Easter weekend at Harborwalk Marina

For the first time in a long time, we left Galveston Bay for a trip west on the ICW to Harborwalk Marina in Hitchcock, Texas.

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We visited Harborwalk four years ago, and the entire trip left a terrible taste in our mouths. Our engine overheated, the head backed up, the air-conditioning quit, the mosquitoes were unbearable, and drunk fishermen kept pulling up to the restaurant dock and revving their engines and blaring music all night. Then to top that all off, when we went to the pool in the morning a security guard escorted us out because we weren’t wearing Harborwalk wristbands despite having prepaid for our slip but arriving after the office had closed the night before.

Thankfully, this trip was better.

We cast off Friday morning with favorable winds. It’s not often you get both a north wind for the trip to Galveston and a south wind for the trip home, but it was one of those rare weekends.

It was an easy six-hour cruise from Kemah to Harborwalk with only a short delay at the Galveston Causeway Railroad Bridge. Entering the marina we were careful to stay in the center of the channel, but there was a still a section that read 5′ on depth finder. Definitely don’t cut the corners in and out of the channel because on Sunday a sailboat got stuck exiting too close to the bulkhead.

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We had reserved eight slips for the weekend at a flat rate of $50 per night. They were not charging by the size of boat or the size of the slip.

Apparently Harborwalk turned on power to the first eight transient slips. Unfortunately, one of the power poles was shorting out and fried the surge protectors in our friends’ boat. That scooted everyone down a slip. That meant the boat on the end had no power and despite getting called by 6 p.m. Friday night about the issue, the marina didn’t bother to respond and come flip the breaker on for that slip until Saturday morning.

While it was still a little too cold to swim, we took advantage of Harborwalk’s beautiful pool area to hang out and play a few rounds of cornhole. There was no longer a security guard throwing people out, but there’s also no longer a pool bar or restaurant. We heard rumors the marina was signing a lease deal with a new restaurant this week. (Take that rumor with a grain of salt because we kept hearing Watergate would have a new restuarant open in three months every three months for three years before Opus Ocean Grille finally moved in.)

The lack of restuarant and bar definitely cut down on the loud small boat traffic, which made for beautiful, peaceful evenings, and although we didn’t try any, our friends said the food at the ship store was great.

We got to witness a gorgeous blue moon Saturday night.

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Unfortunately the mosquitoes were just as bad as they had been on our previous visit. The marina is surrounded by swampland, so make sure and bring plenty of spray.

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However, the clear view out over the swap made for some great sunsets. It looked like a giant Easter egg on the horizon.

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There was one other strange incident worth mentioning in regard to our visit. There was a crab trap in the water near the transient docks with a dead, bloated otter inside it. It was unclear as to whether the otter somehow crawled inside, got trapped and drowned or if it was stuffed inside and left there. Either way, it was pretty gross.

While the facilities are gorgeous, Harborwalk still has some work to do to become a great marina.

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How to avoid boating tickets this holiday weekend

The first warm-weather long holiday weekend of the year is upon us. The lakes and bays are going to be absolutely packed with people who have not operated their boats since the fall.

“You know what, Cousin Grandpa … we should take the boat out!”

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This influx of boating activity also brings heightened activity by the US Coast Guard, Texas Parks & Wildlife, Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, the Seabrook Police Department, and any other government body in the area with boats and ticket writing authority.

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Expect to see up to six boats from various departments patrolling the no-wake zone of the Kemah channel initiating stops for the following:

  • Boaters exceeding the 5 mph no-wake zone speed limit
  • Boat drivers with a visible open container
  • Drunk drivers
  • Expired registration tags
  • Incorrect bow light placement (Red goes to port!)

Usually if you have remedied the above bullets, you can avoid being stopped, but I’m no stranger to boardings. During my ASA 101 Basic Keelboat class we were stopped, boarded and the instructor was ticketed by Texas Parks and Wildlife for having an expired registration sticker. Then, the next July 4th when I finally had the Seahorse running, I was boarded by the Coast Guard because my bow light lens was on upside down. (Oops!) Thankfully they just let me switch the lens around and sent me on my way.

However, once you’ve been boarded you will definitely get a complete Vessel Safety Check. Expect the officers to go through your boat from top to bottom to make sure you are meeting the minimum safety requirements.

Here is the checklist they use to perform vessel safety inspections.

If the checklist is too hard to understand, you can try this online Virtual Vessel Examiner to see if you meet the standards.

In the Kemah area it seems like the checks focus on lifejackets, a throwable PFD, a horn, a first aid kit, making sure flares and fire extinguishers have not expired, the pollution/no discharge placards, and making sure your holding tank through hull is locked or wired shut.

Give your vessel a check before you hit the water this weekend and save yourself the hassle of being boarded and hopefully save yourself the cost of a ticket if you are.

And remember, getting a ticket sucks, but the guys out on patrol are not the enemy. They are the ones coming to save your ass when something like this occurs.

Easter weekend at Laguna Harbor

Redfish Island, Double Bayou, Offats Bayou, Moody Gardens, Harborwalk … there’s only so many places to overnight on a sailboat that are just a day trip from our home port in Kemah, Texas. So when we heard about Laguna Harbor Marina in Port Bolivar last month, Mary was on the phone making reservations.

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It was much to our surprise that the developer of Laguna Harbor invited us to stay for free and help ourselves to any of the electric and water hookups available. Of course, what we didn’t realize at the time is that Laguna Harbor Marina isn’t finished yet.

“If you build it, they will come.” I’m sure that is what the original developers were thinking when they dug Laguna Harbor, installed the bulkheads, and built the first model home — just before Hurricane Ike wiped out the Bolivar Peninsula in 2008. However, Port Bolivar has now recovered and development of the area has once again commenced.

We left Watergate Yachting Center at 9:30 a.m. the morning of Good Friday, very excited to be making our first overnight trip of 2015 and even more excited to spend some time at a new destination. Prevailing southeast winds let us sail across upper Galveston Bay to the Houston Ship Channel, but then we ended up with wind right on the nose and motored the rest of the way. During the sail, gusty winds had us periodically surging up to 8 knots, which had Mary and Dixie both rather nervous.

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However, the motoring portion of the trip was a different story.

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It was a very quiet ride, but at least I had a little company from the passing ships.

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We passed the Texas City Dike right at 1:30 p.m. and for the first time turned east into the Intracoastal Waterway.

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We passed some interesting scenery and several fleets of shrimp boats.

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And then two miles in on the south side of the ICW, there it was, a small sign that said Laguna Harbor.

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We almost missed it on the first pass as it wasn’t on the Garmin charts. Our track showed us cruising right up onto the shore.

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The entire trip took 4.5 hours. It was very easy to find the heavy duty cleats and power stations in the southwest corner of the marina.

We got tied up and accepted a tour of the sales office from Casey, the realtor with Newcoast Properties who was on duty all weekend. It wasn’t long before the crew of a Catalina 30 named Quest had joined us, and we were all checking out the view of Port Bolivar from the very top of the sales office.

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To say Port Bolivar is still a bit rural would be an understatement. In fact, there were horses grazing less than 100 yards from where we were docked.

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The entire place is a strange mix of pre-hurricane structures and new development.

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There’s still a few “fixer-uppers” available if you want a good deal …

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We had hoped to visit the beach and the bird sanctuary, but it was a three-mile walk. Considering average walking pace is 4 mph, that was close to an hour of walking just to get to the beach, where we planned to take a walk on the beach, before we walked an hour back. We decided that maybe we should invest in folding bikes and take in the beach on a future trip.

Instead, Mary put on her cruising hat, and we headed over to La Playita, the only restaurant in the area, looking for some margaritas.

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We found some pretty good Mexican food with great service, but they only serve beer. (Hey, at least it wasn’t a dry town, and it’s not like I was going to pass up their fajita chicken burrito smothered in queso.)

After dinner we walked back to the marina where our neighbors kindly shared their homemade cheesecake with us as we watched the sun set.

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Saturday night the winds began gusting from the north at 35 – 40 mph. I didn’t sleep much as I kept getting up to check our fenders and lines. I was wishing we had some old car tires to hang along the side of Gimme Shelter. The wind was blowing so hard I’m not sure I could have slept even if we’d been tied up at our slip in Watergate.

I had planned to set up my tripod and shoot the lunar eclipse Saturday morning, but I poked my head out at 6:30 to find complete cloud cover, so I crashed back into bed and didn’t wake up until the dogs insisted they go for a walk about 10 a.m. We finally got out of bed and made some breakfast.

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Saturday was still too windy for kayaking, but we made the best of it by taking a walk around the area. While there is a large bird sanctuary in Port Bolivar, it doesn’t necessarily mean the birds stay inside of it.

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Grackles were everywhere doing their humpty dance, trying to get the attention of the ladies. We also ran across a bird we’d never seen before called the Long Billed Curlew. He seemed to be checking out some daisies.

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Of course, all the usual suspects were around. There was no shortage of seagulls, cormorants and sandpipers.

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I was also surprised to see quite a bit of prickly pear cactus in the area mixed in with the Texas wildflowers. It was covered in purple buds that were just about bloom.

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There was a little bit of beach along the ICW, and the water was clear enough to see the hermit crabs wandering around.

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We also stumbled across an egg just sitting on the beach. It almost seemed like a magic Easter egg put there just for us to find.

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But then we realized there was a chicken farm just the other side of the shrimp boats and seafood shack to the north of Laguna Harbor. Deductive reasoning led us to believe the gusting 40 mph north winds probably helped the egg migrate south to the beach that night.

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Walking around, you still found evidence of the destruction caused by Hurricane Ike, like this children’s wagon that had been completely covered over during the storm and is now eroding back out of the soil.

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By dinner time Saturday evening the winds had finally switched back around to the south and settled to a calm 5 – 10 mph. It made the perfect weather for trying out our new Magma grill.

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Yes, I was paranoid about dropping food in the water, so yes, I did accidentally drop a chicken breast overboard as I was taking them off the grill. I hope Neptune enjoys teriyaki. I poured out a little bit of beer for him to go with the chicken in hopes he’d give us good weather on the way home Sunday, which was probably sacrilege since Sunday was Easter, but let’s face it, it was a pagan holiday before it got converted to Easter, so it probably doesn’t matter.

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We had a very nice dinner in the cockpit, but I think I’m going to build us a new table that will actually fit two plates at the same time.

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I think I can safely speak for our two furry crew members when I say, they had a great time as well.

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There was plenty of space to explore on our walks, and they got to see horses and cows. Tex wasn’t thrilled with the cockle-burs in his fur, but Dixie had a good romp in her Easter sweater.

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We had the entire harbor to ourselves as the sun went down Saturday night. LH11

Rain was in the forecast Sunday, so we put on our foulies and got an early start back to Kemah at 8:30 a.m. We cautiously motored back to the Houston Ship Channel with only one barge and a shrimp boat in sight. It was an easy downwind sail all the way back, but due to the heavy mist and some occasional rain, we left the camera and our phones in the cabin. Unfortunately that means we have no evidence of the pod of dolphins doing crazy jumps out of the water on the bow wake of a passing cargo ship or the two dolphins that popped up and spouted right beside our cockpit, not once, but twice. They were so close we could have reached out and touched them.

By the time we turned west at the south cut the dogs were very unhappy with being wet and the rolling motion of the boat that came with the following seas. They were very ready to get off the boat when we finally pulled into our slip at 12:30 p.m.

All in all, it was a good trip despite the scary winds Friday night. We had no major boat issues, and the new winches worked great.

As it stands, Laguna Harbor is a great overnight spot if you’re planning to head offshore, and you can’t beat free. I’m sure we’ll be back. As they develop the marina I hope they’ll add things like bike or golf cart rentals, so that visiting boaters can explore more of the area.