|HEART OF GOLD, a 31' Island Packet Sailboat||Currently in Key West, Florida|
Port Aransas, Texas to New Orleans, Louisiana
Detailed information on provisioning, checking in, marinas/anchorages, etc. is available at our SaltySailors.com website.
April 6, 2004: Port Aransas, Texas to Port O'Conner
We’ve sold the business, sold the house, had a very emotional goodbye with our friends and daughter and we are ready to go. I am both excited and sad. I have loved this little town and my “girl’s club buddies.” We are heading for Houston to complete some work on the boat and then will go to Tampa to pick up Thane’s mom Jean. From there we will cross the Gulf of Mexico to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Jean will go home and we will continue on down to Guatemala for hurricane season.
The weather report says to expect high winds and large swells in the Gulf. Because I have never done an overnight passage & I’m plenty scared about that, we decide to go down the ICW. It wasn’t long and we were going thru Aransas Bay where we promptly ran aground. We have apparently forgotten that you must pay attention at all times on this part of the ICW or before you know it you will be out of the channel. We were busy waving at another sailboat … they were looking at us like we were crazy and not waving back. We thought they were being quite rude, until we ran aground and realized they were probably just looking at us and thinking “look at those fools about to go aground over there.” Thane swam and walked the anchor out and on the 2nd try we kedged ourselves off. Thank goodness we have the Captain Navigation program to help us find our way back into the channel.
Exciting sites for the day included dolphins, rosette spoonbills and a dead cow being eaten by a buzzard!Without further incident we arrived at St. Christopher’s Marina, approx ICW Marker 474, which is right on the ICW. They charged us $31 for the night with no electricity and wake from motorboats all night. We felt that was really expensive (we haven’t been to Florida yet so we didn’t know expensive).
April 7, 2004: Port O'Conner to San Bernard RiverToday was a practice session on locks and bridges. We went thru the Colorado River locks, the Matagorda Swing Bridge and the Caney Creek Pontoon Bridge. There was a lot of barge traffic. Most all the Tow Captain’s were very nice.
We anchored in the San Bernard River, ICW Mile 405, for the night (our 3rd time to ever anchor). It was a beautiful anchorage. There was no wind, very quiet except for the birds.
April 8, 2004: San Bernard River to Clearlake, Texas
Our hardest day yet. Mainly going down the ICW is just flat dull. For miles & miles there is not much to see and someone has to stay at the helm at all times. Coming across the Houston Ship Channel and Galveston Bay was awful due to the chop. Of course, we are going right into the wind and the chop to get there. It is also extremely busy as it’s Good Friday so lots of people are off and out boating.
The guidebooks tend to make all of the bridges and locks sound difficult and scary. We found that all of the bridge tenders were very accommodating and friendly. None of the locks we passed thru even displaced any water.
We will be at Port-A-Fino marina in Clearlake for about a month getting some work done. Cost to stay here in 2004 is: $321 per month or $55 per day. It is a very nice marina with good laundry facilities and a great pool.
April 9 - 27, 2004: Our Stay in Clearlake, Texas (Houston)
My friend Mindy came down from Port Aransas and drove us all over Houston so we could spend money like drunken sailors. She also helped me wash, compound, and wax the boat and do all the stainless steel. How many people have friends like that. Thank you Mindy!
Carolyn came for the weekend and we all went over to the Kemah boardwalk several times to eat & shop! Carolyn left her nightgown on the boat, hence, the photo gallery called Carolyn’s Nightgown on my website.
Boat projects completed in Houston: rigging redone by Sticks & Rigging; had the compass recalibrated (is that the right term?); the depth sounder went kaput so we sent it off to be repaired; +++++
I have started breaking out in a severe rash. I think it is nerves. I’m a very nervous sailor!
We met James & Sonya at the marina. Sonya just found out she is pregnant with their first child. James is in the Reserves and just found out he is leaving for Iraq in 2 weeks. My thoughts and prayers have been with you two since we met.
April 28, 2004: Clearlake, Texas to Stingaree Marina
A very uneventful day. Just motoring down the ICW. We stopped for the night at Stingaree Marina. There we met Jim who owns a Fisher Pilothouse he keeps in Isla at Marina Paraiso. Since we didn’t need electricity, he let us stay at the bulkhead at no charge. Just one cruiser helping another. How nice.
The restaurant at Stingaree was closed so we didn’t get to sample the seafood and famous Stingaritas.
Being the small world that it is, we met Jim again while we were in Isla.
April 29, 2004: Stingaree Marina to Taylor Bayou
It was an easy trip all the way to Taylor Bayou. Wind was just right and we were able to motor sail most of the day. The scenery is beginning to change as we approach Louisiana. There are more trees, different types of reeds, lots of cows along the banks.
And now the tale begins … we are pulling our dinghy along behinds us. We are going to anchor and Thane wants to get up very close to the shore. As we get close he says, “Back up now.” I say, “I can’t or I’ll run over the dinghy” (it was right up against the back of the boat). He yelled, “I SAID BACK UP NOW” so I said, “Okay” and backed up right over the dinghy line. Wrapped it around the prop and that was that. He spent about 20 minutes in the dark, murky water cutting the line loose from the prop. We are in what is called “alligator alley” and he is none to happy about being in that water. Lesson learned: pull the dinghy up close if you think there is any possibility that you will need to back up. I spent the evening crying and wanting to go home … I hate to be yelled at. Thane spent the evening feeling bad because he yelled (he was doing so well with his no yelling policy).
At dusk about a million mosquitoes came out and tried their best to get into the boat. I’m glad I had put screens on all windows and hatches before we left Houston. It was like something out of a horror movie watching them trying to get in our v-berth hatch. I finally got up and sprayed the screens with OFF. That helped.
April 30 - May 1, 2004: Taylor Bayou to Sabine Yacht Basin
Didn’t go that far today due to the weather forecast. Predicting thunderstorms with up to 72 mph winds & hail by tomorrow. Sabine Yacht Basin seemed to be our best choice. As we approached, I became very nervous. Even though we have had the boat for about 6 years and lived on it for 4 of those years, we worked the whole time and very rarely sailed. Thane went on trips with other people, while I ran the fort at our businesses…so I’m a wimpy First Mate.
We pulled up to a concrete bulkhead at the entrance to the Yacht Basin (there is a very small marina with one canal in that is not even wide enough to turn around in). Our comedy of errors continues as we try to dock and Thane says, “hurry up and jump off.” Well it’s still too far for my 5′4″ legs to handle so I say, “I can’t.” By that time we’ve gotten close enough that I can jump, the next thing I know, I’m looking at Thane on the dock with me and no is on the boat which is still moving forward at a good clip!
We received our first good scratch on our hull here. I pulled us in too close to the concrete bulkhead. It had to happen sometime. We had to move the boat into the basin, but at least we knew where we were going. Of course, I worried the whole time we were there about how we were going to get out.
The marina charged $30.00 per night. But we were glad we were there as it did pour down rain for 2 days. The marina no longer had fuel as advertised so Brian, one of the marina owners drove Thane into town for fuel. They had a pretty hoppin’ restaurant & bar. The strangest thing was that to get to the showers you had to walk thru the restaurant & bar. I felt pretty silly with my bag, clothes & wet hair.
We walked into Orange (the town by the marina). Almost every house had a No Trespassing sign posted on it. Guess they must have a problem there.
May 2, 2004: Sabine Yacht Basin, Texas to Bayou Lacassine, Louisiana
After worrying the whole time we were here about pulling out of the marina, it was a piece of cake. Thane figured out a way to manuver Heart of Gold around with lines and we were on our way.
The scenery is beautiful with big elephant ears, banks of honeysuckle and lantana. We watched a snake swim across the ICW in front of us. Then we saw the most amazing site … 2 wolves (at least I think they were wolves) swam across in front of us. I grabbed the binoculars and watched as the second one came up out of the water and disappeared into the shrubbery. They were beige and grey, about the size of a big dog and beautiful. Wish I had been faster with my camera.
We went thru the Calcasieu Locks, the Black Bayou Pontoon Bridge, and the Grand Lake Pontoon Bridge. I still get nervous anytime we have to go thru any locks or bridges. We’ve had no trouble with any of them so far this trip so I hope I will learn to calm down.
We pulled into the Bayou Lacassine to anchor for the night. There was a boat anchored in the middle and we pulled up right behind Woodja from Kansas City, MO. They had been in Port Aransas for a month and we had met their cat Fred while they were there! They invited us over for a drink, but we didn’t want to put the motor on the dinghy and it was too windy to try and row over so we stayed home on our boat.
May 3, 2004: Bayou Lacassine to Bayou Petit Anse, then Avery Channel
A regular day of motoring. Went thru the Leland-Bowman Lock and several industrial sites along the way. We turned up Bayou Petit Anse and anchored for the night. A little while later I looked outside and saw a barge coming up into the Bayou and right past us. Thane called the tow captain of John 3:16 and he said there would be some barge traffic in the channel all night. We were very tired and decided to go ahead and stay put for the night. A little while later a shrimp boat came by so we called them and asked their opinion on our anchorage. They said they thought we should move. Two local people tell us to move … we pulled up the anchor and moved across the ICW into the Avery Channel. It was a nice anchorage. Only 2 boats went by all night. And best of all there were no mosquitoes.
The Bayou Petit Anse is the entryway into the basin at Avery Island. This is where the Tabasco factory is located as well as the Jungle Gardens. Both give tours. We didn’t go, but I wish we had taken an extra day and not missed the Tabasco factory.
May 4, 2004: Avery Channel to Morgan City, Louisiana
Motored all day. Played leapfrog with Woodja a couple of times, I think they must have stopped for lunch along the way. Went thru several more bridges and the Bayou Boeuf Lock. Once you go thru the Bayou Boeuf Lock you have to check in with Berwick Bay VTS on channel 11. You have to check in with them at various points along the waterway.
To get to Morgan City, you have to go under a railroad bridge. We had to hold here for about 30 minutes before the bridge opened for us. This was the first time we had to hold anywhere longer than a few minutes. After clearing the bridge you turn immediately into the marina, which is basically a concrete bulkhead. We docked right behind Woodja and took them up on their drink offer from the other night!
We had planned to stay in Morgan City for a day and look around, but the marina was very loud (trains and cars pass by all night) and shrimp & workboats start their engines at all hours of the night. It was also very rolly from all the tows going by. We decided to leave first thing in the morning. You are suppose to pay $20 to stay at the bulkhead, but we could find no one to pay so we finally just left.
May 5, 2004: Morgan City to Houma, Louisiana
We checked in with Berwick Bay VTS to clear the railroad bridge. Went up to the Bayou Boeuf Lock and were told to stand by. We circled & circled & circled trying to avoid all the tows. Finally we were called to enter the locks behind tow Captain Gus. We were told to just “float in the middle.” This is the first time any of the locks we have been thru have actually changed the water level. They raised it about 1′. It was difficult to just float in the middle. We managed, but did come close to the sides a couple of times and too close to Captain Gus for my comfort!
We went under the Bayou Delarge Bridge and entered the Houma marina, which is immediately after the bridge on the left. It was only 2:00 pm, but we were tired from a bad nights sleep in Morgan City so we pulled up to the bulkhead and stopped for the day. As soon as we stopped Ed, the Port Administrator, came by with a group of his friends and welcomed us to Houma. Bill, the Marina Master, came by soon after to have a beer and collect the fees. He is an 80 year old WW2 Veteran and a ventriloquist. He had quite a good laugh at my expense (he’s a pretty good ventriloquist). He gave us a welcome packet that included some good Louisiana hot sauce & assorted items from merchants in town.
We took a walk around town, found a bar and in honor of Cinco de Mayo, we had a couple of margaritas. Stopped for dinner out, a real treat since I’ve been cooking this whole trip. We really enjoyed Houma. Don’t pass it by if you are going down the ICW, the people are so friendly and it’s a pretty little town.
After returning to the boat, we pulled out the charts to see what lies ahead. I panicked! Sooo many bridges before getting to New Orleans.
May 6, 2004: Houma to Lafitte Harbor
We passed thru a couple of pontoon bridges again. All the pontoon bridges we have gone thru in the past have been swing bridges that move to the side of the waterway. Here we passed our first pontoon bridge that swung to the middle of the canal rather than the side. The billboard on the right is the only billboard we saw on the ICW. Of course, it was an attorney advertising for worker's comp claims!
We docked at Lafitte Harbor Marina. (As I go back thru these diaries, I am amused at how terrified I am of docking, etc. Now that we have been at it awhile, I know that it’s not that hard and my Captain is really good at it. Does that mean I don’t panic, NO. Such is my personality, which is probably why I have psoriasis.)
Back to the point, we went in and paid for dockage and we were charged .65 for 1’. After Thane had a second to think about it, he realized she was supposed to be charging .65 for each 1’. Thane returned and paid her the rest of what we really owed.
We have almost talked ourselves out of going to New Orleans because of the number of bridges, locks, trauma we will have to go thru to get there. We can go to Grand Isle instead which is supposed to be wonderful. We decided that we wanted to see New Orleans and we were not going to wimp out and miss it.
Tomorrow should be an exciting day (read scary).
May 7, 2004: Lafitte Harbor to New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor
We went thru so many bridges that I can’t even list them all here. I’m sure everything has changed since Katrina. The bridge tenders in New Orleans are not nice like all the others have been. They DO NOT answer you when you call and many of the bridges names have changed from what the guidebooks say. The bridges are so close together it is difficult to hold as there is almost no room to manuver and, of course, you have to deal with the current. We felt like we were begging the bridge tenders to answer.
After several bridges, we went to the Harvey Locks. We passed thru with one empty tow and tied up on our starboard side. The lock raised 9’ and we had to move the lines up to the second hold in the lock. Although the cruising guides make all of this sound very scary, it wasn’t bad and the lock workers all came along side and we enjoyed a nice visit.
We are psyched… we are have now entered the mighty Mississippi. It is 100’ deep and very wide, brown and murky. We watched downtown New Orleans slide by and felt the power of the Huck Finn novel.
We went to the Industrial Canal and had to wait about 45 minutes before we were called in. The Industrial Canal lowers 8’. We went thru the canal with one full tow and one empty tow.
There is a bridge right after the lock and the loaded tow we were with was moving very slowly. Thane called the tow Mobilian on the VHF and said we would like to pass him before the bridge. He said fine and Thane started passing. I was scouring the guidebooks to figure out which bridge was next when I looked up and saw that we were about to be crushed between the concrete bridge pillar and the tow. I screamed at Thane to reverse immediately which he did. We spent several frantic moments trying to manuver not to hit anything. Even the bridge tender called out "close one" after we finally passed.
I guess Thane's male testosterone had gotten the better of him. When Mobilian sped up after telling us we could pass, it registered some deep down male thing to compete. He was bound and determined that we would win the race!
We both knew that this was the closest we have ever been to death. If I had not looked up at that very second, Thane would have continued on. Every time I closed my eyes to sleep for the next few nights, I saw that pillar and that tow.
The next few bridges wouldn't answer at all when we called, but we finally got through them and into Lake Pontchartrain. After about an hour of dodging crab traps, we arrived at New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor.
May 8 - 15, 2004: The Big Easy, New Orleans, Louisiana
What a city. The marina is great with excellent showers and laundry facilities all for $9.00 a day! We are docked on the first row at the marina and have a great view of City Park in front of us and 100's of boats behind us. It's a bit of a walk to the bus stop, but once you get there you can catch a bus or street car anywhere.
Our friends, Mark and Gail, live here and for our first day on the town, they picked us up and gave us a guided tour (Gail grew up in Metarie). We went to Old Metarie, the French Quarter, and the Garden District. Had oysters & beer for lunch at Dockside in Metarie...yum. Did the obligatory looking in the shops and discovered some lovely courtyards. Went to a voodoo shop and we were going to buy a gris-gris bag for luck, but decided against it. I was afraid it would be sacrilegious and I don't want to make God mad at me.
For our big night out at a restaurant we chose Teager and had fried crabs, oysters, crab cakes, stuffed shrimp, fried shrimp & catfish, onion rings, French fries & boiled crawfish. We didn't need to eat again for a week!
While in New Orleans, we spent a lot of time down on the French Quarter and just walking around the town. We really enjoyed the city. Lots of good food, street performers, history & fun. We enjoyed riding the street cars. We never did go into a cemetery as there are warnings everywhere not to go in without a guide or group due to the high crime. The French Quarter is right next to one of the worst slum areas in the country.
We are ready to leave, but the weather keeps calling for thunderstorms. One day it thunder-stormed extremely bad. The level of the lake rose about 3' in 10 minutes. Thane had to go out in the pouring rain to loosen the spring lines. The level dropped again just as fast. We think there was possibly a tornado on the lake.