a half days into the Texas 200 Corpus Christi Bay was showing
its rough side. Chop was turned into whitecaps and my Bolger Cartopper
was on the edge of disaster, as it had been so often in the high
winds and waves, even with a reef tied in.
||When the Noble Plan went over, her tender handling
simply didn't allow for any mistakes in sailing or loss of
vigilant handling. We were upside down and demasted in the
middle of Corpus Christi Bay. I had left the Intercoastal
Canal and hugged the leeward side of Mustang Island as much
as possible, cutting through Shamrock Cove, but now I had
been running almost due downwind to Stingray Hole and the
wind and waves had been building.
The Bolger Cartopper has no seating, so I had been
on my knees for over two hours, trying to shift my weight with
the sheet in my left hand, the long tiller in my right hand behind
my back. By pumping the sheet, pulling it in when the boat rolled
to windward and letting it out when it rolled to leeward, I had
so far managed to stay somewhat upright.
The Cartopper with its narrow four foot beam and large sail area
even when reefed was overwhelmed by the conditions. In the end,
however, it was not the boat that let me down. My sixty-three
year old body chose just the wrong time to get a very bad charley
horse in my left leg. I simply had to straighten it out and when
I shifted my weight, over I went. Back at the Padre Island Yacht
Club I had tied everything in the boat, but now things started
to drift away. I let them go and stuck with the boat. The charley
horse was still in my leg and wouldn't go away but wearing flotation
gear, I was in no danger.
||I managed to get the Cartopper upright one time,
but the high winds and waves simply turned it over the other
way. The mast had come loose from the boat despite being tied
I was drifting toward Stingray Hole and the boat was floating
well thanks to the watertight area I had built into the floor,
not part of the original plans.
At this point Carl Haddick came up in his beautiful green Compac
cat boat to offer help. He had Kevin Hahn, the videographer with
him and Kevin got in the water with me. After considerable effort
we got the boat upright, bailed out and me back in it. They towed
me back to shore right at Stingray Hole.
||I was tired and wet, but most of all despondent.
I had lost my mast and sail, as well as an oar and sleeping
tent, but losing a mast and sail does ruin your day. I did
not want to drop out.
Dragging my boat around the point, I found the Bolger Folding
Schnooner, resting and enjoying lunch, along with Kevin O'Neill
and Laurent , in the lime green Proa, along with the entire flock
of Puddleduckers. Carl had called the tow boat on his radio, as
well as the Coast Guard. At this point the tow boat showed up
and I waved out to tell him I was all right and did not want a
tow. He went off looking for the lost mast and sails, but returned
later with neither, having found two pieces of my take-apart oars.
By the time I walked back to the Cartopper, the Ducks had come
up with a plan to fit a spare sail one of them had to a spare
mast another had. The Ducks already had out a big tool box and
were using an ax to shape the end of their square mast to fit
in my round mast step.
||While I ate sausage and oranges offered by Kevin
and Laurent, the Ducks rigged the poly tarp sail with a sheet
hoist and downhaul, all done with electrical wire ties. In
no time at all, about ten minutes, I had a sort of square
sail that could be raised and lowered, as well as controlled
with a sheet.
The plan was for me to sail to Port Aransas and call for help.
They urged me to go ahead and they would follow. I set off into
the ship channel and was amazed at how well the new sail worked.
With almost equal area on both sides of the mast, the Cartopper
was much more stable and my speed downwind was quite good. I determined
I could sail on a beam reach but could not make progress to windward.
The rest of the trip would be downwind, so I decided to keep going
past Port Aransas. I turned into the Lidia Ann channel and made
it to Paul's Mott Reef by 6:00 p.m.
||The backpacker's hammock-tent was lost overboard,
but one of my reasons for building the Cartopper was it had
room to sleep onboard. I stretched out in my still wet clothes
on the floorboards and slept in the boat. Since everything
was wet it didn't seem much choice.
The only real trouble I had for the last two days of the trip
was getting in to Army Hole. The entrance was directly upwind.
I tried for over an hour and a half to get up the channel but
the temporary sail just could not do it. Since I only had one
oar left, I could not row into the wind. I was about to tie up
to a channel marker and sleep on the boat when Carl and Chuck
came out to tow me in. Once again, saved.
When building the Cartopper, I built it as an Expedition Model,
with 3/4" frames instead of the 1/4" frames called for.
I glassed it inside, as well as outside and added an airtight
chamber under the flat sleeping floor. The only real change I
made to the plan was to make the large rudder into a 1" thick
foil instead of l/2" thick as called for in the plans.The
rudder was finished with carbon and worked quite well. The extra
long tiller is a custom wood tiller I made for a AMF Paceship
23 I am restoring. The extra length and strength were a plus in
the long sailing periods. The two lower sections of the mast I
lost came from my B & B Two Paw.
The only real problem with the boat was the lack of a place to
sit. That was a real problem as it led to leg cramps. The leg
cramps were what caused me to capsize and demast. I got to envying
even the Ducks, who could sit on the windward side aft, just like
in a chair.
This is a tender handling boat, carrying a large amount of sail
for her size. She is fast, even fully reefed, but probably not
the right boat for an inexperienced sailor on a long trip like
the Texas 200. I viewed her as a challenge and deliberately chose
her design for this trip, mainly for the camping ability of her
cockpit decking, which allowed my tent to be setup on her. Bolger
designed her with the idea you should put your guests on these
and tow them behind your larger yacht, like so many extended bedrooms!
Singlehanding in a boat this small and requiring constant vigilance
was tiring and demanding. Going into the Texas 200 was a challenge
I set myself, first to complete a boat for the event in time and
second, to complete the sail itself. My greatest satisfaction
was to actually finish, with the help of so many others. It made
me feel a sense of achievement to realize what I was actually
capable of accomplishing.
Definitely, I will be returning next year, but not singlehanding
or in a boat this small. The Noble Plan was the smallest boat
I have ever built or sailed. The Two Paw Dingy was built by John
Turpin of the Tetra, so while I sail it, I didn't build it. Even
my windsurfer was larger than the Cartopper! Those entering the
Texas 200 for next year need to pay special attention to their
boats handling in high winds and choppy seas, as well as its mechanical
and physical sturdiness. Only reading this and last year's accounts
points this out. Lots of demasting, equipment failure, breakage.
Another point to consider is the sailing ability of those entering
this event. Both years the weather has been pretty much what you
expect off the Texas coast. Hot and windy. The winds this year
were higher than last, but this was no storm or unusual weather,
just sailing along the Texas coast.
||The coast is dotted with hazards, some that
move, like the ships and barges, and some that lie beneath
the water, like the oyster reefs, mud flats or even rusted
oilfield debris. I personally never turned my GPS on the entire
trip, sailing as I always have by visual and compass points.
Too much reliance on electronics can lead to accidents in
these areas, as happened on this year's sail.
Having said all this, and still very bruised and scratched, as
well as a bad sunburn on one leg, I wouldn't have missed any of
this. The Texas 200 is a life-adventure for some of us. Others
may have just had a good sail.