Saturday, December 31, 2016

Ending 2016 with a whimper

We are tied to a bulkhead across from the South Shore Harbor (map), after finally escaping yesterday from Orleans Marina. How we ended up here is something of a story in itself, which I will share shortly. We had expected to leave this morning to anchor in the lake, but I have a killer cold which Louise gave me as a Christmas present, and I am so doped up on cold medicine that it's imprudent to drive the boat.

One of the numerous light sculptures at Celebration in the Oaks.

Shortly after my last post we headed off to the airport to pick up good friends Jay and Marjorie, who flew out just to spend the holiday week with us. This is their first holiday since their girls were born that they have spent without them, as the two girls, whom we consider our nieces, zipped off to Israel on a Birthright trip. Other than an occasional cocktail over the years, honestly I think this is the first time we've ever spent with Jay and Marjorie without the girls.

The four of us at II Tony's, about to enjoy our first meal together.

They came with a short list of things they wanted to see or do while they were here, and since we'll have plenty of time without them later, we opted to focus just on their list for the short time we were together. That had us traveling out to the Stennis space center and it's whizzy new Infinity visitor center for a tour. I'm a space geek myself so this was right up my alley. Stennis is where NASA tests rocket engines; it was originally built for the Apollo program.

World's largest test stand. Built for the Saturn-V but soon to test for the SLS.

We also visited Abita Springs and toured the Abita brewery there, sampling several of their excellent beers, which can be found in most bars and restaurants in Louisiana. And we spent a half day out at Kliebert's alligator and turtle farm, where we got a nice tour from a guide with four missing fingers, which happened just as you'd imagine (during a tour, no less).

Like brewery tours everywhere -- miles of stainless pipe and a bunch of vats.

We enjoyed seeing the holiday lights at the annual Celebration In The Oaks at City Park. The park itself is a wonderful city resource, and we might find a way to get back there once the holiday festival is over. We drove around a few neighborhoods on the way home looking at more staid light displays as well.

Another light sculpture at City Park.

Of course we did the requisite beignets and café au lait at Cafe Du Monde, walked down Royal Street and a short stretch of Bourbon, and ended up at the historic Roosevelt Hotel for a very expensive cocktail in the Sazerac Bar, just so we could see the over-the-top holiday decorations at this stately Grande Dame of New Orleans.

Two orders of beignets (plenty for the four of us) and cafe au lait.

We dropped our friends off at the airport around 11:30 on Christmas day, after first loading up the car with their gear, our gear, and the cat and all her accoutrements. From the airport we proceeded directly to Houston, a trip of some 5.5 hours, for Christmas dinner at Louise's brother's house. A long drive for dinner, but worth it to get in visits with everyone, including our nieces and nephew (and now, great nephew) who are scattered to the four winds and we get to see only once every few years.

When we planned all of this out, the idea was to share the driving on the five+ hour drive each way. That even precipitated something of a brouhaha at Hertz when we picked up the car; our AAA membership is supposed to get us free spousal driving privileges but they had trouble getting the computer to recognize that.

That said, by Christmas morning, Louise had come down with a cold, and between the constant sneezing and the cold meds, she was not able to take the wheel even once. I had carefully packed my laptop car setup to catch up on email and maybe the blog, and I had plans to call several sets of my own family members from the car en route. Instead I had to squeeze in a few short calls at potty stops.

We did make it just in time for dinner and some socializing, but Louise was so miserable that we made it a short night. We ended up spending much of our time in our hotel room at the Omni. That's a nice place, by the way, with free WiFi, morning coffee (breakfast is an upcharge), and afternoon cocktails and hors d'ouvres included in our $75 room rate, making the $91 per night we were paying at the marina, with virtually no amenities, seem that much more ridiculous. Of course, we paid that $91 each night on top of the hotel bill, and we weren't even there.

Monday morning's breakfast was a surprise engagement party for our nephew, who is getting married in a few months. We got to meet his fiancé for the first time. A family outing to Rogue One filled out the afternoon, and we wrapped up our visit with dinner. Tuesday morning, after breakfast in the hotel, we hit the road for the long trip back.

As long as we had the car until Wednesday afternoon, we spent the morning running a few errands, including a trip to the grocery to provision for a week or two at anchor. I dropped the car off at the appointed time, and we headed off for what we thought would be a final dinner ashore before casting off.

Holiday decorations at the Roosevelt Hotel.

Somewhere in all of the hubbub of the whirlwind round trip to Houston and Louise-the-weather-router being sick, we had neglected to pay attention to the forecast. As we were getting ready Wednesday evening we learned that winds Thursday would be 20kt out of the north. With some 23 miles of fetch over a 12'-deep lake, that would make for untenable conditions on the lake, and we'd have to bash through all 23 miles of it to find comfortable anchorage. Reluctantly, we decided to suck it up and drop another $91 on an extra night.

Yesterday we lingered at the dock as long as possible, since winds were decreasing throughout the day, and around noon or so we dropped lines and motored around to the pumpout dock. Normally we can go three weeks between pumpouts, but guests aboard reduce that figure dramatically. Usually pumpouts are on a face dock, easy in and out, but this one was more like a full-on slip, requiring me to back in carefully.

We must have spent nearly an hour at that dock trying to get pumped out. Between there being no coupler on the hose (only a soft rubber taper that needs to be held into the deck fitting by hand throughout the process), the hose coming straight up rather than via a 90° fitting, and the hose being old and not vacuum-tight (as attested by numerous duct-taped areas), we could not even get the first ounce out of the tank. After multiple attempts, including pre-priming the hose with seawater from a bucket, we finally gave up.

The obvious next step would have been to return to Seabrook Marine on the Industrial Canal, where we pumped out on the way into the lake. We know their pumpout works, and it's relatively close. However, there is one huge problem, one which will affect our lives well beyond the need to pump out: the railroad bridge at the junction of the canal and the lake is broken and latched in the closed position indefinitely.

Indeed, we managed to make it from the Mississippi to Lake Pontchartrain through the Industrial Canal on the one and only day it was possible to do so. The lock opened the evening of December 14th, we squeaked through on December 15th (including a delay for the Almonaster Bridge, which ironically was closed most of just that day for scheduled maintenance), and the Seabrook railroad bridge broke and was closed indefinitely on December 16th.

The good news here is that bypassing the broken bridge requires only a 65-mile detour, which is a long day (or two short ones) for us, rather than the nearly four-day detour to bypass the lock. Still, we weren't going to go 65 miles around just to pump out, and then be stuck in the canal where there are few options for an overnight stay other than another expensive marina. Instead we decided to circle around to the backside of the airport and come here, to the South Shore Harbor Marina, which our guide said had a pumpout.

We called on the phone and the radio several times en route to confirm this, and try to get some depth information, but, unknown to us, the marina office was closed Friday (and Monday) for the holiday. We made our way in to the marina carefully, one eye on the depth sounder, scanning all the docks for the elusive pumpout station. We ended up tying up at a T-Head on the very last pier to sort things out.

A couple of helpful marina denizens directed me to the pumpout, which is over here on this bulkhead, completely outside the marina's perimeter fence. In fact, this bulkhead and the adjacent building are now part of a large construction project for a museum, which will include the restored WWII PT-boat that we saw undergoing final stages at Seabrook when we passed through. The PT boat will be docked under cover at a berth being built right next to the pumpout.

On the bulkhead is a giant yellow warning sign regarding underwater obstructions, which gave us some pause, but at least one of the marina tenants said we'd have no trouble. We cast off and motored over, and were greeted here by some of the crew for the aforementioned construction project. They took our lines and filled us in about the obstructions.

By the time we finished pumping out it was nearly 4pm. I was exhausted, because the cold had been creeping up on me all day, and by this time I had docked the boat three times and wrestled with two pumpout stations. The bulkhead was plenty long enough for several boats, with cleats along the length, and we asked the crew if we could just tie up for the night. They had no problem with it, and we cast off, moved back a couple hundred feet, and made our fourth and final docking of the day. I think this is the most times we've docked in one day since we finished training in Hilton Head.

By the time I hit the hay last night the cold was full blown. Having witnessed it knock Louise out for three solid days, I knew I was in for it. This morning I was in no shape to drive the boat, and cold medicine just compounded that problem. Fortunately, the construction project is dark today (and we imagine through tomorrow as well) and we reckoned no one would bother us if we just stayed right here.

At this writing I can hear fireworks going off around the lake. The city's own display will be out over the river and we will probably not see it from here. We're confined to the boat; the project is fenced in and locked, and we don't really even have permission to walk around ashore. We're viewing it as an anchorage, just with less movement.

I am hoping that by tomorrow afternoon I will be well enough to move, and we will drive back around to the other side of the airport, which will give us a lee from the forecast easterlies, and drop the hook. From there we can tender ashore at the boat ramp near the canal entrance if we need anything.

Tasting aftermath at Abita Brewery. Relax -- those are 4oz glasses.

We've made the decision to remain here in New Orleans to have the hull painted. It's a big job, estimated at a minimum of eight weeks, and there is one boat ahead of us in line, so they can't really start until the last week in January. Yard schedules are always somewhat fluid, so I am taking these as best-case. That gives us three weeks to kill before we need to be in the yard. I'm hoping we can spend the last of those three at the yard's docks, getting familiar with the place and having them look at some other projects on our list.

Once I'm off the cold meds I'll do some planning for the other two weeks. We might cruise around Lake Pontchartrain or even head back to the river and do the last 90 miles down to the passes. I'll also be working on a place to stay in February/March, as we'll need to be off the boat for the actual sanding and painting. Mardi Gras falls in there someplace, so I am expecting something of a challenge; we might have to rent a car and spend that week out of town.

As we count down the final couple of hours of 2016 here aboard Vector, we wish you all a very Happy New Year. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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