Post #34 – SALTWATER! – Day 167 , October 18, 2014. On board: Paul, Jim K
On Friday afternoon (October 10), as we continued south on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, we crossed the border into our last “western” state – Alabama! The marina is in the town of Pickensville, and 10 miles away is Aliceville. Pickensville is little more than a wide spot in the road, but Aliceville is a sizable town of about 2500 people. Unfortunately, it is a very depressing town which the economy has left behind. More than half the storefronts in the downtown area are boarded up, and many of the houses are in disrepair. Like many towns we have encountered throughout the trip both in Canada and in the US, the development of strip malls, big box stores, and other retail outlets along the highways have starved the downtown areas for business. Aliceville, however, suffers even more from a loss of population and from having few well-paying jobs. This is the soft underbelly of the rural south. Here is a sad picture of Main Street in Aliceville:
That being said, there are two truly interesting places in Aliceville, which I stumbled upon while out exploring. The first is the Aliceville Museum in downtown Aliceville. During World War II, nearly 400,000 German soldiers were imprisoned in 511 POW camps in the United States. One of the largest of these was in Aliceville, Alabama, which housed over 6,000 prisoners and employed over 1,000 American soldiers and civilians. The camp was built in just 3 months, and in June of 1943, prisoners from General Rommel’s Africa Corp arrived in Aliceville, followed by prisoners from the European theater. The museum tells the story of the camp, and it is an encouraging one: in deep contrast to the treatment which Allied prisoners endured in German and Japanese prison camps, the prisoners at Aliceville were well treated, as evidenced by the many former POW’s who have returned to Aliceville and to the museum, and by the many displays at the museum which were actually donated by former German POW’s. It is a fascinating museum with a film in which several former German POW’s are interviewed.
Pictures were not allowed inside the museum, but here are a couple of images from an area outside the museum where pictures were allowed:
The other interesting place in Aliceville was the US Montgomery, a 178 foot sternwheeler powered by steam that was built in 1925. It was built as a “snagboat” – a specially-designed boat used to hoist from the rivers trees, logs, and other obstructions that impeded navigation- known as “snags”. This steam powered sternwheeler – a relic from earlier times – was actually used to remove snags from the rivers until 1982, when it was finally retired; at the time it was retired, it was the last sternwheeler still in operation in the south, and one of only two steam-powered work boats still in operation in the US. It is now on display and can be boarded in Aliceville, and is on the National Register of Historic Places:
One sees some unusual sights cruising along the inland rivers. Here are a couple of interesting ones, the first of which is one of the more perplexing:
Even though there was a threat of rain and scattered thunderstorms, Saturday night we opted to anchor out rather than run over 90 miles with a lock in the middle. We anchored in a cove immediately next to the waterway – the weather stayed sunny and calm, and the night was clear and windless. Here are some images:
On our last day on the Tenn-Tom, we passed through one of the most beautiful land forms on the inland rivers, called the White Cliffs at Epes. I couldn’t resist taking many pictures, so here are several (I had trouble eliminating pictures…):
Late Saturday, we entered the last stretch of the inland route to the Gulf, called the Black River-Tombigbee Waterway. A total of 217 miles long, it consists of the lower Tombigbee River below the junction with the Black Warrior River, which then empties into the Mobile River, which takes us to Mobile Bay. The town of Demopolis, Alabama is at the start of this stretch, then it is VERY remote until Mobile Bay – there are no towns and only one “fish camp” with dockage until Mobile. Therefore, we provisioned for 4-5 days and planned to anchor out for at least three nights.
Here are a few images from Demopolis, another town whose downtown has been decimated by strip centers and other retail development along the highway corridor:
So as you probably know, a massive storm system passed through the midsection of the country, and especially the south, on Monday and Tuesday, bringing huge rainfalls, near-hurricane force winds, lightning, and tornadoes in some places. Knowing that it was coming, we planned our schedule to be in Demopolis, which ended up to be under a tornado watch for about 12 hours. The storm that hit us was very nasty, but fortunately for us, the worst of the storm passed slightly north of us. However, the high rainfall throughout the watersheds that drain into the Tenn-Tom and Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway, caused the water level to rise over 15 feet above normal. The result was swift currents and a resurgence of floating debris, though nothing like we experienced on the Mississippi. Here are a few images:
We stayed in Demopolis for two days due to the storm, then continued south, where we tied up at Bobby’s Fish Camp – it is quite rustic with a single dock parallel to the river, but it served us just fine. Here are a few images:
As we continued, we arrived at our 140th lock since we left Boston – however, this was a very special lock: it is our LAST lock until we reach the lock on the Charles River, back in Boston. Here it is:
We stayed at two more anchorages on our final push south. Both of these were in fairly narrow creeks, so we needed a stern anchor to keep us from swinging into the banks. However, we couldn’t get the stern anchor to hold (a large aluminum Danforth anchor which proved inadequate), so we ended up with a bow anchor out, then tying the stern to a tree along the shore to hold us in place both nights. Here are some images:
So for the first time since early May – nearly 5 1/2 months ago – we are again in salt water! We arrived in Mobile Bay this morning – another major milestone on the Great Loop route. We have completed the inland rivers, nearly 1400 miles of waterway that is a unique experience and is the most variable section of the trip. Weather conditions, of course, affect every day on the water. However, on other segments of the trip, a weather system passes and conditions return to normal. On the inland rivers, it can be very different – the effects of a weather system can and sometimes do affect the rivers for weeks. In addition, weather systems from hundreds of miles away that you may not even know about can have a huge effect on you – such was the case when major storms dumped near-record rainfalls on Kansas City and the Upper Missouri River, causing extreme conditions for weeks on the Mississippi – just at the time that most of the Loopers (including us!) were starting to pass through, damaging many of the boats and delaying virtually everyone. The inland rivers also include the most remote and rural sections of the trip, with long stretches (up to 250 miles) with no fuel, water, provisions, or other services, necessitating anchoring for several nights. However, it is also one of the most rewarding sections of the trip, with unique challenges, beautiful scenery, an opportunity to see rural towns and meet wonderful and interesting people in a way that you wouldn’t any other way, and a chance to see and understand the unique role that these vital waterways have played and continue to play in the movement of goods in our economy.
So this morning, we pulled up the anchor and ran the last 15 miles through the city of Mobile and into Mobile Bay. Here are some images:
We’ll be in Mobile for a few days to do some exploring, then we leave the boat here for a week while I go to Buffalo to help celebrate my Dad’s 90th birthday!!!