With the increasing numbers of paddlers using the five-mile long bayou, designated a scenic river by the state, has come the practice of in-the-water-storage of kayaks and canoes. Most of the boats are locked to mooring rings along the bayou's seawall between the Magnolia Bridge across from Cabrini HS and the end of the bayou at Lafitte St. Over the years the "fleet," consisting mostly of lower priced recreational kayaks and canoes, the occasional pricey propeller drive fishing kayak and a few very well used aluminum canoes, has varied in number from about a dozen to over 40.
Residents began complaining about the all but abandoned paddlecraft locked up along the bayou soon after the practice began after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The mostly untended boats gradually fill with rainwater partially sinking into the bayou. Some say this is unsightly. Barnacles cover the hulls and thin strands of bright green seaweed grow in the gray/green slime in the water-filled cockpits. Untreated wood or fabric rots. Boats pulled out of the water onto the grass behind the seawall become obstacles for tractors mowing the low levee flanking the bayou. Faubourg St. John residents complained the sinking boats bred mosquitoes and attracted vermin.
But not for much longer.
Last week (September 4, 2014) the New Orleans City Council unanimously passed a law giving the city the right to impound boats left in the bayou more than 24 hours. The mosquito control board will sticker outlaw boats which will then be hauled away after two days. The fine is stiff: $150, more than what many tied to the seawall are worth. A $10 a day storage fee will be charged and, if after five months no one claims the boat, it can be sold.
The move to create a law to prohibit paddlecraft from being left tied to the banks for more than a day proceeded at a snails pace, in part, because jurisdiction over the bayou is shared by three entities: the state, the Orleans Levee District and the City of New Orleans.
The bayou has not seen this much use by recreational paddlecraft since the late 19th and early 20th centuries when competing boating clubs would attract hundreds to their regattas held near the Esplanade bridge. Today at least two businesses offer kayak tours to view the historic homes along its banks and wildlife attracted to the tranquil slough. A SUP (stand-up paddling) business brings paddle boards to the bayou near the Mirabeau Bridge. Many paddle the bayou for exercise or just drift on the water and view the bird life and wildlife nearby.
For the past two years (2013 and 2014) there has been a paddlecraft parade near the Orleans Ave. bridge the Fourth of July holiday. Most of the kayaks, canoes and SUP's seen on the bayou are owned either by residents living near the waterway or by those who drive in from other parts of the city. No power boats are allowed on the bayou and while non-motorized human powered craft are permitted, there are no developed launch facilities for them on the bayou.
Launching into the bayou is problematic especially if you have a fragile composite hull of fiberglass or kevlar because in addition to the seawall there are stretches of broken concrete riprap and a slanted concrete retaining wall along the banks that make launching best attempted by the agile.
New Orleans, founded in 1718, is about 90 miles up the Mississippi River from the Gulf of Mexico. The trip up the winding river in the days of sail could take a month or more if the winds and currents were not cooperative. Bayou St. John offered early settlers a waterborne route via Lake Pontchartrain that passed within two miles of the future city avoiding the time consuming river route.
True, shipping the Lake Pontchartrain/Bayou St. John route had its problems. Shallow water in the lake and bayou meant only smaller boats with a shallow draft could be used. A lot of time was spent loading and unloading cargo and passengers to progressively smaller boats. And then there was the matter of loading goods and people onto wagons for the two mile portage to the back of what is now the French Quarter. But even with all that work shipping via the lake often would shave weeks off the transit time it took to sail up the serpentine Mississippi River.
However, most of the traffic on the lake and the bayou was in service of trade along the gulf coast. Ocean-going ships carrying cargo and passengers to and from Europe to New Orleans would still have to sail the Mississippi River to and from the city.
Steamboats made for much faster travel both with and against winds and currents but they were not common on the river until after 1820. And it was not until the 1850s that ocean going steam powered vessels came into regular service.