We started our cruise by breaking the first rule of cruising: never commit to a schedule. Six weeks earlier, I had announced that we would be at the Ross's Landing dock on Thursday, November 3rd for a going-away lunch. Sure, we had a challenging list of things yet undone to prepare our S2 35C for a cruise to the Caribbean--including some major projects such as installing an autopilot, windlass, davits, and SSB radio--but I would have the entire month of October to do nothing but get the boat ready. Going into that month, I hoped to finish early so we could relax, say our unhurried goodbyes, and take a week-long shakedown cruise before leaving for real.

So when we woke up on the morning of November 2nd, the declared day of departure (see Why We Went), with our to-do list woefully unfinished, that lunch date was the sole thing that pushed us towards departure. Clearly, we weren't ready. The dock next to the boat was still littered with things yet to be loaded (we knew not where, since all space was already occupied), the oil and fuel filters were yet to be changed, the mainsail was still in a heap on the starboard rail. I think the old saying is true: if you wait until you're ready, you'll never leave the dock.

Photos:(1) Repackaging and stowing the food in the boat took Annie most of one day. (2) The fabulous farewell cake from friends at the marina.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005
We planned to leave the dock at 10:00 AM. So long as we left by Noon, we knew we could reach Ross's Landing before dark. At 3:00 PM we majestically backed away from the fuel dock, leaving Andre and Eric and Clarence, Mary, Ashley, and Luke waving majestically in the distance. Majestically we sailed through Chickamauga Lock, which had been specially prepared for our arrival (I called ahead on the radio and the lockmaster opened the gate) at sunset. For the next hour, only our chartplotter, radar, forward-looking sonar and razor-sharp binoculars got us through the darkness to the dock at Ross's Landing. The arrival was, to quote one participant, "majestic."

Annie's thoughts: How much do we really have to do before we leave? That was the real question. Okay, we did look like the Beverly Hillbillies as we left, but we did leave. The lock was spectacular. The sun was setting just as the lower doors opened up inviting us to the next, new part of our journey. Then the railroad bridge loomed ahead looking like it was only 26 feet high, which is a problem since our mast is 49 feet tall. The lockmaster assured us that the railroad bridge was only 3 inches shorter than the dam bridge so we should be fine. He was right.

Photos:(1) The send-off from Sale Creek (that's Laura, Annie, and me in the middle). (2) Underway and carefree on that first afternoon. (3) At the dock at Ross's Landing in Chattanooga. (4) The Passage at Ross's Landing.

Thursday, November 3, 2005
On the date of the big lunch, after weeks of rushing forward to this moment, we were late, as usual. But it was a wonderful lunch with our friends from UTC's Information Technology Division, topped off with ice cream. We had promised to be at the boat that evening at 5:00 PM, but after touring the old and new Aquarium (I was attacked by butterflies at the latter) and watching an IMAX film, we arrived an hour late to find David Levine and Randy Walker leaving. Fortunately, they had been entertained by a neighboring boat. Dinner with Jerry Patton and Susan Hobbs followed.

Photo:The fountains at Ross's Landing were a stone's throw from the boat.

Friday, November 4, 2005
I called Kelly at Marine Max (423-266-1316) to inform her we would be staying another night, whereupon she informed me that we would not. So we motored 33 miles downstream through the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee to Hales Bar Marina (423-942-4040). The marina has new docks and the floating restaurant that was formerly at Coolidge Park. We were joined that evening for dinner by Barbara Webb.

Annie's version: Next time I will make the reservations. However, I do believe that everything happens as it was meant to be, so there was probably a good reason for us not to be at Ross's Landing on Friday night. Probably something to do with the rowing Regatta that was starting at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning. The gorge was beautiful, even though the day was a bit overcast.

Photos:(1) Laura on deck. (2) Vendor at Color Cruise. (3) Hales Bar marina with powerhouse in
background. (4) Powerhouse interior.

Saturday, November 5, 2005
We were joined for lunch by Cliff, Michelle, and Gabe Ling. After touring the old Hales Bar powerhouse, which is being renovated for dry boat storage by the marina, we enjoyed the Color Cruise festivities that were underway and then departed for a five mile journey to Little Cedar Mountain Anchorage.

Annie's words: Cliff, Michelle and Gabe--thanks so much for driving out to see us.

Photos: (1) Laura in full color. (2) Rodger should have been securing that second anchor instead of
taking pictures of the boat.

From the Anchor Watch Log, 12:07 AM: "NOAA says the winds are 9 MPH from the south at the Chattanooga airport, but here at Cedar Mountain anchorage we're seeing a consistent 15-18 knots with gusts over 20. The anchor alarm on the chartplotter went off a few minutes ago but it was just a sideways drift as we sailed on our Bruce anchor. I had a scare a few minutes ago when I watched the depth gauge go to five feet, but it was apparently just a glitch in the machine since the Probe depth sounder was still reporting eleven feet and the GPS said we hadn't moved. This anchorage is exposed to the south and a poor choice for tonight's weather, but somehow I remembered the forecast was for light winds. I had put down the Delta in 15 feet of water on a full 100 feet of chain but it refused to set, sliding along in a layer of mud on top of rock. The Bruce had set fairly easily so I went with that. I dropped the Delta and a bunch of chain as a last-chance backup but it's not set and hasn't prevented us from sailing around at anchor; I tried a bridle off the Bruce to the stern but that actually made the situation worse. So now I'm sitting in the cockpit, watching the instruments and trying not to think about the muddy shore just a short distance behind us."

Sunday, November 6, 2005
We arose bright and early at our usual hour of 9:00 AM and proceeded a couple of miles to Nickajack Dam, where after a short wait we locked through with four large powerboats. I thought we had left the mountains behind, but we found ourselves still surrounded as we motored past such places as South Pittsburgh, nuclear plants that cost billions but will never generate power, railroad bridges that must open for sailboats, and other near disasters. This was our biggest day ever, a major push of 48 some miles, to a cove named "Revere Ware" by the authors of our faithful river guide. We anchored on the Bruce with a line to a barge dolphin (the guide assured us that barges would not need it).

Annie's explanation: Okay, I was on the wrong page of the chart book; the railroad bridge I thought we were approaching had a clearance of 54 feet, plenty of room for us. We have now instigated a turn over report when piloting responsibilities are handed over.

Photos: (1) Secure on a bow anchor and a line back to the dolphin in Revere Ware Cove.
(2) Anchor watch was more relaxed than the night previous. (3) Morning in the cove.

Monday, November 7, 2005
We woke up, we did some boat chores, we took some pictures. The day was busy, and soon it was time for bed.

Annie's dream: This is what it should be like. Even though we didn't travel anywhere all day, we still had plenty to do and still had lots of time to have fun and relax. Laura is becoming a master Rat-a-Tat Cat card player. If you've never heard of it and have youngsters in your life, I recommend you look it up.

Photo:Rodger has never, ever beaten Laura at Rat-a-Tat Cat.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Making an alpine start, we were underway from Revere Ware Cove by 10:00 AM. Our destination: the Guntersville Municipal Marina, from whence we could access the entire downtown metropolis by foot. I remembered admiring this marina from the highway just two or three years previously, but when we arrived at the site, the marina had mysteriously vanished. All that remained was the breakwater and one sign...no docks, no buildings, no boats (with the exception of a bass boat that was fishing nearby). We proceeded across the basin to Signal Point Marina, where water and 12.6 gallons of fuel were taken on and waste disposal was achieved. Passing several other posh marinas en route, we arrived at milfoil-choked Pumpkin Hollow, just two miles upstream of Guntersville Dam. We toured the nearby peninsula using Marlin, our highly customized eight-foot Walker Bay dingy, before retiring for the night.

Annie's corner: Another beautiful day. Who would believe we would have such gorgeous weather in November, the month I usually associate with dreary days. I take the good weather as a sign of the good days ahead of us.

Photos: (1) Each night a new meal mysteriously appears. (2) Snug in Pumpkin Hollow. (3) Nosekiss.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005
Another typical sunny and 80 degree November day dawned, and after a short wait we locked through a windy Guntersville Dam and proceeded downstream towards Painted Bluff, a reputed 500 foot cliff which is not, much to our relief, actually covered in paint. I had called the Ditto Landing Marina (256-883-9420) south of Huntsville and had been told the water was low and entrance into their harbor would be "close" with our five and a half foot draft. As we turned upstream toward the marina entrance, an outgoing ski boat told us they had seen four feet on their depth finder, which was not encouraging, but then how many people actually calibrate those things? We watched our own gauge come to eight feet, seven, six, five and a half, then five but we were still moving forward and a cold front was forecast, so we pressed on--literally. After three tries getting past one particular spot, we arrived at a slip and received assistance from a friendly fellow named Larry. Our friend and commander, Randall Blackwood, picked us up later and we enjoyed a ruckus of a dinner at Ryans with the Blackwood and David Cass families.

Annie's day: I worked on some sewing projects after we arrived at the marina. (Yes Eric, the noodle covers for the Walker Bay dingy are getting made.) We chased geese all over the marina trying to feed them some bread, but they didn't trust us. However, we did find a flock of ducks that were not quite so suspicious.

Photos: (1) Painted Bluff just south of Guntersville Dam. (2) Laura hikes near Ditto Landing. (3) The harbor at Ditto Landing is not as deep as it looks.

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Another busy day began early (only because local time is an hour behind us) with a call to TVA's Lake Info Line at 1-800-238-2264 to find out if the lake would be shrinking or growing the days ahead. The forecast was for shrinkage, so we called Enterprise for a rental car and were off to the Space and Rocket Center (I recommend the "Spaceshot" simulator), the Kid's Space playground, Kinkos for our cruising business cards, Gigaparts for a Ham radio study guide, a laundry mat, and the store for some needed supplies. Tonight the lake level is holding, so we have modest hopes of getting out to the river tomorrow.

Annie says: What a day. Even though we ticked off almost a dozen things on the to do list, the day was not hurried. Beautiful blue skies, but windy and chilly. Laura loved the Space and Rocket museum.

Photos:(1) The Saturn V and Laura: two of humankind's most amazing inventions. (2) The space shuttle is really big.

Friday, November 11, 2005
Since docking here at Ditto Landing two days ago I've been a little uneasy about the prospect of getting the boat back out to the river. With the water about six inches lower than when we arrived, but with an updated prospect of rising water from the Lake Info Line, it was easy to stay another day. We visited Randall's TV studio at Grissom High, did some Internet work in Randall's classroom, took the rental car back, and tried to see the "Chicken Little" movie, but it was sold out, so it was back to Kid's Space. Randall and foster daughter Tiffany drove us back to the marina where water was still down and the forecast now predicted little to no improvement. Relax! We're not on a schedule and it won't matter if we get stuck here (or so I keep telling myself).

Saturday, November 12, 2005
It's 6:45 in the morning, and we're definitely aground at the dock. The water is at least a foot lower than when we entered. Prospects of leaving today are not looking bright. Update, fourteen hours later: to our disbelief, the water continued to drop, and we're now close to two feet below what we had when we scraped our way into this harbor. I took the Nemo out and sounded the entrance channel but couldn't find a route that kept us in enough water to make it back to the river (and the river has dropped more since then). We're here in Huntsville for a while, it seems.

Sunday, November 13, 2005
Although the boat was sitting on its keel with two inches showing below the waterline, Randall came by in the morning bringing an optimistic river forecast from ahps.srh.noaa.gov/ahps2/, then took us to Waffle House and then to Grissom High so we could do some Internet work. We hit Walmart, took in a movie (Chicken Little) and a birthday party before returning to find the water was up to within six inches of when we had entered. Hurray!

Photos:(1) It turns out that Randall (Mr B to his students) really does have a TV studio. (2) Nothing beats girls on a bench on a pretty day.

Monday, November 14
At 2:00 AM the water had dropped a foot...but in the morning it was back up just six inches shy of our benchmark, so I sounded the channel again in the Nemo, plotting our escape. Annie was a bit peeved because I had forgotten to close the windows in Laura's room and quite a bit of rain had come in, but eventually I decided the water wasn't going to come up any higher, so we moved to the fuel dock and got a pumpout. We motored slowly towards the harbor entrance and the fifty yards or so of proven shallow water. Soon after I could feel the keel dragging in the mud, but being desperate I increased power and we plowed our way ever so slowly forward. We had just about made what I knew to be deep water when the bow dropped and the boat shuddered to a stop. I backed up and took another angle, only to be repulsed. Again I backed up, tried again, then gave her even more throttle in one last attempt. The boat plowed, shuddered and then accelerated as the bottom finally dropped away from the keel. We were free!

We hit the river just in time for a downpour and the rain followed us through Decatur, where the railroad bridge went up with no delay. It was still raining and getting dark by now, but we had no good ideas about where to stop, so we continued into the night. So long as it wasn't raining too hard, we could proceed with reasonable safety using the chartplotter, radar, and binoculars to sound out the marks and any floating debris. Around 9:00 PM we arrived at the beautiful docks of Joe Wheeler State Park, tired but happy to be in 24 feet of water for the night. There is a front coming through tomorrow that will allegedly bring 35 MPH gusts, so we're likely to stay here for a couple of nights. It feels like we're a thousand miles from Sale Creek, but the hour meter on the engine reads just 36 hours of actual travel.

Annie says: And we thought we would have problems with running aground when we got to the coast. It feels good to be back under way. We had a lot of fun in Huntsville, but I am glad that the journey is back under way. NOAA says the weather will be turning cooler in a couple of days, so it is good that we will soon be turning south. I can't say that today will fall into the category of one of my favorites, but it was neat to navigate under less than optimal conditions. I will put today down as training for open water. I've got Laura' s cabin mostly dried out. Hopefully the maintenance Rodger did in the anchor locker will stop the leak at the fore end of the V-berth. Especially since we are expecting more rain for the next 24 hours.

Photo:Safe and sound at the Wheeler State Park dock on a stormy night.

Tuesday, November 15
A couple of loads of laundry, a hike on the trails, playing on the playground...it's been a day in the park here for us. We met Rick and Stephanie of Size Matters II before they headed downstream, bound for the Keys. They're going slowly so it's possible we'll see them again. Aside from Popeye, a Grand Banks trawler that was headed to Chattanooga but may return home to Florida, we've practically got the entire park to ourselves. We moved the boat to a slip directly in front of the lodge in anticipation of stronger winds and storms tonight (although it hasn't rained a drop here yet all day).

Annie says: The winds were quite strong, the rain was quite heavy. We found another leak around 9 PM in the aft cabin. Apparently the drain in the cockpit locker could not handle the quantity of rain it was receiving and the excess ran into one of the storage areas in the aft cabin. I was reading when I put my feet down on the floor to get up and get something to drink and discovered the floor was sopping wet. When we investigated we found several inches of water in the storage area under the settee. Fortunately everything was sealed in plastic. I think we took care of it. Now we get to wait for the next leak discovery.

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