Inland Rivers to Gulf Intracoastal Waterway – Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway to Pensacola, FL

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We hope you all enjoyed good company and great feasting and had some time to reflect on the things for which you are most thankful. 

The Captain and I spent Thursday at a marina in Pensacola thinking of family and friends back home and feeling thankful but rather far away. We are not missing the freezing temperatures that hit the northeast this week, not even a little, but we do miss our families and appreciate that technology allows us to stay in touch. There’s not much technology can do about a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, however. The restaurant we chose tried but couldn’t come close to the usual family fare.

We have been very, very spoiled …

We have been very, very spoiled …

Nevertheless, we continue to celebrate our journey and have made a lot of progress in the past few weeks, though not necessarily in terms of distance traveled.  We left Bobby’s Fish Camp on November 2 pleased that we had only 2 more days of river travel ahead of us.  The lower Black Warrior-Tombigbee, which joins with the Alabama River a little below Bobby’s to become the Mobile River, was my favorite part of our entire inland river cruise, with the possible exception of one remote section of the Tennessee River.  As we worked our way south toward Mobile, we continued to meet a fair amount of tow traffic but saw little else other than a gradual transition from forested banks to marshland.  And yes, our first gator – a big one!

What this picture doesn’t show is the egret just outside the frame that is the subject of the gator’s intense interest

What this picture doesn’t show is the egret just outside the frame that is the subject of the gator’s intense interest

Because this section of the rivers offers no marinas and limited anchorages, we cruised until we found the right place to drop the hook, just before sunset.  The Captain pinpointed a beautiful anchorage in the Tensas River which we shared with 4 other boats and still had plenty of room to swing.  We didn’t really need a lot of room, though, because the anchor set well in the muddy bottom and a gentle current kept us exactly where we wanted to be.  It was a very peaceful night, and we both got a good night’s sleep.

Here’s a satellite map showing where we pulled off the main river to spend the night at anchor -  from Active Captain

Here’s a satellite map showing where we pulled off the main river to spend the night at anchor - from Active Captain

We woke to a beautiful morning, enjoyed a cup of coffee on the hook and then started the cruise that would take us off the rivers.  The day was bright and so were our moods, as we were more than ready to break free of the inland waterways and enter the Gulf of Mexico.  The riverbanks continued their transition to sandy shoreline and saltwater marsh, and at last we found ourselves in Mobile Bay.

The bustle of the bay was a bit of a wakeup call after many days of relative quiet, but we were too busy enjoying the moment to be terribly concerned.  As we caught our first glimpse of the busy harbor, we relived our entry into the river system in Chicago 7 weeks earlier and all that we had experienced since then.  And we shared a true sense of accomplishment recognizing the new perspective we’ve gained, what we’ve learned, the challenges we’ve overcome and how we’ve grown as a team.  And then we experienced one of those cool little coincidences that occasionally punctuate life events.

A little context. Coast Guard regulations require pleasure craft, like ours, to keep a formal ship’s log.  We bought a new log book at the start of our loop, and completing the log is an important beginning and end to every day’s travel.  We log the captain and crew, ports of departure and arrival, times of departure and arrival, weather conditions, barometric pressure, wave height – you get the picture.  We also log events, like when we lock in and out, and certain milestones.  So, as we entered Mobile Bay, a huge milestone, I made a log entry.  And then when I turned the page, I discovered that we’d reached the last page of the log book just as we exited the river system.  That meant we would start a new log book with the next and very different phase of our journey.  We thought that was pretty cool timing.

From there things became a little unpredictable, more so than usual.  We had preexisting plans to visit family and friends in Tucson for several days in the early part of November.  We had made arrangements to leave Stout at a marina in Mobile while we were away.  But when we got there that afternoon, we were surprised by the poor condition of the facilities and the apparent lack of any managerial oversight.  This particular marina had enjoyed a fine reputation in the past but experienced decline when it’s highly regarded owner passed away a few years ago. We certainly weren’t going to feel comfortable leaving our boat there while we were in Arizona, so we made some quick phone calls and decided to make our way to The Wharf marina at Orange Beach the next day.  That meant a Mobile Bay crossing on a very windy day, leading to a seasick little boat cat. Fortunately, he’s very resilient and recovered quickly, and the peace of mind we gained from having changed our plans was well worth it (not sure Charlie is in full agreement on that).

Charlie’s getting his sea legs

Charlie’s getting his sea legs

 

It was on that trip that we finally entered the Intracoastal Waterway after having dreamt about cruising it for years.  As if on cue, the moment we left the bay for the protected channel, 4 dolphins rode our bow wake as if to welcome us to calmer, warmer waters.  Since then they’ve become somewhat regular visitors, but for me that was definitely a loop highlight.

We pivoted yet again at The Wharf because we were lucky enough to find a great boatyard nearby that was willing to haul Stout and attend to some important maintenance issues while we were away.

Then off we went to Arizona.  The Captain, who is also a travel agent extraordinaire, found us a fantastic little casita in the Sonoran desert, which placed us within a few miles of the family and friends we were visiting.  To say we were a little disoriented by the 180-degree change in our surroundings is an understatement.  But we do so love the desert, so we traded our webbed fingers and toes for cowboy boots, dried out our bones and had a blast.  Most important of all, we enjoyed an annual gathering of family and friends and got to spend time with our daughter whom we hadn’t seen since June!

Then back to Orange Beach with nowhere to stay.  The Stout punch list took longer to complete than anticipated due to unseasonably cold and rainy weather, so we had more time to kill before we were able to move back aboard.  What to do?  “Well,” we said, “we can sit in a hotel room for a week. OR… New Orleans is only a 3-hour drive from here, so why not go there and continue the disorientation.”  So we did.  We took the scenic route by rented car and stayed in the French Quarter.  What a hoot!  It was exactly like I expected and nothing like it at all.  We loved the diversity – human, musical, culinary and otherwise. Two days later we were quite sated and ready to leave the wonderful chaos behind.  

Back again to Orange Beach, and Stout was spic and span and ready to travel in salt water. And we were ready to resume our journey and reengage in more reasonable behavior as to our personal finances.

All ready for salt water - new bottom paint, new anodes (magnesium for fresh water/zinc for salt water), new gasket for the pilot house window, fiberglass dings repaired and freshly washed and waxed hull

All ready for salt water - new bottom paint, new anodes (magnesium for fresh water/zinc for salt water), new gasket for the pilot house window, fiberglass dings repaired and freshly washed and waxed hull

Refurbished prop, too - the rivers apparently had taken their toll

Refurbished prop, too - the rivers apparently had taken their toll

Oh yes, and a transom cleared of soot stains and newly lettered

Oh yes, and a transom cleared of soot stains and newly lettered

We just spent 2 nights in Pensacola and this morning began making our way farther east along the Florida Panhandle.  We expect to make it as far as Carabelle early next week and then wait for a weather window to make the “jump” across the Gulf to Tarpon Springs.  Until then, we will be cruising, planning, preparing and reorienting ourselves to the simpler life to which we’ve become accustomed.

Santa’s sleigh and Christmas carols in downtown Pensacola. Disorienting, indeed.

Santa’s sleigh and Christmas carols in downtown Pensacola. Disorienting, indeed.