Friday, June 2, 2017

Cajun coast

I am again typing under way, and we are once again in the Gulf of Mexico, en route to the Atchafalaya River. Right now we are somewhere south of Grand Chenier, LA, more or less the heart of Acadiana. From here we can look over with binoculars and see the same landmarks we drove past in Odyssey.

Sunset over our anchorage in Cameron, LA.

Today we have plenty of company, with a number of shrimpers trawling for the famous gulf shrimp, and myriad offshore service vessels that look like crew boats on steroids, carrying materials to and from the hundreds of offshore platforms out here. One of the service boats called us on the radio to compliment Vector and say that they did not see many pass through here.

Ships anchored off Houston/Galveston inlet.

Shortly after I last posted here Wednesday evening, we had our dinner, and then prepared to approach the busy Houston/Galveston anchorages and shipping lanes. Louise said her goodnight and retired below just as I had to cross the shipping lanes, which required coordinating with two inbound ships whom we passed between.

Display showing anchored ships, under way ships, and little ol' Vector making her way through.

Sunset happened while we were still in the northeastern portion of the anchorage. The anchorage is 14 nautical miles across, and divided by the two-way shipping lanes, so it took us over two hours to cross the entire distance.

And what it looks like on radar.

Things got much quieter after dark, and we saw very little traffic after leaving the anchorage in our wake. Our route took us past numerous offshore platforms, but these are mostly well charted and I had made sure our route came no closer than a thousand feet to any of them.

Sunset over the anchorage as we steam past.

Adding the extra mile or so that it took to keep the route within a dozen miles of the coast meant we had Internet coverage for most of the trip. That goes a long way toward keeping the tedium down on an overnight passage. In addition to getting the blog uploaded, I was able to do more research and route planning for our arrival as well as the following couple of days.

Sometime after midnight the Coast Guard announced that the Calcasieu River channel was closed due to an adrift spud. I called them back on the radio to get more detail; apparently the river was still open to traffic drawing less than 15', but would be closed during the recovery operation. The position of the spud was a ways upriver from our planned anchorage, so I decided to stay the course, rather than divert to our bail-out option at the Sabine Pass.

We had a favorable current for most of the trip. So much so that I reduced engine RPM from our normal cruise of 1500 rpm down to 1400 rpm to avoid arriving at the inlet while I was still off watch. While Louise could certainly conn Vector through the inlet and up the river, we generally prefer for both of us to be in the pilothouse during these kinds of evolutions.

As it turns out, I was up by around 8:30 or so anyway, in plenty of time to enjoy my coffee and even check the news and email before having to pilot into the river. The transition was uneventful and we had a nice trip upriver. Just past Monkey Island, formed when the ship channel straightened out the course of the river here, we crossed paths with the Cameron Ferry.

Long-time readers may recall we very nearly got stuck on this ferry in Odyssey when we hung up on the transition ramp and dropped an air bag. Our next couple of crossings were uneventful and we even spent the night once in the ferry landing on the Holly Beach side. Since then, the parish has opened a nice new campground just north of the east jetty; we could see it from Vector.

View upriver. Stationary shrimping rigs on left, shrimp boats on right. No idea what the weird round building is.

After passing the ferry landing we turned off into the old river channel, now called the east fork, which leads to Calcasieu Lake. After passing the commercial quays full of offshore service vessels, we dropped the hook across from the shrimp boat dock (map). Upriver from us we could see a number of floats with trawl nets attached; apparently the current is enough in this river to "trawl" for shrimp from a stationary platform. We passed a couple downriver, too, and I was able to get a better photo.

A pair of shrimping floats at the mouth of the old river.

That same current made for some difficulty anchoring. Maneuvering the boat in a couple of knots while trying simultaneously to position the anchor an avoid running aground is challenging enough. But it would seem also that our chain snagged on something soon after droppiagainng, and we pulled up tight on it, giving Vector her first "chain rash" since being painted. One downside of choosing a hull color other than white is that the fine lines of the chain damage are through the color and show as white.

We were dog tired so we called it  good enough, but the snag made for a weird swing circle overnight. This morning we had to dance around to get unstuck. After I made my closing log entry I compiled the stats for the trip:

  • Distance traveled, anchor up to anchor down: 315 nautical miles.
  • Elapsed time: 51 hours and 50 minutes
  • Average speed: 6.08 knots
  • I generally do not record fuel consumption, but it was in the neighborhood of 150 gallons.

After getting settled in and catching up on sleep, we discussed the plan for the next few days. We'd like to get back to Seabrook Marine in New Orleans as quickly as possible, to get some issues addressed and then be on our way out of the gulf before hurricane season, which started yesterday, ramps up into full swing.

Our view downriver. Workboat docks with offshore support vessels in the background; the pair of shrimpers trawled back and forth right here for hours.

Since favorable weather was still forecast for this part of the gulf, we had the opportunity to go right back outside and try to make the furthest east inlet this side of the Mississippi, the Atchafalaya. That makes an overnight trip of what would take us three nights on the inside route. We briefly considered starting right back out yesterday afternoon, but decided we could all use the rest, particularly the cat, who was loathe to move under way even to eat, drink, or use the litter box.

After running all the numbers and figuring that same 6-knot average speed in the gulf, we determined a 2pm departure this afternoon would be ideal, getting us to the Atchafalaya to catch a fair tide upriver. We both had a good night's sleep, trying to stick to watch-schedule bed times.

This morning while I was doing some additional research and prep, we learned the Atchafalaya is at flood stage at Morgan City. The newly renovated city docks, which just opened since we were through there in April, are again unusable because they are a foot under water. The Berwick docks across the way are just barely usable.

It's almost impossible to translate river gages (sic) to current in knots, but Louise found a site that suggested the 300,000 cfs flowing through Morgan City right now translates to 2.75 knots. It won't be that bad downstream because the river fans out into a delta, but, still, we had to figure on some serious current.

That had the potential to take our six-hour upriver cruise to well over ten hours, and we quickly recalculated our departure time to arrive at the bar at dawn, just as the flood was starting. That gave us a noon start, and we weighed anchor at 11:30. Unfortunately, what was a favorable current running past Galveston has today turned against us, and I've had to increase to 1600 rpm even to get 5 knots. Our planned 0630 arrival at the bar is now showing as 1000 instead. We should have left at 10am when we did the math -- slowing down is always easier than speeding up.

We also would not have taken the extra fifteen minutes this morning to do the "Cameron Loop" around Monkey Island, which brought us past the bulk of the town of Cameron, which is still struggling some dozen years after Rita. I gave a brief post-Rita rundown of the parish as we passed through after our stint in south Louisiana with the Red Cross.

Cameron courthouse and water tower center frame. We also saw a Family Dollar, which is a big step up here.

I did snap a photo of the courthouse and the water tower, two of the very few things still standing and working after the storm. We would have come ashore here during our stay, had there been any way to do so. Cameron Parish has a special place in our hearts.

No sooner had we cleared the Calcasieu jetties than I spotted a funnel cloud in the distance. Fortunately it was moving to the right and we were making a left. We figured it to be about three miles out, on the leading edge of a storm we could see on our radar. Nothing to trifle with in a slow-moving boat; we've altered course for these before.

"Water spout" funnel cloud, just right of center, with the storm to the left. Click to enlarge.

Cameron itself is all about oilfield service. The river and loop are lined with offshore support vessels, lift boats, jack rigs, and all manner of offshore infrastructure. Likewise, the area of the gulf immediately outside the inlet and its attendant anchorage sees a lot of "parked" drilling rigs and other idle platforms, awaiting their next assignments.

Idle jack-up rigs "parked" in the gulf.

While we did not pass any operating drill rigs, we did pass a number of in-service production platforms, being tended to by the aforementioned flotilla of offshore service vessels. As I am finishing typing (these posts take me several hours, in between other tasks) it is nighttime and I can see the lights of more platforms all around me. A shrimping fleet is also out in force, the boats ahead of me likely working out of Freshwater Bayou.

With any luck, we will still make the Atchafalaya Bar by 0900 or so, still on a good flood, and have little trouble making it upriver. Instead of pushing up the main channel all the way to Berwick, we might take the Avoca Island cut, getting out of the main current and cutting a few miles off the eastbound ICW. That would land us in the Black's Bayou anchorage that we used on the way west.

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