White Cliffs of Alabama, bridge, and from inside the Skiff Craft

White Cliffs of Alabama, bridge, and from inside the Skiff Craft

We got this cool story in from fellow Woody Boater John P. Thompson. We could not have said it better.. nor would I have had the time, or spelled it all right.. Thanks John.

485 miles, seven days and a dozen locks in our wakes earned us an open view of the Gulf of Mexico from our cruise’s southern most point— halfway through Mobile Bay.

 

Locking through, shot from Skiff Craft to Carver (note, mostly much larger boats with us)

Locking through, shot from Skiff Craft to Carver (note, mostly much larger boats with us)

That we did this in 19 foot and 24 foot wood boats, vintage 1965 and 1984 respectively, proved that even relatively small craft can safely navigate these wonderfully mostly rural stretches of where America finds her heart and soul. In the 19 foot Carver, Wave Toucher II, were Captain Dick Baner and friend and veteran of many river cruises, Gary Weiss. Both are from Eureka, Illinois. Our 24 foot Skiff Craft, Lily Pad, I was piloting alone. Our boat’s home port is on Table Rock Lake near Branson, Missouri.

Coming into busy seaport of Mobile on Mobile River. Zoom in for best shot.

Coming into busy seaport of Mobile on Mobile River. Zoom in for best shot.

We started this voyage on the Tennessee River at Pickwick Landing State Park near where Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama meet. We attended about half of the 2013 Fall Rendezvous activities being held by the Antique & Classic Boat Society’s (ACBS) Dixieland Chapter at this picturesque state park resort. After the Dixieland cruise to Aqua Harbor for a nearby lunch, our two boat fleet left the rest of the Dixieland crew and began our journey south. In a few miles we found ourselves at the mouth of the largest U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project in their history: The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

Coming into busy seaport of Mobile on Mobile River. Zoom in for best shot.

Great shot of the Carver with water reflection and green on the bank

Starting in 1972 they moved more dirt on this project than was moved for the Panama Canal. Since its completion in 1985, it has provided a much safer and more direct link from the Tennessee River Valley to the oceans of the world— as well as providing new recreational and tourist opportunities to the rural areas it transits. It has become the course of choice for recreational mariners in live-aboard cruisers who make the “The Great Loop” or who migrate with the seasons from north to south.

Fuel and nighttime spot at Bobby’s Fish Camp, 120+ miles north of Mobile  (NOTE: No breakwater.  Open to the channel)

Fuel and nighttime spot at Bobby’s Fish Camp, 120+ miles north of Mobile (NOTE: No breakwater. Open to the channel)

After over 470 miles on the Corps managed waterway, using the canal like Tenn-Tom, the channelized Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers, we found our wooden vessels dwarfed by the sea going military and commercial ships of the Port of Mobile.

Different angle for an option for the Carver

Different angle for an option for the Carver

We were fortunate to find early fall just beginning to paint the leaves crimson, yellow, and burnt orange. Water temperatures were in mid 70’s. Overnight air temperatures would drop to about 40 degrees. Afternoons would peak in the 70’s— until we finally topped 80 degrees as we came into Dog River Marina off Mobile Bay.

Waiting for the morning fog to clear at Pirates Cove Marina.  Skiff Craft foreground, Carver in the next slip

Waiting for the morning fog to clear at Pirates Cove Marina. Skiff Craft foreground, Carver in the next slip

The serenity, beauty and tranquility of the ribbon of green glistening waterway was our welcome companion through mile after mile of snaking through lightly settled or unpopulated and “nature-scaped” countryside.
The stars of the middle stretch of this trip were the “White Cliffs” of Alabama. They are part of the Selma Chalk deposits and were reportedly created about the same time as the more famous and taller

Different angle shot of White Cliffs of Alabama reflecting in still waters and the mahogany top of the Skiff Craft.

Different angle shot of White Cliffs of Alabama reflecting in still waters and the mahogany top of the Skiff Craft.

“White Cliffs of Dover” in England. Shorter yes, but stunning still are these white riverbank bluffs deep in the backwoods of America’s friendly south.

Dick Baner taking a turn at the wheel of Thompson’s Skiff Craft.

Dick Baner taking a turn at the wheel of Thompson’s Skiff Craft.

As we cruised ever closer to the Gulf of Mexico, sightings of alligators soaking up the late season sun were made from both boats. We could almost feel America’s South yawn at us as we rode the water through her peaceful, color changing backwoods. We felt her embrace us through her people’s welcoming and inclusive ways. Eventually engulfed by her busy port of Mobile, we saw her one hand busy in peaceful trade with the world, and her other in production of the most modern technological ships for the defense of liberty.

U.S. Navy ship under construction at Mobile.

U.S. Navy ship under construction at Mobile.

Time and current news events seem less relevant on a cruise such as this. Life seems to be enough in each moment savored in our old boats, atop picturesque waters, and in the company of good friends. One feels no need to look to the years already spent, or peer beyond the instant to obligations ahead: The moment is sublime and to be relished.
Side bar— Our Tenn-Tom cruise combined with the over 600 mile trip we did in these two boats this spring— through, across and on both coasts of Florida— encompassed over 1,000 miles of the Great Circle Route, or Great Loop. The Great Loop is a roughly 6,000 mile mostly inland waterway that circumnavigates about half of the continental U.S and portions of Canada.
This trip had fewer marinas and facilities– like hotels and restaurants— along the route than most of the miles we have cruised. These facilities ranged from top-of-the-line to “rustic and well used.” Since restaurants were in short supply, we had to provision for some meals while underway. Since the fuel stops—particularly on the lower half of the waterway—are very limited both boats had portable fuel tanks on board. This ensured we could make the longest stretch—the last day—which was about 130 miles plus one last lock without a place to refuel in between the day’s start and finish.

 

Carver in the lead going downstream.  Baner and Weiss on board.

Carver in the lead going downstream. Baner and Weiss on board.

We soon found the 12 locks (fascinating once or twice through) to be a necessary evil for the trip from Middle America’s Tennessee River to the Gulf. Though time consuming and schedule confounding, they should not be feared, as even working solo in our 24 foot boat I had no trouble locking through. Good fenders that are large sized and well placed, a boat hook, and twenty feet or so of dock line to hook the floating bollards in these locks made passage relatively easy on boat and crew.

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20 Responses to “Relishing The Sublime – Wooden Boats Make Fall Cruise – Tennessee River To Mobile Bay”
  1. Troy

    That looks like a fun trip for sure.

    Since it is a lapstreak day I will tease all you Liman fans with some shots I took earlier this week of the winter storage at Edgecomb Boat Works.

    • Troy

      Matt:
      This is just part of the reason I think your survival numbers are low.

  2. m-fine

    Wow, I don’t think my boat has room for enough fuel tanks to make a 130 mile leg!

  3. ranger

    So what about the rest of this fabulous story…where are they now? did they cruise back home, come to warm & sunny Florida, have someone pick them up…enquiring minds want to know!

    and I think Troy is just being ugly this morning…

    I want a lapstrake, I’ve decided that my perfect boat is a 26′ Lyman Cruisette…

    oh well, back to dreaming and searching for the missing $16 million dollar lottery ticket someone in Florida has not turn in yet…

  4. Alex

    John, thanks for taking us along on your trip. Nicely written too. What a neat experience. Such a voyage is definitely on my to-do list. I believe you moved it I up a few positions today.

    • Troy

      That trip is special made for your “Red and White”.

      Heck put her in Lake Michigan and go all the way.

  5. Paul H.

    I have sometimes thought about doing this trip as part of some organized cruise or event – my 24′ Sea Skiff would be near perfect for the run. Thanks for sharing the trip with us!

  6. Dennis Mykols

    Ronnie and I had the pleasure of being tied up next to John at the Dixieland Chapters Fall Cruise at Pickwick Landing in mid October. I admire these guys, REAL USER BOATERS !
    We got to talking about there plans and gas schedules, as well as food and lodging issues over those two days together, and I found they had it well though out.
    I had a personal interest in their trip, because I had just hired on with the AGLCA, the Loopers Association, as their Great Lakes Sales Rep for Sponsorships Sales.
    The Loopers are another great group of REAL BOAT USERS, living on their boats for months an end, some a year or more! Something about hating to cut grass…
    I followed John and Dick to the mouth of the TENN TOM and said goodbye to our new friends, Ronnie knowing darn well I just wanted to chuck it all and keep on cruising on down the river with those guys…

  7. Ronald

    Wow what a great trip, You can sign me up in a few years after retirement. My wife and I went to a Sea Skiff club outing a few years ago in our 22′ at Wheeler State Park in north Ala. As a group of maybe 10 or 12 boats we cruised on the river 57 miles one way to a dock in Decatur Ala for lunch. It was a lot of fun especially seeing that many lapstrake boats in the water at one time and beautiful scenery as well.

  8. Al Benton

    John, thanks much for a great story. That was quite an adventure, and I am envious as all get-out. Our little cruises on The Mississippi to Quincy, IL just don’t measure up to that.

    Dick, your Carver looks great on those southern waterways. Thanks for the ride through the Dora Canal & Dead River a couple of years ago, and the smooth ride across Lake Harris. Only a well-built lap-strake can perform that well on a windy day.

  9. floyd r turbo

    Not to hijack this great cruise story, just caught a glimpse of John Glenn water skiing behind JFK’s boat off Hyannisport back in the day (1962?). This was on the History Channel (The Lost Kennedy Home Movies) and the boat? ….wait for it, no, not a lapstrake – a mahogany Century 21′ open utility. Then they retired to the presidential yacht, “Honey Fitz”. That was a beauty in itself built in 1931 by the Defoe Ship Building Company in Bay City Michigan.

    RIP JFK

  10. Don & Kathy

    John’s talent of planning and executing successful cruising events for classic boat users continues. He is also generous in the sharing of each adventure with colorful recaps. Once more this article shows why John has twice been the ACBS Rover Award winner.

  11. Randy Rush Captain Grumpy

    Its about time you had a Carver Header! I was beginning to think I owned the only Carver out there. Dick send me some pictures of yours! [email protected]

  12. John

    Thanks for the kind comments. I am pleased someone enjoyed the story of our recent trip in our old boats.

    To answer Ranger’s questions…

    We rented a car in Mobile at the end of our cruise. We then drove back to Pickwick Landing State Park Resort. We spent the night, and then drove our trucks with trailers (which we had left at Pickwick Landing State Park Resort while on the water) and the rental car back to Mobile the next day. We returned the rental car and then loaded the boats. I stopped at a nearby carwash to wash the boat and flush the engine since it had been in saltwater for two days. Dick and Gary headed back toward their homes in Eureka, Illinois and I headed back to Missouri. Both boats are now winterized leaving us to use our outboards for the winter.

    By the way, in part answering Ranger’s question of: What are they doing now? Eureka is about six miles from Washington, Illinois which was so hard hit by the recent killer tornado. Dick, Gary and Dick’s son— using Dick’s front end loader– are serving as a three person volunteer disaster recovery crew helping the people of Washington, Illinois pick up the scattered pieces of their lives. This sort of volunteer work is nothing new for Dick, as he has traveled far and wide (Oklahoma City, Joplin, etc.) as a volunteer with his equipment in tow helping after natural disasters.

    Ranger, as for what I am doing, I just returned to work. Time to start planning the next cruise. Oh, and we look forward to cruising Table Rock Lake in our 18′ Thompson outboard soon. It’s supposed to be sunny and around 50 at Table Rock Lake the weekend after Thanksgiving. Sounds like a great day for a boat ride.

  13. ranger

    John,

    Thank you for finishing this fantastic tale for me.

    I am originally from Danville, Ill. and attended
    college in Missouri; so I am a Midwestern girl at my core.

    That storm was awful but I am happy to report that friends and family are all safe. Thank you to Dick, Gary and his son for helping with disaster victims. We’ve also gone into areas to help people re-building their homes but usually not until much later in the process.

    We’ll never forget Hurricane Andrew where my husband is from…he arrived the next day carrying tools and equipment to help his family and their neighbors.

    It was particularly heart wrenching to help out in his mother’s retirement park which had been leveled; a lot of WWII widows searching for their personal mementos (climbing through the rubble for them ahead of the bull dozers)…and learning that it is the smallest things; a picture, an article of clothing that belonged to their late husbands, a knick knack that had been in the family for years were the things that brought them the greatest comfort…that will never leave me…

    I do have a secret wish and that is to bring my Dad’s boat full circle and attend a Midwest event with it…maybe 2014 will be the year!

    Thank you again for sharing your story.