East of New Orleans

I’m anchored here. Nice evening.

I got underway from Houma after a nice breakfast with Ronney and friends. It’s been fun for me meeting a bunch of folks around there.

Yesterday I covered familiar ground. Anchored in a familiar spot at an entrance to Lake Salvador

Weather has been perfect, calm and daytime temps in the low 70s.

I crashed early last night and slept for 12 hours. Guess it takes two good sleeps to make up for the one I lost Friday driving.

Today was mostly new territory for me. I went through a seawall with the world’s largest drainage pump station

Shortly after that it was through the Harvey Locks which lift from the West Gulf Intracoastal Waterway up to the Mississippi just across the river from New Orleans. The lift was 11 feet. Then a few miles down the river, past downtown, and into the Industrial Canal and a lock down to the East Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

Leaving the Industrial Canal and heading east on the GICW I went through the Lake Borgne Surge Barrier. Big wall!

Here’s the view from the FB where I’ve been writing this. Beautiful evening. Birds, fish and insects around.

Tomorrow it’s continuing east. Haven’t looked at my route yet, but towards Gulfport MS.

Jan – March travel plans

I’m back on the boat in Houma. All is in good order here. Thanks again to Ronney for facilitating my stop here. Drove back down with my Laser in tow and my road bike in the back.

Tomorrow I’m heading for Florida in Mazurka. Will come back by bus or plane to pick up the car in a couple of weeks. Then off for a few days of road cycling in Central Florida with Samantha and Sarah. After that my plan is to go through Lake Okeechobee to the east coast of Florida. Then I’m going to sail in a couple of Laser Masters events in West Palm Beach and Jensen Beach in early March.

After that I’ll be heading north. I still haven’t completely made up my mind, but may go north to NY. I still want to get back to the rivers but may not want to go back through the Gulf. To quote a famous reality TV star, ‘we’ll see what happens.’

Guest Blog (part 2)

The next morning dawned cold but clear, and we were off again: back to the main channel/The Intercoastal Waterway, heading for the Gulf; after a quick breakfast we were drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes on the top deck and taking in the scenery. The kind of boats we had been seeing all yesterday – and, indeed, much of the human habitation which lined the shores – had now dropped away; on either side was what, in England, one would call “fens,” i.e. marshes riddled with shallow channels, with the more than occasional sign of the oil industry in the form of pipelines and (I think) small wells. This eventually gave way to a return of boats – although they would more properly be called ships… and lots of them; also, any number of drilling platforms.

Early on, and while still in the channel, we were accompanied by a dolphin – or, perhaps, a porpoise. We had seen one fleetingly the day before, and I was pretty happy about this – I’ve been whale watching a number of times, but I’d never seen a porpoise or dolphin. (Jeff was a bit more sanguine about it: he’s been sailing since he was young, and has numerous times had dolphins accompanying his boats). This turned out to be a prelude of things to come for the day…

Within about an hour – and with the day getting noticeably warmer and brighter as we went on – we were in the Gulf.

The light was dazzling; all around us, some off in the distance, some closer in, were drilling platforms with derricks and various other oil industry paraphernalia, and ships and boats servicing them, or heading further out into the Gulf for fishing and the like.

Jeff wanted to try cutting around the back of Grand Isle, but it turned out that the water was too shallow once we got inside the break-water, so we turned back into the Gulf and headed for the end of Grand Isle, where we intended to spend the night. While in behind Grand Isle we encountered more dolphins – and definitely dolphins this time. One of them almost seemed to be attempting to guide our boat out of the shallows and back beyond the break-water; as we headed back out into the Gulf, there was a considerable school of them. And then, once back out into the Gulf, we spotted a commotion off in the distance. As we approached, suddenly there were dolphins all around us, coming quite close into the boat in a way that they hadn’t before, and, not too far off, engaging in leaps and flips – we were in the midst of a veritable dolphin playground. I got some great video of them.

Jeff tried for an anchorage just around the tip of Grand Isle, but the wind and current weren’t going to allow for it, so we ended up sailing across a considerable span of open water all the while accompanied by the occasional dolphin, and an almost continuous flock of seagulls.

We anchored for the night this time just off the bayou we were to headed into the next day, looking out towards the Gulf under an absolutely clear sky full of stars.

The next morning was once again clear; we were back into the bayou, heading for the Intercoastal Waterway and the return-trip. Back to more human habitation, with lots of boats – both functional and derelict – and including a rather forlorn paddle-boat steamer from (relative) days of yore.

When we had started out on our journey, a few of the locals had warned us about the possibility of spending a long time at bridges. While we had encountered a fair number of the way down, we had to wait for none of them. Today turned out to make for the longest wait of our entire trip for a bridge, but that only took about 10-15 minutes – there was obviously someone in the cabin over the bridge the whole time, and for whatever reason, they weren’t responding to us. Finally passing through the bridge, I got a pretty good picture of a pair of pelicans.

We stopped early for the day: I’m a Liverpool FC fan, and they had a make or break game against FC Napoli in the Champions League which I was hoping to pull up on Wifi. We anchored just off the Intercoastal Waterway – tomorrow, we’d be heading back to Houma.

The Wifi connection worked and Liverpool won, but just by scraping by with a single goal. We ate early, and then Jeff taught me how to play a card game called Scopa – it reminded me very much of a game I played a lot with my kids called Casino. I won the first round, then we tied the second; a single hand decided the contest – too much like a penalty shoot-out in soccer to be a real decider (but I won – beginner’s luck!)

Our final day on the boat dawned clear but got cloudier, and warmer, as the day commenced. While we were back on the Intercoastal Waterway and off the bayou, we were actually running along the edge of a protected swamp. But, being back on the Waterway, we were once again encountering a lot of commercial traffic – especially barges of the type Jeff told me he had encountered a lot which sailing down the Mississippi (those were often a lot bigger).

The swamp eventually gave way to more human habitation and boats… and some impressive boat-building/repair dry-docks.

Jeff had been doing all the navigating, and it took me a while to realize that we were heading back the way we had come. As the day got warmer, both of us started to think about the possibility of seeing a live gator – we were assiduously scanning the banks for them as we went along – and once I realized we were returning by the same route, I raised the possibility of us seeing “Bob” (as I decided to christen the dead gator) again. In retrospect, I think we might have seen him in the bayou off the Waterway. And, we failed to see a live gator. However, we began to notice a fair number of holes in the banks. These could have been caused by any number of creatures – when we got back to Houma, one of the locals told us about a species of water-rat that had invaded the region, and it seems that many of the holes were probably their responsibility – but there could also be little doubt that some of them were the home of gators, who I knew holed up in big burrowed holes in the bank. And, in what turned out to be no more than an hour or so from our return destination, I had been scanning the shore opposite and spotted something; Jeff took us in for a closer look.

There could be no doubt about it: this was a gator-hole. Jeff blasted the air-horn to try to get the gator’s attention (!), but to no avail.
We were back in Houma for early evening. Jeff needed to do a few repairs on the boat – it had been taking in some water, and the seal on his recently installed radar needed fixing – so we took a trip into town for supplies. By the time we returned and Jeff had located and fixed the source of the leak, it was supper time – Jeff had an invite from Ronney to meet some of the locals, a number of whom had been following his blog at a marina/bar in town, and I tagged along. We had a fine time – it turned out we had lucked into a long-standing Wednesday night tradition wherein a number of locals got together for a kind of pot-luck in a restaurant-style kitchen. After a great meal of imported speckled trout (farmed in Vietnam), and some very warm, archetypical southern Louisiana hospitality, we were back to the boat in time to fix the seal on the radar. Then, one last sleep and an early start on what turned out to be a two day ride home.

(Goodbye to The Mazurka)

A very great deal of thanks to Jeff for this invitation, and for all the planning, sailing and navigating along the way; I can say that my greatest contribution, such as it was, was the cooking, and beyond that, the whiskey (and bringing the car down from Chicago). And, I hope, the good company and conversation. I’d love to do it, or something like it, again sometime… and someday, somehow, Jeff, we’re going to have to see a *live* gator together.



Guest Blog (part 1)

I flew to Chicago on Thursday, December 6, to pick up Jeff’s car and drive down to hang out with him on his boat in Louisiana. Jeff and I had spent a couple of days together in Louisiana a few years back, when one day we had driven down from New Orleans to the gulf coast, and then the next day up the Mississippi to check out the levies and look for gators. That was in February, so gators were scarce; we did see lots of birds, though, and I’m a bird watcher, so that was great. December’s not the best time for gators either, but I had some minor hopes of seeing one, as sometimes on a warm day in December, they’ll come out. But of course, I was also just looking forwards to hanging out on a boat with Jeff for a few days in Louisiana.

I took a taxi from the airport in Chicago to the boat-yard where Jeff had left his car. The taxi driver offered to wait for me until I met up with the right people due to the neighbourhood (“the south side of Chicago… back in the good old days… back in the U.S.A.” – Paper’s Lace’s song kept going through my head…), but there was really no need: the boat yard is a world unto itself, and I met up with Jeff’s friends no problem. But… the car wouldn’t start. Two boosts to the battery later, and I was off, stopping on the outskirts of Chicago only to let Jeff (who I’d been in contact with during the booster kerfuffle) know that I was on my way.

The drive was a lot of fun. I put aside the urge to stop and see some sights on the way as I wanted to make time, but this was the first time I’d been down through the middle of the U.S., so I was chuffed to pass by signs for Johnny Cash’s birthplace, Graceland, and (towards the end of the trip) the Bo Diddley Memorial Highway. Also, somewhere in Missouri, I passed by a town called Braggadocio, which is a word that was coined by the English Poet Edmund Spenser whom I’m a sometime scholar of. I wondered if they know of its origin? And, I can recommend the visitors center to Alabama, which was all decked out for Christmas, had free Wifi, and free coffee. I can also recommend whatever the hip-hop station is that broadcasts out of Jackson, Mississippi – great, smart, funny hosts, and good tunes. I ate mostly at McDonalds – no fuss service and good Wifi – but with one particularly nice meal on the first night somewhere in the middle of Illinois (steak and asparagus, perfectly cooked…). I had hoped to make it down in two days straight, but by the end of the second day I was still quite a ways from the vicinity of New Orleans, and, specifically, Houma, where I was going to meet Jeff, and it was raining, and dark, and I was tired, so I stayed an extra night somewhere in the south end of Mississippi and ate at the local Pizza Hut.

(A notice on a door at the hotel I stayed at, somewhere in southern Mississippi. Not something you see in Canada…)

The next morning, while it was still grey and gloomy, the rain had abated, and I made pretty good time from where I was to Houma – I think, minus one or two stops for breakfast and coffee, from where I spent the night, the drive consisted of maybe five turns… albeit spread out over the a distance of a couple of hundred miles. (P.S.: Miles rather than kilometers in the U.S. … that makes the distances seem more imposing). When I arrived, Jeff was out with Ronney, who I was to learn had provided the boat with a berth while Jeff is away from it, but after only about five minutes they showed up. Greetings to Jeff… and he immediately informed me that he’s now smoking – was that OK (only on the exterior decks, not in the cabin) – ? I’d been worrying the whole time about the fact that I’ve recently taken it up again and had bought a pack on the ride – maybe I would take the occasions to quit? Nope! And so, we smoked, and chatted.

When I arrived, Jeff was out with Ronnie, who I was to learn had provided the boat with a berth while Jeff is away from it, but after only about five minutes they showed up. Greetings to Jeff… and he immediately informed me that he’s now smoking – was that OK (only on the exterior decks, not in the cabin) – ? I’d been worrying the whole time about the fact that I’ve recently taken it up again and had bought a pack on the ride – maybe I would take the occasions to quit? Nope! And so, we smoked, and chatted.

And Jeff showed me around the boat. Sometime on the trip, Jeff asked me if it was turning out like I expected. I said I hadn’t know what to expect… and I hadn’t, really. This applied to the boat, too, although I’d seen some pictures on Jeff’s blog. It seemed kind of perfect – not a yacht or anything (in fact, all the better for that), but with plenty of space for hanging out both out-doors and in, kitchen, bathroom, ample sleeping quarters, etc. That afternoon Jeff took me on a short tour down one of the bayous; it was just absolutely great to be cruising along on a bayou in Louisiana. A little later we were visited by one of the neighbours who had been following Jeff’s blog, who gave us some advice for eats in town, and that night we ate in a perfect sea-food shack full of locals. Jeff’s not that keen on seafood, but I had the “Deep-Fried Trash” plate: shrimp, oysters, catfish, and whole deep-fried soft-shelled crab; there was leftover catfish for breakfast. We also did a quick stop for groceries – the plans were for me to cook a couple of meals on the boat, which I was more than happy to do.

(Night time view from The Mazurka’s berth in Houma, Louisiana)

We didn’t get up too, too early the next day, which was fine by me, but once up, we were underway. Jeff had told me the night before that his plan was pretty much to sail down to the area on the Gulf-Coast that we had reached by car on the previous trip. This meant taking the Intercoastal Waterway, which runs between Texas and New Orleans, for some of the way, and then cutting off on a bayou down to the coast, rounding Grand Isle, and coming back up some bayous from there to return to the Intercoastal and back to our berth in Houma. This sounded fine to me, as did the speed at which Jeff intended to do this all in: not too fast at all. Good speed for bird-watching… and looking for gators, which Jeff was keen on seeing, too, if we managed to get lucky.

(Jeff guiding us out into the Intercoastal Waterway)

So… there we were, sitting on the top-deck, drinking our coffee and smoking while we lazily chugged along, chatting and scanning the landscape. Lots of boats! – this is more Jeff’s thing, but the number we saw, and the types, were impressive: lots for servicing the oil wells out in the Gulf, but also plenty of shrimp boats with their tell-tale nets hung out like wings from the boats’ sides. We also encountered a number of bridges which had to be opened for us and had been warned that this might eat up some time – and might even alter our route, as apparently some bridges won’t open at certain times of the day and season – but all proceeded according to plan, with no stoppages. The weather cleared as the day progressed, and while it remained a bit chilly, it got brighter.

As I’ve indicated, I’m a bird watcher, and there were lots for me to see: pelicans of both species, herons, egrets of all kinds, ibises, cormorants, anhinga (or “water turkeys” – kind of like a cormorant with a snake for a neck), turkey and black vultures, various hawks, ospreys, and eagles. I knew that I’d see a fair number, as on that trip in February I had seen lots of birds – and many that I had never seen before, thus filling out my “Life List” (birders have a list of all of the bird species they have ever seen – I have one in the front of my Roger Tory Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America, but also lists for Western North American Birds, and British and European Birds. I’ve been an on and off bird-watcher since I was a teenager). No life listers, but lots of times that I’d have to check my list to see if I’d seen them before.

We were also on the lookout for gators. As I’ve said, the last time we were down this way, Jeff and I drove up the Mississippi from New Orleans to check out the levies, which was Jeff’s principle interest, and to look for gators, which was mine – in keeping with being a birder, I’m a bit of an amateur naturalist in general, and especially when it comes to reptiles and amphibians. We ended up sneaking round the back of a gator-tour area having missed their last run for the day but didn’t find any – it was highly unlikely that we would, given the time of year. Maybe we’d see one in December? I’d been reading that it was possible – as I’ve said, apparently they’ll come out in warm weather in the winter months. Today seemed too cold for that, even though it was warming and brightening, but, you never know…

(One of the bridges – this may be the one on the turn-off from the Intercoastal Waterway into the bayou which we took down to the coast).

So there we were, chugging lazily along, taking in the scenery on the Intercoastal Waterway, when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye…

“Hey Jeff, do you see that? Over there?”

Jeff slowed the boat, and we moved in further. This is what we saw:

(The dead gator).

He was dead, unfortunately. The picture doesn’t quite do him justice: we estimated him to be about 10 to 12 feet long, which is a considerable sized gator even in Louisiana, which has both the biggest population of gators in the world, and as well, on average, the largest gators. Also, it was almost certainly a “he,” as male gators grow to the greatest sizes. We briefly debated whether to take the dingy down and go in for a closer look but decided against it: there was no telling how long he’d been dead and, in fact, he looked quite bloated. And it wasn’t exactly like we had the materials for skinning him or anything. So, we checked him out through the binoculars for a fair bit – I was particularly struck by how much his gator-paws looked like splayed hands, very much like The Creature from the Black Lagoon – and continued on our way.

We stopped for the night in a channel off the Intercoastal Waterway; the trees across the way were full of a flock of egrets. I cooked a dinner of curried chicken which we ate heartily.

(Our berth for the first night – egrets not pictured)

RIP Molly

I took this picture at Guelph Lake Community Boating Club, where I was having a cry just after Christmas for my friends Harri and Molly.

Molly died December 19 after her DN class iceboat went through/off the ice. Her husband Harri almost died attempting to save her.

Harri has a boat shop/music studio and I stopped by a few days after getting back to Guelph. Our snipe is there for some speed work, and he had his Siren in as well.

We joked about him having the world’s fastest Siren, but he was excited about cruising Georgian Bay next year in the boat with Molly.

I was at the lake on Tuesday Dec 18, and had a lovely visit with Molly. We talked about my boating adventures – she had been reading this blog regularly – and she invited me and Samantha and Sarah to come by for a sauna over the holidays. We talked about how much she loved ice boating. There wasn’t much wind, but we got out for a loop of the lake. Monday had been a bit too windy, and Molly was telling of almost being dumped on the ice with a big smile. Wednesday was promising to be a perfect day.

I didn’t make it Wednesday, and on Thursday woke to the news of the tragedy.

Molly’s death leaves a huge hole – for her family, the sailing and music community, and her life partner Harri. I’m sorry I didn’t get to know her better. My only comfort is in knowing that she died doing something that she was passionate about.


RIP Molly.