Monday, February 20, 2017

Just like Old Times

We are living in a 30' Fleetwood Tioga in a pole barn on the Seabrook Marine property. Considering that half our view for the week or so we were still on the boat consisted of a dozen or so rigs in the RV park across the canal, we are having something of an RV-fulltiming flashback.

Our view from our slip, complete with campfires in the evening.

I mentioned here already that the yard is in the industrial hinterlands, and when the weather is nice we've been going further and further afield on the scooters to find some interesting dining options. Riding south through Desire (the name of a neighborhood and a street but no longer a streetcar line) we eventually reach Bywater and Marigny, where an eclectic mix of ultra-casual and uber-trendy joints beckons.

Rust remediation and fairing continues in our wet slip. Blue paint is "guide coat" that shows where sanding has not been finished. Anchor locker hatch is gone.

Last weekend we had al fresco weather and I picked a nice place on the trendy side for dinner, on the grounds that they had patio dining. Little did we realize that it was but two or three blocks from the starting point of the evening's Krewe Du Vieux parade, the first of Mardi Gras season, and as we got closer and closer to the restaurant the streets were thick with revelers in all manner of costumes. Had we not been on scooters we would scarcely have made it through, and we certainly could not have parked.

Krewe Du Vieux passing by, as seen from our restaurant.

We missed most of the parade itself because we were inside eating; the restaurant was packed when we arrived and emptied out as the parade started. Krewe Du Vieux is one of the more adult parades, and I suspect things get a bit bawdy as it approaches the Vieux Carre (aka the French Quarter).

We more or less rode our scooters through this throng to get to dinner.

Not wanting to repeat the accidental parade-participant scenario, I promptly downloaded the Mardis Gras Parade Tracker app on my phone, and I am now getting alerts as each parade starts and I have the routes at my fingertips. As with Carnival or Junkanoo in the islands, Mardis Gras is a weeks-long affair here in the Crescent City.

The beige color is "high build" paint that fills in small imperfections and is sanded smooth later.

We spent a good part of last weekend moving gear from the boat to the RV and getting the RV fired up and running. That was not without its hiccups, as shortly after we hooked up the water supply, the toilet started leaking (fresh water, onto the bathroom floor), and not long after we plugged in the water heater, with its very jury-rigged electric add-on element, the relief valve popped and a flood of water started emanating from the slideout. Maybe a little too much like old times.

Water heater with hokey wiring for an electric element. The thermostat, which is supposed to be glued to the tank inside the rig, is instead zip-tied to the relief valve, with the red tag on it. The power cord runs out the door at bottom left.

I turned off the water heater and pulled the defective relief valve out; it's a weird RV size which I had to order. I also ordered a new water valve for the potty, and in the interim I cut the PEX supply line and installed a stop valve so we could have a working water system. We just had to open the stop valve each time we flushed the toilet. That's not often -- with a tiny little black tank and a colossal pain-in-the-butt to drive over to the dump station at the RV park next door, we are using the marina rest rooms for everything but middle-of-the-night pee breaks.

Stop valve and new supply line for toilet. The old compression fitting, crimped directly to the PEX, was also leaking due to a worn washer.

The water heater valve arrived just in time for us to move in on Valentine's Day (we're so romantic) when they hauled Vector out of the water, thus booting us off the boat. After pressure-washing the bottom, they took Vector straight to the paint shed to be blocked.

Vector hauled out and getting a pressure wash. No matter how many times you see 55 tons hanging in the slings, you never get at peace with it when its your own boat.

Speaking of the bottom, it turned out to be in excellent condition, despite some fears of paint failure based on the report of an inexperienced diver in Chattanooga, and the horrible scraping sounds we were hearing in Mandeville as we bounced up and down against the river bottom. The only issue we found was some damage to the leading edge of the port stabilizer fin.

Damage to the outboard leading edge of the port fin.

We both scratched our heads on this one. It looks a lot like grounding damage, but neither of us recalls a grounding incident on our port side since the last haulout. We caught the starboard fin in the mud trying to get into a skinny slack harbor in Helena, Arkansas, but no such episode on the port side. There were a number of times on the rivers when we hit underwater debris, though, so it was either one of those incidents, or else what we heard scraping in Mandeville was the edge of the fin.

Vector about to get "under way" to the paint shed across the yard.

In any case, we can find nothing wrong with the stabilizer mechanism, and the fin damage is superficial fiberglass damage which the yard here can easily repair. It will merely add a day or so, and a boat unit or so, to our yard stay.

The propeller will need some fresh primer and paint.

Shortly after settling in to our new digs, a long-time reader who has followed us since our freewheeling RV days contacted us to say he was at an RV park right here in town while he worked the seasonal See's Candy operation here, which closed its doors on Valentine's. Tom dropped by for a meet-and-greet and to gift us a couple of boxes of See's before he had to leave town.

Vector looks enormous on the hard, but somehow the scale of this gigantic shed is lost here and she looks small, until you notice the workers. She has since been surrounded with scaffolding.

Lots of boxes arrived last week from Amazon and eBay. I ordered new latches for the Portuguese lockers, two new hawse-pipes with integral cleats, a new burgee staff and holder, two additional cleats, new windlass foot switches, two spare bilge pumps, a spare AIS transceiver, a European power plug (masquerading as an IBM power cord), and a new power supply for my laptop. The first several items on the list are the direct result of the paint project, while the remainder were simply because we have a good address for a few weeks.

In NOLA, everyone loves a parade. Here the final float of Krewe of Carrollton passes us Sunday, as the crowd clamors for beads and baubles.

As luck would have it, I had problems with more than half the items. Chief among them, the hawse pipes. Louise has long wanted another pair of hawse holes just abaft the Portuguese bridge. That's a big, messy job, and the right time to do it is when the boat is being painted, as all the hawse pipes will come off for the process.

Because I don't have easy access to the underside of the deck in that location, deck-mounted cleats are not an option, and so we opted for these, which have horns built-in that serve the purpose. The manufacturer, Buck Algonquin, assured us through their dealer that these pipes mated up to optional backing pates, and we ordered two of each. When they arrived, however, it was clear the hawse hole through the backing plate was smaller than the hawse pipe, which would leave us with a sharp edge.

Hawse pipe atop its backing plate. Look past the protective plastic on the pipe to see the edge of the backing plate, proud of the inside of the pipe all the way around.

I've been emailing back and forth with the dealer for a solid week with no resolution. We're running out of time; the backup plan is to order plain hawse pipe/backing plate combinations and a pair of conventional cleats which we will have to mount vertically to the Portugese coaming.

Meanwhile, the spare AIS, which weighs in at 26 pounds and for which I was charged some $42 in shipping, was sent to our mailbox in Florida rather than to the shipping address I specified, right here. I had to open an eBay case and argue with the seller for a full week before he agreed to cover the shipping from there to here, which I can't even start until his refund comes through next week.

You can buy these ladders ready-made, but most make their own. A "child seat" is bolted to the top of a 6' stepladder, and then wheels are added to make hauling it to the parade a snap. Kids sit on top and parents stand on the rungs. Many have cup holders and bead hooks attached. Lots of rolling coolers and folding chairs, too.

One of the bilge pumps and the laptop power supply turned out to be aftermarket items instead of the advertised OEM models; inexcusable for Amazon sales, albeit half expected on eBay items (one of each in this case). The seller of the IBM power cord sent the wrong thing altogether. And the burgee staff holder that was supposed to be brass turned out to be pot metal, while the cleats I purchased, although the correct length, were an unsuitable diameter.

One of the many dance troupes, some serious and some farcical.

With any luck we'll have all the deck hardware on hand before the crew is ready to start installing it. Right now they are still fairing and sanding, and they just finished getting the rub rails off. These turned out to be HDPE rather than the assumed painted teak; HDPE can't be painted, and today we had a quick exercise to tweak the paint scheme to account for white rub rails on a Moondust hull. I was able to make a usable, if amateur, photo mockup at the last minute.

White rub rail in front is not ideal, but not too out-of-place.

I've been madly taping up everything I can on the boat to keep the sanding dust out, using 2" masking tape. Every outside door is taped save for the starboard pilothouse door, which is kept dogged. All the sliding windows are taped, the hatch is taped, as well as all the locker doors in the staterooms and galley.

Too many beads to wear? Just use a handy fire hydrant to hold them.

While I was taping up the aft deck, before we were hauled, I stepped on what used to be the hatch to the tiller flat, but was now just a piece of plastic sheeting, and I fell right in, banging myself up in the process. The crew helpfully put a piece of plywood over the hole immediately thereafter, which kept Louise from doing the same thing while we were moving the boat to the lift. That was a week ago and I still have the bruises and a hitch in my get-along.

One marching band was escorted by this pair of Jefferson Parish Sheriff units. Neither one was Steven Segal.

Now that we're off the boat and I can't do any projects there, I've busied myself with fixing online orders, looking up marine hardware, and tackling the stuff I was able to bring with me. The new valve for the toilet arrived and I was able to install it, fixing the leak, without having first to remove the toilet altogether. And once I had the right IBM power cord I was able to salvage the connector and build my third and final European power adapter (one each for 16-amp, 32-amp, and 63-amp service).

Lest I get too complacent, the RV insists on keeping me busy, too. Saturday while I was out getting my hair cut, two of the hand grabs for the sliding windows came off right in Louise's hands. I'll need to find a way to glue them back on.

Oops. What kind of glue was that?

This weekend our friends Shonda and Michael were in town, passing through in their RV. We last saw them in Florence, Alabama when we passed through there in October. We had a nice dinner with them Saturday at Nile, an Ethiopian restaurant on Magazine, uptown.

The Gold Wing club's sub-Krewe. About half were trikes. Many bikes had trailers, including a few of these miniature boats (really cargo trailers). Note the bead rack between the handlebars -- all Krewes need beads!

Sunday we met them again on Magazine for the Krewe of King Arthur parade. We arrived right at the nominal starting time of 1:15, parking the scooters less than a block away, but we found ourselves instead at about the midpoint of the Krewe of Carrollton parade, running late. So we got to see most of two parades, which was plenty for one day. We thought we might catch another dinner with them, but they had been on the parade route since the start of the Femme Fatale parade at 11am and they called it a day before King Arthur was finished.

Start of Krewe of King Arthur. This first float is a sort of bead receptacle -- you can see people throwing beads into the float, rather than the other way 'round.

Tomorrow morning we have a pickup truck rented from Enterprise. Friday morning we spooled all the anchor chain off the boat onto a pallet, along with the anchor, the chain hook, and three shackles, and tomorrow we will load the pallet in the pickup truck and drive it to a hot dip galvanizing plant in Jennings, about three hours west of here. Sunday I cut the retaining spring and removed the "hammer lock" connector that has held the anchor to the chain for three years; it is in remarkably good condition for ungalvanized alloy steel that has been dragged along or buried in countless seafloors.

The grade-100 hammer-lock connector that has held our anchor on for three years. Although I can get a replacement spring collar for this one, we'll fit a brand new one when we reinstall the anchor.

This coming weekend will be the thick of Mardis Gras. The yard is closed Monday and Tuesday, as are many businesses in New Orleans (by contrast, almost nothing was closed today for Presidents Day, not even the public schools). We're still toying with the idea of going to one of the black tie balls (we brought our formalwear off the boat just in case), and we'll probably catch another parade or two now that we know we can get as close as we'd like on the scooters.

We saw many marching bands, but where we were positioned, only the drumlines were playing for most. This school was the exception and we got to hear their brass.

With the four-day weekend coming up, the yard is estimating we have another three weeks before completion. In addition to fixing the stabilizer fin and touching up the bottom paint, we've asked them to fabricate and install a "staple" rail for the back of the swim platform, something we've wanted for a long time and which is best done before painting.

One for my Red Cross ECRV friends. The LA State Police Incident Command post was in the parade.

I hope you enjoy some of these pictures of Mardis Gras celebrations. I'm sure I will have a few more for my next post. And I will leave you with this video of two New Orleans Police officers, who were stationed near us on the parade route, spontaneously dancing with one of the dance troupes in the King Arthur parade.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Near Miss

We're at at the work dock at Seabrook Marine, on the industrial canal in New Orleans, Louisiana (map). Today marks our second week here, although we spent most of the first week at a marina slip along the canal, waiting for the crew to wrap up work on a 65' sport fish, and for the historic PT boat to be towed away from the dock we are on now.

Sunset at the boatyard. Vector in the background, sporting fresh patches of fairing compound.

The rest of our cruise here two weeks ago was relatively uneventful, although the Almonaster Bridge was once again experiencing problems, and we again ended up anchoring near the bridge while they worked to get it open, just as we did when we passed through on our way from the Mississippi River.

After clearing the bridge and arriving at Seabrook, we went straight to the fuel dock, hoping to pump out, as well as to unload the scooters. The pumpout was inoperative, however, so we offloaded the scooters and headed to our slip. With nearly ten knots of wind on the beam, it took me several passes to get lined up and backed in, but we made it with little trouble and got settled in.

Shiny new bearings from Komatsu. If only I had known the NSK part number...

One of my first tasks was to head across town to Kenner to pick up pump parts from the Komatsu dealer and drop them off with our friend Jeff-the-pump-guy. I was not looking forward to the long scooter ride, but we were pleasantly surprised to learn the yard has a courtesy car, and that made it relatively painless.

Jeff's shop rebuilt the pump for me (thanks, Jeff!) and they even painted it. Photo Jeff L.

With no work in progress on the boat, we spent part of that first week exploring the neighborhood, which turns out to be mostly devoid of decent eating establishments, but at least close to two grocery stores, a Walmart, and a couple of other services. Three casual restaurants are fairly close, including one right next door at the Pontchartrain Landing RV Park and Marina.

We had fairly good Internet access in the marina slip, and I spent a good deal of time updating everything and surfing chandleries looking for hardware that we need to replace during the painting project. Sadly, once we moved to the yard dock our access disappeared and we're back to using cell phones to get online.

Last Wednesday they moved us over to the yard dock, and we stopped again at the now-operational pumpout dock on the way. There was a shrimper sharing the dock with us when we arrived and it was a tight squeeze. The yard wasted no time getting started, with guys piling aboard Thursday morning. By the end of the week our rails had been removed entirely and they were starting to grind away at the rust.

Some of the rails off, sitting on a very rusty part of the deck.

The boat is now sheer chaos; the contents of the Portuguese lockers are mostly stashed in the warehouse, but almost everything else that was on deck is still aboard, taking up space in the salon or up on the flybridge. On top of that, my various orders are arriving and there are bits of projects all over the boat.

Typical of some of our worst rust spots.

The decks are a mess of grinding dust and Australian garnet blasting media, half the boarding gates are missing, and there's primer and fairing compound everywhere. We're doing our best to keep all the dust out of the boat. And in the meantime, we're eating our way through all the food in the fridge and freezer in preparation for being thrown off our own boat, including the vegetarian burgers we bought for our meatless friend Karen when we had her aboard a full year ago.

Another bad area. Rust often starts adjacent to the rail mounts.

It is against this backdrop that yesterday we were very nearly hit by an EF3 tornado. The weather alert had been going off all morning and we were tracking storms all over the area; we dogged down what we could on the boat and took our usual lightning precautions. The tornado in fact touched down less than two miles southeast of us, traveling down Chef Menteur Highway and ripping through Nasa's Michoud facility (whose photo I included in my last post), destroying a number of homes and business along the way before cutting across the ICW and out into Lake Borgne.

Fortunately, no one was killed, although there were a number of injuries. The tornado ripped through Little Saigon, sending shockwaves through the mostly Vietnamese workforce here at the yard. We learned this morning that one of the lead workers on our project lost his home. Casualties aboard Vector included two heavy steel patio chairs, temporarily relocated to the boat deck for the project, which were picked up and tossed overboard by a 50kt gust of wind. I had to fish them out of the drink later with a boat hook, as they posed a hazard down there to Vector or any other deep-draft boats maneuvering in the basin.

Long-time readers know this is not our first close encounter with a tornado; we narrowly avoided one in the bus and then ended up working on the subsequent relief operation the next day. We also had to take shelter in a nearby hotel for a tornado as Vector was secured for a tropical storm. Our marine radio, fortunately, does not let us miss any weather alerts, with an escalating tone that is truly deafening at its ultimate volume.

Things are mostly back to normal now. Today the welding crew showed up to cover up four large holes that we no longer need (two abandoned power inlets and the old fresh water fill fitting in the Portuguese coaming, and the hole where the old washdown spigot, served by the main bilge pump, broke off). And we've been informed that we'll likely be coming out of the water by Tuesday or so and will have to be off the boat shortly thereafter.

To that end, our good friend Pat and her son Rusty came down from Baton Rouge today with a 30' Tioga RV that will be our home while we are off the boat. They took us to lunch at Deanie's, a New Orleans seafood institution that is walking distance from where we first docked, over at Orleans Marina. We made the mistake of ordering one entree per person, and I think we now have two days of leftovers.

This evening after the yard closed up we maneuvered the RV into its assigned position in a covered parking spot next to the dry stack barn. Tomorrow we'll get it plugged in and set up, and we'll move some of our gear in over the weekend so we are ready for the inevitable move next week.

As we get closer to painting, we've been giving some thought to changing color. There is an old saying in the marine industry that there are two colors for a boat -- white, and stupid. Nevertheless, we're thinking about going with a sand color called "Moondust" from the rub rails down, and the yard took our blog header photo and modified it as a sort of mockup. It's a little more yellow than it appears from this photo; our decks are currently Moondust so we have a good feel for the color.

What Vector's new paint scheme might look like.

Partly this is because we're spending the proverbial boatload of money on a paint job, and we'd like to sail away with something to show for it other than "no rust." In larger part it is to create a deliberate contrast, to overshadow the unintentional contrast between nice, shiny, new white paint on the hull and the old, duller white paint on the superstructure, which we are not painting at this time. To be sure, there will still be both new and old white paint, as all the steel above the rub rails will still be white. But our gut feel is that the new/old difference will register less with some contrast on the hull.

I'll try to post an update or two as things progress, along with some more photos. Expect my posting will be sporadic while we are in the yard.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

In the ditch

We are underway in the ICW, westbound toward New Orleans. The ICW here consists mostly of a dredged cut through the wetlands; straight and narrow, like an actual ditch.

Sunset from our peaceful anchorage at the Blind Rigolets.

This morning found us anchored in a cross-channel known as the Blind Rigolets (map). It is another outlet from Lake Pontchartrain into Lake Borgne, and as such it has considerable current, both tidal and wind-driven. It's closed to navigation by a row of dolphins that protect a railroad bridge, and so it makes for a nice, protected anchorage.

Shortly after I posted here yesterday, we cleared the two bascule bridges at the east end of the lake, and carefully navigated the narrow and sometimes shallow North Pass toward The Rigolets. At times the sounder registered seven feet, but we made it through without issue. I imagine there are wind conditions under which we could not make this transit.

We had another skinny section just before the deepwater Rigolets pass itself; the sounder went from seven feet to seventy feet in a matter of minutes. From there it was easy going, all the way to the ICW. The CSX swing bridge near the mouth of The Rigolets was open when we arrived and we zipped right through. A sharp right turn at Lake Borgne put us on the ICW, and in just a few minutes we were at our anchorage.

Approaching the sector gates of the surge barrier.

Like the Mississippi River, this section of the ICW carries mostly towboat traffic, along the busy gulf coast corridor. We planned our turn onto the ICW in a gap in traffic, and then had to negotiate with a couple of tows as we made our way to the anchorage. Tows in both directions passed all night long, but we were set back far enough from the channel that we did not feel them.

The Paris Road Bridge.

While technically we have been in the city of New Orleans since we awoke this morning, we've now passed the Lake Borgne flood wall and are entering the city proper. We're just passing the old MRGO and headed for the Paris Road Bridge. In a short while we'll turn into the Industrial Canal and should be at Seabrook Marine mid-afternoon.

Nasa's Michoud docks, complete with spacecraft transporter.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Well grounded

We are underway across Lake Pontchartrain to the Rigolets passage, after narrowly escaping the city dock in Mandeville (map) this morning. Good thing, because today is really the only more or less calm day on the lake for the remainder of the week.

Vector at the Mandeville city dock. Photo: Jeff L.

The last calm day on the lake was Saturday, and we gave up our final night in Madisonville and dropped lines around 10am for the journey. New friends Cindy and Jeff met us at the dock and came along for the ride; to quote a theme song, a three hour tour.

Three lovely ladies under way. Photo: Jeff L.

We had an uneventful passage, exactly retracing our steps from two weeks earlier. Arriving at a fairly low tide level, we squeaked over the bar at the harbor entrance and tied up to the city wall in about seven feet of water. The tide swing here is less than a foot, and it would only go up from there.

Coming into Mandeville Harbor. Photo: Jeff L. (Selfie!)

After saying goodbye to our passengers, we were hoping to walk the half mile or so to town for dinner, but an evening thunderstorm kept us on the boat and we ended up eating in. Sort of the advance party for Sunday's massive storm front.

And massive it was; true to forecast, the lake had four to six footers on a short period. Unfortunately, the wind direction was such that the rollers came right into the harbor, and while attenuated somewhat, we had two-plus footers right at the dock, and Vector pitched all day Sunday and most of Monday as well. We had made plans with Jeff and Cindy to pick us up for a dry ride to a movie and dinner Sunday, and just getting off the boat with the boarding gate rising and falling more than a foot was a challenge. Jeff made a short video when they arrived to pick us up.

Vector pitching at the dock. This went on for 24 hours. Video by Jeff L.

It was good to get off the boat for a few hours during the storm, and we very much enjoyed the movie, Hidden Figures. We had dinner at the Old Rail, which, ironically, is one of the few places to which we could have walked from the boat. The boat was still pitching just as much when we returned later in the evening. Fortunately, as violent as it looks from the outside, this kind of pitch is an easy motion inside and we had no trouble with it.

A much bigger issue is that the storm was pushing a lot of water out of the lake. When we arrived back after dinner, we were sitting in just six feet; given how much we were still pitching I figured the aft end of the keel and rudder had dug themselves a nice trench in the soft mud. By the time I went to bed, the sounder was wavering between 5.5 and six feet.

At 2:30am we were awakened by a sickening sound: rock against the metal hull. By this time the sounder was reading 5.6' with only an occasional flicker to 6.0. With the forward end of the boat still pitching up and down a good foot, we were clearly coming down on top of something hard. I walked the dock with a 12' boat pole probing the bottom; while mostly soft mud into which I could jab the pole several inches, I did find some hard spots which I took to be embedded rocks, chunks of concrete, or other debris.

Not willing to risk hull damage or even more abrasion of the bottom paint, we had to do something. A sailboat that had taken shelter right in front of us prevented us from lining forward, and more rocks at the same depth behind us meant lining back would not be effective. Fifteen knots of wind meant that casting off and trying to get to a different place on the dock, or even to anchor in the channel, could be risky at best and impossible at worst.

Fortunately, the wind direction was such that it was trying to push us off the dock, rather than towards the dock or along it. We ultimately decided to just slack all the lines and let the wind hold us another two feet from the quayside. That didn't get us very much more water -- perhaps an inch or two -- but it got us away from the rocks and we stopped bashing into things. We went back to bed at 3am. The aforementioned sailboat, incidentally, was pitching, rolling, and yawing so violently that it was bashing its bow rails against the pilings; it was unoccupied, and there was nary a thing we could do about it.

I made this adapter for European power while we were trapped on board.

We awoke yesterday morning to find ourselves in less than 5.5' of water. In other words, stuck in the mud. At one point in the course of the day the depth sounder kissed 5.0'. We were still pitching; all the motion had caused Vector to dig her very own pocket in the mud. At one point the stabilizers were squeaking and I went to look at them; the leading edges where they swivel must have been well buried in the mud, because the trailing edges, which normally droop down to their lower stops, were instead resting against their upper stops, presumably held up by a blanket of mud.

So there we were, aground in the mud, five feet from the dock. We spent the day on the boat; I busied myself with some small projects. By dinner time, the lake had flattened and the pitching had mostly stopped, and we rigged a passerelle from one of our five foot fender boards so we could get ashore. We walked to a nice dinner at Nuvolari's.

Makeshift passerelle to get off the boat.

Overnight the wind stopped altogether, and early this morning it shifted around and water started slowly coming back into the lake. We awoke to find ourselves still in less than six feet, but by 10am the sounder was reading 6.3' and we figured we'd get out while the getting was good.

That proved to be something of a snare and a delusion. As soon as we pushed away from the dock the soundings dropped back below six feet. It would seem the hole we had dug for ourselves was fooling the sounder, which is tucked under one of the stabilizer fins. Not wanting to be stuck in that spot long enough for more weather to arrive, I plowed through the mud by rocking the boat back and forth until we were in deeper water. We made our way out of the channel at under two knots, barely clearing the bar with less than a foot under our keel.

Today's cruise will take us out of the lake and into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, where we should have much more protection from tomorrow's weather. We should be anchored somewhere along the ICW tonight. Tomorrow should bring us the rest of the way to Seabrook Marine.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Final night in Madisonville

We are back at the city dock in Madisonville (map), where we arrived again yesterday after spending two lovely nights on the Tchefuncte River, at anchor near Brady Island (map). We're on our third three-day pass here, which would take us through Sunday, but weather is causing us to leave before it expires.

On our last "exile" to anchorage in the Tchefuncte, just a short ways past the swing bridge, we splashed the tender to do some exploring. My charts have either no soundings past the bridge, or else show a depth of just four feet. As it turns out, the river averages 30' deep all the way up to (and likely well beyond) the large marina at about the five-mile mark, Marina Beau Chene. We sounded out the Brady Island anchorage and found eight-foot depths all the way around the island.

Vector at the Madisonville city dock. Photo: Jeff L.

We returned to the dock last Friday and paid our $30 for three more days. We had mail en route to the post office here, and we figured that would take us through Monday to pick it up, forgetting that it was a holiday weekend. We ended up spending an extra night so we could run to the post office Tuesday morning to get our mail.

Not only was it a holiday weekend, but it was near perfect weather, and the city docks completely filled up Saturday afternoon. We ended up meeting a handful of other boaters, including a couple who keep their boat at Orleans Marina, where we had stayed for ten days earlier this month, and a couple who live just a few minutes from here and keep their boat a bit further upriver.

This local couple, Cindy and Jeff, came over for cocktails on Sunday and took us to a nice dinner Monday at a bistro across town. Jeff is in the pump business, and ended up leaving the boat with our failed Lugger coolant pump, which I've been unable to open for lack of Circlip pliers large enough for the task (it's held together with an 8"-diameter Circlip).

Circlip and cover plate, off at last. Photo: Jeff L.

Jeff's shop was able to get the stubborn cover plate off, and reported back that the impeller and housing are fine. One possible outcome would have been to learn that the wobbly bearings meant the impeller had contacted the housing, damaging either or both and rendering the entire assembly worthless, but this was not the case.

Pump guts. Impeller (bottom center) looks perfect and housing (left) is undamaged. Bearings are shot. Photo: Jeff L.

I've ordered the four parts I need to rebuild the pump (two bearings, a seal, and an O-ring) directly from the local Komatsu dealer for a grand total of about $140, or one tenth the cost of a new pump. Jeff has offered to have his shop guys put it back together for me when the parts come in, and we will again have a spare coolant pump on board.

We put both scooters on the ground on Saturday and were able to get a bit further afield to do some shopping. A pair of large shopping centers is close by and had everything we needed, but the restaurant selection comprised nothing but chain offerings so we opted not to return at dinner time. Strolling the enormous shopping center while Louise was getting her hair cut, I came across an overturned car. Clearly it collided with another car, but, sheesh, how fast were you going in a parking lot to flip your car over on its roof?

How fast were y'all goin'?

It was good to breeze out the tender and both scooters in the last week. The scooters have been on-deck since Memphis, and the tender since Baton Rouge. My scooter is overdue for an oil change, but that will have to wait until we are in the boatyard.

Sunday we were joined for lunch by good friend and fellow Red Cross volunteer Pat, who lives in the Baton Rouge area and saw that were were here at the north shore. She made the drive down just to see us, and we spent most of the day catching up, driving out to Abita Springs for lunch.

It turns out that Pat has an RV that she seldom uses, a 30' class-C. She has offered to lend it to us for the time we are in the yard, which is very generous. (She also offered to put us up at her house, but we really need to be much closer to the yard throughout the process.) The yard says we can park it right on site for $300 per month, with power, and that would be perfect, making for a nice stroll across the parking lot to keep tabs on the work. So it would seem our temporary housing conundrum has been solved.

So it was a busy and productive weekend, and we left the dock Tuesday, after retrieving our mail, with many burdens lifted. By Tuesday morning our waste tank was full, so our first stop was right across the river at Marina Del Ray to use their pumpout. Fortunately it was a strong pump, but the hose was so short we had to cram Vector up into a tight corner of a slip to get it to reach; I'm sorry I could not get a photo, as it was quite comical.

The trip upriver to Brady Island was very scenic. Pictures could not do the cypress swamp justice, but I did snap a photo of one of the local houses doing its best to compete with Hearst Castle on the statuary front. We had originally planned to just sit out our mandatory 24 hours there, but it was so lovely and peaceful that we spent a second night. That ran us out of fresh food, so we returned here yesterday.

Hearst Castle East.

Sunday the lake is forecast to have waves of 3'-4' with a four-second period, so we are leaving tomorrow instead, for the return trip to the free dock at Mandeville which we left two weeks ago. Jeff, who is thinking about moving to a trawler at some point from the express cruiser he has now, is going to come along for the ride. Today we topped up our water tank (the water is off in Mandeville) and restocked the fresh veggies with a walk to the Piggly Wiggly about a half mile away.

Our plan is to spend the next three nights in Mandeville and then, weather permitting, make the trek through the Rigolets passage and down the ICW toward the industrial canal. We should be tying up at Seabrook Marine on Wednesday.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

In a Tchefuncte

We are tied up at the city dock in Madisonville, Louisiana, on the Tchefuncte River (map). This is a great spot, with power and water, right downtown. A half dozen restaurants are within a three-block walk; slightly further is a well-stocked Ace Hardware and a small Piggly-Wiggly grocery store. The town charges $10 per night if you use the power.

We ended up staying in Mandeville two extra days beyond the nominal three-day limit. Friday morning, when we were putatively scheduled to depart, weather had moved in and we were more or less pinned down. I called the police department to ask about an extension, and they seemed confused as to why we would call them. They told us to check back with the yacht club. The yacht club didn't seem to care, and even offered to write us a new permit.

Tchefuncte River Lighthouse, with black stripe for the range marker barely visible on the left. Photo: Richard David Ramsey

We ended up going right back into the yacht club Friday evening for draft beers and dinner, which they have catered on Friday evenings. We enjoyed meeting a handful of members, and dinner was convenient if nothing special. At least we did not have to make our way through the storm to anyplace else.

While Friday's storm would have made a departure nearly impossible, Saturday was barely better, with heavy rain and moderate winds all day. Visibility was poor and the lake was choppy. We opted to stay Saturday night as well. Sunday was much more pleasant, and we loaded up the scooter and cast off.

One of the yacht club members had filled us in on the dock situation here in Madisonville, and we decided to make it our next stop. Even though we are less than seven miles from where we started in Mandeville, it was a trip of over 20 miles, taking a little over three hours. That's in large part because the Lake Pontcahrtrain Causeway, the longest continuous overwater bridge in the world, separates the two towns through the middle of the lake. Vector is too tall to pass beneath any part of the bridge except the navigation span, nearly eight miles south of the north shore.

After clearing the span we set course for the 148 year old lighthouse marking the channel to the Tchefuncte. The original structure was actually constructed in 1837, but it was destroyed during the civil war and rebuilt in 1868 on the same site. It still serves as an important navigation aid today, being the rear marker for the Tchefuncte range, without which, we would be aground in the lake.

I passed these chickens out loose on my way back from the hardware store. This is a small town.

A range marker, for those unfamiliar, is a pair of towers of differing heights, with vertical lines painted on them. The shorter marker is in front of the taller marker; when approaching the range, the idea is to line them up so that the vertical lines are coincident. If the shorter marker appears to the right of the taller one, you steer right, and vice-versa.

The white lighthouse has a vertical black stripe painted on the seaward side, and a more modern range board is mounted on a frame seaward of that. The dredged channel leading in from the lake is extremely narrow, and, worse, is shown in an incorrect position on the charts. The only safe way in here is to follow the range exactly.

Even then, arriving at low tide and with a north wind, we had just three inches under our keel in several stretches. I was hoping to get a couple of nice pictures of the light and the range marks, but I could not drop my concentration even for an instant. I never took my eyes off the range, and Louise read off the numbers from the depth sounder every couple of seconds until we were well into the river. Once out of the lake, the river deepens to twenty feet or so.

This waterborne film shoot passed us slowly as they waited for the bridge. A dory with its passengers in period costumes is on the deck of the spud barge, with the film crew in life vests scattered around.

That was the most concentration I've had to dedicate to the helm since some close-quarter passes of giant towboats on the Mississippi. We were rewarded with a very calm and beautiful river and a very easy docking here at the city wall. We did have to dock twice -- we could not find a working power outlet at the first spot, and I have since discovered that out of some two dozen 50-amp outlets along the waterfront, only perhaps three or four are working. Not a problem, since we've had the whole waterfront to ourselves since arriving; I can only imagine what it's like during the annual Wooden Boat Festival held here, where the dock is so crowded that some boats med-moor.

The 50-amp power carried us through the last of the recent cold snap, and we were thankful to have it. Monday morning we walked over to the town hall to register; they wrote us a permit for another three nights and collected our money. Today we will have to leave the dock, but we are permitted to return after 24 hours.

Weather out on the gulf has not been conducive to making a circle trip down the river and back up to the gulf coast. Even going out into Mississippi Sound and traveling along the Mississippi gulf coast looks to be fairly uncomfortable for the foreseeable future, not really all that surprising in the dead of winter. At this writing, it looks like we will be staying right here in Lake Pontchartrain until it is time to move over to the Industrial Canal to get ready for our yard visit.

This very sweet cat on the porch of the Riverfront Bar is a doppelganger for our dearly departed George.

And so it is that we will sign up for another three nights right here in Madisonville after our mandatory 24-hour hiatus. In the time since I started typing this, we've already moved the boat, and we are now anchored in the Tchefuncte at a wide spot north of the Madisonville Swing Bridge (map), which we came through at the 1pm opening. We'll spend our 24 hours here and then head right back to the city dock tomorrow.

Lack of Internet access, other than our cell phones, has been catching up with us, and yesterday I walked over to the nearby Abita Coffee Roasting Company cafe toting my laptop, two iPads, and four Android phones. I spent an hour over a nice latte getting all of the device software updated, along with navigation charts and POI data. At ten bucks a night, lack of WiFi is fine, but I'm still peeved that we got no WiFi in New Orleans even at nine times that amount.

Thus far we have only walked the town, sampling all the nearby restaurants and picking up a few items at the local stores. Once we return to the dock I expect we'll deploy a scooter so we can ride into Covington, where we have some more shopping and dining options.

Another three-day permit here will take us to Monday, which would leave us with a week before heading over towards the Industrial Canal. I'm not sure where that week will take us; if we can squeak over the bar at Pass Manchac we might go into Lake Maurepas for a couple of nights, and once our 14-day exile is over we might return to Mandeville for a night or two. There are few other alternatives open to us save for anchoring in the lake itself, an option only in settled weather.