Friday, November 15, 2013

Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway

We are half way through the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway, the Army Corps of Engineers created link between the Tennessee River and the Gulf of Mexico. The Tombigbee River was a commercial river as early as the 1830s, although river boats could only run on it during the rainy season, which ran from November to April. The rest of the year there wasn't enough water to support even the shallow draft paddle-wheelers. The locals started agitating to dam the river and connect it to the Tennessee as early as the 1870s, although Congress didn't approve the project until the late 1940s and didn't fund it until the 1970s. There is a 25 mile ditch dug between the Tennessee and the headwaters of the Tombigbee and a series of dams that ensure the river remains deep enough to support year round commercial tug/barge traffic.

Tenn Tom ditch
There are several large creeks in the area where the ditch was dug, but the ditch is too narrow to let those creeks flow directly into the ditch. The water flow would push traveling boats, especially small pleasure craft all over the narrow ditch. So the Corps of Engineers devised these special flow control areas to break up the creeks and feed the water gently into the Tenn Tom.

We had a first on the boat this week. It was actually too cold to move the boat.  In the three weeks since we left the Knoxville area, we have had 5-7 days of below 30 degree temperatures. Some boats are built with heaters that run off of propane or diesel fuel. As a Florida-built boat, Down Time has a heat pump that provides both heat and air conditioning, just like a home heat pump does. But the heat pump runs on 110 volt power which we can get either by plugging into a marina's power or by running our generator. If we are in a marina, no problem. But if we anchor out and the temperature drops below freezing, the only way to keep from freezing ourselves would be to run the generator all night. Not a good idea. So we ended up staying an extra day in the marina in Columbus, Mississippi because the forecast was for 25 degrees.

We have also discovered that in extremely cold temperatures, it rains inside the boat. The warm air inside the boat meets the cold temperature outside the boat at the plexiglas hatches, condenses on the inside of the hatches and then drops from the hatches (which are installed at an angle) onto the surface below. Unfortunately, one of the surfaces below two of the big hatches is our bed, specifically my side of our bed. Nothing like a good splash to wake you up in the middle of the night. We've owned the boat for ten years and are just discovering this "feature." I don't guess it will be a problem when we get back to Florida, but for now it is driving me crazy.

This part of the country, Alabama and Mississippi, is timber country. There are lots of tree farms and wood processing plants in this area and there are a reasonable number of logs and tree limbs floating in the water of the rivers. You pay attention and maneuver around them with your boat. Yesterday, Jim was driving and we both saw what we thought were partially submerged logs. But they were moving very strangely. I grabbed the binoculars to see what was going on and saw this -- two dogs swimming across the river.  They weren't this least bit panicked, clearly knew where they were going and had done this before. Gave us quite a start, though.

Dogs crossing the Tenn Tom
Today we passed the White Cliffs of Epes, Alabama. You've heard of the White Cliffs of Dover in England? Well, these are much smaller, but made from the same chalk-like substance as the bigger cliffs in England.

The rest of the area is trees to the waterline and then you come to this startling 1/8 to 1/4 mile long set of white walls on one side of the river. No where else on the river looks anything like this. Most of the shoreline is trees in various stages of Fall colors.

I'll close this post with some shots of the colors in the trees.

Next week we'll be in Mobile and the week after that we'll be home!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Leaving the Tennessee River

We have traveled nearly 400 miles from our northern-most point on the Tennessee River back to Iuka, Mississippi. This is where we will leave the Tennessee River and begin traveling down the Tombigbee River to Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is our final destination for this year. We'll have the boat hauled out of the water there and stored on land until sometime next Spring. One reason to have the boat hauled is because next year we'll be back in salt water for the first time in four years. A boat in salt water needs anti-fouling paint on the hull, so we'll get the yard to apply the bottom paint while we are back home for the holidays.

The trip down the Tennessee has been much quicker than the trip up. First of all, the river current is flowing with us, so we are are traveling 1.5 - 2.0 knots per hour faster at the same engine speeds. Another reason for the speed down is the weather. The weather has been very changeable (I guess that is pretty much the definition of Fall, isn't it?) It seems that for every pleasant, sunny day we've had, there have been two overcast, cold days. One morning it was 25 degrees on the back deck when we woke up. Since I am the one who catches the bollard and rides on the deck as we go through the locks, I found these chilly days somewhat of a chore, especially since we always try to go through the locks in the morning if we can (to allow time to deal with unexpected delays if needed). The first shivering through a locking down resulted in a new hat and glove set for me. Actually, I had already made the fingerless gloves as a way to learn a new crochet technique, so I was able to whip up the hat using the left over yarn while we traveled between locks.
Warm wool boating accessories
I realize that I mentioned the "catching the bollard" above, yet I may not have explained that in previous blog posts. The locks on these rivers are much higher than the locks on the Erie Canal or in Canada. There the locks have ropes hanging on the walls and you pick one or two up as you enter the lock, hook it to a cleat on your boat and and take it up (or let it out) as your boat goes up or down in the lock. But when the lock is 50 - 90 feet deep, taking up or letting out that much line simply isn't practical. So in these locks you pull up to a bollard, wrap one of your own lines around it, and it floats up or down with the boat as the lock fills or empties. But sometimes these bollards get hung up and stop rising or dropping with the water. If that happens your boat can be damaged quickly, so you don't get to tie the line to the bollard and then step back into the warm cockpit. You need to hold the line and be constantly prepared to let it go if a problem develops, which explains why I needed the hat and the gloves.
Lock floating bollard
We did make a couple of stops on the trip down river to see things we hadn't seen on the way up. Jim's sister Melanie joined us for a few days of cruising, including a return to Florence, Alabama. Florence has the only Frank Lloyd Wright house built in the state of Alabama. When we first visited Florence, the house was closed, so we made it a point to schedule our return on a day the house would be open for touring.

Front of the house
There is no question when you are driving around the neighborhood which house you are looking for, it is a classic Wright house.  The back is a little less stark with a great wall of windows that overlooks the generously sized backyard.

The house was owned by one family for nearly 60 years. The money to build it was given to the couple as a wedding present by her parents in the early 1940s. They were newlyweds when they built it, but over time they had four sons, so it became the only Frank Lloyd Wright house for which Wright designed and built an addition. As is typical of an FLW house, he designed the furniture and even the lighting fixtures, much of which has been preserved. Every built in light in the house had this design. Apparently, each house he built had it's own light design.

Lighting detail

Living room furniture designed by Wright
Note the lovely turquoise furniture contrasting with the brown walls and floors. The "service area" (FLW-speak for kitchen) in the original house was a 4 ft x 4 ft cubby off of the dining room, so when she commissioned the addition, Mrs. Rosenbaum requested a more functional food preparation space. This is the stove she got when the addition was built in the 50s, a stove she used until the late 1990s when she finally left the home.

I would have coveted it if it had been gas, not electric.

The most amazing part of the Wright house story is how it came to be a tourist attraction in Florence, Alabama. By the time Mrs. Rosenbaum left the house, it was falling down around her. The city of Florence put a tax initiative on the ballot to increase the local sales tax to raise $600,000 to buy and re-hab the house. And the voters of Florence voted "yes". Can you imagine that happening today?

The other attraction we missed heading up river was the Apron Museum in Iuka, Mississippi. There are over 2,000 aprons in the collection, some dating from the civil war. There are men's aprons as well as women's aprons, although most of the collection is hand decorated "hostess aprons" from the 1950s.

Iuka, MS Apron Museum

Samples of 1950s hostess aprons
It is amazing to think of the time and attention to detail women spent on these things when they were stuck in the home during the 50s, with few outlets for their creative or artistic interests. As a needleworker myself, I was fascinated by craftsmanship of many of the pieces. The woman who owns the museum accepts donations and always tries to get stories from the women who make the donations about the history of the aprons and their family members who made them. She is not only collecting aprons, she is preserving the histories of women who would otherwise be forgotten. If you happen to be in Iuka, Mississippi, it is a fun stop.