Monday, February 6, 2012

Day nine: Monday, Sept. 28, 2009

Although we had a great campsite last night, neither of us got much sleep. Camping in a major city with people nosing around all night is not conducive to a good night's sleep. I had the same problem camping in St. Paul, Minn., on the first leg of this trip. We didn't have anymore visitors last night, but we heard people on the trail right up to daybreak.

Tonight's camp is in the mud again. The industry has thinned out considerably, but the river is lined with riprap and there are no sandbars. We had to risk broken legs or ankles to get our kayaks up over muddy, slippery boulders onto the bank and a flat place to camp. We used pieces of driftwood as makeshift skids to pull and push our kayaks over the riprap, trying not to tear the bottom out of them. There are houses not far over the levee and we have already been visited by someone's curious dog, but we are not in a city and should have a quieter night. So far, we haven't attracted any curious two-legged animals. Tonight should just be raccoons, coyotes and night critters. You pretty well know what to expect from animals, but people are unpredictable.

Hoping to get some miles in before it got so hot today, we were on the water at 0645 this morning. Five minutes later, we were having the same problem getting away from this landing as we had getting to it last night! Another barge was backing across our path. This time a couple deck hands were sitting on the bow of the lead barge. I asked if we could pass and they said we should get out of the fleeting area as soon as possible. That is exactly what we did.

Leaving New Orleans this morning, we decided to check out the downtown riverfront as we waited for a cargo ship to pass so we could cross the channel. As soon as it passed we both started paddling hard to make our crossing. Before we were halfway across Danny yelled, "Are those jet plane wings coming over that building?" It wasn't a jet; it was the tall fins of a Fantasy Line cruise ship coming around the bend in the channel we were in the middle of! We both made it safely across in time, but the adrenaline was sure pumping for awhile.

I dozed off while writing in my journal last night. So I'll finish day nine before going on to day 10.

Before going to sleep last night, I got to see that same cruise ship passing our campsite as it headed downriver. With all the lights and its size, it looked like a city floating by.

About 15 miles below New Orleans, we had just finished making a crossing when a small official-looking boat came around the bend directly toward us at a high speed. I raised my paddle overhead and pumped it up and down, trying to make us more visible, but the boat kept coming directly at us without slowing down. Danny and I turned our kayaks to take the oncoming waves bow first and braced ourselves for whatever was about to happen. At the last minute, the boat slowed and came to a complete stop right in front of us. It was Plaquemine Parish Water Authority. They were checking us for the required safety gear. I assured them we had our boat horn, flare gun and they could see we had PFDs. They said we should also have a marine radio, which I showed them. I thought, but didn't ask, why have it if no one will answer you on it? They also took our names and asked where we were headed. After telling us to be careful and stay out of the shipping channel, they continued on upriver.

Not long after meeting the Water Authority, I decided to start crossing the next bend and was midchannel when I heard a boat coming around the bend behind me. From the sound of the engine, I could tell it was moving fast. Twisting around in my cockpit to get a better look, I saw the same Water Authority boat bearing down on me. Danny had not started crossing yet, so he was still near the bank. Knowing I couldn't beat it across, I stopped paddling and waited for what I expected to be a stern warning, at the least. They slowed down as they passed but didn't stop. They did give me a grim look and shook their heads. That was when I decided I wouldn't be crossing this river again.

Earlier on this trip, I said I didn't expect the river would be getting much wider than what we had already seen. I was so wrong! Coming around this last bend, 15 miles below New Orleans, it really opens up. It is now too wide for me, the tortoise, to attempt to cross at the bends. I move too slow and the ships move too fast. Getting caught in the middle of the channel by one of those big ships as it rounded a bend would be more excitement than I care for. Danny, the hare, can get across much faster than me, so he may choose to cross, but not me.

We both had some trouble with the small towboats and ship tenders today. Danny was caught in a corner when one passed him without slowing down. Luckily, the big waves that it was throwing were going the same direction he was, so he was able to surf forward on them in his kayak. I received three long, loud "get off my river" horn blasts from a tow boat as he was backing out with a barge before pulling into the channel where I was passing by. So goes it!

The wind became a major player this afternoon and finally laid just before we made camp. We only made about 40 miles today instead of the 43 we had hoped for. If we get an early start tomorrow, maybe we can make up the miles.

383.5 miles down, 55.5 to go and 10 back up!

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