The north wind has had its way with Clear Lake Texas this winter. It was still blowing as we pulled out on March 5. We had been planning an offshore passage to Florida. However, we got out in the Gulf and did the classic Maybe-The-Ditch-Won’t-Be-So-Bad U-Turn. It was a little rough with offshore wind blowing more out of the east. We had wanted to follow the Rhumb line fairly tight since we don’t carry as much fuel as we have had on our past boats. With the wind direction, we would have to sail pretty much straight south in the Gulf and hope for a prompt change of wind to get us back on track. But there is always The Ditch, seductive with its offer of nightly anchorages, refueling points and wind protection. Yes, it would take so much longer to get to Florida’s sunny beaches but we had time. What we didn’t have was a “Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Take The Ditch To Florida” story. We anchored at Teacup for a few hours and then got a mid-morning start on what we knew would be days and days of motoring, anchoring, motoring – dodging tugs by day and rocking in their pounding wake at night.
Our first anchorage was High Island. The cruising guides said the High Island anchorage had room for one boat. Depths of 6 feet were typical and the overhead power lines might crackle at night. The alarm sounded crossing the sand bar into the anchorage. We continued in, hoping the entry was a little silted over. Nope. The entire anchorage was 2.5 feet. We anchored and set a stern anchor to keep us off the nearby banks. We then got out the cruising guide for what was to be the nightly drill – hunting out the possible anchorages for the following day. We went to bed a little concerned about the dropping tide. Next morning, we were hard aground. And, we had GOOD holding. Yes, you always want good holding ground except when you are aground in a tight hole. We waited for high tide and then spent an hour working the boat straight backwards by rearranging anchors. We had launched the dingy in order to reset the stern anchor. When we finally got underway, we were trailing the dingy so Randall pulled off to the side to let a barge pass while Jake and I transferred the dingy back up on the davits. Perhaps we looked clumsy. Perhaps, our boats and new foulies were a little to clean. Anyway, he made a close pass behind us and radioed a friendly message.
“Hey, you got a barge coming up behind you pushing a six pack so be sure and be outta his way. We don’t want any extra paper work today.”
“Copy That, Captain,” Randall responded and turned to translate for Jake and I. We can’t ever understand radio squawk.
Night Two we pulled in after dark at Lake Sabine Port Authority. We got fueled up and got in a slip and headed to the showers. I had already speculated that it would be unheated. It turned out to be unheated and only semi enclosed. The entryway was more of a breezeway, open to the cool night air. The water was hot, though, and it felt great. Still, Lily could not be convinced. Her first shower of the trip was still to come.
The next day’s high point was passing under the Ellender Bridge. We called ahead to confirm that the bridge clearance was 50 foot at HIGH tide. We have a 48 foot mast so the point was of some concern. The person who answered wasn’t sure. She would call the Bridge Electrician and call us back. No, we could not call him directly. That was against Department of Transportation policy. She did call back and confirmed the height was 50 to 51 feet at high tide. We approached slowly and were encouraged by the bridge’s water depth sign showing a 50 – 51 foot clearance. Rarely do any of the bridges in Texas and Louisiana have clearance height signs. About 15 yards from the bridge, Jake and I took up positions on each side of the boat, necks craning and eyes on the girder. Randall backs from under the bimini to take a look as well and pointed out the three different scratched up areas which looked suspiciously the exact width of a mast. At about 5 yards from the bridge, someone hails us on the radio. Randall throttles down to answer. An approaching tug, a good quarter mile away, wanted to see us on the twos so he could line up his pass under the bridge. We agreed and throttled back up, passing under the shadow of the Ellender without adding our mark.
Right past the Ellender, we tried to pull into a small, marshy anchorage but again hit shoaling before getting in. We back out this time and kept going. We ended up anchoring in the dark along the Calcaseui River, just a few yards off the channel. Both barges and tankers run the Calcaseui River so we had lots of company through the night.
We had a long day planned for March 9 so we got up early to get started. We sat eating our oatmeal and drinking coffee in the dark, waiting for dawn. And it was late. An hour late, to be exact. We had not realized it was Daylight Saving Time. Finally it was light enough to get started and, once again, we had trouble getting our stern anchor free of the ICW mud. We finally got loose but while cleaning both mud covered anchors, we pulled the washdown hose off the fitting and sprayed the engine compartment with seawater.
Our first hail of the day was just before the Calcasieu locks. A tug captain instructed us that he wanted to pass on the “1” which is a port to port pass between vessels. We scooted over to give him more room. He wished us safe travels and said he’d rather be in our boat than his. It is always nice to hear a friendly word from the working captains. You feel a little like you are encroaching, a little, on their territory but some of them are happy to share the water with pleasure boaters. We also saw our second sailboat of the trip, “Second Mayflower”, anchored at the locks. No sign of the sailors. How dare them to sleep so late!
We had two pontoon bridges to hail on this stretch of water. Both opened promptly without any wait. This was one of the shorter runs yet – Calcasieu to Mermentau River. Luckily, this allowed us a few extra hours as our best anchorage yet north of the channel in Mermentau River. After anchoring, we launched the dingy to take a few pictures of Foxtrot at anchor. Lily was raring to get in the dingy so the terms were spelled out clearly. Anyone who brushed there hair could go for a dingy ride. It took several minutes of complaints, many cries of excruciating pain but the feat was finally accomplished. After the photo session, Lily and Jake rowed around awhile, enjoying some exercise and a break from the Mother Ship. We grilled pork chops and brats and had a little feast. We debated this looming issue of whether the trip to New Orleans was worth the extra navigational effort or whether we should try to bypass this industrialized part of the ICW. One moment, we were for bypassing. The next, we were leaning to steering clear. We were also hoping to get a better weather update in the upcoming few days to factor in how bad the coming cold front would be and if it would require sitting still somewhere a day.
The following day, we motored away from Mermentau in fog. We dropped behind a tug which we ended up following all day through one set of locks and one fixed bridge. Lily insisted on making lunch since we had named her Galley Girl for the trip. Jake and I share helming and anchor clean-up. Randall takes the wheel his share as well and during any closeup maneuvering. He is also doing the navigational research, engine maintenance/fuel monitoring and weather checking. Yes, he has a little more going on but Jake and I are watching attentively so we can hopefully assist at some of these other duties at some point.
Tonight we are anchored in Bayou Petite Anse. Had trouble anchoring but finally think we are pretty well in. We are hoping to reach Morgan City tomorrow. I will post pics when I get to civilization and get some WiFi. Also, here are some of the stats we are tracking:
Number of locks transited: 2
Number of bridges passed under: 8 (two pontoon, one lift and five fixed)
Number of sailboats encountered in ICW: 2
Number of items lost overboard: 1 – kitchen towel
Number of cockpit spills: 1 – red Gatorade
Gator sightings: 0
Books read: 4 Jake/2 Lily/2 Randall/0 Tammy/0