Tennessee River

Chattanooga to Knoxville

The winter of 2001/02 had been fairly mild in So. Illinois. I was fortunate that the Kaskaskia River was frozen over for only about a week and a half the whole season. As result, each month this winter I have been able to get out on the water several times. But most all the outings had been local and the gray/brown shoreline of the Kaskaskia had become a little boring. To make matters worse it seemed that spring is taking its time in arriving.

Frankly I was starting to suffer the nagging urge to explore new water. My wife can always detect this as she spots me at my desk, idly staring at river charts with drool collecting on the pages (that's why many of them use water resistant paper!). Yea, I've got it bad and am in need of a fix.

One of the problems I face is that my quests for virgin riverscapes are it continually requiring longer and longer tows. But this is simply the nature of my mission and must be accepted. I had a couple of prospective routes in mind and both were a fair distance south. I finally decided I wanted to finish the Tennessee River by towing to Chattanooga, TN and resuming the cruise upstream to Knoxville. Checking my calendar I found that most of April was a little hectic but during the second week I had a light fairly light schedule. I could make the run then if only the weather would improve a little.

I watched the five-day forecast (only slightly more accurate than the Farmer's Almanac) over the weekend and saw that things didn't look good. Temperatures weren't too bad but rain was in the prediction for almost every day. Monday morning still no change - lots of rain. But then Monday afternoon Weather.com changes its "guess" and shows clear and warm on Wed, Thurs, Friday and a chance of showers on Saturday. That's good enough for me! I'm going to pack my bags tonight and head out for Chattanooga right after work on Tuesday. That's rushing things a little as I have NOTHING ready but what the heck. I'm Going!

Late that evening I use the Tennessee River chart to loosely map the trip and run the numbers. I plan to not only travel the remaindered of the Tennessee but also explore several tributaries - the Hiwassee, Emory, Clinch, and Little Tennessee (Tellico) rivers. The total trip should be about 560 river miles.

On Tuesday things go well at work as I cleanup any necessary loose ends. By 5:30 pm I am in the truck pulling out of the driveway with Therapy in tow. Chattanooga is 400 miles away. My original plan was to stop just outside the city at one of the three rest areas and spend the rest of the night in Therapy. I would get up early and drive to the riverfront and drop Therapy in and head up stream. I would have preferred to go on to the riverfront but they don't allow overnight tie up at the courtesy dock.

Unfortunately, all the rest areas were full with semi trucks and there was not a single space I could squeeze in. I decided my only choice was the riverfront so I proceeded to the ramp and at about 1:30 AM slid Therapy off the trailer on to the Tennessee. I decided to take my chances with a police roust and bedded down at Chattanooga's very nice courtesy dock for the night. I was the only boat there.

I awoke a little after sunrise to the sound of the university sculling team perfecting their skills. The coach was in a small boat with a hand tiller outboard using a bullhorn to direct the athletes working in 3 different boats. Smooth, fast and graceful are the words that describe their movement down the river. I crawled out of the berth and fired up the Honda 50 so it could warm up while I dressed. A few minutes later I cut loose from the dock and watched Chattanooga disappear in my wake as I started my upstream journey.

The first lock & dam I will encounter is only about 7 miles up from Chattanooga at the 629 mile marker. Chickamauga Lock, like the other two locks between here and Knoxville, are rather small by comparison to many river locks. There is a single chamber measuring 360' x 60'. The average lift here is about 48' and it does have floating bollards. I normally choose one of the floating pins on the starboard side as it allows me to approach while skimming very close to the chamber wall. At slow speeds steering is somewhat imprecise so if I get a little too close I can simply reach out the side window and use my hand to nudge Therapy away.

Although manual pull chains are provided to signal the lockmaster if needed I call on the radio and request passage. He replied he would have to lower the chamber so my wait would be about 15 minutes. I used the time to organize things onboard. With a boat as small as Therapy everything needs to be kept in place. Either that or I need to drag along less junk!

The lock and dam were built in 1936 and like many on the Tennessee also produce electricity. The lockage goes smoothly and I exit on to Chickamauga Lake. This 35,400 acre reservoir has 810 miles of shoreline. There are a number of marinas and several are close to the dam. At 499 mile marker I pass the mouth of the Hiwassee River. This is one that I want to explore but I have decided the timing will work better on the way back. By now the wind has picked up to about 10 mph and there is just enough chop in some areas to make the 25 mph cruise speed a little uncomfortable. I pull back a little on the throttle add a modest amount of trim tab to smooth out the ride