We left Seabrook Marina in NOLA at sunrise, pointing our bow north into Lake Pontchartrain. As usual, our timing was weather driven, as we tried to tuck in behind a weak squall line moving east ahead of us. We were just a bit early, catching the southern edge of the front as we approached the railroad bridge at the east end of the lake. Wind and rain increased in concert with crab pot density, stressing the crew – then the center windshield wiper quit!
Thankfully, the rain and crab pots let up as we turned eastward toward “The Rigolets” (rhymes with cheese, if you can believe it), which connects Pontchartrain with Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound beyond. Before exiting The Rigolets, we circled for thirty minutes waiting for a railroad bridge opening. The swing bridge operator needed winds to calm and an oncoming train to pass before opening. He finally radioed, stating he’d open it partially and that we could squeeze through ahead of the train. We revved up the engine and pushed through the narrow gap as currents pushed us about, breathing big sighs of relief as we emerged in Lake Borgne.
The remainder of our cruise to Bay St. Louis was less eventful. Though much of the next couple hours were in 2-4′ seas, we were taking most on the bow, which Cirila handles well. Along the way, we passed the mouth of the Pearl River, marking the Louisiana – Mississippi border, and the spot where Hurricane Katrina made landfall in 2005. The coast there and in the nearby town of Waveland were hit with a 28′ storm surge!
The town of Bay St. Louis (BSL) sits just north on a piece of high ground at the west side of the the Bay, and Pass Christian on lower ground on the east side. Katrina decimated both towns. As we approached the bay, we watched charts closely to avoid spoils where broken bridges and concrete were dumped in the aftermath of Katrina. We transited one final swing bridge before easing along the transient bulkhead at the BSL Municipal Marina. The new marina and waterfront park were completed 3 years ago – by far the nicest stop of our journey thus far. Yacht owners from New Orleans and beyond keep vessels here, not only because cruising grounds in Mississippi Sound are so accessible, but because the town is delightful. There are no traffic lights, a thriving and eclectic artisan community, and good restaurants which locals frequent via golf cart.
The Blind Tiger (TBT’s) is a restaurant / bar closest to the marina, and was a welcome spot to unwind after our long journey and enjoy dinner off the boat. The smoked tuna spread appetizer was delicious, the Royal Red jumbo shrimp even better. Beers around one of TBT’s campfire pits topped off a great evening.
While tied alongside the entertainment dock, numerous residents stopped by Cirila, curious about our travels. A gentleman named Patrick stopped a couple times during our brief stay. Originally from Livonia, MI and now living in Dallas, he shared an interesting perspective. Searching for a second home getaway reachable from Dallas, his family looked hard at Port Aransas, TX, near Corpus Christi. Not happy with the amenities there, they discovered Bay St. Louis, MS was equidistant, visited and fell in love. They now own a second home in BSL, as well as a rental property they host on AirBnB. After spending a couple days there, we understand why.
The Mississippi Sound borders this stretch of the gulf coast, between Bay St. Louis and Mobile, AL, separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a string of barrier islands a few miles offshore. There are nice beaches along the coast here, sometimes known as “The Redneck Riviera”. As we saw coming into BSL, winds can kick up quite a chop in these relatively shallow waters, so we waited for a good weather window before taking our short, four hour leg east to Biloxi, MS. We enjoyed a beautiful cruising day, joined four different times by pods of dolphins, swimming alongside and playing in our bow wave.
We tucked in at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi, directly behind the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. Point Cadet seems a more popular hub for fishing charters than home to pleasure craft, and though the facilities and staff are nice, it is not a very walkable location (unless you like strolling about casinos). Had it not been for 30 knot winds, we would have departed for Alabama sooner. High winds and chop in the marina made for two nights of shallow sleep, as it was difficult to get Cirila tied as securely as we like. One of our new dock lines almost chaffed clean through the first night, and another bow line we set was at an awkward angle, strained and creaking all night long, only marginally helping keep the bow centered in the slip.
Our next leg traverses more of the Mississippi Sound, running just inside Dauphin Island and across Mobile Bay to Orange Beach, Alabama. Since this is where we plan to cross our wake in a couple years, we will have officially begun our Great Loop along this leg.