Thursday, October 31, 2013

No risk, no reward

The forecast looked a bit bipolar.

There were tiny thunderclouds with lightning bolts all the way down the page, but the wind speed was never predicted to get above 7 knots.

Our friends on the SV Escondida were headed for Redfish Island and planning to spend the night.

While the October temperatures are great for anchoring out, we’d never had a calm night at Redfish Island.  I had completely swore off of anchoring there.  

Of the two times we’d previously spent the night there, once required re-anchoring at 3 a.m. when we started bouncing off the bottom at low tide. The second time we got rocked all night by wind and wakes and had a neighbor drag past us, then shine spotlights on our boat for an hour while they re-anchored.  It literally felt like we were sleeping in a bucking bronco that night.  We would doze of for a minute only to be startled awake.  There is nothing like waking up, forgetting you're on a boat, to your whole "house" shaking.  

Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep either trip.

At noon the rain still hadn’t hit, although we could see it following close behind, and being buoyed by our previous weekend’s great sailing, we decided to at least sail out to the island, even if we weren’t going to spend the night.

As we left Kemah, we watched the black clouds close in behind us. The lightning strikes would reflect off the sails and light up the boat, and I'd count the seconds until the thunder hit. But we kept tacking into the wind, confident the storm was blowing away from us.

It was a 3.5 hour trip to Redfish Island, and we got sprinkled with rain from time to time.  The trip was a little more tippy than I like, but it was sunny enough I could sit up front and ignore it.  

With a careful eye on the depth and the tide chart, we dropped anchor around 4 p.m., and I could immediately tell from the look in Mary's eyes we were going to spend the night.  Well we were in great company, and its rare to get such a nice night out.  

For the first time ever it was calm enough to deploy the kayak and make an assault upon the island. I tried to take Dixie, but she flattened herself to the sole of the cockpit and wasn't having any part of this crazy kayaking idea.

Unfortunately for Tex, he's so small he had no choice, so Mary handed him over to me, and the two of us headed out for Redfish Island.  Poor tex, the whole time he has the life jacket on he just air swims.  As if he could fall in the water at any minute and he would like to be prepared.  

Tex doesn't like wearing his life jacket, and he was rather annoyed at getting splashed by the paddles, but once we got to the island, he gave the air a few sniffs, forgot his troubles and began rampaging around like a crazy dog.

A few minutes later our friend on the Escondida had their dinghy in the water and stopped to pick up Dixie on the way to walk their schnauzer, Beef. All three dogs couldn't get enough of the smells, especially the smells of the dead birds we found. Of course, Tex was the only dog who decided to eat the dead birds.  Yeah for such a girly looking dog he is disgusting.  

After the island escapade, we returned to Gimme Shelter where Mary got to play hostess all evening ... and perhaps drink a little too much rum.  I didn't mean to, but I was bored while they were on the island! It was so good to FINALLY hang out on our boat.  

Low tide came and went at 7 p.m., so by the time we went to bed, I was feeling confident in our anchor, and it was easy to fall asleep.  I was more than confident, I had closely monitored the the swing, and the depth and I knew we were not moving.  

Around 1 a.m. I felt the wind really coming through the hatch, so I got up to check our position, and all was well. It was then back to sleep until the sun started creeping in the open hatch. I sat up for a look and was rewarded with this.

I tried to wake Mary up to share the beauty. She did sit up and look, then she went back to bed.

I couldn't sleep anymore. It was too exciting. I clicked a few more photos from the boat, then I made Dixie kayak with me to the island, so Mary could sleep in quiet.  How could I sleep with them having adventures though.  Its so cool to see them so tiny over on the island.  You forget how small your dogs are until you see them from a new perspective.  I would guess kids are the same way.  

After being scared to death of the kayak Saturday night, the trip to the island in the dinghy had alleviated her fear.

We spent the morning adventuring, walking all the way to the end of the island and back as huge ships passed by.

 I stared at all the weird items that had drifted ashore while she sniffed them.

Then, eventually we paddled back to the boat to make coffee.

My ingenious and noisy coffee plan consisted of plugging the coffee pot into the power inverter and then running the engine for ten minutes to keep it from draining the house bank. The only downside of the weekend is that we realized our power inverter isn't working at all. I wasn't even getting electricity to the back of it. I also don't know if the inverter even has enough power to run the coffee pot, so it was a risky plan to start with.

While I was fumbling through the coffee plan, Mary and Tex did some kayaking.

When she got back, Matt and Carla invited us over to Escondida for coffee and pancakes.

We had a nice breakfast before the dogs made one more trip to the island. Then it was back to reality with a gusty sail home.

Everyone was exhausted.

This was absolutely one of the most enjoyable sailing trips we've ever made, and we almost stayed at the dock. No risk, no reward.

Everyday that we sail the boat is better and better.  It was unbelievably stressful sailing our new boat at first, but totally worth it now that we finally trust ourselves and each other with her.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

October sailing

October always has the best weather for sailing in Houston, but it always ends up being my busiest travel month of the year. Last year it was Seattle to Paris to Tulsa. This year it's Tulsa to Pensacola to Paris and then is capped with my little brother's wedding in Houston.

That doesn't leave much time for sailing, but thankfully we were able to sneak out for a few hours Saturday to wander the bay in light wind.

We needed a light wind day to practice some basic skills and build our confidence back up. The trips to Double Bayou and Harbor Walk with rough winds, no main sail, and an underwater collision had really shaken Mary. Meanwhile I had been fighting with the battery system since July 4 and had become very wary of motoring. In other words, one of us had no confidence in sailing, the other had no confidence in motoring, and we were both wondering if we could make it an afternoon on the water without fighting.  Sailing so far has felt a bit like walking a tight rope that could fall into an argument at any moment.  It also seems that every time I think things are finally looking up that something goes wrong with the boat.  

Thankfully the Universal fired right up, battery bank 1 had no issues, and we got out to the bay with no problem. Mary took the helm while I raised the sails, and we spent the next three hours tacking back and forth across the bay to Redfish Island.  I should have trusted Freddie a long time ago to work the sails. I had the attitude of "it's my boat, so I should know how to work the sails," and I do, but Fred is a lot stronger than me and he did a great job of trimming the sails. I really felt a lot safer with him working them.  

We spent most of the time close hauled, making about 3.5 knots, and we even managed to catch up to and then outrun one of our friends on his Allied Seawind. That felt really good since he is by far the better sailor, but Gimme Shelter moves well in light wind.  It was great to be close hauled with light wind because it feels like you're going so fast, but you don't tip as much as with heavier winds.  

We had left the dock with clenched teeth but the love of sailing was back, and we were in full relaxation mode as I listened to the water streaming off the hull, Mary sunbathed on deck, and the autopilot steered us onward.  It really felt like a victory.  

Now the most remarkable moment of the trip came as we approached Redfish Island, and I started looking around for the wrecked platforms you have to avoid as you approach the island from the west. I spun around wondering if we'd somehow already passed them. They just weren't there!

At some point between Labor Day and last weekend someone has removed at least four platforms that were wrecked in Hurricane Ike five years ago. This is a big deal. I've been using "the barn" as a navigation point for years!  At some point you just give up on seeing things fixed, and trash just becomes landmarks. 

I searched the news for any mention of this and couldn't find a thing, but I would like to issue a big thank you to whatever company or government body it was that finally cleaned up the bay. As boaters, we really do appreciate it. (I just hope you took all those platforms down to the mud, so I don't slam into a bunch of underwater pipes next time I'm out!)  LIke basically all of Trinity Bay. That place is a hazard zone. 

We made a 180 at Redfish and headed back towards Kemah hoping for a nice downwind run. I guess 1 knot is moving, but I don't think it qualifies as a run. Our friend in the Allied Seawind definitely had us beat downwind with his huge bumblebee drifter deployed.  

We have a very large jib, but we completely failed at getting it to fill in the light wind. We fired the Universal back up and chugged home.  It really stinks to motor downwind :(.  It was very dead though.  

I kept an eye on the depth finder as we entered the Watergate channel, and I was very pleased that at no time did we have less then two feet of water under our keel. We would plow through anywhere from 6" to 18" of mud in the Marina Del Sol channel depending on the tide. With no more fear of getting stuck in the lake, that's one more point of stress eliminated from our sailing routine.

Back at Watergate we washed down the boat and met a few of our new neighbors before heading back over to Marina Del Sol for dinner. I mean, after all, nobody can grill pork tenderloin like the Captain of the Tina Marie.  

To Marina Del Sol's credit, they had FINALLY towed away the Bijou, a huge motorboat with a recording of sinking and leaking diesel every four to six weeks for the past three years.

Of course, the owners left an old moldy mattress from the Bijou lying on the dock and it had sat there for a full two weeks undisturbed by marina staff. My bet is that it will still be lying there next weekend if we stop by -- but would you expect anything else from Marina Del Sol?

The storms hit late Saturday night, and we discovered Gimme Shelter does much more rocking and rolling in the wind at Watergate since it's less protected and has deeper water. That's definitely a downside to the new location. It was bad enough that the dogs retreated under the covers for protection, but it wasn't terrible.  It really wasn't bad at all.  I don't even remember it.  

Sunday morning West Marine replaced both our batteries on bank 2 under warranty, and we now seem to have the 12 volt system back up and running at 100 percent. Maybe if I fix the fuel gauge sender Mary will agree to a trip to Offats Bayou this weekend.  As our sailing improves I am pretty excited to go on another longer trip.  It's been just about long enough to forget how bad the last one was.  :)   We are getting noticeably better with time though.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

One of those days

We had a busy weekend planned.

I wanted to get the leaking hatch fixed correctly, get Gimme Shelter moved over to her new berth at Watergate Yacht Center, have a huge barbecue with friends at the new marina, and most importantly, do some sailing.

I got there early Friday with a new hatch lens cut from the correct 1/2" acrylic and a tube full of Dow Corning 791.

I quickly had the 1/4" lens popped out and spent at least a half hour scraping and cleaning silicone off the metal frame. Then I carefully taped everything up again, opened up my new tube of sealant and fit the new lens in place. Perfection -- or so I thought.

After having my previous lens pop out on me when I began installed the latches, I decided to walk away from this one and let it sit overnight before I touched it. I went to bed patting myself on the back.

Then Saturday morning I got up and tried to install the weather stripping.

Oops. The weatherstripping was supposed to go on the inside lip of the frame with the lens sitting on top of it. With the lens glued in, there was no way to attach it.

I thought, that's ok, there's no way this thing is leaking anyway. I'll save the weatherstripping for next time.

Then I tried to install the latches with their fresh rubber O-rings.

I screwed them in. They cinched up on the acrylic and sealed well.

Then I tried to shut the hatch.

The latches were too far forward.

I traced this lens off the old lens, and the holes for the latches were too far forward!

I ever so gently forced the hatch shut by shouting an expletive and stomping on it.

After wasting $30 the first time around, I've spent another $50 and my hatch still isn't right.

I'm guessing the lens I replaced was not the original and the person who replaced it put the latches too far forward, which is why it was cracked at the latches in the first place. They need to be moved a full 1/4" back!

What's the old phrase, measure twice, cut once? Guess I should have double checked everything.

On the upside, the new lens looks great and doesn't leak at all. I think we're just not going to attempt to open it ever again.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Going cheap and getting burned

I always get on to Mary about planning and taking logical steps -- not jumping into purchases before we have measurements, not sending out wedding invitations before we have a set date and location -- that kind of thing.

When we bought Gimme Shelter, the mid-ship Bomar hatch had a cracked lens and was leaking. It's been on the never-ending to-do list but didn't take priority until I ended up sleeping under the hatch in the rain and realized just how badly it was leaking. That's about the same time we realized the leak was also seeping into the headliner and warping it. It was time to move it to the top of the list.

I DID take measurements before I started. Unfortunately I only measured the length and width of the hatch, not the thickness of the acrylic lens.

Honestly, I was a little excited when I started this project because I thought, hey, this is going to be cheap because I can just use stuff from Home Depot instead of having to buy ridiculously priced boat parts to fix this.

Off I went to Home Depot and grabbed the only smoked acrylic they had in stock, which was only $25. I scored it and snapped it to the size we needed and then proceeded to cut the old lens free, so I could trace and cut the rounded corners. Everything was going to plan.

Once I removed the old lens, I immediately noticed it was much thicker than I had estimated. I weighed the pros and cons of replacing it with a thinner lens and decided that while the thinner one may crack sooner, if it lasts a year, it was worth it and we'd have the leak stopped, so let's just be cheap and progress with the project.

The first setback came when my dremel tool died after rounding just two corners. It was a really hot day and the tool was even hotter, so it wouldn't charge when I set it on the charger. I could have gone and bought a new corded dremel, but I was being cheap and didn't really want to have to go buy new tools for this project.

I got impatient and grabbed the jig saw. I was rounding the last corner when a big chunk snapped out of the plexi. Time to start over.

I carefully measured and scored another piece. Unfortunately, the snapping didn't go so well.

I was down to the last portion of my sheet large enough to make a new hatch. I decided scoring and snapping this one was too risky, so I began cutting it with the somewhat charged dremel. It died again. I let it charge another half hour and then got another five minutes out of it. After suffering in the heat all afternoon my neighbor loaned me his corded dremel and within 10 minutes I finally had a correctly cut sheet of plexi. Why didn't I just save myself a ton of frustration and go buy a new dremel in the first place?

Once the lens was cut, I rummaged through the toolbox and grabbed a very old tube of silicone, unplugged it with a drill bit and used that to seat the lens. Why did I use old silicone?

The next morning I stopped by West Marine to see what kind of UV protected silicone they had for the outer bead. The cheapest stuff was $16, so I went back to Home Depot and grabbed some indoor/outdoor waterproof window silicone for $3. The cheap disease had me in a death grip at this point. I was going to get this lens replaced for less than $30 and then brag about it over beers for at least the next two weekends!

Mary took time to mask off the lens, so our outer silicone bead would look nice.

I then went to town with the white silicone around the edges and did my best to get it into a nice smooth bead. It didn't look half bad.

One last job remained -- screwing the hatch dogs back onto the lens.

One problem -- the lens was too thin to snug the dogs up.

(As an aside, Bomar has a horrible latch design. These sort of mushroom shaped stoppers stick down through the hatch on a very small O-ring and then the handle screws onto them. Then the entire piece turns. It's like a third grader engineered it. In fact I called their customer service department to ask if they had an updated design because cinching down an O-ring when you still need it loose enough to turn is never going to be a great seal. The Bomar lady on the phone got pretty defensive and said if the O-rings on a hatch that was 31 years old were leaking, that certainly couldn't be considered a design flaw and I just need to do proper maintenance. I'm just going to say that the dogs on the Lewmar port on my Starwind sealed on the outside and only turned internally, so there was no chance of a leak ever. They could also be tightened or loosened. In other words, Lewmar actually engineered a real solution, they didn't just poke a stick through the hatch lens and call it good.)

We'd spent Sunday morning cruising through other marinas in our friends dinghy and showing off the pool of the new place, so at this point it was late Sunday afternoon. Once again it was super hot, and we were starting to get pressured for time.

I made a run to West Marine for large washers that I could shim the latches with. Now they DEFINITELY weren't going to be water proof, but maybe I could at least get them tight enough to lock the boat.

I think it was during my second attempt to install the latches that the unthinkable suddenly happened. I tipped up the latch for a better angle, and the lens fell out of the frame.

Yes, the super old silicone from my toolbox that I'd applied the previous day completely failed to hold the lens in the frame. I managed to grab it before it fell completely out and got white silicone on everything, but the damage was done. It was at this point I began cursing, and I'm not sure poor little Tex will ever be the same after hearing the things I said to the boat.

I calmed down, I gummed the lens back down in the frame and squished the white silicone back into place -- destroying the nice bead -- and I left.

Mary wanted to tarp up the boat in case it rained, but I just didn't care. I wanted to go home. I was tired of that hatch. I was tired of plexiglass. I was tired of silicone that didn't cure. I was tired of the horrible latches that only fit one particular thickness of plexiglass. And above all, I was super mad that I had been so cheap and muddled through this project instead of being patient and buying the correct tools and supplies for the job.

This morning I ordered a sheet of 1/4" acrylic for $36 and a tube of black Dow Corning 791 for $15. I'm also going to go pick up a new corded Dremel for $50.

Instead of telling stories about how I replaced my window for only $30, I'll repeat my cautionary tale about how I once went cheap, ruining an entire weekend, just to end up spending all the money I should have in the first place.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Marina shopping

How do you know when it's time to leave your marina?

A slip at Marina Del Sol in Kemah, Texas came with my first boat when I purchased it four and a half years ago.

Imagine a long winding road through million dollar houses.  At the end of the road, Surprise!, there is a marina out of no where.  It is completely surrounded by large houses and the land surrounds it in almost a complete circle, forming a little secret protected whole. Every night you can sit on your dock with your friends and watch the most beautiful sunsets setting over the masts.  Cheerfully saying hello, as friend after friend walks to their boat, everyone stopping to tell you the latest marina happenings.

There is a never ending supply of boat advice, both expert and questionable.  The parade of characters that we have been blessed to have thrown upon us has made the adventure feel much more real.  I won't mention any names but we all know who they are....all of them.  

Hurricane Ike had just come through the year before, so all the marinas had suffered some damage. The cock-eyed docks with mangled, missing piers were forgivable at the time. It also had the least expensive floating docks in the area. Plus, when I bought it the Seahorse was a dilapidated piece of crap that didn't run, so it wasn't like I had the choice of moving anywhere else.

The years went by and all the other marinas in the area repaired things and rebuilt their docks. But not Marina Del Sol. It filled up with silt while the bulkheads surrounding it continued to rot away. The cock-eyed docks just stayed cock-eyed. They didn't even make an effort to remove the destroyed piers that twist down into the water. The story is, someone took the insurance money and ran.

The first year I asked if we would be getting some pool furniture since there was only one lounge chair and a very strange assortment of half-broken chairs around the pool. Management said, they'd put it on the list. I asked again every spring as more and more of the plastic chairs broke and the seating dwindled. Four years later, you have to bring camping chairs with you to the pool if you expect everyone in your group to be able to sit down.

It was my third year there when my boat was finally running well, and I was sailing every weekend that I realized with only a 4'11" draft, I was sitting on the bottom of the marina and couldn't move from December 1 until the third week of March. We had a massive drought in Texas that year and there had been water rationing all summer, so I chalked it up to the drought. However, when I happened again the next year, I asked the marina if they were going to ever dredge. Like the pool furniture, it was "on the list," but they just couldn't afford it right now.

Then came my rates with the 27' Starwind

Year 1: $185
Year 2: Suddenly they wanted $285. I said I was leaving and desperately tried to get my boat into a condition where I could be accepted at another marina. However, the week before I was set to leave, they offered a rate of $225. I decided to stay.
Year 3: I complained about the $225 rate and they lowered it to $200.
Year 4: They raised the $200 rate back up to $220, but I sold that boat and Mary brought in the O'day 34 at a rate of $200.
Year 4.5: The six month lease for the O'day is up and they asked for $250. We said no, so they came back with $215.

They supposedly charge by the length of your boat, not by the length of the slip. However, our friend with a 32' Endeavour on the same pier is paying $225, a friend with a 32' Allied Seawind is paying $165, and a friend with a 27' fishing boat is paying $165. I have no idea how they are actually setting the pricing, and I feel like a sucker for ever paying above $200.  I can only imagine how low some people may be paying.  

Then there's the bathrooms. They've never been clean, but lately, it's really bad. Many mornings you wander in to find no toilet paper, no hand towels, and poop smeared on the wall or floor of the stall. For almost two months last year the ladies room only had a rope for a doorknob. Then for three weeks last month there were no lights in the men's room. Then this morning Mary went to use the ladies room, and the doorknob came off in her hand.  It wouldn't have been that bad, but I still couldn't get in and I had to walk across the marina to go to the bathroom.  

I understand if you don't have the budget to buy new furniture or dredge or rebuild the docks, but if you've got four people on staff, you can at least clean the bathrooms every morning.

Not that all of our experiences at Marina Del Sol have been bad. We've met many nice people there and made some great friends. However, the maintenance issues have come to a point where I refuse to spend another dollar at that place, and I'm definitely not going to spend another winter with our boat sitting in the mud.  It really hurts because all the people that live in the marina love it so much.  Everyone dreams of us all coming together to save the marina like in a ridiculous teen movie, but the reality of the situation is that would cost more money than anyone has.  It reminds me of when I hear people who think they can buy a boat for nothing and then fix it for nothing.  The reality of life is that when you want to fix something like a boat or a marina, you have to spend the money to do it correctly or you're just going to end up underwater.  

Saturday morning we set out on a mission to find the perfect marina. But first we had to stop by the farmers market and have breakfast at Skippers.

But AFTER THAT, we set out to find the perfect marina.  AKA Marina Hunters (I was doing behind the scenes, reality tv interviews in my head the whole time.) 

First stop, Portofino.

Portofino is a dockominium. All the slips are privately owned and the community fees are controlled by a board of owners much like an HOA. It's gated with gate codes and bathroom codes changing monthly. The upside, we'd be right at the Kemah bridge and could literally be sailing in 15 minutes. They also have a great pool on the Kemah channel where you can sit and watch the the boats go by. The downside, it was right at the Kemah bridge, which was really loud, and the slip we were looking at was on the ugly, less protected side.  This is our low range priced Marina.  Coming in at 250 Portofino was well under the Fackers budget.  I was honestly ready to sign when I left, I am learning to look at all the options and talk things out now.  We learned some things from boat shopping...

Next stop, Seabrook.

Seabrook is across the channel from Portofino. It also has a pool on the channel. Bigger shadier pool. It also has floating docks -- some of which even have covered walkways. It seemed well maintained. There's free wifi and a discount at the shipyard. The view on the side closer to Clear Lake was better, but the bridge traffic was still pretty loud. We also heard the road in and out floods in heavy rain. The only slip available there that fell within our budget was near the fuel dock, and had a narrow fairway. The slip we would have wanted there was $450.  The cheap slip was very far away from all the slips big enough for our friends.  It turns out normal marinas don't just stick boats randomly on different sized docks, and its hard for a 34ft and a 40ft to be together.  

Next stop, Waterford.

This is a fancy marina. It's gated. It had great restrooms, a small weight room and a sauna. We liked it, but the pool is actually owned by the adjoining restaurant, Sundance Grill. Therefore you cannot bring any food or drinks into the pool area. On the upside you have a waitress in the pool area bringing you drinks. On the downside, we are not wealthy enough to pay $400 a month in slip fees and also pay for poolside margaritas. Walking the dogs would have also been a nightmare because it's a half mile of no dog signs before you get to the designated dog walking area. We decided we were not fancy enough.  It's weird how rich people think.  This place was not the most expensive, nor did it have the best stuff.  Its just like all the snobby people decided to go there.  Weird.  "hey guys lets all get together and build a marina with no trees or breeze where everything costs a fortune, and then we'll all get our hair done to go to the pool."  Awesome. 

Final stop, Watergate.

Watergate got destroyed in Hurricane Ike, and they don't deny that their boats basically got massacred by the storm surge. They've replaced all the old fixed docks with state-of-the-art floating docks, and you actually get a finger pier on both sides of your boat. No more messy docking, where I fall in the water!  You get a dockbox and free wifi as well as the use of two pools. They keep both the marina and the channel through Clear Lake dredged on a regular basis, and they built a bigger breakwater between the marina and the lake, so that hopefully when the next hurricane comes along, they will fare better.  A higher insurance policy is on the to do list.  We'll still have a 30-minute trek across Clear Lake and out to the bridge to go sailing, but at least we'll be able to make it any time of year.  I felt bad because I knew being closer to the bay was important to Freddie, but the noise at those two marinas by the bridge was really a deal breaker.  Watergate is quiet and has much more green space than most marinas. I could tell from the look in Mary's eyes as soon as we walked through it, she was going to vote for Watergate.  I really love all the trees and park areas and long walking trails.  That is real relaxation for me.  

Every marina was a trade-off. Some places gave you quiet and a nice view. Some places gave you easy bay access. Some places gave you security. Some of them gave you safety from storms. None of them had the whole package, but Watergate checked the most boxes on our list and came in on the lower end of the price list we had gathered.

We signed a one-year lease and will be moving at the end of the month. We'll miss sitting on the dock late into the night with our friends or stumbling off our boat and right onto our neighbor's boat for coffee in the mornings, but change isn't always a bad thing. Hopefully we'll spend much more time meeting up with friends in the bay while sailing instead of being stuck in a dilapidated marina all winter.  We have high hopes of all the things we hope to accomplish in this next stage of our life, we'll see how far that gets us.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How do you prioritize your repairs and upgrades?

Something is always broken. Our list of repairs and improvements for Gimme Shelter is about two pages long.

Of course, some things jump to the front of list -- like a ripped sail or dead batteries -- while others never seem to get resolved.

I've got a propane oven I'm planning to install, but I need to spent about $100 on a shut-off solenoid, and I just haven't brought myself to order the part since it's 99 degrees outside and the thought of making the boat any hotter by turning on an oven seems ridiculous. However, I walked into West Marine and dropped almost $75 on a portable 12 v fan. 

Could we have lived without that fan purchase? Yes, but it just seemed to make more sense than the propane valve.

We also have a missing hot water heater. It would take $250 and maybe an hour to get a new one fitted, and we'd once again have warm showers. But who wants a warm shower when you're already sweating in a boat. So that project has also hit the back burner.

We had been conveniently ignoring the cracked deck hatch since we bought the boat six months ago. Then we finally had some Texas style rain.

I awoke to the feeling of water sprinkling on my leg, and I immediately jumped up thinking one of the dogs had decided to pee on me.

I don't know why I thought this since neither dog has ever peed on the boat. The dogs obviously didn't know why I thought this either since they both groggily raised their heads as they tried to figure out why I had jumped out of bed.

Then I saw it.

 The rain was coming right through the crack in the hatch and dripping right onto the bed where my leg had been.

I grabbed a trash can and managed to lodge it between the bed and the table where it would catch the drip and went back to sleep. In the morning I had collected almost three inches of water in the can.

Looks like putting new plexiglass in the leaky hatch just got to the top of the list.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Wrath of the wasps" or "Why you should always have spare glasses aboard"

For over four years I've kept an extra set of eyeglasses in a drawer on the boat. I'm not completely blind without them, but I shouldn't be driving without them.

Every time I'd see the spares in the drawer my mind would quickly play through some drastic scenario where I was braving 6' seas with 50 knot winds as I struggled to survive and got hit in the head with the boom, knocking my glasses overboard or breaking them beyond use.

I never thought I'd lose my glasses while standing on the dock because of a measly insect.

Sunday morning Mary wanted to scrub the boat down, so I opened to dock box to grab the scrub brush and some other cleaning supplies. I was greeted with a face full of wasps.

I jumped backwards in pain and only faintly heard the splash that I realized were my brand new glasses disappearing into the murky waters of Marina Del Sol.

It took ten minutes for the angry wasps to settle down enough that I could walk past the dock box to
get back on the boat. All I could think about was the fact that over $360 had just disappeared from my pocket.

I changed into my swimsuit and sullenly walked back to where it seemed like the glasses had disappeared. Several carp that were eating the moss off the side of the dock fled as I eased myself into the water. The left side of my face was throbbing.

I took a big breath and made my first dive.

The visibility in our marina water is less than six inches and the bottom is dark, soft mud. I quickly realized that without a mask I was never going to see the glasses. I resorted to the lifeguard's lost bathers search -- diving  down and doing arm sweeps across the bottom. After a half dozen dives I'd found nothing, but a zinc anode and stirred up enough mud that visibility was now zero.

I returned to the boat, now angry, and grabbed a flip flop to go crush all the wasps. Mary intervened and talked me down, reminding me that people wind up in the hospital and even die from bee and wasp attacks.

I calmed down and decided to dive a few more times. I still found nothing behind the neighbor's boat, and I sure wasn't going to swim underneath boats in the marina or the docks without a mask or air.

The glasses were gone.

I rinsed off with the hose, changed clothes, pulled out the spare glasses, and drove home in defeat.

Two days later, and my lip STILL hasn't stopped swelling.

I never thought I'd be defeated by a bug, but I guess you win some and you lose some.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Destination Review: Harborwalk, Hitchcock, Texas

After passing beneath the Galveston Causeway, if you head west along the ICW you'll find Harborwalk Marina in Hitchcock, Texas.

The marina suffered major damage from Hurricane Ike and just re-opened with newly renovated facilities in 2013. 

We were able to reserve a slip two weeks in advance with no problem, but there were quite a few transient boaters staying the weekend. 

Slip fees were $75 a night with electric and water hook-ups. The marina boasts a pool, an outdoor bar, a restaurant, a ship store with sandwich shop, a bait shop, gas docks and supposedly pump out facilities although I never got a clear answer on where they were and if we could use them, so don't count on being able to pump out there.

On paper and in the photos, it seems great. Unfortunately, Harborwalk really let us down.

We had a rough sail with strong headwinds, so we didn't arrive until near 5 p.m. on a Saturday. The pool bar stayed open to make us one strawberry daiquiri, but then closed up for the night. At that point Floyd's restaurant was the only thing left open, and with 30 or so boaters waiting for tables as well as a steady stream of locals, there was an hour wait to be seated.

Some of our friends opted to place an order for carry out, so they could eat back on the boat, but they were greatly disappointed with quality of food -- think Chilis quality but at $25 an entree.

Although very willing to pay Harborwalk prices for drinks, we were left without a bar, so we spent the evening sitting in the pavilion drinking the beer we brought, playing guitars and getting eat alive by some of the biggest mosquitoes I've ever seen. 

Harborwalk is built in a swamp with standing water everywhere. Our Deep Woods Off and citronella candles didn't even seem to phase the swarms of mosquitoes.

Normally, this would have been a great evening despite all the mosquitoes, but there was a tension in the air over the fact that we had brought our own coolers. Was it allowed? Was it not allowed? As I said, we were perfectly willing to buy our drinks from Harborwalk, but weren't given the opportunity.

All evening there were also locals pulling up in small motorboats that would just tie up to the dock and then stand beside their boats drinking beer and smoking cigarettes with their stereos cranked up as loud as they could get them to play while shouting to one another over the music -- incredibly annoying. 

Sunday morning we went over to the ship store to pay for our slip rental and then went to the pool to enjoy the water for an hour or two before heading back to Kemah. Unfortunately, a security guard promptly showed up to tell us that we couldn't swim in the pool unless we were members. We calmly explained that we had paid for slips and those were our boats tied up right in front of the pool. He then said we need wrist bands to be in the pool and once again insisted we get out. You know, it would have been nice of the guy in the ship store who took our slip rental money to give us wrist bands or even mention wrist bands in any way. 

At this point I was just fed up with the attitude of the staff and with whole place in general, so instead of walking back to the ship store to get wrist bands we decided to start the trip back to Kemah.

Hours: 9-5, Mon-Sat, 10-5 Sunday
1445 Harborwalk Blvd, Hitchcock, Texas 77563
Toll free 866-435-8777 or local 409-935-3737

Harborwalk gets a big thumbs down. I've never felt more unwelcome for $75 a night.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dead batteries, dead bodies

It was a rough Friday at Marina Del Sol.

July 4th, Gimme Shelter had left us stranded, batteries flat-lined after only four hours at anchor. Thankfully that $169 annual membership to SeaTow finally paid off. It just took a phone call, and we had a SeaTow boat there with jumper cables.  The only bad thing about SeaTow is that both times we called there was at least an hour wait, but to be fair, tow trucks aren't very fast either.  

The Universal kicked right over, and we were back in business. The alternator was putting out a strong 14 volts, so I knew one of the three batteries was the culprit.

The weekend finally came to resolve the battery issue. I wasn't looking forward to it for three reasons, there would be no air-conditioning while I had to power off to remove the batteries, the batteries are heavy as hell, and there's a huge mess of wires to deal with.  Luckily we have been having some unseasonably cool temps due to a week of rain although the humidity has still been pretty rough.  

 On my last boat, everything was wired to the fuse panel, and then there were only the battery selector and charger cables attached to the batteries themselves. I did my best to note which wires went where. On two batteries the black and yellow wires were negative. However, the third battery had a positive yellow lead and a red ground wire. Stuff like that drives me nuts.

It took me about half an hour to document the wiring and remove the three batteries. Then I carted them over to West Marine where not one, but two of these Deep Cycle dual purpose batteries tested bad. $350 later I was once again sweating buckets as I re-sorted the wiring and hooked everything back up.  The dogs and I just sat in the boat and sweated.

Mission accomplished. It was time for a couple cold beers and the Kemah Friday night fireworks. Everyone was in great spirits. Then I walked up to the car.  You left out the part where you were dancing hysterically to Katy Perry during the fireworks. My personal favorite part of the evening :).  

"Pssst, hey! Look at all the cops," whispered Big Jim, one of the Marina Del Sol live-aboards, as I walked past his boat in the dark.

I looked up the hill and sure enough, there were eight police officers in the backyard of one of the houses.

"They pulled a body out of the pool," he continued in a hushed but urgent tone.

I then noticed the knee of the body sticking up, just visible over the edge of the hill. I frantically began texting everyone down on F dock, "THERE'S A DEAD BODY OVER HERE!" as Big Jim told the story. I'm probably paraphrasing a bit, but here's his story as best I can remember:

The guy came home and turned all the lights on, and he turned the big TV on that you can see through the window, and he was in the house for a while. Then he comes outside and he says, "Bobby!" Then he dials his phone, and he yelled "Shut up" at somebody like he dialed the wrong number, and he redials 911 and says he needs police, and within two minutes the police were here. Then he jumped in the pool and pulled out the body, and now they're walking around shining flashlights on everything.

It wasn't long before my text messages and the flashing lights started drawing the rest of the marina over to E dock. Jim kept retelling his story, but my friend Matt's boat was just a couple slips down, and it has steps all the way up the mast. Normally, I would never board someone else's boat, but we needed a better look at this situation. Being down the hill was obscuring the view of everything.  I know Matt would have understood the need.

I texted Matt a pre-apology for getting on his boat and then ascended the mast. Here's the scene that unfolded in front of me.

Two officers were standing beside the pool with the body while others were in the house and one came down to the dock to start looking for witnesses.

If the drowning victim's name was actually Bobby, it would have been Bobbi -- because the victim was definitely a fully-clothed woman.

Some of the residents of these palatial homes that border the marina have boats in the marina, but it's very rare that any of them ever mingle with those of us without homes. As I talked to one of the officers who was looking for witnesses, I realized that despite walking past this house up to a dozen times each weekend for the past four years, I have no idea who lives there or even what they look like. Their tragedy had now become our sideshow.

I also realized that the poor drowned woman could have been floating in the pool all three times I'd already walked past the house that day going back and forth to the car, but you can't actually see the pool from the bottom of the hill, so there was no way to know or help.

Once we tired of staring, we all returned to the boats, but of course, the dead body continued to be the main topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend with speculation running wild as to accidental death versus suicide versus foul play.

I've been watching the news, but I still haven't come across anything regarding the incident.

This morning as I walked back to the car thinking about how you couldn't even make up the kind of constant drama occurring in Marina Del Sol, I came across this guy floating beside E-dock.

I've never seen a jelly quite like that in the marina before, and it's the first one I've seen at all this year.

We had planned to go sailing and test the new batteries, but instead we packed it in and came home.  Next weekend will be our longest trip yet in any boat, and we are pretty excited.  Hopefully we can remember all of our sailing lessons, and it will go a little smoother than our last trip.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Repairing the damage

Our first weekend at Redfish Island had shaken us around so badly that an unsecured door to the bathroom ripped out of the bulkhead. Then we (Mary) ripped the mainsail on the way to Double Bayou. The Garmin GPS was in and out. The gear basket had been ripped off the binnacle, and the holding tank needed to be pumped out. After two weekend trips, Gimme Shelter needed some TLC.

I tackled the easy stuff first. Just a few dabs of wood glue and a new set of screws had the door back on its hinges and the gear basket back in place. Then came the tougher task of sewing up the sail.

I can put a button on a shirt, but that's about as advanced as my Boy Scout sewing training ever got. Luckily, Mary is quite the seamstress and even attempted to start a business doing boat upholstery -- until she realized she hated sewing boat stuff. It's just not that fun to do anything non creative. Then people wanted me to do all kinds of weird shaped seats, and they never came out as nice as I wanted.  Plus people would bring me their disgusting old motor boat seats, and I'd have to take them apart and work with the moldy fabric all day. I'm done with that!

Despite having all sorts of sewing implements it still took another $50 to get the correct Dacron patch material, heavy UV resistant thread, and large needles needed to patch the sail -- but at least we now have it ready for any future rips. West Marine and Sailrite both had more expensive options but all you really need is thread, a large sail needle and a patch. I did get a blister on my thumb from pushing the needle through, but a thimble would have solved that.  It took me a second to remember my zigzag stitch but once it came back it was a fairly quick job.  I think with any bigger of a rip though it would have been worth it to take the sail down and opt for basting and non sticky patch material.  Sewing through anything sticky is never fun.

Mary got down to business while I cleaned, cheered and checked out some baby ducks. We still haven't sailed with it so it is left untested.

So with Mary kicking up the action and doing the sail repair, I felt like I better do something too. When we got back to the house I got to work on the propane oven, cleaning all the nozzles, installing the new thermostat, painting the burners, and picking up new fixtures and hose. By the end of the weekend, we had fire. I was so scared Freddie was going to light himself on fire or explode the house the whole time!

However, now comes the task of crafting new gimbals to mount the oven and building a propane locker in the cockpit. With a boat, the work never ends.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The voyage from hell

This voyage actually occurred Memorial Day weekend when we ventured to Job Beason Park in Double Bayou. However, it has taken me some time to reflect on the events which occurred and to pen this entry in a humorous manner that doesn't lay (too much) blame on anyone for some of the disasters that took place.

There were three boats making this trip, Tina Marie, Champagne and Gimme Shelter. Everything had been well planned. Slips had been reserved weeks in advance. Charts had been checked. Menus had been concocted and shopping had been done. However, when the morning to leave arrived, there was quite a delay getting started.

We had planned to cast off at 10 a.m. towing the Tina Marie's dinghy behind us. However, at 11:30 a.m. the crew of the Tina Marie was still making gasoline runs, and we didn't even have the dinghy tied up behind us until close to noon while the crew of the Champagne did their best to patiently wait on us.

The first irritation of the morning was that our Garmin GPS unit, which had worked fine the weekend before, failed to connect to any satellites. Despite several restarts, it just sat there worthless, draining battery. We were back to relying on the Navionics app on my iPhone for any indication of speed and location.

We finally pulled out around noon and briskly navigated through Clear Lake and the Kemah channel, excited to cross Trinity Bay for the first time. 

Champagne was motoring ahead of us and gaining distance as we discovered we couldn't get much over 4.5 knots towing the large dinghy with its 20 hp outboard. It was towing well, just not fast. However, with nice 15-20 knot winds, I was sure we'd make hull speed even with the dinghy once we had the sails up.

I had the autopilot running and offered to come forward to raise the main sail, but Mary insisted she was going to handle it. Instead of cranking it up from the cockpit winch, she decided to try going up to the mast and pulling it up from there hoping it would be easier. It was very difficult for me last time from the cockpit.

Mary is not very strong. The sail was going up very slowly and flapping around like crazy in the wind. This is also our first boat with lazy jacks. The sail was about three-quarters of the way up when one of the battens got wrapped in a lazy jack.

I yelled to Mary over the noise of the motor and the sail flapping in the wind, "The sail is tangled!" She cranked on the winch.  

I yelled again, "THE SAIL. IT'S TANGLED!" In the response she cranked the winch again with all her strength.

Despite all the noise, I could hear the sound of the sail ripping as I watched a swath of daylight appear at the trailing edge of the flapping white cloth.


There was more yelling involved and it resulted in Mary bringing the main back down.

I knew that raising the sail was going to be a little easier from the mast, but it was so difficult for me last time that I did not even think that it might be tangled.  When Fred yelled that it was tangled I couldn't see anything caught at all and I thought he might mean a slight tangle that could be undone by continuing to raise the sail.  This will not be a mistake that we make again. 

Meanwhile, Champagne had raised sails, veered off to the north, and was rapidly disappearing towards the horizon. 

We veered off to match their course and rolled out the jib. I killed the motor.

We were still making 4 knots. That wasn't really any worse than what we were doing motoring, but it was going to make our trip almost twice as long. 

We had no trouble getting to the north cut, but when we tacked to cross the ship channel, we realized we couldn't point in the direction we needed to really go. I had to kick the motor back on and roll in the jib while we crossed.  It's is just a little scary to slowly cut long ways across the ship channel while big ships are coming.  

Once we passed through the channel, the traffic quickly disappeared and we found ourselves alone with the wreckage of old oil platforms in Trinity Bay.

 We rolled the furler back out and set the autopilot. For a while things seemed good, maybe too good, as we started goofing off in the cock-pit.  However, that came to an abrupt stop when Mary tried to balance herself by grabbing the small gear basket on the helm, which was holding my iPhone -- our only navigational aid. As the screws holding the basket to the binnacle ripped out, my phone went crashing to the floor of the cockpit. That really killed the moment for me.  Fred is easy to make grouchy, especially when you're breaking things.

Hours passed and we slowly but surely made progress towards Double Bayou. However, we were coming in too far to the north, and I was taking a lot of flack for the amount of heeling the boat was doing. It is very difficult to sail with someone who is terrified when the boat tips.  I just don't understand why wherever we are sailing we are always close hauled.  

My plan was to sail past the channel to the south and then tack back into it. Unfortunately, with just the jib, the boat wouldn't point the way I had hoped. Our track ended up looking like this.

I think the backtracking cost us an extra hour -- not my finest navigation job, but it would only get worse before the trip was over. Finally you're taking some of the blame! 

We had been sailing for a good seven hours by the time we managed to get stuck the first time. We had been told to hug the red markers as we came in the channel, but a barge imposed his right of way forcing us out of the narrow channel while he went by. We revved up the diesel and rocked the boat and managed to break loose until we ran aground again about 100 yards further up the channel.

This time the boat wouldn't budge, so I left Mary at the helm and boarded the dinghy. Using the dinghy to push and pull we finally broke free again and made it maybe another 100 yards before getting stuck the third and final time.  This was awful because I couldn't see Fred in the dinghy at all from the helm, and I was constantly worried about running him over if we came loose. The depth finder, which is set to display the depth under the keel, was showing -2.5'. 

At this point, we had to call for help. Ray and Tony arrived on the Tina Marie and made a short attempt to pull us off, but as it made the Tina Marie swing into the shallow water, that method was quickly abandoned. Instead, we tied a long line to the halyard and Tony tied it to the dinghy. He then headed off perpendicular to our bearing, slowly tilting us over little by little until he had the outboard wide open with the dinghy bouncing in place on the water and Gimme Shelter listed over hard.

Things fell in the cabin, Mary screamed and clung to the deck in fear, the dogs had wild looks in their eyes as they slid across the cockpit, and Gimme Shelter started moving!  I got no say in this.  The boys totally took over with no question as to my opinion.  They get carried away when they're trying to solve boat/car issues.  

Tony threw the rope back to us, and we followed the Tina Marie up the channel to Job Beason park.

The trip had taken eight freaking hours, and Mary and I were very tired of being around one another.  That's putting it nicely.  

We walked the dogs and set up the air conditioner. Then our friends, who had been waiting HOURS for us to arrive, whisked us away to a house party on Oak Island where a few drinks and a big potluck dinner made things better.

After hearing the stories of Jimmy's five ex-wives to whom he had lost five houses and playing guitar with Ray, I was in much better spirits by the time we got back to the boat. We were laughing off the events of the day, walked the dogs again, and then went to bed.  It's crazy how fast the stress of the trip disappears in the enjoyment of the evening.  It reminds me how important the destination is though.  I will never do a hard sail to a destination that is not relaxing or fun.  I can see how mutinies might happen.   

The rest of our time at Job Beason park was great, and I can't say enough nice things about the people on Oak Island. We were really treated like family. Then it came time to go home.    

The crew of a large Beneteau at a bar called Marker 17 had assured us that upon leaving if we kept our nose lined up with a certain pole and our stern lined up with a boat rack on shore, we'd breeze right through the channel with no trouble.

We had trouble. Really no advice that we got about navigating that channel was clear.  

Mary went up to the bow of the boat to "watch for shallows," which was utterly pointless since there was no way to see a thing in the muddy water of the bay. I was watching the chart plotter and the depth sounder doing my best to stay afloat, but it was no use. We once again ran aground.  Besides the area that looked to be the shallowest turned out to be the deep water we were supposed to steer towards.  

This time all of our friends had gone ahead of us, so there was nobody around to help. A passing fishing boat threw us a line, but they only managed to spin us around the wrong direction and get us stuck deeper.  I think they were drunk -- and it was only 10 a.m..  

I called Sea Tow. We sat for twenty minutes watching little fishing boats go by while we waited for a Sea Tow captain to call us back. When he finally did, he said he was towing a boat in from Galveston and wouldn't get to us for another two hours. When some locals showed up in a flats boat with a HUGE outboard and offered to give us a pull, we took them up on it.

After several attempts and much calamity of ropes snapping across the back of their boat, trapping one of the guys helping us, then almost catching in their prop, we finally broke free. Then, after narrowly avoiding crashing into them, they finally threw off the line and led us up the channel. We were thankful to be on our way, but I think the guys who had helped us were wishing they had never stopped because one of them had definitely hurt his leg in the process. 

When we finally got out of the Double Bayou channel, we realized Trinity Bay was much rougher than it had been on Friday.  We rolled out the furler and set a course towards the north cut, but 
the boat was rocking and rolling and the autopilot was slipping as it tried to handle the wind and waves. We also weren't going any faster than we had been the day before even without the dinghy trailing behind us.

We ended up in the middle of a minefield of abandoned platforms. I set a high zoom rate on the chart plotter to help us avoid them. 

Mary was very unhappy. She sat frozen with fear. She wanted to know why we couldn't just sail downwind and be less tippy. 

Meanwhile sometime during all the calamity, Tex pooped in the cabin. I only mention it because it wasn't just any poop. It was a large, solid white poop. This solved the mystery of the tortillas that had disappeared Saturday. 

But white poops aside, we had a very long way to go, we were making very slow progress, and Mary was very unhappy with the way I was sailing.  It just made no sense to me that with the same wind direction we would be going close hauled both directions.  I was trying to tell Fred that I didn't think we were going the right direction but I was ignored.  

I was manually steering towards the cut ahead on the chart although it seemed as though I was having to adjust our heading more and more to the south. I thought maybe we were just drifting north due to the strong south wind, because of our short keeled boat, and because we were sailing with only a jib up.  I was focused on making sure we didn't hit any surprise underwater platforms or pipelines. I was also frying in the sun as we have no bimini on Gimme Shelter, only a dodger.

As Mary became more and more upset with the situation, I finally said, screw it, we'll motor the rest of the way. I kicked on the diesel and rolled in the jib to find that we could only make 2 knots into the wind and after a few minutes of pushing through the waves, the diesel was both smoking more than usual and on the edge of overheating.  

Things were very tense in the cockpit. I was starting to feel the effects of heat exhaustion from having stood in the sun the entire morning. Mary said that maybe she would be less scared if she was steering, so I gladly gave her the wheel.  I was really ready to do anything to make Fred less grouchy at that point.  

The dogs were sitting on the low side of the boat on a cushion in the shade against the hull. I'm a sucker for the dogs. I sleep around them in the bed, contorting myself, so they'll be comfortable. However, I was at the end of patience for all things boat related and I forcibly threw Dixie off the cushion to take the shady spot for myself. She stared at me with big disbelieving puppy dog eyes, and I felt a little bad about it, but not bad enough to sit in the sun any longer.

The hours slowly churned on and I anxiously checked the temperature gauge every few minutes. Mary kept steering. We didn't speak.

The ship channel came into view, and soon we saw the channel markers we needed for the crossing. But something was different. The place was familiar, but it wasn't the north cut.

I got up and zoomed out the chart. We were crossing the ship channel at Redfish Island.  

Somewhere in all the platforms with the zoome- in charts and adjustments for the wind playing havoc with our auto pilot, I had zoomed out just enough to see channel markers and had assumed it was the north cut. Instead we had ended up going miles south into the wind.  

Yes, we had gone hours windward, getting beat up and straining the diesel, for no reason. This time Mary was upset with me, and I was upset with myself.  I was nice. We were both just so exhausted and happy to be on a different course at this point there was no energy for "I told you so's".   

On the upside, we know the way home from Redfish Island very well, and we finally got to sail downwind for the last hour of the trip. It was also much calmer once we had crossed back into Galveston Bay. 

We were still really tired of being on a boat, and especially on a boat with each other, but things were looking up and the voyage was coming to an easy end -- or so we thought.

Once again we fired up the diesel, which was now behaving normally, and I steered us through Clear Lake back to Marina Del Sol. I was pulling into the slip when Mary yelled something I couldn't understand, so in fear of slamming into the dock, I put the engine in full reverse. We stopped a bit far from the dock and started drifting towards the boat downwind of us. Mary jumped off onto the dock and grabbed the lifelines, but she was already on her tiptoes and the expanse between boat and dock was growing.

I was running to the port side to push us off the neighbor's boat when I heard a splash. Mary was in the water between the boat and the dock. I didn't think about letting go until it was too late. I tried to pull myself onto the boat by the lifelines, but I couldn't hold on. I couldn't see anything, so I started yelling at her to get out from beside the boat, so she wouldn't get crushed. She couldn't pull herself out of the water onto the dock, and I couldn't just abandon the drifting boat to go help her. It was a nightmare.

The boat was still slowly moving forward, and I was working my way up the port side towards the bow, pushing us off the neighbors boat as hard as I could against the wind until finally the bow was over the dock.  As Fred is pushing our boat off of the other boat he is pushing the boat onto me, and I am a poor swimmer at best. I got over to the dock and quickly shuffled myself to the end of the pier to avoid being crushed. It took me a few seconds to decide if I could pull myself up or to swim over to the closest boat. It's very hard to pull yourself up over your head when you have nothing to put your feet on.  

I ran forward and hopped off the bowsprit onto the dock and stopped the boat's forward momentum. I then pulled the bow back to starboard and worked my way down the lifeline. 

Mary, now soaking wet, had finally managed to pull herself up on the end of the finger pier and helped me get lines on the boat. She was remarkably calm for having just taken a swim in our filthy marina water. 

So what did she yell that cause all the docking calamity?

"Doing great."

Yes, I aborted docking maneuvers and sent my girlfriend into the water because she said, "Doing great," as I was approaching the dock. Ummm ... sorry? Maybe just a thumbs up next time?

Mary hosed herself off while I walked the dogs. We had made it home in only 6.5 hours, which was a much better time than our trip there, but I wasn't sure if I ever wanted to go sailing again.  It can only get better. 

After a week of bickering over every little incident, we resolved to take more sailing lessons. It took us almost a month before we left the dock again, but when we did things went much better -- but that's another story.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Destination review: Job Beason Park, Double Bayou, Texas

Double Bayou lies on the east edge of Trinity Bay, just north of Galveston Bay. (It is VERY TRICKY to get in and out of Double Bayou as the channel is incredibly narrow. Your chartplotter is useless. All you can do is traverse it during high tides and HUG the red channel markers. We got stuck going both in and out.)

The southern branch of the bayou is undeveloped and allows for interesting kayaking, dinghy rides and fishing. The northern branch has several industrial sites, two restaurants, a public boat ramp, a convenience store, a motel, and is the location of Job Beason Park.

Friends have suggested calling ahead for reservations, but our trip to Job Beason Park took place Memorial Day Weekend 2013, and while the public boat ramp stayed busy, our group of three boats were the only boats that used the docks and spent the night.

For $35 a night, you can tie up to one of Job Beason Park's 18 finger piers along the well-built wooden dock. Power is included, but there is no water available.

The bayou is very calm and protected, a nice change after crossing the usually-rough Trinity Bay. Only an occasional barge or tug slowly passing by will ripple the waters.

The power hook-ups are 50 amp, so if you're using a 30 amp cord, you'll need an adapter. We had no problems with our power hook-up, but our friends had an issue with their breaker and did some surgery on the pole to get it working.

The park comes with your standard swingset and other park toys for the kids as well as a covered pavilion with picnic tables and a grill. There are public restrooms available next door to the picnic pavilion, but the stalls and showers do not have doors, and they do not seem to be cleaned ... ever. In fact, the odd shaped metal urinal in the men's room was stamped with "Texas Correctional Industries." If you ever want to experience prison toilets without going to jail, Job Beason Park is your place.

There's a convenience store and motel just across the road. You pay slip fees at the convenience store, and yes, they take credit cards. The convenience store also has public restrooms that are cleaned.

Just past the convenience store is a fuel dock, which is just a few hundred yards from the pier.

Marker 17, the local watering hole, is a short walk or an even shorter dinghy ride away. They're known for their burgers and shrimp, but we only sampled the beer, which was cheap and cold -- always a good combination.

If you're too cheap to pay the $35 for a dock at Job Beason park, you can tie up at Marker 17 for free, but beware, there's no power and the DJ is likely to be playing music very loud until very late.

All the residents we encountered were incredibly friendly and accommodating. They also LOVE live music, so if you've packed a guitar, be ready to play.

Be wary of loose dogs. There's no leash law in the area, so all the dogs roam free. Two came to visit our boat, and there were several hanging around the convenience store. None that we encountered were aggressive, but we have small dogs that could easily be injured even if a big dog was just playing, so we had to keep an eye on them.

Bring your bug spray and make sure you've got space in your holding tank, but Job Beason Park gets a thumbs up for a great place to visit.

Job Beason Park
W Bayshore Rd.
Oak Island, TX 77514