Sunday, June 4, 2017

Closing the Texas loop

We are under way eastbound in the ICW, somewhere between LaRose and New Orleans, Louisiana. This morning found us anchored in a familiar place, Bayou Black just off the ICW west of Morgan City (map). After arriving back at the ICW just west of there, we effectively "closed the loop" on our grand tour of the Texas gulf coast.

Wrapping up the report on our last passage, shortly after I posted my last entry here, I got very busy. The shrimp fleet I mentioned seeing ahead of me was effectively in my way, and I ended up having to dodge at least two boats, including one where I had to make a right-angle turn off the route, steam past his nets, and another right angle to get back. I don't trust the shrimpers to see anything -- they have so many lights all over the boats that their night vision is useless.

Seas also got considerably rougher, and I had to reduce throttle even though we were making poor headway. Eventually they calmed down a little and we kept it at 1500 through Louise's watch. I went to bed at 3am, and no sooner had I gotten in the sack than the forward bilge alarm sounded. We were pretty sure there wasn't more than a cup of water in there, so we decided to deal with it later and I went back to bed.

A quick side note here that there is an automatic pump in this bilge, but because the bilge is very pointy up at the bow, the pickup is a good eight inches or so above the pointy bottom, and it's possible to have as much as a couple of gallons in there before the pump kicks in. The alarm is down at the very bottom of the point. With enough pitching, seawater actually can come back in the bilge discharge some 4' or so above the waterline, and make its way into the bilge through the pump, usually one tablespoon at a time.

The rest of the crossing was uneventful, and when I came back on watch at 8am we had regained some lost ground and were just a few minutes from the turn at the bar channel. We ended up convoying upriver with the FMS Courage, an offshore service boat, and the Miss Niz, an ocean tug running lightboat.

That proved handy later. After the long straight slog down the bar channel we were in the Atchafalaya, with a steadily increasing amount of current against us. I was driving upriver tactics -- staying inside the bends and close to shore -- when we came across a number of additional buoys down the middle of the channel. Courage was in the lead and took the inside line, counter to what the buoys would suggest. Miss Niz took the outside line.

The mighty Atchafalaya, running high with water diverted from the Mississippi at the Old River Structure.

I plotted Courage's track and we decided to follow this 11'-draft boat. Miss Niz touched bottom in a couple of spots with her 10' draft. We learned from Courage that the buoys were dropped to mark a ridge. It was great to have some local knowledge along for the trip with us.

By the time we reached the Avoca Island cutoff to Bayou Chene, our speed had dropped to 3.8 knots. As much as we would have liked to make the docks in Berwick, that was going to be a looong trip. We had been concerned about the navigability of Bayou Chene, but when both Courage and Miss Niz took the cutoff, we knew we would be fine.

I had radioed ahead to Courage to ask about the current in the cutoff, and he reported he had over a knot behind him. I hadn't really thought about it, but the cutoff connects the Atchafalaya, which was at a +6' flood stage, to Bayou Black which is protected behind a lock. The cutoff bypasses the lock, and so of course the current would run from the flooding river into the ICW. We went from 3.8 knots to 8.3 knots in the span of a few hundred feet.

That had us in the anchorage by 3pm, in plenty of time to relax before afternoon cocktails. We enjoyed a nice dinner and then crashed very early; I was uncharacteristically in bed around 10pm. Just as well, because we needed to get an early start this morning.

The view from our anchorage. This dredge pipe has been stored here so long, vegetation has taken root on top of it.

The stats for the passage worked out to 149 nautical miles in 27.5 hours, for a dismal speed made good of just 5.42 knots. Still, it was less time and fuel than it would have been to continue on the inside route, and it gets us to the yard two full days sooner.

Speaking of stats, I ran the numbers for our big "loop" trip through Texas and southwest Louisiana. I chose Morgan City, where we fueled up, as a start and this morning's anchorage as the end, as they are just ten miles apart and it let me make a better estimate of fuel.

  • Number of calendar days: 45
  • Distance traveled: 1,108 nautical miles
  • Main engine hours: 190.4
  • Generator hours: 22.2
  • Average speed: 5.82 knots
  • Fuel consumed: 660 gallons (approximate)

Today we figured on a longish 11-hour day, remembering we found no place to stop between this morning's anchorage and Boomtown Casino. But with the water level up perhaps 6-10" from our earlier pass, and less wind, we decided to try to squeeze in to the Houma city marina one more time.

This time I was able to get in from the ICW past the permanently moored sport fish, and the dock ahead of him was empty. But there was no way to come alongside the dock, in fact I could not really even move off center channel. Backing out into the ICW with both wind and current trying to push me into the sportfish took all the boat handling skills I possess, along with some well-placed fenders by the boatswain's department.

So we will again be tying up at the Boomtown Casino this evening. The display says we should arrive right around 6pm, and knowing how fiddly it is, we'll probably take right up to dinner time getting tied up. We're looking forward to stepping off the boat for the first time in almost a week, and we'll walk into the casino for cocktails and dinner.

Tomorrow we'll cross the Mississippi and should be back at Seabrook Marine by day's end. We have two locks and several bridges to transit, and the river itself should be a bit challenging in its current flood stage. I expect my next post here will be sometime after we are squared away at Seabrook.


  1. Congrats on completing the Texas Loop, it's been fascinating to follow along this segment of your adventure. Thanks for taking us all along with you!

  2. I agree with Technomadia. Very informative and I like the writing style (which I have read for 8+ years). Very interesting side of travel that we would have zero chance of experiencing had it not been for your writing. Thanks for keeping it up and we'll be looking forward to the next posts.


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!