This is update #18 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 last found Sidonia and Fred anchored in the back waters of the Tombigbee River, watching locals doing mysterious things near abandoned equipment in a small bay off the main river.
They remain hampered by a bent propeller which limits their progress on their Great Loop. Fred made reservations at Kingfisher Marina in Demopolis to swap the props for new ones. Thankfully, they had brought along a spare set of two propellers, which proved a good thing.
Since damaging one propeller in the waters of Lock B Pool, between Wilkins and Amory locks near Smithville, Mississippi, they have cruised along at true trawler speeds using only one engine. This makes for some long stretches of the less exciting portions of the waterway.
“By Sunday, October 16, near mile marker 248, Last Item lists quite a bit to the starboard side now. Because of the bent prop on the starboard side, we are running on the port engine only, which burns fuel out of the port tank. By the time we get to Demopolis today, we will only have about 15 gallons left in that tank. It will be nice to be leveled up once again.
“We passed more white, chalk cliffs again today. We only see a few houses, though, as it is mostly uninhabited shoreline. In a couple of spots there are cypress trees near the shore as well as palmetto plants, which seem to be a sign that we are really in the South.
“We woke the next morning to the promise of a sunny day, and we arrived where we hoped to get work done on the boat. Kingfisher Marina sits in a large man-made basin. It is very spread out so it’s a good walk from the docks over to the office/store and gas dock. The grounds are very well kept, and they have a swimming pool and courtesy car.
“We used the car today to have lunch in town and go to Walmart for groceries. We didn’t find much of interest in the town itself, most of the restaurants and businesses are out on the highway.
“There are quite a few Loopers here, so we had a nice gathering for docktails this evening. Many of us are holding off reaching Mobile as hurricane season isn’t officially over until November 1st. Most of us do not have insurance to cover that far south until after that date. So, we are all in a bit of a holding pattern for several days.
“The temperature when we got up was 40 degrees and breezy. I thought bringing my knitted headband was unnecessary, but I am so glad I had it today. Fred even put on long pants. It is beautiful out, but it stayed cool and breezy all day.
“We motored over to the travel lift at 8:00 to have our props changed. Once out of the water, we could see the bent propeller blades as well as scrapes in the gelcoat from our mishap. We also saw the small scrape in the gelcoat from touching a rock way back in Georgian Bay.
“The yard workers didn’t have too much trouble getting the props off but did have a difficult time getting the lock nut back on one of the new props. After slathering on lots of grease, they finally got it tight.
“They lowered us back into the water and we went out into the river for a test drive, only to find we still had a vibration. Rather than get hauled out again, Fred decided to schedule another haul out when we reached Mobile, where we will have our 200-hour engine service done on our twin Volvo diesels. It appears we’ll spend more time in Mobile than originally planned.
“As we approached Demopolis lock the following morning, which is only about three miles from the marina, Fred tried reaching the lock personnel to see if they were ready for us or if they had barges coming. He was not able to contact anyone by either VHF or cell phone, so we took a chance and left the marina. We were nearly at the lock when Fred finally spoke to the lock master, only to learn that a crew was doing maintenance on the lock, which would take about an hour and a half. Two hours later, we entered the lock.
“The Tombigbee River has become a winding waterway, twisting from one side to the other, and includes some wild hairpin turns.
We traveled 95 miles today but as for progress to our next destination, we only made 45 miles. It still surprises us how few houses we see along the shore. We seem to only pass miles of tree-covered shoreline.
“We arrived at our next stop, Bobby’s Fish Camp, in Bladon Springs, Alabama.
The camp only has a tiny dock, fuel, a few RV spaces, and a couple of cabins. There used to be a small restaurant, but food is no longer served. Though the buildings and dock are very rustic, the setting is nice and peaceful. Inside the office, a pool table is in the center of the room and the walls are hung with photos and other eclectic paraphernalia, including an alligator gar caught by Bobby, the original owner, many years ago. The nearest town is Coffeeville, which is on the east side of the river and a little south of Bobby’s.
“As we are now later in the month, October 20, it is very chilly in the mornings, but it warms up to a comfortable temperature in the afternoons. We left Bobby’s and entered the Coffeeville lock while it was still a bit cool. Since the beginning of our trip, we have transited about 100 locks so far and the Coffeeville lock is to be our final one. I can now clean our very dirty fenders and stow some of them away for the remainder of our trip.
“We found the river mostly uninhabited all the way to Mobile. The shoreline transitioned from trees right down to the water to where there are little beaches here and there, some muddy and some sandy. Closer to Mobile, the tree line became less visible. Like yesterday, the route of the river resembled a Grand Prix circuit with hairpin turns and numerous switchbacks. We traveled over 118 miles, but we only made 66 miles closer to Mobile Bay.
“Somewhere during the day, we moved from the Tombigbee River to the Mobile River and once we were a few miles outside of Mobile, we began seeing a lot of barge traffic. Then we saw tall buildings, cranes, and cargo ships being pushed by tugs. We finally entered Mobile Bay, which is huge, shallow, and today it was choppy. I wanted to turn around and head back into the peaceful, calm rivers we had enjoyed so much.
“Being unfamiliar with Mobile Bay, Fred carefully followed the narrow white line on our chart showing the entrance to Dog River. We were somewhat taken aback when we got to Dog River Marina. The docks are in bad shape and there are absolutely no amenities other than power. The staff person was equally unwelcoming and there is no place to go on shore.
“Early the next morning, Friday, we fueled up and left Dog River Marina, though we originally planned to stay for three nights. We already had reservations at Wharf Marina in Orange Beach starting Sunday night, where the mechanic will do our 200-hour service. The Wharf Marina said we could come in today, thank goodness!”
Sidonia and Fred’s experience at Dog River Marina highlights one of the issues when relying on printed guides and online resources that may not be fully updated. Dog River Marina would appear to be an over-the-top facility when reviewed on Marina Life. It is even listed as a Marina Life advertising partner, and its four-color ad shows every conceivable service and amenity. One would almost expect fresh crumb buns and the morning paper delivered to one’s boat each morning. A West Marine store was listed on the premises or very nearby.
Unfortunately, in the four years since the glowing reviews, quite a bit has happened in the world, and not just Covid-19. Clearly Dog River Marina fell victim to whatever calamity reduced it to its current state. One recent reviewer said the person answering the VHF radio “admitted to having zero boating experience” so was unable to provide even the simplest of directions or marina information.
“On our way to Wharf Marina, there was no white line on the chart leading us to Orange Beach, but we didn’t see any depth less than 6’9” on our sounder the whole way. Unlike yesterday, Mobile Bay was practically flat calm with no tropical storm systems lurking out in the Atlantic. We soon entered the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW). At Mobile Bay, this waterway extends 271 miles east to Carrabelle, Florida, and heading west it goes as far as Brownsville, Texas. The trip from Dog River to the Wharf Marina was 33 miles.
“The Wharf Marina sits right below a 10-story condo building and beyond are lots of restaurants and shops. We are the tiny ‘minnow’ on our dock, surrounded by large sport fishing boats. We celebrated being out of Dog River by going ashore for margaritas.”
The Wharf Marina is one of those resort facilities that hopes to reimagine boating in an exciting venue complete with fishing tournaments, vacation condos, hotels, resort attractions, and everything to make a family vacation a memorable experience. It is located halfway between Mobile Bay and Pensacola Bay, and it keeps its calendar full by hosting fishing championships, boat shows, shops, nightlife, concerts, laser and water shows, and first-class restaurants. Everything one could expect from a top-notch vacation property.
It's also not a bad place to spend a few days getting one’s boat repaired and serviced.
“We unloaded our electric bikes and toured around the mall area shops to get an idea of what was here. We then went for lunch at a seafood restaurant with the idea of having oysters. Once we got our oysters, we were reminded that there is a huge difference between East Coast and West Coast oysters. The East Coast oysters we are served are small, the size of a nickel, and, when covered in a sauce, you can’t taste the oyster. The shrimp, however, were delicious.
“The cold spell is pretty much over. The nights are cool but nowhere near the 30-degree temperatures we’ve had for several nights. And it gets quite warm again during the day.
“As we washed our laundry, we went for a cinnamon roll at a nearby coffee shop. In the early afternoon, we went back for gelato cones, not a nutritious start to the day but we were saving room for a nice dinner out. We perused several of the shops and I bought another hat, my third one of the trip. I’m always looking for the perfect hat.
“We had an excellent dinner at The Villaggio Grille in the Wharf Mall.
“The mechanic arrived at 8:30 sharp on Monday, October 24, and worked until around noon, doing whatever was needed for the 200-hour service. He also cured a minor oil leak we had.
“We were unable to get a rental car from Enterprise, so we took an Uber ride over to the Hertz office, which had cars available. We then went to Lulu’s for lunch which, we’d heard, everyone is supposed to do. Lulu is Jimmy Buffet’s sister. The restaurant fronts the GICW and the atmosphere is very ‘beachy.’ When we passed it on the waterway on Friday, it was packed. Today was quite windy and there were only a few people there. Though my shrimp and grits were good, we wouldn’t recommend it unless Jimmy himself was there singing.
“Today, dolphins came into the marina and swam right in front of ‘Last Item.’ There are also brown pelicans swimming around and diving for fish. Ozzie especially likes to watch the great blue herons that stalk around the dock looking for little fish.
“We were just finishing dinner on the boat when someone knocked on the hull. It was Loral and Brian on ‘Port-a-gee.’ They are in the same marina but in the facility’s other basin. They had a pretty tough time crossing Mobile Bay today to get into the GICW. We made plans about getting together while we’re both here.
“The weather report for the next few days is for rain, off and on with thunderstorms, possibly severe, late in the afternoon and warm and muggy.
“Yesterday, I found a palmetto bug (a big cockroach) on the back deck sofa. I thought it was a big beetle and called Fred to take care of it. When he tried to grab it, it scurried off so fast, he knew it wasn’t a beetle. Of course, it disappeared. I thought it probably ended up in the engine area so today we bought roach pellets to sprinkle around down there.
“We drove to Orange Beach and had a good Mexican lunch. We then drove along the gulf shoreline which is lined with large condos and houses. It is fun to see the different pastel-colored houses many of which have been given names. We were also pleased to see that there is a nice, long stretch of empty shoreline between the towns of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores that is a Gulf State park. The huge park encompasses Shelby Lakes and even part of the GICW.
“On Wednesday morning, October 26, we left the marina and chugged up the waterway to Saunders Marine Center in Orange Beach, where we were hauled and blocked. P&D Marine, the local engine repair facility that specializes in Volvo Penta engines, started working right away on removing the propellers.
“We drove to Mobile, about an hour from the yard so I could get a shot that I need to get twice a year. We didn’t do any sightseeing, and just came straight back to the boat.
“We then picked up Loral and Brian at the marina and went back for another nice dinner at The Villaggio Grille.
“We were barely awake the next morning when the grinding started on the bottom of the boat. We had some scrapes there from hitting bottom but luckily, all were very superficial. Next came the guys from P&D to remove the shaft for inspection and to remove the strut which had a slight bend in it. We contacted Seattle Yachts and were told that they would have a new strut from Nimbus flown in from Sweden within about three days.
“We were happy to get off the boat and away from the grinding noise, and we agreed to pick up Loral and Brian and take them to the Pensacola airport. They were flying home for a few days to attend a wedding. This gave us a great opportunity to drive along the Gulf Shore and into Florida.
“Back in Orange Beach, we headed straight for Gulf Shores Golf Course. While signing in, I heard that the man in front of us was going to play with us, so I invited him to sit with us at lunch. Vince has an environmental contracting business. We had a very enjoyable round with him and as we said goodbye, he handed us his card and said to let him know if we needed anything. We will probably play golf again before we leave here, and Vince said he would like to join us.”
For anyone not familiar with the area, this part of the coastline was successfully developed to draw attention to highlight the beauty and location of Alabama’s white sand beaches. Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism has made an outstanding effort to bring every kind of water activity to visitors, from boating to dolphin cruises, offshore fishing, diving, parasailing, cruises, and more.
The arts and cultural activities, shopping, nightlife, hiking and nature tours, and world-class golf are major attractions to the Gulf Coast. While most associate the Gulf region as hubs for ship building and the petrochemical industry, tourism is also a big draw to the area, despite the damage and destruction from past hurricanes and other storms.
Tourism is now a permanent economic driver for the beautiful and fragile Gulf region.
One of the unique and historically valuable places in the Mobile area to visit is Battleship Memorial Park. It opened in 1969 to provide a walking museum of military history that spans land, sea, and air. In addition to tanks, field artillery, and a variety of wartime memorabilia, there is a restored P-51 aircraft honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, a Bell Army One helicopter that transported five presidents on official business, an A-12 Black Bird reconnaissance aircraft from the 1960s that flew at over 2,300mph, and an assortment of aircraft and other military gear used by all branches of our armed services. The Fallen Hero 9/11 Memorial brings these exhibits up to modern times.
The highlight of the park is BB-60, the decommissioned USS Alabama, a South Dakota-class battleship that carried 2,500 crew around the Pacific during WWII. The “Big A” took part in the bombardment and invasion activities of numerous campaigns against Japanese forces in Pacific islands groups as well as the Japanese mainland. Even a partial list of these campaigns shows the enormous contribution of the Big A to the ultimate success of the war in the Pacific: Marianas, Palau, Truk, Saipan, Battle of the Philippines, Guam, Carolines, Formosa, Leyte Gulf, Okinawa, industrial centers in mainland Japan, and the inevitable post-surrender occupation in Tokyo Bay.
Another celebrity warship in the memorial park is SS-228, the USS Drum, launched in 1941. She was a successful member of the submarine service of the U.S. Navy Pacific fleet and is the oldest sub on display in the country. Over the course of 13 war patrols, Drum earned 12 battle stars, and sank the eighth highest total of Japanese tonnage during the war, as well as saving countless downed airmen from Pacific waters.
The memorial park suffered over $7 million in damages from Hurricane Katrina in April 2005, but reopened in January 2006. These memorial parks provide a meaningful opportunity to acquaint younger generations with our history, the cost of our freedom, and the incredible effort and sacrifices of our citizens fighting against the evils of the world. It is imperative that such history be documented, even celebrated, and the memories maintained for future generations.
“Since our Hertz rental car needed to be turned in and we will be here for several more days, Fred decided to replace the Hertz car with one from Enterprise. Making the change saved us at least $200 and we had a nicer car.
“We went to Battleship Memorial Park to see the battleship Alabama, which is open for tours, and spent two hours climbing over her from stem to stern.
The Alabama was launched in 1942 and carried 2,500 men during war time. It has 70 guns from 406mm (16”) down to 20mm and served mainly as an escort for the carriers. The ship is 680 feet long and has a 108-foot beam, but the quarters are very cramped considering its size.
“It has everything a small town would have but on a very small scale. There were offices for the doctor, dentist and ear, nose, and throat exams. There were rooms for surgery, hospital beds, a tailor shop, laundry, ice cream shop, brig, bakery, vegetable prep, potato prep, blacksmith shop, machine shop and more. Every available space, however small, had a tier or tiers of three to four metal bunks with accompanying small metal lockers. Every doorway has a sill of approximately 12 inches that had to be stepped over and a height restriction you must duck under. Nothing, I’m sure, for young sailors but awkward for the rest of us.
“After a delicious lunch at nearby Felix’s, we went back to explore the USS Drum.
The submarine is 311 feet long and has a 27-foot beam. The conditions on the Alabama, by comparison, were luxurious. No medical offices, bakery, or ice cream shop here. Again, bunks were squeezed into every nook and cranny, including underneath torpedos by the aft torpedo tubes. The SS Drum was credited with sinking 15 ships during her 13 patrols.
“It rained the weekend of October 29, and the downpours started during the night. The rain sounded like hail as it came down in buckets, hammering the top of ‘Last Item.’ It would let up a little every so often and then pour again. During one of the lulls, we dashed out to the grocery store and then got a bit of lunch, arriving back at the boat just before the next deluge.
“We were watching football on TV in the afternoon when the picture was taken over by an emergency weather report. Meteorologists called for severe storm action with possible tornados. Fred wanted the weather screen to go away so he could watch the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators game but the continuous weather coverage continued.
“The radar pictures showed cell after cell of storms marching up the Gulf of Mexico toward Mississippi and Alabama and the tornado warnings became more imminent. The forecasts included real-time pictures of funnel clouds dipping down and one actually became a tornado as we watched. The camera then showed a waterspout crossing Mobile Bay. Twice our cell phones sounded loud tornado alerts.
“The meteorologist named specific neighborhoods and even streets where people needed to get to safety. Several tornados touched down in Mobile County, one right near downtown. Others touched in other areas of Baldwin County, one about 11 miles from us and another about 30 miles away. We had suffered a direct hit by a tornado in 2010 and did not want to have another experience like that so, needless to say, I was particularly anxious.
“By around 9:00pm, the tornado alerts finally lifted. The wind and the rain continued but it was a relief to know the worst threat was over. We later learned that power lines had been knocked down in several places, but other than that, very little damage was done.”
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: Cruising Into The Tenn-Tomm
Update #18: This post.
Update #19: Waiting On Parts
Update #20: The End Of Our Loop