Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Our first night anchored out

(Preface: I would have preferred to call this post, "Sleeping through the Storm." My title has alliteration. Didn't they teach you that in school? Actually I think that's more of a consonance/sibilance thing, and it wasn't really a "storm." Also, you were the only one who got to sleep.)

Since the day we moved Gimme Shelter to Marina Del Sol, we've been anxiously waiting for our first chance to take a trip. I mean, isn't that the point?  Weather and maintenance had kept us at the dock except for one short afternoon sail. Last weekend we had grandiose plans of meeting friends at Double Bayou but there was too much rain, not enough water in the marina, and their raw water impeller disintegrated, so nobody went anywhere. Finally, this weekend we had a perfect forecast with lots of sun and a steady south wind of around 10 knots all weekend long. We really could not have asked for a better forecast.  All week long I was excited to get away.  

The south wind is important because a north wind blows all the water out of our marina, so if you leave with a south wind and return with a north wind, there's always the nagging question as to whether or not you can get back into the marina or if you'll be trapped in Clear Lake for hours or sometimes even days until the tides and wind turn around.

We were planning to get to the boat Friday evening and then sail away early Saturday morning. Then I got the call Thursday asking if I'd shoot some photos for an MMA fight poster Saturday morning. This was a huge bummer to me as I get off work every Friday at noon, so I had to wait an extra 24 hours to hit the road.  This is the hardest thing to do when you've been waiting all week and you're anticipating a long trip. I figured it would only be a slight delay, and I'm not one to turn down work when we have a very long list of upgrades and repairs to be made to Gimme Shelter. We lost a few hours of sailing time while I tried to make these guys look scary, yet pretty. If you're in Houston, they're fighting in July, so make sure and check it out.

Saturday afternoon we left Dixie and Tex at the house. I was envisioning a nice calm night alone with no dogs crowding the bed or waking us up at 6:30 a.m. wanting to go for a walk. It was such a nice dream, even if it didn't come true.

Traffic was a nightmare, so it was already 2 p.m. before we got to the boat. We spent an hour or so prepping the boat, and we were ready to go -- except we had no food.

We made a dash to the grocery store to find something for dinner and for breakfast. We had to stick with things that required no cooking because I have not yet installed the oven, and we hadn't bought any alcohol for the Origo stove. It was going to be a sandwich and cereal weekend, which was totally fine because at least we were sailing.  We thought sandwiches and cereal were going to be cheaper, but it still turned out to be around $50 regardless, and we hadn't even bought any booze. We did end up buying way more food than we needed though, but I guess its better to have extra than not enough.  

It was already 4 p.m. by the time we shoved off, which limited the potential anchorages we could reach before dark to Redfish Island. By this point both Mary and myself were already a little tired and cranky from rushing around all day.

Redfish Island is southeast of Kemah, and with a southeast wind we were having to close haul Gimme Shelter and make long tacks across the bay to gain any ground. Mary is not a fan of the heeling that comes with sailing into the wind. I really wasn't pushing the boat as she claims, and I don't think we were really heeling THAT much, but she was pretty unhappy with me most of the trip there.  This is why I dream of someday owning a catamaran.  

Eventually the freedom of being on the water soothed away the grouchiness, and we were looking forward to a nice sunset as we dropped sail and motored into Redfish Island.

I couldn't wait to paddle over to the island and catch a few photographs of Gimme Shelter looking pristine at anchor and then sip a rum and coke as we watched the sunset from the cockpit. Alas, neither of these things were to be.

The anchorage at Redfish is very shallow. We had previously anchored the Seahorse at the north end of the island and had to move in the middle of the night when our keel started slamming into the bottom. We made sure to anchor at the south end and out as deep as possible in hopes of not repeating that mistake, but even in the deep area, we only had around two feet of water under the keel.  We maybe could have anchored a little closer to the island, and therefore have avoided some of the waves, but there were three other boats there, and we wanted to play it safe. 

I usually go forward to drop the anchor, but Mary wanted a turn at it. I never know exactly when to flip the boat into reverse, and can't see where the anchor line is, and I'm always scared I'm going to run over it.  I figured, how hard could just dropping it be?  We constantly have to rework the way we do things to figure out how to best work together.  She did great, and we had it set on the first try. Gimme Shelter came with a small plow anchor, 20' of chain, and 100' of line. We made sure we had even more than a 7:1 ratio of line out because the wind was blowing quite hard when we got there. Weather Underground was claiming it was only 10 knots, but it was hard enough that it really wasn't comfortable sitting in the cockpit, and I definitely wasn't taking the kayak anywhere because I wasn't sure I could paddle hard enough to get back to the boat.

We retreated into the cabin and opened the windows, which turned the interior of the boat into a virtual wind tunnel. On one hand, it wasn't hot. On the other hand, it was kind of like sitting in a tornado.

Meanwhile, there was no sunset. The cloud cover was so thick that it just kind of got dark. We had three other sailboats around us. This one was anchored to the north of us and served as my reference point as to whether or not our anchor was dragging all night long.

This guy was to the south of us when we got there, but by 3 a.m. he had drug all the way to the north end of the anchorage past our other neighbor. 

How you sleep through dragging that far, I don't know -- maybe it just takes enough drinking before bed -- but I'm guessing their keel started pounding the mud, and that is what finally woke them up to re-anchor. Of course, when they re-anchored they were kind enough to shine a  high-powered spotlight on our boat over and over again while they found their new location. This did make me think that one of these flashlights should be a safety requirement for our boat.  I couldn't decide if they thought we were dragging as well and were trying to wake us up or if they were really having that much trouble seeing us in the anchorage. Either way, they won the most irritating boat award for the weekend.

Once we had anchored and realized that the water was quite choppy and that it was a wind tunnel inside the boat, it did cross my mind to just pull up anchor and sail home.  I'm glad you did not voice this opinion out loud. Although it might have led to us actually getting some sleep, it would not have been in the spirit of adventure. Unfortunately, it was already dark, and it's a 1.5 hour trip downwind back to the marina. I decided I was being silly and was confident the wind would eventually die down.

After sandwiches we enjoyed a little wine and some friendly competition at the Scrabble board.  Mary won.

After Scrabble, it was time for bed. At this point we'd probably been anchored for two or three hours and every 15 minutes I'd worriedly gone outside to check our location and to make sure the anchor rode wasn't rubbing on anything as we bounced around. You'd think I would have had some confidence at this point, but the wind was continuing to get stronger and stronger, and every time a ship went by the island, we would get bounced uncontrollably by the wake.  It felt like we were sleeping inside of a bronco.  At some point you stop worrying about the boat getting damaged, and start just worrying about yourself.  I would lay in bed as long as possible trying not to think about dragging into the boat downwind of us or breaking free of our anchor and landing on the rocks for as long as possible, but then I'd have to get up and go check our location and take a look at the rope. I must have gotten up at least every half hour all night long -- that's how I was able to watch our neighbor drag across the anchorage.

Around 3:30 a.m. the wind did finally calm down to what I would guess was around 10 knots. The shipping traffic had slowed down quite a bit as well, so we weren't being tossed up and down every few minutes. After that anchor check I was able to stay asleep until around 6 a.m. when the wind started picking up again. I got up one more time and once again having confirmed that we were not about to die on the rocks, I slept for another couple of hours.

At 8:30 a.m. the wind was roaring again, and I made Mary get up. Not cool. I am the windlass -- our anchor is full manual arm power, and I was starting to seriously question whether or not I could pull it up in the wind. It was definitely going to be a two-person job with some motoring forward required to get slack in the line.

Pulling in the rope went ok. After a few discussions and the invention of some hand signals for when to pull forward and which way to turn, I had made it to the chain.  It's amazing to me how quickly we solve problems together at this point. Things that would have been huge arguments when we started sailing are quickly solved. That's when things got tough. I wasn't able to let go with one hand anymore to give signals, and after I was able to retrieve just a few feet of chain, we swung around, and I couldn't hold on. I tied off the line and took a break. Once the boat straightened out, Mary shifted into forward, and I started pulling again. I felt the anchor finally come free of the mud, and the rest of the chain came right up.

One thing I have not figured out yet is how to pull in the anchor without coating myself in the nasty mud that covers the bottom of Galveston Bay.

We were soon on a broad reach sailing very quickly back to Kemah. You know it's windy when your cereal keeps blowing out of your bowl.

Despite the somewhat grouchy sail to Redfish and the miserable night, spirits were high on the way home because we'd completed another adventure, pushed ourselves beyond our comfort zone, and learned new things about the boat.  Every trip is a little easier!  

One lesson learned -- our autopilot is not to be trusted. The belt was slipping and twice when faced with high winds it just decided to completely quit steering. It's now on my list of things to work through and adjust, so that hopefully it will last us another year or two, but it's another system on the to-be-replaced list.

Another lesson learned -- our anchor can be trusted. Redfish was a great testing ground to see if we would drag, and despite getting beat and bounced so hard that our bathroom door hinge ripped out of the bulkhead, we did not drag at all.

The most important lesson learned -- teamwork makes for success. When it came to everything from packing for the trip to pulling up the anchor, clear communication and teamwork were required to accomplish the tasks.  When we first started sailing, it became very clear to us that we would have to stay calm in high stress situations and keep talking to each other. We learn more and more that telling the other person what is going on is really the key to resolving issues. It's often easy to forget that the person at the helm can't see all the things that you are seeing from the bow. We accidentally ran into a regatta on the way home and quickly needed to get out of the way.

The autopilot wasn't cooperating, and we had a tangled line. If Mary and I hadn't been working together, I'm not sure I would have been able to roll in the jib and get over to the channel in time. It wasn't just then either.  The lines on the new boat are considerably harder to pull, and the sails are much stronger. It really helps to have Fred tail me when he can. I'm lucky to have such a great sailing partner.  :)

After anchoring overnight at Redfish Island twice and having miserable nights both times, I think I'm cured of ever wanting to stay there again. The anchorage just isn't deep enough and doesn't give sufficient protection from the wakes coming out of the ship channel. However, Memorial Day is coming, and we plan to head east with our friends on the Tina Marie to explore Double Bayou in Trinity Bay. Yay! New ground with great friends. Can't ask for more.