The Gulf Coast: New Orleans, LA to Mobile, AL / July 14-25, 2002
July 14, 2002 / New Orleans, LA to Mandeville, LA
We had planned to leave about 0900, but a fierce thunderstorm across Lake Pontchartrain delayed our departure from West End Harbor in New Orleans. We heard the weather warnings as we were refueling at Schubert's Marine, and the dock master let us stay tied up until the storm had passed. At 1200, the skies were clearing, and although the lake was pretty choppy, we thought it best to make our northward run, just in case more thunderstorms popped up later in the day.
Gary had plotted our course on the digital chart plotter, which worked very well. It showed everything but the crab pots, which were easy enough to dodge. By the time we reached mid-lake, the waves had settled down considerably, and the rest of the cruise to Mandeville was uneventful. Today's distance traveled was 23.8 miles, which took just under three hours running at 2000 rpm.
The town of Mandeville provides boaters with one night's free dockage with 50-amp hookups. Skies were clear, with cool breezes from the west, and it seemed that many of the locals had come out to the city docks and park to enjoy the sunshine after the last two days' rain. Unfortunately, the restaurants along Lakeshore Drive that had been touted in the cruising guide were either out of business, burned down, or temporarily closed. We cooked dinner on the boat, watched TV, and tried to sleep as the constant waves rocked us hard. Guess we should have figured that if the dockage was free, there was a good reason why.
July 15, 2002 / Mandeville, LA to Slidell, LA
We left our choppy harbor at Mandeville at 0650, heading southeast to bypass shallow Goose Point, then northeast to Oak Harbor Marina. We were once again lucky with bridges. From a distance, we could see the Southern Railway bridge lowering for a train, but we got to the bridge just as the train passed through. Both the train bridge and adjacent Highway 11 bridge (also called North Draw; call both bridges on Channel 13) quickly raised for us and a trawler who had come up behind us.
Morning weather was clear, hot, and humid, with afternoon thundershowers predicted. We headed for Oak Harbor Marina, just west of the Interstate 10 bridge on the eastern side of Lake Pontchartrain. This was a short cruise from Mandeville, only 26.2 miles, which we covered in 3.6 hours at 2000 rpm.
Again the cruise guides showed they are out of date, as Oak Harbor no longer has gas docks, and it is no longer a Boat/U.S. participating marina (i.e., no discounts). The marina is well maintained, however, with excellent docks and an inexpensive laundromat ($.75/load). The marina restaurant is closed today and no others are within walking distance, so today's meals are being served at our very own Chez Bateau (excellent cuisine, always). We have subsequently learned that fuel is available at another nearby establishment, so boaters coming to Oak Harbor will not be stranded with empty tanks.
Better weather is predicted for tomorrow and the rest of the week--which is encouraging, as we're about to head east into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW). We enjoyed meeting and talking to liveaboard boaters Ed and Lucy, aboard the wonderfully and aptly named I Love Lucy. Hope you guys get to do the Loop as you are planning to do. We'll continue to post reports along the way.
July 16, 2002 / Slidell, LA to Gulfport, MS
Eagerness or nervousness (probably both) woke us early, and we slipped out of the quiet marina at 0645, headed for the Rigolets, the channel that connects Lake Pontchartrain to Intracoastal Waterway, by way of Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound. We called the Rigolets Highway 90 bridge on Channel 13, just as the bridge tender's shift was changing, but the departing and incoming tenders quickly made the switch, opening the bridge for us with very little waiting on our part. Next was the often-maligned Rigolets L & N Railroad Bridge, but contrary to what we've read, the bridge keeper there also promptly acknowledged our Channel 13 radio call, and the bridge swung open for us to pass.
The GIWW in these parts is well marked, and our paper charts and electronic chart plotter kept us on track. The winds and the waters were calm, which made for easy cruising. Our only complaint would be the heat/humidity, but we want the Boating Gods to know that we are not complaining, not one bit. We especially are not complaining about the many, many dolphins who periodically entertained us with their synchronized swimming routines. What a treat to watch!
We cruised today at 2000 rpm, arriving in Gulfport, Mississippi at 1440, for a total day's run of 59.5 statute miles. The Gulfport Small Craft Harbor is terrific, with courteous, helpful personnel who assisted us with docking, drove Coleen to the grocery store, and advised us where to find 99-cent margaritas (El Maguey Mexican Restaurant, happy hours 3-6 p.m.). There is a recommended restaurant here, the White Cap, but it is closed today (as it is every Tuesday)! Gas and diesel are available on the northern end of the harbor, and the staff at the fuel dock is equally friendly and helpful. We strongly recommend a stop here for cruisers who want a quiet, clean, secure, inexpensive ($.50/ft), and hospitable marina (telephone (228) 868-5713).
July 17, 2002 / Gulfport, MS to Biloxi, MS
We had a very short cruise today, as our itinerary took us from Gulfport just a few miles east to Broadwater Beach Marina, on the west side of Biloxi. We cruised 10.2 miles in two hours, putt-putting slowly at 1000 rpm, as there was no reason to rush, apart from getting some relief from the sunshine and heat. We clipped a towel across the upper half of the bridge's front vinyl curtains, which gave us some measure of shade.
This marina is associated with the President Casino, which may explain why the marina's Polynesian-themed restaurant, praised in Claibourne Young's cruise guide, is no longer in business. If you ask folks to name a good place to eat, they tell you to go to the casino all-you-can-eat buffets. Even though the restaurant is gone, we were otherwise pleased with the marina and its amenities--all slips are covered, with cable TV and telephone (hurray! a fast(er) connection to upload new pictures to the web site!). Just west of the marina is Beauvoir, the home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, which we'll visit tomorrow (unless we find out--as has been the case lately with our restaurant searches--that it's closed on Thursdays!).
July 18, 2002 / Biloxi, MS
Beauvoir was indeed open, and we spent the morning touring the presidential library, the house, and some of its outbuildings. Beauvoir was the residence of Jefferson Davis during the last ten years of his life, and the cultural focus of the exhibits is his life, not the Civil War. The library takes pains to explain that it was Davis's "strict constructionist view" of the Constitution, learned at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, that animated his political views. It stresses that although Davis viewed secession as a state's right, he did not personally think it economically wise for the South to secede and only accepted the Confederate presidency as a matter of duty and honor. Given the context of the man's life and career, the library gave a very limited viewpoint, but it was still an interesting place to visit.
On a more trivial (but practical) note, we have found a convenient way to collect a lot of quarters for the laundromat when you can't get to the bank. Simply go to the local casino, put a $10 or $20 bill in the quarter slot machine, and pull the lever. If you've got the gumption to cash out immediately, you'll get your change back in quarters (minus the one you just played). Of course, we had to pull the lever a few more times, but after only three pulls, won $30! We decided to quit while ahead, take our two-bit booty, and devote the rest of it to future clean clothes.
After talking to local boaters at the marina, we have decided to skip Dauphin Island (shallow, shallow waters, compounded by this weekend's Deepsea Fishing Rodeo, with hundreds of anglers and their watercraft expected to participate) and to go on to Mobile in one trip. The weather, although hot, should remain clear, and we've heard that Mobile Bay is no place to enter in a thunderstorm, as one may encounter six-foot waves in nine feet of water.
July 19, 2002 / Biloxi, MS to Mobile, AL
We left early, not from nerves this time, but in order to cover more distance in the cooler hours of the day. By 0800 we were out of the Broadwater channel and back in the GIWW, heading pretty much due east. At 0900 we kicked up the throttles to 3800 rpm, which gave us our first long ride up on plane, increasing our cruising speed from our normal 8-9 mph to about 19.5 mph. (Yes, we should be better boaters and give this data in knots, but we've not converted instrument settings from miles to knots, and we'll soon be back on the rivers; it can wait until we come back to the Coast in November.)
After a couple of hours, we saw the Dauphin Island bridge in the distance. After almost no traffic all morning, just as we approached the bridge, we encountered a tow and several fishing boats, so we throttled back and returned to our normal slow pace as we entered Mobile Bay. The bay is very shallow and prone to shoaling. We were warned to keep strictly within marked channels. Just as we turned into the Dog River channel, we saw a gull perched on a submerged piling on the mid-left side of the channel. An inattentive helmsman could easily hit it and destroy a prop. We later learned the piling was a former channel marker which is drifting in that area. Had it not attracted that gull, we might not have seen it. We take back every bad thing we have ever said about seagulls and their sanitary habits.
There are four marinas in Mobile Bay, three on the west side and one on the east side. The three westerners are all in Dog River, about 12 water miles south of downtown. We chose Grand Mariner Marina, if for no other reason than that it has a popular restaurant (the Mariner) that is open (good seafood, too)! The dockage rate is $.60/foot, with a 15% discount for staying a week. Dog River Marina is right across the channel and seems equally accommodating, particularly if one is piloting a Hatteras (huge Hatteras dealership there), but we did not inquire about dockage fees. We rented a car for the week we'll be here (Enterprise does pick you up, but disappointingly, there is no brown wrapping paper on the car).
Today's run was 83.1 miles.
July 20-25, 2002 / Mobile, AL
The western shore marinas are far from shopping areas, so our rental car came in handy. We bought supplies at the boating supply store, pet store, fabric store, and grocery store. Fabric store? Well, we're going to try to turn some drapery liner into a sunshade for the bridge--we'll let you know how it turns out.
We knew that sooner or later Maggie would take an unintended swim, and it happened on July 20. She misjudged the distance between the swim platform and the pier (the tide had gone out, and we were sitting much lower than we had been last time she jumped up to the pier). Splash! One dog in the water. She was paddling rather frantically and looking for shore (none nearby), but she responded to our calls of "Come!" and we hauled her out on the swim platform. Of course, she took her swim in the Dog River! Not too refreshing, though--the water is brackish and warm--about 93 degrees. She will probably be more patient next time the tide's height requires that we lift her up to the pier.
Rain, with scattered thunderstorms, is our weather for the next few days, so we are glad to be secure at the marina, where we only move up and down with the tides, or the occasional boat wake.
Notes for boat owners (updated since our trip): Although at the time we were there, Mobile had both of the major marine supply chains, West Marine and Boat/U.S, consolidation and Hurricane Katrina changed all that. Check with West Marine for status and location of new store.
Notes for dog owners: Those who boat with dogs know that one of our big concerns is where to "exercise" the pooch. Maggie wants grass, preferably a little on the tall side, on ground that has a little slope to it. Needless to say, she does not often get her wish. But some places are certainly more dog-accommodating than others, so we'll begin reporting on the "dogworthiness" of the marinas we visit.
Grand Mariner in Mobile gets a 3-squirrel rating (out of a possible 4) from Mags, partly because it has plenty of real squirrels for her to tree, but also because there are adequate grassy and slope-y areas around the grounds, because of the relaxed, laid-back attitude of this marina, and because it has friendly Bud, the resident basset hound (he reminds us a little of Beethoven who lives on the Key Largo back in Little Rock). The small drawbacks are the kinda-busy marina parking lot (after 5 p.m., anyway, due to popularity of the restaurant) and not-always easy pier access from the swim platform (the tides have a lot to do with it, too big a jump at low tide, but a piece of cake at high tide). Leash laws, if there are any, are not enforced in the neighborhood, which is okay if dogs are all friendly, but not all are. Bud tries to run off the unfriendly ones, but being a basset hound, he's not very scary.