May 14, 2001 Forrest Gump Tour
The trip drew eight paddlers with seven kayaks including Tom's enormous tandem Nootka. We met for breakfast at Dick Russell's Barbecue Restaurant in Tilman's Corner. From there we drove in a caravan down US Highway 90 to Padget Switch Road to the town of Bayou La Batre. The day was clear and surprise we had a north wind. In the middle of July we had a north wind! In Bayou La Batre we turned south on Irvington Highway, crossed the draw bridge over the Bayou in town and turned right onto Shell Belt Road.
On Shell Belt Road we stopped twice at vantage points along the way to view some shipbuilding activities from shore. The town has an impressive amount of construction capability. We saw repair yards and shipyards for new construction too. Some of you may have thought that the Bayou was just a fishing village. Well the town does have plenty of shrimp docks and shrimp boat traffic too.
We followed the road to the end at Lightning Park, a city park with picnic facilities and a small hard-surfaced boat ramp near the mouth of the bayou. We arrived about 9 am and put in directly. Parking is across the street from the ramp, but the walk is on the order of 300 feet. On one edge of the boat ramp we had some sand to use to save the boat bottoms from scratches. Launching was easy and we had plenty of room off the main channel to get ourselves adjusted in the boats. To the east (right) I noticed a ship about 300 feet long called SAND ISLAND. It looked to be an old military vessel converted to commercial service.
The channel is wide and heads roughly northward, into the wind on this day. We followed the right side of the channel and visited amongst ourselves and we waved to quite a few people on the boats. The east side of the channel had boat docks and industry. The west side has undeveloped shore line initially until further up the bayou in town. People on the shoreline and docks, especially folks on board the larger shrimp boats waved and called out to us "That looks like fun". We enjoyed some popularity on the bayou.
Paddling through this developed area had its own fascination. The variety of activities visible from the water are not seen from the road. Rather large vessels are under construction. The underside and propulsion of these vessels is clearly in view from the water. New shrimp boats are tied up along the docks and more are in the ways under construction. These new hulls are works of art with double curved lines and rakish bows; the superstructure holds high silvery exhaust pipes and towering net spreaders. Here the boats are clean and shining in the sun with bright fresh paint - white on the superstructure and blue hulls.
We found a side creek to the east of Shell Belt Road that we explored. The creek meandered into the salt marsh. Tom described the transition zones from marsh grasses to saltier sedges, and he pointed out the types of crabs and shell fish that live at the waterline. A sand bar here and there was useful to take a break and adjust foot pegs or just to stop paddling and talk. We explored a short branch of the creek that headed east north east into the pines. The mud shoreline had dozens of little fiddler crabs scurrying into holes in the
Returning back to the main channel, we noticed bird nests under the Shell Belt Road bridge. I think they were barn swallow nests. Paddling up the bayou we passed Steiner Shipyard. This place has LOTS of interesting stuff going on. Three Coast Guard cutters are getting overhauled and a couple of strange looking vessels are near the entrance including a Russian submarine. See Rob's photos at Paddle Mobile. Up past Steiner's, the bayou becomes less developed. Bulkheads and wooden docks line the shore, but the buildings become more residential.
We had a break on a sandy point across from a fine home with a sailing ketch with the name CARPE DIEM on the hull. Jane had snacks to share and Rob fed fish that were two to three inches long some bread crumbs at the water's edge. I sprinkled a few crumbs out of a granola bar wrapper and the fish ignored those. Rob observed, if the fish don't eat it, is it any good for people? Up channel a little further, a dock was home to four small trawlers. The bayou has a few S turns past here. Swamp lilies are blooming here and there and a
vine with a purple flower in the shape of a morning glory colored the greenery too. The bayou narrows a little bit, but it stays navigable until, in deep forest, a series of tree falls gives a paddler a challenge in proceeding up the bayou. Julie and I passed through the first four tree falls, but number five would have forced us to get out and get our feet muddy so we turned around and retraced our path. The rest of our group had stopped for a swim so we met them as they were coming up.
Though the wind was from the north, it was not that cool. The clear skies let us have plenty of sunshine. We returned to the take out and left about 3:15 p.m. We drove the scenic route out of town so Tom could show us a few more put in locations for paddling in the area from Bayou La Batre to Heron Bay.