The Tennessee River Again

Kentucky Lake to ALMOST Chattanooga, TN


Much to my dismay, the spring of 2005 had yielded very few hours in Therapy’s log.  A few local trips but none of the aqua-marathons I normally thrive on. Our only son had set the date for an early May wedding and had ask that the ceremony be held at our home, outdoors on our multi-level deck.  Naturally, we agreed but little did I know my wife would quickly slide into insanity as the date approached and had a long list of home improvement projects that HAD to be done. But obviously, I survived the ordeal and come the first week of June I was once again experiencing sever withdrawal pains and need a fix.  Therapy HAD to hit the water.


My first choice of destination was to tow to the Kansas City area and continue my exploration of the Missouri River. The weather in the Midwest had been exceptional for the past three weeks but now heavy rain was forecast for the area.  I decided that the Illinois River was looking a little better and although I had made the run before the trip from the St. Louis, Mo. area to Chicago would be a nice excursion.  So Chicago it was.


I did all my pre-trip preparation including loading routes and waypoints in to my two GPS units and checking the Corps of Engineers’ web site for lock closures.  Everything looked good and I planned to leave Friday afternoon right after work.


Friday about noon I decided to check the weather one last time. CRUD!  Things appeared to be going sour up the Illinois River too.  Rain and 10 to 15 mph wind – not horrible but not what I had hoped for either.  But where else to go at the last minute?  How about Chattanooga!  I always enjoy this trip and make it at least once a year.  But what about the weather going south?  I checked and it looked good!  Low for chance of rain AND the winds were forecast calm to 5 mph.  Chattanooga it was!  But now I had to run home and reprogram the GPSs and swap charts.


Late afternoon with everything loaded I hit the road with Therapy in tow making the 3-hour drive to Kentucky Lake Dam Marina.  Although I have made this river trip five or six times, I normally tow to the bottom of KY Lake and drop in there.  This cuts off about 75 miles one-way.  Not that I mind the distance but if the wind happens to be strong this large lake can get rough and make for a kidney pounding passage.  But with light winds forecasted I decide to take the chance.


By the time I get on the water I have about and hour and a half of sun left. Although the lake is not glass smooth it is close.  I drop the throttle and Therapy responds but the extra weight of gear and topped tanks makes her haul a little longer coming out of the hole.  But once on plane she glides easily over the slightly stimulated surface and I quickly find myself settling in to a state of euphoria.  It’s good to be back.


A week earlier the area had experiences some heavy rain.  As a result, here and there was floating debris.  Not a lot but what was there was large enough I definitely needed to avoid it.  This was a little disappointing as I was actually looking forward to trying to run a little at night.  If you have read any of my other river tales you know I usually detest this.  But I have found myself doing often enough that I decided something needed to be done. So rather than just puckering my posterior and scurrying blindly in the darkness I had made a couple of upgrades I hoped would help.


The first was the addition of the radar unit.  I know, kind of nuts on an 18’ boat but my usage is a little different that most with a boat that size.  The second was trying to reduce “white” light at the helm.  The dimmer everything the better the night vision but this is not as easy as you might think.  Although I don’t really need most of the engine instruments light for these short hops, I do need the depth sounder, GPS and radar.  My Lowrance GPS has several light settings and the darkest one works well.  The depth sounder on the other hand is either bright or none.  And much to my dismay the new JRC radar unit has a lowlight setting and a night mode but still is far brighter than needs to be.  My fix for them were two small $7 Wal-Mart flashlights with an attaching clip and a red lens that swivels.  I attach these to the overhead visor and point them down on the dark instruments. Works fairly well.


My final “night fix” was the addition of headlights.  I have seen these used on fishing boats on the Tennessee River in the area of Wilson and Wheeler locks.  They are automotive running lights (small quartz units like fog lights) attached on the bow.  Looked like they might help so I thought I would give them a try.  Not wanting a permanent mount I attached them to a piece of aluminum angle and strap it to the front mooring cleats with small bungee cords.  This way I can put them on when needed and remove when not (they’re big time ugly when on – glad I only need them at night when no one can see them!)


But now the stuff in the water makes me once again rethink the concept of running rivers in the dark.  Most of the debris were floating tree limbs of various lengths but commonly 3” diameter and larger.  I saw a couple 10” round chunks of cut firewood  - not something I want to kiss with the bow at 20 mph.


So as the sun settles below the tree line I have to decide what to do.  There is no moon to help out.  There are numerous suitable anchorages along the way so I can’t use that as an excuse.  Still, I am anxious to try out my night gear. While it is still light I am running the radar and it is doing an excellent job of picking out the channel markers.  I now have about 60 hours (most of it in the daylight) experience with the JRC unit and am finally starting to get the feel of adjusting and using it.  Sure not a simple as a GPS!


What the heck, I decided to strap on running lights and see what happens.  Not wanting to throw caution completely in the wind, I decide not to run far but just enough to see what works and what doesn’t.  I set a goal for the bridge at the 66-mile marker which will means I have covered about 43 miles for the evening.


With darkness upon me I turn on the lights.  They don’t seem to help much.  I stop a few times and try to adjust them, as not much change.  I thought at least they would make the reflective tape in the channel markers glow up a little – not really.  Finally give up.  They aren’t helping me see anything and they are drawing a good load on my single battery.  I am doubtful that the small alternator on the outboard can keep up with the radar and the lights.  I’ll try them again some when the water is clear but tonight it just not worth the hassle.



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