I have to say that I’ve never thought of the Bayou Teche as the most likely place to stumble across a blue water multihull.
It’s not that the Bayou Teche is a boat-free waterway; connected to the Atchafalaya River, it was an important artery for trade in the days when the swamps made travel by land impossible. Now, of course, with all of the picturesque interstates and highways bulleting through our swamps and wetlands, commercial river travel has become more or less obsolete. The bayou is still used for leisure purposes, however, and is an official National Water Trail and Scenic Byway which cuts through a beautiful National Wildlife Refuge. I must admit, however, that ever since middle school, when a friend told me that her brother landed on a dead pig while waterskiing on the Bayou Teche, it hasn’t seemed to me to be the most attractive locale for the practice of water sports.
I’m sure it’s cleaner now. Support Louisiana wetlands!
In March, I went to a sweet little wooden boat show during the Black Bear Festival in Franklin, where old pirogues and swamp boats docked in the center of town and owners came from as far afield as Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama. (See the slideshow at the bottom of the post for more photos!) There is also a week-long wooden boat cruise called the Cajun Classique which travels from Berwick all the way up to Arnaudville.
That being said, I’ve never really heard of anyone sailing there.
There is obviously plenty of sailing along the Gulf Coast or in Lake Ponchartrain, and, as the ICW cuts through the bottom part of the state, many sailboats do make it at least a little way into Louisiana’s inland waterways. It’s just that not that many sailboats actually turn northward to explore the state’s bayous and rivers and swamps — for the obvious reason that they are way too shallow to accommodate even a modest keel. There’s a reason why swamp boats have flat bottoms.
The only sailboat that might be able to navigate upwards into the bayous would have to have a daggerboard (like this pretty little wooden sailboat below) or, like a catamaran, no keel at all.
That’s why, when I took Benn on a sightseeing trip to the beautiful and historic Louisiana town of New Iberia, I was pretty much astounded when we stumbled across a bluewater liveaboard trimaran moored right up in the middle of town.
Her name was We Don’t Neaux, an appropriate name for a Cajun boat, and sure enough her owner was a native son of the town of New Iberia and had lived aboard her for almost 2 decades.
I wish I had written down further details about We Don’t Neaux’s make, designer, etc…, but I was too mystified at learning that you can actually moor up a liveaboard sailboat in the middle of downtown New Iberia to take notes. All I can say is that We Don’t Neaux is definitely a boat that has seen some action.
Her most recent injury seems to have resulted from an encounter with a freighter on the Mississippi River that tossed the boat up in the air and sent it crashing down upon the bank, where a rock drove a 10-inch hole through the hull. Although I’m sure that We Don’t Neaux’s owner didn’t necessarily view the accident as a positive occurrence, I found it on the whole pretty encouraging.
You see, Benn and I had just come back from our sailing course in Miami, where we had spent a week on a nice, modern 37ft catamaran, with AC, up-to-date nav gear, and a swanky outdoor seating area with comfortable, waterproof cushions. Although we love Pas de Deux, our stay on the sailing school’s catamaran, which was 3 decades younger and 7 feet longer, did throw a few of her shortcomings into relief. For instance, Pas de Deux doesn’t have a table in the cockpit, which we found out was really convenient for navigation and a lovely place to have dinner while at anchor. The galley-up design and sliding cockpit doors which are de rigeur in modern catamarans make for a more relaxed, social atmosphere than our cozy, but enclosed Pas de Deux.
The most discouraging thing, however, was probably our course instructor’s rather ambivalent attitude towards our poor little catamaran. She didn’t say much when we showed her the photos, but, after a few cocktails, she sweetly advised us to sell our boat. She didn’t really give us a reason why, and we have never been certain whether or not this was a comment on our boat or our sailing skills or both. (Probably it was both.)
After this, I had begun to think that maybe buying an older boat wasn’t such a good idea. While the new, fancy catamarans we’ve seen don’t differ much from Pas de Deux in terms of basic design or functionality (except for certain details that seem in Pas de Deux’s favor, like the sheets being run into the cockpit to facilitate easier and safer sailing), they do have a certain sparkle and sense of convenience that our older cat seems to be lacking. Although Pas de Deux’s previous owners made several improvements to her interior and equipment, we still don’t have the self-tailing winches or modern navigational gear that newer boats are equipped with.
Neither does We Don’t Neaux. But that didn’t stop her owner from sailing her from St. Croix to Tortola or New Iberia to the Dominican Republic. It also didn’t stop him from raising his two kids on his boat or making it his liveaboard home for the past 16 years. Nor did it stop him from riding out over 20 (!!!) hurricanes on board — in fact, the 3 ft draft made it possible for him to hide safely away in protected coves that deep-keeled monohulls could not enter. We Don’t Neaux is much larger than Pas de Deux, but, unlike some of the 40-plus ft catamarans luxury catamarans we saw, its layout and design are so simple and efficient that it is entirely plausible that one man could manage the boat without a crew.
After this, a lot of the anxiety about our boat (and my sailing ability) that I had built up during our course began to dissipate. A sailboat is a sailboat, and if she is in good condition and handled properly, she will serve her purpose, self-tailing winches or no. The same can be said of a sailor. If she keeps her wits about her, pays attention to what she’s doing, and doesn’t panic, she’ll come out all right, whether or not she is an expert sea captain with a billion course hours behind her.
In fact, We Don’t Neaux’s owner was gently bemused as to why we would take a course to begin with. “You don’t need a course,” he told us, “You learn to sail by getting out and doing it.”
Later, Benn commented to me privately that if he had taken a course, the perhaps he wouldn’t have been thrown into the air and crashed his boat against the bank of the Mississippi. While I certainly can’t argue with that, I did take away from our conversation with him the sense that much of sailing and living aboard isn’t as much about having the perfect boat or the fastest tacking speed, but about having the gumption to give up all the unnecessaries and get out there and do it. A boat does not necessarily have to be shiny and new in order to serve its purpose faithfully and effectively.
Well, at least we hope not.
See a few more photos from the boat show and Black Bear Festival below.