Monday, June 20, 2016

From Outlaw to On the Bayou

We are anchored in Big Bayou Canot, just off the Mobile River, due east of Saraland, Alabama (map). We might as well be a hundred miles from Saraland, where we've spent more than one night in the bus -- the river betrays no trace of civilization here save for the CSX railroad bridge.

CSX rail bridge over Big Bayou Canot.

That bridge has a storied past. In September of 1993, a Warrior and Gulf towboat, the Mauvilla, pushing a six-barge tow, inadvertently turned up Big Bayou Canot in heavy fog instead of continuing in the Mobile River navigation channel. The towboat had no compass, no charts, and an inexperienced (some would say incompetent) pilot at the helm. The barges struck the bridge, knocking the poorly secured center span out of alignment. Eight minutes later, Amtrak's Sunset Limited struck the bridge at 72mph, killing 47 and injuring more than twice that many.

Louise and I took the Sunset Limited years later, and I remember staring down at the bayou as we crossed, thinking about that horrific accident. It's a bit strange to be seeing it now from the towboat's vantage. One CSX train has passed since we dropped the hook. The Sunset Limited no longer passes this way; the New Orleans to Orlando leg never having been reinstated since Hurricane Katrina closed the tracks.

Vector docked at the Arthur Outlaw Convention Center. Austal shipyards in the background with some of the new Littoral Combat Ships.

We spent a lovely two nights in Mobile, docked at the Outlaw Convention Center, right downtown (map). We had the entire dock to ourselves, and we've set a new record for the largest cleats we've ever had to use to tie up Vector. There is no power on the dock, but it is just steps away from historic Dauphin Street with several great restaurants and a few shops. A free shuttle bus makes a 20-minute loop around the downtown area, and this morning we used it to get some provisions at the grocery store, the last we'll see for perhaps a week.

The biggest cleats we've used to date. Our 3/4" line looks like string on these.

I had really hoped to stop in at an old favorite of ours, the Bienville Club on the top of the RSA building, also only steps away, with a panoramic view of Mobile, the rivers, and the bay. We were sorry to learn the club went bankrupt a couple of years ago, and the space now houses Dauphin's restaurant. We had dinner there Saturday for old times' sake, on their more reasonably-priced happy hour menu. The food was good and the view is the best in Mobile, but the prices on the regular menu are steep.

Yesterday we walked Dauphin Street to breakfast at the excellent Serda's Coffee Company, and again to dinner at Delphine's pizzeria, also excellent. In the middle of the day we tackled a project, involving a roll of Textilene fabric that Louise had delivered to her in Pensacola. Specifically, we made and installed more exterior window coverings.

The boat came with Textilene covers for all the windows in the pilothouse. They make a huge difference in keeping the heat out on a sunny day, and now that we are traveling in the south in the summer, we've been putting those up at every stop. They are getting a bit shopworn, and I need to replace a couple of the snaps.

The large windows in the salon are not a problem for most of the day, because they are shaded by the boat deck, which overhangs them by two feet. But in late afternoon, as the sun angle gets lower, we are often hit with a blast of heat radiating from the blinds, which, while well-insulated double-cell construction, just can't keep up. A year or so ago, Louise made a square Textilene shade that we can secure to the boat deck and rail to provide a bit of shade, but it's been only partly effective and is unusable in more than a few knots of wind.

Louise showing off her handiwork. I drilled 14 new holes in the boat...

We decided to make one large cover that would span all three windows on one side of the boat, and then mount snaps on both sides so we could use the cover on whichever side was sunny. Louise sewed the enormous cover, and I installed the snaps into the reinforced corners and edges, and the mating parts onto the boat. It came out really nice, and so far it's been helping a lot.

Louise had some fabric left over as well as a surfeit of snaps, so she also sewed a cover for the port side galley window. This window does not benefit from the boat deck overhang, so a cover here is a real help. The fabric leftovers were such that she had to piece the cover from three sections, but it still looks great and it, too, is helping to keep the boat cool.

Both new covers in place on the port side.

After our grocery run this morning, we contemplated spending another night. The convention center is convenient to downtown and the security staff was friendly and accommodating. When we arrived we were able to connect to their WiFi as well, which was fast in comparison to most. That disappeared yesterday afternoon, though, as the center prepared to host the annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, and they switched all the access points over to that use. Amusingly, we are missing right now the General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association, which we attended several times in the bus, this year in Columbus, Ohio. We peered into the convention center and had General Assembly flashbacks.

With our fast free WiFi gone, and no power on the dock, we opted to use the last of the flood to get a few miles upriver instead, knocking a couple of hours off tomorrow's trip. From here we will not see another dock for the next hundred miles, and the next one a hundred miles beyond that. Access to provisions will be limited, and I expect to be out of Internet coverage for a good deal of the trip. It's possible you will not hear from us until Demopolis, Alabama, nearly a week away.

Tonight we're having leftovers, which happen to be jambalaya. I can't think of a more fitting dish to be having here on the bayou. In the morning we will weigh anchor, and by day's end we will be off the Mobile and somewhere along the Tombigbee River, where anchorages are few and far between.

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