Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Each day on the Tenn-Tom Waterway has been so peaceful and uneventful that there has not been much blog material. We have spent wonderful days and shared beautiful anchorages with new friends that we have been buddy-boating with since Demopolis. And then there comes a day like last Saturday.

We departed Dog River Marina to cross Mobile Bay to the Panhandle Intracoastal in bright sunshine and a forecast of "Winds less than 10 knots. Bay waters smooth". Not even "Moderate Chop" like it was on our way down the bay to Dog River. Smooth was even better! We are very cautious as the masts must stay on deck until Carrabelle due to low bridges.

The channel from the marina to the main channel runs west to east and we had a north wind on our beam, which caused Tessa to roll in the waves. But as soon as we entered the main channel, the wind was on our stern and the ride seemed comfortable. About an hour into the four hour trip across the bay, I asked Gary "Are we going as fast as we can? I don't like the wind picking up." He gave her more throttle and we continued on. Except before entering protected land, we had to turn north east back into a stiff 15 knot wind and rollers that were now two to three feet.

Tessa began heaving and rolling as Gary struggled at the helm to maintain the best course with the least force of the waves. I couldn't stand to be in the cockpit watching the masts and stands....waiting for something to break! Gary kept assuring me that everything was holding securely and everything was fine, but I freaked out when he said we had FOURTEEN MILES to go.

My Captain expertly steered us to the safety of the protected Intracoastal while I hid down below and clutched good luck charms left on board by Don Dunn and Jim Jordan. We made it unscathed.

We joined Nomad and Vela Narcosis at Homeport Marina, home of LuLu's (Jimmy Buffett's sister’s restaurant). Bill from Nomad was standing at the end of the dock waving us in to our assigned slip when Gary calmly announced that we had lost our transmission! No worries, he simply shut down the engine and guided Tessa along the marina wall next to a 125 foot luxury yacht, and instructed me to get a line around a cleat FAST! Unscathed again! The dock master exclaimed that we must have a lot of good karma around Tessa because he had seen that happen to another boat that crashed into their wall and did a lot of damage. Good karma and a great Captain!!

Now, if Nirvana had lost their transmission, they probably would have totaled their boat and any boat within striking distance. Talk about BAD karma!

We first crossed paths with Nirvana way back on the Illinois River and a lock. Tessa and Muddy Waters had already waited patiently for two hours, struggling to maintain steerage and avoid going aground in the constricted waiting area, while a “red flag” barge locked through. Red flag indicates the barge is transporting hazardous chemicals and restricts any pleasure craft from locking at the same time. A boat throwing a big wake approaches rapidly, while we watch and wonder what the heck their hurry was. The lockmaster announced that it would probably be another hour wait. Nirvana rushed to the lock gate announcing to the lockmaster that “we have to get to Starve Rock Yacht Club and were told we could lock through with this barge!” What??? Once they were told they would absolutely not be locking through, Nirvana proceeds to crowd into the area already occupied by our two boats and another big yacht, and demands that the yacht move out of their way because they were aground! In less than ten minutes they managed to violate just about every proper river etiquette known. This is when I announced to Gary “That boat has BAD karma!” Once through that lock, after being waked by their rush to beat everyone else out of the lock, we hoped to never cross paths again.

No such luck. Running at power boat speeds, they stopped at different places, but twice more caught up with us and charged by creating a wake. Sooner or later, we thought, they have to get far enough ahead of us so that we never see them again.

No such luck. Several locks and days later, again we are waiting, about 45 minutes, for a Coast Guard work barge to catch up and lock through with us and our new Swedish friends aboard Horizon. The barge informs the lockmaster that a pleasure boat is a mile behind them. We all groan in frustration, as the lockmasters always want to lock boats within striking distance together. Horizon now realizes that due to the delay, they would not be able to make it to Demopolis before dark and will have to find a safe place to anchor with not many options. Gary thought we could still make Demopolis if we pushed it. No one wants to run the rivers in the dark!

So we wait and wait and the pleasure boat finally makes radio contact with the lock and identifies themselves. NIRVANA! IT’S FREAKING NIRVANA!

The lockmaster tells them that once the barge is secure, the two sailboats can enter the lock, followed by Nirvana. Except that is not good enough for Nirvana. He radios back and suggests that wouldn’t it be better if THEY go first, since they will be passing the sailboats anyway??? Once the lockmaster ok’d it, we watch, stunned, as Nirvana guns it and wakes the holy heck out of us to rush into the lock ahead of us.

The Demopolis Yacht Basin dock master advised us to pull up to the fuel dock for the night, as there are not many slips deep enough for us. As we approached at dusk, I told Gary to fully expect Nirvana to be blocking the fuel dock. Thankfully, they were there, but not at the fuel dock. We decided we did not want to be anywhere near that Captain and crew!

Gary and I were in the ship store settling up with Wayne the dock master when a lady resembling a street person bag lady type barges in and rudely interrupts us demanding the courtesy car keys. We wondered who could be so rude, and saw the answer written on the courtesy car sign up sheet. NIRVANA! Please get us away from these people!!

We joined several other cruisers at Moe’s Restaurant for drinks, food, and camaraderie. This is where we met Bill from Nomad and Dennis and Wanda from Vela Narcosis, who became fast friends and buddy boaters ever since. Small world, Bill’s friend Jerry was Captaining Nirvana since they fired the last Captain at Green Turtle Bay. In defense of Jerry, Bill explained that the owners were fruitcakes and driving Jerry absolutely crazy. Join the club, Jerry. And they weren’t finished driving people crazy. Wayne couldn’t wait for us to return to Tessa so he could tell us the ignorant things bag lady had managed..including keeping the courtesy car for an extra hour while others were waiting, then calling Wayne from her boat to tell him to come pick up the keys. Several blatant violations of proper marina etiquette.

The Demopolis lockmaster insists that all boaters coordinate a dawn departure to lock through together, so the next morning we followed Nomad and Vela Narcosis out at first light. No lights on Nirvana, so we assumed they were staying for another day. Good riddance!!!

We breathed a sigh of relief as we watched the lock gates close and the water began dropping us down. No more Nirvana.

All of a sudden, I see the bollard…and the water…going up instead of down. Something was wrong! Nomad was right in front of us and he screamed back “We’re going back up for f#*!ing Nirvana!” We were speechless. Gary gave his slinkiest stink eye ever. We have gone through over 300 locks and never ever experienced this. We don’t know what those clowns said to pull it off, but it worked.

We had a great time anchoring and partying with our new friends Bill, Dennis, and Wanda for the next three nights. At Mobile Bay, they headed into the Intracoastal toward Lulu’s while we stopped at Dog River Marina so Gary could get a West Marine fix. And you probably already guessed it. Nirvana was there. Ricky, the Dock master, said many other cruisers had their own Nirvana experiences to share. It wasn’t just us!

That same afternoon, I snapped a quick picture of their departing stern, hoping it was our final glimpse of Nirvana. Somehow they managed to leave enough bad karma in their wake to cause our horrible crossing conditions on Saturday. There is no doubt that they are to blame, but Tessa’s good karma overcame their bad and we are now safe and sound and heading for our favorite spot, Apalachicola, to slurp some oysters tonight.

We didn’t see Nirvana in Destin or Panama City last night. They have to be days ahead of us by now.

Don’t they????

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

48 hours of foggyness in Clifton TN...

We spent 48 hours in Clifton Tennessee with Bill Magers. It was way too much fun. The End.

October 9th, 2011

We are crossing Kentucky Lake and the weather has been PERFECTION! Sunshine and warm weather since we left Chicago on Sept. 30th.

That's what I'm talkin about!!

Yesterday we arrived at Moors Marina on KY lake in very skinny water and right smack dab in the middle of the conclusion of a bass fishing tournament. So here's TESSA moving along at a snail's pace, anticipating a possible encounter with an underwater boulder at any moment, with all these impatient bass boats buzzing by like a swarm of mosquitos! We couldn't kick back a cold one fast enough once we tied up to the dock.

It was a well earned cocktail since we had also just gone through the Kentucky Lake Lock, which is a 55 foot lift of a great amount of surge pressing TESSA tight up against the lock wall. I don't like that lock a lot.

Tonight is Pebble Isle Marina. Then tomorrow and Tuesday nights we will spend in Clifton Marina where our good moonshine drinkin buddy Bill Magers lives. We love that guy!

I'm sure there will be some more good stories to tell after the next two days!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

True Confessions

Come close and listen up. I have a confession to make. Not everything about this cruising business is perfect. Matter of fact, some of it REALLY SUCKS!

First and foremost are the weather forecasters. We religiously check three different sources before attempting a challenging float plan. It is not uncommon for the conditions to be totally opposite of what they predict. We suspect that most of the meteorologists are listening to Al Gore whine about global warming instead of just STICKING THEIR HEADS OUTSIDE TO SEE WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING!

Great Lake crossings and ocean voyages are rarely enjoyable. It can be calm and clear one minute and the next minute we are getting out butts kicked. Invariably when the butt kicking starts, it goes on for miles and miles and hours and hours. As fortunate as I feel not having to wear my salesperson hat any more, on these days I would almost prefer giving a Ready Bender seminar to a classroom full of surly UAW tool and die makers!

Mast Stepping and Unstepping is quite a challenging chore. Last year and this year, our good buddy Bill Kane has been at Crowley’s Boat Yard in Chicago to help out. This year it poured down rain for the entire two days. I swear I would have been in the fetal position whimpering in our bunk if it hadn’t been for Bill. I wasn’t about to let a 76 year old man outlast me. We could barely keep up with him, and kept telling him to sit down and take a break. “What for?” he wanted to know. So we can take a break too, that’s what for! Brother Bill is an amazing man and a wonderful friend. How did we ever get along without him?
Traveling down the river system is a great experience but one must have lots of patience. Delays at locks can go on for hours, and become dangerous if you end up so far behind that there is no safe place to anchor or dock before dark.

Each locking experience is different, and the Lockport Lock above Joliet proved to be a new one. We were directed to tie off of a barge instead of the lock wall, which was nothing scary. The guys on the barge were very helpful in grabbing our lines. (Except for the last boat in the lock, who threw a line that was not connected to their boat and ended up sideways in the lock. Oops!) Just as we were all secure, the wind began gusting to about 30 knots and we were literally sand blasted. As luck would have it, the barge was hauling sand! It covered the boat, and blew into our eyes, between our teeth, into our hair. Gary thought it was an adventure. I thought it was a nasty mess. Glass half full, glass half empty!

And then there are the days like we have experienced since Joliet that make all the pain and suffering fade away. My favorite customer in the world, Jim Herrick, and his lovely wife Jan met us at the Joliet Bicentennial Park wall. We had a great time catching up and dining at a local pub.

As we crossed the sparkling waters of Peoria Lake in warm bright sunshine, I told Gary I was the luckiest woman in the world. No doubt he was silently wishing I would have remembered that on Lake Michigan while I repeatedly moaned I HATE THIS and questioned why in the h#*! we were doing it again.

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous as we cruise down the Illinois River. We were disappointed to miss our usual stop at the Ottawa City Dock due to low water, but were rewarded with a stunning anchorage just south of Ottawa.

Peoria was a wonderful stop as usual. We stayed an extra day to get a coat of varnish on the cowling and catch up on boat chores. That afternoon Gary insisted we walk the mile and a half across the bridge to Wal-Mart…with a couple of stops at local watering holes. All cruisers develop a new appreciation for Wal-Mart, as provisioning stops are few and far between. A good port of call is determined by a Wal-Mart, a liquor store, a local pub, and restrooms. Sometimes not in that order.

Last night we tied up to an AEP barge in Beardstown. We followed our normal routine….tie up securely and find a bar. Mile 88 looked about as local as you could get and it did not disappoint. We were greeted by Kathy, a commercial fisherwoman who has been featured on National Geographic. Her and her husband net tons of Asian Carp a day. The dreaded fish threatening to invade our Great Lakes is known as a delicacy to the Japanese.
In the same nets they catch Flat Head Catfish. “You just missed it” Linda said. “I just cooked some up and brought it here to the bar.” Darn, we said, we love fish. “I’ll just run home and get some for you” she insisted. I thought she meant the whole fish, so I said “Oh no, we’re good, don’t go to all that trouble” but she was already out the door and in her car. She returned with a foil covered plate of freshly fried Flat Head Catfish Belly, and by the sound of it, nothing I wanted to try. If Gary hadn’t shoved a piece into my mouth I would have missed out on some of the best fried fish we ever tasted. Delicious!!

After a few more MGD $1.00 drafts, the bar got a little lively. We heard the rumble of a motorcycle, which is not unusual in these little riverside towns. What was unusual was when the rider drove the Harley right through the back door and parked it in the corner. Apparently he was over served and the owner encouraged him to just bring it inside and park it so as to not be tempted to ride home. You can’t make this stuff up!

Since Joliet, we have been buddy boating with a great family on board “Muddy Waters” a 48 foot Kadey Krogen trawler. They have an interesting blogspot at Tonight we will dock together at Grafton Harbor Marina at the mouth of the Mississippi, then we will continue on while they visit St. Louis. It will be sad to separate, as we have really enjoyed our journey together.

The relationships developed along the way are absolutely the best thing about cruising. Maybe we should have Nick James make a video montage of every new friend we have made along the way that I could pop in a portable dvd player. The next time we are in pouring rain, high winds, and big waves and I am tempted to say “I HATE THIS!” the video will remind me of wonderful friends and how truly fortunate we are to be living this dream.