Again the lockmasters time estimate is on the money. I lock
through and enter the large 67,000 acre Joe Wheeler Lake which is was named
after a Confederate Civil War general. (Photo shows water being dumped from
The lake remains a lake for the next 30 miles where at Decatur, AL it narrows. As I pass close to a few channel markers I see the water swirling a little and realize that this is the first time I had noticed any appreciable current. A few miles down the river the water starts to get a littlie choppy and even though there is hardly any wind. The further I go the worse it gets. Having run considerable miles on the rivers I know that the problem lies somewhere upstream and it is in the shape of a large barge.
The river makes a few gentle turns here and there but often I can see three or four miles ahead and there is nothing in sight. But I know it there. A loaded barge drafts nine feet and pushing hard upstream can leave rolling waves 5 of 6 miles in its wake. The closer you get the rougher the water and a narrow channel makes it worse. It is not unusual to have to drop off plane and plow through large waves to overtake the droning giant.
Once I break through the river is again serene and I continue on the 349 mile marker and Guntersville Lock and Dam. Finally my luck is starting to change and I only have a 30 minutes delay as a barge exits the main lock. But then the caution light starts flashing on the auxiliary lock and the doors open for me to enter. I knew Pickwick’s auxiliary was down but I had wondered why neither Wilson nor Wheeler utilized their auxiliaries.
When traveling on the Mississippi normally the auxiliaries are used for small craft and they lock us through while the large barges are using the main. I assumed here the situation would be handled in a similar fashion but that had not been the experience so far. As I watched the process I realized that the explanation for this was that there was only one lockmaster on duty and he could only operate one lock at a time. I guess this is more cost effective during low traffic periods but it certainly slows the process.
In the last paragraph I realize I made a gender reference to the lockmaster as being a male. In my home area this has always been the case but interestingly women operated three of the first four locks I have passed through on the Tennessee River. Locks in my area are all under the control of the Corps of Engineers and my guess is that they, being a military organization, were perhaps a little slower to integrate women in to their ranks as lockmasters. Obviously the Tennessee Valley Authority have been a little more proactive with this matter. At any rate I now need to remember that the word lockmaster is non-gender specific.
About nine miles past the lock is the city of Guntersville, which marks the southern most point of my trip. I still have an hour or so of sunlight but decide to pull into the Guntersville Marina for the night. I tie up in an empty open slip and go in search of someone to make arrangements for the stay. I find the marina operator at home on a large cruiser parked on the end of one of the docks and pay him $9.00 (.50 a foot) for the slip. He tells me there is a covered slip I can use but I was already secured so I stayed in the open. I also asked about restaurants in town and he gave me directions to three.
The downtown area was a short walk and it felt good to stretch my legs. I decided on Tims’ Pizza mainly because I liked his slogan – “Life is too short to eat bad pizza.” I was tasty and the cheesecake with cherries went down fairly easy too.
After eating I took a stroll around the area. Guntersville didn’t have the number of amenities found in Florence but for a city of about 7,000 people it was a very nice place. There was the small town charm and the main focal point is its beautiful, natural setting on the lake. The kind of place I would like to call home.
I got back to the boat after dark and read for a while before
turning out the lights. Because of the lock delays I only covered 102
miles today but I was still on schedule. There were only 110 miles
and one lock between here and Chattanooga. With any luck I would be
there by about 1 pm tomorrow.