The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
As you are leaving the Morgan City Industrial reach be wary of the rows of fleeted barges tied up alongside either bank. What are fleeted barges? When any industrial or agricultural facility are filling or emptying barges, they tie them up along the bank of the river, sometimes one at a time, but more often in longer lines multiple barges deep. Sometimes they’re only one barge deep, sometimes they’ll tie more than one side-by-side. The top end of any fleeted barges is an extremely dangerous place. Called the “rake” end, its the slanted side, slanting upwards like the prow of a ship. But here there is no easy escape. The water does not offer any sideways assistance pushing you away from danger, like it does at the prow of a ship. The broad rake end concentrates everything into one point, the point of no return: the water, the air, and you and your canoe or kayak get forced downwards, and then you get trapped below the slant. In this precarious position there is probably nothing that will keep you from being flipped over and sucked under the barges. Always avoid paddling anywhere near the upstream ends of the barges — the rake end — where the water is pushing in and underneath their top ends. It might look like you could simply hop aboard in case of emergency, but you won’t be able to! This is a trick of perspective on the big river. They are much higher off the water than they look. You will see fleeted barges for the next five miles, within the Port of Morgan City and through Berwick but thankfully no more are seen as you paddle below the Intracoastal Waterway into the Atchafalaya Delta.
Buoys and other Hazardous Stationary Objects
One of the most dangerous hazard to river paddlers in The Atchafalaya Delta is a stationary object in a strong current. In smaller rivers stationary hazards include rocks, boulders, trees, snags, bridges, fences, etc. On the big river the main stationary hazards are fleeted barges, but also include docks, piers, and buoys. You will paddle past many docking facilities found within the three mile busy section below the I-10 Bridge. Maintain at least a 100 yard safety distance away from these docks, and more if there appears to be any tow activity. Keep in mind that the wind can blow you sideways into bankside hazards. The river currents can also push you laterally across the face of the river. Watch shoreline landmarks and adjust your angle of travel accordingly. If necessary ferry out and head for the middle of the river, or the far side LBD. There are no buoys bank right through this section of river, because the water is deep all the way to the bank. But if your line of travel takes you into the middle of the river you will find a long line of red buoys (tow pilots call them the “nuns” for cone-shaped tops) marking the far edge of the navigation channel there. Oftentimes they are placed at the ends of wing dams or dikes.
119 LBD Swiftships Boat Yard
At the neck of Drew’s Pass you might notice sleek aluminum hulls being welded together underneath giant quonset structures. This is the Swiftships Boat Construction Factory. The high tech vessels you see might be bound for the Egyptian Navy, the Iraqi Navy, the US Navy, or to service the oil wells of the Gulf of Mexico.
From the Swiftships website: Swiftships is the proud legacy of a heritage beginning with Sewart Machine Works and founder Fred Sewart in 1942 before becoming Sewart Seacraft in 1946. The company was renamed Swiftships in 1969, and in 1979 began a general expansion of its shipyards creating six divisions: Morgan City, Louisiana – specialized in aluminum construction of oilfield support vessels, ferryboats, military craft, specialty vessels and pleasure boats. Pass Christian, Mississippi – specialized in construction of larger steel-hulled vessels. Lafitte yard in Marrero, Louisiana – aluminum fabrication yard. Freeport, Texas – was a full service repair yard specializing in supply vessels, large oceangoing barges, utility boats, tugs and crew boats. Singapore – Joint Venture facility with Maroil specialized in construction of military and oilfield support vessels. Houston, Texas – the Swift/Mangone Division, built large steel hulled vessels.
In 1981 Swiftships became part of United Nuclear Corporation of Falls Church, Virginia. In November of 1985 the company broke away from the conglomerate and became the Swift Group owned by Calvin LeLeux, Dennis Spurgeon, Robert Ness and Dave Ganley. In 1990, Ganley retired and in 2000 Spurgeon sold his shares to Ness and Leleux. In 2004, Ness opted out of the company leaving Leleux as sole owner. For the next several years under Leleux’s leadership, Swiftships was engaged in commercial construction for the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico and refurbishing vessels for the Dominican Republic when in 2008 the company became part of the APEX Group of companies. In 2008 Swiftships started its Co-production planning. Upon contract signing with the Egyptian Navy, Swiftships gave birth to its Co-production program in support of the Egyptian Navy requirement that the vessels be built in country.
In 2009, Swiftships was awarded an FMS contract by the U.S. Navy on behalf of the Iraqi Navy which included the establishment of a Ship Repair Facility in Umm Qasr, Iraq and the new modified 35m Patrol Boat was unveiled. It was during the FMS program with the Iraqi Navy that the brothers Shehraze Shah and Khurram Shah with ICS Marine LLC met Calvin Leleux and his son Jeff Leleux and a relationship which would catapult Swiftships forward began. Their combined vision and drive carries the foundational principles that personify Swiftships’ legacy. In 2012 the company reorganized to its current form and Swiftships LLC. A partnership between the LeLeuxs and the Shahs was formulated as ICS Marine and Swiftships became One Team. (Swiftships website)
119.5 RBD Bayou Teche (Berwick) Lock & Dam
At 119.5 a large bay opens up right bank descending opposite Drew’s Pass with giant lock gates at its end. The Berwick Lock and Dam which provides an entrance to the Bayou Teche Water Trail which could lead paddlers upstream to famed Cajun locales such as St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge. Call the lockmaster on VHF channel 12, or call 985-384-7697 to gain passage. Bayou Teche was the Mississippi River some 5,000 years ago. The Atchafalaya River Basin first began forming about 5,000 years ago when Mississippi River meandered westward of its present-day course, resulting in a succession of bayous (the Teche), rivers and natural levees which compromise today’s Atchafalaya River floodplain.
119.5 RBD Bayou Teche Water Trail
Bayou Teche runs 135 miles from Port Barre to Berwick through St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary parishes and is easily accessed from several state highways and Interstate 10. The trail has a total of 13 established access points which provide access to paddle trips as short as 7 miles or as long as its 135 miles. Waterproof maps are available. The water trail flows through the towns of Port Barre, Arnaudville, Breaux Bridge, Parks, St. Martinville, Loureauville, New Iberia, Jeanerette, Charenton (Chitimacha Tribe of Louisiana lands), Baldwin, Franklin, Patterson , Berwick and small villages in between. Each town has a standard motorboat launch and many are being equipped with floating docks specifically designed for kayaks and canoes. The upper stretches of Bayou Teche (from Port Barre to St. Martinville) are suitable for families and inexperienced paddlers but experienced paddlers will enjoy its beauty. Past St. Martinville, more experienced paddlers are required to portage around a 100 year old dam, or lock through the oldest operating lock in the Delta region at Keystone Lock and Dam, owned and operated by St. Martin Parish Government. To lock through, you must call St. Martin Parish Government 24-hours in advance (337-394-2200). Also, in St. Mary parishes, paddlers will need to navigate the island at the Franklin Canal and traverse two steep portages on either side at the Wax Lake Outlet (a.k.a. Calumet Cut). At this portage location are two water control structures owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Paddlers will need to call ahead to determine if the water control structures are open or a portage around the gatehouses will be necessary. Patterson, in St. Mary Parish, is identified and promulgated as the safest take-out point at the finish of the Bayou Teche Paddle Trail. Adventurous paddlers can continue on the Bayou Teche Paddle Trail to lock through at the Berwick Lock, owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into the Atchafalaya River into Morgan City.
Bayou Teche wildlife and vegetation are abundant. Birdwatchers will see wood ducks, herons, kingfishers and warblers along the entire stretch of Bayou Teche. Paddlers who bring their fishing poles can fish for catfish, Sac-au-lait (crappie) or bream (blue gill). Cypress trees line the banks of the bayou and great live oaks draped in Spanish moss provide evidence where small Acadian plantations once operated. Each town along the Teche offers its own personality and experiences that include architecture, agriculture, foodways, music and arts. (Bayou Teche Project)