It seems only right to misquote Robert Burns at this point…
Well, unlike Gilligan, whose three hour tour turned into a life long event, our eight year trip turned into a three day tour – for the time being at least.
As I wrote in my last post, we religiously checked the NOAA coastal and offshore weather forecasts for the last few weeks, looking for a weather window for our Gulf Crossing. We also used gribs in Weather4D. We finally found one, with winds ranging from 10-20 knots, and 4-6 ft seas for the week we expected to spend at sea. The winds were also predicted to clock round from being from the South East to being from the North and then the West, which would be perfect for the easterly part of our trip.
After spending the first night of our trip in Laguna Harbor, we left at around 10am on Sunday May 1st, along the Inter-Coastal Waterway, into the Houston Ship Channel and then past the Galveston Jetties out into the Gulf of Mexico. The weather was overcast, but the winds were good and the waves were, as predicted, about 4-6ft. As we got further out into the Gulf, the winds dropped considerably so the going was slow, but hey – we’re retired. Still we wished the winds would pick up. And you know what they say – be careful what you wish for. The winds started to pick up, along with the wave height until we had winds in the low 30kts gusting to high 30kts and 8-10ft waves.
Sol Purpose was taking a beating but was holding up well. I can’t say the same for the situation below deck. I have always prided myself on stowing well for an offshore trip, and we have solved a lot of issues after previous trips. The sofa cushions have been secured with the kind of clips used for sectional sofas, and the drawers have barrel bolts to stop them opening. We had four new cabinets installed which did not have locks but had spring loaded hinges. Only clothes were in these cabinets, which, being fairly light I thought would be OK. The microwave was secured on to the shelf and all the other cabinets have sliding doors. I thought everything would be secure, but I had never seen anything like this before. The cupboard which contains all the condiments (luckily mostly in plastic containers) had fallen open, and the contents were rolling around the cabin floor. I gathered them up as best I could and put them somewhere I hoped they would be safe. Unfortunately, this was only the start. Every time there was a particularly heavy crashing wave, another cabinet would open up and spilled its contents, which were then thrown around with every big wave that hit the boat. Finally, we heard one particularly loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. As we don’t tend to keep any glass on the boat, I couldn’t imagine what this was. I fought my way through the mess to find our folding bikes had fallen to the floor, blocking the cabin and forward head, and the broken glass was in the main salon. It was the platter inside the microwave. Securing the microwave was only half the story – we should have also strapped the door shut.
This went on all night, so rather than taking watches, we were both on deck all night. The autopilot can’t cope with waves that big, so Moray was steering, while I was watching out for lights etc. At about 4am, the radar showed that we were about to sail into a huge storm, which is when we decided that we should turn away and try to steer away to let the storm pass us by. We managed to do this, so around 5am, we started to North East so that we could start heading towards Florida. Moray took a nap while I was steering. Just at dawn, the GPS went out. I woke him up and we tried resetting the chart plotter but nothing. Moray stepped outside the cockpit and realized that we had a major problem. A huge wave had hit the radar on top of the bimini, knocking it off its mount, it slid down its supporting pole and cut through the GPS cable for the chart plotter. This was one of 5 cables that entered the radar pole below the radar so he went up on deck to use the staysail halyard to hold the radar mount up off the other cables in case they got damaged as well. While up there, he noticed that the retaining pin for the inner forestay had disappeared. While he was on the bow, trying to secure the inner forestay, the boat crashed into a wave, submerging the bow and Moray with it. His lifejacket did its job and activated! The first I knew of this was the maniacal laughter coming from the bow! At least we know it works!
Now we had a decision to make – to keep going or to turn around and head back to Kemah. We had heard so many stories both in sailing and diving of people ignoring the first one or two issues, resulting in a third situation which proved catastrophic. Although the weather had been horrendous, and the inside of the boat was disaster area, we were ready to ride out the weather and continue. Now we had that one additional issue. We had INavX installed on Moray’s IPhone, and could use that to make it to Florida. However, we did not have the detailed chart for the entrance to the marina in Key West. It was a devastating decision, but we decided that the most sensible course of action would be to head back to Kemah. So we set up the iPhone in a waterproof bag and used that as our GPS to bring us back to Waterford.
The trip was far from over, however. We had been struggling with SE winds while we headed southeast. Now, as we headed north, the winds clocked round to the north. While that was exactly what we had been hoping for when planning to head to Florida, it was the exact opposite of what we needed to get back to Kemah. Add to that the fact that the winds were back into the 30kts range, the waves were back to 10ft and we have thunderstorms, we had a very long journey home. We got back to the Galveston Jetties around 6pm, and called our friend, Brad, at Waterford to find out if our slip was unoccupied. It was, so we let him know we were fine, but were heading back. Once we got into Galveston, we heaved a sigh of relief, thinking this was the easy part, as we were familiar with these waters. We were very tired and were using an iPhone as a chart plotter, so we were hoping for an uneventful ride along the ship channel. You know what they say – if we didn’t have bad luck, we wouldn’t have any at all! The north winds had been building the waves all the way down the ship channel and unfortunately, the period of the waves was the length of our boat. This, along with the out going tide, meant that we crested one wave and then crashed into the next, killing our momentum, and resulting in a speed of only 2 kts. It was a very long ride, especially for Moray, as I took a nap. Eventually we reached the boater’s cut and I took the wheel to let Moray nap. He took over once we reached the channel so that he could bring the boat back into the marina, and I could prepare the boat for docking. It was with a huge sigh of relief that we pulled into the slip, even more so when a our neighbor, Steve, came out to help us secure Sol Purpose. 5 minutes to clear the bed and the path to the bed, a quick shower, and these two tired, bruised and disappointed travelers made it to bed for the first time in two days.
- Every door needs a lock, regardless of how light the contents of the cabinet
- Microwave doors need to be secured
- Have every chart you might need loaded on to more than one device
- We need to install some raised edges to our companionway steps, to make it easier to go up and down safely in extreme conditions
- Have a waterproof bag with an iPhone next to the chart plotter, ready in case of an emergency
Below are a couple of videos that we took when we were out there…
Watch this space – we’re bruised but not beaten!