March 6, 2008

Greetings from Venice, Louisiana.  If you are watching our position tracking, you probably think we just haven't updated it in a while because we are too busy enjoying blue water, palm trees and rum drinks.  Oh, if that were only true!  The reality is that we are still in Venice, the southern most point in Louisiana, otherwise known as the middle of nowhere, with only cold weather and no pretty scenery on which to feast our eyes.  Interesting scenery, yes, but not paradise.  Venice was hit very hard by Hurricane Katrina and very little has been done to rebuild the area beyond the two fishing marinas (including the one we're in) and the commercial docks that workboats use to service the offshore oil industry.  The harbormaster here at the marina lent us his truck one afternoon and we drove north about 25 miles on the only road out of here, along the west bank of the Mississippi river.  Buildings stand with sides torn off and windows blown out, and some have collapsed, with the roofs sitting on the foundations.  In many places all that is left is the slab, or the piles the house once stood on.  The harbormaster's 2400 square foot house had been on 14' stilts, but it was completely blown away.  All that remains is his swimming pool and the piles.  For now, he lives in a FEMA trailer, but is in the process of rebuilding, by setting a doublewide mobile home back up on the piles.  Some areas are becoming ghost towns, left and abandoned.

So why are we here?  Weather!  The Mississippi River current is too strong to go back north to the ICW, and we don't want sail north to the Florida panhandle, so at this point we have nowhere to go but into the Gulf of Mexico and on to the Florida Keys.  We need 4 days of good weather (settled waves and winds not on the nose) to get there, but we have had norther after norther come through, bringing high winds and seas.  On one hand this has been frustrating for us, sitting and waiting when we expected to be enjoying sunny, warmer climes.  On the other hand, we are taking the opportunity to do projects, work some, and enjoy what we can.  Nancy has been working diligently to create and publish the website.  Dave has done some law work and boat projects.  The boys are working on school, helping with the website, and playing on shore.  Boys can always entertain themselves with rocks, sticks and dirt!
Dave treated the boys to a special day of fishing last Saturday.  He hired a charter guide to take them out in his boat to fish for redfish in the lakes and bayous.  While they had visions of catching fish one after the other, filling the boat, they actually enjoyed bringing in seven of the largest redfish they had ever seen.  Joshua fought and brought in a 40lb. redfish, nearly as long as he is tall!  Check it out here.  They came home very excited.  They had a great day and we enjoyed fresh redfish for dinner.
To backtrack a bit, when we sent our last update we were in Morgan City, Louisiana, transiting the ICW eastward towards New Orleans.  After leaving Morgan City on Saturday, February 16 we motored to Houma, LA where our wind generator was waiting for us at the town marina (really just a nice dock on Terrebonne Bayou, just off the ICW).  Dave climbed the mizzen mast and after a two-hour effort to reinstall it, the wind generator seems to work fine.  At only $20 a night, and with internet access at a nice coffee shop only 8 blocks away, we decided to spend a week in Houma, emptying boxes and stowing their contents, doing laundry, and checking internet.  The marina in Houma is small and comfortable, with friendly people and most everything within walking distance.  We did take a taxi to West Marine, Home Depot and Wal-Mart one day, and that experience - a smoke-filled cab, blaring rock music and speeds way faster than we're used to now -  convinced us that boat and foot travel are much safer bets!  The boys enjoyed their time playing games on their scooters and fishing with Mr. Sherman, a local fisherman who fished daily near our boat.  One evening, Dave had to help him bring in a huge catfish, at least 25 or 30 lbs!

The biggest excitement in Houma was the evening a man knocked on our boat at 11:00pm, waking us up, to tell us that he had watched a refrigerator float down the ICW and into the bayou and was now floating between our boat and the dock!  We have seen barges in many shapes and sizes; we have seen sticks and logs and water hyacinth, but never a refrigerator!  Dave and the fisherman tied the fridge to the dock, a safe distance away, and the sheriff's department came a few days later to lift it out with a crane.
We left Houma on Friday, February 22, and motored 42 miles to Lafitte where we spent one night tied to the fuel dock at Fleming Canal Store.  Early the next morning we refueled and we moved on to New Orleans.

We tied up to a metal dock on the Harvey Canal next to Boomtown Casino, about five miles west of the locks that control access into the Mississippi River.  This was particularly stressful for us because, during our time at the Boomtown dock, we watched commercial vessels (tugs with barges, tugs without barges and workboats) go back and forth, and although most would slow down so as to not create a wake near us, some did not.  After being banged into the dock by a particularly bad wake shortly after tying up the first day, we set a bow anchor about 40 ft. out in the channel to pull our boat off the dock and keep us safe.  We also used 6 different lines to tie up securely to the dock, and even had a stern anchor out.
We ended up spending several days at Boomtown, seeing the sights in New Orleans and waiting for a big cold front to pass.  We spent a Saturday afternoon walking around the French Quarter and Jackson Square, and we ploughed through plates of powdered sugar-covered beignets with café au lait and hot chocolate at Café du Monde.  Sunday we worshiped at Grace Lutheran in northern New Orleans, where we were joined by Dave's brother Gary and some youth from his congregation, in NOLA for a youth gathering/service project.  After a too-short visit with Gary, we spent the rest of the day at the World War II/D-Day museum (which the boys thoroughly enjoyed), and took in a late jazz brunch at the Court of Two Sisters in the French Quarter.  Monday we reprovisioned at a local grocery store, returned our rental car (we had used a free two-day coupon from Avis), and waited for foul weather to blow through.
To leave New Orleans via the Harvey Canal, we had to pass under a lift bridge then lock into the Mississippi river.  The lift bridge closes from 6:30 to 8:30 am so as to not disrupt rush hour and school bus traffic, and we were two miles away, so we had to be untied from the dock and underway before 6 am.  To get underway, we had to untie six dock lines and retrieve two anchors, in the dark - and it was freezing too, after the passage of the cold front the day before!  Overcoming all these challenges, the crew got us underway before 6 am, under the bridge by 6:20, and into the lock shortly thereafter.  The Mississippi River was running 10 ½  feet higher than the water in the ICW, so after coming into the lock and looping a bowline around a bollard set into the lock's concrete wall, the lockmaster closed the doors behind us and began flooding the lock with the waters of the Mississippi River.  Once we rose 10 ½ feet, the lock doors opened in front of us, and we motored into the Mississippi.  The river current runs over 5 miles per hour, so we rushed under the huge double span bridge and past downtown and the French Quarter at over 10 knots, nearly twice our normal cruising speed.  We traveled 88 miles down the Mississippi River, passing large cargo ships and making good time, but otherwise it was a very uneventful day.  The river was between a quarter and a half mile wide in most places (not the mile wide that it is north of New Orleans in many places), and the depth in the main channel ranged from 50 to over 200 feet deep.  We arrived at the Cypress Cove Marina in Venice around 4 pm, expecting to spend two days before crossing the Gulf to the Florida Keys.

But here we are, making the best of Venice, getting things done and waiting for a good weather window.  We need four days of settled weather to get to the Dry Tortugas or Key West.

We hope this finds you all well.  Enjoy browsing the website.  We plan to update it regularly.

Dave, Nancy, Chris and Josh
s/v Liberty

Venice is the Southernmost Point in Louisiana
Chris & Josh in Houma with a turtle Chris caught
Sunset at Cypress Cove Marina in Venice
Traveling on the ICW
Hurricane Katrina's Destruction in Venice
Chris with his bull Redfish
Josh with his bull Redfish
Dave climbs the mast to
reinstall the Wind Generator

The Infamous Refrigerator
Chris & Josh with a Sherman Tank at D-Day Museum
Josh caught the only Black Drum