Halfway up the Tenn-Tom Waterway

Ambler Isle
V and S
Sun 26 Jun 2011 18:22
June 23, 2011 
Old river snag boat, designed to gather logs, now a museum
Captain Valt adjusting bollard line in lock
Sandy holding off log wall
Floating bollard raises or lowers with the water level of the lock 
Osprey nest in the lock lights
Big storm brewing
River side house
There is a rhythm to the daily river cruising. First, scan for logs, small boats, and other obstructions.  Get an eye on the next marker buoy and line up for it.  Check the depth.  Double check the chartplotters for position. Check the paper chart book for previous notations of rocks, stumps, and other known hazards.   Every once in a while, check the AIS for commercial traffic in the area.  Stop all these when a VHS call comes through, especially from a tow boat captain reporting his position.  Or the lockmaster talking to approaching vessels.  We like to run our 6k cruise speed, but may have to speed up to make a lock opening if possible.  If we hear of other yachts nearing the lock, we try to go through at the same time.  Commercial vessels have the right-of-way at the locks, and pleasure craft can wait hours to get through during busy times.   The autopilot does much of the steering, especially on the straight-a-ways.  "Otto" can hold a straighter course.  But at the turns, we take over and steer around them.  Saves wear and tear on the autopilot. We love to anchor out and are always looking for new spots to add to our list.  Some years, we delete anchorages that have shoaled in or disappeared.  Several marinas are on our favorites list, and we usually stop at one along this Tenn-Tom Waterway. Either Columbus Marina or Midway Marina.  Both are small, friendly spots, have cheap diesel fuel if we need it, and offer loaner cars.  Sometimes we just HAVE to get off the boat and take a walk.  It also give us a chance to wash the river dirt off the boat.  Fresh water cruising means many more bugs and spiders hoping along for a ride.  Spiders cannot survive the harsh sea salt conditions.  May Fly invasions are the worst.  Once we wakened to black windows totally covered with them. They were several inches thick on the decks, too.  So far we have not had May Flies yet. 
The day is overcast and cool.  We passed through two locks.  We stay outside during the lock thru process to fend the boat off the wall. We also use many air-filled fenders.  By poling off the wall, this keeps the fenders cleaner and prevents damage to them.  The floating bollards were lower than prior years, and when we looped our line around it to secure us to the lock wall, it seemed to pull at an odd angle.  Valt was worried it would slip off the bollard and leave us adrift.  But this had never happened, so I was not as worried.  Suddenly the line came off about half way up.  Luckily, Valt had a spare line at the ready and retied it without trouble.  He always keeps a spare line on the steps by the bollard.  He also keeps a knife nearby, if the bollard gets stuck and we have to cut the line.  Talk about prepared.    Finally the rains came but were not as violent as yesterday.  Another free boat wash.  After we overtook a last tow, we were heading for the Aberdeen Lock.  Bad news.  A southbound tow was already there and they locked him down.  Then they waited for the tow we passed to come and they locked him up.  A third southbound tow and barge was already heading to the lock and they  would also be allowed to go through ahead of us.  Total wait time, minimum 2 hours.  We dropped anchor and hunkered down to wait our turn.  We had plenty of time to eat our dinner.  This would get us through about 7pm.  Just in time to drop anchor before dark.  Lucky we started as early as we did.
As it turned out, we sat at the Aberdeen Lock for 4 hours.  The lockmaster was in no hurry to get us through.   Until we were secure in the lock, then he filled the chamber so quickly we could hardly hold the boat off the wall.  We emerged from the lock after 8pm, just about sunset and had to find our anchorage in the dark. Aberdeen lake is very shallow, and full of stumps and dead trees.  A very treacherous place if you don't know it.  We first tried the Blue Bluff Landing, described in the guide book.  The entrance was shoaled in too much to go in.  We continued up another mile to an arm of the Tombigbee, now a cutoff.  There we anchored for the night with RoBoat, a 44' Hatteras.