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by Skip Johnson - Houston, Texas - USA

Boat fairy moments - Two have occurred in my experience though I didn't actually think "Boat Fairy" at the time.

The first was in 2004 after Julie Morgan and Colin Grimshaw, a competitive canoeing couple invited me to paddle with them in the Ruta Maya.

After training a bit Colin and Julie invited me to do a 36 mile training run on the San Jacinto River from below Lake Conroe to the headwaters of Lake Houston. I believe a big part of the training run was to ascertain if I had what it takes to do the Ruta Maya. We met at the put in on the river and ran our shuttle to the take out. We were in two standard aluminum canoes, Colin and I in one and Julie with a competent paddling friend, Dave, in the other. It is February, cold, and the San Jacinto has just come down off of flood stage and is still swift, turbulent and out of its banks at the put in. Still we need the practice run.

For the first few miles the river channel is fairly narrow and the actual water now is several times wider. So we spend a lot of time running through the trees and brush trying to determine where the channel is. Success is elusive. I'm in the front following Colin's instructions as best as I can and doing everything I can to stay in the boat and upright. It's a challenge; the water is muddy, cold, swift and turbulent. In odd moments I consider all sorts of disaster scenarios having to do with muddy, cold, swift and turbulent water mixed in with trees, brush and the like. After the first time we run over a submerged barb wire fence I quit considering any disaster scenarios and concentrate on paddling secure in the knowledge that if I could walk on water I'd excuse myself and head for shore in a heartbeat and since I can't it's best to just concentrate on the task at hand. If there had been a "Boat Fairy" there at that moment I'd have left, no questions asked.

The second "Boat Fairy" moment happened during the 2012 Texas 200. Occasionally, my mind will feed me a line of B. S. that I buy into completely. Susie claims that 'occasionally' is incorrect, that 'often' is closer to the truth. In this case I convinced myself that I could do, and enjoy doing the Texas 200 in my 14' EasyB expedition canoe; after all I'd done a number of multiday, expedition type trips, unsupported and enjoyed them all. To that end I built a small sail rig for EasyB, debugged it, sailed it in a number of conditions, stealth camped a couple of times. I was ready.

EasyB with sail rig near the beginning of the ill-fated Texas200

So off to Padre Island. After spending the night at a hotel Susie and her Mom saw me off from a boat ramp on the Laguna Madre. Susie and her Mom, wiser souls than I, planned on beachcombing and slowly cruising up the coast via automobile to eventually pick me up at Seadrift. A few hours in and I've got some problems with the rudder up/down control and it's a real hassle to try to fix the thing without going swimming. The thought begins to surface "this isn't really very much fun". Still EasyB and I soldier on; it's a long haul to the county park at Port Mansfield. We don't get there until after dark exhausted, discouraged and wondering if it had been a mistake to not grab the offer from a boatload of flats fishermen to take me on board their boat and end this madness.

A few hours of exhausted sleep and things look a little better. A quick cold breakfast and a thermos of coffee and I'm off to make the land cut before the wind picks up. And the wind does pick up and continues to increase as the day wears on. It's nice and calm in the land cut but the wind has been blowing harder and harder as the day goes on, There is no doubt in my mind that there is no way for me to cross Baffin Bay in these conditions in a loaded open canoe. The only option that I can see is to cut over to the lee of Padre Island as soon as I can and then continue up the coast in the shallow semi protected lee of the island. It will be a five or so mile paddle more or less parallel to the waves blowing across the shallows of the bay.

In the lee of Padre Island.

As soon as I get to a point that it looks like I can drag my loaded canoe over out of the land cut I pull over to the bank and survey the situation. A reefed San Francisco Pelican sails by me, probably the last boat in our train of iconoclasts. I am alone. The path to the lee of the island is a field of whitecaps and blowing mist as far as I can see. It is time to go. Everything is tied in, double checked, sail and yards carefully furled and tied inside the canoe, my new wide blade "four wheel drive" paddle in hand; we are off.

Almost immediately it's apparent that I should have made my new paddle as a bent shaft model, I need every little advantage possible. The leeboard is down otherwise we'd be blown way down the bay into deeper water and waves. Waves are bad enough as it is; two to two and a half feet tall, steep in this shallow water. There's a sweet spot heading about ten to fifteen degrees wide quartering into the waves, inching towards the lee of the island and crabbing into the wind a bit to hold position. Too far upwind and the bow will bury in the face of the waves. Too far the other way and we risk being rolled in the trough of the waves plus if we get turned downwind I doubt there's any way to get turned back around get back in that sweet spot. After several hours of this, the world had condensed into taking the next stroke, every action taking total concentration, it was the hardest thing I'd ever done mentally and physically. There was no time to consider a "Boat Fairy" at the time, but if one had showed up I'd have been out of there no questions asked.

EasyB and I hitch a ride home aboard John Wright's Laguna Seis.

There have been plenty of other adventures before and after the crossing of Baffin Bay; including having EasyB run over by Caprice later that same day but the foregoing was my two "Boat Fairy" moments. Skip

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