Gallery: Snakebit on The Blind River in St. James Parish, LA

Somehow the family and I managed to navigate 2020 relatively unscathed. Sure, the older kids’ school year was completely borked, leaving them with the longest summer vacation in the history of public education; but for the most part, we didn’t suffer the highs and lows that many had experienced. That being said, with just 3 days left in the year, Jerry Gaddis of reached out and asked if I could dash down to Morgan City, Louisiana for a one-day filming session – the results of which, were published earlier this week.

The drive out was uneventful. My 11-year-old daughter, Morgan and I made it to Morgan City in just over 11 hours. That evening Jerry joined me for an episode of The Watercraft Journal IRL, the live YouTube session I host on Sunday nights and took questions in real time. The next morning started well enough; the video session took less than two and a half hours,with Jerry’s son Greg doing most of the heavy lifting.

Afterward, as part of an upcoming video and technical article, Greg pulled the seat from the 2020 Yamaha GP1800R SVHO and plugged in the MaptunerX, uploading RIVA’s “Stock 8,000” tune. The new engine program completely retains the factory ignition timing and fuel curve, but eliminates the internal speed cap as well as push the restrictive RPM limit up to 8,000rpm.

I impatiently jumped on the GP1800R and streaked down the causeway, immediately clicking off a 75mph on the speedometer. It’s not a GPS-confirmed speed, but it was enough to satisfy me. With that task concluded, we had the rest of the day left to spend on our own (Jerry had to go back to work). Thankfully, a text from Billy Duplessis that morning beckoned us to join he and friends William Bagert and Paul Pace for a ride.

Nearly an hour’s drive from Two Sisters Landing were we were was St. James Boat Club in Gramercy, on the Blind River. The Blind River sits just north of the Mississippi River as it lulls east into New Orleans. For the most part, Blind River is a rolling, serpentining path, but as Paul led our group into Smith Bayou, we entered a fast-paced course of hairpins and tight S-turns. That detour exited us into Thunder Bayou, at the bend at Three Rivers Island.

The path before us were man-made, laser-straight canals either heading directly east into Lake Maurepas, or northwest into Amite River. Either way, the depth of the water and slab-sided bulwarks of the canal make the water some of the most unpleasant in Louisiana. Even when it looks calm, the water’s surface oscillates, bobbing your nose while cruising or battering you while at speed.

Hooking right into the eastern end of Amite River took us on a gentle path to Boondocks Bar & Grill. Since it was late December, and temperatures were well below that which the locals would consider comfortable boating weather, the eatery was pretty quiet. The trio were dressed more akin to snowmobilers as Morgan and I donned swimming suits and T-shirts, although the chilled breeze was making me rethink my wardrobe.

As we pulled up to the dock, my daughter dismounted the Yamaha and rightly reached into the bow storage for the dock line. As she uncoiled the rope, my GoPro with which I had filmed portions of the morning’s shootout and all of our Blind River trip, quickly tangled and sprung out of the bow, bouncing off of the deck and into the murky water below. I leapt forward in vain. Quickly tying to the cleat, I stripped off my vest and T-shirt and instinctively dove into the frigid water.

I was wholly unprepared for how cold the water was. My chest viced the air from my lungs and my hands scrambled for the reboarding step on the back of the GP1800R, forever grateful that Yamaha puts them on everything. Pausing to catch my breath, I bobbed deep to see how far below the surface was. I couldn’t feel it. I tried again, but a collision of panic, the stinging pain of the icy water and exhaustion kept me from doing to do any good.

To their credit, William and Paul dedicated the next hour dredging the muddy floor in hopes of snagging the camera’s long mount using a net to no avail. We pulled up sticks, a few beer cans and plenty of mud, but no camera. My daughter was distraught, blaming herself for the whole ordeal and I knew I had to calm the situation. I went over the shots we could easily recreate and that all was not lost. She was upset, I was exhausted, and frankly, ready to get back to the hotel and crawl in bed.

We finished up our food, reboarded our watercraft and retraced the path we had taken. As our Yamaha was equipped with The Watercraft Journal’s Long Haul Auxiliary Fuel System Kit, we had yet to even tap into our WaveRunner’s fuel supply, still drinking from the USCG-approved marine grade tank on the back. Unable to film anything, we casually rode the way back to the St. James Boat Club launch, loaded up the trailers and chatted a while.

That’s when I noticed my worn-to-the-bone 230,000-mile Dodge Ram began to overheat. Morgan was inside with the heater on as I socialized around the tailgate, so I didn’t think much of it. But as dusk rolled in and we began our drive back to Morgan City, the temperature gauge failed to normalize. It continued to climb despite nightfall setting in. We have a heating problem I cautioned. We gotta get to a gas station.

I limped into the Marathon station in South Vacherie, steam erupting from the radiator. Calls to friends beckoned Jerry as well as William and Billy Duplessis. We quickly diagnosed that a fissure between the side tank and the aluminum core had formed, and when pressurized, the cooling system would erupt a plume of scalding steam. But, when the cap was left on but unsealed, the truck could hold coolant and a constant 190º; safe enough to get us back to Morgan City.

We tailed Jerry back to the hotel with an appointment to have the radiator replaced the next morning. Thankfully and somewhat miraculously, a replacement radiator was located in town (a near impossibility, according to Jerry) and the repair was made. In the interim, Jerry and I recreated the lost video segments using my other camera. And although we left town 5 hours later than expected (and with one less camera and a new radiator), we could say it was an eventful trip.

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Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

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