Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On to Lake Charles 12/12/08 - 12/15/08

After being tied to a bridge abutment for 3 days waiting for our propeller to be repaired, we were anxious to get going. The diver wrapped things up about an hour before dusk so we decided to head off early the next morning.  The next morning we got up a few hours before dawn, brewed our coffee, dressed in our warm clothes, walked the dog, looked for a break in the traffic and headed on down "the road".

It was a little strange motoring down the ICW/GIWW in the early morning dark but we had lost so much time and were in danger of not getting to Corpus Christi by Christmas which was not acceptable as we had already bought a ticket for Julie’s daughter, Ashley, to fly in for Christmas at Julie’s sisters house in the hill country west of San Antonio.

We chose a spot about between 2 tugs that were about 1/3 mile or 15 football fields or 20 seconds at 60 miles per hour apart but we were all going about 6 miles per hour so there was 200 seconds or a little more than 3 minutes between the 2 tugs, so we tucked in between them and headed west.

We brought the propane heater up into the cockpit and placed it behind the pedestal (the thingy that the wheel is attached to) to warm our feet. We also used it to toast cinnamon bread for breakfast.

Heading off before dawn with a full moon

We motored throughout the day gazing at washed out riverbanks with tree roots dangling in the air holding on to the remnants of the earth that once fully embraced them.

There were more shipyards, home after home along the canal, resorts, casinos. There was even a floating hotel that was built on a few barges that apparently traveled from event to event along the waterways to wherever they could charge for their rooms.

We charged along at a snails pace for the rest of the day. But we were moving again and this was a good thing.

Ho, Ho, Ho
Mid afternoon we were looking for a place to spend the night but there were no anchorages to be found. We did find a diesel dock earlier in the day and they had said that we could stay somewhere on their property,

We felt obliged to buy fuel from them since we were taking advantage of their offer of putting us on a dock for the night so when we arrived we pulled up to their fuel dock.

It was after 5:00 pm and the front door of the facility was locked so I walked around to the back side of the building and found an open door. I talked to the kid about buying some fuel and spending the night. He told me they would have to recalibrate the pumps but they could top off our tanks (about 25 gallons) but we would have to pull up and around to their fuel barge to get fuel.

As always the wind was starting to howl, after all it was time to dock for the night. I walked up with a couple of 5 gallon jugs and asked if I could just get them filled and transfer them to the boat and come back for 2nd’s. They seemed a little confused but agreed to do it.

When we were done fueling up I asked him about tying up for the night. Unfortunately the dock we were tied up to was the main dock that was used by supply boats that brought goods out to oil rigs and freighters throughout the night. These boats came in late at night, switched crews, loaded up with food and other supplies and then headed out to any number of offshore oil platforms or ships.

So we were offered 2 spots. The first was up the canal a half mile on the left where there was a small canal with a barge sunk next to the bank as a makeshift dock. Unfortunately there wasn't much draft ( it wasn't very deep ) and there was no place for us to turn around.

Another worker suggested that we tie up next to the tug across the small bay since they were staying put for a few days for repairs. We chose this option.

We asked the kid to help us shove off of the dock as there was a 29 mile per hour wind pushing us against the dock. He didn't believe that we needed help at first but I convinced him that, unlike tugs which have two 1,200 horsepower engines, we only had one 100 hp engine and the boat steered like crap at low speeds.

So with a big heave ho, the kid and I shoved the boat away from the dock and Julie, at the helm, hit the throttle, turned the wheel for a right turn and started to pull away from the dock. A little detail that I may not have mentioned earlier was that the pier jutted out about 6 feet a mere 25 feet in front of us and not hitting it would require a bit of luck under normal circumstances.

As I mentioned before, these were not normal circumstance, we were being pushed against the wall and towards the wall in front of us. About 5 seconds into this maneuver Julie was afraid we wouldn't clear the wall in front of us and started to throttle back. I yelled to her, “full throttle baby” and she responded immediately. I hopped onto the boat and ran forward in case I needed to push off the wall but we cleared it with 3 or 4 inches to spare.

We kept going right and 150 feet later we were next to the tug boat, facing directly into the wind. Julie had gotten the boat into the wind and throttled back so that I was able to jump onto the tug and tie us off.

The tug was tied off with its flat bow tied to a pair of pilings onshore so we were able to step off of our boat onto the tug and walk forward and step up onto shore. This may seem like a simple thing to most of you but after the grief we had been thru with swamps and other stuff this was like showing up at the Ritz Carlton in the back of a stretch limo.

Off of the bow of the tug was a big field and Ziggy went crazy running around in circles with a great joy to be on terra firma again.
Our "big boat" tied to a relatively small tug.
Sometime in the middle of this night I woke up feeling strange and it suddenly occurred to me that I was sick and going to throw up. I had caught the flu that Julie had two days ago.

Ziggy was sleeping in front of the door to our head so I decided to go to the forward head. I didn't make it and settled on the sink in the galley. I hadn't been this sick since I was a kid and several minutes later when Julie came out I had started cleaning out the sink.

I said don’t worry, I’ll clean up, she muttered something about no problem unless I wanted to clean up after her too. I woke up sick later in the night but made it to the head this time.

The next morning I felt a lot better so we walked Ziggy and hit the road again.

We motored all day up the channel heading west. Around 3:30 we started looking for a place to spend the night, I was still running a fever and I was fading fast.

We looked at the maps and once again there was no place deep enough for us to stay that wasn't in the channel until Lake Charles and because this was a busy commercial port the prospect of anchoring was a little iffy.

We used Google Earth to scope out the area and there weren’t any real marinas in the area but after zooming in as close as we could we found out that there was a park on a jetty where a river met the main channel with a dock on it, so we decided to check it out.

The city park had a pavilion on one end where people were fishing, right beside that there was a boat ramp with a set of docks next to it. Just beyond the dock was a 200 foot research vessel tied to a dock with it’s bow toward us and it’s bow line tied to a mooring ball a mere 40 feet away from the dock we were eyeing. I figured the ship had a draft of over 15 feet so we should be OK at the dock right in front of it.

Julie was concerned about staying here since there was a large sign that said “No Overnight Docking” . She didn’t want to stay here but I told her I couldn’t go any further and I would lie to the best of my ability if a park ranger came by to chase us off.

We docked easily and tied up, ever since Julie started docking the tension level went down dramatically and the confidence level went up exponentially.

By parking where we did we completely covered the “No Overnight Docking” sign with our boat. Problem solved!

City Pier - Lake Charles, LA

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lefitte to Houma

December 9, 2008

We woke up this morning on our little bend in the river and headed west again down the ICW which changed names to the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway or GIWW somewhere along the way. We had been motoring thru marshy swamps for over a day but the scenery changed fairly quickly into what I thought was a typical Louisiana bayou. The banks of the canal were lined with cypress trees wearing a beard of Spanish moss. The roots of these trees branched out several feet above the soggy ground like tentacles longing for water. The roots were thick and strong, each one almost as thick as the tree they supported , driving down into the soupy mud to anchor the tree above.
We noticed eagles flying above and took a few pictures of them thinking that we would see more of them now that we were in the bayou. We were wrong, the landscape soon changed and there were no more eagles. As a matter of fact, the landscape went from National Geographic to Industrial Canal in a few miles. Had I known that this was the last of the open Bayou we would see I would have parked the boat and gone ashore on the dinghy and poked around to see what there was to see.

A little bit later we were coming into West Larose LA and once again we were confused as to the name of the bridge that we needed opened. Julie hailed the Hwy 1 bridge several times (the name that the 500 page Coast Guard guide used) and the only reply we got was from some Cajun who sounded like he had a mouth full of Gumbo. We could not understand him at all with our diesel running at 2,000 RPM‘s,. We idled back, called again and the same Cajun replied so we requested a bridge opening. He replied that he was not the bridge tender but was driving the tug that had pulled into the canal about 300 yards ahead of us. He told us that we were hailing the wrong bridge and that we wanted to hail the West Larose bridge. Our Cajun friend had just signed off when the West Larose bridge tender came on the radio and introduced himself. Julie requested a bridge opening using her silky smooth, maple syrup with confectioners syrup heaped on top of it voice, and he replied that he would as soon as he got some workers off of the bridge as they were working on it. Julie thanked him and he replied, “We’ll take care of you baby”, which in most parts of this country would sound incredibly sexist but seemed perfectly natural and polite here.

We motored another few hours and arrived in Amelia Louisiana which is one of a cluster of 3 cities that include Berwick, Morgan City bunched together on the GIWW (ICW) that begging their pardon should have been one city based on their size and the fact that we hadn’t seen one real city in 2 days. It turns out that all 3 of these cities are primarily in the commercial boating business as they sit at an intersection of the GIWW and an inlet from the Gulf of Mexico that passes thru the Atchafalaya Bay where ocean going vessels can pass.

All that aside, we were looking to get 40 or so gallons of diesel to top off our tanks because we had read that fuel on this stretch of the waterway was virtually impossible to come by. We went online with Google maps and the only thing we could find was a couple of gas stations that were anywhere from 2 blocks to 1 mile from the water. There was one gas station that was next to a creek that looked big enough to take the dinghy up so we formulated a plan. I would take the dinghy up the creek with the 2 five gallon gas cans we had bought. Then I would run up and fill the cans drag them back to the boat and repeat as often as necessary until we were full. I called the gas station up only to find out that they did not have diesel. I asked where the nearest station was with diesel and found out that it I would have to walk over a half mile to fuel up and at 40 pounds per 5 gallon jug this no longer seemed like a good strategy. We looked at the Garmin and it showed a facility just a little way up a river/channel that had diesel so we called them on the phone. They told us that they we should go under 2 highway bridges that had 75 foot clearance and past the railroad lift bridge and they were immediately on the right.

We went up the channel past huge boat building and repair facilities, one was building a riverboat casino. We passed under the 2 highway bridges, approached the railroad bridge and called for an opening. After several calls and almost 10 minutes we got a reply that they would open soon. Fifteen minutes later the turnstile bridge opened and we went on thru looking for the fuel dock that was supposed to be immediately on the right. We were told that the facility had big red tanks and we should tie up right in front of them to fuel up. We kept looking for them and went down almost a ¼ mile and turned back still not seeing any sign of the red tanks. There was a facility with orange and white tanks but there was no sign of any kind of fuel pumps so we called them up again. I asked if they were past the 2 highway bridges and the railroad turnstile bridge. They said the railroad bridge was a draw bridge not a turnstile bridge and that I was about 8 miles away from where they were.

We looked at the map and realized they were up a river that we were not going on so we decided to continue on and take our chances. After another irritatingly looonng wait for the return trip through the railroad turnstile we were on our way. A few miles up the ICW I spotted what looked like a fuel facility and had Julie look them up online and call to ask if they would let us fuel up. A few minutes later we pulled up at Martin Midstream Fuel Services with a 25 mph wind on our nose. They were great people and set us up with fuel for the boat and gave us two 5 gallon sealed buckets to put additional fuel in. The guy pumping our fuel said the 2nd shift operator wouldn’t have let us fuel up, the facility was primarily for tugs that take on ~ 10,000 gallons which lasts them a week. Julie went in the office to pay for the diesel and came out with a dozen or so oranges that one of the employees had brought in to give away from trees in his yard. He offered a second bag, but how many oranges could 2 people eat. What a mistake not taking them was, they were the best oranges that I have ever eaten. After we shoved off I found out that we were charged the standard rate for the diesel which was $1.57 per gallon. This was about 1/3rd the price of what we had paid earlier in our trip at some marinas so we felt pretty good.

We continued west on the GIWW past huge shipyards and docking facilities. We tried to figure out what was in the barges that were being pushed to and fro. While many of them were not labeled of the ones that were a large number of them had all sorts of warnings about flammability, carcinogen, etc.. and the word BENZENE in large letters.

Benzene is a petrochemical product and had early uses such as making the original decaffeinated coffee Sanka, but today is mainly used as an intermediate to make other chemicals. Its most widely-produced derivatives include styrene, which is used to make polymers and plastics, phenol for resins and adhesives and nylon,. Smaller amounts of benzene are used to make some types of rubbers, lubricants, dyes, detergents, drugs, explosives, napalm and pesticides. See Wikipedia for more information which is where I stole this from.

Near the end of the day we passed a tug that we had been following for a few hours thru a twisty part of the GIWW. The name of the tug was R.L. Guidry and the captain was having a lot of problems with the wind. He was pushing 6 empty barges and we had heard “This is the R.L. Guidry pushing 6 empties” can you hold up for me around this corner or see me on the “2’s” I’m having a hard time keeping my bow up in this wind, along with other requests for “leeway” throughout the afternoon. This request was given in a slow southern Louisiana drawl that was a lot John Wayne with a very deep voice. The rest of the tug captains were courteous but there was a hint of something in their voices that made me think that the captain of the R.L. Guidry was being a little overcautious.

We chose to request to pass on a stretch of the channel that was remarkably straight and he came back that he would see us on our 1 whistle. Being neophytes on the canal we asked if we should pass him on his port (left) side he came back sounding a little harried that we should pass him on his starboard (right) side to our port side. Talking to Julie about his demeanor she mentioned that she had overheard him talking to another skipper that he had been pushing 6 empties since 6:00 am and he had had a long day. We started the snail race to pass him and twelve minutes later we were done. We were now doing almost 7 knots instead of the 5 ½ we had been doing and were eagerly looking for a place to anchor for the night.

About 45 minutes later we found a nice small bay on the Garmin that appeared to be reasonably deep where we anchor for the night. It was in a zig or maybe a zag where the channel shifted it’s course for about 100 yards and had some taller trees that blocked the wind to some extent.
We motored past and then back upstream near the mouth of this small bay that was about 300 feet long on the channel and about 100 feet deep. We looked at the depth and figured out that we could make it in to anchor and not get too stuck. We pushed up into the east end of the anchorage and dropped our big anchor and backed up about 100 feet and set the anchor. We were getting ready to drop the dinghy and take the small anchor off of the stern about 100 feet to keep the boat in line when the R.L. Guidry came around the corner.

The captain contacted us on the radio and told us that he didn’t want to tell us what to do but he wouldn’t anchor where we had just anchored. Julie got on the radio and asked him for more information and he told us that barges coming around the corner in this wind could “wipe up” into the corner and hit us, especially in this wind. He told us that there was a boat dock about a mile up the canal and if we followed him he would point it out for us. We pulled the anchor quickly and within a few minutes we were right behind him again. As he said, about a mile further, he pointed out a boat dock to the right, just this side of a highway bridge. The boat dock was more of a launch ramp for runabouts and we ran aground pretty hard with our tail sticking out 30 feet into the canal.

With a little effort we backed out and went on a hunt for another anchorage. Julie had been driving for the last half hour, something she hadn’t done for most of the day because she had woken up with the flu was running a fever. Earlier in the day she had wanted to stop but I told her that I would drive and told her to go below and sleep. Julie didn’t want to leave me alone so she brought a sleeping bag and a couple of blankets up in the cockpit and slept on and off.
We headed up the channel slowly looking for places to spend the night. The first place that presented itself was a barge dock for the chemical plant that was just past the bridge. We had berthed next to tugs in the past and thought that this might be an option until we saw the ominous don’t park here signs that were posted all over the place. A little further up the canal there was a small cove, about 120 feet across and 50 feet deep that was incredibly sheltered but surrounded by huge Cypress trees and rock, it looked a little difficult to berth in. This would not be an anchorage but a tie off between 2 trees from the bow and stern. We decided to move on.

We pored over the Garmin looking for a place to stay and there were a couple of possible choice up the canal on the left side so we motored to see what there was to see. The first place we looked at was in someone’s back yard and it didn’t look too comfortable, strains of Dueling Banjo’s from Deliverance came to mind. The rifle fire that could be heard from beyond the trees confirmed this. The second potential anchorage was nothing but a dimple on the side of the road so we decided to turn back to the wooded, rocky cove that was just past the bridge.
Since we weren’t anchoring but tying up between trees instead I went forward to untie the anchor lines from the anchors. The plan was to nose the boat slowly into the cove, then I would hop into the dinghy and run lines from the bow and the stern to string us between the two shores out of the way of barge traffic.

We were about 100 yards from the anchorage about 45 feet from the shore motoring along when suddenly the boat turned towards the shore. Within a second or two we were pointed towards the shore at a 45 degree angle and the engine died. I was forward and not fully aware of what was going on but when I came back to the cockpit I asked Julie why the engine wasn’t running. She told me that the engine had suddenly died I told her to start it again and that she said that she had restarted it twice but it died every time she put it in gear.

I wasn’t aware of what was going on and was unable to process what Julie was saying (again) so I started the engine myself and put it in forward gear and it died instantly. I started the engine again and put it in reverse, it did not die but the engine lugged down and would not throttle up.
I realized that we could not move under our own power and was immediately concerned about drifting out into barge traffic.

The GIWW was probable 250 feet wide here and barges could be tied up 2 wide at 70 feet wide and with 2 passing each other going opposite directions with a little space in between them could take up most of the canal especially with the windy conditions. My immediate concern was that we would drift back out into the channel so we dropped the dinghy into the water and I rowed it to shore with the anchor line that I had just untied, the bitter end still tethered in the chain locker.

Not that the line was angry or at the end of it’s rope (that was supposed to be funny) but the bitter end is defined as “The part of a rope that is tied off”. The Bitter End is also an amazing resort on the Island of Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands.

I took the free end of the anchor line and rowed up to one of the cypress trees that lined the bank and attempted to tie the line around it. There were a couple of problems with this: the first being the girth of the tree, the second being the depth of the water.

The cypress trees along the shore were about 80 feet tall and the trunks started to fatten up just above the water and quickly turned into horizontal roots that lay out just below the water where I was paddling.
I had to use my paddle to push down on a mass of roots to shove the dinghy over a root coming off of the tree I wanted to tie up to. This in itself took a couple of minutes, which seemed like an eternity as I was afraid of the boat drifting back out into the canal in the middle of barge traffic. I finally got the nose of the dinghy about a foot from the tree and grabbed about 5 feet of the anchor line and tried to whip it around the tree so that the end would come around enough so that I could grab it. On the 3rd try I was able to lean forward off of the front of the boat and only get a little wet as I retrieved the end of the line. I tied the bow of the boat off on the cypress tree and ran another line off of the stern to another tree and a 3rd line from the middle of the boat to even another tree. We spent the next 10 minutes or so trying to get the boat closer to shore, taking the lines that we had tied to the trees on shore to the winches in an attempt to get the boat closer to shore, but it wouldn’t move.

Cypress Swamp

With the tying up all done, Julie broke down and was almost hysterical about breaking the boat.
As I mentioned before, she was running a fever all day and had talked about stopping early in the afternoon, she had slept in the cockpit (anyone else ever wonder where that name came form) most of the day but was still very sick and tired. I tried to console her, telling her that this was a freak accident. After all, who would have expected to hit a completely submerged tree while motoring 45 feet from the shore? Eventually she calmed down. A little later when I was able to sneak off, I went below and proceed with a silent four letter word tirade about our present predicament. With that out of my system I felt much better about addressing the current situation. I had seen these symptoms before, we had a piece of line wrapped around the propeller shaft that was knotted so tight that it was killing the engine whenever we put it in gear. The cure was simple, jump into the 48 degree water, cut the rope away and goes on our merry way. I put on my leaky dry suit and climbed down the ladder into the incredibly dark murky water and swam to the back of the boat. Julie was waiting there for me as was one of the dock lines that was cleated off, hanging in the water that I would use as a tether.

The propeller is about 3 ½ feet below the water, so I not so bravely grabbed the rudder and pulled myself down and grabbed the prop. I found the shaft and as I suspected it was wrapped with some sort of line. It felt like polypropylene (ski line) and I started pulling it away. Because of the cold I couldn’t stay down very long and I quickly came back up and got a knife from Julie.
I dropped back down under the water and started hacking at the rope around the shaft but something didn’t seem quite right. I had cut rope off of prop shafts many, many years ago and there was a different feel to it. I came back up, gave the knife back to Julie and dove back to investigate. I grabbed the rope around the shaft and started tearing at it with my fingers. It started coming off in ribbons and felt nothing like rope. I came back up to the surface, looked in my hands and realized that I had strands of tree bark in my hands. I looked up to tell Julie what I had found and she was not there. I was terrified. I was so cold and weak at this point that not seeing her when my head came out of the water completely freaked me out. I called out for her and within seconds her beautiful face was looking down at me. I implored her to always be there when I came up, the water was so cold and incredibly dark I was not comfortable at all, as a matter of fact I was frightened.

While I was talking to her my right foot hit something in the water a couple of feet behind the rudder and about 4 feet down. I moved my feet around found what felt like a pole sticking straight back about 4 feet below the water. I dove down and using my hands in the inky black water realized that the pole was in fact a tree trunk about 6 or 7 inches in diameter, that would help to explain the bark wrapped around the shaft. I came back up to the surface and suddenly had a strong suspicion about why the engine died each time we put it in gear.

I dove back down, found the propeller and used my hands to trace the outline of the 4 blades of the prop. I made it thru 3 of the blades and finally to the 4th when I encountered the same tree trunk that I had just been standing on. The blade of the propeller was buried almost 2 inches into the tree trunk and appeared to be slightly bent. I surfaced and went to the boat, found the tree with my feet, put my hands under the bottom of the boat, stuck my head under water again to get better leverage and tried to break the tree away from the prop. I have always had strong legs, I wrestled 119 pounds my senior year in high school and could leg press 375 pounds. If that same strength to weight ratio held up I should be able to leg press close to 600 pounds. Of course we do tend to fade over time but I was still trying like hell.

A few minutes later I was in the boat, soaked to the bone and shaking uncontrollably and we were still stuck solidly to the tree. Julie helped dry me off and get me dressed in sweats and laid against me for a few minutes to get me to stop shaking………….. I really hate being this cold.
A little while later all was well except for the fact that we were sitting there with our propeller stuck into a submerged cypress tree on the ICW with barge traffic going past us. So we did what anyone else would do, we turned on all of our lights, hung lanterns on the back of the boat and got on the radio to alert tugs of our situation.

Actually we did not get on the radio, Julie got on the radio. She was feeling a little better now and as we mentioned before, these guys would much rather listen to a woman than a man especially when it was something like this. She would occasionally hail a passing tug to explain our situation and ask if they new of any locals that could pull us off. She also asked for the tug captains to pass the word up and down the river that we were stuck here and to keep an eye open for us. None of the captains knew of anyone that could pull us off and they all wished us luck and said that they would pass the word about us stuck and sticking out into the channel, all except for one. Some old fart came back on the radio, after Julie explained that we were stuck on a tree, and repeatedly told us that we had picked a really bad place to park. Julie tried again to explain the situation but the opinionated old fart didn’t want to hear anything but his opinion. As I write this I wonder if I am becoming an opinionated old fart,. Obviously the answer is no, and obviously I don’t care what you think.

We spent the night on the side of the “highway” with the radio on sleeping a little at a time, talking to tugs occasionally about our plight. Most of the tugs apparently had heard that we were stuck there and slowed down when they came closer. I thought of how much fuel we were wasting with these tugs slowing down and speeding up for us and felt guilty. With this thought in mind I decided that we need to be a little more considerate the next time we get stuck. The barge traffic died down a little after 4:00 am, I turned the radio off, and we actually slept for 2 hours.

About 6:30 we got up and were trying to evaluate the situation with fresh yet sleepy eyes to see if there was some way we could get unstuck. I wasn’t getting in the water again; if I had a scuba tank and a real dry suit I could have dove down and used a saw to extract the propeller from the tree, but I had neither.

We were standing on deck, Julie still sick, trying to figure out what to do when an all aluminum power boat with twin outboards came by doing about 15 miles per hour. I tried to hail them on the radio by description, “Eastbound workboat passing the sailboat on the side of the cannel come in please.”, with no response. I then started waiving my hands at them but they kept going. They were about 200 feet past us when they throttled back to an idle and turned back towards us. When they got close to us a young guy ran to the bow of the boat and asked , “How you doing?” , I replied, not so good. He then asked, “do you all need help?” I said, “you bet”. Another guy in his mid 40’s that looked like a guy that I am sure I saw on a Louisiana Cooking show (Y’all remember Justin Wilson saying “add a little onion”, which sounded like onyon, “I guarantee.”

We talked about our situation and they said that they would pull us off. We scurried about and started removing the lines from the Cypress trees on shore and the kid on the work boat jumped into the John boat or as he called it “Joeboat” that they had on their fore deck (that would be the little flat front part of the deck of the boat in front of the little house part in the middle). He took off the bow line while we removed the stern and mid-ship line.
We took the bow line of our boat that had just been looped around a Cypress tree and handed it to the kid. He started to wrap the line around the cleat at the back of their boat when the older guy walked out of the boats cabin and said, “Don’t be tying any of your coonass knots now.”.

In case you don’t know what a coonass is, the following is from Wikipedia.
Coonass, or Coon-ass, is an epithet used in reference to a person of Cajun ethnicity. Although many Cajuns use the word in regard to themselves, other Cajuns view the term as an ethnic slur against the Cajun people, especially when used by non-Cajuns. Socioeconomic factors appear to influence how Cajuns are likely to view the term: working-class Cajuns tend to regard the word "coonass" as a badge of ethnic pride; whereas middle- and upper-class Cajuns are more likely to regard the term as insulting or degrading, even when used by fellow Cajuns in reference to themselves.

The working class kid laughed and cleated the line off to their boat and said that we should get away from the front of the boat just in case the line snapped when they were pulling it. He waved at us and they both stepped back into the cabin of the work boat. They pulled the boat straight out from the shore slowly until it the line got tight and they stopped. They then started to throttle up until both 250 horsepower outboard engines were roaring and the boat was almost dancing on the water. After a minute of pulling their boat had drifted down river so they backed up the river and pulled again, this time aiming a little more upstream so the current wouldn’t affect them so much. The second time around ended up just like the first go around, only it took a little longer. On the 3rd try they headed even further upstream and started to throttle up when the fine yacht Second Star pulled away from the shore effortlessly. Both of the guys on the work boat came out of the cabin with confused looks on their faces, which probably mirrored the look on my face. Julie was the only one that wasn’t amazed and she said, “That explains the loud cracking noise I heard at the end of the last try.” Apparently the propeller had broken away from the tree it was stuck in when they had finished pulling the last time and we were already free when they tried the 3rd time.

They said that they would pull us back up to the boat ramp up stream and we told them that we had tried it the night before and ran aground. I told them that I wanted to try to motor on our own so they idled backwards as I collected our anchor line. When they threw the tail to me Julie throttled up a little bit and we started to move ever so slowly back up the river. She immediately slowed the boat down but even at 1,000 RPM ,which was almost idle speed, the rear end of the boat was moving around like a washing machine on spin cycle with a bunch of towels clumped up on one side. We looked up and the top of the mast was also tracing 3 foot diameter circles in the sky. Something was definitely amok and we were pretty sure it was the propeller.

The boat was unwieldy but we slowly headed up the canal. The guys on the work boat stuck around and asked what we planned to do. I told them that I thought that the cut out next to the bridge across from the boat launch looked kind of promising but I wasn’t sure how deep it was.
They said that they would find out and shot over there and ran aground near the opening with their 1 foot draft. They then took it upon themselves to find us a place that was deep enough.
After a few minutes they came back and told us that the canal was pretty deep against the bridge abutment on the downstream side from the boat launch. We went up river, spun around and slowly motored over towards the abutment which was at a 45 degree angle to the main channel. We were surprised to find that it was so deep there that when we finally tied up the back of the boat only stuck out into the channel few inches. The weird part was that if you jumped off of the front of the boat you would most likely break your ankles on the large flat rocks that were there.

Our buddies on the work boat had helped us get docked and said that they would check with us later in the day when they got done with their rounds. We found out later that they worked for ConocoPhillips Oil and did a daily checkup of a handful of oil rigs that were out on some of the shallow lakes and bays in the area. These rigs were fully automated but they would check on them regularly to do some of the checkups and maintenance that still required human beings.
We looked on the internet and called around looking for divers with no luck. We then tried dive shops but they didn’t get into the commercial part of the business. We next tried a propeller repair shop and they suggested a guy and gave us his phone number. We called him and he said he would pull our prop and come back to reinstall it for $1,000 but he didn’t take checks or credit cards, cash only. Now this was an issue, we usually had a couple hundred bucks stashed away on the boat for minor emergencies but were down to about $80 after our last fuel stop and a dinner. Our debit card would only allot $300 per day which meant that it would take 4 days to come up with the cash our “buddy” wanted.

Later that day our work boat buddies showed up again after making their rounds on the local oil rigs and asked how we were doing. We told them about our problems with the diver we found and they said that they would look into it for us. The next morning thy stopped by with a phone number of another diver that might be a little less expensive and a little more flexible with respect to payment terms. We thanked them and called the diver they recommended. This diver was only going to charge us $875.00, unless it was real easy, and would take a check. So we set up a time to have them come by and pull the propeller. One of his divers was a young guy that was going to school to be a helicopter pilot and would be passing by in the morning to go to school and coming back in the afternoon. He was to pull our prop in the morning, we would get it fixed during the day and he would reinstall it that afternoon.

We called our good buddies at Enterprise car rental and told them that we needed to be picked up and that we were under the Bayou Salee bridge. They came back and asked if we were near to the bridge and we said no, we were under the bridge, next to the boat ramp and they said that they would send someone out to pick us up. An hour later I was standing under the bridge when a new Ford F150 pickup pulled up and I hopped in. The driver was a young black guy who drove me back to Franklin LA and the car rental office. On the way there, I asked him what the strange stalk-like crops where growing in the fields that we passed, he replied that they where sugar cane. (It worked out that Julie returned the car a couple of days later and the same young guy dropped her off at the boat. He asked her where I was from because I didn’t even know what sugar cane looked like.)

Did I mention that it was cold again? It was mid December in southern Louisiana and despite what it should be, it was cold. Seems while we were tied to a bridge abutment on the side of the ICW/GIWW they had snow for the first time in 20 years. All the tugs and people we came in contact with were all excited about it. Of course they had heaters and furnaces and stuff like that that kept you warm. All we could do was add layers of clothing and huddle around our little 6” heater to try to keep warm, then we ran out of propane and it got really cold.
After I picked up the car I went to a grocery store to pick up dinner and then to Wal-Mart and bought up their entire stock of 1 pound canisters of propane gas for our heater, a grand total of 12 cans.

Everybody gets extra layers!

The next morning came and went and no one showed up to take off our prop. After a handful of calls we finally got in touch with the owner of the company and found out that our guy wasn’t going to show up until that afternoon. I kept kicking myself (figuratively speaking) because I could remove the prop myself if I had a dry suit, tank and associated gear and of course a divers certificate and it would cost only a little more than I was going to pay to have them remove the prop. But I didn’t so I was stuck, literally.

The diver showed up late in the afternoon and walked over to survey the situation. I explained what was what and he went back to his pickup to change into his dive gear. We both walked down the embankment next to the bridge and I got into the dinghy while he walked into the water near the bow of the boat and swam back to the stern to evaluate the situation.
I sat in the dinghy watching his bubbles and occasionally talking to him and handed him wrenches and other tools to free the propeller. 15 minutes later we were heading back to shore and I had the prop in the dinghy with me. It was late in the day and the local repair propeller place that Julie had talked to the day before was closed so we settled in for another frigid night in Southern Louisiana. The next morning Julie called the prop shop. YOU TELL THE STORY HERE BABE.

I spoke with a very nice guy names Joel and explained that we had hit a tree and our prop was bent so I felt that we would need a new one. He said that would be expensive and that they could us a rosebud torch and hammers to repair ours. He wanted to confirm the size of our wheel. Now I was a little confused. What did it matter how big the wheel was, it was our prop that was bent. After a little Laurel and Hardyesque exchange Joel slowly explained, so that any five year old could understand, that there are 3 types of propulsion systems for vessels “A little boat like ours has a propeller, a bigger boat like a tug boat has a wheel, and a really big boat has screws”. They would be happy to fix our propeller. I asked him what it would cost and would he take a check or credit, after the divers I was feeling a little vulnerable to being taken. He said “don’t your worry miss Julie we’ll fix you up and there won’t be any charge”. I jumped into the rental car and drove the 30 miles to the prop shop. It was amazing to see the guys with torches heating huge 4 foot diameter wheels and using two sledge hammers against each other top and bottom on the metal to pound them back into shape. By comparison they used a Bic lighter and tack hammer to fix ours. 2 hours and a gift of a large box of donuts later they were done.

Houston I think we have a proplem.

I have to say that despite the awful circumstance of this particular week the hospitality and genuine concern shown by the guys from Conoco and Joel at the prop shop made this bearable. Our friends that pulled us off of the tree checked on us twice a day. It was 28 degrees and they new that we had very little heat and wanted to make sure we were ok. They brought a huge container of the best home made gumbo I have ever eaten and picked us up on the 3rd night and took us back to the house that they live in all week so that we could shower. It turns out that southern hospitality isn’t dead it’s just well hidden. BACK TO YOU

The next day we found out that our young diver buddy was off in the Gulf looking for a helicopter that had crashed with 3 men on board, which seemed a little ironic since he was going to school to be a helicopter pilot. We wondered how he felt about diving for members of the profession that he hoping to join but then realized that helicopter pilots probably had better survival rate than divers and made more money.

Later that day the owner of the company came by and installed the prop despite the fact that our fearless mutt, Ziggy tried to scale the bridge abutment to attack him when he showed up without warning and yelled down to us. Ziggy had jumped off of the boat on to the timber wall and I had to pull him off of the wall before he fell back into the canal. As bad as this was, he really freaked out when our diver showed up again wearing his dry suit, tank and hood looking like the creature from the black lagoon. When the diver dropped into the water I got on the radio and told the closest tug who and where we were and that we had a diver in the water replacing our wheel. He came back and said that he would alert all other vessels in the area. The installation took 15 minutes and 2 tugs passed by at the slowest speed I had seen on the canal. When he was out I told the nearest tug and it was business as usual.

We were ready to go but it was late afternoon and it was a long day to the next possible anchorage so we decided to spend another night tied to the Bayou Salee bridge, we would leave before dawn the next morning.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Orleans and West

December 7, 2008

After our 2 night stay in the Rigolets we headed up into Lake Pontchartrain and under the I-10 bridge which was a 75’ tall interstate that we could easily pass under with our 64‘ mast. This was the second bridge we had passed under since Marathon Key and even though we had a chance to measure the height of the mast when it was pulled from the boat to confirm the height, it still looked like we would hit it when we went under it.
About 100 yards after the bridge we made a right and headed towards shore to Oak Harbor marina following the markers for the channel. We had talked to the harbormaster and asked about the depth going into the harbor. He said with our 7’ draft it normally wouldn’t be a problem but we were at low tide and it was the lowest tide he had seen in 2 years. He also told us that he bottom was soft mud and that we should be able to power thru it.
About 500 feet from the marina the depth sounder said we should be aground and the boat started to slow down. During the worst of this we showed a depth of -1.2 feet and we were moving at 1.2 knots with the throttle wide open. We finally made it to the harbor where the depth was over 10 feet.
There where 2 docks in a harbor that could easily hold 10 docks, we later found out that there were 10 docks before hurricane Katrina but they were all destroyed. We found our slip, docked the boat and went to check in. It was nice to be safely tied to a dock with shore power.
Later that night while waiting for a pizza to be delivered, the gate guard showed me pictures of the destruction with 40 foot power boats lodged between the condo buildings that surrounded the marina. The guard told me that he had taped an illegal parking ticket onto the hull of a boat and when the owner arrived to survey the damage he thanked him for making him laugh instead of crying.
Additional pictures taken by a resident during the hurricane showed that the water had raised up 6 feet out of the harbor and another 8 feet to the balconies on the second floor. There were pictures of the road that led to the condo/marina complex. It was lined with dozens of boats that had floated past the condos and were stopped by the row of trees next to the road.
It’s one thing to see these images on TV but it is completely different to see them in the place where it happened. This perspective greatly increases the impact of the images.
The next morning we motored a short distance to get fuel and were surprised to see diesel at $4.65 per gallon, not that it mattered, they were closed during the week in the off season. We had some fuel, not sure how much, and 20 miles to go across Lake Pontchartrain to get to New Orleans where we could hopefully get some fuel.
There was a decent breeze so we sailed most of the way across the Lake and after some research on the internet we found that there was a gas dock open just around the corner from the city marina where we had reserved a slip for the night.
We filled up and were pleased to find that their diesel was only $2.58 per gallon, a full two dollars cheaper than the place that was closed.
We entered the marina and went down between the wrong docks and had to turn around. The boat is 47 feet long but with the dinghy hanging off of the davits in back we were about 52 foot long and the distance between the 2 docks was about 60 feet. Julie offered to spin the boat around and I gladly let her. After a successful 6 point turn we went around to the correct slip.
Going ashore to check in we found the main building empty but spotted a worksite trailer a little further down on the seawall. We walked down and checked in. It had been had ripped thru over three years before they were still working out of a temporary facility and would be for few more months until repairs were complete.
Inland from the marina was a 10 foot tall concrete wall with huge steel doors opened to provide access to the marina. Later we found out that we were in the 9th ward where some of the levees had been breached during Katrina.
While walking to a local grocery store we passed an empty store front in an otherwise occupied and busy strip mall with water marks on it that were 8 feet up. A block away there was a townhouse complex with about 150 upscale units that was completely unoccupied. There were signs of work being done on some of them but many of them sat there with windows and garage doors torn off, it was odd to say the least.
We were still beat so we rented a car and decided to do some errands and some sightseeing.
When we had to get towed in the Rigolets the Sea Tow captain asked if we were going to the French Quarter and suggested that we go to Pat O’Brien’s. We said we would go there and he told us to call him when we arrived, it seems that his best friend from college was the general manager and he wanted us to get the royal treatment after all of our problems.
Upon arriving at Pat O’Brien’s we gave captain Christian from Sea Tow a call and he said he would give us a call right back. We were standing in the courtyard when we saw a guy walk down the stairs talking on his cell phone and looking around. I asked if he was talking to Christian and he said yes to me, goodbye to Christian and introduced himself.
For the next hour we got free drinks, a tour and a detailed history of the original French Quarter drinking establishment which had it’s roots in the speakeasy days and created the infamous rum drink called a Hurricane.
We ate a tasty dinner at the Gumbo Shop and strolled around for an hour taking in the sights of the French Quarter, which is actually a National Park. The only park that liquor is not only allowed but appears to be encouraged. This would be evident by the fact that after dark the streets in the Quarter are barricaded off and you can roam the streets sipping your favorite libations.
At the far end of one of the streets we strolled down we came into an area that was filled with topless bars. There was even one that claimed on it’s marquee that they had the most gorgeous transvestites anywhere. We turned around and headed back when we were confronted by a hawker trying to sell the bare wares that were inside the doors of the establishment. We said no thanks to which he replied “ It’s OK, couples are welcome, it’s family night”. We burst out laughing and kept walking.
The next day was Sunday and we left the city marina and sailed 5 or so miles to the mouth of the industrial canal to another marina where we would spend the night and venture off at first light. The next day we had the task of getting thru the canal and all of the barges and ships that traverse it. Like all vessels we had to use the industrial locks that keep Lake Pontchartrain out of New Orleans then venture down a few miles of the Mississippi then as far down the ICW as we could get.
Sunday morning we left the marina and motored a mile to the first draw bridge in the industrial canal and requested an opening. The bridge tender replied that the traffic gate (just like a gate at a train crossing) was malfunctioning and it would take a little time to stop traffic. After 15 minutes we called back and asked humbly, as we always did, what was going on and how long it was going to be, He came back that the electrician would be there in ½ hour to fix the gate. We replied that we were going to find somewhere to park and asked that he gave us a call on the radio when the gate was fixed, he agreed to do that.
We went back to the marina where we had spent the night and finally at 9:00 we got the call from the bridge tender that we could come thru and we did.
As we motored down the Industrial Canal we first passed by a facility that built huge 100 foot plus luxury yachts and then hundreds of fishing boats and ships that had been destroyed and washed up on the shore by Katina. The scenery ran from one extreme to the other.
Our next huge obstacle was the Industrial Locks that according to some of the guides are almost impossible to get thru and pleasure craft were not welcome. Julie was concerned about going thru the locks so she had called the day before to speak with the lock master to ask about procedures.
As we approached the locks we radioed ahead to request an opening to which they replied that they would open momentarily and that we should drive in and they would throw us lines to hang on to when the gate on the other side opened.
To those who are not familiar with locks, they are a means to bring boats from one body of water to another that is at a different height. The basic theory behind them is that a boat pulls into a lock and watertight doors close behind them. There are doors on the other end of the lock that then open allowing water to enter or exit the locks until the water is the same level as the water outside of it. The level of the water can change in a lock anywhere from a few inches to 40 feet depending.
You may ask why anyone would want to do this and there are numerous reasons. The Panama canal joins the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans shortening the trip from Japan to New York by thousands and thousands of miles. The canal does not go straight across the Isthmus of Panama but goes up over a mountain range that runs through the center of the country. Boats are raised up going thru locks up to the crest of this ridge and lowered down thru the other side using additional locks.
Where we were the locks separated Lake Pontchartrain from the Mississippi river and the change was only a raise of a foot though during the spring flood season the difference was 14 feet or so.
Anyway we entered the locks and immediately the guys on the lock yelled down that we were under arrest. I didn’t get it at first but Julie was laughing and I realized that she had quoted the one guide book that talked about getting crushed or getting arrested. Seems she had mentioned that we were coming through in the morning aboard a 47’ sailboat that didn’t want to get squished and apparently we were the only vessel that matched that description this morning.
We talked to the lockmaster and got as much “local knowledge” that he could spare regarding the next leg of the days travels. The entire process took 15 minutes and we were not crushed by a barge or arrested.
While in the lock we had tried to contact the bridge tender in the draw bridge that was 100 feet beyond the exit of the locks to no avail. The lockmaster suggested that they were probably in the bathroom and called them on the phone. We now had an appointment for a bridge opening as soon as the locks open.
We bid the folks at the lock farewell, passed under the drawbridge and headed down toward the Mississippi.

Industrial Locks with drawbridge beyond

Our next goal was to head south 5 miles down the Mississippi, turn left into the Algiers canal and locks. As we motored out into the Mississippi we passed ships that were washed up on the shore from Katrina and many more that were anchored in the river in designated anchorages. There were ships ranging from 400 to 800 feet long from ports all around the world sitting at anchor waiting for something.
We quickly found ourselves nearing the Algiers locks so we contacted the lockmaster and asked to be allowed to pass thru. He told us that there 4 barges heading eastward, opposite from our westward course, that would be coming thru in a little bit and told us to wait outside the locks off to the side to wait for them.

Ships at anchor on the Mississippi

Boats on the shore after Katrina

It was pretty windy and we were having a hard time staying in one place so we turned around and head the ¼ mile back to the Mississippi river where we could go in slow circles and have some control. As soon as we headed out the lockmaster came on the radio and scolded us for leaving the staging area. Julie explained that we did not steer well at low speed so we need to retreat to where we had more room to maneuver. The lockmaster quickly came back and told us to stay in the area we were to the south of the opening to the Algiers canal until the first barge came though then we were to come into the locks and pass through.
What he hadn’t said was we were to come thru and get the hell out of the way but that unspoken direction seemed pretty obvious to us. Even though we have equal rights to the waterways with commercial traffic and equal responsibilities we were learning that the professionals would just as soon let us go thru early and have us out of their way.
We successfully passed thru the Algiers locks and continued on towards the city of Lafitte where we would make a slight detour of a couple of miles to a marina where we were told they had 7’ depths and we could spend the night. Along the ICW from New Orleans until you get to Galveston there are very few marinas designed for larger boats, especially a sailboat, since the water outside of the ICW tends to run on the shallow side in the bayous and swamps. Not to mention the hurricane damage.
We motored 3 miles down to the marina in Lafitte (which was named after the 19th century pirate Jean Lafitte) and proceeded to get stuck before we could even enter the small harbor. We decided to try to tie up along the outside break wall, along the main channel, but ran aground about 5 feet from the shore. Apparently the woman that told us that our 7 foot draft was no problem didn’t know what she was talking about ,so we motored back to where we had turned off of the ICW and found a place to anchor for the night.
The next morning we continued west down the ICW with no particular destination since there were no marinas for several hundred miles beyond this. We had left civilization for a while and enjoyed the scenery.
That evening we anchored on the side of the ICW in a small bay ,surround by swamps and a handful of small trees, that was not full of oil harvesting equipment.
I took Ziggy to shore and both of us almost fell victim to the quicksand like mud. I put him on shore with his lifejacket on and he tried to walk inland. Within 5 feet he sank in ¾ of the way up his legs, struggled to get out and made it to a tuft of grass in this muddy bog. For the first time ever he went potty, “Good boy go potty”, while wearing his lifejacket.
I coaxed him back into the dinghy and tried to row back out where it was deep enough to motor back to the boat. Somehow we had gotten stuck in the mud so I tried to use the oar to push away from land, I soon discovered that we were definitely stuck.
I jumped off of the front of the dinghy onto a piece of wood and used the oar to shove the dinghy further away then laid a branch in the mud to step on to get back in the dinghy. After a minute more of pushing we were back in deeper water. Ziggy was going to have to wait until we found real land the next day before he had the chance to get back to shore.
Back on the boat we set up a lantern in the cockpit, put together some snacks and poured a glass of wine so we could relax, reflect on the day and enjoy this unique landscape. Then the mosquitoes came. I wanted to get a picture of our repast in the setting sun and Julie agreed to pose even though the swarm was arriving. I took a few shots when she proclaimed that we were done and we both grabbed our snacks and stuff and dashed below and closed up the cabin. Thank goodness it was late fall otherwise the bugs would have been really bad .

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Rigolets

November 29, 2008

We left the anchorage at Horn Island and continued on our passage westward thru the Mississippi Sound on our way toward Lake Pontchartrain that would take us into the New Orleans area and on to the ICW. We had made the decision to come inland to utilize the protection of the ICW. The other option was going around the Mississippi river delta which was a 200+ mile trip thru the gulf and the weather forecast was not great. The inland trip follows the twists and curves of the ICW as it connects the dots of existing rivers and lakes. It’s about 150 miles further and 3 days longer but much safer.
The weather had been decent but the forecast was for high winds and scattered thunderstorms. As the skies around us started to darken we turned on the weather function on our Garmin which was fed by our XM Radio. With this service we could overlay wind speed and direction on the map along with full blown weather radar. The weather radar showed storm cells all around us. The storm cell show as symbols that can be highlighted with a cursor that shows the speed and direction of these cells.
It looked like we were going to get lucky, most of the cells were directly west of us and heading northeast meaning they should miss us. The forecast proved true, so we missed the 60 mph winds that were associated with these cells, but we still motored thru 30+ mph winds and plenty of rain which lasted for a couple of hours.

Birds around a fishing boat

At the end of the day we anchored just a ¼ mile from the Mississippi sound off of Catfish Point in a group of islands called the Rigolet’s (Rigolees to those in the know). We found a small channel off of the ICW that was deep enough to anchor and settled in. I took Ziggy ashore and found the bank was not solid but mostly swamp. It was almost dusk and I kept hearing strange sounds that sounded a lot like people talking in the distance but I knew that the only signs of civilization for miles around was a train track and an old decrepit oil platform. Julie heard the same sounds and called me back to the boat.
She went online and we listened to the sounds of alligator territory calls which sounded like people talking in the distance, a little scary. We decided to find some real land before we took Ziggy ashore in the morning.
As we sat in the cockpit in the setting sun the old oil platform took on a very eerie look. The platform was a metal building probably 75’ by 150’ sitting on a steel frame about 40 feet off of the water. The legs on the platform were twisted on one side and the whole thing leaned. The building itself was rusted and parts of the roof and some of the walls were missing, it had the look of some battle robot from some sci-fi movie.

Old oil rig

The next morning it was sunny but very windy. We pulled anchor and motored over to the railroad bridge that was about a mile away and tried to call them on the radio to have them open up. We ended up talking to several bridge tenders until we were able to determine which bridge we were looking at.
You would think that if they heard someone on the radio saying “Railroad bridge tender, this is the sail vessel Second Star, come in please” and they looked out the window of the tender building and saw a sailboat sitting in front of the bridge they might reply. Apparently that’s not how it goes, we have found that unless you know the correct name of the bridge they don’t often reply even if they are the only bridge within radio range.
The 500 page federal guide we downloaded doesn’t help much either, they often have the wrong name and inevitably the phone number they provide ended up dumping us into to the voicemail of some young woman. We had better luck using Google earth to identify the river or island names that were closest to the bridge we were trying to contact.
Something else we learned fairly quickly was that we were far more successful if Julie made the call. Most of the bridge tenders dealt with tugboats, fisherman and ships and enjoyed talking to women. Julie started using her maple syrup with powdered sugar voice which worked even better. I wonder why she doesn’t talk to me like that anymore.
After passing by the bridge we head up Pearl River and it was just a few miles to go before we got to Lake Pontchartrain. We were only ½ mile past the bridge when the engine sputtered, running at only an idle. I knew immediately what was wrong.
We have 3 fuel tanks on the boat and I always kept 2 open until they were almost empty when I would open the 3rd tank. I then knew it was time to refuel and we had 33 gallons and about another 100 miles worth of fuel.
I had noticed the previous day that the 2 tanks were getting low but I had never opened the 3rd tank. I ran below and opened the 3rd tank but the engine was still barely running. I went below to kill the engine so I could quickly bleed the air out of the system that was sucked in when the other tanks went empty.
I was down below pumping the purge as quick as I could but there was still a ton of air burbling out of the drain tube into the jar I was draining it into.
Julie yelled down below that we were getting close to shore. We had been in the middle of the channel which was about ½ mile wide so I figured that she was just panicking. I told her to hold on, and that we would be running again.
She yelled a minute later that we were getting close and I asked how deep the water was she replied that it was 15’. I told her that I would be done soon. 15 seconds later she yelled again and I asked again how deep it was and she said 10 feet.
I ran up top and to the bow to drop the anchor which I did… just as we ran aground.
The boat was parallel to the shore being pushed towards it by the wind, we spent the next 1 ½ hours trying to get the boat out of the mud bank. The first thing I did was finish bleeding the air out of the system which took another 15 minutes. We tried to power out of the mud but being parallel to the shore we only seemed to get stuck even worse.
Using the dinghy I took the second, smaller anchor about 150 feet out into river and set it as best as I could with the dinghy. We tied the anchor line to the spinnaker halyard and cranked it in with a winch. This technique, called kedging, did 2 things, first it pulled the boat away from the shore, second it tipped the boat over since we were pulling from the top of the mast which effectively raised the keel up. Unfortunately the tide was going out and after 30 minutes of grinding the winch as hard as we could we realized that this wasn’t going to work.
We got online and called SeaTow which is a nationwide company that rescues stuck and stranded boaters. We had signed up for SeaTow at a cost of $140 per year early on in the trip as we had read about the cost of a typical tow running over $1,000. Looks like our insurance was going to pay off.
An hour later the SeaTow boat arrived and fed us a line. He tightened up the line and gave his twin 200 horsepower engine full throttle. The bow of the boat pivoted out and we started moving across the channel. About 300 feet out we were doing 6 knots when the boat suddenly pirouetted around and came to a stop. Apparently we had come to the end of the line on our 55 pound anchor. I had untied the second anchor and put a lifejacket on the line as it was shorter than the primary anchor. I never thought we would be pulled out as far as we were.
It was about 2:00 in the afternoon and the wind was getting stronger so we decided to motor the 5 miles or so to the marina and come back in the morning to get our 2 anchors. We motored up the river which took us to Lake Pontchartrain where the north west winds were whipping up some good size waves.
We were motoring about 200 yards from the rocky north shore when the engine started to stammer again. This was not good at all, the wind was driving us towards the shore and we had no anchors to stop us if the engine died.
We decided to set the sail and turn back towards the relative shelter of the river and the engine stopped sputtering. Our plan now was to go back where we had lost our anchors so I could grab the line for the second anchor we had dropped with life vest tied to it. This should be easy enough to do in the dinghy and when I had it Julie would drive the boat up to me and so I would pass it up to her and we could anchor. It was set far enough from the shore that we should have no problem getting stuck again.
As we got down to the area where the anchors were I dropped the sail and got into the dinghy. I had the life vest and the anchor line in the dinghy when I waved to Julie at the far side of the channel. She waved back at me frantically and I realized that something was wrong.
I dropped the line, sped across the channel and found out that the engine was barely running.
I got aboard and we discussed the situation. We were about ½ mile from the railroad bridge with the wind blowing us towards the portion of it that did not open. The engine was barely running. We still had no anchor. It was almost dusk. We decided to use what little power we had and the wind behind our backs to run the boat on to the shore which we did.
We called SeaTow again and talked to them about our situation. They were reluctant to come out because they had to cross Lake Pontchartrain and it was getting really rough. In the end they agreed to come out and set an anchor for us so we wouldn’t drift into the bridge if we broke free from the mud when the tide came in and the engine didn’t run.
They showed up just after dusk and dropped an anchor about 150’ upwind in the channel from where we were stuck. He let out some line, cleated off the anchor line on the bow of their boat and backed up under full power to set the anchor.
They tried to get close to us to hand us the line when I noticed that the end of the anchor line was wrapped around their outboard. The assistant on the boat almost fell in while we doing this but managed to hang on. It took them about 10 minutes but they finally got untangled and handed us the anchor line. They agreed to get us in the morning if we couldn’t get off in the night when the tide broke us free.
Shortly after they left I found that the fuel line going to the engine had kinked shutting off the fuel. I cut the wire tie that was used to hold the fuel line in place where it went around a 2” diameter support, which allowed the line to straighten out. We tried the engine and it ran flawlessly.
I went to sleep while Julie sat up on watch. She woke me up about midnight with the sensation of the boat moving freely in the waves, we were not completely free but we were not hard aground.
We backed out of the mud and started drifting downstream waiting for the anchor to stop us. We had gone much farther than I expected so I went forward and started pulling in the anchor line. It didn’t take long to realize that there was no anchor at the end of the line.
We now had another dilemma. We had anchor line in the water so we couldn’t motor forward and we were drifting towards a fishing boat that had anchored in the channel with it’s nets out, trying to catch fish as they came by in the tidal current. By the time we had all of the anchor line on board we were 100 feet from the fishing boat. Apparently we scared the captain of that boat as he was waving his flashlight madly at us. We motored away trying to decide what to do next.
We decided to break the law and tie up to one of the ICW markers. There was one across the channel in the lee of land which would give us shelter from the waves so we headed over.
I was on the bow of the boat as Julie guided the boat towards the marker, which is basically a telephone pole set in the riverbed with a red triangle and a flashing red light on it telling all that saw it where the channel was. We were about 50 feet away when we ran aground.
I jumped into the dinghy, Julie fed the anchor line into it and I started heading towards the marker. I was about 15 feet away when I heard Julie yelling. I turned around and realized that the boat was no longer stuck and she was drifting away.
I climbed back into the boat and we drove into the mud again only this time we were going 3 knots not ½ knot like we were the first time. It held this time and I was able to get the boat tied to the marker. Since it was high tide the water would only get shallower, so we decided to back the boat out of the mud. Julie powered up in reverse and soon we were out. With the boat safely tied to the marker we went to bed and slept soundly.
The next day it was windier than it had been and it was very cold so we decided to spend the next 24 hours there.
The fuel gauge for the 3rd tank showed that we had less than ¼ tank which was a little disconcerting since the we were not sure how soon we could get fuel. Many of the marinas in the New Orleans area were destroyed by Katrina and we couldn’t find out on the internet if any were open or if fuel was available.
With this uncertainty about our fuel situation we didn’t want to run the gen-set to run our sanders or even the space heater. We cleaned the boat thoroughly but spent most of the day reading and talking. It was odd to just sit around like this since we have always been hardworking and not the type to just sit around all day. We finally got comfortable with the fact that we were stuck and actually had a mini vacation.
The next day the wind died and the temperature was supposed to climb into the 60’s, so it was time to go anchor hunting. We motored down to where we had been stuck and I did as we had planned and easily retrieved the smaller anchor which we tied the boat to.
With the boat firmly anchored it was time to retrieve the other anchor which was a 2 month old Delta anchor along with a 1 month old 75 foot length of 3/8” chain and 175’ feet of ¾” anchor line that in total cost about $1,000.
I had paid attention to several landmarks around where we had dropped the anchor so I changed into my dry suit. The dry suit was not a diving type of dry suit but a sailing type for small boats that I had bought years before when racing Lasers (a 1 man racing boat that tips easily) on Lake Michigan in the fall.
We hopped into the dinghy headed towards shore where I hopped out of the dinghy and walked around the area I thought the anchor should be.
It was hard to walk around since the bottom was all mud. There was a semi-hard mantle or crust on top that you could walk on most of the time but occasionally the crust would break and I would sink into the incredibly soft mud below. One time I sucked in so deep I almost panicked, OK, maybe I panicked a little. After that I held on to the dinghy while I walked around.
After a half hour or so we decided to try a different tack and went back to the boat, changed back into dry clothes and McGyver’ed a treble hook using 2 gaff hooks, a boat hook and a 5lb lead weight. We tied a line to treble hook and tied it to dinghy and motored slowly back and forth for about ½ hour hoping to snag the chain or line. We were just about ready to throw the towel in but on the last pass we caught the chain. We pulled the chain up enough to tie a line with a life vest to it and went back to the boat where I changed back into my dry suit.
We went out to where we had snagged the chain and pulled it up to the dinghy again and pulled ourselves hand over hand along on the chain towards where the anchor was. When we got to where we could not pull the chain up anymore I jumped in the water which was about 50 degrees and used my feet to follow the chain.
About 6 feet further it disappeared into the soft mud where the water was about 5 feet deep. When I had dropped the anchor originally I had managed to drop it in about 3 feet of water just as we ran aground. The anchor had also been about 20 feet closer to the shore and barely hooked into the mud.
I cleared as much of the mud away from the chain as I could with my feet and then dove down and started clearing as much as I could with my hands. The mud was soft and cleared away easily but after a dozen or so dives my hands were 2 feet down into the mud, about 6 feet underwater, and I still hadn’t touched the top of the anchor.
We determined that when the tow boat had pulled us out to the middle of the channel and we came to the end of the anchor line the 40,000lbs of boat moving at 6 knots had pulled the anchor to some incredible depth in the mud.
The only way to pull the anchor out was either tie a line to the head of the anchor or to use the boat to pull it out backwards. I couldn’t reach the head of the anchor and the only way to pull it backwards would be with a bulldozer or crane on the beach. We realized that we could not salvage our new anchor so we decided to try to salvage the chain and line.
We went back to the boat and I changed out of my leaky dry suit and into my clothes and we went back out to pull the line out so we could retrieve it. We took the line that was around the chain and using a sawing motion slowly worked down the chain towards where we thought the end of the line would be. We only went about 30 feet along the chain before we were on the anchor line meaning that 40 feet of chain was buried in the mud. We later heard a story of a boat having it’s anchor 20’ deep in the mud under similar circumstances, this was a commercial boat and they had a nearby barge and crane that they used to pull it up.
We went as far as we could out on the line but it was apparently snagged or caught on something so tightly we could not lift it up into the dinghy. We decided that the best way to salvage the line and chain was to cut the chain off where it disappeared into the mud, drag it back to the boat and use the diesel to pull the line free.
So it was back to the boat and into my swimsuit this time, the dry suit leaked so badly and was so cold it just didn’t seem worth it.
I brought along the bolt cutters and went back to the float that we had left tied to the chain and jumped into the water. The chain was in water about 4 ½ feet deep so I had to dive down to get the bolt cutters on the chain in the muddy water. After a few tries I was ready to go, held my depth, dove down and pulled the handles of the 30” bolt cutters together and nothing happened. After a few more tries I realized that the 3/8” high test chain was much stronger than I and my bolt cutters.
2 hours later which included three 15 minute forays in the 56 degree water, each followed by bouts of shivering and shaking, we loaded up and took off for the marina that we had been trying to get to 3 days earlier.
Reflecting on this fiasco it all started because I was soooo very smart. Had I actually paid attention to Julie when she was telling me we were going to run aground this never would have happened. But I knew I could get the engine started long before this happened and that she was just overreacting. Maybe I’ll listen to her next time………………….. I hope I listen to her next time instead of being such a know it all.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Port St. Joe to Mississippi

We had arrived in Port St Joe yesterday around 5:00 after our big 33 hour jump from Tampa and motored up to the dock in light winds. We checked in with the harbor master, took showers and went up to the restaurant to have dinner.
The restaurant had a fairly extensive seafood menu as many do along the coast, but one item on their menu appealed to us more than the others, “Cook your Catch”. In other words, they would cook the tuna we caught the day before and we wouldn’t have to clean it. We ordered and the waitress said most people cleaned their own fish, but one of the guys in the kitchen would do it for a couple of bucks.
The guy came out and we walked back to the fish cleaning tables by the dock. A nice gentleman at another table informed us that we were Americans and wouldn’t like this fish. It turns out that we hadn’t caught a tuna but a bonito which is not really considered an edible fish. We ordered dinner and quickly went to sleep.
The next morning we fueled up and walked to a nearby grocery store and filled our fridge. We also stopped at boating/fishing store and got some more fishing gear, as I was determined to catch dinner some day. (fyi, if you are 3 miles offshore, you are in international waters and do not need a fishing license. )
Our destination today was Panama City which was a mere 45 miles or so west along the Florida panhandle. The day was pretty uneventful and we ended up motoring the last bit across the bay to the Panama City‘s city Marina. As we motored across we saw flocks and flocks of pelicans, seagulls and a slew of other types of diving birds feasting on the fish in the bay. They would all swarm to one area and then to another as a group, taking off, diving and landing in waves. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

A Flock of Pelicans

A Flock Of Seagulls
We pulled into the marina at 5:15 only to find out that we were finally back in the Central time zone and it was 4:15. Not that we have much use for clocks or calendars, we actually have more use for docks and colanders (yes, we cook real food on board). If the weather is good and the sun is up we sail, we don’t often know what day it is or have a clue as to the date.

We walked to the downtown district and enjoyed window shopping for a bit. It was nice to stretch our legs and see some of the Christmas decorations. Going back to the discussion about time, it’s almost feels as if time has stopped for us, but it keeps on marching in the world around us.
The next day our goal was to make it to Destin Florida so we headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. It was cool with a so-so breeze, not much in the way of waves, so we motor-sailed. The day was pretty uneventful until we got to Destin.
As we approached the harbor mouth we talked to a couple of marinas about staying the night. They said that the last hurricane had pushed a sand bar across the mouth of the channel where they were all located and the depth was 6 foot max. They suggested that we come into the harbor and anchor at the west end near the highway bridge.
We were a little worried about entering the harbor itself since the guide book we were using claimed that the sand bars at the harbor mouth shift on a regular basis and that the buoys aren’t moved all the time. Sounds just like our mast misadventure back near Tampa but this time there were only 1-2 foot waves instead of the 3-4 foot waves that we had back then.
We motored slowly into the harbor mouth without incident and found our anchorage. We were about 150’ from a bridge with 30 foot clearance and just around the corner from the ocean. We dropped 2 anchors each facing a different direction since the tides and currents going in and out ran as high as 3 knots in either direction. We didn‘t want to wake up with the boat at sea or against a bridge.
We also set the anchor drag alarm on the chart plotter for 75’. If the GPS in the Garmin detects that we have moved more that 75’ it will set off an alarm.
I went to Radio Shack to pick up a replacement TV antenna since our previous one fell apart. It picks up both standard TV and the new HD signals. HD is awesome, it can be further off target than the regular channels with amazing clarity.
We took Ziggy to the beach so he could do his thing and he went absolutely nuts. Destin has the whitest beaches that I have ever seen. The sand was incredibly fine and flew around him as he ran and cut in tight circles. He was acting the same way he did when he used to play in the snow back in Illinois.
The next morning we took off heading further west along the Florida panhandle the date was November 25th, it was 2 days until Thanksgiving. It had dawned on us a couple of day before that we had first sailed into Florida on October 28th, we had been in Florida for a month and wanted out.
We joked about calling the consulate so they could help us get out or confessing to a crime in another state so we could get extradited. But this wasn’t funny anymore.
We had originally planned on getting to Corpus Christi on December 1st and yes that is in 2008. We thought this was very do-able since sailing straight thru at 6 knots would take 2 weeks. But with less than a week left on our original deadline we had about 800 miles left to go……. It wasn’t going to happen.
Our goal for today was to get out of Florida and into Alabama, nothing personal all you Floridians, but we wanted to get done.
We started motoring and a couple of hours later we were joined by a family of dolphins who stayed with us for a good half hour. The water here was clearer than anywhere else we had seen, and maybe even clearer than in the Caribbean, so we could see the dolphins when they would dive down to 20 feet or so.
Clear water and a Pod of Dolphins

There was mom and dad and 2 smaller ones that seemed to swim as fast as and jump as high as their parents, it was incredibly entertaining.
We motored westward and entered the ICW at Santa Rosa Island and continued on about 15 miles to a small lake and up to what had been a marina complex but after a hurricane a few years back was only a restaurant and bar. There was no current in this stretch so we anchored at the end of where the docks had been feeling comfortable about where we were parked for the night.
The restaurant was called Pirates Cove and was a cool looking building with metal siding and roof. It had a large screened in seating area on one side and had the look of a great summertime party place. The sign on the front door said that they were closed for the Thanksgiving weekend but we had read on their website that they were having a community potluck Thanksgiving dinner that evening.
Some hippy looking guy in his mid 20’s was sitting on an old ugly sailboat on which he appeared to be living. We talked to him and asked about the restaurant, he said that it was closed for the holiday. I asked him about his boat and he said that it was only about 15 years old and that it was a custom built boat off the lines of a wooden boat. Looking closely at the boat you could see the weave of the heavy fiberglass that it was made of, it was some of the worst fiberglass work I had ever seen.
Looking into the boat, it was full of clothes and other junk with a small area cleared on one of the bunks to sleep on, it was kind of like a nest or something. Hard to believe that someone was living like this but it takes all kinds.
It was about 4:30 so we went back to the boat and hung out waiting to see if anyone showed up. About 6:00 we noticed a handful of cars parked by the restaurant so I went up to see what was up. Walking into the bar there was about 20 people chatting, I walked up and asked who was in charge. I was informed that the owner was in the kitchen and they pointed past the bar where I saw the kitchen.
There were 2 men there, one heavyset younger guy and a trim old guy with longer white hair and a full white beard. I walked in, introduced myself and told them that Julie and I had been on the road for 6 weeks and would like to join them for Thanksgiving dinner.
I must’ve sounded pretty pathetic because the skinny guy with the Santa Claus hairdo stepped forward, gave me a big hug and said that they would be glad to have us join them. I thanked them and told them we would be back in a little bit with mashed potatoes, since that was the only thing we had enough of for the potluck.
We showed up 20 minutes later with our pot of mashed potatoes made of 4 packets of seasoned instant mashed potatoes and were welcomed by quite a few people in the group.
The party was underway so we got in the end of the buffet line and filled our plates with turkey, ham, sausage, vegetables with melted cheese, all sorts of potatoes with melted cheese and more dishes with cheese. You gotta love the south, they’ve yet to embrace healthy eating at the cost of flavor.
With our plates full we wandered out to the screened in porch and sat at a table that happened to be next to “Santa Claus”.
We talked as we ate and found out that Santa and Mrs. Claus had lived on a sailboat in the Caribbean, much of the time on a boat without an engine, living off of the fruits of the sea and land. They lived this nomadic lifestyle for almost 20 years, but ended up in Alabama 10 years ago and started building small wooden boats for a living.
The next morning we awoke feeling a little more content and headed down the ICW for Mobile Bay. Mobile Bay is pretty good sized, 10 miles or so across and 30 miles long, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico up to Mobile. There is some ship traffic running north and south in channels that run thru the bay which aside from the channels is only about 5 feet deep. The bay has dozens of oil and natural gas rigs dotting the horizon.
After motoring east thru Mobile Bay we entered Mississippi sound which is a body of water defined by the coast of Alabama and Mississippi to the north and a string of islands to the south. Beyond these islands was the Gulf of Mexico. We left Alabama and entered Mississippi, this was the shortest time we had spent in any state. We were very happy to have another state under our keel.
There were no marinas on this stretch of our journey and we hadn’t picked an anchorage for the night since we were not sure how far we would get due to the weather. Now we were looking for a safe place to anchor for the night. The winds were out of the south so our thought was to anchor on the north side of one of the barrier islands that defined Mississippi sound. Looking at the chart plotter, Google Earth and internet searches we decided to tuck in behind the end of Horn Island. It was the tallest island around and long enough to give us some shelter from the winds and waves coming in off of the Gulf.
We dropped anchor and both of us jumped in the dinghy with Ziggy to go ashore for a bit. The island was about ½ mile wide and about 10 miles long, with the highest point, a dune, about 40 feet tall.
Notice Ziggy, our 70lb mutt to the left in the picture.
We landed near a huge channel marker that was sitting on the beach about 70 feet from the water. It was about 30’ tall overall and the lower portion was about 15’ across and it had to weigh several tons. It must have broken loose and washed ashore during a hurricane to get something that big that far ashore.
We goofed off for a while and headed back to the boat before sunset, we ate well and slept well that night.