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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And even a baby palm tree.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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A walk through Muir Woods

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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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 …

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Then he dove in and found it first try.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!