Lousiana - New transmissions, Tabasco and good old Texas style groundings.

First published in Telltales Magazine. Read, print for your friends, share it, but please don't publish it without written permission.


Gene Gruender
Austin.sailor at yahoo.com


Stuck in Louisiana
By Gene Gruender
Copyright 1999

Rainbow Chaser was passing through Louisiana on the way around the Gulf of Mexico, headed for the clear waters of the Bahamas. Behind us was Anticipation, with our friends Ron and Bobbie. One morning near Lake Charles, La. we hoisted anchor and started to move - well, we tried to, but the transmission would do nothing but slip. A quick inspection showed a mass of metal shavings in the guts of the gearbox - this wouldn’t be a quick fix. We had gotten fuel at Bowtie Marina in Lake Charles the night before, and they seemed like nice folks, so we decided to go back there as a base for our repairs.

They were located upriver and upwind, so sailing was a bit of a problem. Nevertheless, we tried for hours to work our way upstream. We did make some progress but at the rate we were going the next years cruising season would be on us before we got there. The second try was to strap the inflatable to the side of Rainbow Chaser, then use it’s 8 horsepower outboard for power. Using this method we got there not only the same year, but the same day.

We spent one week there. The good folks at Bowtie put us in touch with all the right people. In short order we located a new Hurth transmission to replace our ailing Yanmar, whose replacement parts were no longer available. They lined up a machine shop to make the front of our old Yanmar transmission into an adapter plate for the new Hurth. They even helped Nellie and Zach get tickets to an ice hockey game. One week after limping into Bowtie, we powered out, ready to move on. Anticipation had rejoined us and was right behind, bound for blue waters.

Our second day out of Bowtie we made a long run, planning to go about 60 miles. We had an anchorage picked out in Bayou Petit. The cruising guide had many good things to say about it. Lots of anchoring room, no traffic. In the end their experience differed not slightly, but quite a bit from ours! Luckily we made it before dark this time. Once we got there we didn't find all the open, protected places the book mentioned. We found a fairly narrow channel with a lot of water on the sides, but it was all shallow. There was not enough water to get out of the main channel to anchor. A couple miles farther up, right at a fork, there seemed to be just barely enough room to get out of the channel. We anchored Rainbow Chaser off the side of the channel at the fork. Ron anchored Anticipation about a quarter mile away. From where I was, it looked like he was right in the middle of the channel, although he said he wasn't actually in it. It was a dark, moonless night. I turned on our anchor light, checked, and it wasn’t working. I had a lot of other lights, so I turned on the deck lights. One had burned out some time ago, but the other would shine all over the boat, making sure it was visible to any other traffic. After just a few minutes, it also went out. I turned on the masthead light, which lights up the front of the mast, then got out a florescent light and hung it on the back of the mast. We were getting a bit short of lights, but these gave us all around lighting for anchoring. Now we could rest easy. We were down below while Nellie was starting supper when she heard some noise outside. Looking out in the dark, she saw a large shrimp boat heading directly for us. As she was opening the hatch, she yelled that we were about to be rammed.

I think they saw the lights from the open hatch and made a hard turn, trying to slow down at the same time. I looked out to see a shrimp boat wallowing and listing heavily as it made a hard turn to miss us! Putting it all together, here's what happened. From a distance, Anticipation looked to be in the channel. The shrimp boat held way over to the side, leaving what really was the channel to avoid Anticipation. I never checked to see if the masthead light came on - I usually do - it turns out it didn't come on. The bulb base was corroded. When I turned off the instruments, I’d flipped off the breaker that the florescent light was plugged into by accident. The shrimper didn't see us at all until Nellie lifted a hatch board to see what the noise was. We were still recovering from that when we saw a towboat coming down the bayou from the other direction. I first saw him while he was still a long way off, back around several bends. Most towboats have barges in front and I could just imagine it coming around the corner, pushing 600 feet of barges in front of him, then finding 2 sailboats in his way. Could he stop or maneuver around us? I know who would win if he couldn’t! He had a bit of a time figuring out what was there, but luckily he had no barges and was very maneuverable. He made a few quick turns and went between us as we talked to him on the radio. It turns out that the channel is used, contrary to the cruising guide, quite a bit. The towboat captain then told us that they move many barges in and out of a salt mine just up the way. (Salt mine? The cruising guide didn't mention that either!) When they come out with barges, often they push the front of the string of barges way out of the channel - right where Rainbow Chaser was anchored - to make the turn. It turns out I was actually in the worst place! He went on down the bayou to the salt mine. Ron and I talked it over and the only thing we were sure of was we had to move. Dark as hell, no moon, we couldn’t see anything.

While we were still trying to figure it out, the towboat that we had just talked to started on his way back with the barges he’d picked up. Since we were 4 miles from the ICW and it was a crooked channel, we figured we'd follow the towboat back to the ICW. After all, it's not like we had never followed a towboat before. We just didn't know what we'd do when we got to the ICW. Avery Canal was across the ICW and was supposed to have room to anchor on the sides, but that information comes from the same guide book, which was suspect at this point.. We talked to the towboat captain on the radio again and asked if he’d mind if we followed him back to the ICW. When he said it was fine, we both fell in behind as he passed. The towboat was going very slow and at first I had trouble steering in the wind. After a mile he sped up, then I had trouble keeping up and fell behind a bit. We’d made it about 3 and a half miles, nearly to the ICW. I was talking to Ron about where to go next, and ran right into the bottom! I hadn’t realized there was one last turn between me and the ICW. I was steering straight toward the lights on the towboat and plowed right into the mud. The first thing that went through my mind was, how the heck am I going to get off this mud bank in the pitch black night? Then I realized - the problem was solved! If it was too shallow for me, the barges sure can’t run into me. I was out of the channel and I wasn’t going anywhere. Ron was a bit reluctant to just run Anticipation into the mud Instead, he pulled in about 300 yards in front of Rainbow Chaser and set out several anchors. I think his keel also ended up in the mud, although he wasn’t stuck like me. I dumped an anchor and some line over the bow just in case Rainbow Chaser blew out of the mud during the night, and we went to get some sleep.

The next morning we had quite a time getting off the mud bank. The tide had dropped 6” lower than it was when I ran into it. I had the wind right on the nose, so raising a sail to heel us over wouldn’t help. I had to get the boat turned so that the wind would hit it at least a little bit on the side, then the sails could heel Rainbow Chaser over, making her shallower, letting us get off the mud bank. That, at least was the plan. I tried to use the motor with the rudder hard over to push the rear around, but with the tide out we were stuck pretty bad. Finally Ron, on Anticipation, suggested throwing me a line, then he’d try to pull my front around some.

After a number of missed throws we finally got a line between the boats, and after a number of tries to pull me, he was able to get the right angle to pull me around. He gave Anticipation full power, I gave Rainbow Chaser full power with the rudder turned all the way over. We also had the main up, and with all those powers together, she finally just broke out of the bank, turned, sort of rolled over and came free. Deep water wasn’t but a few feet to starboard and we took off!

There was a big front forecast to arrive that night. It was forecast to have winds up to 50 miles an hour. We didn’t want to be caught out in it, and we didn’t want to fight towboats for a safe spot. We read the cruising guide again, with a bit of skepticism. Between it and information we got from the towboat captain the night before, we decided to go back up one of the bayous to Avery Island where there was supposed to be a community with free docks. It should be well protected from the wind and waves. We motored up the bayou past the place where we’d nearly gotten run down. We kept going way back into the woods. It looked like could have been used in the movie "Deliverance". We got deeper and deeper, passing many side bayous.

We finally came to the "community" and found just enough dock space for both boats. Actually, it’s a boat ramp with a dock next to it, mainly used by local fishermen. We tied Rainbow Chaser to the dock, Ron tied Anticipation to the launching ramp. It turns out it’s also right on the road at the entrance to Avery Island, the place where Tobasco Sauce is made. As we sat there, we noticed that most people who passed on the road about 15 feet off of our starboard side slowed down and looked real close. I doubt they see many ocean going sailboats up in there. I was sure they wondered what the heck we were doing there, or for that matter, how the heck we got there.

The Tobasco factory was only about a quarter mile from us. Even though they get`thousands of visitors there each month, we were unusual. Most visitors come by car or bus, here we were on big sail boats. Each time we went to the island to make a phone call or run some errand, we’d end up stopping and talking to a local person. The next thing we knew, they’d be bringing us some Tobasco products as gifts. We now have enough various Tobasco items - ketchup, pickles, beans, sauces of various kinds and sizes - to last us for a lifetime! The hospitality was as warm as the Tabasco!

We planned to stay until the norther blew through, then head back out. When the norther hit, we found we’d chosen a great place to wait. There was a lot of wind overhead, but where we were, not much hit the boats. Being in a small, harbor, there was no wave action at all. When we woke up the next morning, though, we were in for a big surprise. We had no water! All the north wind had blown the water out. The water level was 4 feet or more lower than when we came in.

When we were coming in through the bayous, there was quite a long area where we had less than 3 feet under our keels. In one spot Rainbow Chaser only had about a foot of water under the keel. Anticipation, who is a deeper draft boat, parted the silt in places. Without water, we found the docks so high we had trouble climbing up to them. Rainbow Chaser was bumping the soft bottom, 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 bayou. We would just have to stay for a bit.

Three days later we woke to find the water within 6" of what it was when we came in. After pushing and prodding Anticipation out of the mud we got away from the dock. As we motored out of the canal, Nellie was downstairs making waffles on her electric waffle maker. What a treat to get a plate full of hot waffles as a Valentines day breakfast. Life is good! Bahamas, here we come.

Copyright 1999
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