Part 1 - The Build
Part 2 - Prep and Camps 1 and 2
Part 3 - Camp 2 to Aransas Bay
Part 4 - Camp 4 to Seadrift
Friday, June 17th, 2011. I will always think of this day as "Reef Day". We sailed smoothly by Paul's Mott Reef, over Long Reef, around Jay Bird Reef, and between Spalding Reef and Poverty Reef. Carlos Reef was a different story, and it was here that Gamaray had her introduction to oysters. Looking at the GPS track and the chart, it looks like I somehow missed the first pile at Carlos Reef, which would have been on our port side. When I picked up the second pile, which should have been on our starboard side, I followed where I thought I was on the chart and left it to port. Within a few hundred feet the leeboard kicked up and the bottom of the boat crunched up some oysters. This highlights one of the challenges of singlehanding this trip-with the high winds, I was really, really busy just sailing the boat, and with the winds as high as they were she was moving fast. On top of trying to stay ahead of the boat I was consulting the chart, bailing, checking the GPS, bailing, looking around for landmarks, and bailing. The all important division of attention and cockpit resource management skills that my flight instructor had tried to impart to me two decades ago were not up to the challenge on this day. I got behind the curve and once I got there I stayed there for entirely too long.
I got out and pulled her into deep enough water that she would float with me aboard, but I couldn't get the leeboard down even a few inches. We drifted across the channel (which I missed again) and over the spoil area northeast of the Dugout. Here, I could get perhaps 4 or 5 inches of leeboard down and we did some sailing but at this point I was totally turned around and right about then we had our second taste of oysters on the Shell Patch Reef right off Cape Carlos. I got out again and walked her a hundred yards or so over the reef into deeper water, and once we were off the reef we sailed another hundred yards and I dropped the anchor in 3 feet of water. It was time to figure out what the heck was going on.
After a break for a Clif Bar and a pint of water, I took the binoculars, cleaned enough salt off of them that they were useable and did a slow 360 degree scan. I could see a pile about a quarter mile off to the south so I pulled the bearing compass out of its holder on the front deck and got a bearing to it. I saw another to the east, got a bearing to it, then plotted my GPS position and determined that they were the first and second piles in Carlos Bay, which I was apparently in having mostly bypassed the Dugout. I headed east to the second pile and found myself back on track.
Cedar Dugout was easy. I was learning what the waves looked like over a shallow reef as opposed to in a channel (that alone was worth an hour of uncertainty) and found my confidence returning. We soon broke out into Mesquite Bay and began the long beat up to the mouth of Cedar Bayou. At about 2:30pm we made our turn into Cedar Bayou.
A mere 2 hours and 26 tacks later (counted up off the GPS track), we hit bottom and I lowered the sail, kicked up the rudder, got out and started the long walk to where the other boats had pulled up. Breaux walked out to meet me and took one of the lines to help pull the boat. I was grateful for the help, although at one point I had to ask him to slow down a bit, because I was so tired I was having trouble keeping up. John Goodman came out to greet us as well, and helped me pull Gamaray to her spot on the beach. Besides Gamaray, Breaux's Folding Schooner, and Gir, Gordo Barcomb and crew in Laguna Uno, the Leinwebers in Pearl, Chris Tomsett with crew Kathy and Meredith Wright in Athansor, their Bolger Light Schooner, and those Votaw boys in Pilgrim had all made it in. There was a catamaran that came in after we arrived, but they decided to go on to the alternate camp at Ayers Dugout rather than spending the night at Cedar Bayou.
I got the tent set up and rested for a while, listening to the surf on the other side of the dunes.
After a short nap in the shade of the tent, I strolled over the dunes to the beach on the Gulf side and went for a swim, then collected some sand dollars for the grandkids.
That evening, Meredith, Trav, and Garrett gathered wood for a bonfire and Travis made some of his famous Dutch oven cobbler. We had a great time sitting around and visiting although it wasn't long after the sun set that I found myself nodding off, excused myself, and went to bed.
The next morning the wind was already blowing hard as we broke camp. I pushed Gamaray off the beach and we made a couple of knots down the channel with no sail up-it was nice and relaxing, and I did not raise the sail until we were almost at the mouth of the channel. Coming up on Cedar Point we caught up to Gir. They, too, had held off raising sail, instead using a couple of nice looking umbrellas as sails. The battery in the camera was dead, and the phone was in the ditch bag, so I missed out on a great shot of Mik holding the umbrellas trimmed just so for maximum speed. This was the only time on the trip that WE passed THEM.
The ride downwind to Ayres Dugout was smooth and easy, a marked contrast to the previous days' endless tacking and bailing. We made the turn into Ayres and threaded our way through the Dugout and passed just south of Second Chain of Islands with no issues. As we came through the Dugout Breaux and crew were about a half mile ahead of us in the Folding Schooner and we saw an unidentified Harpoon 5.2 following in his tracks. They quickly disappeared ahead of us and we found ourselves alone until we turned into the ICW just past False Live Oak Point at GC37.
Within just a few minutes the radio traffic picked up-apparently there were some green cans on the wrong side of the ICW, and there were a couple of boats that had gone aground on one of the many spoil areas that line the waterway. We had turned into the ICW behind a barge and I figured that we drafted a bit less than he did, so we ignored the markers and followed him to the Victoria Barge Channel. As we turned into the channel and headed towards Seadrift I started to see some other boats-Noel Nichol's Cortez 16, BluByU, Frank and Bruce in Ozey Pearl, and some others that I could not identify. Approaching the last turn, some of those guys left the channel and cut across what our chart showed as some pretty shallow water-that "local knowledge" is a handy thing to have. Not being sure where they were aiming to end up, we kept to our course.
When we had scouted the park the previous Sunday, there was a large tarp pavilion set up in the middle of it. I thought that I saw this pavilion up ahead, but it was a bit further up the coast than I expected. We headed for it anyway. A few minutes later, the leeboard kicked up and I heard the now familiar sound of oysters scraping Gamaray's bottom. I put the tiller over and turned the boat around, leaned to leeward, sheeted the sail in hard, and she clawed off that reef with 3 inches or so of leeboard down at 70 or 80 degrees off the 20 knot wind and into waves that were at least a couple of feet high. I never even had to get out of the boat. I said a silent thanks (not the first) to Jim Michalak as we headed back to the channel and turned towards the pavilion-less park.
Most of the boats were being taken out at a small cove at the east end of the park, but I had looked at the shallow ramp down on the west end and figured that if I could take out here, I could use the boat dolly and load up even if nobody else was around. As I neared the ramp I saw someone wading out to meet us-turns out it was Skip Johnson, who had seen me coming in and had driven down to see if I needed any help. Skip had started in a sailing canoe and made it through several days before the high winds and chop forced him to drop out. I would not have lasted even a day in that, but Skip has not only sailing and building skills (he finished in 2010 in a proa he built), but paddling skills as well! He helped me tie up and gave me a ride to the parking area so that I could retrieve the truck.
The folks in Seadrift pulled out all of the stops for the shrimp boil that evening. They waited on us hand and foot, and the food was great. One of the best things about doing this trip is the chance to visit with friends you may only see once or twice a year, and I also got to see some folks that we had sailed with in previous years who either had not done the trip this year or had done one of the alternate routes and that was great, too. Heck, I can't think of anything about the whole trip that wasn't great in some way or another, but that is just me. About 6:30pm I said my goodbyes and me and the grandkids' boat headed for home.
The signatures of the grandkids, GAbrielle, MAdison, and RAY. Photo by Chuck Leinweber.
You were probably hoping that this thing was finally over, but while I have your attention, I thought I would share a few things. First, although there are some VERY good sailors who do this event, you don't have to be a great sailor to finish the Texas200. I, along with others, have proved this multiple times. What you have to be is prepared for conditions and determined to finish. You have to practice with your boat, which should be suitable for whatever the route happens to be in a given year, and you have to practice with it in the worst conditions that you have read about in the accounts of previous years. Don't take it out only on beautiful, 10 knot days. You need experience on the water when there are small craft advisories in effect. If you haven't sailed in higher winds in your boat, build up to it gradually, maybe with some help from more experienced friends. Learn to work on your boat yourself and be capable of fixing stuff that breaks. That means having tools and parts in the boat and being able to improvise when needed. Plan as if things are going to go wrong so that when something does, you don't have to figure out what to do because you already have a plan for it. Have a bail out plan, too. Some very experienced folks have had to drop out of this event simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong moment and got unlucky. This can happen to anyone-have a plan for it, and even if you have to drop out, you will still have had one of the greatest experiences of your life, with some of the finest people you will ever meet.