Today Andreas Fath is pushing hard across the glassy stillness of Wheeler Lake, west of Decatur, Alabama, in his quest to swim the Tennessee River. Swimming across such man-made lakes is always a challenge for Andreas because there is little to no current on them.
Wheeler Lake is the 67,000-acre reservoir created by Wheeler Dam. Wheeler Dam is one of nine dams on the Tennessee River, all built and managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Andreas has already passed through five dams on his swim downstream (on the pontoon boat, via locks): Fort Loudoun, Watts Barr, Chickamauga, Nickajack, and Guntersville. Wheeler Dam will be the sixth dam he will pass.
Wheeler Dam was completed in 1936. Just like the other TVA dams on the Tennessee River, it was built to deliver three key services: improved river navigation for barges and other boat traffic, improved flood control, and hydroelectric power.
Thanks to the improved navigation provided by these dams, barges are able to deliver key transportation up and down the Tennessee River for commercial goods. According to TVA, 28,000 barges carry 45-50 million tons along the Tennessee River every year.
Fortunately, Andreas has a team with him on the pontoon boat and on the kayak that keeps him on course and makes sure that barges and other boats don’t endanger him while he’s focused on his swimming strokes.
Want to get a good feel for what it’s like out there on Wheeler Lake for Andreas?
Check out this awesome drone video made by Clark Lupton. It’s short, but it’s sweet.