Day's log for Wednesday, September 5th, 2001 - Sunflower River Cutoff, Tombigbee River, AL

I started the day by expertly raising the anchor. First I let out more chain so Andrea Lynn would fall back. I then pulled up the aft anchor. Then I started the motor, goosed it once, ran back up and pulled up the forward anchor.

0750 - proceeded up the Tombigbee.

0801 - passed mile 79.0

0850 - passed mile 82.0

0855 - slowed so that "Johnathan Golding" could pass. This was a northbound towboat. When I saw him around the bend I tried to hail him on channel 13. There was no answer. I maneuvered but he kept coming. There was another bend ahead going the other way. I decided he was running the deep side of the bend. I stopped in the shallow part near the bank and waited until he passed.

I then switched to channel 16 and heard that he wasn't too happy about what I did. These folks were hailing on channel 16 and talking on it too. I'm like ok - this isn't the way you are supposed to work the radio but the old saying goes - when in Rome do as the Romans do. So I subsequently listened on 16 and talked to these guys on 16. He also didn't think that my choice of anchorage was the best as people could slide into me. I was feeling like I was regarded as a real rookie on the river - which I was compared to these guys.

0858 - resumed course and speed behind "Johnathan Golding"

0905 - "Barbara H" passed. He was a towboat without any barges.

0950 - passed mile 85.4

1105 - passed through Jackson Southern RR Bridge

1135 - passed mile 91.9

1207 - passed "Rhett Parker". I met him on the bend so there was not a lot of time after first seeing him. On sight I hailed him on 16. He said to keep it tight to the east bank and meet him on the one. I moved over to the east bank as fast as I could. He said "Your still in the middle of the river". I said I was moving over now. He also said "Don't cut in front of me." I got over and he passed. Later I was listening on the radio and heard that he seemed a bit surprised. So had I.

1230 - passed mile 95.4

1243 - passed "TH Kelly". I had both radios on 16 now. My handheld I turned on to talk to towboat skippers then I turned it off to save batteries. I kept my fixed VHF on all the time. "Rhett Parker" was talking to "TH Kelly" and I listened in. So I was aware of him. "TH Kelly" announced his position and I announced mine. We started updating our positions to each other about every minute. At one point he said "I still don't see you. Then I saw his front end and I said "I see you now". He knew where I was and advised me to keep it tight on the west bank as he came around the bend and met me on the two whistle. Finally I felt like I had done it right.

1348 - reached old lock cutoff

1406 - passed mile 101.0

1412 - diesel at 11 5/8

1440 - passed mile 103.2

1456 - passed mile 104.1

1512 - passed mile 105.0

1549 - passed "Tuskegee"

1610 - passed 108.9

1724 - diesel 12

1753 - passed under Rt 84 bridge - with plenty of clearance.

Then I approached the lock at Coffeeville. The spillway was wide open and there was plenty of rough water and turbulence. I hailed the lock on 13 - oops. The lockmaster told me that I talk to them on 14. I then heaved to in the maelstrom and got fenders ready and put my life jacket on. He asked for the name of the boat - which I had to spell twice - and my registration number.

1848 - completed lockage at Coffeeville. These locks talk on channel 14.

The rise is normally 33 feet. Today it was 9. The lockmaster was going on about the pile-up of the water. I hadn't even thought of what the Rt 84 bridge clearance would be reduced to.

1901 - passed 117.3

I was continuing north and contemplating an improvised anchorage at Turkey cut when I was hailed by "Summit" at Bobby's Fish Camp. This was a dock just big enough for one or two vessels. "Permanent Vacation" was docked there behind "Summit" and a pontoon boat was hanging off the down current end of the dock and had an aft anchor put out. I rafted up to "Summit" and put my anchor out just in case as the dock did not seem very substantial.

Someone purchased "Summit" new for almost $1 M and had friends bring it down from St. Louis to Tampa. She is a very nice 55 foot powerboat with twin 600 hp diesels. She gets about 3/4 mile to a gallon. The friends were very nice people and they had me over for dinner. In return I helped them put in a new impeller on the built in generator. The engine room was a bastion of complexity. There were may parts that could fail and have to be special ordered. As simple as Andrea Lynn was I still had to stop every week or two early in the cruise to get a part. If I had this boat I would hire a full time crew to maintain it.

We compared notes on the Tombigbee. They had come from Demopolis. There the river narrows and the current was more intense. They told me of eddies and whirlpools that had holes as big as your hand. I had visions of sticking my boathook down one of these and touching Davy Jones locker and the boathook staying dry.

Occasionally a towboat would go north - actually about as fast as the lockmaster at Coffeeville could pump them through. The Summit crew hailed them on the VHF and told them about the boats docked. In return the towboat skippers were nice enough to slow down in passing.

Towboat operators must plan their routes down the narrow river very carefully and in a great deal more advanced time than a small boat operator does. Its not like they think they own the river. Instead it is because they are not very maneuverable and have a huge momentum. I reckoned that a 3x3 fully loaded tow weighs at least 2000 tons. This is comparable to a freighter. It is best to maintain a continuous watch on channel 16 and periodically announce your position. You want to keep clued in about other approaching towboats within about 5 miles of your position. Occasionally I would hear tows on the radio before I saw them. I looked on the chart to see where they were. If visible or near by I would hail him and start discussing passing arrangements. As we got closer he would make adjustments to the plan. Finally he would say to meet him on the one whistle (port to port) or two whistle (starboard to starboard). I would get where I needed to be, he would pass and we would both be safely on our way.

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