Monday, March 18, 2013

A Wet and Wild Adventure

We have had the pleasure of meeting a couple here at our Marina, Rick and Peggy, who were in the process of getting everything ready on their boat for a trip from here, across the Gulf, to Tampa, Florida. A friend of theirs, John, flew in to be a member of their crew for the journey, but they needed a fourth member, so they asked Paul if he would crew with them. 

Getting the boat ready for sail
The day that John flew in, we all went to dinner along with another Marina friend, Dave, and discussed their journey. Unfortunately, the trip kept being postponed because of the high winds, which caused the water in the marina to be extremely low. Galveston Bay was very low as well and all the boats in the marina were stuck in the muck and mud. Rick and Peggy's boat was no exception. Their boat, which has a  5’6” draft, was most definitely stuck in the mud and wasn't going anywhere until the water levels rose. Several days later, Tuesday, February 26, at 7:30 am, Rick came knocking on our boat and said as soon as Paul was ready, they were going to go for it. The high tide had raised the water level to a height that just barely allowed them to get out into the Bay. So, Paul scurried to get ready while I got the camera. It took them about 15 minutes to get everything in order, and do a safety check, on the boat before they shoved off. 

Paul early Feb 26th

Captain Rick (left) and John

Crew getting ready

Crew from left: Peggy, Paul, John, and Rick

Paul with his new Skull Cap on! 
Bon Voyage...stay safe!
The shift schedule was set up so that two people would be up on deck at all times, 4 hours on, 4 hours off. Paul had 6pm to 10pm. John had 10pm to 2am. Paul came on again at 2am to 6am and John came on from 6am to 10am and Paul would come on at 10am to 2pm. Poor Rick and Peggy would alternate so that one of them would do 2 hours each with Paul and John's shifts. During the off hours they all would either "try" to sleep or eat. Peggy had designed a tasty and diverse menu for the trip and, besides her 4-hour shifts above deck, she had to also do all the cooking for the crew. Not much rest for her! Rick was also awake much of the trip, since, if anything looked odd, he would be the one who was called up on deck. Neither one of them had much rest during the trip. Apparently the Gulf can be a pretty treacherous place to sail. It is very unpredictable, and there is a lot of traffic. There are also many oil platforms in the Gulf. These are the reasons Rick and Peggy required two people on deck at all times; one person to sail the boat, and the other to keep a good watch in all directions.

They motored out to Galveston Bay and it was like a mirror...very calm, very little wind. Good omen? Maybe not. They cleared Galveston Island and were in the Gulf of Mexico where the wind picked up to about 25 knots and they had 2-3 foot seas. Paul was doing ok, but it was toward the end of his shift at 10 pm that night when he leaned around the binnacle to look at the chart-plotter and radar and felt his stomach start to get queasy...and, as he says, "Thank God for hefty quart sized freezer bags", which he promptly filled. A hefty freezer bag will comfortably hold two bowls of Peggy's Tortilla soup and serve as a hand warmer after being sealed! Dual purpose. Good for warding off the cold night air on the hands. John came on deck for his shift and Paul went down and slept. Seas were getting pretty rough. Paul woke up to hear Peggy say, "I'll take Paul's shift, he’s sick" and Paul thought, "nobody's going to take my shift" so even though he still felt pretty queasy, he went up for his 2am shift…and survived the night. He felt lousy the next day, too, until late afternoon, when he started feeling better.  

However, it got chilly, which saps the strength out a person. Paul said he got so cold his teeth were clacking. And with the sea spray hitting them, it really didn't help. Second day out the winds were about the same...25 knots with the 2-3 foot seas again. Second night, however, the winds picked up, to about 30-35 knots, and seas at about 4 feet and rising, so it was rough sailing...still not horrible though. Rick reefed the mainsail and the jib so they wouldn't catch so much wind, which made the boat easier to handle. They were going through a lot of oil rigs. The rigs showed up on the chartplotter, and they are spaced a good distance apart and lit up like Christmas lights, so they weren’t that difficult to maneuver around. The crew did have to watch for the fishing boats and for the oil rig crew boats carrying the workers to and from the rigs. However, there was not much traffic, and what was traveling out there showed up on radar, so it didn’t become a problem for them.

Third day the winds and seas were about 30-35 kts.  Paul was his usual cold, wet, and tired self, as were all of them. The waves were getting bigger. From his 10am to 2pm shift, they were being bounced around pretty good. It was during the evening when the winds really picked up and the seas became a good 8-10 feet high. At one point, when Peggy was on shift with Paul, and Paul was at the helm, she asked if he was about 6’ tall, and he told her he was about 5’9”, and she said “that last wave was over your head”. That meant the waves were about 9'-10’ high (perhaps more, hard to judge). At times, the winds were gusting up to 39 kts and it became very rough.

During a shift change, the wind and waves were coming from the port quarter, (or the rear left corner of the boat) kicking the boat sideways. It tended to throw them into a beam reach, which would put them off-course, and in order to get back on course, they had to get back into a run. Well, a beam reach is an easy point of sail. However, a run can be a dangerous point of sail because of an accidental jibe, which is when the wind gets behind you and can play havoc with the sails, whipping the boom across the boat. Which, in fact, is exactly what happened! The boom came roaring across to the port side, which slid the trolley hard to the port, pulling the rail off it’s mountings, shearing a 3/8” bolt, and letting all the running rigging that controls the boom's movement, free, so that nothing was controlling the boom.  The blocks, pulleys, lines, everything was flying free. Then when correcting the boat to the course it should have been on, the boom came whipping back to the starboard side, with the pulleys and lines waving violently in the wind, ripping through the Dodger wind shield, tearing it to pieces (a brand new one, no less). It damaged all the zippers, and Eisenglass (or clear plastic windshield) so that they were completely destroyed.

At this point they had to quickly start the engine, make sure there were no lines in the water to foul the propeller, turn the boat into the wind, secure the boom, and drop the mainsail. The seas were still going strong, but they managed to motor in to Panama City and dock for the night at Panama City Marina. The guard came out and said they were preparing for a hard freeze of 30° that night, which attests to why Paul was so cold out on the water. Paul said the rest of the crew had better foul weather gear, so didn’t seem as cold as he was. This was an important lesson: remember to invest in good “foulies”. Get good gloves, wear lots of socks, have a warm jackets and/or good rain suits.

After docking, and changing his shorts, they all sat and had a beer (which Paul said never tasted so good) and discussed what happened. It was an incident no one wants to have happen on their journey, yet it was also important to see that these kinds of disasters DO happen and you have to keep a level head to make sure you manage things in an organized and safe manner.  Rick and Peggy were great. Paul said they were both calm and clear headed throughout the incident, and got everything under control as quickly and safely as humanly possible with no panic at all. The crew was fortunate not to have been physically harmed in this incident…all came through it without a scratch. It could have been a much different scenario if Rick and Peggy hadn’t handled it so well. Paul said this is the strongest lesson he got from the journey: how to stay calm in a serious situation.

The crew stayed in the Panama City Marina over the weekend. They worked on the traveler and Peggy made them meatloaf in the pressure cooker for Saturday’s dinner, (which I have got to learn how to do!) and on Sunday John took everyone out for lunch at a local restaurant “Bayou Joe’s Marina and Grill” where John had a “Trashburger”!! Doesn’t that sound yummy? :^P

That evening Paul made reservations to fly back to Kemah. He flew back on Monday morning and I picked him up at the Hobby Airport, just a 25-minute drive from our boat. (Bush International Airport is over an hour away). Southwest Airlines got him here almost ½ hour early and he was so glad to be back. One very tired man, but also full of stories and experiences. This adventure with the crew of the S/V Vision Quest was an important learning experience. The things he learned that stand out the most are: 1. Make sure you have good, warm, foul weather gear, 2. Stay calm in dangerous situations and bring things back under control without panicking, 3. Have Hefty quart sized zipper plastic bags on hand, 4. Realize what weather conditions you want to sail in and gauge your experiences to the prevailing weather conditions.  

He can now apply these lessons to his sailing experiences. Paul says, Rick, Peggy, and John, thanks for the amazing adventure, the laughing, the fun, the food, the overall experience. It was invaluable! Paul would sail anywhere, anytime with you. 

How did I do? Peggy had send me a "spot" email, which is a pre-canned message saying all was well, so I figured everything was good with them. The first night, I was a little nervous being on the boat alone. The freezer started to make funny noises, and when I checked the compressor, the little red light was blinking, that meant one of 4 different things, of which none of them did I know how to fix. So, I just turned it off for 3 hours to let it rest, and when I turned it back on at 1 a.m., it had stopped making the noise and was working well. Whew! So glad it didn't break on me. During this time the wind started to pick up and the boat was rockin' and rollin' with lots of clanking going on. 

The second day I did errands, and went to my sewing class. That evening I made dinner and relaxed afterward by reading my book. However, about 8pm I realized I hadn't heard from them, so checked my emails and there was my "spot" message from them saying "rough seas...sailing on". Huh! What does that mean??? That's when I started getting antsy. Lots of "what if's" crossing my mind and making me unable to sleep. I was definitely concerned. Did not get a good night's sleep that night. Winds were whipping up outside again and making that howling noise when they blow through all the masts. More clanking, whapping of lines and rocking boat. 

Third day I carried on with my routines, cleaned the inside of the boat, went to my sewing class and finished my tote bag (pictures on , came back and visited with a few neighbors, then had dinner out at a small fish restaurant just a few blocks away...had a wonderful dinner of fish and chips. Paul doesn't like fish, and I don't cook it much, so I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner of REAL FISH, not the frozen stuff from the stores.

Came back and checked emails; no message. HMMMM. Are they ok? What's happening? Did they crash into a boat? Did they have an accident? I was BUZZED, and, yes, I have to admit, full on concerned about their welfare. I kept checking my emails every 1/2 hour. Finally, the "Spot" message came through, and it said "Ok, sailing on". ARG! That's all??? Well, at least they're ok! Whew! Yes, I realize they're canned messages, but all that previous concern warrented a little more information, don't you think? Didn't sleep well that night, either. Winds worse, noise worse. 

Fourth day, waiting for some info from "spot". Really wanted to know what was happening with them. My neighbors in the marina usually come out on Fridays and stay til Sunday evening...but the winds had been howling again, so not too many people showed up this weekend. Just not a good time for sailing. So, I felt really lonely. Not used to being on a boat alone, (only a month) and it just didn't feel good by myself. Ok, when is Paul coming back? This is getting old. I kept losing my place in my book that night, hadn't heard anything from "spot" and didn't get any message through the night, (which shows how much sleep I got).  Next morning, Saturday, the first thing I did was check for "spot". No spot. Bad spot! 

Later that morning, Paul called from Panama City to explain what happened with the accidental jibe and how they had to motor in to Panama City Marina. I was so glad to hear his voice...I had really missed him!! He was going to stay with them til they got the Dodger and Traveler fixed. At least they were all ok, and I was so happy to hear that. I actually rested well that day and night. 

When Paul called on Sunday, he said that it might not be until later on that week when he returned. I was disappointed. We talked about it, and we decided they might not need him now since they were through the Gulf part of the journey, and closer to the Florida shores. So, after discussing it with them, he made reservations to fly home for Monday.  

When I picked him up on Monday, he looked tired, but mellow. He had enjoyed his trip and had many stories to tell me. I'm glad he was able to learn so much and come back without being sick or hurt. It sounds like it was definitely an adventure for all of them. Thanks Rick and Peggy for watching out for him. You said you would, and you did! For that, I'm very grateful. Now it's back to our normal life, as strange and abnormal as it is. Time to start working on the boat's wood surfaces that need re-varnishing! Another story.

Stay safe and warm, all! 


  1. Thanks for sharing the adventures - fun!

    1. Hi Pam,
      Thanks for your post, it's always nice to hear from you. Hope things are going well there for you, Arthur, and the family. Give everyone my love. Say hi to your mom and dad for me. Hope they're doing well.

      Keep in touch!!

  2. What a wonderful time yall must be having! As Pam said, thanks for sharing your dream with us!!! Fun! Fun! Fun!
    Love to yall, Linda

  3. Cool...thanks to both you and Pam for the comments. It's really good to hear from you both, and to know you're still out there! I hope you're doing well and that you're not in pain. I'm soooo proud of you, Linda, for quitting smoking!!! Right on, lady! Your skin is going to love you, and so are your lungs! My son quit, too, and I equally proud of him. It's a hard habit to shake. I know, been there, done that.

    Stay well,
    thinking of you,

  4. WOW!! great story...thank you for sharing. I liked the spot comments...."...bad spot." ha ha
    Sherrie n Ricky

  5. Hi Paul and Diane, your neighbor and my friend/colleague, Misty Wright, forwarded a link to your blog and suggested we might connect. We left Kemah in Feb 2008 to cruise full time on our Morgan 41 Liberty with our two boys, now 13 and 16. We are currently anchored in Barbuda. Drop us an email (website is gohlkes on liberty).