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Monthly Archives: May 2012

My husband and I hit the water this past Saturday for a trip down to the coast.  Friday, I had to go over to Louisiana on business so the guy got the pleasure of provisioning the boat.  When I got back later that afternoon we made a quick run to the grocery for a few items he’d missed and then settled in to the evening.

Saturday morning, as is our want, we threw a few things into our duffel bags and then headed out for breakfast.  Over coffee while waiting for our order, my guy casually says to me, “I wonder how the boat is going to try to kill us this weekend.”  He cracks me up…all the time.

We left the slip around 9:00 or so, motored out of Clear Lake, and then set sail and just…well, sailed.  We had absolutely brand spanking new sails and they performed wonderfully.  The wind was favorable, the sky was crystal blue, and the bay was chocked full of sailboats.  Around 1:00 we dropped the sails, started up the newly repaired engine and entered the Houston Ship Channel for the motor down to the coast.  I turned over the helm to my husband, grabbed a book I was reading (The Hot Gate by John Ringo) and kicked back in the bimini shade for the three hour trip.

As we approached the Intercoastal Waterway, I took over the helm to drive us through the rather tricky ICW approach and immediately realized the engine was struggling.  And, then, after increasing the throttle, noticed black smoke in the exhaust stream.  I was livid.  I felt the engine nightmare, in spite of several thousand dollars in repairs we had just had done last week, was about to spring again.  I backed off on the throttle and the smoke cleared.  But, this time, both of us felt like something else was at play, for even at RPMs that should have been pushing the boat at five and a half knots, we were only moving just over two.  We both guessed that something had either fouled the prop or we had snagged something and was dragging it.  Possibly, we thought, our keel had managed to capture a load of Sargasso seaweed, which is everywhere in the Galveston Bay and the Gulf this time of year.

We discussed whether we should turn back or continue.  The Captain made the decision to go forth saying, “we probably have time to get somewhere before dark.”  We struggled on at an agonizingly slow rate with me constantly using the throttle to try to increase RPMs.  Then, I killed the power, put the boat in reverse and revved the engine…if we had snagged something maybe I could shake it.  And, to our delight, that appeared to be exactly what the problem was.  When I put the boat back in forward it came up to power and we had no more problems with the engine on the rest of the trip.

Our destination was Pelican Rest Marina,  a new berth on Offats Bayou.    If one follows the link, about halfway across the shaded area one can see a rectangle…that rectangle was the marina.  Offats Bayou was quite shallow originally, but after the Hurricane of 1900 sand was dredged from it as part of the overall seawall project  that included completely raising Galveston Island 4-5 feet above the seawall, which is itself 15-16 high.  The result of that dredging a hundred years or so ago is a fairly deep and large bay…accessed from the ICW by a fairly shallow channel.

So, with me driving, we passed under the causeway bridge and immediately turned South into the channel to Offats Bayou.  This channel is perhaps 50-60 feet wide and varies in depth from 6-10 feet…I’d never navigated it.  Though fairly well marked when it shoots off of the ICW, as one gets further in exactly where the channel is gets quite a bit trickier.  That’s not a problem for a power boat that draws a couple of feet of water, but for our boat that draws 4.5 feet…not so very good as the water depth quickly goes to just a couple of feet (and less at places) just outside of the channel.  And, as luck would have it, just as we are within shouting distance of the marina I ran the boat aground.  Not a huge problem but definitely a problem…thankfully I had the boat at a two knot crawl as we plowed into the mud.  We hoisted the headsail, turned the boat around, and within ten minutes or so we were out of the mud, within another ten we were docked at the marina.  Off the Captain went to pay the overnight transient slip fee.

I must digress.  In the past year we’ve overnighted at six different marinas in their transient slips.  Only one of those marinas required we show proof of having boatowners insurance and we knew that before we berthed there.  Unlike automobiles, the Coast Guard does not require one to have boatowners insurance at all much less have an insurance certificate on the boat.  The Coast Guard does require one to have their registration and the boats documentation (if it’s a documented boat) on the boat.  We keep our registration and documentation on the boat, but though our boat is indeed insured, we don’t keep a copy of the proof of insurance on the boat.  As you may already have guessed, sure enough Pelican Rest Marina required a copy of the proof of insurance.  To make a long story shot, we didn’t have the proof of insurance and they refused to let us stay.

It’s now 6:30 in the evening.  My Captain is not happy with the marina and I’m not happy with the Captain.  Why you might ask was the Captain not happy with the marina?  Because when we made reservations at the marina we were not informed we would need proof of insurance.  Why you might ask was I not happy with the Captain?  Because the Captain and I agreed he would keep a copy on board.  We now had an hour and a half motor sail back to the nearest marina with shore power, not wanting to spend the night at anchor without air conditioning.  And, to get to the nearest marina we would have to sail the Bolivar Roads channel…and possibly sail it at night.  The last time we did that almost killed us as we dodged supertankers.  I really didn’t want to do it again, even though this time we’d have an engine.

So, with a favorable beam wind and under power, I gunned the engine as we raced back down the ICW at seven knots.  We reached the Boliver channel right at sunset…and turned into the relative safety of the Houston Ship Channel right at dark.  Fifteen minutes later we were tied up at the Galveston Yacht Basin.    If one follows this link, the large body of water at the top is a small part of the Boliver Channel…the body of water that runs down from the top, right in the middle is the Galveston Ship Channel…the GYB is the four very small rectangles to the right of the Galveston Ship Channel located at the 6:00 position.   Actually, there was no ship traffic in either Boliver or the Galveston Ship Channel and the sail was quite nice at dusk.  Once docked at the GYB and having been on the water for almost twelve hours at this point, we opted for coke and sandwiches and blew off barbecuing.

After a good nights sleep, the next day we decided to sail East in the ICW…neither one of us had been in that direction.  Again, the weather was great and the winds were favorable, right off of our beam.  We kicked back and just cruised for a couple of hours.  On the way, we looked for fuel.  Finally, we saw a power boat marina with a narrow channel that had fuel.  Worried about the depth, we decided to ease into the place.  Once again, we ran aground, the depth gauge showing the shallow water just prior to us rubbing the bottom.  With engine power alone we turned in the wind and eased off of the shoal.  A mile or two later we did a one-eighty and sailed back to the marina at the GYB.

As we docked at the GYB we noticed a beautiful  Tayana 42 yacht tied up next to our slip…it was drop dead gorgeous.   The Captain was still on board and we struck up a conversation with him, a bit later inviting him aboard our boat for a drink.  Tayana sailboats are proven bluewater cruisers and, as mentioned, we have accelerated our quest to research, find, and purchase our new boat.  Though the Tayana 42 is smaller than was we anticipate buying, it was quite interesting talking to the owner of the one next to us about his boat.  A while later he invited us aboard his boat.  It was a first class yacht, but as suspected, just a little too small for us.

Just before we were to light up the grill, a very young GYB security person stopped by our boat.  He wanted to know if we had registered at the security office.  We told him no, we hadn’t and, but further, though we had often talked to the marina’s security people, we weren’t even under the impression we had to register…no one had ever asked us to do so before.  He told us we had to register, and then went on to say that we were going to have to move because the slip we were in had been promised to another yacht.  We repeated to him that we had stayed at the GYB many times, talked to security virtually every time we had stayed there…had inquired about payment but were always told to “not worry about it” if we were only staying overnight.  We indicated this was our second night at the marina on this trip and if it was a matter of paying a slip fee we were more than willing to do so.  The young guy got on the telephone, “I must speak with my supervisor he said.”

After a few minutes on the phone with his boss, the young kid said that we would be able to stay, just pay for the two night we would have been there.  “No problem,” we said.

“We’ll need a copy of your proof of insurance,” he said.

Uh oh.  Problem, indeed.

So, we went through the same story we had gone through the afternoon before at Pelican Rest, the whole time the young security guard relaying our story to his boss.  In the end, the kid told us we’d need to go speak to his boss.  So, off we went.

When we went into the security shack, we recognized his boss and chatted a few minutes…we’d spoken to him many times during our stay there.  Then we repeated to him that, yes, we had insurance but, no, we didn’t have any proof of it.  We reminded him of all the other times we’d stayed there, spoken to him, and never even been required to pay, much less offer proof of insurance.  He was more than sympathetic.  He said the GYB had recently been sold and the new owners required the insurance certificate…and then went on to say we owed him $46 for the two nights and “if you [we] think about it” to e-mail a copy of the insurance to the office when we got back to port.  Sounded great to us.  We paid up, said thank you and a jolly goodbye, and headed back to the boat.

When we got back, the Captain of the Tayana was still on his boat.  “Well, we’re legal,” I said.  The guy just cracked up.  He was a long term tenant at the marina there.  He said he was floored when he overheard the young security guard asking us to pay and prove we were insured…said he’d never seen that in the 14 years he’d kept his boat there.  Neither had we.  We all laughed.

Monday, Memorial Day, we shoved off around 9:00 for the four hour trip back up to Kemah.  We were just one of a long, long line of boats sailing back up the Houston Ship Channel.  Galveston Bay was just crammed with boats of all kinds, mostly sailboats.  It was a holiday atmosphere for sure.  We docked about 1:30 and were home and in our pool an hour later.

It was a good trip.  Everything worked and the boat didn’t try to kill us…always a positive thing.

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Well, some of you may remember a post a while back entitled Be Advised.  It’s the story of a nice cruise that went majorly south, the result of an engine that failed, a sail that blew out, and one of the busiest ship channels in the world.  The event ended well enough I suppose.  We survived the ordeal and nursed our sailing yacht back to home port.  Here’s how things have gone since.

The following week, my husband gathered quotes for new sails and that following weekend we both spent several hours on the boat making the numerous exact measurements needed to place them on order.  Sails generally take four to six weeks to make…so we waited.

The engine was perplexing, at least to me.  For the next four weekends, Captain Husband spent the better part of that time troubleshooting our most malfunctioned engine.  His efforts included replacing the fuel feed pump, replacing the two fuel filters, changing the entire fuel system’s lines, inspecting the fuel tank for debris, bleeding the fuel lines, etc.  All of this work was, in his words, dumb people stuff…in essence, eliminating the obvious.  The result of his time was that the engine still would not run.  As a diesel engine is an inherently simple machine (thus their general dependability), after spending those weekends crammed into the extremely tight, hot, and uncomfortable lazarette with no results he decided to throw in the towel and charged me with contracting a marine diesel mechanic to get the engine back in working order.

We live in an area that encompasses the third largest concentration of pleasure boats in the nation.  Finding a qualified diesel mechanic was not a problem, and last Wednesday I met the guy at our boat.  My charge to this extremely nice guy was that when he walked away from the boat we expected the engine to be reliable…he assured us it would be.  And, after checking my husband’s work and doing his own troubleshooting, he pronounced the problem as being a severely clogged mixing elbow.  The mixing elbow mixes the heated cooling water in with the exhaust and serves two basic purposes…it cools the engine exhaust and reduces the engine noise.  Over time, the cooler water temperature condenses the carbon out of the exhaust gases and will coke up and clog this part, resulting in back pressure that will cause the engine to not run.  We actually suspected this might be the problem but decided to defer to the mechanic should it be the culprit, opting to have the expert change this out rather than us.  The mechanic replaced the part and declared the engine repaired, assuring us he had test loaded the engine at the dock.

On the same day that the mechanic worked on the engine, our sails came in.  So, last Saturday, both of us were excited to put the new sails on the boat and get back on the water.  After several hours in the broiling heat rehanging our sails, my guy took a quick trip to pick up some ice, beer, wine, and cokes while I straightened below decks out, put the cockpit cushions in, and plugged in and cranked up the iPod. 

Though it was king of warm, it was a perfect day for sailing here last Saturday.  After icing down the beverages, we cranked up the boat, slipped the lines and headed out of the marina.  As usual, I was at the helm.  The engine tach showed 2000 RPMs.  Clear Lake channel was crowed as we eased out and approaching the entrance to the bay we saw it was packed with boats of every sort.  The Kemah Boardwalk was wall to wall people.  Entering the bay, I pushed the RPMs to 2500…and sensed, more than noticed, a lack of power.  At perhaps a couple of hundred yards out in the bay, I goosed the engine up to 3000 RPMs.  The engine made the revs…only to instantly lose a 1000 RPMs…and then another 500…and then another 500.  Within a couple of minutes we lost power completely and sat dead in the water…again.  Neither of us could believe it.  Here we were, maybe a quarter of a mile into the bay, right smack dab in the middle of the channel, with boats all around us, both sail and power, five thousand people on the boardwalk watching all of these boats, including us, and we’re dead as a door nail in the water…drifting. 

More fucking drama…

There was no time to dillydally.  Once again we were faced with the immediate decision of either dropping anchor and calling for a tow or sailing the boat home.  In this case, sailing the boat home meant sailing into the narrow Clear Lake Channel for a mile or so and then into the even narrower marina channel for a half mile or so and then, literally, sail right into our slip.  We chose to sail rather than call for a tow.

We hoisted our brand new genoa headsail and managed to turn the boat around.  With a diminishing and following wind, we poked into Clear Lake channel.  At the entrance to the marina, we reefed down the headsail in anticipation of having a beam wind as we made the 90 degree tack…and limped into the marina.  At the end of the marina channel we would have to gain enough headway to make a 180 degree turn into our slip…dropping the headsail completely before we commenced it.  Too much headway when we started the turn would have resulted in not being able to stop the boat in the slip…too little headway and we would have no control whatsoever.  It all came together and the dock was perfect.

After we got the boat tied up, we sat in the cockpit and consumed our beverages, cursing the mechanic.  Over the weekend, we got back in touch with the mechanic; he met me at the boat on Monday at 8:00 AM.  I wasn’t happy.

The long and short of things is that on Monday the mechanic found a crack in one of the fuel filter assemblies and, most disturbing, found that that the diesel fuel in the tank was contaminated with gasoline.  By the end of the day the mechanic once again declared that the engine had been repaired and load tested.  I told him I would go to the dock on Tuesday and load test the engine myself…and we’d see.  So, yesterday, armed with a good book, I went to the boat, cranked the engine, put it in reverse, and cranked the throttle to 2500 RPMs…and sat in the cockpit for the next hour and a half reading.  I then cranked the RPMs up to 3000 and read for another half hour.  And, then, I spent yet another half hour going from idle to max RPMs and everything in between in different random throttle ups.  The boat passed.  I paid Yacht Equipment Services, Inc. their money.

So, newly equipped with $5000 worth of new sails and engine repairs, Captain Husband and I will embark on another three day cruise this Memorial Day weekend.  I will keep you all updated.

On a different note, we have decided to accelerate our plans to buy the boat.  Our Hunter 31 was never meant to be the boat.  The Hunter 31 was always just a “fart around on” boat.  The boat, will be an entirely different endeavor. 

The boat will be a proven blue water cruiser.  It will be upwards of 50’-0 long and is budgeted to cost ten times what we spent for our current boat…with another $50,000 budgeted for upgrades.  It will be a proven design and capable of sailing anywhere on the planet, though it will in all probability spend much of its time in the Caribbean, Central America and sailing up the East coast.  It will have the very finest radar, generator, water maker, GPS, SAT weather, AIS, electric winches, etc…all of the bells and whistles required to live for weeks, months, and even years aboard her comfortably…and the best safety and lifesaving equipment money can buy.  We are already looking and expect to have made the purchase within the year…another year or so of outfitting her after that.  It’s quite an investment, but it’s definitely a buyers market.  We’re excited.