Originally Published on May 23rd, 2014.
The dialog that transpires between me and my illustrious spouse always starts out the same way when I’m announcing that it is time for another adventure.
“You want to do what?!” groans my husband...
“Go to Lake Charles, LA and do a bit of gambling at the L’auberger Casino Resort for my birthday, and I want to do it on our boat.”
“You want to do 16.5 hours of cruising between Houston and Lake Charles, not to mention the fuel required, instead of the drive we could make in 2 hours, is that correct?”
“It’s my birthday and that is what I want, end of story. I’ll hire a captain!”
We’ve done several boating jaunts with a bunch of our kids which always turns into a big beer drinking event. Many of these adventures have had moments of sheer fright, including being hit by a tropical storm, sideswiped by another boat at night while anchored and then those navigational errors that have run us aground. It’s never dull.
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (conceived back in the 1800s) skirts just north of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, winds slightly inland running from St. Marks, Florida to Brownsville, TX. It is approximately 125 feet wide and 1300 miles long. It is referred by those who know it well (mainly commercial barge pilots) as the “Big Ditch” or “Big Muddy.” Obviously, the water is not clear. The milky chocolate waterway is a huge economic ribbon of endless shipping traffic. Mud is constantly being stirred up from the bottom to the surface by hundreds of barge propellers carrying, at least along the Texas-Louisiana coast, thousands of gallons of petrochemical products, grain, coal and numerous other commodities; products that keep this country and several others running.
We have cruised “The Ditch” several times in our trawler registered as the “Sapa Inca”, a 46 foot vessel that travels at an astronomical speed of 8 knots. Yes, it is a slow boat to China but it will get you there with its twin diesel engines, 700 gallons of fuel, 300 gallons of water, an efficient (but small) galley and lots of books to read.
Speed is not why you use this form of transportation, it is what you see along the “Big Muddy” that brings reality to how vast and diverse this country is. It is also the beauty of a variety of semi-tropical birds, the 39” Great Egret with a wing span of 4-1/2 feet; Whooping Cranes standing a proud 51” with a 7-1/2 feet wingspan; the comical brown Pelican and the 51” Blue Heron with a 6 feet wingspan that barks like a dog when startled. It is endless entertainment.
However, this birthday trip brought a new twist for the utilization of the Intracoastal. Traveling along the canal in southeast Texas, east of Houston and before we reached Port Arthur, there are several large cattle ranches on each side of the Intracoastal.
Cattle are dumb as posts but they do have two qualities that certain humans emulate…they believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence and they will follow the lead bull.
Rudy (the husband and Captain) was at the controls as the saga began to unfold. Cattle were gathered on the south side of the Intracoastal peacefully grazing on tall grasses. There was this one very large bull that was moved to do something a bit different. He was moseying down to the canals edge to get a drink. He was not the least bit concerned about the alligator sleeping nearby in the cool water’s edge. Lazily the bull made his way, walking knee deep into the mud until the water splashed against his big belly. At that point he must of thought, “Why not, it’s hot and I need to cool off?” A thousand pounds of Texas beef started swimming toward the north bank right in front of the “Sapa Inca.” The bull just knew the “grass was greener on the other side of the “Big Muddy.” The heifers figure if the big bull could take a swim why not them. Now a herd of fifty gals entered the water heading for those greener pastures. The only thing between them and that bank was this 46 foot yacht.
“Look at that,” the Captain yelled as the cows started across.
“It’s not every day you find yourself cruising and doing a cattle drive, I commented. “You better make a decision on how we should proceed or we are going to be surrounded by a heck of a lot of Texas beef.”
“Cows may be dumb but they won’t ram the boat.” These were words from a man who had no clue about cattle.
“If they are that darn smart why have they decided to take a swim and leave perfectly good pastures? If they find us in their path we will end up making hamburger out of one of them with the boats props.”
“Give me a break,” he yelled over the engines, as he tried to maneuver the craft around a hell bent cow determined to keep up with the big bull, but too dumb to know which way to go.
By this time the engines were in neutral and we were surrounded by a herd of heifers. To add a bit more excitement to the situation in the distance we could see a 1,000 foot long barge (three wide) heading towards us. “Now the fun begins,” as I pointed to the east watching the barge move closer. “If these babies get scattered between two vessels we are going to have cow hides hanging from our bow.”
What’s the ole’ saying, “all’s well that ends well.” The barge slowed up, the Sapa crawled forward maneuvering through heads, horns and hooves, while the cows made a bee line for those greener pastures on the other side of the “Big Muddy.”