Louisiana is most unique among states. Alaska probably comes close, but I’ve not been there yet, so it doesn’t count. Cajun, Creole, and Coon-ass all belong to Louisiana – nowhere else. Red beans & rice, boudin, and gumbo belong to Louisiana. No city in the US approximates New Orleans. No local dialect is so distinct that to an untrained ear, it sounds like a foreign language. And no state has a costal boundary as ambiguous as Louisiana’s.
South Louisiana doesn’t really have a coast. You can’t define it by a beach front, barrier islands, or a coastal road. Much of it you can only see by plane or boat. If you must hide, take a duck boat to south Louisiana – you won’t be found, and absent a guide, probably won’t find your way out either. It is a tortured maze of rivers, lakes, canals, salt marshes, and bayous.
The oil & gas industry permeates south Louisiana. Towns exist anywhere dry ground shares deep water access to the Gulf, and they all exist to serve the oil and gas industry. The waterways of Intracoastal City, Berwick, Morgan City, and Houma are long expanses of shipbuilders, scrapyards and industrial docks. Dilapidated piers, abandoned warehouses, and rotting hulls share the banks, monuments to business write-offs and escaped liabilities.
Seeing it from the water offers an inverse perspective, like taking Amtrak into Philadelphia. You see the underbelly, the unvarnished character of places along the way. No signs congratulate the 2006 state softball champs. Though there is much beauty to absorb, none is man made. Architects and artisans worked elsewhere.
For a stretch, the GIWW winds around large salt domes, revealed by topographic “bumps” on the surface. Places like Weeks, Cote Blanche, and Avery offer high ground in an otherwise flat, marshy expanse. The waters around them are dense with canals dredged decades ago so that drilling rigs, production equipment, pipelines, and workers could access the fossil riches beneath.
Our stops through South Louisiana included Intracoastal city, Morgan City, and Houma, not because of their tourist value, but because there are so few options to tie up or drop an anchor for a good night sleep. First came the Shell Morgan Landing fuel dock in Intracoastal City. Soon after transiting the Leland Bowman lock. we were happy to tie to the bulkhead just as dusk settled in. A month after Katrina struck in 2005, this and other small bayou towns were devastated by Hurricane Rita. A three wood away, rebuilt on 16′ stilts, stands Maxie’s Grocery – a well stocked little store that made the most delicious, fluffy breakfast biscuits.
Next was Morgan City and an inexpensive but popular municipal dock on the Lower Atchafalaya. The Atchafalaya takes the flow burden off the Mississippi and is probably the biggest river non-cajuns have never heard of. It took so much burden this past spring that the bulkhead type dock was shoaled in. We approached twice before backing out, finally going across the river to tie up in Berwick, with much deeper but far faster water under the keel. It was a welcome overnight where we enjoyed shallow sleep.
Because our next destination of Houma was only five hours away, we were waking slowly, making coffee, and enjoying a leisurely departure. While enjoying my coffee, I called the Bayou Boeuf lock, 15 minutes east on the GIWW. They advised that we must be there in 30 minutes to lock through – afterwards, locks would close for the day. We had a 5 alarm fire drill aboard Cirila, but made it through that morning. Once we settled down, coffee at our fingertips, we enjoyed a leisurely cruise in beautiful stretches that wound between the salt domes.
Leaving eastbound from Morgan City, dense industry suddenly yields to what is probably the prettiest stretch of GIWW in Louisiana – a meander through Black Bayou. Huge cypress trees laden with Spanish moss line the banks. We expected to see alligators prowling, but didn’t. In fact, we saw more bald eagles than alligators in Louisiana. Most unexpected!
Approaching Houma, commercial traffic increased again, but the tugs were smaller. As the GIWW winds through the town of Houma. it could only accommodate single wide barges; the radio was busy with captains positioning their boats for passes in the narrow channel. The Houma City Dock was just off this narrow section, nestled in a canal between a pair of bridges carrying highway 182 over the GIWW. Houma was a peaceful spot, and needing the rest, we decided to stay an extra night. That night, we celebrated our 1 week anniversary on the water, with a great dinner at Christiano’s, our first meal off the boat since Stingaree. Then the following day, the boat “Just Jillin” pulled in behind us, on their way back to Beaumont after completing the Great Look a couple weeks earlier.
The first night, we had our soundest sleep since that first night at Bowtie. Our second night was burdened by nerves for the following day – transiting the Harvey Lock into the Mississippi, past New Orleans, and back down through the Industrial Lock.