Friday, January 2, 2009

Gulf of Mexico!!!

Someone doesn’t want us finishing this trip as we woke to heavy fog, rain and lightning. The lightening was to the point where Kobie, while still in his tent asked if the flashes were a strobe light. Heavy storms were forecast for all of tomorrow and continuing throughout the week. In checking the marine radio for the weather they also said that the possibility of tornados cannot be ruled out. Tornados? This is most certainly not what I signed up for. We were so close. Weather hung heavy in my mind, but if we didn’t go for it now we would have to wait for several days or longer to try and complete the last 25 miles of the trip.

We sat in our tents for a bit and as we did the rain ceased. By the time we got packed up some of the fog even lifted. I was hoping that we could make the dash to the Gulf and perhaps hitch a ride back up to Venice. Did I forget to mention that? Once we paddled to the Gulf, we would have to turn around and paddle 25 miles against the outgoing river to get back to Venice, where my buddy Ken was going to pick us up. I have hitchhiked before, but never while in a kayak.

I was heartened by the lifting of the fog as it even revealed a piece of clear sky. Within a half hour of setting off paddling the clouds opened up and a large blue swath ranged across the sky, allowing the sun to shine on in.

As we paddled along there was heavy boat traffic on the river. It made me feel better about the possibility of catching a ride back to town. I still had my concerns about the weather, but if we could catch a ride back we would be set.

We paddled the ten miles to the end of the Mississippi River and as soon as we did the fog once again rolled in. It wouldn’t have been so much a problem if we didn’t have to cross the main shipping channel to get to the middle of the three outlets of the Mississippi River Delta. If you look at this satellite map, you can see the area. The "A" on the map is Head of Passes and the end of the Mississippi River. The main shipping channel is on the far left and the south pass, that we needed to take, is the next one over. So we had to cross from the west bank of the Mississippi River to the south pass.

We sat and waited to see if the fog would lift before crossing the channel. We could navigate by GPS but couldn’t see what else was on the river. Listening for boat engines is of some assistance in that we know another boat is out there, but it doesn’t tell us exactly where the boat is, or more importantly, tell the boat where we are. It was frustrating trying to wait out the fog. After 20 minutes we were able to see a buoy across the way. We figured that if we could get to that buoy we could hang out there waiting for a further break in the fog as no boats would, in theory, run over the buoy. It turned out that the buoy was actually the entrance to the South Pass and our 15 mile paddle remaining to the Gulf. The buoy was at the end of a break wall that was built at the front of the pass.

As we got into the south pass it was about a quarter mile wide, down from three quarters at the mouth of the Mississippi River Delta.

For a short time paddling in the south pass it was a beautiful warm sunny day. The cat and mouse game continued with the fog as at one point the GPS seemed to show that we had navigated out of the south pass and into marsh area. We couldn’t see so we backtracked and tried again. In a break of fog we saw that we had in fact gone off course, but we were able to correct ourselves.

I could hear a fog horn in the distance for many miles, but it was of little use to us. I also noticed many seagulls, reaffirming that we were getting very close.

Late in the morning the fog had cleared and the sun made its presence known. About a half dozen people stopped to ask what we were doing. A few comments were: “Did you jump ship”? and “Are you guys lost”? One of the boats was a dad and son fishing. I asked if we could possibly get a tow back once we wrap things up. He said he might be able to give us a lift as they would be out fishing for awhile. I was somewhat relieved that we had a potential ride the 25 miles back to Venice.

All at once the boat traffic stopped. I hoped everyone was out for the day and would come in later; not that there was some weather warning that only the locals knew about, forcing them back home. I was somewhat relieved though as I flipped the map southbound for the last time, showing a large open expanse of water.

The lighthouse that we were able to see in the distance for a number of miles was deceptively inland. I was hoping that the lighthouse would be the end of our southbound journey, but it was still several miles further to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

We again ran into the father and son on their fishing boat. Since we had last seen them they landed a sizable redfish. They said that they would be out fishing for awhile yet, but when they were going back they would look for us. Again, I felt so much better about the prospect of getting a ride back to town.

As we neared the ocean, the breeze picked up as did the chop on the water; but after what we had been through the last four months it was of little concern. We could handle some simple wind and waves. We could tell we were approaching the end of the line when I could see oil platforms in the distance. Sight of the platforms would be short lived as the fog would again come in at a critical time. If it didn’t happen to me I would think it was made up, but I kid you not, the fog covered our view.

Again we stood pat waiting for the fog to lift. In about ten minutes it did and we paddled out passed the jetty in to the open water of the Gulf of Mexico. It was a somewhat anticlimactic ending to the trip and we only had a vague idea where it ended. There was no real finite ending. We timidly paddled out into the chop of the open water and sat for a few minutes bobbing in the waves, paddling every minute or so. At one point I looked at Kobie and said some thing along the lines of, “I think we could be done here”. There was no land to our left or to our right, so we must have been in the Gulf of Mexico after four arduous months and 2,734 miles paddling. I will leave you with a small clip of video:

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