Headed South on the Tenn-Tom

Hello virtual crew members and fellow adventures!

La Salle here catching you up to date on the latest travels of Still Waters II. Click on this link to see the day- to-day travel log.


Last look at the Tennessee River.  Left turn onto the Tenn-Tom just after the hill in the foreground.


Summary of week: The crew started the week with something that you are not supposed to have on a boat, namely a schedule.  However, they have some good friends that live nearby in Jackson, Tennessee.  Their schedules did not work out when the crew passed by about a month ago.  So this time the crew would make an extra effort to rendezvous with Bob and Kellie on Tuesday.

On Monday and Tuesday the crew completed their cruise on the Tennessee River.  On Thursday, they started the next leg of their journey on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway.  They completed the week when they pulled into Columbus, Mississippi.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

If improving business processes is your thing, then by all means, please read on.  However, if you find process improvements as exciting as watching grass grow, you may be better off skipping down to Monday.  You have been warned!

The crew went walking around the marina and out to the river to observe the river traffic.  While sitting, and watching the water go by, the skipper took notice of the gravel business across the water.  He had previously learned that it takes 70 dump truck loads of gravel to fill one barge.  While watching the operation, he began to wonder how long it would take to fill one complete barge.

Gravel Operation on the River

He broke out his stop watch and began timing the cycle of trucks dumping their loads in the barge.  He timed ten trucks.  After the tenth truck the tow called a time out from the dump trucks and took some time to reposition the barge.  The cycle time to dump ten loads and reposition the barge for the next ten loads was 20 minutes.  Based on this cycle time, he extrapolated that seven cycles to fill the barge would take 2 hours and 20 minutes.

A look around showed that this was the fourth and last barge to be loaded for the day.  Some simple math would lead to the conclusion that the total evolution to fill all four barges would take at least 9 hours and 20 minutes.

Since this work was taking place on Sunday, and assuming that these truck drivers were getting paid by the load and not the hour, it was easy to conclude that if they could fill the four barges more efficiently they could get done sooner and go home to enjoy some good Sunday afternoon football.

With the goal of shortening their weekend work day the skipper began to analyze each cycle of the trucks dumping their load.

The normal cycle time for a truck to move into position and dump their load of gravel in the barge was around 1 minute and 45 seconds.  The best practice was 1 minute and 27 seconds.  Worst case was one driver who took 3 minutes and 28 seconds.

What the skipper observed though was a lot of variability in the times it took for various parts of the cycle.  For example, some drivers could back the truck up to the barge in less than 10 seconds while most were taking almost 30 seconds.  Another example was that once at the barge, some drivers took as long as 30 seconds to release the load while some drivers could dump the load in 10 seconds.

Based on his observations, the skipper concluded that if you took the best practices of each segment of the process and removed the variability of each driver, that the cycle time for each load dump could be reduced from the normal 1 minute 45 seconds to 50 seconds.  Removing just a little over 1 minute of waste from each cycle.  That does not seem like much but look at the overall effect.

The time it takes to fill one barge would drop down to just under one hour so all four barges could be filled in four hours instead of 9 hours and 20 minutes.  This would result in the drivers getting paid the same amount of money in less than half the time.  The drivers would not have to work any harder or any faster, just take the waste out of their process.  Which would result in the drivers being at home watching football with their family all afternoon.  A win-win for everybody.

The skipper used to say back in his working days that he could improve any process by as much as 50% with one hand tied behind his back.  Did I mention that the Admiral was rolling her eyes and laughing at the skipper during his analysis work.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Remember that schedule that I mentioned earlier, well today is the day that the schedule drove the decision making.   The crew had planned to cruise about 60 miles but the plans were changed when they ran into an issue in Decatur at the RR Bridge.

Smooth day on the water

The bridge was closed for maintenance.  The vertical clearance is only eight feet so the crew had to wait for repairs to complete before they could pass under the bridge.  After an hour and a half wait, the work wrapped up and the bridge tender opened the bridge.

Love the smooth sailing

The crew had docked at a marina while they waited on the work to complete.  They shoved off the dock and got back underway.  Because of the long delay the crew talked it over and decided that they would cruise long enough to clear the Joe Wheeler Lock.  They are trying to get back to Aqua Yacht Harbor to meet some friends Tuesday night and cannot afford to have any more of these delays.

Joe Wheeler Lock

After passing through the Joe Wheeler Lock at dusk (1645), the crew talked it over some more and decided to make the additional 15 miles to clear the Wilson Lock.  The risk of running at night was minimized because there is a full moon to help guide the way.

Night cruise by the light of the full moon

By deciding to get passed both the Wheeler and Wilson locks they should have no problems making it to Aqua Yacht Harbor on Tuesday.  The crew passed through the Wilson Lock with minimum delays and traveled another three miles to a marina in Florence and conclude their four hour run at night.

In the Wilson Lock at Night

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The small town of Florence is worth coming back to and spending more time exploring.

Weekend Project – Took 16 years to build

In 1818, Italian surveyor Ferdinand Sannoner laid out the town and named it after Florence, Italy.  W.C. Handy, known as the ‘Father of the Blues”, was born here in 1873.  Helen Keller was born across the river in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Crew spent the summer cruising the Ohio River

This would be the last day cruising the Tennessee River.  Turned out to be another beautiful day on the water.  With light winds in the morning, the water was once again glass smooth.  The scenery continued to be excellent.

More smooth sailing

bob-and-kellieAfter landing at the dock, the crew anticipated the arrival of Bob and Kellie.  Interesting enough, the two couples actually met in OKC watching the Women’s College World Series of softball, many years ago.  However, the couples had not seen each other since June 2015 because the crew skipped the World Series in June 2016 due to their Loop Adventure.  The four spent the late afternoon and evening catching up on life.  It was great time had by all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The crew will start the next leg of their journey towards Mobile, Alabama on Thursday.  The trip to Mobile is 450 miles from where the crew sits today on Pickwick Lake.  The trip down to Mobile will be on two waterways.

Turning right onto the Tenn-Tom Waterway

The Tennessee-Tombigbee (Tenn-Tom) Waterway is a man-made channel that goes from mile 450 at Pickwick Lake to mile 217 at Demopolis, Alabama.  The Tenn-Tom is then further divided into three sections: Divide Cut, Canal Section, and the River.

The second waterway starts below Demopolis and is called the Black Warrior-Tombigbee Waterway.

Looking down the Divide Cut

My French ancestors first brought forth the idea of connecting the Tennessee River and the Tombigbee River way back in the 1700’s.  However, it took until December 1972 before shovels started to move the dirt to make the waterway.  The work was completed in December 1984 and the first tow passed through the waterway in January 1985.  The waterway was officially opened and dedicated June 1, 1985.

Entering Bay Springs Lake

Fun Fact:  More earth was moved to complete the Tenn-Tom Waterway than was moved to complete the Panama Canal.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The run today took the crew through the Divide Cut of the Tenn-Tom Waterway that connected the Tennessee River with the Tombigbee River.  The Cut is 280 feet wide and 12 feet deep.  150 million cubic yards of earth were moved to complete the Divide Cut.

Trees along the Divide Cut

Since the waterway was completed back in 1985, the land has healed itself and now the shore is lined with trees which makes for a beautiful cruise.

The fall colors are again more vivid now that the crew has made some distance south and dropped almost 400 feet in elevation over the last week or so.

Overtaking a tow in the Divide Cut

After cruising through the Divide Cut for most of the day, the cut finally opened into Bay Springs Lake.  The crew docked at the Bay Springs Marina, in preparation to start the Canal Section on Friday.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The run today started the Canal Section of the Tenn-Tom Waterway which consists of 6 dams and locks connected by a man-made channel that runs beside the Tombigbee River.  The channel was dug rather than using the existing river because the river twists and turns so much in these next 52 miles.  These twists and turns would have added unnecessary miles to the trip.

Notice the drill marks in the rock

The run took most of the day because the crew had to negotiate four locks.  Two of the locks were open and waiting for the crew to enter upon arrival.  One lock required waiting to allow the chamber to be filled so the crew could lock down.  And one lock had an up bound tow to lock up before the crew could lock down.

Looking down the Canal Cut from Montgomery Lock

All in all, a successful day with four locks.  At the end of the run the crew pulled into the Smithville Marina.  The marina is run by Scott Cox.  His family has owned the property since 1886 when his great grandfather initially purchased the land.  The family were farmers but had to give up farming when the Tenn-Tom was built because most of their farm land was taken and flooded.  Jesse Cox (Scott’s dad) started the marina and RV park after the waterway opened. The marina has seen better days and is in need of some serious rehab.

More fall foliage spectacular

Back on April 27, 2011 an F5 tornado ripped through the town of Smithville and impacted the marina.  Jesse was one of thirteen people killed by the tornado.  The crew found the folks at the marina very helpful and would return here for another night at the dock in the future.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The north winds howled all night long and had Still Waters II pinned along the east-west facing dock.  A good man named Jim came over and helped the crew maneuver off the dock and get back underway in the stiff wind.  Boaters helping boaters is a theme that the crew continues to see play out in this adventure, thanks Jim for the help.


Skipper over taking a tow in close quarters in the Canal Section.  That tow in the background is less than 40 feet from Still Waters II.

After getting clear of the dock the crew headed over to the first of three locks for the day.  The lockmaster had the gates open and the crew went straight into the lock.  The lock master called ahead to the next lock that is only five miles downriver and let the lock know the crew was coming his way.

Upon arrival at the second lock the crew once again found the lock gates open and once again went straight into the lock.  When the gates opened to let the crew out, they noticed a tow coming around the next bend.  They were glad to clear the lock before the tow arrived.

Tow in the distance at Smithville Lock

When they arrived at the third lock the gates were open but a tow was coming out.  The lockmaster told the crew to stay out of the way and enter the lock as soon as the tow was clear.  Then again, when the gates were opened to let the crew out they noticed another tow headed to the lock.

Tombigbee River joining the Canal Section – marks the beginning of the River Section

All in all, another very successful day negotiating tows and locks.  Oh, I almost forgot to mention, the Admiral was practicing at the helm today and maneuvered Still Waters II off the lock wall, out of the locks and passed the waiting tows in the three locks today.

The River Section of the Tenn-Tom Waterway

The crew pulled into the Columbus Marina where Still Waters II will lie until after the Thanksgiving Holiday.

 Next Week –  With the Thanksgiving Holiday on Thursday, the crew has decided to leave the boat and take a week off from cruising.  Food, family, friends, and football will be the activities of next week.  The crew wishes all the virtual crew members and fellow adventurers a Happy Thanksgiving!

Being French and all, I do not really understand this Thanksgiving thing, but I have been informed that I have the week off and my next post will not be until December 4th.

 Loop On – The water goes on forever and the adventure never ends.

La Salle

5 Comments on “Headed South on the Tenn-Tom

  1. I thought I had said this earlier but I guess not. I love the Lean Manufacturing lesson. Terry laughed the whole way though it since he’s a Lean guy, too.

    On the other hand, Arlington ISD not so much. (insert rolling eyes here) And when I suggest things that would work more efficiently I get *that look*. Oh well. I do Lean Manufacturing in my office and just let the others be as inefficient as “your” rock loaders and haulers.

    Love you, Brother Dear. Missing you today more than usual.


  2. Your process entry suggests the hated Time and Motion efficiency guys where workers are treated as machines. Today they are known as Industrial Engineers. One told me once, ” My job is to figure out how to fire people”!
    Now that my trivia from grad school rant is over, glad you guys are sailing along smoothly. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like not near the traffic in this section of your trip. How busy are the waterways here?

    Liked by 1 person

    • It may ‘suggest’ a Time and Money theme, but could not be further than the east is from the west. Those guys are only about the company’s bottom line and do not care about the well being of the employees. Usually leave a large wake of destruction behind them as they travel from company to company.

      I, on the other hand, am a proponent of the Toyota Production System. In the US industry it is called Lean Production. The focus is on removing waste from the process. For further reading you might try the books Toyota Production System or Lean Thinking.

      Just a note, the system uses employee involvement to come up with the process improvements. Then if a job were to get eliminated the employee is reassigned to another job. A foundational principle of Lean is that nobody gets fired because of the process improvement.

      And if you take a minute to think that through you will see why. If the first project you do results in layoffs, then when you start the second project and claim you are here to help the worker…… Well you are not going to get much help.

      Back to the example of the rock haulers. If they improved the process by using best practices of all the workers, they could get the barge completely full in half the time. Everybody still gets paid the same. Everybody gets to spend more time at home on the weekend. Win-Win.

      Lastly, in this case, the company bottom line would not improve much because they still paid the same 70 loads to fill the barge.

      To your question about the number of tows on the water. There are much fewer tows going up and down the Tenn-Tom than there were on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. Probably a 75% reduction of the number of tows seen now as to before.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sounds like a great week with beautiful scenery. So glad you were able to spend time with Kellie and Bob.
    Enjoy your week on dry land enjoying turkey, football and family!
    Happy Turkey Matey’s🦃🦃🦃🦃🍗🏈


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