Destination: Galveston

26 02 2010 Posted by Daniel

In the morning, as I’m checking the engine, I find something disturbing - a moderate quantity of oil in the drip pan. Historically, the engine drips about a drop of oil an hour while running thanks to a minor leak around the drain pan gasket, which I plan to replace shortly. In fact, there is an oil-absorbent pad in the drip pan to ensure that this doesn’t make its way to the bilge. But this new puddle of oil has completely saturated the pad. NOT GOOD. I take the time to inspect the engine as best as I can and determine that the leak is coming from the front cover, behind the main pulley. Its probably the front crankshaft seal. I wipe the engine clean, and check the oil level. To my surprise it looks perfectly fine. Perhaps I overfilled the oil? I decide to start the engine and watch it to see how quickly it leaks. After 20 minutes of warmup time, there isn’t a visible drop yet, and no further leakage. I set some more oil absorbent pads in the drip pan and make a mental note to check on the engine periodically through the day. Its a short run to Galveston and if I can make it without losing more than a few tablespoons of oil then the mess will be minimal and easy to clean up. I pull out of the pier, feel the keel sliding on some muddy shoals, slip into the channel after a little bit of wrangling, and continue on. Throughout the next two hours I check on the engine about every 15 minutes, and when I realize that the leak is slow, I relax and focus on the increasingly heavy shipping traffic. I’m getting VERY close to Galveston and the Houston Ship Channel and its time to keep a hawkeye on my surroundings.

Amidst a continuous stream of heavy shipping, ferries, tugs, and miscellaneous watercraft, I cut a path as quickly as I can for the Galveston harbor area. Along the way, an enormous container ship heading outbound appears behind me. I can hear the captain talking to a tug over the radio. As the tug requests a “slow bell” pass, the captain of the container ship informs him that he’s “only” doing 8-9 knots and could be doing 20. The tug isn’t too happy with the 6-foot wake that the Livorno Express throws, however, and lets the captain know it.

The Livorno Express

As the enormous ship passes me, already doing 5.5 knots, I’m thinking there’s no way he’s only doing 8 knots - he’s going AT LEAST twice my speed. I get a few good shots of the boat as it passes me nearly a half mile away, and stare at its sheer size until the wake catches up to my small boat. The 6 foot swells toss me around like a cork in the water. I’m bouncing around more in the wake of this container ship than I was in a force 5 on Mobile Bay! No big deal for a sailboat, but to the tug, that kind of wake can break tow lines and cause barges to become loose. A very dangerous situation. Nevertheless, I’m well outside of danger, having seen the container ship on the horizon and realizing the speed it was moving I had put myself well away from his outbound course. I turn into Galveston channel and make my way for the docks that I’ll call home for the next few weeks. Aletheia needs a good washing and some minor repairs and I’m looking forward to a hot shower and some civilization.

So, what’s next? Well for now, we’ll be spending some time dockside as I do the maintenance on the engine and some work on the stanchions and lifelines. I’ve got some other ideas of things I’d like to modify as well, and I need to catch up on gainful employment for a bit also. While this leg of the trip is complete, rest assured I’ll keep you posted on a regular basis. I’m just looking forward to that quiet sound of the sails again. In time…

A strange apparatus...

24 02 2010 Posted by Daniel

I think its an oil shale conveyor? I got the feel of something quietly LURKING as I passed by this bizarre machine. Click it for the big picture and see exactly how HUGE it is… its almost 20 stories tall and nearly a half mile long. It took 5 minutes for me to sail from one end of it to the other.

A very strange and massive machine on the waterway.

Shell Island and onwards - Sweat those halyards, lad!

23 02 2010 Posted by Daniel

So, that brings me back to this anchorage, without question the most stress-free, beautiful overnight stay of the entire trip, marinas included. I can’t even begin to describe the beauty of this particular spot on this particular day of crystal skies, a flaming sunset, and the golden cattails contrasting against the water. This spot is serene, tranquil, and sufficiently far enough off the channel that even the sound and wake of passing tugs is distant and muted. The VERY early start out of Bayou Lacassine along with excellent current has let me run a nearly 70 mile day to arrive well in advance of sunset. I take the time (and the warmth) to have a beer and enjoy a beautiful sunset in a lush marsh. I make another hearty dinner and turn in just after sundown. The gentle rocking motion of the waves puts me quickly to sleep and for the second night in a row nothing disturbs me until my alarm goes off.

The view as I near Shell Island

I awaken to another beautiful morning, clear sky, and amazingly its not so frigid today. While breakfast is heating up, I top the engine off with 1/2 quart of oil, leave the coolant where it is, and warm it up. When the ship and I are both prepped for departure, I again have no trouble sliding her up to the anchor and breaking it free. There’s very little mud stuck to the chain this time, but the anchor is definitely caked in it. This mud holds well and I’m not minding the mess as I’ve learned to anticipate the chain coming up dirty and now that I’ve really worked through the process of raising anchor several times I know where I can take my time and clean the foredeck and anchor chain and where I need to move quickly. Its less of a hassle and now simply routine. Plus, with a morning this beautiful you can’t help but be in a good mood.


As I continue down the channel and approach the Bolivar peninsula, I realize that the land is getting lower and the wind is becoming more consistent. The sails are practically begging to be let loose, and I work out a plan to raise them safely. Barge traffic is, for the moment, light, so I take up the full width of the channel, slow the boat down, and hank on the working jib - a 100% jib with a high cut foot, allowing me to see clearly underneath the sail. Its not the most efficient jib but for sailing this channel I need visibility more than perfect wind efficiency. I tie the jib off to the lifelines to prevent it from catching the wind until I’m ready to raise it. With the jib attached to the headstay, I again return the boat to the downwind side of the channel and slowly let it head upwind. I raise the mizzen quickly, helping to keep her pointed upwind, and once I’ve stabilized the boat’s course, I run forwards and quickly raise the jib. Turning down the channel I’m pleased to see that I’m on a sufficient reach to get a few knots boost out of the sails, but its too close to really turn the engine off and go by sail alone. I throttle the engine back to a lower rpm, though, and let the sails really do their work. I trim the sails and when the telltales let me know I’ve got good laminar flow on the leeward side and the leech is taut, we gain a few knots and she settles nicely into a close reach, getting about 10-15 degrees of heel, a little spray kicking up from her bow in the gusts. We sail this gorgeous day for the next 40 miles, when we arrive in Stingaree, Texas.

My destination in Stingaree is a small harbor coexisting with a restaurant well known for its excellent fare. I’m eagerly anticipating the food, and call ahead to ensure they have someone to show me the right dock this time. I let the sails down about a half mile out; they warned me the entrance may be shallow and I’ll need to not have the wind blowing me any harder inland than necessary. A friendly chap named Jim meets me outside, and shows me the pier to line up on. I approach it, cautious of running aground again. Unfortunately, the water level is abnormally low and their entrance apparently has shoaled up quite a bit. I run lightly aground on the way in and as the wind pushes me slowly but inexorably into their entrance I find myself temporarily stuck three more times working the bow around so I can make an escape. Jim says the next place for me to dock is about a mile down the waterway at a local shrimp dock. The boats are out for a while and the guys are friendly, he says. They won’t mind me stopping over for the night. I thank him and make my way to JB Seafood. Sidling up to the outermost pier, I note the water depth is only a foot below my keel. The tide swing for the night is predicted to be less than a foot, and I’ll be departing in the morning at high tide so I am not very concerned but I still position the boat to be in the best place for a rapid escape into deeper waters in the morning. Once moored, I look for a way to bike back to the restaurant. The land next to the dock is one big muddy puddle for several hundred feet and the bike ride is nearly 3 miles each direction thanks to the marshes and the way the roads run. Biking 6 miles and returning to the boat covered in mud is not worth a restaurant meal, so I cook for myself and turn in early.

Photo of the Day

23 02 2010 Posted by Daniel

Sailing Westward…

Sailing Westward

Bayou Lacassine

22 02 2010 Posted by Daniel

I’ve made a good solid start out of Shell Morgan, and I need every bit of time as I can get as I claw against a substantial current, trying to make headway. It eases about midday and I begin to get a good run towards the anchorage. My estimate puts me there about a half hour before sundown, cutting it close for safety but its all I have to work with, so I make the best of it. The notes I have on this part of the trip from the guide I’d purchased at West Marine suggested good 5-8 foot depths well into the Bayou, giving me plenty of room to anchor well off the channel. The notes from the Why Knot also indicate that I should be able to make it at least 50 yards or so off. So I cautiously but confidently head into the bayou. Depths look ok until I’m well into it, so I begin to make a circle to find the best point to lay the anchor. I nearly immediately run aground, and have some serious difficulty in freeing the boat. I’ve lost some time, so I decide to head back to where it was noticeably deeper. I must have come in on a very particularly unlucky course, because I ran around again in nearly the exact same places I had just seen 8 feet of water. Three groundings later, I’m getting very concerned about getting out of this bayou. My only consolation is that its not high tide, and I might gain a few inches of water by waiting the situation out. The wind is not helping, though, gusts up to 20 knots blowing me steadily into the shallows. I take a best guess at the direction I need to head to get free, and put the engine in full power, reverse. I don’t move. I realize that instead of having driven into a shoal, I’ve got the rear end of my keel stuck in the mud. So I put the engine in forward, and give it full power.

After what seems like an eternity, I realize the boat is VERY SLOWLY sliding forwards and accelerating. We finally break free and I slide her out into the channel for a minute to survey the situation. The opening to the bayou is nice and deep, and I now know exactly where the shoals begin on either side. If I put the anchor in a known deep area with enough room to get underway and steer back into the channel, then even if the boat drifts aground while on the anchor line I can use the anchor itself to pull the boat out and into the deeper water, allowing me to get free. By now its nearly dark and finding another bayou nearby runs the same exact grounding risks as I’ve just experienced, so I choose to go with this tenuous but known situation rather than find a second unknown and risk a grounding I cannot escape from. I drop the hook in 8 feet of water, choosing a spot where the wind and current push me into the deeper water - nearly into the channel, but enough out of it to keep from getting hit by a tug or barge. I watch a few tows pass just to be sure and when I hear them telling each other on the radio to be aware of the sailboat, but that “he’s not really in the way” I relax, make a fantastic dinner courtesy of my mom’s amazing soup mixes, and lay out both a sub-zero sleeping bag and two hot water bottles to keep the rack warm while I sleep. The combination proves very effective as the effects of a long day and the stress of finding a safe anchorage hit all at once. I fall asleep nearly immediately and don’t wake up until my alarm goes off.

Picture of Bayou Lacassine at Sunset

The next morning, the wind hasn’t changed at all and I’m still perfectly in line with the deep water. As has become my routine now, I do the basic engine checks (oil, coolant, fuel, leaks, and belt tension) while the water is boiling for a hot oatmeal and coffee breakfast. Getting the anchor up is simplicity itself, with no waves to fight I just haul the boat up to it by hand, snub the line, and winch the anchor free. Getting the 40 lb CQR quickly on board so we don’t drift into the shallows, I return to the cockpit, flip the boat around and into the channel, and I’m off and running, an absolutely beautiful morning welcoming me.