I am now at the 560 mm and need to make a decision. About 8 miles ahead is the mouth of the Clinch and Emory Rivers. I need to decide if I want to run them today or wait until the return trip. The Emory actually branches off the Clinch at the Clinch's 4.3 mm and is navigable to about 12 1/2 miles to Harriman, TN. The Clinch is the longest navigable tributary of the Tennessee River. From its mouth at Kingston, TN you can cruise about 60 miles up to Clinton, TN.
There is one problem along the Clinch and that is Melton Hill Lock and Dam at the 23 mm. Both the Tennessee River chart and Quimby's Guide warn that the lock is not operated continuously and you need to call Fort Loudon Lock to schedule passage (the phone number on the chart is incorrect - should be 865-986-2762). I had called the week before I left to see how this all worked. I was told that currently there was someone at the lock from 7 AM to 3 PM Monday through Friday. If you want to access the lock at other times you needed to make an appointment and they would send someone over to operate it.
With this in mind I knew I would need to top of the tanks before I proceeded up the two rivers and covered the roughly 145 miles. I decided to pull into Caney Creek Marina at the 562 mm. The operator and another visitor came out and as the fuel was pumped in the tanks they asked quite a few questions about Therapy. Not surprising. This is repeated at almost every new marina I stop as the Cabin Skiff is a very foreign looking boat in the Midwest. I check the gauges and so far I have covered about 87 miles and it takes 10 gallons top off the tank.
As I head back to the main channel I calculate that if I push a little I should have just enough time to run up the Emory, turn around and come back and then run up the Clinch to the lock by 3:00 PM. I can then lock through and travel on up to Clinton. The chart shows a ramp there so with a little luck I can walk up to town and find and evening meal. Afterwards I still should still have time to return to the lock and anchor out for the night. That way I will be there and ready to come back through when they open at 7 AM.
Sounds good, so I head for the Clinch and then turn off on the Emory. At first the Emory is wide for a small river and has channel markers. It narrows and makes a turn or two and them widens again. I become distracted watching the scenery and suddenly the bottom alarm (set at 10') starts blaring. The bottom is coming up fast and I jerk back the throttle. As I fall off plane I look around and realize I have run out of the channel. As I slow I quickly start trimming up the outboard. I look out the starboard window and can see the bottom and before I come to a complete stop the transom starts dragging. Fortunately, it is all clay and no damage is done. I have to dig out the canoe paddle and shove myself around and back to deeper water while looking at my watch thinking of the 3 PM deadline.
Back on course the Emory now narrows but provides plenty of depth for safe navigation. It winds its way through some rolling hills and a few scenic rock cliffs. Along the shore here and there are fishermen wetting their lines while sitting in lawn chairs enjoying the afternoon sun. The temperature is about 75 degrees and because it is narrow and sheltered the water surface is glass smooth. I reach Harriman where I find the a few loading facilities obviously being neglected because of low usage. I don't even take time to stop but rather slow down and make a 180 and retrace my path. The Emory is a nice little river. Quiet and unspoiled for the most part with very little current and very clean water.
About a half hour pass and I am back at the Clinch and head upstream for the lock. The Clinch is a little wider than the Emory and has more channel markers to keep me on course. Along the way I pass a couple of bass boats and a few people fishing from the shore. Also at one point I see a group of young men leaning against a pickup truck talking along side a confederate flag on a staff they have planted in the soft shoreline.
The river twists and turns and finally reveals the lock a few hundred yards ahead. As I drop off plane I check my watch - 2:45. I call on the radio and get no answer. I wait a few minutes and call again and finally receive a reply. I ask to lock through. The voice on the other end explains that he is a worker at the power plant and that the lockmaster has left for the day. I reply that I thought he was there until 3:00 and he says that's right - he was. Then it hits me. Just a few miles west of Chattanooga is the line that separates the Eastern and Central time zones. My watch is Central, I'm now in Eastern AND 45 minutes late for the lock! Well, not much else I can do. I turn around and head back down the Clinch for 23 miles to the Tennessee. I decide I will just have to re-run this section and complete the Clinch on the return trip.
From the mouth of the Clinch to Knoxville is right at 80 miles and Fort Loudon Lock and Dam stands in-between. Running the numbers through the calculator I decide with a little luck (then again why would it start now) I can reach Knoxville by dark. I know there is a nice restaurant with a dock right on the waterfront and I feel I deserve a good hot meal tonight. I bump the throttle a little more forward than usual and am cruising at about 26 MPH.
Because I want to loose as little time as possible I decided to call ahead to the lockmaster so he will have the lock prepared. I have tried this with my handheld radio before but have never been successful if I am more than a mile or so out. Because the average lift here is 72' I know it will take at least 20 minutes to empty. I have brought along a cell phone (normally ban these in my boats!) so decide to call on the phone when I am about 25 minutes out. At about the 591 mm (12 miles out) I give them a call but he tells because of the close proximity of the marina on the other side of the lock they are not allowed to drop the chamber until they have me in sight. He said to call them on the radio when I could see the lock - about 2 miles out. Oh well - a good try! I push the throttle a little farther forward and make a dash for the lock.
Along the way I see a fishing boat with three men onboard working the middle of the river. As I pass one of them wave at me to come over. I know now with the 25 minutes extra I will loose at the lock it will be right at dark when I reach Knoxville. I really hate running in the dark so I indicate by pointing to my watch that I can't take time to stop. I continue towards the lock. A few minutes later I notice the fishing boat approaching fast and the guys still waiving. Obviously something is wrong (I look back to see if I am taking on water!) and I drop off plane to see what is happening.
The boat idles over beside me and the guy at the helm says, "Hey, I thought you were going to call me if you came." What? "Yea," he replies, " We have been emailing about your boat!" Can you believe it! Here I am over 500 miles from home, running down a river I have never been on and happen on to Kerry Thacker. He had purchased Cabin Skiff plans and we had emailed back and forth. He lives about 45 miles south of Nashville, TN and he and two friends have traveled about 200 miles to fish the Tennessee this week. Back in February he mentioned that as soon as the weather broke he was heading this way and I should let him know when I planned on making my trip. In my haste of planning the trip I had forgotten but somehow we managed to cross paths out here in the middle of the river.
I explained I was trying to make Knoxville before dark but we had about 20 minutes to talk and let him come onboard while the lock was emptying. As the lock gates swung open I wished them luck with the fishing and entered the chamber. I have been in deeper locks but still 72 feet is impressive when you're sitting at the bottom. Everything goes smoothly and a little while later I enter on to Fort Loudon Lake. Just outside the lock area is the mouth of the Little Tennessee River (Tellico) but I'll leave that for tomorrow.