by Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News
Life imitates art. When Hurricane Isaac set sights on Louisiana it left two very surrealistic moments for shrimpers that even the surrealistic French artist André Breton would agree met his definition of surprise and unexpected juxtaposition.
As Isaac passed over Cuba and skirted Key West toward Louisiana, Brian Richardson of Madisonville, LA lent his 21 foot Mako the Reel Hard to his nephew Robert Arena and eight of his friends.
Unexpectedly the boat started taking on water. Unable to find the cause, Arena immediately ordered everyone to put on lifejackets and abandon ship. One quick thinking friend had the where-with-all to keep his cellphone above the water while jumping overboard. Floating in the water, he managed to reach the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff department who quickly responded and safely retrieved all nine boaters.
As Isaac slowly crawled closer to the coast, shrimper Deacon Blues was heading toward Houma laden to the hilt with shrimp needing to be unload before the hurricane made landfall.
At the same time Richardson and the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Department had spent two hours unsuccessfully trying to right the waterlogged craft, found 8 miles south of Madisonville on Lake Pontchartrain. The Fish and Wildlife patrol had to be pulled from the attempted rescue because of the approaching storm.
Enter the Deacon Blues, and an anonymous captain.
“After sizing up our situation the captain of the Deacon Blues offered to right the boat,” explained Richardson. “I asked if he had ever done it before, and he answered “yes”.”
True to his word – tossing ropes here and there, positioning his craft at just the right angle – the sunken vessel was righted in a mere five minutes. The captain then drained the boat of water and offered to tow it to Port Manchak.
“ I was so happy when he offered,” Richardson said. “With the approaching storm we needed to get the boat out of the water, I didn’t want the boat ending up in someone’s living room.”
As the Reel Hard was put on a trailer to be towed to a repair shop, Richardson offered to pay the captain for his time and fuel expenses, but the anonymous captain refused saying “I was just happy to help.”
Richardson is grateful there is still guarding angles on the Louisiana waters. He is thankful also very proud of his nephew. “He was not drinking and was completely sober, “he said. “Because of his quick action he was able to get everyone off the boat, and I am convinced lives were saves.”
As Isaac came ashore in Louisiana causing havoc for fishing communities along the eastern coastline, west of the Atchafalaya River the storm caused little damage. It did however cause an effect rarely seen along Bayou Carlin and the Delcambre canal.
“In past Hurricanes, like Rita and Ike, we had a lot of flooding in Delcambre,” said Thomas Hymel of Louisiana Sea Grant and director of the Delcambre Direct Seafood program. ”With Isaac winds were from the north with little or no rain. We were on the west side of the storm.”
The gale force northern winds literally blew all of the water out of Bayou Carlin, the Delcambre canal and Lake Peigneur, forcing it back into Vermillion Bay and causing the shrimp fleet to sit upright in the soft mud left behind.
“It gave the shrimp fleet a very a surreal effect,” said Hymel. “It is as if God parted the waters.”
According to Hymel “having the waters blow out is much better than having the flooding.”
It has been a tough couple of years for the Delcambre shrimp fleet, which harvests some of the highest quality white shrimp in the Gulf. The fleet had a bad season last year and the spring season this year was also poor. Shrimpers are looking for a good fall season to catch up on lost revenues.
“Having the shrimp fleet stuck in the mud for a few days might actually increase the shrimp size this fall,” explained Hymel, who was instrumental in starting the Delcambre Direct program where shrimpers sell directly to the public at dockside. “Early catches have been small to medium, but shrimp grow rapidly – each week they grow a count size. The shrimp we catch in this area are the premium, in demand white shrimp. When the boats return to Vermillion Bay the size of the shrimp should be dramatically larger.”
Now that Hurricane Isaac has left the state and the water has returned to the bayou and lakes of Delcambre, “We need to get some shrimp on the boats and money in our pockets,” said Hymel.