Lower Mississippi River
This is in stark contrast to the second photo which shows the shoreline as it looked when we arrived at Cairo on Sunday--the ledge where the bass and backpack rest in the first photo is nearly crested by water in the second photo.
We were on a mission to get to Memphis early on in the week for our visit to the Children's Museum of Memphis, and the current on the Mississippi helped move us along. Finding a town next to the mighty river is the exception and not the rule, as most of the land along the river is a flood plain. At this time of year it is either a barren field or a flat, forested area that generally fills our eyes along the river. The few towns we do pass have tall levies built along the river's edge that serve to keep the river at bay when the waters rise to flood stage. We were amused to check the charts and see that we were passing the town of Tomato, Arkansas, so Aimee held up a tomato to honor the moment! We weren't able to see much of a town, however, and speculated that Tomato was further inland or more of an industrial/agricultural area. As you can guess from the picture, the weather has dropped to "below average temperatures" and we are inclined to spend our days bundled up in winter clothing, despite the fact that we are headed south.
In addition to barges, a frequent sight on our journey down to Memphis was this boat, one of two Coast Guard vessels we spotted deploying the buoys that help keep all river vessels within the navigable channels (photo). Red "nuns" and green "cans" sit on the platform at the front of the boat, and if you look closely, it is possible to see a green can dangling from the crane that is used to set and collect the buoys. The different colors and shapes of the buoys indicate to mariners which side of the channel the vessel should be on. Headed downstream, the green cans are kept to the right of the boat, and the red nuns are kept to the left.
The rest of Friday and Saturday was spent at the Children's Museum of Memphis, where we had been invited to come share our journey. In addition to a display table near the entrance where we handed out stickers and shared our photos, we did two daily programs that were abridged versions of our school visits. The play stage at the back of the museum was a perfect venue for our program, especially with the very appropriate river-themed backdrop one of the kids discovered for us. The large audiences at all of the programs helped us to create the watershed model we make in the classrooms, which Aimee and Morgan explain in the photo.
The fog had not yet lifted, so we pulled our vessel up to a sandy spot and set the spud in order to do a bit more exploring. We walked out on one of the stone dikes that were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers to direct the flow of the Lower Mississippi River. There are no locks or dams on this part of the river like there were on the Ohio, so the entire river is free flowing. Therefore, a different kind of system was designed to control where the water goes. The dikes are constructed like fingers that stick out from the shore to channel the flow of water into the center of the channel. This also in effect carves out the bottom of the channel, making it deep enough for commercial vessels to safely pass. There are thousands of these stone dikes along the entire length of the river, an elegant, simple system of engineering that harnesses the power of nature for the advantage of civilization. At the end of the dike, we were fortunate enough to have a brief visit from what appeared to be a river otter as it played among the eddies that spin off the end of the structure shown in the photo.
The state of Louisiana brought with it many bayous like the one pictured. A bayou is the remnant of where the river once flowed in the past. As the river finds a new place to meander, the old channels fill in with calm water and offer a peaceful change from the fast pace of the main river. This particular bayou was called Bayou Sara and was located near to the town of St. Francisville, LA. Bayou Sara used to be a bustling port town itself, but was wiped out during one of the flood stages of the Mississippi River and was never rebuilt. As we approached the city of Baton Rouge, we spent another night in a place called Bayou Baton Rouge and awoke before dawn to the greetings of some fisherman who had come to cast their nets for Crawfish bait. Apparently we weren't the only ones who had use for the bayous!
Because we had reached the Gulf of Mexico, we no longer had river currents to worry about, but there were currents of another sort caused by tidal influences. In examining the tide and current predictions, we found it in our best interest to leave the Gulf of Mexico in a different manner than we had arrived. Therefore, we continued on the Intracoastal Waterway for a bit, and then zipped up north into Chef Menteur pass, which brought us out into Lake Pontchartrain. We had planned to do this segment of the journey in fair weather because both Lake Pontchartrain and the edge of the Gulf of Mexico can create large waves much more intense than those found on the river. Pontoon boats are not built to handle such waves, and our window of opportunity to cross Pontchartrain was narrowing as winds began to pickup in the late afternoon. Due to the forecast for increasing winds and the always-ominous threat of the setting sun, we chose to cross Pontchartrain in the quickest manner possible in order to get to our New Orleans destination safely. Instead of crossing under Interstate 10 and some railroad bridges in the middle of the lake where a high span had been built in order to accommodate vessels of height, we chose the shorter route and opted to hug the shore and try to cross under the low part of the road structure. It was kind of a gutsy move, as we did not know what the clearance was underneath the road structure, and the tide was also on the rise. As can be seen from the photo, it certainly doesn't look like there is an abundance of overhead clearance, and it turns out there wasn't! We ended up crossing under about five structures, each with decreasing amounts of overhead clearance. The good news is that we managed to make it underneath all of them, though the last one was low enough to take our navigation lights as a sacrifice. Having literally scraped by underneath the last bridge, we had a relatively straight shot to reach the City of New Orleans.
And reach the City of New Orleans we did! We made it into the Orleans Marina a little before sunset, just as the wind really began to pick up. Our little gamble and sacrificial navigation lights paid off in great dividends, for we had entered into a safe harbor. The Orleans Marina is well protected from Lake Pontchartrain, and therefore suffered minimal damage during the hurricanes. The adjacent marina, which is less protected, did not fair nearly as well; many of the boats kept there ended up being destroyed as a result of the storm. We had a celebratory dinner that evening in honor of the conclusion of our journey consisting of some flavorful macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes, and corn, complimented by a bit of red wine from New York that we had carried onboard throughout the journey. The next day, Saturday, we hung out our banner for all to see from our slip in Orleans Marina, and prepared the boat to be hauled out of the water for the journey home. Captured here are some of the BPV Libelula's final moments afloat before she is pulled from the water for the last time.