Sunday, August 26, 2012

Waiting Out Hurricane Isaac On Coffeeville Lake

  It looks like we're going to be here for a week or so. We started watching Tropical Storm Isaac as soon as we got the notice from NOAA via an email. This type of travel is a good reason to sign up and get the updates on storms. You can do this from the Boat U.S. website or straight from the NOAA website.
  There is no point in tempting fate by going further south. We are 116 miles north of Mobile Bay and under current predictions, should experience nothing greater than 30 mile per hour winds by next Thursday, the 30th of August, and to be safe all we have to do is stay put. Seems like a no brainer to us.

  From our "front porch" we can watch the river traffic go by and we are well off of the channel with plenty of room to swing at one anchor, although we did deploy another bow anchor, Bahamian style, to let the new anchor settle in to the river bottom to provide better hold when the wind kicks up. We are literally hundreds of feet from the Coffeeville Lock entrance but shielded from their lights by an island that divides the lock from the dam. We keep our radio tuned to both channel 16 during the day as well as the lock's working channel, which is 14.

  We took a dinghy ride on Friday, the day after we got here, and went back upstream to take a first hand look at two anchorages that we took a pass on, looking too narrow or shallow to get Swing Set into. Turkey Creek was our first stop and even in the dinghy it was narrow. The overhanging trees would have been playing havoc with the blades on our wind generators, plus I'd prefer to not have the prospect of critters dropping down from tree limbs while we're on the boat, thank you very much. We explored up into the creek for about a mile, keeping a sharp eye out for alligators which are supposed to be around here but we didn't see any. Another three miles up the river is Okatuppa Creek which was much wider at the mouth, and in a pinch we could have poked our bow in there for a stay, but I'd rather have some room if the wind picks up. Both creeks are in the Choctow Nature Reserve and we saw vegetation neither one of us has never seen before. I couldn't even fathom getting into the water in either one of these creeks. Let's just say that you're not talking to Johnny Weissmuller here.
  We cruised back by Bobby's Fish Camp and we tied up to the dock to top off the fuel tank in the dinghy. I couldn't roust anyone from the intercom at the gas pump, so I left Rosie and Holly in the boat and walked up to the restaurant/office/store and walked in. It was like entering a time warp where nothing had changed for about 50 years. The restaurant was closed but I figured someone would be around for me to ask about getting a few gallons of gas. While I waited I looked around at all the neat stuff on the walls and read a bunch of the many signs and notes posted about. When you deal with a wide variety of the public, you tend to make up the rules as the need for them come up. After reading some of the posts, it's fun to wonder just what transpired to make the proprietor issue a new edict and post it on the wall. I rang a bell over the counter, which by the way, held a variety of things a person could purchase if so inclined, included several alligator heads, minus the good eating parts. I started to wonder if they served alligator tail in the restaurant. I've had it before and yes, it does taste like chicken.
  I knew that Bobby had died a couple of years ago and his daughter Lora Jane was running the business now. There were pictures posted about depicting both of them, so I'd began to think I would know her if she came out from somewhere, but no one appeared and I didn't have my phone to call. I had already made up my mind that we were coming back to have dinner there on Saturday for Rosie's birthday. The place had just the appeal that promised a memorable time.
  On Saturday morning, even though it was Rosie's birthday, she insisted on doing her morning routine of mopping down the boat. I chipped in and washed the dinghy and scrubbed the scum from around the waterline of Swing Set. I must say that we are keeping Swing Set looking cleaner than she ever has, something we intend to keep up. We wonder how people let their boats get so dirty, especially if they are living on them. We both are attracted to clean, shiny fiberglass like some people are attracted to gold or diamonds, neither one of which we have much use for.
  At lunch time I was checking our messages and we had gotten one from some friends from St. Louis who happened to be in Pensacola visiting some friends of theirs. We knew Harry and Linda Steele from the Duck Club Yacht Club were they lived on a 55 foot houseboat and were Harry did a stint as harbormaster for several years. They had since moved off of the boat and are now vagabonds, traveling around where they want and looking for potential places to perhaps move to, or buy a second home. Linda mentioned stopping by to see us on their way back to St. Louis, and I started looking at the map, curious to see how our location was on the way to anywhere. My first thought was that they may not really have an idea just how remote this spot in Alabama is, and I told Rosie to call Linda and tell her that as much as it would be fun to see them both, that we thought it would be too much trouble for them to come by here, requiring them to find Bobby's Fish Camp for us to meet there. After finishing lunch, we lounged around on our rafts and let Holly swim, keeping a sharp eye on her as she would be considered prime alligator food. The whole time, it nagged at me that we may have given Harry and Linda the idea that we didn't want to see them, but nothing could have been further from the truth.

  We got ourselves cleaned up and left Holly in charge of the boat and arrived at Bobby's Fish Camp by 5 P.M. Little did we know that we would celebrate Rosie's fifty fourth birthday at such an interesting place. We went in and Rosie grabbed a table as the place was filling up quick. I arranged to have the gas pump at the dock turned on and went back down to the fuel dock to fill up the tank on the dinghy and to get some water in one of our water jugs that we brought along with us. I was told that the water faucet was "down by the tree" and it took me a good bit of time to find the right tree. I had to use my keen detective skills to follow the white hose coiled up on the fuel dock over to the bank where I eventually found a tiny faucet about two inches from the ground, wrapped in insulation to prevent freezing in the apparently harsh southern Alabama winters.
  By the time I had gotten the water and the fuel, another boat had pulled up and was wanting fuel. Lora Jane, the proprietor of Bobby's, had come down to the dock and we introduced ourselves and both agreed that it was unbearably hot for us to be out. Besides right there at the fuel pump, the dock was already taken up by a huge houseboat and a sailboat, but both were spending the night and I parked the dinghy between them, with Lora Jane's approval, of course.
  I walked back up to the restaurant and was soaked with sweat, my hair wringing wet. The air conditioning in the restaurant was a welcome relief and I found Rosie already hard at work on a ice cold can of Bud Light. "You can just grab a can there from the cooler", Rosie said. "They just count 'em up when we go to pay". Perfect. I joined Rosie and perused the menu. Catfish is the specialty, and all around me I saw folks with big platters of fried fish, hush puppies and french fries piled in front of them. "When in Rome", so we both ordered catfish fillets and grabbed another beer.

  I asked a patron walking by to take our picture and he kindly obliged. That little girl behind Rosie sat and watched us knock down beers while she quietly played with some Lincoln Logs. She probably thought we were strange.

  While we waited for our food to come, "and don't get in a hurry", Rosie took her turn to look around. See the alligator heads stacked on the counter on her left? I asked our waitress if we couldn't get a couple of warm cases of Bud Light to go when we left and she said we could, but first she had to go see if they had them. Things were working out all right.
  Rosie sat back down and our empty beer cans were piling up when our food came out on an aluminum platter, piled high with fish. I want everyone to listen, and listen good: I've had catfish at a lot of places on the Mississippi River on the Alton Pool; Kinders, the Fin Inn, O'Jan's, and the Loading Dock, being a small list. I have never  had catfish that tasted this good, anywhere. Period. The fillets tasted more like crappie than catfish. Rosie agreed and we dug in.
  We were slowing down on our feast when I looked up and who did I see but Harry and Linda Steele walking in to join us on Rosie's birthday! We couldn't believe it, not for a minute. They had used Mapquest to get them near, but then had to rely on people they had stopped to ask, to find Bobby's. I noticed that it was 7:10 on a clock over the door when they sat down. After ordering their dinner, they began to tell how they had left Pensacola around 3 P.M. and set out to find us. We laughed when Linda told us how she had mentioned to Harry that Rosie didn't sound too encouraging on the phone, but Harry was undaunted and set a course for Coffeeville anyway.
  The best part was when they pulled into a gas station and two police cars were pulled in there too, sitting side by side with doors open. Harry asked a fella sitting in one of the passenger seats which way was it to Bobby's Fish Camp and the guy got out and started pointing out directions, motioning with his arms in the direction in which they were to go. They heard one of the officers say, "Sir, I need to remind you that you are under arrest and need to get back in the car." The fella kindly giving the directions to Bobby's reluctantly got back in the car and Harry and Linda peeled off down the highway.
  Feeling lost again, they stopped in front of what looked like a bar. A patron was getting out of his four wheeler to go inside this block building with beer signs and bars on the windows and Harry asked him if we knew where Bobby's was. "Why sure, I know where that is", and then he proceeded to direct them to what Harry described as a road "that about knocked the springs out from under the car". All this to come and see us out in the middle of nowhere. When Harry took a break and went to use the restroom, Rosie started crying, and so did I, at the thought of anyone taking that much trouble to come and see us. Life is grand.

  The clock said 7:10 when Harry and Linda's food came and I went over to the cooler to grab some more beers. The empties on our table were stacking up like bowling pins. A new set of diners at the table across from us and near the beer cooler each had tall ice teas in front of them and gave me a look like I was fixing to burn in hell right before their eyes. I said "howdy" and carried an armful of beers back to our table. Harry and Linda got us caught up with their travels and plans and we were enjoying the stories. Harry is retired Navy and always has a good story to tell. It felt like it was getting late but the clock over the door said it was only 7:10. That's when I figured out the clock was broke and had been for some time, at least since 7:10, on some date in the past. What's tragic about this is that I wear a wrist watch.
  It was really only 8:30 but the restaurant closes at 9 P.M. Harry and Linda were going to get on down the road and find a motel, opting not to stay at one of the cabins there at the camp. They figured it was early and they could use the time left in the evening to roll up some miles. We all hugged goodbye and went our own ways; Harry and Linda to the car and us to the dinghy, carrying the spoils from our visit: lots of leftover catfish and two cases of Bud Light for us to enjoy this week while we wait out Hurricane Isaac. We buzzed back in the cool night, dodging big islands of water plants that dot the waterway.
  Holly was overjoyed to see us. We'd been gone for over five hours and Rosie got her fill of "kisses" from our dog. Yes, as one of our friends recently said, we have become one of those people. Rosie and I sat up and talked about what a great evening it turned out to be. Isn't it wonderful when you don't expect much, but things turn out so well? Rosie was treated to one of the best birthdays that she will remember for years to come. And there was no singing.
  We'll be sitting here on Coffeeville Lake for the next five days or so. I doubt that I'll have much to post, so don't expect much unless something unusual happens. If we are here next Thursday night, we'll go back to Bobby's for dinner again. They're open from Thursday to Sunday now and we wouldn't mind getting some more catfish to take with us as we get back on down the river to Mobile Bay. Until then, we'll just be sittin' back enjoying life.


  1. I've been reading about your adventure for a few weeks now. I'm a sail boater and hope to make a trip down the Tenn-Tom waterway someday soon. I have only had my sailboat on the water since the beginning of July and I am still getting a feel for her and working out some bugs. I love your blog and hope you stay safe through the upcoming hurricane. Have fun!!! Rob Kelly...hailing out of Liberty Harbor in Portage Des Sioux, Catalina 25.

  2. Mike, will you be wearing that haircut in a ponytail anytime soon?