Admittedly, I was in a rotten mood. The 11-hour drive down went fine, but pretty much all of my planning had fallen apart. Wanting to be a little closer to the action, I booked a room at the Motel 6 in Morgan City, Louisiana. The Motel 6 wasn’t the best spot in town (not by a long shot) but the large grassy field behind it was always full of trucks and PWC trailers, so I figured I’d go to where the action was. That is, until I realized that the field had been paved over since my last visit…two years ago, and I was only one of two jet skiers attending Mudbug staying there. [Over the next four days, our room would flood, soaking the carpet, and the quickly begin to mildew in the sweltering heat. Add to that raucous partying from construction workers all night, and it’s easy to see why I will find lodgings elsewhere. -Ed.]
Arriving early that Thursday afternoon, plans were to race over to a private stretch of canal and perform a one-to-one, precisely weighed shootout between the 2018 Yamaha GP1800 WaveRunner and the new 2018 Sea-Doo RXT-X 300 using Greenhulk.net’s own Jerry Gaddis as our solitary test pilot and co-host for the video. We had done most of the planning the weeks prior; because we had no way to verify (on camera) how much fuel we had in each ski, we decided to fill each ski to their respective tops. Jerry was to be the only rider, so weight and riding differences wouldn’t be an issue. We were going to use his Vbox Sport accelerometer and a Garmin GPS.
To us, every inch of this was planned out. Except, apparently, when we were going to do it. Upon my arrival into Morgan City, Jerry alerted me that he was flying in Friday morning. So much for that, I thought. The rest of the afternoon was spent prepping the skis, making a run for various oddities I had forgotten to pack, and reaching out to the Greenhulk.net community to see about possible rides. Thankfully, a ride was coming together for Friday morning on Flat Lake, just on the western side of the levee. The group planned to conclude around noon, which would work great. I could pull off of the water, refill the ski’s tank and hustle over to meet up with Jerry for the videoshoot. The weather looked clear and temperatures were supposed to linger in the mid-80s.
As Friday morning arrived, that prediction fell apart. It was already 90 degrees by mid-morning, and threats of thunderstorms were springing up for the afternoon. I growled in displeasure, but knew I had all weekend to get this done. Friday’s group quickly filled in at Doiron’s Landing. Riders from Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi were to be expected; but a massive rig hauling 6 skis from New Jersey was definitely the biggest surprise. Some warmed over FZRs, a half dozen full-sized Yamahas, a handful of new ST³-hulled Sea-Doos, a RXP-X and a couple of two-stroke Kawasakis joined the fray. We had a pretty big group and was excited to see everyone gathered.
I was aboard the GP1800 only because I wanted to tack up a couple more hours on the clock to make it equal to the Sea-Doo’s 30 hours of use for the shootout. That, and frankly, I wasn’t sure how much fuel we were going to eat up on this ride, so the Yamaha was a better option. The group piloted north up the canal and left into Little Bayou Sorrel until Big Bayou Fork, where unexpectedly, the party split. The group, mainly consisting of the new Sea-Doos and full-sized Yamahas, ventured south toward Duck Lake, while we jogged northward. With the two-strokes smoking along in back, we careened through the cypress knobs and drooping Spanish moss, sluicing through the swamps with ease. Riding speeds were kept at a minimum as not to lose the Kawasakis, which struggled to surpass 40mph, and to stay out of the boost. Speed is fine, but fuel economy is finer.
With a little extra time on our hands, and riding upwards to Doiron’s on the Atchafalaya River, we doubled back and circled Bateman Island to extend our morning ride. With the others low on fuel and one of the Kawasakis struggling to maintain power, half of our group peeled off. Taking in a little more of the scenery, we finished our extended loop and trotted at a healthy pace back north past Pique Bayou and Long Island to Doiron’s. At the landing, we reunited with the first half of our group who split at the fork. Many were stopping for the day, while others were looking to carry on. That’s the joy of Mudbug. You can do pretty much whatever you want.
Once I loaded the ski, I rushed over to meet up with Jerry. With both the Sea-Doo and Yamaha filled to the gills with 93 octane, we went about making multiple passes, looking to record the best acceleration run for each machine. The rest of the day was spent fighting with fidgety cameras, trying to get audio equipment to work, and capturing all of the film necessary to complete the shootout before the blackening skies dumped sheets of rain on us. Temperatures lingered at 91 degrees, but the humidity thickened the air that hung heavily on our sweat-soaked shoulders. By 5pm, we grabbed all of the footage we could stand and drove back to the hotel to edit and upload everything until 1am.
Typically, there’s no set schedule to Mudbug. People show up. They meet up at Gros’ Marina, grab a bite and a drink, listen to music and go out for a ride. That’s pretty much it these days. The years of huge head’s up drag races became a massive legal liability that Jerry and crew simply didn’t want to face, so instead, Saturday mornings are usually a showdown of radar runs. A few mid-to-high 80mph skis show up with the rare 90-plus runabout making a pass or two. Because of other obligations, taking in the speed runs wasn’t possible this year. Again, somehow everything was going caddywhompus. At least, so it seemed.
Although I was missing the fun with the main group back in Morgan City, I was particularly excited for Saturday’s ride because it was going to be my second with PWCTrailfinder.com’s Billy Crews. Billy has made a name for himself mapping some of the most incredible routes throughout the Southeastern states, and today we were going to ride one of his personal favorites. Launching early that morning on the Blind River at the St. James Boat Club, we journeyed north up the winding bayou. Stopping to observe the Our Lady of The Blind River chapel, I noticed some peculiar metal discs hanging from a cypress across the river: targets perforated with bullet holes.
Following the current we spilled out into Lake Maurepas. Low water levels had us searching for sandbars, until coming to a stop for a short break. In the group – consisting mainly of Yamaha FX’s and a couple of Sea-Doo’s – we had Joe and Shari Borden of Bopenski Watersports. Joe quickly unfolded his new Kickback PWC chair and invited folks to try it out. Suddenly lounging on the back of a runabout became a whole lot more comfortable, many echoed. After the reprieve, we reboarded and sped off towards the northeastern end of the lake, following the question-mark shaped inlet back into the bayou, mindful of the submerged tree stumps and trunks lying just under the surface.
It was here, venturing deeper into the tighter channels of the Whitehall swamps where something very unsettling about the new Sea-Doo RXT-X 300 revealed itself: I had handed the GP1800’s lanyard over to Billy as his ’09 RXT was still in the shop, and frankly, I wanted to enjoy this ride aboard the far comfier 2018 Sea-Doo with my music playing. Riding deep in a procession through winding groves of cypress knobs and willows dripping with Spanish moss, the confluence of V-wakes churned the water into a broiling cauldron. These conditions and the unusual, hollowed-out convex coves flanking the ST³-hull’s keel made negotiating the various hairpins a nerve-wracking enterprise.
In fact, all too often the RXT-X 300 would bow steer, dramatically and forcefully, almost completely ejecting my 8-year-old passenger in one instance. Toggling through the VTS, I found that only trimmed to its second lowest setting, and purposefully throttling into and through the apex of the corner could I keep the ski on track. This, I later discovered, was to counter the long, lifting strakes and spray rails running along the ST³’s fore and mid-ships, which lift the ski while at speed. Yet, when teetering around 35-40mph through cross chop, it would hunt wildly, it’s nose acting like a front rudder. This of course, was because so much of the hull was based on the RXP-X, a design directly intended for the zig-zagging of closed course racing.
Now with my concentration piqued, rider input was at a maximum to ensure the Sea-Doo would stay on course. So much for a leisurely ride, I growled to myself. The rest of the ride, including a refueling and a welcomed stop for lunch in an air conditioned restaurant, went by nervously. What had been one of most comfortable runabouts I had the pleasure of riding was now a writhing, bucking bronco who did not want to be broken. A few hours and some 100-plus-miles later, we returned to the St. James Boat Club launch and began reloading and unpacking the watercraft. I was spent.
A quiet evening and filling dinner was our reward after trotting back to our hotel room rank with the odor of mildew. The next morning, Sunday, would see most of the Mudbuggers packing up and heading home in time to be at work bright and early Monday morning. Skies overhead were silvery gray, heavy with the threat of rain. Yet again, plans for a group ride fell through as did for meeting up with Jerry, so wanting to spend more time on the RXT-X, decided to put in at Doiron’s and meander through the straight-and-easily navigated Avoca Island Cutoff.
The bayou was glassy smooth, deep green and undisturbed. With the radio on and the throttle pinned, we shot down the evergreen corridors circumventing Lake Palourde all the way to Amelia. There too, we saw no signs of Mudbuggers, only shipping traffic. Checking the GPS, I mapped a route through Grassy Lake to Gros Marine to splash a few gallons in the tank and make our way back to Doiron’s. The ride was entirely uneventful, completely opposite of that from the day before. Reaching Gros, I chatted a with few locals curious about the new, uniquely designed Sea-Doo and showed them around the central storage compartment and Linq system, where I had a cooler packed with drinks and snacks.
Bidding them adieu, we passed the “camps”, large stilted homes protected high above rising waterlines, and encountered a teenager riding a black-and-green ’17 Kawasaki SX-R 1500. It was Jerry Gaddis’ son, who flagged me down and barked over the 4-stroke’s idle that his dad was on his way back to Gros. So back we went, at wide-open-throttle to the dockside bar and restaurant. Sure enough, Jerry and friends had just moored, so we pulled alongside. While live music played and cold drinks were shared, I checked my watch and the drooping eyes of my companion and knew it was time to head back.
The warm breeze of the weekend had turned brisk as the storm clouds gathered, and the sudden drop in temperature made us begin to shiver. The Sea-Doo was quickly reloaded and strapped down as rain began to fall. By the time we reached the hotel, it was a downpour. The trip back featured road hazards tearing off our trailer’s fender and exploding a taillight, as well as some overheating that required an unexpected roadside pit stop. In all, our Mudbug trip was our longest and our most discombobulated. In later sharing my woes with a fellow Mudbugger, he wisely observed, “Well, that’s what you git ‘fer tryin’ to plan ahead for the ‘Bug. Let that be a lesson to ya.”