FROM: Gene Gruender
DATE: 2/15/99 10:10 PM
Houma, La

We're on the ICW - still, heading for Houma, La. We left Morgan City this morning.

To back up just a bit, we spent nearly 3 days at Avery Island. (About 29 52N, 91 56W) We didn't plan to, we really just wanted to hole up until the Norther blew through. Unfortunately, it took the water with it when it passed us. Going in the canals, we had a spot where I had about a foot of water under the keel, Ron on Anticipation parted the silt in places. Saturday Morning after the front went through we woke up to find the docks way above us. The water had dropped 4'. We were bumping the soft bottom at our dock, Anticipation had stabbed herself deep into the mud. I suppose it didn't matter anyway, because there was no way we could have gotten out through the canal.

While we were there Don Denning, who had given us information on our transmission fix came to visit. He'd been to see us in Lake Charles and when he got one of the emails telling where we were, he came by. We got a knock on the top of the boat. When I stuck my head out, he told me if I was going to park in his back yard, I should have called him. He only lived 4 miles away. After giving us some charts and offering any sort of help he could give (the thing we needed most was water and he couldn't help with that) he told us a little about the place. I asked why they called Avery Island an Island, when it didn't really seem to be. I'd been up the mast and could see it was connected to the land next to it - it may have been swampy, but it was still connected. He said that was good enough for them, that was enough to make it an island.

He told us a bit about the salt mines there. It seems there are several salt domes in the area, one of which is Avery Island. It sits on a hill in otherwise flat land just inches above sea level. Under the hill is a solid salt formation. The salt is hard as rock, probably a mile or more across and thousands of feet deep. They mine it a couple thousand feet down with bulldozers, dynamite and big earth mover type trucks. It is brought to the surface and loaded in barges.

There is another nearby that used to be mined. Texaco was drilling an oil well in the middle of a lake about 10 years ago and through some misunderstanding, drilled an 18" hole right into the mine several thousand feet down. The lake quickly disappeared into the hole, flooding the mine. There was a barge and towboat, along with the drilling rig, which all just went down the big whirlpool, never to be seen again. The mine flooded and has never been reopened. The amazing thing is, nobody was killed. The three people on a boat just stepped off onto a dock to watch their boat disappear. The mine was empty of people for shift change. Quite a story.

Sunday morning, Feb. 14th, we woke to find the water within 6" of when we came in. After pushing and prodding Anticipation out of the mud we got away. We only plowed a little mud getting out. As we motored out of the canal, Nellie was downstairs making waffles on her electric waffle maker. The first thing I knew about it was when she handed me up a plate full of hot waffles as a Valentines day breakfast.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful, just motoring to Morgan City. Morgan City is a very busy boating area. There are several canals and rivers crossing there and the whole are is based on commercial boating. Towboats, offshore oil rig service boats, shrimp boats, boat yards, all sorts of stuff. The strange thing is, it doesn't seem like a very suitable place for it.

The Mississippi river spills over the dikes many places north of here and it all comes down this way. Before we got to Morgan City, we crossed a place called the Wax Lake Outlet. This is a big canal that diverts water from the Mississippi to get it to the Gulf of Mexico. It is as big as a large river, well over a quarter mile across. As we got into it we found a current of several knots, and it wasn't just a shallow stream. The depth gauge was reading 50 to 60 feet, and the water was really ripping through there.

A few miles farther we got into the general area of Morgan City. All the boat traffic is under the control of a traffic control system. No one enters or moves without their OK. They allowed us to go ahead of a half dozen towboats that were holding along the banks of the ICW and go on to the Atchafalaya River. (pronounced Ah-chafa - lie - ya, the t is silent, but we could never detect the first "ah" when the natives pronounced it) Turning upstream (29 39N, 91 14W) we ran right into a current of about 4 to 5 knots. We made it to the city docks and found a 70' piece of dock reserved just for pleasure boats.

The current doesn't go right up to the docks, but a hundred feet out it's still pretty strong. Just downstream is a railroad bridge. We'd fought our way up and passed through the opening part another 100 yards farther out, but downstream from here is was just a low bridge with the current ripping through. It seemed to me that if someone lost their motor there they'd be sucked into the bridge just like it was a strainer for boats. You'd be pinned in until the boat broke up. We were very careful not to kill the motor around there.

The next morning the "greeter" from Morgan City came by to bring us a packet of information on the city. He answered questions and generally tried to help us with any needs we had. I asked about the bridge - did people get washed into it, was it as dangerous as it seemed? He told us some stories about the bridge, stories that others have since said may be only in the mind of the teller, but interesting anyway. He claimed there were a number of boats down there, as well as an old log jam from years ago. Divers go down to work on the bridge at times, but won't go near the reputed log jam. They claim that they are like a bunch of "pick - up - sticks", if you move one, the whole mess will come tumbling down. However, they can shine their lights in and see a number of boats trapped in the log jam. True? I don't know, others tell me they don't believe it. He also said that there is an entire train down there from the Civil War era. I talked later to an attorney we met who says that it's a popular rumor, but people have searched all the newspaper archives and no mention of the train has been found. Still, makes interesting talk.

So much for Morgan City. We got away and headed to the locks to go east after getting traffic controls permission . Since the river is so high with Mississippi River waters, the locks are being used on the east side of the town to keep it from flowing into the ICW that way. We had to go through them to continue. We pulled in with 2 empty towboats and another towboat with a large barge. I was about halfway through against the left wall, a towboat with no barge in front and beside me. Ron was behind with the towboat
and barge beside him. We were going to be lowered about 2 1/2 feet. The lowering wasn't a big deal, no turbulence in the water, we pretty well just sat there. However, when it came time for us to leave the propwash from the boats in front of us washed us around until we got the wind generator blades into the wall and broke one of them.

There was no wind in the lock, it was too protected. When we got out it was a different story. The wind took hold of the blades and it started to spin. With the part missing it was way out of balance and started to shake the whole back of the boat. I had to get some wrenches and quickly climb up and get it stopped, then remove the blade assembly before it shook something else apart.

Once that little fiasco was taken care of we had a pretty uneventful motoring trip to our next destination for a night - Houma, La.

We'd planned to stay at a dock that was at a bookstore in Houma. It's owned by some people who cruise on a converted towboat and have a dock they let cruisers use. As we arrived in Houma Ron got on the radio and asked if anyone could give us any local information. A towboat captain gave us some ideas, but as he finished, another guy came on the radio telling us he was a pleasure boater and might be able to help.He was tied up about a quarter mile up the channel we were passing and had room for us to tie up there at his friend's place if we wanted. It sounded good, especially since we would be out of the waves caused by the traffic. As we pulled up beside him, he asked if we'd been in Lake Charles. I said yes and he said to get a new transmission, right? Seems he is on the Email Liveaboard list and had read of our stay and search for a fix. What a small world.

Now it's late in the evening, weÆve sat around talking boating stuff the rest of the afternoon, we've all gone to have a seafood supper, and Nellie is off to a Madi Gras parade.

Tomorrow it's off to New Orleans and the busiest boating area yet. Damn, I love the ICW!

Gene Gruender
Rainbow Chaser