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by John Alesch - Austin, Texas - USA

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

The Texas 200 this year was going to be interesting. There were approximately 60 boats participating including 14 Puddle Duck Racers (PDRs) or commonly known as Ducks. The Ducks were going to sailing as a group as a fund raising event for the LiveStrong Foundation to raise money for cancer. There were a few other small boats that would sail with them as part of the fund raiser. Many of the Ducks were painted yellow and had yellow sails. Many of the Ducks had names of those lost to cancer and survivors of cancer written on them. One side of the boat was marked “In Honor Of” for survivors, the other side was marked “In Memory Of” for those who lost the battle to cancer.

In October 2013 I purchased a 1973 O’Day Mariner for this year’s Texas 200 which was going to be sailed from Monday June 9th and finishing on Friday the 13th. The boat’s name was the “Ancient Mariner”. I thought it to be a good name and decided to keep it. The past four times I have done the Texas 200 I have sailed my 1976 O’Day Day Sailer II, although the first year in 2010 I was unsuccessful. I spent the fall and spring getting the boat ready and making some modifications for the event.

1973 O'Day Mariner 2+2 at house

I got the needed work done to both the boat and the trailer near the end of May. The trailer needed new mast supports, new tires, bearing buddies, re-wiring and have the bearings inspected and greased. After the trailer work was done it was time to get the boat out to Canyon Lake for a shakedown sail. In the late 60’s and the 70’s I had learned to sail on my dad’s 1968 Mariner. When I got my boat on the lake for the first time it all felt very familiar to me and I was very comfortable sailing it. All my preparations worked as planned.

The last thing I needed to get working was my 2.5hp Lehr propane outboard. Last year we had a problem with it causing the pull cord to jam. I tinkered with it a bit and finally called the Lehr help line. After describing the problem to the tech, he told me how to correct the problem. His description was spot on and I got the problem fixed.

My crew arrived at my house in Dripping Springs, Texas on Friday June 6th a little after 1:00 PM in the afternoon. My crew this year was Mark Neinast and his son Michael out of Plano, Texas. When they arrived, the boat was mostly packed. We added anything they had that could be put in the boat as well as a few things I still needed to get in the boat. The rest of our things (coolers, sea bags, and outboard) we loaded in my Jeep. The Jeep was already hooked to the trailer, so when loaded, we headed towards Port Mansfield which was our starting point this year.

I had told Mark ahead of time that I was going to buy them lunch at the Salt Lick BBQ in Driftwood, Texas on our way to the coast. It has become my tradition to buy my crew a meal there before the Texas 200. We were lucky getting there when we did as we did not have to wait for a table. Once we were all stuffed, we headed for Port Mansfield.

The trip went well. We activated the SPOT transmitter on the drive to make sure it was working. Mark called his wife and sent her the address so she could track our progress on the computer. We were going to be using the SPOT this year so others that might be interested could track our progress on the trip as we sailed up the coast. They could also get an idea where the rest of the fleet was. Several boats carried SPOT devices this year. The SPOT can also send an emergency SOS with coordinates in case there is a critical problem that needs the Coast Guard to provide help.

We arrived in Port Mansfield about 11pm on Friday the 6th of June. Knowing we were going to get in late, we called ahead to Harbor Bait and Tackle where our room was rented. They told us they would unlock the door and we would be able to go in when we arrived. When we got to Port Mansfield we found the place easily and parked; then we went up to our room at Harbor Bait and Tackle. It turned out to be a real nice place with 3 beds which worked out great. We had a porch overlooking the harbor and a slip for the boat that was included with the room. We only unloaded what we needed to and went to bed.

Harbor at Port Mansfield from room balcony at Harbor Bait and Tackle

Our plan was to prepare and launch the boat on Saturday. So late Saturday morning/early afternoon we loaded the boat with supplies and got it organized. It took a little longer than we thought, but it was easier to do on the trailer than on the water. Then we headed to the launch ramp and waited to get in line to rig and launch. The wind was very strong. We heard later that gusts were up to 37 knots. The first time we tried to put up the mast, a strong cross wind caught the mast and we almost lost it and the tabernacle over the side of the boat. I was pushing the mast up with Michael’s great help to keep it stable in the wind, while Mark worked the winch attached to the jib halyard to pull the mast up. I had used this method before without a problem (and no one to help stabilize the mast), although previously the winds were light. After a short break we made a second attempt which was successful. Other boats with tall masts were having similar problems. Michael helped the guy on the boat in front of us who was having problems as well despite what looked like a well practiced method of raising his mast.

Stepping the Mast on the Mariner. I'm pushing the mast up while Michael (due to high winds) keeps the mast steady and Mark works the winch attached to the jib halyard.

We got the boat rigged. Attached the outboard and after a few frustrating attempts we got it running. It hadn’t been started in a year since I didn’t get a chance to start it before heading to the coast. The motor worked great the rest of the trip.

While we were setting up the boat Andy Linn came by checking out the boats on the ramp. I met Andy during the 2012 Texas 200. He was the one who made a magnificent dive into the water to assist me when I had capsized my Day Sailer II on the fourth day of that year’s event trying to get to the camp at Pauls Mott. He righted the boat and helped bail it when the boat towing us got to shore. Later that evening he performed a wedding at Pauls Mott.

Earlier in the year, there were several discussions on the Texas 200 forum on Facebook about several sailors getting cutlasses for “would be pirates”. I said I would bring practice cutlasses that I had so they could learn what to do. These were original practice cutlasses used by the US Cavalry nearly 100 years ago. When I was doing Cavalry re-enacting, I used these to practice with others to do sabre work on horseback. When Andy approached, I pulled the two cutlasses out of the Jeep. I gave Andy basic instructions, told him how to hold it above his head to protect from a head cut. Old habits, I hit the blade harder than he expected. The blade he was holding hit him in the head and left a nice bump. So much for being a pirate, Andy had failed “Pirating 101”. I felt bad about it and apologized, but it was hardly noticeable by the end of the week.

Launching the Mariner. Andy Linn on side of Jeep.

We finally got the boat launched. Mark and Michael started the outboard and took the boat to the slip while I moved the Jeep and trailer to the parking area. I met them at the slip and we got the boat secured for the night. We went to the room, got cleaned up and headed for dinner.

Mariner in water at ramp dock. Mark and Michael getting ready to move the boat to the slip. I'm untying the boat.

At the restaurant we found three other Texas 200 sailors and sat down at their table with them. We talked with them while we waited for our meal. When they finished up and left, we were joined by a couple other sailors while we ate our meals. We had some good sailing talk during dinner. We then headed back to our room. This would be the last time we would be able to drive to get dinner. In the morning I would be driving the Jeep and trailer to our end point at Magnolia Beach on Matagorda Bay.

Sunday morning we got up early to attend the skippers meeting and turn in our event release forms.  The meeting was at 7:00am. The meeting was in a parking lot across from a boat ramp on the other side of the harbor from where we were staying. There was a large gathering already there. We turned in our release forms. Then they called off the names of those registered to see if they were present for the meeting. Announcements about the event, a list of emergency phone numbers, and maps to the parking area at Magnolia Beach for those driving vehicles to the end point were handed out.

At the meeting, I met Hamilton Cowie and John Bruden of Reservoir Dog, the Day Sailer II that had traveled down from Colorado for this event. There were two other Day Sailers registered, but I never saw them. Matt Schiemer, the other Mariner skipper and his crew Chris Maynard (who sailed with him last year) were there as well. After the meeting was over, I drove Mark and Michael back to the place we were staying. We agreed to meet at the restaurant for dinner when I got back on the bus.

While I was driving to the other end, Mark and Michael were going to continue to get the boat ready. Get the sails ready and organize the cabin for loading our personal gear and coolers in the morning before we started sailing. They would also have the day to relax if they wanted to.  

On the way to Magnolia Beach, we have to go through a Border checkpoint. When I got there, a few vehicles with empty trailers had already come through. I thought it might take a while since there was a van two vehicles ahead of me that appeared to be having a problem. The guard dog was barking a lot. After about five minutes, the guards directed the van to a side area for further inspection. When I got to the guard, he asked me if there was some kind of empty boat trailer convention. I told him what we were doing and to expect many more empty trailers. The trip to the endpoint was uneventful other than seeing several dead feral hogs along the side of the road. Glad none of those had run out in front of me along the way.

The parking area was at a convenience store in Magnolia Beach with a bar in the back. They would be keeping a watch on our vehicles and trailers during our week of sailing. The store also has a hamburger stand inside that makes a really good meal.

The Texas 200 Sailing Club bought all the skippers lunch while we waited for the bus for our return trip to Port Mansfield. The bus arrived at 2:00pm and we boarded the bus. Although it was announced that the bus would leave promptly, we had to wait about 10 minutes for a late arrival. Unlike last year, the bus was packed. There didn’t seem to be as much conversation on the bus this year as in years’ past or it may just have been the area around me. At the halfway point, the bus stop at a store to allow everyone to stretch and get snacks or do bathroom breaks.

When we arrived back at Port Mansfield we were given a choice to be dropped off at a restaurant or at the place we were staying. One of the restaurants in Port Mansfield was asked to stay open a little later than usual for a Sunday evening so we could get dinner when we got back. Chuck Leinweber had told us he would give people a ride (if needed) to where they were staying if we went to the restaurant. I was left off at the restaurant and called Mark and Michael on my cell phone to let them know I was there. They said before I left in the morning that they would walk over when I got there. It took them a short while to arrive. A large part of the group was in the dining room. We found a seat at the end of one of the tables and ordered our dinner. There was good conversation at dinner. When we had finished, Mark and Michael headed back while I waited for a ride. I have knee problems and can’t walk long distances anymore. Once back, we got a few final things ready and headed to bed.

Monday morning was the first day of sailing. We got up early to a windy day. We gathered together our personal gear and the coolers and headed down to the boat. Mark and Michael got their big Yeti ice chest situated in the cabin. We put our bags in as well. We tried to keep a sleeping area open on the starboard side in case any of us needed to lie down inside the cabin to get out of the sun. We checked out of our room and turned our attention to getting the sails up and heading north.

Winds were strong, from what I heard they were over 25 knots, gusting into the 30’s. The previous two years we had very light winds in the morning, but not this morning. Two other boats near us were getting ready to leave as well. One was a small homebuilt boat and the other looked to me like a Venture or McGreggor 17. We set both reefs in the mainsail before raising it. We initially raised the jib, but then decided to bring it back down until we got out in the Laguna Madre where we could better judge what the wind was doing. In amongst the buildings of the harbor, true wind strength was a little deceiving.

While we were raising the mainsail, the small wooden boat headed out which was better for us so we wouldn’t have to worry about hitting him while we tried to get out. As I recall Mark was holding the bow lines on the dock while Michael helped me raise the main. Once the main was up, centerboard down and we were situated, we pushed off and Mark jumped on board. We were starting our adventure.

Many of the boats in the fleet had started getting out about 6:00am, especially the Ducks and other smaller boats. We got going after 8:00am. We had to sail about a 100 yards from the dock and then turn to starboard which would take us east to the mouth of the harbor. As we made our turn we saw the wooden boat that left just before us capsized. The sailor had righted it, but it was swamped and he was hanging on to the side of his boat. We asked if he needed assistance. He said his friends were on the way (that was the boat tied up next to him). We saw one of his cushions in the water and Michael picked it up. We told him we would give it back at camp. As we pulled away from him we saw the other boat under power pulling alongside. We headed on towards the mouth of the harbor.

Having come out of this harbor before, I made the decision to not follow the channel east a couple miles and then turn north into the main channel. Instead we would cut the corner and sail a route northeast until we hit the main channel. I have done this in the past without a problem. In the past however, I have followed the channel markers a few hundred yards before making my small turn to port, this time I turned sooner than in the past. Having sailed my Day Sailer in the past, I was use to needing less water than I needed with the Mariner. Not having sailed this boat enough before the trip, I didn’t have as much of a feel for where the Mariner centerboard was in relation to the amount of line used on the downhaul. As we started to sail on our new heading we saw another small boat sailing down the channel heading east. The strong winds appeared to be causing him some difficulty. It was then we noticed that despite the sail being set and we were heeling, we didn’t appear to be moving. Realizing we were probably aground, we raised the centerboard a bit and started to move with a bunch of mud to our stern. We bumped bottom a little more and brought the centerboard up a little more. In a short time we were in water deep enough to let the centerboard back down, but not full down. The wind was definitely strong and holding course was difficult.

We continued on this course until we got to the main channel and turned more to port to get into the channel staying on starboard tack. With the strong wind and the waves, we decided to leave the jib secured on the fore deck and continue on under the main only. Steering was difficult with the waves coming from astern; the boat would occasionally surf down a wave. Checking the GPS, our speed was between 6 to 7 mph on average with peaks up to about 9 mph.

"Terio" sailing the first day with reduced sail. Jim and Ben Meyers

We could see a lot of the fleet ahead of us as well as several boats behind us. We started closing in on some of the boats ahead of us, and some of faster boats behind us were catching up. All of the boats were sailing with reduced sail, some more than others. As we approached the land cut, we saw our first barge of the trip. We moved just outside of the channel on our starboard side to let the barge pass; then moved back into the channel and continued on. As we moved along, some boats pulled out of the channel into shallow water to make adjustments to their sails or boats.

Charlie Jones' trimaran making adjustments on the first day

Matt Schiemer's 1970 O'Day Mariner 2+2 passing us. Matt on the bow with Chris Maynard at helm.

Ducks beached for repairs just inside the land cut.

As we entered the land cut, the waves reduced in size and sailing, as well as holding course became easier. Shortly after entering the land cut we saw the “Duck” fleet beached along the eastern side. A few other boats were beached with them. We called out to one of the boats to find out what was going on. The skipper of the boat said it was a lunch break. We found out later that the Ducks were making repairs. A short while after passing the Ducks, we were passed by Matt and Chris in the other Mariner. They had their jib up with their reefed main sail. We were sailing under a reefed main only. My Mariner was fairly new to me and I was still getting used to how she handled. One thing for sure though, she was a lot more stable than my Day Sailer was. The heavy centerboard and ballast really was noticeable.

The land cut is a part of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that has been dredged out of land areas. It is a few hundred feet wide. The eastern side is deeper than the western side, so we sailed along the eastern side. There are also fishing buildings on stilts placed sporadically along the way. Some are well maintained, some not. Most have docks; with some having large docks as well. All the buildings have their own water and power supply.

Fishing house inside the land cut

In past years, we started seeing dolphins surfacing in the land cut. This year we didn’t see any, perhaps due to the high winds stirring up the water too much.

Eventually, we could see ahead where boats were beaching. As we closed on the shore, Mark was at the helm. I directed him to a place to beach the boat. As we later found out, I had found the muddiest spot. As we came to the shore we brought the centerboard up and kicked up the rudder blade. I had modified the Mariners rudder a bit to allow the blade to come most of the way out of the water. In 2011, the blade on my Day Sailer rudder jammed in the mud when pushing off from shore and the rudder head cracked. We had been able to do sufficient repairs that year to continue on. From that experience, I modified my Day Sailer blade to rise out of the water the following year, and I followed this practice with the Mariner rudder.

Camp 1 looking north

Camp 1 looking along south shore

Once we were as close to shore as the boat was going to get, Michael got the anchor ashore and set it, while Mark cleated the line on the bow. While they set the anchor, I got the sails tied down to the boom. The wind was still blowing very strong. Mark and Michael went about the task of setting up their tent. They found a good flat place. I had planned to sleep on the boat, so I didn’t go ashore. I’m a heavy man with bad knees and walking in the mud can be hard. Once out of the water, the beach is solid, but no good place for me to sit where I can get up easily. I did get out of the boat briefly, but found I sank in the mud more than I wanted to.

After Mark and Michael got their tent up, they put their gear inside to help hold it down, then after a short while, they got inside to get out of the wind. I decided to lie down on the port bench seat in the cockpit and stretch out. The seat was low enough below the gunwale to get me out of the wind. The wind was blowing so hard that the boat was heeling to port as if we were still sailing, further blocking me from the wind.

Mark and Michael's tent as first set up at Camp 1

While I was taking a nap (or trying to), the wind was causing problems for the tent. Their tent poles were breaking. Someone helped Mark repair the damaged poles, but they didn’t last. When I decided to get up, the wind had died down a little and the Ducks had arrived. A few boats had arrived ahead of them. We had found out when the Ducks arrived that during the days’ sail, they had 5 rudder failures, a boat capsized with dismasting, and few other equipment failures and damage. They had repaired en-route (the beaching near the start of the land cut) and continued to camp. The rudder failures were caused by parts being screwed together rather than through bolted. They bolted the parts together and solved their problem.

The tent was having major structural problems. One of the other sailors suggested to Mark that they move their camp to an area down the beach that had some protection from the wind. So they gathered everything up and moved to the far end of the beach. I didn’t see much of Mark and Michael the rest of the evening other than when they came by to get dinner and beer out of the coolers. Mark had earlier, taken the cushion from the boat that had capsized when we left in the morning in order to try to return it to the owner. I had some beef jerky for dinner.

Mark and Michael's tent getting blown by high winds at Camp 1

Just before dark, I got myself situated in the boats’ cabin on the starboard side. As the week went on, I would get a little more comfortable each night. I had a small fan to circulate the air and a good light for when I needed it. The big Yeti cooler in the cabin with me proved to be a good place to lay things on. I pulled out my Kindle tablet and tried to get access to the internet. I wanted to post on the Day Sailer forum how the first day had gone, but I couldn’t get a signal. There was no cell phone signal either. Since I had a way to recharge my tablet this year, I decided to watch a movie before going to sleep. I had a good nights’ sleep, except for some kind of bug that bit me a few times during the night. Fortunately the bug wasn’t a problem after that night.

Where I slept in the Mariner's cabin

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