A quarter of a century ago the Tennessee River, which flows across the heart of America's South, was wayward and rampageous, suited neither to navigation nor recreation. In spring, great floods poured ruin over its banks. In autumn, rocky shoals jutted from its limestone bed. White water rushed over treacherous rapids and idled in mosquito-infested pools.
Today this is all changed. A tame and temperate river, the broad Tennessee flows peacefully to the Ohio and the Mississippi. When the Tennessee Valley Authority, which thus transformed the river, was created 25 years ago, the initials TVA were heralded (and defended) as a brand mark of human progress. But no one in the embattled days of its origin was rash enough to guess its true potential. Originally, TVA's objective was threefold: power, navigation and flood control. Today it generates electrical power for 1½ million customers; more than 12 million tons of freight move through its channels each year; and floods no longer threaten its valley.
But this is only part of the story. The most spectacular outgrowth of TVA is something even its originators did not predict—indeed, did not dare predict for fear of being thought frivolous. For the taming of the Tennessee created a man-made recreational paradise unrivaled anywhere in the world. This vast playground, lying within 500 miles of half the population of the nation, stretches across 26 million acres. Its lakes, with over 10,000 miles of shore line, yield 23 major species of fish.
Everything is geared to the vacationer, and particularly the vacationing family. For auto tourists, the eastern and central lakes are so located that all can be visited at leisure on a two- or three-week vacation. For boating enthusiasts, the cruise from Knoxville, Tenn. to Paducah, Ky. is an unforgettable adventure. A tour of the Tennessee Valley is in some ways as surprising and awe-inspiring as an African safari (SI, March 10). It is with a sense of real discovery that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED explores this totally new American phenomenon.
TOURING THE TENNESSEE VALLEY
Knoxville, less than a day's drive from the major TVA lakes in the eastern and central valley, is the best place to begin an auto tour. NORRIS, CHEROKEE, FORT PATRICK HENRY, BOONE, SOUTH HOLSTON, WATAUGA, DOUGLAS, FONTANA and HIWASSEE lakes can all be visited at leisure in from two to three weeks. This involves about 630 miles of straight driving. Add another 500-plus miles for sightseeing.
Norris Lake, with its more than 800 miles of wild, tree-covered shore line, is only 26 miles north of Knoxville. Near Norris Dam, the first of 20 great dams built by TVA, broad, grassy meadows slope upward and young deer sneak out from the woods on summer evenings to graze along the lake shore. An ancient gristmill stands in the shadow of the 265 feet of concrete which is Norris Dam, its weathered water wheel still grinding corn into meal.
Overlooking the dam is NORRIS DAM STATE PARK, a rambling woodland laced with bridle paths and hiking trails. Completely equipped cottages, rented by the day ($7 up) or week ($45 up), as well as a lodge, restaurant and several camping areas, are part of the park operation. Right at the dam, the new NORRIS LAKE MOTEL looks out across the lake and, at night, upon a string of lights bobbing from houseboats moored off NORRIS DOCK. The dock itself, one of 14 on Norris, has a snack bar and an excellent clothing and sports shop. A broad macadam launching ramp (fee: $1 per boat) can handle practically any boat up to the size of a battleship, but the trend on Norris is small outboard runabouts.
"On a lake like this, a small, fast boat gets you anywhere you want to go," says Troy Dykes, who operates Norris Dock. "You can also use it for water skiing, and that's a sport that's really becoming popular here." Many of the docks have skis for rent (average: $10), as well as snack bars, boat and motor rentals ($3.50 and up) and overnight cabins.
Every dock sells some kind of fishing equipment, ranging from a selection of lures to complete outfits. Fishing is a major part of the activity on all TVA lakes. The dock on Norris most heavily patronized by anglers is ROGERS DOCK at La-Follette, 32 miles from the dam. Any visiting fisherman who spends an hour at the snack bar stands a good chance of finding out from the dock hands where they're hitting best, and someone may even take him out and show him. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Tennessee Valley. The people always seem glad to greet and help a stranger.
Don't miss a side trip to the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF ATOMIC ENERGY at Oak Ridge, 18 miles south of the dam. The museum's two-hour guided tour (admission 50¢) includes a 45-minute motion picture on atomic energy, demonstrations on the uses of radioisotopes in medicine, farming and industry, and a "dime irradiator," for the kids. A dime inserted into the machine is irradiated, encased in a plastic and aluminum container and returned as a souvenir.
Principally a black bass and crappie lake, Cherokee is 59 miles from Norris Dam over a good highway, suitable for boat trailering. Its 463 miles of wooded shore line wind in and out of root-studded coves perfect for bass fishing.
Cherokee Lake has 13 boat docks, the majority of them geared to fishermen. It's always a good idea to buy lures locally, since docks stock those most successful in the area. CHEROKEE LODGE on the north side of the Lake at Bean Station, has archery, badminton, shuffleboard, horseshoes, good swimming and rental horses and ponies to keep children busy while parents fish. Daily rates are $5 a couple; children under 10, free. You may want to take the children to Morristown, five miles away, to see the CROCKETT TAVERN, boyhood home of Davy Crockett.
Galloway's village near Rutledge, 10 miles from Jefferson City, has 75 boats for rent at $2 a day. Night fishing is a big sport here from a lighted floating dock which seats 90 fishermen. Rates at Galloway's motel run from $25 to $40 a week.
The county is dry, as are most counties in the Tennessee Valley, but organizations such as the Elks, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Moose, Rotary and American Legion generally have bars and serve better steaks than the local restaurants. Vacationers who get thirsty while touring should remember to carry along membership cards.
FORT PATRICK HENRY AND BOONE LAKES
The Old Warriors' Path, now Highway 11W, links Cherokee with Fort Patrick Henry and Boone lakes, 76 miles away in the hilly, heavily wooded region of Tennessee called Boone Country. Overlooking Fort Patrick Henry Lake (see map) is 1,000-acre WARRIORS' PATH STATE PARK, one of the most beautiful parks in eastern Tennessee. As a special treat for children, camp overnight at one of the park's public campsites. The park also has several fine picnic areas, a snack bar, boats and horses for rent and many miles of riding and hiking trails along the lake.
If you are not the tenting type, Kingsport is only a 10-minute drive away and has a number of good motels and hotels. It also has a skating rink to distract the young and stock-car racing on Saturday nights.
At Boone Lake, RAINBOW DOCK near Piney Flats and ROCKINGHAM DOCK outside Jonesboro have cabins, boats and motors for rent. MEREDITH'S BOAT DOCK AND GRILL, near Route 4, attracts large fleets of houseboats during the season because of its big launching ramps and fine restaurant. Wednesday is smorgasbord day at Meredith's. A southern smorgasbord, complete with fried catfish and barbecued pork, is a memorable experience.
SOUTH HOLSTON LAKE
South Holston Lake, 31 miles from Fort Patrick Henry and Boone lakes, is right in the middle of the rough, mountain country sometimes called "the cradle of the southwest." During the Civil War in this area of little or no slavery, alliances were sharply divided between North and South. Today the few farmers of the region struggle against rocky soil to harvest crops of tobacco and vegetables. Back in the hills, the occasional smoke of a still drifts above the trees, signaling a moonshiner at his illegal but never abandoned sport.
The only legitimate summer theater south of the Mason-Dixon line is at Abingdon, Va., eight miles north of Bristol (see map) in the shadow of White Top Mountain. Known as the State Theatre of Virginia, the BARTER THEATRE presents an excellent dramatic bill from June to September. Showing this week is The Mouse Trap.
Throughout this region, small mountain streams afford fine trout fishing well into the summer months. But most fishermen in the area go for the big black bass in South Holston Lake. Streamers, often used behind a small spinner or in front of a worm, are most popular. Although the lake was not completed until late in 1950, big fish are beginning to be taken regularly.
Friendship dock, a short drive from South Holston Dam over a twisting, blacktop road through the mountains, is the most popularly patronized of the seven small-boating centers on the lake. During the season its floating dock handles between 125 and 150 private craft in addition to 31 rental boats. Recently constructed redwood cabins, with or without cooking facilities, rent weekly for $50 to $60 a couple with no charge for children under 10. Friendship's small restaurant also has fish-freezing facilities and carries fishing tackle.
Watauga Dam is surrounded by a ring of mountains on a clear, blue lake 37 miles from South Holston. Its water reaches depths of 300 feet in some places. There are nine boat docks on the lake, comprising a half million dollars worth of water-based floats, piers, boat slips and recreational craft. Seven of the docks have overnight accommodations and most of them have campsites and picnic areas.
Watauga lakeshores on Highway 67 has a good restaurant, but here—as at the majority of restaurants in the valley—it is frequently difficult to get a rare steak even when you order it served raw. Watauga Lakeshores' terrace borders a new swimming pool perched high above the lake. Numerous hiking trails begin at the restaurant and wind their way up into the surrounding mountains, along fine trout streams and into great meadows of rhododendron. The altitude at Watauga is 2,000 feet; average summer temperature: 74°.
On the lake itself, fishing is good for large-and smallmouth bass, crappie and some really big pike. Bait and tackle are sold at all docks on the lake. Guides, and this is true of much of the Tennessee Valley area, are generally local fishing enthusiasts who gather at the larger docks. They are happy to take visitors out for a few dollars (average: $10 a full day) when they are not working elsewhere. During the best fishing months—April to October—this means there are lots of guides on the docks. Although they are not professionals in the Florida sense of the word, they invariably know the immediate waters as well as the fish.
To play a round of golf and see some lovely scenery en route, drive south on 19E across the North Carolina border to Linville, a vacation town huddled against Grandfather Mountain. Linville Falls and Linville Gorge are beautiful natural spectacles. The colorful community of LITTLE SWITZERLAND is here, as well as LINVILLE GOLF COURSE (public), considered one of the finest in the South.
The drive from Watauga to Douglas Dam is 111 miles, a long haul, particularly where children are concerned, but worth it. Break up the trip by stopping halfway at Greeneville. THE ROUND TABLE RESTAURANT at KING ARTHUR'S COURT on Route 35 is considered by many Tennesseans the best restaurant in the eastern area of the state.
If the youngsters have already seen Davy Crockett's boyhood home, they are sure to insist here on a visit to Davy Crockett's birthplace, 3½ miles off the highway at the Greene County line. The washboard road to this historic site runs through some of the most backwoods country in the South, involves driving the car across a stream and makes one wonder how Old Davy ever managed to leave home.
Greeneville, and Newport at Douglas Lake, feature stock-car racing Saturday nights on reasonably modern tracks. Newport is also the scene of a good portion of Tennessee's cock-fighting activity, a sport which is illegal in the state but, like moonshining, nevertheless has a dedicated following.
The best way to find a cockfight, since most take place in secluded barns and sub rosa atmospheres, is to pass the time of day with one of the local gas station attendants while you let him fill your tank, change your oil, grease the car and sell you cigarets and soda pop. Then, casually, the conversation should shift to something like, "I was supposed to meet old Joe here about the cockfight...." After looking at your watch a few times, convey the impression that Joe, as usual, has left you in a strange town with money riding on a good bird you can't find. Few real aficionados can resist this approach.
Douglas Lake is 43 miles long and a mile and a half wide. Fifteen docks, 13 of them in the Dandridge area, provide overnight accommodations for 170 people and daytime services for many times that number. The majority of visitors to Douglas come for the day, since the lake is located halfway between Knoxville and Gatlinburg. They generally stop at DANDRIDGE MUNICIPAL PARK on Route 66, eight miles from Douglas Dam, where they can picnic, camp and fish free of charge. Largemouth bass, crappie and small stripers make up the principal catches on Douglas. There are several good places to stay overnight. GALLOWAY'S LANDING near Dandridge has its own paved road, launching ramp and more than 50 rental boats. Its kitchen-equipped cabins accommodate four and rent for $6 a day or $35 a week.
At nearby INDIAN CREEK BOAT DOCK, boats are furnished free with each cottage. ISLAND VIEW CAMP, five miles west of Dandridge, caters particularly to fishermen. Its floating dock has 75 boats for rent, a tackle shop, live bait and freezing facilities. The Island View's restaurant specializes in hushpuppies, southern fried chicken and country ham. This last, hickory smoked and aged without refrigeration, is one of the most delicious dishes in the Tennessee Valley.
SMOKY MOUNTAINS AND FONTANA LAKE
The next lake target in your tour is Fontana, 93 miles from Douglas, but plan to stop halfway at Gatlinburg, a charming resort town at the edge of GREAT SMOKY NATIONAL PARK. There's something special for every member of the family at Gatlinburg, so if time permits, spend a couple of days there. For children, there is an amusement area at Pigeon Forge, six miles outside the town. This has a wild-animal farm, miniature frontier town, a moonshiners' village, the SMOKY MOUNTAIN CAR MUSEUM and SMOKY CITY. While the kids are looking at "wild animals," parents can shoot a few holes on the Pigeon Forge championship public golf course.
But the greatest boon to vacationing families is Gatlinburg's KINDERKAMP on Cherokee Orchard Road just off the highway. From June to September the Kinderkamp opens at 7 a.m. and closes at midnight for children (3 months to 12 years) of tourists. Rates are 50¢ an hour during the day; 75¢ an hour in the evening.
The Mountain View Hotel has the best restaurant in Gatlinburg. In the center of town is the GATLINBURG SKY-LIFT, first in the South, which runs 1,800 feet up to the crest of Crockett Mountain. (In spite of his humble beginnings, Davy was well-traveled. Like Kilroy, he seems to have been here too!) A road also winds up to the top of Crockett Mountain, but the curves are all hairpins and the incline very steep. Check brakes before driving anywhere in the Smokies.
A big attraction at Gatlinburg, for parents and children alike, are daily nature hikes which the National Park Service conducts free of charge through the Great Smokies. Even tourists who have never considered themselves naturalists will find these hikes fascinating. For the real outdoor enthusiast, well-maintained and marked sites are scattered throughout the park for overnight camping. Trout season runs until August 31 and there are 600 miles of trout streams in Great Smoky National Park.
If sleeping out holds no appeal, there is a unique lodge, reachable only on foot (about a three-hour hike) or by horseback, perched right on top of triple-peaked Mt. LeConte, which towers a mile above Gatlinburg. Trails to the lodge wind past Rainbow Falls and Trillium Gap through some of the wildest and most beautiful portions of the Smokies. An overnight stay at LECONTE LODGE, including lodging, breakfast and dinner, is only $7 per person.
The best time to make the mountain drive from Gatlinburg to Fontana is early in the morning or toward late afternoon when the famous Smoky Mountain bears are most likely to be foraging in roadside refuse cans. Take a side trip on the way to 6,643-foot Clingmans Dome, highest peak in the Smokies. As a matter of fact, this mountain is the "Old Smoky."
Cherokee, at the southern extremity of the park, is the largest Indian Reservation in eastern America. The Indians, alas, have gone 20th century, and although they dress in full feather and buckskin for the tourist, the village is actually a honky-tonk of souvenir stands, red-skinned barkers and candy-apple stalls. This doesn't bother children, so expect to stop at the CHEROKEE INDIAN MUSEUM and the OCONALUFTEE VILLAGE where for $1.20 admission you can watch beads being strung and baskets being woven.
Cherokee also has an open-air theater, the MOUNTAIN-SIDE, which nightly, except Monday, presents Unto These Hills, a drama of the Cherokee, which is well worth the $1.50 to $3 admission.
It's only an hour's run by car from Cherokee to 480-foot Fontana Dam, on the North Carolina side of the park. FONTANA VILLAGE, originally built to house dam construction personnel, is now operated as a resort which accommodates 1,200 people daily. Make reservations early because last season as many as 400 visitors were turned away in a single day.
If you like the real thing—not a jazzed-up tourist version—semiweekly square dances to the Fontana Village Square Dance Band are held in the large recreation hall. The village also has concerts, lectures, handicraft instruction and art lessons. A children's playground and pony ring provide entertainment for young fry. In addition, there is free group baby sitting Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and private sitters are available for 65¢ an hour at all times.
Accommodations at Fontana Village are moderately priced. Double rooms in the 56-room lodge rent at $7 a day; huge three-bedroom six-person cottages with kitchens for $102 weekly. The air-conditioned two-line cafeteria serves only cafeteria-quality food.
Fishing on Fontana—there are seven boat rental docks—is particularly good for largemouth bass, occasionally in the 8-to 10-pound class, and also for crappie and bream.
The last lake before returning to Knoxville is Hiwassee, a 95-mile drive from Fontana through great woodlands, past deep gorges and into a sparsely developed area of North Carolina which is almost surrounded by National Forests. The dam rises 307 feet above the bed of the river, forming a lake considered by many anglers the best game-fishing waters in the southern Tennessee Valley. It has been stocked with thousands of black bass and annually yields limit catches of this species, as well as pike and crappie. There are eight boat docks on the lake, all near Murphy, N.C.
The nearest motels and tourist courts are at Murphy on the eastern end of Hiwassee Lake. But for the family which likes roughing it in a trailer or tent, particularly if they want to be right where the best fishing is early in the morning, the lake itself is a lovely wilderness area for camping out overnight.
On the way back to Knoxville, break the 98-mile drive with a luncheon stop at SPIKE'S RESTAURANT outside Maryville. If nobody's hungry, wait for the DIXIELAND RESTAURANT in Knoxville, which serves really first-class food, cold beer and rare steaks.
DALE HOLLOW AND CENTER HILL LAKES
There are two more lakes cradled in the great arc formed by the Tennessee and its tributaries, which are not part of the TVA system but are linked so closely to it geographically that they definitely belong in this tour. Dale Hollow and Center Hill, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Cumberland River, are two of the finest fishing lakes in the United States. The Outdoor Writers Association recently voted Dale Hollow the best fresh-water-fishing lake in North America.
Both Dale Hollow and Center Hill lakes can be reached by car from either Knoxville or Nashville in under three hours. Dale Hollow straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky border in the center of the state and is perhaps the best known of the two. This spring it yielded the largest brown trout ever taken on this continent (SI, May 5)—a whopping 26-pound 2-ounce fish hooked on a Doll Fly in the tail waters of Dale Hollow Dam. Three years ago this same lake produced the world's record smallmouth bass, 11 pounds 15 ounces. In between record fish, its uncountable numbers of six-, seven- and eight-pound bass lure anglers here from all over the nation.
The best place to stay is at CEDAR HILL RESORT, on Dale Hollow near Celina, Tenn. There are 20 new cottages here, as well as a motel and restaurant overlooking the water, a fine fishing dock with complete tackle, 70 fishing boats and a 30-foot houseboat which may be rented for night fishing parties ($18 daily charter or $100 per week) or for overnight trips on the lake. These are fun even for nonfishermen.
Besides smallmouths and brown trout, largemouth and Kentucky bass, walleyes, crappies to 3½ pounds, rainbows, striped bass and catfish are abundant at Dale Hollow. Dick Roberts, who runs Cedar Hill Resort, has a regular staff of 10 guides who usually report in at the dock around 6 each morning. The safest bet, however, is to call the night before, particularly if you want a specific guide, such as "Cherry," the best known at Dale Hollow. The usual guide fee is $10, but most anglers add another $5 if their luck is especially good.
Much of the 850-mile shore line at Dale Hollow is heavily overhung with wooded growth. Hundreds of small, bush-covered points jut out into the water, forming a myriad of coves where big bass lurk. A skilled fisherman, who is able to lay his surface lure close in under the overhanging growth, can almost take bets on a strike. However, while he's-playing his fish, less proficient anglers (like myself) are more often than not untangling yards of monofilament from bushes that invariably get in the way.
Warning: There are a fair number of snakes in the Tennessee Valley region, some of them poisonous. Look around before hopping out of a boat onto the shore. It is possible, but not likely, to step on a copperhead.
Because fishing is terrific on both Dale Hollow and Center Hill, some rivalry exists between them. The U.S. record walleye (21 pounds 4 ounces) was taken at Center Hill last year. Ever since Dale Hollow's big trout, Center Hill has been one record behind. The lake's top angler, Auvel Hayes, doesn't believe the box score will stay like this much longer. He's convinced there is an even bigger smallmouth than the present world's record just waiting to be taken out of Center Hill.
Hayes runs COVE HOLLOW RESORT on the lake near Lancaster, Tenn. Like Dick Roberts' resort, Cove Hollow is really geared to the serious fisherman. Fishing boats and motors are for rent at the dock where eight top Center Hill guides make their headquarters. If they're all booked up, local sportsmen seldom need much persuasion to run out to a nearby cove for a few hours.
Auvel Hayes and the Doll Fly are synonymous at Center Hill. Until Hayes began fishing seriously with the Doll Fly a few years ago, it was just another local Knoxville lure, no more or less effective than many of the others used in the area. Then Hayes suggested a few innovations to its originator, Elmer Thompson, and together they arrived at the present design.
Hayes believes the really big bass are down at depths of from 20 to 30 feet. The Doll, which can be worked on casting, spinning or trolling tackle, is heavy enough to get that deep and apparently attractive enough to make the big ones strike. The evening I fished with Hayes he hooked into an eight-pound smallmouth where my surface lures couldn't intrigue anything over three pounds. Frankly, I'd rather see a small bass hit a lure on top of the water than feel a big one down deep, but that's purely personal preference. As far as beating the present smallmouth record is concerned, the chances are very good that a Doll Fly fisherman will do it. And the chances are even better that it will come from the Tennessee Valley area, where fish—and all other vacation attractions for the traveler—grow better every year.
CRUISING THE TENNESSEE
Where the Holston and French Broad rivers converge at Knoxville, the big Tennessee begins its 652-mile flow to the Ohio, winding through four states and a vast semiwilderness of camping, hiking, fishing and vacationland. All of the great man-made lakes on the river can be reached by car, but for a unique and exciting adventure, the best way to enjoy this area is to cruise down the length of the Tennessee River. Although the run from Knoxville to Paducah can be made in nine days, at least three weeks should be allowed to really enjoy a cruise down the Tennessee. There is much to see and do along the way.
An outboard or small to medium inboard cruiser is ideal for this trip. The boat should be able to make 18 mph for some of the longer runs between overnight stops. Many vacationers prefer to sleep aboard, but even if this isn't part of the plan, cruising will be more enjoyable with a place to stretch out or put the children to bed. There are few shoreside stops. A head and small galley make living more comfortable along the way.
This reporter made the Tennessee River cruise in a 22-foot Chris-Craft Cavalier. This was just about as small a boat as safety and comfort demand. You can't rent a boat this big in the Tennessee Valley area. To bring in a 22-footer of your own, the average lightweight trailer is too small. A commercial trailer like the 1,000-pound Peterson Bros. Gator which the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED expedition used, handles the job nicely. Smaller craft can be rented on a day basis on all of the lakes. The Cavalier was equipped with two 35-hp Evinrude out-boards, which averaged 20 to 22 mph downstream when pushed. With four six-gallon tanks, the boat had a top-speed cruising range of 36 miles—minimum for this trip—and an emergency reserve which allowed another five miles for miscalculating the next gas stop. This happens, so be prepared. The river is big and lonely—and like all rivers can be dangerous if approached incautiously.
Navigation charts are essential in making this cruise. The Tennessee Valley Authority publishes a complete set of revised charts to the river, showing underwater conditions, navigation channels and sailing aids. They sell for $10 and may be obtained by writing to TVA, Knoxville.
FORT LOUDOUN TO WATTS BAR—122 miles
A water-minded city, Knoxville, on Fort Loudoun Lake, is the best place to begin a cruise down the Tennessee River. Knoxville has boat-repair facilities for every brand of marine equipment manufactured, 20 public access areas to the lake and over a dozen docks developed by the county, private enterprises, clubs and municipal organizations for public use.
The ANCHORAGE YACHT BASIN near Cates Bridge at Highway 73 has a 500-foot dock with 10 feet of water at the fuel pumps, slips to accommodate boats up to 50 feet in length, 24-hour service and complete marine supplies. The nearby RIVERLAKE MARINA can float boats up to 15 tons and 50 feet. A machine shop at the marina handles work on diesel and gasoline engines and hulls.
Any boat starting a cruise down the Tennessee should be completely overhauled and put in first-class running condition before departure from Knoxville. Extensive repairs are practically impossible along the way. Extra sparkplugs, a tool kit and enough spare bumpers to take care of the many unpadded docks along the river should all be put on the boat here.
Gas can be a problem. The simplest way to avoid running out of gas, this reporter found, was to fill up the tanks at every available spot on the river, regardless of whether they'd been filled only 10 miles before. Even so, I ran out of gas twice; both times, fortunately, within sight of the next pump station.
Running downstream, the main channel is marked with black buoys on the right and red buoys on the left. These buoys are keyed with mileage distances figured from Paducah, Ky. The U.S. Coast Guard maintains all buoys, lights, day marks and safety harbor aids. Numerous secondary channels run from the main channel into tributary creeks, streams and rivers. In most cases these are less clearly marked than the main channel but, in daylight, reasonably easy to follow.
In general, a comfortable cruise is one which requires straight runs of no more than four hours. This permits enough leisure to stop en route and cast into the shore for bass, or to throttle down to trolling speed for baby stripers and crappie. It also insures being moored at a safe harbor before nightfall.
With a fast boat and a before-breakfast start it is possible to run the 116 miles from Knoxville to WATTS BAR RESORT in one day. Even averaging 20 mph, however, this is more than a six-hour trip, allowing time for locking through Fort Loudoun Dam.
Few children can cruise six consecutive hours without making life unbearable for themselves and their parents. For families with children, therefore, and anyone with a reasonably slow boat, plan an overnight stop en route at either LONG ISLAND MARINA or CANEY CREEK. Gas stops on Fort Loudoun Lake are at LOUISVILLE, 22 miles from Knoxville, and at CONCORD (mile 618).
The first lock en route is at 122-foot-high Fort Loudoun Dam (mile 602). This takes about 15 minutes to lock through. For anyone who has never handled a small boat through a lockage system the experience is bewildering and sometimes frightening. Ordinarily, the locks operate every hour on the hour for pleasure craft, at any time for commercial craft. Since the Tennessee handles a vast amount of commercial traffic, this means that the locks are in operation practically every minute of the day.
Sometimes pleasure boats are permitted to share a lockage with a barge when the barge doesn't fill the entire lock space. But this can be harrowing for the novice on cruise. Everything happens fast. The barge moves through the open lock gate, sending a great backwash behind it. At the same time a loudspeaker bellows from somewhere near the dam: "Come ahead there." In the churning water being kicked up inside the lock there doesn't seem to be room for even a canoe, let alone a small cruiser. The voice shouts again. Since there is no other boat in sight, the cruiser hesitantly inches forward into the barge's swirling backwash. The personless voice shouts: "Fasten to the 10-bitt," as the huge steel-and wood-bumpered gate swings closed behind. This is no place for anyone with claustrophobia.
Almost immediately the water begins to drop inside the lock. This is usually before the cruiser's novice deck hand has figured out what and where the 10-bitt is. (Actually, it is one of a series of moorings inside the lock wall which floats up and down as the water level inside the lock rises or drops.) The novice's often abortive struggle to lasso what must be the bitt with the bow line is then further impeded by a growing feeling of panic as both the water level and the bitt sink along the wall. At the helm, the pilot must jockey the boat near enough to the bitt to give the deck hand a fighting chance, yet keep far enough away from the barge to avoid heeling dizzily in its wake, and far enough off the wall to prevent ripping a hole in the hull.
"The biggest trouble we have with novices," says one lock operator, "is to keep them from mooring to the stationary ladders down the inside of the lock. Every now and then one of them does and it's a sight to see. If the rope is strong enough and the boat small enough, the bow is usually three feet out of the water before they realize what has happened!"
On the down-river side of Fort Loudoun lock is Watts Bar Reservoir, a 72-mile-long lake with 783 miles of shore line. LENOIR CITY, a mile from the dam, has gas at FATE EVANS DOCK and the LENOIR CITY MARINA. The next gas is at LOUDOUN MARINE PARK (mile 592). LONG ISLAND MARINA (mile 571) and CANEY CREEK DOCK (mile 561.9) both have limited overnight cabins, snack bars and dockage facilities. These are good places to take advantage of overnight mooring facilities and sample sleeping aboard ship.
Watts Bar Resort is only a 30-mile run from Caney Creek. Its harbor is a protected natural cove which at first glance is reminiscent of a blue-and-white New England fishing port. Constructed in 1939 to house dam personnel, Watts Bar Village has been remodeled into a first-class resort by its owners, Sally and Pete Smith. On the walls of the restaurant, which overlooks a California-style swimming pool, is a collection of fine Mexican and Spanish paintings. The food at all meals is excellent (steaks ordered rare are served rare) but for breakfast a particular specialty of Watts Bar is buckwheat cakes—the old-fashioned, fermented Vermont kind.
Watts Bar Resort is worth a stop of several days. Besides swimming and riding there is good fishing here for large-and smallmouth bass, crappie and young stripers in coves near the resort. Some of the best fun is fishing on light tackle for big, gamy shad, called in this area fresh-water tarpon.
For auto travelers the dock has a complete fleet of aluminum boats and three 7½- and 18-hp motors are for rent. The resort also rents a number of "sunfish" (small boats which resemble sailfish in design). These are regularly raced on the lake by guests.
Watts Bar facilities range from studio-type one-room apartments ($8 daily) to 3-bedroom kitchenette cottages ($18.50), all air-conditioned and beautifully furnished.
WATTS BAR TO CHICKAMAUGA—59 miles
From Watts Bar Dam you will have a fast (three hours) run down to LORET RESORT VILLAS on Chickamauga Lake, near the very lively city of Chattanooga. There isn't any place to buy things along the way, so stock up on cold beer (legal here), soda and ice before leaving Watts Bar.
The lock through 112-foot Watts Bar Dam takes about 15 minutes. On the downstream side, Chickamauga Lake is approximately the size of Watts Bar and has a shore line of 810 miles. It averages between a quarter and a half mile wide for much of its 59-mile length. This is an easy stretch to run, with deep water virtually from shore to shore. It is a good place to let young members of the family practice river piloting.