Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sailing the Ditch, Chapter III: Lake Ponchatrain, Louisiana to Apalachicola, Florida

Editor’s note: The following entries were printed from the handwritten log of Spirit Song, a MacGregor 26 owned and skippered by Robin McGill and crewed by his brother, Neal McGill. Chapter III covers about a month during the third year of their effort to “Sail the Ditch” of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (I.C.W.) from Brownsville, Texas, to the Florida Keys. Chapter III is the log of their voyage from the Lake Ponchatrain, Louisiana, to Apalachicola on the west central coast of Florida. All aboard!

Chapter III: Lake Ponchartrain, Louisiana to Apalachicola, Florida

Chapter III, Part 1: Lake Ponchatrain and the Mississippi Sound to Mobile Bay, Days 1 –

Mar. 14, 2002 (Thu.), Day 1

Chapter III of this journal began differently than the first two chapters. Sylvia and I traded a week’s time share in Charleston, South Carolina, followed by a second week of time share in Fredericksburg, Virginia. We had a wonderful time, but that is another story. We then drove the rental car to new Orleans, Louisiana. Just prior to our arrival in New Orleans, robin arrived at Oak Harbor Marina, which is about 20 miles from New Orleans. After launching Spirit Song and setting her up for sailing he joined us for two full days in New Orleans. This morning [+] the two of us made a quick trip to Café du Monde for beignets [benyeas] and to an Italian market for muffalatos sandwiches. We checked out of the Garden District Hotel about noon and drove Sylvia to the New Orleans airport for her 2:30 pm flight back to San Jose. Robin and I used the rest of the afternoon shopping for groceries which included two fly swatters (mosquito swatters). We also washed a couple loads of laundry at the marina.

Mar. 15, 2002 (Fri.) – Day 1

After a good night’s sleep we were up at 7:45 am. We inflated the dinghy and went for breakfast. We then delivered Robin’s truck to a U-haul location for storage and hired a cab to return us to the marina. We cleared the marina by 12:00 noon and proceeded across Lake Ponchartrain and into a body of water called the Rigolets, which included passing through the US Highway 90 swing bridge and a railroad swing bridge. We are now on a single anchor about ¼ mile from the I.C.W. where we will spend the night. We were not able to do any sailing today because of an unfavorable wind direction. Robin and I are encountering little flying insects which Robin and I have named “Vampire Gnats”. They bite and then take your blood. We traveled about 16 miles this afternoon. The weather was approaching 100% humidity and the temperature was in the mid 70°s.

Mar. 16, 2002 (Sat.) – Day 2

We were up at 7:30 this morning to a very foggy surrounding. We ate breakfast and waited for the fog to dissipate. Visibility was good enough to start motoring by about 9:15 am. We motored until about 1:00 pm and then put up the sails and enjoyed sailing for about 2-1/2 hours. While we were motoring this morning the “Vampire Gnats” were aggressive and plentiful. We tried some “Off” insect repellant with no effect. “Skin so Soft” seemed to work well. At about 1:30 pm we encountered light fog that gradually became more dense. From then we relied very much on our GPS and the charts. We are now tied up in a marina at Pass Christian, MS. We purchased some ice and will soon walk to a café for dinner. We traveled about 40 miles today.

Mar. 17, 2002 (Sun.) – Day 3

We awoke about 7:00 am, and looked outside to see nothing but fog, fog, fog. We climbed back into our sleeping bags and didn’t get up until after 8:00 am. We walked to the same café, where we had dinner last night, for breakfast. Visibility improved to an acceptable level by about 11:00 am. We left the marina at about 11:15 am and proceeded east. About one or one and a half hours, the fog started to close in so we decided to put into Gulfport, Mississippi. Before we reached our destination visibility was reduced to 100 yards or less. Again we were very successful in using our navigation instruments to find our destination. The Gulfport marina is very nice. It has a good seafood restaurant where we had a shrimp dinner and also modern shower facilities. As a result of the fog we only traveled about 12 miles today.

March 18, 2002 (Mon.) – Day 4

Robin and I were up at about 8:00 am to sunshine and partial loud cover. We observed a fog bank out over the Gulf and another just inland from the Gulfport Marina. The Harbor Master (called D.J.) brought Donut Holes and a newspaper to our slip. He also offered to provide transportation to town in order for us to purchase block ice and coffee. We accepted the offer as it is very difficult to find block ice which will last much longer than party ice. By about 11:00 am the fog started to cover the marina once again so we decided to stay in Gulfport another night. We used the major portion of the rest of the day to set up Robin’s GPS receiver, which is a Garman 48, new this year so that it would communicate with Robin’s new VHF marine transceiver. This will allow the transmitter to send our GPS position in case of an emergency. We hope we will never need this feature. We also used the laundry facility at the marina. Robin and I worked on a jig saw puzzle while waiting for the laundry.

March 19, 2002 (Tue.) – Day 5

The morning started with the Harbor Master (D.J.) delivering muffins and a newspaper to our slip at about 8:00 a.m. The sky was solid overcast with good visibility on the surface. At about 9:00 am we said our farewell to D.J. and proceeded east on the Mississippi Sound motoring. The Mississippi Sound has an average depth of 10 or 11 feet for 15 to 20 miles from shore. We experienced very heavy chop which caused us to put on our foul weather gear to keep from getting soaked from the bow spray. This seemed to improve after about 2 hours. We arrived at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi, Mississippi at about 1:00 p.m. We were surprised to find at least 5 large gambling casinos in the area. We also noticed several casinos while we were in Gulfport. After securing Spirit Song, we walked 2 or 3 blocks to a small café for yet another shrimp dinner. The rest of the afternoon was occupied with dock walking in the marina looking at other boats and talking with other boaters. Robin calculated several waypoints for the GPS receiver to help us on the next leg of travel.

March 20, 2002 (Wed.) – Day 6

Our day began at 7:00 am. The temperature was about 70° with 80 or 90% humidity. There was good visibility with ¾ cloud cover and no wind. We walked the 3 or 4 blocks for a breakfast of ham and eggs, grits or potatoes, and biscuit with coffee. We purchased fuel for the boat and left the marina at 11:00 am. By this time we had complete cloud cover with a breeze coming out of the east. This meant that we would motor this morning. By 1:00 pm the wind was blowing a bit stronger and the surface of the water was becoming rough. We arrived at our destination for the day, which was Lake Yazoo, which is very near Pascagoula, Mississippi. We divided a can of chili-con-carne for dinner and then Robin dismantled the auto-pilot to correct a malfunction that occurred this afternoon. We are anchored to one side of the lake with the wind blowing briskly. Lake Yazoo is next to the Northrup Grumman Ship Systems yard where we observed several Navy destroyers under construction.

March 21, 2002 (Thu.) – Day 7

Robin and I awoke before 6:00 am to 15 to 20 mile per hour winds that had shifted 180° during the night. It was now coming out of the north. The temperature was in the low 60’s F. It was not a day for being out in unprotected waters. We went back to bed and stayed warm until after 8:00 am. After coffee and a snack, Robin mounted the small outboard motor on the inflatable raft and we went to shore. We talked with a man about available local restaurants or a grocery store and he offered to give us a ride to find groceries and show us a local restaurant. People in this part of the country are very helpful. After returning to the boat with ice and a few groceries, Robin and I returned to shore and walked at least one mile into the town of Pascagoula for some prepared food. After walking back to Lake Yazoo and returning to the boat we sat in the cockpit and observed a pair of fishing hawks hunt for and pluck small fish out of the water and carry them off. We both marveled at nature and the birds.

March 22, 2002 (Fri.) – Day 8

We were up by 6:30 am to a windy very cold morning. Wind was probably thirty miles per hour and temperature in the mid to high 30’s F. Again it was a [bad day?] ____ for sailing on Mississippi Sound. We turned Sprit Song around so that the wind was coming over the bow. This was accomplished by re-setting the anchors. We then took the inflatable raft to shore about 10:00 am. We walked the mile into town and each had a cup of hot tea at Monica’s café. We found a marine supply shop and purchased an extra key for the small outboard engine. We were offered a ride back to Monica’s Café, which was probably almost a mile, and had a southern cooked meal. We then visited the public library across the street from Monica’s Café and read for about an hour. We walked back to where the inflatable raft was tied up and returned to the boat at about 4:30 pm.

March 23, 2002 (Sat.) – Day 9
Robin and I were up at 6:30 am to a beautiful morning. The wind had calmed from the night before, but it was still very cold. Probably in the mid 30’s F. We had coffee and a banana and then Robin pulled up both anchors and we were under way at 7:00 am. We proceeded out of the Pascagoula Area and back into the Mississippi Sound heading directly into the wind and experiencing two to three foot chop. After a couple of hours the surface became less choppy and the wind subsided. We met up with the ICW once again as we had not been on the ICW for several days. We left the ICW because we wanted to visit Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pascagoula. The ICW passes too far from these ports to be practical to do both. Later in the morning, Robin and I observed several dolphins on the surface of the water a short distance from us. We left the Mississippi Sound and entered Mobile Bay at about noon. Mobile Bay is very large and it took us another four hours to reach our destination for the day, which was Fairhope, Alabama. This small town is on the eastern edge of Mobile Bay. We were traveling for nine hours at speeds of 5 to 8 miles per hour.


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