Thursday, January 28, 2021

Trip to Delacroix

So I drifted down to New Orleans

Where I's lucky to be employed

Working for while on a fishing boat

Right outside of Delacroix

Tangled up in Blue

Bob Dylan

 Years ago my friend and crewmate on White Pepper, Tom Woods, felt that Bob Dylan's "Tangled Up in Blue" was his anthem.  By the time we drifted apart I must have listened to the song one hundred times, at least. I wondered what "tangled up in blue" meant, but more so I always wondered where was Delacroix?

Delacroix is a fishing camp 38 miles south of New Orleans in the heart of the Mississippi River delta.  Just follow state highway 38 to 46, then take 300 until it runs out.

End of state highway 300

Fishing boat right outside of Delacroix

She was working in a topless joint

And I stopped in for a beer

I just kept looking at the sight of her face

In the spotlight so clear

Delacroix is an exotic place in the middle of a watery wilderness.  It consists only of boat docks, fishing charters and fishing camps. There is no topless joint and no bar. There is not even a convenience store.   There were several dorm like structures on huge stilts. 

Note the extreme precaution against storm surge

There is no evidence that Bob Dylan ever visited Delacroix, but Jan and I enjoyed our visit. And is was a pleasant drive. Along the way we drove over the N. Claiborne St. Bridge which was the cause of White Pepper's worse day ever as chronicled in a previous post.

N. Claiborne St. Bridge

In New Orleans who do you meet?  Musicians!  We were so fortunate to meet the crew  of Ms. B., an Islander 36.  Young Capt. Joel and mate Anna are new to sailing. They seemed happy enough to hang out with two grizzled sailors.  Joel with his friend Amin took us sailing on Lake Pontchartrain on a beautiful Sunday.  I made a few suggestions about the Ms. B. In return Joel and Amin took out their instruments and jammed while I steered. It was great!

Amin plays the baritone sax

Joel plays tuba. He gets a few gigs in New Orleans street bands. He also plays guitar and sings.


Sunday, November 15, 2020

Hurricane Zeta

We could not proceed.  The Industrial Lock (Inner Harbor) was closed for two or more months for repairs closing off the Gulf ICW inland route.  There was no will to go offshore around the boot of Louisiana with the onset of hurricane season.  Indeed tropical storm Cristobal rolled right over New Orleans only 5 days after we left her docked at the New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor.  That was the day after Memorial Day 2020.

We assessed that White Pepper was safer at the NOMYH than in Corpus Christi.  There was 360 protection from waves and sturdy floating docks. We did not know that 4 tropical systems would threaten her and two would make direct hits.

TS Cristobal visited in early June but made only minimal impact with 35 mph winds and high water.

Jan points out the high water mark of Cristobal

Hurricanes Laura and Beta struck Louisiana near Lake Charles causing only gusty winds and some high water in New Orleans.

View of Lake Charles from I-10.  Most of the roofs have blue tarps after hurricanes Laura and Beta.

However, hurricane Zeta was a different matter.  It scored a direct hit on the harbor. There is an official NOAA weather station at New Canal which is about 500 yards from White Pepper. It recorded 65 knots winds from the east gusting to 85 knots. Then there was an eye that lasted about 20 minutes, followed by 50 knots winds from the west.  The water rose 2 feet in 15 minutes and then dropped the same amount in another 15 minutes, according to locals that stayed on their boats during the storm.

Wind data from the New Canal Station

White Pepper suffered damage to two starboard side stanchions and a bent toe rail, but otherwise did very well.  A stern line was nearly severed. Another few hours of west wind would have probably finished it.

She rolled into the dock damaging the stanchions

New high water mark is much higher with Zeta

Stern line is almost severed

Toe rail bent and stanchion base broken

All things considered we were quite fortunate to have survived the 2020 hurricane season as well as we did!

Calm after the storm; West End Park

Monday, September 14, 2020

White Pepper's Worst Day Ever


When I first began this blog in 2007 I read several articles about travel literature. One of the first travel writers in America was Mark Twain. Travel was a new possibility for the middle class in the 1880s and Mark Twain wrote several successful accounts of his travels including The Innocents Abroad. One rule that Mark Twain had was that his travel works must be cheerful. He said that, “the difficulties in travel are so great that to record them all would be litany of misery.” I have tried to follow his advice here. However, for this post I will break down and relate the dreadful events of Memorial Day 2020.

Jan and I awoke before dawn at Rabbit Island. The plan for the day had been months in the making because there is no room for error when crossing the Mississippi River. We would proceed 20 miles down the Navigation Canal to New Orleans. The we would transit the Inner Harbor Navigation Lock also known at the Industrial Canal and Lock. This complex includes (from east to west) the Florida Street Railroad Bridge, the huge N. Claiborne Ave. Lift bridge just before the Industrial Lock, the lock itself, and finally just after the lock is the St. Claude Street lift Bridge. About 100 yards further west is the Mississippi River. We would travel upstream 6 miles bucking a 3 knot current and then cross over to the Harvey Lock. After the Harvey Lock is the 4th Street lift bridge. The final stretch is a 20 mile run to Lake Salvador to anchor. That is if there is any daylight left.

There was a lovely dawn as I weighed the anchor, and we started for New Orleans. There was virtually no traffic as we had hoped on this Memorial Day. We did see many barges docked along the canal or more commonly parked in the mud along side the canal.

Beautiful start to an awful day. Rabbit Island anchorage

My friend, Dr. Richard Davis, had called me the night before. He had made the trip before and advised me to call the lock master and introduce myself before arrival. Good advice. I did call on the cell phone when White Pepper was about 5 miles out. The lock master was very professional and courteous. But then he said, “you’re a sailboat aren’t you? You had better call the N. Claiborne Bridge. I heard that they are not opening.” He gave me the phone number to the bridge. I called the bridge with my heart pounding. The lady operator was less courteous and said curtly that “No, they were not opening for 5 days.” I asked why, and she said, “donno.” End of conversation and beginning of scramble.

My initial response was to return to Rabbit Island. Jan quickly vetoed that plan and said that we should find something nearby. She got on her Navionics app on the iPod and began to call all 20 of nearest by marinas. This being Memorial Day she got almost no answers.

Railroad bridge is up, I-10 bridge is high, Danzinger bridge is low

At this time we were passing by the mouth of the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal. This short canal connects the Inner Harbor with Lake Pontchartrain. I had read and heard from Dr. Davis about a marina in the canal. So we headed into the canal. Guarding the canal is a busy railroad bridge, but it was open as we approached. Beyond the railroad bridge was the massive I-10 Interstate Bridge which we cleared easily. However, a quarter of a mile past the I-10 Bridge is the lift bridge over US-90 also known as the Danzinger Bridge. It was tall but after passing under 1000s of bridges I knew this one was too low. It was a lift bridge. I called the nice operator of the railroad bridge and asked him what to do. He stated that the Danzinger Bridge required a 3 hour notice to open and he gave us the phone number. Jan called and raised a very nice lady from the Louisiana Department of Transportation. She said she would try to get someone out there in 45 minutes. I continued to circle. By this time the railroad bridge was closed and we were trapped in the canal. After about 35 minutes the Danzinger bridge began to lift. The operator never acknowledged our heartfelt Thank-you’s. We passed Pontchartrain Landing which is a marina and an RV park. They had responded that there was no vacancy. As we passed there were numerous open slips. The final obstacle was the Seabrook lift bridge which gave us a quick opening. White Pepper was free upon Lake Pontchartrain.

Danzinger Bridge opens on an emergency basis

By this time Jan had raised someone on the phone—Lake Shore Marina—who agreed to let us dock at his marina. Navionics showed Lake Shore Marina to be several miles to the east next to the famous Southern Yacht Club inside the New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor. When we got there Lake Shore Marina was a closed fuel dock and convenience store. We docked on the bulkhead. Jan called the nice man who said that he thought we understood that his marina was in Slidell, a town about 30 miles across Lake Pontchartrain.

Southern Yacht Club

Desperate Jan saw a banner with a phone number across the small canal. She called and, miraculously, our angel, Andrew, answered. He directed us to a marina inside the break works about a half mile away. There were over a hundred empty slips! We grabbed one and hopped off the boat quite overwhelmed. There was no one in sight!

Safe at last!

Andrew came by several hours later and explained that this was the New Orleans Municipal Yacht Harbor Marina. It had been totally destroyed by Hurricane Katrina 15 years ago. FEMA had agreed to replace the marina. So far the only construction had been beautiful, study floating docks. There was no electricity, no water, no showers, and only scant trash pick up. The only residents were a few hardy souls surviving with generators and jerry jugs for water. Thus ended White Pepper’s worst day ever.

The next morning the staff showed up with attitude. However, when we assured the harbor master, Wayne, that we would pay and had insurance things got a bit easier.

Jan wanted to pay for 5 days of transient dockage and then push on when the N. Claiborne Bridge opened. As it turns out tropical storm Cristobal would roll right over New Orleans in 5 days. My nerves were completely shot, and all I wanted to do was fall asleep in my own bed in Beeville, Texas. We negotiated a 3 months lease and reserved a rental car at Hertz. The Municipal Yacht Harbor is well protected and the floating docks should prevent a repeat of the Katrina disaster which was caused by a 20 foot storm surge. The solar panel are more than sufficient to trickle charge the batteries. Our friend, Andrew, agreed to watch the boat while we were gone which made leaving much easier.

Jan points out the high water mark made by TS Cristobal. For comparison the pilings in the back ground are 3 feet taller than the storm surge of hurricane Katrina.

The bad news was not over, however. Jan and I took White Pepper out onto Lake Pontchartrain to charge the batteries before we left. Within a few minutes the alternator began to heat up and smoke. While Jan stood by with fire extinguisher in hand, I limped her back towards the harbor. The alternator finally seized up before we docked. That afternoon I made several phone calls and was able to find a mechanic to replace the alternator.

All packed up for 3 months at least

There was one final aggravation. Just as we were locking up to leave I switched on the bilge pump one last time. It did not come on. I even switched out pumps without success. I just had to leave that chore for later. We Uber-ed to Hertz to pick up the rental car. Nine hours later Jan and I were back in Beeville. I, for one, was never happier to see the old homestead.

Several weeks later we did return to New Orleans. I hard wired (and fused) an automatic bilge pump to the batteries. But that trip is a post for another time.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Mississippi Sound

 From Pensacola to Mobile Bay was only a short run and as the weather was nice we proceeded offshore motoring as usual.

Along the way we saw our first rigs.  These stretch all the way to Tampico, Mexico in a great arc of oil producing formations.

Oil rigs

The passage into Mobile Bay was surprisingly rough as current opposed wind and waves. The wind was only 12 to 15 knots so I wonder what conditions would have been like in a blow.  We were guided into the bay by an historic old lighthouse on Sand Island.  This lighthouse is decommissioned and endangered by erosion. Likely it will be washed away entirely eventually.

Sand Island lighthouse

Our destination was Dauphin Island, Alabama.  We wanted to stop to compare it to our favorite beach town--Port Aransas, Texas.  However, there was no safe way to get into the marina our 5 and 1/2 foot draft.  So we anchored on the north side of the island in 10 feet of water about a half mile offshore.

The next day brought more fair weather and White Pepper was actually able to sail for several hours. Mississippi Sound is delightful in the prevailing winds that we experienced that day.  It does have a long fetch between the mainland and the barrier islands.  I suspect that it would be rough in brisk norther. We saw the first of the commercial barges that clog the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Mobile and Brownsville.

The next anchorage was Cat Island, a barrier island just south of Gulfport, Mississippi.  We anchored again in 10 feet of water about a half mile offshore.  We did not go ashore and spent a pleasant night at anchor.

Cat Island, MS

Rabbit Island, LA

Our last day on Mississippi Sound was a short trip across Lake Borgne to Rabbit Island.  Rabbit Island is the only practical anchorage in this part of the world.  It is part of the Rigolets (pronounced Rigly by the locals).  The Rigolets are a systems of sand berms and channels that form the entrance to Lake Pontchartrain.  From here our plan was the motor 20 miles into New Orleans and cross the Mississippi River.  The disaster that was the next day will be the subject of our next post.

Thursday, August 13, 2020


The earliest Spanish explorers quickly realized the potential for Pensacola.  It has remained the military and cultural center of western Florida since 1559. It is the oldest European settlement in N. America. St. Augustine is actually the oldest continuously occupied European settlement as Pensacola was abandoned for a while after a devastating hurricane.

Old Fort Pickens

Pensacola Pass on a cloudy morning

White Pepper arrived about noon after a rough morning dealing with a late season cold front. The pass is deep and wide.  It soon sweeps behind a barrier island occupied by Fort Pickens.  This short sound opens up into a protected bay.  Historic Pensacola is 5 miles north up the bay.  The marina is at the base of Palafox Ave.  Palafox was an early commander at Pensacola and his avenue anchors the entire district.

The main reason we had bypassed Panama City to come to Pensacola was renew acquaintances with Lt. Beth Hagen.  She and Jan met in Corpus Christi while sailing on the Wed. night races.  Beth was in Basic Flight School at Corpus Christi. Pensacola is her Advanced training.  Her aircraft is a huge SR-60 helicopter and her winging was the next day.  The winging ceremony was to be held under strictest social distancing.   No family was allowed at this momentous occasion.  So we were privileged to spend an entire afternoon with this lovely warrior and celebrate her winging at Jacob's, a fancy restaurant in the marina. Thank you for your service Beth, now and in the future.

Lunch at Jacob's

Lt. Beth Hagens

Later Jan and I were able to explore historic Pensacola walking.  It was almost empty due to the lockdown. There were numerous statues and we wondered how many would survive cancel culture. Readers of a certain age will remember the lunch counter sit ins at Pensacola that were part of the early civil rights movement. The lunch room is closed, but the lunch counters have been preserved along with a plaque.

Good luck to you, Gen. Jackson

Cool Street Mural

Palafox Ave. is empty at 10:30 am.  This is the main drag!

Looking in at the famous lunch counters

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Dog Island and Carrabelle

Leaving Clearwater Beach was easy.  Deciding where to go next was hard.  Ordinarily Tarpon Springs 20 miles to the north would be the popular choice, but it was closed due to COVID. The coastal waters north of Tarpon Springs are incredibly shallow and there are no suitable stops until Dog Island about 100 nautical  miles north in the Florida Panhandle.  Also there is no intracoastal waterway between Tarpon Springs and Dog Island. 

                Leaving Clearwater Beach               

One crew member wanted to go straight across to Corpus Christi. However, with all of the gear failures I had lost confidence in the White Pepper.  Panama City looked like a perfect stop and was said to have the best harbor in the Panhandle. The problem was that from Clearwater we would likely arrive late on our second night offshore. So Dog Island it was.

We left Clearwater Beach on a lovey morning.  The wind was predicted to be 10-15 from the east promising lovely beam reach sailing.  However, the wind ended up being 5-10 from the north--another motor ride.  NOAA had forgotten to account for TS Bertha spinning off of the eastern shore of Florida.  Regardless it was a lovely ride.  As the White Pepper got further north into the shallow water (it was 30 feet deep 50 miles off shore) the wave action become much choppier than the mild wind would ordinarily cause.  This action is well known and the waters here should be avoided in any strong blow.

                Lovely sunset in mild conditions                               
Dog Island appeared in the early afternoon.  The entrance into St. George's Sound was straightforward.  Then a mile to the east was the anchorage for Dog Island.  The anchorage is large and protected.  We anchored in 7 feet of water with a sandy bottom.  We did not go ashore and passed a comfortable  night.

 Entrance into St. George's Sound
               Dog Island anchorage                   

The next morning brought another decision about where to go next.  I wanted to go to Panama City which was about 70 miles further west.  Jan wanted to push on to Pensacola which was 130 miles west.  Although Dog Island is the eastern terminus of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway there was no passage for the White Pepper because of several low bridges (50 foot clearance).  We would have to go offshore at lease until Pensacola.

In order to make Pensacola we would have to refuel.  The nearest fuel was in Carrabelle which is a fishing village about 3 miles inland on the Carrabelle River.  Carrabelle turned out to be a delight. The town is rural but well kept and very friendly.  If we had not been under time pressure, Jan and I would have gladly taken a slip and stayed for several days.

Carrabelle River

Refueling at C-Quarters Marina

It was about noon when White Pepper cleared the pass and headed west for Pensacola.  Some weather was coming but we hoped to be in before it hit.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is the beach town to Clearwater.  It also serves Tampa Bay and is ordinarily quite busy.  However, we arrived just as Florida was emerging from its long COVID19 lockdown.  Jan and I watched as streets and beaches went from empty to mobbed.  Restaurants went from barely open to packed.  The waterfront concessions such as fishing charters, sunset cruises, and (my favorite) the floating tiki bar went from closed to barely open on a reduced schedule.  But at least they were out on the water.
We were shocked to see such crowds on the beach 

The trip from Egmont Key to Clearwater Beach was only 40 miles.  It was a lovely day and sailing would have been nice.  But as I mentioned in the previous post while we were still in the Tampa Bay ship channel when the engines control panel failed.  A big surprise was that the motor kept running.  I need to make a technical point here.  Older diesel motors, such as my old 3GM, do not need electricity to keep running.  I would stop the 3GM by closing the choke.  The newer Yanmar diesel engines such as the  3JH require continuous 12 volt power to maintain fuel flow.  The stop switch on the control panel works by interrupting the circuit to the fuel pump. I knew immediately that this mystery would be a problem to remedy.  Indeed it took 11 days to satisfactorily diagnose and fix the problem.  In the meantime I was afraid to stop the motor fearing that it would not start again.  We made it into the municipal marina without incident.  By the way the motor restarted easily which was another surprise.

Control panel died on the way to Clearwater Beach

I checked the fuse and all of the electrical connections.  Everything was intact. The motor had originally come by way of Mastry Marine of St. Petersburg.  I called them and they recommended Sea Farer Marine. Tom, the owner of Sea Farer, came out.  He worked on the panel and harness for about a week including twice taking the panel and harness to Mastry Marine where diagnostic equipment was available.  Eventually the problem was determined to be a short in the start switch caused by an extra wire that had been added to the original wiring harness when it was installed 5 years ago.  Unanswered questions are why was the extra wire added in the first place and why did it take 5 years to fail?  And why did the switch start the motor when it could not power the control panel?  While I am very grateful to Tom for his diligence, my recommendation to the reader is that if this ever happens to you--please just buy a new panel and wiring harness.

Tom from Sea Farer Marine works on the control panel

Starting switch was the culprit

While waiting for Tom to fix the motor Jan and I spent most of the days exploring Clearwater Beach on foot.  The beaches are broad and sandy,  There are numerous restaurants all reasonably priced.  The expensive restaurants remained closed due to COVID. Walgeen’s sold liquor as well as ice cream bars.  Publix was a long albeit scenic walk away. We were pleased to see how many sea birds frequented the docks. 
Pizza for Mother's Day lunch was a treat after lockdown ended

The beaches reminded us of Padre Island with whiter sand

Herron on a dock line

By now the season was getting quite late.  Already we were into May which is the tropical storm season in the Gulf of Mexico.  Tropical storm Bertha had just formed off of the eastern coast of Florida.  It was time to leave.  So White Pepper cast off lines from Clearwater Beach and headed north towards Dog Island and Caribelle, Florida.