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.


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    1. Sean & Louise,

      Cindy and I ejoyed the ride and visiting with y'all. It was a little sad to see you go back to the dreaded south shore :(

      Safe Travels


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