Calumet Dreams
Chapter 8

August 23 - September 1
Aberdeen * Kitty Vet * Survivor Addicts * More Gator Facts * Shayla in Itta Bena * Cotton & Catfish * Captain Ron? * Water Hyacinths * White Cliffs * Demopolis * Last Lock * Ocean Soon Back to Home Page

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Day 57 - Wednesday, August 23
Aberdeen Marina, Aberdeen, Mississippi
Mile 358 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

This morning we went in to the Marina. Dan and the kids took Polly to her 11:00 appointment with the vet. I stayed on the boat to type. While I was typing, I heard a "hello" from out on the dock. It was Fred Myer and his wife, the couple we had met on Sunday. They were on a road trip, going from marina to marina to update all of the info in their guide. They noticed our boat and stopped to say "hi". Dan and the kids came back just then, and we all had a nice chat before they had to get on the road again. It was so friendly of them to stop by and check on us.

In the afternoon we did our weekly library, grocery, laundry thing. Driving thru town I got my first chance to see magnolia trees. They were easy to spot with their big glossy leaves. I had no idea that they could get so big. One was over two stories high and so bushy that you couldn't see much of the mansion behind it.

This was a very big grocery store, the kind that has lots of deals on food if you have their card. I had resigned myself to passing up the bargains, but Zion convinced me that I should just sign up for a card. It only took a minute, and they handed me my card right away. I saved 10$ on my 90$ worth of groceries, so I guess the card was well worth it. I wonder if I'll ever get to use my Jitney Jungle card again, or if I'll just come back from this trip with a wallet full of grocery store cards? I was surprised to learn that we have to pay 6% sales tax on groceries down here. I like the Wisconsin way a lot better - no sales tax on food.

We ate a quick supper at the picnic table on the dock, then got ready for our big night out. Dan had asked the marina people if there was a TV available so we could watch the "Survivor" finale. They said no, but the owners of the marina invited us to their home to watch it. Dan learned from the husband that his wife had a fondness for margarita wine coolers, so we bought two packs for a hostess gift and were on our way.

We were spoiled for the evening. They had a lovely new home with a big color TV and air-conditioning. We even got some vanilla ice cream with fresh blueberries and big pecans. The pecans were from the tree in their back yard - last year's crop since they ripen in October. I found out that she was the one who planted and maintained all of the beautiful flower beds at the marina. They were designed to be butterfly gardens. The mounds of yellow flowers are lantana. The small trees with purple flowers are crepe myrtle. After the show we got to see her flower gardens at home. She said that the night before an armadillo had been digging in one of them. Her husband told about his struggles to get a watermelon that he could eat from his garden. He can grow them ok, but somehow the raccoons know exactly the day when they get ripe. Then they come and put a hole into each end of the melon and somehow scoop out all of the insides. He's not sure how they do it, because their arms aren't that long. It's still a mystery. He put up an electric fence, but that only keeps his dog and his cat from going with him to the garden. The coons don't seem bothered by it at all.

Day 58 - Thursday, August 24
T-dock in Blue Bluff Recreation Area, by Aberdeen Lock, Mississippi
Mile 358 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

Today was our day to play. Dan had talked to Shayla's mom. (Shayla is the girl from Itta Bena, Mississippi that has visited us in Wisconsin for the last three summers.) We made plans to rent a car and go and visit them over the weekend. The nearest car rental spot is in Columbus, only thirty miles away. So today we can just take it easy and spend the whole day at the swimming beach. We found that in the morning the water is actually a little bit cool. It doesn't really heat up until after noon. We cooked some hot dogs on a grill in the park, and we finished reading "Tom Sawyer" in the shade.

Before we had left the marina in the morning, Dan and Zion had met a neighbor in a sailboat. He was an instructor at the nearby Columbus Air Force Base. Zion likes identifying planes in the air, so he learned a few things about the planes they use for training in the Air Force. We also learned a lot about the Caribbean islands from him because he spends a lot of time there. He said that you can get to the Bahamas from Florida in one day. In the Bahamas there is a string of over 300 islands, mostly uninhabited, that you can easily anchor along. The water is so clear you can see all of the coral underneath. And he mentioned a town named Georgetown where all the kids from the boating families gather to do things together. In the evening, he made a special trip out to the Blue Bluff Recreation Area to find us and give each of the kids an Air Force patch. Zion's patch shows the different planes that they train in.

Today was another high 90's day. We had to run our engine some tonight just to charge up the battery because we were running our fans so much. The fans certainly help, but I woke up in the middle of the night and the boat seemed just as hot as it had been during the day. I crawled up on top of the boat and slept in the net. There were a few breezes out there (not much), and eventually I felt a little chill. It was wonderful.

Day 59 - Friday, August 25
Stinson Creek Fish Dock, near Columbus, Mississippi
Mile 340 Tenn-Tom Waterway

We've learned that morning is the only time to do anything comfortably these days, so we got up early and went thru Aberdeen Lock, dropping about 35 feet. Then we took turns piloting. At 12:30 we reached the Columbus Marina. It is a beautiful, new marina. It opened this last spring. During summer, a tornado came thru and wiped out two of their docks. They are in the process of re-building now. They told us how to get to the nearest sandy beach for swimming. A day without a swim is like a day with too much sunshine!

We had to backtrack about 7 miles, but it was worth it because the beach was part of a recreation area. There were little fishing docks around, and we tied up to one. We went swimming by the sandy beach and Zion made some small marinas in the sand. Tricia has started playing her recorder quite a bit, and she spent part of the afternoon in a shady gazebo serenading us. Our dock was right next to a picnic area in the woods, so we ate supper at a picnic table.

While we were swimming some park rangers came in a boat to work on one of the swimming buoys. They said it was OK for us to stay overnight at the dock. We asked them about the fence surrounding the swimming area in Aberdeen. Was it really there to keep out the alligators? They said no, it was really there to keep out the driftwood. They said it wouldn't work to keep out alligators. They confirmed that there were alligators around in the river, but we got them to admit that they had never heard of any person who had been bothered by one. Other people have told us that alligators shun civilization and stay as far away from people and boating channels as they can.

60 - Saturday, August 26
Shorty & Patricia Lowe's Home, Itta Bena, Mississippi

This morning we went to the Columbus Marina. Dan got a rental car while the rest of us took showers and packed up. From Columbus we drove about 100 miles due west to the town of Itta Bena where Shayla lives. Itta Bena is in Delta Country. One of the marina workers in Columbus told us that Delta country was even hotter than here by the river, and they had mosquitoes as big as turkeys.

The trip was a pleasure because the car was air-conditioned. We played "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". If you won the million, you would get a stick of gum. Lucky for us, no one won the million -- we had forgotten to bring along the gum!

Finding Shayla's house was tricky because there weren't any street signs in the black part of town. We got there about 1:00 in the afternoon and it was hot, so there weren't many people outside. I assume that the ones that were out sitting in the shade didn't have any air-conditioning. We got directions from a few of them and eventually found Morris Street. The house numbers were easy to follow. Shayla's home was a nice brick one-story with children's toys and a big, black dog inside a yard fence. As we were wondering how to get through the gate and the dog to let them know we were there, Shayla's father, Shorty, came out and welcomed us. We went inside and met Shayla's mother (Patricia), Shayla's older sister (Annette), Annette's one-year-old son (Trayshon), and Shayla's three-year-old sister (Tayana).

We spent the afternoon visiting in the air-conditioned house. They kept the shades down to keep things cool, so it was dark inside. At least it seemed dark to us, but then we're used to seeing a white boat, bright water and lots of sunshine all day long.

We learned that Patricia has been working at Mississippi Valley University as a dorm cleaner for the last twenty years. Shorty drives tractor for a local farmer. Shorty also does a lot of hunting and fishing. They had two chest freezers full of meat and fish. In their kitchen were mason jars of peaches and pears that he had just canned. For dinner they made us some real, homemade fried chicken. I've never had the real thing before, and it was delicious. It wasn't at all greasy and it was very flavorful. Shorty also fried up some bluegill that he had had in the freezer. That was very good, too.

All of the deep-frying in the kitchen really heated up the house, so when dinner was done we all went for a ride in Shorty's pick-up. Shorty, Dan and Trayshon sat in the front, and the rest of us piled into the back. Everybody was outside now that the heat had become bearable. They were waving and yelling greetings to everyone they passed. We got a glimpse of the latest new fad among the boys - straw hats that look like lamp shades. Only the coolest teens were wearing them.

Mature cotton plants in the Mississippi delta
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Shorty and his cotton picker
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We took a ride out in the country and got to see Delta country up close. It is flat, flat, flat, with field after field of cotton. The soil is dry, dusty and a brownish-red color. In addition to cotton, there are also some fields of corn, soybeans, and milo (a feed grain). Shorty took us to the farm where he works and showed us the cotton picker he drives. It looked a lot like a corn harvester. It could pick cotton in five rows at once. There were rows of metal brushes that would spin along the sides of the plants and pull off the cotton. Then the cotton would be blown into a big box in back and compressed into a huge bale. The bales were then put into a special truck that would haul the cotton to the cotton gin in town. We had passed some of the cotton gins in the nearby small town. They reminded us of grain elevators back home. They had big vacuum pipes that would suck the cotton out of the top of the trucks. Not all of the cotton ripens at the same time, so the cotton pickers were taken through each field twice.

The tractors were right next to a cotton field, so we got to see the cotton up close. Each plant is about two feet high. The plant is covered with green bolls that look like one-inch green balls. The bolls split open into four parts when they are ripe, and white fluffy cotton sits inside. Shorty said he used to pick cotton by hand when he was young, and he was still pretty good at it. He showed us how he could pull all of the cotton off of one plant, and he was faster than I could imagine. Each boll of cotton has four seeds inside of it, and each one is very tightly attached. It wasn't easy to pull them out. We got a handful of cotton bolls to take home as souvenirs.

Near the farm was a small, empty field. Patricia said that had been their garden this year. They grew black-eyed peas, butter beans, tomatoes, okra and watermelon. But their season is already done because it has been so dry this year. All of the fields of corn were already brown and ready for harvest. The fields of cotton had some white showing, but the bolls on the tops of the plants weren't open yet.

Visiting Shayla's family in Itta Bena, Mississippi
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

On the way back home we were driving thru hot, dusty farm roads. Shorty stopped in front of one home that had a lawn sprinkler going and we all got a welcome shower in the back of the truck. Then we stopped at a gas station for some soda.

Back home, Patricia had to go out to work for a few hours. We had a chance to talk with Shorty some more. We learned that he had grown up on a sharecropper farm, but his father told him to move to town and buy his own house so he would always have a place of his own that he wouldn't ever have to move out of. That's what he did. Twenty years ago their family had a tragic accident. Five of their children were burned to death in a house fire, a nine-year-old, an eight-year-old, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. The two-year-old was one from a set of twins. Annette was the other twin. She was the only child saved from the fire, and she still has some burn scars on her legs. Shayla and Tayana were both adopted by Shorty and Patricia because they needed a good home.

Shayla's samauat face
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Tricia's samauat face
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The kids spent the evening playing some new card games with Shayla and Annette. First, they played Jackass. It was like the game Old Maid, but there was only one Jack and one Ace in the deck. Whoever got left with the Jack and the Ace was the jackass. Next, they played a game called Samauat . Samauat is a mixture of flour and water that you mix up in a bowl. I'm not sure exactly how the game is played, but if you lose the hand everyone else gets to wipe samauat on your face. There was a lot of laughing going on with these two games!

At a reasonable hour the adults admitted they were tired and went to bed. The kids stayed up later. Dan and I got the guest bedroom at the back of the house that had it's own air-conditioner (hooray!). Tricia slept in Shayla's room and Zion slept on the couch.

On Sunday we got venison sausage, scrambled eggs and grits for breakfast. Shorty learned that we had never had real catfish (the boiled stuff from the river didn't count) so they planned on giving us a catfish dinner before we left. We took Shayla to a lake to go swimming during the afternoon. I was surprised that it was 100 degrees out, but there weren't many people at the beach. When we got there at noon, there was only one other group of people. A few more came throughout the afternoon, but not many.

When we took Shayla home we got some deep-fried catfish that had been dredged in cornmeal and spices. It was so good, the kids even ate some (although Shayla passed). After dinner it was time to leave. They sent us on our way with some handshakes and some hugs and a watermelon to take with us. We told them to come visit us in Wisconsin sometime, and Patricia said she might be able to do that if she chaperones on one of the busses that comes to Wisconsin. We'll try to arrange it next time we're home for a summer. In a few more years, Tayana will be old enough to visit, too.

Day 61 - Sunday, August 27
Columbus Marina
Mile 335 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

On Sunday we got venison sausage, scrambled eggs and grits for breakfast. Shorty learned that we had never had real catfish (the boiled stuff I had made didn't count) so they planned on giving us a catfish dinner before we left. We took Shayla to a lake to go swimming during the afternoon. I was surprised that it was 100 degrees out, but there weren't many people at the beach. When we got there at noon, there was only one other group of people. A few more came throughout the afternoon, but not many. Apparently, they wait for cooler weather to go to the beach!

When we took Shayla home we got some deep-fried catfish that had been dredged in cornmeal and spices. It was so good the kids even ate some (although Shayla passed). After dinner it was time to leave. They sent us on our way with some handshakes and some hugs and a watermelon to take with us. We told them to come visit us in Wisconsin sometime, and Patricia said she might be able to do that if she chaperones on one of the busses that comes to Wisconsin. We'll try to arrange it next time we're home for a summer. In a few more years, Tayana will be old enough to visit, too.

We got back home to our boat in the Columbus Marina at 10:30 p.m. We all went to bed, except for Dan who started talking to a neighboring boat captain. The captain's full time job is moving the boat from place to place along the river so it's in the right spot when the owner wants to use it to have a party with his friends. The owner has three homes, spread along the river and in Florida. He entertains often, but never touches the steering wheel himself. The captain gets all of the free food and free beer that he wants, and the boat has A/C, refrigerators and showers. His girlfriend is his crew. She used to be a singer on the Delta Queen. The boat is big and fast. It can go 30 knots, but at that speed it uses 120 gallons per hour (4 gallons to the mile). He says there is lots of work for captains. You have to have a captain's license which requires several weeks of classes and 960 hours of boat time. By the time Dan gets to the end of the river, he'll have his boat time done. It doesn't sound like it would be too hard to get his captain's license. There are brokers around that help owners find captains, and a captain can specialize in a particular kind of boat.

Day 62 - Monday, August 28
Mile 299 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

We spent the morning getting the boat ready for an extended stay away from marinas. We probably won't be spending another night in a marina until we get to Mobile. We got water and ice and a pump-out and hot showers, then took off around noon.

The first step of our journey for the day was the Columbus Lock. It seems that down here there are marinas right before each of the Locks. We dropped down about 35 feet.

We travelled all afternoon, with a short stop for a swim. We reached the next lock, Tom Bovil Lock, at five minutes to five. Tom Bovil Lock has a visitor's center that looks like a Southern antebellum home and a steam-powered snagboat in the river that you can tour. At least you can until five o'clock. Since we only had five minutes, we didn't bother to stop. The snagboat was a smaller version of the Delta Queen with crane arms in front and no calliope in back. Snagboats were used for pulling trees, or snags, out of the river. We didn't feel like we were missing much since we had had such a good tour of the Delta Queen.

Dan was having trouble getting any response from the lockmaster. We got our information via radio from the nearby marina. Suddenly we saw a white pickup pull up the the lock and soon the light turned to green so we could go through. We got through smoothly, but knew it was time to start looking for an anchoring spot for the night.

We anchored right on the main river, outside of the channel behind a green buoy. Good anchoring spots that are in waterways off of the channel are few and far between now. But we've only seen one barge today so we're not expecting any problems here.

Day 63 - Tuesday, August 29
Epes Cliff, Alabama
Mile 249 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

I think we will always remember today as the day with no ice. The bag we bought yesterday was melted by this morning so we went through the day without any cold drinks. And it was a day that seemed even hotter than usual.

We stopped for a swim to cool off near a section of shore that was covered with banks of those purple flowers that I had been seeing for the last week. I finally got a chance to look at them up close. The plants grew in small clumps with big air bubbles in their short stems. The leaves looked like lily pad leaves, but they came up off of the water and they were curly. The roots sat in the water and looked just like a bunch of bird feathers. The roots were about four inches long and the plant was ten inches high. The flowers were like hyacinths - there were clusters of blossoms on each stem. Each blossom was about two inches across and had six long, even, narrow, pale purple petals. The top petal always had dark purple coloring and a yellow spot in the center. That petal reminded me of an iris. I'm still not sure what these flowers are, but they are beautiful and I'm going to call them water hyacinths until I know better.

There were also some big animal footprints in the muck along the edge of the shore. We followed them until we found a clear one that showed two distinct toes. That, along with the pies on the shore, told us we were on the edge of a cow pasture.

In the afternoon we came to another lock. Captain Dan decided that it was time to promote Tricia from swab to first swab. She was going to get a chance to lasso the rope around the bollard in the lock. The first mate wasn't too keen on giving up his exalted task, but he followed the captain's orders like a good crew and took Tricia's old position at the bow of the boat, using the pole to keep us pushed away from the wall. The lockmaster was chatty and told us they were doing some dredging down the river because the channel was getting shallow. We've heard that this is the second year of drought down here and the river is getting quite low. The silver lining in this cloud is that the river is so low we can easily get our boat under all of the bridges. It's a good time for us to travel.

As we continued down the river we saw a strange sight. Right in the middle of the river was a small floating island of water hyacinths, about 10 by 20 feet. Dan and Zion wanted to see what happened if we drove right through it, but Tricia pleaded the case of the flowers and won her day in court. We were wondering what would happen to the pretty island when the next tug came through. I don't expect there will be much left of it, but tugs are few and far between today so maybe the flowers will float to a safe site before they are endangered.

Scenic White Cliffs on Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

Near the end of the day we saw the most striking landscape on the Tenn-Tom, the Epes Cliffs. They rise 75 feet straight up out of the water, pure white rock with a fringe of trees on top. We found an anchoring spot outside the channel on the river across from the cliffs. There was even an old, rustic railroad bridge nearby that looked like it hadn't been used in years. It was all very scenic, probably the prettiest place we have anchored in yet.

Zion and Tricia on the White Cliffs of the Tenn-Tom
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

The heat kept getting worse all day. We were sapped of all our energy and we were getting quite whiny, except for Dan. He says he can take the heat because he was born and bred in Kansas City. Tricia lost first swab status and was demoted back to swab. We comforted ourselves by reading some Huckleberry Finn. I couldn't stand the stuffy cabin anymore, even with the fans on, so at bedtime I slept out on the net. It was comfortable out there with a slight breeze. I even got to see one tug come around the bend in the middle of the night, watching its search lights move from bank to bank of the river. It went by so smoothly that our boat hardly rocked at all even though it wasn't very far away. It turns out that the rustic railroad bridge was actually quite active. We counted seven trains going across throughout our stay there that night. They were much louder and noisier than the tugs. In the morning, Tricia counted 117 cars on one that went by.

Day 64 - Wednesday, August 30
Indian Queen Bar, near Demopolis, Alabama
Mile 203 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

After yesterday's heat, we all agreed to get up real early this morning and get most of our travelling done before the heat of afternoon. The kids started their piloting shifts at six a.m. and had all of their time in by ten o'clock.

Early in the afternoon we reached the Demopolis Yacht Basin. It had a marina, a boat works, a marine store, a restaurant and a fueling station for tugs. We celebrated by buying TWO bags of ice. We tried for three, but could only fit two in our cooler so we had to return one.

We learned a few interesting things from the marina owners who were very friendly and helpful. First, the day before was 105 degrees, the hottest August 29 in the last 48 years. Today was a bit cooler and much breezier. Second, the Mississippi River was so low near New Orleans that they were starting to route barge traffic up the Tenn-Tom instead. That meant we might be seeing more tug traffic soon. Since they fuel barges, they were grateful for the news. They said barge traffic over the last few weeks had been very slow and they didn't know why. (Another silver lining for us. We've enjoyed having the waterway all to ourselves.)

They also filled us in on the names of some of the birds we had been seeing along the river banks. Every so often we would see large groups of big, black birds sitting on logs along the river's edge. We thought they were big crows. They are actually buzzards. Dan says they're just waiting for a boater to hit a tree. And there are beautiful long-legged water birds that look like white herons. These are egrets. They do seem a bit smaller than the white herons we saw up on the Illinois river. We've been seeing blue heron everday since Chicago. We still occasionally see deer, wild turkey and raccoon.

At the marina they also let us use the Internet connection in their office to check our e-mail. We were happy and surprised to see that we had ten messages waiting for us! It must have something to do with school starting and people coming in out of the sun. During the summer, messages were few and far between. Now people are back on their computers again. Tricia was especially pleased to finally get some messages. She's been regularly sending out snail mail all summer, but she doesn't have a return address. She spends a lot of time on the boat writing.

After the marina we had the Demopolis Lock. Tricia was promoted back to first swab and got to do the lassoing again. The lockmaster here had to come out and visually inspect our bollard to make sure we were attached properly. He said he had to do that because this was one of the older locks and they didn't have any cameras to check with. I hadn't known we were being watched in all of those other locks. On all of the Tenn-Tom locks we had to give the name of our boat, our home port (Green Bay) and our destination (Mobile) to the lockmaster. Since we were always the only boat going through the lock, getting all of this information wasn't much trouble. We asked him what it was being collected for. He said the government wants to know what they're spending their money on. Makes sense. Others have told us that the information is also given to the DEA for them to check over.

Egret on Lock Gate
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Closer picture of an Egret on Lock Gate
(Click on picture for more detailed view)

As we went down in the lock, we watched an egret flying from strut to strut on the gates of the lock. They were old and leaky, so there were nice waterfalls flowing through the gate. It was very pretty. When we got through the lock we turned around for another beautiful sight. Water was pouring over the dam, and then it came around and down some five-foot rock ledges.

We did some more travelling, more swimming and anchored at Indian Queen Bar where the channel was very wide.

Day 65 - Thursday, August 31
Bushi Creek, Alabama
Mile 145 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

We did our early morning rise and shine again. We even took a little swim before we headed out because we were on such a nice sandy beach. The barge traffic has picked up a little. Now we meet a barge about once an hour instead of once a day. There was actually a traffic jam on one hairpin curve this morning at Mile 187. Two barges were meeting each other. One had to stop and wait to let the other one through first. Then we came up behind them, then a small power boat came up behind us. Everyone was talking on their radios with each other. The power boat zipped throught first because they were the fastest. The rest of us took our turns at turtle speed. It's ironic that we all met at this narrow, twisty-turny part of the river. We spend most of the day alone.

We stopped at Four Mile Bar at Mile 184 to do some swimming. We're starting to see lots of sandy beaches again now that we are past Demopolis. We had passed about ten beautiful ones before Zion couldn't stand it anymore and begged us to stop and swim at one of them. Of course he took his shovels along and did some digging, too. He found a small, cold spring that was trickling into the river, so he built a dam at a strategic point and created a nice, big cold puddle.

The rest of the day was filled with piloting, swimming and trying to stay cool. Tricia has now played all of the songs in her recorder book. She's pretty good at most of them now, but she still has a few more to work on. Dan heard a weather report on the radio. 95 to 100 degrees in the daytime, 30% chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon, and low 70's overnight - that's the forecast for today and the next four days. That explains why I never really cool off at night. Our saving grace is that chance of thunderstorms. It means that banks of clouds occasionally pass overhead and a few gusts of wind blow through. Any relief from the baking sun is welcome!

In the afternoon we came to a low railroad bridge that had to be lifted for us to get through. Dan tried reaching the bridgemaster on the radio, but couldn't get any response. We were getting close to the bridge and wondering what we should do just when a white Toyota truck drove up. This evening we anchored by a sandy shore and we all went swimming as the sunset. One of these cloudy, windy fronts came through and we actually felt a little chill as we climbed out of the water in the dark. It's the first time we've felt chilled in weeks. We prepared the boat for a storm, but it never came.

Day 66 - Friday, September 1
East Bassetts Creek, Alabama
Mile 87 on the Tenn-Tom Waterway

The early morning stuff is wearing thin. Tricia got up early but passed on the piloting opportunity. Playing her recorder in the cool morning hours sounded like more fun. Zion slept until nine.

The morning was hot and sweaty as we continued down the Tenn-Tom to Bobby's Fish Camp at Mile 118. Bobby's was the first piece of civilization since Demopolis on Wednesday which was at Mile 216. It was a small campground with a few cabins and trailers. The dock was a small working flat with one gas pump and nothing else, not even cleats for tying off on. We walked up the sandy hill and met Bobby. (You could tell who he was by the name embroidered on his shirt above his right pocket.) He was sitting in the shade. He was still recovering from some surgery and wasn't too spry anymore. He said we could get the gas ourselves. Inside was a small restaurant with six tables. The sign said that they served dinner Thursday thru Sunday and catfish was their specialty. There was a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce on each table next to the napkins. Bobby is usually the cook, but since he hasn't been feeling well his wife has been doing it. The walls were decorated with dusty fishing tackle that was for sale and various pieces of taxidermy. Our favorite was the coat rack that used deer feet for hooks. But they had cold soda and ice so we were more than satisfied.

We saw some unusual trees around the restaurant. Some had huge leaves that were fifteen inches long and ten inches across. Bobby said they were catawba worm trees. They get covered with striped catawba worms that are as big as your little finger. Usually the worms eat all of the leaves right off. There was also the first tropical tree we've seen - a banana tree. But Bobby said the season was too short to get ripe bananas. All he ever got were little green ones. And most of the trees in the woods were covered with Spanish moss. It hangs down in gray-green clumps from all of the branches. We're definitely not in Wisconsin anymore.

We asked about the alligators and he said they were all over the creeks and inlets around here. They come out into the main channel occasionally, but not too often. We're still waiting to get our first look at one, but our boat doesn't fit up the small creeks around here.

After Bobby's we went through our LAST LOCK! It was the Coffeeville Lock at Mile 116. Once we get through this lock we will be only four feet above sea level. The water will be brackish, which means that it is a mixture of fresh water from the river and salt water from Mobile Bay. And we will begin to feel tides in the water. We'll have to anchor in deeper water at night, because the water might be lower in the morning.

To celebrate our last lock, we decided to make a video recording of it. The only glitch in the plan was that the batteries for the video camera were dead. To use the camera we had to plug it in to the invertor, but we couldn't turn on the inverter while the engine was on. It's pretty hard to enter a lock without using your engine, so we had to make the video before we entered the lock and after we were inside. It was about noon and we always have to wear our life jackets in the lock which make us extra warm and toasty. We're pretty sweaty on the video. But you can hear the water rushing in and the mooring bits banging in their channels and see us drop down forty feet. In fast forward it might even be a bit exciting. We've been doing locks for so long that it's hard to imagine that we won't be seeing any more on this trip.

After the lock we quickly found the first available swimming hole. We swam for a few hours, then saw a storm approaching from the south. We pulled up the anchors and got underway just as the thunder and lightning hit. The cool wind and rains were refreshing and very welcome. The storm lasted about half an hour, but it was cool for the rest of the evening. What a wonderful feeling!

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