Fish Stories

The other day, I passed a Jeep with a bumper sticker that read, “I say we should fish 5 days and work 2.” I’m surprised we don’t see that bumper sticker on every New Orleans car.

If there ever was a city with a cult of fishing, New Orleans is it. These people are absolutely nuts about fishing! When we meet someone new, they don’t usually show much interest in sailing. But boating, on the other hand, grabs ’em. Because boating is a means to go fishing. As in, “What kinda fishin’ gear y’all got on that boat?”

A few weeks after we arrived in New Orleans, it became apparent that Peepcar’s CV joints were shot. We decided to have them fixed before taking a road trip to Florida, but we were nervous about going to the first repair garage we saw. So I went out on the Cartalk website and looked for recommendations. Click ‘n’ Clack have some understanding of boating, since they insist that when your car’s service light comes on, it usually means your mechanic needs to make a boat payment.

Armed with a list of promising garages, I set out on a Wednesday morning to check out a few. The first garage was small; there wasn’t even a pedestrian door. As I walked through the garage itself to the office, I noticed that nobody was working on the cars, and when I stepped into the office, I saw why. There were about ten straight-backed chairs arranged around the walls of the office, and that’s where the mechanics were. Of course, I should have known that 11 AM was lunchtime for auto mechanics, right?

Now, I’ve been in a lot of uncomfortable situations in my life, but this was one of the top five. I walked in, unsuspecting, on ten men, sitting in a manly circle, eating big manly po-boy sandwiches and having a manly discussion. On fishing. The room fell silent and they all stared. I was terrified of their ridicule if they knew the truth about me. “You LIVE on a BOAT and you DON’T KNOW HOW to FISH???”

I got my estimate (he must have been the boss, but all ten of them looked identical to me in their mechanics coveralls and fishing caps) and hightailed it out of there, the proverbial fish out of water.

I thought about giving up on the car estimates and just finding a fishing school someplace, but instead I persevered. The next place was only two blocks away, and it looked more promising. They actually had a glass door that led to an office, separated from the garage. I was sure the estimate would be higher to reflect the additional amenities.

Upon entering, my first thought was, “Oh, God! I’ve interrupted another lunch!” The air was thick with the smell of fish po-boys. But these were different. The employees were assembling them, starting with the piles of buns and condiments on the back counter. As I started talking with the guy behind that counter, I suddenly realized that he was deep-frying the fish and french fries right in front of me. While discussing the problems of CV joints in Hondas.

He turned out to be the owner of both the garage and a 25-foot fishing boat. “See those pictures over there?” On the bulletin board were photos of the boat and lots of different people holding big fish and grinning.

His employees seemed to be one big happy family, and the atmosphere was congenial, so while one of the garage fellows took a look at Peepcar, I shared my story. Which got him started about Seabrook and sailboats and good fishing spots in the vicinity. All the while shaking and turning the freshly-caught striped bass in the deep fryer.

When I returned to Cayenne, I had to explain to Barry why I’d selected Cacamo’s over the other garages. “It’s simple. They had the best price. They made me feel comfortable. But most importantly, that striped bass sure was tasty!”

Elation and Celebration

The city of New Orleans rings in the New Year unlike anyplace else. Thankfully, the success of our maiden voyage (see the Log of Cayenne for photos and details) meant the mood of Cayenne matched the elation of the whole city.

Since we were back at the dock and tied up by 3 pm, we started our own celebration long before dark. Brian kept threatening to just go to bed, starting at about 8:30 pm.

As a harbinger of what was to come, we had been hearing fireworks off and on all day. At 11:45, we went outside and climbed up on Jim’s boat, a stable platform about 12 feet off the ground. From there, we could see for miles, because New Orleans is eerily flat (being located below sea level helps!). The sky was completely clear and the stars were out.

From where we stood, we saw fireworks of every variety in all directions. The intensity increased, so that by midnight, we stood in the center of a circle with a constant 360 degrees of fireworks. At every point on the compass were brilliant arrays of green, red, blue, white, yellow, orange. To the south, on the Mississippi River, was a huge commercial display. There was another to the west. On the other side of the industrial waterway, to the east, were backyard displays rivaling the commercial ones. Every point of the compass had its own display, and the sound of the constant explosions ranged from high-pitched popping to deep, distant rumbles.

Never, in my entire life, had I seen such a city-wide display of fireworks.

By 12:12 am, the stars were obscured by a thick pall of sulfurous smoke. But the concussions continued. When we retired to bed at 12:30, the city was still going strong. We were lulled to sleep by the near-constant sound, and could see occasional explosions through our tiny portlights.

Skeeters and popcorn: A typical evening

What do three people, living on a transmissionless sailboat in an unimproved boatyard in the wasteland of an industrial neighborhood, do when they’re not working on the boat? I never thought you’d ask!

On a typical Cayenne evening, the sun drops low in the sky and the temperatures begin to drop with it. Mosquitoes come out of their daytime hiding places, looking for warm-blooded carbon-dioxide-emitting creatures to bite. Since the only other such creatures in the boatyard at this time of evening are a) Jim, who’s too ornery to bite and b) the skin-and-bones boatyard dogs, they often find their way to Cayenne and start sampling the captain and crew. At this point, we frantically scramble to close the hatches and portlights that have been wide open all day. If we miss one, Barry and I will spend the rest of the evening clapping and smacking furniture, bulkheads, and the captain, trying to obliterate the little suckers. (sh*t! there goes one, and I missed!)

Once we have the mosquitoes under control, it’s dinner time. Barry and I alternate cooking for 6 days. On his days, we eat things that have about 5 ingredients, involve plenty of cheese, and get rave reviews. On my days, we eat things that have about 20 ingredients, involve lots of vegetables, and get lukewarm reviews. On the 7th day, we rest (we got the idea from God). Then Brian steps in. So far, he hasn’t cooked anything other than brownies, but we’re not complaining. With his brownies and his ability to order pizzas, he has our two favorite food groups covered (sugar and grease!).

When the meal is served, we sit around holding our plates in our laps. I scoff my food in about 3 seconds because I don’t have any place to set my fork down between bites. Building a table is on the list of boat chores, but it’s down near the bottom, with other things that might be nice but don’t get me any closer to a bikini in the tropics.

Months ago, I ran unsuccessful Internet searches for a mounting bracket for the TV. When we arrived here, it still sat on the settee, propped against the cushions. One day, while Brian was driving all over New Orleans looking for a piece of aluminum to mount it with, Barry was poking in the weeds behind the boat (he obviously doesn’t have enough to do). When Brian returned, dejected and unsuccessful, Barry jubilantly told him he’d found a whole pile of discarded aluminum road signs. Some poor Louisiana road may be missing its truck load limit, but our TV is mounted now.

That was an aside…the point is, after we eat our dinner, we all fight over the best chair (with the flat screen, there are two OK seats and one really good one that Barry often hogs) to watch one of Brian’s large collection of movies on DVD. Some of the more memorable were Hook (popcorn), Pelican Brief (homemade egg nog), and Shakespeare in Love (brownies). The movies were good, too.

And then it’s 9 pm: Time for e-mail and website updates like this one!

Wallafel? Falafel? Muffaletta!

On Friday afternoon, Brian started mumbling something about “wallafels.” “Do you mean “falafel?” we asked. “Yeah, something like that,” he said. So we piled into the van, thinking we were heading out for Middle Eastern food for dinner. Instead, we ended up in one of those really, really weird Louisiana places where the door is hidden and the only sign is something unintelligible spray-painted on the metal siding on the wall. Barry says he wouldn’t have set foot in the place (a fire trap with interesting health code ramification) except that the parking lot was completely full.

The word Brian has been trying to remember was “muffaletta,” which, according to Brian, sounds like “falafel.” They’re like huge grilled paninis, filled with meat and cheese and olives and peppers. Nothing like a falafel, but not at all disappointing!

Barry and I also popped by the Cafe du Monde for 3 beignets to go this week. We took our little paper bag to a nearby park bench and opened it. Somewhere, amidst the half pound of powdered sugar in the sack, there were three warm rectangular French doughnuts. We made such a mess of ourselves with the powdered sugar that tourists passing by laughed out loud.

Last night, Brian took Cayenne’s dinghy and his generator over to Neil’s boat, in the West End. We tied the dink astern, where it puttered away, providing electricity for many watts of Christmas decorations strung all over the boat. A party of about ten people spent the evening tooling around the West End marinas and comparing ourselves (very favorably, of course) to the rest of the boats in the Christmas parade. Brian commented that it was the first time he’d had a chance to take the helm of a boat (not counting the dinghy) since he came down to New Orleans!

While running errands (something I do a fair amount of, but not as much as Brian), I came up with some ideas for “Top Ten” lists. Here are the completed lists, generated with much assistance from the guys…

Top Ten Reasons Not to Work on a Boat in New Orleans
1. No open container laws and not a good beer within 2000 miles
2. Fire ants, mosquitoes, roaches, fleas, alligators (did we forget any?)
3. Signs on the termite tents: Do Not Approach Closer than 100 Yards (in 6-point type)
4. New Orleans potholes: Almost as bad as New Orleans drivers
5. Rain measured in inches per hour and a 5-acre puddle named Lake Seabrook
6. Our neighbor, the classic Chris Craft with the flyaway flybridge
7. $3000 profit margin on boatyard utility stands, if you hit one by accident
8. Our scenic gypsum factory across the waterway, who’s never known a bearing worth oiling
9. The Pot o’ Gold on Monday
10. Weekly news updates on Sheriff Lee’s gastric bypass surgery
11. Seabrook’s boatyard pool to see which boat will fall over next

Top Ten Reasons to Work on a Boat in New Orleans, Louisiana
1. Drive-through daquiri windows and no open container laws
2. The Chicken Box: More Cluck for Your Buck
3. Humor and entertainment provided by Determination Fiascoes Unlimited
4. Most scenic boat stuff store: Sea “Chest”
5. Watching the local news to see which elected official was indicted today
6. Free Internet access at the sail loft, if you spend over $10,000 on sails and don’t mind sitting on the floor
7. The Pot o’ Gold on Tuesday (after its weekly cleaning)
8. You Can’t Beat Wagner’s Meat
9. What EPA?

Mirlitons or Merlitons?

Folks in New Orleans started putting up their Christmas decorations over the past weekend, which means strands of colored lights around the trunks of the palm trees and across the wrought-iron balconies. I remember our visit in February last year, when I was surprised to see that Mardi Gras merits its own wreaths and lights, in yellow, green, and purple. I wonder if they just leave up the green lights and change out the white and red?

Each evening, when dusk and the mosquitoes arrive, we put away our tools. Some go in the van, some go in the boat, whichever is closer. Well, yesterday morning, Brian took the van and, accidentally, all the sandpaper, to run errands. Barry and I looked at each other, at first dismayed, then gleeful. Then we jumped in Peepcar and headed to the French Market for a little shopping and sightseeing.

We�ve been here over a month, and this was the first time we�d been in the French Quarter (pronounced “De French Kwattuh”). We found free parking at the flea market end of the market and wandered, looking. At first, I thought it was like our own dear Pike Place Market, but only the fact that it�s an open air market with daily sellers. New Orleans has an anti-authority culture where anything goes. The same is not true of the Pike Place Market, where the balance of produce, flowers, and crafts is carefully governed and discussed by the general populace.

We found lots of fun and interesting junk, like alligator hides and purses with Marilyn Monroe silkscreened on them. A couple of live jazz bands playing for tips. Deep souvenir shops full of voodoo dolls and offensive t-shirts (one apron read, “Will cook for sex.”) Cafes with beignets and muffeletas and chicory coffee. Very little produce, and no flowers at all.

But there were a few oval-shaped squash, sized like avocadoes, but smooth and light green. Some grocery stores label them “mirlitons,” and some label them “merlitons,” and in fine print, the boxes say “chayote.” A week before Thanksgiving, the stores started selling big piles of the things. As Thanksgiving got closer, the piles got higher and the prices dropped lower. New Orleaneans must eat a heck of a lot of these things with their turkey! So I asked a fellow shopper in the grocery store, and she told me they’re baked until they’re soft (losing much of their volume in the process), then the flesh is scooped out and mixed with chopped meat and bread crumbs to make stuffing. I didn’t tell her that here on Cayenne, we peel ’em and eat ’em raw in salads. That might label us (accurately) as foreigners ’round here.

End of Chapter One, Beginning of Chapter Two

On a sunny (hot! hot! hot!) Sunday afternoon, we finally arrived at the boatyard in New Orleans. As we drove across the dusty gravel yard toward Cayenne, our new home, a tired, dejected fellow slouched his way across our path, hardly lifting his head to see who was about to run him over.

I was out of the car before we’d stopped, launching myself into a big sweaty happy bear hug. Just a few days before the one-year anniversary of his haulout, Brian’s crew and reinforcements had finally arrived.

The boat sat where I had last seen her in February, looking bigger than I remembered. Red on the top, gray on the bottom, she loomed over us. Bold white lettering on the bow proclaimed “Cayenne,” new since I’d last seen the boat.

It’s been a couple of days now, and I’m getting used to the rhythm here at the yard. The place is full of dozens of boats, some being worked on and some just sitting and waiting. At any moment, someone might drive up, jump out, and suddenly start working on a boat that had seemed abandoned.

The boat lives in an environment of air, water, and land. The land is gravel and dirt and pathetic grass, with boats and trucks and tools everywhere. A couple of hungry yard dogs wander about looking for handouts and the best place to lie in the shade. The water behind the boat is like a driveway, with regular visitors. This morning’s arrival was a houseboat owned by a couple from eastern Washington that had just come down the Mississippi. A few hundred yards away, on the larger, deeper canal, we watched the departure of the Atlantis, the vessel that discovered the Titanic. Our airspace was plagued this evening by a 737 doing touch-and-go landings, over and over. More pleasant were the huge flocks of migrating birds that swirled upward on thermals and then launched themselves across the sky to the next updraft.