The Tennessee River

Getting a haircut on the Tennessee River — from this angle you can’t see the look of fear

We headed back from Nashville on Sunday night because we’d learned something annoying on Saturday — the Kentucky Lake Dam and Locks were closing for the month of November. To get to Kentucky Lake, there are two ways off the Ohio River: the Tennessee River to the Kentucky Lake Dam/Locks and the Cumberland River to the Barkley Lake Dam/Locks. The guidebook suggests going the longer way to the Cumberland because the Tennessee gets all the commercial traffic, since it’s a much shorter route, so pleasure boats end up getting through faster via the longer way despite going twice as far. However, with the main route closed for a month, all commercial traffic was forced to go through the one lock up the Cumberland. I called the lockmaster Sunday night to ask if it was expected to be incredibly busy — he replied “yes, and then some.”

Tuesday looked like it had a passable schedule for us to potentially spend an entire day hanging out in front of a lock waiting for any sort of slot to pass, so we decided to set off at dawn Tuesday to make the best of things. It was around 45 miles to the dam, most of which through a fairly narrow river that was now also full of commercial barge traffic, so it took us until around noon to get to the lock. We’d also been checking in with them on the phone every couple hours to get an idea of when we might have an opening and they had been aiming for around that noon timeframe for us, so had been adjusting our speed to hit that window. When we showed up, they said probably one more hour, and so we hung out in the current of the dam until around 1pm when they actually did let us into the lock. We exited the lock and pulled right into Green Turtle Bay, where we intended to spend a couple days, grateful at only having to be delayed a couple hours instead of all day long.

We had intended to spend a couple days here to get our shit together — we had been rushing hard for the last few weeks due to busy work schedules, visiting parents, and weather constraints, and periodic boat maintenance had been stacking up. Literally — there was a stack of parts on the floor of the living room that Hannah was losing her mind over. Weather for the week was also showing below freezing for the next four nights, which isn’t a thrilling prospect on anchor. Also, my quarter was ending at work and so I’ve been frantically finishing up Q4 planning, including ramping up on two new teams that just got given to me on Tuesday. Hannah had started looking around to find somewhere to get booster shots and found that we a nearby pharmacy was accepting walk-ins on Friday if we stayed around until the weekend. We looked at all those good reasons and decided to give ourselves some breathing room and just spend the week here.

There’s really not much around the area here, so we didn’t have much to do all week, which was a welcome respite. A mile walk away was Patti’s 1880 Settlement, an awkward themed resort with a gigantic restaurant full of waitresses (exclusively women) all wearing matching prairie-ish curtain-like dresses. But they served delicious pork chops. Outside of that, Hannah did some grocery shopping in the nearby town, which required borrowing the warning-light-riddled loaner car from the marina, and we mostly hung out on the boat all week.

I had Friday off work (first Friday of every month) and we drove in around 10am to get our Moderna booster shots. As soon as we got back, I set to work doing all of the maintenance on the boat — oil changes, filter changes (oil and fuel), and changing the three start batteries that were all starting to show their age. Amazingly, the marina had an attached boatyard that had ways to dispose of all of these things, so we aren’t going to have to carry 8 gallons of used oil and 3 used batteries around for a few months. They even had a shop with reasonably-priced oil to refill our reserves.

Right around 7pm, we both started feeling like crap from the boosters, and by 10pm we were both independently wrapped up in multiple blankets, furiously shivering, and decided to go to bed, where we spent a long sleepless night alternating between overheating and crazy chills and enjoying crazy fever dreams. In the late morning, starting to slowly recover, we went and got fish and chips at the resort restaurant for lunch before heading out in the early afternoon.

The leaves had been turning all week we were here, starting to show lovely fall colors. All afternoon, we had a calm passage down the river, passing countless pretty coves. The area between the Kentucky and Barkley Lakes is called, you’d never guess, “The Land Between The Lakes”, and it’s well known as a fall wonderland, with campgrounds everywhere. Judging by the continuous morning gunshots, I’m guessing the hunting is decent too. We set up for the night, just as the sun fell, in a pretty anchorage on the east side of the river.

Kentucky Lake was formed in 1944 when the TVA built the Kentucky Dam and flooded the region. That had the side effect of inundating several small towns, which are still under the water off channel. Charts still show where streets, buildings, and bridges used to be, as well as the original boundaries of the Tennessee River, so that you know where it’s a bad idea to wander around and/or drop anchor, in case you happen to drive your boat into a barn. The anchorage that we set up in used to have several bridges and roads through it, so we set up right in the middle of what looked like a dead zone, trying to avoid hooking something manmade and well-secured.

Roads under the water next to our anchorage

The next morning we woke up to something we hadn’t seen in a while — thick, opaque fog. It was almost freezing overnight, with water temps slightly above 60 degrees — in retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising, but here we are.

For the first 30 minutes of the morning, it was basically driving slowly by instruments — radar and charts alone — but eventually it started to clear up/burn off.

Eventually Kentucky Lake turned back into Tennessee River and we were back in familiar territory — winding river surrounded by fall foliage. We set up on anchor for the night in an oxbow just north of Clifton, TN. We decided this wind-less and warm-ish evening was a good opportunity to give me a haircut, so that was the evening activity.

We’re going to make very little/possibly zero progress in the coming week, since I have meetings from 9am (local time, while the fog is still thick) through 6pm (after dark) solid this whole week for quarterly planning, so we expect to finish this part of the Tennessee River next weekend and head into the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway towards the gulf.

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