Archived Story

Banks’ solitude interrupted by multitude of boats

Published 12:08pm Tuesday, September 4, 2012

By Harold Banks, Special to the Outlook

Editor’s note: This is the 14th installment in a fascinating diary chronicling a 400-mile paddle down the entire length of the Alabama River. 

April 14, 2012 – Day 14

High 81, Low 56 – Partly cloudy, windy

Saturday night – Mile 302 – Sandbar at end of Mims Cutoff

While eating breakfast, the solitude of this sandbar is interrupted by boat races.  It is Saturday and there must be a bass tournament because men in logo jackets and hats are racing to get to their prescouted honey holes.  I pack all my gear and more sand than I want and join them on the river, albeit at a much slower pace.  I am passing another sandbar when a bass boat cuts right in front of me at high speed sending a massive wave that could have swamped me had I not been facing it head on.  I get slight satisfaction when the driver utters a string of profanity upon seeing another boat already in the eddy at the tail end of that deep bar he was in such a hurry to get to.

I have seen a lot of homemade shanty boats on this lower part of the Alabama River.  Some are quite elegant, some quite primitive.  Most are apparently weekend retreats, but a few seem to be full-time abodes.  They float, more or less, on aluminum pontoons, steel drums, plastic barrels or Styrofoam blocks, including the constantly shedding beaded Styrofoam.  The sad thing is that so many are simply abandoned when they deteriorate beyond usefulness.

It is a pretty spring Saturday and a lot of people are fishing other than the tournament guys.  The wind has been steadily increasing, and soon it is blowing 15 to 20 miles per hour from the southeast.  Whitecaps appear on the straightaways facing that direction.  It is tough going when I face the wind, and I have to work hard to make forward progress.  Of course, in this twisty section of the river the wind is sometimes in my favor, but the push from tailwinds does not even out the effort expended fighting headwinds.

Luckily I have a short day of only 18 miles planned and arrive at my campsite on a sandbar early in the afternoon.  This sandbar lies at the tail end of what is called the Fort Mims cutoff.  Two miles to the east is the site of the famous Fort Mims massacre.  On Aug. 13, 1813, almost all the fort’s 500 or so occupants were killed by Redstick warriors.  The Redstick Creeks also suffered heavy losses with 200 to 400 said to have died in the attack.  Some of the few fort survivors fled to the river, and I wonder if any hid near my campsite.

I am not a big fan of sandbar camping for reasons I have already stated, but there is one big bonus here.  One side of the bar is covered in dewberries, large, ripe and delicious.  I gorge on them for my pre-dinner salad.