Back to lake sailing

Back to lake sailing

After saying our farewells my father(Bob) and I started making use of the remainder of the day performing engine maintenance while Emily and my mom made the 7 hour drive back to Illinois. My dad decided to join me for the final leg to Kentucky Lake, and I greatly appreciated the helping hand. The temperature through the region was consistently around 100 degrees so I asked my dad to bring our old window unit air conditioner to stick in the boat for use at the marinas along the way. What a luxury that was!  

We departed early on August 9th with a projected destination of Smithville Marina.  Unfortunately the inland “tides” tried to work against us.  With the sun just starting to rise, we cast off the lines and navigated past the lily pads and aimed past the fuel dock.  When I arrived to the marina 4 days before I had bumped bottom with our 5 foot draft.  Transiting this area again, I gave the boat a slight increase in throttle to help shove through the mud but not enough to hurt the boat or throw us overboard.  Apparently I didn’t pass exactly where I came through the first time and the boat came to an abrupt halt.  I’m pretty sure I could hear the catfish laughing at me through the murky water.  With the Pascagoula Run’s sleek fin keel becoming ungrounded is generally an easy task, but this time wasn’t one of those times.  I don’t know what the mud is made of in Mississippi but I’m pretty sure there is some glue mixed into it. Just when I thought we were going to have to kedge the boat off with the dinghy and anchor I managed to get the boat spun around and followed the trench I made back into the marina.  This time I took an approach slightly closer to the fuel dock and had no issues.  After this short 15 minute delay, we were on our way.  It was great to have my dad onboard for this part of the trip.  I had sailed (and motored) solo from Sarasota and it was nice to have another set of hands on board.  Sailing solo offshore is no big deal. You have plenty of water and the autopilot, Rufus, can steer for me while preparing food or when I have to run into the cabin for anything.  The ICW and river system on the other hand is a completely different story.  There is little time to run below for anything which makes simple tasks such as grabbing a granola bar or more water and ordeal .  Add to the complexity that I was often traveling for 10 hours a day.  Sometimes up to 14 hours.  Solo sailing up-river is not for the faint of heart.

My father and I passed through 3 locks before making our approach to Smithville Marina. The comments in activecaptain, especially the one that described it as the “place where boats go to die”, made me a bit uneasy to say the least.  However,  it happened to be in the perfect location for a stopover and we read up about a small town steak house nearby and the marina supposedly had a courtesy car.  We exited the last lock and turned to starboard as I hailed the “ marina” around 2pm .  I say “marina” because I was answered by a local liveaboard.   He notified me over the V.h.f radio that the owner was not present but he would help us tie up and check us in.  I knew at that moment that we we were in for an experience.   

We pulled up to the outside dock just before a small storm started to blow in.  We were indeed greeted by a couple of courteous and friendly liveaboards on the rickety docks.  After going to the office with one of the locals I decided to pay cash after we decided we couldn’t figure out the card reader.   After we were “checked in” we quickly connected the 30 amp shore power to make use of our luxury item, the window unit air conditioner,  to add some chill to the 100 degree heat.  Fortunately, the Blue Sea  panel I installed included a reverse polarity light and breaker.  It was the first time I ever saw such a thing, but the reverse polarity light was lt up.  After moving the connector to a plug farther down the dock (thank goodness for a 50 foot cord) and checking polarity we were good to go.  We were back on the grid. Something I was becoming more familiar with after spending nearly 5 months on solar.  

Our plan was to borrow the courtesy car and head to a local small town steak house. Unfortunately they were closed and after receiving some local advice decided on the town diner, “Mel’s”, instead.  The courtesy car was interesting and I’m pretty sure the local liveaboards use it as well.  Just be careful when you close the doors; the door panels may end up in your lap.  

After a good meal we returned to the boat, drank some wine(o.k., lots…) and caught some z’s after a long day on the river.IMG_6750.jpgIMG_6752.jpg

We departed Smithville marina and made a heading towards our last last lock on the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway.  We spent the day only traveling 30 miles but transited 4 locks, and all in the wake of a tow.  Finally we arrived at the Jamie Whitten Lock and were immediately awestruck.  This lock is the 4th highest lift in the country raising the Run 84 feet and dwarfing the other locks on my route.  After what seemed like a never-ending ascent we motored into Bay Springs.  Bay Springs makes up the southern end of pickwick lake and is connected by a man made channel which begins, or ends in our case, the transition from the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway and the Tennessee river.  We decided to stay at Bay Springs marina and were glad we did. Clear, clean water, nice docks and friendly staff made for an enjoyable evening.  We made use of the community area on the dock and sat back and drank margaritas to go with a Mexican dinner I put together.

We departed the next morning to stay at Grand Harbor marina which is located just before the final lock and dam before reaching Kentucky Lake.  We were also fortunate enough to have two good friends of mine from Boulder meet for dinner and a few drinks.  Ray and Tom even brought us some beer from back home to get us through the next few hot days.  Now that is what you call good friends!  When we departed early the next morning Ray made the trek across the bridge crossing over our final lock and was able to take some really cool pictures that show how miniscule you really are inside the giant locks.  Thanks again Ray and Tom for the visit and the awesome pictures!

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All downhill from here!

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As the last set of lock doors opened up we waved to Ray, who looked like an ant standing on the bridge, and continued on our journey.  This was the first time however since the Gulf that I had a current pushing us.  The 1.5 knot current helped drive us north giving us an over ground speed of 7.5 -8 knots.  Originally we had planned on spending the night at an anchorage about 40 miles downstream but with our impressive headway we opted to continue our voyage towards an anchorage known as Lick Creek.

Looking at the charts and satellite photos, Lick Creek didn’t look like much.  But according to activecaptain you could fit a 50 foot trawler through the entrance. When I pointed out the entrance to my dad he was skeptical. I, too, was feeling a bit apprehensive.  The entrance was tight  and the channel going in was narrow enough that would have prevented us from turning around .  We would have to back all the way out.  It didn’t help that there were numerous trees fallen into the creek and we slowly ghosted past the shoals by staying in the middle of the channel.  As promised we rounded the bend into a nice tranquil anchorage surrounded by lake houses.   Jet skis and powerboats flew past at planing speed leaving little wake and waving. Apparently they thought it was cool to see a sailboat named Pascagoula Run sitting in their backyard.  After a relaxing evening kicking back a few and watching the sunset fall we took showers in the total darkness and retreated back to the cabin to escape any chance of blood sucking insects getting their way.

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Sunset at Lick Creek
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We had cell phone reception again!

Our next day led us to the Southern portion Kentucky lake. Kentucky Lake is a nice place with clear water and beautiful landscape. And I’m glad that the area is as nice as it is because I was already having withdrawals from being away from saltwater.  Originally I had spoken with a marina on the lake that said they would have a slip available around the time I had planned on arriving.  Upon making a phone call when I got closer like I was instructed, I was told that there was in fact no available slips with my draft.  Well, that threw a stick in the tire spoke. I frantically started calling  other marinas and was hoping to stay as close as possible to the interstate to make the 3 hour driving trip to the boat more manageable.  I heard lots of good reviews from friends about a marina on the Lake Barkley side and focused on trying to get a slip there.  Unfortunately the manager was out and they would have him call me when he came back in the office. I didn’t get a call back so I figured I would try again in the morning.  We made our way into an anchorage by kenlake marina called “cool creek”.  I felt like I was on Carlyle again, except on a much larger scale.  The fingers run all along the lake and provide many protected and peaceful anchorage opportunities.  We dropped the hook in 10 feet of water and spent the night celebrated making it to Kentucky Lake.  The beautiful star lit sky still couldn’t help take my apprehension away about the future.  I had no marina lined up officially, I didn’t have work squared away at the time and I was leaving a world that I loved. The thought of being 3 hours away from the boat terrified me, but I kept my head up and tried to keep a good attitude.

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Our last day of travel was a short 25 miles to one of the marinas so we opted to sleep in and rest up after out daily wake up calls of 4:45.  Following breakfast I was able to get in contact with Green Turtle and reserved a slip.  We departed cool creek making the last passage for the year.  We traveled about 10 miles before looking behind and seeing an object by the new bridge we had just passed.  It looked like a large ship in the distance.  I thought to myself that there was no way, I was just seeing things.  A few minutes passed and the object was increasing in size and getting closer just like a ship at sea.  I grabbed the binoculars and sure enough it wasn’t a barge, it was a ship!  The vessel Delta Mariner is a ship designed to navigate the shallow waters and narrow channels of the inland waterways and still capable of completing offshore passages.  The 312 ft long ship travels between Decatur,Alabama and the ports of Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg air force base in California via the Panama Canal delivering components for the ULA Atlas V and Delta IV rockets.  They ghosted past us and continued their journey enroute to the Mississippi River as we altered our course to navigate the short cut that connects Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.  Green Turtle Bay is on the Barkley Lake side and located a short distance north of the cut.  After Hailing the dockhand on 16 we docked at the fuel dock to get a very necessary pump out; and probably the most thorough pump out the boat has ever received! (Thanks guys!)  We stood around chatting with the guys working that afternoon before getting our slip assignment and making the last 200 foot trek of our almost 2000 mile Journey for the season.  

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It was a surreal feeling looking back through the log book and seeing how far we had traveled and all the great memories and friends we made along the way. I felt a bit emotional after getting the lines tied off to the dock.  I was not looking forward to leaving my home for the past months 3 hours away.    My dad thought the perfect remedy was a good dinner at the local famous restaurant  Patti’s 1800’s settlement.  We weren’t sure how far away the restaurant was so we called for the shuttle to come pick us up at the marina.  After an awesome dinner we decided to take the less than a mile walk back to the boat to try to burn off some calories before celebrating with the remaining wine and rum. The next day was a work day to clean up and gather all my essentials off the boat before my mom arrived to drive my father and I back to my home town in Southern Illinois.  

Until the next journey (And yes I said next; We are nowhere near done with our travels) , Pascagoula Run is in a safe place and out of the damaging salt water and perpetually humid environment.  And still within a couple weeks access to the Gulf of Mexico and the magical salt water world that Em and I both live for.  But in order to play hard you have to work hard.  And the boat needs a break and a few projects taken care of before the next voyage.  So stay tuned as we prep the boat for the next watery walkabout, explore the Kentucky lake region, and continue our adventure in our currently land-based life.  It has been a great journey so far.  We can’t wait to see where we end up next.

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