11-30-09 Marina on the Wharf – Orange Beach Al

[Rick] With the threat of rainy weather the next few days and the lack of a phone signal and wifi, we abandoned our plans to stay in Eastern Shore Harbor for a couple of days of R&R. Rain and being held captive on the boat, with no communication conveniences is an unbearable event. So, we left and headed for our next destination, Orange Beach, AL. Orange Beach is on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. We felt back at home seeing the familiar waterway markers on the Aids to Navigation. Then, we knew all was right with the world as we saw our first dolphins since leaving the east coast. They were spectacular, even jumping completely out of the water and surfing in our wake. Too bad they are so fast that we were unable to take any pictures.

Along the way, we stopped at Homeport Marina to eat at the famous LuLu’s Restaurant. LuLu’s is a Key West style eatery with a sandy beach, volleyball court, tiki bar, outdoor concert dance floor. But, the main reason the LuLu is famous is that Lulu is the sister of Jimmy Buffet of Margaritaville fame. Jimmy is said to ‘show up’ on occasion and sing a few tunes at the restaurant. Too bad for us, LuLu’s was closed today through Thursday while some renovations and maintenance was being done, but the gift shop was open…we’d hate to miss a gift shop.

Betsy took some pictures of the houses on both sides of the waterway. These houses are directly opposite each other with the waterway between them.

We proceeded 5 more miles to Marina on the Wharf. This is a very nice modern marina with floating docks and an Oyster Bar/restaurant on site. They have great Wifi and cable TV. On the down side, there is no courtesy car and no SHOWERS. Yet, they still charge $2.00 per foot plus 11% transient tax for a total of $57.72 per night for our little 26 ft boat. This is just a little steep, and by far the most we’ve paid since leaving the east coast. The marina is within walking distance of mall full of specialty shops and a convention center. They even have a Ferris wheel in the parking lot. The total distance covered today was 34 miles.

We had just gotten tied up when the rain began to fall. Later.
Here are some pictures from LuLu's Restaurant...

11-29-09 Fairhope, AL

[Betsy] What a difference a day makes! Yesterday morning when we left Bobby’s Fish Camp it was cold, and we stayed cold all day. We have no heat on the boat unless we are in port hooked up to power (or unless we run the portable generator which we seldom do while underway), and we just never thawed out. We both had on our “hot socks” and I even put on my long johns. Today, it was a beautiful, sunny day and we were in shorts and short sleeves.

I’ve commented before that it is really friends we have and the special people we meet along the way that make this trip so wonderful. First there was my dear friend Bill who gave me all the charts and guide books I needed to do this trip, thus obligating us to follow through on the dream. There was Sid in Ludington who let us use his truck, and Glenn in Illinois who trailered us around the carp crap, and many others along the way that we will remember fondly as such an integral part of our trip. Today we were blessed to meet Bruce and Janice.

When we arrived in Fairhope yesterday, we had an e-mail from Bruce saying he had been reading our blog, saw that we were headed for Fairhope, and to call him if there was anything we needed while we were in this area. It being Saturday when we arrived we tried to make arrangements to take the courtesy car to church today, but someone had already spoken for it. We spoke to that person to see about going to church with them, and they said they would be glad for us to go with them, but they were going to the Unitarian Church. After chatting for a few minutes about just what a Unitarian was…the service is always led by lay persons rather than a minister and they don’t believe in the Trinity… we decided maybe that wasn’t quite where we wanted to go. So when we got back to our boat and read Bruce’s e-mail, I said let’s call him and see if he would mind taking us to church. We aren’t real picky about where we go, we just want to worship at a Christian church where people share our basic beliefs.

Bruce said he and his wife go to the Lutheran Church and would be glad for us to join them. So they picked us up this morning, gave us a brief overview of their beautiful town, and took us to their lovely church. It was a very traditional Lutheran service with lots of music and chanting. They have two regular pastors, but today was mission Sunday so they had a visiting pastor who is active with feeding the hungry.

Seeing their beautiful Advent Candles reminded us how quickly Christmas is coming!

After church, we went to dinner at a Chinese Buffet. Bruce and Janice had planned to do the loop themselves several years ago. They purchased a 44 foot houseboat in Iowa and motored it down the Missouri River to the Mississippi, then down to Fairhope. They liked this area so much that they decided to stay here and live on the boat while they refurbished it to prepare it to do the rest of the loop. Unfortunately, they were on vacation when Hurricane Ivan hit this area and sank the boat. They lost everything including their clothes. They have not purchased another boat, but did remain in Fairhope for good. We thoroughly enjoyed our brief time with Bruce and Janice, and were surprised by his gift of home grown grapefruit and Satsuma oranges when we departed ways.

I can certainly see why someone would want to stay here! The town is beautiful and has much to offer. Most impressive are the beautiful flowers everywhere. There are plenty of shops, and brand new super Wal-Mart and a brand new Publix grocery. The town seems to be really growing. The location on Mobile Bay is ideal. We’ve seen beautiful sunsets both evenings we’ve been here, and today the bay was full of sailboats.

Rick spent part of the afternoon deflating our exercise balls. You will recall that we blew these up just before entering the Erie Canal (with the help of my friend Louise, who visited us all the way from New Hampshire). The balls were covered with mesh laundry bags, and served us well as fenders to keep the sides of the boat off of lock walls. Each ball cost less than $20 at Wal-Mart, as opposed to the real large round boat fenders that cost upwards of $100 at West Marine. A friend that had done the loop last year told us about doing this, and I must say I had my doubts that these balls would make it through over 100 locks without bursting or losing their air, but I was wrong. We started with four balls (2 for each side of the boat) and ended up with three…the only one we lost was one that got caught on a large staple on a dock and was punctured.

Tomorrow we plan to leave here and head for Orange Beach, AL, on the Gulf Coast. We may be late getting this blog out because we have very limited and intermittent internet here, as well as terrible phone connections!

11-28-09 Eastern Shore Marina, Fairhope, AL

[Rick] We began the day at Bobby’s Fish Camp in the fog. We had determined that we needed to leave around 0700, get through the last lock on the trip, our 112th, and make time to Fairhope. The trip is to be 135 miles. Tied up near us is the “Big Brother” of the Rick ‘N Roll. She is 40 feet long and 20 feet wide. She has twin 90 hp diesels and at 9 mph uses one gallon of fuel per hour. Quite efficient.

So, we took off in the fog, cleared the lock, and ran as fast as possible. The Tombigbee joined with the Black Warrior River back at Demopolis, so we are technically on the Black Warrior. Since this section is not manmade, it was never canalized to shorten the distances. Here are a couple of screen shots of the GPS screen on this section. All along the way we have seen many blue herons. Along this section we saw hundreds of snowy egrets. Once in Mobile Bay, we started seeing pelicans. The river is much like a ditch with a lot of vegetation and marsh land on each side. Along the way, we passed mile 4,000 for the trip and mile 10,000 on the boat.

We arrived in the harbor at Mobile Bay to find that it is much like Wilmington’s harbor, but larger. There are a lot of cranes, barges, etc working on the waterfront. We thought our friend Jerry Edwards might need this lift if he keeps getting bigger boats!

A couple of months ago, someone sent me pictures and a write-up about a new anti-terror, anti-piracy catamaran vessel being built for the Navy. It is fast, up to 80 kts, and is loaded with firepower. Well, there in Mobile Bay, one is sitting, being worked on. It is an awesome sight to see.

We checked into Eastern Shore Marina in Fairhope. Having travelled 300 miles in 3 days, we need to rest up, do laundry, and reprovision so we may be here several days.

Within a couple of hours, it was dark but Betsy managed to get a couple of sunset shots. Enjoy…..

11-27-09 Bobby’s Fish Camp - Silas, AL

[Rick] We left Demopolis and locked through the Demopolis Lock at 1000. Our journey today is to be 96 miles to a Looper Legend – Bobby’s Fish Camp. The trip was smooth, the weather was great, and we were able to average 17.7 mph for the day. We passed and overtook several tows today, the largest number of any day so far.

On the way, at mile marker 204, we passed the now demolished Rooster Bridge. In 1979, this bridge was the site of one of the most unusual happenings ever in river travel. The river was very high, and at the last minute, the towboat Cahaba realized that it could not clear the bridge. It tried to stop, but the current took it into the bridge. It turned sideways, went underwater, under the bridge, and emerged, right side up, on the other side. The engines were still running and the captain was still on the bridge. If you would like to see a video, consisting of photographs of the event, go to It is quite extraordinary, in the fact that it happened, and secondly, that someone was there to take the pictures.

Now, on to Bobby’s. This is a fish camp outside the town of Silas, AL. It rents boats, cabins, bait, etc to the local fishermen and tourists. For loopers, it is the only place to tie up and get fuel from Demopolis to Mobile Bay, a distance of 230 miles. So, like Hoppie’s on the Mississippi, Bobby’s is a favorite and mandatory stop for loopers. It is made up of a fuel dock, a restaurant, open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday only. There is no power, showers, or other amenities. Yet, the charge is still $1.00 per foot. The price of gas is $3.38 per gallon, plus 5% if you pay by credit card (we had to dig out a checkbook!). Yes, you are captives! Did I mention that the dock is only 100 feet long, and if other boats arrive, you are expected to raft to each other? There is a photo in the restaurant of 14 boats, many in the 35-40 foot range, tied to this pier. The food at the restaurant is very good and the specialty is locally caught fresh catfish. The inside of the restaurant is much cluttered, and features trophies and the genealogy of Bobby. There are stuffed animals all over the place.

We are tied up tonight and will get out early in the morning in order to make Mobile Bay and the Town of Fairhope, AL tomorrow. We have one more lock to navigate and we will be back in tidal and salt water. It will be a 9 hour day at full speed. We need to get to Mobile Bay and tie down as there is predicted bad weather for Monday and Tuesday.

Here are some pictures from Bobby's....

11-26-09 Thanksgiving in Demopolis, AL

Betsy speaks: We had another rather blah day on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, leaving Pirate’s Marina Cove shortly after 8AM and travelling 90 miles to Demopolis, AL, through two locks. It was a beautiful sunny day, though a little windy. We cheerfully wished each lockmaster Happy Thanksgiving, and joked with a couple of barges we passed about whether they had any turkey for us. For lunch Rick had a peanut butter sandwich, and I had a small can of tuna and some cheese crackers.

About mid-way we passed the white cliffs of Epes, which were surely the most striking scenery on the entire Tenn-Tom. The only description I can find of them is simply that they are white chalk cliffs. They seem to just come up out of nowhere. I’m sure there’s some geological explanation but I can’t find it. Anyway, they were interesting.

We arrived at Demopolis Yacht Harbor at about 3PM. When we radioed in we were told to just tie up at the gas dock, and the dockmaster would be in at about 4PM to tell us where to tie up for the night and to take our money. So we did as we were told and walked ashore to check the place out. We shortly found a lounge/clubhouse for use by live aboards and transients such as ourselves. We were cheerily invited in to share their Thanksgiving feast! This was a pleasant and welcome surprise. There was quite a spread of turkey and ALL the trimmings, including many desserts. Needless to say, we dug right in. Afterall, what is Thanksgiving without turkey!?

11-25-09 Pirate’s Marina Cove, Pickensville, AL

Betsy speaks: We departed Aberdeen Marina this morning still heading south on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. After slowly navigating our way back out of the marina’s spooky channel, we immediately went through the Aberdeen Lock, then 23 miles later through the Stennis/Columbus Lock. There was no other traffic on the waterway today, so we didn’t have to wait for the locks at all. It was a beautiful sunny day, bordering on being almost hot. What a delight after several dreary days.
Since we had spent several days in Columbus, MS, previously on a Delta Queen cruise we didn't need to stop there. Columbus is known to have many beautiful antebellum homes, and we had visited most of them a couple of years ago when the Delta Queen hit a stump and was laid up for days for repair right nearby.

Early afternoon we pulled into Pirate’s Marina Cove, for a total distance of 52 miles. We would liked to have gone farther, but the next marina is through 2 more locks and 90 miles away, so we would not have arrived until well after dark.

The waters we’ve travelled the last several days are getting pretty boring. If you like being in the middle of nowhere and communing with nature, this would suit you. We did see a raccoon swimming along one day, and we’ve seen many blue herons and a few hawks, but nothing real exciting. You go for miles before seeing a house, and then what you see can range from beautiful to depressing. A couple of unexpected things we saw today were an old telephone booth out in the middle of nowhere, right on the waterway’s edge, and a house with a totem pole in front of it.

We arrived at the marina in time to visit the nearby Tom Bevill Visitor Center, so let’s talk about government waste for a minute. Tom Bevill was a Congressman representing Alabama from 1966 to 1995. He was head of the Appropriations Committee from 1977 until 1995. During that time he was generally well liked by the people of Alabama, and he was instrumental in the development of the Tenn-Tom Waterway. But this visitor’s center, which is basically a monument to him, is really over the top. It has the appearance of being a beautiful antebellum home in the Greek revival style. And if it were truly an antebellum home perhaps it wouldn’t have struck me as being such a waste of money. But it was actually completed in 1985. Nowhere did I see how much it cost to construct this building, but it must have been ridiculously expensive, and it makes me mad that it was paid for with federal dollars. There are some nice exhibits inside, but those same exhibits could have been put in a much less expensive structure. There are plenty of true antebellum homes in the south, so I just don’t see the point in spending so much money to build a replica.

Off that soap box, I must say that the US Snagboat Montgomery, which is on display right next to the mansion, was well worth the visit. It is an old steam powered sternwheeler that was built in 1926 and retired from service in 1982. With its huge boom on the front, it was used to clear debris from the waterway. Visitors are now allowed to walk all through the boat, seeing the crew’s and officer’s quarters, the galley, the pilot house, etc. It was fascinating, and reminded me of the Delta Queen on which we have travelled many times.

One thing we laughed at on the boat was the placement of the Navigation Rules. I’m sure they were required to be prominently displayed on the boat, just as they are on commercial vessels today. But on this boat, the “Rules of the Road” were the “Rules on the Roof” as you can see in the picture where Rick is pointing at them mounted on the ceiling!

Pirate’s Marina Cove is much like yesterday’s Aberdeen Marina…like a step back in time. The office is an old trailer. The courtesy car is an old van with well over 200,000 miles on the odometer and no shock absorbers! We took the car into nearby Pickensville for dinner at the only restaurant, named “Down Yonder.” They specialize in pork ribs, and the motto on the waitperson’s shirt read “Get your butt Down Yonder.” At least 90% of the patrons were in camouflage, including the little boy who was telling everyone about the lizard tails he had broken off in the last few days, and the mice that ate the toilet paper in his house. Someone asked him if he had shot a deer today, and he said no but he had kilt two rats. Oh how we fought to keep from laughing out loud!

We have no plans for Thanksgiving. We’ll probably just eat a peanut butter sandwich as we head downstream toward Demopolis tomorrow. This is when we’re sorry to be so far behind our friends that got ahead of us when we went home. I’m sure other loopers are having Thanksgiving together, although many have gone home to be with family. To those reading this we hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, and eat an extra serving of turkey for us…with lots of gravy and stuffing. I don’t remember ever not having Turkey and Pumpkin Pie on Thanksgiving Day before. But we are truly thankful this year to be taking this wonderful trip which has gone so well so far!