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jaydducote 06-05-2010 04:49 PM

Sailing Pontchartrain
Hey guys,
I am looking for info about sailing Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. I've never sailed the lake before but I've sailed in Ireland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago, and Alaska. I live in Baton Rouge and really want to start sailing here. I'm about to buy a 27' Catalina in Slidell and I'll need to sail it over to Madisonville. This is pretty much all the way across the north side of the lake, and I have to cross under the causeway. Does anybody have any advice for this? I'm no expert sailor, and the boat will be new to me, but I do know what I'm doing when I'm on a boat. What I don't know is about navigating the waters, going through the draw bridge, exactly how long the Slidell to Madisonville trek should take, etc. Since I live in Baton Rouge, Madisonville is the closest marina area on the lake to me, which is why I'll want to move it from Slidell. Any help, advice, or words of wisdom would be great. Thanks!


ROSA 06-06-2010 02:13 PM

Hello Jay. We live in Slidell and have sailed Pontchartrain for the last 40 years.

There are marinas in and around Slidell and Mandeville also. Pontchartrain can be really nasty as it is so shallow, 14' or so as a rule. Going from Slidell to Madisonville is maybe four hours or so (25 miles) for us and requires passing under the North Draw of the Pontchartrain Causeway. The draw is 8 miles or so south of the mouth of the river into Madisonville. They monitor channel 16 and require a three hour notice for an opening. Your 27 Catilina should clear without that opening, as I believe the clearance is 48', so no notice should be necessary.

Be very cautious when entering the Tchefuncte River channel into Madisonville. The channel is narrow and shallow and has a 90 degree turn to starboard near the lighthouse. Do not hang too close to the red at the turn, and stay in the channel along the land until it turns North. The river is deep, but the bar south of the entrance is only one to two feet. When you see the draw bridge ahead, about two miles up the river, at hwy. 22, you can tie up along the wall just south of the bridge at the small park to port in front of Martins Rest., a good stop for lunch or dinner. The wall is free, calm, and electricity is available for a very small fee.

Make sure you have as PONTCHARTRAIN chart. When are you planning your trip?

nolatom 06-06-2010 02:37 PM

Get Chart 11369, it's about 23 miles from Bayou Bonfouca to the Tchefuncte River entrance. You'll see the north draw is 42 feet when closed, while the south high-rise, though much farther away, is 55 under the fixed span.

STAY WELL CLEAR of Goose Point, it's way shallow out to almost a mile off. Otherwise, should be an easy reach in the typical summer southerly. Check with any sailors you know from Madisonville about the depth at the channel bar, years ago I got in and out fine with 5' draft. Maybe check with the St Tammany Sheriff's dept, their patrol boat folks should know. Also they're the ones to call (other than Sea Tow) if you have a problem, since they're local.

Also, the lake height varies with the wind, with strong easterlies making it higher by a foot or two, southerlies to but less so, and northerlies and westerlies (less frequent in summer) make it lower. This may help you if the bar is shallow. Don't be shy about heeling your boat way over if you touch, it's just mud and usually this will get you free.

Good luck! Madisonville is a pretty little town, and you can wander pretty far upriver, it's a scenic ride. Ask the locals first about draft/depths.

Billy654 06-06-2010 09:08 PM


My wife and I sail out of Mandeville. We bought our Catalina 30 in Slidell. Hired a captain to bring it to Mandeville. Listen to nolatom and steer clear of Goose Point. The captain we hired came to close and the wind pushed us on to the shallows. No damage was done to our boat. This could have been avoided if he had paid attention to our gps or our charts. Get a hand held gps.

Take a look at slips in Mandeville rather than Madisonville. We live north of Baton Rouge and it is only a few minutes further to Mandeville than Madisonville. (no bridge to go under)

Look forward to seeing you on the lake.

ROSA 06-07-2010 04:00 AM

Tom, I did not realize that the north draw was only 42', but we are 52' so have not checked knowing it was somewhere in the 40's. My chart shows 42' for the north draw but only 50' for the south draw.

We were in Madisonville two weeks ago and found 6 1/2 to 7' in the entrance channel at high tide. We draw 5'1" and had no problem. It can be dicey at a low tide for us, but it is mush. We too keep the Goose at a healthy distance.

Does anyone know the clearance under the major power line on the Hwy. 11 canal, in Slidell, along Rats Nest Road, which cross Pontchartrain along the hwy. 11 bridge from Orleans? Chart 11369 shows only the clearance at the hwy 11 draw bridge in Lake Pontchartrain as 94'. They seem much lower in the canal. The lines are property of Entergy and they have refused to quote the clearance. It is my understanding that you need a cushion of 18' under major lines due to possibility of electricity jumping to the mast.

BigEasy1 06-07-2010 10:17 PM

I checked slip availability last month at Prieto Marina in Mandeville off of Bayou Castine. I was told that there was quite a waiting list. Slips with floating docks were available in Madisonville at Marina Del Ray. Slips with fixed docks are also available in Oak Harbor in Slidell.

The Sail to Madisonville should take about 5 to 6 hours depending on conditions. Be sure to give Goose Point a very wide safety margin. Also, be sure to notifiy the causeway bridge tender 3-4 hours notification by phone or VHF. The entrance to the river in Madisonville is well marked. I also think it is a good idea to check with the locals at Marina del Ray for water depths and clearance. Finally, watch out for those afternoon thunderstorms; they can be nasty & the lake can build up a real chop with winds associated with the storms. Have fun!!

geetcher 06-09-2010 07:38 AM

Hi Neighbors!
Just wanted to say "hello" to fellow sailboat owners around Lake Pontchartrain. My husband and I live in Eden Isles and recently purchased a 1987 Catalina 30. We hope to sell everything and become full-time coastal cruisers. Check us out sometime.

nolatom 06-09-2010 11:12 AM

Welcome. I'm a member of the "OPBC" who teaches part-time on others' boats the last few years, since moving south many moons ago. Not a bad life.

geetcher 06-09-2010 12:02 PM

Not a bad life at all! Sounds like you've got the right idea!

jaydducote 06-16-2010 04:31 PM

I'm glad we've got a community of sailors in Louisiana. I'm excited to get out there. My first trip will be a short little jaunt from Bonfouca Marina on the west side of Slidell, into Pontchartrain via Bayou Liberty, and then sailing east under the I-10 bridge to Salt Bayou where I'm meeting some people for a crab boil. Does anybody have any suggestions, recommendations, or advice for sailing that part of the lake just south of Slidell? What do I need to know to get through the Hwy 11 draw bridge? Where is it too shallow to go with 4' draft? What is the best time do day to sail in the summer... are winds better in the mornings and late in the day, or is it the same all the time? Any other situational or navigational advice would be great. Thanks!

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