Lousiana #4 – The Big Easy

We left Houma just before sunrise on Saturday for the challenging leg through New Orleans.  Thoughts of this leg frayed our nerves before we even left Houston – especially Dawn’s, since she was our designated line handler through the locks.  It was a dreary morning, with a steady, light rain that finally began to lift about halfway to New Orleans.

The GIWW twists its way through more oil country along Lake Salvadore, then past the small town of Jean Lafitte.  The privateer’s legacy is spread across the entirety of the trip between Galveston and New Orleans.  DNA tests of the local populace would provide even more interesting data.  The little town is an airboat hub for New Orleans tourists.  What follows is an interesting meander through Crown Point, the first residential, “no wake” stretch we’ve seen.  Residents own small fishing and shrimping boats, many resting on their bottoms in broken down slips, water lapping through the open holes where windows used to be.

A turn north by the Boomtown Casino, points us up the final stretch of the GIWW before reaching mile 0, at the Harvey Lock.  The narrow waterway is lined with tugs and small shipyards.  Barges are scarce, because Harvey was built in 1909, when they were hauling small barges of cotton and rice instead of monster “6 packs” of benzene and ammonia.  Tug traffic too is minimal, because it is Saturday.  This helped immensely, as it was far easier and faster to coordinate bridge openings in the Harvey Canal, and get into the lock with a minimal wait.

The lockmaster on VHF 13 told us to enter the lock and tie up alongside a small tug at the front of the lock.  The deck hand, himself in training, took our lines and secured us a alongside while a big tug nestled in behind us, his bridge towering 4 stories above our aft cockpit.  The west gates closed and the chamber began to fill, taking about 10 minutes to equalize with the Mississippi river above.


Looking up to the Captain of Miss Aileene, the tug we rafted to in the Harvey Lock.  Once through, they led the way to the entrance to the Industrial Lock, making sure we didn’t miss it.

The gates open and we are first out, so that we are not caught in turbulence caused be the tug’s powerful thrusters.  We are, however, captured by the powerful current of the Big Muddy.  Its like a one mile wide, 100′ deep storm sewer draining half the country.  In front of downtown New Orleans, waves roll in all directions, as ocean freighter driven wakes reflect off sea walls protecting the city.  Passing Jackson Square, one of the forward seat cushions that Dawn made lifted from the bench, going airborne past the pilothouse window, and into the churning water.  We let it go rather than trying to retrieve it in the churning water.


Downtown New Orleans as seen from the middle of the Mississippi River, with the Superdome peaking up on the left.


About 4 miles downstream of Harvey, past the French quarter on the eastern bank, is the entrance to the Industrial Lock.  We had to wait for about 30 minutes, as the lock tender struggled to open a railroad bridge at the entrance to the lock.  We joined two oyster boats and a demasted sailboat in the chamber, this time lashed to the port wall. We were lowered 6′ into the Industrial Canal, marking the beginning of the eastern portion of the ICW.

A few more miles and bridge openings brought us to our destination – The Seabrook Marina and Shipyard, just south of Lake Pontchartrain.  We pulled into our slip at 3:30, meaning that the two locks and 5 bridge openings added less than two hours to our projected travel time.  Transiting this stretch can sometimes take 6 hours or more as tug traffic, bridge curfews, and lock breakdowns corrupt best laid plans.  We had done it!


After the Industrial Lock, just a few more bridges separate us Seabrook Marina with Lake Ponchartrain beyond.  The water was markedly cleaner on this side of the lock.

As we maneuvered into Slip 10 at Seabrook, our bow thruster shrieked and stopped thrusting.  We were able to secure Cirila without it, so did not let the lost thruster delay our tradition of cracking of a beer after shutting down the engine.  Soon after, came the demasted sailboat, Scout.  Aaron and Shawna just brought it from Tulsa, down the Arkansas river and Lower Mississippi.  Its hard to fathom just how miserable that trip must have been.  Scout looked like Jed Clampett’s boat, the deck a jumbled mess of dock line, anchor rode, rigging, jerry cans, and bulging trash bags.  Shawna drove back to Oklahoma for work, leaving Aaron to clean up Scout, re-step the mast at Seabrook, and ready her for their planned cruise to the Caribbean.


Seabrook Marina, our home for 4 nights along the Industrial Canal in New Orleans.

Because it was also a shipyard with haul-out capabilities, Seabrook could not have been a better place to break down.  We would, however, have to wait until Monday to talk to the service department, so we settle in. Winds kicked up Saturday night.  Because the docks project into the canal, hours of rocking and bumping into the pier did not allow for a good sleep, despite our exhaustion.  The weather calmed Sunday, and so did we, enjoying a day of football and needed rest.  We even took the bikes out to go explore, but unfortunately, there was very little to see from the saddle in this part of New Orleans.

We maneuvered to the boat lift early Monday for a quick haul-out so we could inspect the thruster.  As suspected, the zinc on one of the the thruster props had come loose.  The ensuing vibration caused the coupling which connects the thruster motor to its gearbox to disengage.  We fixed the zinc easily, but would need to wait until Tuesday morning for a coupling to be delivered, spending the night floating, but cradled in the slings of the boat lift.  At least it was calmer than being on the canal!  The coupling arrived Tuesday morning, took longer to replace than expected, but was back on line by noon, but high winds forced us to stay another night.

We used the afternoon to take Seabrook’s loaner truck, with no wheel bearings and 1/2 a suspension, to a West Marine hoping (with no avail) to replace some of the spares we had used.  Striking out there, we walked to Three B’s Burger and Wine Bar for lunch. It was in a quaint commercial district called Lakeview; The burgers were delicious and the cacophony of other people was music to our ears.  Finally, we reprovisioned at a Rouse’s market, the official grocery store of the Saints, like HEB is for the Texan’s.  We liked HEB better.

We were back in Slip 10 for one more night, watching the weather and preparing Cirila for our next leg.  This one would take us behind a moving front line into the shallow, open waters of Lake Pontchartrain, through the Rigolets, and a corner of Mississippi Sound bound for Bay Saint Louis.  We made the boat ready for rougher conditions.


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