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Project Clearwater — Expedition 33

2014-08-09

Project Clearwater — Expedition 33

Moonlight paddle on Bayou Braud and Spanish Lake

After an amazing moonlight paddle to Spanish Lake via Bayou Braud, the morning came early.  With the low water, it was going to be a long day.

It was short notice for the moonlight paddle to Spanish Lake on Friday night, but there were five of us in three boats out making the trip.  Lots of juvenile alligators out there, some very entertaining birds, and fish so energetic you literally had to catch them and toss them back out of the canoes.  (One larger one actually left a bit of a bruise on my left arm, but the one that did a rail slide all the way to my bow won the night as far as I’m concerned.)  It was a great night paddle, but by the time we were packed up a bit after eleven, the morning was looming.  (The next moonlight paddle should be Saturday, September 6th, by the way.  Location not yet decided.)

When the morning came, I headed to Highland Road Park expecting very low water levels.  The bayou’s been below the 3.5′ lower valid limit on the Bluebonnet gauge for a while now, so lots of bottom wood would be making its presence felt.  I decided after last week’s difficult exit that I would try out a new access point at the park: “Drainpipe Launch”.  From the restrooms between the ball fields, you proceed directly toward the bayou and there it is.  There used to be a large corrugated drainpipe in the way, but that washed away a few weeks ago and is currently moored at “Archery Launch”, opening the path for temporary use of the spot for launching and recovery.

Bridge minus 6 feet and change.

The launch was actually quite easy, even with the low water, and as I turned downstream, the chain gauge showed just how low it was.  The bayou was more than six feet below the Rackley Bridge mark, which is just about as low as we’ve seen it.  I cannot say for sure that it is the lowest we’ve seen, but if it isn’t, it’s within inches.  There was not much of any appreciable current in the low water, as illustrated quite well by the blobs of green algae that had started to show up on the surface.  Passing the chain gauge and Archery Launch, there’s a slight bit of shallows, but it was passable without effort.

The Rainbow

The way was clear for a while, and then I arrived at The Rainbow.  This large bowed trunk with plenty of large limbs was at one time across the bayou.  We managed some time ago to winch it toward one side, but it quite thoroughly embedded itself (beyond *my* capacity to budge), and there it has remained through plenty of high water.  Usually you paddle somewhere over The Rainbow without noticing it, but now you could *almost* slide under.  There was a large trunk off the left that, coupled with The Rainbow, blocked convenient passage.  It (and one limb on The Rainbow itself) yielded to the saw, and the way was once again clear.

The Shallows

The first two miles were not much different than normal as far as paddling conditions went.  Below mile two (and the larger power lines), places where you had to pay attention to submerged logs and a few shallow spots became more prevalent, but there wasn’t much in the way of obstructions.  A few partially embedded logs across the bayou were sliced up to make the way sure, but everything was manageable until one small spot around the 0.8-mile mark.  The flowing water runs to the right and under the fallen trunk, and the rest of the width of the bayou at this very low water level was impassable.  On the way down, I slid under the fallen tree, but on the return trip, I had to step out and pull the canoe across.  It was the only such spot that presented itself through the entire length of the bayou from Highland Road Park to Bayou Manchac, so not bad at all, really.

Before-ish.

Finally, there was the big one.  The spot 1/4-mile from Bayou Manchac that I came into the day knowing would be hard work.  (Actually, I managed to slide the canoe through and over it to hit Bayou Manchac on the way down, then turned around so I’d actually be working it on the return leg.  Just seemed psychologically better that way, hehe.)  The secondary trunk I’d planned to hit turned out to be much less an issue than the primary downed tree (*FULL* of vines, vines, and more vines) that had caused the problem in the first place.  It was going to be a long stop, especially without a strap setter to work the free end of the winch sets.

It was actually fairly straightforward after so many expeditions on the bayou.  I started by sawing off the largest accessible limb, but with all the vines, it was still held fast.  Deploying the heavy tackle took care of that, as two tons of dead lift force is apparently more than enough to pull vines free.  A second smaller limb followed, and mere rope work was sufficient to pull it clear (with a bit of creative stringing to get some mechanical advantage, of course).  Then it was on to the motherlog.  The trunk, entirely submerged at that point, was something like a foot in diameter.  It did not quickly succumb to a hand saw, but succumb it did thanks to lots of inconvenient underhand submerged sawing from the bottom up.  When it finally gave way, the trunk on the left of the photo above dropped considerably and with a delightful *CRACK!*

After.

After a bit of winch work to pull the secondary log around enough to make a good path, the bayou was back to wide open.  The trip back upstream went well, too, with only that one spot of shallows interfering with a pleasantly free run back.  I couldn’t help but note the very large amount of “big litter” in the bayou.  Normally you don’t see it, as it’s submerged, but with the water so low, plenty of trash cans, barrels, plastic kennel halves, and so on were readily visible.  We may have to do a low-water run to extract those from the bayou bottom and temporarily moor them beside the banks for collection when the water returns.  (I certainly can’t paddle the Canoemaran through at this low level.)

Oh, and the exit at Drainpipe Launch?  *MUCH* easier, and with 120 feet less distance to the parking lot, too!  It was a fit ending to a long day on Bayou Fountain (after a nice evening on Bayou Braud and Spanish Lake).  I’m rather looking forward to having a *bit* more water out there, but having such low water levels certainly gets us access to a lot more work, and the bayou’s still a great paddle (especially the first two miles heading downstream from the park — a four-mile round trip is plenty for normal people, I’m told).

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