Giving thanks for sailing

After two weeks of cold and rainy weather in Houston, we were finally presented with a forecast of sunny and 75. My parents had just arrived in town for the Thanksgiving holiday, so we took advantage of the opportunity to get them out on the water with us.

This wasn’t my parents’ first time to visit Gimme Shelter. They had visited on July 4th the previous year, but we only motored out of the channel and dropped anchor to watch the fireworks. They’d never experienced any actual sailing.

Despite a 3.5-hour stop-and-go mess of a commute on I-45 to get down to Kemah, the day turned out perfect. We had nice sun, calm water and 15 knot winds out of the south west.

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South west winds are not very common in Kemah. Most of the summer the wind blows out of the south east, and most of the winter it blows from the north. Instead of a four-hour beat to Redfish Island, we were able to hold a broad reach all the way there and made it in about an hour. That’s definitely a personal best for sailing to Redfish.

We sailed right up to Redfish, so my parents could see the infamous island for themselves, and then tacked back towards Kemah. A close-haul brought us right back to the bridge. It’s too bad we don’t have that convenient southwest wind more often.

While we were out we sailed past our friends on the SV Hippokampus, which was boldly wearing it’s new name. Unfortunately, Mary was on the far side of our boat with the camera watching for dolphins and didn’t see them until they had already passed. This is the only photo she got of them.

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However, I will vouch that the new name on the boat looked great, and they had her heeled over and sailing hard.

On the way home my mom got out her camera and shot some “documentary” video.

After a great afternoon on the water with no breakdowns or emergencies, we ended the evening with a fantastic dinner at Sundance Grill II.

So this week I give thanks for a chance to take my family sailing and for all the great people I’ve met since joining the boating community.

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Boatwarming

After many months of searching, our friends Andy and Jayne traveled to Florida and returned by sea, the proud owners of a 1987 Pearson 422.

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(I appropriated this photo of the Pearson from Andy’s Facebook page because it was too dark and rainy to get a good exterior photo on Saturday.)

We were very excited to check out the boat and see some of our sailboat racing friends at their boatwarming party and vessel naming ceremony Saturday night. Unfortunately, due to the weather, the new name, Hippocampus, did not make it onto the hull, so the naming ceremony was postponed.

(For those who are not familiar with mythology, the hippocampoi were the seahorses that pulled Poseidon’s/Neptune’s chariot across the ocean. Coincidentally, my last sailboat was also named Seahorse.)

The fully enclosed center cockpit was the popular place to hang out.

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Many thanks to Andy and Jayne for the tour of the vessel, all the great snacks, and especially the rum.

That aft birth with a queen size walk-around bed is amazing. However, the real magic is this engine room.

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How nice is that?

It was great to see everyone, and we hope to run into you out on the water very soon.

Porpoise Pictures

Nothing is quite as thrilling as spotting a pod of dolphins while you’re out on the bay. No matter how many times it happens, everyone still gets excited. But I swear there is nothing harder than getting a good dolphin photo.

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Obviously the porpoise spends most of its life underwater, so that already makes photographing it a challenge. They pop up with no particular pattern, sometimes ahead of where you saw them last, sometimes behind … sometimes not at all.

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And most of the time, they never even stick their heads out of the water. All you get is fin.

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It’s hard to get excited about fin shots. We’re always waiting for the shot where they just come leaping out of the water, but you never know where it’s going to be, so it’s hard to make sure they’re in focus — it’s usually not.

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The only consistent way to get in-focus dolphin photos seems to be by watching the bow wakes of large ships.

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And even then, they may still not even show their face … or they’ll inconsiderately decide to swim off the bow of the ship between you and the sun causing terrible backlight conditions.

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Two weeks ago I tried shooting them with a 50mm lens set at f8 and focused to infinity. With that combo, basically anything more than 30′ from the boat would be in focus. Results were mediocre. All the shots were in focus, but the porpoises were just too far away.

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This weekend I packed the 400mm lens. It had enough range that I couldn’t just set the focus to infinity, so while it got me much closer to the dolphins, I couldn’t always nail the focus in time.

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Aside from training a pod of dolphins to follow the boat swimming on their tails begging for fish, I don’t know that we’ll ever get REALLY good porpoise pictures. If you’ve got any good dolphin photo tips, please share!

Blood sacrifice

In February of this year I installed a 12,000 BTU air conditioner in Gimme Shelter. The process was surprisingly painless. It almost seemed TOO easy.

Fast forward to the heat of the summer and suddenly we have water dripping out of our hanging closet where I installed the unit. The line that should have been draining condensation out of the pan, while routed in the best manner possible without drilling more holes in the boat, just wasn’t draining.

I’ll admit, I put this problem off for months. I just didn’t want to take everything apart again and deal with the hoses in the tiny, crowded space. I finally tackled it last weekend.

My original plan was to remove the drain hose and add an elbow right off the spout, so that I removed the first pinch point. Then I was going to drill a hole in the floor of the closet and run the hose straight down through that hole to maximize drainage. Problem solved, right?

Well, my first issue arose when I couldn’t get the drain hose off. After ten minutes of pulling and twisting, I resorted to a razor. Then I couldn’t get the new short hose with the 90-degree elbow back on. That was another twenty minute struggle. Then I tried to fit the drill in the closet, and I couldn’t get it in as far as I had hoped, but I drilled hole anyway. It was somewhere during this battle that either a hose clamp or some metal flashing on the unit sliced open my first finger.

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It wasn’t a deep cut, but it bled like crazy. Mary insisted on some first aid and bandaged it up for me. Then to add insult to the injury, I found that with the drain hose now connected to the new elbow and running down through the hole, it now had a new kink and still didn’t drain.

It was off to West Marine to buy a second elbow. Then it was back to the boat to further disassemble the AC unit until it could be lifted and shifted out of the way to drill a second hole in the floor in a better spot.

After another 30 minutes of struggle and two more slices in my other fingers. I was able to put everything back into place and screw it all back down.

As Mary once again administered first aid and applied more band-aids to my hand, I realized why the AC had not been draining properly. I had not completed the required blood sacrifice during the job. At this point, I firmly believe unless there is blood shed during a project, it will not succeed. The Mayans knew it all along.

But at least now the AC condensation is draining properly.

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Into the Gulf

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While Mary and I have a few years of sailing in Galveston Bay and Trinity Bay under our belts, we always turn west right before Galveston island and catch the ICW towards Offats Bayou or Harbor Walk. We’ve never ventured south past Galveston Island and experienced the Gulf of Mexico.

We always just assumed we would be out there at some point when we eventually sailed to Mexico or Florida or wherever adventure was going to lead us. We just hadn’t really given it to much thought … until we hitched a ride on the Tina Marie Too a few weekends ago.

It was a very calm day, and it was Tina’s birthday, so we set sail with our friends aboard their 56′ Carver for an afternoon trip to Galveston where diesel was rumored to be $3 per gallon. The weather report stated 2′ seas, but to give you an idea of how calm it was that day, these guys ran by us doing about 65 mph.

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And this guy was getting towed around on a stand-up paddle board … one-handed.

Hitching a Ride

So after an uneventful trip to Galveston, we stopped at Pier 19 where we were unable to procure this mythical $3 diesel due to the fact that the fuel dock had collapsed. Undeterred, we cruised over to the Galveston Yacht Basin and filled the beast with diesel that was still marginally cheaper than what was available in Kemah. (As I watched the numbers spin on the pump, I was reminded how thankful I am to be a sailor.) Then our captain said, “The weather is so nice, let’s take a cruise into the gulf!”

We pulled back into the ship channel and headed south.

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Porpoises were frolicking everywhere, as if to say, this plan is wonderful, join us in the blue water — join us in the freedom of the ocean.

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I never realized how long the jetties leading out of Galveston were. We passed shrimp boats returning with their day’s catch. We passed fisherman pulling in redfish and trout. We kept looking over the sides, trying to decide if the water was clearing and turning blue.

Then the rolling started. Now remember, these were only 2′ seas, and we were on a 56′ vessel. However, I could still see the panic in Mary’s face. Then the ship wake caught us at the wrong angle. The Carver slammed into the water, jarring us all and knocking all the glasses off the table, breaking one behind the captain’s chair.

There was nothing in front of us except a line of ships that stretched all the way across the horizon.

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“I think it’s time to turn around,” said Tina. I could see the relief in Mary’s face. We made a wide turn and headed north back up the ship channel into Galveston Bay.

Mary turned to me and said, “I’m not sure I ever want to take our boat into the gulf.”

When the adventure begins, it looks like we’re taking the ditch to Florida.