Tugging down the Alabama

Published 2:29 pm Monday, June 7, 2010

As Tom Smitherman sailed down the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway on a friend’s sailboat nearly seven years ago, an idea hit him.

Smitherman, who had been building furniture, cabinetry and similar items for years, decided he would take his woodworking skills into uncharted waters.

After much planning and research, Smitherman purchased a set of boat plans from the California-based Glen-L company and began constructing a 20-foot boat hull in the basement of his Montevallo house in May 2008.

“I rode down the Tenn-Tom Waterway with a friend about six or seven years ago. I had so much fun that I decided I wanted to build a boat and do it myself,” Smitherman said. “After that, everything just kind of fell into place.

“I had built a lot of furniture and cabinetry before I built the boat, but nothing on a boat is square or straight,” Smitherman added, noting he built the boat hull upside down. “So that was a little bit of a challenge, because I had never built anything like that.”

After Smitherman, who received help from a battery of friends, family members and Montevallo residents, finished building the boat in May 2010, his family began planning a trip to the Gulf of Mexico.

“(The boat) will never be totally finished, but we got enough of it built to take us on the trip,” Smitherman said with a laugh. “We had a lot of help from many different people.”

When the boat, christened the Knot-So-Fast, was completed, Smitherman spent several days testing the vessel on Lay Lake while preparing to depart for a weeklong trip to the Gulf.

After the boat received its final bill of health, Smitherman, his wife Glenda, his 7-year-old granddaughter Abby, and their dog, Daisy, carted the small red and white craft to the Alabama River in Montgomery.

From May 31-June 6, the Smithermans piloted the boat from Montgomery to Gulf Shores, traveling along the Alabama and Mobile rivers and into Mobile Bay.

During the seven-day voyage, the Smithermans traveled past antebellum homes and aged Indian battlegrounds while spotting deer, bears, snakes and bald eagles.

“We saw all kinds of scenery, wildlife and some beautiful sandstone bluffs,” Smitherman said. “We took lots of pictures, but it’s really hard to describe how it was to see that in person.”

Even though the boat was only 20 feet long, it comfortably transported its four occupants throughout the entire journey, Smitherman said. The ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had no impact on the trip.

“The oil spill didn’t affect us at all. We haven’t seen any oil so far,” said Smitherman, who was still in Gulf Shores June 7. “Everyone seemed to enjoy the trip just fine. We really had a great trip.

“On Saturday, we got to (a family member’s) house at Fort Morgan, and I asked Abby if she wanted to get off the boat and sleep in a real bed,” Smitherman added. “And she said she wanted to sleep on the boat.”

During the weeklong journey, Tom, Glenda and Abby provided a day-by-day account of their trip on an online blog. To learn more about the journey and the Knot-So-Fast, visit Tomstug.blogspot.com.