Monday, October 31, 2011
Wolf Island, mile marker #192.6 to Unnamed island mile marker #399.0 near John L Rankin Lock
The morning had been perfect – no fog, minimal clouds, and beautiful reflections on calm water. We passed by lots of coots and great blue herons. We’re not seeing as many bald eagles as we had seen farther north. And we’re spotting more white egrets. Ninety minutes after pulling up anchor we arrived at a really big lock and dam, Pickwick Lock. We would be ascending 57 feet this time and arrive onto Pickwick Lake. It was the first of three locks for the day. Pickwick Lock had two chamber, a large one and a smaller one. They put us in the large one. And away we went.
Terry is really getting his rope throwing technique down as he lassos our breast line onto the floating bollard. Mike is quick behind him to put on the spring line. Then we wait. As we rise we see two big eyes peering at us on the top of the gates. Perched above us is what appears to be a great horned owl. This one won’t necessarily make the “Birds” list as it’s plastic.
Pickwick Lake is a man-made lake of a flooded valley. By the look of the houses it appears to be a high rent district. Sitting on top of the bluffs are huge houses; some with extremely long stairs leading down to a dock. The trees are almost at their peak here as there is a large assortment of varying shades of green, umber, burgundy and gold. We motored on Pickwick Lake but not for too long as our next turn was onto Yellow Creek which then turned into the Tenn-Tom Waterway. This was one of our “are we there yet?” landmarks.
Our fresh water was getting a lot of air in the line, which causes the pump to run and run and run; that’s not good. We had just filled up with water only a few days ago so how could we be out? We had gone through this about a week or so ago. Hugh strongly thought we might have a leak in the tank. After inspecting the starboard tank, which at that time had been the culprit, a visual examination revealed we had plenty of water in it. Friday we had filled up in the afternoon and now the center tank was running low. Hmmm. So we switched to the starboard tank and checked Skipper Bob’s book for a marina in the next day or so where we could fill up on water. There was one right around the corner.
“While we’re at Grand Harbor Marina on Pickwick Lake, we’ll also get some diesel and do a pump out.” Hugh told us.
“That’s the biggest sailboat I’ve ever seen,” said the young woman tending the marina.
I can’t imagine what she would say if she say Appledore IV of 78 feet, Schooner Manitou or the Denis Sullivan which are much bigger than Appledore V. She probably wouldn’t see too many sailboats this large considering the water depths in some of the channels are only 11 feet. The Army Corp of Engineers maintains them to be at least 9 feet. When we were preparing to do this trip Hugh had to do some research for minimum depth and make sure we’d be able to get through since we draw 8 feet and “winter” depths are quite often less than what is maintained the rest of the year.
“Trick or treat!” I said to another woman standing on the dock. She had come out from the laundry to check us out. “Can you guess what I’m dressed up as?”
A roar of laughter came as her answer.
Since it was Halloween I decided to try to make popcorn balls, but I wasn’t going to tell the guys. It was to be their surprise afternoon snack. A couple days before I had done a test run of making popcorn in a pan on the stove. The first batch wasn’t as good as the second, which had a hotter pot. So I knew that was important. After breakfast with the stove still hot I popped up a bunch of popcorn and covered.
“The popcorn is not for eating, yet.” I told them, particularly Bill. Bill likes popcorn it turns out and any thing sweet. He had finally after nineteen days found the unopened bag of black Twizzlers licorice in the cupboard and thought I had been holding out on him.
After lunch, with all the guys were on deck enjoying the nice weather and scenery, I went to work on my next experiment. I had researched a few popcorn ball recipes online and found one that looked good. But it called for corn syrup. With no corn syrup on board I looked online for what a substitute or how to make a substitute. I knew that a tablespoon of molasses and one cup of sugar mixed together was a substitute for 1 cup of brown sugar and it worked well. I found that 1 cup of sugar and ¼ cup of water could be used as a substitute for 1 cup of corn syrup. Great! And away I went – measuring and mixing and boiling my sweet syrupy concoction to pour over the popcorn.
I decided to make them popcorn balls with ant and sailors, thus being a little healthier. I had raisins and walnut pieces ready to mix in.
Boil until it reaches 270 degrees on a candy thermometer, said the recipe. I didn’t have a candy thermometer available but another recipe had said that it was at the right temp if a drop would form a ball when dropped into cold water. I boiled and boiled and boiled until I thought it seemed right. Then I dropped a dribble into water and it sank to the bottom in a roundish ball.
I drizzled the syrup mix over the popcorn, raisins and walnuts but it wasn’t coating it as I expected. It looked grainy and not as syrupy as I expected. I put they syrup back on the stove to cook and added a little more water wondering if it didn’t have enough moisture to dissolve all the sugar. I drizzled and mixed and put it back on the stove a couple more times.
“Oh well, I’m glad I didn’t promise anything,” I thought to myself. They would be having semi-caramelized popcorn instead of popcorn balls. When I was about 14 years old, and had just joined the high school pit band for the musicals, I learned a great lesson from my mom. Having been a musician herself she told me with authority that if I make a mistake to just keep going that only me, the person next to me and maybe the conductor would notice. Years later I learned from a photography article a similar type of lesson. The author said that when a person compliments your photograph, accept the praise and do not point out the mistakes, such as “well, but this area isn’t in focus” as this then draws the viewer’s attention to the flaw that they had probably not noticed.
I had extended these two lessons this to “don’t promise something that you’re not sure of, until you actually have it in hand.” Never having made popcorn balls before and working without the benefit of a candy thermometer and proper ingredients (corn syrup) I wasn’t going to tell them ahead of time what I was doing with the popcorn.
They liked it, especially Bill. Oh well, I guess there are some times that there really isn’t a substitute for corn syrup. And a candy thermometer probably would have been helpful as well.
Our second lock was our largest drop of all. We came into Whitten Lock on the Tenn-Tom Waterway with 98 feet of water under us when we were in the chamber. During the next twenty minutes we dropped to 15 feet of water. Eighty-three feet of change. It was pretty impressive with the lock walls towering over us like we were in the moat of a castle.
“Oh look!” I shouted to Andy. I knew he’d be interested in what I saw. There were steps on the outside of the lock. Under the steps were swallow nests, mud-brown globes with holes.
Our last lock was the “Sonny” Montgomery lock and dam and not much to write home about, just another thirty-or-so foot dam. This one had a great blue heron hanging around hoping to find a trapped meal.
Half an hour later we neared our stopping place for the night, just in sight of the lock we would go through first thing in the morning.
“Hey look a raft!”
“There’s a man and a woman on it.”
“And a cat,” I said looking through the binoculars. “No it’s a chicken!”
We waved as we passed by them puttering along with their two-stroke motor.
I went below to check on the oven baked fried chicken Hugh had been smelling for the last hour, although he didn’t know what it was.
“Dinner will be ready when ever you are.”
The evening was spent enjoying a tasty meal and fun conversation about the original naming of Fig Newtons as we deserted on Matt’s Fig Bars.