Can You Get From Tennessee to Texas by Boat?

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This is an interesting question, and who would even think about going from Tennessee to Texas by Boat!

This was my last adventure in Tennessee before I moved to Texas.  This weekend trip turned into 7 long, cold, and scary days.

Let me take you on a boat ride which was both exciting and a nightmare.

Here’s how it all started.

I was asked if I would do a favor for a friend.  It would be just for the weekend and I would be on the water to see some fantastic scenery.  Several men were going to escort a paddlewheel boat that an entrepeneur named Bill had just bought.  The group was going to enjoy a weekend of playing poker, taking the boat downriver, and not get interrupted.  I was asked to go along on this poker weekend because I could bartend and cook.  My compensation was a full day at a beautiful day spa, hair, facial, nails, and massage.  This sounded interesting.  I love boatrides, but I really love being pampered at a day spa!

So the answer was yes!  I would provide meals and drinks and since I absolutely love cooking, this was right down my alley.

Bill, had bought a Paddlewheel boat at an auction in Kentucky, and was going to bring it down the river to Hendersonville, Tennessee.  He planned to turn the Paddlewheel into a dinner boat and have dinner cruises and excursions at the lake in Hendersonville.  I’ve never been on a Paddlewheel and I was really excited.  We all drove to Kentucky in several SUV’s.  The wives came along to enjoy lunch at the marina and then they would drive the SUV’s back home.

Now a Paddlewheel boat isn’t like a cruise ship with nice staterooms, air conditioning and heating, or hot water and showers.  A Paddlewheel is really designed for a short boat ride on a nice warm day.  You are able to be out on the deck and listen to the Paddlewheel as it methodically moves the water.  It moves at a very slow pace and inside there is a kitchen that you can enjoy a Coke and a premade sandwich, or have something heated in an oven.  But it was only for 2 days, so it would be like a camping trip.

Did I tell you that an unexpected cold front had moved in?  Thank goodness I remembered to bring a down jacket for the cool evenings.

The Paddlewheel boat was located at a Marina in a lake.  We needed to move the Paddlewheel from the lake to the river to begin our journey.

All we had to do is load the Paddlewheel onto a flatbed trailer, take it up a ramp in the parking lot, onto the highway, and then unload in the river and we’d be on our way!

With the cold front moving in the fog was rolling in.  We’d need to move quickly to get the boat in the river before noon, so we’d be on our way before nightfall.

After backing the trailer into the water to pull the Paddlewheel on the trailer, the silt on the bottom of the lake caused the wheels to get stuck.  They had to call in a back hoe to try to lift the trailer wheels out of the mud.

The Paddlewheel tilted and almost fell off the trailer.  So it was backed up and started over several times, which mean several hours.  No one really knew how hard it was going to be to pull a water logged Paddlewheel boat out of the water onto slippery wood beams on the trailer, then try to drive the truck uphill on a slippery steep ramp and not have the huge Paddlewheel boat slide off!  It was a frustrating challenge to say the least.

After several hours of frustration, and not yet getting started down the river, Bill decided to call in a crane service to hook onto the truck and pull it up the steep ramp.

Oh, no, the ramp was so steep that the Paddlewheel started to slide off the trailer again.  Back in the water to reload the Paddlewheel.

Now with the Paddlewheel chained to the trailer, wood chocks under the wheels of the trailer so they won’t get stuck in the silt, the crane hooked up to the truck, it was PULL, PULL, PULL!

Whew!  The Paddlewheel boatcame out of the water and was still on the trailer!

We thought we could still make the river and be on our way before dark.

But then, the truck had a flat that had to be changed.  Are we ever going to make the river?

We’re not off to a very good start on this adventure, and there has  been a lot of standing around looking at our watches.

However, it’s beginning to turn around and look better.  We can still make the river by afternoon and be on our way.

Did I tell you that the boat had to be in the river by a certain time, because the water master would only keep the water level higher for so many hours?  The clock was ticking, and we were only creeping up the ramp.

But we could make up time going through the large FLAT parking lot.

The hired escorts have been waiting all morning, and they charge by the hour.  Bill didn’t want to let them go because he knew any minute we’d be on our way.

They told Bill that there were power lines and that the Paddlewheel steam towers would have to be lowered.  That was another hour because the bolts had rusted since it hadn’t been out of the lake for years.

So off we started again with the boat in tow.  It made it through the parking lot, and now the truck and trailer would have to go up another ramp to get to the highway.  The only problem was that it was a small ramp and had a metal side railing on both sides.  The Paddlewheel barely cleared it and in spots knocked over some of the posts.

Then it got stuck and the crane had to lift it over the posts.  It made it up the ramp, but now the cold front brought rain and sleet!  Great, just what this day needed.

The escorts stopped the traffic, but now school was out and traffic was picking up.  We were told that this was the only road for this traffic to travel and the move would have to be done quickly.  Right, has anything on this day gone quickly?

The truck ran into the same problem with the slick wet road and the wheels of the trailer just spun.

The project would have to wait until after rush hour.  So we waited.  What you don’t see in this picture is what is ahead of us.  There is a very tight curve that has a rock cliff on one side and only the small narrow road to make our way.

The rain had stopped, but the truck couldn’t pull the trailer up the ramp.  The crane was moved to the front of the trailer to help the truck pull the trailer.

The problem was that there wasn’t much room for the crane, truck and trailer.  The crane stretched it’s arm and could only be at one angle to pull the trailer straight.  It would have to be enough.

The crane moved out of the way, and now to tackle the curve.  Can you guess what’s going on….you are correct.   The Paddlewheel is leaning towards the cliff, and won’t make the turn without taking off the whole side!

It’s tilting and there is nothing that can be done except hope it doesn’t slide off the trailer and into the cliff.  What a mess that would be!

A couple guys got on the upper deck and used poles to push the Paddlewheel away from the cliff.

The Paddlewheel made it around the curve, and it was raining and sleeting again.  The wind had also picked up.

The Paddlewheel swayed back and forth and the trailer started to tilt.  The driver tried to correct it and went off the road into the soft grass.

The Paddlewheel was really leaning and could turn over at any moment!  The crane could not be used and all that could be done was to drive very slowly and try to get the trailer back on the road without tipping the Paddlewheel over.

Bill called the Water Master and asked if he could extend the time for the water level.  Of course he could but it would cost a lot of money.  As you probably can tell all the little extras so far are really starting to add up, so what’s a few more thousand dollars.  Bill paid the extra money, but still we weren’t able to leave.

Then we found out the reason the trailer swayed is because it had two blown tires.  The crane had to be used to lift the beams so the tires could be changed.  One of the beams broke and they were really debating on trying to lift the Paddlewheel using another beam.  At this point it was either try it  or burn down the Paddlewheel!

It was too late to get into the river, so we all were staying in a motel overnight.  Why we got motel rooms I don’t know, we spent the night outside helping with the Paddlewheel, which took all night.

The next morning we were still working on the tires, didn’t even get any shut eye, but we all did get in a hot shower, little did we know it would be the last for a week!

We’re almost on our way, but if the Paddlewheel is unloaded off the trailer and in the water how would we get on the Paddlewheel?  We had to get on the Paddlewheel while it was on the trailer, then the trailer was backed into the water.  The theory was that the Paddlewheel would float off the trailer.  Has anything gone like it should?

The crane was brought back to push the Paddlewheel off the trailer.

This took a long time and the screaching noise it made as it scraped off the beams!  The Water Master turned off the water and it was slowly going down.  The water barely covered the trailer.

We’re in the water!  The Paddlewheel still floats, and now we’ll be in Nashville in 2 days!

It was a shaky start, but now it should be smooth sailing….

This is probably not the time to find out that the Captain was a retired Tug Boat Captain, and didn’t know much about the mechanicals of a Paddlewheel, but we were on our way, how hard is it to steer a Paddlewheel?  Read on and see!

We all decided to sit down and enjoy a beverage.

We just knew it would be a short trip and now we could enjoy the ride.

I need to let you know about our guests, we had a doctor, lawyer, a banker, and a retired Air Force Officer.  You can see that none of these men are mechanics!

Everyone is starving and thirsty, so now I have to go to work.  I had planned all the meals and was ready to start cooking.  Our first hot meal was going to be spaghetti with homemade pasta sauce.  They guys settle in and start their card game and I’m cooking away.

I had extra hamburger meat, so while I was at it, I made a few meatloafs, we could have meatloaf sandwiches.

Thank goodness I cooked all the meat, because all the power went out.  The electrical system must have gotten messed up.  Is there a Paddlewheel mechanic on board?  Or an electrician?  Does anyones cell phone work?

The answer to all these questions is NO!

Turns out the Captain was a retired Tug Boat Captain.  He only knew how to drive the boat, not fix it.  Great!   Now  its pitch dark and we have no lights.  Thankfully we each brought flashlights and we had a propane tank with a heater.  I found some candles.  Can’t play cards because it’s too cold to sit outside, and it’s raining and sleeting.  It’s cold, the wind is blowing through the cracked windows, and did I say it was cold?  We all took different sections of the dining room and rolled out our sleeping bags.  This was not like camping at all!  The floor was solid cold metal with a thin, old, stinky worn out piece of indoor outdoor carpeting on it.

Bill is going to owe me for this!  Oh, I didn’t tell you, at the last minute Bill decided not to join us!  He figured it would be best if he were near a land line to be able to call people to help us along the way.  How would he know what we needed?  No one’s cell phone worked, and the electricity ran the radio.  Somehow we anchored and stay put for the night.  There were no headlights and it was pitch dark.

From this point on I didn’t take pictures, since I was on the Paddlewheel and not able to take pictures of what was happening on the boat, because from this point on, it was really scary.

Our anchor gave way in the middle of the night and the Paddlewheel drifted into some trees.  We all became crew….using long poles to push away from the trees, we hit a strong current that turned the Paddlewheel totally around and we were facing the wrong direction.  Thank goodness, it turned us back around, but we went a long ways backwards.  Then with a loud crash and almost throwing us off the Paddlewheel, we hit a sand bank!  We stay awake for the rest of the night not knowing if the water would rise and carry use off again.

The morning came and we went outside to take a look.  We were on a sand bar with high rapid water on each side so there was no getting off the boat and going to the shore.  We still had no cell service so we hoped that if we didn’t show up in Nashville on schedule that someone would find us.

The water was rapid and too cold to take a chance on swimming or wading to shore.   None of us were experienced to handle rapids, and there wasn’t a life boat nor did we know how deep it was.  Big logs were passing us from the rain.  This was not good.  It was like Gilligan’s Island, except our island was only the length of the Paddlewheel.

We were able to tie the ice chests to the Paddlewheel and put into the water near the Paddlewheel to keep everything cold.  Thank goodness I made a few meatloafs, we ate cold meatloaf sandwiches.  We also had cold cuts and plenty to drink.  We had to conserve our bottled water to use to drink instead of using to wash anything.  We managed to use poles to hang towels over the edge and dip in the water.  We couldn’t get off the Paddlewheel because it was on the sandbar and there was no ladder.  No of us wanted to take the chance of using a rope and getting off the Paddlewheel because we weren’t in shape to pull ourselves back up!  And if the water rose, and the Paddlewheel moved, we wouldn’t be able to get back on.

So there we were in semi-desperate circumstances…..We were stranded all day and night was quickly approaching.  We stuck poles with marks on them and we slept in shifts.  If the water rose enough, we might be able to use the poles to push off and catch a rapid.

Another day passed and no sign of help.  We did remember that the Water Master was supposed to let more water out on Monday, maybe this would help.  Monday came and no more water. Come to find out, since there was a heavy rain, the river was up. Also, when the Water Master released water, it wasn’t instant that the level would come up….so we were either going to get higher water, or what we thought was from the heavy rain, was the released water.  None of us had a clue!

Here comes another night…it was full moon so we could see.  We were all asleep and all of a sudden, it sounded as if the Paddlewheel was going to break in half.  And then the Captain was yelling all men on deck!  We were all running to our stations…the river rose and was carrying the Paddlewheel off.  We were out of control and moving right towards the edge!  There really wasn’t anything that we could do to stop it.  We all moved to the center of the Paddlewheel on the top deck and hung on. If the Paddlewheel crashed and started to sink, if we were in the dining area, the water would rush in and we wouldn’t be able to get out.  Then crash!  We all hung onto each other so no one would get thrown overboard.  We had tied ropes around us and to the rails to hold us.  I’m not too sure if this was smart.

We broke loose from the side and were traveling again.  The Captain was trying to start the Paddlewheel to slow us down.  We just kept traveling down river.  Daylight came and we were traveling at a good speed and the Paddlewheel started.  We thought we were in good shape until there was smoke coming from down below.  We had a water leak.  Not bad, but a leak.  We just needed to keep moving so we could get into cell range and get some help.

We were all tired, and tired of eating cold food.  No one had taken a hot shower, but we did use cold water to wash up a little.  On day 5 we were in cell phone range and called Bill.  He had sent people to back track us, but the roads were not near the river and the river wasn’t deep enough for power boats he sent to find us.

We told him that we were approaching the lock near Nashville and to let them know we were coming.  You have to schedule an appointment so that you can get into the lock and get lowered to waters down below.  It was Thursday, and if we didn’t make it by 4pm on Friday, we’d have to stay the weekend above the lock.  We were pushing it to make it.

We arrived at the lock late Thursday night and while parking the Paddlewheel, the Captain ran into the wall!  We almost lost the guys that were leaning over the Paddlewheel to catch the ring to tie onto!

Friday morning we were in the lock and using the lock system we were  lowered to the lower section and now we only had to make it to Hendersonville.  Anyone that wanted to get off could do so at the lock.  We lost all but the Captain and myself.  After all I had come this far, I was going to ride this Paddlewheel to the end!

We arrived in Hendersonville on Sunday and needed to move the Paddlewheel from the river to the Lake.

Here we go again.  This time someone had to stay on the Paddlewheel to manually turn the motors on and off.  My smaller hand was the only one that would fit in the panel to do this, so I was going to stay on board while we went from the river to the lake.  Was I nuts?  All I could do was reach in the panel, I couldn’t see, I could only feel around.  Boy was this a dumb idea.  But I did it and didn’t get electrocuted!

We were experienced now, we had the backhoe, the crane and a whole bunch of union people working on the weekend!  Let’s just keep adding onto the final bill!

The steam towers lowered easier this time, and we were on our way.  This time around we did not have to deal with steep ramps, sharp curves with cliffs and no rain!

No school or work traffic, so we were able to get to the parking lot of the Paddlewheel Boat’s new home.  All the original guys showed up, all rested and showered.

Now as you can tell all the original people are in this picture.  They all have had good nights sleep and hot showers.  I was the first one on the Paddlewheel and I was the LAST one off!  The men made the Captain get off the boat before I did and gave me the privledge of saying that I stayed on the boat and was the last one off!

I went home and soaked in a long hot bubble bath.  I slept for 3 days, I had caught a really bad cold.  You know what?  I never did enjoy my day at the spa!  In fact, I never went back to the marina.  I didn’t want to see the Paddlewheel or water for a very long time.

I was on my way to Texas, inland on the interstate  in a truck with my dogs, Stars and Mandy.  The moral of this adventure….don’t go on a weekend trip on a Paddlewheel.  They are made for day ventures only!

Can You Get From Tennessee to Texas by Boat?

NO, you can’t….But you can by truck, and I’m in Texas now and proud of it!

Next Married David at the stroke of Midnight on the Millennium

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

prasNo Gravatar January 27, 2010 at 6:36 am

thank god! we dont have paddle wheel here!


NinaNo Gravatar March 27, 2010 at 7:45 pm

I am going to be waiting on this story. Remember I made you go on that first date and I gave you some explicit instructions…do you remember?


RamonaNo Gravatar March 27, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Yes I remember! lol And I didn’t listen, and 10 years later we’re still on our honeymoon! 🙂


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