Thursday, April 27, 2017

Texas!

We are anchored in an oxbow of the Sabine River, just on the Texas side of the Texas/Louisiana line (map). We had a mostly pleasant five nights in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Actually, the last four nights were entirely pleasant; it was the first night that was... interesting.


Vector docked at L'Auberge du Lac resort and casino in Lake Charles.

Saturday we had a lovely cruise from our nice anchorage on the Mermantau to the Calcasieu River. The ICW arrives at the river by way of Black Bayou, and shortly before reaching the port of Lake Charles we passed through the Black Bayou pontoon bridge and the Calcasieu Lock.


Calcasieu Lock, another "float in the middle" exercise.

The former looks a lot like a barge with a roadway on it. To allow vessels to pass, small ramps at either end lift out of the way and the "barge" is swung out of the channel and parallel to it by cables. Sometimes the cables go right across the channel, and you need to hold short of the bridge until the tender has dropped the cables all the way to the bottom.

We had no wait at either the bridge or the lock, and in short order we were steaming thorough the port. Lake Charles is a big industrial port with a deepwater channel directly to the gulf. We plotted the big ships on our AIS display before turning into the river itself and heading upriver to the city.


When the cattle are strolling in the ICW you know the water is too shallow in that part.

Our chart showed two anchorages en route to the casino dock that was our ultimate destination. One in an oxbow of the river, cut off when the ship channel was cut through, and another up the old river channel that leads to Prien Lake, also now cut off by the ship channel. This latter anchorage is just past a deepwater turning basin and showed 12' depths, perfect for us. Also, we had a favorable tide and wanted to get as far upriver as possible.

We turned in at the turning basin and continued up the old channel. Our charts showed 12'-15', but the sounder kept dropping, and when it registered 8', we backed out to the 10' contour and dropped anchor (map). It was fine, well off the ship channel, and we had cocktails and dinner and later in the evening Louise went to bed.


We did have a few large wakes at the dock. Catered party at left was casino employee appreciation; Vector is in a lot of photos.

Sometime around 1:30am I was annoyed to find a spotlight shining in the salon window as I worked at my computer. Now, we get spotlights like this from time to time, particularly when  a towboat is trying to navigate past us, so I though nothing of it except it was not going away. I went to the pilothouse to see what was going on, and I turned the radio back on that we keep tuned to channel 13, the bridge-to-bridge communication channel. We always keep a radio on channel 16, the hailing and distress channel, even when anchored.


Sunset over the Calcasieu. Vector and Louise in silhouette.

As soon as I turned on 13 I could hear someone talking about us, and I hailed the towboat who had us lit up. He informed me that a ship was trying to reach us (but not, clearly, on 16... pilot training is not what it used to be). After a quick exchange I ended up speaking with Pilot 8, aboard the Cape Bonny, a 900'-long motor tanker. We had passed them in their berth earlier in the day.


The rabbits (lots of them) heard the casino had an all-you-can-eat buffet. They were working their way through the decorative plantings here at a prodigious rate.

She informed me that her intention was to bring the ship around the point and into the natural channel of the river, with it's bow just a few dozen yards from where we were anchored. I had to confirm this with her several times, because the Cape Bonny's forward draft was a full 18' and our sounder had registered just 12' where she intended to put the bow.

Reluctantly, I agreed to move upriver a short distance, and Louise got dressed and came up from belowdecks. We weighed anchor and moved to a spot some 500' further in to the river, clenching the whole time with the depth alarm sounding. We dropped the hook and waited for the Cape Bonny to arrive.


The 900' Cape Bonny (with bunker tug alongside) in the natural river,showing our three anchored spots.

After she rounded the point, assisted by a pair of tractor tugs, the pilot again called to say we were going to disappear from her sight line below her bow and we still looked too close. So we again weighed anchor -- by this time it is 2am -- and moved another 400' upriver (map). Our chart plot from the next morning tells the tale -- you can see the Cape Bonny, a tug pushing the bunkering barge next to her, our anchored position, and the two previous spots we had anchored.



The view we woke to. Cape Bonny just downriver with a bunker barge alongside.

In truth, and as I suspected, we never had to move at all. Although, honestly, our first spot would have been a nerve-wracking distance from the big tanker's bow. Our second spot was perfectly fine and we certainly did not need to move a second time. However we did not run aground and we did end up having a very comfortable night, once all the drama was over.


Steaming head-on towards an anchored Cape Bonny. We need to thread the narrow gap between the ship and the little point of land off her starboard bow.

In the morning we determined that the bow of the Cape Bonny was, indeed, resting in a place where our sounder had registered just 10'-12'. So in fact the bottom there is either mud so soft that a ship can simply push it aside, or else it's a "false bottom" reading, where a layer of silt-laded water of different density reads as solid to the sounder.


Passing the Cape Bonny close aboard -- she fills the pilothouse window.

We had been told the ship would like there for eight hours to bunker. But when we called them at 10am the watchstander told us their plan was to weigh anchor at 2200. We were not going to wait around that long to get under way, so that presented the problem of how to get around this behemoth without running aground.


Close, but we made it without trading paint or running aground.

We ended up squeaking by just 30' off her starboard bow (her starboard anchor was down) with the depth alarm squawking the whole time. It registered just under two feet under our keel. Once we were past the skinny bit we had an easy cruise all the way to L'Auberge du Lac casino (map), where we had reservations to dock for two nights.


Approaching our destination. L'Auberge on the left and Golden Nugget on the right.

I might mention here that we anchored Saturday night instead of proceeding the last half hour to the casino for two reasons. First among them is that the rate for Saturday night was $100 whereas Sunday through Thursday nights the rate is just $50. The second being that arriving in the morning rather than the evening means another half day's access to all the resort amenities.


I got to see Vector again every time I went into the building.

After we were tied up, in the only spot our draft would permit, I walked to the front desk to get registered. We also went to the casino promotions desk and signed up for club cards, which got us 5% at all the restaurants and two $20 coupons for massages in the spa, which we had already planned on booking.


The carrot cake at Saltgrass Steakhouse at the Nugget was enormous. We each ate a quarter of it, and had the other half a different night.

We very much enjoyed our stay at the resort. In addition to spa visits we enjoyed several of the on-property restaurants as well as one at the adjoining Golden Nugget resort, which is something of a carbon-copy of the one we've patronized in Atlantic City, complete with a plethora of Landrys-branded restaurants. We spent time at the pool, which also features a lazy river; sadly it was not nearly warm enough weather to really enjoy it.


The adult pool, complete with cocktail service.

We were having a good enough time that we extended our stay by one night, to yesterday morning. When I checked out the desk said we could spend more time during the day so long as we unplugged, and we could use the pool facilities if we got our wristbands before 11am. We ended up staying to mid-afternoon and I enjoyed some more time at the pools.


I-10 bridge over the Calcasieu in Lake Charles.

We knew that would mean not enough day to make it to the next reasonable anchorage along the ICW, so instead we just went a little downriver to anchor at the old oxbow (map). With an easy schedule we first took a little cruise upriver to the eponymous lake and the city of Lake Charles itself. A shallow bar between the ship channel and the rest of the lake precludes Vector from getting into the lake or close to downtown, but I snapped photos of the I-10 bridge we've traversed so many times, and the civic center where we spent so much time with the Red Cross after hurricane Rita.

City of Lake Charles. Civic Center is center frame. This is as close as Vector can get.

The oxbow proved a much better choice than our selection Saturday night, and we had a pleasant and undisturbed night. This in spite of having to anchor in winds of 20 knots gusting to 30 or so. That same wind made it a challenge to get off the dock and made for a bit of an interesting river cruise. Sometime overnight it died down considerably and clocked around to the other direction, and we woke up much closer to shore in only 8' of water.


Sunset at the oxbow. What a view!

Today's cruise brought us down the Calcasieu River and back to the ICW, where the first few miles west of the river are just an unending conga line of towboats and barges. In short order, though, it again became just "the ditch" and I was able to engage the autopilot and type some of this post.


Sunset over Shell Island in the Sabine River. Howdy from Texas.

We pulled off here in one of the easiest and most comfortable anchorages on this entire section of coastline. Deep, wide, and out of the barge traffic. Tomorrow we will continue a short distance to Port Arthur, where we will find the last decent anchorage until Galveston Bay. That will leave us with a rather long 60-mile day on Saturday to reach a safe stopping place.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Runnin' the ditch

We are anchored in the Mermentau River, in Cameron Parish, Louisiana (map), just a mile or so off the ICW channel. This morning found us docked at Shell Morgan's Landing in Intracoastal City, Lousiana (map), the center of Vermillion Parish's offshore industry.


Vector at Shell Morgan's Landing. Tan building to the left is the store. Shrimp fleet in background.

Long-time readers will know that we much prefer to anchor than dock on these kinds of travel days. But anchorages are few and far between on this stretch of waterway -- none of the side channels or canals has enough depth for Vector -- and so we spent the last two nights at commercial docks that were little more than a safe place to stop.

Yesterday morning we left the seafood dock without incident before the shrimping fleet returned, and motored out of the port. We had our sights set on the Vermillion River, which looked like it might present some anchoring opportunities, with the backup option of Shell Morgan's just a little bit further if it did not work out.

Our charts for the Vermillion proved incorrect, showing a nice 12'-deep oxbow that is now completely silted in. The main channel of the river is a poor choice, because the river is lined with commercial berths for the significant offshore oil industry here.


Angel was relaxed the whole day. Here she sleeps on Louise's hat, right next to her on the pilothouse settee.

After poking around the river for 20 minutes we gave up and proceeded to Shell Morgan's, where dockage is a flat $25 for the night and includes 50-amp power. And while there is absolutely nothing else in this town, there is a small grocery store within spitting distance of the dock, so we were able to walk over and pick up a couple of items.

This morning we walked back over to the store because they have a small counter serving breakfast and lunch. We got egg sandwiches on toast as our last meal out for a while. The water level had dropped more than a foot overnight, and we left the dock in less than seven feet out to the main channel.

Shortly after clearing out of town we came to the Bowman Lock. As with the last lock we transited, this one only operates when necessary, and today they had both ends open and were passing traffic straight through. We were behind a giant tow, who slowed for the lock, so we putt-putted through behind him. The lockmaster called on the radio as we passed through to express his appreciation of our motor scooters on deck.


Approaching Bowman Lock in the wake of the towboat Native Dancer.

The rest of the day was more or less an endless chug down a narrow, featureless canal. We do like this sort of remote coastal landscape, but you can look out the window once every half hour and not really miss anything. Our new AT&T mobile hotspot stayed connected the whole time, and we occupied ourselves with various online chores.

For me that included making calls to the city docks in Houston and Beaumont to try to arrange dockage, as well as a call to the L'Auberge Casino in Lake Charles. The cities have not returned my calls, but we are booked at the casino for Sunday and Monday nights. We'll be in the neighborhood tomorrow, but the rates double on the weekends, so we'll anchor for a night before tying up.

We're looking forward to a couple of nights at a resort, complete with pool, lazy river, restaurants, and entertainment. They even have a spa, and we might spring the princely sum for resort-spa massages, just because we are both overdue.



Our lovely anchorage on the Mermentau, looking south towards the gulf.

We are enjoying being anchored here, only our second night at anchor since leaving the yard. Further up this river is Lake Arthur and the eponymous town thereon. My charts don't show whether the lake carries enough draft for Vector, or we might have gone all the way and tendered ashore for dinner. Instead I have a nice pork tenderloin on the grill.

Tomorrow night we should be anchored off the Calcasieu River, not far from our casino destination.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A tough couple of days

We are under way westbound in the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, west of Morgan City, Louisiana. This morning found us docked at the free city dock in Berwick, LA (map), immediately across the Atchafalaya River from Morgan City. We had hoped to tie up at the free Morgan City dock and explore the town a little, but the docks have been closed for repairs for several months.


Vector at Berwick City Docks. Morgan City dock is across the river; US-90 and historic Long-Allen bridges ahead of us.

Sunday morning we got under way fairly early from the Boomtown Casino, since we did not really know what the docking situation would be like in Houma and we wanted to arrive early. We retraced our steps back to the Algiers Canal and continued west on the ICW, where the first thing we encountered was the shiny new floodgate structure and pumping station.


Approaching the flood gate. We'd been warned our compass would swing.

A note on our chart mentioned that the structure emits a strong magnetic field that can affect magnetic compass readings. Since our magnetic compass drives our autopilot, I disengaged the autopilot well before the structure and steered manually. A wise move, as the compass needle literally swung through 180°. Louise captured a short video of it as I conned the boat.

Compass goes wild at Harvey flood gate.

Shortly after passing the floodgates I re-engaged the autopilot and we settled in for a long day in "the ditch." The canal passes an alternating mix of industrial marine infrastructure and vast wetlands, the latter dotted with gas wells and fish farms. Eventually the canal crosses Bayou Lafourche in LaRose, LA, which is a port in its own right with direct access to the gulf and a good bit of offshore service industry.

Our chart showed one marina there, but it is long defunct and there is nothing left of it. With no place to either anchor or tie up, we continued west to Houma. This part of the route is predominantly wetland until the outskirts of Houma, which owes its existence entirely to maritime service facilities and shipyards. On our way into port we passed the steam paddlewheeler Delta Queen, which was towed here from Chattanooga along more or less our same route a year or so ago, and now sits idle in a shipyard awaiting its fate.


Best I could do for a shot of Delta Queen. Click to enlarge.

We had high hopes for docking at the city docks in Houma, which are along a narrow canal in between the "twin bridges" that cross the ICW here. The dockmaster had informed us he had 7-8 feet the whole length of the dock, and we had independent verification that there was at least enough water at the outermost berth, closest to the ICW.

Turning into this canal is tricky because the entrance is under the bridges, in between fenders, in literally the narrowest part of the whole ICW. So the turn must be made with enough time to fully complete it and clear the ICW well before any tows arrive at the bridge. With enough doubt about available depth in the canal, I wanted to be sure that I had not only all that, but also enough time to back all the way back out and clear the bridge fenders if need be.

As we approached the turn we could see that the outermost berth, where we knew we would have enough water, was already occupied with an expensive yacht. Not only could we not have that prime spot, but we'd have to get around him and proceed well into the canal to try a different spot. All made much more complicated in the narrow canal by a good ten knots of wind wanting to push Vector right against the dock or any vessels tied there.


Our view from our cozy spot in Berwick. The US-90 bridge and the Long-Allen bridge behind it.

This stretch of waterway is pretty busy; we'd been passing tows all day. I had a gap of a few minutes ahead of an eastbound tow, and we made our turn. We got just about abreast of the motor yacht before we ran out of water; with the wind threatening to push our 110,000 lbs hard against an expensive fiberglass yacht, I quickly called for astern full and we beat a hasty retreat back into the ICW. By this time I had just a few minutes to get Vector turned 90° and out of the bridges to make way for the eastbound tow.

We motored back and forth twice while I called the dockmaster to ask again about depths. He was clearly clueless. When I inquired about asking the motor yacht to move forward a few feet he allowed that it was stored there, a deal between some local bigwig and the city that was above his paygrade. So really the Houma City Docks are unavailable to cruisers; a shame for anyone who would like to visit.

Our charts showed two other possible options -- a restaurant with a dock, and a fuel company with a dock. Both were closed on Easter Sunday. The restaurant dock looked like it might well be too shallow for us, and with no one to ask, we did not want to risk it. And the fuel dock, while plenty deep, was clearly posted no docking, and, again, no one from whom to obtain permission.


Another view of Vector on the Atchafalaya in Berwick. SP rail bridge behind her.

Reluctantly we pressed on westward, with few options in sight for any kind of reasonable stop. Lots and lots of places where it looks like a boat might be able to pull well out of the channel and drop the hook, but none of those spots had enough depth for Vector. We pulled off-channel four times, and even got the hook down once, but we could just not get far enough away for the tow traffic to safely clear us.

Somewhere in the course of all of this, and I no longer remember whether it was before or after the Houma docking fiasco, we started having DC voltage problems. Our AIS transponder is particularly sensitive to low voltage, and often an early warning sign of problems is the transponder rebooting, which sounds an alarm. The AIS probably rebooted a dozen or more times over the course of the afternoon.

I spent a bit of time troubleshooting as best I could under way, ensuring that the alternator was charging (it was) and we did not have some huge load on either 24 or 12 volts (we did not). I finally concluded it was a problem with the battery bank itself which could wait until we stopped. As long as the engine RPM was in the under way range the voltage was good enough; it only dropped critically low when I pulled back to idle.

We ended up having to go all the way past sunset, to Bayou Black (map), a little-used barge canal off the ICW. It was one of our longest (maybe the longest, not counting overnight passages) days on the water, at nearly 12 hours under way and 71 nautical miles. We had dinner in the pilothouse under way, just as we do on our overnight runs. As soon as we had the hook set we settled in with a well-earned beer.

Even though it was relatively wide, as an active barge canal we were a bit concerned about anchoring. Under these conditions, extra lights are indicated, and the AIS transponder is a critical safety item -- even if we were completely dark, the towboats see us on their displays. Of course, the battery problem did not magically go away, and not long after we shut down the main engine, the AIS started incessantly rebooting.


Train crossing the SP bridge. Inoperative swing span at right. We crossed this bridge on Amtrak's Sunset Limited many years ago.

We ended up just running the generator all night. There was zero load on it when we started it up, since the charger thought the batteries were already charged. We turned on all four air conditioners for the duration to keep the generator from wet stacking. We put as many hours on the generator that night as we normally put on in five days at anchor. At the end of a long, hard day I simply did not have it in me to start taking apart the battery bank to find the problem.

Not long after we anchored, while we were still sipping our beer, a towboat turned off the ICW and up the canal; we recognized him as a pocket tug we had passed in Houma. I called him on the radio to see if he needed us to move, but it turns out he was doing just what we were -- he had a spud barge and they put their spuds down right smack in the middle of the canal entrance. We immediately felt a lot better about where we were anchored.

As if the long day and the battery problem were not enough, the bilge alarm went off while Louise was in the shower. Seems it was time for our biennial shower sump overflow. I spent ten minutes clearing the sump out and getting it working and we opted to clean the bilge out in the morning. Louise kept an eye on the sump while I showered to make sure it was not going to stop up again.

In the calm light of day we considered our options for dealing with the batteries. As tempted as I was to just dive in and start working on them, we realized we were just an hour and a half from the dock in Berwick, and we decided it was a wiser course to do the work there, where we could at least find a way to get parts or help if we needed it. We ran the generator until after we got under way and started it up again before arrival.

Monday morning we weighed anchor and got under way for the Atchafalaya River and the Morgan City area. The ICW connects to Morgan City by way of Bayou Boeuf. In order to manage current in the cut and keep Atchafalaya floodwaters from racing down the bayous, the Corps of Engineers manages a lock in this stretch. Sometimes its open at both ends and traffic just passes through, but they were actually operating the lock when we arrived.

This is the first time we've ever been asked to enter a lock and just hover in the middle, without tying off.  The lockmaster asked us to drive in mid-channel and stop around 100' into the lock. We just sat there station-keeping while they locked us down a few feet, then drove out.


The view astern as we station-keep in the Bayou Boeuf Lock. The gates are closing.

A short while later we came squarely to the very industrial port of Morgan City. The port and the Atchafalaya River are under Vessel Traffic Control and we checked in with them shortly after leaving the lock. Another three-radio day. Fortunately the channels are wide and deep and we had no trouble maneuvering around the commercial traffic.


These jack-up rigs are docked at one of the many service facilities.

I've been looking forward to a stop in Morgan City for some time, so it was sad to learn that the city docks are still not finished after many months of work and myriad delays. Fortunately, Berwick, just across the river, also offers a nice city waterfront with free dockage. Morgan City has power pedestals, though, which would have come in handy with the battery problems.


As are these offshore service platforms. One on the right has a helipad.

After we were securely tied alongside we called the police department to check in, as listed on signage at the docks. They put me through to the person in charge of the docks, and he said he was going to have an officer come by. That never happened, but we felt very welcome at the dock.

Not wanting to run the generator any longer than necessary, I got to work on the batteries as soon as the engine room had a chance to cool down. As soon as I put my meter on the Vanner battery equalizer I discovered why the charger was reporting full but the AIS kept rebooting. There was no voltage on the 24v side and I found the 40a input fuse blown.


Blown equalizer fuse (center) shown with cover removed.

Fuses like this do not blow for no reason, and rather than risk blowing my lone replacement, I continued to the diagnosis of the battery bank. Clearly the problem was in the lower half of the bank, and if one battery had gone bad, it would be found there. Fortunately, this is the easier half to work on. Isolating the three batteries involves removing just two ground wires.

After letting the batteries rest an hour, my battery load tester showed battery number two to be bad. We've been down this path before. I cut that battery out of the bank, and cut the easiest-to-remove upper battery as well so that the two halves would still be in balance. After it was all back together I replace the equalizer fuse and let the uppers recharge the lowers a bit before firing the charger back up.


Bad battery removed from bank, courtesy of a removed connector and some electrical tape.

As long as I had grubby clothes on to work in the engine room I also vacuumed the shower water out of the bilges and got the fans running to dry them while the batteries were settling down. It was blissful to be able to finally shut down the generator.

We found a 15-amp convenience outlet on a nearby park structure and connected it to the charger to finish equalizing and topping up the batteries. And finally we were able to just relax on the aft deck with a beer. (The city dockmaster came by the next morning, and had no problem with our power cord, and even showed us where the water spigot was located.)

With two very hard days behind us, we opted to just stay at the dock another full day. That gave us a chance to relax, and also to sample the only restaurant in town within walking distance of the dock, Bayou Lagniappe, which was closed Monday. It was quite good, actually.


Hole in the wall. And the only game in town. Good thing the food was excellent.

This morning we shove off and headed a short distance upriver past the two highway bridges to the Rio Fuel dock. We took on 600 gallons at a relatively inexpensive $1.97; we still had enough fuel left from our fillup at Paris Landing, Tennessee to make it all the way to Brownsville, but prices are going up so we wanted to load up while it was still below two bucks.

After fueling we headed back downriver to the ICW, checking out of Berwick Traffic at mile marker 99 west of town. Tonight we hope to be docked somewhere at the Port of West St. Mary.


Passing the Cote Blanche Island cable ferry. Important to know that the cables have dropped before crossing paths.

Update: we are tied up at Mr. D's Seafood, a shrimp boat operation in the Port of West St. Mary (map). When we called the port they referred us here, and we have a secure spot for the night for a whopping ten bucks. There is no place else to dock or anchor for dozens of miles. The dock is a bit rough, and 15kt of wind pushing us against it has already put a chip in the paint, so I guess we can call this the first ding.


Vector at Port of W. St. Mary, Big D's Seafood.

Tomorrow we will continue west in the ditch to the Vermillion River. In two or three days we should be in Lake Charles.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Escape from the boatyard

We are tied to the seawall along the Harvey Canal at the Boomtown Casino in Harvey, Louisiana (map). It's our very first time out of the boatyard since arriving there on January 25th, some eleven and a half weeks ago. Of course, we picked a day with 20-knot winds to road-test our new paint job in two locks and against the rustiest, most distressed bulkhead we've seen in a long time.


Vector at the seawall near the Boomtown Casino.

After my last post here we did manage to get down to the quarter on Sunday for the French Quarter Festival. We mostly wandered around among a half dozen of the stages and venues, got drafts from one of the canonical beer trucks, and enjoyed the people-watching.


Jazz stage near the French Market.

I did not realize it but the festival lays claim to being the largest free music festival in the US. It's spread across some 23 stages extending somewhat beyond the boundaries of the quarter itself. We only saw a small fraction.


Lots of activity at Jackson Square.

We ended with dinner at El Gato Negro, a supposedly highly rated Mexican restaurant near the French Market, but we were disappointed. It was quite overpriced -- we expected the usual vig for the quarter but this was beyond the pale -- and the food was inauthentic. Live and learn; I supposed I should have had low expectations of Yelp reviewers who've been knocking back walkaway Hurricanes all day.


One of the other stages. The event is so spread out that it did not feel crowded.

Also not long after my last post here I started getting splice hate mail. Well, OK, it was just name-calling. But still. I did seriously think about removing the photo, but I think it's important to show the good, the bad, and the ugly. Yes, it was ugly. As I wrote when I posted it, the line is old and stiff and thus difficult to work, and I make perhaps one splice a year so my marlin-spike skills are not sharply honed. (A tip of the hat here to all the readers of Louise's blog who came to my defense.)

I hunted around for a photo of the last splice I did, a very nice thimble eye splice for the painter for our dinghy. Sadly, that painter wore through (not at my splice) some time ago and I no longer have it. But it was quite elegant. And honestly, the first time I did this bitter-end-of-the-chain nonsense I did a much more elegant job. It took me more than twice as long and it was all nicely tapered and it looked great even though the line was stiff and miserable to work.

That great-looking splice, which was tapered back in four places, then sat underneath a 1,200-lb pile of anchor chain for three solid years. It still looked good when it came out but, of course, had to be destroyed to galvanize the chain. I decided I needed to know a lot more about who'd be impressed for me to do that again. This one was strictly functional, tapered once, and trimmed just enough to fit the gypsy. It's again below 1,200 lbs of chain and it will not be seen again until we flip the chain end-for-end in perhaps five years or so.


Vector freshly washed and all loaded save for scooters. Paint job looks great.

The yard took a little longer to address the punch list than we expected. In particular, they saved the additional touch-up we asked for until after the contract items were punched, to keep the billing separate, which meant they did not start those until Tuesday. Masking was removed Wednesday and they washed down the boat Thursday. We did not realize it earlier in the week but the yard was closed Friday for the Good Friday holiday, and so everything had to be done by Thursday to get us out.

The extra couple of days gave us more dining-out opportunities and we tried a couple of new-to-us places as well as some old standbys. It occurs to me that after three full months at Seabrook I still have not really posted about any restaurants, so perhaps I will write up a list of our favorites and put it up as a separate post.


Our streetcar, SRO coming out of downtown. We were able to get seats a few stops later.

Even though we were done on Thursday, we opted to take an extra day to get ourselves squared away and postpone shoving off until this morning. So yesterday we had a day to ourselves and we again went down to the quarter for bunch at the historic Court of Two Sisters. It was very good if a bit touristy with lackluster service, but it's a very pleasant space. I remember being there as a young boy and it looks just the same. That ended up being our big meal of the day. Then we rode the streetcar out through the garden district and back.


End of the line, on Carrollton.

At 4pm, after the yard closed for the day, we started up the big Lugger and moved around to the fuel dock, hoping to pump out our waste tanks and be ready to load the scooters. However a large group was having a Good Friday fish boil on the lawn right by the pumpout, and we opted to hold off until they were gone. We ended up pumping out after 9pm.

Winds were blowing 20kt when we moved the boat, so getting out of the slip without dinging the new paint was a bit of a challenge, as was coming alongside the fuel dock. Many thanks to our friend Dave who helped cast us off and take our lines in these conditions.

We had figured to maybe go out for one final dinner as well, but brunch carried us so long that we just ended up having a salad at home. And so it was that we loaded the scooters shortly after dinner without having taken them out again. I have to say, having those scooters made a huge difference in New Orleans, where parking a car can be a challenge. We got right up to parade routes, restaurants, and even the quarter without breaking a sweat.


A mural in one of our favorite spots, Pasta Arabella. Two great religions connect.

This morning winds were a bit lighter when we dropped lines at the fuel dock, but they quickly built to near the same 20kt. We ended up waiting quite a while at the Almonaster bridge for a train to clear, and by the time we arrived at the Industrial Lock, station keeping was quite a chore. And station keep, we did, as we had about a twenty minute wait for the lock, along with a shrimper and a go-fast motor yacht. This latter boat had already snagged the dolphins available to tie up waiting vessels.


Approaching the Chef Menteur, I-10, and Almonaster bridges. If you zoom in you can see a train on the bascule bridge.

We have never had to raft in a lock. But as luck would have it, Industrial asked us to come in first and for the other pleasure craft to raft to us. So not only do I have to worry about dinging the paint on the lock wall, I now have to worry about a skipper of unknown skill dinging the paint on the other side as well. Moreover, our cleats are not accessible from off the boat, so Louise has to run around from the wall side to the channel side to take their lines and get them secured, then run back to tend the locking line. Not optimal by any means.

We got into the chamber and very quickly got secured alongside. I think we always surprise the lock operators with how quickly we do it. And we turned our attention to the smaller boat as it approached to raft. Unknown skill level was quickly revealed to be low skill level, and so we were very glad when the lock operator waved off at the last minute and asked them to pull up to the wall behind us. We surmised that the two lock attendants were only comfortable tending two lines, but after they realized we could tend our own they were able to accommodate a third boat.


Angel being completely blasé about having spent the day moving the boat.

Coming out of the lock, things get very busy in the pilothouse. We quickly change the radios from channels 16, 13, and 14 (yes, we need to have three radios on through this stretch) to channels 67, 12, and 14. Then clear in to Vessel Traffic Control on 12 with our river route. And then start working 67 to arrange passing with various river traffic. As soon as we left the canal we had to dodge an upbound barge, quickly passing in front of him before making our downriver turn.

We are at the beginning of spring floods and the current is swift; Vector rolled ten degrees or so when we hit it. And with winds at 20kt against current and a long fetch, we found ourselves in short-period three foot seas. We porpoised our way downriver, taking a bit of water over the bow. The shrimper who had been in the lock with us passed us; we never heard him on the radio either in the lock or on the river.

We passed our old digs at the New Orleans General Anchorage and proceeded a short ways downriver to the Algiers Lock, where we found the shrimper waiting in the forebay. The lock, as well as a large red-flag tow on the other side, were both trying to reach him, and there was some brief confusion when our own call to the lock had them thinking we were the shrimper. We very quickly straightened them out.


View astern towards the Mississippi in the Algiers lock. Shrimper behind us never answered the radio.

We had only a short wait to enter the Algiers lock and  then we were officially west of the Mississippi River, something of a milestone for us. We were locked through straight away, did a little do-si-do with another red flag waiting to enter (also annoyed he could not reach the shrimper), and were on our way down the Algiers Canal.

Boomtown is actually a short distance back toward the Mississippi on the Harvey canal and so we made the right turn at the junction. Our AIS showed a towboat at the bulkhead and I called him to ask if there was room for us; he was just leaving and said we had plenty. It gave me some confidence to be able to ask about conditions and depths.


Vector secured at the seawall. Yes, that's a fridge in front of us, and a towboat astern.

I had budgeted a couple of hours for each lock, not expecting to lock-through on the first pass each time. So it was only about 1pm when we reached the bulkhead. Of course, that same wind we had been fighting all day that made the locks so challenging was blowing directly off the bulkhead, and I had a might fight to get Vector alongside.


How we had to tie up. Section of old firehose provides chafe protection. Louise initially looped this from on deck.

Worrying about banging up the new paint job on a rusty seawall was not helping matters any, but the biggest issue of all was the utter lack of cleats, bollards, bitts, pins, or any other means to land a line from on deck. We picked a spot on the wall that had one rusty old bollard cleat with one horn missing, figuring it was at least a starting  point.


I think these holes are from broken-off bollards. Here I am using bits of vinyl hose for protection.

Louise was able to loop an eye on the one remaining horn and then take a wrap on the bollard, which got me something to pull against, and in another few minutes she was able to drop a line through a hole in the bulkhead and snag the bitter end with a boat pole to bring it aboard. With two lines on I was able to disembark and get the rest of the lines through various other holes. Everything was rusty and sharp, so we put chafing gear on the lines taking the heaviest loads and called it good enough for the night. At least the wind was holding us away from the rusty wall and not the other way around.


Our stern line. I had to thread this one from ashore.

Mid-afternoon a large go-fast motor yacht came by on full plane, and I ran out on deck to tend fenders. Fortunately none popped out, but I was hopping mad. I was so focused on the fenders that I could not get the glasses out to catch his name. It was a good reminder that we are coming back into boating season and the inconsiderate and/or unskilled skipper will be out in full force on the weekends.


All tied up. You can see the lone one-horned bollard around midships.

While his wake did no damage to Vector, an abandoned refrigerator that was sitting on the bulkhead just ahead of us was floated briefly by it, moved around, and then set back down in a slightly different spot. I decided it would be bad news if another wake somehow floated that into the canal, where a pointy metal corner would easily do serious damage to our paint, and so I went ashore with an old line and secured the fridge to the bulkhead so it couldn't reach us if it floated. I'll take the line off in the morning.


Fridge safety line.

This evening we wandered over to the casino and had a nice celebratory dinner in their restaurant. They tried to sell us on the idea of the Easter buffet tomorrow morning, but we're still recovering from our last buffet experience Friday. Besides, we'll likely run all the way to Houma tomorrow and we'll need to get an early start. On our way out of dinner we walked past the lounge as it was gearing up for the night's live entertainment, and we ran into Rocky, the lift operator from the boatyard. He was so out of context we did not recognize him until he said hello. It took us five hours to get here, but the boatyard is only 25 minutes away by car.


The casino itself is on this functioning paddlewheeler that never leaves the dock. Restaurant was ashore.

It feels really, really good to finally be under way and out of the yard. Of course I've already found a couple of issues we'd have the yard correct if we were still there, but we did not want to wait even another single day. As we come back across the gulf toward Florida we had already figured on a possible stop at the mouth of the Mississippi (the closest protected water on the route) and it would not be that much of a stretch, a full day each way, to come up to New Orleans and make a quick visit to address any issues. That would maybe be the end of June or so, which gives us a couple of months worth of shakedown.

Tomorrow we will be under way westbound, headed for Houma. If we can find a place to stop in or near LaRose we'll do so, but I am not counting on it. Houma is 47 nautical miles or just under eight hours for us.

We have several stops to make in Louisiana before we reach the Texas line, including Houma, Morgan City, and Lake Charles. We're in no hurry, so I expect to be in the state for at least another week or so. I'm not certain what Internet access we'll have here along the sparsely populated coastal region, so blog posts may be sporadic.