Sailgating With The Vol Navy

Monday, September 10, 2018 - by Scott Fiedler

“Sailgating” is a grand tradition at the University of Tennessee, home to the storied Vol Navy, which ties up on the Tennessee River outside Neyland Stadium in Knoxville on football Saturdays.

There’s a saying in the Southeast: All roads lead to Rome, and all waterways lead to Neyland Stadium. That’s where the 200+ vessels that comprise the famous Vol Navy tie up every Saturday the University of Tennessee Volunteers plays a home game in Knoxville.

Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium is one of only two major U.S. college football fields easily accessible via boat (the other being Husky Stadium at the University of Washington in Seattle).

“You can get to Knoxville from many places in the country and even around the globe via water,” says Nikki Berger, navigation program supervisor at TVA. “The Tennessee River stretches from Knoxville 652 miles to Paducah, Ky., where it connects with the Ohio River, which connects with the Mississippi and Missouri and the entire Inland Waterway system. It also connects with the Tennessee-Tombigbee, which is a shortcut to the Gulf of Mexico.”

As laid out in the TVA Act of 1933, TVA must maintain a navigable channel on the Tennessee River of at least nine feet, 12 months out of the year. “We do better than that—we maintain 11 feet,” Ms. Berger says. “That means you can safely navigate to Neyland Stadium even late in the season, after reservoir levels have dropped to winter pool following Labor Day.”

Fans come from all points through the lock at nearby Ft Loudoun Dam, which gears up to handle the extra traffic every game day, according Matt Emmons, who is the lock master there. “It gets crazy here,” he says. “We’ll see anywhere from 60 to 150 additional recreational boaters locking through over a home game weekend—even more if Tennessee is playing Alabama and we have boats coming up from Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick reservoirs in Alabama.”

The added traffic poses a challenge, but one the lock operators embrace, according to Mr. Emmons. “We have fun with it, creating a dialog with the boaters, communicating safety information with them. They have to breast up and tie off to each other to lock through, and they’re always so cooperative. It’s a great, positive vibe. We take pride in making the process easy, and really look forward to this time of year.” (Check out the Ft. Loudoun Lock Facebook page for up-to-date information about the lock and locking process.)

Boats begin amassing the night before a game, and on game day, “things get really crazy,” according Major Justin Wilson, a pilot in the Tennessee National Guard who—along with wife Tarah—is a prominent “sailgater” in the Vol Navy. The two social butterflies are founders of the Vol Navy Facebook page, which has amassed over 15,000 members since 2017and is still growing.

“There are two docks down on the water, and they’re available on a first-come, first-served basis,” Major Wilson says. “You’ll see the bigger cruisers get there a day or two ahead of time and moor up, and then smaller boats arriving the day of the game. We just throw out lines and tie up and tie up and make a chain of boats until TWRA cuts us off and says enough.”

The vibe is fun and festive—and open. “You sailgate going from boat to boat,” he continues. “It’s a fantastic family-friendly atmosphere and everybody enjoys each other. Some people don’t even go to the game; they’ll stay aboard and watch it on satellite television on their boat.”

For Major Wilson, as for other members of the Vol Navy, sailgating has become a passion—the river, on certain autumn Saturdays, a channel for big orange fun. “Getting out on the water is a big part of game day for us,” he says. “It’s a special experience, and we make the most of it.”

- photo by Justin Wilson

2018-19 Gun Hunting Season For Deer Opens Nov. 17

Tennessee State Parks Host Free Hikes The Day After Thanksgiving

Waterfowl Season Opens In Georgia On Nov. 17


Tennessee’s 2018-19 gun hunting season for deer opens Saturday, Nov. 17. Deer gun season has the traditional opening date of the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving. During gun season, sportsmen ... (click for more)

Tennessee State Parks will offer free, guided hikes at all 56 state parks the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23. “Tennessee’s state parks are once again offering the opportunity to get outdoors ... (click for more)

With waterfowl hunting season opening Saturday, Nov. 17, duck and goose hunters across Georgia should find similar wetland conditions to last year, according to experts with the Georgia Department ... (click for more)


Outdoors

2018-19 Gun Hunting Season For Deer Opens Nov. 17

Tennessee’s 2018-19 gun hunting season for deer opens Saturday, Nov. 17. Deer gun season has the traditional opening date of the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving. During gun season, sportsmen may also use muzzleloader or archery equipment. The season will continue through Jan. 6, 2019. The second Young Sportsman Hunt is Jan. 12-13. Anyone born on or after January 1, 1969 is ... (click for more)

Tennessee State Parks Host Free Hikes The Day After Thanksgiving

Tennessee State Parks will offer free, guided hikes at all 56 state parks the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 23. “Tennessee’s state parks are once again offering the opportunity to get outdoors the day after Thanksgiving to engage in healthy, fun activities,” said Brock Hill, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. “It’s a chance to explore ... (click for more)

Breaking News

County Putting $10 Million Toward New Shelter For Humane Educational Society

County officials are committing $10 million toward a new shelter for the Humane Educational Society (HES). Only Commissioner Tim Boyd spoke against the allocation at a commission meeting on Wednesday. He said a more urgent need was a $5 million training center for police, fire and emergency workers. County Finance Director Albert Kiser said the county came up with a total ... (click for more)

Grundy County Deputy Charged With Voluntary Manslaughter In Chase Shooting Death

An officer-involved shooting investigation in Grundy County by special agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has resulted in the indictment of a deputy, charged with voluntary manslaughter. At the request of 12 th District Attorney General Michael Taylor, on Dec. 24, 2017, TBI special agents responded to an officer-involved shooting that occurred around 10:30 p.m. ... (click for more)

Opinion

County Commissioners, Stop Pandering And Lead

There is no shortage of public need in Hamilton County, and only a limited amount of revenue and capital bond issues. I cannot admire or appreciate an elected Hamilton County Commission that leads by warm and fuzzy kitty emotions over real and tangible needs. As Commissioner Tim Boyd correctly stated, there is immediate and emergent need for police and fire training facilities. ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Lamar Rants

Being a child of the South, I’ve marveled at our funny sayings for all of my life. I’ve been at a football game and heard a disgruntled fan in the stands say of his team’s quarterback, “That boy couldn’t play dead in a cowboy movie.” I’ve been at the Sunday supper table and heard, “I’m of a mind each one of his sermons is better than the next.” And I’ve sat in a Saturday morning ... (click for more)