Thursday, April 27, 2017


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.


  1. Looks like y'all had a great stay! So glad you enjoyed it and hope we'll see you back in Southwest Louisiana soon!

  2. Thank you for visiting us at L'Auberge Casino Resort. We are so pleased to hear that you enjoyed your stay. Come back and see us again soon! We thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adventures in Lake Charles. Safe travels!
    Kerry Andersen
    Director of Public Relations


Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!