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by Cathy Tomsett – Houston, Texas – USA

Two of Michalak's Designs on a Weekend Cruise to Army Hole

When the Texas200 ended at Seadrift this year, Chris and I decided to extend our cruise through the weekend before heading home. We had enjoyed the 5-day trip from Port Isabel on Caprice, our recent purchase from Chuck Leinweber of Duckworks. Designed by Jim Michalak, Caprice is a spacious and comfortable 25 ft. shallow draft yawl with water ballast, powered by a balanced lug rig. John Goodman and his son David (age 14) and daughter Desiree (age 18) were looking for adventure, as well, and we were pleased to have them come along. John and his wife, Rosa, had just completed the Texas200 and John was looking forward to spending a few days on the water with their kids before Desiree left for the Marines. Their boat, a 19.5 ft. Hapscut named Gaz, also a balanced lug, was recently built as a family project. Inspired by his experience on the Texas200 in 2011, Jim Michalak created the simple scow with a flat bottom and square toed hull which makes it ideal for shallow water beaching and mostly downwind sailing.


We discussed our options and agreed that an overnight trip to Army Hole would be just right for the amount of time we had available. Located on Matagorda Island in Espiritu Santo Bay, Army Hole is a popular yet remote destination for boats of all sizes. A former Army Air Corps Station and later a state park, it is now a designated Wildlife Management Area. It is the home for well over a dozen threatened or endangered species with some 300 types of birds passing through during fall and spring migrations. Three miles across the barrier island are pristine beaches and the Pass Cavallo Lighthouse, which was constructed in 1852 and restored in 1999. Matagorda Island acts as a buffer from the full force of the Gulf and the rugged beauty of the barrier oyster reefs and salt-grass marshes is unsurpassed.

Chris and John began Saturday morning by taking care of shuttling our vehicles and trailers from Seadrift to Chuck Leinweber's house in Magnolia Beach for the final take-out. While they were gone, Rosa and I went to the small local grocery store for some provisioning. Upon returning to the boat, I was dismayed to see a swarm of fire ants traversing our dock line and into the cockpit where they were munching on all the little crumbs from our Texas200 lunches that had fallen under the cedar grating of the cockpit sole. I tried flushing them out with buckets of water to no avail. We poured lighter fluid around the dock cleat and set it on fire. This ebbed the flow of fire ants temporarily while I went back to the store to buy a can of Raid. After ridding ourselves of the little beasts, we were ready to go. Our sail was still double reefed from the Texas200, so Chris shook out the reefs while we were still at the dock, fully expecting to have to put them back in before the day was done. John was having issues with a faulty spark plug for his outboard but was able to get a replacement for it from the local bait shop. The two boats finally motored out of Seadrift about 10:30 a. m.

The wind was very light, as in dead calm, which is unusual for San Antonio Bay. My previous experience with this bay is that it is a horrid little area of chop, high wind, and reefs with water the color of chocolate milk. No, I do not like San Antonio Bay, although I am quite fond of Seadrift and the hospitality the town offers the Texas200 group each year. As we motored out toward the ship channel, the wind increased and we raised our sail and started the beat toward South Pass. Within an hour, we had to put the double reefs back in as the wind had increased to its customary 15 knots with gusts to 20. Caprice is faster than Gaz so we anchored close to shore late in the afternoon to allow them a chance to catch up. We offered to start up our motor and tow them but John Goodman is as hard headed as any good sailor should be and wished to make it on his own. We sailed through South Pass about 5:30 and could see the large white buildings of Army Hole off in the distance. Several long tacks later, we entered the basin at Army Hole and tied up to the pier just before sunset.

A local sailor from Port Lavaca was also tied up in one of the slips. He told us he had been there for 2 weeks and planned to be there for several more weeks, stating he could stay out about a month on his Cape Dory 27 before needing to return for water and provisions. He gave us a general run-down of the area, the wildlife we could expect to see, and information about the trails leading to the lighthouse and the beach. He also cautioned us about the large raccoons who live among the rocks along the water and could possibly be aggressive toward our geriatric wiener dog, Major. We made use of the picnic area and Chris grilled our dinner. We had a few beers left over from the Texas200, a couple of small bottles of wine, and soft drinks. Desiree and David cooked Jiffy Pop while we discussed plans for the next day, all of us agreeing there was no reason to jump out of bed at sunrise, but a hike to the beach to see the lighthouse would be a fun way to spend the morning before heading home.

Upon retiring for the evening, Chris got out our big flashlight and swept it along the shoreline. The water was full of bait fish and a huge raccoon, at least twice the size of Major, was collecting his dinner along the beach. We could see an abundance of stars since there were no city lights to obscure their path. We had been warned of the possibility of mosquitoes and had come prepared with mosquito netting, screens, and several cans of repellent but were happy to find ourselves completely bug free. Our wind scoop sent a gentle breeze through our cabin as we slept.

After coffee the next morning, we packed a few soft drinks in a backpack and a bottle of water and dish for Major. John, Desiree and David got a head start on the trail while we visited with the local sailor who had just baked a cake and offered us a slice. We asked if he had hiked over to the beach and he responded, "No, it's too far and too hot." Not to be deterred, we took off down the trail and caught up with our friends who were looking at a posted map of the area. It seemed like a rather simple trail system and we set a brisk pace toward our goal. The trail was a gravel path, but Major kept getting stickers in his paws and couldn't walk. When we tried to help him, he would turn into a 500 pound gorilla while we held him down to take them out. We stopped a few times to give him water as he was panting pretty heavily. Suddenly a large jackrabbit appeared on the trail. In an abrupt burst of energy and forgetting his sore paws or exhaustion, Major raced after the rabbit. After giving chase to it for about 15 seconds, the rabbit escaped into the brush and Major resumed his position in the rear, limping along in a dejected manner. Shortly after the rabbit episode, he stopped walking altogether and just stood there. When we called him to catch up to us, he started walking backward. Seeing that he was too tired to continue, we opened up the backpack and Chris carried him papoose-style for the remainder of the hike.

The trail we were on came to a dead end so we backtracked to another trail that had intersected it previously. We went down that trail and it ended at a deer blind. Chris (with Major attached) and John climbed the ladder up into the blind but could not see where another trail leading to the beach would be. We started walking through the waist-high brush directly toward the lighthouse but after I started squeaking out my concerns about rattlesnakes and Lyme ticks, we headed back to the trail. John, Desiree and David decided they would return to their boat and prepare to leave for Magnolia Beach. Chris and I wanted to take one last attempt at finding the beach trail so we tried the only path we hadn't been down, and of course, it quickly became apparent that it was the correct one. Feeling pressed for time, we returned to the boat, saving our beach trip for another day.

We talked about Major on the way back to the boat. He's an old dog, almost 11, and we agreed that he couldn't handle the heat and long walks like he did when he was younger. However, upon arriving back at camp, he hopped out of the backpack as full of energy as a young pup. This just reinforces my belief that he is a dishonest dog. He has lied to us before about things, such as pretending to Chris that he is starving and begging for food when I just fed him an hour previously. It was evident his behavior on the hike had nothing to do with being old but was a reflection of his bad attitude about hiking instead of hanging around camp. I got my fishing rod out and tried unsuccessfully to catch us some lunch. I was fishing with lures, something I have never tried before, and I still haven't quite got the hang of it. Major enjoyed playing in the shallow water while I fished and Chris relaxed in the shade at the picnic table.

We packed up our gear about 1:30 and set sail for Magnolia Beach. With the southeast wind, we enjoyed a really nice sail across Espiritu Santo Bay. After entering the ICW and changing our direction to a more northerly route, we were pleased that we were still able to point high enough to sail rather than motor in the light wind. Eventually, we were forced to fire up the Iron Genny and motor as far as the entrance to Lavaca Bay where we set sail again. Upon arrival, we were met by Chuck and Sandra Leinweber. They showed us where the boat ramp was, gave us rides to their house to retrieve our vehicles and trailers, and assisted in loading our boats on the trailers. Charlie Jones, a Texas200 sailor who also resides in Magnolia Beach, arrived and we regaled the group with tales of our unsuccessful trek to the lighthouse. I have always heard good stories about Army Hole so I'm really glad we decided to go there. It is a very beautiful place - isolated, unspoiled, and well within a day's sail of the Seadrift - Magnolia Beach area.

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