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