The Misery Wiggles

Actually, it’s the Misere wiggles, a section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) in the southern USA that passes alongside Little Lake Misere. The ICW carries considerable commercial traffic through this section and the huge triple-wide tows have to negotiate this series of bends, day and night. Normally they do this without incident, warning each other of their location and intentions on channel 13 in a laconic shorthand unique to these long-distance truck drivers of the waterway.

Then we come along in our little yacht, desperately searching for somewhere safe to anchor for the night. Such places are like hen’s teeth on this stretch but we think we’ve struck it lucky: A small cut runs off the main ICW and into Little Lake Misere – it looks an ideal spot until we realize how shallow it is – we nose in as far as we can, drop the hook and then realise that our rear end is sticking out an uncomfortable distance.

The big tows – three barges wide and a thousand feet long – have to take up almost the entire width of the channel to get around the bends and this brings the tug’s sterns perilously close to the bank at the entrance to our little anchorage. Guess why it’s so shallow? Right; each tow pushes tons of mud into the cut as it powers around the corner.

I’m on the radio the whole night, making our position known to each tow as its lights heave into view. Their hugely powerful searchlights seek and find us and I catch glimpses of faces in the cabs high above us as they storm by, powerful diesels thudding.

They’re mainly amused. They tell me not to worry. Ha! That’s easy for them to say. They’ll try to miss us, if they don’t the paperwork will be hell, they joke. They promise they’ll try not to bury us as they swing wide to line up for the next section of the misery wiggles, mighty propellers churning up the mud.

Then the mosquitoes arrive. Millions of them. All hungry. I’m their special treat this hot and sultry night in Louisiana. They seem to relish the mosquito repellent dressing – perhaps it goes well with my succulent Anglo-Saxon blood. My only defence is the fly swat which I wield even as I talk earnestly to the next barge captain in a seemingly never ending procession.

By morning I’m exhausted but I’ve saved the ship and her crew and I can wear my battle scars proudly – hundreds of itching welts over every bit of exposed skin.

The misery wiggles, just another one of the joys of small boat cruising.