Copyright © by Mark A. Laughlin
I liveaboard a 32' O'Day sailing vessel with my dangerous red head wife, Tina, and our twin boys, Broc and Bryan who have been home/boat schooled for five years. Living aboard a sailboat achieves on a very individual level the goals of the Atlantis Project.
The pivotal event for us this past year has to do with the schooling of our boys. Tina was burned out, the boys wanted to experience "normal" school life, and our financial state demanded that we add Tina to employment rolls. So after five years of home school we decided to enroll the boys in the government run schools for sixth grade.
To get them in the government run schools, we had to submit the boys to a battery of expensive tests. The lads excelled, scoring at the 8th and 9th grade level in most subjects. To our astonishment, the test results proved irrelevant to the school administrators in Florida who were going to pigeon hole the boys into fifth grade based on their date of birth being 5 days beyond their deadline. My response that the lads were two weeks late at birth drew blank, bureaucratic stares. The sheer stupidity of this led us to search about the nation to see if such anti-intellectualism dominated all schools. We searched for a school that wasn't so overbearing (or so humorless). I found that the schools in my revered state of Wyoming would readily adopt the boys, Tina found that they could be admitted into the Texas school system.
I tried to convince Tina to sell S/V Legacy and return to Wyoming. Having doubled our net worth since leaving Wyoming, we were in a position to purchase property near the lovely Wind River Range. Tina, having become more of the boat person than I, insisted that we just relocate S/V Legacy to Texas.
Before leaving FL, we hauled S/V Legacy out at Salt Creek Marina to apply a fresh coat of bottom paint and replace a worn cutlass bearing. A cutlass bearing is is a brass tube with a rubber interior that the prop shaft passes through. It is the outermost means of support for the prop shaft.
During the three days we were hauled out, hurricane Josephine squeezed past Tampa Bay putting much of Tracy's Cove Marina under water. I am not sure which would have been more nerve wracking, being in the slip or being way up in the air on spindly jack stands. We continued to live aboard S/V Legacy. Making the clumsy climb up a step ladder to reach the deck of Legacy.
During the night that Josephine passed the winds were fairly strong, but the jack stands held firm. The vessel next to us had a wind generator that gave the wind an exclamation point as it screamed like it was going to fly apart at any time.
After completing the work, we sailed back to Tracy's Cove to await good weather, top off the water tanks, stuff the food lockers with three weeks of groceries, and catch the last of our email.
We departed early Thursday morning from Tracy's Cove, everything stowed for offshore travel, enough food and water for three or more weeks and already exhausted from the hectic pace of preparation. We turned north and waited briefly for the Corey Bridge to open and made our way to the Treasure Island bridge in the company of Last Dime where we would have unrestricted access to the Gulf via John's Pass. We discovered that the Skipper of Last Dime had worked in Casper, WY and that the Corey Causeway Bridge tender was from Maine which was given evidence by his accent.
To our dismay we came upon the Treasure Island bridge to discover it was closed for repairs, our access to the gulf blocked we turned south and made way for Passe a Grille, the delay would set us back about three hours...annoying, but once we cleared Structure "C" we raised the main, starved the engine and once again felt the exhilaration of voyaging under sail.
After clearing the last Passe a Grille channel buoy at 11:00 we turned north west and with the Gulf a subdued 4 foot bounce we found the wind out of the North east. The easterly component of the wind was a nice unexpected surprise (the weather reports put the wind directly out of the north) that would allow us to continue under sail as we began the offshore passage to Apalachoicola.
At 4:00 the wind shifted to match the weather report and placed our sails in irons, so we fired up the old reliable Westerbeke to punch into the wind with the waves about 4 to 6 feet. I left the mainsail ready to hoist so that we could readily capture a return of a favorable wind-leaving the mainsail halyard shackled to the head. Tina handled Legacy as I tried to nap, a difficult task when voyaging under sail for the first time in three years.
After snacking on crackers and Cheeze-Its, a necessary if unwelcome departure from my normal meat/fat/cholesterol diet, my "regularity" became irregular and sent me twice to the head to complete the task of elimination...my body seemed to be confirming that the food I was eating was nothing but shit. The second trip left me green with sea sickness and just after exiting the head, I was hugging the galley sink completing the process of elimination from the upper orifice.
After a few more fitful naps, darkness fell so Tina and I began doing two hour shifts with the navigation lights alerting our presence to no other passersby on the Gulf. Deep in the night, Tina awoke me to announce that our dinghy was filled with water, we slowed S/V Legacy so that I could attempt to haul the dinghy on deck whereupon I discovered that the mainsail halyard was wrapped securely aloft eliminating it as a mechanical dinghy hoist. I manually lifted the dinghy to dump most of the water allowing us to continue onward. It seems that the plug I constructed for the daggerboard to keep out water was not well sealed. Just to be safe, I retrieved the dinghy's stern line and tied it off to the stern rail of S/V Legacy.
Very early Friday morning while still under the cover of darkness the wind shifted to our starboard beam. I unfurled most of the jib to capture the energy of the 15-20mph wind and once again silenced the engine. The sail not only propelled S/V Legacy, but succeeded in reducing much of the rolling we had endured while under power.
Throughout the morning the seas built up on our starboard beam, but by 11:00 the wind had subsided a bit so I shook out the rest of the jib to maintain our steady 5 knots towards the north west. Late in the afternoon, the wind kicked up again to a very steady 15 knots necessitating a reduction of headsail. The seas built up to 6 to 8 feet with an occasional set of triples that were 8-10 foot and steep. We worked S/V Legacy up the face of these obstacles, turned at the peak to surf down their back side. This climb and surf kept us from slamming into the trough so as to maintain maneuverability to properly meet the next wave.
Our second incident with the dinghy found the bow eyebolt lost its nut and left the dingy being towed by its stern line. After an hour of cautious maneuvering in the waves, I managed to attach the bow line to the forward seat and resume our course. Towing a dinghy sucks. Davits are cool.
In the afternoon as we continued our romp in the Gulf, a small dove crash landed right between Broc and Bryan who were miserably seated in the cockpit. Both boy and bird were startled from their own agonies, and as the boys sought to pet the dove, it took off, circled and once again zoomed in for a awkward landing on the aft cabin. The heaving of the waves soon skidded the little exhausted bird over to the hatch cover track where he clung for dear life for several hours. He showed no interest in our offered pistachio nuts and appeared to sleep. At this time we were about 70 miles offshore.
The dinghy once again demanded attention when it was rolled and swamped by a breaking wave. The drag made maneuvering S/VLegacy nearly impossible. Heading downwind with an hour and half struggle, I managed to right and empty the dinghy of most its water. This time I tied it close the our stern, with the bow partially lifted out of the water like a towed car. This arrangement worked well until we met the Entity.
Using the GPS I guided S/VLegacy toward the Apalachicola channel marker about 40 miles away. The wind continued to blow a strong 15 knots with a burst to 20+ which would last about five minutes every 20 minutes or so. As the evening wore on and as Tina's turn at the helm approached, the wind became a steady 20+ knots and I could tell that the seas were starting to build just a bit more. I furled down the jib some more and turned the helm over to Tina and went below to catch some sleep in the messy, crowded with junk, bunk...too tired to give a damn. Shortly, however, Tina rousted me and said the boat was too hard for her to handle in the building wind and seas. I, in my most manly swagger, took the helm and found things were perhaps getting too rough for me, too.
We reduced the headsail to a table cloth and still found the beam seas too much to handle. We fired up Westy, and attempted to furl the headsail completely in hopes of punching our way to the channel buoy only 25 miles away. The jib furler jammed leaving the table cloth nosily flapping in the blow. The long forgotten mainsail halyard was now even more securely wrapped among the spreaders and rigging high up the mast.
The wind and especially seas continued to build; rolling S/VLegacy violently in the darkness from toe rail to toe rail. Although I couldn't see the waves approaching in the darkness, I could hear their hissing approach, but I could not establish a means of dealing with them and it became increasingly apparent that we were being hit with waves from at least two different directions.
Then to the north east I noticed that the stars were disappearing, some black Entity was swallowing them up. The GPS had the channel buoy 21 miles away on a 320 degree heading. This heading put the building seas right on our beam threatening to tumble the contents of the cockpit into the really pissed off Gulf. After repeated attempts to hold this heading we turned downwind to place the worst of the seas on our stern. The scary rogue waves continued to rush us from another direction, however.
I broadcast a request for advice on the VHF radio regarding the advisability of approaching the Apalachicola channel in these conditions, but got no answer. We concluded that with the violent seas and wind and an unfamiliar channel that it would be best not to attempt it and so tried to drift with waves.
We continued to suffer the rogue wave on our beam and each assault seem more aggressive. Tina and I were by this time in our life jackets and clipped to the boat and our worries increased that we might be spilt from the cockpit during the violent rolls of S/VLegacy.
After two hours of building abuse, the wind was now screaming through the rigging at an unrecognized speed. The seas continued to grow taller and steeper and were becoming increasingly worrisome even running before the waves. I told Tina to begin broadcasting a PAN, PAN message with our position and difficulty. S/VLegacy was running along at 4 knots under almost bare poles and the increasingly confused seas rocked and bucked the vessel.
The almost forgotten dinghy briefly caught our attention when its forward seat broke loose and soon the little boat was once again swamped and upside down with the stern line the only tether to the mother ship. This slowed our speed a bit briefly, but soon the dinghy broke free and was quickly lost from sight. With the realization that our only "life boat" was gone, our hearts sunk a notch...not that the dinghy would have been a suitable life boat in these conditions...the loss of it just made us aware of it.
The radio broadcast drew no response on the hailing channel, #16. We radioed for the Coast Guard...no response. We broadcast the PAN, PAN message on channels 13 and 9...no response. Tina continued to broadcast the PAN, PAN message on 16, but our hearts had already sunk with the reality that we were beyond the bounds of communication with anyone.
We tried to pick up a weather broadcast to gauge the seriousness of the blow. I briefly lamented the fact that I had Weatherfax software on the computer, but no short wave receiver to capture the signal. Although I doubt either of us were in any shape to go below and operate a radio and computer without suffering the dry heaves.
Then as S/VLegacy lifted on a rushing, breaking wave I saw the lights far off in the distance. Lights that looked like they might be shrimp boats. Under the duress of exhaustion and budding fear, we steered toward them as the last rung on the ladder before the abyss of the enormous and ominous Gulf.
As my mouth became dry with serious concern, I sent Tina below to make sure all ports and hatches were secured. The boys were ordered to don their life jackets below deck. While Tina was below deck, I briefly hallucinated that the lights were mere empty beer cans floating on the water and chastised myself for believing they were anything more. But when Tina came back on deck, I once again convinced myself that they were lights and not just beer cans reflecting the steaming light into my eyes and steered toward the most promising, i.e., brightest, of the lights.
Tina continued to broadcast the PAN, PAN message addressing the shrimp boats in the distance. No radio response. She broadcast the message again asking that if they could hear us to respond with signal other than radio in case our radio was not receiving. Again no response. We fired a flare, that looked about as effective as a July fourth sparkler. No response.
Tina then pulled out the hand-held spotlight which I had repaired just before departure, aimed it at the nearest of the shrimp boats and flipped the switch. Three minutes later a distinctive raspy voice came across the radio.
The Captain of Seaweed IV informed us that a very nasty gale was building ("BUILDING?", I thought) and that it was going to get even rougher and advised that we tie up to their stern and weather the blow in the lee of their vessel. We spent about a hour prepping our boat for the tie up as they did likewise aboard the shrimp boat. Tina and I briefly debated who should go forward to handle the tie up. Tina argued that she was not at all comfortable operating S/VLegacy in the rough seas and insisted that she would have to creep forward to the bow to pass lines to the shrimp boat. We already had jack lines running the length of S/VLegacy so she could be clipped on, but with the foredeck frequently awash and the point of the most violent bucking I had my doubts about sending her to the bow. But that was the plan we adopted.
The shrimp boat radioed that they were ready so I pressed S/VLegacy right into the waves as Tina crawled forward. This was a most terrifying period. I found it necessary to rev our engine enough to keep our head into the wind and battle the waves and as we approached the shrimp boat Tina tossed our lines to them, grabbed a firm hold of the bow railing as seconds later S/VLegacy slammed into the steel stern of the shrimp boat. The impact curled up our CQR anchor and splintered the bowsprit. Didn't do shit to the steel hulled shrimp boat.
The shrimpers wanted to toss us one of their 1 1/2" lines since they had little faith in our wimpy 5/8" anchor line. Tina was unable to catch and hold the heavy line, so I crawled forward to assist her and found the conditions on the bow much worse then the view from the cockpit would allow one to believe. The only cleat large enough on our boat to handle such large line was restraining our CQR anchor so I uncleated the anchor as fast as I could and cinched down the huge shrimper's line to our largest bow cleat at about the same instant that a big wave bucked us and broke over the bow and pulled the anchor off the bow roller spooling out the 100' of anchor line.
Tina and I then clambered back into the cockpit tumbling into its relative safety. The improvement was most welcome but we now had to concern ourselves with keeping our fragile fiberglass bow off the stern of the heavy steel shrimp boat. And still those rogue waves were still taking us on our beam rolling S/VLegacy way over and frequently filling the cockpit with green water. I steered the boat as best as I could to keep us in the relative safety of the shrimp boat's lee while trying to avoid straining the lines excessively. By turning the rudder full lock I could "brake" S/VLegacy a bit to keep us from colliding.
The shrimp boat had huge stabilizers spread out on each side like massive wings from which a series of steel anchor-like devices hung to keep the shrimp boat stable. The powerful, bright lights of the boat while a comfort, also added to the terror in that they permitted us to finally see the huge waves that bore down on us. Tina, in the grip of the terror, finally agreed to give up life aboard S/VLegacy and return to Wyoming. I focused on preserving our lives so that we might do just that.
I had doubts that I could manage, but I knew that it was necessary for me to continue to steer S/VLegacy until the gale abated. After about two hours of this nightmare existence, the shrimp boat's 175 pound anchor with 600 feet of anchor chain broke loose and the massive steel hulled boat bore down on S/VLegacy. I steered off but still caught a glancing blow on the bow, which prompted Broc and Bryan to poke their heads out of the hatch to check on Tina and I. I (not realizing that the shrimp boat's anchor was dragging) explained that I had bumped the shrimper's boat and that it was ok and to go back below. Moments later, however, the shrimp boat's stern slammed into the bow smashing off the bow roller. Broc and Bryan, terrified as were Tina and I, came scrambling out of the forward cabin just as S/VLegacy was spun around from the impact and this time pounded on our port beam. The sound of crunching fiberglass filled our ears. Tina snatched up the radio and told the shrimpers that we needed to evacuate S/VLegacy...now!
S/VLegacy swung back straight behind the shrimp boat and then swung to expose her starboard side for a drubbing as the shrimpers came scrambling back to help us board their boat. This was the most frightening moment of all. One minute the shrimp boat's hull would tower above us, the next we were above their deck. One second we would be smashing against their hull the next we were several feet away. Fortunately, as the boys were most eager to escape from S/VLegacy to the shrimp boat, S/VLegacy was momentarily pinned and grinding her fiberglass on the shrimp boat's steel hull. Bryan easily made it into the arms of the shrimp boat captain, S/VLegacy pulled about 2 feet away as Broc was snatched by another shrimper, his feet dangling in the dangerous gulf between S/VLegacy and steel stern. Tina likewise made it aboard as I held S/VLegacy's wheel in attempt to keep our hull pressed against the steel stern.
When my turn came I released the wheel, and made my way over the cockpit coaming only to discover that I was still clipped in. As I unclipped my harness, S/VLegacy started to swing away from the stern of the shrimp boat, but quickly was slammed against their hull again as I leapt, almost catapulted, into the shrimp boat's aft rigging.
Tina, the boys and I huddled on the afterdeck near a pile of shrimp and fish shaking from the chill and fear. With tears of relief streaming down our cheeks we assumed a dazed huddle, knowing that we had made the dangerous transfer without loss of life or limb.
The shrimp captain had rushed forward to attempt to reset his anchor and to rev his engines to try and push S/VLegacy off their stern, but she seemed as determined as us to enjoy the safety of the huge shrimp boat and remained clinging and grinding on its hull. Clinging for dear life much as the little dove once clung to S/VLegacy centuries ago.
I suggested that we cut S/VLegacy loose so that she might have a chance to escape the beating, but the shrimp captain didn't much care for the idea saying that he thought, considering the beating to her hull, S/VLegacy would be lost. He said that he thought there was a chance he could tow S/VLegacy to the safety of Apalachicola bay, and I told him if he was successful, I would reward him with three 100 oz bars of silver. Instantly we heard the grinding of the huge engine assigned to the task of pulling the 600 feet of chain and anchor as the shrimp boat became a salvage vessel.
Shortly we were ushered into the shrimp boat's salon to enjoy the dry, warm comfort of its interior. The boys were assigned a bunk and immediately fell to sleep. Tina and I stayed up to meet our rescuers, the two men were brothers of not large stature, but obviously very fit from long exposure to hard physical work. Mike, the captain with 25 years experience, spoke with the distinctive raspy voice which we learned was the result of having swallowed Drano as a young child and losing most of his esophagus and stomach which was replaced with pieces of his small intestine. Bruce was slightly larger and spoke with a peculiar rapid southern drawl I found difficult to decipher.
While everything about the shrimp boat's deck and hull was of heavy duty steel showing long exposure to the ocean environment, the interior was very much typical bachelor digs. A normal landside refrigerator was bolted to the wall and floor, a TV was tied down on the galley counter, a normal landside gas stove and sink completed the galley. The galley table looked like a booth lifted from a truck stop and the bunk beds occupied by the boys (and a bit latter, myself) continued the landside motif.
Lighting was provided by normal incandescent bulbs in standard landside receptacles and were switched on and off by screwing the bulb in or out.
In short there were no fancy teak interiors. No stainless steel deck fittings. No expensive topside canvas. No wimpy little inflatable yacht bumpers. No yacht club pretensions.
Although Captain Mike and his brother, Bruce never spoke disparagingly about sailing yachts, they did express some puzzlement that cruising yachts were not outfitted with stabilizers. Nonetheless, I suspect they disdained much of the Yacht Club pretense to seamanship.
Before I retired to the bunk to recover some brain function, Mike and Bruce sat with us and told us many tales of shrimping adventure, from pulling swimming deer from rivers for dinner to shooting alligators on the bank. They expressed their disgust with the Coast Guard with a story about one of their crew members who died after his leg was cut off by a winch cable and the Coast Guard did not consider the situation life threatening enough to warrant a helicopter evacuation. They also told a story about some of their friends whose shrimp boat sank whom they found many hours later hugging an EPIRB, and then told how they raised the sunken vessel. Like the fur trappers of the western frontier, shrimpers are an independent breed exercising their craft in the offshore frontier.
Before falling asleep in the bunk, I had to experience the rise and fall of the shrimp boat and to gauge the rolling of the vessel to become comfortable with the new sounds and motion. Though the vessel labored through the rough seas and occasionally pounded through the bigger waves, the autopilot did a remarkable job of steering the vessel. Seaweed was making a steady 4 1/2 knots toward shelter. And soon I was finally able to sleep.
Shortly after sunup, I was awakened by Tina informing me that the lines to S/VLegacy had broken and she was adrift in the still rough seas. Not only had our 5/8" lines broken, but the massive 1 1/2" lines had also broken. Captain Mike did a remarkable job of maneuvering Seaweed IV close to S/VLegacy so that Bruce could wield his grappling hook with the kind of skill cowboys once demonstrated with the lariat. Soon S/VLegacy was once again tethered to the shrimp boat and back under tow.
As we neared the narrow channel into Apalachicola Bay, Captain Mike warned that passage through the channel might be very rough since he would have to retract his stabilizers to fit in the narrow and shallow channel. Fortunately by the time we arrived at the channel at 11:00, the seas had largely subsided and passage into the relatively calm chop of the bay was easily achieved.
After docking in Apalachicola, we all visited Rainbow Marina restaurant for excellent seafood and some of the hottest buffalo shrimp in town. After presenting Mike and Bruce with their promised share of the silver, we all headed for a bunk to get some real sleep. We headed up the Apalachicola River to find a quiet cove to recoup in, while Mike and Bruce hit their bunk for three hours rest before heading back out into the gulf to rescue a disabled shrimp boat.
As Seaweed IV headed back into the Gulf, S/VLegacy gently motored inland via the Intercoastal Waterway.
And while Tina, in the heat of the terror, vowed to sell S/VLegacy and agreed to a return to Wyoming, as we cruise the calm, protected ICW such vows are already being forgotten. The forward cabin of Legacy was a terrifying mess. Water covered much of the cabin sole and it was filled with the flotsam of untold numbers of novels, books and food stuffs.
Since that pivotal day just off of Apalachicola Bay, we have tied up in White City, FL at public docks where the boys met some southern drawling kids with fishing poles who gave them some bait as they sat, fished and talked. Broc and Bryan quickly fell back into their own southern accent that had faded since their last visit to their cousins in KY.
We walked to a small store a couple of miles away to phone relatives to let them know we were alive (and let them know we had reason to be especially happy with this fact). A friendly man gave us a ride back to the docks and was ready to offer the use of his private docks, but soon learned that S/VLegacy needed more water. Such hospitality that most certainly would not be forthcoming in most larger cities.
The following day we made it to a city park with docks in Ft. Walton. While a nice facility it was filled with many "homeless" men sleeping in the grass and several staggering about with their bottles in a paper bag. We kept a vigilant watch and maintained an armed presence at all times. I scoured about on my mountain bike for a Laundromat and found none within reasonable range.
I visited several wind surfer shops hoping to find someone who would trade a dinghy for the wind surfer, a wind surfer Tina was given by our neighbors Greg and Cat back at Tracy's Cove for watching their dog...no takers. Had a flat tire on the bike and so had to search for a tire patch kit...finally found one at Circle K. Then I raced down to Winn Dixie so that I could pick up some good old, not fat free, hamburger meat to make taco salad...our first good greasy meal since leaving Tracy's Cove.
From Ft. Walton Beach we cruised on down to Pensacola. The crossing of Pensacola Bay was very rough. We had 25 knot winds with very steep 4-6 foot seas that poured a fresh batch of seawater through the damaged areas of S/VLegacy, once again destroying books and soaking the cushions in the forward cabin.
We arrived late and anchored in the lovely Big Lagoon, the next day we motored into Southwind's Marina to dock and then walked to the Naval Museum of Aviation. This is one of the best museum's I have ever visited, and most certainly the best aviation museum. Not only did it have a huge collection of aircraft ranging from Dirigibles to jets, it had a wonderfully done section devoted to recreating the insides of navy ships, world war two camps, and even a rendition of a 1940 small town America. All the airplanes were great, but the most interesting to me was the section on dirigibles with detail on the Macon which featured small biplanes that were stored inside the massive dirigible like a floating aircraft carrier. The Macon finally was lost at sea which resulted in the, perhaps premature, dismissal of the concept. This museum is worth going out of your way to visit, it's worth going way out of your way. Fly in and check it out. We all absolutely loved it. And admission is free. The museum is fully funded by private donations, volunteers and sales in the gift shop. In the gift shop, I found a wonderful, canvas backpack that we came to rely on throughout the remainder of our trip.
It was a long walk from the marina to the museum, but on the way back we took a "Mark shortcut" along the beach trespassing thru both "Federal" property and "exclusive" private property. After spending the next day doing laundry ($25 of laundry, come on, we only wear shorts!), and rinsing and drying out S/VLegacy we stayed at the Southwind Marina for one more night and the following morning the boys and I returned to the museum on our bikes, not nearly the ordeal that walking was. After returning to the boat at noon, we loaded everything up and made way for Wolf Bay to anchor in wait for making the long leap across Mobile Bay and the Mississippi sound.
We awoke in Wolf Bay to good weather. Although the forecast promised late afternoon and evening thundershowers and rough water. But worse, the projected weather for the coming week only provided a 1-2 day window to cross Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound. After consideration of the level of protection Wolf Bay offered and the scarcity of protected anchorages throughout Mobile Bay and Mississippi Sound, we decided to make a 30 mile jump from Wolf Bay to Dauphin Island hoping to locate a semi-manageable anchorage next to the islands sandy beaches.
After winding through a 10 mile ditch we had a spirited crossing of Mobile Bay under sail. With 20 knot winds we made better time than the engine could manage in a calm. At times the gusts got a bit strong, but the waves never became really bothersome as they did in Pensacola bay, experiencing only a bouncy 2 foot chop.
Just after conquering Mobile Bay, we were approached by the Coast Guard and were boarded. Three "officers" stepped aboard S/VLegacy with their high capacity 9mm handguns and military boots. Once aboard they asked if I had firearms aboard and I , stupidly, said "yes." They then told me to point out their location whereupon an officer, stepping between myself and my guns, went to remove their magazines. I couldn't believe it. I was being charged with nothing and they had the temerity to demand that I be disarmed. I wanted to respond to their actions by demanding that they disarm themselves. This boarding of my home and open demand that I disarm without a warrant was most disgusting and, perhaps even more than the incident in the Gulf, made me more disillusioned with living aboard. I always knew it could happen, but actually experiencing it was far more humiliating and unsettling than I would have imagined.
To top it all off, the officer who removed the magazine from my .45, hid it and didn't tell us where it was hid when they left and I was unable to gain their attention on the radio.
After submitting to the Coast Guard boarding, we made way to the inside shore of Dauphin Island in search for an anchorage, but found the water here too rough for good sleeping. We then made way down a narrow channel into a oil rig supply boat harbor and found some empty docks at Pelican Pub. After tying up at the docks of Pelican Pub, I found my way down to the Coast Guard station on my mountain bike to ask the jack booted marine thugs where I could find my .45 magazine.
We purchased some supplies and Blue Bell ice cream at the Ship To Shore grocery. Later in the evening, I walked down to a tiny airstrip that was acting as a breakwater for our anchorage to admire the small aircraft there.
Just as we retired for the night, the wind changed direction to come at us right out of the northwest and started slamming S/VLegacy up against the docks. The docks had lots of big tires on the pilings, but as the wind picked up strength, we had to work to redeploy our bumpers to better effect. As the evening wore on the pounding got much worse and I had to continually work to prevent further damage to S/VLegacy's hull. Broc and Bryan, worried about a repeat of the Gulf incident, insisted on sleeping with Tina in the aft cabin. I stayed in the forward cabin to keep on top of the bruising we were taking on the docks.
Finally, at about 1:00AM the wind gusted up to 30-40 knots and our hull sounded like it was about to be stove in. I threw out the dinghy anchor off the starboard side to absorb some of the shock and keep the stern from grinding on the pilings. I tried to throw the 35# main anchor from the bow but was unable to get it to set, needing a dinghy to carry it out far enough for it to bite...although I wouldn't have taken any dinghy out in the breaking waves now smashing into our side.
With the bow continuing to grind on the pilings I gave thought as to how to avoid new damage to our fiberglass. I referred to a copy of the sailor's bible, Chapman's Piloting, but found nothing more than my attempt to set kedge anchors. Then I thought maybe I could set the anchor sail to use the strong wind to pull the bow off the docks, but after further consideration decided that it would only transfer additional loads to the stern piling.
Then I came upon a solution: I ran a line between two pilings and then clipped our spinnaker pole to it and clipped the other end of the spinnaker pole to a line attached to the boom. Then by extending the spinnaker pole out as far as possible, S/VLegacy was pushed away from the pilings and the load was absorbed by the springy 5/8' line and the restrained movement of the boom. Once I rigged this setup and after verifying that it would work without destroying the spinnaker pole, I finally got to get some troubled sleep as the winds continued to blow until morning.
The spinnaker pole setup worked so well that I wonder if maybe two poles with shock absorber devices wouldn't work even better in similar circumstances.
At daybreak, Tina checked the weather and was worried about reports of strong winds and heavy seas. But after looking outside myself, and feeling the crisp, cool air of a high pressure front, I decided that this was the best chance for us to make the leap across the long Mississippi Sound. So we got a late start, but made our way toward Ship Island.
With almost perfect, if a bit cool, weather we easily made it to Ship Island with its massive fort and huge 15" rifled cannon. We hoped to visit the fort, but with our weather window closing, we got an early start the next morning to complete the crossing of the last "treacherous" body of water. We passed underneath two bridges and found ourselves in the huge Lake Pontchartrain next to New Orleans. The lake is about 35 miles across, we on one side, New Orleans on the other. With the wind building and storms promised for the evening, we wound our way into Oak Harbor Marina where we tied up for $17/day.
Oak Harbor was a real nice marina with excellent showers and facilities. Stormy and rainy weather seem a distant unreality here. We only must wait for better weather to cross the Lake to the locks in New Orleans. Now our worries will be less about weather and more about locks and heavy commercial traffic. After New Orleans, we enter the long "ditch" run that pretty much carries us right into Texas.
We cross Lake Pontchartrain and dock at the Municipal Marina in New Orleans for $9.89. A visit to a supermarket restocks out larder for the next 300 miles.
We make our way to the Inner Harbor Canal and pass thru the lock there. We have a bow to stern bridle rigged up which the lockmaster refuses, taking only the bow line which causes us to swing freely in the lock...fortunately there are no other vessels in the lock with us. After departing the lock, we press five miles up the Mississippi River meeting numerous freighters and tankers on the way and then standby to enter the Harvey Lock. Once again we are the sole vessel in the lock; it pays to transit locks on Sunday.
Once safely ensconced in the ditch with the occasional tow pushing barges, we notice that our prop shaft is vibrating very badly. We had replaced the cutlass bearing during our haul out in St. Pete, but it seems the prop shaft needs replacing, too. I suspect that the cutlass bearing was worn out again during the high RPM transiting of the Mississippi River. I suggest that we go offshore and sail the Gulf, but Tina insists that we seek repairs and then stay in the ditch, so we take a 10 mile detour to a marina, C-Way Marina, that is supposed to have a lift to haul out the boat.
The 10 mile canal through the bayous of Louisiana features many, many shrimp boats; both new and an alarming number of sunken wrecks. It looks as if when a shrimp boat sinks they just buy a new one and tie it alongside to the old one. There are many very nice homes interspersed amongst the dilapidated shrimp docks.
We tie up at C-Ray Marina fuel docks for the night. In the morning when we ask about the possibilities of repairs the dockmaster tells us his lift won't handle our boat, but he drives us down to a nearby marina with a crane to see if they can manage. The other marina's crane could lift S/VLegacy, but the operator fears the mast will be damaged by the crane boom and suggest we seek out a travel lift.
As we were preparing to refuel and head back to the ICW, a fireman on vacation, Johnny Lirette, offers to run me into town to locate a new cutlass bearing. I, thinking he meant just up the road to Lafitte, accept. Thirty minutes latter, I find myself delivered to a bearing store near New Orleans and when they don't have the Cutlass bearing, he takes me to a boat dealer, and when they don't have the bearing, I am delivered to a marine supply distributor who has the bearing. The distributor, however, doesn't take Visa and I only have about $15 cash to buy the $31 bearing (which, incidentally would have cost at least $60 anywhere else). Johnny fronts me the extra $20, until I can visit an ATM to reimburse him.
On the way back to the Marina, we stop at Fleming's Marina and Store to see if maybe their crane could lift our stern out enough for me to install the cutlass bearing, but the friendly crane operator says that he is afraid he might drop our boat since the hull is different from the shrimp boats they typically handle. He suggests some possible facilities further down the ICW.
This whole time Johnny talks freely about his work as a fireman, his time spent on vacation fishing and his fondness for his "puppies" in a most engaging friendly style that I have witnessed no where else. And while Johnny might be an especially friendly example of the Cajun coast, discussions with tow boat captains throughout this area lead me to suspect that this friendliness is an ingrained part of Cajun culture.
After refueling, restocking on ice and saying our good byes, we depart C-Way Marina and take off in search of a travel lift. We keep the engine at low RPM's to preserve our cutlass bearing as we make way to Larose. With our slow progress we arrive in Larose in darkness and discover that the dock we sought is no longer in existence, so we switch to plan "B" and seek the shrimp boat docks across the ICW and discover they are full, so we go to plan "C" and head up the ICW another 5 miles in darkness to seek an anchorage in a secluded bayou. Our first attempt to locate the anchorage is stymied by Tina's misreading the Longitudinal coordinate from the chart. After circling in search of the anchorage, I discover Tina's mistake and we head up the ICW another 3 miles to the "correct" spot only to discover that the cove is now blocked by pilings and "no trespassing" signs. Now plan "D" is to continue motoring up the ICW until a plan "D" can be unveiled.
We approached the very bright lights of a power station where a tow boat maneuvering a barge of coal into place. The power station was located just on the outside of a bend in the waterway and so we were navigating right toward it trying to shield our eyes from the bright lights in search of the ominous red and green navigation lights of an approaching tow boat with barge. All at once Tina screamed "tow boat 100 yards off our bow, hard to starboard." I nailed the throttle and spun S/VLegacytoward the bank, out hearts in our throat as the barge narrowly misses us by about 30 feet.
An hour of navigating in the darkness had us in uneasy respite when we came upon a pontoon bridge, perhaps the only remaining pontoon bridge on the ICW, and we couldn't really see it. Tina asked the bridge tender if she knew where we might anchor for the night. She didn't know but soon the voice of a tow boat captain of "Delores C" came over the radio and he guided us to a nice secluded anchorage with enough water and well away from the ICW traffic.
Broc and Bryan, though clearly troubled by this hazardous navigating, manned their stations well. Bryan monitored the GPS to notify me when we were near a possible anchorage and Broc with the flashlight and then a candle to monitor our depth on the depth sounder (The depth sounder has it's own light, but for some reason it reads erroneously when its own light is on).
We endured a troubled sleep since we could hear the tows and barges chugging through the waterway all night; always concerned that one might come our way by accident. Early Tuesday morning we awoke to a heavy dew and fog and waited a couple of hours before venturing into the midst of the commercial traffic.
We wound our way through some beautiful Louisiana bayous that gave ample evidence to the state's claim as the "sportsman's paradise." We continued along at low RPM's to preserve our cutlass bearing and made our anchorage in Black Bayou by 4:30. The waterway guidebook claimed this was one of the most scenic anchorages on the waterway. It was scenic, and a bit too deep, but we did finally set our bow anchor and then we heard the ominous rumble of a tow coming around the bend. We had not expected to be faced with commercial traffic in this anchorage. With darkness setting upon us we elected to set a stern anchor to keep us close and parallel with the cypress tree covered bank; well out of the way of any more commercial traffic.
I have altered my method of convincing Tina to return Wyoming (or equivalent) landside by pointing to houses on the shore and asking if she'd trade her boat for that. I have gotten enough "yes" responses to suggest there is hope for her yet. Of course, with the damage and loss of the silver, we are financially in about the same condition as when we left Wyoming. It's hard not to think about "if only we'd have sold out in St. Pete..." Still, we do have a home...a home that IS paid for.
We stopped in Morgan City, LA for two days taking advantage of the free city docks to get more groceries and wash a few loads of clothes. There was a hobby shop right across from the docks so I got the boys each a little model rocket which they meticulously assembled and painted into real nice looking rockets.
The Morgan City dockmaster checks in with us each morning to see if we need anything and offers to give us a ride if we need it. Very friendly and encourages us to stay as long as we like, pointing out that another couple, after a couple of weeks, got jobs and decided to stay in Morgan City.
I rode around on my bike seeking someone to lift S/VLegacy out to repair her cutlass bearing, but all the yards specialized in Shrimp boats and other larger vessels and were too expensive for our budget. We now hope to limp on into Texas and let the cutlass bearing wait until we can also afford fiberglass repairs.
On Halloween night we painted up the boys and ran them about town to gather some additional non-nutritious groceries. We had been warned not to venture up to the dreaded 5th Street ("bad part of town"), but when we discovered that a "haunted porch" was there we couldn't resist - we were well armed, of course. Actually found 5th Street to house the most active Halloween participants. One house did tell us that she didn't really expect any trick or treaters since she thought everyone drove over to Lakeside, which I gathered is the wealthier side of town. Nonetheless, we ended the night with more than enough sweets to keep us all edgy until the end of our voyage.
Tina and I debated staying in Morgan City, going offshore and traveling the ICW. I argued that we should stay in Morgan City and seek to sell S/VLegacy or go offshore (to reduce the risk of problems with the cutlass bearing), but Tina says Morgan City doesn't feel like home. I doubt Houston is going to feel like home either, but agree to continue motoring via the ICW to this destination. I developed a fondness for the cooking at Rita's Restaurant.
After departing Morgan City we made forty miles and sought out our anchorage. We found the anchorage entrance silted in and we were unable to get S/VLegacy in the protected (from barges and tows) cove, so we checked out our plan "B" anchorage, which was also too shallow for us to enter, so we made way to the plan "C" anchorage five miles away in the dark. We followed a tow to keep us in the channel and to have a path through the oncoming tows cleared for us. We monitored the GPS to alert us when we were near the entrance to the canal we wanted to anchor in.
There wasn't a lot of room in our "last chance" anchorage since shrimp boats were moving through the canal, so we set a bow and stern anchor right near the western edge of canal. The bow anchor took hold right away, but we spent several hours setting a stern anchor...first trying to set our dinghy anchor just to keep the stern from blowing into either the channel or the bank. The little, lightweight anchor was never able to bite into the hard mud bottom. After three attempts to set the little dinghy anchor we gave up on it and I dug out the damaged CQR plow anchor and after a lot of maneuvering we managed to get it set with S/VLegacy lying parallel to the shore about 10' off.
Three hours later, just as we were going to bed, the wind picked up considerably and changed directions. The wind built to about 15 knots and came from the north east pushing us close to the shore. Tina and I worked on deck to pull down the bimini and dodger to help reduce our windage in hopes of keeping us off the bank. Broc and Bryan stayed with Tina and I in the aft cabin as the wind and waves pounded the hull throughout the night. By morning, with the combined effect of low tide and the north wind blowing all the water out to sea, we found ourselves aground with the wind still blowing a steady 15 knots threatening to press us further ashore.
The boys and I spent most of the day shooting old saltine crackers. We had about six boxes of crackers that were ruined (taste like soap) during the Gulf Incident. We'd toss them onto the muddy bank right next to S/VLegacy and shoot them with the .22 rifle. The mud provided a spectacular eruption when struck by a .22 bullet. We went thru all six boxes of crackers and probably 400 rounds of ammo. Great fun for all. Tina spent the day below in the forward cabin watching cooking shows on the TV, afraid of the cold. I have the good sense not to mention Wyoming when it's so chilly.
As we were shooting, a U.S. Coast Guard vessel passed by in the ICW, so fearing an incident with them we briefly interrupted our activities. Several minutes later, the Coast Guard cutter dispatched an inflatable boarding craft toward us. Bryan stowed the rifle and I swept off most of the spent .22 cases. Nonetheless, I brazenly left our ear protection in the open. As the inflatable bumped alongside I assisted a good ol' boy from Texas aboard. He asked if we required assistance to free us from the mud and seemed to notice the bullet-pocked mud bank and shooting supplies laying about and even hinted that he held no hostile intentions regarding our activities. Nonetheless, I refused to admit him into my confidence, not wanting to expose us to the arbitrary powers of the Coast Guard. And before the agent departed, I recommended John Ross' Unintended Consequences...doing my part to keep the USCG from going the way of ATF and FBI.
Throughout the day the wind held, only subsiding to a 5 knot breeze late in the night with the chill dropping to a cold 40 degrees. By Sunday morning we were still stuck in the mud, but with high tide coming at 10:00 AM we used our winches to tighten up the anchor lines and tried to take advantage of the wake of passing vessels to bounce off the mud...no luck. Finally, promptly at 10:00 I fired up the diesel and worked the rudder back and forth to free it and then steered the bow back and forth with Tina taking in slack on the bow anchor. With the engine running at full speed we finally managed to dredge our own channel out of the mud back into deeper water. And just as we entered deeper water we noticed an overturned dinghy in the rushes. At first, with the excitement of getting free, we were going to leave the dinghy unmolested, but decided that we should investigate...this time dropping anchor in the middle of the channel and then playing out anchor rode to allow our stern to fall back near the shallower water.
Bryan and Tina threw in the wind surfer while I donned my swimming trunks and dive booties (while keeping my jacket on). Carrying an oar and a line, I paddled the surfer over to the overturned boat all the while wondering how big the gators get in this neck of the woods.
My initial impression was that the dinghy looked fine, but after leaping aboard, I found that it was much bigger than I thought (about 16') and was too heavy for me to free from the mud and turnover. I abandoned the prize, however, when I found that the port side was stove in. So we continued on to Intracoastal City to refuel for the desolate passage on into Texas, our hopes for a blessing from the dinghy gods dashed.
On making Intracoastal City, LA we tied up at a fuel dock, not really a marina but they had showers (no hot water!) and a nicely groomed grounds. After shaking off the chill of the frigid shower (where Tina giggled and remarked how certain appendages of mine turned a startling shade of blue), we strolled to a nearby grocery store to buy supplies for my infamous Taco salad, which was inhaled by all...even the most vociferous detractors.
Also tied up at the fuel dock were some Frenchmen who had bought a large, lavish sailing vessel in Texas and were working their way to Pensacola and from there to make a crossing of the Atlantic to return to their home. We exchanged advice regarding anchorages in either direction, they were quite emphatic that we not anchor in our next scheduled anchorage and instead maneuver into a tight little, abandoned marina. They said that if we were to anchor in the flooded river, they'd have to light a candle for us.
When we got to that little marina, it was too full so we had to head on to the dreaded anchorage in the river. The dreaded anchorage turned out to be quite charming and comfortable for us. It was in a river above flood stage, but we found good holding and little disturbances from the ominous tows that frequent the ICW. We could only conclude that the Frenchmen must have anchored there during the horrible northerner that left us aground.
On Tuesday, election day, we made our next anchorage early in the afternoon and tried to work our way into the narrow canal, but repeatedly ran aground. We were about to depart for an anchorage 20 miles away (meaning dreaded night travel with the tows) when another vessel, SeaMark, arrived and guided us through the narrow passage into the anchorage. There was very little swinging room, so I had to set two anchors to keep S/VLegacy within the bounds of the narrow channel. Tina, who had spoken with a compatriot of SeaMark's many miles back, informed the crew of SeaMark that they had a message waiting for them at the grocery in Intracoastal City. Weird how things work out like that.
On Wednesday, with the bitter sweet knowledge that Dole had been defeated and yet knowing that we'd have to endure another four years of Clinton (at least it looks like all the NRA candidates won) we got an early start so that we could reach a marina before the next frontal system moves in. Tina and I get heavily involved in a debate about continuing as liveaboards vs. returning to Wyoming. Tina advocating that we get a bigger boat while I counter with a landside residence far above sea level. For the boys school that day I assign them the task of writing two essays; one advocating we move to Wyoming and the other arguing for continuing afloat.
For me, life aboard is more or less over. The reason I favored life afloat was to evade tyranny and after witnessing the arbitrary powers of the Coast Guard, I can only wonder how long before I end up becoming the high seas version of Waco or Ruby Ridge.
There is the appealing adventuresome side of living afloat, but I don't see us ever really going cruising through the Caribbean...not with the boys so terrified, now, of the most innocuous signs of rough weather. I can't even convince Tina to make the tiny remaining offshore leap to Galveston Bay. I, of course, can sympathize for I, too, never want to endure sea conditions like that ever again. I know that it is unlikely that we ever would see that kind of seas again, but knowing what steep 18' seas look like when down in the trough makes my mouth go dry whenever I think about it.
Tina argues that if we return to Wyoming we'll live the spartan existence of the previous life there. She seems to be particularly distraught about the fact that we never had a couch and our inability, at that time, to purchase that house we won the $20,000 bid on in Evanston. I counter that with our plan to place the boys in the government schools, our financial capacity will be much greater, and add that our credit worthiness is now very good.
We docked at the Sabine Yacht Harbor, a not yet officially opened marina in Orange, TX. There is a very sturdy steel motor sailor here that looks stout enough to smash through polar ice and big seas. Now if we could trade S/VLegacy for that, maybe...
Biggest god damned mosquitoes I ever saw. Very aggressive bloodsuckers. After spending the whole day washing S/VLegacy inside and out, our cabin walls are soon covered with blood spots from our frantic retaliation against the swarming assault.
The boys find a baseball and dig out their ball gloves to play some catch. They even manage to find a decent stick in the swamp which they put to use swatting each other's wild pitches.
I am completing this log on the beautifully done, covered marina verandah early Thursday morning around 4:00. My legs and arms are protected by OFF, protected from what I don't know...seems these mosquitoes aren't getting the message. The expected frontal system hasn't yet made it, revised predictions have it arriving this evening. The longer a blow takes to arrive, the worse it is supposed to be (according to seamen folklore), so we'll probably lay over here for one more night.
The blow came over us at 7:00 Thursday morning. Rained really good, but didn't really get the effect of the strong wind in the protected marina. Nice to weather a blow in this protected dock.
Galveston Bay is only two days travel from here.
After staying for two days and catching up on laundry (again!?!) we departed from Sabine Yacht Harbor under very clear, but windy skies (15-20 knots) and a chilling Texas 40 degrees. Tina and I resumed our debate regarding liveaboard vs. Wyoming. Broc and Bryan penned fairly eloquent essays on why they wanted to return to Wyoming. They also wrote pretty good essays in favor of staying on the boat, but only after a lot of browbeating...finally with me convincing them that we could use the essay to "sucker" someone else into buying S/VLegacy and taking their place as liveaboards.
We made our intended anchorage early in the day only to discover it was silted in to about 3-4 feet so we consumed the remainder of the day making another anchorage about 15 miles further on. It, too, was close to being silted in, but we were determined NOT to be caught out in the dark with the tows.
Although tows pass close to this anchorage, with the limited amount of water we were at least secure in knowing that a tow probably wouldn't enter the cove. This was a bizarre anchorage in that every time a tow passed down the ICW we got some pretty powerful effects. The whole anchorage would swirl about like a toilet bowl, with S/VLegacy right in the vortex...first one way when the tow approached and then in reverse on departure. It was really unnerving the way you could hear the water rushing around the boat. I, at one point, suspected that we were anchored right above some kind of spillway drain or something until we finally noticed the direct correlation between the tows and the anchorage flush.
Not only was the flush itself responsible for an uneasy night's rest, but the rapid movement made me very wary about the anchor's holding ability, which thereby made me worry, every time I heard a tow droning past, that our anchor was dragging with the possibility that we might be directly in the path of catastrophe.
David and Linda, back at Tracy's Cove, had related the horrifying tale of the couple who had been killed when run down by a tow while anchored...and how their bodies and crumpled vessel weren't discovered until many week later. Yeah...that kept going thru my mind.
The next morning, I pulled in and praised every inch of anchor rode, congratulated the anchor shackle for not coming unscrewed, applauded the seizing wire that kept the shackle pin, and complimented the danforth anchor for maintaining its grip as S/VLegacy swung thru the 360 degree flush.
With our early start and not unfavorable weather, we began the run to Galveston Bay, where we intended to tie up at a restaurant dock in Stingaree to setup for crossing Galveston Bay. Like a broken record, plan A was nullified when we found the dock occupied with another sailing vessel...a vessel not leaving anytime soon since their boat was clearly aground exposing much of their rudder and prop. After reviewing the weather and finding that the wind was at the moment very favorable for crossing Galveston Bay (and would become increasingly unfavorable in the days to come) we elected to press on across the bay to reach our destination at Watergate Marina.
The decision to press on paid off in spades when we rounded the Galveston Bay entrance bouy and found the powerful current of the flood tide with us. We made, an astonishing by sailboat standards, 10 miles per hour almost all of the 20 miles to the Clear Lake entrance channel.
We are now relieved to be docked in WaterGate Marina. We have unhindered access to hot water showers, we have unlimited running water in the boat, we can run REAL lights and real electrical appliances, and we don't have to struggle with setting and then pulling an anchor every day. Now if I could add about 7,000' to our altitude.
WaterGate is the largest, private marina in the United States with 1200 slips. It has unparalleled landscaping and facilities. On site are tennis courts, several swimming pools (one with an island and waterfall in the middle), exercise rooms, two restaurants, laundry facilities that feature the elegance of a lighthouse view, club houses with TV, several large fields for the kids to romp in, boat yard on site and a sauna. Broc and Bryan are delighted with the marina and look forward to launching their well built models.
I spent the day following our arrival scouting the area on my mountain bike for grocery stores. I also stopped by Seabrook Marina and priced their slips and looked over their facilities. I rode up to the Johnson Space Center and scouted the business surrounding this boondoggle (see Victor Koman's novel Kings of the High Frontier.
After spending six hours in the saddle, I made it back to S/VLegacy just in time to greet Renee (Tina's sister) who drove down from Houston to visit and drop off our mail. She drove us to Pancho's Mexican restaurant where we officially closed the voyage.
Tina is determined to remain aboard S/VLegacy. Mark is determined to return to Wyoming. Although resolution of this issue is pending, we are now here and, for the moment, getting settled.
Skipper and Crew of S/VLegacy.