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by David Nichols - Austin, Texas - USA

A New Plan

Once into Lake Pontchartrain we didn't have to bother with any more barges but our old friends the crab pots and warps were back, lots of crab pots and wraps. And what would the afternoon have been without a major storm cell to dodge. About half way across the lake we backed off the throttle to allow a big cell to hit the marina before we did.

I had called ahead to the New Orleans Municipal Marina to get a slip. I'm glad we did because sometimes all the transient slips are full and I was glad to have a reservation.


As it turned out a bit of a 'heads up' from the marina about the entrance would have helped. We wandered around inside the breakwater for a bit. There is still a lot of damage from Katrina but some kind soul pointed us in the right direction and we finally stumbled on the marina and our slip.

As soon as Valora was tied off, the shore power was plugged in, the AC put in place, and turned on full blast. It was New Orleans Hot and Humid.

The marina itself was nice. Good facilities (showers, bathrooms, and laundry), close to markets and restaurants, the marina allows live aboards, and the best part it was in New Orleans. The market, Robert's (pronounced Ro-bears. It is New Orleans after all), was very upscale with beignets (a beignet is a square, fried, French donut/pastry covered in powered sugar and it's pronounced ben-yeah) on the weekends. I found the beignets at Robert's better than the Café Du Monde's (pronounced du mond with the 'd' almost completely silent) beignets in the French Quarter. There are no less than 5 very good restaurants within 300 yards of the marina. It's also close to Canal Street where the trolley will take you where everybody wants to go; the French Quarter.

After a short breather, dinner at one of the many restaurants just a short walk from our slip, I turned my attention to the Mississippi River.

When I made the decision to take the ICW rather than come straight across the Gulf I was worried about all the flooding on the Mississippi. In fact, the river had been closed (including the locks) to all traffic, and had only recently been re-opened.

I was mostly concerned about the speed of the current in the river which could easily be greater than Valora's 6 knot hull speed. If this were the case, Valora would be just a leaf on the river unable to maintain steerage. This was my worst nightmare because once locked into the river there would be no way out or any way to maneuver around all the barge traffic. There was a greater than normal amount of traffic because of the backlog caused by the flooding. That scenario was almost certain to have a very unhappy ending.

A great deal of time was spent on the phone and on-line trying to find out what the current speed was. I have to say I found the Army Corps of Engineers in New Orleans to be extremely helpful. I was connected to the lock master at Algiers Lock, the lock we would use, and he was most generous with his time. He informed me that the barges were struggling with the current and the river was. "Well, just dangerous right now." This was definitely bad news but the final nail in the coffin was a conversation with a guy somewhere in the depths of the New Orleans office that was kind enough to spend the time to collect the information and calculate the current speed at Algiers Lock. His calculations showed 5 to 6 knots and this was enough to overwhelm Valora.

The plug was pulled. The new plan was to go back to Austin, pick up the truck and Gene's trailer and pull Valora the rest of the way home. She would have to make some of the trip on I-10.

I could fly back to Austin or my wife could drive 11 hours to Big Easy. If she drove it would mean a long week end on the boat in New Orleans and we would ride back to Austin together. Basically, this was a no brainer.

A phone call to explain and make plans was made and Gene called his lady friend to see if she could come with Candy. Fortunately everybody was able to disengage and leave Austin as planned while Gene and I turned our attention to making Valora ready for the haul out.

I arranged with Schubert's Marine to haul Valora and pull the mast. They were very reasonable and up front about costs. I could let them do all the prep work, which would have been very expensive or Gene and I could have it all ready by doing the prep work. This too was a basic no brainer and it had the added benefit of getting me intimately acquainted with the inter workings of Valora.

It took Gene and I two full days to get her ready to haul and go on the trailer. When it was all done I had saved a large bundle of money and knew Valora very well inside and out.

I spent a full day cleaning Valora and tidying up. This was the first time Candy would see the boat and it was extremely important that it be a fantastic first impression. It was just that and there was even a Louisiana style welcome when she arrived. A small 4 or 5 foot alligator was part of the greeting party.

There was even a small sea turtle that showed up after this photo op ended. That seemed to be an excellent omen. As it turned out it was a good omen and Candy loved the boat and we had a great time in New Orleans. Is it possible to not have a good time in New Orleans?

The only bad thing about New Orleans is having to leave and the trip back. I-10 is just kind of boring for the most part so there's not much to do but focus on the company in the car for the 11 hours home.

Once home, Gene and I quickly hooked up the trailer a started back for New Orleans. Eleven hours is eleven hours but the section of I-10 in Louisiana can make it seem like forever. It is better than it was but it is still no good. At one point the problem was much worse.

The problem is that the Louisiana section of the highway is, for the most part, concrete and has swelled right at the expansion joint. This makes for a small bump that seems to build or maybe it's like the water torture and the bump, bump, bump, bump starts to get to anyone in the vehicle. Actually, it is hard on the vehicles and can beat a truck and boat up. I wasn't looking forward to pulling Valora across I-10 for one hour much less eleven.

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