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.