Locked Out at the Lighthouse

I was glad to hear recently that they are building back Port Eads. For those of you unfamiliar with this place, it may not be at the end of the earth, but you can see it from there.

Seriously, Port Eads is about 20 miles south of Venice, LA beyond the Head of Passes just before South Pass meets the Gulf. Not really a port, it is a marina where over the years many fisherman would spend the night before or after their blue water fishing adventures. It was named in honor of James Buchanan Eads who conceived of the wooden jetty system which narrowed the main river outlet thereby increasing its speed and solving the chronic silting problem which had plagued those navigating the river for years.

My First Trip to Port Eads

My first trip to Port Eads was with Guy Billups. Having no idea what to expect, I fell in love with the place. Guy had a camp just past the main dock with a screened in porch and facilities. After seeing numerous fellow fishermen end up on their backs, scraped and bruised, I quickly learned that the docks were treacherous. This was due to the fact that they were built low to the water. So low that they were frequently submerged by the river waters making them quite slick.

The New Orleans Big Game Fishing Club, of which Guy was a member, had a clubhouse there which offered bunks for anglers who could not or preferred not to sleep on their boats. They also had a kitchen which served good home style food. A couple of years later, Guy agreed to sponsor me into the club and I paid the initiation fee and dues intending to take full advantage of the Club’s modest facilities.

I was excited to fish our first tournament there and arrived anticipating a fun trip. After enjoying the boiled crawfish and shrimp, we anted up for the tournament registration fee and betting calcuttas and joined in boasting how we hoped to fare. Of course this jinxed us.

The next morning right at dawn, we had just cleared the farewell buoy headed out to fish the first day of the tournament when the boat veered sharply to port. We pulled the throttles back while trying to figure out what had happened. When I put the port engine back in gear and the boat failed to move, we were pretty certain where the problem lay. Holding our breath, we ran below to see if we were taking on water and breathed a sigh of relief to find that we were not.

The port propeller shaft had failed… luckily, on the outside of the shaft seals such that we did not end up with a five inch hole in the hull when a piece of the shaft along with our port wheel went to Davy Jones Locker. With our hopes of landing the big one and basking in the glory of winning the tournament dashed, we proceeded to limp home on one engine, our tail tucked between our legs.

I made several more trips to Port Eads, fortunately without further mishap. Unless you include my buddy slipping on the dock and nearly launching my wahoo into the alligator infested harbor waters. Or nights spent with boatloads of my fishing buddies being forced to consume adult beverages to fortify us against the hordes of mosquitos that infested the surrounding marshes. Or the night one of my over-served crew had to be physically restrained to keep his naked butt from running down the dock to engage the crew of some other boat over an earlier incident which only upset him in his inebriated state.

Or the lighthouse incident.

On a previous trip, my daughter had accompanied us, thrilled to be going to Port Eads. Of course, I will admit that this was due in part to my tales of the nonexistent water park and Ferris wheel. As punishment for having been mislead, she insisted that I accompany her up all 117 steps (yes, I counted every one) to the top of the lighthouse where we enjoyed the view in the still afternoon.

On my next trip, we arrived early. Since it was a perfect day, with a strong cooling breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay, I decided to stretch my legs. As I passed the lighthouse on my way to the Clubhouse, I decided to climb the stairs for my exercise. Arriving a few minutes later, huffing and puffing and covered in sweat, I stepped out onto the deck at the top which wrapped around the structure.

Noticing that the door was lacking a handle, I opened it to the point it appeared to be secure fully opened against the lighthouse building. I then sought the cool wind blowing from the opposite side. I remember standing there admiring the view while studying the surroundings when I heard a loud clang. It took only seconds to realize the source of the noise—the door had slammed shut. I ran back around at which time I learned, much to my horror, that while the door had no handle, its spring loaded latch remained fully operational and the door was now locked.

I looked down across the harbor to where my boat Vixen was slipped and realized that eventually my crew would come looking for me. I then imagined the scene in which they approached below and finally heard my faint call for help from above. Then I envisioned the scenario which was certain to unfold in which they would spend the next half hour or so taunting me while I begged to be rescued.

Deciding to avoid this outcome at all costs, I returned to examine the door.

It was then I noticed that a square hole remained where the handle’s shaft had passed through. Reaching into my pocket, I withdrew the tiny pocket knife I have carried for years. Despite the fact that my buddies routinely made fun of my modest knife while flashing their own much larger blades, the next time I went through airport security without remembering to leave my knife at home, I was pleased to be surrendering a relatively inexpensive tool. Back to the story.

With the one and one half inch blade fully extended, I pictured myself as MacGyver while I proceeded to work the latch mechanism through the small hole (too small for one of those larger more manly knives to fit, I might add). It took several tries but eventually I was able to hit the right angle to force the spring to compress, the latch to slide to one side and—the door popped open. Feeling like an escaping prisoner, I darted through the door and down the steps to freedom.

Even though I never had the chance to use the New Orleans Big Game Clubhouse a single time before Katrina destroyed everything but the lighthouse, I love Port Eads and am glad to hear its coming back.



Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.

Invite Frank to speak to your next conference, corporate retreat or club meeting. Ask about having his speaker's fee waived when you purchase his latest novel for each of your attendees!


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