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.

EasterSailing11

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.

EasterSailing09

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.

EasterSailing03

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.

EasterSailing04

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

EasterSailing05

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.

Advertisements

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.

redfishrun01

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.

redfishrun02

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.

redfishrun03

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.

tj01

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.

glowies

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.

redfish_lightning

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.

redfishrun07

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.

redfishrun04

And even a baby palm tree.

redfishrun05

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.

sleepytex

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

redfishrun09

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.

redfishrun10

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

redfishrun08

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.

pete_the_dolphin

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.

Sunday on the Bay

We tried something new last weekend. For the first time we loaded up all of Mary’s sewing stuff, and we set up a tent at the monthly Galveston Market near the strand.

SaturdayNoFunDay

Unfortunately, weather wasn’t too great, and we didn’t have much traffic. We did manage to break even on the purchase of the tent and tables and even made a few dollars to put towards our annual WordPress renewal fees, but if we were having to pay ourselves, it would be far less than minimum wage. Now there are a few more bags and business cards out there in wild, so hopefully that will spur more online business for Mary. However, I think we both decided that sitting in a tent for seven hours isn’t our thing.

Thankfully the weather cleared up Sunday, so we had a few friends join us and got off the dock for a few hours.

SundayFunday01

I have no idea what race/practice was going on, but there was a line of J boats going back and forth. It was quite interesting to see. I wish we’d been in the right place when they all turned around and popped their spinnakers. It would have made an amazing photo.

SundayFunday02

There weren’t many boats out at Redfish Island. Our buddy Tony brought his inflatable SUP and impressively paddled his way to the island against 17 knot winds.

SundayFunday03

None of the rest of us were brave enough to try it as we were all pretty sure we’d be swimming our way back to the boat.

SundayFunday04

Eventually we had to weigh anchor and head back to civilization. I envy those who can cruise with no schedule, but for now it’s back to the office for me and back to sewing bags for Mary.

Rum Race #7 and a Redfish Island Barbecue

With the race boat that we crew on out of service for the week, we posted on facebook inviting anyone who wanted to come out with us for a little grilling at Redfish Island. Well not five minutes later our friends Shari and Daniel volunteered, and we were getting ready for a day of sailing.

rumraceredfish18

Even though we have limited destinations in Galveston Bay, one of the best things is that the flurry of boats and wildlife make every trip a new adventure. Today we happened to be sailing through the Cruzan Rum Race #7, and on a very similar course. Fortunately, having no start time we got a bit of a head start.

rumraceredfish02

It wasn’t long though before boats started passing us left and right. I spent most of my time on foredeck trying to snap shots of all of our racing friends.

rumraceredfish09 rumraceredfish08

All the while Fred is at the helm yelling..”Get this one!”  “You’re missing all the good shots!”

rumraceredfish03

Well I think I got a couple decent ones.

rumraceredfish06 rumraceredfish05

rumraceredfish04 rumraceredfish10

At one point we were even passed by Doug, our captain on Antares, crewing on a Walter and Beverley’s boat Shaken not Stirred. Daniel almost had to walk the plank when tried to toss Doug beer, and lost it forever in the drink.

rumraceredfish07 rumraceredfish11

We even managed to catch a glimpse of this Flying Phantom absolutely streaking through the race.

rumraceredfish12

After clearing the intensity of the race we started to take down our sails and head for Redfish for an evening grill. As we dropped anchor we could see the racers heading downwind.

rumraceredfish13

Then it was time to fire up the grill.

rumraceredfish14 rumraceredfish15

After an incredible meal of beer brats, grilled egg plant and salad it was time to raise anchor and head home. Me and Shari decided that, girl power and all that the two of us were going to raise the anchor. Well we didn’t know that Fred had a patented technique that involves cleating and waiting, and pulling and cleating, and so we were extremely unsuccessful and had to rely on men.

rumraceredfish16

Our sail home was all downwind jib sailing and was extremely lazy and beautiful.  We set the autopilot and all went up to the foredeck for some relaxing sailing.

rumraceredfish17

Of course we posed for a small photo shoot.

rumraceredfish19

After several hours of beautiful sunset sailing we realized that we had in fact been going very very slow.  At about 2 knots we were not going to reach shore anytime soon, so we finally started up the motor.  Arriving well after dark, despite the best efforts of some drunken navigation from foredeck pointing us away from the channel, we managed to arrive home safe and sound.

rumraceredfish20

A night on the hook at Redfish Island

It was one of those weeks when everyone needed something. Long hours at the office were followed by evenings of errands and projects. Then there was a dentist appointment and an auto inspection. Even when we reached the marina Friday night, the work didn’t end.

I had pulled up the cabin sole the previous weekend, so I was immediately tasked with the job of running a NMEA cable through the bilge, so that we could have a floor again. Saturday morning I spent an hour up the mast cleaning contact points on a steaming light that, despite having voltage and a good bulb, just wouldn’t turn on.

I was tired of working. It was time to escape.

redfish_island_02

We left in the heat of the day and motored through the burgeoning traffic of summer boaters, their vessels just freed from winter storage. We passed the boardwalk as the smell of fried food wafted across the channel and tourists waved to us, hoping we’d wave back. To them we weren’t just another person gawking at the bay, we were a part of it.

redfish_island_05

We fought our way through the wakes at the mouth of the channel where every passing motorboat captain immediately throttled up to display his power to anyone he hoped might be watching. And then, we finally raised sails and cut the motor.

redfish_island_08

A six knot breeze out of the south was carrying us along, close hauled, at almost four knots.

windspeed

We slowly wandered back and forth across the bay, making a bit more forward progress with each tack, heading for Redfish Island.

redfish_island_07

We crossed the course of a late afternoon rum race with dozens of sailboats of all shapes and sizes pushing for every ounce of speed in the light wind, beating a path in front of us. Then as they rounded a marker and headed north, we watched them deploy spinnakers, creating rainbows of billowing fabric as they pressed on downwind until they disappeared along the horizon.

redfish_island_01

After three hours of sailing, we furled the jib and dropped the main, motoring into the crowded harbor. Weaving our way in between fishing boats, ski boats, trawlers, and every other sort of craft you can imagine, we inched our way towards the south end of the island and dropped anchor.

redfish_island_09

Families swam, jumping off the gunwales of their vessels and bouncing around in inflatable tubes beside swim platforms. People cast fishing lines from the stern of their small boats, hoping to catch … something. Classic rock competed with rap music at deafening volumes from boats full of women in bikinis, dancing and posing for pictures on the bows.

We paddled the dogs ashore for a walk on the rocky island as we bided our time. Like clockwork, as the sun set, the anchors were raised and one by one the families, the fishermen, and the partiers all fired up their motors and headed for home.

redfish_island_10

We weren’t left completely alone in the anchorage, but our few remaining neighbors were cut from a different cloth. The sounds of nature replaced the thumping radios as darkness shrouded the island. We ate dinner in the cockpit and sipped on rum and coke as we watched the waning strawberry moon rise in the east and climb across the sky.

Only the occasional whir of a wind generator or speckle of laughter from another sailboat would rise to compliment the sound of waves lapping against our hull and washing up on the island.

When you unplug yourself from the grid, and you remove the artificial lights that fill our cities and line our streets, it’s hard to ignore your natural circadian rhythm. It had been a long day, and an even longer week. The darkness of the night told my body it was time for sleep.

The wind had picked up to ten knots, and the open hatch of the V-berth was funneling a cool breeze into the boat as I stared up at the stars. It was a moment impossible to photograph. Even barring the technical difficulty of capturing stars from a floating platform, a perfect photo of the view couldn’t have preserved the feeling of independence created by swinging on the hook or the warmth of my wife lying next to me.

Just as I began to drift to sleep, the wake of a passing container shipped rolled me awake. I got up one last time to make sure we weren’t dragging, and more importantly, that none of our neighbors were dragging into us. As I stood on the cabin top a shooting star crossed the sky, and as I returned to bed I knew, this was the life man was meant to live. For centuries, this was the feeling that had drawn so many men to sea.

The charts claimed sunrise would take place at 6:20 a.m., but light filled the cabin long before the sun made an actual appearance. Neither of the dogs could be convinced that it wasn’t really morning yet, and they wanted to walk.

I put a life vest on one dog and promised the other I’d be back for him soon. Then I pulled on my own PFD before descending the swim ladder into our old kayak and for a paddle to shore. The heat of the day hadn’t yet set in, and the air was so clear that you could distinctly see the Kemah Causeway seven miles to the west as well as the entire Galveston skyline ten miles to the south.

redfish_island_11

We walked slowly down the island as unburdened tugboats headed north in the Houston Ship Channel to pick up new barges and shrimp boats crisscrossed the bay. There was a dead calm.

Gimme Shelter’s anchor rode hung limp in the water as she bobbed in place.

redfish_island_12

With Redfish Island being a barren pile of rock and oyster shells, both the dog and I were taken by surprise when we suddenly came upon a life and death struggle. A Graham’s crayfish snake was stretched out across our path, unsuccessfully attempting to swallow a very large mullet.

redfish_island_13

With the fish still twitching, desperately trying to escape, the snake slithered down behind a pile of rocks to continue his breakfast with a little more privacy.

I took one last moment to marvel at the beauty of the morning before I paddled back to our sturdy little boat. Upon my return I found Mary had brewed a pot of coffee, so she made the second trip to the island on the kayak with Big Tex while I lit the stove and began flipping pancakes.

redfish_island_00

After my warning of snakes eating fish the size of her dog, her walk was rather brief. When she paddled back, we sat down to not just a breakfast on the hook, but what happened to be our one-year anniversary breakfast.

As the sun continued to climb in the sky, we took refuge in the V-berth for a short nap before the heat of the day became oppressive and the motor boaters returned to the anchorage.

redfish_island_14

The refrigerator had run our house batteries flat over night, but it didn’t matter. Replacing them would just be another project added to the list when we returned to the real world. The starter battery was still fully charged, and the motor cranked right up for a windless journey home.

redfish_island_16

As we approached the boardwalk, we took a selfie and toasted our anniversary with sodas to commemorate the occasion – holding on to that moment of freedom before we began fighting traffic in the channel, before we began washing and repairing the boat, before we returned to work.

redfish_island_15

Cleaning up the beach in Galveston

The past few weeks have brought plenty of rain to the Houston area. I mean, I’m very glad we aren’t having another drought, but the rain and storms are getting a bit excessive. I wouldn’t mind a few weeks with no rain.

Saturday I was supposed to be riding my bicycle from Houston to La Grange for the first leg of the 2015 BP MS 150, but the fairgrounds in La Grange were flooded, so the first day of the event was canceled. Instead we headed to the boat where we spent Friday night rocking and rolling with lightning flashing all around us. These two were not happy with the situation.

UpsetDogs

Eventually, the storm passed, we all lived, and Saturday was much nicer. We headed to Galveston Island State Park for the spring 2015 Adopt-a-Beach clean-up.

BeachCleanUp01

While others in the group grabbed the large pieces of trash and walked on, Mary and I really focused on collecting all of the small plastic we could find. Turtles and birds often eat the colorful plastic that they mistake for fish or balloons and plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish. Mary found three balloons and patted herself on the back for saving three sea turtles. Of course, I pointed out that hypothetically the same sea turtle could have eaten all three balloons, and then she’d just have saved one turtle. She said saving the same turtle three times still counts as three saves.

BeachCleanUp03

Sadly, I’ve never seen a sea turtle in the Galveston area, but supposedly we still have a few that come ashore to nest each year.

Representatives from Texas Parks & Wildlife were taking samples of the tiny fish in the surf. I was surprised how many they pulled in since you don’t ever notice those fish in the water while swimming.

BeachCleanUp02

The planned picnic afterwards was a bit of a bust. Did I mention that we’ve had a lot of rain here?

BeachCleanUp04

I know it wasn’t much, but hopefully those few hours we spent picking up trash made at least a little bit of an impact for the better.