R 22

Rhodes 22


Weekend Cruise on Lake Ponchatrain

I have been meaning all week to let you all know about the perfect cruise that we haad last weekend. The plan was to sail east from our marina on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain, drop anchor, and come back the next day. We knew we were around 30 miles from some really interesting waters, and we planned to leave early Saturday so that we would have some time to explore. The forecast was for cool (lows in the 30s, highs in the low 70s) with bright sun and 25 knot winds.

As is always the way, we didn't get started nearly as early as planned. Fortunately, the winds were as high as predicted, and they were coming from the right direction. It appeared that we would be able to sail on a beam reach or broad reach for the entire day. I put a single reef in the main before leaving the slip. (Yes, I know I could have avoided that if I had IMF.) At 10:30, we cast off. The motor was on for just a few minutes, as we got into the lake and set the sails.

Lake Ponchatrain is a giant lake shaped like a turtle. We were sailing from the midpoint in the turtle's shell to the top of its head (west to east). The lake is huge in area, but is consistently around 12 feet deep. This leads to some pretty choppy water during gusty weather, but Velvet Elvis flew comfortably over the chop. We maintained 5-6 knots for hours without having to change course or sail trim. This might normally have gotten a little boring, but the clear fall air allowed the New Orleans skyline to show through like it was next to us. In fact, it was about 25 miles on the other side of the lake. In summer, haze and humidity usually conceals it altogether. To add to the scene, there was a regatta crossing parallel to us, but in the opposite direction. There must have been 100-150 boats sailing by for our viewing pleasure.

After lunch, we arrived to the part of the lake where the turtle's shell meets its head. There are a couple of drawbridges there, and we timed our arrival so that just as we neard a railroad drawbridge (which normally remains raised), it started down, the wind picked up, and the chop became heavier. To my dismay, we decided to drop the motor and make a circle while waiting for the train to pass by.

After the drawbride, we killed the motor, and the scenery became the attraction. The end of the turtle's head is shallow. We had the choice to stay in a clearly marked channel, or raise the centerboard to make a more direct course to the easternmost end of the lake over depths of 3-4 feet. Since the wind was so high, and since we were moving so quickly, we staid in the channel with the centerboard down. The channel winds past some nice homes for a while, then leads you through marsh. It winds around an old, historic lighthouse that is no longer use.

At the end of the lake, there was yet another drawbridge to negotiate, and then we were let out into a more narrow but very deep channel that lets out into the Gulf of Mexico. The channel is probably about 2-3 miles wide, and it winds though Louisiana marsh. It was getting later in the day, and we had the water to ourselves. Around 16:00, we pointed ourselves into an inlet that looked on the chart to be a good anchorage. It opened up into a small round bay, about 500 yards in diameter, surrounded by tall gold marsh grass. We had just enough time to drop anchor, set up the cockpit table, open a bottle of wine, and wait for the sunset. The clear weather and location afforded us an absoultely incredible view of ever changing colors. My biggest disappointment is that we didn't bring a camera on the trip. I guess that's one more reason to do this again.

Sunday morning, we picked up the anchor and headed back. As if it were scheduled, the wind had shifted 45 degrees to the east, so that we would be able to broad reach and beam reach all the way home. It was down to the 15-20 knot range, though. I let out a little more sail, and for several hours, we sustained speeds around 6 knots. At about 13:00 (maybe it was 12:00 -- it didn't occur to me to change my clock until it showed 12:30, and the Saints still hadn't kicked off), the wind died, and we drifted the correct way for an hour or so. Then, it picked up a little, to 10-12 kts, so that we wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of the motor.

We wound up back in our slip around 14:30, and were on our way home an hour later. I've had good daydream material all week. We're already planning a push farther east, to see some of the Mississippi Gulf coast. I'll let you know how it goes.

s/v Velvet Elvis
02 Nov 2001

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