Sunday, May 15, 2016

Marathon Kayak Trip: Fort PIke, Lake St Catherine, Lake Borgne, Rigolets

Here's a very long trip that has tons of options and shortcuts along the way. See my entry from January 2016 about other trips around the Rigolets. This trip goes from Fort Pike, across Sawmill Pass, over to Bay Jaune Point and across Lake St. Catherine, ultimately out to Lake Borgne and then over to and up the Rigolets to return to Fort Pike. This is a 23 mile trip, and with that distance, you really better check the winds and plan your timing with the tides well. Besides feeling good about the tides, I was also comfortable with conditions in general: it was a mild, calm day with pretty light winds, mostly from the south/southeast. I headed out with at least a couple of route options in mind, and went for the longest, not sure exactly how long it would be. My guess was 20 or so, so I underestimated a little.

You can see a point in the image above where I had some minutes of indecision about which route I really wanted to take--note the northeasterly track, and then reversal, in Bay Jaune. That probably added a mile to my trip. You can also see in the picture above that I could have just cut right through Miller Bayou, and cut 4 or so miles from the trip.

kayak lake st catherine
On the day that I did this trip, I think I had a little beginner's luck with my plan and the timing of the tidal flow. From the charts, I could see that the incoming tide would peak around 3:30 in the afternoon, but that there would be a pretty gradual slowdown of the current--basically, a long, gradual slowing/slack tide on each side of high tide. 
Crossing Lake St. Catherine and Bay Jaune, you're much less aware the tide movement than you are paddling through the various passes, especially moving the direction I was. I anticipated having to work against the flow as I went through "Unknown Pass", out to the lake, and I did. My pace dropped significantly as I paddled my way out to Lake Borgne.
But sure enough, I found myself getting to the Rigolets right in that slack tide. This was the most calm I've ever seen the Rigolets, and a light south wind was more of a factor than the current. So, tired as I was at the 17 mile or so mark, the wind kept me moving along at a good pace. 

The closest thing I've found to a name for this pass is "Unknown Pass". That's the Intracoastal Water Way and a train track that it crosses.
Out on the lake, it was very calm and I probably would have done just fine without my rudder. Incoming waves were very light and the wind was very pleasant. Then, as I mentioned, once I turned left/north to reconnect with St. Catherine Pass to get to the Rigolets, the water was very calm and the wind started giving me a nice little push. 
By the way, I decided to cut in before Rabbit Island, pass under the train bridge and intersect with St. Catherine Pass to get to the Rigolets since this was familiar to me and the day was getting long. I could have continued east to go directly to the Rigolets and come around Rabbit Island. 
kayak lake borgne rabbit island rigolets
Also, by the way, I got off to a late start this day and became a little concerned about my timing and dinner plans, so I did this trip without taking a break. But unlike some of my other trips in this area, there were spots where I could have stopped. In particular, as I skirted the shore in Lake Borgne, I passed several sandy beaches that looked very inviting.

As I mentioned above, a shorter option would be cutting through Miller Bayou, probably cutting 4 miles off the route. On a day with a friendly breeze, the beaches I kayaked past on Lake Borgne would have been great lunch breaks.There are some landing/break options also in the Intracoastal Waterway, southwest of Rabbit Island.  Also, by the way, I have landed and taken a break in the lagoon on the southwest corner of Rabbit Island (zoom in to see it), but it really wasn't a great spot to land or hang out and relax. was a spot.

I was very grateful that the final stretch through the Rigolets was very calm, and it was very quiet. I only saw a few personal fishing boats on the water. When you're paddling north through the Rigolets, towards Fort Pike, after you follow the left-hand bend, the Hwy 90 bridge becomes the obvious marker for you, and Fort Pike is right at the western end of the bridge. There is often a good bit of boat traffic passing under the bridge, going to the Rigolets or going through Sawmill Pass towards Lake St Catherine. When that's the case, it's best to hug the left side of the Rigolets and cross at Sawmill Pass to eliminate a lot of the cross-traffic,especially the bigger vessels, and it shortens your crossing. But, this approach brings you in at a very shallow angle relative to the bridge, and if you're tired and ready to get out of the water, Fort Pike can feel like an elusive target. As you move towards the northern end of the Rigolets, the relative positions of the land features on both sides of the Rigolets, and the bridge, change, especially because the Rigolets really widens a great deal at its northern end. There are times, following this very shallow-angled approach, when the fort or the bridge seem further away than the last time you looked. But, because traffic was so light on this trip, I decided to paddle a path more directly down the middle of the northern end of the Rigolets, before Sawmill Pass. This shortened the trip and minimized the "moving target" sensation I was having. 

This was a great day with really good conditions for kayaking. My entire trip kayaking up the Rigolets was a not-all-that-hard 5 mph, and the last mile was a bit above that. I don't do that many 20 - 25 mile trips alone, but I can easily see myself kayaking parts of this route again. The portion along Lake Borgne was very pleasant. 

The Launch:
Just west of Fort Pike on Hwy 90 is a public boat launch:

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