The Tenn-Tom Waterway: Aqua Yacht Harbor to Columbus and on to Demopolis

Second time around, our departure from Aqua Yacht Harbor was uneventful, and we managed the 54 miles to our next stop at Midway Marina, without mishap. We slipped quietly away from the dock early in the morning, and were off down the Divide Cut, the first section of the Tenn-Tom. This is a 25-mile, man-made, long straight section of the waterway which links Pickwick Lake and Bay Springs Lake.

The Divide Cut

Bay Springs Lake

 

Below Bay Springs Lake, a series of 10 Locks takes the Waterway down to Demopolis.

 

The first six locks, which are fairly close together, comprise the Canal Section.

The first Lock is the deepest. Jamie Whitten Lock, named for a local politician, is 84’ deep.

Jamie Whitten Lock

Jamie Whitten Lock

Midway Marina is halfway down the first flight of six locks.

Tree stumps at Midway Marina

Assistant dockhand at Midway Marina

As we left Midway, it was a beautiful day with the Fall tints lighting up the river banks.

Fulton Lock

Coming up to Glover Wilkins Lock

After Amory Lock you come into the River section. Here, the waterway broadens out and the remaining four locks are more spaced out. There are lots of oxbow lakes where the waterway has been cut through, and in some of them you can anchor. We stopped at Acker Lake and the next day went on to Columbus.

near Acker Lake

Fall colours near Acker Lake

Coming up to Aberdeen Lock

We intended to have two nights at Columbus, and leave early the next morning with a group of Loopers to get through the nearby John Stennis Lock all together. But on the second night we ventured into the town centre to eat at Huck’s Place, generally acknowledged to be the best restaurant in town. It was certainly very good. The town centre looked interesting, and on the way back to the marina, our Uber driver recommended a visit to Waverley Mansion, an antebellum house a few miles out of town.

So we decided to stay another day.

The journey to Waverley wasn’t without incident. What our Uber driver hadn’t told us was that the mansion was some distance away along narrow, country roads. It should have taken about 20 minutes, and after driving for half an hour through forest interspersed with the odd tract of farmland, we suspected that the satnav might have led us astray. Google maps confirmed this, but even when we were on the correct narrow country road, we still couldn’t see anything resembling an antebellum mansion.

Things were getting a bit tense. We had to get the car back to the marina by 12, and if we didn’t find the house soon, we wouldn’t have enough time to see it properly. It wasn’t quite a disaster in the making, but there was certainly the potential for a minor domestic, with unspoken blame being cast equally on the one who had programmed the satnav, versus the one who had insisted on the expedition in the first place. Eventually, we came to a country park and just before a dead end at the water’s edge, I caught a glimpse of white down a rough track through the trees. There had been no sign indicating the house’s location.

A young man was sweeping leaves in front of an imposing house. It turned out he was the guide, and we had just enough time for a tour.

Waverley Mansion

Jimmy told us he was a history graduate and he was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the house and its history. He had worked for the owners for 10 years.

The house was unusual. Two wings led off a central octagonal entrance hall, topped with a cupola. The upper storeys had balconies overlooking the hall.

Waverley was built in 1852 by Colonel Hampton Young. He named it because Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels were his favourite books. He and his large family came from Philadelphia MS and lived in a log cabin nearby, while the house was being built. In the Civil War, the Union armies didn’t get as far as Columbus, so there are a number of antebellum houses in the area which escaped destruction.

After Billy Hampton Young, the last surviving son, died in 1913, the house was effectively abandoned, the heirs being unable to agree about what to do with it. It became derelict and a favourite haunt of high school and college students.

In 1962 it was bought by Mr and Mrs Robert Snow. They did much of the restoration and repair work themselves and furnished the house with beautiful antiques.

 

Central Hall, Waverley Mansion

Library

Dining room, with a portrait of Mrs Snow above the fireplace

Bedroom,  bedspread knitted by Mrs Snow

Drawing room

Mr Snow died aged 91 in 2017 and the house and contents are now for sale. It is registered as an historic building and the hope is that an organisation will buy it and preserve it for future generations.

Front driveway and garden

In the afternoon we went into the town. It was a bit disappointing. It wasn’t as lively as it had been the night before, and sadly, a number of businesses seemed to be closed down. We did have a look in the Arts Centre though, where an impressive photography exhibition was being staged. We wandered round the tree lined streets looking at the lovely old houses.

House on 3rd Avenue

3rd St S

On 3rd St, as we walked past, a lady opened her front door and called to us. Apparently it is obvious that we aren’t Americans, and she wanted to know where we were from. It turned out that she was a British exile, having moved to Columbus from Birkenhead in 1979. We had a long chat on her doorstep. She hadn’t been back to the U.K. for a few years and she said talking to us had made her day.

3rd St S

Tennessee Williams’ childhood home

Scarecrow on 5th St – a local custom

Main St

5th St

Columbus Marina at dusk

We left Columbus the next day. We knew that the weather forecast for the next few days was miserable, but we needed to get going. There were only two locks to go through, and it wasn’t raining very hard at that point, so we didn’t get too wet. But it was a pity that we only saw this beautiful stretch of river in cloud and rain.

We anchored at Windham Landing, and the following day at Sumpter Recreation Area.

Tom Bevill Lock, with an egret looking for something to eat

Leaving Windham Landing

Mile 272

There are some quite sharp bends on the River Section, and a couple of times large tows took us a bit by surprise.

Crimson White appearing round a bend

Sumpter Anchorage

There was another thunderstorm in the night and we were woken by brilliant flashes of lightning, claps of thunder and heavy, lashing rain. The last stretch to Demopolis was over 50 miles and as it’s now dark by 5.30 (November seems nearly as miserable in Alabama as it is in England) we got an early start and were away by 6.45. But it was bad timing.

Howell Heflin Lock was 3 miles away. Ian hailed them when we got within a couple of miles, only to find that a tow was just about to lock down in front of us. This meant waiting, ie hovering about in the channel, while the lock emptied and then filled up again, so we lost about 40 minutes.

At Epes and at Mile 234, 18 miles from Demopolis, we passed spectacular white cliffs.

The geology of Alabama is complex and the white rocks along the Tenn-Tom are fossiliferous, clayey, sandy glauconitic limestones laid down around the  Eocene Period around 50 million years ago, in warm, shallow seas. Thanks to my friend Elizabeth Capewell for this information.

By the time we got to Kingfisher Bay Marina at Demopolis, it was raining hard again and we were grateful to Anna-Marie, the dockmaster, for finding a covered slip for us. Demopolis is the last marina before Mobile, more than 200 miles away, so we planned to have a few days stocking up and having a bit of a rest before tackling the last, difficult stage of this year’s trip. What we didn’t realise at that point was that once more, Fate and the weather had decided to overturn our plans and that Carina would be staying in Demopolis for rather longer than we had anticipated.

 

 

 

The Tenn-Tom Waterway: Aqua Yacht Harbor and Back

I didn’t mean this blog to be a long, introspective, self-pitying catalogue of all the mishaps that have befallen us on this part of the trip. Really.

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Leaving Aqua Yacht Harbor #1

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Flying the flag of the American Great Loop Cruisers’ Association on the Tenn-Tom

But when we realised, two hours out of Aqua Yacht Harbor down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, that hydraulic fluid was leaking from the lower steering helm and that we would have to turn around, go back, and get it fixed with no small loss of time and money, it felt as though we had reached a very low ebb.

Coming on top of everything else that has gone wrong on this trip, I felt that things were out of control, and that shrugging it off, going with the flow, and accepting that stuff happens, no longer seemed an appropriate response. Wallowing in gloom was much more comforting, even for an innate optimist with a belief that most things usually happen for the best.

It was Saturday, so no one could come out till Monday, to see if it was just a leaking seal or something more serious.

It was. Dave came and said we needed a new helm to stop the leaking, and we would have to source one for him to fit. This comes under the costing-an-arm-and-a-leg category of expenditure, but, ever resourceful, Ian went on the Internet and managed to find a reconditioned one at considerably less expense than a new one would have been. We paid for expedited shipping so it arrived the next day for Dave to fit on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the hours hung rather heavily. My usual method of working off frustration is vigorous polishing of the brasses, but Ellen McArthur-style, I had run out of Brasso. Mopping the floors and polishing all the woodwork had to suffice. The WiFi wasn’t that good so checking social media was rather tedious, having to wait longer than five seconds for posts to appear. I was reduced to staring at the laptop, deleting most of the 1500 emails that had somehow accumulated in my inbox.

The marina had a courtesy car which we could use for two hours at a time. So we could go out, but not very far. We went to Corinth, 15 miles away across rural Mississippi, to the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center. This was a purpose-built facility and very well done, focusing on Corinth’s strategic importance in the war, and the battles of Shiloh and Corinth, in which many thousands of men on both sides were killed in action. Outside, there was a water feature with engraved stones, commemorating events in American history.  It was moving, and saddening.

Annoyingly, the weather was bright and sunny and would have been perfect for boating. Instead,we drove out to Pickwick Lake State Park, near the lock, but it’s mainly for boating and picnicking, with no walking trails, so we sat and watched a flock of geese on the water.

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Pickwick Lake State Park

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Pickwick Lake State Park

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Pickwick Lake State Park

Opposite the marina, a little further along the main road, a narrow road led up a hill through the woods, so we went for a walk up there instead. Scattered among the trees were a few houses, some modern and well-looked after, and others more modest. We attracted the attention of a gentleman busy sweeping the fallen leaves from his front drive, who came out and chatted to us. We got the impression that not many people here wander about in the woods for the fun of it.

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Little house in the woods, Iuka

Dave came back and fitted the new helm on Wednesday, so we were good to go. But the next stage involved a 25-mile journey down the  ‘Divide Cut’,  a long straight passage where the waterway was carved out of the rock and where you can’t anchor. We didn’t want to be doing that in the heavy rain and winds which were forecast for the next day, so we decided to stay at Aqua Harbor till Friday and enjoy the journey in better weather.

We went to the small town of Iuka, where the old Tishomingo County Courthouse is now a small museum. On a wet Thursday morning, we were the only visitors and Jeff, the director, gave us a guided tour.  His knowledge and insight gave us a much better picture of the history of the area than we would have gleaned if we’d just gone round by ourselves.

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Tishomingo Courthouse Museum

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S Fulton St, Iuka

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The Old Tishomingo Courthouse, Iuka

The restaurant at the marina was open on Thursday evening and we deserved a treat. This time it took the form of Cajun-spiced red fish, followed by Mississippi Mud Pie.

That night, it poured down and Carina rocked on the waves washing against the dock. The extra day at the marina was a price worth paying for the knowledge that we were safely secured in the storm.

We had a very early start on Friday morning, because as well as the long passage through the cut, there would be locks to go through too.

The sky was grey and overcast, but this time the cloud had a silver lining.

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Leaving Aqua Yacht Harbor #2