First I would like to apologize for our blog postings not being as timely as they have been in the past. There is a very good reason for that and I will do a post explaining why sometime in the future. Beach House still needed to get farther north to be sure we met our insurance requirements and to also give the crew peace of mind during this next hurricane season. The stay at Dog River Marina was nice and the chores and repairs we wanted to make were done early. The only delay was waiting for the chart chip for the plotter that covers the inland river systems. We came to the realization that our plotter only covered a small part of Mobile Bay and did not cover any of the inland rivers. So a new C-Map chip was ordered and, of course, the two-day shipping arrived in four days. Since it was delivered at about 10 a.m., the docklines were cast off and the trip up Mobile Bay and into downtown Mobile was made a little later than we liked, but still early enough to reach our first day's anchorage with time to spare.
The downtown Mobile waterfront is mostly industrialized with shipping terminals, repair yards and various other terminals. The only semblance of a downtown waterfront is the Convention Center with a concrete bulkhead to tie recreational boats. The reviews we have received from other boaters do not recommend this spot because of the large amount of commercial activity, including large ships, working tugs and tows that can create rather large wakes along the wall. In bad weather, this can be downright treacherous. Our destination was much farther upriver, and one encounter with the prop wash from a tug moving a ship into the terminal was all we needed to encourage us to keep moving. Once beyond the main harbor, the scenery changes significantly and the hustle and bustle changes to a relaxed and more remote waterway. The Mobile River is wide and deep right up to the banks. The current flow was against us for the entire trip and always runs from north to south. Along this stretch we would have about ½ to ¾ knot of current against Beach House, nothing of real concern. During the Spring floods, the current can run 3 knots or more.
Once away from Mobile, the river is tree lined on both sides and there is little to no sign of civilization. There were a few small fishing boats, but even they disappeared as the miles ticked off behind us. A sharp lookout is required anywhere on the river system. We often passed everything from plastic buckets to tree branches to entire trees floating just near the surface. Many of these pieces of debris could do serious damage to our propeller if we struck them at our cruising speed. What appeared to be nothing more than a small branch floating just above the surface might very well have a 20-foot tree trunk attached and just a foot or more underwater. We often found ourselves zigging and zagging around small pieces of driftwood just in case. Once well underway, it would be a long distance for any attempts to provide us with assistance or repairs should we have needed them.
Because of the late start, the decision was made to pass up several good anchorage spots early on. Insurance pressures were not the only reason we needed to get up the river system as soon as possible. The locks at Coffeeville and Demopolis were both scheduled to close for a month to complete annual maintenance and the date was approaching. The distance to our first anchorage was at river statute mile 39.2, giving us a total mileage for the day at about 50 miles. The tree-lined river is spectacular and the only traffic besides Beach House was a number of large tows pushing barges that measured in the hundreds of feet. The first day was uneventful and by mid-afternoon the entrance to Tensas River appeared around a corner offering a wide, deep, protected anchorage well off the river and away from the commercial traffic that travels all night. Just past the first bend in the Tensas, the depths rise to 8 and 10 feet rather than the normal 20 to 30. Our challenge for the rest of the trip would be to find anchorages that were shallow enough to not need excessive amounts of anchor rode. On this night, we would share the anchorage with a small sailboat. It would be the last anchorage for while that we would share with another pleasure boat.
Hurdle number one was within our grasp. Coffeeville Lock and Dam is located at river mile 116.6, about 77 miles up river. A long day for us, but easily doable. The day started just after the sun came up, and for half the day, the sun was out and the temps were comfortable. By midday, the clouds began to build and a check of weather radar showed showers and rain moving into our area. At the junction located at statute mile 45, the Mobile River becomes the Tombigbee. The river twists and turns to such an extent that to travel 40 miles as the crow flies requires traveling 60 miles or more on the river. On several occasions we heard our boat named being called over the VHF radio. Tows heading in our direction were seeing us on their AIS display and knew exactly where we were, and how fast we were traveling. The AIS allowed us and them to be aware of each other and make passing arrangements long before either of us saw the other. At times, it was as simple as instructions from the tow to give them a pass on one or two whistles. One whistle meant we passed them leaving the tow on our port side and two whistles meant we left the tow on our starboard side. On a couple of occasions we were asked to pull over to the side and stand by until the tow had passed. Beach House was happy to comply.
By 4:30 in the afternoon, we were approaching Coffeeville Lock. It had been raining off and on for hours, and as we approached the lock entrance the rain increased, of course. Contacting the Lockmaster on the VHF radio, we were instructed to enter the lock and tie up port side to. The boat is secured in the lock using a single floating bollard tucked into an indentation in the lock wall. All that is required is a single line attached to a midship cleat. We were also instructed to make sure everyone working on deck was wearing a lifejacket. Beach House slowly approached the floating bollard, slowed to a stop, and a line was dropped around the bollard and then made fast to the midship cleat with little or no slack. It was the easiest lock tie up we have ever experienced. The Coffeeville Lock would raise us up 35 feet to the next river level. The entire process took about 25 minutes and Beach House was the only vessel in the huge lock. When we motored out the other side, the rain was pouring and we were thoroughly soaked. Rather than find another anchorage for the night, the decision was made to tie up at Bobby's Fish Camp, a small marina and campground just outside the lock. We wanted to plug in and dry off for the night before we began the next part of our river journey.
Susan and I are both long time sailors with tens of thousands of miles under our keels spanning the US east and west coast, Bahamas, Caribbean, Central Atlantic, and US Gulf Coast. We have been freelance writers for major boating publications, including Bluewater Sailing, Soundings Magazine, Sail Magazine, Southern Boating, Lats and Atts, MarinaLife Magazine, Nor' Easter, Good Old Boat, Living Aboard Magazine and a host of internet sites. We have spent over 17 years living aboard and cruising our Mariner 40 ketch, Sea Trek. In the not to distant past, we sold her and after much soul searching decided a change in lifestyle and scenery was in order so the search was on for a new boat. We knew a trawler was in our future and after doing a lot of research and looking at a lot of boats we found a very well cared for 1980 Marine Trader 34. We have named her Beach House for Susan's love of the beach and the hopes that the view from our new house will always be pleasant. Our plans are to continue our lifestyle and to change our cruising grounds a bit and visit those inland lakes and rivers we never could with our sailboat.