The Tennessee - Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) Waterway broke ground in 1972 and opened in 1985. The waterway cost 2 billion dollars to build and amazingly enough was completed 6 months ahead of schedule. This project moved more earth than was moved building the Panama Canal and the waterway shortens the trip for vessels to various ports by as much as 720 miles. The Tenn-Tom starts at Pickwick Lake and begins the long downhill run to Mobile Bay. We will lock down (drop) 341 feet over the distance of 450 miles.
Off we go from Grand Harbor Marina, at Pickwick Lake, toward the Tenn-Tom at 8:00AM. Not too sure what to expect as the first lock we are headed to, the Jamie Whitten lock and dam, had a massive oil spill occur inside the lock 3 weeks ago. This unfortunate event has delayed commercial traffic (around 22 tug and tows) which are now waiting to clear the lock, leaving P.C.’s (pleasure crafts) to wait for a chance to jump in. We are pleasantly surprised when we arrive four hours downstream to find the lock doors open and the lock master welcoming us in. Our lock-luck sticks and we make it through the other two locks without delay to end our day at Midway Marina, Fulton, MS (47NM). Another similar day on the Tenn-Tom, with just a little side note at the Rankin Lock (4th lock) where a tug and tow, that had down-locked right before us, side-swiped the lock door ripping off two of the top fenders and the ladder. There was debris in the lock chamber and downstream as well, but no issue with the performance of the lock doors…thank goodness! We had just a minor (one hour) wait at the last lock of the day and then we anchor for the night in a little cove off the river called Blue Bluff, Aberdeen, MS (35NM). A sweaty night with out power but pretty and no wind to shift the boat around while on the hook. We take our 7th lock on the Tenn-Tom strait off the next morning and then cruise into a shallow slip at Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS (23NM). We stay in Columbus for two nights as Maggie disembarks and the remaining crew takes time to get a few chores done and take in a few sites in town. Columbus is a town of 24,000 and appears to be doing well or at least holding its own. We tour the childhood home of playwright Tennessee Williams and then walk around town to see the old buildings and homes and of course sample a few cold beverages. From Columbus we move downriver through the last remaining three locks without delay or drama. We anchor directly after the Heflin Lock and Dam up an Ox Bow off the Tombigbee, AL at MM265 (70NM). It is another hot and sweaty night on the river without power. In addition, the anchor alarm sounds a few times throughout the night when the river changes course (making the boat come about) due to the upstream lock letting out huge amounts of water in short periods of time. So we are happy to get going the next morning and make a somewhat anticlimactic arrival at Demopolis, AL (40NM). This stop marks over 4,700 NM in our trip. We are 90 percent done with the Great Loop and it seems surreal to be leaving the boat here for a few weeks to get her bottom painted and new zinks applied. We will restart the Loop after the end of ‘Hurricane Season’ (October 30th) and I will have new stories to tell. Until then, happy fall, happy Halloween and smooth sailing wherever the wind takes you.