Playing chicken with the shipping
Since I have a couple more days to kill until orientation, I've been getting out on the water while I can before coursework ties down my spare time. Today I debated a few different spots; whether to take another crack at Big Creek Lake (haven't scoped out the north side of it yet), Chickasaw Creek, Dog River, or to find a new spot to put in.
A late start ruled out spots farther afield like Dauphin Island or Weeks Bay, so I settled on the Mobile Causeway. Spanning the head of the bay, the Causeway has several different boat launches to choose from. My plan was to put in near the USS Alabama, paddle down and circumnavigate Little Sand Island to get a feel for the Mobile River and its shipping, return to the causeway, and poke around the delta north of the I-10 bridge. The tide was on the ebb, moving along at about a knot at the mouth of the Tensaw. Mobile River, with its deep-water shipping channel, had a much stronger current, so my notion of going up the river fell apart pretty quickly.
Disappointment notwithstanding, it turned into a pleasant 3 hour, 7.25 mile, slow-paced paddle on smooth, but muddy, water. Weather was overcast in the low 60s.
Here's the satellite shot; numbered points indicate pictures and commentary:
1. Boat launch and the Oyster House restaurant: Most of the Oyster House was washed away by Katrina's storm surge; all that was left was the sprawling restaurant's center structure. The restaurant moved to new digs, but some damn fool is rebuilding what's left; no idea what it's going to be next, much less whether it will stand up to the next big one.
2. A sea of crab pots: These small buoys mark the thousands of crab pots set out in the bay. This picture really doesn't convey the sheer number of these markers dotting the water. If I had bothered to turn left and snap another shot off at that moment, the picture would have shown hundreds more.
3. USS Alabama: Having served in World War II, this 35,000-ton, 680-foot behemoth was converted to a museum in the early 1960s after a statewide fund-raiser prevented her from being sold for scrap. The ship rests on gravel on the riverbed, yet Katrina's surge listed her 10 degrees to port. Clearly, she has since been righted and the park has been reopened to visitors.
4. USS Drum: WWII-vintage submarine, another park attraction. Her outer hull seems pretty eaten up. The park runs on a shoestring budget, corrosion control on two massive steel relics can't be cheap!
5. Pinto Island: Wetland birds in plenty. This was the only one I didn't scare off, out of the myriad of seabirds in the wetlands fringing the bay. I guess the rise and fall of the paddle unnerves them.
6. Mobile River: No picture. I was paddling along at a good clip (approx. 4 mph) until I hit the shipping channel and the current stopped me cold. I turned, and ran with the current for a few minutes at about 8 mph before turning back to the east to head back.
7. I-10 bridge: The bayway, bane of Mobile and Baldwin County commuters, especially in the fog!
For this hop, I bought a new area chart, covering the gulf coast of Alabama, Mobile Bay, and the Tensaw delta. A very handy map, with up-to-date soundings, GPS waypoints, LORAN hyperbolas*, and well-marked fishing spots and boat ramps:I have also switched to lithium batteries in my GPS. What a difference! Using alkaline AAs, new batteries would last throught about 18 hours of cumulative use. Lithium batteries weigh less, and after about 9 hours of total use, are still at 94% capacity. They may be more expensive, but with numbers like that I'll save money in the long run.
*: Yeah, as though I'd lug a LORAN receiver along in my kayak. Where would I fit the damn thing, and how would I power it?