hand PUR water maker and installing an overboard pump for our holding tank for offshore pumpouts when required.

We are doing some major engine inspections and will put in an extra fuel filter in addition to our existing Racor 2000. To date we have over 715 hours on our new engine installed last spring and we want to be sure everything is in proper order before we leave U.S. waters.

In the six months we have been off we have travelled 4020 nautical miles, we have anchored 114 times, paid for alongside dockage 60 times and were underway overnight 7 times. Of the 60 times we docked, 9 days were at Souix Harbour for only $50.00, and 14 days at Fairhope Yacht Club for only $96.00. The others were at regular marina rates of between $.75 and $1.25 per foot per night. So dockage has not been a major expense for us. Our most major expenses have been capital purchases such as our PUR watermaker, our overboard holding tank pump, a good cordless drill, the new fuel filter, and spare parts such as fuel and water filters, belts, and miscellaneous tools. We have lumped all these expenses into a maintenance listing, and it is one of our highest expense columns. The other high expense column on our ledger is restaurants, travel and entertainment. Here too the devalued Canadian dollar hurts. However, the cruising life is still economical. We expect to reduce even more our expenses as we cruise the Caribbean especially if we sail and stay at anchor, fishing, swimming, snorkelling, island exploring, beachcombing, and avoid marinas and restaurants.

We had a couple of incidents with distressed mariners. We were involved with helping another Canadian boater who damaged his boat when his anchor dragged.

In the middle of the night his boat swung around and was dragged over to the abutment of a bridge. The combination of the wind and the tidal current kept him pounding against the concrete wall and wore a two by three foot hole in the side of his boat at the deck level before he was towed off by the Coast Guard. We met him after he was towed in to Caloosa Cove, and went over to say Hi to him as we saw the Canadian flag. Then we heard his story and saw the damage. He was in a very tense state from being up all night and dealing with this emergency. Judy went on board and helped and showed him where we were anchored so he could anchor in a safe place for a day or so, then come in to our time share unit to make the necessary phone calls to insurance agents, to have a good shower, and to have supper. He stayed at anchor for a couple of days, then yesterday we helped him motor up to a marina where they can do the repair work for him. He was sailing single handed and felt badly about damaging his boat, and feels very lonely. He may rethink his plans for sailing to Cuba, and just stay around the Keys, or even go back to New Brunswick. I hope he makes out O.K.

Another rescue I made a couple of days ago involved a gentleman who was being blown out to sea on a type of wind surfer. I saw him when I was motoring around with my dinghy from Caloosa Cove to the anchorage where we left Veleda. There was a very heavy wind, about 30 mph blowing off shore. I saw a small sail like a wind surfer, and someone sitting on a base like an enlarged water mattress. He was waving frantically. When I went over, he was hanging on to a fishing trap float trying to prevent being carried out to sea. He was exhausted and cold. I took him in tow and motored back to the beach. I invited him to come to the unit to get warmed up after he got into his car, then I took off to Veleda to get some things and then returned to the unit. He did not show up, and he did not know the number of the unit, so it is possible that he just wanted to get home. It was lucky for him I came along as it was near sunset, and because it was so cold and windy, there were no other boats out that would have seen him. The nearest land in the direction the wind was blowing is Cuba. I trust he is O.K.

We left the resort on Jan. 9 to anchor at Channel Key, then today motorsailed down here to Marathon where we anchored in Boot Key Harbor, a large sheltered bay on the ocean side of Marathon with a couple of hundred other boats! It was good to get back on Veleda. It was nice being in a luxury condo, but Veleda is our home and we feel quite comfortable on her. It was stormy weather last night and is still raining and windy here in Boot Key Harbor. At least when it is windy, we know our wind generator is doing a good job. The heavy 35 pound plow anchor plus the all chain rode anchors us quite securely. We will spend a couple of days here and hope to be able to send off this E‑ mail before we leave for Key West.

Anyway, here is the next Log# 6g. Oh yes, I also retreived two of my logs written before we left last July. One log (Log #1a) outlines our proposed two year itinerary, and the other (Log #1b) indicates some of the thinking, soul searching and upgrades we made on Veleda before departing. If you would like copies of these initial logs, let me know and I will be glad to send then to you.

All the best,
Aubrey Millard

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Log # 6G Tombigbee River to Demopolis
(Night Sailing)
Jan. 10, 1999

Covers the period Nov. 2 to Nov. 4, 1998

Leaving by 0825 enroute to Stennis Lock, we attempted to go into a side bay going over to Waverly Mansion, an antebellum southern mansion, but grounded in mud and had a struggle to get off. We just got free and were cautiously proceeding back out towards the main channel when a 35 to 40 foot motor yacht came down the channel on a full plane, creating a 3 to 4 foot swell and went right on by within fifty feet of us, rocking us violently. Thank heaven we were off the mud and into deeper water; otherwise we would have been pounded on the bottom by the swells this “idiot” created. Of course he was not listening to Channel 16 when we tried to request he slow down as he was approaching us. We caught up to him about 30 minutes later at Stennis Lock, where Judy in uncharacteristic venom yelled across the lock that he put up a hell of a wake. He made no reply or apology. I hereby put out a request for power vessels to please be aware of your wake, especially when passing sailing vessels. We have rounded hulls and roll considerably if we cannot maneuver to take the wake head on.

We actually established a procedure in calling overtaking power vessels, asking them to slow down as they approached us and that we would slow as they approached and then head into their smaller wake as they passed us, thus minimally interfering with their progress and giving us the opportunity to communicate with them and where possible to maneuver appropriately. We also waved or called and thanked those power boaters who were considerate enough to slow down in passing us.

As we proceeded down, the river widened even more with cutoffs and islands that made us look very carefully for the buoys, as at some bends where there were forks it was difficult to tell where the main channel went. This was further complicated by the bunches of water hyacinths that became more prolific. These were pretty blue flowers floating on the water in the midst of thick green waxy stems and leaves. We maneuvered to avoid these floating islands of foliage where possible as we did not want to foul our prop or rudder.

Before going through the Tom Bevill Lock, we went alongside a dock surrounded by water hyacinths to visit the Visitor Center, which was housed in a beautiful mansion based on the Grecian antebellum architecture. The house and grounds and fountain were a beautiful example of the grandeur of southern mansions predating the Civil War. The ground floor was decorated with period furniture to give the flavour of the Southern cotton barons. The upper floors contained a very good exposition of the Tombigbee Waterway, its development and the archeological and natural history of the area. I even went to the “widow’s walk” at the top of the mansion. This was a beautiful rectangular cupola, the roof being supported by Ionic columns, with a walkway around all four sides giving a panoramic view of the land, the lock, and the Tombigbee River as it stretched north and south with its floating islands of hyacinths dotting it like a palatial Greek garden of the gods. As part of the Visitor Center, in addition to the mansion, was the snag boat Montgomery. This was the last paddlewheel snag boat used on the rivers. A snag boat is a workboat with a large crane to pull snags out of the navigational channels. The snags are usually trees that have fallen into the river due to erosion and the flooding that had to be done to make it navigable, as well as the flooding that takes place annually. We were the only ones at this center until we came across George and Sheilah Van Nostrand, of “Dreamcatcher”, whom we met a few days earlier at Midway Marina. They had moored at another marina up from the Visitor Center and used the courtesy van from it to come to the Center.

We left the flower-covered dock and called the lock master who opened up in a few minutes to usher us into a hyacinth-strewn garden of a lock. We complimented him on his “horticultural” lock, and motored on down to Big Creek Cutoff for an evening anchorage at mile marker TB 304.4.

The next day enroute we topped up our fuel tank from a jerrycan as the tank was reading empty. However, it took only 3 gallons. A faulty fuel gauge can still cause concern, as bleeding the injectors after running out of fuel is not a pleasant task, and of course Murpy’s Law says that you will run out at the most inconvenient or hazardous time. So, we like to keep it topped up. Incidentally, one of the benefits of having jerrycans for fuel is that if you run out and even your cans are empty, you do not have to wait until the next marina, as you can anchor and take the empty jerrycans ashore in the dinghy and go to the nearest gas station for fuel. We do not trust our fuel gauge and track our fuel consumption so we have an idea of our usage. At present we use about 3 litres or 3/4 gallon (U.S.) per hour at hull speed cruising revs (6 knots). Our tank holds 112 litres or 28 U.S.gallons, plus another 15 gallons in three jerrycans. We are thinking of putting a larger propeller on as we find we have to go at higher revs to attain hull speed with our new larger 30hp engine than our old 15hp one. More about this if ever we get to changing our prop.

Another reason we did not want to take any chances with running out of fuel was because the area we planned to anchor in, at an industrial cut, was no longer available and we had to continue on. Our chart and guide indicated an anchorage location, but it had been taken over by industrial usage. We found this out as we arrived there about 15 minutes before sunset. The next possible anchorage was at Rattlesnake Bend, another 20 miles downstream. That meant navigating the Tombigbee at night! Lots of fun!  There was still barge traffic as well as the twists and turns of the river to be navigated through three hours of darkness, in addition to going off the river at Rattlesnake Bend into one of the oxbow cutoffs to find an anchorage. It was a full moon night, but it was still difficult to make out the shoreline, as well as to determine what the different shore lights were. We passed two or three tows during this period. It was quite scary as when passing a tow we had to stay closer to an indistinct shoreline. Fortunately we had a 400,000 candlepower spotlight. However, every time we turned it on, it killed our night vision too. Judy had to hold it as far forward and outboard as possible so it would not reflect off our dorades, lifelines and shrouds. Identifying the opening which was Rattlesnake Bend was difficult, as every indentation and bend in the river could be Rattlesnake. We relied on dead reckoning to estimate when we would be abreast of the proper bend. Once we found it and went off the main river, it was a peaceful beautiful placid moonlight-filled expanse of water that we cautiously navigated up until we dropped anchor at about 1900 at mile marker TB223.0. From TB304 to TB223 meant we covered 81 miles plus one lock in a long 13 hour day.

After the mist cleared the next morning we weighed anchor about 0810, to see by day the bend we entered at night. Shortly later we passed the junction of the Black Warrior River, another major river system in that part of the world, and on down to Demopolis, a sleepy southern town with a good marina. We just wanted to refuel, pump out, and top up with water, but we met a couple of boaters we had met earlier, and spent more time there than initially planned. More about our stop in lovely old Demopolis in my next log.