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Wednesday, August 08, 2001

LST 325 and Alligator Tour - Thursday, July 19, 2001

At about 5:30 to 5:45 6 kayakers arrived at the home of Ruth Larson and Tom Fink in Chickasaw (215 Bell Court). I think all were pleasantly surprised how close our house is to the inviting 8-Mile Creek (Hurricane Georges was also pleasantly surprised by this as well). We loaded into the creek at 6 PM and then began our quest for the famous LST 325 and the equally famous and sometimes also deadly AMERICAN ALLIGATOR.

We began our paddle by going north to the tip of Robber’s Island and then back south again on the east side of the island (Tom and Ruth, live on Robber’s Island, which isn’t the Caribbean, but by golly it has a tiny bridge and it’s an island!). I love to go this way because shortly we then go through a very small shrub hidden opening into an unnamed bayou. This bayou goes through the heart of a beautiful blackgum swamp. At first it is hardly wider than your boat. Then it opens up considerably as you paddle towards Chickasaw Creek. Well this obscure opening was so obscure that our intrepid sweep person, Robert, missed the opening. Luckily he had paddled from Chickasaw Creek to the route 43 bridge on a prior trip, and he knew where the LST was, so he waited for us there. Even though it wasn’t his fault (the boat ahead did not wait to show this obscure entrance) we all "gladly fired" Robert as sweep and then Gene Boothe became our new sweep.

This part of 8-Mile Creek and Chickasaw Creek are characterized by blackgums, sweet bay, red bay, red maple, swamp titi, black titi, wax myrtle, St. Johnswort, and other cool swamp plants. Paddlers especially enjoyed seeing the profuse white blooms of the shrub sized honeysuckle azalea. This shrub/small tree blooms in the heat of the summer from June to July. A few swamp lilies also caused some botanical fascination.

It was a little slow going for awhile, with losing our sweep person, and then having 2 reporters having to answer calls from their bosses at the Mobile Press (which I think is a good newspaper). Soon however the calls were done, and we then started to move at a very good pace. Before we got to the LST, there are several World War II boats awaiting the iron scrap pile. The LST 325 is just a little further east of the Route 43 bridge in Chickasaw, on the south side. This cool World War II landing boat is really much smaller than you might think after seeing pictures of it in the newspaper. It is also much much much much much rustier than you would imagine. Now I am impressed by anyone or any group that crosses any ocean in any boat. I am now more impressed by those old guys who commandeered an old poorly maintained rust bucket across a major ocean.

We then proceeded further east on Chickasaw Creek, passed a fuel unloading facility on the north side. As we went past they were pumping diesel fuel out of barges guided by a tug. This facility seems to be pretty good, in the years I have been here I haven’t noticed any spills.

Just beyond the fuel facility, is the old pumping house, which guards the west entrance of Pumping Station Canal. Luckily there is an opening that kayaks and canoes can squeeze through, but power boats can not (YEAHHHHHHH). Getting through the opening is easy, the difficult part is getting past the logs that jam against the east side of the pump house. We barely made it. I was very impressed by Lisa Haywood’s desire to "go where no person has gone before,,,,,,,,,,,,,,," even if it means badly scratching her new and incredibly beautiful glass Arctic Hawk on barnacles.

The Pumping Station Canal is a wonderful place biologically, although straight as an arrow and obviously man made, it is a mecca for wildlife. We saw an incredible number of yellow-crowned night herons, some osprey with fish, 3 or 5 wild turkeys, and gar (they grow to 4+ feet here). If it wasn’t’ dark (we entered the canal at sunset) our paddlers would have seen thousands of the fabulous lubber grasshoppers, and very many fiddler crabs of three species (the largest in our area Uca minax, and the much smaller Uca longisignalis and Uca spinicarpa). Of course we saw the ominous eyeshine of countless alligators. Some were so big we were afraid to estimate their length. One apparently hit Rebecca’s or Karen’s boat when it dived. Or was it a big gar?????,,,,, noooooooooooooooo because that wouldn’t make as good a story!! Rounding out the wildlife picture was one scared very large slider (turtle) that fell off a bank upside down and it took some time before it could right itself in the mud. We never did encounter the attack/killer alligator that Robert found on his trip a few days earlier.

Originally I had planned to just take people about half way up the canal (it is 2.15 nautical miles from the Chickasaw Ck. to the Mobile River), but everyone was so gung ho, that we went to the Mobile River and looked at 12 Mile Island to the north and the Africa Town/Cochran Bridge to the south. The bridge, paper company and other industrial facilities look pretty at night from a distance decked out in so many lights.

This group of paddlers still wanted more so I suggested we go back by way of Duck Lake, which is a curvy natural way back to the Chickasaw Creek. It added some to our trip mileage. This lake or really long bayou is curvy and very pretty during
the day. The first half is forested on the banks, while the latter half is dominated by lanceleaved arrowhead (Sagittaria lanceolata). This lake enters the Chickasaw about a half mile south of the Pumping Station Canal.

The rest of the trip wound its way down the main Chickasaw Creek. We finished at about 11:40 PM.

The success of any trip is due to the people who attend. We were lucky to have two very young and interesting Mobile Press reporters, Karen Tolkkinen and Rebecca Catalanello. The wife/husband team of Lisa and Carl Haywood attended. They are semi-retired from a chemical response clean-up company, very interesting business. Of course we (I?) were/was jealous since we/I have to work to at least 150 years old before retirement. Our groups was rounded out by two stalwart paddlers Robert Nykvist (a draftsman for roads) and Gene Boothe (a teacher with many cool gadgets).

Tom Fink