OR, the "Misery Loves Company Tour"
Six o'clock Monday rolled by, so did six thirty, and also seven o'clock and we were underway with one reef already tied in because the winds were 15-18 knots sustained. Out into Redfish Bay we go and the water was rough and lumpy. There was a two foot breaking swell coming in from one direction, and wind driven waves coming in from another. It looked like the inside of a washing machine out there. Twenty five minutes in, I gybed my boat and at the end of the gybe I was holding the mainsheet in one hand, and my entire tiller and rudder assembly minus the lower pintle in the other. Looking at the broken mess, I seen that in our haste, we didn't remove the #6x5/8" temporary screws holding the rudder hardware on, and all the screws were torn out. Knowing that all the other boats were rigged identically, I quickly got on the radio to warn the others. Pressing the talk button and going into a 45 second long dissertation of the problem I realized I was talking into a dead radio. It was working for the radio check at the marina a few minutes ago, but no longer.
I tried to see if I could sail without a rudder by using the sail and the daggerboard, but to no avail. With the confused seas and the big chop, I kept gybing and almost getting knocked down. Chuck Pierce showed up and we rigged a bridle and tow rope to his boat and we attempted to sail out. It worked okay to a point, but Chuck was having heavy helm because the bridle wasn't centered and my boat was tugging more on one side than the other. We decided that we would try to re-rig it. As I was sitting in my boat waiting, I notice that Chuck's boat is drifting across the eye of the wind. I called out to him to watch out for an accidental gybe when he looks up from his knot tying to say "What?" Whammo! The boom swings across at full velocity and smacks him right between the eyes and all I seen was the bottom of his shoes as he gets knocked overboard. Just then, with nobody at the tiller and no weight in the boat, a gust of wind comes and turtles his boat completely. I was never so relieved to see Chuck pop up on the other side, dazed, but somewhat still okay. After trying for a while to right his boat, a couple of the bigger sailboats came by and were able to start to assist Chuck, but in the meantime, they had cut me loose and I was now drifting across the bay. After about fifteen or twenty minutes of drifting, I come to the realization that I am drifting farther and farther away from land. With a disabled boat. And no radio. Is this how my adventure is going to end? Less than an hour into it? Really? C'mon, it can't end like this!
Then I see Sean Mulligan with his very capable Paradox named Scout sailing towards me. He offers me a tow, but cannot take me into his boat as it is only designed for one person. I am grateful for the tow and stay in my boat. I would come to regret that decision.
After twenty miles of getting towed in very rough seas, with the tow line jerking the boat every second to fifth wave cycle, I was seasick. Sick as a dog, seasick. Everytime the towline went taught, I would lurch forward and lose the horizon, and get sicker. I was never so happy to see the ICW and the land cut. The water instantly smoothed out and we seen all the other ducks lined up on the shore getting repairs.
Lots of the bigger boats stopped in to check on us. Somehow, we had a cordless screwdriver, a drill, a power hacksaw, rivet gun and rivets, four extra pintles and six sets of eight stainless through bolts, washers and lock nuts. Who brings four extra pintles? Duckers I guess. After an hour on the beach we were able to get going under our own power and make it to the first camp. This was pretty much the only breakdown we had for the rest of the trip. The boats were very well built. We made camp under 34 knot winds with full reefs. I was tired of slogging through thigh deep mud, so I pointed my boat at the beach and flew in hot. Just as the bow hit the beach I threw my weight back and kicked up the boards and landed with the transom two feet from the waters edge and walked out mud-free. A few guys from the bigger boats that evening were talking about one of the ducks beaching hard and walking out dry.
The next day the winds were light in the morning and howling by noon. We had about an eleven hour trip to make the next camp, and the third day was a 54 mile journey. At 3.8 miles an hour hullspeed, that was going to be a stupidly long day. We discussed sailing past the second camp and going to a beach across from the Padre Island Yacht Club to take twelve miles off the next day. We met at the main camp and weighed our options. We had another three hours of sailing to get to the yacht club, and about three and a half hours of daylight so we all decided to press on.
Half the boats headed out following Chuck, and the other half followed someone else. I stayed with Chuck because he was the one who had mapped out the route and knew where he was going. Off into the ship channel, we encountered big winds, big waves, big ships and very shallow water. Even between the channel markers we were still dragging ground. After ninety minutes of really tough sailing, we look off ahead of us and see barely on the horizon the rest of the group! They had stuck close to shore, cut the corner and were over a half an hour ahead of us. We managed to catch up to them, but it took wringing out every ounce of speed to make up the distance.
We got to the yacht club more or less as a group, but by then it was dark. We couldn't really see the beach we were going to camp at, but there was an entire pier of docks that was completely empty, so we tied up there. Ten of us. We looked like a sea-going band of homeless men, with our 4x8 floating shopping carts with all our worldly possessions. There was a club event being held upstairs, and as the patrons lined out after it was over, I'm not sure what they thought of us. After talking to a few of the people there, they could not get a hold of the Commodore to get us permission to stay, but at least they didn't call the police.
After the crowd left, a yacht club member took pity on us and accidentally on purpose left the door to the washrooms and showers unlocked, so we could at least enjoy some comforts for the night. The third and fourth days were more of the same. Calm in the mornings, and blowing hard in the afternoons. One of the problems we were having was trying to stay together as a group. Some sailed fast, some slower, and some really slow. The third morning at one of our stops, John Goodman and myself re-rigged some of the other non-loaner ducks and everyone was better matched for speed after that. This was crucial as we went through some of the dugouts and back channels that were not clearly marked. We all played follow the leader as Chuck Leinweber led us through the maze. At one point, we ended up behind some backwater lake with what looked like two possible routes. As we got closer, Josh Colvin was leading and I called out to him "Are those birds standing in the channel?" He called back "Yes, birds standing in both channels" Not good. Birds shouldn't be able to stand in water we need to sail through. Andy Linn called out "There are storks on the right, and pelicans on the left, storks have longer legs so let's ram em'" Full speed ahead, scattering the birds as we went and still ended up walking a quarter of a mile through the mud doing the 'stingray shuffle' so we didn't accidently step on one of them. That night we finally made it to our campsite at Army Hole.
Army Hole was really nice, picnic tables, covered shelters, grass. And at two thirty in the morning, the biggest thunder and lightning show I had ever seen. Complete with huge wind and a torrential downpour.
Because of the wind earlier, I had not put up my rain fly on my tent because it would simply collapse the tent under the pressure of the wind. So when the rains came, it filled my entire tent full of water. Most of my gear was floating in three inches of water and I was soaked through. For the first time since I had landed in Texas, I was cold. There were quite a few people up and in the same predicament I was in, so we huddled under the shelters and waited it out. By six in the morning we were packed and ready to go, and on the water before seven. We had only 22 miles to complete, but the shrimp boil was at 3:30 so we decided to leave early just in case we had any complications. And complications we got. Because of the storm, by the time we got to Port O'Connor ship channel, we had the wind right on our noses, and a heavy current as well. We tried tacking up the channel at first, but could make no headway because of the current. So we got out and walked through the mud. For hours.
We finally came up to the jetty, which was compact car sized granite blocks, well greased from algae and seaweed. This was about a half mile long, but each step had to be carefully placed. A wrong step would go between two blocks and potentially snap an ankle or cause a deep cut. We tried the south pass, but it was too treacherous. We tried the north pass, and while better, was still ugly. I slipped on a block, and cut the painter I was towing my boat with in half. I watched helplessly as my boat sailed across the channel with all my gear in it, and piled up into the opposite bank of granite stones and blocks. A powerboat took pity on my and gave me a lift over to my boat, but by then, the rest of the group had already rounded the jetty and were sailing in clear water again. I had drifted back to almost the beginning of the ferry channel. By then the tide had changed and the current had slowed considerably, and I found I was gaining about 30 feet in each short tack. After an hour of beating up the channel, I was finally free but way behind the group. I sailed my heart out and after about two and a half hours, finally had caught up to them, just in time to luff up and get everyone together for our final approach to the finish.
We sailed onto Magnolia Beach to the cheers of dozens and dozens of people. Heroes to some, survivors to others, maniacs to all. And I have never tasted a better shrimp platter than the one that signified the end of what could possibly have been the hardest thing I have ever done in a sailboat.