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by Bobby Chilek - La Grange, Texas - USA

Part One - Part Two

About a year ago, my daughter Kristen asked if we could do the Texas200 again.  I thought about it and told her that if we did, it wouldn't be in a production boat, with a cabin, that we bought.  It would be in an open boat that I built myself.  I also told her that this time we would have to camp in tents every night, she said "that sounds great!"  Thus began the search for a design.  The first thought in my head was a multi-hull, to go fast and shallow.  I wanted to skirt the windward shorelines in relatively flat water and see a little more scenery.  But.....I couldn't find a multi-hull that I wanted to do the trip in or that I could build in time.


Eventually, I saw some drawings of the Saturday Night Special (SNS), a design by John Welsford. I have had a great amount of respect for his designs for years.  I loved the lines on this boat, it had some beam, it was fairly wide and flat in the back, plus she had a really sweet sheer.  All that with closed front, rear and side decks for buoyancy and storage.  It looked like a poor man's AWOL.......a boat I have lusted over since the first time  I saw it..... it seemed to be the perfect boat.  The clincher was in the design brief - it was capable of planing, of running in shallow water, and was stable.  It met all of my criteria, and it was a quick build.  So I got the plans from Chuck Leinweber at the Port Aransas Plywooden Boat Festival, took them home and began studying  them. It seemed pretty straight forward and I agreed it looked like a quick build.

Construction started in early November.  I hoped to be finished by the first of March to start sea trials and to refresh my sailing skills. (I hadn't sailed in five years.)  March came and went and I was still working. There had been some detours to take care of other things and I had to face the fact that I just couldn't do a rough finish job on a design by John, this boat looked pretty even when it was just a bunch of frames and stringers.  I wanted to finish her out as nicely as I could, which is to say that if you stand at twenty feet away she looks pretty good.

By the first of April, I was starting to get a little panicky. We still hadn't gotten our first sail in even though I had been out in the shop almost every single day since February.  Of course sometimes it was just to set something up with epoxy and then walk away until the next day.  We were also getting whacked with rain quite frequently which prevented me from getting the boat outside and getting the mast and rigging on and tuned.  But.....finally.... by late April we were ready for the first test sail.

We took the boat to Lake Somerville, due to the heavy rains we had been having, all of the lakes in our area were inundated with water and their boat ramps were closed, except for Somerville, which only had one ramp open.  To make matters worse, when we arrived on that Saturday morning we found that they were hosting a Bass Fishing Tournament......@#$%&#@$%#!  We rigged the boat while we waited in line to launch.

Once we had the boat in the water, we had to walk it way down shore around some trees (that were now out in the water due to the raised lake level), and find a place that we could raise sail and sail off from.  While raising the sail in a breeze on a lee shore, the yard tried to kick me in the head. Then once the sail was up and I was trying to get a reef in, the boom swings back and forth as the winds were shifting quite a bit (I really hate lake sailing).  By the time I got it ready to sail, I have named the boat. She reminded me of trying to saddle up a wild horse that is kicking at you and chomping at the bit to go.  I christened her Mustang after the wild ponies that used to wander the barrier island along the Texas Gulf.

We pushed the boat off shore and tried to sail out, only to get caught by a wind shift that pushed us right back onto shore.  I think we ended pushing off about thirty-eight times, and came close to tangling the rig in trees twice, before we made it out into the lake.  To say we were worn out would be an understatement (I later realized we should have just rowed the boat out into the lake and then started sailing......duh!).  We took off on a beat out of the cove, because the first thing I want to know is if I go downwind, can I get back.  The boat went to weather fine, we were a little sloppy, but that is totally due to our rusty sailing skills.  Once I was convinced we could get back, we headed the boat down the channel which leads to the main basin.  We relaxed for a bit while we were running and got our strength back.  One thing I noticed while we were running was how the boat was rocking side to side more than would be warranted by the wave action.  I realized that it was due to the boom rising and falling as the wind fluctuated, I decided to look into adding a boom vang. 

We spent two hours putting the boat through its paces, beating, reaching, running and were quite pleased with the performance.  On our way back to the cove as we were beating up the channel, we performed a tack and as the boat came around and we were not in position yet, we got hit with a wind shift and a gust that filled the sails on the new tack and heeled her WAY over!  I released the main sheet, but it didn't go out due to my foot that I was standing on, sideways in relation to the boat, with all of my weight, was on the sheet!  As I watched, the boat heeled all the way over and put the rail in the water. I was trying my best to figure out how to get my foot off the sheet. We stayed like this for a LONG time!  I finally got the sheet out from under my foot and the boat stood up.  It was then that I realized she had heeled way over ........and then just stayed there, not going any further even though the wind was blowing hard.  I am actually glad that this act of very poor seamanship happened, it demonstrated to me the amount of ultimate stability that this boat has.

Two weeks later we took the boat down to Magnolia Beach to get in some cockpit time.  We sailed for about seven hours over two days and became quite comfortable in the boat.  We practiced raising and lowering sail while out in the water, sailing on all points, and she was becoming a tame little Mustang.  The only problem was that she was not sailing to weather as good as she had the first time we took her out.  We had made several changes to the rig (including adding a boom vang which did calm the rocking).  I tried changing things back and just couldn't figure out what had changed.  Every time I tried to work to weather, my triangles were flat and it took a lot more tacks than it should have to get where we were going.  We left for home perplexed over this new problem.  I talked to John Goodman and got some advice, we laid the rigged boat over on its side and took some measurements to compare to the dimensions in Johns drawing, and adjusted accordingly.  I  then spent some time tweaking and completing other things to get the boat ready for the Texas200.  Unfortunately, the weather didn't permit us to sail her again before the Texas200 and we had to leave for Port Isabel unsure how well she would go to weather.  The boat was declared ready one week before we had to take off for the long drive south.

We arrived in Port Isabel Saturday afternoon and drove across the bridge to South Padre Island.  The bay was a beautiful, tropical shade of green - a perfect day for sailing with winds just right, and the surface sporting only minimal waves. We turned around on the island and went back to  check in at our hotel, get the boat launched and have dinner. 

The next day I spent doing the shuffling.....tow........vehicles back north and a.........long.....bus......ride........back to Port Isabel. It truly wears you out more than any of the days of sailing! Kristen, on the other hand, spent the day in our hotel room curled up with a good book, (enjoying air conditioning), and ordering take out!

Monday we got up early and  hiked the two blocks to Tarpon Marina, stowed our gear and pushed off.  We motored through the maze of canal homes and entered the Lower Laguna Madre.  We had the full sail up due to the wind forecast being 10 – 15 knots.  I had debated and in fact my original intent was to cross the bay and sail in the lee of the shoreline in flat water, but from what I could gather from the charts, it seemed like there was an awful lot of very shallow water over there.   But…..I didn’t have the confidence in the boats abilities run shallow yet.  I also liked that for most of the way up the channel, the charts show there to be spoil islands just west of the intercoastal which provide a nice safety net.    I think that I should explain here that I am always considering what could go wrong, and what will I do if it does, I seem to do this doubly when I sail with my daughter.  I don’t typically like sailing in big waves, especially after the experience I had in my Bobcat on San Antonio Bay nine years earlier, but if something goes wrong here we can swim to an island, so we turned north at the channel and hung with the crowd.

Sailing along in the clear green waters of the lower Laguna Madre, it is easy to forget your concerns.  I love the feeling of gliding across the water and the sound of nothing but the wind and waves.  As the day progressed, it seemed that the winds had increased beyond the original forecast and some waves began to build, but nothing too bad.  The boat was doing well and handling the conditions just fine.  I suggested just for safety's sake that we should reduce sail, but Kristen was opposed, she was enjoying the speed we were going.  I decided to let it go for the time being.  We were sitting pretty much in the rear of the boat to keep the bow high and out of the waves.  As the waves increased with the boat overpowered, eventually we came off of one wave, drove the bow of the boat through a wave and water washed over the deck depositing about 2 gallons of water into the cockpit.  I laughed and told Kristen that I think we should re-consider putting a reef in - her eyes were pretty wide as she agreed. 

We pulled the boat off to the side of the channel and behind a small island to block the waves, pulled in a reef, and bailed out the boat.  As we got back underway,  we were coming closer to the Port Mansfield channel and the islands that had been our safety net came to an end.  I was also concerned about the sail out the east bound channel to the jetties since I had no idea how well the boat was going to go to weather.  The chart indicated that there should be enough depth to exit the north bound channel early, then take a shortcut to come out between two of the islands that border the Port Mansfield Channel heading east out to the Jetties.  This would reduce the distance we had to sail on a beat by a few miles.  I was concerned about a possible oyster reef or two, but I decided that since it would be up wind we could always head back downwind if necessary and be in deeper water.  This was one of the things the boat was designed for, with the rudder design that John had come up with, so I decided to try it.  We headed North East and it was exhilarating to feel the boat pick up speed as we came onto a reach.  I released the rope that was locking the rudder in the down position and lowered the centerboard just a smidgen, which had been mostly up all day.  The water got deeper at first and we absolutely flew along on the reach.  After a while the water color became a much lighter shade of green and I could see the bottom, even as the boat continued to skim along.  I took a paddle to check the depth – it was only about a foot -  and we were flying across it!  The boat really was meeting the "shallow water capable" promise.  As we came upon the pass between two islands that we were going to sail between, we did come aground and had to get out to walk the boat across an oyster reef....a few scratches to the boats hull....ouch....but we had wading boots on so it wasn't a problem for our feet.  After about twenty yards the water was deep enough to float the boat with us in it, so we climbed back in.  We rounded  the corner of the island and turned hard up wind into the channel.  WOW there were some big waves in that channel!  The boat was doing pretty good going upwind, but we were taking a beating from the waves and Kristen was getting soaked (I use her as a dodger at times like this, sitting behind her!).  After another mile or so, we took a break along an island, and decided to motor the rest of the way.  The boat could have sailed it, no problem, but we were tired and just took the easy way.  We arrived at camp, and Day One was complete!

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