2004 Easter Weekend at Mississippi Sound
We are excited! The winter of 2003/2004 has been miserably long, with a combination of cold weather and boat maintenance to be accomplished. Finally, spring has "sprung" and the boat is ready to go with new saildrive boots, shaft seals, and two new coats of paint on the bottom.
Our destination: Cat Island and Ship Island, two barrier islands in Mississippi Sound south of Gulfport and Biloxi.
We have been itching to get out of the murky brown waters of Lake Pontchartrian and into clean gulf waters. We have been dreaming all winter about warm weather, bathing suits, suntan lotion, and a long weekend cruise to Mississippi Sound to kick things off. On Easter weekend of 2004, it all finally became reality.
New Orleans' South Shore Harbor at 6:30 a.m. We are underway. Speed is 7.5 knots with the twin 27 h.p. Yanmar diesels turning 2,900 rpm and burning less than two gallons per hour between them. It will take eight to ten hours to get to Cat Island. Considering we want to be able to anchor in daylight, we will motor unless sailing angles are straight and wind speeds sufficient to make 7 knots or better.
The lake is rough about an hour out. The wind is blowing out of the west at about 15 knots. We have following seas off our port aft quarter, so it's not too rough a ride as we head 40° to northeast. Melissa and I take turns at the helm to allow each of us to take a nice long, hot shower. We have 140 gallons of water to last three days, so we can live it up!
We are finished with breakfast and showers by the time we get through the Slidell Hwy 11 drawbridge at the eastern end of Lake Pontchartrain. We pull into 'The Dock' at Slidell and top off our diesel tanks and take on ice.
The dinghy hadn't been run all winter, so we drop it from the davits and fill up the gas tank. It won't start. I threaten to throw it in the canal. We've spent $500.00 since last July trying to get it into a dependable state. Melissa digs around in the cockpit locker and finds a can of starting fluid, and I 'convince' the outboard to run. After an hour at the fuel docks, we are on our way.
We head east under I-10 bridge (with 65 ' clearance and only about 5 feet to spare). With Melissa at the helm, we head out around the shallow Middle Ground of East Lake Pontchartrain to the Rigolets. 'Rigolets' (rig-oh-leeze) is French for 'ditch' and the ditch we are in twists and bends its way from Lake Pontchartrain into Lake Borne which opens wide to the Gulf.
We pass the Highway 90 swing bridge at 10:15 a.m. Old Fort Pike is just east of the bridge.
We are making 8.6 knots in the Rigolets - the current must be running with us at about 1 knot. We pass the last bridge between us and open water at 11:07 a.m. It is the Rigolets USX railroad swing bridge, and we are in open waters now so to speak. We make way virtually due East with barrier islands and marsh islands to the South and the mainland of Louisiana and then Mississippi to our North.
The wind speed and angle won't push us as fast as the engines so we leave the sails stowed.
Always the optomist, I put out fishing lines. Melissa relaxes and reads her favorite Hollywood rags.
It's 3:15 p.m and we are at Cat Island Pass, following the South shoreline of the Island. The water is very blue compared to Lake Pontchartrain.
Cat Island has very shallow waters and numerous shoals, so we stay out in safe water. We make an attempt to anchor at Smuggler's Cove inside the southernmost peninsula of the island, but tide predictions of two feet scare us away from the 3 to 4 foot depths.
We head back out South and around the tip and make way about a mile up the eastern shore of the island and anchor in about 10 feet of water .
Once everything is squared away, we dinghy to the shore and tie up for a walk.
Cat Island is a gem. The sands are very fine and mostly white, with a little bit of volcanic ash mixed in. We are barely ashore, walking South down the beach when a vehicle approaches. It is Mr. Boddie and his son.
I had already read up on Cat Island before the trip. The Boddie family, original owners of Cat Island, sold all but 150 acres of the 2,200 acre island to the National Park Service for $25 million in 1998, thankfully putting an end to Casino developers' interest in commercially destroying this unspoiled island. The island is now part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
You have to respect a family that would give up scores of additional millions to protect the island. If you want to read more about the Cat Island deal, here is a link: http://www.npca.org/magazine/2002/april_may/news6.asp
Anyway, Mr. Boddie stops and talks to us, probably wanting to know who is on his beach. We are obviously on part of the 150 acres that is private. We introduce ourselves and he is glad to hear we are from Baton Rouge. He used to live in Baton Rouge and loves it. He has just moved his family back to Mississippi and Cat Island ( I guess you can retire with $25 million). I ask permission to walk on his beach and Mr. Boddie is very gracious, but makes it clear that he does not allow camping.
Mr. Boddie and his son are going surf fishing and are trying to catch some speckled trout and redfish late in the evening. They drive by us several times, up and down the beach, while trying several of their favorite spots. They report no luck. Melissa and I continue our walk along the eastern shore and enjoy the natural setting.
We continue our walk, but as soon as the sun sets behind the trees to the west the gnats attack Melissa! I'm not getting bit much, because I'm so rotten I guess. Sweet Melissa is getting mauled! We dinghy back to the boat, close it up, and crank the generator. When biting bugs are out, air conditioning at anchor is an obscene pleasure on a boat. We enjoy the beauty of twilight and 'magic hour' as the sun sets.
I am put on grilling duty and also put out a hook on the bottom baited with shrimp. At dusk I catch a two foot shark. A little while later I get another bite and it's a little stingray. Oh well, no need to continue fishing for these species, so I concentrate on helping with supper.
We have a fabulous dinner of grilled chicken breasts, broccoli and couscous, followed by Klondike Ice Cream bars from the freezer. Heaven must be much like this.
After dinner, we listen to the marine forecast on VHF radio. Good news - the front coming our way from way out west will not make it to New Orleans until late Saturday night. That means we can safely stay all day tomorrow and tomorrow night too, and we are delighted. We will relax and sail around a bit tomorrow and then anchor at Ship Island for the night. Great!
Night falls. Melissa is already snug in the bunk reading. I do my ususal walk around the deck, triple checking anything and everything to insure I don't worry and can sleep soundly knowing all is shipshape.
The lights of Biloxi and Gulfport are twinkling at me from ten miles away. I love the way the lights of shore look from anchor offshore at night. There is a special serenity and spirituality that comes to me seeing those lights and knowing I have good bit of distance between me and the clamors of shoreside activity.
I go get the binoculars to get a better look at the lights of shore. The Beau Rivage Casino is lit up in gold hues; I smile as I realize that it juts up from the shoreline like a big, vulgar gold brick. Another high-rise casino a little to the west has blue neon accent lighting that looks very pleasing through the binoculars.
Right about that time, I notice a searchlight out in the ship channel flashing my way, about four miles to the northeast between Ship Island and me. I look through the binoculars and see flashing blue lights that were masked to the naked eye by the sweeping searchlight.
Yikes! Blue lights mean law enforcement. I start to wonder what's up. Drug bust? Collision? Man overboard? Hmmmm. . . . . .
Ten minutes pass. Now a helicopter is buzzing around with a searchlight too. I spend fifteen minutes speculating before I get smart and turn on the VHF to channel 22A which is the U.S. Coast Guard's working frequency. As it turns out, a boat sunk by channel maker 36 of the Gulfport ship channel. Two kids have been recovered from the marker, but an adult man is missing.
I go below with the handheld VHF and tell Melissa what is going on. We listen to the Sheriff, Coast Guard, and Park Service transmit information and orchestrate a search.
We are riveted to the radio as we hear the most professional colloquy of information exchange I have heard in a long time. In a matter of two minutes all wind, current and tide data is digested and converted to both marine and aeronautical grids and the search is underway.
The radio is silent for ten minutes, and then:"This is U.S. Coast Guard, Gulfport Group" . . . "Be advised that statements from the two recovered boys indicate that the missing man is wearing two life jackets, one orange and one yellow, and was swimming to Ship Island. . . he was more than halfway to the island when they lost sight of him."
Another ten minute pass, and then: "This is U.S. Coast Guard, Gulfport Group" . . . "Be advised that the missing man recently underwent an appendectomy, has had a spleen removed, and only has one functioning lung." We are thinking the odds are stacked against him but hope for the best. We stay up until 10:30 p.m. listening to the radio in the bunk, but we finally surrender to the long day and fall asleep with the search still underway.
I wake to calm seas and the sun rising over Ship Island to the East. Melissa is still asleep. I crank up the generator and make a pot of coffee and also put a pot of water on the stove for Melissa's tea.
It's a little bit foggy and there are some high level clouds such that the smooth waters have a grey and silver hue, and Cat Island is softly lit in the early morning sun. A small fishing boat is close to shore.
It is apparent that we have anchored about 150 yards off the beach right offshore from one of the most favorite surf fishing spots on Cat Island. I will see at least seven boats come and go this early morning. Not one fish landed that I could see.
As I am watching the fishermen and waiting for the teapot to whistle, I remember the missing person search and wonder whether or not the man was found last night. I turn on the handheld VHF to 22A and listen. Nothing.
A few minutes later, a Coast Guard chopper flies very low and very slow right over our boat, heading from North to South along the beach of Cat Island. I could see the pilot's face clearly.
Then, I spot a Coast Guard center console inflatable running up and down the Ship Channel, between us and Ship Island.
Five minutes later, a Coast Guard jet flies low and slow over Cat Island from East to West.
With all this going on, I am certain the guy must still be missing. The sun starts to burn through fog and high clouds, and the white sand beaches of Cat Island gleam. Melissa and I ingest our fill of tea and coffee and eat breakfast while we listen to the weather updates on the VHF: seas 1 to 2 feet, winds out of the South at 10 to 15 knots, diminishing to light and variable from the South tonight; a perfect forecast that allows us to stay at Ship Island tonight and return to New Orleans on Saturday at our leisure.
Happy that the weather is holding, we decide to go for a long walk on Cat Island beach. As Melissa gets ready, my curiosity finally forces me to call the Coast Guard on VHF 22A and ask about the missing man. I stated we are about to walk much of Cat Island's east shore and will keep my eyes peeled if the man is still missing. Coast Guard reports that he was found in good shape. Hmmm. . . appendectomy, no spleen, and one lung and he made it! He must be one tough guy!
With a happy ending to the rescue, Melissa and I dinghy to the beach and walk to the North end of the East shore and back. There are many beauties to behold, including stingrays playing in the shallows, amazing sculptures of driftwood on display, and sand dunes with sea oats and grasses. We dinghy back to Indigo Moon for a rest.
After our walk, I dinghy over and try a bit of surf fishing myself, but like all the rest of the fishermen this weekend, no luck.
About an hour later, we ready the boat to pull anchor and go for a day sail to Ship Island. We sail straight south and out into the Gulf for several hours with the autopilot handling the steering. We listen to music and relax in the sun on the trampoline.
We are in awe of this perfect day and keep grinning because it one of those rare, absolutely flawless days. The sun, the temperature, the seas, the wind angle and our moods are at the peak of perfection and we soak it all up. This day is truly the definitive 'turn in the road' where winter has surrendered completely to spring.
We tack back toward Ship Island so as to arrive by 4:00 p.m. on at the West end of the Island where the lighthouse and old Fort Massachusetts are located.
With the anchor set, we dinghy to the dock at Ship Island. We are disappointed to find a Park Ranger locking the doors to the Fort just as we arrive. A ferry has pulled up too, and the Park Ranger, along with about 150 people start swarming down the dock to board the ferry.
It is obviously the last boat of the day and we will be left on the island with only Park Rangers on the night shift, as well as a few people anchored out on private boats. The island is not open to the public at night.
Even though the Fort is closed, I manage to stick the camera through gun ports and get some interior shots:
There is quite a long boardwalk that is new. It connects the north shore and south shore, and we walk to the south shore and admire the clean green surf and very fine sugar sands. Plant life is diverse and we enjoy the walk.
Once back at the dock, I see several park rangers and a sheriff's deputy securing things for the night. Melissa and I walk over so I can ask about last night's rescue. We are told the missing man's wife was called at about 2:00 a.m. to provide her with an update on the search and she allegedly said: "He's a smart guy and I'm sure he'll survive - I'm going back to sleep."
They found him this morning, alive and well, floating with his life jackets about two miles out in the Ship Channel! Yeah, he's a smart guy I say to myself -- swimming away from the safety of a marker with a recent appendectomy and one lung! After all, the boys he left behind at the marker were rescued very quickly.
Anway, it's back to the boat. I grill venison sausage and hamburgers for patty melts. We have enough food to feed about six people! After a good meal, we watch the sunset.
Night falls, and I go outside for my triple check of everything. I am concerned because a boat anchored close to us is not so close anymore, so I turn on the GPS to see if we are drifting and find that we are not.
Apparently, the other boat pulled anchor and moved away to escape the noise of our generator. I have killed the generator now anyway, considering the boat is cooled off and AC not needed tonight. The stars are out and the sky is clear. It's calm. I check the anchor and phosphorus glows brightly as I swish the bridle lines around in the water.
We watch The Deep on DVD in our bunk on the laptop, but can't make it to the end before we doze off into sweet dreams of this truly perfect day.
Morning at Ship Island. Calm waters, and fog shrouds the shoreline providing a classic lighthouse 'photo op'. The sun rises. Time to get ready for out trip back to New Orleans!
I cook a breakfast of eggs, toast, and browned sausage left over from the night before. After we eat, Melissa takes the helm and heads Northwest to the channel that runs East/West between Cat Island and Biloxi, and we head West toward Louisiana and home.
By the time we get to St. Joe Pass, we are doing 9 knots with following winds at 8 knots and at least a one knot following current. Melissa enjoys the boat ride while eating grapes and reading. We will be at the mouth of the Rigolets before 1:00 p.m. at this rate.
It's another great day so far, but as we get closer to the Louisiana marshes, the bugs come out. We are doing 8.5 knots under power and the wind is dead on our stern at 8.5 knots. There is not even the slightest breeze on the boat. Every bug on the wind finds the boat to be a perfect landing pad.
Sweet Melissa is once again lunch for the bugs! Out comes the bug repellant and Melissa closes the boat and gets the Dustbuster out to suck up all the intruders inside the boat. What a great bug weapon!
I watch the water go from clean green to green, to light brown, and to dirty brown as we get closer to Louisiana. Depressing.
We meet a big commercial Tug pushing barges. As we pass I notice that in the mere 15 foot deep pass of light brown water, and the Tug churns the bottom and leaves a trail the color of dark chocolate pudding. I try to avoid it to keep my engine cooling system impellers from processing such an abrasive mix.
At 12:40 p.m. we reach the Rigolets USX railroad bridge, which is already open. We enter the Rigolets, sad that our adventure is coming to an end.
The Rigolets Hwy. 90 Bridge opens for us too. The lady that tends that bridge has a great voice and is very nice. I was laughing because another boat was approaching from the other side, in heavy cajun accent: "Hwy. 90 bridge, dis is da bote da "Captain Budweiser" . The bridge is held open for "Budweiser", and when it rounds the bend it is surely the African Queen of small, twenty-something foot Lafitte Skiff style shrimp boats.
We make our way into Lake Pontchartrian and through the last drawbridge between us and New Orleans at Hwy. 11.
We pass under the I-10 bridge and had the Hwy. 11 bridge open up for us too.
Finally into Lake Pontchartrain proper, we immediately raise sails for the 22 miles across the southeast end of the lake to New Orleans. The wind angle is perfect and we are doing 8 knots under sail in 13 knots of wind.
We take our places on the trampoline and let the autopilot do the steering while we talk about our adventures and listen to David Grey on the CD player. Melissa likes surveys: "on a scale of one to ten what did you like most" about this and that? We grin a lot.
Our course takes us straight to the mouth of the channel into South Shore Harbor. It's about 4:00 p.m. at the dock, and we clean up Indigo Moon and secure her thoroughly to weather the cold front that will blow 30 knots and drop 3 inches of rain on her tomorrow, on Easter Sunday. During our game of rating various aspects of our trip "on a scale of one to ten" we both agreed on one thing for sure. This is the best Easter Weekend ever!
Buddy and Melissa