“Getting Mulsae straightened out and ready to sail, I pause at raising the sail. Like yesterday morning, I contemplate what reef to use to avoid having to reef on the water. While the wind today is supposed to be the highest of the week, projected into the high 20s, the lesson learned yesterday was a slow boat and big waves did not make for a good sail.”
Reprinted from MAIB.
Day 3: “Holy Round Up Batman!”
Waking up even earlier than usual to a shade lighter than dark sky, I blearily blink sleepy eyes, note how early it is and immediately decide to roll over and snooze in. That snooze only lasts about 15 minutes before the cell phone alarm suddenly goes off next to my head. If anyone had been watching the next handful of minutes spent trying to open the cell phone’s hard case’s stubbornly tight latches while mumbling hopefully inaudible curses may have seemed comedic. That alarm sounds awfully loud, but afterwards it seems like no one else heard it. May as well get up. The sky is still pre dawn yet light enough to see shore and boat activity. I give the guy just crawling out of his shoreline tent 25′ away a cheery good morning because no matter how sleepy and disoriented a person might be, a cheery good morning is a great way to start a morning on a good note. His reply might not have been quite as enthusiastic.
The rowboats are already on the water getting a head start to the day. Even though today is a relatively short 25 miles to the next camp, we have to pass through Baffn Bay on the way. Good chance they also wanted to put distance in during the very light morning wind. Using the knowledge gained by last year’s successful rower’s trip, the two boats and three men look to have a solid plan to not only complete the entire trip but to make all the camps at the same time everyone else does. It will take some doing to row 200+ miles in only six days!
Getting Mulsae straightened out and ready to sail, I pause at raising the sail. Like yesterday morning, I contemplate what reef to use to avoid having to reef on the water. While the wind today is supposed to be the highest of the week, projected into the high 20s, the lesson learned yesterday was a slow boat and big waves did not make for a good sail. In spite of the wind projection, I decide to go with the second reef instead of the third reef. Hopefully the short trip and higher boat speed will get us to the Bird Island camp by noon to avoid the stronger afternoon winds.
Launching from Hap’s Cut is an adventure. The slippery mud and relatively quick drop off does not give much to push off from. Given a light wind parallel to the beach, a weak push, a scramble into the boat and a rush to get sheeted for steerage equals sailing hi jinks galore! In this instance, I fail to clear a moored boat nearby and bounce off with a thud that wakes the owners. Sorry! Luckily he is gracious and even helps with a good shove to get Mulsae headed out cleanly into the channel. Embarrassment aside, I get the sail sheeted, settle into the now familiar feet up semi reclined position at the helm and enjoy the easy sail.
The narrowish land cut shores slowly pass, dotted by stilted fshing houses in various states of repair (or disrepair). Some look like full blown well kept homes with multi stories, generators and water catch and store tanks. Others tilt and lean half over the water, peeling weathered walls and drooping docks, giving them an abandoned haunted feel. Sometime in the past Texas reportedly passed a law to prevent new builds as well as reverting existing structures to the state upon the private owner’s death.
A side story to that is a savvy owner who, upon hearing about the new law, went and registered his baby child as his fshing house owner days before the law went into effect, thus ensuring family ownership for another generation. Given the signs posted on some of the houses by the Texas state, I’m inclined to think the stories may be true.
A couple of hours later fnds the port and starboard shores receding as we enter the bay and pick up the ICW markers. Looking back over the starboard stem reveals the last green island sliding further behind. Ugh! More waves. Luckily the waves remain a relatively manageable 2′-3′ due to the partially sheltered lee of the intercoastal islands. Having one less reef also helps keep the boat moving near wave speed and actually surf occasionally. This is nice sailing.
Mid morning fnds the wind rising quickly, very quickly. By the time the GPS rings off the mark for angling out of the ICW towards camp a mere three miles away, the wind feels as strong as yesterday afternoon, especially on a beam reach in an unballasted boat with only two reefs in! Mulsae heels sharply and I brace with feet upon the opposite seat. The sheet is out as far as it will go without pressing the shrouds in an attempt to spill some air. The tiller quickly loads up as weather helm increases massively enough to require both hands to hold it. I’m horrible at guessing heeling angles, but I can see water splashes toying with the bottom edge of the port side rowing port.
This reminds me of another time sailing three plus decades ago on a local Michigan lake. My uncle had an old fberglass 14′ daysailer boat which was kept moored at a friend’s dock. One summer day the wind was really blowing. All excited, I hoisted sail and boomed out across the water towards the best beam reach sailing spot on the lake. For the next hour that boat and I planed back and forth with me hanging out over the sides, whooping with glee and barely under control. Multiple times the boat heeled far enough to actually pull the rudder out of the water and round the boat safely up. Since the water was only 5′-6′ deep, I did not worry about a capsize. It was perhaps the most fun sailing I ever had, even after capsizing at the end.
Anchored at Bird Island w/ porch up and ready for the evening. Photo Credit: John Bratton
I wasn’t having much fun now though. Even though the water is only around 3′-4′ deep, capsizing in a 21′ boat can be serious business. Yeah, the Dovekle has enough ?otation to not sink but it is not something I want to go through in a mostly desolate area. The GPS shows 7+mph while waves bash against the windward side. On gusts, the boat heels even more and the speed lumps up past 8mph and ?irts with 9mph. Only a few miles to go, we can make it! Just hold on, keep holding on because land is right there! I glance back at the rudder and wince. Although the tiller is pulled to starboard, the main cassette looks to be twisting under the relentless weather helm load. Come on baby! We can make it!
Suddenly, a huge wind gust smacks the boat and throws her over to near horizontal. The oar port, blocked off with ?at plexiglass and weather stripping, goes underwater and leaks water in like a broken dike. I’m frozen in panic with thoughts of death and dismemberment. Holy $&*#%!! Well, OK. Maybe it happened too fast for those thoughts. But the freeze does let Mulsae round up for what seems an eternity on its side but is probably closer to ten seconds. With sail ?uttering, the boat stands up as the gust continues to batter the sail, keeping us moving along at a reduced yet good clip. After the gust abates back to the still windy normal and myself calming down, I put the boat back on course for camp. Mulvae heels, I grip the tiller hard with both hands as the boat leaps forward once again.
Looking back weeks after the event, those last three miles to Bird Island camp could have been awesome sailing. Perhaps if I had sailed the boat and gotten comfortable with its sailing characteristics, it would have been great fun like that breezy day three decades ago on a local Michigan lake, without the capsizing ending, of course. The water smoothes in the intercoastal island’s lee. Mulsae stands up a little and the sailing gets less tense. Up ahead and just pulling into the camp area is Ancient Mari- ner, a Manriner 19 captained by John A and crew. Five minutes later I sail past into water too shallow for the Mariner but just fne for a Dovekie. All anchored, we talk about the camp. Oddly, the GPS coordinates are 75 yards off the shore. A few more boats arrive in the next 30 minutes to join the discussion. The general consensus is to relocate further down shore where the water is marginally deeper for the deeper draft boats. So we do, dragging Mulsae 150 yards leeward to the new camp.
By now it is only noon, still early in the day although very windy. A radio call comes through, a few captains decide to skip tonight’s camp and sail onward to Padre Island and possibly as far as Port Aransas. That still leaves a lot of boats to trickle in over the next couple of hours with multiple stories of the morning’s sail and of the 30+mph wind driven carnage including a blown out sail batten, broken rudders, jammed centerboards, a catamaran with a fairly serious hull leak and a bent mast. The afternoon hears the sounds of battery powered drills, pounding hammers and snippets of conversation from the guys trying to straighten the bent mast on shore. Luckily it seems everyone gets repairs made.
One unrepairable item is my GPS. It will not turn on. This is not good since John A’s great chart pack is sitting 900 miles away on the kitchen table. That leaves me chartless and with a decision to make, should I continue the trip and stay on the known ICW course that Dad and I did in 2014? By this time, three days into the Texas 200, I am exhausted, not thrilled with the Dovekle’s sailing characteristics (although its camping ability is unparalleled!), suffering daily migraines and honestly scared of taking the Dovekle solo and unsupported into the upcoming big bays. Losing GPS ability knocks out the back bays (a huge disappointment). Bottom line, I was not having fun.
Wise Everglades Challenge captains have a saying that goes something like, “Get a good sleeping rest before making a fnal decision.” It is sound advice that I completely ignore. Given that Padre Island is the best possible mid trip place to pull out and I am not comfortable sailing Mulsae in the upcoming challenges, the decision is made to end my Texas 200 tomorrow morning. I’m not the only one to make that decision. A Laguna 23 family decides to press on to Padre Island this afternoon and pull out. A couple of other captains at camp have also decided to pull out tomorrow morning.
With an entire afternoon to relax at camp, people drift from boat to boat starting or joining conversations on a wide variety of topics. Chuck and Sandra L on a Loon 19 Loonyt- oon relate a side trip taken to explore a possible new camp and end up sailing wonderful miles downwind in one foot of water. John B in an immaculately built CLC Pocketship Candy-O tells of a stuck up centerboard that seemed to hardly slow him down while passing me yesterday. Stories of Saturday Night Specials zooming downwind and one SNS’s mast bending under the morning’s unexpected windy onslaught. There are many other stories told as sailors enjoy the shortened day.
On into the early evening tents bloom upon shore and boats while fres are lit for dinner. My go`urmet meal consists of a slice of Spam on a bread roll and an iced hard root beer afterwards. The food does not go down well and leaves me nauseous. The normal light appetite on previous sailing trips has totally disappeared the last few days. Maybe I should get better food. Like previous nights it is early to bed. Asleep before star speckled darkness fully takes over the sky, I rest.