Vastness, Dolphins, and Oil Rigs

The last couple days have been very involved in terms of being underway, and I have not had much time to write, which is too bad because there is much to share! I’ll do my best to recap:  

Day 1- Oyster Bayou to Anchorage in Marsh: 

An hour or so after I finished my below journal entry about sailing in the Gulf, the wind began to change directions. We only had about an hour before the sun was going to begin its descent, so we had to make a decision about what to do. Our goal was to make it to Isle Dernieres, which at this point was 4 miles away. Being that we were in the open Gulf and the wind began to get stronger, it was decided we would not continue the 4 miles and instead head North back to the protection of the marsh. It had been such a long day in the sun, wind, and waves, so we both were excited to reach the marshes a mile away. As we turned left to head to shore, the waves were behind us and Solvi surged along nicely. Using our charts and GPS we knew that land was only 1 mile away, but due to the marsh being so low, no land was in sight until we began to get really close. Both of us were feeling exhausted and the anticipation of dropping the anchor in a protected slough was building. As we got close to the shore Kyle used our led line (a heavy weight that is connected to a line that is marked every foot) to decide when it was too shallow to sail. Once we hit the sand at 4ft it was time to pull up the dagger board, drop the rig, and row the rest of the way.

The shore of this area of Louisiana is rather unique and fascinating. Between South America and Louisiana is open Gulf, a small ocean. I am used to the Gulf being sandy beaches with sea grass and condos. But this large mass of water from South America to Louisiana leads to… Well tall grass. Quite literally the waves break onto very low lying grass. Some of the grass is green while most of it is a light brown. This grass forms thousands of acres of marsh with many sloughs and channels. Kyle and I laughed at how different it was than anything we had experienced. I had no knowledge of its existence before we arrived. The sun was just starting to go down when we found a small opening in the marshy grass that we could pull in and anchor away from the exposure of the Gulf. I had tied us off to a mangrove root by using my rubber boots to trudge through water and an oyster covered bottom. Once back aboard I rowed us away from the shore so Kyle could drop the anchor. He went to toss it overboard and we sadly discovered it was less than a foot deep. Now this wasn’t a problem at the moment since Solvi only draws 6 inches, but when the tide went out she’d be dry sitting on oysters. No good. Both of us cringing at the thought of having to move another muscles, none the less row somewhere else, we checked the GPS. 1.46 miles to the next deep opening. Ugh. We untied from the mangrove, grabbed the oars, and pulled ourselves down the shoreline. The sun was cut in half by the horizon causing the entire horizon line to glow orange. Being that there is no land on the horizon, the sky just seemed to continue forever. My back ached, my hands were tired, I was mentally drained, and Kyle was feeling the same way. 1 mile left and almost at the same time we began our favorite sea shanty: “Away haul away, we haul away together. Away haul away, we haul away Joe!” It was at that moment I found the meaning of sea shanties. They were used to keep sea men motivated and connected- and they work! I felt I couldn’t make that last mile, but with our sea shanty it was fun and quick. Arriving at our new anchorage we found 3ft of water behind some mangroves and dropped the anchor. Kyle made dinner while I was supposed to be setting up the bed. I rested my head for 1 minute and fell asleep! Haha, he awoke me for dinner and 30 minutes later we were drifting to sleep while listening to some commercial fisherman shrimping near by. Despite the day being so long, we only covered 15 miles. Waves, salt water, open Gulf, and rowing without a current sure beat us up- but that’s okay. It was a wonderful first day on the Gulf.  

Day 2- Anchorage in Marsh to Isle Dernieres:

Well this day sure tested us! We left around 9am and began rowing. Due to the wind direction and strength and the forecast we received using our VHF radio we decided to row real close to shore to try to find some protection. The first hour went well and we listened to some music while rowing into the wind. But then the shoreline began to open and there were big inlets and channels leading to the Gulf. The wind was increasing and we made the decision to try and head farther North to seek shelter on the shoreline. Turning left to an opening that would lead us North, we were greeted with a large bay. The chop had gotten pretty big and the waves were steep and about 3ft. Okay, guess we’ll try the other way. We headed South towards Isle Dernieres and found some shelter against the island. Being unable to pull up on shore because it was marshy, we found a small mangrove island with a slough in it a mile away. Rowing into 15mph winds with 2-4 foot waves was not fun and scared me quite a bit. But Kyle suggested I put on some of my favorite music and try to relax while we row into shelter. The crossing to the island took about 30 minutes, but it was an arduous 30 minutes. Salt water spraying everywhere, Solvi slamming into the waves, thus stopping us mid stroke, and wind howling around- we gripped our oar handles so tight that my finger nails bruised. The gusts were loud and I watched as they caused chop on top of the Gulf swell. Solvi bounced around a bit, but as usual was quite stable. Slowly as we approached the small mangrove island the waves began to get smaller and less frequent. This happened gradually until suddenly I could see the small opening of the island. Solvi’s bow entered through first and it was as though we just went from being outside in the loud wind to inside a quiet, calm, and warm house. The tiny cove was only about 30ft wide by 50ft long, but it was fully protected from any weather from any direction. Whew! What an intense change of environment. Except for when we stood on the foredeck so we were taller than the mangroves and exposed to the wind, there was no indication the weather was bad. Being that it was only 12pm and there was no way to walk around on land, we knew the entirety of the day would be spent aboard our rather small floating boat. Therefore to stay busy we did various activities: cleaned the boat completely, I washed my hair, played chess, fixed our cook pot, stretched on the foredeck, and then eventually set up the boom tent and played more chess.

 The 5 mile journey from the anchorage in the marshes on shore to the protection of the slough, was rather challenging and impacted our moral. During the planning of this coastal hop we knew being so exposed to the Gulf was a risk. But we also knew from living in St. Petersburg for 4 years that with the right weather the Gulf is rather calm and enjoyable. But those 5 miles were so exposed and arduous that they wore us down. Conversations about quitting, going back, or finding another alternative were had. Did we make the wrong decision? Can we go out tomorrow or will we be stuck in this slough again? Well the only way we could attempt to answer the last question was with our 2 day old screenshot of the weather and our VHF radio. Being that it was cloudy the VHF did not want to cooperate. The 3 channels which forecasted weather 24/7 were all filled with static. The familiar male voice repeating various conditions would begin talking and then right when he was about to report the forecast for our area the static would fill in. “Something south 15 knots” I’d say. Kyle would counter, “I think he said west wind!” This went on for an hour before we gave up. Well we had plenty of food and water, were completely safe and protected so might as well just relax and hope tomorrow is nicer. Plus, once we realized the entire weather situation was out of our control, we both felt a bit more free. Together we watched as the sun went down, again creating that orange glow. Some Pelicans and dolphins could be seen over the mangroves and despite the howling wind, the environment around was quite beautiful.

Day 3- Slough near Isle Dernieres to Timbalier:  

Today was the day. The day in which I realized that our journey from Wisconsin and all the trials and challenges it brought are completely worth it. The day that I will forever remember and that reminded me of the passion I have developed for sailing. A day full of deep blues, greens, dolphins, and vastness. Of salt water, beautiful calm rolling waves, and pure delight.

My sleepy eyelids blinked open once before closing again. It must be pre-dawn, I think to myself while reflecting on what my eyes took in during their first opening of the day. I don’t hear wind or waves crashing on the shore, was my next thought. I opened my eyes and peered under the boom tent to the small opening of the slough. Calm. Kyle awoke soon after me with the same conclusion. I did the “radio dance” on the foredeck, turning the antenna in all directions, attempting to get an updated forecast. After some conversing and looking over the mangroves to the Gulf we decided to quickly get the boat ready to go and at least row 5 miles, to what our chart calls Whiskey Island, while the weather is calm. In order to do this we had to make a 2 mile crossing between islands- meaning that for 2 miles we were exposed to the open Gulf. I was hesitant at first because of our rough conditions the day before, but as we nosed our bow out into the open Gulf waters, Solvi only bounced a bit and no salt water splashed in the boat. We rowed the 5 miles to Whiskey Island and had the most pleasant surprise. Pelicans! For some reason Pelicans became extremely interested in our little boat. And for the remainder of our time on the Gulf they would become our friends and good company. It started with two brown pelicans flying above us. We watched as they flew by but then suddenly turned around and lowered down towards our boat. Flying even with the mast’s height both Pelicans flew above us for quite some time, looking down causing their eyes to meet with ours. They would then get a little closer before flying off again. This happened over and over again, sometimes just one pelican sometimes 10. It was quite spectacular- that and the dolphins were playing in the swell causing us to giggle in delight.

We arrived at Whiskey Island and were so thankful to get out of the boat and run around a bit. Seeing that the sky was clearing and the conditions were only getting better, we continued on from Whiskey Island. Rowing through all the oil rigs (they are everywhere on the LA coast!) we enjoyed sunshine and blue skies. As we approached the end of Whiskey Island we made the decision to make the next 8 mile hop of open water to Timbalier Island. Fortunately at this point the wind had shifted in our favor and we set the sail. I was on the tiller for the two hours it took us to cross, and it was the most magnificent sail. There was no wind chop leaving the water glassy, but the rollers coming in from the Gulf swell were about 4ft. Solvi sailed along wonderfully, riding up the waves and then back down. It was so much fun and the dolphins were having just as much fun riding the rollers and jumping around. They would get so close to our boat that I could see their eyes- amazing! After an hour I learned how to use the waves to our advantage and sometimes Solvi would surf down and pick up speed. A couple of crew boats bringing people to and from the oil rigs and doing maintenance stopped to chat with us and take some photos- they thought we were insane having come from Wisconsin. Around 3pm Timbalier Island came into view and we sailed along until it was too shallow and then rowed the rest of the way. Both of us so thankful to have found a patch of sand we pulled Solvi up on her rollers and had a fire and set up our tent for the first time in a few days.

That evening as we sat by the fire I reflected on our day of sailing and how different it was from the day before. The day before I was scared and uncomfortable. This day, on the other hand, was the very reason we choose to sail. The very reason we put ourselves through the ridiculousness of this journey. The vastness of the water, sky, and environment is something that can only be experienced off shore. A day I will never forget 🙂

2 thoughts on “Vastness, Dolphins, and Oil Rigs”

  1. Immensely thrilled to have been following you since Pepin, through your words and pics. Like others, I assume, with a lot of envy. Sail on!


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