The next stop was Gunthersville Lock at the 349 MM, which was about a 3-hour ride. The wind was still laying low which was fortunate, as the scrambled eggs and bacon I had for breakfast were lying heavy. (By the way they had “grits” on the buffet so I gave them a try – what’s with that. To me they were a cross between cream of wheat and wallpaper paste!)
Around the 330 MM the scenery along the Tennessee improves. Not that it is bad to begin with but the rolling hills start transforming into the Smoky Mountains. They tower above the water with their crests dotted by homes that must afford spectacular views. From here to Chattanooga is truly a gorgeous ride. And on this day, the water was almost glass smooth and the blue sky peppered with white bulging clouds – a perfect day for once again exploring this beautiful waterway.
I made Gunthersville Lock with no delay and was then pushing for the last barrier before Chattanooga. Nickajack Lock and Dam is at the 424 MM and Chattanooga is just 40 absolutely beautiful river miles beyond. I make Nickajack at about 4:00 pm and have to wait about 45 minutes for a tow to complete its passage. I enter the lock with a couple other pleasure craft.
With the lockage complete I start to exit the chamber when the lockmaster standing on the wall waives me over. He asked when I would be returning? I reply that it will probably be Tuesday. He smiled and added, “You didn’t check did you!” I knew exactly what he meant. In my haste to make the last minute destination change I had not take the time to check for scheduled lock closing. Now it appears I will be paying for the oversight! “How long are you going to be down,” I asked. “Seven days,” he replied. “We will be opening on Sunday morning at 6:00 am if all goes as planned.”
Once again life on the river was proving very interesting. I ease out of the lock to take stock of the situation. For a few moments I entertain the thought of just spending the week on the upper Tennessee River and running on to Knoxville. But slowly reality drags me back to consciousness as I come to grips with the real world – a wife, a job and bills to pay. As a single barge tow enters the lock I mark the end of my upstream progress I follow him in.
Sure, I am somewhat disappointed. I was looking forward to visiting Chattanooga again. Plus they had just reworked the waterfront and added a new marina and I was anxious to check it out. But today it was not be. Still, I certainly couldn’t complain. Even without Chattanooga it had been a great trip.
So now I am retracing my wake. I make it back to the 379 MM where I pull into a small pool off the main channel and seek refuge for the night. The sky is still clear and I sit and watch the stars slowly appear overhead as a chorus of baritone frogs serenade me. Life is good.
The next morning proceeds nicely and I handle Gunthersvilles Lock with no delay and soon find myself nearing Wheeler Lock. There is also a large tow heading downstream so I call on the radio hoping to secure a place in line in front of him. I get no response from the lockmaster. As I approach the lock I note the end of an upstream double tow hanging on the long wall so I knew it is at least half way through its passage. I continue to call on the radio but find no reply. I would wait about 5 minutes and call again – nothing.
As I continued this vigil I started to notice very dark and foreboding storm clouds building in the distance. Twenty minutes passed and the look of the sky was starting to make me very nervous. It was quite clear that a major storm was bearing down on the lock and I was sitting out very unprotected. I was just getting ready to head for cover when another pleasure craft called requesting the lock and the lockmaster immediately came back. I looked upstream and could see a very large catamaran called “Star 7” approaching at speed.
The lockmaster explained that she had been out on the wall working with a problem the commercial tow was having. She stated that as soon as she had the tow clear she would lock both of us through the auxiliary lock but she could not leave her post until then to operate the auxiliary. I was appreciative that she was offering us the smaller chamber rather than having us wait for the main BUT still the storm was approaching. I was watching it visibly and on the radar and we were going to catch a direct hit. The clouds were big and black!
I was just about to cut and run when she came back on the radio. She stated that Wilson lock 15 miles away had reported that the storm had passed them and it was dishing out 60 mph wind, small hail and rain of biblical proportions. She was obvious very concerned with our well being and said she was abandoning the tow and opening the miter gates on the auxiliary lock NOW. She said to get in as fast as we could and she would quickly dump the chamber and hopefully lower us out of harms way.
The catamaran went first and I followed tight on his transom. No more than we got in and the wind hit. I managed to quickly get a rope around the floating pin and secure Therapy but he was struggling to stay off the wall yet get close enough to get a rope from both the bow and stern. Finally, with one light rope over the pin to make them legal they abandon the effort. It wasn’t really until then that I had a chance to realize how large this yacht was. It was the biggest “recreational” boat I had seen on the rivers.
As I watched, I was amazed at the masterful exhibition of skill that was being displayed by the captain. Although the somewhat quartering wind was blowing extremely hard across the bow he managed to hold a solid position about 3 ft off the wall. I could see the thrust from what were obviously jet drives varying in direction and intensity and he constantly worked the throttles. Very impressive.
Then the rain hit! And it hit hard. At first, all was well and Therapy was doing a good job of keeping me dry. But then suddenly tremendous amounts of water started draining down the well that housed the pin that I was moored to. It seemed that all the rain falling the concrete slabs at the top of the locks was draining down that particular well like Niagara Falls. I had the bimini top up and I started to fear the beating from the water was going to collapse it. Plus what was running off the bimini and what was splashing off Therapy’s side deck was all going in the bilge. The pump was running constantly and appeared to be keeping up but still I was very concerned.
Finally, I said enough! I cut loose from the pin and moved to the other side of the lock. Normally this maneuver would yield a scolding form the lockmaster but I figured they would take the situation into consideration. Plus there was no way that they could seem me anyhow!
By now were fairly deep in the chamber and the threat caused by the wind was diminished. The rain was still pouring but the situation was tenable although I was totally soaked from fighting the binimi. So naturally I followed the old adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough have lunch.” I cracked open the cooler and made a sandwich while waiting for the storm to pass. The lockmaster had radioed that we could sit there as long as we felt needed.