Group rides down Tenn. River on jet skis

Friday, September 23, 2011
At least 14 jet-ski riders make the transition from one level of the Tennessee River to another through one of its huge locks.

"Knock yourself out."

That's what Marcella Rosecrans told her 70-year-old father, Charles Brake of Chapel Hill, when he told her he wanted to ride a jet ski the length of the Tennessee River.

Charles and Sarah Brake moved to Chapel Hill because their daughter and son-in-law, James Rosecrans, live in the area. Charles retired from Dupont in New Johnsonville, Tenn., where he was an electrician, and then, he says, "I was silly enough to go into supervision and then - as they got politically correct - I was a team manager."

Charles took his first jet-ski trip with folks cruising the length of the Tennessee this past summer. He found out about it through a fellow he met at the boat show in Nashville. Now, he plans to go next year.

"She wants me to stay active," Charles says of Marcella's approach to what's officially called the Tennessee River 600 Personal Water Craft Ride.

The concept is simple, but riding jet skis for 600 miles down the Tennessee River entails more than just a little bit of planning. The ride has become an annual event, complete with assistance from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Aquarium and the U.S. Coast Guard.

"They inspected the jet ski, made sure I had everything I needed and put a sticker on it," Charles said.

They started in Knoxville after a night in a hotel so everyone was rested.

Event Director Dennis Beckley of Knoxville was asked about the Tennessee River 600 and the Marshall County resident who took the trip this summer.

"He caused me more trouble than I could get out of," Beckley replied with a sassy voice, and then he immediately added, "No he didn't. He's a wonderful guy and had a lot of fun. He absolutely had a ball and enjoyed himself."

And that's what happens, according to reporter Gary Kramer who wrote about the Tennessee River 600 for HeartLand Boating.

"The whole idea started with a couple of guys sitting on their boat at Kentucky Lake thinking it might be fun to ride to Knoxville," Kramer wrote. "Dr. Price Hopson of Clarksville, Tenn., said he contacted Watercraft World Magazine to see if the magazine staff had some information they could use, but somehow they listed it as an official event."

Eighty calls were generated by the notice and Hopson somehow felt responsible enough so he "bankrolled the event to the tune of about $15,000 that first year," Kramer wrote.

Beckley said, "I was in on it for the first year, but not the one who came up with it.

"The first year we did it backwards from Paris Landing to Knoxville," Beckley continued as he told the Marshall County Tribune how the annual summer event got started and how it changed.

"If you go with the flow it works better," Beckley said.

And in the years since the jet-ski ride started, the boats have been improved. In addition to better flotation systems and motors, the fuel tanks are bigger.

When the jet skis traveled with the current, Beckley said, "We gained 3-4 mph. Every mile counts."

The average age of the jet-ski riders is "probably 55-60," he said, agreeing that is a retirement crowd, "But we probably had more teenagers and young people this year. Some were grandchildren."

Kramer's story emphasizes the family nature of the ride, comparing it to a family reunion, although one rider said the jet-ski crowd is nicer than people at some reunions.

As event coordinator, Beckley confides, he's the one everybody yells at if something goes wrong.

What could go wrong?

"Rain and stuff like that," he said. "We stay at motels everywhere we stop."

And as if the Tennessee River 600 Personal Water Craft Ride wasn't enough, Beckley and four other jet skiers gathered at the north end of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway for another adventure.

"We're starting at Pickwick State Park and will ride the waterway all the way to Mobile, Ala.," Beckley said before the ride. "This is the first year for the Tennessee-Tombigbee.

He anticipated a smoother ride "because it's like riding on a river without wind, waves or rough water... The current is not as big as it is on the Tennessee River because there are so many locks."

Charles Brake could go next year and try his Sea-Doo brand of personal watercraft.

He says it's top speed is 53 mph, "That's all I could get out of it."

Other area residents on the Tennessee River 600 included, Elizabeth Massey of Pulaski, daughter of Charles "Chaddy" and Mary Baker of Timberhill Drive, and her nephew, Cale Shelton, son of Sara and Mark Fairbanks of Berlin.