Report - Guntersville, An Early Look!

The idea to have the gathering at Guntersville, Alabama did not come up right at first. I pushed for my favorite lake - Center Hill. I figure if it was good enough for Alan Jackson to build along the shoreline, it was good enough for us. Also, this is where Miss Connie and I got engaged many years ago so there has always been a sentimental and emotional bond with Center Hill. But I quickly learned that if you ask 20 different people their opinions, you're likely to get 20 different answers. So the suggestions started coming in .... some on the forum and others in Private Messages to me. But a couple of folks suggested Lake Guntersville. I had googled Norris Lake, Dale Hollow, Watts Barr and others. All looked good — I can't really explain why, but I felt myself somewhat drawn to Lake Guntersville as at least worth checking out. I think it was a combination of things namely, It was on the Tennessee river, which is absolutely beautiful its entire length. Ray Macke had spoken of it in one of his WebLetter submissions so I felt like I'd already had some exposure to it. It appeared to be as good a location as any given the locations of our forum members and finally, it wasn't all that far of a drive for me. Miss Connie and I had many times driven down to Huntsville, Alabama for one reason or the other and Guntersville is only about another 30 minutes farther on down the road. So I thought: " Hey, let's check it out."

So I got on the Internet and started googling Guntersville. Well, there's no shortage of info on the web as Guntersville is really quite a small town but is trying hard to develop its tourist industry. As I learned more and more, this little town looked very promising as they have quite a number of motels, touristy-type attractions, facilities to handle a gathering such as ours, excellent restaurants, a beautiful state park and best of all, it was all compacted down into a fairly small space. This meant that it would be easy to learn your way around and everything would be within a short driving distance. Yup, this was looking pretty good. For me personally, the final decision maker was when I was yearning to rent a houseboat again. Miss Connie and I had been doing this for a number of years at least one weekend per summer but houseboat rental prices at our beloved Center Hill had gone up and out of reach for po' folks such as us. So I went surfing around on the web again and found the site for Houseboat Magazine. ( Lo and behold, they had a page dedicated to all houseboat rental places and had them sorted by state. So I looked up Alabama to find how many rental places existed and there was only one houseboat rental business listed for the entire state! (wow, talk about a niche needing filling) Guess what! It's in Guntersville. SOLD! We're going to Guntersville. This is when I started getting serious about forming this gathering but I knew I'd probably need help. The next closest member to Guntersville is Bill Edmunson in Birmingham. I PM'ed him to see what his response would be and would he like to throw his hat in the ring and lend a hand. Yes, he was eager to help.

Lake Guntersville State Park

It was during this time that I contacted the houseboat rental place in Guntersville just to see what their prices were and what the arrangments would have to be. The man I talked to is Rich Reisen (pronounced just like "reason") and here's his URL: Rich is not in business just yet. But he will be in '07 and will be located at Signal Point Marina. Rich was super nice and actually excited that we would be considering such a thing as a gathering of boat builders. During our conversation he mentioned that that very weekend, they would be having a Chili Cook off and we should come down and eat some Alabama chili, meet folks and check the place out. I thought: "Hey, that would be cool and would give us the opportunity to get a feel for the Guntersville area." So I talked to Bill Edmunson on the phone and he agreed to meet with us and let that 'bama chili do a little scorching on his palate too. And by the way, Rich Reisen's prices are super reasonable and a throw back to earlier days for Miss Connie and me. We'll definitely be renting in the coming season. In fact, we've decided that this might become a regular destination for us, but now I'm getting ahead of the story.

Friday , October 13, Miss Connie and I set out on our drive down to Guntersville. We got a late start and decided to stop in Huntsville, where we were already familiar with the motels, to spend the night. Since we'd never been to Guntersville, we didn't feel comfy arriving in an unfamiliar town and trying to find a place to stay so late at night. We need not have worried but we just didn't know that at the time. At the risk of sounding like a bigot, we have gotten to where we refuse to stay in any motel that is not American owned and operated. If you've done any traveling at all, you know that folks from India and Pakistan have really become a dominant force in the motel industry in this country. All these folks have been nice enough people. But my complaint is that being from their culture, they simply have a different view of cleanliness than we Americans do. To them, bugs in the room, bed clothing that reeks of lye, lobbies and hallways that reek of curry powder and carpets that get vacuumed once a month instead of every day are all normal. I suppose that these things won't actually HURT us, but still... By choosing to stay in Huntsville, we knew exactly where we could find a clean, comfy room that was up to our standards. We chose the Holiday Inn Express on University Drive. If that place is run by folks from India, they've stayed well hidden.

Saturday morning, we had breakfast at Shoney's. They had grits on the buffet and I gotta tell you folks, if you want grits on an Alabama buffet, you'd better git there and git there fast 'cause they ain't lasting long. Those grits were some of the best I've ever put in my mouth but it was hard to get seconds as the tub kept emptying out too fast.. I wanted to take some with me but grits get nasty when they get a little old. (Kinda like some of my lawn customers, lol.)

The buffet also had Alabama Round Steak. You may not know what this is, but I'll let you in on a secret. It's fried bologna. And folks wonder why we southerners get teased for not having any forks in our family tree.

The road between Huntsville and Guntersville is divided all the way, a very easy drive and a scenic one as well. Most folks that are not familiar with this part of the country are surprised to come here and see all the mountains. In comparison to the Rockies, these are little baby mountains but there are still runaway truck ramps, passing lanes and other indications that these are more than just rolling hills.

We met up with Bill Edmunson at the Signal Point Marina parking lot and the chili cook off hadn't really gotten kicked off just yet. So Bill suggested that as a possible alternate option site for the gathering, we go and have a look at Lake Guntersville State Park, which is just down the road from Signal Point Marina. So we piled into Bill's car and away we went. BTW, Bill brought along his photo album showing the progress on his boat. If he has this finished in time for the gathering, and there's no reason why he won't, just seeing this one boat will be worth the trip to the gathering. Bill has just done a superb job on this fine craft.

It was easy to see that Bill was very hyped on having the gathering at the state park... and with good reason. It's just absolutely breathtaking. To me, it evoked images of the movie: "On Golden Pond." It's complete with tall stately trees, very pretty beaches and swimming areas and so forth. But it also has excellent camping facilities, rental cabins and chalets, a visitor's center and lodge that is undergoing renovations. I'm sure that it will be completed in time for our gathering if we wanted to take advantage of those facilities. There is plenty of parking and some nice picnic pavilions too. There's one pavilion up the hill with the cabins and another down near the beach and boat docks. That would be a tough choice. I think that I would choose the pavilion down near the beach so that we could have the boats in the water nearby and those boats that might not be ready would be in the neighboring parking lot. Yes, this state park would do a very fine job covering all the bases.

A rather underexposed shot of one of the cabins overlooking the lake.

Here are a couple of other angles of the cabins.

link button

The Downside

I couldn't really see any downside other than the possibility of not finding a vacancy. But this could be cured by getting reservations well in advance of the gathering.

If someone wanted to get picky, there would be problem with parking for the cabins and parking for the beach as they are a little distant from each other. This would mean that attending any social activities at the water would involve making a concerted effort to run back to one's cabin as they're not right together. However, the waterfront has a HUGE parking lot and any unfinished projects that someone might want to trailer in could be viewed right along with completed projects.

Here are a couple of photos of the lower area of the parking lot with the water front:

Signal Point Marina

By the time we got back to Signal Point Marina from the state park, the chili cook off was in full swing. So we went on in, bought our tickets and started sampling the chili. There were about 6 or 7 different types, each with its own slant on what the perfect chili should be, and it was obvious that no one would leave hungry. We got full pretty quickly. Although they were all good, I have to admit that I'm very spoiled. No one, and I do mean NO ONE, makes chili like Miss Connie. Is it just because I love her? Well, I certainly do love her but I don't think that would have anything to do with liking her chili the best. Her chili really is awesome! I can pick hers out in a room full of chilies and when she takes it to a potluck, hers always disappears first. So I'll have to talk her into making up a big pot of it for the gathering. Anyway, the chilies at the cook off were way fine. I like the stuff with the Habanera peppers in it but I'm a pepper head anyway. Bill, Miss Connie and I visited, talked ourselves silly and ate more and more chili. Finally we hunted around for Rich Reisen and found him with the owners of Signal Point Marina. Rich was as friendly in person as he was on the phone and both he and his wife were very forthcoming with any help that we needed. I like folks like this. They showed us aerial photos of the marina and walked us around showing us the layout. Signal Point Marina is a very cool place. I think these folks are very early into their retirement and the impression that they left me with was this; All the stresses of the workday world have finally been put behind them and they just appeared very relaxed and laid back. Now that's only my impression because for all I know, they may have their plates full but I just didn't get that feeling. They really did seem to be very pleased to see us and help in any way they could.

The Downside

Personally, I'm thrilled with the idea of being able to afford to rent a houseboat again. But after thinking about it for a while, I can't see how it would actually tie in to our gathering. Rich's houseboat fleet is not going to provide lodging for everybody. Even as reasonable as Rich's prices are, using the houseboats for lodging would involve folks making plans to basically stay with total strangers - knowing them only from the Internet. That's going to be a tough sell in any group of people. The closest available lodging to this marina is back up at the state park.

Also, because there are people that live on their houseboats throughout the year at Signal Point Marina, we would be competing with them for their own parking. I've had friends that lived at other marinas where this same problem existed and the local residents can get quite touchy about it. And I can fully see their point of view. While we would be visiting the marina for the first time, the residents have been fighting this parking battle with outsiders for years and I'm sure they are quite sick of it. Somehow I just don't want to come into a new town and immediately ruffle feathers. I personally would really love for the whole town to love us and be eager to welcome us back year after year instead of dreading our arrival and poking mean fun at us behind our backs. And too, overflow parking at Signal Point Marina would involve a "shuttle" drive down the road or a rather brisk walk that not everyone would want to make. And we wouldn't have any place to accommodate those who might bring incomplete projects and this is something that I do feel strongly about. I'm very interested in seeing any and ALL projects that show up.

Rich, if you read this, you need not worry because I promise you that we will be bringing you rental business anyway.

The Third Option

After we said our goodbyes with Bill, we decided to head for home. It had been a rather long day and we were tired having not ever actually recovered from the previous week's work schedule. On the road toward Huntsville, we were talking about how we hadn't really done any relaxing and Miss Connie flat out stated that she didn't want to go home yet. After all, it was still Saturday and we didn't really have anywhere to be until Monday morning. So she asked if we could stop in Huntsville again. I said: "Hey, if we're going to stay over another night, I'd rather do that in Guntersville" and she agreed. So we whipped the truck around and headed back.

By the time we got back to Guntersville, we'd decided to head for the state park and get a cabin. But it was not to be because when we got there, there were no vacancies. However, the girl at the office was very friendly ( this really must be an Alabama thing) and rattled off an amazing list of alternative places to stay right in the local area. During her short discourse, I heard the words "floating condos" fly by. Now, I must be living in the past because I'd never heard of floating condos before. The closest I'd come to that was when we saw "Sleepless in Seattle" where Tom Hanks' character and his son were living on a floating house. I remember thinking how darn cool that would be. So we headed back into Guntersville looking for floating condos, and we found them. We pulled into the parking lot and asked about vacancy. They had plenty and prices were basically the same as any motel room in town, so we decided to stay the night.

Our floating condo turned out to be one of the most fun things we've done in a very long time. The condo was basically nothing more than a barge with a little cabin built on it and moored in line with a bunch of others just like it. Each one had a bedroom, kitchenette, head (bathroom) with a marine toilet and shower. In the corner of the living room was a fireplace and on the mantle was a TV with a DVD player built in. Satellite TV was as close as the touch of a button. The couch would pull out to make a twin bed and the dinette would also convert into a bed like you would find in a houseboat or RV. So you could sleep up to 6 people but it would be cramped for that many. The fireplace was a faker ... no real fire. It was in reality, a space heater and when you switch it on, it had these fake logs that glowed and fake flames that did a really good job of mimicking real fire. It was actually a very good fake as fakes go. The funny thing was that there was a remote control for it over on the end table and it sure did look weird to switch a fireplace on and off at the touch of a button. Somehow there's something immoral about that. But with the fire switched on, we found ourselves restfully staring at it just as though it was the real thing, so there you go. It really did look very nice.

Each condo has cooking facilities with stove, microwave and a refrigerator although it's smallish, so bring your coolers. I like this idea because it saves time and money which freed us up to do more relaxing.

Also, just like a houseboat or yacht, the hot water was really limited. So, Miss Connie wanted to take a shower and I suggested that she run the water long enough to lather up, turn off the water to do her scrubbing and then run the water again enough to rinse off. I knew that was the way yacht owners always did it and that turned out to be the correct way here. As a result, neither of us ran out of hot water and the shower was just fine. But neighbors up and down the line were fussing because of the lack of hot water.

All during the night, our little condo bobbed up and down with whatever wave action came our way and that in itself was very therapeutic. Each condo had a back porch where you could sit out, relax and watch the sun go down. The lake was dead calm and a group of ducks locally nicknamed "The 4 Bandits" wore us out with their incessant begging. They were nicknamed such because they would run all the other ducks away and take EVERYTHING! We tried feeding them some cat food thinking that this would be somewhat healthier but they definitely preferred anything with lots of carbohydrates. ...i.e.potato chips, pretzels, french fries, bread crumbs, all the things that turn kids into sugar monsters. But if all carbs disappeared, they'd then go after the cat food. There were amazing amounts of blue gill and they tore through the cat food like it was going out of style, so nothing got wasted.

The infamous 4 Bandits.

The following morning, I got to talking to the folks that ran the place. I learned that it was owned by the Hilton motel which was just across the street. I hadn't noticed all this the previous evening but there was a launch ramp on the site. Also, they have a floating pavilion that can be moved around and actually moored to one or more of the condos. If we don't like that, they can moor it at the end of the dock or even farther out in the lake if we want. Doing that would allow arrival only by boat. And too, if we'd like, we can bring our boats right up to our own condos and tie them off there. There is plenty of parking and if we run out, the Hilton's lot across the street can be used. We could get group rates and anyone that preferred the Hilton instead of bobbing around all night on a floating condo, can stay over there and still qualify for the group rates. To me, it looked like an absolutely fabulous place but it was not perfect by any means.

A view from the back of the condo. You can see the Hilton in the background.

The Downside

The dock that all the condos are moored to is aluminum. It sounds very boomy when a group of people come walking down to their unit. The porch gates, doors and all other such like necessities also add to the ambient noise. All in all, it's a rather noisy place. Also, it became obvious that a number of repeat customers came for the sole purpose of getting totally polluted and the beer and booze flowed freely... which added to the noise. Of course, if partying is your thing, here's where to find it in Guntersville. But I guess I'm getting older than I thought. I'm just not into that anymore. I mentioned this the next day and the office girl said that, with enough advance notice, she'd make sure we got condos all together and any noise makers that showed up could get put at the other end of the place over on the other dock. So to me, that sounded like a pretty good deal and a good compromise. If we wanted the pavilion tied off at the end of the dock, we could reserve all those condos at that same end of the dock as well. Personally, I thought that was a GREAT idea. These folks have done this before.

Because you can fish right off your back porch, many people from around the area, come to just fish all night long, leaving their porch lights on, so there's very little darkness. Miss Connie and I were sort of looking forward to some star gazing, but it never happened because all the lights flooded the view. However, the trade off was that we could look down into the water and see whatever fish were contemplating taking our neighbor's bait. So we went fish gazing instead of stargazing. The light attracts the minnows and gets them feeding ... hopefully. When the minnows start feeding, the crappie come for the minnows and this is what the fishing folks are after. However, we didn't see one single crappie caught all night leading me to believe that the place is most probably fished out. But if you're going for blue gill, that's another story.

There is a policy banning smoking from the interior of ALL condos, but because they have many, many repeat customers week after week, the rules get abused and the management does not really enforce them. Smoking IS, however, allowed on the back porches. Our neighbors chain smoked all night long and Miss Connie and I both smelled of cigarettes the next day. The porches for these units really are close together. Privacy was not a big plus to the place but if we wanted to be alone, all we had to do was step inside our condo.

You can boat right up to your condo's back porch.

Overall, it's not necessarily a quiet, peaceful place, but it wasn't that bad either. And the novelty of it all makes it very appealing if for no more than at least once. If this Guntersville gathering gets to be an annual thing, we should try the state park one year and the floating condos another year. But that's down the road. Let's get this first one under our belts and then go from there.


Guntersville has many of the common restaurant chains that we're all familiar with. There's a Subway, McDonalds, Burger King and so on. There is at least one Mexican place and a couple of Chinese buffets (or is it one Chinese buffet and a couple of Mexican places? I can't remember.) Those Mexican and Chinese places seem to be popping up everywhere. We rarely get a bad meal at any of them but we can also get all that at home. When we go out of town, Miss Connie and I really like to look for some local favorite place that we wouldn't have the opportunity to try again until we came back. So when we asked the locals where to eat, we got the same answer every time and without exception. Everyone recommended a place called "Top 'O the River.", so we went. It was located across the causeway, on the other side of the lake from the town of Guntersville but still a very short drive.

The first indication we got that this was a very good restaurant was that it wasn't all that late in the evening, about 5:30PM when we arrived, and the parking lot was JAMMED! The lobby was FULL of people and we thought: "Well, it's obviously good but how long are we going to have to wait?" It turned out, we didn't have to wait at all. The place is very large and they're quite adept at handling large crowds, so we went right in and got a booth immediately.

Now folks, this place is a catfish place. If you like Southern Style catfish, you've arrived when you walk in here. The ice tea is freshly brewed, the hush puppies are heavenly, the catfish pieces are huge, sweet, tender and delicious (none of that mud vein taste) and the turnip greens are excellent. And LORD I do love turnip greens. As soon as you are seated, the server brings cole slaw and sliced onion along with biscuits or cornbread or both. The dress code is pure Alabama Redneck. So feel free to walk right in your Liberty overalls, your hunting boots and John Deere hat. The side of the restaurant that faces the lake is all glass, which gives a wonderful view of Guntersville lake and the town across the water. As the sun went down, the lights of Guntersville came on and it was JUST gorgeous. But get this! The restaurant has its own boat docks and you don't have to drive your car if you have a boat. I can just picture us all taking our boats across the water and making that kind of arrival. LOL. We would certainly be the center of attention.

By the way, Top 'O the River doesn't have a website that I've been able to find. But here are the other vitals:
Top 'O the River
7004 Val-Monte Dr.
Guntersville, AL. 35976
(256) 582-4567
Restaurant reviews

In Conclusion

So folks, that's it. Miss Connie and I dilly dallied around until late in the afternoon on Sunday and didn't do a darn thing constructive. The floating condo folks had an 11:00AM check out time which they flat refuse to enforce. The did say that they'd prefer we let them know if we were staying or leaving by 3:00PM. So we kind of moseyed out and said our goodbyes about 2:30 in the afternoon - got in the truck and took a lazy drive toward home. This turned out to be just our kind of weekend and we had a blast. We really enjoyed meeting Bill Edmunson and were sorry his wife didn't come along. But maybe we'll get another chance to meet her.

All in all, my impression is that we've chosen well. Guntersville has everything we need and not really anything that we don't. It's the right size, not too big but not too small. The lake itself is amazing, all the folks are friendly and as you can see from the photos, even the fall colors are wonderful. I hope everyone that reads this will feel the same as I do. I'm really looking forward to this gathering next year and I'm also very glad to be a part of it. I hope that all of you will be able to attend and bring your projects for all the world to see.

I'm going to wrap this up with some other photographic impressions of the Guntersville area. (Click on thumbnails to enlarge.)

Feedback from the Boatbuilder Forum

I hope all of you will consider coming. The discussion continues in the Miscellaneous section of the Boatbuilder Forum. Everyone is welcome!