Posted by: wrmcnutt | January 7, 2011

Voyage to Knoxville

Knoxville Tennessee has an annual end-of-the-summer bash they call “Boomsday.”  Set on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the city closes the streets by the river and puts on a fair.  The last gasp of summer, Boomsday tends to be well attended.  There are cotton candy vendors, a motocross demo, midway games, and the like.  The crowning jewel of Boomsday, though, is the annual fireworks show.  Billed as the “biggest Labor Day fireworks show in the United State,” it’s quite the spectacle.  They close the Henley Street Bridge across the Tennessee River and use it as a platform to launch fireworks above the river valley.  For fifteen years I’ve lived a block away from the south waterfront, and there’s a lot nearby, too small and steep to develop.  We call it the Grassy Knoll, and have walked down with lawn chairs to watch the fireworks every year.

But this year it was different.  This was our first year as boat owners, and we’d always been jealous of the folks who owned and operated the boats that covered the river like lily pads every year.  They had the best view.  So we determined that we would be among them one day.  Then, last October I bought a boat.  For the newcomers, Charleston Lady is a 19-foot long cabin sailboat, equipped with a one-burner galley, a head, and a 5 horsepower motor.  Sapphire-blue, she can seat up to four, um, well-grown adults in her cockpit, and another two either below in the cabin, or forward on the foredeck.  Although hanging out on the foredeck presents certain challenges under sail, as the jib sweeps the foredeck when we maneuver.

Crew, Fearless

I have a slip at the Concord Yacht Club, approximately 25 miles down river from Knoxville, TN, where the big fireworks exhibition was going to be.  I had invited my bride, and my two woodworking apprentices from the SCA to join me for the voyage.  My bride wasn’t interested in what would be a low-speed motor run upriver and taking most of the day.  She and her friend, the spousal unit of my middle apprentice, opted to skip the voyage and just meet us at the fishing dock under the South Knoxville Bridge.

River traffic through the blast zone was to close at 9:00 PM, with the fireworks to start at 9:30, so I pretty much had to pick up the women by 8:30, and scoot back down river below the blast zone in a half hour.  Which meant that I had to figure out how fast my boat could go, “overland speed,” and then try to pinpoint how long it was going to take me got motor the 25 miles.  I looked it up on Google Maps, put a pair of my woodworkers dividers on the scale, and then walked the distance.  I estimated the trip was going to take about eight hours, so I allowed nine.   We need to embark no later than noon.  Okay – at least it wouldn’t be a crack of dawn voyage.  My most recent apprentice, Bianca, would be joining us for the voyage.

The day dawned bright, clear, and warm.  We met at our home, and the three of us rolled out to the Yacht Club where Charleston Lady was docked.  We quickly got the provisions (beer) stowed, the fuel tank topped off, and got under way.  The surface of the river was like glass, and it remained that way all day long.  There was not a breath of air moving.  At no point was there any reason to raise sail. *Sigh* Nature is a drama critic.

We were not, of course the only ones to have this bright idea.  Traffic on the river was somewhat dense, but not as crowded as I expected.  I later learned why:  If you’re not at Calhoun’s early, there’s no place to tie up.  The Tennessee Wildlife Resources guys limit the number of boats that can raft up to roughly eight, so that the raft doesn’t block river traffic.  Once we got into the no wake zone, it was positively packed. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My little 5 horsepower Honda simply does not burn up the river.  I’m pretty sure I’m the slowest powered craft on the water.  So I spent most of the day being overtaken by other vessels.  Vessels with a high displacement.  That kicked up big wakes.  I exaggerate.  Actually most folks on the river were pretty polite, and didn’t send a lot of chop our way as they passed.

I got to use the marine band radio.

“Barge tug southbound on the Tennessee River, come in please.”

“Go ahead.”

“This is sailing vessel September Blue. Be advised I am over-taking you.  Will pass to  your port side.”

“Roger that, September Blue. Thank you for the contact.”

I felt so captain-y.  Right up until my apprentice and Helmsman advised me that I had re-christened the boat two months ago, and her name was, in fact, Charleston Lady.


It would be remiss of me to not publicly appreciate my apprentice Virgina’s efforts to make me happy.  When the ladies in my life ask me what attire is appropriate for yachting, I always reply, “The most efficient yachting costume is a bikini, preferably string.”

This usually gets me a flat stare and the reply of “Ha.  Ha.”

Miss Virginia smiled and said “okay.”  Once we were away from the dock and much to my surprise she peeled out of her shorts and t-shirt and draped herself across the foredeck just like they do in the pictures in the sailing magazines.  Okay – pretty girl in string bikini draped across my boat:  one juvenile fantasy checked off.  The only problem with that was keeping my eyes on the river.

The upstream voyage took about five and a half hours at my best cruising speed under power.  The voyage home the next day took only about four hours.  I had intellectually known that going against the current was slower and going with the current was faster, but I’d never had a visceral appreciation of just how big the difference was.

Oh – and clean bottoms.  I’d heard that a clean-bottomed boat was faster than a fouled one, but I wouldn’t have figured that a six-week accumulation of freshwater lake slime would make that much of a difference.  I figured wrong.  I got almost an entire knot of improvement when I washed the bottom of the boat.  For a twenty-five mile voyage, with my low speed under power, this amount to an HOUR less time in transit.

Tune in tomorrow for a report on the fireworks, the dedicated and observant Tennessee Wildlife Resources guys, and the girl in the bikini.

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  1. Nice story! can’t wait to hear the rest

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