Magic amidst the chaos — sometimes you just have to ignore the weather report

Thunderstorms were looming, and the radar looked terrible, but it had been a hell of a week, and I was dying to get Gimme Shelter out on the water. She hadn’t moved from her slip in more than a month, and I’m positive she was feeling as restless as me.

redfishrun01

We had arrived to the marina in the middle of a downpour, so we just grabbed the dogs out of the backseat and made a run for the boat. Once the rain cleared, we cast off and headed for the bay. It wasn’t until we had passed the Kemah Boardwalk that I realized we’d left the bag full of our clothes as well as my camera in the car.

First lesson of the weekend: Always check that you actually put your bags on the boat before leaving the dock.

However, we were in a race against sunset, and our friends TJ and Kayla on Folie a Deux were motoring along right behind us. Well, they were right behind us until one of their jib sheets fell overboard and fouled their prop.

Second lesson of the weekend: Keep all lines secured on deck.

redfishrun02

But that was only a small delay. As you might remember, Folie’s entire rudder fell off during her last voyage, so a fouled prop was just a small speed bump in comparison.

redfishrun03

We were soon underway and dropped the hook at Redfish Island just as the sun was setting. Well, at least we dropped our hook. As TJ debated whether or not to drop his own anchor or tie off to our stern, he realized his anchor was no longer hanging on his bow. Perhaps it was sitting in the bottom of his slip at Watergate. Perhaps it was on the bottom of the bay somewhere between Galveston and Kemah. Perhaps someone walked off with it. There was no way to know.

Third lesson of the weekend: Make sure you have an anchor on the boat and make sure your anchor rode is tied to something on the boat.

The lack of anchor was still not a problem. We just threw TJ and Kayla a line and tied them off to our stern cleat.

tj01

For the first time ever, we had Redfish Island completely to ourselves. Mary prepped a salad while I grilled steaks, and we sat down to a nice dinner.

While we were in the cabin eating, it got dark — and I mean REALLY dark. Thick clouds had blotted out any sign of stars, and the quarter moon was barely a glow in the corner of the sky. I was about to pull the kayak off the deck to take the dogs to shore when we saw it.

glowies

It looked like fireflies moving underwater. Dozens of small bioluminescient jellyfish were glowing all around us. They would glow especially bright if they bumped against the anchor rode or the hull of the boats. I cursed myself for forgetting the camera, and we attempted to at least somewhat capture the moment with our phones. My video ended up being worthless, but TJ did manage to capture the long exposure above.

I dropped the kayak in the water and took the dogs to shore mesmerized at the way the jellies glowed around my paddle each time it touched the water. It was a truly magical moment.

After the dogs finished their business on the island, we paddled back to the boat and watched the glowing for another hour or so before bed. We went to sleep with all the hatches and windows open, just waiting for the rain to finally hit us — but it never did.

I woke up at sunrise to find storm cells passing on either side of us.

redfish_lightning

It looked like Kemah was also getting hammered, so we just stayed put and made some breakfast. Slowly things cleared, and a fantastic rainbow appeared overhead.

redfishrun07

I hadn’t been on Redfish Island all sumer, so I took a minute to explore. After a year of heavy rain, it seems there are actually some plants growing. Along with the usual scrub brush there was a yucca plant.

redfishrun04

And even a baby palm tree.

redfishrun05

Despite predictions of terrible thunderstorms all day Sunday, the weather actually cleared and the sun made an appearance just as we headed back towards Kemah. My crew didn’t sleep well at anchor due to the high humidity, so they spent most of the trip home snoozing.

sleepytex

The bay was empty and smooth as glass. We were already counting the trip a success when this happened.

redfishrun09

Fourth lesson of the weekend: If you have an outboard, keep a very short, heavy duty strap on it, so if your outboard bracket shears into pieces, the motor won’t fall underwater.

This was a disheartening moment. TJ and Kayla had paid a local machine shop to design and build that stainless steel bracket specifically for their O’day 25 and the new Honda they put on it. Then, after spending money for the “professional” work, it literally sheared into pieces in less than a year. Now they’re out the cost of the bracket and the impending cost of repairs to their outboard.

We stopped to help, and as a team we were able to winch the outboard up out of the water and out of the way of the tiller, but Folie a Deux’s trip ended with a tow home from Sea Tow.

redfishrun10

We hung out until the tow boat arrived and then headed for the marina ourselves.

redfishrun08

As a slight consolation for the outboard disaster, TJ and Kayla were visited by a dolphin who swam alongside them all the way to the Kemah Boardwalk.

pete_the_dolphin

Yes, the entire weekend was a comedy of errors, but it was also filled with unforgettable moments experiencing things you don’t usually see in the bay. I’m glad we didn’t just look at the radar and decide to stay home.

Shooting Stars at Lick Observatory

On the last day of my cousin Andrew’s wedding weekend he and his new wife Saara invited all of the friends and family out to Lick Observatory for a Sunday evening of desserts and star gazing.  The drive up to Lick was almost as exciting as the place itself.  We wandered over three windy mountain roads to get to the semi-secluded Mt Hamilton. The Observatories large domes make it a beautiful sight. The view from the top is breathtaking.

lickobs_05

Of course everyone wanted their picture taken in front of the sunset.

lickobs_01

After the wedding party had finished with all of their pictures, docents from the observatory treated us to an entertaining lecture on James Lick, the wealthy entrepreneur who funded the creation of the observatory back in 1888.  Lick was a colorful character who explored the world, buying and selling goods, and made his fortune in California real estate. As Lick aged he had a considerable amount of money to decide what to do with, and having no family, his two main ideas were to build a giant pyramid in downtown San Francisco in his own honor or to have a Statue of Liberty size statue made of himself in the harbor. Luckily the science community was able to convince him to instead fund this lovely observatory.

lickobs_09

One of the greatest treats of the evening was sitting in the room with the Great Lick Refractor.  This telescope is 57 feet long, and 4 feet wide.  When completed it was the largest in the world, and today is still the second. While honestly to me, the images were not that exciting, sitting in a room with that giant machine was.  Operated by a man spinning a ships wheel halfway up the telescope the telescope spins and so does the whole dome to match.  The men shout back and forth coordinates and directions to each other over the mechanical noise of everything moving. Meanwhile you walk your way up a metal ladder in the dark to a thin observation walkway, where you can see the whole thing taking place beneath you.

lickobs_02

Operating in the dark I think ads a bit of magic to all of it. They only use red lights like you’re inside a submarine or something. Also my mom and I decided that the thing sticking out of the side is obviously a laser.

lickobs_03

We were treated to a viewing of the Ring Nebula through the refractor, and then a nice close-up view of Saturn at the other end of the observatory looking through the 40-inch reflector. In addition to the big telescopes the docents also had some smaller but more modern telescopes set up outside. Many people took turns asking for specific constellations. Not knowing a lot about stars I asked some basic questions about our galaxy and really learned a lot from the people there helping.

lickobs_04

Fred was in heaven finally being somewhere without any light pollution, so that he could get photos of the Milky Way. I think he enjoyed taking those wide angle photos than seeing the stars close up through the telescopes.

lickobs_08

lickobs_07

We wrapped up the evening with a sing-a-long inside the great dome. The acoustics were amazing. It gave me that perfect mix of warm feelings and an inspiration to continue to learn and better myself that always comes from time with my family. Love you guys!

lickobs_06

 

A walk through Muir Woods

muir_10

On our first and only day in San Francisco we decided to skip China Town, and the Wharf, and Alcatraz, and all the other fun options in favor of seeing some big trees.  While that may sound like a bad choice, I regret nothing. The atmosphere of being in (literally inside) these big trees is pretty moving and amazing.

muir_02

We started our hike with an easy walk along the main path, but our curiosity quickly overwhelmed us and we began to wander up a trail labeled “Canopy View” that was snaking up the hillside. We hadn’t really prepared for a long hike, and we hadn’t seen the sign at the beginning to tell us how long the trail was, so there was a series of small meetings to decide whether or not we should continue. Each time we decided we had gone too far to turn back.

muir_04

As the climb got steeper, the droves of tourists thinned out and the people we did see looked much more tired. They all had similar questions along the lines of, “Do you know how much further to the top?”

muir_09

We did eventually reach the top and despite our tiredness we decided to continue on up a smaller unofficial path to the very top.  The view was worth it.  Although it would have felt much more fulfilling if there had not been a house and road up there.

muir_06

The hike down was the real treat. Walking back along the “Creeks and Ferns” path we walked through one beautiful scene after another.

muir_08

In total we walked almost 7 miles, but it was well worth it.

muir_03

muir_05

There are a few trees along the path available for careful posing, but for the most part they have you walking away from the trees on a raised walkway to preserve the plant life. What a beautiful place!

muir_07

 

Group Projects aka the Weekend of Hell

Last weekend many of our boat neighbors were able to make it down to the marina. We had exciting dreams of anchoring out at Redfish Island or chilling at the pool all day. Unfortunately nobody’s boat was really in sailing condition. Our boat needed to have the new dodger fitted and installed, and the new sunbrella on the jib needed to be unstitched, flattened, and then restitched. Folie a Deux was still sans rudder after an unfortunate trip back from Offats Bayou and needed their bimini altered and restitched.Meanwhile Celtic Cross aka “Big Nasty” was in the middle of a windlass replacement and needed to remove and replace several hundred pounds of chain. We gave up our dreams of having fun and decided to tackle these projects as a team.

image

First we set my sewing machine up on the dock and proceeded to fit the dodger onto the boat. It has some handles that go into both bars of the frame that are a bit difficult to get on, but with one person pulling on each bow I was able to poke a couple holes in the canvas and stick the handles on. Maybe there is one extra hole in the side of the brand new dodger from a miscommunication, but it’s barely noticeable …

image

The biggest setback came when we tried to cinch the dodger into place with the decades old straps, which immediately snapped in half. Fred went and bought new strap material, and I re-used the buckles to make new ones —  not too bad.

image

So then the guys took the jib down for me and Jen to work on while they headed over to Folie a Deux to assess the rudder situation. The screws holding the lower gudgeon had sheared off during TJ’s last voyage, which left him with no steering in the middle of Galveston Bay.

image

The replacement gudgeon had to be special ordered from DRMarine. Fred distinctly said, “Do you want to tie a string to that?” as they started the project. Another neighbor, the captain of Ketchup, confidently said, “Nah, I’m not going to drop it.”

Three minutes later everyone was changing into their swimsuits. Thankfully Fred is trained, and well practiced in rescuing things from disgusting marina mud. He tried to explain to everyone how to perform a “lost bathers drill.”

image

Then he dove in and found it first try.

image

Unfortunately that was just the first of a chain of destructive events. Once the screws and holes were properly sized for the gudgeon, TJ climbed down into the lazarette to secure the nuts from inside the boat. However, he somehow managed to stand on exposed battery connection terminals for quite a lengthy time without noticing until smoke was coming up out of the boat. The cables ended up welded to each other, and the battery terminal completely melted off the battery!

image

With the project nearing completion, the guys only needed to set the rudder pintles back into the gudgeons. Unfortunately, as TJ was leaning over the back of the boat while holding the rudder, he put his knee on the gas tank. Suddenly there was a loud crack, and the smell of gasoline filled the air.

image

The cracks were in the top of the extremely full tank, so it wasn’t leaking unless anyone tried to move it. However, the rudder was in place and with that project more or less stable, the guys decided to call it a day.  We cooled off in the pool, then decided to head across the lake via dinghy for dinner.

image

image

Kelly and Jen were smart enough to do all the projects on Celtic Cross without any help from the rest of us — they went off without a hitch.

Sunday morning we reinstalled the jib on Gimme Shelter, which is now flat with no bunching in the sunbrella stitching. However, the wind was so strong I thought it was going to flap me to death as we raised it.

Then Fred helped TJ put the adjusted bimini back up on Folie a Deaux, replace the battery, and move all the gasoline into a new tank without creating an environmental disaster — although Fred did destroy a handheld pump during the process.

By Sunday night, everyone was exhausted and completely fed up with boat projects. However, they were completed, and we’re all ready to set sail!

A Sacrifice to the Sun god – replacing the Sunbrella on our jib

Since I have been exiled to life indoors while my face heals up, I’ve decided to put the time to good use and work on finishing our Sunbrella transformation.  So far we’ve replaced the sail cover, the bimini, and all of the small canvas items on the boat with new marine blue Sunbrella.   Only the jib Sunbrella and the dodger remain a moldy pacific blue.

13613557_10206755634517798_2630705517226618583_o

Sailrite has an excellent video describing the step-by-step process of adding sunbrella to your jib, but I wanted to add some little tricks I found along the way as well.

The first thing we did was spend several DAYS, not hours, removing the old sunbrella.   After breaking my seam ripper I got frustrated and googled “best seam ripper ever.”  This is when I learned that for ripping seams on heavy canvas an X-Acto knife works wonders.  This really sped up the process for us.

Once I had removed all the old Sunbrella, I started to cut the new panels of Sunbrella with a hot knife to prevent fraying.  I didn’t want to spend the extra money on the Sailrite hot knife, but I found this one at Hobby Lobby that worked very well. It also doubles as a wood and leather burner, and it has all kinds of stamp type attachments.  Pretty cool.  After using my coupon, it was only $13.

SailRepair01

If you’re installing panels onto a new sail, see the Sailrite video for exact measurements of panels, but if you’re re-covering a sail, it’s easier to use the old panels as a pattern.

SailRepair02

We set my sewing machine on the floor to keep the sail flat. This is really important when it comes to connecting the panels together.  There were a couple areas along the foot, where towards the end of the project I got tired and sloppy.  Just a small mistake can make for some very obvious bunching when the sail is up.  Next weekend I will be taking it all back down, seem ripping those seems and flattening it out.

If I was to do it again I would have done a lot more pinning.

All in all the finished product is not too bad.  It needs a bit of adjusting, like all of my projects so far, but at least it matches the rest of the canvas.

SailRepair03

Just for reference, the estimated cost for this project from one of our local sail lofts was $650. Although we did have to spend every evening for a week ripping stitches, our total out-of-pocket cost for the project was under $200.

The Houston 48-Hour Film Project

48Hour_02

I was out sailing one Sunday afternoon when I got a call from my friend Will LeBlanc at Casablanca Productions. He had decided to sponsor a team for the Houston 48 Hour Film Festival and wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing/directing the project.

Mary was already occupied skippering Antares in the GBCA Women’s Regatta that weekend, and it sounded like a fun challenge. I recruited our marina neighbor TJ, the captain of Folie a Deux, and we both signed on for the project.

The way the 48 Hour Film Festival works is that on a given Friday at 7 p.m. your team captain draws two film genres out of a hat. Whether it be western, musical, mystery or comedy, your film must be one of the two genres drawn. We ended up with the choices “superhero movie” or “coming of age story.”

After the genre drawing, all of the teams are then given three mandatory elements to be included in the film. Houston’s 2016 mandatory elements were a character named either Elena or Ethan Shell employed as a landscape designer, a flashlight, and the line of dialogue, “What time is it?”

48Hour_01

To be eligible for an award in the competition, you have to write, cast, shoot, edit and score your 4-7 minute film and have it turned in with all signed releases for actors, locations and music by 7 p.m. Sunday night — exactly 48 hours later.

As soon as we had the requirements, we set to work imagining our characters, outlining a plot, and then filling in actions and dialogue. With printed scripts in hand, we called it quits around midnight Friday.

Saturday started early as we met all of our actors and began rehearsal readings. We started filming around 10 a.m.

48Hour_03

There were a few stressful moments throughout the day. We couldn’t find a child actor for a scene that we absolutely couldn’t write out. Then TJ set his entire head on fire the first time he shot a fireball out of his hand. However, it all worked out. By 9 p.m. we were wrapped.

Special thanks to Jive Bar & Lounge who let us film both inside and outside the bar on extremely short notice.

Once we were wrapped, I grabbed the video files and headed back to my house to start editing. I worked from about 10 p.m. – 2 a.m., slept for a while, then continued editing from 6 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. I made it back to the Casablanca studio by 10 a.m. with a complete rough cut for Will to review. The rest of the day was spent adding music, sound effects, tweaking edits, and trying to fix our audio.

Around 6 p.m. Will took the final video and all the paperwork into town to submit our entry before the 7 p.m. deadline.

I’m very proud to present you with “Supers Anon,” co-written and directed by yours truly.

Supers Anon from Wilfred LeBlanc on Vimeo.

We made it to the August 16 “Best of Houston” showing where we were presented with an honorable mention for Best Newcomer to the festival.

48Hour_04

Although Will and I both make corporate videos and conduct video interviews on a regular basis, there were many lessons learned in making a “movie” with so many actors in such a constrained time. If you ever get the chance to participate in a local 48 Hour Film Festival, I highly recommend it. The weekend was exhausting, but I learned so much, met a bunch of great people, and I had a blast.

A big thank you to Will for inviting me to be a part of the project, and thank you to everyone who participated in our film.

 

 

Life’s Short, Wear Sunscreen

It all started about a two years ago.  I had a weird bump on my face.  It looked sort of like a pimple, but a very persistent one.  It lasted a couple months, and then went away into what looked like a raised, slightly-discolored scar.  Fred had been nagging me to go get it checked since he first saw it, but I sort of shrugged it off.

14022141_10154423383553518_438955196379885344_n

13906642_10154423407143518_7968395902660070676_n

This one just last year

13932850_10154423434148518_3082995984481970472_n

This one is from our honeymoon in 2014

Well three weeks ago I finally made a visit to the dermatologist.  Despite me not saying anything about that spot, the doctor saw it right away and wanted to do a biopsy.  He took a razor to my face right then and there and shaved a big chunk off.  Then he sent me home with a bandaid on my cheek.

A week later I got a call that the sample had tested positive as a Basal Cell Carcinoma, and they would have to do Mohs surgery on my face.  Basically they remove one layer of skin, about 2mm thick all around the spot, and then put it under a microscope.  They keep doing layer after layer until there is no more sign of cancer cells.

image

I was super lucky that they only had to remove one layer.  It is bad enough as is!  I can’t imagine doing more.  After I was all clear they had a plastic surgeon come in and stitch me up.  They had to stitch quite a ways on either side of the circle in order to keep the skin from puckering.

image

I’m currently on the mend.  Just like when I had a broken foot, dealing with the repetitive questions is the worst part.  I like that a lot of people have looked worried though, and asked me, “What did it look like?” or, “How do I know?”.  My answer is, if you’re worried, get it checked out.  I had no idea anything looked funny.

Currently in search of the perfect hat if anyone has suggestions.

And most of all, my message to you is ALWAYS WEAR SUNSCREEN!

Involuntary boat repairs are the worst

I really enjoy boat projects — when it’s a nice update or upgrade that I chose to undertake. I just don’t have the same enthusiasm for the inconvenient, unplanned projects that seem to be popping up on a weekly basis.

Batteries

Last Saturday we arrived to find a flooded bilge thanks to a dead float switch. We also discovered that there is an air leak in the manual bilge pump line, so we had to resort to the old cup-to-bucket-to-overboard method of emptying the bilge. I spliced in a new switch. Not especially fun, but an easy fix.The manual bilge pump is still on the to-do list.

This weekend we arrived and kicked on the air-conditioning to get nothing but a small trickle of water coming out of the through-hull. It was running, but just barely.

I went to work checking the strainer and cleaning the raw water system. As I checked each connection I noticed a drip of water coming from the connector on the bottom of the pump. The plastic hose barb that screws onto the pump had split. I removed it and sent Mary to the store to match it while I continued to clean the system. Unfortunately, no place open late Saturday evening had a match. Mary returned with a Frankenstein of adapters from Home Depot. Thankfully there was just enough clearance to get the longer adapter on, and it held pressure. However, I could not get the system to prime.

I made one last ditch attempt to get it running by sticking the shop vac on the through-hull to suck the water up through the system. It actually worked! After sweating completely through our clothes for two hours, we were back in business with a nice, strong water flow and the vents blowing cold air.

Sunday I finally tackled our house battery situation. I’m not sure if we have a bad cell or if our batteries have just gotten old and unhealthy, but while they will power everything for a 4 – 6 hour day sail around the bay, they can’t keep the refrigerator and anchor light on overnight. A while back our friend Rene donated two NAPA Commercial Heavy Duty batteries to us, but I just haven’t been in any hurry to pull 60 pounds batteries in and out of the engine bay.

With the Harvest Moon Regatta approaching, I finally decided to make the battery swap. If the free batteries get us up to 24-hours of sailing time on the house bank, we’ll attempt it this year. If not, we’re going to have to pass for budget reasons.

I was dreading the actual physical battery swap which would require lying on my back and lifting out the old batteries, then lowering in the new batteries. While it wasn’t pleasant, that ended up being the easiest part of the project.

The new batteries were larger, so the old #2 cables to connect them to each other were not long enough. Then I had three cables made for batteries with posts instead of screw terminals. Then none of my old wires with screw terminal connection rings were large enough to fit over the new, beefier screw terminal posts. I spent quite a long time re-sorting cables and replacing the ends of them.

We made a run to West Marine for some #2 cable and terminal rings. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask anyone how I was supposed to crimp on the new terminals. All the tools on the boat proved woefully inadequate.

Mary made a trip to Home Depot while I worked on other things and came back with the heaviest duty crimpers they had, which were still far too small. We then made another trip to return them and tried O’Reillys. They had pre-made #4 battery cables in various lengths, but no crimper. We called our diesel mechanic friend, who showed up with clamp on post terminals. He just shook his head when he saw what we really needed crimped. He referred us to Blackburns, which unfortunately was closed.

In a last ditch effort, Mary called West Marine again, where we’d already been twice that day, to see if they had crimpers. They said they didn’t have one for sale, but they had one we could use, so we packed all the cables and connections into a bag, and made our third stop there.

The guy at the customer service desk led us to aisle 1 where there was a huge crimper bolted to a table. He said the staff was not allowed to crimp cables for us due to liability reasons, but we were welcome to crimp away.

Five minutes later we were headed back to the boat, and 15 minutes later I finally had everything reconnected and running.

I won’t know until next weekend whether or not our battery situation is really resolved, but I’m crossing my fingers we won’t have any more surprise projects this year.

 

Looking for those bookings

As has been mentioned in previous blogs, one of our ideas to slow the burn on our savings while cruising is to play music along the way as a source of income. In preparation we’ve started playing shows in the Houston area to hone our skills, make sure we have the right equipment, and add a little bit of cash to the cruising kitty.

Last week I played a solo acoustic show at Little Woodrow’s in Katy, Texas. It was nice that our Gimme Shelter T-shirts had just arrived the night before.

13588745_10101836624691502_25430710_o

This was a very last minute booking, so I was lucky that with less than 24 hours notice I still had 10 friends and blog readers come out to see me.

13840380_10101836624681522_1223329209_o

We’re currently trying to hard to book at least two shows per month for the rest of the year, hopefully some of which are in the Kemah area. As our schedule fills in, we’ll update the events calendar on our Facebook page.

Until then, here’s a new video of Mary and I covering Bubble Toes by Jack Johnson.

The party never stops in Galveston Bay

fireworks-YES-02

We spent an action-packed weekend on the water. We headed south as soon as Mary got home form work and took a group of my co-workers out for Kemah Friday night Fireworks.

fireworks-YES-01

Everyone seemed to have a great time, and two of the guys even came back Saturday to help crew the Rum Race aboard Antares.

rum-race_web01

I hadn’t worked the winches on that boat in a while, so I was a bit rusty the first leg. However, we got everything worked out by the end of the second leg.

rum-race_web02

That’s when we ran into Wheeee Doggie, another Cal 40, and the third leg turned into a One Design race. (We won!)

Rum-web

As usual we celebrated with some rum after the race. Mary REALLY liked Doug’s last selection, so there was quite a bit of dancing later at Outriggers when we dinked over for dinner.

Sunday morning we were up early to prep Gimme Shelter for another cruise around the bay.

Sunday_Funday_web-01

Our ColdCans had arrived and worked great with their non-skid bottoms, keeping our drinks cold in 95+ degree weather.

Sunday_Funday_web-03

It was the perfect day to be on the water with winds ranging from 8 – 12 knots.

Sunday_Funday_web-02jpg

Even Dixie Belle had a good time.

Sunday_Funday_web-04