Friday, April 15, 2016

Kayaking Old Pearl River to Rigolets (shuttle required)

This is a 13 mile  trip that my friends Sarah Wilker and Nick Napoda put together at the very end of 2013. It involves a very easy shuttle of about 6 miles along Hwy 90, between Fort Pike and a western section of the Old Pearl River. The river had a pretty good flow this day, so our trip down was pretty fast, with our pace being nearly 6 mph much of the time.Then, our trip back up the Rigolets to Fort Pike was against the ebb tide, and our pace was well below 4 mph for most of that. But it was a fun trip. Paddling against the tide on the Rigolets definitely feels slow, but there's enough energy in the water that you actually feel like you're moving faster than you are...somehow.

But, the fast speed coming down the river, and the slower speed going "up" the Rigolets, meant that we have very, very few pictures. So this will be one of my shorter and more boring posts. But this is still a fun trip, well worth doing when the conditions are right.

Before continuing, my usual "do your homework" thing: When I did this trip in 2013, I was very inexperienced in anything but flat water situations. I had good fitness and a nice 17' fiberglass boat, but I fully trusted Sarah's and Nick's judgement on where they took me. Paddling on the Pearl network and the Rigolets can vary from pretty safe and easy, to dangerous. Tidal flow and river levels and conditions can make one trip entirely different than another. So, do your homework. Go with someone more experienced. Do not go without your PFD. Maps, GPS, charged cell phone, marine radio....all good things to bring (along with food and water, of course). 

Okay, here's the info:

We parked one car (capable of carrying 3 boats) at the Fort Pike boat launch, then drove the short distance along Hwy 90 to the first bridge with a boat launch you come to on the Old Pearl--just past White Kitchen (not sure if White Kitchen is marked on the road, but it is on the map). For reference, this is right across Hwy 90 from Cajun Encounters Swamp Tours.

Take out:,-89.7367319,333m/data=!3m1!1e3

And here's the route, as recorded by my Garmin Forerunner:
paddle rigolets pearl river
From our launch, we paddled downstream for about 7 1/2 miles. Even though the river is very curvy for much of this trip, the fast current kept us moving along at a good clip. The river was pretty clear of boats and obstacles this day, though we did pass some of the Cajun Encounters tour boats full of tourists. Typically, you'll paddle over some eddies or swirls on the Pearl or Old Pearl, but normally  these are not cause for  any concern. On this trip, we just followed the river to a fork at about the 6 mile mark, and we went right. We could have just as easily gone left, and this option would have taken us out to Little Lake, a little east of the Rigolets. and it would have added about 4 miles to our trip as we made our way west over to the Rigolets. But, we did know we were going to be paddling against the outgoing tide up the Rigolets, so we took the shorter option to the right. 
This brought us out onto the Rigolets perhaps a mile or less from its southern end, or right across from St. Catherine Pass (more options for longer loops come to mind as I type this), and we took a right, going north up the Rigolets.
As I've said, we did our "upstream" paddle towards Fort Pike at a much slower pace than our trip down the river. I've made mention of the Rigolets in at least one other post, where I discuss how the tides moving through this curved channel don't really make it feel like paddling upstream or downstream. You definitely feel the increased or decreased speed due to the direction of the tide, but in the Rigolets itself, the tide does react to the curved banks and there is a lot of reflective energy. Due to this energy and the width of the Rigolets, this usually has a fun, semi-open water feel to it. When I'm paddling against the tide through the smaller channels, like St Catherine Pass, it does feel like a slow down, or uphill walk. But not so much through the Rigolets. Again, in an earlier post, I do discuss the Rigolets in a little more detail, and describe some other experiences I've had paddling. You can click a link on my side bar to the right of this page to find my other references to the Rigolets.

The following pictures are from the northern end of the Rigolets, maybe a mile south of Fort Pike. As you can see, it feels like open water out here:
kayak rigolets
Here's Nick
kayak rigolets
Here's Sarah, taking a picture of me taking a picture of her.
kayak rigolets
And, that'd be me.
You should expect quite a variety of boat traffic through the Rigolets, from small fishing boats to much larger vessels. Because kayaks are not exactly common out here, these boats will not be looking for you, so stay to one side or the other. If you need to cross from one side or the other, be very careful to check for traffic. This is a pretty wide channel, at least on its northern half--your crossing could be 3/4 of a mile, IF you can do it in a straight line. So allow enough time and distance for any oncoming boat traffic if you cross.
After that left hand curve, you'll have the Hwy 90 bridge that crosses over the Rigolets as a target to aim for. Your take out spot at Fort Pike is to the left of this bridge, and remember that your perspective changes as you continue following the curve. If traffic is heavy, it may be a good idea to stay on the left side, and then you'll have a pretty short crossing at what is called Sawmill Pass (see map below). This will keep you out of the flow of most traffic as you finish your way to the take out spot.  But, as you can see from our route below, traffic was actually pretty light on this December day, and we were able to spend a lot of time cruising (and posing for pictures) right down the middle.  
paddle rigolets pearl river
As I mention earlier, paddling the Rigolets and the main "fingers" of the Pearl River can be a lot of fun, and you have lots of alternate routes to try. But both some of the trickiest paddling in the NOLA area can occur in these waters in certain conditions. So make sure you, or the person you go with, are experienced enough to predict and handle the conditions of the day.

I have other Rigolets and Pearl routes listed in the links/labels along the right side of this blog. And more to come!

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