Friday, March 20, 2015

Splashes in Palacious (Part One)

It started with an innocent request by a friend to help him deliver a Pacific Seacraft, Dana 24 from Palacious TX, to Seabrook TX.  Under normal circumstances the trip should have taken about two (2) days in the ICW.  It took six (6). 

 Avery Christine on the hard in Seabrook Marina

The broker that sold the boat, and requested the delivery, drove us down to the city of Palacious after work on Thursday.  The plan was to leave early the next morning (Friday) and start back to Seabrook.  Thursday was warm and sunny and the 2 hour drive was uneventful with very casual 
conversation.  I was on the phone most of the way down setting up my reports for the next day because I didn't think I would be available by phone while we crossed Matagorda Bay.  I vaguely remember captain Ken talking to our chauffeur about a mutual friend that had just gone through a twenty-four hour bout with some sort of stomach virus or purging bug.  Poor bastard.  

Upon arrival in Palacious we met the owner of the boat we contracted to move, and he agreed to drive us to the grocery store so we could get some supplies.  I find it interesting to grocery shop with other males when the mission is to provision for a cycle of anywhere from a couple of days to several days.  It reminds me of a pack of wolves gorging on a fresh kill.  Who knows, we may not kill another deer for a while, perhaps we should eat double our needs just in case.  I was a little embarrassed when we walked out of the store with enough food to last us a week.  All I was thinking about was: how will we ever eat all this stuff.

Next stop was PMR (Palacious Mexican Restaurant) for dinner.  The food wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible either.  Just nondescript Texmex.  Leaving the restaurant I noticed the temperature had dropped a bit and inquired about blankets on the boat.  Next stop, the Dollar Store for a couple of blankets.

On the boat we checked all the liquid levels, running and standing rigging, chart plotter and assorted instrumentation.  We fired up the diesel and generator, and generally gave the boat a good state of health.  We put away our food stores and turned in for the night.

About  zero two hundred (2:00 am) I heard Captain Ken hit the head and barf, and then I heard him barf at zero three hundred (3:00 am) , then zero four hundred (4:00 am), zero five hundred  (5:00 am), and again at zero six hundred (6:00 am).  I really thought he may have had some bad Mexican food at PMR.  It never occurred to me he had a stomach virus.  At zero six thirty (6:30 am) I decided to get up and sit in the fully enclosed cockpit and wait to depart while Ken gracefully tried to recover.   We prepared to make way around zero eight thirty (8:30 am) and backed out of the slip around zero nine thirty (9:30 am).  A late start, but considering the night Ken had; I was just happy to be getting underway.  

Being in an unfamiliar marina is always a challenge, and being in an unfamiliar marina with a 11 knot tailwind, at low tide, is even more interesting.  We were dead center in the channel when I noticed we weren't moving.  Yep, the wind had blown just enough water out of the marina that we ran aground.  Stuck in the Texas mud.  We were fortunate the tide was coming in and we only had to wait two hours before we re-floated enough to power up and carry on with our mission.

Some readers may believe in foretelling the future based on events of the past.  True clairvoyants might even say we should have taken the two strikes dealt us in less than twelve hours as a  warning to re-think our departure. But, I can assure you such thoughts never once entered our minds.  How is it possible to forecast the next forty-eight (48) hours based on two unrelated events?   Captain Ken and I, as hard as we tried, were unable to explore the unfamiliar realm of fortune telling based on signs handed down by the cosmos.  It should therefor come as no great surprise that we failed to see the truly rotten can of tomatoes we were about be force fed. 

The weather window for our trip wasn't the greatest, but we only had to travel 
from the marina, 14 miles into Matagorda Bay, via the channel, to the Intercoastal, hang a left, and travel another 9 miles northeast until we would be surrounded by land, and protected from wind and waves, in the ICW.  Simple enough, and although a Pacific Seacraft is a heavy, boat we should be able to make at least four (4) knots.  It was only around ten hundred hours (10:00 am) so we should be able to make it to protected waters by fifteen hundred hour (3:00 pm).

Our intended travel path

The waves as we started out were running about two feet high on our port rear quarter.  With the 11-12 knot wind, the push from the waves, and assistance from the diesel we were only able to get our SOG (speed over ground) up to about 3.2 knots.  Still plenty of time to make our goal.  The Avery Christine had a full enclosure and the traveler was in the cockpit.  In order to utilize the main sail we would have had to unzip the enclosure so we could sheet out the main.  More trouble than it was worth, bedsides it was starting to get cold, and rain was in the forecast.  We broke out the auto pilot and plugged it in only to find it was drifting and would not hold a straight course.  No big deal we would take turns hand steering and still make it to the Intercoastal in good shape.  The radio chatter from the tows pushing barges in the ICW to the tows out in the bay focused primarily on the condition of the water.   Not once did we hear any of the tows say conditions were too rough to attempt a crossing,   It was only when our personal observations noted wind speed, and wave height were increasing did we tune to NOAA radio for a weather forecast.  A small craft warning had been issued and winds from the north, northeast were expected to steadily increase to 30 knots. Less than ideal but no problem for a Pacific Seacraft.

We negotiated the left hand dog leg and reached our red lateral turning beacon, which had been replaced with a nun, later than we expected.  It was already around 1500 (3:00 pm) and the wind, once the turn was completed, was going to be on our nose.  The water was now showing it's angry side and consistently delivering four and sometimes six foot waves running at three to four second intervals.  The first few lateral beacons in the direction we wanted to travel were missing and had also been replaced with nuns making them a lot harder to spot  in the waves.  No problem we could refer to the chart plotter to help us make the correct turn and set the correct heading.  Neither one of us realized at this juncture that the owner had set the chart plotter up with a delay.  That in and by itself would not have been a big deal, but in a twenty-four foot boat bobbing in four to six foot rollers, with the occupants being thrown around the cockpit, it was a very big deal.  We would initiate our turn, look for the nun, confirm on the chart plotter, turn some more, look for the nun, turn some more, look at the chart plotter; shit we're off course.  Then the whole process would start over again.  I am embarrassed to even think about how long we were stuck in the wash tub trying to determine our correct heading.  Take my word, it was way too long. 

We eventually found our correct heading, but we could not make any headway because of the wind and the size of the waves.  Avery Christine apparently new nothing about the little engine that could.  We tried tacking back and forth along our rhumb line and were able to make a small amount of progress, but after 4.5 hours we only advanced .7 miles toward the shelter of land.  The energy and concentration it took to keep the boat heading in the right direction, stay balanced in the cockpit, and hand steer was intense. At one point I looked down at the tiller and noticed it had a 16 inch split down the middle. Oh shit. We used a whole roll of electrical tape on it and made it as secure as possible.  (Believe it or not it held for the entire trip.)  Night was setting in and we were still about 8 miles from the protected water.   We decided to get out of the channel, drop the hook, and try to ride out the weather.  As soon as we dropped the anchor I started barfing, and continued barfing for about an hour.  I think we both experienced a round of the intestinal virus Ken's friend had.  Both Ken and I were unable to do much of anything but lay horizontal or sleep for the next 40 hours.  Finally on Sunday morning the weather began to break and water in the bay started to lay down.  Let's get out of here.  

About four hours later we left the waters of Matagorda Bay and entered the portion of the ICW protected by land.  Little did we know at the time that our adventure was just beginning.  More on that in part two.