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Monday, April 15, 2002

Paddle Report: Bayfront Park, Daphne, Alabama to Battleship Alabama, Mobile, Alabama on Thursday, April 11, 2002

Larry Mickelsen, "Red Boat" Mickelsen, wanted to go across Mobile Bay. He and I had paddled the length of the bay from Daphne to Fort Morgan last year with Mike Predmore, Jeff Evans and Larry Jr.

We watched for a break in the weather and lucked out that we had a window of opportunity on a day with a neap tide. The neap tide reduced the tidal current flowing across our track.

We met at 6:30 a.m. at Daphne's Bayfront Park. To get there, find the intersection of Highway 98 and North Main Street in Daphne. Go south about 150 feet to Bayfront Drive which passes behind the old Delchamps store. Head west to the the water and park. This is the place where we started our trip to Fort Morgan last year. It is a good put in with a soft beach and a gradual dropoff. A birding trail sign showed pictures of the types of birds to look for in the area. Another sign showed a green square and text saying the bacteria level [in the water] was safe. Yancey Branch empties into the bay less than 100 yards south of the put in, making a nice sand headland which gives some shelter from waves moving up the bay.

We had foggy conditions initially, but as we put our boats and equipment on the beach, the fog lifted to become low clouds instead. Visibility was about one mile. By 7:10 a.m. we were paddling southwest for daymarker 16 and deeper water. Without a tide to raise the water, we chose to go southwest into an area that showed deeper water on the Topspot map. The Topspot map has several notes in the margins including one that reads "Note: not to be used for navigation."

From Daymarker 16 we sighted, using a compass, a fixed object on the heading we wanted to travel and paddled to it. Initially we saw vertical PVC pipes and an occasional piling. Later we used the remnants of duck blinds as our reference marks. This method kept us south of the Bayway and out of some shoals marked on the Topspot map (Note: not to be used for navigation). Larry pointed out and identified several kinds of birds along the way for me. I'm still learning to identify the local birds. We saw a small flock of Martins perched on the tips of reeds that made up an old duck blind. We saw various ducks on the water along the way too.

South of the Texaco station on the causeway, we could see Pier 4 and other buildings on the island. We could see Goat Island to the southwest and shortly we saw the outline of the battleship Alabama. A channel runs east-west toward the battleship. If you paddle too far south, the bottom comes up and you run out of water to paddle in. Been there, done that. But if you stay just off the end of the pilings near the Pier 4 restaurant, the water is more than a paddle blade deep.

We paddled up to the battleship, our goal, about 9:30 a.m. For those of you who have paddled completely around the battleship in the past, you can't physically do that anymore. A steel wall surrounds the ship. The wall ties into shore. A work barge was setting concrete on top of the steel wall. Two workers inside the steel wall surrounding the battleship told us the plan was to pump out the water inside the wall and perform repairs to the hull of the battleship. Additionally, the submarine Drum is out of the water with its hull repaired, and it rests behind the Aviation Museum.

We paddled south from the battleship to go see Mobile. We rounded the point of land and entered Choctaw Pass which has many pilings cut off at water level near shore. A passing crabber near the middle of the pass made a boat wake. We were alternately floating above the pilings and dodging them. We paddled into the Mobile River. The current was ripping pretty fast as we tried to cross over to the the west side. We were only making way across the river without advancing any upstream so we went back to Chocktaw Pass and had lunch on the bank.

By 11:30 the wind had shifted from 4 knots out of the northeast to 10 knots out of the southeast. We pushed off the beach into some choppy seas and made a quick exit out into the bay heading north towards the causeway. The seas were generally following seas and pretty comfortable. We traveled in the lee of the Causeway following PVC markers along the north shore of the Causeway into Pass Picada. We stopped for a rest at Jeff Evans' place: Tensaw Point Ecotours. Thanks, Jeff. From there we entered the Apalachee River.

Down the Apalachee we held to the east shore to avoid some of the chop and wind. We saw some spider lilies in bloom. At the I-10, we used the navigable water under the Bayway to paddle home. If you haven't done it, paddle under the Bayway. The optical illusion is fascinating. It looks somewhat like paddling in a concrete cave filled with water. The cylindrical pilings holding up the Bayway block the view of the water ahead, but not to the side. The underside of the roadbed completes the concrete cave effect. Out in the bay, the map indicated shallower water where we needed to go if we did not follow the I-10. From south of the the cove for Meaher Park, we could see the Daphne Bayfront Park, and we angled southeast for the direct line to the take out. Halfway there, the wind died and we had smooth water. We passed a raft of white pelicans near Turtle Pass. We were on the beach at 3:15 p.m.