FROM: Gene Gruender

Copy of: ICW Travel

As I start to write this, we're sitting in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) with our keel stuck in the mud. No, we didn't run aground, we actually did this on purpose.

Rainbow Chaser left Galveston, TX. this morning still traveling with our friends Ron and Bobbie on `the boat Anticipation, headed for an anchorage about 60 miles away. We normally`wouldn't try to go that far, but Taylor Bayou is the first anchorage past Galveston. That's a long way to travel in a day, so we got started before daylight, as the first leg was across the Houston Ship Channel and other parts wide enough that we could do it in the dark without a problem. We made it about 20 miles with the fog starting to get to be a bit of a problem. As we approached a place called "Rollover Pass", the fog started getting real bad.

Rollover Pass is a narrow place 2 miles long that has tidal waters flowing over it and is quite often silted in. Even when not silted, it's just wide enough for one barge, and you darn sure don't want to meet a barge there when you're in a sailboat. As we approached the pass we couldn't even see the second set of buoys - once we passed the first pair, we'd be feeling our way through with our keels, and that just isn't a practical way to travel.

We do see a towboat come through every now and then, but they have some advantages over us. First, they have radar and can "see" the buoys when we can't. Second, they have maybe 20,000 horsepower and can probably suck all the mud out of the whole pass if they rev up their engines enough. Third, it doesn't come out of their pockets if they get stuck bad enough they need commercial assistance to get going again. I think we'll wait.
By the way, there are 8 towboat with their barges shoved into the mud waiting along with us.

So, we've turned around, gone back a quarter mile, turned our noses into the wind and driven under motor power right into the muddy banks. For the last 2 hours, we've sit here with the diesel turning over at about 1/4 throttle, just trying to stay stuck. I can sometimes see the first buoy from here, if I ever see the second, we're gone. The problem is, even if we left now we won't make it to the anchorage we planned to, and there is no other between Galveston and that one. As a result, we probably will find a place, maybe even here, and spend the night with our nose stuck in the mud, trying to stay out of the channel enough that we aren't in the way of the towboats.

We finally got to send email last night from Galveston. We anchored in the Yacht Basin, not far from the Galveston Yacht Club. The Galveston Yacht Club is a fancy place, not the place you'd normally find a couple sailboat bums in scruffy blue jeans and old scuffed boat shoes. However, in all the cruising books I read, it says it's a good club and you should visit if you belong to a yacht club.

We couldn't find our current yacht club cards from the Bay Yacht Club we belong to in Corpus, but we did find one that was a couple years old. We also had a brand new copy of the club directory, we were listed, so off we went, figuring that would be our "credentials".

As we walked in the door we were greeted by the receptionist and given the run of the place. Anything we wanted. Didn't even ask if we belonged to a yacht club. I asked about sending email, and the manager smiled and took me back to the only phone that was directly on an outside line. He crawled under a desk, unplugged the bookkeeper's phone and plugged in my modem. How could you ask for better people?

So, as we sit here waiting for the fog to lift I'll continue to do chores on Rainbow Chaser. I told Ron on Anticipation that if we see the second buoy, we're gone. I've spent an hour fixing some things on Rainbow Chaser, and spent some time trying to get the regulator working correctly. That one is a failure, and Ron just called. He sees the second buoy. There is one barge heading into the pass. There is another back a half mile that tried earlier and got stuck. He made it back and waited like us, and is now trying to get under way. We can beat him to the pass and I told Ron I'm going right behind Tankawa, the towboat starting through the pass now. Even if the fog gets thicker, we'll just stay in his stern through this place. Just like a bunch of mosquitoes in the faces of the towboats, we're out there.

As we follow the towboat through I see why this pass is so nasty - it's narrow and the current is going across it pretty bad. The fog isn't too bad, I can see about 2 buoys ahead now. As we come to the other end and the 90 degree turn where the channel continues I see at least 4 more towboats waiting to go the other way. What a traffic jam.

Tankawa, the towboat we followed through the pass, is now starting to speed up. I can usually go faster than most of them so I ask him about passing. He says, "Sure, just go around on the "2 whistle". (That is towboat talk for "Pass me on the left). Throttle down, get the jib up for a little extra speed and try to get up enough speed to pass. It can take a mile or two, so it can get nerve racking at times. I've got the throttle most of the way ope and am doing hull speed, (see landlubber note 2) the bow wave is coming up behind the boat, and the cockpit is filling with water from the rear being driven so low. I am passing him, but not by much. I'm considering dropping back, but when I tell the captain of Tankawa I may just drop back, he says "why? You're gaining on me. Go on around, sailboat." Soon Ron on Anticipation is wanting to pass, but there is another towboat coming at us. I can just make it, Ron doesn't stand a chance. I'm getting in front of Tankawa with a quarter mile to spare from the towboat coming at us, Ron will have to pass later.

OK, we're on down the way a bit, Ron has passed Tankawa and we're just heading on down the ICW. It's about 3:30, it'll be dark by 6 or so. We still need to find a place to spend the night and it's 30 miles or so to Taylor Bayou. Soon we're going to have a problem. As we pass the bridge at about the 320 mile marker (Taylor Bayou is at around 290) Ron comes on the radio and tells me that the last little place we passed before the bridge that was cut out of the side of the channel is mentioned as a possible anchorage, we really should see if we can stay there. We turn back around and I pull in first to check the depth and how much room there is, since I have a shallower draft boat. After nosing around and bumping the bottom a few times, I decide we'll try it, although it's not a very good place to anchor. It's too small and the bottom is mud that won't hold an anchor well. About the only way I see that it can work is if I put my nose right up to the bank, then carry an anchor up on shore.

After talking it over with Ron, I put my nose right into the bank. Ron is getting set to do the same thing, but his deeper boat hits the bottom while he's still 15 feet from shore. He's going to have a real problem getting his anchor on the bank. As I'm getting ready to jump off of the front of Rainbow Chaser to the bank a towboat is going by and sucking the water out of here. Nellie is having a real tough time keeping the boat in place, and Ron is about to wash out into the channel. The water stops going out, now it's coming back in, nearly washing Ron on top of me. This just isn't going to work. We've go to get out of here. There is no way I'll spend the night in this mudpit.

As we pull out, we are coming up with a plan. It's a bad plan, but at least it's a plan. We'll get behind a towboat and just stick on his bumper until we get to Taylor's Bayou. I don't like it but I don't know what else to do.

Damn, now Tankawa has gotten in front of us again. He's been going fairly slow, and there is a much bigger, faster boat in front of him. I want to pass again and follow the bigger boat. After calling Tankawa on the radio, he says "What you sailboats want now?" "Well, sir, we're trying to find an anchorage and that one just won't work. I'd like to pass you again if I could." "Sure, just come on around."

Once again I fight my way around this Cajun Captain, with Anticipation not far behind. I finally get around and in another mile or so I get behind a big towboat which has two huge barges side by side. He is probably 200 feet wide, so I figure if I stay behind him and he doesn't hit anything I won't either. By now it's getting pretty dark and I can only see the two amber lights on the back of his boat, one over the other. If I use my good binoculars, I can see the outline of his barges, too, so I just give it most of the throttle and try to keep up.

The darker it's getting, the less I can see. I can barely make out the sides of the canal as I go by, I can't see it ahead at all, just the lights on the towboat ahead. What sides I can make out are not uniform. For a while it's real wide and then there are banks right beside up. Of course, except in the channel it's only a couple feet to maybe a few inches deep, so to end up there would be a disaster. I can't take my eyes off of the lights from the boat ahead for even a few seconds or I might run aground. This doesn't even account for trash in the water, but with all the towboat traffic, there can't be much, if any.

Its suppertime, I'm getting pretty hungry, so Nellie has fixed me something to eat. She's brought up a nice hot supper, but it's hard to eat when it's dark and you can't look down at the plate, always staring at the lights from the towboat ahead. In fact, that boat is getting a bit farther away and I'm having trouble keeping up. I got the supper down in a few bites, but it didn't go down well and the tension is not helping my digestion.

We've got boats behind us, some more in front. On of the ones coming our way is calling on the radio to whoever will listen and answer, saying he can't figure out the lights ahead. "What are those white lights up high? Is there a boat with a tow on a cable behind or what the heck do those lights mean?" I guess there is some type of lighting to signify if a boat is pulling a barge behind on a cable, and he thinks that may be what he sees. Another boat comes on the radio and says "No, man. They're a couple sailboats." "Out here, at night? Never saw that before."

He's not the only one having trouble, I'm having trouble with this whole ordeal, it's nerve wracking. I'd rather spend the night staying up all night keeping the boat stuck against the bank that keep this up. There is about 20 more miles to go, and I don't think I'm up to it.

Now the towboat we're following is going past something, I can't tell if it's another barge coming towards up, or what the heck is going on. There seems to be a boat on the right bank, I can't figure out what he's doing. Nellie is calling Ron to tell him I've about had it, I can't keep this up, I'm pulling to the side. I'm going slow in about 10 feet of water, far enough and in shallow enough water that I won't be in any towboat's way. I've got to have a break.

As Nellie tells Ron my frustration in trying to sort it out, one of the towboat captains comes on the radio and says "Maam, I was listening to your conversation. Here's what you're seeing ahead. On the left is a pumping station, it has a lot of white lights and a flashing read light on top. Just go to the right of that. On the other side is a towboat that has parked on the mud bank. He has a flood light shining on the back of one of his barges, go to the left of him." As Nellie thanks him, Ron comes on the radio and says he's been talking with the towboat that is about to pass us. The captain on Uncle George has told him it's an easy run to Taylor Bayou, just fall in behind him and he'll tell us when we get there.

About then the towboat Uncle George passes me slowly, having slowed for the pumping station. As he passes I see that he only has one empty barge in front, so he should be pretty fast. I quickly pull out behind him. We'll try this for a bit. As he pulls away, I have to really get on the throttle, he is moving out quickly and leaving me behind. This seems like my best shot at making it to a good anchorage tonight, so I want to stay behind him.

We're really moving now, the ICW is narrow, we're going about hull speed (7.3 knots) or a bit more. On either side the bank is real close, I can see houses on one side maybe 100 feet away, a bare bank on the other, and I can see Uncle George's lights 200 feet ahead. All of a sudden his lights get real close, he has slowed down for an approaching towboat. After a quick cutting of the throttle and nearly catching up to him, he is off again. Now he is really going. I've got the throttle on Rainbow Chaser nearly wide open, we're far exceeding hull speed and the rear of the boat is so low the cockpit is getting pretty wet from water coming in through the cockpit drains. My feet are wet, but we're heading for the anchorage.

Uncle George is on the radio, he says he'll flash his spotlight on the markers as we pass so we can tell where we are. There is a marker each 5 miles, he just flashed his powerful spotlight on the 305 mile marker. Taylor Bayou is at 291. 14 more miles of this.

We're now a mile or so behind Uncle George, he's just leaving us behind. With only one empty barge and thousands of horsepower, he can move that boat. On Rainbow Chaser, I've got the throttle just about wide open. This little 3 cylinder diesel is just HUMMING. It is rated at about 2400 rpm, and says it can handle intermittent bursts to 2700. I hope 3 hours comes in the "intermittent" category, because that is about how long it is until we'll get there. I'm starting to imagine noises and problems, although the noises were most likely always there.

Uncle George
, now about a mile and a half in front of me, is coming up behind another towboat pushing a long string of barges, probably a quarter mile long. I hear him calling on the radio asking where to pass, he gives the other captain about 10 seconds with no answer and goes to the old fashion method. These days they make most of the passingarrangements on the radio, saying "one whistle" or "two whistles" to indicate the side they'll pass on. With no quick response, Uncle George gives two blasts on his horn and keeps going. He's then on the radio, telling anyone who is listening that he's eastbound, he's got two little sailboats following him, make sure to give them room.

This is getting to be like something out of Smokey and the Bandit in the old CB days. Uncle George is Bandit and our front door, the marine radio has become a CB.

I am finally catching the towboat that didn't respond to Uncle George, I won't even try to call him since he didn't respond last time. It's going to take a long time to pass him, I'm doing maybe a quarter to a half mile an hour faster than him and he's over a thousand feet long. I can still see Uncle George's lights ahead, the channel is straight and there are no other lights ahead. I just give it the last of the throttle that I have and add about the last 100 rpmÆs that the little Yanmar has in it. There is no more. WeÆre going just a fast as is possible with the motor in ôRainbow Chaserö. The GPS is reading a speed of about 8.5 to 8.8 knots all the time, our bow wave is 2 feet behind the boat, nearly making a roostertail. The cockpit has so much water in it I'm up past my ankles i water. And we're only half way around this set of barges.

Anticipation is still behind, and looking back I see he has rolled his jib out with his roller furler to get a bit more speed. I can't raise mine as easy as he can with his roller furler, and I don't think I could go any faster anyway, so I don't raise any sails. As I'm flying beside the barges, watching them slowly pass behind me, I start thinking about what ifs. What if the steering went out? What if the motor quits? What if there's some trash in the water? It won't do any good to worry about it, so I better just quit thinking about it.

I can still see Uncle George's Lights ahead, but they are a long ways. I really don't want to lose sight of him. At least the moon is coming out, and although I can't see real well, I can make out the banks and can tell this is a straight channel, the walls are the same distance apart and it seems to be deep to the edge. I see Uncle George's spotlight come on and he's telling us on the radio that is the 300 mile marker. 10 more miles to go and we're screaming. Ron is about a third of the way around the barge I just passed and is trying to raise the captain of that towboat on the radio. I think he's getting nervous, as when he finally gets the captain on the radio, he asks him if he could tell if there was any approaching traffic showing up on his radar? Before the captain can answer, Uncle George cuts in and says "Don't worry about it, little sailboats, just bring it on, I'll tell you if you have anything coming!".

Nellie is monitoring the radio and hears Uncle George telling anyone ahead that he's coming down the channel, he'll be on the "one whistle" and he has two little sailboats following him, give them room and don't get in their way. About now the sky falls in and it's raining in buckets. In a couple minutes, Uncle George comes on the radio again - he says there is a towboat on the north bank, he has no windshield wipers and can't see where he's going so he just ran it into the bank. Make sure we don't hit him.

About another mile down the way, I'm wondering how deep the water can get in the cockpit, when the banked towboat calls "the little sailboats" (by the way, these "little sailboats" are 37 and 40 feet long!) and tells us to pass him on the "one whistle" He then turns on his spotlight and shines it on the bank that he's up against. I think Uncle George has him afraid we won't know which side to go on. Since he's on the bank, it's pretty clear to me.

Uncle George is so far ahead that I can no longer tell where he is, but he's passed another boat somewhere along the way and I can now see that boats lights. Way ahead of us, he tells us he'll shine his light on Taylor Bayou. Around the bend about 4 miles ahead we see a light shine up in the sky and then off to the north. It must be Taylor Bayou.

So many other towboats along the way have heard us being lead on down the waterway that they all know what is going on. A couple come on the radio telling us how to tell when we get there and where to anchor when we do. The boat in front of us now, the one we can see, tells us that he'll be passing Taylor Bayou about the time we catch him and he'll show us where to turn.

About the time we catch him, just as he said, he shines his big powerful spotlight up a big body of water off to the left - Taylor Bayou! There is one towboat anchored in there taking a break, we pass him, and after 20 hard grueling miles, we drop the anchor to pass out exhausted.

It's now 10 PM, 4 hours after dark. We're all so exhausted we just find a place to get the anchor down and drop of to sleep in no time. We may just sleep all day tomorrow.