After 17 days on our side trip up the Tennessee River to Chattanooga, we got back on the Loop route by turning south at the border of Tennessee and Mississippi and onto the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Construction on the Tenn-Tom project began in 1972, and it would go on to become the largest civil works project ever undertaken by the Corps of Engineers, which spent $2 billion to make it happen. By connecting the Tennessee River in Mississippi and the Black Warrior River in Alabama, it provided a direct water route from the Tennessee River to the Intracoastal Waterway and the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile Bay, reducing travel distances from some points in the eastern U.S. by as much as 800 miles. Over the 471 mile waterway, there is a 341 foot difference is water level, which is overcome by 10 locks and dams. We have included a map of the waterway to show the extensiveness of the project. My father’s entire army career was with the Corps of Engineers, so we really enjoyed cruising through these impressive channels and professionally operated locks.
This part of our trip was not without its unique challenges, including a string of cold and windy days, large tow boats appearing around narrow hair-pin turns, logs and water hyacinth floating in our path, foggy mornings, and very long cruising days due to a minimal number of places to stop for the night. In order to ensure that we covered a certain number of miles to get to the next overnight destination, we got up and prepared the boat for departure before the sun came up and sometimes didn’t drop the anchor until the sun set. During the Tenn-Tom days, it was better to travel in a caravan of a few other boats that were moving at the same speed. We stayed in constant radio communication with others as we coordinated passage with lock masters and negotiated the passing of tows in some extremely narrow channels. There were also some situations when fellow cruisers needed mechanical help and it was very reassuring to know that there were fellow loopers near you on this very remote leg of the trip.
One of the highlights of this time on the river was meeting a Canadian couple who was canoeing and camping for 1000 days. Pierre and Jennifer started in Ottawa, Quebec and will be paddling the entire Loop two times and then back up into some northern areas of Canada. We spent a good bit of time listening to their fascinating stories about encounters with nature, their physical challenges and all the wonderful people they had met and helped them along the way. After a few late night discussions with them, Stel and I were very happy to be returning to our cozy cabin on the Estrellita as they wandered back to their tent in the 30 degree temperatures we were experiencing that week.
Continuing south through Alabama, we started to see more and more wildlife and vegetation that we are used to seeing in South Carolina. Deer swimming across the river, big gators, turtles sitting on logs, southern bird life and tall pines got us excited about getting closer to the Gulf of Mexico. We are thankful for the experiences that we have had on the inland river systems over the past 2 months, but we are really looking forward to reaching Mobile Bay, where we will finally be in the saltwater environment that looks and feels so familiar.