Our Props get fixed (again) and we start down the Tennessee River
210 Days Looping
3,361.0 Nautical Miles Total (3,867.8 Statute Miles)
118.6 Nautical Miles This Week
14.4 Hours Underway This Week
8.2 NMph Average Speed
1 Locks This Week, 141 Total Locks
Monday – Nov 4th – 39.1 NM – 1 Lock – To: Grand River, KY
On Monday morning we left Paducah at 8:00 headed for Green Turtle Bay. It was bright and sunny and fairly warm. Long Way Home stayed behind so it was just Pura Vida III and Drifters heading up the Ohio with us. There are two routes to Kentucky Lake which is the start of the southbound journey to Mobile Alabama where we reach the Gulf of Mexico. One of them is to leave Ohio in Paducah and take the Tennessee River to the Kentucky Lock and Dam. This route has lots of barge traffic and we’d heard that there were delays of up to 7 hours to get through the lock. The other route is to continue up the Ohio river for another 11 miles to Smithland, then turn onto the Cumberland River to the Barkley Lock and Dam.
The Cumberland is longer by about 12 miles, is a narrower river, has less barge traffic, is more scenic, and there are fewer delays at the lock, so this is the route we decided to take. (Note: After talking to other Loopers that took the Tennessee River route, we made the right choice as many of them ended up not being locked through until after dark!)
The 11 miles up Ohio to the Cumberland River were more of the same, a few towboats, a strong current, and lots of sticks and logs to watch out for. We turned onto the Cumberland and were surprised that the current was even stronger coming down the river. We learned that they were draining down Lake Barkley for the winter so there was a lot of water coming down. We figured that there was a 3-4 knot current. When we left the Ohio we passed some giant Mooring Cells, these are steel cylinders filled with stone and sand that the barges can tie up to in an emergency or when waiting for locks. We could see how powerful even the smaller Cumberland river can get as one of them was undermined and tipped over.
The primary industry on the Cumberland is quarrying and we passed several huge operations. Giant dump trucks like we had seen at the Caterpillar plant were crisscrossing the roads and dumping loads of rocks and sand into barges tied up along the river. We had to negotiate through some of them as they move from one side of the river to the other.
Just as we reached our first bridge, we met our first down-bound tow. The tows on the Cumberland are smaller so it was an easy pass on the inside of the corner. The majority of the Cumberland River is scenic and natural with beautiful stone cliffs lining the sides. In places, it’s like going through a canyon.
We got a call from Green Turtle Bay marina our destination for the night advising us that there was a Sea Ray sport boat coming up behind us at 25 mph and to keep an eye out. 25 mph on this river meant that he was wide open, and not watching for logs. Not illegal, but foolhardy at best. We kept an eye open behind us for him, and about halfway through our trip, we saw him come racing up. He never even slowed down as he passed us, throwing up a big wake and rocking the boats enough to knock things off the shelves. Jerk! Just after he went by us, he passed a tow with a heavily loaded barge and waked him. The tow captain gave him a stern warning to which the guy responded “My Bad!”. (The boat’s name was Moondance, as you continue reading this week’s blog, remember this boat!)
Just before 2:00, we reached the Barkley Lock, there was only one fishing boat in the lock and the lockmaster was nice and held the lock for us so we were able to just cruise right in through the open doors. After a 57 foot ride up, we emerged onto Barkley Lake.
Barkley Lake and Kentucky Lake were built by damming up the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. This created the two long relatively narrow lakes and act as flood control, hydropower dams, and created a navigable waterway on the Tennessee River. Barkley Lake covers 90 square miles and is 134 miles long. Kentucky Lake covers 250 square miles and is 184 miles long. When the dams were built and the area that is now the lakes was flooded, the existing towns, roads, railroads, etc, were submerged under the water. The lakes are not all that deep, so in many areas, you have to be careful to stay in the cleared channel because there are still railroad tracks and bridges, buildings, and other structures just under the water. Because they were drawing down the lake for the winter, in some places we could even see the old structures sticking above the water.
Green Turtle Bay is visible as you exit the lock, and after carefully navigating over a sunken railroad bed, we were tied up in our slip by 2:30.
Green Turtle Bay is a large marina and resort with many covered slips, a full-service boatyard, ships store, two restaurants, and a spa. The resort has lots of condos on the property and is a very popular vacation destination. It’s one of the premier Looper destination marinas and the preferred stop regardless of which route you take from Paducah. (If you come up the Tennessee river into Kentucky Lake, there is a canal that connects it to Barkley Lake so the marina is easy to access from both sides. )
After checking in, I walked up to the Ships Store to talk with Gayla about having our boat pulled out of the water and the propeller repaired. I had spoken with her on the phone, and she already had us on the schedule to be hauled out on Tuesday morning. We walked the docks meeting other Loopers already there, most were new to us but there were a few old friends. One Looper in the slip right next to us was our “friends” on Moon Dance, the Sea Ray. It seems that they had recently purchased the boat and were heading to Florida with some of their friends (4-5 onboard) and had joined the Looper Group, it seemed to be more of a floating party to us. They were excited about meeting other Loopers and having docktails. We were pleasant to them, but they were not our sort of Loopers.
In the evening we walked to “The Thirsty Turtle” the pub restaurant at the resort and had a nice meal with a number of other loopers celebrating Drifters going Platinum.
Tuesday – Nov 5th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Grand River, KY
On Tuesday morning we got the boat ready to be pulled out of the water. We were called to move the boat to the travel lift at 10:30, so we took the opportunity to swing by the fuel dock and have our waste tanks pumped out as it was on the way. At 11:00 they pulled us into the lift bay and took the boat out of the water. It was quickly obvious that the port propeller had a bend in one of the blades, not too bad, but enough to cause our vibration. The starboard propeller looked fine. They were a bit short-handed because they were preparing for a boat show over the weekend, so I helped the mechanic pull the propellers. We decided to pull both props so that if needed the propeller repair shop would have a reference and they could balance them after fixing the port side. After pulling the propellers, they lowered us back into the water and used a push boat to move us back to our slip so that we could sleep on the boat.
The marina has loaner vans so that boaters can go into town to get supplies. They loaned me one to take the propellers to the Big River Propeller which was about a 90-minute drive, back toward Paducah. (It turns out it’s very near where we anchored on the Ohio river 2 days before). Gayla had already called to make sure they could fit us in for a rush job, and we loaded the props into the van, and Chris from Pura Vida III and I drove them to the prop shop. On the way, I called and spoke with Marty the manager to give him some info on the props. “What size are they?” he asked, “26 inches, 4 blades,” I said. “Oh, we normally don’t work on props that size, but we can handle it.” he said. Most of the pleasure boats in the area are outboard or mid-sized cruisers. Our propellers are large for our class of boat so I assumed that ours would be some of the larger props that they work on.
When we arrived we were directed to a loading bay door, when it opened I realized that my assumption was wrong, ours were not some of the largest props they work on, but the smallest!
Big River Propeller specializes in the repair of the propellers used on the Towboats. There were 10 ft wide, stainless steel propellers stacked all over the shop floor! The whole crew from the shop came over to look at the “baby props” we were bringing in. Marty had gone home as they had worked on a rush job all night, but Sam the owner and Scott the business manager were there and gave us a tour of the facility. It was very impressive. Large gantries to move the props around, heating ovens, laser measuring devices. Like with our situation, tugs hit logs and rocks in the rivers too. It was impressive to see a stainless steel propeller with a 5 ft blade, an inch thick at the tip, and 12 inches thick at the hub bent in half!
They not only repair propellers for the tugs in the area but get custom “blueprint” work from all over the country. He explained that many tugs have 3 or 4 propellers, some have double counter-rotating propellers so that is 8 props on a single tug. When a tug gets new engines, the propeller specifications need to change. They will add or remove steel, heat, and bend the blades to meet the requirements of the new engines. This is much less expensive than buying new propellers.
They reassured us that they do work on smaller props and could handle ours. They have a separate workshop for smaller propellers and do quite a few of them. They promised to get them done the next day, and Chris and I left and drove back to the marina.
We spent the rest of the day doing odd jobs around the boat and working on the blog. In the evening we went to dinner at the Yacht Club restaurant (collared shirt required) with Chris and Angela. We ran into a few of the other loopers as well and stayed until closing time (past 9:00!)
Wednesday – Nov 6th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Grand River, KY
Wednesday was a hurry-up and wait day waiting for the phone call to come pick up the propellers. I puttered around the boat and worked on the blog, Brenda did some laundry. At 2:00 we got the call that the propellers were ready, but the courtesy vans were both out and by the time they got back, it was too late to go as the propeller shop closes at 4:00. We told them that we’d pick them up in the morning, and reserved the car for that evening so we’d have it first thing.
For the past week, I’d been fighting a cold and we had run out of cold medicine, so we took the van into the little town and restocked on cold medicine. That evening we went back to the Yacht Club for dinner with Chris and Angela.
Thursday – Nov 7th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Grand River, KY
On Thursday morning Brenda and I took off from the marina at 7:30 to go pick up the propellers. It was raining fairly hard and traffic was heavy. Also, like most “loaner” vehicles we’ve experienced at marinas, the van was old and shook and rattled at any speed over 50 mph. It took us almost 2 hours to get to the prop shop. The propellers were ready and looked great. The port prop had been repaired, they checked the starboard prop and it was fine, just slightly out of balance so they had taken care of that. We loaded the props into the van and started back to the marina. On the way, we stopped at a Super Walmart and stocked up on some groceries.
We arrived back at the marina around 11:00. It was still pouring rain and cold. I spoke with Gayla in service and decided that we’d wait until the afternoon to pull the boat when the forecast said that the rain would stop. We went back to the boat, put away our groceries, and waited for the call to put the props back on. Around 2:00, I was working on the blog, and Brenda was napping, when we felt a bump on the back of the boat. There was the push boat, tying up to bring us to the lift! There were two mechanics this time, Dave and his daughter who is one of the top mechanics in the area! They had the boat out of the water, the props put back on, and the boat back in the water in under an hour!
We took the boat out into the lake for a quick test run and everything worked fine. No vibration at all! We re-docked the boat and were happy to have that event behind us!
That evening because it was raining, we didn’t feel like going outside of the resort, so we again went to the Yacht Club which was only about 100 ft from the boats for dinner.
Friday – Nov 8th – 0 NM – 0 Locks – In: Grand River, KY
Friday was sunny but cold, there was supposed to be a boat show which is why we had decided to stay an extra day. In the morning we did some small maintenance tasks on the boat. I had received the final parts I needed to install a shutoff valve on the new hot water heater, so installed that.
In the afternoon, we had made an appointment at the spa for haircuts for both Brenda and I. We both needed it, the hairdresser took off 2″ from the back of my head. In the evening we decided to go for dinner in town at T. Lawson’s Grill. We’d been advised that the restaurant was very busy especially on a Friday so to be there before 5:30. We left the marina at 5:00 for the short ride into town. When we got there, the parking lots were full, and we were quoted a 2-hour wait! We found two seats at the bar and ordered drinks and an appetizer. We had just gotten our appetizer when the couple next to us got called to their table, so we grabbed the other two chairs and ate at the bar. The food was excellent! It lived up to the high expectations that we’d been promised. After dinner, we went back to the marina and turned in early as we were planning an early departure in the morning.
Saturday – Nov 9th – 63.9 NM – 0 Locks – To: New Johnsonville, TN
We left Green Turtle Bay just after 7:00. It was a cold morning and there was frost on the boat. In this section, it was just Pura Vida III and us. We went a mile down the lake, then took the cut-through canal to Kentucky Lake and headed south. As mentioned Kentucky Lake is long, 184 miles and we have to go the entire length. Kentucky Lake is actually the Tennessee River, so when the lake ends, you are just in the original Tennessee River channel. The lake has some camps along the banks, but it’s mostly just wooded, with the occasional bluffs.
The eastern shore is the “Land Between The Lakes” National Recreation Area. About halfway through the day, we passed the State Route 79 bridge which is the southern boundary of the National Recreation Area. Here you can see some of the original infrastructure that was flooded out by the lake. There is an old railroad bridge where they’ve left half of it in place, and an old grain silo with part still sticking out above the water.
We saw very little traffic on the lake, only one barge, a few fishing boats, and one other large 80 ft powerboat also headed south. This captain at least passed us far away enough that we were able to turn into his wake and not rock the boat too badly.
We passed one larger tow, 3 wide, 5 long carrying wood chips, the channel was wide and there was plenty of room for us to pass.
We caught up with a slower-moving group of sailboats, one of which was some English men from Hull in the UK who were exploring the rivers. We were about to call them on the radio to arrange a slow pass (so as not to wake them and rock their boats, we are POLITE cruisers), when we heard one of them say, “I think I’ve lost my engine.” Oh, no! We slowed down so that we didn’t get in their way, and the other two boats in the group turned to help him. Then he came on the radio and said “I think I may have lost my propeller! The engine and shaft are turning, but I’m not going anywhere.”
There was a bit of chatter about throwing a tow line, when the boater came back on and said, “Oh, I’ve run aground! I didn’t even feel it!”. They were near the edge of the channel, and with the lower water from the drawdown, had run aground. In trying to help, the second sailboat also ran aground. They were getting ready for the third boat, a C-Dory outboard with a shallow draft to go get them, but they were able to spin and back off the shoal. By this time we’d pretty much drifted past, so we wished them safe travels and headed back down the river.
At 2:30 we arrived at Pebble Isle Marina our stop for the night. Pebble Isle has the lowest price on fuel on the lakes. We had not filled up since we started the Mississippi River and ran down our tanks to take advantage of the low price. They sell enough fuel to have two diesel pumps, so both Pura Vida III and we could fuel up at the same time. Pura Vida III has the exact same engines that we do. Their boat is a bit bigger, 3 ft longer, and 1.5 ft wider and has a different type of hull called a semi-displacement hull. Their top speed is about 17 knots, while our is 23 knots. We’ve filled up three times together and we’ve been within a few gallons of each other. We took on 238 gallons, then went across the basin to our dock for the night. The large powerboat was in front of us and we found out that they had hit a log going fast and had damaged one of their drive units. They were waiting for a diver to come and evaluate the damage, the crew is a delivery crew moving a customer’s boat from Chicago to Florida. You’d think that they would be more careful!
The town was quite a distance away and the delivery guys had the courtesy van so we just cooked on the boat. There are no big cities or towns near the marina and it was really dark. Brenda got some great moon shots before heading for bed.
Sunday – Nov 10th – 54.7 NM – 0 Locks – To: Clifton, TN
Sunday we left Pebble Isle at 7:20. When Pura Vida III started their generator, it immediately shut down due to no water flow. Chris thought it was probably his water pump impeller needing replacement. The generator is not critical so we headed out and back down Kentucky Lake. Just as we were leaving the marina, a “SHIP” rather than a tow came past, it looked interesting sort of like a car carrier. Our AIS system said that the name was “Rocketship”, we checked it out and found out that it’s a NASA ship that carries solid rocket boosters from the factory in Tennessee to Cape Canaveral. Cool!
Shortly after getting on the water, we came to a railroad bridge. The bridge was down. The charts said that the clearance was 23 ft. We’re 23 ft tall which doesn’t leave much room! The water was down due to the lake drawdown, so we called the bridge on the radio and asked what the clearance was. The operator said he didn’t know, but there was a gauge and to come up and take a look. He said that there was a train coming and that it would be a while before they could open the bridge. We cruised up to the bridge, and looked at the gauge through the binoculars, The gauge ended at 20 ft, and there was at least another 5 ft below the 20 ft mark so we calculated at least 25 ft of clearance. After discussion, we inched forward toward the bridge, with Pura Vida III following behind watching for clearance. Chris called on the radio saying that we had at least 3 ft of clearance, so we kept going and cleared the bridge just as the train started to go over.
We passed New Johnsonville, TN which is the effective end of Kentucky Lake, and back into more of a river, narrower with bluffs on the banks from time to time. Again today aside from the occasional fishing boat, and the three boats we’d passed the day before (they had kept going past our marina and anchored out, then left at first light) we didn’t see any commercial traffic. There was a dredge on the side of the river with some barges of dredge spoils, but that was about it.
Along the banks of the river, there are lots of campgrounds and summer homes all built up on stilts to protect from the flooding. Where there are bluffs, you see groups of permanent homes.
We went through an area called Sugar Tree, TN where there is a historic lighthouse on the river. The lighthouse looked a little beat up, then we noticed lots of downed trees and limbs some still across porches and houses, and a burned-out house with a car still in the garage. Apparently, a few weeks ago, a microburst of wind came through that area and caused lots of damage. We’re glad we were not on the river that day!
We arrived at Clifton RV Park and Marina in Clifton, TN at 2:30. This is a small marina tucked back behind a bluff in the river. The owners have only had it for a year, and are working hard to make a go of it. We received a warm welcome from Stacy the owner and Susan her mother who run the day-to-day operations. The marina has a fuel dock, several transient docks, and a small restaurant/convenience store. We were also greeted on the docks by Tim & Katie Lane on “Pangur Ban” a 38-foot sailboat also Looping. They had arrived here the day before and had traveled with Pura Vida III before we met them.
Chris looked into fixing his generator and Dave the local mechanic stopped by to lend a hand. It turned out that there was a blockage in his cooling water intake pipe. They used a compressor to blow it out and it worked fine. Brenda and Angela took a walk into Clifton to check out the sights. Clifton is a sleepy little Tennessee River town with some nice older buildings on Main Street. Clifton is the home of the PiggoStat Pediatric Immobilizer that holds infants still and safe when they are having x-rays. Invented and manufactured in Clifton! (Unfortunate name!)
In the evening it was still quite warm, in the upper 60’s so we all went to the Tiki Bar and had a drink, then had dinner at the restaurant. The marina is in a “Dry” county so no alcohol is allowed for sale. However, because the river is a huge source of gambling revenue with riverboats cruising up and down, the state of Tennessee has passed “The River Act” which allows any business attached to the river to sell alcohol. Go figure! Stacy the owner is also a chef and made an excellent dumpling stew. We were joined by two other sailboaters Harold and Debbie on Columba who are here waiting for repair parts, and Mike also on a sailboat who has an engine that needs rebuilding and will probably end up spending the winter here.
We chatted until dark, then all headed back to our boats. We decided that since they were predicting rain and a drop in temperature on Monday, we would wait until Tuesday to leave.
NEXT WEEK: SNOW AND ICE!!!! and we arrive in Mississippi!
Tom & Brenda