Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Other Shoe

Well, it had to happen.  We’ve been running along on such a high, it had to be unsustainable. Keep in mind that I’m comparing our low to our highs with no other low to benchmark, so by many standards, it isn’t very bad at all… 

We spent the night in the Mermentau River.  We were unprepared for the beauty of this place.  The peace and quiet, the gorgeous trees lining the banks… the stillness.  It was just awe inspiring.  We would have stayed another day had it not been for the prediction of another cold front coming through on Monday and our wish to be in Delcambre by then.  

A dense fog descended upon our world and blotted out the morning sun.  We had planned to take a dinghy ride before leaving, but the fog kept us on the boat.  We weren’t worried, we had some time to spare.  As long as we were under way by 10 at the latest, we should make it fine.  

This day was to be an easy one.  Our only obstacle would be the Lehman Bowman lock.  We found little information about it other than it is usually open to pass.  I’m thinking it will be like the first two locks we transited without skipping a beat.  

Fog right in our path
The fog lifted and we got going at around 9:30.  Before we even got to the ICW, we were back in the thick of it  We considered turning around and waiting, but decided that with the AIS and VHF, we could safely navigate through it.  I heard barge chatter saying that it only hung around the Mermentau so we should clear it soon.

I had some knee knocking moments as we turned out of the river and into the ICW totally blind.  Bruce was at the bow looking for the channel markers and I was on the helm radioing our position to all concerned traffic.  Only one barge would be of interest.  He was far enough away for me to dart across… If we could only see those markers!  Suddenly, I saw the barge, and the marker and the fog lifted magically.  We broke out and things were fine.  

Ah, the rest of the day should be a breeze!  And it was for a while.  Balmy temperatures, winds 10 to 15 on the nose, little traffic.  Why does it seem that the traffic is always around the tricky spots?  We went for miles of straight canal all by ourselves, but when the wiggles start, so does the barge pile-up.  

We were asked to hang back so that one oncoming barge could pass another.  We were happy to oblige and I throttled back.  We hung around until we got the all-clear and powered back up.  That’s when the wheels fell off… at least it FELT like they had!  The boat developed an alarming shimmy when we increased RPMs.  We dropped it and built back up slowly but it was still shaking.  Bruce went below and came up telling me to throttle back.  There was water spurting out of the stuffing box and the shaft was vibrating violently.  

What should we do?  We discussed it and decided that we really had no choice but to continue on at reduced speed until we get to Shell Morgan Landing for the night.  Then Bruce would have to go into the water and take a look at the prop.  The question was, would we make it by dark?  To say things were tense for a while, would be an understatement. Each vibration set my teeth clenching more tightly and I had to keep telling myself to relax… it is what it is.  We’ll get through it.  It’s an adventure!  

We finally reached the Lehman Bowman lock.  I radioed for instructions and was told to come on.  When we got near, we had to throttle back to nothing and spent about half an hour jockeying in place while we waited for the two barges in the lock to come out.  I played the throttle, forward, back, neutral power, neutral…  until it was finally our turn.  The lock opened and we entered.  

Lucky for us, we had our lines prepared.  This was the first lock experience for us in which we were asked to tie to the wall.  Life jackets on, long lines fore and aft, I motored to the far end and brought her to the wall.  Bruce tossed a line over from the bow and I left the helm to handle the aft line.  We really had no idea what we were doing.  Where’s the manual for this thing?  Bruce noticed that the lock was opening and water began to rush in.  We had no trouble holding the boat in place but had to loosen the lines to allow it to lift with the water.  I have no idea how far up we locked but it wasn’t much, I’ld say less than a foot but more than 6 inches. 

The waters stopped roiling as the gates widened and we heard the horn sound the all clear.  We looked at one another… I guess we drop the lines and head out!  I brought my line onboard and returned to the helm.  We left the lock behind and continued on.  Both of us were still processing this experience, not knowing exactly what to think.  

We weren’t very far from our destination at this point, but it was now full on dark.  I can do this.  I kept us in position in the channel and was thankful for the lack of traffic.  We could hear some kind of loud engine off to Starboard, maybe an airboat and hoped that it wasn’t going to come our way.  We could see nothing.  There was a full moon shining on the water and it would have been beautiful if I weren’t making my way blind to a place I’ve never seen with the threat of impending fog…

OUR Shell Morgan Landing...
Bruce finally saw the sign with the binoculars and I turned towards Shell Morgan.  We tried to make out the “slips” mentioned in the Active Captain and Skipper Bob’s publications.  All I could see was two big boats in what looked like slips, with one open spot on a bulkhead.  Whatever!  I’m stopping right there!  I nosed the boat over to the bulkhead hoping for enough depth.  I got the stern tucked inside the wall just as the depth meter read 4.7.  

We landed softly against the bulkhead on our fenders and I pointed to two bollards for Bruce to tie the lines.  He tried to bring the boat to the bollard further in but I told him NOOOoo!  Not enough depth!  We may have had a little exchange of words at this point… I’m sure any spectators were having a nice bit of entertainment at our expense… but we got it lined out and tied up just in time for the mosquito swarms to further exacerbate our situation.  

I took one look at that gorgeous moon and said %#$@ it!  I went below for the night.  While we waited for our dinner to bake, we talked over the events of the day.  While it may not have been all good, there had been some really sublime moments.  We made it safely to the dock.  Nobody got hurt, not even the boat.  We learned a lot and oh, did I forget to mention?  After we left the lock, the prop shaft shudder had vanished!  I guess we’ll have to figure that one out in the morning...


  1. Maybe you wrapped something around your shaft and the rushing water of the lock dislodged it? I hope whatever it was that it doesn't make a reappearance. Have a good week!

    1. I surely don't low Marie! It seems to be a transient issue. We'll have to investigate further when we get some visibility. The water here is totally murky. I'm hoping there's something wrapped around or maybe our max prop has some adjustment issues... stay tuned!