From Tombigbee River Rats to Gulf of Mexico Cruisers: November 15 2022

Morning thunderstorms barreled through Columbus, MS, which kept us aboard so that we could keep an eye on our anchor spot (10/25).  All went well and the storms wrapped up by the afternoon.  The boat was clean but the dinghy was a swimming pool that clearly needed to be pumped dry - quick work with a kayak hand pump.  We walked along the Riverwalk Trail and headed to Huck’s Place for dinner.  Bill and Pat (m/v Uno Mas) were right – this place is delicious.  We are getting closer to New Orleans which has creole flavorfully creeping into the menus; creole smothered white beans and lightly breaded catfish and the perfect steak.  Yum!


Happy Birthday Chris!  We rented a car and made a road trip to Oxford, MS (10/26).  Along the way we passed harvested cotton fields rolled into disc shaped bails as big as a VW bug.  First stop was Tupelo, MS, to check out Elvis’ birthplace.  That is one SMALL house with just two rooms…and a breezy porch.  Arrival in Oxford meant Ole Miss, Faulkner, Courthouse Square, Nielson’s Department Store (oldest in the South) and Ajax Diner.  We fueled up at Ajax with comfort food favorites like tamale pie, mac and cheese, burger and fries and squash casserole.  Then it was onto the campus of Ole Miss where “Hotty Toddy” is a greeting and a cheer.  Once on campus the only thing in greater abundance than the architectural columns were the students.  It was fantastic to see the campus alive with them.  Holy cow – check out the food delivery cooler on wheels?!  No kidding but they are officially called Starship delivery robots and they were everywhere.  The students didn’t give them a second glance but we were intrigued.  Chris took it further by periodically stepping in front of them (they stopped or went around him) and I snapped a photo. 


Back to Barefeet where incoming weather means we will leave one day earlier than expected from Columbus, MS.  That is too bad because there is more to see – both historical and current.  Historical such as visiting the Friendship Cemetery on 4th Street where the tradition of Memorial Day was begun in 1866 when a group of women decorated graves of both Confederate and Union soldiers in an act of compassion and empathy.  Current times such as becoming a local at Muddy Waters bar where patrons were already welcoming us as if we were regulars.  And then, further afield, there’s the Mississippi Delta.  Yikes - so much to see!  We are amazed that we were the only pleasure craft anchored during our stay.  Okay, there is a marina but it is not nearly as close to town as our anchorage.

Back on the lazy Tenn-Tom we played Elvis tunes as we motored from Mississippi to Alabama (10/27).  The river banks continue to be lined with untamed nature that creates a remote feeling in the heart of the USA.  Our tranquil anchorage for the night was Windham Landing Cut Off in Alabama with three other boats.     


Good morning Alabama!  Nature and man again merge as we pass through our tenth and last lock on the Tenn-Tom as well as glide past the White Cliffs of Epes (10/28).  They’re a chalk formation approximately 30’ tall and one mile long.  Additionally, these Alabama cliffs were deposited the same time as England’s White Cliffs of Dover…over 70 million years ago.  The fall colors are a stunning contrast to the stark white cliffs.  Our pleasant day ended anchored in Rattlesnake Bend after calling the mooring company for permission to anchor.  The response, “C’mon back, it’s a treat – just be past the barges.”  Check.  It’s just us, a squealing family of feral pigs and snow white cranes.  Another lovely spot. 


Up came the anchor after the rainstorm passed to have us slide into slip C15 at Kingfisher Bay Marina in Demopolis, AL (10/29).  This is a fun gathering point for Loopers; unfortunately, we can’t stay long so we telescoped our activities into two days.  We got the lay-of-the-land from dock master Anna-Marie (yes, she put our cell number in her phone and texted us her number – as she does for everyone…just in case anyone needs anything), did laundry, filled the boat with water, learned the drill for passing through the Demopolis Lock as a group (4pm Captain’s meeting/Happy Hour) and ordered amazing BBQ from A Slab and More via ASAP delivery app.  The app worked like a dream and the BBQ was smokey delicious-ness; pulled chicken sandwiches, fries, fried okra, coleslaw and 1lb of pulled pork (for the freezer and future meals at anchor).  The forecast rain arrived and lasted all night…and into the next day.  Once cleared we walked into historic downtown Demopolis (10/30).  The preserved architecture is beautiful but the downtown is dying.  First settled in 1817 by French expats the town bloomed due to a booming river trade and cotton farms which eventually dwindled after boll weevil infestations of the 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Today the population is roughly 7,100; however, the population swells to 40,000 for the weeklong festivities of Christmas on the River.  That sounds like fun – we need to come back.    


It’s Halloween and, unfortunately, we started the day with more tricks than treats (10/31).  We were up before the sun attempting to coordinate transit with the Demopolis Lock but that is not how things shook out.  We were delayed two hours at the lock (hovering out front) due to commercial barge traffic.  Drat!  The squiggly Tombigbee River in Alabama (Black Warrior River) is a challenge for driving and anchoring because the barges are BIG and they run 24/7.  Turns are especially perilous as the hulking barges sweep around corners rather than pivot on a dime.  This means that when we stop for the night we have to anchor off the channel.  Cool with us but tough because many of the off-river creeks have become blocked by fallen trees due to erosion which makes them impossible to enter.  The result is that in this stretch of river there are very few anchorages.  We had hoped to make a lot of miles; unfortunately, due to our delay at the lock we simply had to stop at a sandbar across from Bashi Creek before running out of daylight.  We first anchored in 10ft of water but a passing tug said we should nuzzle closer to the land because barges need at least 10ft of water…so…if we are in water less than 10ft – we’ll be okay.  Got it.  We raised the anchor, nuzzled closer to shore in 6.5 - 7ft AND tied our stern to a tree to keep from swinging into the channel.  Yes, it was tricky as Erin grabbed onto grass clumps of the shore, dirt under her fingernails while Chris piloted the dinghy and fed rope to her that was wrapped around a tree and secured back aboard Barefeet.  Although a passing tug confirmed our spot was okay we left all of our deck lights illuminated throughout the night.  Okay, time to relax with BLTs and a star-scape that didn't quit.  The Pleiades is a cluster of stars that often blurs into one fuzzy “orb” but tonight it was a distinct beacon with individual stars clearly visible.  All’s well that ends well.


Up with the sun and smoothly through our last and final lock (11/1).  Yippee!  We are soooooo happy to have the locks behind us but wholeheartedly appreciate that they made it possible for us to pass this way in a boat.  It was another long day of driving (9 hours) on the squiggly Black Warrior Tombigbee River before we anchored at three rivers anchorage just behind m/v Long Gone 2 (thanks for scooting up so we could fit).  Half an hour to shower and tidy up before Chris and Dan came over for a Last Lock Party.  So long wing dams, cells, bollards, multiple fenders on both sides of the boat, ropes mid-ship on both sides of the boat, pool heights, locks, schedule uncertainty due to commercial traffic - phew.  Cheers to a great way to end the day with improvised (fancy) espresso martinis thanks to Starbucks frappacino from a mini-mart.  Mother Nature even got into the swing of things with a spectacular sunset.


Our two days of long mileage runs meant a short run today (five hours) to Big Bayou Canot anchorage, AL (11/2).  We had plenty of swing room and were well off the main channel.  Yippee!  In those short five hours the landscape changed from vibrant autumn foliage to Spanish moss, brown pelicans, palms, live oaks, cypress, nearly 80F temps…and even a gator.  Our time on the inland rivers has been a gorgeous slice of nature dotted with historic, charming towns despite being within easy reach of Dollar General, Walmart and boarded up storefronts.  We live in a stunningly beautiful country loaded with kind, welcoming people…please, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.   

Departing Big Bayou Canot had us exiting the lazy river and into BUSY Mobile Harbor (11/3).  We passed multi-stacked barges, tows, dredges, ocean tankers, commercial fishing fleets…you name it.  Quite a shock to the system.  But the shocks kept coming.  All of a sudden – pow – we were in open water again.  Our departure one day early from Columbus, MS, paid off with a smooth 30 mile crossing of Mobile Bay.  The next day we learned just how much it paid off when Loopers arrived with tales of 4+ foot waves resulting in a very uncomfortable crossing.  Once across the bay we were into the protected Gulf Intercoastal Waterway.  By 2pm we were tied up at Homeport Marina and by 4pm we were in Lulu’s (Jimmy Buffet’s sister’s place in Gulf Shores) meeting up with Bill and Pat (m/v Uno Mas) for a bit of fun thanks to the Gulf Shores Songwriter’s Festival.        


The next day was a bit of a blur as we cleaned Barefeet from stem to stern, from top to bottom and from the inside out (11/4).  Barefeet sparkles and we are ready to move along.  Do not even ask how many spiders were killed.  Our heads were spinning as we anchored off Orange Beach in Wolf Bay (11/5).  Wow – we are salt water cruisers again and it feels amazing!  We gently bob at anchor with a view of the wide bay…heck, even the squawking seagulls make us smile.  Afternoon rainstorms kept us huddled aboard reading until we donned rain jackets bound for GT’s On The Bay for some college football, creole empanadas and great restaurant tips from bartendress Peyton as we move east toward Panama City.  Thanks!  A short one hour move had us not only feeling like cruisers again but feeling like it was summer (11/6).  Is it really November?!  It’s hard to believe.  Down went the anchor off Redfish Point in Big Lagoon, FL.  That’s right – we’re in Florida!  We immediately dropped the dink and buzzed to the beach where there was sand between our toes, a sea bean in the flotsam and birds along the surf.  Anglers dropped lines in the water and boats nuzzled the shoreline for a day of fun in the sun on the sand dune shores.  But by the time the sun set there were only four of us remaining at anchor.  OMG – and the blues (aka the Blue Angels) returned home in the last rays of daylight.  Wow! 


There have been a lot of wows in the last few days for us but this one takes the cake.  At the Pensacola Beach Bridge we crossed our wake and completed The Great Loop (11/7).  Over the past 13 months we have passed through 19 states, 2 countries and more locks than we can count (we stopped counting at 100).  Mother Nature provided a sun filled day past white sand beaches through emerald clear waters with dolphins leaping beside us.  We anchored in snug Destin Harbor to celebrate our accomplishment and wait out the passing of Tropical Storm/Hurricane Nicole, largely well to the east of us (fingers crossed it stays that way).  We put on our going-out clothes and dinghied to Louisiana Lagniappe for Gulf seafood with a creole flair on an outdoor porch tucked in a cozy corner of the harbor.  It is going to take a minute for all of this to sink in.  Cheers!


Life is good here in the land of the Big PX with Winn Dixie, Walgreens and breakfast diners within steps of the public dinghy dock in Destin Harbor, FL.  We soaked in the rays and watched the fun on the water of jet skis, kayaks, sport fishing charters, glass bottom boat tours and parasailing as we waited for the pre-storm Nicole rowdiness to arrive (11/9).  Winds started to crank up during the night to 28 knots and continued through the morning.  Barefeet was well stuck and none of our neighbors appeared to drag either.  All good - phew.  With this confidence in our anchor spot we rented a car to dart back along the Emerald Coast to Pensacola for a visit with Terry (s/v Sora from our South Pacific and South East Asian sailing days).  Palafox Street is the tree lined center of the historic downtown with its Spanish architectural influence from Spanish explorations as early as 1513 (by Ponce de Leon) and a lasting settlement in 1689.  It is a charming downtown but we cannot dawdle because we have our friend to see.  Oh boy did we have a blast!  We told tall tales, laughed until our sides hurt (probably not so great for the dude recuperating from back surgery), remembered places and people and critters like it was yesterday…until, eventually, the sky was dark and we needed to drive back to Destin.  We did not want the time to end but we’ll see ya soon!


A mandatory stop before returning the rental car was breakfast at Ruby Slipper Cafe (11/10).  We first discovered this delicious combination of the spirit and soul of New Orleans with an obsession for brunch four years ago in Pensacola.  Lucky for us they have expanded to Destin.  Back aboard Barefeet we stowed the dinghy in preparation for main event storm Nicole to arrive (thankfully, much to the east of us).  Fighter jets periodically pierced the sky with their swagger of an alpha lion on the Serengeti backed by the collective will and tech of the entire USA.  Blue skies came and went until the afternoon when the winds swirled and the sky darkened.  Anchor bridle ropes creaked, Barefeet hunted like crazy at anchor but all was secure as the sun came up.  Cruiser friends were all okay, too.  This is prime southern migration for cruisers and there was a lot of scrambling on the entire eastern seaboard before the storm hit...not to mention major schedule interuptuss  At the Destin anchorage we towed a guy in his kayak over to his boat because paddling was just not getting it done (11/11).  Apparently, last night he had spent the night in a hotel because winds were too strong for him to paddle to his boat (we clocked 30 knots).  Bummer but we get it.  On Barefeet we were warm and dry - two characteristics that we do not take for granted.       


With the storm solidly in the rear-view mirror we headed ashore to stretch our legs at the Destin Historical and Fishing Museum.  Destin is a fishing village founded on the sandy shores of the Gulf of Mexico in 1830 (electricity did not arrive until the 1930s).  It's a place of fishing mixed with fun - called the world's luckiest fishing village.  The Primrose, a 36-foot seine fishing vessel was designed and built in Destin.  She was exceptionally seaworthy and could be handled by a small crew for dropping a large, weighted net that hung vertically in the water, with floats on top.  The Primrose’s crew of eight (plus a 30-hp engine) replaced multiple boats working together powered by oarsmen.  She worked the Gulf coast 1925 – 1968.  In 1948 Destin started a Fishing Rodeo Tournament to bring people to Destin.  It worked and continues to this day.  The rodeo is a month-long tournament (October 1 – 31) with daily weigh-ins and a carnival atmosphere.  We missed the rodeo at the HarborWalk Village but we did catch the outdoor Veteran’s Day Concert.  Thank you to all who have served. 


Mother Nature displayed a short weather window to get us from Destin to Panama City between storms.   Tick, tock - our time here was wrapping up.  Let’s be tourists!  A breakfast table at Tailfins over looked the harbor with sun sparkling on the water followed by a walk in a cozy residential neighborhood with mature trees and a lovely waterside park (11/12).  Dinner at McGuire’s Irish Pub rounded out the day where dollar bills cover every wall and ceiling and each meal is accompanied by an amazing loaf of warm brown bread frosted with a drizzle of melting honey butter.  It is to die for!   


So long Destin with your armada of pontoon boats, glass bottom tour boats and to-go boardwalk cocktails.  Summer must be quite a party!  Our first hop was to anchor beside the Choctawhatchee Bay Bridge.  It was a gentle ride with dolphins frolicking along the way (11/13).  Dinner of a smorgosboard of apps on the top deck including velveta queso dip nicely closed out the day.  Winds never quite laid down but we were off for our second hop to Panama City, FL.  There was not a cloud in the sky accompanied by bright sunshine as we moved along the “Grand Canyon" (23 mile carved channel, nowhere to stop), through West Bay, into Saint Andrews Bay, turned to port into Watson Bayou and tied up at Emerald Harbor Marina (11/14).  Phew – staying ahead of weather…arriving one day before the next storm.  Emerald Harbor is our stopping point for two months.  Barefeet (and us) needs a rest.  Engines need maintenance like fuel filter and oil changes; canvas needs some TLC and we look forward to being at our condo on dirt where we will close the doors and the windows and not look at weather reports several times per day.  Yippee!  We’ll be back aboard in the new year – see ya then!  In the meantime, sunsets on the water never disappoint.