Thursday, October 30, 2014

Day 2-350 to Lake Charles and L'Auberge Casino

           "Honey, I think that we should get started about 5:30 am tomorrow." Trust me that these are scary words, but tomorrow is a difficult day as far as scheduling goes. We have a bridge closed from 3-5:00 pm and a lock closure for construction from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm to deal with in a day where we hope to travel 91.9 miles. It is an ambitious schedule, but we had several "back up" anchorages in case the "best case" scenario did not work. The worst case scenario was that we would be delayed and anchor out. The best case scenario was that we would be playing slot machines at L'Auberge Casino and Resort in Lake Charles. Somehow we both managed to sleep well in spite of thoughts of juggling schedules to adjust for possible or real delays....
     We departed the fuel dock/marina at Intracoastal City at 5:30 am. This was an hour or so before sunrise, and you can consider yourself lucky that I did not insert a blank/black slide to show the sky... We had a short 3.4 mile trip to the Leland Bowman Lock. There was some light most of the way from several businesses along the waterway, but there was also a (very low) patchy fog. On the flybridge we were basically above the fog and could see the banks of the waterway through the darkness. Well, going slowly with aid of the chartplotter, AIS and radar, we felt safe. We arrived at the lock, which is a lock designed to prevent salt water intrusion into coastal (fresh water) marsh lands. As we arrived, the gate opened, and we crept forward slowly as the gate closed behind us. Then, almost immediately, the gate in front of us opened. Thus, we never really stopped moving nor did we have to tie up. So, we cleared the lock at 6:09 am, and at that point we were still good to go for our most optimistic day.
     At that point we had 68.1 miles to go in 9 hours to get to a pontoon bridge before it closed at 3:00 pm for 2 hours. However, it was still dark with some scattered fog so progress remained slow. By about 7:30 am the fog had mostly burned off, and we were able to go at our normal cruising speed. A quick calculation showed that if we had no prolonged adverse tidal currents that we should reach the pontoon bridge about 2:30 pm.
      It was about at this point that we learned another new towboat term. The picture at the right shows at towboat with a hydraulic helm station that goes up/down depending upon the height of the barge. We have seen plenty of these, but we had never heard them referred to as a "jack up" towboat. I hope that this little tidbit of knowledge totally makes your day (ha, ha).
     At this point, the Admiral took the controls so that I could take a nap. It had been a busy and somewhat tense trip so far, but I managed a nice 1.5 hours of sleep. We managed to keep our average speed at just over 8 mph in spite of some adverse as well as friendly currents.
      We did not have a lot of time to take pictures today since we were pretty busy. However, I did get another photo of a "spool" on a barge. ha ah.

      Along the Gulf Coast, the tows "chat" on VHF channel 13, and you talk with locks and bridges on channel 14. Everyone is also required by law to monitor channel 16, which is the official distress channel. It is easy to set the VHF to scan all three channels, but then you hear almost constant chatter on the radio. Trust me that I have more than once considered just shutting it all off for some peace and quiet, but...

     We reached the Grand Lake Bridge at about 2:30 pm and passed through with no delay. It was one of the classic bridges which is really a barge that is hinged on one corner. Cables pull the bridge open and closed. It is a fascinating operation to watch. There used to be quite a few of these in Texas, but more of them are replaced by high, fixed bridges every year. No doubt the local residents appreciate not having the (5 or 10 minute) delays, and I am sure that there is a certain safety factor in the case of emergencies. However, for the sake of progress, we are losing a bit of history ever time that one of these is replaced.
     Now, after clearing the pontoon bridge, the last real obstacle is the lock closure. We arrived at the Calcaseau Lock at about 3:00 pm, which was two hours before the lock was supposed to open. We had been passing a few east bound tows, but we did not think too much about it. Tows often pull into the bank for rest periods, etc. However, when we arrived at the lock, there was no line. There was one west bound tow in the lock ahead of us. However, we were "next" in line. It turns out that the repairs involved replacing "bumper boards" on the approach wall into the lock. Tows are often blown about as they attempt to ease into the lock. The lock walls outside on the approach are designed to funnel the tow into the lock. Evidently, the boards are designed to be somewhat sacrificial, which means that after enough of them get broken, they must be replaced. Today, the workmen on our approach side were working on the top two rows, and they were standing on top of the walls to do this. For boards lower down, they need to work from a barge, and the barge blocks the lock entrance. So, "Lucky Us" as the boat name implies. We were able to transit the lock without even tying up.

       The picture at the right shows the tows that were lined up at the other side of the lock. This is more like what we had been expecting when we had arrived at the other (east) side of the lock.

     So we thanked our lucky stars and proceeded on for 12 miles to Lake Charles, LA.

     Lake Charles is another very busy oil port on the Gulf Coast. The picture at the left shows one of several tankers that we passed on the way to Lake Charles.

      There are also several refineries that we go past, and there are more just up river and closer to the city of Lake Charles.

     When we stayed in Lake Charles on our way east to start the Loop, there was a lot of construction going on next door to the L'Auberge Casino where we have always stayed when in Lake Charles. In the photo at the  right there are now two casinos at this location. The L'Auberge is the one just left of center, and it appears smaller since it is a little further away. The closer one, which appears larger, is the new Golden Nugget Casino and Hotel. The new Golden Nugget looks like it is very close to being finished. However, from what we could see there is no marina (yet?).

     We were the only boat in the marina so we had our choice of docks. After checking into the hotel (or marina), we had a very nice dinner at the Jack Daniel's Restaurant.  What a day! We had a lovely dinner and were back on the boat before 8:00 pm. In our worst case scenario, we would probably not have arrived at the marina before 8:30 pm at the earliest (or at an anchorage).  We are going to stay here for at least two nights so tomorrow I will be sleeping in....

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Day 2-349 to Intracoastal City, LA

     We departed the City Dock at Morgan City at 7:50 am and headed for Intracoastal City, which is a distance of 64.9 miles west on the waterway. The picture at the right shows Lucky Us at the City Dock in at night, but no we did not leave when this picture was taken. We actually left a few minutes later when the Sun was more or less already up... Our first move was to go down river two miles and pass under the same railroad bridge that we passed through when we arrived yesterday. Once again, the bridge was in the open position. Then we heard the most amazing call over the VHF radio: "Attention all stations. Coast Guard Houston-Galveston Sector,"  repeats, etc. One more sign that we are getting closer to home. We did not know it, but the Houston-Galveston Sector goes as far east as Intracoastal City, LA.
      The day was the same as many others in the waterway in many respects, but what did stand out was the large amount of barge traffic. We passed 8 barges going in our direction. Each time we pass a barge, it takes about 15 minutes, and of course, sometimes we also have to wait for oncoming barges to pass or for a barge to pass a bend in the waterway.  The 15 minutes starts when we have gotten to within 200 feet and call the barge to request a pass and have them suggest a side to pass on. Then at a speed differential of about 2 mph or less we start the pass. It is kind of like watching grass grow as we are only going a couple of feet per second faster. We also passed at least 2 dozen tows going in the opposite direction.
      We also passed a drilling barge that had either just come out of or was about to go into a small cut on the side of the waterway. We have passed many of these that were in transit or in storage, but seeing one set up to drill was a first. One of the reasons for the seemingly higher barge traffic was all of the oil production. We went by several (small?) oil fields that had small tank farms along the waterway. They were probably small fields that could not justify the expense of a pipeline.
      We passed another area that I nicknamed "jack up city" because of the large number of jack up barges that were stored there. There must have been a road nearby, but otherwise we were seemingly out in the middle of no where. The barges all had a good sized crane and could operate in perhaps 100 feet of water, which might imply the shallow shore off the coast.

      The last "different" barge was the "spool". Way back when I was in grad school, one of the prized items of furniture in any single guys apartment was the "spool". An old, empty wire spool could often be had for free, and with a diameter of about 4 feet it filled up a lot of space in an otherwise empty living space (e.g. a couch , chair and a "spool"). The spool served for eating, cards, sitting, etc. Of course, a spool this big (picture at left) would not fit in a small apartment. However, I would like to have a house big enough to comfortably fit this spool in the living room.
      Despite a general lack of forested areas today, there was an abundance of eagles (i.e. more than 10). It is kind of like a "Chinese fire drill" when the Admiral spots and eagle. She tries to reach for both the binoculars and the big camera at the same time. Of course, they are never in the same place so the drill begins...

     The last item on the cool view list for today was the Weeks Island Salt Dome. I had not been paying attention, but a sign for Weeks Island helped jog the old memory. We had stayed 12 miles up a channel at Delcambre, LA for several days on the trip out. At that time we did a lot of touring, and we had no plans to go 12 miles out of our way (and back) on our trip home. Weeks Island is another salt dome like Avery Island near Delcambre. Likewise, it is also a low, flat topped island that is heavily forested. So, in spite of the low relief the islands show up from a long distance away. The picture at the left shows the shipping terminal for the salt that is mined here. Admittedly, this is not a scenic view, but it serves as a reminder of the large volume of salt that is mined here annually. There is also oil and gas produced from up turned beds around the dome, but that product is probably shipped via pipeline.
      We reached our destination a little after 4 pm. We stayed on the wall at a fuel stop for tugs, towboats and work boats. They were already closed for the day when we arrived, but since it is a commercial oriented facility, they open at 6:00 am when the work boats begin to head out. There are literally no other amenities here. Not even a gas station. So, we had dinner on board and enjoyed excellent satellite TV reception. I did not take a picture of the docking area since I thought that we would stop for fuel on our way out in the morning. If you are thinking ahead, the odds are that there will be no picture tomorrow either. Hint: I'm betting that the Admiral is going to "suggest" a departure before 6:00 am since tomorrow is a potentially very long day.... Stay tuned.

Day 2-348 to Morgan City, LA

     When we arrived yesterday, I mentioned that there is a rather nice city park around the marina walls. There is even art on one of the large concrete bridge supports. The park was rather deserted when we left, but the fishermen had already started to take up their positions along the marina walls.
      After the very long day yesterday, we departed Houma at the respectable time of 9:35 am. Wow, the sun was already up when I got up this morning, and we had a relaxed departure and trip through the city. The picture at the right shows the waterway as it passes the end of the city marina. As you can see, the waterway is narrow as it passes through Houma, and there are lots of homes as well as commercial areas in town. Thus, we had a no wake speed for the first few miles as we had most of the town to traverse before we could get up to cruising speed.
     Our trip today was 38.4 miles to Morgan City, Louisiana in gorgeous weather. Our first and only lock for the day was after 35.6 miles so we settled in to enjoy the views. One of the most interesting places was a shipyard that seemed to be mass producing platforms. To my untrained eye, I can count about 9 small platforms in just this one picture. The small platforms are probably destined for shallow coastal areas, and they would be carried by barge to their final location.
      The platform would then be lifted into position by a large barge mounted crane. Speaking of heavy lift cranes, we also passed several under construction. This one is probably bigger than the one necessary to lift the small platforms above into position.

      We also passed through a lot of coastal wetlands today. Since we reached Mobile, I have mentioned seeing several familiar sights now that we are back on the Gulf Coast. I would also add Spanish Moss growing on Cypress trees to my list of old, familiar faces. We passed through quite a lot of this kind of cypress swamp today. However, the Admiral is still disappointed that she has not seen an alligator yet, and "yet" is the operative word here. They are around, but we just have not seen one yet...
     Today could also be subtitled as "The Day of the Eagle". We definitely saw more than 15 Bald Eagles today. They must have been enjoying the weather (or were just plain hungry) since they were often flying over the waterway, and on several occasions we would see one swoop down to catch an unsuspecting fish. I am far from being an avid (official) bird watcher, but I really could spend hours watching these majestic creatures.  This first picture shows a golden eagle flying just above the water.
     I could go on and on with my own personal list of adjectives to describe these birds, but I will save you from that. So, here is one more of my favorites from today. Also, judging from the number of pictures that the Admiral took of the eagles, it would be very safe to say that she is a fan too. This picture shows a bald eagle soaring above.

      We did have about a 30 minute wait at the Bayou Boeuf Lock. The locks in this portion of the waterway are to prevent salt water intrusion into large areas of fresh water swamp or wetlands. The waterway is large in cross sectional area compared to the many small streams that naturally drain these areas. Thus, incoming tides and storm surge could introduce large volumes of salt water. I presume that the salt water would disrupt the delicate ecosystem. Depending on the height of the salt water on one side relative to the fresh water, the gates may be open or only have a drop/rise of a foot or less. The Corps of Engineers posts the water levels several times a day so that  with knowledge of the local tides you can plan ahead a little. When we arrived at the lock, there was a large, fully loaded tow just entering the lock. As soon as the gates were closed behind him, the other gates opened for him to exit. In our case, we were allowed to pass through with both gates open. Why the difference? The tows, especially when fully loaded, push a lot of water around as they pass. We can see this effect when we try to pass a tow. As soon as we pull out to pass, we start to slow down. We do not speed up again until we are more than a hundred feet past the tow. Thus, the gates were closed for the tow so that he did not push several lock volumes of water through the lock as he "pushed' through the lock. With our minuscule cross sectional area compared to the tow, we were simply allowed to pass through the open gates. Anyway, this whole process added only about 35 minutes to our trip.
      The picture at the right was our vies as we turned up river to head to down town Morgan City at about 3:05 pm. We only had to pass through the first (railroad) bridge and fortunately it was in the up position. As we passed through the railroad bridge, our view off to the west (left) included this rather picturesque red lighthouse. The channel was fairly busy but quite wide. The downtown area is effectively hidden behind a high concrete flood barrier, but we managed to dock opposite a gate through the wall. It was Homecoming weekend, and there were several large family groups overflowing outside two restaurants so there was plenty of activity going on.
      We headed off about 4:30 pm for a brief walking tour with the idea of ending up at the "Latin Corner" about two blocks from Lucky Us. Inside the restaurant, the scene was quite interesting. If you can imagine a Cuban restaurant preparing for their annual Halloween party, then you are on the right track. Otherwise, I am afraid that my vocabulary is far too limited to adequately describe the scene...

      The picture at the left shows Lucky Us brightly lit by the lights at the city dock. There were no other pleasure craft there, but we did have five small (coastal) shrimp boats as neighbors. With full stomachs and still recovering from the long day yesterday, it was once again a night when the lights on Lucky Us were out quite early...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Day 2-347 to Houma, LA

     We left the "Big Easy" at (what else) 7:10 am, and of course, our first picture (at right) is of a sunrise across the river from the marina. The good news was that the weather was cool but the sky was almost cloudless. We had 5 bridges in the first 4 miles, including 2 that needed to be raised before we could pass through. The trip for today was "only" 68.6 miles, but it included very busy locks on both sides of the Mississippi River, which can involve long waits.

      The picture at the left shows our view back towards the marina as we departed. The marina has served us well in our stops here on both ends of the Loop. Although it is on an active canal that connects the Gulf Intra Coastal Waterway with Lake Pontchartrain, most of the commercial traffic stays in the waterway so our dock on the side of the canal was not very "bumpy" due to wakes.

     A short distance from the marina we pass the yard for Trinity Yachts (picture at left), which produces custom yachts for private customers. The yard was closed up tight when we passed through here about 16 months ago. This time we could see 3 yachts in various stages of construction in aluminum. These are true yachts, but they are only about 90 feet and pale in comparison to the mega-yachts (of the mega-rich). If you want to believe that the economy has recovered then this would be a good sign.
      The first railroad bridge was up so we slipped on through just before it went back down for a train. The photo was taken looking back over the stern so we had also gone under the other high spans as well. The twin spans just behind the railroad bridge are the very busy ones for Interstate 10. It was almost fun thinking about Lucky Us moving along with virtually no traffic and seeing the heavy commuter traffic on I-10. Wow, this retirement thing is just fine. We were going 8.3 mph and were happy. The commuters were probably also going 8.3 mph and were very upset...
      We got to the Industrial Lock and were informed by the Lock master that we should tie up to the pilings and wait. Then we were called by the Lock master that we had tied up to pilings on the "restricted side" so we moved across the channel to tie up again. By this point we were thinking that it would be a long wait. However, as soon as we were tied up for the second time, the Lock master called and said it was okay to enter the lock (?). We could hardly complain, but it did seem strange. During our wait, we were joined by a couple from Texas on a 36 foot trawler. They had bought the boat in Florida and were headed home to Texas. They were new to the locking process (picture above), but as we all have done, they were learning fast. The locking process was quick since the lock just adjusts the water level between the river, which was not flooding, and the waterway. As soon as you exist, the St. Cloud Avenue bridge has to raise since they are so close to the lock. Fortunately, the bridge and the lock seem to coordinate the process without any calls from us.
      ... and then we were out into the Mississippi River almost immediately.  One of the first views is the US Navy transport Cape Kennedy and a sister ship with a tow in the foreground. The river is about a mile wide so there is no traffic jam even though there is a lot of commercial traffic with both ships and tows.
The New Orleans skyline along the river is pretty impressive, but of course, most of us know the city more for the French Quarter. The French Quarter is out of the picture to the right, and even then most of the buildings are at least partially obscured by the high dike along the river. There are two locks on the west side of the river since most of the commercial barge traffic goes west. Since the river often flows very fast, where fast means 5+ mph, it makes a difference whether you want to go up or down river. However, Harvey Lock (the northern one) is the best lock for pleasure craft. The Harvey Lock is smaller at about 600 feet long and cannot accommodate the large commercial tows that can be up to 1,000 feet long. So, we headed up river into a relatively modest 2.5 mph current. We chose not to speed up the engine, but rather going slowly up river gave us a chance to enjoy the views.
     We did also take the obligatory picture of one of the large stern wheeler cruise/party boats along the river front. It was also fun to see the boat from the water, and at the same time, we could remember standing only a few feet away from her two days earlier when we had gone to the French Quarter.

       We called the Harvey Lock on the VHF radio, and they were most accommodating. The waterfront on both sides of the river is pretty heavily built up, and then you come upon what looks like an open grassy area. It is not until you are almost directly opposite the lock that you can see it even though it is almost at the edge of the river. Being close to the river also means that there is really no quiet area to idle in or any place to tie up to wait. So, we were really lucky that they could take us almost immediately.
      As soon as you leave the lock, it is a very busy waterfront area. I did not count, but we must have gone past several dozen floating dry docks. Most had either one barge or several tow boats in them. The commercial boats have to be inspected every 5 (?) years so obviously this is also a good time to paint the bottoms, etc. I included the picture at the left, which shows two empty floating dry docks, because it also has a vehicle/passenger ferry that is being repaired.

     The next several pictures are specifically for Grandson Will, and the first one shows a really good side view of a freshly painted towboat. I say freshly painted since it still does not have the name and company logo painted onto it.

      One of the many other sights was this smaller ferry that was also being refurbished. Just a fun place to go through with all of the different sights. However, with all of the commercial activity also comes a no wake speed limit. We still had several miles and one last flood gate to pass through before we really could get back up to cruising speed. The flood gate is always open except during floods (duh?). However, even though we had great luck with bridges, locks, etc. it was already past Noon, and we had only gone about 18 miles in 5 hours. It hardly seemed possible since we were either busy working or watching the scenery. The bottom line was that we still had about 50 miles to go to our final destination of Houma, LA.   Gonna be a long day...
      Once past the last flood gate we were pretty much going through relatively uninhabited coastal plain. One fun sight that we did see was "Large Marge". There are actually two of these heavy lift crane barges in the photo at the right. These cranes are used to assemble drilling and production platforms. The "pieces" come in on barges and are lifted into place by these (and ones even larger) cranes.
      As the sun was setting (picture at left), we were finally only a few miles from our destination at the Houma City Dock. Fortunately, with the clear sky the twilight lingered for a while. The marina is easy to find since it is between a pair of highway bridges with a vertical clearance of 70 feet. I forgot to mention that the trawler that joined us in the first lock had followed along behind us for the rest of the day, and they also stopped at the same marina so we finally met them in person. We had talked on the radio several times, but it was nice to actually saw hello in person.
     The final picture for today shows the marina nestled between the twin bridges. This picture was actually from the next morning, but you can get an idea of how the marina is situated even though it was much darker when we arrived. It was pretty dark for the Admiral to handle the lines, but she managed wonderfully as always. There is a nice park here also, and there were still several families enjoying the last vestiges of what had been a great day. Lots of admiring young faces...

     Whew! It was a long but very productive day. For those of you who might be worrying about our seeming to "push" hard to get to Houma, we did have at least one anchorage about 25 miles before Houma that the Admiral had pre-plotted on our route. When we passed that anchorage and made the decision to go on to Houma, we knew that we would arrive within minutes of sunset... Anyway, it worked for us, and as always after a long day, we slept very well..

    About the only down side was that it was late and we were too tired to try any of the wonderful nearby restaurants. Luckily, the Admiral still had enough energy to cook...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Days 345-6 in N'Awlins

Day 345
      New Orleans is the city with many names, such as N'Awlins, Nawlins, Nola and The Big Easy... It is also a city where "what happens in Nawlins stays in Nawlins" not that I would know anything about that.
     We left Lucky Us here at this very scenic dock on the canal along side the park (picture at right). The shuttle bus departed from the marina (and RV park) at 10:00 or more precisely at 10:07 am. We got to the edge of the French Quarter about 20 minutes later. We had about an hour to walk around before the first movie started so we drifted toward the riverfront. We were last here in May 2013 on our way to start the Great Loop. Thus it was with mixed blessing that we looked out at the river knowing that in two days we would be crossing the river again, but this time we might not be back by boat for a while.
    We got to the Theaters at Canal Place, which is attached to the Westin Hotel on the edge of the French Quarter. We did visit several stores, but we (fortunately for me) only looked in the windows at several other stores, such as Tiffany's. "Fury" started at 11:30 am, and we had time to order our meal before the previews began. They have 7 theaters, with all over-size reclining chairs, and the Admiral can be seen seeming to enjoy sitting in luxury in the picture at the left. Everything is done with a dinner theater concept, including shared tables that rotate out. I had a rather bland Margarita pizza, but the lunch did not matter since, of course, we also ordered popcorn for "dessert" with the movie. The movie was action packed and very bloody.  After the movie, our original plan had been to wander around the French Quarter for a while, and the we would go to another movie later.

     We headed for Café du Monde for beignets and coffee to discuss our plan. Surely, no visit to New Orleans can be complete without stopping at Café du Monde even if it is in the middle of the afternoon. And there must be a technique to eating beignets without getting covered in powdered sugar, but if there is a proper way to eat them, I have yet to discover it. It seems that after walking a couple of miles that we were losing interest in another movie and arriving back late on the last shuttle. So, we decided to walk through several of the market areas and in general work our way back to catch the 4:00 pm shuttle.
      After relaxing for a bit back on board Lucky Us, we rallied enough to go to the hot tub too sooth our tired "walking" muscles. The soothing part was great, but we were both so relaxed enough that I do not know how the Admiral could muster up the energy to make dinner after we got back to the boat. I have mentioned before how nice it is to be back in the Central Time Zone where the nightly news comes on at 10:00 pm. That is true, but tonight was definitely another night that I did not see the nightly news no matter what time it might have started...

Day 346
      Finally, we actually had a low key day! I would hesitate to say restful, but it was pretty restful since I even got a nap. We went to the marina restaurant (and bar) for lunch. The marina has two channels for boats. This one seems to be for much smaller transients. The multipurpose store, office, restaurant, laundry, etc. is all in the big building at the head of this channel. The hot tub is at ground level to the left of the main building. The two story buildings are pre-fabricated complexes that consist of two lower units with an upper unit that spans the deck between the lower units.

      Two guys started all of this after hurricane Katrina in 2005, and they have steadily added more permanent units as well as additional dock and RV spaces. They even have some two story floating units. The pool deck is on the upper level of the club house, and we had not checked it out before today... Good thing because we would have been disappointed because they were only now refilling it after some repairs.

   We spent the afternoon doing the "usual" paper work, blogging and of course, napping.  And the Admiral rode her bike to the grocery store for a quick shopping spree. 

      This is a view from the stern of Lucky Us looking along the shore toward some of the waterfront 2-story units  and waterfront parking spots for large (bus like) RVs. In spite of all of the water around (and in) New Orleans, there is not a lot of waterfront living here. Many hones that boarder Lake Pontchartrain, for example, have a partial view of the lake over a high levee system. The city and actually the whole Mississippi delta is slowly sinking due to compaction of the very young sediments at the surface, and reportedly, there are parts of the city that are over 20 feet below sea level. Thus, this kind of waterfront view is pretty rare. Mind you that it is the waterfront view of a fairly commercial channel (not shown).
     Tomorrow we will be moving on westward, but our last day in town ended with a beautiful sky at sunset. A lovely ending to what is always a too short visit to Nawlins.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day 2-344 to New Orleans via Lake Pontchartrain

     Ho hum! Guess what time we departed from Gulfport, Mississippi? Need a hint? The picture at the right shows yet another sunrise as we departed. As you can see, the sky was cloudless, and there is a very light breeze as can be seen from the small ripples on the water. The truth be told, we might have stayed longer in Biloxi, or Gulfport or both, but we had fairly open water crossings here. The longer term weather forecasts indicated that reaching New Orleans sooner rather than later would be in our best interests. So, here we are headed for New Orleans while the weather is still perfect...
     Our trip today was 72.6 miles with about the first 40 miles in the Mississippi Sound, and the remainder in Lake Pontchartrain. After the first 40 miles we could have turned into the GICW and taken a more protected inland route to New Orleans, which is the way that we had come on the way east last year. However, we decided to go into Lake Pontchartrain instead. Our destination was the same marina that we had stayed at last year, which is on a canal between the lake and the GICW. We did have a number of bridges before the GICW turned off to head inland to New Orleans, including these highway and railroad bridges. All of the railroad bridges today were ones that remain open unless is train is crossing so that speeded things up a bit. This picture was taken about Noon, and you can see that the wind is still only a few mph.

       You can tell that this railroad bridge is after the GICW has turned off since it is "open" but only about half way. A normal tow could not fit through that narrow opening. With a clearance of only 4 feet obviously we needed to maneuver around the bridge.

      Lake Pontchartrain is tidal with a relatively narrow opening. The current here can be strong given the size of the lake. The chart showed depths of 51 feet, which was not a surprise. However, I took this picture of the chartplotter, which had a reading of 72.8. and to that number we can add 4 feet since the depth shown is from the keel down. However, the lake is generally shallow with depths often in the range of 11 to 15 feet. We did follow the marked navigation channel just in case.. That might seem shallow, but it would provide easy access to most pleasure craft.

     We only had one bridge that required an opening to pass through between entering the lake and reaching the canal. That bridge worked very well with us to be able to pass through without having to wait. At this point we were maybe 10 miles from our destination. The Admiral does a great job of not only plotting the course, but she also checks aerial views of seemingly difficult places to maneuver, such as at locks, multiple bridges, etc. It was about at this time that I heard a rather loud "Oh no!!!".

     In the picture above, Part A. is what the chartplotter showed. Lake Pontchartrain is just off the bottom. The white area is deeper water and the two brown lines are bridges. The railroad bridge has a clearance of 4 feet, but it is left up (open) when there are no trains due. The other bridge is a bascule bridge, but it has a clearance of 40 feet in the down position. Everything is a go, or so it seemed.  Part B. When the Admiral checked the bridges on iMaps, she saw this picture which shows the channel completely blocked by a man made dike. Whoa! If this view is accurate, then we have to go back around for a distance of about 48 miles... Skip to Part D, which is the next view that she found on Google Maps, and this view agrees with the navigation chart. After a nervous call to the marina, they confirmed that there had been a temporary earthen dike, but it was now gone. The temporary dike was built so that new flood gates could be built across the channel. Panic over! Part C. shows are view after we had passed through the two bridges. At this point we are about 1/4 mile from the marina (and not 48 miles!). I am sure that some day we will see the humor in seeing the old outdated aerial view on line. All kinds of lessons learned and/or confirmed in this little "exercise"...
     We docked with no further problems and had a nice dinner in the marina restaurant. We debated going back later for a visit to the hot tub, but after a long day that debate did not last long.

     Tomorrow, we will take the marina shuttle bus to "The Big Easy" for some good old fashioned fun.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Day 2-343 in Gulfport, MS

       After a very (for me any way) lazy morning, we headed back to downtown Gulfport on our bikes. The park between the marina and downtown has many paths for walking, jogging and cycling as well as a number of pavilions. Everything, including the marina would appear to be post-Katrina. The structures are elevated and very sturdy looking. My guess is that this entire several block area was destroyed during Katrina and has been turned into parks, etc. to help shield the town from waves in future hurricanes. At any rate, it is now a tremendous resource for both locals and tourists.

      The picture at the left is from the edge of downtown looking back toward the marina and beach areas. The view also shows another pavilion as well as a small "forest" of 2 story white finger like structures in the marina. The marina is indeed full of these small towers that are used to elevated transformers and other equipment in the marina. The intent is to preserve these items during future large storm surges, especially during hurricanes.

     For lunch we chose an Italian restaurant about a block away from the Half Shell Oyster House where we ate last night. I had a rather strange Margarita pizza. I say strange since it had some sort of orange cheese that had been sprinkled over the crust before the (thick) crust had been pre-cooked. That cheese added a rather sour taste to what was otherwise a standard Margarita pizza... Oh well, it did not effect my nap later...
     It was a beautiful day after a cool start, and the plan for the late afternoon was to catch the heat of the day on the beach. I took the picture at the right while standing in 6 inches of very clear water about 150 feet off the shore. Obviously (?), the tide was out and the various sand bars were covered with gulls. The very shallow water was a very comfortable 85+ degrees since it had been easily heated by the sun. I walked much further out, but it never did get very deep. However, it did start to cool off dramatically as I approached more open water. So, I never did get to swim, but I did enjoy the sights.
      Those sights included a variety of sea gulls  and black skimmers that allowed me to approach as close as 20 feet or so. Sea gulls are not high on my list of favorite birds, but this was fun enough.

     The Admiral captured this great picture of skimmers in flight.

     The Admiral also took this picture of some handsome guy (me) sunning on the beach...

     It has been probably 2 months since I have spent quality time on a real beach and that was probably back in Michigan (both state and lake).

     After dinner on the boat, the Admiral got this picture of one of the pavilions, which are lighted at night. All together, the waterfront at Gulfport is quite pretty, but it is also sad that the city had to suffer a lot during hurricane Katrina to get to this point...