The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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Autumn is in the Air!

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A mixture of the cool Autumn air and a few weeks of going to bed very early had us up at sunrise this week.  Or at least it had me up, and I got everyone else up. :).

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Fred and the dogs were happy to join me in the cockpit for some early morning coffee and dog sweater fun.

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Can’t wait to break out those fancy yacht sweaters, and drink and eat on deck once again. Excited for apple cider, carving pumpkins, and lighting bonfires.

Happy Fall everyone!

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Going Offshore for the First Time

Well to be perfectly honest this wasn’t our first time offshore, but it was our first time by ourselves, and in our own boat which counts for a lot.

We left Laguna Harbor at 7:15 a.m. It took us a couple hours to navigate past Galveston Island and past the jetties out into the Gulf of Mexico. By the time you get past the jetties in Galveston you are already about three miles out, and a decent distance from land. We stayed on this line pretty much the whole way.

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This is me happily steering before I got a taste of the real ocean.

I was helming the boat, and I was terrified.  My eyes were just going from the charts, to the wind direction, to the other boats, to the waves cycling quickly and continuously, taking it all in.  As I made the turn out of the ship channel and around the jetties Fred is second guessing everything.  “Are you sure it’s deep enough?  We are very close to the shore.”  I don’t blame him for one second, but I was so intensely calculating every possible variable that his thinking I would run us aground was infuriating.

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Turning onto our course the wind direction was not the broad reach we had been promised but instead a 45-50 degree close haul with winds at about 10 knots.  We were tipping a bit, and the waves seemed so big on our sides.  Ever so gradually I got better and better. For the first 15 minutes I could not let go of the wheel, not even to take a drink. After 30 minutes or so I was comfortable with both sails and the engine off. It wasn’t until about an hour after we set sail though that I was comfortable enough for Fred to stop steering and turn on the autopilot. I just don’t trust that thing.

This Hypokampus speeding off as Fred tries to coax me into putting the jib up.

This is Hippokampos speeding off as Fred tries to coax me into putting the jib up.

Even though we were only about 3 miles offshore I put on my PFD and kept it on the entire time. I also made the dogs wear their life jackets for the first couple hours, but when the winds started to die, and the dogs were more likely to die of heat stroke than drowning, I let them take them off.

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A few hours into the trip we got hit by a small squall.  We weren’t sure what to expect, so we were at ready to reef the sails.  Not knowing how much wind might be coming, we decided to go ahead and reef. Fred went up to the fore deck, and knowing I was already scared, decided to go ahead and put a double reef in. That’s when we found out that our second reefing point doesn’t actually reach our boom, and therefore does nothing. So we just decided to take down the main sail all together. Good to know! The wind didn’t end up getting any faster than 12 knots, the rain only lasted a few minutes, and before we knew it we were putting the sails back up.

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Taking sails up and down turned out to be a real trend for the trip.  As the winds continued to diminish, we slowly saw our projected arrival time on the chart plotter creep to midnight, and then 1 a.m. We knew we had to switch on the motor. Thanks to our wind direction indicator we know that with wind at least 30 degrees off the nose, we can motor sail no problem, but anything closer than that and our jib is flapping wildly. With winds shifting off our nose we were furling and unfurling the jib frequently trying to maximize our speed.

Tex had zero issues with our slow rolling speed.

Tex had zero issues with our slow rolling speed.

We ended up at the Freeport jetties around 6:30, making our time offshore a little over 8 hours. We went right past the Freeport LNG terminal where Fred made one of his first corporate documentary videos and where he hosted Magnum Photographer Jean Guamy back in 2007. (Confession, I’ve never seen the video or the photos.)

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We had reserved slips at Bridge Harbor Yacht Club, and it was only a short trip down the ICW, and under the bridge to get there.

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After some vague directions, and no slip or pier number we were very happy to see BHYC’s team waiting for us in bright shirts to help us dock right out front.

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We were tied up on the finger pier at 7:15 p.m. making it exactly a 12-hour trip. After a few drinks and some delicious food some of us were falling asleep at the dinner table. It had been a long day full of firsts. Longest sail, first time offshore, Andy and Jayne’s first time making a long trip just the two of them on this boat, first time in Freeport, and first time being checked in by a parrot.

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Sailing with Dolphins

Labor day weekend was a long awaited chance for us to take Gimme Shelter to new destinations and have a bit of real adventure. Dixie had been having stomach issues all week, so Friday morning we had her checked by the veterinarian to make sure she was ok to travel. She got some antibiotics and some anti-nausea medicine then we were on our way to Kemah.

I got to work unloading all of our food and supplies onto the boat and carefully stowing them away while Fred made runs back and forth to the gas station for diesel. Our fuel gauge was only showing slightly above 3/4 when our filter funnel backed up and stopped filling the boat. That spot just above 3/4 was where the gauge was stuck when we bought Gimme Shelter. Apparently 3/4 was as high as the gauge was going to show.

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Around 1:15 we cast off from our marina and started our slow motor into the wind towards our first stop for the weekend, Laguna Harbor on the Bolivar Peninsula.

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We watched patched of rain pass beside and behind us, but thankfully they all missed us.

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Our slow motoring turned into quite the adventure after passing Redfish Island. The dolphins were out in full swing surfing the bow wakes of big cargo ships.

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We were making better time than expected, and despite our late start we were nearing Bolivar around sunset. Something about sunsets really makes dolphins jump out of the water, and as we crossed the ship channel we saw several small families of dolphins doing all sorts of weird things in the water. I’ve seen them swimming around pretending to do what I can only imagine is “playing shark”.  I’ve also seen them sort of “wrestling” around in the water.  Every once in awhile we get a chance to see them doing some jumps just for fun.

We entered Laguna Harbor and rendezvoused with our friends Andy and Jayne aboard their Pearson 422, Hippokampos, who were also making the Labor Day trip but had managed to leave Kemah a little earlier.

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The dogs are always glad when it’s time to start grilling.

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As we sipped a few beers we saw dozens of jellyfish swimming around the marina. They seemed to be popping up everywhere. We decided we wouldn’t be swimming anywhere in the bay that weekend.

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We shared a nice meal of chicken fajitas with Hippokampos before taking the dogs for one last walk before bed. That’s when Dixie walked up in the grass to drop a load — except as she was squatting I noticed she was pooping on a huge black snake. The snake had its head up looking at us inquisitively. Dixie finished her business and trotted on ahead. She never even knew it was there.

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The Great Tex Escape

Tex is not a very nice dog when he’s unsupervised. He enjoys pooping on floors, peeing on shoes, pulling over trash cans and eating panties. Not to mention the fact that when on the boat, he likes to spend most of his time on the galley counter pulling things out of the cupboard. Yes, he’s a four-pound toothless whirlwind of destruction.

We decided to start crating him while we were gone. That was going well for a while, but lately he’s been there to great us at the door when we get home. This morning I set up a camera to discover his methods.

Apparently, nobody puts baby in a corner.

Upset Pups

When our boat bags come out, the dogs go crazy. They can’t wait to get out of the house for a weekend on the water.

But when the suitcases come out …

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They’re so sad and upset.

We’re headed to Port St. Joe, Florida for the weekend, and they’re going to be stuck at home.

But don’t feel bad for them. Their Uncle TJ is coming to dog sit, and when he’s here they get many, many treats.

We’re taking our cameras and should have plenty of great posts about the trip next week.

Poor little Tex

Despite my protests, Mary adopted this little guy in 2011. He was the tiniest dog at the rescue.

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While cute, we found that tiny dogs come with their own unique health problems. While Tex now enjoys the perks of traveling around the US, sailing on the weekends, and sleeping on fluffy pillows, he still has terrible dental problems and occasional seizures. During Monday’s visit to the vet they had to pull SIX teeth.

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The poor guy didn’t have many teeth when we adopted him. Now he’s only got four left.

Despite the trauma of the anesthesia and oral surgery on Monday, he already seems back to his normal self and definitely is not upset that he now gets to eat wet dog food. However, his big sister Dixie Belle is quite jealous of his new food and all the attention he’s gotten the past few days.

Now he just wishes he could stop getting baths.

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