7 OCT – 18 OCT 2001


Cumberland River


Can we take a vacation from our sailing voyage to Central America to sail somewhere else? We decided to take a 260-mile round-trip on the Cumberland River to visit Karin’s longtime friend Karen Josephson, who is in the music business [as Karen Angela Moore, producer & jazz singer- look for her latest award-winning CD on amazon.com] (karin&karen peddling.jpg).


The Tennessee & Cumberland rivers both empty into the Ohio River upstream of Paducah, KY and are dammed in Kentucky about 23 miles north of the Tennessee border. These dams are less than 3 miles apart, and the Cumberland River roughly parallels the Tennessee River for about 50 miles down through Kentucky & Tennessee before shooting off to the east. The area between the lakes formed by the dams (Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River and Barkley Lake on the Cumberland) is a HUGE recreational area called Land Between The Lakes.

The Tennessee River starts at the confluence of the French Broad & the Holston Rivers in eastern Tennessee and winds its way through Knoxville and Chattanooga. Then it dips into Alabama and crosses the entire width of the north end of the state before flowing north through Tennessee to Kentucky Lake.

The Cumberland River starts as a combination of four ‘forks’ in the extreme southeast corner of Kentucky. It flows across half of Kentucky near the southern border until it drops into Tennessee, down through Nashville, then it schucks & jives its way up to Barkley Lake.

Got that?


We will need to take the Tennessee River to the Tennessee/Alabama/Mississippi border to get on the Tenn-Tom Waterway to the Gulf of Mexico (which is at the confluence of the Tennessee River & the Yellow Creek). But it hadn’t been real cold, and we decided we should watch the leaves turn in the deciduous-covered hills of Tennessee.


Other than in Barkley Lake, the Cumberland River is fairly narrow, with lots of twists and turns (nesting bouy.JPG). There is a bit of development here & there, even a “Jail with a View” (ky state prision.jpg). The lowest bridge we have encountered was here; it rose a bit while we were in Nashville because of a rain storm. A couple more inches of rain, and we may still be there! (lowest bridge -50'- in clarksville.jpg) Although it doesn’t support the quantity or size of the barge traffic we were used to on the Ohio & Mississippi, there is still a bit of commerce and small-to-medium sized barges transiting the river. It is a good thing it is deep to the shore in most places, so Windigo was able to give the giant river trucks a wide berth.  We locked through with a barge tow in the chamber with us. That was a first for us! (in lock WITH a barge tow.jpg)


Barkley Lake is a unique sailing area, a bit similar to our experiences in St. Mary’s River between Lake Superior & Lake Huron. It surface area is expansive – created by Barkley Dam, and heralded as a recreational paradise. Many resorts, marinas, parks & wildlife refuges cover this entire area. But sailing this lake requires navigational skill in a boat with 2 meters of draft. There is a maintained channel, and great care is needed to sail outside of the marked passage.


We did find treasures outside of the channel, anchoring overnight in narrow bays and creeks out of sight of the main river (foggy sunrise.MPG). At one anchorage, we were so far in the tiny bay, none of the river influences reached us. If the jet trails from the recently commenced air traffic hadn’t filled the sky, we would have felt as if we had reached Belize already! (contrails.jpg)


Sometimes islands create a channel off the main ‘sailing line’ of the waterway. These are usually very quiet, natural areas we take advantage of for anchoring. One exception turned out to be fun, anyway – at Cumberland City they constructed a multi-port commercial docking complex. Grain, stone, coal, lime, and all other manner of cargo is on- and off-loaded. We anchored bow & stern just ahead of the last ‘mooring cell’, the huge concrete-filled steel structure in the far left-hand side of industrial canal.jpg. These cells line the shore wherever barges are fleeted up, stored, loaded or otherwise handled.

Anchoring both ends of Windigo in the deep water real close to shore allowed us to try some interesting ways to get to shore. Tying a line to a tree and to Windigo’s mast provided a trolley. We attached gear [bicycles, fuel can, groceries, etc.] to a pulley, and send it down the line to shore. We could pull ourselves back & forth on Boardigo, too. (KL trolley ride.jpg & pull bike trolley.jpg)


Sailing up the river was a real treat. We only attempted it when the wind was “abaft the beam” [at an angle behind us] so we wouldn’t have to tack across the narrow passage. We could get nice 4-8 mile stretches, but the river winds north, south, east & west! It was still nice to shut off the engine for an hour or so once in a while. (river sailin'.JPG & wing 'n' wing on the cumberland.JPG)


The autumn colors are starting to break out – many of the cruising boats we encountered early on in our journey south were on time constraints, and regretted not planning the trip later in the year to see the fabulous color change. The tourist sites are nearly empty, sometimes we anchor right next to a landmark and visit with Pedigo (fort donelson visitor center.jpg & anchored in the trees.jpg & our kentucky home.jpg). We are dilly-dallying to catch as much as we can! (KL fall color start.jpg)


Now, the Tuesday morning story:

We were visiting Karin's friend in Ashland City, TN, by Nashville (parthenon.jpg & parthenon gardens.jpg). Monday was our last day there, and we had moved the boat Sunday afternoon to be by a restaurant dock, and then anchored across the river that night (anchored by the bridge in Ashland City.jpg). The wind was opposing the river current, and it was breezy enough to set the boat's anchor chain [and windigo] against the current.

Debris from past storms, in the form of at least two huge branches, came by & snagged on both the anchor rode and the separate trip line & float we always use. Much fishing line was entangled in these tree parts, and some of the wood held fast to the trip line float, pulling the anchor OUT with the current.

Another 'V' shaped, water-logged branch about 5" in diameter slid down the chain and wedged nicely in the 'claw' of our 70# stainless steel anchor (we call it our 'mooring' anchor)

With the float pulling one way & the boat blowing the other, Windigo moved out into deeper water with the anchor dragging this tree all over the bottom.

Right by a bridge. And a creek inlet. In the Cumberland River, with barge traffic.

When the motion awoke us at 0335 hrs, we had nearly returned to the restaurant dock (sleepy thought: maybe Windigo was hungry?)

We got the engine started, and I hauled up the anchor. It was too dark to determine how to extract the flora from the ground tackle, so I got it up to the bow and lashed the rode and the entangled trip line to deck cleats. Most of it was out of the water, so we headed slowly toward the lock that was about 6 miles downstream, timing our arrival with daybreak. I was able to clear the forest from the front of Windigo prior to entering the lock.

Wonder around each bend; a prize in every box; a lesson to be learned. (magic bike.jpg) The adventure is EVERYday aboard Windigo! (not quite autumn.jpg)


Kevin L & Karin J Hughes

S/V WindigoIII