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Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway

Southbound

Capt. Eric Grubb

 

The following details a trip down the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway during late November and early December, 2012. While the purpose of this particular trip was more of a yacht movement than a vacation, there were still plenty of opportunities to capture the beauty and serenity of this waterway on camera.

For a little history, the Tenn-Tom was created between 1971 and 1984, at a cost of two billion dollars, and is longer than both the Suez and Panama Canals. By connecting the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee and Black Warrior Rivers, it serves as an alternative to the great Mississippi River for commercial traffic, Great Lakes boaters or boaters in our area to get to the Gulf.

To get from the Tennessee River to Mobile, there are 12 locks total, 10 of which are on the Tenn-Tom and 2 of which are on the Black Warrior River. There is a 340' change of elevation during the first 10 locks over a 150-mile stretch.

On a tight schedule, two of us made it to Mobile in 4 days at an average trawler speed of 10 kts., or 11 mph. That was a feat, considering that the late November sun went down at 5:00 p.m., although we were aided by a full moon.

Below is an overview of the trip:

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On our first day of the trip, we awoke to heavy fog at the Aqua Yacht Harbor on Pickwick Lake. This advection fog, or steam fog, is pretty common over waterways this time of year when cool air moves over the warm water. For our trip, night-time lows averaged around freezing, and water temperatures were around 55 degrees.

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Besides the fog, we were also blessed with 27 degree temperatures for our morning departure. The boat name Chillin' took on a whole new context.


Fortunately, conditions began to lift rapidly, and we were underway.

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Above, easing out of Pickwick Lake and into the main channel.


The boat, the M/V Chillin, was a 42' Grand Banks trawler. It was equipped with a Raymarine navigation package that included HD radar. We did not have the chart data package for navigation, but did have the U.S.A.C.E. Inland Electronic Navigation Charts (IENC) loaded onto a MacBook Air laptop running a demo version of MacENC. Paper charts were also on hand as a backup, but they needed little reference.

The software on the Mac was coupled to a USB GPS receiver, the GlobalSat BU-353S4, which provided a very reliable GPS position and made it a snap to navigate safely down the middle of the waterway. It's also worth noting that the time of year made for very light recreational traffic, as most of the "loopers" had already migrated south. In fact, we only saw two other loopers during the 450-mile trip to Mobile.

Towboat traffic was also light, especially on the northern part of the waterway. We never saw one moving in the fog, which was attributed to the fact that they need to see what they're doing running a 600' long barge-tow configuration on a 200'-wide waterway with bends. We did see some operating at night, but they were going very slowly.

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For our 448-Mile trip to Mobile, the channel was generally indicated by green cans on the right and red nuns on the left. Mile markers were indicated on the paper charts, the IENC charting software and by marker boards that you could see with binoculars along the way.

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Above, easing out of Pickwick Lake and into the main channel.

Entering the Tenn-Tom, the man-made canal-like features became readily apparent.

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Keep going, as it gets much sunnier and the pictures get much better...


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