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.


  1. Sean, it must feel good to get on the water again. I would say "hitch itch" but that was another lifetime. The new paint job looks great! Happy travels. Steve & Carol


  2. As for your splicing ability, It was not to point out that you were wrong. what you did ( back splicing) is the same thing that 90% of all Mariners would do.
    What I was trying to point out was a simpler and faster splice,,it's called a elongated splice. or a wrap/chain splice, Considered a stronger splice due to no bends
    as you pointed out it's going into a deep dark hole and hopefully never see the light of day for three years.
    as I said, your happy with it, that's all it matters
    If this comment offense you please delete it


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