Thursday, November 14, 2019

Stuck in the mud

We are underway southbound in Mobile Bay, headed for the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW), where we will turn west bound for Bayou La Batre, Alabama. Thus we are departing from the Great Loop route, after making one final canonical stop.

After my last post we made it a long day to a familiar anchorage at Big Bayou Canot (map), arriving at dusk. We like the south end of this bayou, near the infamous railroad bridge, rather than the north end. That end is apparently on the canon, because when we passed it there were five loopers anchored there.

Being at the south end also put us just eight miles from the Mobile Convention Center, where we wanted to make a day stop Monday, the last nice day before a cold front moved in. Regular readers may remember that we spent two nights at this dock on our last visit, and we liked it very much. Since then, however, things have changed; to wit, it now costs $50 per night to stay overnight, whereas previously it was free.

While that's a bit steep for a dock with no power available, it would actually be worthwhile in nice weather. And we certainly could have gotten one evening in on Dauphin Street. But we'd have to stay at least two nights, because the storm would make Mobile Bay untenable on Tuesday, and temperatures plunging below freezing Tuesday night would mean lots of generator run time and probably not a lot of pleasant time in town.

Sunset over the Mobile River, still under way to Big Bayou Canot.

So instead we took advantage of the day dockage, which is still free, and were tied up in time for lunch (map), after an early start from Big Bayou Canot. We walked down Dauphin Street and had a nice lunch at The Noble South. After lunch I spent some time walking around the waterfront, and got what few recyclables they take there off the boat.

I had called Dog River Marina in the morning to ask if they had room for us, and he allowed that he could put us on the fuel dock for the night, but asked that we arrive toward the end of the day. So we dropped lines at the Convention Center to arrive at Dog River shortly after 4pm.

We made our way out of the busy harbor and down the Mobile Ship Channel to the Dog River entrance channel. The entrance channel is narrow, and shallow in places. We made it into the river without incident and proceeded to the fuel dock, where we put in 25 gallons of diesel, which got us our first night of dockage for free. Not the best price on diesel, but it made for reasonable dockage. As expected, the transient dock was full.

We had figured to be the last boat in, but three other boats caught up to us in the ship channel and arrived right after us, including our friends on Stinkpot. We were taking up most of the fuel dock at this point, and as we fueled up the marina suggested to the other boats that they could fuel on their way out instead. But before anyone moved, the marina found a slip for us, and we headed to it (map) so the other boats could get their fuel.

Big Bayou Canot in the calm of the morning.

We had around 8' of water in the fairway, but after backing into the slip I noticed it was just 6.6', at a tide level of over a foot. We called back to express our concerns, but were assured it was soft silt, and we figured we'd rather be in a little silt than sitting at the fuel dock, in the way. That turned out to be a mistake.

The evening was pleasant enough, and had there been anything, such as a restaurant, to walk to, we would have done so. We enjoyed cocktails on deck and a nice dinner on board. And in the middle of the night, as forecast, the winds shifted from south to north and the cold front was upon us. We awoke in the morning to find ourselves not just touching the silt, but buried in it two feet deep. Our normal waterline was 8" above the water surface.

While the tide had only dropped a little over a foot since we arrived, the strong, steady wind out of the north blew the water out of Mobile Bay. Whereas the spring tide and the south wind had the marina parking lot awash at 10pm Monday, on Tuesday morning a dozen boats were sitting on the bottom. High tide would bring only another 1.5' of water, not enough to float us free, and that would not be until 11pm. We were stuck right here until the wind let up.

Just being stuck in that spot would not, by itself, have been a problem. We had 50 amps of power and were well secured in a good spot. But with the bottom buried in the mud up to the level of the sea chest, we did not dare run our reverse-cycle heaters. We shut them off the moment we had discovered we were in the mud. Instead, we fired up Meriwether in the pilothouse and pulled out our three little electric space heaters. That kept us mostly comfortable, at least in the daytime, although we did not dare run the space heaters when we were off the boat.

Approaching Mobile from upriver.

In the morning I bundled up and traipsed over to the yard office to see if we could get on the schedule for a haulout to touch up our bottom paint and service the stabilizers. While I was expecting them to be overbooked, they said they could haul us as soon as we got out of the mud. I got their rates and a work order form and told them we would talk it over.

One of the reasons we chose to come to Dog River Marina rather than one of the other neighboring marinas is that they have a courtesy car, and after several days on the boat we were ready for a nice dinner out. As soon as we checked in I signed up for the car from 6-8 Tuesday so we could go to dinner. Stinkpot took the car from 3-5 to go shopping; I tagged along with them on a Walmart run to restock our larder, and then we returned the favor by bringing them along to dinner at an unremarkable Mexican place in Tillman's Corner.

Tillman's Corner is the closest place to go from Dog River to get anything, and it's a 20-minute drive, which is why you get the car for two hours. This is the downside to staying anywhere on the Dog River and to getting work done there. The distance and speed limits make it prohibitive to use the scooters, and we'd probably rent a car if we ended up on the hard here.

Wanting to have some other options, I made some calls to other yards. Down here in the land of shrimp boats, towboats, and offshore service vessels, there are a number of yards that cater to the trade and have lots of experience with steel boats. I ended up calling Metal Shark Boats' Alabama shipyard in Bayou La Batre.

Tied up at the convention center in Mobile, with Austal shipyards building naval vessels in the background.

Metal Shark is a familiar name to many boaters because they build all of the Coast Guard's small response boats, as well as boats for many other law enforcement and rescue agencies. Well-known as an aluminum builder, they acquired this steel-ship yard after an ill-advised venture building ferries for New York Waterways sent the previous owner into bankruptcy.

The yard here builds and services towboats, work boats, ferries, and other commercial steel craft, and I can't think of a better place to have the below-waterline work done on our steel hull. Their rates are reasonable, and while Bayou La Batre is a tiny city with few services, at least everything is in scooter distance, including a grocery. They can get us right in, and we're not much further from Mobile proper here than we were in Dog River.

Tuesday night we were "floating," although still 6" into the mud, for perhaps an hour either side of 11pm, which gave me some hope we could leave the slip yesterday. The wind abated late Tuesday and water started flowing back into Mobile Bay, and, while we were still buried in the mud yesterday morning, the water rose much faster throughout the day.

We again took the car out for two hours in the afternoon, and rode out to Metal Shark after running a couple of errands. It's a messy yard and we'll be marching through loose dirt to and from the stands. But we liked the folks, and the town, and that sealed the deal. When we got back to Vector a little after 3, she was mostly afloat with the sounder reading a bit more than 5'.

Our waterline is normally where the bit of red shows through. Hard to see scale here but that's 8" above water.

I figured we could plow through the mud until we reached the fairway once the sounder read 5.6', and so at 4pm we dropped lines. powered out of the slip, and made our way to the transient dock (map), where the water was 8' deep. After enduring the coldest days of the week without them, we could finally turn the heaters on, and we did so just as soon as we had the power connected.

This morning we dropped lines at 11am and rounded the corner to the fuel dock for a pumpout. We were barely 1/4 full, but there is no way to pump out once we get to Metal Shark, so it was worth the $10 to start out with an empty tank. We were off the dock at 11:30, right at dead low tide.

While I would rather have left a couple of hours later with a bit more water, we needed to get under way to avoid docking in Bayou La Batre after dark. At least the tide would be rising for our entire cruise. We had to pick our way out, and I powered through a couple of sections where the sounder registered 6.0', but we made it without incident.

Update: We are tied alongside the customer docks at Metal Shark Boats in Bayou La Batre, Alabama (map). As expected, we arrived after closing, not knowing that electric power is run out from the yard as needed. We'll run the generator as needed tonight to stay warm.


  1. Enjoy your new home! Would have been nice if someone had considered your lack of power after they closed. Ooo boy. Glad you made it out at low tide! With the title of this post, I was held in suspense until the end.

  2. I spent a week there a few years ago hiding from high winds at the start of my "loop", I believe it was Horizon Shipyard then. I think my AC review is still there. Not a bad place to be, the marine store across the street was a great place to kill some time.

    1. Yes, it is the old Horizon shipyard. Metal Shark bought their assets out of bankruptcy. Not a thing has been done to improve the docks since your visit, but they are available for transients. I don't know what the rate would be or what they would charge to bring you a power cord if you wanted one.


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