It is the winter migration habit of American White Pelicans to climb to catch a thermal current to take them to warmer climates. These large birds rise in an upward spiral searching for the best altitude to carry them south.
As the pelicans travel on thermal currents above the Tombigbee River, we travel the river currents below them.
We made only 31 miles on Thursday, greatly slowed by delays while we waited for tows pushing heavy barges through the locks at midday. At 1500 we anchored at Pickensville, Alabama to wait out the traffic jam of tows.
Many of the entries to the traditional anchorages have silted over on the upper Tombigbee and we didn’t want to encounter more submerged objects so the next morning we pushed 83 miles past sunset and into the dark to get to Rattlesnake Bend, a reliable anchorage close to Demopolis, Alabama. It was an anchorage that we knew from an earlier trip on the river.
Heavy rains of the previous weekend had stirred up the creeks flowing into this part of the river and we began to see a growing amount of floating debris. Additionally, we heard reports of pending flooding of the Alabama River which flows into the Tombigbee/Black Warrior River below Demopolis.
The trip to Rattlesnake Bend was arduous. We pilot from a flybridge that is exposed on all sides. It was our fifth day on the river and the cold was unrelenting. It wasn’t Antarctica, but it was continuous, and this was an 11 hour day of constant chill and damp, peppered with wind at each bend in the river. Darkness slowly enveloped us as we powered toward Rattlesnake Bend and we used the searchlight to spot branches, trees, and other dangerous debris on the water ahead of us. It was a long, tiring day and even the hand warmers that we tuck into our gloves had given out.
At 1800 we dropped the anchor in the loop cut-off known as Rattlesnake Bend. Soon it began raining and we awoke to continued rain. This rain would lead to more flooding, stronger currents and increased flotsam on the river, but the three of us welcomed a weather-day of rest, boat clean-up and warm soups.