The sale of the HoopDeCar was the last thing mentioned in the previous eletter, I would start this eletter with recognition of the truism that “things always turn out as they should”. Had we sold the HoopDeCar in the beginning of November, we would have left AL immediately. It did not sell, and we were a bit perplexed, as it was worth much more than our asking price.
As it turned out, we still needed the HoopDeCar for one last very important trip. My Dad had been living quite a normal life with a cancer diagnosis for more than ten years, but about a year ago, started to go in for more aggressive treatments. He & my Mom still did their traveling thing, spending the summer in ID. But this fall, the disease mounted its final assault. My Mom had her hands full trying to keep Dad comfortable at home, where he emphatically wanted to stay.
Karin & I drove the HoopDeCar to AZ just before Thanksgiving and assisted Mom & Dad in his last few days so he could pass away in his own home quietly with his dignity intact. God blessed his life and all the multitudes of people he interacted with. He left everyone in every place he visited a little better than before he touched their lives.
While in AZ, we took the totally unexpected opportunity to spend a few days with our very good friends originally from WI, Cliff & Dorothy Philpott. They live the retired life in the fast lane in Sun City West. Between constantly improving their beautiful home, Cliff restoring English automobiles, playing competitive table tennis, cycling, woodworking projects and Dorothy’s activity groups they are busier than any other 4 people I know!
We did manage to fit Windigo in the trunk of the HoopDeCar [I told you it was LARGE], and sailed a bit on the oceans of the AZ desert. This was a bit of a homecoming for me, as I cycled thousands of miles in these same deserts in the 70’s, and had one last 1000-mile cycling trip in 1996 here.
Upon returning to Mobile, we completed a couple extra boat projects, sold the HoopDeCar, and sailed from our very nice home at the Sundowner. With all of the shortcomings we have experienced in the south, finding and staying at the Sundowner Marina, and our employment at Spring Hill College, Silver Ships, and Kathy White Learning Systems were certainly great gifts.
So now we are presently traveling along the Gulf Coast, as the last eletter listed speculative port-of-calls, and now I may report on those places from first-hand experience.
Our current expedition began with a four-day voyage to Ft. Walton Beach, FL and time during the holidays with an old family friend, Don Day. Although Donny works LONG hours at the Post Office, he wrangled a day for sailing out on Choctawhatchee Bay between Ft. Walton Beach and Destin. We ate mounds of food for the holidays, and I assisted him in setting up a brand new computer system to replace his ancient machine that he struggled with daily. He would click on the “send & receive” email button on the new system just to watch how fast his new 2GHz processor and cable modem could check and download stuff.
Before leaving Ft. Walton Beach we constructed a new fenderboard to replace the 2”x12” twelve-foot board we used ‘til now. (The old one snapped in two while docking in downtown Mobile for the Tricentennial parade. A swift side-current moved us firmly into the dock and revealed a weak spot in the board!) The new fenderboard is a superstructure of pressure-treated 2”x4” lumber, assembled to form a 12’x18” frame to contain the medium or large round fenders we use. It is stronger, stiffer, wider and lighter than the old one and it is easier to attach lines to in different ways. It is assembled with 3½” stainless screws, so it may be disassembled and tied to the shrouds for our offshore passages.
Another milestone was reached when we left Donny’s, Windigo headed out into the Gulf of Mexico for the very first time. The shipping lanes are fairly easy to identify, huge fishing vessels are a bit more problematic; as they travel any route they choose. One must also be sure to sail AROUND the 4000 oilrigs in the Gulf. Not doing so could ruin the entire evening.
Two days sailing round the clock against the wind brought us just south of Dauphin Island, AL and a rough night. The inattentive and tired Captain parked the boat in a tidal-current-across-the-building-waves situation [NEVER AGAIN!] that got sooooo bad we had to weigh anchor at 4a.m. our insides were shaken & stirred very nicely, thank you. (When anchored in a current, a vessel generally hangs out from the anchor in the direction of that current. When the wind blows at a 90° angle to that current for a while, and has enough distance of water surface between the vessel and the direction the wind is from, the resulting waves approach the vessel from the side. This causes the vessel to roll as it rides up and down the face of the wave. The bigger the waves are, the more severe the roll of the vessel. When the waves are close together, the vessel rolls rapidly from side to side.)
We spent the next very nice sailing day with upset tummies and huge headaches. Couldn’t get to Gulfport, MS fast enough. We arrived in the Gulfport Yacht Basin and tied to the GYC dock [at no charge]. There we waited until the stormy weather passed. Using their [free] hot showers daily was a luxury in the foul weather.
It just so happened that the Grand Casino was within walking distance from the dock. So to celebrate my birthday on New Year’s Eve, I took Karin to a big party at the casino with a very happening New Orleans band, Dino Casino, playing dance music all night. Check out their website – a very cosmopolitan group: two shaved bald guitarists, an ol’ jazzman that plays two saxophones simultaneously (and at the same time), a voodoo queen vocalist, a 300+ pound vocalist named Phat 2sDAY (Fat Tuesday), and the leader is a ringer for Bono. Not quite the Eddie Butts Band, but they were very talented and professional! Because all this was free, free, free, I bought Karin a $6 drink so she wouldn't think I am a total cheapskate. (Too late.)
So after a visit to the Oceanarium gift shop, (I was too cheap to actually pay admission the see the dolphins and turtles), we made an early morning departure to get a jump on the weather to make our next port in daylight.
Funny thing about sailing: with all the float plans, computer programs, chart reviews, specialized equipment, safety gear, training, USCG ratings, and autopilots that steer according to waypoint, wind or heading – it almost always becomes obvious who is really in charge.
The one whom it is not nice to fool – Mother Nature.
So we left Gulfport, and were only one hour from the mouth of the East Pearl River (our destination), the wind took a nasty shift, an a front pushed the winds up to a steady 28 knots. The block and cleat for the mainsheet was snapped off like a Happy Meal toy. Of course, the wind shifted to EXACTLY the direction we wanted to go [biker's luck], so it was a three-hour battle through 2m seas to the river.
As we reduced sail, Karin noticed that the upper shrouds needed to be much tighter. I have learned not to discount her power of observation even in the most adverse conditions. Another experience that didn’t kill us [the saying goes, “it’ll make you stronger”.] We still got anchored in a little tributary just inside the tidal marsh of the river before dark.
After moving Windigo 10 miles up the East Pearl River, Karin whipped up split pea soup (leftover ham bone from the holiday meal) - WOW, we needed that! A nice HOT shower in the cockpit and we were all fixed up. We choose an anchorage a swampy 500 feet from I-10 in the East Pearl River so we could walk to the Welcome Center on the MS/LA border.
We walked 2½ miles to the Welcome Center along the freeway each day. There, the government runs a [free] tour bus back & forth to the Stennis Space Center, the huge NASA rocket engine testing facility. The bus tours the grounds where Werhner Von Braun and gang gave the final approval to all the Saturn rocket engines that went to the moon. Today, they test all the shuttle engines here and have 30 other government agencies on the grounds doing research and providing valuable services to the public.
They have a huge museum [free also] that took us two days to get through. All the tour and museum people knew who we were by the time we were done! A very interesting place for this boy of the space age. (We later found out Werhner Von Braun actually brought his WHOLE family up the East Pearl River on a houseboat in 1965 to show them HIS rocket engine test facility. They had a picture of it in the museum.)
From there, we sailed into Lake Ponchartrain and found a VERY nice dock / city across the Lake from New Orleans. It’s right at the end of the causeway across the middle of the Lake. Mandeville, LA is an upscale old suburb of the metro area to the south. Free docking. Free power. Free hot showers at the LPYC right across the street from our berth. Totally protected from nasty seas.
We immediately noticed a large number of pedestrian traffic along the shore – more so than one would expect on a chilly January day in LA (these people believe 45°F. is very cold, and 30° is a deep freeze). Turns out we arrived just in time to see the Mandeville spectacle of the year: An entrepreneur had purchased a large old residence in New Iberia, LA and had it transported by barge the 200 miles to Mandeville. Plans will transform it into a luxury reception hall for lease. It had just arrived on the shore in Mandeville the day preceding our appearance.
The show had just begun; it took a full week to contend with low tides to get the house ashore, across the street and onto its new lot. Hundreds of spectators would gather each afternoon as the crews attempted their daily moving show. It was believed that the owners exaggerated the process to garner all the free publicity. It worked.
There is a 33-mile rails-to-trails bike trail through the area that we checked out. Our cycling took us to Madisonville, home of the largest wooden boat show in the south. The boat show is sponsored by the Lake Ponchartrain Basin Maritime Museum and Research Center. It is housed in a brand new building, and is expanding at a fast pace. Wooden boat building classes are offered a couple days each week; and additional lighthouse lenses, submarines, and other antiquities are being incorporated every month. The exact scale models are impressive, and it has a few state-of-the-art multimedia presentations that are professionally presented.
Fine weather had us finishing a couple more projects: I changed worn cogs on the cassettes on our bikes. I had 5 completely shot gears (missing teeth) - they wanted $10 to $15/cog. Ouch!, I’m used to gettin' bike stuff free (when I was sponsored), so I researched on the net, and found complete 9-speed cassettes for $19! I bought a couple each of two different sizes, and stocked up on a complete array for less than $3 each.
Karin worked on finishing installation of closed-cell foam insulation on the hull surfaces to prevent condensation and keep it cool inside. Then, we completed the attachments for the helm roof. [After finishing a joining cloth in Morgan City, that covers the cockpit, we now are able to sail the great indoors.]
New Orleans was originally on our agenda, and had tentative plans to meet up with Mark, Brian & Eric Genisee there for New Year's Eve. But the extended stay in Ft. Walton Beach with Donny and in the East Pearl River visiting the Stennis Space Center caused us to be a little to late to meet them. We have made several visits to New Orleans over the past few years, the last being Halloween, so we made a choice to stay on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain instead.
New Orleans is built on the isthmus of the Mississippi River, which extends a considerable distance to the southwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The large body of water that makes up the bay to the north of New Orleans is Lake Ponchartrain. Several rivers and bayous feed it, and the north shore county is called St. Tammary Parish. It is the wealthiest county in Louisiana and is presently a "suburb" of New Orleans.
But the area has way more history than simply being a bedroom community for a metropolitan area. The main cities we visited here, Mandeville (home of the Fourth of July weekend Seafood Festival), Albita Springs, Covington and Madisonville have been named so since the Louisiana Purchase in the early 1800's. They became popular in the mid 1800's for their fresh artesian water and clean pine-forest air; the area was known as the "Ozone Belt". Vacationers flocked from New Orleans and other larger municipalities around the area.
But this place has a similar history to the East Pearl River area in that it was governed by several entities prior to being part of the United States. Native American Indians of several tribes lived and moved through the area for centuries. The French and Spaniards each flew their flag over this soil at one time. It was part of the West Florida Republic, and of course, the doomed Confederacy. History from so long ago, flowing from so many paths.
We finally peeled ourselves from the luxury accommodations in Mandeville, and headed south across Lake Ponchartrain to the IntraCostal Waterway (ICW) through New Orleans. Good thing we left in the wee hours, as attempting making good time through the bridges and locks of New Orleans was a lost cause.
Timing lock transits and bridge openings during our Inland Waterway voyage in 2001 was easy as the lock masters and bridge tenders worked with us at nearly every point. Even with the confusion of 9/11 looming over that trip, everyone was helpful and efficient.
Not so in the Deep South.
There was interesting scenery along the river, including the famous Delta Queen, American Queen, and Mississippi Queen river paddleboats. I also encountered my diesel counterpart there on the Mississippi.
We stopped for the night in Crown Point, LA at the defunct Dolphin Fuel dock. A bit different than the luxury of the Mandeville City Dock, but it prepared us for the next night in Houma, LA. Now Houma has a brand-new city dock known for miles around as THE place for pleasure craft passing through on the ICW to spend the night. But alas, Windigo’s 6½’ draft prevented us from entering the slough that leads to the Houma City Dock. So we spent the night tied to a rusty old barge. No problem with the fenderboard! In the morning, I made a couple bike trips to the store for milk and diesel. The traffic on this portion of ICW is heavy and varied, ranging from small and large tugs, huge barge tows, bass boats, yachts, and on this particular morning almost a dozen aircraft. Frequently all at the same time!
Heading out of Houma, we traveled long, straight sections of canal where it was rather pleasant to sail for long stretches. And hour before sunset, we arrived at the Bayou Boeuf Lock in Morgan City. With several tugs in line for the lock, we spent another night on another unimproved structure, a crappy old wooden seawall behind a boatyard. But it was out-of-the-way of barge traffic and, most important, free. Again, this dock was made hospitable through the use of the fenderboard.
After breakfast we proceeded through the Bayou Boeuf Lock. A most unusual design in that the lock walls are timbers that allow water to flow through. The water level in the whole lock basin adjusts for the opening of the gates. Just around the corner were the Morgan City Dock [free] and we found an open slip. With [free] power & water. With easy access to a brand new library and a bridge to the Wal-Mart across the Atchafalaya River!
Morgan city is home to dozens of petroleum industry construction businesses, building and repairing everything from oil rigs, jackboats, aircraft, pumps, engines and anything associated with offshore oil production. It also has a reputation as the “Jumbo Shrimp Capitol of the World”. This inevitably led to the Labor Day event at the Louisiana Shrimp & Petroleum Festival [my FAVORITE snack!]
So we are here at our luxury slip until the weather warms a bit [they had the coldest night of the year last weekend – it got down to 35°F.!] with our little heater and free power.
Our permanent and EXACT address:
Capt. KL & Karin Hughes
S/V WindigoIII • PMB 365
88005 Overseas Hwy. #9
Islamorada, FL 36033-3087
Text only Email addresses aboard Windigo, checked daily:
Email addresses checked when at a computer
And of course, the Windigo Travelogue Catalogue: