Orange Alert
Saturday, January 03, 2004
CC's Journal 7

Two days after Christmas we excitedly departed Lake Pontchartrain via the Industrial Canal. As the Wetland Wanderer passed the waterway entrance there were thirteen boats engaged in flounder fishing. Sue yelled at one and he replied, "We got 25 so far!" as he held up a large flat fish. Good eating, one of my favorites.

We passed easily under two draw bridges and then called the lockmaster at the inter canal locks and he told us to stand by while he got a tug pushing a barge load of rocks out toward us. Once inside the lock, an operator tossed us a line to hold and told us since it was an Orange alert we should call River Traffic on channel 12 and report our intentions. Our plan was to go up river past the French Quarter of New Orleans then exit at the Harvey Lock. We called in and as we entered the mighty Mississippi noticed a Coast Guard Cutter heading in our same direction with a small launch following it.

Once mid-stream, Sue was alarmed by the huge wakes made by passing harbor tugs, container ships, and paddlewheel tour boats. She notified me that our lifeboat, a 16-foot Boston Whaler, was swinging wildly on its davits. Our tender was new as we just put it on the day after Christmas. The Whaler is a heavy boat and it rode steady on a test run in the smooth waters of Lake Ponchartrain, but this was a really different situation. I gave the helm to Sue to take a look and knew that I would have to come up with some new engineering ideas to safely secure this dingy in rough weather.

At the helm again, I slowed down and made my way to the west bank to avoid some of the bigger waves, but another big ship passed just as we reached the Greater New Orleans Bridge. Sue yelled, "The Whaler is falling off its straps!"

I slowed to an idle and told Sue to keep the bow into the waves and jumped into the Whaler to re-strap it. One of the heavy I-beam supports and its strap were swinging dangerously. I dodged it on each swing. It took me ten minutes in the rough water to re-secure our life-boat, all the time right under the bridge; so, I was not surprised in the least bit when the third Coast Guard vessel in the river, a big steel hulled ship, pulled along side and asked to board us. Why? New Orleans was hopping with the BCS championship football game a week away, Orange alert was in effect and we had lingered under the bridge.

From one bouncing boat to another, two of the Coast Guards finest jumped down to our deck. They quickly noticed our marshmission banners and swinging dingy and confirmed we were not terrorists. While aboard, they did a routine inspection. Sue and I thanked them as they left; proud of the job they are doing protecting our waterways.

Once through the Harvey Lock, it was flat-water sailing. The industry slowly faded away as we turned into the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Steering from the bridge, it was glass smooth water making a peaceful and pleasant entrance to the marsh. Brown Pelicans glided by as cormorants swam before us. I decided it was a beautiful entrance to the wetlands with so many setbacks behind us.