A Terrebonne shrimp story

Part 7: The low pressure


It was in August of 1981, I was captain of the Four Daughters; we were trawling shrimp with the Four Daughters off the coast of Louisiana about six miles south of the Atchafalaya River. We had been out farther west around Vermilion Bay and were on our way back to Du Lac Louisiana (our home port) when we found a school of large white shrimp just east of the Atchafalaya River Chanel and were catching five or six boxes of headless shrimp per day (500 or 600 pounds, worth about $4.00 per pound, which was good money at that time). The weather had been deteriorating for two days and the shrimp were catching better and better, so we decided to stay as long as we had enough ice to ice down the catch; it had been raining and the wind was increasing from the south west; dark clouds forming and the onset of night made the weather look threatening. A low pressure system similar to a tropical storm had developed over us and there was no warning from the weather service. In those days there were no computer models to predict the formation of tropical systems.

Path of the Four Daughters
We went inshore a bit to about two miles offshore of Point au Fer just east of the mouth of the river and of Eugene Island. We dropped anchor in about 15 ft of water and prepared to settle down for the night. We were all tired from a hard day's work, catching, breaking the heads and icing down shrimp, and shortly after supper we all went to bed. It was not long before I was awaken by the increasing rocking of the boat and was aware that we were dragging anchor. Whenever a boat drags anchor it will give a certain jerk and the bow will temperately not face the wind. I jumped out of bed and turned on the electronics and I could see that we had drug anchor about a mile. In those days we did not have GPS but relied on LORAN, radar, depth finder and compass. The wind had increased to the south west and we were dragging anchor toward the beach and dangerous sand bars; the water depth had gone from 15ft. to 12ft.

By this time the winds had increased to about 50 knots and the waves were breaking over the bow. I started the engine and came ahead about 1200 rpm in order to help the anchor hold. The waves got higher and higher and were soon breaking over the bow onto the windows of the pilot house. The trawl and boards were still on the outriggers and waves were breaking over the deck in the back so that we could not bring the boards in. Soon with a crash one of the front windows of the cabin broke and water was flooding in. My deckhand found a pillow and held it in the broken window to stop the water; at that time I estimate the waves to be about 13 ft and now and then I could feel the keel of the boat hit bottom. In rough weather the keel hitting a hard bottom can cause a boat to leak and sink. By this time it was about midnight and I had the RPM increased to 1800 to hold steady and I wondered if we were going to make it. The night was pitch black with torrential rain and continuous close lighting strikes, it was as if all hell was breaking loose.

Soon after midnight the wind began shifting more west and then west north west; I dropped the RPM down to 1200 again and let the anchor drag us now in an offshore direction into deeper water. The wind had increased to over 60 knots but the waves had become a little smaller because they were coming from a more inshore direction. The keel was not bottoming out anymore and things were looking better but then to add to our misery a bolt of lightning hit the boat and knocked out all the electronics filling the pilot house with smoke; all that was left was the compass and the depth finder. When we reached a depth of 15 ft. again I increased the engine RPM to 1500 and there we held steady the rest of the night. At daylight I could see and recognize that we had drifted into the Oyster Bayou Oil Field and we were dangerously close to an oil platform. Soon after daylight the waves had subsided enough to lift anchor and run for the calmer waters of Grand Caillou Bayou. As we entered the bayou and headed to port we all gave a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks. It is at times like this that mariners realize that their lives are in the hands of nature. That was a rough night.
The Four Daughters Part 6 Part 8 Over capitalization