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The crew of Les Bons Temps (The Good Times) hoped to return before dark. It was early afternoon, the weather getting colder, the radar warning of rain, and this was their second day aboard a 30-foot (nine-foot) boat that was now spitting black exhaust fumes over the salt marsh waters. Captain Scott Maurer cut off the engine.
The right engine was vibrating and the 45-year-old Maurer was worried. The crew tied the boat to a pile in a narrow ditch in the wetlands of Barataria. No other soul could be seen. Tall marsh grass swayed in the wind in all directions.
Usually, if Maurer gets into trouble near his Grand Isle oyster farm, he will call another boat for help – but this waterway sees less traffic than his usual fishing grounds and the only boats seen were two tugs. in the distance, slowly towing a huge floating oil rig.
The crew of Les Bons Temps was on its way from New Orleans to the Gulf of Mexico, traveling about 160 km (100 miles). No one on board had traveled before.
Standing at the helm in dangerous orange rain gear, Maurer worried aloud that the boat had hit something in the shallow water, damaging the propeller.
It could be debris from a storm, he thought.
The water was opaque brown, but 33-year-old deck assistant Luke LaCava, a bright and curious Alaskan fisherman who smoked a chain from the stern, jumped voluntarily. He put on a neoprene suit, jumped off the transom, and disappeared beneath the surface. Without glasses, he would have to grope blindly along the paddle under the boat.
In the spring, the area would be crowded with alligators, but they would not be seen in January. LaCava reappeared, trembling. “Nothing,” he said.
Using his hands to shape the blades in the air, Maurer gestured to check both shafts. LaCava took a deep breath and returned.
A few seconds later he reappeared, panting. “The rope on the propeller shaft is wrapped around it,” he said, wiping his face and spitting sour water.
Nathan Herring, a 32-year-old oyster farmer from Grand Isle, quickly pulled a knife from the boat’s galley and handed it to LaCava, who dived again, twice, before finally coming out with a piece of black plastic crab trap. His efforts won him fists from the crew.
With the line released, LaCava boarded and Maurer started both engines. For a moment he appreciated their sound: better. Then Les Bons Temps set off again, heading for open waters.