Quick haul and zinc check

At our old marina, we would burn through zincs on our prop shaft in a matter of weeks. In fact, we lost a propeller before we realized we had to change them every three months.

It’s been almost a year since we put new bottom paint on Gimme Shelter. I was feeling very guilty and neglectful that I hadn’t bothered to check her zincs the entire time, so we had her quick-hauled at South Texas Yacht Services for a cleaning.

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I was sure the sacrificial zinc anodes would be completely gone, and I was just praying that our shaft and prop would be ok.

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But lo and behold, both zincs were still there and in great shape! We had a bit of green slime all over the hull and some barnacle growth on the prop, but that was about it. The yard workers did a light pressure washing to clean everything up, and we were good to go.

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I was pleasantly surprised with our findings although a bit annoyed that I spent the money on the quick haul when we didn’t really need it. However, I’ll take a good surprise over a bad surprise any day.

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Fireworks Fridays at Kemah Boardwalk

People definitely have mixed opinions regarding Tilman Fertitta and his restaurant empire, which includes both the Kemah Boardwalk and the Pleasure Pier in Galveston. However, I can say this, he sure know how to put on a fireworks show.

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Every Friday night in June and July at 9:30 p.m. a barge anchors on the south side of the Kemah channel and sets off a 15-20 minute fireworks display while the boardwalk plays music.

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Of course, you don’t have to be at the boardwalk to enjoy the fireworks. The most spectacular way to view them is to anchor just on the north side of the channel across from the barge. There’s nothing like floating there, sitting on the bow, with huge fireworks exploding in the sky over you while also reflecting up from the water.

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The only problem with watching fireworks from a boat is that you can’t get good photos. Luckily, we still have a great view of the fireworks from our marina. This week we took it easy, cracked open a cold one and watched with friends from the dock.

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There’s three days left this year to see the fireworks, July 17, July 24 and July 31. Hopefully we’ll be watching from the water.

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Throwback Thursday – Marina shopping (Originally posted: Sept 9, 2013)

How do you know when it’s time to leave your marina?

(Italics=Mary, Normal=Freddie)

A slip at Marina Del Sol in Kemah, Texas came with my first boat when I purchased it four and a half years ago.

Imagine a long winding road through million dollar houses.  At the end of the road, Surprise!, there is a marina out of no where.  It is completely surrounded by large houses and the land surrounds it in almost a complete circle, forming a little secret protected whole. Every night you can sit on your dock with your friends and watch the most beautiful sunsets setting over the masts.  Cheerfully saying hello, as friend after friend walks to their boat, everyone stopping to tell you the latest marina happenings.

There is a never ending supply of boat advice, both expert and questionable.  The parade of characters that we have been blessed to have thrown upon us has made the adventure feel much more real.  I won’t mention any names but we all know who they are….all of them.  

Hurricane Ike had just come through the year before, so all the marinas had suffered some damage. The cock-eyed docks with mangled, missing piers were forgivable at the time. It also had the least expensive floating docks in the area. Plus, when I bought it the Seahorse was a dilapidated piece of crap that didn’t run, so it wasn’t like I had the choice of moving anywhere else.

The years went by and all the other marinas in the area repaired things and rebuilt their docks. But not Marina Del Sol. It filled up with silt while the bulkheads surrounding it continued to rot away. The cock-eyed docks just stayed cock-eyed. They didn’t even make an effort to remove the destroyed piers that twist down into the water. The story is, someone took the insurance money and ran.

The first year I asked if we would be getting some pool furniture since there was only one lounge chair and a very strange assortment of half-broken chairs around the pool. Management said, they’d put it on the list. I asked again every spring as more and more of the plastic chairs broke and the seating dwindled. Four years later, you have to bring camping chairs with you to the pool if you expect everyone in your group to be able to sit down.

It was my third year there when my boat was finally running well, and I was sailing every weekend that I realized with only a 4’11” draft, I was sitting on the bottom of the marina and couldn’t move from December 1 until the third week of March. We had a massive drought in Texas that year and there had been water rationing all summer, so I chalked it up to the drought. However, when I happened again the next year, I asked the marina if they were going to ever dredge. Like the pool furniture, it was “on the list,” but they just couldn’t afford it right now.

Then came my rates with the 27′ Starwind

Year 1: $185
Year 2: Suddenly they wanted $285. I said I was leaving and desperately tried to get my boat into a condition where I could be accepted at another marina. However, the week before I was set to leave, they offered a rate of $225. I decided to stay.
Year 3: I complained about the $225 rate and they lowered it to $200.
Year 4: They raised the $200 rate back up to $220, but I sold that boat and Mary brought in the O’day 34 at a rate of $200.
Year 4.5: The six month lease for the O’day is up and they asked for $250. We said no, so they came back with $215.

They supposedly charge by the length of your boat, not by the length of the slip. However, our friend with a 32′ Endeavour on the same pier is paying $225, a friend with a 32′ Allied Seawind is paying $165, and a friend with a 27′ fishing boat is paying $165. I have no idea how they are actually setting the pricing, and I feel like a sucker for ever paying above $200.  I can only imagine how low some people may be paying.  

Then there’s the bathrooms. They’ve never been clean, but lately, it’s really bad. Many mornings you wander in to find no toilet paper, no hand towels, and poop smeared on the wall or floor of the stall. For almost two months last year the ladies room only had a rope for a doorknob. Then for three weeks last month there were no lights in the men’s room. Then this morning Mary went to use the ladies room, and the doorknob came off in her hand.  It wouldn’t have been that bad, but I still couldn’t get in and I had to walk across the marina to go to the bathroom.  

I understand if you don’t have the budget to buy new furniture or dredge or rebuild the docks, but if you’ve got four people on staff, you can at least clean the bathrooms every morning.

Not that all of our experiences at Marina Del Sol have been bad. We’ve met many nice people there and made some great friends. However, the maintenance issues have come to a point where I refuse to spend another dollar at that place, and I’m definitely not going to spend another winter with our boat sitting in the mud.  It really hurts because all the people that live in the marina love it so much.  Everyone dreams of us all coming together to save the marina like in a ridiculous teen movie, but the reality of the situation is that would cost more money than anyone has.  It reminds me of when I hear people who think they can buy a boat for nothing and then fix it for nothing.  The reality of life is that when you want to fix something like a boat or a marina, you have to spend the money to do it correctly or you’re just going to end up underwater.  

Saturday morning we set out on a mission to find the perfect marina. But first we had to stop by the farmers market and have breakfast at Skippers.

But AFTER THAT, we set out to find the perfect marina.  AKA Marina Hunters (I was doing behind the scenes, reality tv interviews in my head the whole time.) 

First stop, Portofino.

Portofino is a dockominium. All the slips are privately owned and the community fees are controlled by a board of owners much like an HOA. It’s gated with gate codes and bathroom codes changing monthly. The upside, we’d be right at the Kemah bridge and could literally be sailing in 15 minutes. They also have a great pool on the Kemah channel where you can sit and watch the the boats go by. The downside, it was right at the Kemah bridge, which was really loud, and the slip we were looking at was on the ugly, less protected side.  This is our low range priced Marina.  Coming in at 250 Portofino was well under the Fackers budget.  I was honestly ready to sign when I left, I am learning to look at all the options and talk things out now.  We learned some things from boat shopping…

Next stop, Seabrook.

Seabrook is across the channel from Portofino. It also has a pool on the channel. Bigger shadier pool. It also has floating docks — some of which even have covered walkways. It seemed well maintained. There’s free wifi and a discount at the shipyard. The view on the side closer to Clear Lake was better, but the bridge traffic was still pretty loud. We also heard the road in and out floods in heavy rain. The only slip available there that fell within our budget was near the fuel dock, and had a narrow fairway. The slip we would have wanted there was $450.  The cheap slip was very far away from all the slips big enough for our friends.  It turns out normal marinas don’t just stick boats randomly on different sized docks, and its hard for a 34ft and a 40ft to be together.  

Next stop, Waterford.

This is a fancy marina. It’s gated. It had great restrooms, a small weight room and a sauna. We liked it, but the pool is actually owned by the adjoining restaurant, Sundance Grill. Therefore you cannot bring any food or drinks into the pool area. On the upside you have a waitress in the pool area bringing you drinks. On the downside, we are not wealthy enough to pay $400 a month in slip fees and also pay for poolside margaritas. Walking the dogs would have also been a nightmare because it’s a half mile of no dog signs before you get to the designated dog walking area. We decided we were not fancy enough.  It’s weird how rich people think.  This place was not the most expensive, nor did it have the best stuff.  Its just like all the snobby people decided to go there.  Weird.  “hey guys lets all get together and build a marina with no trees or breeze where everything costs a fortune, and then we’ll all get our hair done to go to the pool.”  Awesome. 

Final stop, Watergate.

Watergate got destroyed in Hurricane Ike, and they don’t deny that their boats basically got massacred by the storm surge. They’ve replaced all the old fixed docks with state-of-the-art floating docks, and you actually get a finger pier on both sides of your boat. No more messy docking, where I fall in the water!  You get a dockbox and free wifi as well as the use of two pools. They keep both the marina and the channel through Clear Lake dredged on a regular basis, and they built a bigger breakwater between the marina and the lake, so that hopefully when the next hurricane comes along, they will fare better.  A higher insurance policy is on the to do list.  We’ll still have a 30-minute trek across Clear Lake and out to the bridge to go sailing, but at least we’ll be able to make it any time of year.  I felt bad because I knew being closer to the bay was important to Freddie, but the noise at those two marinas by the bridge was really a deal breaker.  Watergate is quiet and has much more green space than most marinas. I could tell from the look in Mary’s eyes as soon as we walked through it, she was going to vote for Watergate.  I really love all the trees and park areas and long walking trails.  That is real relaxation for me.  

Every marina was a trade-off. Some places gave you quiet and a nice view. Some places gave you easy bay access. Some places gave you security. Some of them gave you safety from storms. None of them had the whole package, but Watergate checked the most boxes on our list and came in on the lower end of the price list we had gathered.

We signed a one-year lease and will be moving at the end of the month. We’ll miss sitting on the dock late into the night with our friends or stumbling off our boat and right onto our neighbor’s boat for coffee in the mornings, but change isn’t always a bad thing. Hopefully we’ll spend much more time meeting up with friends in the bay while sailing instead of being stuck in a dilapidated marina all winter.  We have high hopes of all the things we hope to accomplish in this next stage of our life, we’ll see how far that gets us.  

Up in the trees

While walking the dogs this weekend we heard quite the racket coming from the trees around the marina. There was an incessant chorus of what I guess I’d describe as a croak-squawk mixed with regular squawks and a bunch of wing-flapping and branch rustling. We had to go investigate.BlackCrownedNightHeron01

Black crowned night herons were everywhere in the trees, and as we stared harder, we discovered the source of the croak-squawking.

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Nests with very large baby black crowned night herons were everywhere. Most nests had two chicks, and some trees had up to four nests. They were all demanding to be fed while their parents hopped from branch to branch nearby, nervously wondering what we were doing under the trees.

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It was hard to capture a good photo due to all the leaves and branches, but the chicks seemed comically large for the size of the nests.

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When we walked back by on Sunday, we actually saw the adults starting to coax the chicks out of the nest for their first flying lessons. Of course, not all of them looked happy about being evicted.

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I’m sure that in another week or two we’ll see these little guys balancing on dock lines and grabbing fish out of the water, just like their parents.

Saturday Morning Sunrise

For the first time in forever, we finally had a weekend of nothing but sun. Not that I mind the rain, but it was nice to be able to open all the hatches and just enjoy the spring air. I couldn’t resist getting up early Saturday morning to sip some coffee and watch the sunrise.

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Momma duck brought all the babies by to say, hello as they started their morning routine.

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And even this sleepy head got out of bed earlier than usual for a walk around the marina.

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Catching up on projects

It rained all weekend here, but just because we couldn’t be out on the boat didn’t mean we couldn’t catch up on some long-running projects we’d been putting off.

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About a year ago a friend snagged us a free sail for some unknown boat off craigslist because we had seen bags made from sail material at the boat show, and Mary was going to try to make us one. She got it started, but you know how it goes, things get busy, you forget what you were doing, etc. After some weekend work, prototype bag #1 is finally coming together. Hopefully it won’t be another year until it’s finished, but don’t hold your breath waiting on a line of hand-made Gimme Shelter boat bags to be available any time soon.

But Mary isn’t the only one with long-running projects. I started laminating together oak and poplar for a new table many months ago. Then about halfway through the job, I got distracted.

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I’m catching up. Just one more plank to glue on before I start planing it down. Then there’s the sanding. Then there’s the routing. Then there’s the staining and varnish — yeah, it may be another month or two before I finish this one.

Meanwhile the garden is growing like crazy. We have so many greens we can hardly eat them all, the cauliflower is ready to eat, and we will have squash very soon.

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Mary is doing her best to come up with new ideas for all this garden food. She also just purchased The Boat Galley Cookbook, so hopefully we’ll learn some new recipes for when we’re afloat.

And then there’s the new projects we’re starting together even though we haven’t actually finished these old projects.

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After our trip to Laguna Harbor we decided we wanted to know wind speed and direction, so I’ve got to get our NMEA2000 backbone installed and mount the new Garmin GWS 10 wind instrument at the top of the mast.

When I look at the list of projects, sometimes I wonder when we ever have time to go sailing.

Boys with toys

After the boat show, a new vessel appeared in our marina — something unlike any of the others.

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This thing was fast, and it was definitely violating the “no wake” policy in the marina.

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But nobody seemed too concerned.

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I don’t know the exact price, but I’m pretty sure our neighbor paid more for this thing than we did for our first sailboat.

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It runs off a small one-cylinder two-cycle engine and sounds like a weedeater. You have to remove the cowling and pull a cord to start it. Then you’re off to the races.

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At least until it dies in the middle of the fairway, and your neighbor has to dinghy out to bring it back.

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Power boaters … SMH.

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.

At the boat show

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It was that time of year again. A time filled with magic and mysterious polishes that will supposedly make old aluminum look like new stainless. A time when “For Sale” signs appear on vessels in local marinas like buds on the trees. A time to re-stock your supply of free key floaters and drink coozies.

It’s time for the Southwest International Boat Show!

South Shore Harbor hosts the annual Southwest Boat Show in Kemah, Texas. I have to admit, having now been on many different types of vessels, the show isn’t as exciting as it was a few years ago. However, there were two big reasons to stop by this year.

The first reason was the Lagoon 450.

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Our upcoming summer charter will be on a Lagoon, but we’d never actually been on a large cat, so we were very excited to get a tour and see what they were really like.

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The 450 would definitely be a comfortable live-aboard with plenty of amenities and space for guests.

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There was no shortage of cabinets, closets, drawers, and other storage throughout the vessel.

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Call me selfish, but I much prefer the “owner’s” version over the “charter” version of these boats with a big cabin and head on one side — not that we’ll ever be able to afford ownership of either version. But maybe someday we’ll at least have a vessel with a stand-alone shower.

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Unlike some of the older, smaller cats we’ve toured like the Prouts and the PDQs, Mary had no trouble seeing over the helm of the Lagoon 450.

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Once we were finished there, we headed over to the next pier to check out the pre-owned Fountaine Pajot Lipari 41.

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The FP was also a cool boat with a very similar layout. Though smaller, it still had plenty of storage and space to entertain.

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Mary’s only complaint was that she did not like the design of the shower stall in the owner’s head. She prefers clear glass walls. I don’t know if that’s a deal breaker.

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However, she had no problem with the kitchen.

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The FP also had an elevated “flybridge” helm.

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Although on both boats, once the sails are set, it’s easy to keep watch and adjust the autopilot from inside at the nav station.

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However, the very visible escape hatches in the FP remind you of the one underlying danger of cat sailing — ending up upside down.

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Once we’d had our fill of touring boats we can’t afford, we walked through the vendor area and spent almost $40 on two burgers, fries and drinks while taking in some live music.

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And while nobody escapes the boat show for free, at least we didn’t end up with a radio-controlled boat.

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Or one of these three-wheeled slingshot cars.

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Or $99 for 20 minutes of being tethered to a jetski on a hydro-rocket.

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But there’s always next year …