Weekend plans

It looks like we’ll finally have an entire weekend with no rain here in Houston.


Saturday we’ll be crewing in the Galveston Bay Cruising Association Women’s Regatta. Mary isn’t quite ready to helm Gimme Shelter in a race, so we’ll be on Antares, the Cal 40 we crewed on during the Icicle Series earlier this year.

Sunday we hope to stop by Lakewood Yacht Club for the 2015 Keels & Wheels Show. Who doesn’t want to classic cars and some gorgeous wooden boats while benefiting Boys & Girls Harbor?

Then sometime in-between all that excitement I plan to change the steaming light, mount a wind instrument, run cables down the mast, install a NMEA 2000 backbone, and change the zincs in our heat exchanger … unless, of course, we decide to just go sailing instead.

I’m not much of a cyclist

In 2007 I was asked to spend a Saturday in La Grange, Texas photographing cyclists doing some sort of two-day charity ride from Houston to Austin. That was my first exposure to the BP MS 150, and the energy and atmosphere was overwhelming. I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since I was 12, but right then and there I pledged to ride in 2008.


I bought a bike, I trained, and I rode the 187 miles from Houston to Austin. That year I raised $660 for the National MS Society.

Despite swearing that I’d never put myself through that misery again, in 2009 I found myself back on the bike.


That year I raised $850 for the National MS Society.

In 2010 I’d had enough riding. I sold my bike, and I took over as Team Captain and organizer for the Technip MS 150 Team. For the past five years the BP MS 150 hasn’t just been a charity event, it’s been MY charity event.

I was content to organize for a couple years, but as you sit in the team tent and congratulate the riders for besting the challenge, you just want to be out there, so in 2013 insanity struck again. I bought another bike and made another ride, although this time my back and my legs weren’t holding up as well even though I did the shorter express route, which was only 167 miles.


I was supposed to ride again in 2014, but I was introduced to sailboat racing that year with the GBCA Icicle Series, which took place the same weekends I should have been training for the ride. Then I ended up in London for work the entire week of the event, so Mary and I just volunteered.

However, this year I was determined to ride again! I raised $1025 for the National MS Society this year, the best fund raising I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, that was offset by failing to train … at all … whatsoever. The week before the event I finally pulled my bike out of the garage and aired up the tires. I managed to squeeze in a total of three hour-long sessions on the stationary trainer before D-Day hit.

Sailing has some very good health benefits. The constant motion of the boat does strengthen your core and help your balance. Pulling lines and raising the anchor does work the arms, shoulders, back and legs. However, I can say with 100 percent certainty that sailing every weekend is not appropriate training for a 100+ mile bike ride.

When the thunderstorms hit and the La Grange fairgrounds flooded canceling Day 1 of the ride, I don’t think I was the only rider feeling relieved. Day 1 is the 100-mile portion, and while the logistics of getting my 90 riders to La Grange Sunday morning were daunting, it wasn’t as scary as that 100-mile ride.

I spent Saturday morning picking up trash at the spring Adopt-A-Beach Clean Up, and I spent Saturday evening carbo-loading. Sunday morning we were up at 4 a.m. and headed to the office to get the volunteers set up for rider check-in.

By 7:30 a.m. the riders and I were in La Grange and lining up for the start of the 67-mile ride from La Grange to Austin.


My group finally rolled out at ten till 9. By 9:30 I was really wishing I had done some training.

By noon I was ready to die, but I kept on pedaling. In previous years I had been able to skip rest stops to save time. Not this year. I made full use of every break point the volunteers provided.

Not until 6 p.m. did I finally roll into the Austin city limits, feeling terrible that I had told Mary I’d finish by 4 p.m. at the latest. It was almost 6:30 p.m. when I finally reached the finish line, but there was Mary, still waiting for me with the camera in hand.


I felt a vindication as I crossed the finish line. Something along the lines of, hey, you’ve still got the willpower to push through this kind of challenge. I’m also very proud that my team has now raised more than $63,000 for the National MS Society this year.


However, the experience was a wake up call. I can’t let myself fall out of shape again doing nothing but sitting on a boat drinking beer every weekend. There’s a new fitness program being implemented aboard Gimme Shelter.

I’m not sure if any of my co-workers and donors read the blog, but thank you to all the riders, our two riders that volunteered as ride marshals, all the volunteers who supported the riders, and all of our donors.

I think I’m through with cycling. I’m really tempted to sell the road bike and buy two folding bikes for the boat — but you never know. Whether riding or not, I’ll be there supporting the MS Society in 2016.

We’re in Houston Magazine this month

Well, Gimme Shelter isn’t actually in the magazine, but I’m flattered that one of my long-exposure photos is featured in the CLICK section of the April issue of Modern Luxury Houston. Even if you’re not a Houstonian, you can still check it out on pages 22 and 23 of the digital edition.


Thursday, April 9, I’ll also be on 88.7 FM KUHF Houston Public Radio from 5-6 p.m. representing Technip and matching donations during the Spring Fund Drive as part of our commitment to transparent reporting, sustainable development and community outreach.

And while I’m just promoting random stuff, I thought I’d mention that the crew of Gimme Shelter provides freelance copywriting, design, photo, video and translation services to fund our adventures. If you’re in need of any of those things, visit our photo site at www.fredfacker.com and like our Facebook business page Facker Media Services.

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.

Port Bolivar Map

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.


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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




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.





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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

Rodeo Run

Houston traffic snarled up more than usual Friday as men, women, and children on horseback and in wagons slowly made their way to NRG Stadium for the 2015 Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Saturday morning our alarm went off at 6 a.m., and we had to leave the dogs aboard Gimme Shelter as we made our annual trek downtown for the Rodeo Run 5k — there’s also a 10k, but Mary and I have never made it that far.

A few of my co-workers made it early enough for a picture near the parade floats before the cowboy hat-wearing volunteers chased us out of the area.


The entry fee for the event goes toward the HLSR Scholarship Fund, which is great, but I think the most interesting part of the Rodeo Run is being able to walk the Houston streets without cars and see things from a different perspective.


Neither of us work downtown, so the only time we see the area is when attending an occasional concert or when we get called for jury duty every two or three years.


As you can probably tell from the fact that I carried a camera the entire time, we just do the 5k walk, and we don’t take it too seriously. We definitely didn’t set any records, but we did finish.


And once the trail riders make their way through the downtown streets …


There’s no forgetting that the rodeo is in town.

Playing with light

If you haven’t figured it out from the blog, I’ll just go ahead and admit it now … I’m not normal.

Over the weekend our boat neighbors gifted Mary a string of LED lights that she thought might be neat to install under the counters in Gimme Shelter. The lights made it home with us, and they were just sitting there in the living room, so I HAD to play with them.

Mary didn’t even seem surprised when she called me to dinner and found me in the living room wrapped in the lights dancing around in front of my camera. However, I was surprised when she volunteered to be wrapped in the lights, so I could continue experimentation with long exposure light painting.

After about a dozen tries with 8-second exposures and an off-camera flash, we were able to create a dress (or at least an artistic facsimile of a dress) from light.


To create this effect, Mary had the string of lights wrapped around her torso and waist with about four feet of light dangling from her waist to the floor. She would strike a pose and hold it, and I would start the exposure. After hitting the button on the camera, I would pop an off-camera flash, which would expose her face and arms. As soon as the flash had gone off, she would bend over and wave the 4′ of dangling LED rope in front of her to create the “skirt”. We found that if she didn’t bend over, her face and arms would continue to expose in the upper part of the frame causing blurs and ghosting.


It’s always satisfying to learn a new technique and create something unique. Of course, I was still in long exposure mode this morning when I rolled into the office, so I snapped this 24 second exposure of the sunrise out of the window before grabbing some coffee and jumping on my conference call. Yes, it looks pretty much exactly like the last long exposure I did out of my office window, but hey, it’s still cool.


Sailing in February

After five weeks of trimming sails on other people’s boats, I couldn’t wait to get out and pull the lines on Gimme Shelter … and we couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful February weekend.

However, we couldn’t skip the most important meal of the day, so Mary fired up the Origo and made some eggs.


When we left around noon, the sun was shining, winds were a steady 10 knots, and the thermometer was hovering around 65. Our original goal was to sail to Redfish Island and then anchor for a picnic, but with a prevailing south wind, and no real desire to beat hard all afternoon, we ended up just practicing adjusting sail trim and tacking back and forth across the bay instead.


The dogs, as usual, were not impressed with the magnificence of the open water and settled in for naps.


Dixie Belle has fallen off multiple docks and multiple boats in the past few months, so just to be safe we put the life jackets on the dogs. Dixie actually likes wearing clothes, so she’s always excited when we pull them out. However, Tex HATES his life jacket and basically just mopes the entire time he has to wear it.


Mary spent some time at the helm while I raised sails. It was the first time I’d gotten to play with the whisker pole on our boat. It’s not new, I just didn’t know how exactly to use it before crewing with other people. The whisker pole was never discussed in Basic Keel Boat Sailing 101. I’m still trying to decide if I want to add a spinnaker crane to the masthead and rig another halyard for a drifter or not.


After a couple tacks, Mary and I switched jobs, and I went back to the helm while she pulled lines. This was my first trip out since installing the new Garmin GPSmap 741x, and I have to say, I really like it. I noticed that along with my speed and heading it also gives me the battery voltage. That’s actually quite a handy feature. I can tell when the alternator is charging, and I can tell when we need to shut off the refrigerator because the batteries are too low.


Although it was seasonally warm, it’s still February, so when the sails were blocking the sun, it got a bit chilly. Luckily Mary had no shortage of dogs willing to snuggle with her.


One of the more interesting moments of the sail was when I went to trim the jib, and I found we had a honeybee on the line. I have no idea what inspired him to fly out into the middle of the bay, but he seemed quite tired and not the least worried about me messing with the lines.


In fact, I managed to untie the line, trim in the sheet, and re-tie it without him ever flying away.

He rode along with us for about 20 minutes, then I looked back over, and he was gone. I hope he made it back to shore.


Saturday was “Yachty Gras,” the name Kemah gives to its Mardi Gras boat parade, so we headed back to the marina around 4:00, so we wouldn’t miss it.

Our neighbors on Friday Yet were in the parade and spent the entire day decorating. Their krewe theme was The Great Gatsby. Their makeshift steam pipe on the upper deck not only lit up, but it also made steam.


We spent the rest of the evening grilling burgers and enjoying the sunset with friends.


Hopefully we’ll get to do it all again next weekend.


Not every morning gets to start on the water, but we still had some nice sunrises in Houston last week.


One thing you can’t do from a boat is long exposure photography — at least not if you don’t want everything blurred. I was in the office extra early for a conference call, so I was able to snap this 8 second exposure of the morning commuters on I-10 heading to work just as the sun was coming up behind the Houston skyline with the 90mm Elmarit from the window at the end of my hall.

After the call I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the downtown Houston skyline with the 135mm Elmarit.


By the way, today is Mary’s birthday, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY, HONEY!