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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Swamp Tour - Wednesday 3-21-2012 - Dead Lake, Big Bayou Canot and the Gas Canal

Wednesday 3-21-12.
A little after 7:00 this morning we untied from the cypress tree, pulled up the stern anchor, and headed across the narrow lake to the Delta Marina dock. Glenda and Abby went to the bathroom to wash up, then took Daisy for her morning walk. I went into the office/store to try and get some clarification on their rules for transient boaters. The attendant, a very nice lady who I had not seen before, really didn’t have any answers either. She apologized for the mix-up and offered that the manager and the superintendent would be in later. I declined the offer to wait and talk with them, but instead left my phone number (note: after more than a week, I haven’t received a call from anyone).  Just before leaving, I asked her if there were canoes available for rent, as indicated on the website. The answer was that canoes were “tippy” and not really suited for use in the Delta. The canoes had been moved to another park. To say that our experience at the Mobile County operated facility was disappointing would be an understatement, but we decided not let it interfere with what had otherwise been a great trip.

At 7:30 we headed South. We took the early morning ride down Dead Lake slowly, enjoying the quiet. The lake is plenty deep, but I had to keep a lookout for the numerous logs that were partially submerged. When you imagine the Delta area, the pictures that come to mind are exactly like the views of Dead Lake in the morning – with a peaceful but somewhat eerie feel.
Dead Lake is beautiful early in the morning - with almost a mystical feel.

The clean spot to the left and behind the navigational bouy is where the alligator use to be. He was quicker than my photographic skills.
At the end of Dead Lake, instead of turning to port and entering the Mobile River, we continued straight onto Big Bayou Canot, where we saw the biggest alligator of our trip. He was sunning on a log which was part of a pile of logs and debris that had collected around a navigational bouy, and he slid off into the water as we approached. I guessed that he was probably 8’ long.
I got a chuckle when I noticed the burglar bars on the window of this structure.

We continued down the bayou until we reached the gas canal, which is within sight of the CSX Railroad bridge. The bridge has a normal clearance of only 7 feet, so we could not squeeze under it. This was the site of the terrible Am-Trak derailment that occurred at 2:45 am on September 22, 1993 when a tug and barge mistakenly turned off the Mobile River onto the Bayou in heavy fog and struck the bridge.  47 people were killed that night, and 103 others were injured.
Entering the gas canal from Big Bayou Canot.

The gas canal, obviously a man-made pass, is about 80’ wide (minus overhanging trees) and runs perfectly straight for about 3 miles, connecting Big Bayou Canot and the Mobile River. It’s depth ran from 10’ down to 5.5’ in places so we had plenty of depth. There were, however, 3 or 4 spots where fallen trees had snagged additional debris, requiring us to weave our way though very narrow passages. The pipeline on the North side of the canal was overgrown with tree roots completely enveloping it in places, providing evidence that it was placed there many years ago. As we neared the end of the canal, a tug and barge passed by, headed up the Mobile.
The other end of the gas canal - at the Mobile River.

We came out of the gas canal and got our first sight of the Mobile River CSX bridge.  In 2010, when we took the Knot-So-Fast down the Alabama River from Montgomery, we had come down this same section of the Mobile. The bridge at that time was a pivoting “swing” bridge, but now there was a new “lift” bridge structure in place. I radioed the bridge operator, who told me that construction was still in progress and that I would have to wait 30 minutes for the bridge to be raised again. I told him that I thought we might be able to get under it (the marker board showed about 9’ clearance), and that we would ease up to it and see how close we were.  With Glenda in the cockpit watching the anchor light (our tallest point), I slowly pulled the boat up to the edge of the bridge. There was a stiff breeze from the South, so I knew I could back away quickly if Glenda saw that we couldn’t make it. As it turns out, we had about 6” to spare as we passed under.

Another mile down the Mobile and we turned to port into “the cut” which took us Eastward to the Tensaw River, just North of Gravine Island. We went around Gravine on its West side, then went South on the Apalache River where it splits from the Tensaw. The wind had now picked up considerably, with 2-3 waves. This made for a slightly bumpy ride, but was not a cause for concern about our safety. About 2 ½ miles down the Apalache, we entered a wide part of the river, where the Apalache and Blakeley Rivers divide around “Big Island”, the Blakeley going due South and the Apalache taking a South-South West course. In a matter of seconds, the wind seemed to double in speed and the waves increased substantially. Every wave was sending water over the bow as I yelled for everyone to put on their life jackets. Luckily there was no rain, and in between waves spraying the wind screen, I did get a clear enough view to keep the boat headed into the wind and waves. After about 10 minutes of this, I was able to enter the Apalache River and by hugging the Eastern bank, we were sheltered from some of the wind. We followed the bank as close as we could and still maintain good depth, until we got to Pass Picada. In the Pass, we docked at the Bluegill restaurant to refuel our stomachs and my nerves.  We had a great meal and talked to several other diners who were curious about our boat. (Although no one said it out loud, they were probably wondering why we were out in that kind of weather, too!)

By the time we finished visiting at the Bluegill, the wind had subsided a little. Having a little more knowledge about how the waves behaved at the North end of Big Island, we were able to take advantage of the island’s trees and avoid the most windy areas. Rounding the point again, we noticed a huge osprey nest with two adults standing watch nearby.

At Five Rivers, we visited the museum and nature center again (Abby never gets tired of it). Then just before dark we untied and motored a few hundred yards unto Sardine Pass and anchored out under a slight bluff. Since the storms which were located in Mississippi were forecasts to reach us during the night, I put out my regular “fortress” type anchor, then had Glenda pilot the boat about 100’ to the right and put out the heavy “river” anchor. Backing away until the wind had us swinging between two tight anchor lines, I felt comfortable that we would stay put for the night.
Osprey with the "fresh catch of the day" - live mullet!

Directly in front of us was an osprey nest on a man-made pole and platform, and as the sun went down, we watched as one of the osprey pair ate what appeared to be the remainder of a frog. Moments later the 2nd osprey arrived with a large mullet, which was still wiggling! We watched as that one took a bite from the mullet, then glanced as us, then took another bite. It repeated that over and over until it was just about dark, then it flew away with the now dead mullet. We did not see either osprey return to the nest during the night.
Playing with my camera settings, I got this photo at 7:35 pm. The glow on the right side is lights from downtown Mobile.

I let Abby sleep in the V-berth and I stayed up most of the night, watching the radar on my cell phone and listening to the weather radio. Amazingly, the line of rain and storms seemed to dissipate between downtown Mobile and where we were, 10 or 15 miles to the East. All we ever got was a short shower about 2:30 am.

Total mileage for Wednesday (Day #4) was 34.  

Glenda Says:

Wednesday, day 4.  We left Delta Marina relatively early and headed back into the quiet swamp.  I’m telling you if you have the chance find a way to take a little of this trip.  It is so easy to forget the modern world as our little 9.9 engine quietly glided us through the swamp.  We saw another alligator slide into the water from his sunning spot on some logs.  At the end of Big Bayou Canot there was a fixed railroad bridge that was too low for us to go under so Tom took a gas line canal.  It was narrow and very surreal.   Abby and I got on the bow again and we could hear the rustle as creatures moved through the brush.  We were none too certain we would not have to turn around, as there were numerous sections that looked blocked by debris but we were able to get through it.  It just made it more excitingJ  Just before we came out on the Mobile a huge tug and barge passed by.  On the Mobile the wind was up and the ride to 5 Rivers was a little choppy.  We ate lunch at the Blue Gill.  The servers at the restaurant enjoyed looking at the boat and we got a 10% boaters discount on lunch.  I told them to pray for us as we headed back out onto the big water to 5 Rivers.  We hung around till almost dark and then anchored out just past 5 Rivers.  We had the perfect spot to watch a couple of nesting Ospreys return to their nest with the living supper.  This is the real world.  Tom insisted that Abby sleep with me and he stayed up most of the night watching the weather.

From Abby:
Today I mostly played with my DS, except when we went in the gas canal - I rode up on the bow of the boat with GG. We thought we would see and alligator in there, but there wasn't much in there. I guess it was too narrow and the alligators were scared.  There were lots of places with sticks and stuff in our way, and we had to get around them without scratching the boat up. This morning we came from Dead Lake Marina. They have a really nice marina, but they won't even let you sleep on your boat there, so we had to anchor out. We were hoping that they rented canoes there, but they stopped becasue they were too dangerous.
Tonight we got to stay at Five Rivers again. We anchored out again. Right above us is an osprey nest, and we got to watch them with a mullet that was almost too big for the osprey to be carrying! While it was still flopping the osprey was eating it! We shined the spotlight on the shore and saw a possum.

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