Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The New Adventures of Tom and Huck
So sorry it's been so long since I've written. It's Budget Time at the City, and things have been wildly busy.
A couple of weeks ago, I told ya'll that Heather's brother, Hess, and I were taking a boat trip. Hess mentioned to me one night that he wanted to go down to Orange Beach via the river, and since I'd always wanted to do the same thing, I jumped on that bandwagon and we started making plans.
Almost immediately, we were met with opposition. You'd have thought we were trying to sail to Timbuktu.
"Ya'll will never make it."
"Do you know how far that is?"
"You need a bigger boat."
"You're camping on a sandbar in the middle of nowhere? Better listen for banjos!"
We didn't care though. We were going to make it come hell or high water.
So on Friday night, Heather's parents took us to Myrtlewood and we launched the boat into the Tombigbee River. It was about 7pm. Hess' wife, Carrie, would leave the next morning with the truck and trailer and meet us at the beach.
We had that boat loaded down. We had tanks and cans with 50 gallons of extra fuel. We both had our backpacks loaded down with extra clothes and gear. We had my tent, our sleeping bags, our sleeping pads, and Hess' camp stove (for coffee the next morning.) We also had a cooler with ice and drinks. We were ready.
Hess had gotten the marine application for his GPS, and I had written down the coordinates at our marina the week before when Heather and I were down there. So we knew kinda where we were going.
The original plan was to head down the river to Ezell's and eat catfish for supper, but Carrie fed us spaghetti with homemade cheese bread that she bought from the Mennonites before we left, so we kept on going past Ezell's and figured we'd go for couple of hours and camp.
Mama had called me the night before and reminded me that the Army Corps of Engineers has a campground just north of the Coffeeville dam. I told her that there'd be no way we'd make it that far Friday night. But I was wrong.
We had been traveling for a while. And it had gotten dark. And then darker. And I couldn't see where I was going anymore. So I told Hess to keep looking for a sandbar, and that we would need to stop at the next one he found. But we were in kind of a swampy area, and there were no sandbars to be found. So we just kept going.
This is about where Hess started wigging out on me. When he'd turn the spotlight on, all you could see was a wall of bugs. I knew they were there because about a dozen had already flown into my mouth and eyes. But they kind of freaked Hess out a little. Then he shined his light off to the side of the boat, and a crane was sitting on a limb that was sticking up out of the water pretty close to the boat. So we were probably a little shallower than we should have been at 30mph in the darkness.
Around the next bend, we saw the beginnings of lights ahead. All along the riverbank was all these lights. It was the campground, and it was about 9:30pm. We had made it to Coffeeville! The next thing we saw was this big reflective "Warning! Submerged Dam Ahead!" sign. And this time we both freaked. I slowed down to a crawl and we turned ourselves around and away from the dam. I wanted no part of that freaky thing at night.
We headed up to the Corps of Engineers campground and found a grassy spot with a seawall in front of it, so we tied the boat and set up the tent. It was hot and muggy, and I nearly sweated myself to death in that tent, but we managed to get a few hours sleep before somebody came by and blew a horn at us around 6am.
I think we really should have registered and paid to camp. But what were we supposed to do at 9:30 when we obviously couldn't keep traveling south?
Hess made coffee and some breakfast while I took down the tent and packed the boat. It was about this time that I realized my cell phone was completely dead. And it had been fully charged the night before. Hmmmmm....
Hess filled up the tank, and commented that we were burning quite a bit of gas. But we weren't worried, because we had mapped out marinas along the way. So we were pretty sure gas would not be a problem.
Hess called the lockmaster and told him we wanted to lock through. We were told it would be about an hour because a tug boat was coming through. We could go after him. So we took our time getting ready to go, and then the boat wouldn't start.
We tried and tried and tried to crank it, but no luck. Hess took the cover off of the motor and I tried cranking again while he looked around. Then he saw why we had burned so much gas. We had a hole in the fuel line. And a big hole at that. So Hess started saying something about calling Carrie to come and get us. But I persisted. We could call Daddy to bring us a fuel line. He was only about 30 miles from us at that point. Or we could try to just fix it. Which Hess did. He cut off the line at the point of the hole, and finally got it reattached.
And the boat still wouldn't crank.
You know how sometimes you just know that you are in a certain place for a reason? Well there was a reason we made it all the way to that campground Friday night. A couple from Grove Hill, AL was fishing with trot-lines and saw that we were having trouble. And the man was a mechanic. Now how about that?
He helped us for about an hour with no luck. Then when we were about to give up hope again, he mentioned the kill switch. I unclipped it, put it back on, turned the key, and the motor came to life! Whew! I almost thought we were going to have to call Carrie afterall.
We rode back up to Bobby's Fish Camp and refilled the tanks with gas. Then we called the lockmaster again. We had both noticed that no barge had come by us. And this was a couple of hours later than our first call. The lockmaster told us that the barge had broken down, but that it was back up and running and would be out in about 20 minutes. It actually took about 45 minutes, but we were finally able to get through and keeping heading downriver.
You see things so much differently from the river than from the car. We were basically running close to parallel with Highway 43, and we could tell from the GPS what towns we were passing. I grew up in Jackson, but had to look twice when we went under the Joe McCorquodale Bridge. Then later on we passed Thyssen-Krupp, the new steel plant that is being built in Calvert. It is huge and so much more impressive from the water.
The weather was perfect, and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. We were seeing parts of our state that we had never seen before. And we were having a blast.
We kept looking at the GPS for guidance, because the river has a lot of turns and quite a few forks, and for the most part we did fine. But just north of Mobile, we took a left when we should have taken a right. We had planned to follow the shipping channels to Mobile and cross over the tunnel, but instead we ended up following the course of the Bartram Canoe Trail and bypassed Mobile, heading instead toward Daphne and the Eastern Shore. Which worked out just fine for us.
About 3pm we entered Mobile Bay. It was here that we filled up with gas for the 3rd and final time. I then pointed the boat toward Point Clear and we headed across the bay.
Up until this point, the ride had been fairly smooth. But when we enter the waters of Mobile Bay, the winds picked up and the water got really choppy. I had to slow down to keep from being knocked through the bottom of the boat.
We rounded Point Clear and headed on to our destination, the intercoastal waterway. We could see Fort Morgan road in front of us, and knew that we needed to be headed toward the Gulf Shores end of the road. So we used that as a guide.
One thing we noticed was that from out in Mobile Bay, you can actually see both Fort Morgan in Gulf Shores, and Fort Conde in Mobile. We both agreed that we had always wondered how those fort actually protected Mobile Bay when they were so far apart. But being out there in the middle of them brought a new light to how things must have worked. The forts didn't seem that far apart afterall.
We found the intercoastal waterway with no problems, and followed it along until we got to our marina. It was 5:10pm.
We made it.
We got off the boat and fatigue hit us both about the same time. We were hot, sweaty, salty, and both in need of showers. Carrie and the kids were headed down the street to the "Little Beach", a neighborhood beach area, and were surprised to see us so soon.
Hess at that point admitted that he was surprised too. I couldn't believe it. I had full intentions of making it. And we did.
We all went out and ate at the Fish Camp for supper. And after over 300 miles on the water, and then an all you can eat seafood buffet, I was down for the count.
We've talked about making the trip again. We've done it once, so we could do it better the next time. And although we'll definitely have fun doing it again, this first time had that excitement of the unknown to it that the future trips probably won't. But who knows what the next one will have in store? You just never can tell.
I hope ya'll have a great week!