Having Boats On Two Coasts: Are We Crazy? We had an idea, really a whim – not a plan, to have a boat that was east of the Mississippi River that we would go to and do parts of the Great Loop again and explore places that we had passed over three years earlier. We liked the way that Rich and Cheryl have used their Ranger Tug 25. Though it is kept in Michigan, they trailer it around North America and do trips of 4 to 12 weeks. Listening to their latest adventure and the one they are planning to do, the notion of keeping a boat on a trailer and moving it as desired crystalized for us. The idea became an unexpected swift reality during a trip to Florida to see friends, take advantage of cheap airfares and to attend a rendezvous of Ranger Tug owners in SW Florida. We have owned 7 cruising boats over nearly 30 years and I had taken the lead on finding and purchasing all of them but this would be different - Laurie did this one.. The criteria was simple: a boat that was movable by either trailer or affordably moved by a professional and the price was under $100K. In four days, we looked at a Camano 31, a Rosborough, a C-Dory 25, a Tomcat, and this Ranger 27. Rather than looking for and finding a boat, this 2012 Ranger tug boat found us by speaking to both Laurie and I, The nameTrilogy would come after the sale was chosen as the name because this was our third Ranger Tug and our third adventure on the east coast. It also symbolizes the continuation of our boating adventures. The tug was found and purchased in February, possession happened in March and it was moved to Save Cove Boat Yard and Storage in Port Charlotte where it was under cover and plugged into power. In May, a four-day sprint of repairs and improvements were done with the huge help of Paul and Stacy and the boat was towed on its trailer to a storage yard in Ringgold, Georgia that is close to Chattanooga to get it out of the hurricane zone and to position it for a fall trip on the Tennessee River. When the river trip ended in Mobile, Alabama, it was left in storage yard in nearby Saraland, Alabama.
Why We Like This Boat =Sleeps two in the V-berth, sits 4 for dinner, and accommodates 6 for cocktails in the cockpit. -The Yanmar 180 HP diesel has a quiet slow cruising speed of 7..4 knots and will run all day at 15 knots. -Fuel Mileage: 4 MPG at slow cruising, 2.2 MPG at fast cruising, -The 100 gallon tank gives an easy cruising range of 200 to 300 miles with a reserve. -The inside is comfortable, warm and protected -The galley and the head spaces are huge for the size of the boat -There is always space at a marina for a 27 foot boat and always a place to anchor because of the 25 inch draft -The water capacity (40 gallons) and the hold tank capacity (30 gallons) creates at least 5 days of self-sufficiency -Launching, towing and retrieving is very easy
Repairs and Improvements: A Sampling We are very comfortable at taking a good platform and tweaking it to our desires and tastes. This boat was cared for by the previous owners and we are glad to have her. In 8 months, 50 minor repairs or improvements were accomplished. The highlights are:
The Float-On brand of aluminum trailer was re-built with new tires and new caliper brakes. When the brackets holding the taillights broke or cracked from metal fatigue, new ones of welded brackets were custom made.
The Garmin VHF radio was replaced with an Icom brand that receives AIS signals and when it was connected to the NEMA 2000 network, the vessels transmitting AIS are seen on the chart plotter. Also, the radio was moved to a more convenient location to the top of the dash cabinet. A bonus feature: the microphone has a built-in speaker.
The propane system was nearly completely rebuilt with new tanks, new electric solenoid switch, and the box that held these was re-designed to be more water tight and have better drainage. In addition, the stove and the burners were repaired to be operational.
The anchor system was modified with a new Rocna Anchor, the 200' of line was reduced to 100' and when added to the 50' of chain would handle all of our anchoring situations of 40' of depth or less. Shackles and a swivel were added and the prior anchor was moved to a spare anchor status with its own 13" of chain and 50' of line.
The entertainment system was modified by installing a replacement to the Fusion radio, adding Sirius XM radio docking station for a portable control head that we use in Tribute and our 19' Escape Trailer. When the audio on the Majestic DVD player had performance issues, movies were played on our laptop with the sound moved through the Fusion radio.
The water system was cleaned and flushed and the low pressure issues in the galley and the head were solved by removing construction debris in the hoses and taking the out the screens at the water supply connections.
Opened up the space in the "Cave" by removing the wood lid, repairing the coat rack, and carpeting the space.
Added features for more livability: two folding white resin deck chairs that store well in the cockpit, installed the cockpit table and added a stabilizing leg, knife rack, false floor to galley cabinet for more storage, mug holder at the Navigator's chair, sunshades to all of the hatches, a digital weather station and clock, created a comprehensive first kit, distress kit with electronic visual signal rather than flares, mounted the BBQ, and re-stitched the Bimini canvas,
Lines and fenders: repaired the line to chain connection on the main rode, created a jack-line with a D-ring that simulates a mid-cleat for securing to locks and doubles as a heavy duty anchor snubber line, created a light weight anchor snubber line that doubles as a anchor tie-down line, added two ball fenders, created a "Looper's loop" line with length of hose for securing to locks and lassoing dock cleats.
Created a file system for all the manuals that came with the tug to create an easy to use reference library.
Photos from left to right: use file folders with broad headings to gather and organize the many manuals; the VHF radio and labels of important information that any person on the boat would need to know and a line level that is used to help trim the tug from side to side; white resin chairs secured in the cockpit; the storage under the port step-engine parts in the white box, lines in the black box and emergency signaling kit under the white box; storage under starboard hatch; and throwable cushion that is hung on snaps to the cockpit wall - out of the way, out of the rain and yet very accessible.
Strategies And Ideas Of Having A Boat Away From Home
With truck rentals being round trip only, fly to the desired destination where a truck can be rented. Then, drive to the boat/trailer and tow it back to start the trip. At the finish, either store it or take it to the next destination by renting a truck and bring the boat/trailer to there.
Truck rentals: Enterprise is the only one that was found, so far, that rents 3/4 ton trucks and allows towing. Bring a hitch and ball.
Storage yard: use yellow pages.com for a good set of lists and call them with your criteria. Then tour the top ones to see if they meet the criteria. Physical security is essential with good fences. Live on-site employees is a plus. More importantly is the kind of employees: friendly, helpful and interested are necessary because they will be willing to respond to a phone, receive a package, and give up dates when storms have happened.
Storing: Under cover where there is heavy rain, hail or snow. Power is desired for the battery charger and dehumidifier that are left on. Dehumidifier is set to 60% and has a drainage hose that is routed to the galley sink. Hang a "trouble light" with an LED bulb that can be seen from the outside to verify that power is on. Cover all windows for UV protection.
Tools: a good set is necessary to leave on the boat. Tools are kept in two soft sided tool bags. Harbor Freight is a good source because when the tool is lost over aboard there is no crying about the loss.
Traveling: Travel light and with no luggage because there is no room for a suitcase on board. We use duffel bags with the clothes in cubes made of mesh material. The cubes leave the bag and go on the shelf of the V-berth. Bring clothes for 7 days, layers and a good rain coat.
The Tennessee River & Tenn-Tom Waterway: 19 days of travel and 741 miles in the Fall
Tuesday, October 17 Stacy and Paul dropped us at the Enterprise Truck Rental in downtown Chattanooga soon after it opened and 30 minutes later the 2017 Ford F250 was headed toward the storage yard in nearby Ringgold, Georgia to hook up the boat trailer.
The Ford F250 easily and comfortably took us to the boat ramp. Away from the ramp, truck and trailer were parked to do the final prep. The tower was put up and one of the guy wire fittings had come apart 5 months earlier but all the pieces were still present. The zippers on the cockpit canvas did not make the project work list and were crusted with Florida salt. 20 minutes of cleaning with vinegar and water and liquid soap and picking with a sharp point cleaned out the issue. Some seams on the canvas were breaking and a repair job would be needed.
Another check was made that the transom plug was in and the seawater cock was open. We were not going to be one of those boaters whose boat starts to sink at the launch ramp. The old brain cells of trailering and backing down the ramp kicked in and 17 years of experience took over and Trilogy was eased down the ramp in one approach and slid off the trailer where Laurie and Paul secured her to the cleats.
The engine had not been started since March, so there was some apprehension if the Yanmar 180 horsepower 4-cylinder block made by BMW would come to life. The key start switch has two positions and the first is activating the electric fuel pump. When the red light on the dash turns off, the fuel pressure is ready for starting. The light went off in about two seconds, the key was turned to the second position and engine turned over and came to life. With water being pumped out of the transom, the alternator creating 14 volts, forward and reverse gears worked and the two thrusters came to life, the initial systems were all good.
We would have lingered at the dock to say slow good-byes to Stacy and Paul and continue to acknowledge the gratitude of helping us but a bass boat was waiting in the river to use the ramp. After another hug and handshake, reverse gear took Trilogy into the river current and pushed us the five miles to the dock at Chattanooga that took 35 minutes but felt like an hour. The feel of the wheel, being on Tennessee River again, enjoying the two-knot current and the sound and vibration of the engine and the water on the hull was exhilarating.
At the center and heart of Chattanooga is a floating dock that is nearly under the foot and bicycle bridge. There were four boats flying the gold AGLCA flag signifying that they had completed the loop. Trilogy was flying the white looper flag saying that the 6,000-mile trip was in-progress. Well, that is not entirely true. We had completed the loop in 2014 on our Ranger 29 Tug, Andiamo. Hearing that gold loopers are often ignored by white flag loopers because they had “done it” and were not “doing it,” we wanted to be more welcomed and because Trilogy had not done the loop.
Trilogy continued past the dock and down the river only because we were not ready to stop. When we did, the tug was pointed back into the current and eased into the dock with the use of thrusters. Loopers pay .75 a foot versus the $1.25 for others and get 10 cents off a gallon of diesel. After tying up and plugging in, a short walk took us to the Tennessee Aquarium where an Uber driver did a pick up to deliver us back to the truck and trailer. Uber is very easy and convenient and is another improvement from 9 years earlier. The trailer was then returned to its place under the steel roof in Ringgold, Georgia. What to do with the ball and hitch? If we take it back to the boat but leave the boat on the hard, then another one would be needed. With no secure way to lock it to the trailer, we hid it in plain sight hoping that it would be there when we see it again.
Another trip to Walmart finished the provisioning and 10 gallons of fuel took the truck’s fuel gauge past the point that we got it. With 15 minutes before Enterprise closed, the truck was returned and the helpful sales associate took as back to Trilogy. Walking down the dock, the crews of the four other boats were already into docktails, a long-standing tradition among loopers to bring your bottle or can and to share munchies. Laurie was tired, feeling the very beginnings of a cold virus that she caught on the flight out, and hesitated until we received a personal invitation from the group.
We did not bring folding chairs for Trilogy because the cockpit seating is perfectly adequate for two but docktails requires that you bring your own seating. Looper hospitality is nearly always really good, where people accept you for what you are, not what you have done, how much money earned or the size of your boat. Quickly, two chairs were provided and we immediately decided these resin chairs from Amazon would make a good addition to Trilogy.
Boater cards were passed around and very quickly we needed to have some. Our Tribute card would be tonight’s substitute. Gary and Colleen are from Little Rock, Arkansas and are in the chapter of how much living aboard versus living in a home will they do. Jim and Kim are from Welaka that is on the St. John’s River and a place that we had been. Tim and Anne are full time cruisers with a homeport in Florida. Scott and Lorrie are full-time live aboards. Stories were told and after much laughter, the sunset sent everyone back to their boats. An attempt to watch a movie on the 12-volt TV/DVD combo found that the audio was very low and then started to cut out. A second movie showed the same result. Laurie’s cold had fully blossomed and she was in bed early.
Wednesday, October 18 Dawn brought a scene of heavy fog on the Tennessee River that would lift quickly as the morning sun climbed above the surrounding hills. Laurie’s cold had taken a heavy toll on her but she rallied after breakfast to clean the inside of the tug while the exterior received its first wash since March. Long time stains were effectively removed with an acid-based cleaning product but it also caused a dozen pin-sized holes in the pants when it splattered on them. With two pairs of pants, the holes will be seen again. The lines were washed before lunch that yielded three buckets of dirty water. Old Florida salt was brushed from the window screen and the remainder was dissolved with vinegar and water.
The harbor host for AGLCA, Hal, came down to the dock and greeted us. An email to him earlier resulted in finding the launch at the Tennessee River Park. Now, there was a hunt on for a DVD player cleaning disc and audio cables to run the sound from the TV through the Fusion sound system. Hal said the closest place and the only place within walking distance was a Walgreen’s that was across the footbridge. Laurie found all that she was looking for and I settled for a second tier replacement audio part. On the way back, a stop at the Tennessee Aquarium found a sweatshirt for Laurie.
The hunt for parts and products showed that much of the retail inventory that was available 8 years ago has been replaced by delivery from Amazon. Now, our Amazon list had grown to chairs, a fender, DVD player cleaner, and an audio cord. It was enough to commit to place to be at a certain day, so the order was made.
Outfitting Trilogy and learning her systems also meant learning the perimeters of the engine performance such as temperature, oil pressure, and voltage. What good is data from gauges if there is no meaning or context? Much of the afternoon was researching the product manuals and creating useful labels that were attached to the dash.
Gary and Colleen came to Trilogy for docktails as the other boats had left earlier. They enjoyed the 15 second tour of a small floor plan and took us to their 46 foot Carver. We had a good time listening to their chapter of their lives: recently retired law school professor and a physician who retired 10 years ago, how they use technology for TV, streaming and internet, and how they make the choices to stay or go and the marinas they wintered at. Laurie posted on Facebook what we were doing and was dubbed by her friend Maureen as being “bi-coastal boaters.” After dinner of mushroom ravioli, Laurie faded to bed while I did billable hours and created a boater card for Trilogy.
Thursday, October 19 The slight morning chill evaporated when the tug’s Webasto diesel furnace came to life. Brown paw prints in the cockpit and in morning dew showed a visit by a local raccoon. This adventure is more than a remembrance trip of something we did in 2008; it is also a shakedown trip for this tug. Showers aboard were a first and we learned about adapting to the low water pressure. A call and an email to a local printer resulted in a boater card for this tug. The mile long walk to pick up the cards through downtown at the beginning of a business day and under clear blue skies was thoroughly enjoyable.
The talk of going east and upriver ended with the reality that Laurie was too sick to take on the Chickamauga Lock in the next 30 minutes and that the most desired destination of traveling the length of the Little Tennessee River would take a week to get there. Add that to the week to get back, we decided to head west and go downstream.
After pulling away from the dock and leaving Chattanooga, a discrepancy was found between two readings of the tug’s fuel level. The fuel level is calculated, not observed or the volume measured, by the Garmin chartplotter by subtracting the volume of added fuel by the rate of fuel used by the engine. It is a good system that had earned my trust on Andiamo. But on two different displays were two very different readings, one showed 67% of the 100 gallon tank remained, the other showed 35 gallons left. For 10 minutes of westbound travel and getting further away from a fuel dock, I trusted the percentage of fuel remained. Then, I heard the message that the angels and ancestors that watch over me – go back and fuel up.
A radio call to the fuel dock was also a first for the VHF radio. When the fuel pump went past 40 gallons, I started to wonder if there was fuel spilling into the bilge but there was none. At 60 gallons, I looked again but it was dry. The pump stopped at 80 gallons and we were amazed. If we had continued on, Trilogy would have run out of fuel between marinas. Now, the baseline was made and the two discrepancies have been corrected.
This is Trilogy’s third engine, which is another story, and this one only has 24 hours on it. Therefore, the engine is in the middle of its 50-hour break-in period. The engine manual is clear that the engine must be run fully loaded meaning about 80% of its speed and the RPM’s varied. Rather than sedately cruising at 6.5 knots at 1,700 RPM, the tug would be run at 2800 to 3400 RPM or 10 to 13 knots. The 30 mile run to the anchorage at Cedar Creek was easily done in 3 hours but the noise is loud and not something that we would like to do all the time.
Boaters recommend Cedar Creek for its anchorage and when we arrived, the memory returned of anchoring here in 2008. Tim and Anne were anchored also and waves were exchanged. The tug’s rode looked very new and may have been never used before. The new Rocna anchor bit quick and secure in 5 feet of water. The moment of uncertainty happened when the 50-foot chain that was before the 200 feet of rope had no markings of length. Then, the anchoring was calculated: depth plus (keel and bow height which is 7 on Trilogy) times 3 to 4. In other words, most of the time, all of the chain will go out. The BBQ was new and still in the box when we bought the tug and grilling pork chops was the first use. After dinner, we did the formal name changing ceremony complete with gratitude to the gods of the sea and wind, offering Tennessee Honey Whiskey as an offering and a toast. Trilogy is now in the records of Neptune and Poseidon.
Friday-Saturday-Sunday, October 20-21-22 Misty and waving fog on the river welcomed the day. The house battery bank was at 12.6 volts or nearly at a full charge. The Webasto heater brought that down to 12.4 during the 30 minutes of heating to take the chill out the air. Of three other Looper boats in this small cove, two were gone within two hours of sunrise. We waited for the fog to completely lift before heading downriver because our first lock and dam, Nickajack, was just around the bend.
Locking is often a source of anxiety for new boaters and those, like us, who come from places where they are never dealt with. Locking downstream is always easier because the water in the lock drops and therefore there is very little turbulence. Locking is easier if the boat has a mid-cleat to tie the floating bollard to and two round fenders, one at the bow and the other at the stern.
Ranger Tugs do not have a mid-cleat, an oversight that causes annoyance, and must be overcome. Experience taught us to rig a taut and stout line along the side of the tug and attach a hefty D-ring where the mid-cleat should be. Then, a line with a loop that is kept open by threading the line through a 39" length of hose,is put over the lock’s floating bollard, run through the D-ring, pulled tight and cleated in the cockpit; a slick system that works well. Over the next three days, Trilogy would go through two locks and each one was uneventful and was the only boat in these massive chambers.
The boating was fun, easy and the tug performed well. Doing the break-in period correctly meant going much faster than we would normally do and constantly varying the engine’s speed. Each morning the engine was checked; oil was fine and the coolant once needed a cup added to the reservoir. During each day, temperature readings were gathered from the driveshaft where it enters the drip seal, and the temperature of the coolant and oil was read.
The river was broad, about a mile across to less than a ¼ mile. There were stretches with no houses or indications of humans. Then, there were clusters of million dollar homes with custom docks and trams that went up the hillside. The autumn colors were not present. Apparently, it has been to warm.
Familiar places and marinas were passed by, as the adventure is to see new places.
At the end of the second day out of Chattanooga, Trilogy anchored in Jones Creek, a large embayment with a depth of 8 feet that is frequented by the bass fisherman and whose entrance is not for the faint of heart – three boat widths wide with depths that dropped to 3 feet under Trilogy’s keel. The anchor was dropped in 5 feet of water near the old Boy Scout Camp. The afternoon was spent organizing and cleaning tools and hardware supplies and coating the tools with Boeshield to keep the corrosion at bay. The clear blue skies had given way to high clouds, a foretelling of a cold front coming up from the south that would arrive in a day or two. A slight breeze rippled the water as the tug headed south and west in Guntersville Lake. Early afternoon and about 10 Loopers headed past us headed to Chattanooga. One of them was a claret red hull, Ranger 25 whose Captain had contacted Laurie via Facebook. Another eastbound Ranger 27 called on the radio and we learned that they knew some of the same Ranger owners that we knew and had taken his tug up the Inside Passage to Alaska.
A stop at the free town dock in Guntersville was a good place to stretch out legs and we elected to stay the night. An antique truck show was happening in the adjacent city park and was dominated by about twenty-five18-wheelers on display. The small town feel of this northern Alabama place was pleasant. The working class families with small kids in tow enjoyed the trucks and some stopped at the tug to ask questions like, “Are you really from Washington State?”
A search for the corner market in the small downtown core found the store was closed on Saturday. A ½ mile walk to the farmer’s market revealed that the market was another 1.5 miles away and may not be operating because the website was not specific. The Episcopal Church was a 36-minute walk away and the decision was made to go the following morning. The afternoon was spent examining the side-curtains of the cockpit canvas, cleaning zippers and marking them. We may never use them, but they are carried aboard.
A good phone call with Rich, Laurie talked to her mom, showers for all, and this day was closed with billable hours.
Sunday brought heavier cloud cover and the decision to go to church was changed because the 10:30 start time for the service could pose a problem getting to Ditto Landing Marina. Though only 25 miles away, the unknown was transiting Guntersville Lock and the weather front was approaching. More eastbound Looper boats flying their white and gold burgees were seen. Another first, Laurie talked to an eastbound tow and barge that was met in a bend in the river. Trilogy receives AIS signals from boats that have this device, so we knew about the barge though he did not know about us. But, being small in the world of boating allows us more options on getting out the way.
Three hours later and at about noon, Trilogy arrived at the half empty marina. The tug had traveled 133 miles from Chattanooga and the engine break-in period had 10 hours to go. Gary and Colleen were getting fuel and pumping out. Anne and Tim were buffing their boat. The marina staff said that a trip was planned to Walmart if we needed to go. Fifteen minutes later, we were off to do a medium sized provisioning chore.
Back at the tug, two of the four boxes from the Amazon order had arrived. The afternoon was spent doing a list of small things: adding a knob to the glove box door, finding a place for the new deck chairs, interpreting the operating manual of the new VHF radio and programming it, researching the engine display and selecting the information needed and making labels with data that was not to be forgotten.
The weather front with moderate wind and heavy rain was watched on Weatherbug. The weather will strike the tug on the beam so additional lines were put out to keep the tug off of the dock. The day was closed with writing and research and waiting for the rain to come, which started at 2115 hours. 24 miles were covered in under 3 hours.
Monday-Tuesday, October 23-24, The heavy rain, like a fire hose spraying the tug, woke up Laurie at 0400 hours. The Weatherbug app showed yellow and red colored rain cells going over our location and continuing north. Just after sunrise, the rain and clouds were gone and the still air was the green light for Anne/Tim and Gary/Colleen to leave and continue west. Waiting for packages and the wind to lie down would keep us in harbor for two more days; a reminder that there are other forces that have control over plans. Adaptation and acceptance is a mindset that can create peace.
Thinking about spending the day in Huntsville was shelved when the 20-minute long Uber ride was $57 one way, the Enterprise car rental was $70 and the marina staff was unable to provide a ride. That theme would repeat itself the following day only Enterprise would not have any cars available – an oddity since it was the low season.
Walks were done through the campground and along the walking trail that followed a very shallow slough and through a forest of maples and sweet gum trees that would break into meadow that was a former diary and now was a housing development. We were nearly alone except for the occasional bicyclist who was exercising their dog or the solo jogger.
Laurie baked muffins and made homemade chicken soup/chili. The marina’s Wi-Fi was used. Low pressure at the water faucets was cured by the removal or cleaning of screens in the supply line and at the faucet. Measurements were taken and labels made to record the air draft of the antenna up, tower up and tower down. The operation of the searchlight was learned and labeled at its control panel. The windows and window screens were cleaned of old Florida salt and the two layers Rainex were applied to the windshield. The water tank was filled and lasted 5 days. The holding tank is ¾ full. Like the Laurie Ann and Andiamo, Trilogy’s holding and water tanks are pumped or re-filled at the same time. Trilogy’s exterior was washed and wax, a chore that only took 3.5 hours; another plus of a small boat.
A Ranger Tug 21 was found in the marina and we saw it leave and then come back. Tom is the owner and he came to Trilogy to meet the cousin of his boat, “Miss Baker.” Friendly and talkative, he retired from Los Angeles and his Ranger 21 is his first boat. Afterwards, Laurie introduced the notion of adding New Orleans to the Trilogy adventure that would start in mid-February. Enterprise Truck Rental would cost about $150 for a two-day rental to get the trailer from Georgia and bring it to Mobile, Alabama. Trilogy would stay in the Mobile area on her trailer at the end of this trip. Power and covered storage would not be mandatory for three months. Megabus has a shuttle from Mobile to New Orleans for $28 a person and Alaska Airlines has a non-stop flight to Seattle.
Wednesday, October 25 Trilogy left Ditto Landing at about 0830 hours under clear skies and still air. The engine performance display was changed to show the 80% of load and the turbo-charger’s PSI pressure and the discovery was made that 3700 to 3900 RPM brought the tug up to the 80% at speed of 14 to 15 knots and at 2.2 miles per gallon. Trilogy was going to fly down the river and finish this break-in period strong.
Soon, the faster speed and feel of the pace of travel seem quite comfortable. At Decatur, the river widened out and the wind picked up to have white caps on the bow with a 1 to 2 foot high chop. The higher speed and raising the trim tabs to bring the bow up made the ride smoother and less spray hitting the windshield. The chartplotter showed a collection of AIS – transmitting tugs clustered on both sides of the railroad bridge because it was lowered for a long train to cross the river. After the train, the bridge rose for the passing tugs and started to lower again because the bridge operator did see Trilogy coming. The bridge’s vertical clearance was 10 feet. Laurie called the bridge on the VHF radio and without a response; the lowering of the bridge stopped and raised a few feet. Trilogy easily passed under.
Continuing westward toward the Wheeler Lock and Dam, the William Hank tug was pushing a set of barges that were three wide and 6 barges long at 5.9 knots. Trilogy called the captain to say what was planned and then went around the barge and barreled down the lake to get to the lock. If we arrived soon enough, the lockmaster would be able to lock us down and turn the lock around in enough time to not hold up the William Hank. In the world of locks, commercial traffic has priority over recreational vessels. Otherwise, Trilogy would have to wait for the William Hank to get into the lock, go down and then the lockmaster would raise the lock again for this recreational vessel. A wait would likely take at least two hours.
At Wheeler Dam, Trilogy glided in was quickly lowered with a good ride in the lock. The lock is an oasis from wind and chop but when the doors opened 20 minutes later, the wind was still moderate at a sustained speed of 13 MPH.
Now in Wilson Lake, we blasted over the 15 miles of chop and whitecaps toward the dam that was under repair. The lockmaster said to wait at a nearby cove and wait to be called. Trilogy arrived at the cove at 1430 hours, dropped anchor in 10 feet of water at the end of the cove with tree leaning toward the tug and the closed up houses on the hillside. We settled in for a long wait because the crews can work to 6PM, however, the radio came to life an hour later and Trilogy was soon in a lock that had nearly a 9-story drop. The descent was quite calm and very entertaining as this massive piece of engineering, construction and huge operating costs performed only for this 27-foot pleasure craft and its two occupants.
At 1630 hours, Trilogy arrived at the nearby Florence Harbor Marina, took on 75 gallons of diesel and tied up near Gary and Colleen. Quickly, we met Bud and Sue who had started the loop in July after selling everything they had in Iowa. Over docktails on Gary and Colleen’s boat, Bud announced that today was his 69th birthday and invited everyone to join him for dinner at a nearby restaurant. On a PDQ catamaran, were Nellie and Jacques who were from France and had come to the U.S. to expressly buy a boat to do the Great Loop. They were on their last leg as they had started in Clearwater, Florida. They wanted to know a lot more about boating on a trailerable boat and exploring the Pacific Northwest. We agreed to meet up later.
At the restaurant, the evening was full of stories, laughter and sharing. Sharing a special birthday moment with new friends was a special treat. Sue made the observation that Loopers are like college students who come from different places with one thing in common and friendships are easily made. 75 miles were covered in 7.5 hours.
Thursday-Friday, October 26-27 Jacques and Nellie left after breakfast and we made an intention to meet up later on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Gary and Colleen left shortly afterwards. After showers, two loads of laundry were done and this was followed by a trip to Walmart using the marina’s courtesy car, an ancient Ford Aerostar van with 142000 miles on. But it was free and adequate for the chore at hand. Bud and Sue had an issue on their boat where a water hose came loose and now the starboard engine would not turn over. I suggested that an examination of the ground wires at the starter would be good place to look and Bud quickly found a loose wire that was probably caused by knocking it as water was being cleaned up. We said our good-byes with hope that we will see them again.
Trilogy pulled away at noon and ran westbound for 43 miles to the Grand Harbor Marina at 15 to 17 miles per hour as the break-in period was finished. At Grand Harbor, packages from Amazon were picked up and we felt obligated to buy some fuel for their trouble. Boats were coming in fast and the marina staff did not blink when we opted to anchor out at Zippy Cove, a 30 minute run from Grand Harbor, Trilogy idled past Gary/Colleen and Tim/Anne in their boats and anchored in 10 feet of water. The packages were like Christmas: a new DVD player for the laptop, an electronic distress that is better than flares and a battery operated weather station.
Trilogy covered 43 miles about 4 hours.
The next day and just past dawn, Gary and Colleen were already gone. When not “buddy boating” there is no expectation of communication or shared destinations. Every sighting of a friend on the water is just a gift. By 0830 hours, the anchor was up and Trilogy headed out under cloudy skies, a moderate breeze that rippled the water and air temperature was in the high 40’s and warming. So far on this trip has been the coolest temperature we had experienced. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, commonly called the Tenn-Tom, is a collection of rivers, creeks, and lakes that are connected by a man-made ditch. About 450 miles long, it stretches north and south and is always a short distance from the Alabama-Mississippi border. Locations are referred to by the their statute mile.
After leaving Zippy Cove on Pickwick Lake, the markers took the tug to a southerly arm of the lake. At the end of this arm started a 24-mile long ditch that was mostly straight, dredged to 18 feet with a uniform width. Some boaters complain about the Tenn-Tom because of the ditches and the isolation – there are very few towns and is wilderness boating in the south with few services and marinas. But the topography, the ecology and the natural wonders are beautiful in their own way.
The ditch gave way to Blue Springs Lake that is caused by Whitten Dam and Lock. Tows and barges were using the lock so the tug was anchored in the same small cove that our Andiamo did in 2014 and where we met Ken and Pauline. Mid-afternoon and after an hour of billable hours, the lockmaster called on the radio that the lock was available. We elected to go knowing that the weather was turning to more wind and rain during the evening.
After Whitten Dam was the short run to Montgomery Dam and the tow that we waited for at Whitten, was waited for at Montgomery to get ahead of us. After Montgomery, Trilogy was powered up to 15 knots and caught up to the tow and passed it about 4 miles before the Rankin Lock and Dam. We listened as the lockmaster at Rankin and the tow captain discussed where Trilogy would be in the order of locking. The lockmaster said that he could get us locked down and the lock turned around in time for the tow to not wait too long; we would go first and that would save us about an hour in the late afternoon. All of the locks to this point, Trilogy was only one using them.
After Rankin Lock, the skies turned very dark. The weather radar on the Weatherbug app showed heavy rain to our immediate west with the system angling to the northeast. It would be upon us soon. The next available anchorage was 90 minutes away and was very exposed to the weather. We opted to change plans and to stay at the Midway Marina that was an hour from the lock. The marina was more protected and tying up was better than anchoring with exposure to the building wind. In the dwindling light, Trilogy was placed on the leeward sidelong dock that whose windward side was full of tall and long yachts. We glided in and tied opposite to Gary and Colleen, just as the wind ratcheted up another notch. We were happy to pay the $41 for moorage and power.
Four men were on a 63-foot Hatteras yacht and wanted to see Trilogy. They all crammed aboard and peppered us with great questions about the boat. Their story: All of them had retired in the past few months having lived in Pittsburg. The boat was going to the U.S. Virgin Islands but would likely stay in Florida until the islands had come back from being battered by this season’s hurricanes. Some knew nothing about boating and everyone was uncomfortable with anchoring, which was one topic of their questions because anchoring is usually a necessity before arriving in Mobile.
They left for dinner at the nearby restaurant and we made dinner and streamed another episode of Madam Secretary on the laptop. The rain came and dumped during the night. 57 miles were boated in just over 7 hours.
Saturday, October 28 The morning was calm and still with a light fog on the river and the air temperature at 48 degrees. Gary said the nearby lockmaster at the Fulton Dam and Lock reported that there were two tows going through and 0800 hours would be a good time to lock through. Being 0730, at first we said that we would take the next time slot. At this part of the Tenn-Tom, the lockmasters dictate the pace of travel by grouping together the recreational vessels and locking the group through.
With three boats leaving the marina, Laurie pronounced that Trilogy would join them. With no time to argue a counter-point, the power cord was coiled up and the lines released after the engine was started. The group had to wait for the lock to be turned around.
The next lock was the Wilkins Dam and Lock and the group had to wait for 90 minutes. Gary/Colleen and Trilogy anchored in the shallow embayment on the east side, the same place that our Laurie Ann had anchored for the night 9 years ago. When the lock was ready, two other fast yachts appeared from the north. Now the group was six boats. There is often a rude boat in every group and the addition of the blue hull express cruiser with a Nassau registration was ours.
The blue go-fast vessel was the last to join but the first to enter the lock to stake out his preference and was the most aggressive on the radio. Like most boaters when this happens, we just ignore him and adapt. When he took the closest bollard to the gate and radioed the lockmaster that he needed to change locations because the lock doors would smash his boat when they opened, we adjusted by taking that position because Trilogy fits that spot quite nicely.
With six boats and all running close together to the next lock, Trilogy powered up, stretched her legs to exercise the turbo and left behind nearly everyone, except the blue hull cruiser. After Amory Lock, we had decided to leave the pack before the next lock on Aberdeen Lake and anchor or stay at the free dock at Blue Bluff Park. Everyone else was making the long day to stay at the Columbus Marina. Trilogy enjoyed the 7.4 knots at 2300 RPM as the trees changed and the water wilderness of Mississippi was revealed with white egrets, white herons and blue herons. The group got bunched up at Aberdeen Lock as a tow was just getting in. The tow captain had a coarse tone with the blue hulled cruiser because the cruiser was not completely out of the way.
Our destination was Blue Bluff Park, an Army Corps of Engineers recreation area of a campground, picnic ground, swimming beach and a free T-dock that connects to a grassy hillside. We had been to this place in the Laurie Ann and often repeated the story where Boots, our cat, had a swimming lesson when she thought lily pads could be walked on.
The approach from the north and to the park from the channel is marked and described as shallow but do-able. The writers of this description were just wrong. The depth went from 5 feet to zero and then the tug slid across a mud hump, raising the boat 6 inches before finding depth again. Trilogy was going dead slow and never stopped but we did our part to dredge that channel. Again, I was thankful for the choice to have a boat where the propeller and the rudder are fully protected behind the keel. Later, did I learn that there are a north AND a south approach channels. Apparently, the south one is better.
The free dock was empty and Trilogy was tied to the end in 4 feet of water. A walk was taken to the boat launch and the picnic area. On our way back, a vehicle stopped on the shoulder and parked. A woman quickly got out of the passenger side and walked quickly away and down the shoulder, her head held high, back straight and arms swinging – she was on a mission or pissed off. A man got of the driver’s side, head down, back slumped in defeat and he shuffled toward the woman. Non-verbally, the meaning seemed clear: she was mad as hell and he was wrong.
Back at the boat, one of Trilogy’s black fenders was floating away and being carried south in the stiff wind. A fender rescue operation was mounted. The idea of using the boat to get the fender was considered for about 5 seconds but discarded when Laurie was not yet out of the shower and the depth was shallow and unknown. A $40 fender is not worth the risk. The fender stopped at the edge of a small peninsula that jutted out from the swimming area. A land operation was attempted with Laurie acting as spotter and I treaded my way through the forest, dodged more litter than expected and found the fender had stopped on a pad of river vegetation about 50 feet from shore. The decision was made to wait until morning when perhaps the night breeze would push it further to shore or perhaps a bass boat would get it for us. If one attempt at wading out did not get it back easily, then another would be ordered on Amazon and it would be waiting for us in Demopolis.
After a dinner of grilled chicken and roasted potatoes and a great sunset, a 70-foot long paddle wheeler came in and took the other side of the dock. The Pickwick Belle had been sold and was being moved to the west coast of Florida by a delivery captain and crew. This boat is propelled by a set of real paddle wheels. We had a nice chat with them. The captain lives at Grand Harbor Marina and has two other stern-wheelers. Their generator ran all night but our fatigue closed out the whole world. We would travel 37 miles in nearly 5 hours.
Sunday, October 29, 2017 Before dawn, the paddle wheeler was pulling away and heading south. At dawn, the parking lot at the boat launch was strangely empty and our hope for the passing fisherman to retrieve the fender faded out. Perhaps it was too cold for the fish to be biting or maybe they were all in church or perhaps the spouse put their foot down about fishing on last day of this weekend. An hour later, the river fog had lifted enough to see that the fender had not moved. A land operation was started with the intention to wade out to if the water was shallow enough. It wasn’t. As steps were made through the floating bottles and the grass gave way to over two feet deep but it was the cold of the water that aborted the mission four steps into it. The depth of the water gave hope that a water rescue from Trilogy was a possibility, which was successfully done with Laurie on the swimstep with the long boat hook and the tug was backed up to the fender.
The exit out of the Blue Bluff Park by the south channel was done at dead slow and watching not the digital numbers but rather using the sonar display because the sonar reads through the grass and picks up the fish that are deeper than the digital display which is a judgment value, not data. Aberdeen Dam and Lock is immediately next to the anchorage and we waited for 30 minutes while the lockmaster turned the lock around for Trilogy. Columbus Marina was an easy run of 24 miles and we arrived about noon. The long-time manager/owner “T” Maxwell greeted us at the fuel dock and we learned that the marina does not open until noon on Sunday and we would be his first customers. We really did not need fuel and could have made it to the next fuel stop a Demopolis 150 miles away, but that would require careful monitoring.
After lunch, changing the oil was carefully done. This was Trilogy’s first oil change on this new engine, it was our first time on this engine, and a record of the procedure would be made so we did not have learn it again next year or when 250 more engine hours happened. The process was done without incident or mistake and we had all the right tools and supplies aboard. Trilogy always carries an empty oil container for waste oil; a lesson learned on our Andiamo in Canada.
We used the marina’s courtesy car for the hour-long errand to replace supplies and provision at the local Kroger’s store. BBQ ribs and slaw were obtained at the store’s deli and these were enjoyed at dinner. Bud and Sue in Odyssey arrived and a 2014 version of our tug arrived as the sun went down. They moored behind Trilogy and it looked like boat twins. The owner and his friend were from Indiana and were delivering the boat to the Gulf Coast for the winter. Their vibe was immediately off, complaining about the boat and throwing the other person under the bus. They were acting like new boaters and we opted to just be polite. The evening was closed with the ribs and a movie.
A short day with 24 miles done in under just over 3 hours.
Monday, October 30, 2017 The chill of 45 degrees in the cabin was the wake up alarm at 0600 hours but an hour later the furnace had warmed the cabin to a pleasant 70 degrees. Three boats, including Trilogy’s twin, headed to the Stennis lock for a 0730 locking. We were up and could have joined the group but Laurie was moving slowly. The fuse to the propane’s electric shut-off valve had burned out and finding the blown fuse and replacing it was a 10-minute deal. The fuse was under-sized, 1 amp instead of a 3 amp and the cold was probably an additional factor. How many boaters who do not own a screwdriver would have stayed in the marina and called an electrician?
We killed 90 minutes as the lockmaster said we could lock down in 90 minutes. Trilogy fell into a pattern of slow cruising at 2300 RPM for 80% of the hour and then fast cruising at 15 knots for 20%. The tug averaged 10 miles an hour and burned 3 gallons an hour and achieved 3 miles to the gallon. The river was flat calm and a light breeze came from the south keeping the temperature in the low 70’s.
Nearing Bellville Dam and Lock, a tow with a barge of construction equipment was passed. The lockmaster told us that we would wait the 90 minutes while that tow went through so we tied up at the very short dock that almost too short for Trilogy. When the tow captain said they were not coming for a while, the lockmaster told us to come in.
The afternoon was pleasant boating down the Tombigbee River and through its lakes. Most of the time the river was about 100-200 yards wide, with no current and a fresh breeze from the south. Cypress trees were replaced by groves of pine trees that harbored beautiful campgrounds and well-kept summerhouses and these yielded to farms and fields in the low lands. The destination was Sumpter, a small cove that could protect about dozen boats. Arriving at about 1700 hours, we found the three boats that left Columbus Marina at dawn swinging at anchor. The anchor was dropped hear the head of the cove in 6 feet. One of them was Trilogy’s cousin, only a 2014 version.
Laurie prepared another great dinner of ham heated in the oven, fresh biscuits and salad. 75 miles were done in nearly 8 hours.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017 At 0700 hours, the VHF radio cracked to life with the other Ranger Tug saying that the nearby Heflin Lock would be ready in 20 minutes. We opted to leave and have breakfast while underway. The morning was calm and still with a light morning fog hovering on the rivers mirror surface. The lock was not ready for us and another lesson was learned again: Do your own research and verify the data before acting on someone else’s message because they may have it wrong. Soon the lock was ready but we would wait another 30 minutes for other boats to arrive, which is fine but not at the cost of a preventable delay in breakfast.
Four of the boats in the Heflin Lock would head out and rocket down to Demopolis. There would be two groups of boaters: the hare and the tortoise. Letting the hares go and get out of the way and leaving the river flat and calm was an easy choice. Soon, Trilogy was alone and doing this part of the Great Loop at her speed.
Another difference from boating in the northwest, Channel 16 is used by commercial boats and by recreational boaters to chitchat. There is no Coast Guard voice telling boaters that Channel 16 is for hailing and emergencies and to take conversations to another working channel. The bends in the river became more frequent and more pronounced and evolved into total wandering oxbows. Then came the Epis cliffs, with its white mineral rising about 75 feet above the water and trimmed at the tops with autumn colors. These cliffs were created about the same time as the Dover Cliffs in England.
Trilogy caught up with the Pickwick Belle, the paddle wheeler that stayed the night with us in Blue Bluff Park near Aberdeen. The tug was doing a turbo-cleansing run, slowed to pass the paddle wheeler and the whole crew came out to wave at us. Then, the tug awed them by pulling away at 17 MPH. Around a bend, we caught up to a Gemini 105 catamaran sailboat that was mast-less and running at its maximum speed of 6.5 knots on its solo diesel engine with a propeller on an arm mounted on the centerline between the hulls. Trilogy was on another 17 MPH run and though we slowed to pass them, the tug blew by them.
Just before Demopolis, a huge 80-foot yacht running at 25 knots with a 4-foot wake by a delivery crew passed us and took most of the fuel dock. Trilogy was able to slide into the shallow dock and take on 33 gallons that would be more than enough to get to Mobile. The employee was a jokester and made it all fun. This fuel dock pumps over 100,000 gallons of diesel a day to the towboats. The old marina is vacant as the new one provides all the services. We took a 40 foot covered slip for $1.25 a foot. The harbormaster, Ann Marie, was in costume as a witch and easily circulated around the docks on a bicycle and a golf cart. Demopolis Yacht Basin is 90% transient boaters, some longer than others because Demopolis is not a destination – it is a way station with a good-sized boat yard. The marina is the center of economic activity since farming and ranching have fallen on hard times.
A floating building is a meeting room, hosted the Halloween Party, and has laundry, restrooms and showers so we never stepped on dry land for the next two days. We met Mark and Sandee who have a new-to-them Kadey Krogen 42 and we talked boats for over an hour and he was grateful for advice about changing the thruster batteries. Amy and Reg with their two teenagers were looping in the Gemini catamaran, Binary, we spent time with Amy as she told the story of getting repairs, shipping their mast, and how the family is going really, really well together on the trip.
On the other side of the socio-economic spectrum was a brief meeting with an owner of a new Grand Harbor 37. With his expensive haircut, Ralph Lauren shirt, the made-to-order sunglasses and the off-hand remark that his thruster was going to be fixed while he was away on another trip, it was an easy encounter to leave behind. When you ask all the questions and they have no interest in anything but themselves, then leave them in the company they love: themselves.
Small world: met Shane who is rebuilding his Chris craft and discovered that he skippered the Hat Express, the ferry between Everett and Hat Island in 2010 and knew people that we knew. After dinner was the Halloween Party that some of the transient boaters attended. We stayed for an hour and though I tried to make conversation with the owner of Trilogy’s cousin, there was just no common ground and his attitude and disposition was, simply a bore. The really cute costumes were red and green buoys and salt and peppershakers. 43 miles were traveled in less than 7 hours.
Wednesday-Thursday, November 1-2 After moving everyday since Ditto Landing that is near Huntsville, it felt good to have a down day and simply stay in one place. The weather was breezy, heavy cloud cover and the rain would come in the afternoon. After breakfast, the whole morning was spent taking apart the anchoring system on the dock, removing 100 feet of line from the 200 feet that was crammed into the anchor locker, re-tying the knot that affixed the line to the 50 feet of chain and marking the line in 25-foot segments. It was a good project because the line snagged in the anchor locker. A total of 250 feet of rode was overkill and unnecessary for the cruising that we would do. On the Inside Passage, only once did we deploy nearly 200 feet of rode. The spare line was stowed forward in the rarely used storage area.
Every afternoon there is a meeting of the skippers who are leaving the marina in the morning. Maybe there was suppose to be a leader or a speaker but after waiting around for 10 minutes with the other boaters, I told our story of how this is done: the lock is called in the morning, the message is passed on by VHF radio and we go on to our destinations. I volunteered to be the communicator the next morning and everyone was satisfied.
Dinner was mushroom ravioli, vegies and wine and the evening was closed with a movie on the laptop with the sound through the boat’s speakers.
The next day, a brief rain shower precluded the alarm that went off at 0630 hours. The day was warm, humid and with a thick ceiling of clouds. A phone call to the Demopolis Lock at 0645 revealed that a tow was about to enter the lock and perhaps the lock would be ready at 0800 hours. A call on channel 69 15 minutes before the agreed upon time and everyone was waiting. The dock was a buzz of anxious activity and many were waiting by their radios for the word. However, the lockmaster called us at 0730 hours and said the lock will be ready soon and to come on down. Within minutes, 11 boats were pulling away from the yacht basin and heading to the lock that was 3 miles away . Exiting the lock at the huge spillway and sliding away from a tow and set of barges that were waiting for the recreational vessels to leave, the go-fast boats jockeyed for position as they had over 100 miles to go to Bobby’s Fish Camp – the only place with a dock, fuel and restaurant food before Mobile. Four of the 11 would go there. Typically about 1/4 of the loopers will not anchor or will not pass up an opportunity for a restaurant; that is their way of doing the loop.
Trilogy would take advantage of a 1.5-knot current and run close to 9.5 MPH and pass by the common anchorage at Bashi Creek and go on for a total of 93 miles to Okatuppa Creek. A long day that was do-able and safe because of the conditions and how fast this boat will go when needed. That would leave 6 boats to cram into that small anchorage that was now more limited because a tree had fallen into the small embayment. During this part of the Tenn-Tom Waterway, the designated anchorages are very few.
The day was routine of frequent turns on the river, counting the blue and white herons, wondering where the raptor birds were until a few Turkey Vultures were seen, long stretches of no houses, no bridges and no power lines, enjoying 50 minutes of every hour at 9 MPH and the balance at 17 miles per hour. Still, the tug earned 3+ miles per gallon. The local country FM radio station was enjoyed because there is no NPR radio station in this part of Alabama. There probably were not enough liberals to support one. Laurie talked to nine northbound towboats and barges to arrange passing maneuvers and they had names like DB Quebodeaux, Three Rivers, Gretchen C, Captain Anthony, Gunner, and Ms. Nicole.
The afternoon remained warm at 81 degrees and humid.. At 1715 hours, the anchor was dropped in 5 feet of water in a creek that feeds a wider and larger fishing area. A stern anchor was dropped to keep the tug from blocking the 80-foot wide creek. When the anchor light was found to have burned out, an LED cockpit light was left on. 93 miles was done in nearly 10 hours.
Friday-Saturday, November 3-4 0700 hours and like clockwork, three bass fishing boats cruised by Trilogy that caused enough of a roll that it woke us up. Later, another boat came by only slower and was occupied by two men who were in camouflage gear from head to food. “How y’all doin’?” “Fine, how are you this morning? “Going to kill some squirrels. Nice boat!”
We headed south as the last of the mist evaporated off of the river. Past the deserted docks at Bobby’s Fish Camp and to the last dam and lock on the river system, Coffeeville Dam. There was a tow pushing a barge that the AIS displayed as being about 5 miles away. The Coffeeville Lockmaster said to come on down and he would turn the lock around for us. As the gates were approached, they opened, the light turned green and Trilogy idled on in. The descent on this dam was quiet and smooth. The gates opened to the first mixture of fresh and salt water and where the tidal influence from the Gulf of Mexico had the potential of being felt. This was the last lock and dam for this trip and the moment was savored.
On this day, the southbound current would continue to carry us through the flat land that was forested under clear skies and warming temperatures. Through the morning, more rattles and vibrations were found inside the boat and were dealt with. At the Jackson Railroad Bridge, Trilogy caught up with the Pickwick Belle for the last time.
The river was rarely straight for more than two miles and there were more oxbows. There were lots of mileage but less distance traveled. Mid-afternoon brought temperatures into the mid-80’s. We pushed on to the anchorage at the Tensaw River that was wide, had a mild current flowing to the east and was already occupied by 4 boats that had been in front of us for the past two days. They had no doubt had run faster and used a lot more fuel than Trilogy. We anchored in 25 feet and the evening was quiet with a great sunset. We had covered 86 miles in nearly 9 hours.
The next day, just a few minutes before sunrise, half a dozen bass boats were running fast and close to each other like an invading force, going at least 40 miles per hour. The other trawlers that were anchored with us left about an hour before we did. Trilogy was on the last leg to Mobile and the destination was Turner’s Marina on Dog River. We were in no hurry to cover the last 55 miles. This part of the river was great as the forest yielded to the saltwater marsh and the vegetation was typical for a bayou.
At the I-65 highway bridge, the rules of the water seemed to change as the chitchat on Channel 16 was caught off by the Coast Guard radio dispatcher. The tow barges talked less and the chatter from the pleasure boats was gone. At the 14-mile railroad bridge that was 5 feet above the water, the bridge was closed and we waited 15 minutes for the train to come and cross over.
The protected wetland was entered and the amount of wildlife increased. A heavy concentration of tows and barges announced the end of wilderness boating as the busy Mobile harbor was entered. Trilogy slowed for the huge freighter Clipper Marlene to turn around in the harbor and then followed her out, past the Carnival Cruise ship with the police boat providing security. The horizon to the south was only water of the Gulf of Mexico; we were truly out of the inland river system.
Miles out of downtown Mobile, we caught up to the boats from the Tensaw River anchorage an we all turned to the west to follow the channel markers to Dog River. Laurie had chosen Turner’s Marine that was immediately past the Dauphin Highway Bridge. The other boats continued to the adjacent Dog River Marina. Turner’s was predominately sailboats but there were a few loopers there. The short fixed docks with wooden poles were another first for this trip and required an adaptation to the normal docking process but it was all done. We arrived at about 1400 hours, secured the lines, established shore power and then paid for two nights at the bargain price of $15 a night. The PDQ catamaran, Magic with Jacques and Nellie who were from France was close-by. We had hoped to see them and talk about boating in the Pacific Northwest and would visit for about an hour before they had to finish repairs so they could leave in the morning. The nearby West Marine Express had a few items that needed and more of the to-do list was accomplished.
Sunday-Saturday, November 5-11; Wrap-up and Lessons Learned The loss of Daylight Savings Time happened overnight and sunrise brought us awake at 0600 hours with a heavy fog that would last until 1000 hours. Being All Saints Day and St. Andrews Church an easy Uber ride away, we arrived 45 minutes before the 1030 service and were the first persons there. The 25 attendees were the nicest people. Laurie was able to sing her heart out with familiar hymns and made an impression with her well-developed alto voice. Afterwards, a brunch as served in the Parish Hall and they all sang Happy Birthday to Laurie. We got a ride back to the boat and spent the afternoon assessing the inverter and finally learned that low voltage without a load on it is perfectly normal. Binary, the Gemini catamaran arrived and Laurie was able to talk again with Amy.
Monday was the first day of the full-time prep work. A nearby canvas shop was available to re-stitch the Bimini top and the work would be done by Wednesday. The price was twice what was paid back home because we were just passing through. Most of the morning was spent working a list from Yellowpages.com of RV and boat storage businesses. 30 businesses were called and only one was willing to accommodate our desire to have power to the boat to run the battery charger and the de-humidifier. The further away from the water, the lower the monthly rent. We settled on doing a tour of storage business in Saraland, AL.
The storage business was new and the hungry owner was very accommodating as we wanted the tug secure, but not in the back secluded back corner or in the front row next to the street. The $35 a month was also the best price and less than Florida or Georgia. A stop at Harbor Freight Tools was necessary to prep for the next project: measuring and aligning the prop shaft that was part of the engine break-in period. Then, the hunt was on for a boat ramp that was suitable for a 39 foot trailer and a boat with a 2-½ foot draft. Three ramps were examined; one failed the depth test, one was gone and probably destroyed by one of the hurricanes and the other had potential until Laurie talked to a nearby owner of a sailboat and learned the concrete ramp was way too short for our trailer. Without a viable ramp, the only option was having the tug lifted out by a travel-lift at a marina.
The next day was warm and the afternoon would be hot. The nearby Dog River Marina could do the lift on Thursday for $10 a foot. Turner Marina was really busy stepping masts on sailboats. The husband and wife ownership team huddled and their best offer was maybe they could possibly do the lift on Friday morning for $7 a foot. When asked about a viable boat ramp, they suggested looking at Fowl River Marina that is down the bay by about 10 miles.
Information technology has made it easy to get information but it also has made us lazy about asking questions. Learning about boat ramps was another example of how the apps do not have accurate information and the charts can be misleading. Answers from real people is the most reliable or it provides leads. Dog River Marina provided directions to the business to refill the 5-pound propane tank. After 21 days, it was nearly empty. But their information was flawed because the business does not fill the small tanks. However, asking the right question revealed a nearby business that did.
Fowl River Marina is a small marina for residents, has a popular restaurant and a double lane boat ramp. The presence of double axle boat trailers pulled by ¾ ton trucks was the seal of approval. Without anyone around to answer our questions about depth and length, a second visit was necessary to make our own measurements. However, there was confidence that spending over $200 for a $50 service was not going to be necessary.
The prop shaft alignment project was methodically done after lunch. Several phone calls with Rich, who had done the research and did the alignment on his Ranger Tug, made the project easier. The initial measurements of the gap between the transmission coupler and the prop shaft showed it was within specifications. Working in the engine compartment also accomplished cleaning the sea strainer and tightening a dozen hose clamps.
Wednesday was a marathon driving day that started at 0730 at the Enterprise Truck Rental where a 2017 Dodge ¾ ton with a Cummins diesel was rented for the 350 mile trip to get the boat trailer. The drive to the storage yard in Ringgold, Georgia was easy, the trailer was in fine shape and after finishing the wiring repair in the 45-degree chill caused by a cold front from the north, we were back on the freeway. The trip back was longer because of rush hour through Birmingham and the need for more breaks and we arrived back at the tug at 2300 hours.
All of the weather apps would be correct on Thursday with a cold north wind blowing 15 to 20 knots that would last all day. The middle of Mobile Bay where the channel was had more wind and the chop was 1 to 2 feet. All of this plus not moving for nearly a week created some mild anxiety about moving to Fowl River. The truck and trailer were moved to the Fowl River Marina. The marina/ramp harbormaster was in her office as we measured the ramp and used the boat hook to measure the depth. She said the ramp would work fine for the tug and offered that there was plenty of depth outside of the main Mobile Bay channel and where the wind was lighter. Armed with good information, there was confidence in the next step.
The lines were cast off from Turner Marina at 1100 and immediately encountered a comfortable following sea of 2 foot swells once the channel was left. The easiest speed was nearly 15 MPH. The depth was 4-6 feet under keel and Fowl River Marina was made at 1230 hours with less than a 1 foot under the keel at low tide. The tug easily floated on to the trailer with some power used to get it up to the bow support. Then, the next hour was used to put the tug to bed on the trailer. The tug was delivered to the storage yard were final preparations were finished by following the checklist that was developed.
The rental truck was returned by 4PM and we enjoyed a great rate of $62 a day with unlimited mileage. An hour later, we were checked into a hotel in Gulfport, MS Most of Friday was spent driving Highway 90, the scenic road along the water that included a short stay at Gulf Shores National Seashore. After lunch on the coast, the staff at the Louisiana Welcome Center was very helpful about how to explore the French Quarter in New Orleans and where to park. Finding a hotel in New Orleans was by accident. This was our first visit to New Orleans and there were no surprises. The city was a mixture of vibrant energy, great music, and was loud, dirty, and smelly. The homeless were eating food out of trash cans, 9 year olds were hustling the tourists for cash after their drumming, Bourbon Street had broken glass from beer bottle and the smell of trash filled the alleys and the music was amazing. By mid-afternoon, we had toured the Garden District and returned the mini-van to the airport. The flight to Seattle was ontime and full.