The decision to go to the Bayou Teche Woodenboat Festival in Franklin, Louisana was an easy one for me, three friends were also planning to go and it seemed like a perfect first cruise for my modified low power cruiser Scout. A year previously I had bought the ex-EZ Bake from my friend Chris Tomset who originally had built the Jim Michalak Caroline design for the 2009 Texas 200. Chris completed that cruise and went on to do a number of coastal and lake trips on EZ Bake, including the Travis Traverse and the 2010 Tex 200. I purchased the boat in 2012 with the intention of converting to a low power, long range cruiser. My modifications were simple in that I removed all the sailing gear, reinforced the transom, glassed in the seats for sealed floatation chambers, switched to medium tinted windows (the clear windows gave EZ Bake it's name), repainted the entire boat inside and out, and coated the bottom with epoxy/graphite. I purchased a Rotech mechanical cable steering system and Teleflex sailboat motor control box, along with a Honda 8 hp twin cylinder, long shaft Classic motor.
This was to be my first motorboat and not only was I to learn everything the hard way but my learning curve on the motorboat industry was to be a continuing source of small shocks. Very quickly I realized that the industry prided itself on a lack of standardization of parts and a sense of institutional balkanization. Bottom line was the new motor and steering system was not ready in time for this trip. Luckily, I also own a very dependable older Honda 5 hp single with not many hours on it and a long tiller extension, so a last minute switch was made and I took off for Louisiana with none of the newly purchased items.
The drive from central Texas to Southwestern Louisiana was a little interesting, due to continual rain starting near the border and followed by trailer problems. I'm not sure that trailering is ever a problem in good weather. When I stopped for supper at a large gas station/truck stop about 30 miles West of Lafayette, Louisiana, a routine check of the boat showed that it had moved forward on the trailer with the bow stem ahead of the bow roller. The problem turned out to be two fold, first my use of a separate tie down on each side of the stern allowed too much movement and second the rubber bow roller was too flexible and allowed the stem to slip sideways. Trying to wrestle the 800 lbs of wayward boat back inline in the rain was starting to look futile when a truck pulled up and a most welcome voice said "Nice boat you have there". This was the beginning introduction to a long line of amazingly friendly and helpful people I met on this trip. Together we levered the boat back into proper position, swapped out the rubber bow roller for a plastic spare, and retied the stern ties. I spent the night at the truck stop rather than continue on in the rain and dark. Next morning, Friday, an early start put me into Franklin in time for lunch at the restaurant attached to the Best Western. I was in for another surprise here, this was not the usual motel restaurant—this place had really great food and excellent service! Franklin is a small town and the festival is held near the downtown area with easy parking and a short one block walk to a street adjacent to the Bayou Teche. There were about a dozen boats on trailers and sitting on the grass with another ten in the water a few steps away. One style of boat that caught my eye was a long flat bottom pram bow inboard. This turned out to be called a "Bayou Putt-Putt" and was a standard boat type for the Atchafalaya basin during the 1930s and 40s. Most of the restored models I saw were between 15 to 20 feet LOA, about 4 ft. beam with three bulkheads dividing the open cockpit, either a one or two cylinder, two stroke inboard motor, and built of cedar. These boats had no transmission and ran with straight exhaust, starting was simply spinning the heavy flywheel and shifting was done by momentarily changing the spark advance to reverse the motor. They were the universal boat for people living on the bayous and waterways of Southwest Louisana. These people, of mostly cajun ethnic background used the bayou putt putt for hunting, fishing, taking the kids to school, carrying supplies from town and carrying the family to church on sunday. I was invited for a ride on one of these restored boats by a man who inherited the boat from his father. The boat was over 70 years old, started easily and ran very smoothly with little wake.
||Aa "Bayou Putt-Putt" is a long flat bottom pram bow inboard that was a standard boat type for the Atchafalaya basin during the 1930s and 40s.
I spent all day Saturday talking boats with the owners, listening to live music and admiring some of the architecture of the older buildings near the old downtown. Sunday I launched Scout at the City ramp with the assistance of some new friends, who rode with me up to the festival docks. There I received my official Festival participant sticker from the festival organizers, along with many inquiries about the boat design from visitors. My route was still undecided , but after talking to many of the houseboat owners at the festival, I decided to follow them North that afternoon. Around 3:00 there was a long line of these aquatic homes slowly motoring toward the first bridge about 2 miles up bayou from Franklin. All of us slowly gathered in front of the bridge and my introduction to Louisiana bridge functions began All the bridges in that area were unmanned and operated by county employees who would drive over when you called to request an opening. My first glance at the bridge height on the approach was misleading and I was able to pass under all seven of the bridges on the route while closed. The first town I passed through was Baldwin, where a fork in the waterway leads to the ICW. I had been told at the festival that there were no marinas on Bayou Teche so buying fuel would obviously be something to work out. Luckily my Honda 5 hp uses very little fuel. Spotting a large Federal law enforcement powerboat I hailed them and asked about fuel availability in the area. They suggested I try the large tugboat dock toward the ICW but that turned out to be impractical. Returning to the bayou, I again passed the Federal boat who slowed to take my name and other contact info while allowing their stern pulpit to swing over and hit my port aft window, cracking it. Continuing on a mile or two I started looking for a spot to tie up and camp for the night. The undeveloped areas of the bayou shoreline consisted mostly of large clumps of grasses four or five feet tall extending out from the shore or trees whose branches overlapped the water by many feet. A lot of the trees in this area are cypress which have the characteristic pointed hard roots sticking up in the water around the trunks. The developed part of the shoreline was commonly lined with concrete chunks, metal and other debris in the standard futile effort to control erosion from speedboats. Obviously I was going to have to rethink my plans of tying up randomly along the bayou shore. The solution was to tie up on the bank next to a launching ramp. The brush was cleared near the ramps and usually there was an open area to walk in to stretch my legs some. My first camp was near a bridge a couple of miles from the collision point with the SWAT boat. It was good to make an early camp so that I could organize the boat supplies better.
|Tied up on the bank next to a launching ramp to avoid the concrete chunks, metal and other debris lined along the bank in a futile effort to control erosion from speedboats.
Next time: Part 2