0500 I was wide awake and ready to go. Problem is we still had almost two hours of darkness to burn off and Terri’s alarm did not sound until 0530. There was a little bit of fog but I figured visibility to be about 2.5 miles which is well within tolerance. So back to bed I went and rested until the alarm sounded. Like clockwork the alarm did sound and I was up and making preps. There was a light showing on Spirit Dancer next to us so they were also awake and making preps. Terri looked out the window and gave a little grunt. Fog eh! Just a little I said and continued making preps. I went on deck to start rolling up the water hose and I saw Kemba next door and she verbally re-enforced her sincere dislike for travelling in fog. Then Bob popped his head out and looked at the same land mass off to the East that I used to get a range of visibility. He formed his own opinion regarding visibility and more or less agreed with me. Terri appeared and we had an impromptu captains meeting. The VHF radio weather report advised that there was a fog warning until 0900. It doesn’t look that bad so we all agree to leave at first light. A few minutes earlier Terri had heard another looper friend, Gemini at a different marina on the VHF talking to the harbour master about the fog, but Steve and Beth decide to depart as well. As it turned out Gemini departed their dock about the same time as us and led Spirit Dancer and Terrmar South then West down the channel.
|SPIRIT DANCER FOLLOWING GEMINI OUT OF THE CHANNEL|
Before we were out of the channel and before Terri had the lines and fenders stowed, the dolphins were playing with our bow wave. Terri was thrilled and her huge smile warmed my heart. Steve on Gemini tells us of a short cut that he has worked out with the help of a local boater. With a quick check of the charts we concur and agree to follow suit. As we were the third boat in our little flotilla we probably had the easiest job of the three boats. We all had agreed on the same course and speed so this should be a rather uneventful day. I had the other two boats identified on Radar and Gemini has an AIS transponder. My biggest challenge today would be boredom. We see a fog bank ahead and soon Gemini about ½ a mile in front of us has disappeared and soon Spirit Dancer about ¼ mile a head follows into the mist. We were now relying on our Chart Plotter, Radar and our AIS receiver. We have been in fog before and Terri and I know the drill. The fog thickens. Hey, wait a minute the weather report promised clear weather by 0900, but we have long ago given up trusting weather forecasts.
|CROSBY EXPLORER THE TOW IN THE FOG|
|LADY GAYLE MARIE TRAVELLING AT 11 KNOTS WITH BIG HORNS|
Well past noon and the fog is still there and we must overtake a tow. He is doing about 7 mph and we are doing 9 mph. We have done this often and it should be routine. But the fog is the wild card. We have the tow identified on Radar and AIS but I would still like a visual for reference. Gemini, a mile or so ahead of us passed this tow earlier. Spirit Dancer, just ahead of us has just completed this maneuver. So as usual, we contact the Tow Boat Captain and discuss where and when to overtake him. See you on the two whistle, we both agree. This means we will overtake him, our Port to his Starboard. Okay here we go! Finally I get a visual on him. I was almost up his Tater Basket (Tow Boat slang for very close to his stern). Okay, this is a narrow channel and I can’t leave the channel too far for fear of running aground. The tow boat captain has cooperated and is holding his course and speed as far to the other side of the channel as he dares, but he keeps fading in and out of the fog. Finally, we are ahead of him and out of danger of any collision with him. I can now slowly come back to the center of the channel. The VHF radio springs to life “Terrmar- Spirit Dancer, there is a shrimp boat out here, we almost hit him and he is headed your way.” But why don’t I see his AIS signal on my chart plotter? Surely he is equipped with one??? Then Terri saw him emerge out of the fog. He is coming towards us from the 1 o’clock and the Tug Boat Captain, in his relentless pursuit of our own Tater Basket, from about the 5 o’clock. I am between a Tow who can’t stop or turn without great effort and a Shrimp Boat working in or near the channel. Choices, while there are not too many, it is plain to see, there is only one really. Remember my Fighter Pilot maneuver back on the Illinois River? That’s it! I will again need all of the 380 HP we paid for. The turbo charger kicks in and we show 14 mph on the plotter. Slowly, the Radar return of the tug behind us is falling off. Simultaneously, the Shrimp Boat holds his course and speed and Terrmar runs a bit of a button hook maneuver from the left side of the channel over to the right. Spirit Dancer is on the radio again warning of another Shrimp Boat. Again we see no AIS signal. Like the previous Shrimper, the Radar Return is very hard to distinguish between the shrimp boat and a channel marker. We never did see the second Shrimp Boat. Our eyes are getting tired from the constant peering into fog looking for buoys or wayward Shrimp Boats. We heard that, not always is there someone on watch in the wheel house of a Shrimp Boat and that the captain and crew are all at work on deck. For the sake of a $200 AIS transponder all of this could have been prevented.
The balance of the day, save for the last hour and a half of the trip, was shrouded in fog. We had reached Lake Ponchatrain LA. and were now only about 20 miles from New Orleans. We moved up to the Fly-Bridge (steering station up top) because it gave us a better view of the dozens of Crab Pots and their rather ambiguous looking markers. Many of these markers were black buoys about the size of a Volley Ball or smaller. Who thought up that colour scheme? They were becoming increasingly harder to see in the setting sun. Did I say sun? Yes, and the last hour of our trip was indeed wonderful. We left most of the crab pots behind and watched the sun retreat to the west and Spirit Dancer follow from the East.
|FIRST VIEW OF NEW ORLEANS|
|"SPIRIT DANCER" AGAIN IS SHE PASSING OR BEING PASSED? REGARDLESS A BEAUTIFUL BOAT|
We arrived at the end of the day with just enough daylight to maneuver. We, were exhilarated and now had another bullet to put into our gun holster. We had another first and the next time it would certainly be less intimidating.
Bring on the Big Easy!