The River to the Bay

In the evening before departing Demopolis, there was a plan. Somewhere in the ballpark of ten boats were leaving the dock and heading for Demopolis Lock, just a couple of miles south. One person was in charge of communicating with the lock master and organizing the departure time, so as not to overwhelm them with ten different radio calls coming from the same place.
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Somehow, come morning, there were a couple more boats added to the group. As each boat approached the doors, in order, they called out their registration numbers and tied up. This was our first lock where we were asked to give registration, for statistical reasons, I presume. Patches brought up the rear and when it was our turn, we slyly used the phonetic alphabet, which none of the other boats had done. While this certainly does not make us better than, or more experienced than, it did make both RJ and I feel pretty awesome when the lock master thanked us in front of all the other boats for using phonetics.
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As the doors opened, the boats raced off towards Mobile. A race in which we were sure to lose. Motoring down the river, we simultaneously admired the curves of the water and loathed them for increasing the mileage.
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Most of these last few days on the river are smashed together in my mind. Green trees lit up by the sun, foggy mornings, happy afternoons following an amazing lunch.
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With not many anchorages on this two-hundred mile stretch, it became hard to decide if we wanted to make long days on the river or short ones. Think of it this way, at the very MOST, we would only make the distance of seventy miles in a day. This accounts for possible late starts due to fog and being anchored prior to nightfall. With that being the case, there might be three possible anchorages within seventy miles. The first one, typically, was only a mere fifteen or twenty miles. The second was typically much further, think thirty more miles. Then the last possibility, would be as far as we would wish to go.

Passing by the first anchorage, if it looks promising, can be nerve-wracking. You might get to the further anchorages and be greeted with either shoaling (shallow water) or an anchorage full of other boats. It’s impossible to know.

We took our chances for the following four nights. Sticking with our friends aboard Skinny Dipper, we anchored at Tuckabum Creek last Monday night. Actually, for the first time, neither of us anchored. We rafted up to Skinny Dipper and Skinny Dipper tied up to the shore. Tuckabum was a narrow creek, surprisingly deep, were you literally had to tuck your bum back up in the creek to be out of the channel.
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RJ saw alligators this night and decided to paddle closer towards them in the dingy. I crawled out of bed, saw their glowing eyes, and then promptly crawled back inside.

Each morning brought fog.
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On Tuesday, we managed to make our way to what was known as Upper Sunflower Bend. Seeing a pipeline being built and towed across the river was the most notable thing that happened this day. We had to pass through a narrow gap, not really knowing what was under us, with boats working all around. Looking at the chart, of course, shows nothing there but a wide river.

The morning after Sunflower was a scary one. Heavy, dense fog. I’m bad at judging distances so it would be hard for me to say what our visibility was, but I can assure you that it was not far. One other boat had left the anchorage about ten minutes prior to us and put out a radio call that they were leaving to alert possible tow traffic. When we got Patches on her way, with Skinny Dipper not far behindย  (though we couldn’t see them), we failed to put out our own radio call. I blame this on myself, as I assumed the other boat calling out would be pretty fair warning.

RJ hugged the right side of the channel as much as possible, getting close to twigs sticking up from submersed trees fallen from the banks of the river. I was making breakfast when RJ called me out. Looking to our left, all we could see was the top of what looked like a giant wall coming towards us. Of course, these were barges. It was all absolutely silent. Just as soon as we saw the barges, they were passing us.

I kept saying, “thank goodness you were staying to the right,” because I couldn’t imagine what we would have done had we been in the center of the channel.

As quickly as RJ got his barrings together, he radioed to David and Kim on Skinny Dipper to warn them of the tow. David says that as soon as RJ told him, the tow was there.

That night, we arrived at Little Lizard Creek, about a half hour before sunset. Joining the Dippers for drinks became routine after rafting up for the night. Playtime with Salt, recounting our day, and talking about whatever else came up until the mosquitoes came out. I even gifted David and Kim a drawing of Salt I had made that day, as a thank you for their kindness and being our travel companions for the previous weeks.
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Waking up on Friday to one of the most dramatic sunrises we have seen since the beginning of our trip, we pushed on to Mobile. There was a thunderstorm on it’s way, and we hoped to be tied up to the docks before it got to us.
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Unsure of the exact mileage to the marina, we only knew it was twenty miles until the river ended and opened up into the bay. From there to where we were to be docking, I estimated thirty more miles. We knew we had hit mile zero on the river when our charts changed from blue river and yellow land to just blackness. RJ switched us to another chart as we passed all the commerce of Mobile Bay.
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I had never before seen as many ocean going vessels and large ships and even if I had, I have never seen them in this way. The noises were an orchestra as we slowly puttered by on our puny boats.
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Eventually the bay opened up to nothing but water. Land extending out far from us in either direction, pointing us towards the gulf.
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6 thoughts on “The River to the Bay

  1. Your log of your trip has been a pleasure to read. I feel like I’ve swallowed the anchor so it nice to be able to follow along with you. Now you get to contend with tides when anchoring, something new for you! Good Sailing!!!

    1. Yes, a very new experience to come. We are currently sitting in the mud at low tide, though at a dock, so it’s no worry as the water will rise by the time we leave. Weird how tides work.

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