Iuka, MS to Orange Beach, AL

Ben was back from his travels to the Ft. Lauderdale Boat Show and it was time to get moving and finish this river run!  We were all ready to head out with the Zeeffs and Herbons and tackle the Tenn-Tom, but of course woke up to fog.  Foiled already and we hadn’t even started.  Thankfully we were only going to Midway marina, an easy 3 locks away.  We waited for most of the fog to lift and dropped lines.

Before reaching our first lock we had to traverse a 25 mile narrow section called Divide Cut.  After the cut we headed through all three locks with no issues.  It was fun to have friends in the locks with us.  We were in a group of about 9 boats that all pulled into Midway marina together.

After checking in the boys (adult) drank beer in the parking lot.  The other boys (kids) played in the wooded area looking for snakes.  And the girls (kids) ran around on the huge grassy hill and eventually burned off some energy and about broke the porch swing.  We checked out the “pool and hot tub” the marina offered and decided against it.  After some playtime we all headed back to our boats for dinner and an early bedtime.  Sunrise the next morning would be here before we knew it, followed by another day of locks.  We planned to make it through four locks the next day.

We woke up the next morning and headed out despite some slightly concerning wind.  We were pretty far back in our line of boats.  I think we had 2-3 ahead of us and 1 behind us.  We got through out of the narrow channel for the marina and into the main channel.  We made it through our first lock and the wind kept picking up.  We knew there were storms coming later in the day but we had plenty of time to get to Columbus, MS before those started.  Just before the second lock of the day we encountered a barge on the side of the bank just waiting out the wind.  We then came into radio contact with another barge coming around the bend.  He was calling to Mike on INNTW telling him he was coming around and Mike better move over.  But where?  There was nowhere to go. The tow driver had an empty barge, making it very hard to control in the wind.  Mike inched out of the channel and the barge made it past.  But what about the rest of us?  George on Livin’ the Dream inched over a bit but it got too shallow for comfort.  Ben and the boat behind us held back in what looked like a wider area but the wind and current were making it very hard to stay in the channel.  The barge made it past and decided he was done for the day.  He pulled over towards the other barge on the bank and ended up kind of crashing into it.  The two of them just hung together on the side of the river waiting out the wind.  Meanwhile Ben, George and the boat behind us decided they were done for the day.  It was about 8:30 AM!  Mike and the other boats decided to continue ahead through the lock while the three of us pulled into glamorous Smithville!  It was unlike any marina I’d seen before.  But they had one long wall with enough room for the three of us boats to tie up.  And they were super helpful in getting us through their channel and tied up safely in the crazy wind.  We got the kids off the boat, ran around the property and had quite the full day.  All by 9:30 AM.  By about 10 AM all the wind had died and Mike and Kelly reported the other side of the lock the wind was no more and it was totally fine. They continued on to Columbus and we hung out for the day.  When the rain moved in briefly we were happy to have friends.  We tackled a huge puzzle, baked scones, played lots of games and had dinner with the Zeeffs.  We made the most of Smithville and were ready to go the next morning.

Next up, Columbus, MS.  Once the wind was gone it was an easy trip the rest of the way to Columbus.  We got to the marina and into our slip just before a “captains’ meeting” to organize the lock schedule for the next morning.  We skipped Columbus during our first loop so we wanted to check out town.  Unfortunately we couldn’t get a car until after dark.  But we and the Zeeffs all managed to pile into the minivan and head to dinner in town.  It was a mild night so we took a quick walk around town before heading back to bed.  Because once again we were getting up before sunrise.  Yawn.

Another day on the water.  This time headed for an anchorage.  We had a HUGE group heading into the first lock with a full schedule another boater put together of who should go in what order.  We stuck together for the first couple of locks and then we were able to split off from the big group a bit.  We, the Zeeffs, and two other boats pulled into one anchorage while others moved onto an anchorage closer to the next lock where we would all meet up again the next morning.  We stopped in a beautiful spot and hung out on Livin the Dream while the kids hung out on Have Another Day.  A good night!

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Our sunrise wake ups continued.  We were heading to Demopolis.  We were all pretty exhausted with the early mornings, chilly temps, and long days.  We pulled anchor and headed to meet the others at the first lock of the day.  We traveled past the beautiful white Cliffs of Epes.  We remember these beauties from two years ago.  We also passed the random phone booth that all Loopers spot on the side of the river bank.

Storms were moving in and we had all been discussing them over the radio.  We three “go fast” boats decided to use our speed for a bit and hopefully reach the marina before the storm.  The others weren’t able to outrun it and were just planning where they may be to let it pass over.  Best laid plans….we got caught right in it AS we were pulling into the marina.  It was horrible!  We’d been on the phone and radio with the marina and Ben had requested an uncovered slip so we wouldn’t have to lower antennas.  I looked at him like he was green.  I asked him to call back!  It was me who was going to have to get absolutely soaked in the rain we couldn’t even see through to try to safely tie lines.  Turns out the marina in Demopolis had another section of covered docks with taller clearance and we fit in those.  Phew!  We safely got tied up, quickly followed by Zeeffs and Texas Two Step.  And wouldn’t you know it…as soon as we were all breathing a sigh of relief the storm was done.  All of the boats stuck out in it pulled into the marina to blue skies and sunshine.

We hung in Demopolis and extra day.  Ben and George were exhausted and we all needed a break.  Since we couldn’t get fuel in that ridiculous rain we took turns the next day untying lines and heading to the fuel dock so we’d be ready to go the following morning.  We also took time to walk into town.  I took a walk early in the day and found the playground and the library.  Those are two top items on our lists for towns!  After my walk I went and grabbed everyone else.  All 8 of us headed out.  While at the playground it started raining of course.  Sigh.  We took cover under a shelter and waited it out.  Then took a lovely stroll through a charming little town.

We found a cool abandoned grocery store and had fun looking around at the building.  We all agreed it would make an awesome farmer’s market!

Then we headed to the library.  We always love a good library.  The kids grabbed books and were all happy to sit and chill for a few minutes.  On our way back we stopped by the old fashioned merry go round in the town square area.  Back at the marina the kids all painted rocks in the boater’s lounge and then played Scrabble.  All in all a good relaxing day.

We were all weary and ready to be done with the rivers.  Only three more days!  We set out bright and early after our day of rest and headed south to Bobby’s Fish Camp.  We stopped two years ago and were not impressed. But the anchorages in the area were not deep enough or wide enough for our comfort so Bobby’s it was.  We ended up rafted three deep on the tiny dock but managed to use the full length of our power cords and still have power.  Ben and George went to check in but the rest of us never left the boat.  It rained the entire time and we all just huddled on our boat with the kids playing and the grown ups playing cards.  I think we feasted on frozen pizzas instead of catfish!

Our favorite anchorage from two years ago was up the next day.  On our way we passed the remains of the old Rooster Bridge where a tugboat capsized years ago.

We made it back to the Tensas River and it did not disappoint.  Tough night though.  This was potentially our last travel day and night with the Zeeffs.  We’d really enjoyed buddy boating.  But the next day we were heading across Mobile Bay and into Orange Beach and they were heading into Mobile Bay to have some service done.  So once again with our boating families we had to say “see you later.”

Sunrise was gorgeous.  We gave hugs and said our “see you laters” and pulled anchor.

A few hours later we entered Mobile Bay and you could feel the excitement.  Two years ago this is when we first started seeing dolphins and we were ready.  Ben loves the hustle and bustle of the busy bay.  Huge ships.  Tons going on.  Fishing boats everywhere.  So much activity after the very long days on the river.  Herbons on INNTW had been docked at the convention center in Mobile Bay and were heading to the Wharf in Orange Beach just ahead of us.  We got reports from them on the conditions of the bay.   It had been awhile since we’d been on any open water.

The bay was great, and we headed across and saw our first dolphins!  We made a beeline for the ICW and made our way to the Wharf in Orange Beach, AL.  We were officially DONE with the RIVERS!!!!  We made some vows to never ever do that trip again.  Although maybe we just need some time for the memory to fade.

In the meantime we squealed and enjoyed the dolphin show off the bow and stern of our boat.  We got all tied up in our slip and immediately hopped in a Lyft and headed to Lulu’s to meet up with the Herbons.  We were all overjoyed to be in the ICW and off the rivers.  The kids played for hours in the sand.  We enjoyed hanging out and chatting.  It was a great night.

We were thankful to have safely made it down the rivers.  It felt like ages since we left Chicago and we were tired.  We knew we only had a couple of days before we had to pack up and head to Chicago.  But it was so good to know we wouldn’t have to get up at sunrise and move the next morning!  Time to relax a bit.  This was a long one. Thanks for reading!

 

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