Into Tennessee (Days 72-73)


Bible verses and Trump flags and a southern drawl. That’s what I’m noticing more of now. (And ruins in the river.)

Maybe it’s because of where we stayed last night.

Mooring Cells in Tennessee River, used to secure barges.

We are in Tennessee, more than 1,500 miles from our start in Keweenaw Bay on Lake Superior, and the southern accent is getting thicker … so thick at times that, when I call a tow captain or marina, I sometimes have to ask, “Say again?” (Military-speak for “repeat.”)

Even though we’re heading generally south, toward the Gulf of Mexico, we’re still going upstream, against the current. And we feel it, especially where the river narrows. It takes 1-3 mph away from our forward momentum. And the course is zig-zaggy at times! We are still on Kentucky Lake (which is almost 200 miles long) and also on the Tennessee River (which runs through it). The water is wide but the navigation channel often is not. Following the buoys, we cross from one side to the other. Our route in and out of last night’s marina was especially exciting, involving at least 12 turns within two miles.

Our last two marinas were pretty basic, which was fine with us. At Pebble Isle Marina, we were joined by three other Looper boats. Their home ports reminded us that Loopers come from all over – in this case, Arizona and Connecticut and Hawaii and Michigan. Now that’s geographic diversity! We used the marina’s courtesy car to make a grocery run to Walmart. (Some marinas offer free use of a car and ask only that you contribute to gas, which is one reason we chose that marina.) We left Pebble Isle in mid-morning intending to go 20 miles, but wind gusts up to 30 mph sent us instead into Birdsong Creek Marina, some 10 miles up-river and two miles off the main river. At Birdsong, we again borrowed a courtesy car, this time in search of haircuts — and ended up at the same Walmart we shopped at the day before! We chuckled at that. We did not chuckle at our haircuts, though. It was my first time in a Walmart salon. I doubt I’ll do it again. 😉

Birdsong was a quirky place, in more ways than one. It’s more than a marina; it’s also an RV park and a pearl farm and a brief immersion into conservative Christian theology. It was our cheapest slip so far, discounted because the marina had no electricity due to storm damage four months ago. A memorable place! I’m glad we stopped there.

Photos and captions tell it best.

Editor’s Note: I mention politics and religion in this post because it was brought to me, not because I sought it out. A journal about The Great Loop is about observing America, not just weather and water patterns. This is part of America, with all its passions. I don’t seek controversy, but I do seek to honestly report what I see — and sometimes what I feel. For the record, I’m a moderate who is not registered with either party.

You’ve heard of the “bridge-to-nowhere?” Here it is! 😉 Actually, ths bridge did once cross the Tennessee River before it was dammed to create Kentucky Lake. The remains of the Danville Grain Elevator emerge from the water nearby. We see signs like this, of “life before the dam,” all along the river.
Federal Mooring Cells like give barges a safe place to secure if needed. In case of storm, I guess? We see the same structures near locks, but this is in the middle of the river. It’s also higher than any we’ve seen before.
Many Moons is 2nd from top, at Pebble Isle Marina, about a mile inland from the Tennessee River.
Entering Birdsong Creek. The buoys mark the safe channel, and we have to go between them. See how close they are?
The red dashes show our 2-mile track through Birdsong Creek, dodging shallows and shoals. So grateful for the channel markers! (We still had to keep our eyes wide open, and I used binoculars to help Jeff navigate.)
Storm-ravaged Birdsong Marina was rough, but the people were friendly and helpful.
A Spanish-speaking crew from Mexico is rebuilding the damaged piers at Birdsong Marina.
Our only company at Birdsong was Beachfront (on right), a 50-foot yacht that began The Loop in March 2020. Its progress was halted by a collision with a rock, a mechanical mishap, and COVID. The three-person crew is nonetheless very cheerful and we sure enjoyed getting to know them.
This rusted shell was launched in 1929 and apparently hosted Congressmen on river trips. It had no power source and was pushed by a barge. The upper deck held staterooms and the lower (now under water) held a ballroom with chandelier. That’s the story told to me by the marina manager.
The Birdsong Pearl Museum and adjacent pearl farm was an eye-opening delight. (Who knew that pearls can be made by any mollusk, not just oysters, and the farmed ones are “seeded” into the mollusk’s gonads?) But I could have done without the Bible verses that were liberally offered by the charming manager and mostly centered on sin, and her ending “sermon,” sweetly-delivered though it was and cleverly tied to a pearl analogy. The small marina store sold ball caps embroidered with Bible references. It’s a private marina, so it’s their right. I suppose they aren’t concerned about losing business from progressive Christians or agnostics or Jews or Muslims.
Storm clouds break over the pearl farm. See the lines of PVC pipes in the dark area of the water?
The RV park adjacent to Birdsong Marina sported several of these signs. It still suprises me that Trump supporters are so sure about their vote, years before they know who else might run for their party’s nomination.
Water level gauge at Paris Landing State Park, three days ago, showing the height of the Kentucky Dam (at top) and the normal summer and winter water levels (at bottom). The winter level is far below this photo.

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