This Travel Journal is about bringing the Charter Boat Entertainer from the place it was built down the Alabama River to the Entertainer's new home on Pensacola Beach. It documents my view of the maiden voyage of the charter boat Entertainer owned by Campain Jerry Andrews.
Being retired and having a motorhome sitting in the yard at our stick & brick house is not my idea of happiness. That motorhome needs to be out exploring this great country of ours. Joyce and I have been back in Pensacola for two months and I am ready to get back on the road ------ but that is not going to happen until mid-June (a lifetime away). The wanderlust is overwhelming. To say I have been looking for something exciting to do would be an understatement.
Things changed for me last week. I am going to tell you about an exciting trip I got to take. But first I need to fill in some information so that you can fully appreciate the excitement I experienced.
I have been associated with the Gulf Coast Charter Boat & Deep Sea Fishing industry since I can remember. I worked on fishing boats out of Panama City, Florida in my youth. I have always owned a boat (20' to 22' outboard motor boats) outfitted for fishing in the Gulf. My 29 year old son and his buddies were my fishing partners when they were growing up. We fished tournaments along the Gulf Coast when they were in middle school and early high school. We were fishing fools. One of our boats was named "Family Affair" and it truly was. That boat was on the water every chance we got.
When Jeff (my son) turned 16 (and got his drivers license) he went to work as a deck hand on the Charter Boat Entertainer (the best charter boat in Pensacola). I lost my fishing partner and sold my boat.
That Charter Boat Entertainer was a 60' charter boat specializing in snapper, grouper, amberjack and trigger fish. Jeff worked for Captain Jerry Andrews on that boat for 5-years (thru high school and his first 2-years of college). Needless to say I became good friends with Captain Jerry the owner.
Jerry sold the old Charter Boat Entertainer last winter and had a new Charter Boat Entertainer built. It is the same hull as the old Charter Boat Entertainer but 5' longer making it 65' long. It was built in the small Alabama town of Wetumpka, about 12-miles NE of Montgomery, Alabama.
Two weeks ago I rode up to Wetumpka with Bob (a local contractor and fish head extraordinaire). Bob is a multitalented individual, married to one of the areas top personal injury attorneys. Bob is a licensed Captain who at one time both worked on and ran charter boats and oil rig supply boats. Anyway, Bob and I drove the 3-hours up to Wetumpka one Saturday to see the progress on the new charter boat Entertainer. That was a fun trip. While there it was apparent that the charter boat Entertainer was nearing completion. The "new" charter boat Entertainer, this BIG 65' charter boat almost complete under the shed at the top of a hill near the Coosa River had to be transported to the river. Charter Boats are totally useless ---- unless in the water taking passengers fishing.
When I see this makeshift, clay, boat ramp forming a steep 30 degree to 40 degree incline toward the river 300 or so yards away and found out that they were going to launch that huge 65' charter boat down that ramp I was hooked. I really could not visualize anyone in his right mind backing this new charter boat Entertainer down that hill into the water. Did I mention that the ENTERTAINER, this behemoth, was on a makeshift trailer (like a normal boat trailer sans rollers), albeit considerably beefed up. The trailer sported twin axles with a set of dualies on both axles. The rails on this trailer were made of what appeared to be 10" diameter steel tubing with a ½" beam welded to the side of each tube for added stiffness/support. This is a 25 to 30 ton boat so the trailer was under a load. I wanted to watch these farm boys back that bad boy down that ramp. I also got the "bug" to ride the completed boat down the Alabama River and back to its new home on Pensacola Beach. To let you in on a secret -----I got to do both ------ but would have to wait another 10-days.
Fast forward a week or so to Tuesday. My son graciously took a day off from his business in Pensacola and drove me up to Wetumpka Tuesday morning. Rumor was circulating that the new Charter Boat Entertainer would be moved to the water today. Jeff stayed around and watched as the new charter boat Entertainer was "launched" into the Cooska River about 3:00 Tuesday afternoon April 27, 2004. But I get ahead of myself.
Charter Boat Entertainer under shed in Wetumpka, Alabama
The excitement started when we arrived at the ship yard (I am not sure that is the correct term for the shed the new charter boat Entertainer was constructed under). Not long after WE arrived the "ship yard" connected what looked like an OLD logging truck to the trailer and started moving it from under the shed. Amazingly enough that pulpwood truck moved that big boat around like it was an outboard motor boat. At least it moved the Entertainer around in the parking lot on top of the hill. I knew negotiating that clay hill leading down to the river would be another matter. It seems that the last time they launched a boat they had a bulldozer taking the place of that logging truck. As they started backing down that steep, clay boat ramp the boat started dragging the bulldozer backwards.
Huge tow truck that was used to literally winch the Charter Boat Entertainer down to the water
This time the ship yard had called one of those HUGE tow trucks used to handle the big 18-wheel tractor trailer rigs. While the log truck was connected to the boat this HUGE tow truck connected his big steel cables to the front of the log truck. The tow truck let out about 50' of cable. At this time they started easing down the hill/boat ramp. It was a hoot watching them wrestle the new charter boat Entertainer down the hill toward the water.
Charter Boat Entertainer about to begin Maiden Voyage
Adrenaline was pumping through the veins of everyone in sight as Captain Jerry Andrews new Charter Boat Entertainer headed down that clay ramp.
The Maiden Voyage of the Charter Boat Entertainer is about to begin
Thirty minutes later the charter boat Entertainer is safely floating free in the Coosa River. Someone cranked the generator shortly after the boat floated free. It fired up on the first try. The port engine also started on the first try, but the starter did not work on the starboard diesel.
Charter Boat Entertaner is in the water and ready for its Maiden Voyage to Pensacola Beach
It was time for Jeff to return to Pensacola, he wanted to ride this new charter boat Entertainer down the river with us ---------------- but work beckoned and he had already taken one day off. I got my clothes and other stuff out of the car and waved good-by. Jeff had a lonely 3-hour ride back to Pensacola. I loaded my things on the Entertainer and tried to make myself useful. The plan was to head down the river to Pensacola as soon as they got the starboard engine running and we picked up some diesel fuel. Because of weight they had only put 100 gallons of diesel in the fuel tank before it was launched. Now that we were in the river we needed to motor to a place where a fuel truck could get close enough to us. That place was about 5-miles up river in the small town of Wetumpka, Alabama.
Jerry and Keith, the diesel mechanic extraordinaire, ended up robbing a starter from one of the new engines under the shed waiting to go in another boat. That wasn't something they wanted to do but it was the only available solution. The starboard engine finally cranked at 12:30 AM Wednesday morning. By 1:00 AM Jerry and Keith were ready to call it a day. I had climbed into one of the bunks on the boat a few hours earlier. Of course I got up to celebrate the engine cranking. Keith had to shower because he had so much diesel fuel on him. He is the one that found out that the water heater wasn't working. It was cold on the river at 1:30 in the morning but Keith jumped down in the "hot" engine room with some cold water and did his best to wash that diesel fuel off. I have to say Keith was a real trooper. By 2:00 both Keith and I were in our bunks trying to get some shuteye before morning came.
Dawn on the river was still and cold. Puffs of steam rose from the river creating a miasma in the cold air. I sat for awhile washed in the silence. Within a few minutes of waking Keith was back in the engine room. Unfinished jobs from last night/early morning were tended to. I sat on the deck enjoying the morning stillness that lingered like a kiss.
Jerry, who slept in a travel trailer at the top of the hill near the shed had risen at dawn and headed to town to get food and coffee from one of the local fast food joints. Jerry done good (southern speak), he arrived at the boat with three LARGE coffees and sausage, eggs, cheese biscuits. Keith and I entered into one of those gustatory debauchery moments. Did I mention that Keith and I really appreciate Captain Jerry? He didn't know it but we could have hugged his neck when he arrived with that coffee and those biscuits filled with "the works".
Jerry and Keith made some final adjustments to the engine throttles and such then we pulled anchor and headed upriver a few miles to take on 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel. There are NO marinas in this area so we pulled next to an old abandoned lock and called a fuel truck that was able to get near enough to us to get us fueled.
Maiden Voyage of Captain Jerry Andrews new Charter Boat Entertainer
While there we repaired the water heater (replaced the element), we had inadvertently applied electricity to the element when the generator started and that was before we ran water through the system so needless to say the water heater had no water in it. That will burn out an element every time. Thirty minutes and a run to the hardware store and we were in business. We were trying to get started down the river and home but things kept popping up. The ship yard wanted to take some publicity pictures and we needed to go shopping for groceries. The trip down river would take between 30 to 50 hours depending on river conditions. The river was very low so we were anticipating having to idle down much of the Alabama River (over 300 miles).
We purchased enough food to feed an army for the anticipated maximum trip of 50-hours. Folks came out of the woodwork when it came time to head down river. Actually, some of the ship yard workers decided to take a few days off and make the trip down river with us. They were as excited about the trip as I was. For a while they were arriving like mushrooms on a decaying log.
As we headed down river we had good water under us so Captain Jerry put the throttles down. That big charter boat jumped out of the water like a ski boat. He never pushed the engines past 68% but we were running 21.9 nautical mph then. That is "flying" on a 65' boat. A warning light came on and they pulled back on the throttles and headed to the engine room to make more adjustments. I am not sure but I think air was getting in the fuel intake line and the loose fitting had to be found and tightened. Shortly we were on our way again, it was after 4:00 PM Wednesday afternoon when we waved good-bye to the ship yard.
We literally flew down Coosa River for about 10-miles where it joins the Tallapoosa River to form the Alabama River. I suppose the correct thing to say is--- the confluence of the Tallapoosa River and Coosa River forms the Alabama River, that flows generally in a SW direction toward Mobile. We weaved our way down the Alabama River thru Montgomery, then Selma and under the Pettus Bridge. The same Pettus bridge made famous in 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King's Civil Rights march from Montgomery to Selma crossed the bridge only to be met by State Police with billy clubs, police dogs and national television cameras. That attack, on peaceful marchers, on the Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama focused the Nation's attention on the extreme measures used to prevent black citizens from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Alabama State police officials beat many of the marchers. It was a brutal scene that was transmitted nationally around the United States by television, and the public outcry that resulted from the day that became known as "Bloody Sunday" resulted in a federal court order, proclaiming that police were not allowed to interfere with the marchers. The Selma March was a pivotal moment leading Congress' to enact the Voting Rights Act in 1965. I think that is a chapter of Alabama history that Alabama, indeed the entire United States, would rather forget.
From Selma we angled SW across rural Alabama toward Mobile. About 20 miles N of Mobile the Alabama River dumps into the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway that takes us down to Mobile, Alabama. From Mobile we angled S/SE 30 miles or so down Mobile Bay to the Intracoastal waterway running east and west across the south end of Mobile Bay. When we intersected the Intracoastal waterway just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama we turned east and followed the inland waterway to Gulf Breeze and Pensacola Beach.
The trip was 405 nautical miles per both the Radar and GPS tracking systems. Did I mention that the new charter boat Entertainer is decked out with all the latest in electronics? That is the same distance it is from Pensacola to Key West across the Gulf of Mexico. I share that with you so you can understand that the trip down the Alabama River to Mobile and over to Pensacola was a LONG way.
But I get ahead of myself. We need to return to Wednesday afternoon on the Alabama River upstream of Montgomery. About dark Wednesday we arrived in Montgomery where we dropped off two of our crew. They got off so they could drive automobiles down to Pensacola to take the ship yard crew back home in. As we passed under the I-65 bridge in Montgomery the sun was setting in front of us. The ship yard crew settled in the cabin with their Bud light and Jim Beam or it might have been old man Seagram's. That left Jerry, Keith and myself in the wheel house. Sometime before midnight Jerry navigated us through the first of three locks we were to encounter on the Alabama River. As long as I have been boating I have never taken a boat through a lock. I knew what was going to happen but doing it is exciting. It is even more exciting doing it at night. The first lock was the Robert F. Henry Lock & Dam located about midway between Montgomery and Selma. That lock lowered us around 50'. I was impressed with my first lock through.
Shortly after getting through the lock the owner, Captain Jerry Andrews, lay down in the wheel house while Keith kept the boat between the banks. Keith and I stayed up all night Wednesday night as we made our way down the Alabama River. It was a hoot on that 65' boat watching both banks with the spotlight, keeping one eye on the depth-finder, (did I say the Alabama River is NOT one of America's Big rivers), another eye on the radar and all the gauges on those new engines. Adrenaline was pumping through both of us as we eased down the river with rock outcroppings and trees hugging both banks. We were as busy as a one armed paper hanger if you get my drift. There are twists and turns not to mention locals in john boats setting trout lines or hunting alligators or the myriad other things people do on the river around midnight. Did I mention logs in the river? My eyes were glued on that marvelous radar. Jerry had it adjusted for about ¼ mile with us in the center. I could see birds sitting on the river with that thing not to mention logs, snags, buoys, fishermen and everything else that was not water. The sensitivity of that radar is so awesome. The banks displayed in vivid red with trees along the shore reflecting green. Keith could actually see objects in the spotlight farther out than I could see them on the radar the way we had it set. However, much of the night was foggy and that hampered what Keith could see with the spotlight. Without ever taking my eyes off the radar I could tell Keith where to shine the spotlight to see objects to avoid snags or spot buoys we needed to locate and use for navigation purposes. Actually, one could navigate down the river with nothing but that radar, but putting a spotlight on objects sure helps the peace of mind and reassures the senses. All night long we pushed down the river at a constant 10 to 11 knots. Shortly after daylight we passed through the second lock, Miller's Ferry lock & dam located about 50-miles down river from Selma.
After getting through that lock Keith and I crashed and burned. It was a LONG night and we needed shuteye. By 10:00 we were wide awake and ready to go again. Jerry was running the boat, it was daylight and he had it up on plane. We were headed home at better than 20-knots. This was an unexpected surprise since everyone expected the river would be so low that we would have to navigate this section of the river at idle speed. If things held out like this we would be home much sooner than expected.
Luck was with us. The river stayed deep enough for us to make good time. We were able to run connected up except when we spotted fishing boats or moored boats along the bank. The wake we were throwing was so large it would have swamped fishing boats and seriously injured those in the boat. Boats moored along the bank had to be passed with caution also. Thankfully, the vast majority of the Alabama River was free of fishermen and boats. We were putting miles behind us. Around noon we entered the last lock, Claiborne Lock & Dam. Claiborne lock only lowered us 25 or 30 feet. South of the dam we found plenty of water again where we had expected to find the river so low that we could not run at speed. With plenty of water under us Jerry put the throttles down once again and we were zipping down the Alabama toward our rendezvous with the Tennessee Tombigbee River/Waterway about 30-miles north of Mobile. We passed into the Tombigbee uneventfully and headed south. As we passed under the I-65 bridge north of Mobile the Tombigbee empties into the Mobile River and again we seamlessly merged into the Mobile River as we continue on to Mobile and the Port of Alabama. This is the first time I have cruised down the Mobile River and gotten a good look at the Alabama Port. They have some impressive facilities. We kept heading south over the I-10 tunnel under the ship channel in Mobile. If it weren't for landmark buildings in downtown Mobile none of us would have known we passed over the tunnel.
Not far south of downtown Mobile we entered Mobile Bay. A 20-knott wind was kicking out of the east or southeast. We were headed south and things turned nasty for our 40-mile crossing of Mobile Bay. We were buffeted by waves and rain but the new charter boat Entertainer was headed home like a horse to the barn at a good 20-knots. Darkness descended on us as we crossed the bay. By the time we intersected with the Intracoastal waterway near Gulf Shores, Alabama it was dark and we had to slow down as we entered the "cut" between Mobile Bay and Perdido Bay. That is a built up area with lots of boat traffic and constant docks lining the waterway. Upon reaching Perdido Bay we were in familiar territory, it felt like we were home. We made the quick trip across Big Lagoon and Pensacola Bay in no time. We were pulling into the marina on Pensacola Beach around 10:35 PM Thursday night. We had made the trip in 30-hours.
We departed Wetumpka/Montgomery after 4:00 on Wednesday afternoon motored all night and all day Thursday. We made Mobile in daylight and watched as darkness set in while we crossed Mobile Bay. Under the cover of night we ran the Intracoastal waterway east to Pensacola. We arrived at the Marina on Pensacola Beach around 10:35 Thursday night.
Cuz, one of the ship yard workers that made the trip with us summed up things pretty well when he said "I have been the worlds fair, Six Flags over Georgia and three goat ropings --- none of them had a ride like this." I don't know if that was Jim Beam talking or not but it pretty much summed up what I thought about the experience myself.
I got to meet some fine people from the Navigator Shipyard in Wetumpka. I enjoyed their company on the trip down the Alabama River to Pensacola and most of all I appreciate Jerry Andrews for the opportunity to experience that ride down the Alabama River.
Life got real good for those few days. The trip was a hoot. I don't know what I will do for entertainment between now and mid-June when we head out in the motorhome for 6-months. It will be hard to equal the last few days.
If you are looking for a fishing trip in Pensacola you can book a trip on the Charter Boat Entertainer or one of Jerry's other boats ouo can call 850-565-0133 or 850-934-1613 They are located at on Pensacola Beach at the Pensacola Beach Marina. When you are on the Bridge going over to Pensacola Beach the Charter Boat Entertainer will be at the Pensacola Beach Marina on your right once you get through the toll booths. Stop by and see the fishing fleet unload their catch when you are in Pensacola, they are usually unloading fish from around 4:00 to 5:30 every afternoon. With this I conclude my story about the maiden voyage of the charter boat Entertainer.
Until next time remember how good life is.
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Until next time remember how good life is.