Houma Supposed to Turn Around?

So I just found out my husband is a liar. When we entered the Intracoastal Waterway, he assured me we had left the Mississippi River permanently behind us. Well, plans change and, as it turns out, we will be heading into that blasted river once again, albeit for a very short time.

He probably didn’t mean to get my hopes up. I’m sure he was just looking out for my mental stability after we almost backed into that barge. We had exited off the Ole Miss into the Atchafalaya River and maneuvered to Morgan City to get fuel. We hadn’t had an opportunity for fuel for about 300 miles. We had been warned there was no fuel and that if you were careful you might have to beg for some off of a barge. We actually did well and weren’t in dire straits. Still we filled up. Our bigger issue was water. We had drinking water, but for some reason ran out of water for dishes and showers. We had tested our water tanks before we left and found we could go 10 days before we ran out. Why we ran out after only four is still a mystery. It was just the two of us and we tolerated each other’s stench fairly well.  I wouldn’t waiver, however, on being able to brush my teeth and wash my face twice daily. I went into this life saying I didn’t want it to be like camping and here it was…just like camping. But things happen and if we’ve learned anything, we know we have to be flexible and go with the flow (or lack thereof). It felt great when I finally got to wash my hair again! I need to take a moment to pat myself on the back at the docking for fuel. It was flawless. Mostly due to Rick’s super ability to drive right up to the pier; but I was able to jump off without harming myself (for once) and tied off quickly. I felt like a true sailor that day.

Once we got our fuel and water, we went across the river to Berwick and tied up for the night. This was a free city dock so no electric. But we were able to get a good night sleep and gather our wits. Because this area was so overrun with commercial traffic and the convergence of the river, waterway and other various channels, everybody on the water was required to “check in” and be directed by one source. Sort of an air traffic controller for the water. It was helpful to us because it was a bit nerve-wracking making our way through all those barges. Once we were ready to leave, we had to wait for a train whose tracks were on a bridge that needed to be raised for us. Then we were home free.

We made our way to Houma, LA and their Downtown Marina. Although they have slips, none were big enough for us so our spot was beside a long dock. They had both water and electric hook-ups for a mere $25/night. We sideled up to the pump out area. We’d been getting worried our tanks would be full soon, so were glad to be able to do the pump out. Our tanks are on the port (left) side of the boat. When we pulled in, the pump out station was on our starboard (right) side. We attempted to go over the bow of the boat with the pump out hose but it wouldn’t reach. We had to turn around so we were facing the entrance to the wharf.

Rick was worried the width of the wharf was too narrow for us to turn around. He devised a plan to tie a rope on the starboard side of the bow and tie it to the dock. Then he would use the engines to push the stern (back) out and spin it around so we wouldn’t hit the opposite side of the wharf. I was sure this was a baaaaaaad idea. The bow pulpit would hit against the pilings on the dock for sure, I argued. He insisted it wouldn’t so we gave it a try. It’s not often I get to say this when we have differing opinions, but I was right—it wasn’t going to work. So we regrouped. Rick handed me the hand held radio and we checked communication with each other on channel 68. We could talk with each other without others listening in. He was going to back out of the wharf, around the other docked boat, and back into the waterway. From there he’d basically do a three-point turn and back into the wharf, around the other boat and back into the spot facing out. I had to untie the line, push off, and use the radio as needed for any unforeseen issues.

Of course I was a dork with the hand held radio. I tried holding it as I untied the lines. Didn’t work. I tried using the little tie-loop-thingy to dangle it from my wrist. Nope, I was banging it into everything. I was so frazzled. Finally, I called Rick to tell him the hand held was a pain in my ass. “Well set it down,” says he. Oh. Yeah. Okay. Got him untied. Pushed off. He easily maneuvered around the other boat and was heading out. From the corner of my eye I see a barge converging on him. I broke into a run, waving my arms, SCREAMING at the top of my lungs, “STOP! There’s a barge! STOP!” I realized he couldn’t hear me—the blasted hand held was still on the ground. I began to run in the opposite direction toward the hand held. At this point the kids playing on the nearby playground and their parents were all watching. I’m sure the parents were whispering to the kids to stay away from the crazy lady. I grabbed the hand held. In my panic I couldn’t find the button I needed. I glanced up and saw Rick headed toward me as I saw the barge slip past behind him. He was safe. We weren’t turned around, but he was safe. Phew. The hand held crackled to life as Rick said, “Screw it. I’m in the middle of the channel I’m just going to spin it. Watch to see I don’t hit the pier.” And just like downtown as they say, he spun it around and backed up to the pier where I grabbed it and tied it off.

Once we pumped out we needed to move further down so others could get to the pump out, if needed. It wasn’t far, so we decide to walk it down rather than restarting the engines. For a 50,000-pound boat It moves fairly easily and we had zero problems. The area was lovely. The marina sits in the middle of a park (and they even have swings—yay!). Within walking distance, we had a laundromat, mini-mart, restaurants, and a hospital (just in case). The Intracoastal Waterway, where we almost collided with the barge is busy with tugs pushing their loads around the clock and the park is continually filled with people enjoying it.

We still want to spend some time in New Orleans and we would like to land in a working marina to have the water tank checked. So, as I said previously, our plans, they are a changin’. You’ll know when I know.

I Haven’t the Foggiest Idea

“I’m going back out and down the river to find a place to anchor.”

“Why? We need to be in the cove,” I argued.

“I CAN’T SEE THROUGH THE FOG. I AM TOTALLY TURNED AROUND FROM THE EDDYS AND THE NAVIGATION SYSTEM SAYS WE’RE ON LAND. I DIDN’T WANT TO WORRY YOU, BUT THIS CHANNEL IS TOO NARROW TO DO BLIND.’

I’ve always admired the way Rick goes about things. He learns all he can and then just does it. Nothing fazes the man. Total opposite of me. When he shouted these things to me, I was stunned. He was totally shaken. Where does this leave us?

As we headed down river, the tension inside the aft deck was as thick as the fog surrounding us. You literally could not see a yard in front of us. Thank God I let Rick talk me into the AIS (Automatic Identification System). I like to exaggerate a bit in my writing, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that system and Rick saved our lives. Now, Rick will tell you he was just worried about smashing the boat or running aground, not anything life threatening. But I’m here to tell you, if he hadn’t done what he did through our whole cruise yesterday, we could have had a real tragedy. He’s my hero. (Cue sappy music here.)

Let me start at the beginning. The day began with high hopes.  We were 35 miles from our departure point to leave the Mississippi (yay!).  It was partly cloudy with chance of rain in the forecast until noon.  With thunderstorms on the radar for tomorrow, we decided to risk a little rain now to get to our next stop early. The anchor came up easily and by 6:45 a.m. we were underway.

Light to moderate rain began about 9:00 am.  No big deal, we have windshield wipers.  Fog started developing along the banks.  Possibly a result of the rain and river water temperatures. Who knows? It wasn’t too bad.  Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. We should have taken a cue from the barges upriver who were all along the bank waiting. We didn’t connect why until later. For now, we were glad we didn’t have anyone in our way. Rain became a little heavier about 9:30 a.m. and the fog seemed to be dissipating.  Unfortunately, that didn’t last.  By 10:00 a.m., visibility was down to less than a half mile. The AIS showed a multitude of barges near us and we were relying on the navigation software to stay in the channel.

By 10:30 we were at the Old River entrance. It was a sharp turn into a narrow channel, then a short distance to our destination.  Using the navigation and radar, Rick attempted to make the turn and keep in the channel center. Our draft is 4-1/2 feet and we had been told we needed to stay in the center or risk running aground. Were we in the center? The navigation system had us on land. The current was swift and an eddy swirled us around. Where were we? Rick could not see the shoreline to get his bearings. At one point the fog cleared just enough to show we were headed directly for the shore about 100 yards away.  We kept getting swung around; it appeared momentarily that Rick had lost control.  Instinct told him to advance the throttles so our heading would properly register on the navigation display; we had been going too slowly for the nav system.

That’s when I learned what was really happening and we had the above discussion. Rick successfully edged us out of the channel and back onto the Mississippi. We went about a mile downriver. In good conditions, its not easy to find a suitable stopping point along this river and these weren’t good conditions. Relying on the nav system again, he maneuvered just inside the red buoy line and we dropped the anchor. Every commercial tow we could see on our AIS was doing the same thing, so we felt safe for now.

But mother nature wasn’t finished with us yet. While we waited, the sun set. Now we were in the dark and fog. Thunderstorms were on the way by 9:00 p.m. We unplugged all our electronic things—TVs, computer and the like. We couldn’t turn off the nav system though or the radio—we needed to know when (if) commercial traffic started to move. If we couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see us. The tugs got anxious and began moving. So Rick set his alarm for every 30 minutes in case we fell asleep. We sat vigil. He was able to track the movement of those tugs. When they headed our way, he contacted them to give our location, then he’d watch for them. Or more accurately, wait to hear them—we couldn’t see them. News of our location spread rapidly on the radio and all the tugs were great about giving a wide berth.

Rick sent me to bed around 11 (he insisted there was no point to us both staying up), but I couldn’t sleep. I just laid there listening to the crackle of the radio and his calls to the tugs. I also compulsively checked the Weather Channel radar for those thunderstorms. The predictions changed as rapidly as I checked them.  The thunderstorms were cropping up around us but not traveling over us. I was glad, but it really just delayed the inevitable, since the prediction would just be pushed back a few hours.

By morning, we groggily peered out into the vast fog. It hadn’t changed. I felt a little less vulnerable since we had the light of day, but that was really an illusion since those commercial boats couldn’t see us any better than at night. The thunderstorms were still looming but had not hit us yet.

At several points things were clearing up. We hesitated to move yet since we could see our turn off was still shrouded in fog. Ten minutes later we were in white out conditions again and were glad we hadn’t pulled anchor. Finally, we took a chance and headed out. We were being watched over. We made the turn, got through the channel into the lake, and dropped anchor just before the thunderstorms hit.

This cove is protected basically on all sides (besides the narrow entrance). We feel safe enough to shut off the electronics and go to bed tonight. I’m grateful. Tomorrow we enter onto our final river. The Intracoastal Waterway isn’t far behind.

I Never Did Like The Name Eddie

I don’t like driving. But what I find is as I get older, I dislike being the passenger as well. I spend my time planning out what to do when we crash. If I’m looking out the front window and the car in front of us brakes, regardless of how far away it is, I’m thinking, “why isn’t he (the driver) breaking? Doesn’t he see the brake lights in front of us?” As we get closer to the back of the car, I stomp my foot down as if I can brake from my side of the car. I may even say, “brake, brake, brake!” while I’m at it. This drives Rick nuts. I’m always scaring the crap out of him.

So to keep my and his sanity, I have to trick myself. You’ll think I’m nuts, but if I look out the side window at the side of the road I don’t get anxious. I’m not seeing the brake lights. So I’m okay. Then I have total trust in the driver. Obviously, this only works if there isn’t another lane of traffic out the side window. In that case, I have to read or do something on my phone. After all, those people next to us might change lanes into us.

I tell you all this because as we headed down river in earnest yesterday, we came across things we hadn’t dealt with prior and it made me “passenger seat looking out the front window” nervous. By now the wake coming off the frequent barges is not noticeable to us. We are used to it. It’s old hat. The Christmas tree has been secured. No worries. But there are these eddies—essentially whirlpools—that crop up on a regular basis. The first one was just as Rick had steered around a barge. It took him by surprise. He stood up so fast the chair flew back. That caught my attention and I involuntarily stood up and look at him. With is back to me I saw him crank the wheel right. A big over-emphasized turn of the wheel. What the…? I made the mistake of looking out the window. The boat was going the wrong direction and a panic flew into my chest. Before I could react he cranked the wheel left and we righted our direction. A few more adjustments and we were back in the safe zone, plodding down the river at which point he explained the eddy to me. He learned very quickly that you cannot escape the eddy, but you can increase your speed to power through it a little less hectically.

Nonetheless, since the incident, I have reverted using my car trick pretty much the entire time we are moving. You don’t really see the eddy until you are in the eddy. It’s a little more difficult to trick myself since there are windows and perils in all directions. So I’ve taken up embroidery again. I found an as yet started baby bib and since we have a grandchild on the way, decided to work on it. I don’t have a lot of patience for that sort of thing. In the past, something like that would take me months to complete. Not while I’m on the river! Four days. That’s it. Four. I finished today, so what am I going to do tomorrow? I’ll worry that out in bed tonight while I’m wide awake. (Joking. I actually sleep really well when we’re anchored.)

The good news is the lock at Lake Pontchartrain is still under repairs with no idea of when it will re-open. That means we will soon be off this Godforsaken river and onto a new, hopefully more friendly one. We have a short day tomorrow to what many have said is the best anchorage on the river. There we will wait out a line of thunderstorms (oh, yay), then make our way to the Atchafalaya River.  Fingers crossed its eddy-less. As a side note, Rick tells me we’ll have bragging rights since not many pleasure crafts make the trip we did on the Mississippi. We are now the experts. Lord help us all.

 

The Big River Cruise

We’ve decided to leave tomorrow out of Greenville, MS. The weather looks good and we’re anxious for warmer weather. Plus, at $2.00/ft., the overnight fee is crazy. We walked to the library today to plot our anchorages for the 4-5 day trip to New Orleans. We couldn’t go much further since there are no cabs, no public transportation, and no Uber here. So here’s the plan for our next leg.

Saturday, December 10: Leave Greenville, MS heading down river. We hope to make it about 100 miles to the Race Track Towhead our first day. It is just south of Vicksburg, MS.

Sunday, December 11: Continue to Fitz Island, about 30 miles south of Natchez, MS.

Monday, December 12: Continue to Profit Island, about 10 miles north of Baton Rouge, LA. We may stop at Baton Rouge Harbor to anchor instead depending on the day’s events.

Tuesday, December 13 (Happy Birthday, Nancy Cooper!): Continue to Plaquemine Point, about 40 miles south of Baton Rouge, LA.

Wednesday, December 14: Continue to or destination for this leg: New Orleans, LA.

 

Things may change based on weather conditions and our fancy. We have quite a few other anchorages picked out along the way in case we need them, but we’d really like to stick to this schedule.

Based on our fuel consumption thus far, we will burn approximately 240 gallons of our 400 stored to run the engines (not taking into account we are moving with the current). The generator uses 1.4 gallons/hour, so we could run it all day and night (which we never do) and still have fuel to spare. So we’re feeling quite confident, which of course, can only bring trouble. The sage continues…

When The 8-Track in Your Mind is Playing Head Games With You

We woke up this morning the furthest down river that we’d been with Nautical Dreamer. Today was going to be scary and exhilarating. We were to merge into the White River and take that into the Mississippi River. We’d gotten an overabundance of sage advice on tackling the big river. It had made me leery but also excited. Our stop for tonight would be the Greenville Yacht Club in Greenville, MS. After that, there are no services until New Orleans. This means we will be “pulling over” to drop anchor for the night. There aren’t a lot of safe harbors either so that’s a looming worry. But for tonight, we would be holed up in a marina.

Dead ahead of us as we approach the Mississippi was a barge. It looked as though it was blocking our path but as we got closer, the full expanse of the river lay out before us. There was plenty of room for both of us. Once the barge passed we saw the other side of the river and half expected a sign that said “Left or Right Turn Only.” We went to the right.

The rivers converging, coupled with the wake from the barge left us rockin’ and rollin’. I grabbed the Christmas tree just before it toppled. It surprised me how bouncy our big boat was going over that mess. The 8-track in my head kept replaying “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  You know, “Fellas it’s too tough to feed ‘ya. Fellas it’s been good to know ‘ya.” *Sigh.*

It died down, but there were regular barges kicking up wake. Eventually I had to use a bungie cord to anchor the Christmas tree. Once we got into a groove my 8-track changed to “Old Man River.” I know its old timey but it fits. At least according to my brain. At one point, Rick said he saw deer in the river. What? No way! He hadn’t slept well the night before and I thought maybe he was getting delusional from the lack of sleep. But no. There were four deer, their heads and antlers sticking majestically out of the water. I can’t imagine why they felt the need to cross the river, but there you have it.

We made great time and turned into the harbor earlier than expected. It was littered with barges and tugs. I mean EVERYWHERE. At one point, we had to thread a needle to get between two expansive masses of barges. The area was completely industrial and not in keeping with the vision in my head of “going down river.”

We finally made it to the Greenville Yacht Club. We pulled up along the transient docks and ungracefully tied up. There was not a sole in the marina at 3 p.m. So no one came to help us or give us the skinny on the electric and water. The cost at this place was exorbitant so you would think a little assistance would be in order. Rick scoped things out and realized they didn’t have the electric we needed—it was further down. So we had to move the boat. I stayed on land to grab lines once he came in. The wind was whipping, stinging my eyes and blowing so hard into my ears I thought someone must be using a drill on my ear drum. It reminded me of when I used to take the train into Chicago for work. The wind would be whipping so bad on that train platform. Because of the currents and wind, Rick had to make a couple passes before I could reach the rope. I was pretty proud of getting that rope and quickly tying it off. It was one of the more graceful moves I had with that monster.

So we are safe, but not very happy. This “yacht club” is a dump. It will serve its purpose for the next two nights when the temperature is to drop into the low 20’s. Then we will fill our fuel tanks and head on down to warmer climes. I cannot wait. This cold weather is not for the faint of heart or for me, for that matter.

So Long, Little Rock!

So Long, Little Rock!

We’re finally getting out of Little Rock (we hope). Keep us in your thoughts. After all, we’ve tried to leave several times already. Here’s our planned itinerary to Greenville, MS where we will pick up the Mississippi River.

Tuesday, December 6: Head down the Arkansas River to either Pine Bluff, AR or Merrisach Lake (Dumas, AR), depending on our luck in getting through the locks.

Wednesday, December 7: Continue down the Arkansas River, anchoring out (if we only get to Pine Bluff on day one) or to Greenville, MS (if we stop at Dumas on day one).

Thursday, December 8-9: Check out Greenville, MS.

The weather is supposed to be quite cold and rainy at times. Hopefully we will out run the rain (we are ready for some sunshine and warmth).

The next leg will be down the Mississippi. I will post once we’ve had our fill of Greenville.

Stay tuned!