Ship Island, MS April 21-26, 2009

Day 1.
We are determined to make it to Ship Island, MS on this trip. The barrier islands off the coast of Mississippi beckon us. And who are we to ignore a challenge!

Our marina is approximately one hour upriver on the Tchefuncte River. Preparation for the trip takes, as usual, until mid- to late afternoon. Mike had installed some efficiencies -- a gauge to monitor levels of the waste tank; another battery and a gauge to monitor battery activity; and, a few other adjustments -- and we were going to test them. We motor downriver to Madisonville, which is just as quaint and enchanting as ever. There we met another sailor, who came by to chat. He has an Islander tied up along the same public dock near Friends Restaurant. He's certainly entertaining with his tales of the Bahamas. I just wonder if we’ll make it there before the end of this year. Or is it next year. But sometime in the foreseeable future.

Dinner is on board Talisman. It makes sense to follow the “one pan” cooking logic. We have two options for cooking: an electric burner that requires AC, and an alcohol stove for when AC is not an option. To make best use of the one-pan/one-burner concept, I brought a bag of already cooked wheat pasta that will serve as a basis for several nights’ meals. Also another bag with cooked chicken for part of the meals, and cans of tuna and salmon for the other times. Frozen veggies make up the third component. And presto you have a meal! Of course one can't forget the spices and other ingredients that give special flavors. Since we’re on the subject of the galley (kitchen), you should know that you can provision for a good many days without having to depend on restaurants at all. Fresh fruit and veggies are kept in those new ever-fresh (green) bags, placed on shelves or in food hammocks. There are other containers and places for the nuts, dried milk envelopes, teas and cocoa, power bars and granola bars, cereal and other dry goods. The fridge is small but will accommodate the meat, pasta, frozen veggies, juice, other drinks and, oh, a few beers. Nonetheless, we plan to make restaurant stops along the way. If nothing else but to enjoy sunsets and views from another vantage point.

To cap off a great initial day we take our showers (so satisfying because Talisman has a separate shower stall, unusual for our boat size, 36.5 ft.), pour over the charts, and read to sleep (at least I do).

Day 2.

We leave Madisonville around 9:00 a.m. after our morning routines: doing yoga, breakfast and NPR news; filling up drinking water containers; then checking engine and fluids, bringing handheld GPS and binoculars into the cockpit, and readying jack lines and PFDs for when we’re out in the Gulf or rough weather on the Lake.

It’s the usual crossing of Pontchartrain Lake to access the Rigolets and then the Gulf of Mexico. The Tchefuncte River is all the way on the opposite side from where we need to go. Other things being equal, it takes roughly 2 – 2/12 hrs. to the Causeway Bridge from the mouth of the Tchefuncte River, then another 3 – 3/12 hrs. to the entrance to Slidell’s Oak Harbor, if the Hwy. 11 Bridge will open right away for us. We do experience an hour of angst as the N. Causeway drawbridge refuses to function well. Were the bridge engineers not been able to correct it, we would have to consider an extra four hours tacked on to that day’s trip. It would make crossing the Lake in one day undesirable. The extra four hours would mean travelling alongside the Causeway Bridge toward the S. Causeway just to pass under a fixed portion of the Bridge that is 50 ft. high (Talisman is 49 ft., thus a 1 ft. clearance). We’re so happy to finally make it to Phil’s at Oak Harbor, Slidell that same day, that we treat ourselves to drinks and sunset on the restaurant’s back porch. And there’s Talisman staring gratefully at us.

Day 3.

The weather predictions are for steady 10 – 15 knot winds from the S/SE. We are comfortable that Ship Island’s northwest corner will be good for anchorage. The day is beautiful. The fog and chilly weather of the last passage were gone. We made it out of the Rigolets and into the Mississippi Sound in a couple of hours. Piece of cake!

The sail to Ship Island was great. Talisman sails really nicely on 12-16 knot winds. It was a relief to not have to use the motor. So much of cruising involves the motor, which offends the ear and distorts what sailing should be – a communion with nature. We make it through Grand Isle Pass and Marianne Channel in the Mississippi Sound and the rest of the ICW to the Gulfport Channel. From there we turn south toward the barrier islands, then veer east at beacons 25 and 26. The old Fort Massachusetts has been in sight for some time. From afar it seems to stand on water. Just about 1/3 mile offshore from the Fort and its pier, we drop anchor. It’s exciting to experience sunset looking at the Fort, the white sand no-frills beach, fish jumping out of the water, and calm all around us.

The anchor takes hold on the first try, and there's no need to reset it or find another spot. The natural shape of the Island gives us enough protection from the winds. In fact, the winds and direction do not change for our entire stay. What a relief! No midnight scampering to change position, reset anchor, or take care of other inconveniences (except to quiet the clanking halyards).

Day 4.

The chattering of birds and the sight of the majestic Fort Massachussets inspire my yoga practice this morning. Fishing boats dot the horizon. And, dolphins swim up to Talisman as if to check us out. Our plans for this day are to inflate the dinghy, explore the Fort and the beach, and take a swim. The lee side of Ship Island is calm enough. But the waves are strong on the south side of the Island, which faces the open Gulf of Mexico.

Preparing the dinghy is a 45 min. ordeal. So, preparing it and then knocking it down for storage translates into 90 min., 1 ½ hrs. There’s got to be a better way! There are too many parts to this. Therefore, the likelihood that something could go wrong is always there. The dinghy’s motor could drop on my head or in the water; the harness sustaining the dinghy while it is let down into the water and walked back to the stern could get tangled; etc. In addition, what if we needed to deploy the dinghy immediately due to an emergency? And, wouldn’t it be better to free up the space it takes – prime location, easy access area just below deck? The difficulty with using davits off the stern to keep the dinghy in “ready” stage is that the mizzenmast gets in the way. Keeping it on the foredeck blocks my (shorty) view. Oh well, this is an ongoing concern that has defied a solution as of yet. Some day I’ll proudly report what that solution is, hopefully soon.

It takes ½ hr. to get to shore on our dinghy with its 2.5 HP, 4 cycle Yanmar motor (spanking new). Fort Massachusetts is quite interesting. British soldiers used Ship Island to prepare for their attach on New Orleans in 1814. So, the U.S. War Department built the Fort and other fortifications to protect its territory from enemy invasion. A large cannon stands intact on the upper level, and the fort structure has been restored for tourism. After visiting the Fort we walk to the other side, the windward side, where waves crash heavily on the shore. Facilities are bare bones: a few blue umbrellas (for rent) stand in line across the beach, and there is a snack truck. A couple of outdoor bathrooms and water fountains complete the services. One of the park rangers tells us that a restaurant and other tourist facilities are in the making. We do notice some construction activity on the Island and are sad about converting this simple, no-fuss island into a bigger tourist attraction.

We return to the lee side and ride our dinghy to other parts of the shore for a good swim. There are fish, and a couple of stingrays wander close into the shore. Then back to our boat that seems to patiently await our return. It’s nap time!

Day 5.

No WI-FI or cell phone access. We listen to the VHF weather report. Now the winds are supposed to increase notably, supposedly15-25 knots. Though we had hoped to overnight at the Pass Christian Harbor Marina on the coastline of Mississippi, we decide it might be better to get back into Lake Pontchartrain. The winds will be following us and that means strong wave action at our stern. Strong winds and a bumpy ride do not make fun sailing. Rather than continuing in the Gulf, we point towards Slidell’s Oak Harbor Marina again. It’ll take a day to get there from Ship Island. Had we started out from Pass Christian, MS it would have been plausible to reach Mandeville, LA in Lake Pontchartrain. Mandeville is another lovely place to stop in, an experience like Madisonville since it has lots of historical charm and one can walk to restaurants and cafes. Pass Christian, Mandeville and/or Bayou Lacombe will have to wait for another time.

The winds are strong and following. We have an exhilarating ride back into the Lake and are worn out when we get to Phil’s. All in a day’s work. We know that weather on the next day will be equally as strong.

Day 6.

The day proves to be an even stronger challenge. The shallowness of Lake Pontchartrain contributes to more wave action than the previous day. Mike skillfully gets us under two draw bridges where the main mast is swaying back and forth to the rhythm of the waves. There is a real danger that the mast or its other parts get caught on the bridge. So the suspense is definitely there. Adrenaline, anybody? Who needs the movies when you can live it in person?

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Comment by Terry on September 19, 2009 at 8:40am
sounds like you had a nice trip. I am still in Del rey but hope to move the boat back to New Orleans in October. This will allow more work to get done as the drive will be much shorter.
Comment by Gina Nadas on May 14, 2009 at 10:06pm
hey Andrea -- thanks for message. loved your profile. you've been everywhere! hope to learn more as you continue your experiences. do yoga? gina
Comment by Andrea on May 14, 2009 at 9:24am
What a great blog-thanks for sharing! ... And yes I absolutely agree with the adrenaline rising when you go under bridges. It doesn't matter how much clearance there is-it always looks like it is going to hit. ;-)
Comment by ___/)ances With Sails on May 7, 2009 at 11:37pm
Thanks for the ride!
Comment by zeehag on May 7, 2009 at 10:50pm
willyou be anchoring out again anytime sooon????? there is going to be a bunch of boats out of slidell and madisonville on memorial day weekend. we will probably be at ship island the first nite then we go on to lulus....then on to onward and eastward and some north......fla and beyond.....monty on blown away is going...nice n easy on candida is going ..john and rachel on annabelle and mike and martha on miss all we know of at present.....come on out and join the
Comment by Suky on May 7, 2009 at 10:26pm
Living your dream. It's good for soul not to mention your hearts, to know, feel you're in the right movie !
Happy to know you're safe.

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