Thursday, December 15, 2011

Houma to New Orleans Seabrook Marina Days 18-19

We were thrilled this bridge opened on request, it took us a moment to realize that both the Missouri Pacific Railroad Bridge and the Belle Chase Lift Bridge were on the same structure.

A fog begins to assemble as we near the Highway 407 fixed bridge just 1 mile from the Algiers lock.

Here we are instructed to stay up close near the North Shore & wait for a Tow to be locked Westbound through the Algiers.

After a little over an hour we are invited in and instructed to starboard tie to a pin on the wall.

Her the midships line is on the second pin, I would move the line to the pin just above my head and it would be at waist level as we departed.

You can just make out a huge ship in the fog ahead of us as we venture out into the MIGHTY Mississippi.

Just one of Lots of poles, trees, and other debris to avoid. You can see the industrial nature of the scene on the banks going North up the river from the Algiers.

Is this Guy moving?

We made it across to the Industrial lock where we were asked to get as close as possible to the counter weight ( that you see on the right) of the St. Claude Bascule bridge and wait for a Westbound Tow to exit the lock. The Locks control this bridge so it just takes 1 call on the VHF.

The Admiral got this shot of a scuffy little Kingfisher near where we were circling.

Here we exit the Industrial Lock into the Industrial Canal and as we leave we contact the North Clairborn Ave. Bridge, if we had been an hour later we would have to circle for about 2 hours till the end of rush hour.

Lucky for us we have just a short wait and the fog seems to be getting lighter.

Next up is the Florida Ave. Bascule Bridge, another short wait

This is the Almonster RR bridge and it took several calls to get the Tenders attention. In fact the tender for the Danzinger Lift bridge right after it came on the VHF and said "He never answers his calls". Shortly after the Almonster tender came on and said" I always answer my Calls!" Then after another short wait the bridge opened but he never gave the all clear. So I radioed that it looks like it is safe to proceed now and we will pass through. We proceeded slowly.

Finally about 1430 hours we were tied up at our home for the next 30 days at the new floating docks at Seabrook Marina right on the Industrial Canal.

This is the Marina office, they are very friendly and helpful, they said they had a record number of transients this season and had prepared a packet of information to hand out to all their guest for the FAQ's. We sit on the front porch to get access to the wifi since it will not reach out to our boat.

This Flag the pole was the Mast of Why Knot, a Beneteau 41' who belongs to our friends Hal & Jo Cooper. They touched one of the bridges with it as they passed through the Industrial Canal around 2230 hrs. They stayed here at Seabrook where there is a complete boatyard to have the repairs before continuing on to Florida and the Bahamas.

Day 18 Houma to Boomtown
Underway 7:28hrs, 46.5 Km.,Avg speed 6.2 Kts. , 55 degrees,cloudy 5-20 NE winds.

We top off our water and fuel in Houma as we have been doing at every stop along the way where we could get a water hose and fuel even if we had to use jerry cans to add 10 gallons. This gives a little peace of mind and you always have a little down time anyway to get these little task done.
We have a Seapower 5K generator that runs off of our engine. The Admiral did not think it would be so useful and kept encouraging me to just add a traditional Genset. Well since we are motoring so much all you have to do to get 120 power is just turn 3 little switches at at he panel and you have all the power you need. If you want some hot tea, heat up some lunch or just run the reverse cycle heat in the morning at anchor. Of course it runs the 110 battery charger so the batteries are always up to speed. The plan is to add solar panels after we get to Florida but for now the Seapower unit is perfect. Wand'rin Star is proving to be a comfortable, safe cruiser and all the research in finding the right vessel for us I feel paid off.
Now we are both getting a little anxious as we get to the last two legs to NO. The guidebooks give you plenty to be concerned about. The weather seems like it will be OK but it is very overcast and fog is in the forecast. We always check 2-3 weather sources, Intellicast and accuweather, we can usually get the weather on the evening tv news and we listen to the NOAA forecast on the VHF. Cruising East bound from Texas allows you to gain small bit's of experience as you progress so that as you near the Harvey locks it is not so much to figure out and you can manage what comes at you.
The West Larose Bridge opened on our request Light tow traffic, we just passed one slow tow, we saw two smaller west bound sailboats, 1 was being towed by a small pontoon boat and the smaller one was from Texas. They radioed us wanting to know where they could tie up for the night but we were unable to help them with any local knowledge along this stretch. We saw two more bald eagles. One was hunting behind a tow with the laughing gulls. The hawks continue to keep watch over the ICW. The area around Lafitte is pretty with many nice waterfront homes. This would be a place to come back and visit for sure for one of the tours of the bayous and swamps in the area.

After Lafitte we came upon a set of gates that was not mentioned in the 2 guide books or the charts. I slowed to idle speed and realized we had to pass through the gates to follow our course. The Admiral finally found mention of the Algiers Flood gate, but by the time we were about to pass through I just went on through not knowing for sure if we should have contacted them on VHF 13. After passing the gate I am sure I should have just stopped, assessed the situation and try to notify them since it could have been dicey if a tow had been entering the area west bound. There is a lot of new flood control construction in the NO area after Katrina. We need to realize that no mater how up to date your electronics or paper are things change and you have to be prepared to manage those moments. On the way into Houma we were looking for a railroad lift bridge at mile 58.9 that we found had been taken out, we asked the next bridge tender about it and he let us know it was no longer there. Just passed the Algiers flood gates I noticed the Y to the Algiers locks and made a mental note just out of interest. Then we were at the Boomtown Casino where there is a free bulkhead mooring. Dean took the time to draw a picture of the area and warned us where not to tie up. We circled a couple of times preparing all our fenders and a fender board to rest up against this rough bulkhead right on the Harvey Canal.Fortunately we were the only ones there and we found the preferred spot where there was a couple of small bollards to tie to. We only needed one of the pieces of rebar sticking out of the ground for a aft line. The weather was calm so we only were concerned about the wakes from passing tows Being only 5 Km. from the Harvey locks we knew there would be considerable barge traffic but to our surprise it was a very calm night and almost no traffic at all? After getting all squared away we went to check out the Casino, we are not gamblers but thought we get a good dose of the local culture and find some food. We dropped 10.00 in the quarter slots and then after feeling overwhelmed by all the cigarette smoke we retreated to fresh air and quickly settled for dinner on the boat.
The number of bridges and plus the Harvey lock and all the instructions on the order of VHF communications had us going over our plan for the next day a third time.

Day 19 Boomtown to New Orleans Seabrook Marina
Underway 13:11hr., 23.7 Km., Avg.speed 4.5 Kts., 55 degrees, overcast,foggy 10-15SE winds

We woke about 06:30 and knew we had plenty of time since the first bridge we would encounter wold not even open till 0830. Several bridges in the NO area are closed during rush hour. We would have to Navigate 3 lift Bridges, two fixed and the Harvey locks. Two of the lift bridges work in conjunction with the Locks so that meant we would only have to contact our first bridge that morning and it would be our first, the Lapalco Blvd. Bascule Bridge. We took the time to go over the days plans 1 more time. We departed Boomtown about 0820 and as we neared Lapalco we saw a huge cloth hanging over the side. I called the bridge and they explained the bridge was closed till 1630 for repairs. I asked them if the bridge would still be closed tomorrow and they said yes. No wonder there was no traffic during the night. Well we just slowly circled in the area trying to develop a Plan B. My first thought was to just go back to Lafitte where we could get a marina and electricity and plan for the Algiers lock. Lynn called Lafitte and they said they could put us in front of their Mechanics shop for the night. Then we discussed the possibility of Algiers. This caused a bit of anxiety in both of us since it could be 1200 or later getting through. We had some friends who were delayed and they did not get through to the Industrial Canal to after 2000 hrs. and then they still had several bridges to negotiate. In the dark, in a very tired state they ended up hitting a bridge with their mast and had to stay in NO several weeks getting repairs. We had also heard of 8 hour waits at Algiers locks. We decided to give the Algiers Locks a call by phone and they quickly resolved our delima, they said recreational traffic would receive priority and to come on down, they would lock us through right away. By then we were already at the Algiers Y and we started down the alternate route. Since we had not researched this route we would have to do it on the fly. The only bridge to request an opening was the Missouri Pacific & Bell Chase Lift bridges which are side by side and only one request is needed. When we got there the Railroad bridge was up and the Bell Chase opened at our request. We knew we were making good time and a bit of the anxiety subsided. As we neared the Algiers I called to let them know we were there and they directed us to hang out near the North shore and wait for a west bound tow to be locked through. As we were waiting we noticed a considerable fog was building and so up the anxiety scale again. The wait was just over an hour and then they called us into the huge lock. They would lock us through alone. I knew lots of tows were waiting to pass and felt sort of bad that we took up one of the valuable slots ahead of them. We heard one tow explain to the Lockmaster that he had been waiting since 2330 the previous night and wondered what his wait position was. We were directed to take a midships line and to go 1/2 way into the lock and tie to a pin on the wall. They told us we would be going up 7 feet to the Mississippi. The Admiral stayed at the helm while I moved our midships line up 3 pins. The fog looked concerning and as we left the lock I made sure the radar was ready to go. you are immediately out into the current and the MIGHTY Mississippi. Fortunately we had at least a quarter mile visibility and could see all the nearby traffic. The one thing on AIS that will not show up are the crew boats and they are scurrying about everywhere. We would have about a 5 Km. trip UP the MIGHTY Mississippi. This means against the approximately 3 knot current since there had been recent rains upstream and the river was rising another 4 feet. So we were making just about 3.5 Kts. at 2300 rpm. The first thing you notice after you get out into the river and make sure you are not about to be run over by traffic is the incredible amount of debris coming at you, at first you try to dodge the 4-5' limbs but there is so much you just concentrate on the trees and the telephone pole type of stuff. We work our way to the North shore and stay out of the middle where the current is not so strong. Back after going through the Sabine-Neches I thought to myself, "I am not sure how Huck Finn felt, but I was starting to feel a little like Huck Finn". Well I am here to tell you right now that there is no way I would know how he felt. Until you have navigated your own vessel in the Mississippi there is absolutely no way you can understand how MIGHTY this river is. I have a whole new level of respect for those who accomplish the Great Loop. We made the Industrial Lock in decent time and most importantly before rush hour. We just had a short wait as they were about finished locking out a westbound tow. The Admiral got a great shot of a Kingfisher and then we were in. They instructed us to move 2/3's of the way in and they dropped two lines at the Port side. The Admiral took care of the bow line & I stayed at the stern so I could take care of the Helm & radio. There was a "Light Boat"(a tow with no barge) locking through with us so as we exited I moved over and let him pass, this could help us navigate all the upcoming bridges, just follow him. We just had an issue with the Almonester RR bridge tender not answering the VHF call, we finally passed him and the Danzinger bridge and made it to our destination at Seabrook around 1430 hrs. The floating dock is right on the Industrial Canal just a short distance to the entrance to Lake Ponchatrain. This pass is under Flood Control construction so you can not pass through to the lake here. This is good for us since there is almost no traffic at all and no wakes rocking the boat.

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