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Sailing to New Orleans – Part 6

In the last blog post we had made it to the Harvey lock and into the Mississippi River after dark.

The idea of going through the ICW, and even more so this commercial / industrial portion of the ICW had me very nervous and scared.  Not the kind of fear one would have being the victim of an armed robbery or something like that, but certainly the fear of complete helplessness and assumption of catastrophe.  When Deb and I were traveling West bound years ago on this part of the ICW, there was a instance where it started to get dark and we were not able to get into our planned anchorage due to shoaling and depth restrictions.  In a pace similar to that which you do when walking in a dark and sketchy area and not wanting to flat our run and scream but definitely on a pointed mission to get out of the area, is how I turned around and found the first thing that resembled a place to tie up and did so, regardless of it’s legality.

Somehow this time was a little different.  I had that fear, but somehow, I had accepted that we were going to be traveling after dark and then it didn’t seem to matter if it was the kind of dark you get at 8:30PM or the dark at 1:00AM, either way, it was going to be dark and I was going to continue to on the planned destination regardless of what time we got there.

So after getting through the Harvey lock successfully and maybe feeling a bit cocky at our ability to do it so well, I was feeling a strange level of confidence as we existed the Harvey into the massive flowing Mississippi River and turned to go with the flow.   As soon as we turned into the River I could see a ship going the same direction as us, not just the typical working ships and tankers and barges that you see on the river, this one was a container ship.  It seemed as large as the ocean going container ships, but seemed to be modified to be lower and squatier (if that is even a word).  I moved to the right side of the river and attempted to contact the ship on the radio, first on VHF13, then 14, then finally 16 and he responded.  I asked first and foremost if he saw me.  He did, Check!   Then I asked him the working channel for the River since he had not responded on VHF13.   He let me know it was 67 (or something like, that it escapes me right now) and that I can also contact New Orleans Traffic as well.  This was great advice so I did contact VTS (Vehicle Traffic Services) and let them know I was going from the Harvey down river to the Industrial Lock beyond the Navy yard.  He asked for my position and when I told him I was next to the Tanker by name, he confirmed he could see us there.  VTS is a great help for unknown areas.  He let me know of any oncoming traffic that I had (by ship name and type) and also let me know that after I passed the “Light Boat” heading up river, I could cross over and stay on the City Side of the river which would aid in not having to cross near the Industrial lock.   I thanked him for the info and crossed over right after the twin span bridges right at the French Quarter.  It was an awesome sight to see from the water and I seemed to savor the beauty of it more this time than when we did this last time.  Maybe it was because we have been in the New Orleans area now for a while so I was more familiar with the city and had some connection to seeing the beauty in it.

After making our way into the Industrial lock, which was interesting when you are not completely familiar with it.  We called the lock operator who suggested we wait in the River until it was out turn, which we kind of did.  We hung out in the basin just off the river.  When it was our turn, he told us to come on up and wait on the starboard dolphin, which we did.  Right as we got near it, the gates opened and out came 2 barges and tugs.  As the gates were opening, the lock operator called us on the radio and suggest we move from the dolphin as “thats a good place to get hit”.  I started to contemplate how I misunderstood that, but it didn’t matter, we just got the heck over between the lock wall and the rock shore line and hovered between forward and reverse to hold our position as the tugs passed.

Then it was our turn, into the locks and through.  What I failed to mention earlier is that it was not raining, but there was lightning all around.  The heavy clouds made it an extremely dark night.  The picture below is of one of the kids sitting in the cockpit next to the companionway and you can see the lightning behind her.  It did this about every 30 seconds or so for the better part of an hour as we went from the Mississippi up to the Marina we were going to stay at.

We got to the Seabrook Marina and picked our slot between the slip numbers they shared with us as available and just said to take any of them and settle up with them in the morning.  We ended up taking 2 attempts at our docking.  We were essentially backing into a spot right on the Inner Navigational Channel and there was some current in there.  We had to tie the dinghy to the bow so that we would be able to back in which made control just a little less than the known common feel it has.  We got tied up, powered up and filled the water tanks and crashed a good hard night sleep.  In the end, we arrived at the Marina about 1:45am or so.  We expected a long day, but it was made longer with the problems in Houma that delayed our departure, add to that the wait time with each bridge and lock, and you end up with a really long day.

The next morning we slept in until we were well rested and took nice long showers at the Marina bathrooms.  Sometimes just standing under a shower is a great feeling, this was one of those times for sure.

We headed north on the Innernavigational Canal toward Lake Ponchatrain and contacted the bridges there for an opening.  The contact was made and all was ready for us to hit our last opening before we would be able to sail for a while and need to open the Causeway Bridge in about 20 miles or so.  The issue is that the bridge operator would stop traffic, and then nothing would happen.  Then traffic would go, the gates would rise and she would again lower the traffic gates stopping traffic and then the bridge wouldn’t open.  The third time was the charm and we were off into the Lake.    The view was great and with the wind out of the South and heading north we would have a nice downwind sail.  The water was calm too, but that would soon change as we got further from the protected south shore and the power of 26 miles of wind/fetch waves started to build up.

The weather was a tale of 2 cities.  In front of us it was gorgeous, with a nice 10-12 knots of wind from behind and from the picture above, it just looks perfect.  But…   To our backside was what was coming our way.  It was not horrible looking but I did expect some squalls and even some rain.  In the end, we never really got hit with this and it kind of disappaited and just missed us.  We could see it raining not too far from us a few times, but we stayed dry.  The next day after we crossed there were tons of photos on social media and the news as there were 3 water spouts that formed and were seen just behind where this image of the clouds was taken.

NOTE: This is from the local news, we were NOT on the water
when this hit.  Luckily we were back the evening before

We sailing jib only toward the channel to lead us to the bastile bridge on the Lake Ponchtrain Causeway Bridge.  When we arrived at the first channel marker, we stowed the sail and motored closer until we were able to hail the bridge operator.  We were able to do so and it took a lille while to open the bridge.  Between the wind and the steep close waves, we finally decided to turn around and nose into the wind and waves while we waited and aligned ourselves with the opening.  When we had the all clear, we went on through.

Once through it was further north to the Tchefuncte Lighthouse marking the entrance to the river.  See the video referenced below for an interesting view of the way you have to approach and navigate the entrance there.  We got to to Maddisonville during rush hour and had to wait for the bridge curfew to end, so we just tied up on the wall in town and visited a little bit with Deb’s Dad who came on down to the waterfront to see us go on by.

Once through we were in the home stretch.  we made it back to our Marina and backed her in

See this video for the run and the night video of going through the locks.

In the video below you can see Part 4 of our trip.  Check out the others as well as this is a 5 or 6 part series (the number will be determined based on the footage
You can also check out the whole playlist here Sailing to New Orleans Playlist on SVDreamChaser’s YouTube channel

If you are receiving this blog via email or on a device that won’t play the embedded video, click this link for the video directly on Youtube.  The link is https://youtu.be/OalEB5xyqdU

Also published on Medium.

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