The Calcasieu would be our first encounter with locks. Along the GIWW, the locks are made to fit the large barges creeping all over the gulf coast. This one is almost 1/4 mile long. They serve more to control saltwater intrusion and flooding than they do changing elevation between waterways. The lock chamber is lined with timbers, which the barges destroy over time. They’ve been repairing Calcasieu for two years, and to accelerate progress, they close the lock for daytime repairs. Since there’s nowhere to stop on the east side of the lock, we needed to be ready to lock through at 6:00 am, leaving ourselves time to travel afterwards.
Thus, we left comfortable Bowtie Marina, navigated out Contraband Bayou in blackness, then chugged down Lake Charles and the Calcasieu river, at night. We followed our “breadcrumbs” (the trail left on our charter plotter) from our prior trip going in the opposite direction. This helped immensely. Once we arrived near the west side of the lock, we had to wait for them to clear four barges traveling west, bobbing around and holding station for two hours. We were first in an eastbound procession until time for closure.
Locking was not as scary as we thought. At least not this one. We were instructed to “Float the Middle”, which just means no tying up. As the west gate closed, we floated and crept eastward. As we got there, the east gates opened and off we went. The water as we exited was a mess of floating marsh grass, torn up by tows pushing their barges into the banks while waiting their turn to lock through. Thrust vectors from the tugs created cross currents and eddies far into the channel, knocking our bow 15 degrees off our heading. We got used to it, learning to adjust our course early. We saw barges lined like this for 5 miles east of Calcasieu.
Because of the early start, we decided to press all the way to Intracoastal City, where we would tie up for the night at Shell Morgan Landing. It was a beautiful, long day. The heavy commercial traffic finally eased. We travelled for hours and did not see a soul.
Channels interlace much of GIWW and bayous, with small well heads dotting the marshes, sometimes one to an acre. It’s ironic and sad that the Louisiana Coast will be an early victim of the climate change its exploitation has helped cause. Most of the Gulf Coast, from Corpus Christi to New Orleans, is dedicated to oil – it’s exploration, production, transport, and downstream conversion – into everything from jet fuel to antifreeze, and from detergent to every plastic known to man. So much is at sea level. Today’s sea level. Most of my career has been in its support.
Places to stop for the night are few, and separated by hours of travel when pummeling along at 7 knots. Voyaging at its best is a finely choreographed affair, combining good docking or anchoring locations with weather forecasts, tides, lunar and solar phases, at departure time, en route, and at the expected time of arrival. It’s gratifying when the pieces fall in place and you arrive in perfect conditions just after sunset. That’s what we did at Shell Morgan Landing.