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LMRD 713, March 26, 2019
Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"


Cricket
Rides Again: Canoe-i-cide
or the Strange Tale of the Kamikaze Canoe


But first, some upcoming notes:

Saturday, Mar 30th:


WROX 1450 AM:
We recently had our 4-year checkup with Paul & Bobbie Wilson at the historic WROX 1450 AM / 97.5 FM. Great conversation with great people! Conversation to be aired Sat morning 7am, Mar 30th. Streaming live on https://wroxradio.com.

Earth Hour:

Earth Hour takes place on Saturday 30 March at 8.30pm local time, wherever you are in the world. Will you join us? https://www.earthhour.org

Monday, April 1:

22 Months: 22 Hours
April will be 22 months since the US left the Paris Accord (June 1, 2017); if you are joining us, fast for 22 hours on Monday, April 1st. (This is not an April Fool's joke!)



Cricket Rides Again:

Canoe-i-cide or the Strange Tale of the Kamikaze Canoe


Disclaimer: Rivergator: Paddler's Guide to the Lower Mississippi River does not recommend paddling on river at or above flood stage. The following expedition was made in behalf of exploration and documentation for public knowledge.

Intro:
Last week three slightly deranged guys jumped in the Cricket Canoe with the following travel plan: to paddle from Baton Rouge to Venice, LA, for documentation of the Lower Mississippi River in high water. My own part in this comes from an inconsolable itch I feel every time the river rises through the woods and touches the levee... which is usually near or after vernal equinox. I have trouble sleeping at night. Normal springtime activities like walking, biking, napping, cleaning, gardening, painting, etc, drain of color. Life seems to lose meaning; nothing makes sense except the river. Maybe it’s something similar to the beaver who cannot sit still when he hears the sound of running water? It’s the river rat disease. I am not alone; I know others who have feel this, maybe everyone does. Spring fever? But for me it's slightly more than that: I have a personal, professional requirement to see the river at all levels in all conditions. How can I intelligently be helpful if I have not seen it myself? Anyway, those were some of the reasons going through my head... in the heat of the affliction noted above.

At first we called our little adventure “CC 16.9” for Chemical Corridor at 16.9 New Orleans Gage. But further downstream we came to be known by passing freighters and tows as “Canoe-i-cide” or “Kamikaze Canoe” and other more colorful names not fit for print.

Water levels were 43.9 in Baton Rouge (8.9 feet above flood stage and cresting). New Orleans reported 16.8 on push off day, but the next day it was upped to 16.9, and reported to be cresting (FS=17 at New Orleans). And so we were riding a giant river-pulse of sorts, a long frequency wave 200 miles crest to trough.


The three of us who pushed off last week from Baton Rouge on an overcast cool March morning included Boyce Upholt (New Orleans based free-lance writer conducting research for a forthcoming book on the Mississippi River), and Birney Imes, (Columnist, photographer and former publisher of the Columbus, Mississippi, Commercial Dispatch), and myself (Quapaw Canoe Company leader, author of the Rivergator). Critical ground support was supplied by my good friend, Michael Orr, of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

The travel plan was to paddle the 130 miles of Chemical Corridor from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and then an additional 100 or so on down to Venice. We were determined not to slide beyond Venice in high waters due to the long slog back up, paddling back upstream against those currents, the highest waters in a long time. Our vessel of choice was the legendary Cricket Canoe, 24' cypress strip voyageur canoe, veteran of 300 miles in 3 days riding the crest during the Great Mississippi Flood of 2011 (from Memphis to Vicksburg). Our Safety & Rescue Gear included USCG approved life jackets, VHF marine radio (monitoring channel 67), solar powered battery, 1st aid kit, flares, survival kit, folding saw, firestarter, bailers, sponges, extra ropes, straps, extra food, extra water, and all sorts of other goodies… Bernie carried one camera, Boyce one notebook, I allowed myself one sketchbook and pencils. We all had cell phones and headlamps. Essential items like VHF and headlamps we carried 3 of, a backup, and then a backup for the backup. One of the beauties of the canoe is that it does the lifting... up to a certain point; critical not to overload. We packed hammocks, which we were soon to employ. We packed a Coleman stove for making coffee and tea…. Which we enjoyed every day and most nights, floating or hanging above the cold muddy waters. We all wore wetsuits and thick neoprene boots, as well as neoprene gloves on cold mornings. Water temps were probably high 40s in Baton Rouge, and maybe low 50s in New Orleans (the freshwater shrimp were moving; 50 degrees is their benchmark temperature). We all swam at one point or the other, short refreshing swims. If anyone was prepared for this challenge, we were, although we were totally unprepared for what we actually got ourselves into, as the following will illustrate, here jumping directly into the last day, Day 4:






From the Journals of Driftwood Johnnie:
Day 4, Thursday, March 21, 2019, Vernal Equinox

We cut back into the raging maelstrom from the batture houses, mile 103.9, and scooted downstream with the smooth but swift tongue of water blowing out of Carrollton Bend, two small tows on our tails, and swung around "Upper 6-Mile" (6-Mile Point), Audubon Park, the Fly, and then the container ship docking extravaganza, the ships that make that flip canoes and crush campsites with their big waves, 3 giant container ship freighters at berth and a city of cranes, container tractors, rolling cable loaders and tall warehousing, blue, orange, yellow, black and white containers stacked like dominoes in piles up and down the riverfront, the scale dizzying as we paddled by with intensifying thrusts of current bursting underneath Cricket Canoe and buoying us around the Greenville Bend, and into Gretna…





“Canoe Kamikaze!” A pilot suddenly announces over VHF channel 67, to no one in particular, presumably to all adjacent traffic within radio range, “There goes Canoe Kamikaze!”

Another pilot jumps on, gruffly chortling, “they have a spot in heaven reserved for those fellows…” (He must have sensed our deep moral conviction…. Or maybe felt sorry for our disease? Regardless, I’m glad he didn’t place us in hell)…


We drift under the main span of the Crescent City Connection a carnival ship too tall (and the waters too high) to go underneath docked East Bank above Mardis Gras World, Algiers Point constricting the flow around its tight curvature, an elbow bend pinch-point in the river system, the last tight bend on the Lower Miss here 1 mile below the last bridge, reported to be the deepest and most profound of all waters found within the 2nd largest drainage in the world, and now today we are witnessing how and why it has been carved so deep, (surface turbulence an indication of much greater forces swirling and diving deep underneath) a broad avenue of boils blooming vigorously on the outer edge of the bend following the Moonwalk, pushing outwards maybe 500 yards from Gov. Nichol’s Wharf into a sloppy, choppy, white-capping haystacking interface….


We have been witnessing this phenomena again and again on our short journey, as expected around the sharp, high angle bends (like Manchac, College Point, Bringier, Houmas Point and many others), but also in some surprising places, (like Paulina, where the same occurred but strangely in a straightaway, with only a slight crook in its direction). Here at Algiers the entire Mississippi River is squeezed into a single undulating tongue of madscape water, just like a Rocky Mountain snowmelt river rampaging as it exits below the rapids, except this tongue is several hundred yards wide, jetting forward at 10 mph or more the defined center channel gets squeezed and rebels with choppy, frothy explosions by the adjacent smooth but straining gossamer surface roiling with kinetic tension and blossoming controlled chaotic energy creating a liquid dam parallel to French Quarter riverbank, and another liquid dam exploding upwards and outwards below Algiers Point and bristling outwards in slippery marine pools of boiling but smooth, flat reflections, the quarter-mile wide Algiers eddy emerging and spiraling slowly from an undefined center, like a starry galaxy…. the two bankside obstructions focusing the muddy floodwaters chopping and churning into center channel, contained between the two giant fields West Bank and East Bank, these implied obstructions as undefined black holes, but their effects in full force, warping the casual laminar flow normally found in low water, and causing it to behave in strange (but predictable) ways…


The flood squeezed between the two gnarly muscles bursts downstream an enraged racehorse new being whipped into sprint speed, she busts out of the gate and down the straightaway length below Algiers, Lower Algiers, Lower 9th Ward, Industrial Canal, St. John’s, Arabi, Chalmette, kicking and bucking as she goes, passing tows, tugs, service boats and crew boats ruffling her surface into a rolling bumpy texture of undulating 3-4 foot waves glistening troughs shiny blue steel and blazing yellow white light crests in the morning sun, the Lower Algiers Ferry cutting back and forth periodically…. Now, at the worst possible moment, an approaching freighter (#67) under full steam ruptures the already chaotic scene with a 6-8’ crashing wake slicing deadly axe lines diagonal to West Bank and East Bank causing perpendicular lines to form and make foamy crashing walls of waves, some maybe upwards of 10’ tall, to erupt in unexpected places mid channel along the edges of powerful boils bigger than the freighter itself, and us, a whiff of a vessel in this cold uncaring universe, no larger than a leaf, and just as fragile, bobbing along in our trusty Cricket Canoe, but now mortified by the seemingly unavoidable lethal sea we were approaching…


Several small tows pushing laboriously upstream past Domino Sugar, walls of foamy white-water washing to either side of flat ended barges, a wide fleet of tows tied the East Bank shore above Chalmette and the St. Bernard Port, the waves increasing in height and irregularity as they rebound off the metal walls hemming them in like sea waves below the Irish Cliffs, more rogue waves than not, rogue waves beating us back and forth, we are pistol whipped, poor Cricket Canoe banged side to side, 1st Mate Boyce getting the worst of it, my guide paddle a slight correction to keep us pointed downstream, hopefully not directly into crashing waves, but slightly diagonal, we try quarter the cauldron to mitigate the power of the deadly leaden walls as they crash and madly dash over our prow…


Our radio tuned up full volume but not speaking, have we been lost to the traffic? No announcement of our presence, it seemed like we were being ignored, the concentration of waves no doubt causing consternation for all captains, and no time for chit-chat, I began to feel like we would have to jump in on the airwaves and announce our intentions before some catastrophic wave flips us, freighter #74 blasting towards us tall and orange, not slowing a knot, a red & black pilot boat barrels across the wake and pulls up alongside for pilot change, and the two charge forward speed unchecked, once interlocked water speed critical to maintain, change in speed would spell dire consequences for pilot ascending the precarious boat ladder erected above the bobbing pilot house, and the rope ladder he has to grab and then mount to complete his climb…. and so they plow along together up the center of the ram-charging river unaware of our presence, the turbulent tongue of the mighty muddy waters released from the hag’s tooth Algiers Point, deepest place on the biggest river, to be compressed and cajoled with hairpin 270 degree centrifugal force and then released outward into the straightaway escape route downstream…


The results of the collision between fast-flowing water and fast running freighter metal is 100s of acres of dancing, tossing, snorting, horse-head waves and kicking hooves, the stampede charging upstream toward us behind the cutline wake wave now curling 6-8 feet tall and crashing into shore on each side, I quickly assess our escape routes, but all openings between fleeted barges are blocked by more barges behind, the waters here so swift making the rake ends hiss and kiss the slapping waves, as if in motion, but they are still, the land is still, but our universe of watery joy is all in motion, if this is our last moment, at least they can say we were doing what we love to do…


I watch in dreadful horror as the seemingly unavoidable capsize nears, when traffic control New Orleans crackles over the radio:

“#67 I don’t know if you heard me earlier, but there are 3 guys in a canoe just past Industrial Canal; I think they would appreciate it if you could slow down a bit…”

#67 snorts and responds, "maybe I will..." He lets this thought dangle for an awful moment of silence, then continues, "I wonder how those fellows will do...? They already have their spots chosen in the graveyard..."

“I know, I know” traffic control responds, "you’re sure right... you're right... But they would appreciate it all the same.”

I listen in unabashed fear, my heart pumping uncontrollably, as our fate seems to be hinged on the casual inclinations of the approaching pilot...

(To be continued next week)




Mon, Apr 22 | Horn Island
Horn Island Expedition | Artist’s Retreat in Voyageur Canoe

Artist-adventurer and guide John Ruskey and WAMA partner on a six day expedition to the wild and remote barrier island that Walter Anderson considered Eden.
Time & Location

Apr 22, 7:00 AM – Apr 27, 4:00 PM
Horn Island, Horn Island, Mississippi, USA
About The Event

Monday, April 22 - Saturday, April 27
(One day paddling out, four days on island, one day paddling back)

| To register, contact John Ruskey at john@island63.com. |

In celebration of Earth Day, artist-adventurer and guide John Ruskey and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art partner on a six day expedition to the wild and remote Mississippi Barrier Island, Horn Island. Explorers paddle out together in a twenty-nine foot voyageur-style canoe, a vessel historically designed for use by French fur traders on the open waters of the Great Lakes.

Horn Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and was delicately and articulately celebrated by the legendary naturalist-artist Walter Anderson in watercolors, prints, pottery, wood sculpture, and journaling.

The group will meet and park vehicles at Ocean Springs Harbor on Monday; paddle out to the island for four days of primitive camping, art making, and reflection; and return on Saturday. (One day paddling out, four days on island, one day paddling back; Final schedule weather dependent). John Ruskey, a celebrated guide, veteran outdoorsman, and founder of Quapaw Canoe Company, serves as the lead guide on the expedition.
Contact John Ruskey at john@island63.com to reserve your seat in the big canoe, or for more information. Includes guiding, outfitting (big canoe, paddles, life jackets and all necessary water safety gear), meals, dry bags, tents and sleeping bags, kitchenware, camp setup, all food prep, cooking and cleaning. No previous experience necessary, but must be comfortable with waves and extended sustained long distance paddling, and must be in good health and shape.

“The wind and sea began to rise… Then, at a certain point, I began to experience uncertainty… I was in conflict with a demon… He was perfectly willing that I should reach the island but it must be with the uttermost expenditure of strength and endurance.”

– Walter Anderson