My daughter was to visit a college friend in Knoxville over the Labor Day weekend. My wife Suzy and I would drive Sara Jane up to Knoxville with the little 15’11” cuddy in tow. We would deposit SJ in Knoxville, then take to the water. You may have read of my solo experience on the Tennessee River between Knoxville down to about 10 miles south of Watts Bar Lock in early May. As a result of that post, I swapped e-mail with a fellow listee in Chattanooga. Lee recommended I see the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee River on my next trip that way, and that’s exactly what my wife and I intended to do – we’d explore the waters between the Chickamauga and Nickajack locks. If we found Lee aboard when we got to Hales Bar, we’d say “Hey” and invite ourselves aboard; otherwise we’d just drool at his Seaton 42 from the dock.
We were casual about our departure time from home, then meandered up the mountain to Knoxville. We also visited too long when we dropped SJ off and were hard pressed to make the 100 mile drive to Chattanooga in time to get rigged, launched and settled by sundown. To make matters worse, I often encourage landside exploration we would otherwise miss by intentionally not targeting a specific ramp, so we did have to do a little exploring. We liked a ramp about a mile downstream of the Chickamauga Lock. A swift/uneventful launch allowed us to make our way about 10 miles downstream to a protected anchorage in time to get the bug net up before the onslaught of mosquitoes. We dug out the transistor radio and took in the remainder of the Braves game before turning in.
Up the next morning before dawn, I brought in all 10’ of rode and my 8S Danforth, to relocate to a better vantagepoint for witnessing the sunrise. I put the coffee water on to boil as I made my way down river about 4 miles at idle. We passed an anchored houseboat with a couple sitting on the top deck, presumably in preparation for the same spectacle we were about to witness. Our quiet Honda allowed us to overhear a conversation they were having about the peaceful night and beautiful morning.
As we watched the sun clear the horizon, a family of 3 raccoons scoured the beach for breakfast. We then made our way slowly through the Grand Canyon of the Tennessee River. Great Blue Heron were spaced at regular intervals along the banks, as if assigned guard duty for their specific areas. In the cool of the morning, my wife and I thanked Lee for encouraging us on to see these beautiful waters.
We were almost totally alone on our journey through the Grand Canyon, encountering only a single fisherman on a center console. Suzy asked about the virtues of the center console. I explained that the design provided for uncluttered access to the water; a person could ‘follow’ a fish completely around the boat without getting his line fouled on windshields, motor controls, or other obstructions. She nodded in acceptance as she returned her gaze to the beautiful canyon cliffs.
We took the entire glorious morning, (4 hours), to go the 20 miles between last nights anchorage at Jackson Bar and the spot we’d chosen for a morning nap just shy of where Lee kept his boat. It was early for a nap, but it was still cool, and by tying off to an overhanging limb in 20” of water, we were able to keep the boat in the shade. The cuddy, although small, was quite comfortable with a breeze blowing through the hatch and out the open top of the closed companionway. As we emerged into the cockpit after our ‘nap’ Suzy sheepishly commented, “You can’t do that on a center console.”
It was a quick ride to Hales Bar. We immediately spotted the Seaton and tied up at the marina office to inquire if Lee was about. We also needed ice. The lady in the office said, “You evidently don’t want fuel, you’re not at the fuel dock.”
I explained that I had a Honda outboard, and with the slow speed and favorable current, I’d been getting close to 9 mpg…I hadn’t used 4 gallons since I splashed at Chattanooga. After getting my ice, I learned from the lady that Lee was not aboard. We re-tied QT in front of the Seaton to get a close up look at her from the dock. Suzy asked what material she was made of. I knuckled the dark blue hull, but the sound wasn’t familiar…she looked like metal, but I didn’t see the telltale frames inside the bulwarks, and the rub rail seemed to sport laminations as if made of wood. I finally admitted I couldn’t tell what she was made of, but she was gorgeous. High bow, thick hull, two windlasses, sturdy masts, meaty pilothouse, and canoe stern. Gorgeous!
We snapped a few pictures, untied QT and headed back out into the river. As we passed the marina a fellow was waving and pointing to a couple walking down the dock. We did a 180 and made our way back to the spot in front of the Seaton. Lee and his first mate were just preparing to go aboard.
Lee said he bought the boat at Trawler Fest Melbourne, had work done in Lauderdale, brought the boat up the Tenn-Tom and was now doing the finishing touches himself. Lee took me on a tour…Bow thruster, active stabilizers, full electronics, fuel polishing, Gulf Coast filter. Accommodations were comfortably functional. I learned that the hull was glass. What a boat. She feels so solid and warm. Lee calls her Katahdin II. If she were mine, because of the seaworthiness she exudes, I’d call her BODYGUARD.
We didn’t want to overstay our welcome, although the comfort of the air-conditioned salon was inviting in the 90+ temp outside. We reluctantly departed, heading down to Nickajack Dam to check out the recreation areas there. We now needed to keep QT on a plane to keep the breeze fresh through the open center of the windshield. After checking out the dam, we headed north.
My wife has MS and doesn’t do well in the heat – she wears a Cool Vest, which is a vest filled with inserts, that are ‘charged’ in the cooler or refrigerator. These inserts freeze at about 65 degrees. A 20-minute charge in ice water will allow the wearer to be cool for 2 hours or more. Even with the Cool Vest, the heat was overpowering. We decided to head back to the ramp, put the boat on the trailer and head north. If Suzy recovered in the car air conditioning we would launch somewhere near Knoxville and stay aboard for the night, otherwise we’d find a motel.
When we were a little south of Knoxville, Suzy decided that she was game for another night on the water. I remembered a nice ramp from my previous trip, but we couldn’t find it. It was after 9pm and very dark when we finally settled on a ramp we’d previously ruled out because it was too dark to evaluate. I parked across the street and walked to the ramp to see if it had a floating dock. I said, “Hey” to a solitary fisherman as I worked my way to the end of the dock in the darkness. This ramp would do, but it would be tricky backing the trailer down in the darkness, especially in the unlit, congested, confined parking lot.
Suzy was still a little overheated and although she’s had experience backing the trailer in the daylight at a familiar ramp, I figured it best to handle the whole launch myself. I’d back a little, get out, check the position of the car/trailer, get back in the car, back a little, get out, check the position… When I was getting out of the car for the third time, I saw a flashlight signaling behind me. It was the fisherman, who finally figured out I was trying to get in the water. He not only directed me while I was backing down the ramp, but took the lines and held the boat while I parked the car. He also offered valuable information (like where the hell I was, because I didn’t have a clue – the ramp wasn’t on the map and I didn’t have a chart). Folks that hang around the water are always ready to lend a hand.
We followed the fisherman’s directions as we idled toward the river proper, wondering if the mosquitoes would converge on us before we got the anchor down and the bug net up. We fumbled our way about ½ mile in the dark when the GPS finally told us we were on the chart. I immediately found 4 feet of water and dropped the hook. We deployed the bug net in haste but there were no mosquitoes to speak of – maybe it was past their bedtime too? The darkness had offered up a cool, comfortable breeze. As we were drifting off to sleep, Suzy reminded me how nice it was to be sleeping aboard, and how we saved $32.95 by not staying in a motel. I corrected her, explaining that by my calculations, we saved over $200,000 by not sleeping on a Seaton 42.
Coffee for sunup and we were on our way up the river. We encountered only a couple other boats as we lazed our way to Knoxville, gawking at the fancy homes atop the cliffs and along the shores. Knoxville was like grandma’s warm kitchen on a cold winter’s afternoon – complete with the smell of hot chocolate and a big plate of just baked cookies…it just felt good to be there. There were big houseboats rafted 8 and 10 deep in columns of 3’s and 4’s, all flying University of Tennessee Volunteer flags and banners. There was a clump of cruisers/houseboats anchored across the river…there were runabouts as thick as a swarm of bees around the shoreside restaurant docks. One of the downtown bridges across the TN River was loaded to the gills with fireworks…at sundown it would erupt in a festival of fleeting color. I wanted so much to drop the hook and wait for the celebration, but we were on a schedule and had to get home. I’ve heard that there is quite a fireworks show associated with the Kentucky Derby – maybe I’ll get a chance to be there for that one…
Total Miles – 774.7
Boat miles – 125.7
Boat gallons – 16.7
Engine hours – 10.6