This is update #17 as we cover Fred and Sidonia St. Germaine's trip along The Great Loop in their Nimbus 405 Coupe. Links to the other updates are below.
We left Sidonia and Fred chilling out to country music and burgers at the Clifton RV and Marina Bar & Grill in Clifton, Tennessee. One could say they have been enjoying their travels through the interconnecting waterways, lakes, and rivers that run through the middle of the country.
On their way again, they continued past Savannah, Tennessee, and their travels began to zigzag as the waterways connect from river to lake to river, and so on. The couple is now in the lower half of the country from a map perspective, seen from Chicago to the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile, Alabama.
As they continue to rent a car at strategic points, they have greatly broadened their adventure by visiting cities and historical sites that the watery route either passes too far away or would require a lengthy side trip by boat.
In this segment, the couple visited several popular tourist spots, saw early settlements of a young country, and walked through important Civil War locations, where Union and Confederate troops battled for supremacy in a critical moment in our nation’s history. At Shiloh, for instance, 100,000 troops fought in April 1862, and the almost 24,000 casualties mark a sad moment in American history.
Looper boats continue to dodge barge traffic on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, but it is generally much reduced from the commercial traffic on the Mississippi route, making the Tenn-Tom a popular choice for Loopers. But recent events where the Mississippi is at record low levels means there is an increase in barge traffic on alternate routes, so cruisers are finding more commercial traffic on the Tenn-Tom right now.
As the miles go by, The Great Loop continues…
“First thing on October 3, we raised our anchor in our Tennessee River anchorage and made our way to Pickwick Lock and Dam. There were three other boats heading there as well, so we kept our speed to about 6 knots to match the slower boats. Though it seems as if we should be heading down river, we are really heading upriver and would be locking up through Pickwick. The river is about five feet lower than normal which made the lift 55 feet today, about the highest we’ve had on the whole trip.
“Just before making the turn into Yellow Creek from the lake, we were in three states at the same time. The intersection of Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi is in the middle of Pickwick Lake, the northern part of the 234-mile Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, which the Army Corp of Engineers created as a navigable route to the Gulf of Mexico.
“Grand Harbor Marina is a large facility located in Yellow Creek. It has covered slips for its resident boats and on shore is an eight-story condominium building and a swimming pool. The marina store has a restaurant area, which was not being used, probably because of the time of year, even though the weather was beautiful. Maintenance also appeared to have transitioned to off season.
“We used the marina courtesy car to go into Corinth to pick up a rental car. This entire area can be very confusing to a non-local. The marina is in Mississippi but the address on their paperwork says Counce, Tennessee. You are barely out of the parking lot, and you are back in Tennessee. While driving to Corinth, which is in Mississippi, we started out in Mississippi but within a few minutes we were in Tennessee. Then we were on a narrow road which is the state line and, as we drove down the middle of the lane, Fred was in Mississippi, and I was in Tennessee.
“I swear that Google maps wants us to see as much of the country as possible, as on several occasions it gave us very roundabout routes when there clearly are more direct ones. Most of the time we don’t care, as it’s fun to explore the little curvy back roads.
“This area is loaded with Civil War history. The most significant is the battleground at Shiloh, the largest and most deadly battle of the western part of the war.
The next morning, we left the boat and drove to the Shiloh National Military Park which covers a huge area. We first watched a well-done reenactment movie at the Visitor Center which gives a clear explanation of the two sides and their various maneuvers. All around the grounds are interpretive signs placing the viewer where skirmishes took place and telling which regiment(s) was there. After viewing the movie, you could stand on the very spot and visualize the scene.
“The cemetery here is not just for those killed at Shiloh, as soldiers killed in other locations of the war were later moved here with Union and Confederate soldiers placed in their own grounds. We both had very strong emotions standing on this former battlefield and knowing what had occurred.
“We later drove into Corinth and had a bite to eat at The Rib Shack. Really good ribs and some of the best beans I’ve ever had. We then went up and down the streets reading the historical markers. There are some very lovely old houses in town, several of which were used as headquarters for different generals during the war.
It was a very important location because two railway lines crossed over each other in the middle of the town. In the Battle of Corinth, the two sides fought for control of the town and the railway supply lines, but the Union Army won the fight.”
Many Loopers continue on the Tennessee River from Pickwick Lake to Chattanooga, but it is a long side trip and Sidonia and Fred decided to drive there with their rental car. The Loopers that make the trip by boat enjoy a memorable cruise through Florence, Joe Wheeler State Park, Decatur, Huntsville, and Guntersville on the way to Chattanooga. While it did not fit the schedule for the crew of Last Item, they nevertheless didn’t want to miss the trip. So, they made the four-hour drive which was a better choice for them then many additional days on the river.
Plus, it gave them wheels to visit some other attractions over the next couple of days that would have been a stretch had they been staying on the boat.
“We drove to Chattanooga from the marina today, October 5, a four-hour drive through some nice countryside. On the way we passed through four states: Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia and were now back in the eastern time zone. We saw cotton fields white and fluffy with cotton bolls as well as large rolls of picked cotton.
We passed the Coon Dog Graveyard and the 30 Cats Cafe. We found a motel not far from Lookout Mountain as that is near where the most notable sights are located.
“It was a little late to do much sightseeing by the time we arrived at the motel, so we relaxed a bit before going down to a riverside restaurant for dinner.
“Our first tour the next morning was the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. It was engineered by Otis Elevator in 1893 and originally powered by steam, although it had since been converted to electric power. The railway claims to be the steepest funicular in the world at almost a 73-percent grade. The cars do not hang from cables, but cables pull the cars up the rails.
“We climbed into the bus-like car and went down terraced steps to our seats that were facing backward, which is to say looking down the hill, not up. It’s hard to imagine what a 73 percent grade would be, but when we got to that part, it felt so steep we could almost fall forward out of our seats. We spent some time outside the car at the top, looking at the view of Chattanooga, the Tennessee River, and miles and miles beyond.
“We then walked several blocks to The Lookout where The Battle of the Clouds took place. It was a high position held by the Confederates while fighting in Chattanooga. Grant’s troops climbed the steep sides of the mountain and, as they neared the summit, a thick fog rolled in. Though neither side could see much of anything, the Confederates left their positions, and the Union troops were able to take over the high ground.
“After lunch we went to the Towing and Recovery Museum.
We had passed by it and thought we should at least check it out. The museum is in Chattanooga because that is where the very first tow truck was built. The museum housed tow trucks built from before the 1920s and progressed up through more recent years. They also had an amazing display of hundreds of toy tow trucks.
“We were told that it was good that we arrived there when we did because for the next three days there would be at least 3,000 people in the towing business coming to attend a big annual event, many of them arriving with their own tow trucks.
“Next it was on to Rock City. The name does not do it justice as it is a spectacular area of granite boulders and slabs which create cracks and crevices, ravines, and pools. The creators of Rock City did a marvelous job of making pathways in, around, over, and through the boulders. Some cracks were so narrow we had to turn sideways, and some people had to find alternate routes. There are several stone bridges as well as a swinging bridge.
“A large outcropping formed a cliff, called ‘Lover’s Leap,’ which cantilevered out from the mountain. It is said you can see seven states from here: Tennessee, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama…but we couldn’t tell one state from another.”
With a population of over 180,000, Chattanooga is the fourth largest city in Tennessee, and is a major commercial hub in numerous industries, from automotive to healthcare, manufacturing, and the food industry. It also is a large tourist draw with many attractions. Chief among them is its significant role in the Civil War, as multiple major railroads converged in the growing city.
One of its popular tourist attractions is Ruby Falls, a network of underground waterfalls that gained popularity over the years to qualify as a National Historic Landmark, often associated with the nearby Rock City attraction on Lookout Mountain.
“The weather has been perfect lately but this Friday morning we dressed in warmer clothes as we were going into the cavern at Ruby Falls which is at 60 degrees. We took an elevator ride 260 feet down to begin the half-mile walk to the falls. The pathway is narrow, and you must be careful not to bump your head on the low ceiling on the path. Most of the time we could stand up straight and we never had to bend over or crawl. In some places, however, we could see where Leo Lambert, the man who discovered the underground falls, had crawled along when he was exploring the cave. The cave has stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone, bacon, beehives, straws and tobacco leaves as well as some rather unique formations like elephant’s foot and the dragon’s claw.
“About a half an hour along the pathway and 1,120 feet below the top of Lookout Mountain, we were rewarded by the sight of the 145-foot underground falls. It must have been an incredible feeling when Lambert happened upon the huge, domed cavern with the beautiful waterfall cascading down into the pool below. He named the falls Ruby after his wife.
“At the end of our tour of the falls, we started driving back to the marina and ‘Last Item.’ We followed a different route than we took to reach Chattanooga so we could see more of the countryside.”
Back at Grand Harbor Marina, the couple spent the weekend cleaning the boat, doing laundry, and enjoying some downtime as they waited to return their rental car on Monday. But it was not all chores, as they found time to enjoy more local restaurants and play golf at the well-maintained, 18-hole golf course at the Pickwick State Park.
One highlight they wanted to make sure they visited when returning the rental car was to have lunch at Abe’s Grill in Corinth. Made famous by locals and travelers alike, the diner is reportedly the oldest diner still operating on Route 72 by its original owners. The family celebrated its 47th year in 2021.
The outside of the restaurant reminded Sidonia of a wrecking junk yard, with hubcaps and other stuff scattered around. The place is very small, with limited seating at the counter with only 20 stools and a few tables outside.
As the couple entered, they were met by Abe, who greets customers and manages the cashiers, all while talking to everyone. Every square inch of the interior is covered in license plates and funny signs. Abe’s wife, Terri, and their son, Ryan, work behind the counter. Ryan especially has finely tuned his cooking and waiting skills, as he takes three or four orders at the same time and never misses a beat.
Terri serves all drinks from a canning jar, sweet tea is the favorite, and does everything else. The food is served on a piece of paper with fries in a little paper basket. Sidonia and Fred report the burger was good, but it is the character of the place that made it so delightful.
After a quick stop at a local grocery store, the couple got back aboard and took off once again on their capable Nimbus cruiser and headed down Yellow Creek. They ran almost 40 miles that afternoon and anchored in a lovely bay in Bay Springs Lake just short of the Jamie L. Whitten Lock.
They enjoyed yet another beautiful sunset as the fall day came to an end.
“On Tuesday morning, October 11, we locked through the Whitten lock at 8:30 with three other Loopers. I thought our last lock, which was a 55-foot drop, was probably the biggest lift or drop we would encounter, but the Whitten lock drop was 80 feet. About five miles farther on we came to the Sonny Montgomery lock where we had to wait for a barge and tow to finish locking through.
“At times we hear some very weird sounds when locking down. Some of the floating bollards make the most awful clanking and groaning and moaning sounds, like some horrible creature from Jurassic Park. Some of the sounds are caused by the wheels of the bollards scraping down the channel inset within the wall of the lock. We don’t know what causes some of the other sounds. The locks on the Tenn-Tom Waterway sound a loud siren when they start to let the water out and a long, loud horn signaling when the gates are fully open, and boats can exit.
“We docked at Midway Marina which, though it is a little rustic, has a very nice, helpful staff. To one side of the marina, the remains of trees stand in several feet of water, evidence of times prior to the building of the dams.
“Eddie on ‘Fjiaka’ joined us on the marina porch for some lively conversation at happy hour. At the top of the hill just above the marina is Guy’s Place Restaurant, where we had a delicious dinner with Brian and Loral on ‘Port-a-Gee.’
“Several Loopers left early the next morning, but we waited for a couple of barges to pass through before we left the marina and locked through Midway lock with ‘Port-a-Gee’ around 11:30. We matched our speed to stay with ‘Port-a-Gee’ as we followed a barge that locked through ahead of us.
“We were now in an area called Lock B Pool (a wide area in the river) located between the Wilkins and Amory locks. We were well within the buoy markers running only on the port engine and doing about 7 knots when we hit bottom. To move us back into deeper water, Fred used the bow and stern thrusters in order to not damage our props.
“It was too late, however. When Fred put the starboard engine in gear, it had a very bad vibration. We would not be able to use that engine and run at our normal 24-25 knots until we replaced the prop. Thank goodness we brought along an extra set of propellers! Fred made arrangements at Kingfisher Marina in Demopolis to have our prop changed.
“The buoys, which are important navigational aids we rely on, are very unreliable around here. We have seen them up against the riverbanks many times and Brian told us he almost ran one over that was just inches beneath the surface.
“It took us six hours to travel 24.7 miles and transit three locks today, a very slow day. We were behind the same barge and tow all day and had to wait at each lock until it got through. There is no use passing him, though, as the lock masters know they are coming, and commercial traffic always have priority.
“We anchored in a nice, quiet spot on the Tennessee River where it ties back into the Tenn-Tom. ‘Port-a-Gee’ also anchored near us.
“Our nice quiet spot turned out to be not so quiet when, around 6:00pm, lightning started flickering in the sky and we could hear rolling thunder in the distance. The flickering was continuous, a real light show that lasted until around midnight. At one point, a lightning strike hit frighteningly close, and the resounding boom made Ozzie fly off the bed and we almost followed him. Thankfully that was the only strike near us.
“The next morning started out foggy but lifted enough by 9:00 for us to be on our way. We talked to Brian as we passed their boat and he said he saw the sparks from that lightning strike last night and pointed on shore to where it had hit. It was way too close for comfort.
“We passed through Aberdeen lock and cruised for another 27 miles along a very quiet stretch of the Tenn-Tom. We felt bumps a couple of times, most likely from small pieces of wood beneath the surface. We had planned to continue through the Stennis lock and then anchor but changed our minds and docked at Columbus Marina. To summarize the marina, the wooden docks need new boards, the staff is great, the facilities are a little far away, but bathrooms and laundry are very nice and clean. The town of Columbus is about three miles away.”
Columbus is like many small towns in America, where there is always an interesting story if one only bothers to investigate its history. Today’s town of 23,000 was originally founded in 1819, referred informally as Possum Town (a name given by its Choctaw neighbors) and it was believed to be in Alabama, rather than Mississippi. No matter, it continued to grow, surviving the Civil War as a hospital town (where many of the injured from Shiloh were transported). The town’s successful defense by Confederate General Nathan Forrest meant that its many antebellum homes were spared from Union destruction. This is unique and special as so many Southern towns were destroyed. Its local homes are toured and celebrated each year during an annual pilgrimage by people from around the country.
A group of the town’s women decided to decorate both Union and Confederate graves with flowers on April 26, 1866, in what eventually became Memorial Day.
The city’s founders also established what is still operated today as Mississippi’s first public school.
“On Friday, October 14, we left Columbus Marina before 9:00, and entered the Stennis lock about a mile away, along with a boat named ‘Mimosa.’ We then had a 28-mile stretch before reaching the Tom Bevil lock. The river gently curved back and forth, which kept Fred busy pushing autopilot buttons. We stayed at about 8 knots, as did ‘Mimosa.’ Somewhere along the way, we entered Alabama.
“Twenty miles after clearing Tom Bevil lock, we carefully approached a place that appeared to be suitable for anchoring, but once again, it was way too shallow. We went on a couple of more miles and anchored near an area called Vienna, at mile marker 287 at the edge of a slough that exited into the Tennessee River. We had traveled 43 miles in 7 hours with two locks. We will be very glad to have our damaged prop replaced and get back our 25-knot cruising speed!
“Shortly after settling in, a dinghy came down the slough and over to our boat. We assumed it was the man on ‘Mimosa’ and we invited him aboard. He anchored at the entrance to the slough as well, a few hundred yards back. When he began talking and laughing, he sounded almost exactly like one of our sons-in-law although a few years younger. Chris is from Alberta, California, and he bought his boat in Illinois. He has been single handing most of the way as the friends he had counted on had not worked out or were unable to come. He is not a Looper and plans to go from Florida to Cuba and then on to Mexico. We really enjoyed our visit with him.
“Shortly before going to bed, we saw a bright light shining at us. Then we could see more lights as a tug and barge rounded a curve in the river. Our anchor light was on, and we had left our aft cockpit lights on low just to be as visible as possible, as we were anchored at the edge of the river, not quite inside the slough. The tug kept its spotlight on us, and we could see him adjust over a little closer to the opposite side of the river. There was plenty of room, so we really didn’t have to worry about the possibility of being hit.
“I noticed that the captain kept shining the spotlight far down the river even after they passed us. They are probably used to seeing anchored boats along here as it is a very long stretch between marinas.”
For travel on any waterways shared with commercial, special, or military traffic, it is vital to maintain proper lighting to make sure all watercraft can see your location, especially if you anchor in a navigable waterway, such as the Tenn-Tom or many places on the ICW. It is pure folly to just drop the hook and turn on an anchor light when anchored anywhere near a channel that is used by commercial tugs, ships, and other working craft. In many narrow sections of rivers, it is a wrong assumption that once you are done for the day when the sun goes down that everyone else is done as well. Tugs pushing barges and other working craft run 24/7 and they continue during the night.
Being well positioned out of harm’s way, as well as showing bright exterior lighting, more than the basic anchor light, will prove to be the safest way to transit waterways.
“Last night while visiting with Chris, we heard cows mooing somewhere on the bank above us. This morning, we saw a few of them and each one had a young one with it. They are the first critters of any kind we have seen in ages. It’s probably a bit premature but we also have now started keeping an eye out for alligators.
“After miles and miles of tree-covered shoreline, it was almost a shock when we came around a curve and saw the beautiful White Cliffs of Epes, chalk cliffs which started forming 145 million years ago.
About three hundred years ago, the French had a small fort nearby named Fort Tombecbe. The University of West Alabama conducts living history programs here, archaeological volunteer opportunities and tours.
“We anchored at mile marker 248, not far from the cliffs, in the Tombigbee River at the entrance to a little bay and stern-tied to the shore. Inside the bay was some abandoned, very rusty equipment. It appeared to be a barge loading area at one time although now the entrance was partially blocked off. The bay itself looked like it was man-made.
“Three men in a small boat approached the bay. When Fred spoke briefly to them, he thought they said they were going in to do something with traps. My mind wandered, and I could just imagine them doing something illicit. A still maybe? What would they be trapping? Crawfish?
“They left after a while and we enjoyed a lovely, quiet evening in the aft cockpit, listening to the crickets. There were clouds of little gnats flying around, a few mosquitoes, and other bugs. We were so glad we have our screens.
“It was almost dark when two of the men we’d seen earlier returned and went into the bay again. Now I was thinking ‘Deliverance’ and Fred was laughing at me. Again, they were there quite a long time, and it was pitch dark before they left.”
See you next time.
Here are links to the LAST ITEM's previous Great Loop updates:
Update #1: Let's Go On The Great Loop!
Update #2: "Last Item" Begins The Great Loop
Update #3: Up The Hudson To Waterford
Update #4: Last Item Heads To Rome
Update #5: Big Water Ahead As LAST ITEM Heads to Oswego
Update #6: A Taste Of The Thousand Islands
Update #7: Into The Trent-Severn Waterway
Update #8: Deeper Into The Trent-Severn
Update #9: Georgian Bay
Update #10: The North Channel
Update #11: Into Lake Michigan
Update #12: Gunkholing Down The Wisconsin Coast
Update #13: Visiting Kenosha
Update #14: Great Loop Trip Continues Into Illinois
Update #15: Exploring The Heartland
Update #16: Heading Into Tennessee
Update #17: This post.
Update #18: On To The Gulf Of Mexico
Update #19: Waiting On Parts
Update #20: The End Of Our Loop