Tennessee River & Tombigbee Waterway

215 Days Looping
3,512.5 Nautical Miles Total (4,042.1 Statute Miles)
151.5 Nautical Miles This Week
25.2 Hours Underway This Week
7.0 NMph Average Speed
8 Locks This Week, 149 Total Locks

Monday – Nov 11th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Clifton, TN
The weather forecast was for rain in the afternoon with a chance of snow. The temperature was in the mid 30’s. Our next destination was Aqua Yacht in Iuka MS, and there is a lock 10 miles before it. We didn’t want to get stuck in freezing rain and snow if our lock through was delayed so we decided to spend another day in Clifton. Plus, Stacy the Marina Owner offered a steak and potato dinner if we stayed!

In the morning it was still warmish, in the 50’s. I decided to sit out on the deck of the marina and work on last weeks blog. Brenda joined me for a while and we chatted with some of the other loopers who were coming and going. Around noon, I walked down the dock to the boat to get something, and on my way back, I thought I heard someone yell “Somebody Help Me!”. It was very faint, and I looked around and didn’t see anything, so kept walking back to the boat. I heard it again, and this time I was sure that I’d heard a call for help. I called back, “Where are you?”, and got a reply “Here, in the water, behind my boat.” It was coming from the other side of the marina. I called to Brenda to go into the office where there were more people and tell them that someone was in the water, and started running to the other dock to help. When I got to the gate for the dock, Dave who was there on his sailboat, was opening the gate and he had also heard the call, and we both ran to the other dock. We knew the general area, but not specifically where, and as we reached the other dock, the folks from the marina had spotted the man in the water, hanging onto the ladder on the back of his pontoon boat. They directed us to the location, and I grabbed the older gentleman and held him until others could arrive, Chris, Tim and Stacy the marina owner arrived a minute or two later and Chris grabbed the man’s belt to hold him. He had been putting the cover on his boat, slipped going back to the dock and fallen in, scraping up his arm and side. His boat was up on a lift, so too high for him to lift his leg to reach the step. He’d been in the water which was in the low 50’s for about 10-15 minutes. Someone lowered his boat lift, so that he could reach the ladder while we supported him, then we helped lift him up onto the dock.

After settling him down, we borrowed a towel from a boat farther down the dock, and got him a fresh dry shirt to warm him up. Aside from some cuts and scrapes and being shaken up from the experience he was fine. We walked him up to his car where he could get warm. Katie from Pangur Ban is a nurse and arrived with a first aid kit to clean up his cuts and scrapes and checked to make sure that he wasn’t hyperthermic and could drive home safely.

We chatted with him for a bit while he warmed up some, he was 85, a 26 year veteran of the Navy, and was glad that we’d heard him. He vowed to sell his boat, “Next year someone else can deal with that!”.

In the late afternoon, the rain came and the temperature dropped to the low 30’s, and it started to rain and sleet. We all met in the Marina store and had a great steak and potato dinner.

Tuesday – Nov 12th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Clifton, TN
Overnight we got some freezing rain and snow. When we woke up in the morning all of the boats and docks were covered with a layer of ice and some snow. Because the water was warm, there was a layer of convection fog drifting in from the river. We all chatted and decided to stay one more day to let the boats thaw out so that we wouldn’t be walking on icy decks while locking through.

We spent the day finishing up two weeks of blog, and doing some boat cleaning. By late afternoon it was still cold and only about half of the ice had melted off of the boat, we pretty much just huddled either in the boat or in the Marina restaurant for the day. In the evening, we had another group dinner cooked by Stacy the Marina Owner.

Wednesday – Nov 13th – 50.5 NM – 1 Lock – To: Iuka, MS
Wednesday morning was still below freezing, but it was bright and sunny with a light mist on the river. We left Clifton Marina at 7:30 am after pouring hot water on the dock lines to thaw them out so that we could untie them.

The ride to Iuka was pretty much the same, not a lot of current, high bluffs, some additional signs of wind damage. There were some great houses built on the bluffs, and some that may have been built TOO close to the bluffs.

As we got close to the Pickwick Lock, we had to pull over and wait for a few minutes as a tow came down a narrow part of the river. We then headed up toward the dam and passed the Shiloh Battlefield. We could see the grave markers up on the bluff and shortly after we arrived at the Pickwick Lock. The lockmaster knew we were coming and we only had to wait a few minutes while he opened the doors for us to come in.

After a lift of 63 feet, we emerged onto Pickwick Lake, a large man made lake. The Pickwick Lock and Dam almost failed this spring during the heavy flooding, and there is a huge reinforcment project going on where they are building a huge stone embankment along the front of the earthen dam wall.

We traveled 5 miles down the lake. The shores are lined with huge million dollar “cottages”. The area is the junction of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. In the short ride from the lock to Aqua Yacht, we were in all three states! We turned off Pickwick Lake, and onto the Tenn-Tom waterway which we will be following all the way to Mobile Alabama. We passed Grand Harbor Marina, and arrived at Aqua Yacht Harbor our stop for the next few days. After topping off our fuel tanks, we moved to our slip, and settled in.

Shortly after tying up, Charlie McVey from The Lower Place who we had traveled with for several weeks at the start of our trip stopped by. Aqua Yacht is his home marina and he lives just a short distance away and is the Harbor Host for Aqua Yacht. We went to Charlie’s house and had a reunion with he and Robin! After settin’ for a spell and catching up, we drove to a local BBQ spot called Pickwick Outpost.

Pickwick Outpost is a local landmark. The owner hires primarily people in some sort of rehabilitation program, either drugs, alcohol, or prison release. He gives them a chance to re-enter society through gainful employment while they rehabilitate. The place started as a Bait Shop, and has expanded and is now a restaurant, general store, and antique and craft mall. He’s provided jobs as carpenters, craftspeople, cooks, and waitstaff. In order to limit temptation, alcohol is not served there. They close at 2:00 on Mondays, and all of the staff attends a group support session at the restaurant. Employees also must be in some sort of church sponsored support program. It’s a great model that appears to be very successful.

After dinner, Charlie and Robin dropped us back at the boat for the night.

Thursday – Nov 14th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Iuka, MS
Thursday we slept in a bit, then as it was pretty warm, we washed the boat which we had not done for a while and that took us a couple of hours. After lunch, we wandered the docks for most of the day visiting other Loopers.

In the evening we went back to the Aqua Yacht Grill for a group dinner.

Friday – Nov 15th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Iuka, MS
Friday morning we got together with Bob and Norma from Firefly (friends of Leland and Karen McClellan on Tiki Queen) and went to Pickwick Landing State Park for breakfast. On the grounds of the State Park there is a large hotel and convention center. The dining room there has great views of the lake and dam.

After breakfast we drove across the dam to get some photos. We got a good look of the dam reinforcement work going on. It’s hard to imagine what would have happened if the dam had failed, it would have wiped out over a 100 miles of river, locks, dams, homes and industry!

When we returned to the marina, we borrowed one of the courtesy vans, and drove to Savannah, TN to do some food shopping. When we got back, we were turning in the courtesy van when we ran into Katie from Pangur Ban who was just picking up the van to go to Corinth Tennessee to visit the Shiloh Interpretive Center, a museum that covers the multiple battles around Shiloh and Corinth at the turning point of the Civil War.

First we went to Abe’s, a local landmark restaurant. It’s a roadside breakfast and burger joint. It opened in 1974, it’s a rundown gem of a burger joint! If you saw it and didn’t know it’s reputation, you’d probably pass it by. But! It’s famous! 1974 is a key year. Abe’s opened, they posted their menu (which has not changed), they cleaned the grill (which has not changed), they washed the floor (which has not changed),…. you get the idea. Abe and his son Ryan work the grill. They open at 5:00 AM and close at 3:00 PM. It was fun to chat with them as they cooked our hamburger and fry lunch. They have EXCELLENT hamburgers, two thin patties on a very hot grill so they get nice and caramelized. They grind their own beef daily, cut their own fries, everything is fresh and local. In addition to their burgers, they are also famous for their chocolate chip cookies, which are fresh baked all day. Be sure to look at the items available on the breakfast menu including the sheep brains!

Abe is a must stop on the Loop and is very Looper Friendly. When he found out we were Loopers, he pulled out his stack of Boat Cards, and asked us if we knew some that had stopped by. He collected our cards to add to his extensive collection, and had us put our boat cards up on the wall.

After lunch, we went to the Corinth Interpretive Center, a museum that has displays of artifacts from the Battle of Shiloh and Corinth. Over 10,000 soldiers lost their lives in the conficts in the area and as you walk up the path to the Interperative center, you see brass reproductions of bits and pieces of soldiers equipment and personal belongings embedded in the ground and concrete as they were for years after the war. Hats, backpacks, buttons, bullets, letters, swords, guns. It was very well done and very poignant.

Corinth was the railroad crossroad for the rail lines from Charleston, South Carolina and the lines to Atlanta, Georgia and the south. It was a key supply route for the Confederate Army and a major target of the Union Army. When the Union Army won the battle of Shiloh, Corinth became a Confederate Hospital town, then the Union Army attacked and captured Corinth, and turned it into a strong hold and established a “Contraband Camp”. After visiting the museum, we went downtown to see some of the generals homes, then went to the Contraband Camp park.

The “Contraband Camp” was a holding community for the escaped blacks. They were not yet considered free even though they were in Northern held territory due to the Dread-Scott decision, so they were housed in a camp and considered “Contraband of War”. The blacks in the Contraband Camp established farms, bakeries, blacksmith shops and other skilled trades. They earned wages and sold their produce to the US Army and local residents earning enough to prosper, and even pay excess earnings to the US Government. The Contraband Camp also formed one of the first all black regiments in the US Army.

The land that was the Contraband Camp is now a park with statues. We’ve mentioned the wind storm that passed through our route a few weeks before, well, that storm did severe damage to the park taking down 200 year old oaks. Still it was interesting to walk the paths and read the stories.

After the Contraband Camp, we drove around and looked at some of the other sights, we tried to find a local bar/pub to have a drink and chat with locals, but Corinth is in a dry county, so we gave up and drove back to the marina. In the evening we all met back at the Aqua Yacht Grill for drinks and dinner.

Saturday – Nov 16th – 49.7 NM – 3 Locks – To: Fulton, MS
Saturday was a travel day. We (4 boats) planned 3 locks and about 50 miles. We left Aqua Yacht at 7:45 with temps in the upper 30’s and entered the northern portion of the Tombigbee waterway which is a long dug canal, the largest canal project since the Panama canal. This is a long straight canal with high banks on either side. Every now and then you pass a “diamond spillway” where the creeks enter. These are designed to break up the flow to keep debris and sand out of the canals. We saw some areas where this springs flooding overwhelmed the spillways and there were large sand bars at the bases.

This spring the Tombigbee was closed for several months due to silting. The spring flooding brought down so much sand that the waterway was completely filled in and one of the locks was also completely filled in with sand. The waterway is open, but they are still dredging and in places the water is only just deep enough to let the tows pass.

Like the rivers there are few buildings and no towns along this portion of the canal, so all we had to look at were birds and each other. After about 25 miles, the canal ends and you enter a shallow lake which is the backwater for the Jamie Whitten Lock and Dam. Just after noon, we reached the lock, we only had about a 30 minute wait while they filled the lock for us. This is a tall lock with an 84 ft drop, it took about 30 minutes to get lowered down (our first down lock), and we continued down the river.

Half an hour later, we reached our second lock of the day, the Montgomery Lock which was ready for us when we arrived and we made the 30 foot drop quickly.

An hour later at 2:30 we reached our third and final lock of the day, the Rankin Lock which was another 30 foot drop. Here again, they were ready for us and we had just a short wait for the doors to open.

After clearing the Rankin Lock, it was just 5 mile run to our marina for the night, Midway Marina in Fulton, MS and we arrived just after 3:30. Midway is just off the main channel, and pretty much the only marina for miles in either direction. There were already 3 loopers there when we arrived. We tied up our 4 boats, and settled in. Just before dark, (it gets dark around 4:30 here), two more boats arrived, and it was pretty crowded!

We all walked up to the Marina restaurant for dinner and then turned in as we had another long day planned for Sunday.

Sunday – Nov 17th – 51.3 NM – 4 Locks – To: Columbus, MS
Sunday morning we all left as a group at 6:30 AM so that we could lock through together. We had 4 locks to do and over 50 miles to travel so we were prepared for a long day. The first lock, Fulton was right outside of the marina entrance and we got there at 7:00 just as the sun was coming up. There was a short wait for an upbound tow to exit the lock, then we went in for our lock through.

The rest of they day went pretty much the same as prior days. We passed several large tows, saw lots of birds and wildlife, passed a few industrial facilities and lots of small river camps up on stilts.

At 4:30 just as the sun was setting, we arrived at Columbus Marina. Columbus Marina is just before the Stennis Lock and you actually go around the dam side to get to the marina. There were 4 boats in our group and three of us needed fuel. There was already a boat at the fuel dock, so we had to queue up for fuel. R-Pad is a gasoline boat, so was able to skip the line and gas up. Once the boat on the fuel dock moved off, Pura Vida III moved up, and started to fill. We hung out in the basin, and were able to watch the beautiful sunset. By the time it was our turn to fuel up, the sun had set and it was quickly getting dark. We took on 80 gallons of diesel, and then moved to our slip in the dark. Our fellow loopers were on the side docks with flashlights and helped guide us in. We made it in with no issues and were quickly tied up for the night.

The harbor master recommended a small place not far from the marina. There were 11 of us so we called three Ubers to get there. Dinner was good, and we had a great time (even met some other loopers from the marina). When it was time to leave, we called back the Ubers and crammed into two cars. The girls (and Sebastian) in one and the guys in another. The girls left first, but we got back to the marina and they were not there, 10 minutes later they showed up. It seems that their driver was not from the area, and got lost on the way back.

NEXT WEEK: We make it to the Gulf of Mexico!