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Project Clearwater — Expedition 25

2014-06-01

Project Clearwater — Expedition 25

High water.

There’s nothing like a little rain to raise the bayou… and the workload, but even when things go (expensively) wrong, the work is certainly worthwhile.

We’ve normally been hitting the bayou on Saturdays.  They’re convenient, and we figure we can get any problems cleared up before too many others run into them.  To get a nice break from work, I’d planned another kayaking run out from Pascagoula to Horn Island to camp overnight Thursday before heading back to town in time to hit the bayou.  Well, things didn’t quite work out to plan — on the way out, I had a bit of a mechanical failure.  After diverting to Round Island for field repairs, I limped back to port and made proper repairs overnight, putting me a full day off schedule.  With the late move to Sunday, schedule conflicts meant it would be a solo work day on the bayou, but we manage regardless, and it gave the bayou an extra day to drop just a bit.  (Incidentally, the delay also left me kayaking out 9.7 miles in three-foot seas and 15- to 20-knot winds, but it was another *great* trip.)

So, Sunday morning found me out at Highland Road Park all geared up for what I’d hoped (but not expected) might be a bit easier day.  The chain gauge showed the water level was just below the bottom of the bridge, but hopping around that is no big deal (especially as, being solo, I didn’t have the winch deck and all the heavy tackle).  As I headed down the bayou, for about the first two miles, everything was peachy.  There was one uber-log that had broken free (which I handled on the return trip), but for the most part everything was open and unimpeded.  Old number 11 was losing another long, thin trunk, but a few cuts with the saw had that turned into nicely short and flowable logs.

Here be flotsam!

It didn’t last, of course.  The first small obstruction was at the Not-So-Great Wall of Fountain, where some long logs had stacked up across the bayou.  It wasn’t too much work to free everything up and cut several of the longer pieces, and the current was sufficient to carry things along.  Having just a slight current makes breaking up blockages *so* much easier, but it’s still a bit of work.  Of course, that was merely the first spot.  As I progressed down the bayou, there were more than a few spots to address.

Chasing Flotsam

With the high water, lots of logs had moved down the bayou.  Where they catch in branches or narrow areas, they collect smaller pieces and debris, gradually building nice rafts.  If you leave the obstructions in place, eventually it will be a full-on blockage, but while it is still relatively fresh, it’s easy enough to remedy.  You paddle right over the problem, find the tangled branches or long logs that are holding everything, and you cut them up into non-problem-causing pieces.  Everything else just releases and continues on its way downstream.  Of course, when there’s a significant amount of logs included in the flotsam, it may only go a few dozen yards before something else catches, so “Chase the Flotsam” follows the “lather, rinse, repeat” concept.

I was in the middle of working yet another hop when a man in a canoe appeared.  He had apparently seen news of us cleaning up and working the bayou, which inspired him to get into a canoe and launch out from the park to enjoy our great waterway.  It’s always rewarding to meet people who are out enjoying the bayou we’ve spent these many hours working.

Another Easter Egg!

As he was about to continue on his way, I went to check my GPS receiver to see just where we were along the bayou.  Since I was working solo, I didn’t want to knock it off its mount and damage it, so I had remounted it near the back of my canoe.  As I turned around to get a look at it, my day suddenly turned rather painful.  The GPS receiver wasn’t there.  Somehow I had apparently knocked it *and its mount* off, and even more unbelievably, it had somehow apparently managed to fall not *into* the canoe but overboard in spite of the fact it was mounted facing in behind the aft seat.  To top it all off, the safety float I had attached *just in case* was attached no longer.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of depressing dread of suddenly discovering you have lost something important you cannot currently afford to replace.  It’s “only” a Garmin eTrex 20, so it’s as far on the “frugal” side of the GPS receiver scale as I could go while still having the required features for my offshore kayak trips, but $170 plus memory card and mounting hardware is far more than I can scrounge from petty cash.  Still, what can you do?  I looked for a while between the spot and the last mile marker where I knew I’d had it, but in the end I had to assume that in spite of the buoyant block it was mounted to, it must have ended up on the bottom somewhere.  Between the depths, current, and area of interest, there was no chance of finding it (and should it ever turn up, extremely prolonged immersion will have certainly destroyed it by now).  I couldn’t let a depressing and expensive loss stand in the way of The Work, however, so onward I continued.

Submarine?

After much additional work, eventually I made it to the final section with all the expensive houses on the downstream-left bank.  I was in the home stretch (of the downstream half of the day, at least), when I saw something that stood out.  There by the bank was an aluminum flat boat, mostly submerged and standing on its bow with the stern out the water.  My extensive experience with watercraft of all types informed me that this was not an acceptable orientation for such a vessel.  Well, I figured if my day was hard and in ways rather depressing, what better way to put a bit more silver on the lining than to make someone else’s day a bit better (even if they may never even know).

I put ashore at the bank (which is much easier when it’s virtually at water level) and started recovery operations.  A quick line to the stern handles was all I needed to start turning it back deck-side-up.  After nine hours working on the bayou, I still had enough reserve left to handle (and enjoy?) a good tug-of-war.  With effort, I managed to get the boat partially up on the bank, and bit by bit, I edged it up while draining the water.  When I’d managed to dump enough water, I shoved it back onto the water, grabbed a bailing bucket, and hopped in.  A few minutes later and I was done.  It still had some water in it, but it was floating upright and no longer in any danger of being lost.  (It had a line tied from the bow that seemed secure to something well below the current water level, so it shouldn’t drift away — too short a bow line may have been what caused it to swamp it in the first place.)

Whatever floats your boat.

The boat being successfully refloated, I shoved off and continued the short distance left to Bayou Manchac.  At a bit after 5pm, there wasn’t any major current on Bayou Manchac, and the current at that end of Bayou Fountain was also pleasantly slow enough to be no big deal.  Having reached the end, I turned back upstream to begin the four miles back to the park.  I went slowly through the half mile section where the GPS receiver was lost (between mile 1 and mile 1-1/2), hoping that just maybe a miraculous recovery would be the story of the day.  Alas, none was forthcoming.  A quick stop at the aforementioned uber-log was about all the work needed, although there were a couple slight catches that I broke up in passing.

By 7pm, eleven hours after leaving the park, I was back and packing out.  It’d been a rather exhausting day, so I was quite thankful the high water made the exit at the bank so much easier than usual.  When I’d arrived, I’d noted boat tracks in the mud (from Saturday, I’d imagine), and now there were multiple sets.  Bayou Fountain is certainly seeing a good amount of paddle traffic, and we’re still working on getting “real” launches.  Well, all in all, it was another good day on the bayou — excepting the depressing and expensive loss, of course.  Thankfully, I’ve got a scuba class to teach next weekend and a scuba student checkout dive trip to work the following, so I have at least a little time to find a way to replace the GPS receiver before I’ll have to cancel my next Gulf Islands National Seashore kayaking run.  Who knows, maybe the high water will leave behind some valuable salvage for me to find on our next work day Friday morning.  There’s always hope, eh? :D

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