At the end of the 2011 Hurricane season, we took in our dock lines, left the Seabrook Marina on Clear Lake in Texas, pointed M/V Walkabout east and headed for the Florida Keys.
One week later we were on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway east of Houma, La. We didn’t have enough time before sunset to make it through the locks and across the river to New Orleans, so we turned hard right and took a seven-mile trip down the Barataria Waterway, through the old and cranky Barataria Swing Bridge, and on to the last parking spot before the marshes begin: the Laffite Harbor Marina.
The marina has diesel and gas (C&M Bayou Fuel), a laundry, usable heads and showers, a good hardware/marine store and, if you’d like a night off the boat, several nice rooms and cabins for rent. If you need a good dinner, Voleo’s Restaurant (“The Best Food on the Bayou”) will pick you up and bring you back. The chef at Voleo’s cooked in New Orleans for many years, including a stint at Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, then came home to the bayou and opened his own place. The man can cook.
Our plan was to spend the night, enjoy dinner at Voleo’s, get an early start in the morning and have plenty of daylight to get through the lock, down the Mississippi to the Industrial Lock, through that and then negotiate the Inner harbor Navigation Canal and it’s restricted bridges.
The early start bit worked fine. Then we reached the Barataria Swing Bridge. The bridge is old, in poor condition, and chronically under repair. The day before on our way down to Lafitte Harbor the bridge opened on request … no problem. This time the bridge tender calmly informed us that the bridge was “closed to marine traffic for two or three days … maybe.”
Two hard hats coming from the bridge in a John Boat stopped and told us that there was a way to return to the GIWW via Bayou Perot. I called the Lafitte Harbor Marina and asked about the alternate route and was told to leave the Barataria Waterway and enter Bayou Rigolettes through the cut at 29 degrees 40 minutes north and to then follow the “barge channel” to Bayou Perot and the GIWW. “Tugs and barges do it all the time, plenty of water.”
OK, right. Except for one minor detail. The cut that gave access to Bayou Rigolettes was clearly marked, but beyond that well-marked cut were no buoys, no pilings, no signs, not even any sticks standing up in the water. Zip. Nada.
The extensive areas of marsh shown on charts 11367 and 11365, between the Bayou Rigolettes and the Bayou Perot, have basically washed away.
In much of the Louisiana Delta, because of silt starvation, land subsidence, erosion and un-regulated oil company canal cutting, anything shown on charts (paper and electronic), other than the marked and surveyed waterways, is so out of date that it amounts to little more than a fairy tale depiction of an ancient dreamscape.
We happily went down the rabbit hole, through to the bayou and then we poked around in Alice’s wonderland for several hours, gave up and started back to the Barataria.
Half a mile from the cut, a push boat and barge came through from the Barataria. As soon as we could read the push boat’s name, “Lorina NO. LA” (NO. LA stands for New Orleans, Louisiana), I got on the VHF and asked if he was headed for the GIWW. He was. We followed him through a twisting, turning, utterly unmarked “channel” to the GIWW and saw nothing less than 8 feet.
Don’t even think about trying it without a local guide.
From 1994 to 2008, Bill Hezlep and Betty Berkstresser were full-time cruisers, first sail and then power. They still spend half their time cruising the coast from the Chesapeake to the Bahamas and Texas. Bill has written three cruising/travel books, which are available from Amazon in print and e-book editions.