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  • Bruce Tate

Ground Hog Day

In the blockbuster movie and cult classic Ground Hog Day, Bill Murray relives the same day over and over. It's hard to complain about life on the loop, but let's be real for a bit. We've been running from cold weather for two weeks solid. Today, we'll talk about some of the challenges of leaving late for the loop, running from weather, and running every day.


When we left Chattanooga 12 days ago, we were on the Tennessee River, three locks above the official start of our loop where Pickwick lake meets the TennTom waterway. This long manmade canal adds another ten locks to the picture, and the rivers above Mobile Bay add yet two more.


The weather situation has been both turbulent and cold. Most of the events are winter storms, and we've missed them for the most part. Still, we've had to deal with the fallout. Every river we've been on so far is just a couple of notches below flooding.


As rising river currents scour the banks, all sizes of branches reluctantly break away and flush into the main current. Even on the TennTom, we've had massive amounts of flotsum and jetsum to sift through from the helm. In particularly bad periods or when the sun is in our face, we need four eyes on the river. Hitting a mostly submerged log can ding a prop, causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage. At worst, they can sink a boat. We can stay safe with eyes in the cockpit, but it's harder to keep both of us fresh.


To mitigate this problem, we run slower when we have to, and take breaks from the helm and the copilot seat whenever everyone is clear. Break, wait, spot a problem, team up to get through, and break. Repeat, sleep, wake, and do it again.


We also experience a strong sense of deja vu every evening. When the weather is very cold (and it's always very cold), we get our engine and external plumbing heaters ready for an evening of keeping our pipes and major systems from freezing. Since the river never freezes and since most of our systems are inside the hull below the water line, we don't have to worry about temperatures above 26 degrees. The river gives us some insulation. This trip though, temperatures have been much lower, down to 18. At those mercury levels, we need to think about protecting our engine, generator, and plumbing. We don't like to run with the crisscross of extension cords in the engine room, so we need to deal with those problems nightly, and take them down in the morning.


A final recurring challenge has been the locks. Normally, to avoid barge traffic for at least one lock per day, we try to beat the commercial traffic. That means ending the day near the top of a lock and waking up before dawn, usually 5:30 or 6:00. Then, we prepare a warm breakfast, call the lock, and try to beat the first commercial barge. Our experience has shown that if we're in the lock from 6:30 to 7:00, usually, we're successful. The first lock of the day also coincides with the coldest temperatures. We need to be careful, watching for ice on the bow and the walk-around so we can set up our lines and fenders for tying to the lock walls.


Here's what a typical day might look like in the Ground Hog Day movie, featuring the beautiful Maggie Tate and her sidekick Bruce. We wake up. Bruce feeds and walks the dog. Maggie makes coffee and lays out a cold breakfast. Bruce unhooks the power cords and stores them while Maggie calls the lock to check for commercial traffic. We cast off with Maggie at the helm and Bruce managing lines and Bruce sets up the boat for lockage. We've been traveling with boats that like to tie up to their starboard (right) side. As the smaller boat, we can tie up more easily so we secure the boat on the left. Bruce puts out fenders, rubber tubes and balls to keep the boat from hitting the rock walls, on that side and climbs onto the bow. Then, Maggie drives in and Bruce ties off.


Do you get the theme here? Maggie hates to be cold. HATES it. We've adopted roles that let her stay warm and happy through the loop. After all, it's ground hog day. If we're going to do something more than once, we'll choose to do it with a smile on our face.






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