When we last checked in with Larry and Jamie McCullough on Independence, their Nordhavn 59 Coastal Pilot, they were in Lake Michigan, about halfway through the Great Loop journey they had started last April in Florida. Now they’ve cruised down the Tenn-Tom Waterway, the 253-mile long cut from Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee River near Demopolis, Alabama.
Before the Tenn-Tom opened in 1985, boats had to continue down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, and then head east across the Gulf of Mexico. The Tenn-Tom basically was a shortcut, saving hundreds of miles. In addition, the lower Mississippi has never been particularly friendly to cruising power boats; it has few marinas or refueling opportunities, it becomes immensely wide as it flows south, and it’s often filled with enormous commercial barges and tugs.
The Tenn-Tom has its own commercial traffic, as the McCulloughs found it. It also has ten locks, and many of them offer their own individual challenges. But the waterway also offers the chance to explore small towns and villages along the way. They particularly liked wandering through Tennessee Williams’ childhood home in Columbus, Mississippi.
Many other cruising boat owners report recent debris, lock closures and flooding in the Tenn-Tom. Here’s the McCulloughs’ account; scroll down for their pictures:
Off we go from Grand Harbor Marina, at Pickwick Lake, toward the Tenn-Tom at 8:00AM. Not too sure what to expect as the first lock we are headed to, the Jamie Whitten lock and dam, had a massive oil spill occur inside the lock 3 weeks ago. This unfortunate event has delayed commercial traffic (around 22 tug and tows) which are now waiting to clear the lock, leaving P.C.’s (pleasure crafts) to wait for a chance to jump in.
We are pleasantly surprised when we arrive four hours downstream to find the lock doors open and the lock master welcoming us in. Our lock-luck sticks and we make it through the other two locks without delay to end our day at Midway Marina, Fulton, MS (47NM). Another similar day on the Tenn-Tom, with just a little side note at the Rankin Lock (4th lock) where a tug and tow, that had down-locked right before us, side-swiped the lock door ripping off two of the top fenders and the ladder. There was debris in the lock chamber and downstream as well, but no issue with the performance of the lock doors…thank goodness!
We had just a minor (one hour) wait at the last lock of the day and then we anchor for the night in a little cove off the river called Blue Bluff, Aberdeen, MS (35NM). A sweaty night without power but pretty and no wind to shift the boat around while on the hook. We take our 7th lock on the Tenn-Tom straight off the next morning and then cruise into a shallow slip at Columbus Marina, Columbus, MS (23NM).
We stay in Columbus for two nights as Maggie disembarks and the remaining crew takes time to get a few chores done and take in a few sites in town. Columbus is a town of 24,000 and appears to be doing well or at least holding its own. We tour the childhood home of playwright Tennessee Williams and then walk around town to see the old buildings and homes and of course sample a few cold beverages. Read more: