Swimming with the Big Fish
La Place, Louisiana
November 4, 2019
Dear Family & Friends:
Paddling in the busy ports is a whole new experience and challenge. When I entered the Port of Baton Rouge, I felt like a tiny minnow swimming in a pond with Killer Whales, Great White Sharks, barracuda, alligators and piranhas.
I bid farewell to Pat in St. Francisville on November 1. This was one of the best paddling days of the trip. I covered 37 miles in six hours and arrived in Baton Rouge at 5 PM. I set up my camp just below the Southern University & A&M College. As I was pitching my tent, two students were practicing their trumpet skills on the high bluff above my campsite. I was tempted to climb up the bluff and make a friendly suggestion for a change in their major, but the foliage was too dense.
On November 2, I entered the Port of Baton Rouge. This was a whole new experience and challenge. The entire Port was like a washing machine on fast cycle. This is because of the fast current, heavy River traffic and industrial structures that line both banks of the River. I encountered my first oceangoing vessels, which will be my neighbors for the rest of the trip.
Paddling in this kind of Port requires constant diligence. I was constantly asking: Is he moving or stopping? Is he not moving, but planning to move? Is he moving forward or backing up? How do I safely pass between a container ship as high as a ten story building and a tow boat pushing 40 barges? The smaller tugboats are a special problem because they move fast and often dart in and out between the barges as they move the barges in place for the tow boats.
All-in-all, it was a harrowing day, but I survived.
November 3 was a bad day on the River. The stiff headwinds erased the benefit of the current and the River was constantly rough. At one point, I took advantage of a drop in the winds and decided to cross from one side of the River to the other. Big mistake. One hour into the crossing, the winds picked up and I encountered swells that exceeded four feet. Whitecaps were everywhere. In order to keep my canoe from being swamped, I had to keep the bow directly into the waves. But, this was a problem since the waves were coming from every direction. I paddled furiously for over two hours to get to the other side . I emerged from this cauldron safely, but I shook for over ten minutes.
At that point, I decided to beach my canoe and climb up a high bluff to assess the condition of the River. This was a good decision, since I got a good perspective on the waves and whitecaps and was able to chart a route to calmer waters. I was greatly relieved to set up my camp on a sandbar and ponder what I had just been through. The sunset was beautiful and I built a fire to keep myself warm.
Today was a really good day on the River. I paddled through several more ports without any serious incident. I am now camping on a sandbar about 30 miles from New Orleans. I should be able to reach New Orleans in five hours tomorrow.