By: George Payne
Charlie Pictured on the left at his annual Krewe of Wrecks Boat Parade
Born in Baton Rouge, owner of a marina at 24 years of age, world record holder at 40, mud diver, and self-proclaimed river rat, Crazy Charlie Albert of Springfield, Louisiana has been called lots of things from totally insane to genius. However, one thing is for sure, he is a legend in the making.
Charlie’s most notable accomplishment is his two-time world record speed crossing of the Gulf of Mexico (1995 & 1999). When asked the classic question as to why he attempted such a feat, his typical answer is out of a sense of adventure. However, after a little prodding, he admitted that “Most people think I crossed the gulf because it hadn’t been done in such a small boat, so fast, but the real truth is I crossed it on a bet. I wagered a friend I could cross the Gulf in 15 hours in my 35-foot Cigarette boat. He called me crazy and gladly accepted. He just didn’t know if I would be around to pay off after my attempt. Five months later, he was kind enough to feed me my supposed last meal in Venice and wish me off.”
“Seven hours later I was broke down 220 miles in the gulf, with only one engine that would idle. It took me over 33 hours to get back to Venice. Thank God for south winds and beer, otherwise the trip would have been at least 55 hours,” Charlie added.
Although the first attempt had failed, Charlie’s resolution to cross the Gulf was now stronger than ever. “Eight months later, I tried again. I left at 4:00 am using the full moon to see by. Sixteen hours later I was sitting on the Yucatan Peninsula drinking a real margarita, enjoying the sun, and wishing I knew more Spanish.” said Charlie. “It wasn’t till I met with the harbor master that I realized I was the only person who had ever done this. I broke a world record. What a feeling,” he added.
Setting a world record and doing what everyone else said could not be done, wasn’t enough for Charlie.
Fours years later Charlie crossed again, once again setting a new world record for the fastest Gulf of Mexico crossing breaking his old record by almost two hours.
Fast boats and crossing the Gulf are not the only passion in Charlie’s life. He has been searching for sinker cypress logs in the bayous and swamps along the Tickfaw River for the past 16 years.
Beginning at the turn of the century, lumber companies went into the swamps and began clear cutting virgin cypress. These trees were truly enormous. Many had a circumference of 20 feet or more. After being cut, the logs were floated through the bayous and swamps to the sawmills scattered throughout southern Louisiana. During this voyage, some trees were lost and sank to the bottom only to be covered by layer upon layer of mud. These buried relics are what we call today sinker cypress.
“Sinker cypresses are the hidden jewels that lies in the crown of Louisiana. There is so much treasure lying in this water you can’t see in, you just never know what you are going to find,” explains Charlie.
“In the old days they searched the swamps with batos (small flat bottom boats) and poles and found the logs. Now a days if you want to find them you have to dive for them. There are so few left that each one has become worth a kings ransom. When you have found one, you have literally found Cajun gold,” explains Charlie.
Mud Diving as the locals call it, is not for everyone. “I usually dive to depths of thirty feet or more, and because of the poor visibility, gauges are worthless here. Yes, I have run out of air at forty feet and yes, I dive with alligators and poisonous snakes. However, understand these things don’t scare me. What does scare me is the mud monster. The mud monster is a state of mind. It is raw fear. It’s the thought that you may never surface again and they won’t ever find your body,” explains Charlie.
“For every log I recover, there is a mud monster I have fought. However, when, I am sawing the log on my mill, as I make every cut, I forget about the mud monster a little more each time. Sinker Cypress has a soul that is exposed with each pass of the mill. I just can’t wait to sweep the saw dust away to see what lies beneath,” adds Charlie.
“Most people think I crossed the gulf and mud dive for sinker cypress because I am crazy, but the real reason is I have spent my whole life on the water. Water covers three/fourths of the earth, and it covers fifty percent of Louisiana. For me it’s a place that brings me peace of mind, not insanity,” says Charlie
Charlie refuses to give direct answers for what he is in search of next. “Everyone wants to know what I am going to do to top my last feat. The truth is, I don’t know. I have been searching for the Cajun gold for several years, but now I am beginning to think that there might be some of Lafitte’s real gold laying around. It’s a needle in a haystack, and once again everybody is calling me crazy. But they also said I couldn’t cross the gulf, didn’t they?” Charlie said.