Date: 18 Sep 96 12:08:02 EDT

From: "Eugene Jr. H. Gruender" <104675.2134@CompuServe.COM>

Subject: Out in the Gulf

Rainbow Chaser has finally made it out of the shipyard and is sailing. As I write this I'm at about 28 58 N and 98 58 W traveling at about 6 knots on a course of 210 degrees. We've left Seabrook Shipyard and are on our way to Port Aransas, Texas.

We spent a couple weeks working on various things on the boat, some finished, some half finished, some probably will never get finished. For example, my new bob stay fitting leaked. I spent some time in the water ( and you'd have to see the water to realize what a problem that was! Things were alive in it, but doubt any lived long.) fixing it, just to find on our first outing it still leaked. I'm glad to report after about 75 miles, it isn't leaking any more.

We sold Nellie's car Friday morning. A fellow 3 slips down deals in used cars and went with me to bring it back from the transmission shop. He took a detour on the way back and found a guy in a used car lot who gave us more than we'd expected to get. No hassle, no cleaning it up, no ads, just sold for a cashier's check. Wonderful deal.

We stowed things. We re-stowed things. We looked for our waterline and didn't find it. We sorted, cast off, and re-stowed things again. The water line is barely visible. There is more to be done.

We now have reefing. There has not been any installed until this week. Tri-color light, the 3 re-wired deck lights are now operational. They operate independently, instead of all three or none. There have been other things " too numerous to mention".

We got away from Seabrook shipyard about 6 pm, just a little later than our intended noon departure, but what the heck, we're cruisers now, right? But that put us down the Houston ship chanel, about 15 miles of it, with all the big boys after dark. We stayed VERY close to the edge. And, as a result, almost hit an unlit can! But we did make it to Galveston, where we planned to anchor in a place recommended by a friend.

We found it, after an uncomfortably close passing with a very large freighter in the channel. The anchorage was the right depth. It was conviniently located. It did have a good holding bottom. It also had wake which bounced us all night. It had, in addition, the most aggressive mesquitoes I've encountered in some time. And flies - they not only pestered, they were absolutely intent on eating us alive! I'll pass that place up next time. (Sorry, Mike, we just didn't like it.)

We got away this morning about daylight. Hoped to leave the critters behind, but I think, after killing about a thousand, most are still here. Hopefully they will get tired of us soon and leave.

We had very little wind until about noon. The sails started to pull a little then, and by 2 we killed the motor. Now, we've got about 8 knots of wind on the beam, doing about 6 knots, seas less than 1 foot, Bufffet on the stereo, and how could it get better? I guess if a fish hit the line I have out, it would be nice, but, what the heck.

We didn't have fish, but Nellie did cook up a couple pretty god pizzas in the kerosene oven. We all got tuffed on pizza and had some left over for a midnight snack.

Around 6 pm the wind got a little harder, coming around a little more on the nose. Just before dark I took off our big new drifter and put on the old yankee working jib. I didn't want to tackle that after dark. It kept building until at midnight the rail was in the water more than out. Nellie's shift started at midnight and I didn't want her to be stuck with all that sail up. so we dropped the staysail. With the Yankee and the big full batten main, We still held up about seven and a half to eight knots. Within 20 minutes, we put a reef in the main. After another 15 minutes, we dropped the jib and pulled the staysail back up. It was a little less sail and the boat seemed out of balance before. But, it was still not balanced, so we put another reef in the main. that balanced it pretty well. The auto pilot could keep us on a course again, and we were still making about 6 knots. 15 minutes later the auto pilot quit. It was going to be a long night.

In the 4 hours from 8 to midnight, I'd made over 30 knots. At that rate, we'd be in Port A in early morning. But the wind was coming around to the south, hitting us as close to the wind as we could sail and stay on course. But with the shortened sain and our shoal draft keel, we were not making nearly as good time, and were being pushed off course.

We both ended up all night, catching maybe a half hour sleep each. It was howling about a steady 35 before daylight, with gusts to about 45. There was no moon so it was pretty dark, but we could see some pretty good seas in the shadows. Looking across at the haze of a horizan, you could see waves rolling across the top of the rollers. It looked like wolves running across in the dark with their heads down. Rather scarey.

For anyone who hasn't sailed along the Texas coast or in places where it is shallow for miles out (20 miles out it's probably 100 to 120 feet), 35 knots doesn't sound so bad. But in these shelf waters, that can build 15 foot seas quickly, with rogue waves on top of them. And they are very sharp and close together - the locals call them "waves with no backs". They are equal in roughness to probably 25 to 30 out in the ocean. Nice introduction to cruising.

Every third wave or so would find the nose stuck in it with water coming over the boat. A lot of spray in the cockpit, although it wasn't filing it. We'd hit one of the waves, nearly stop, heel and take off again just to hit another.

We'd stowed things fairly well, but knew we still had too much junk on the boat. But these seas scattered things everywhere. Cushions, some tools, clothes, anything that was not well secured was tossed in the floor. And on top of all this (litterl)y was Zachary (10) who was seasick as could be. He make it to the head, a wave would hit, and he'd just lay on the floor for a while. Then he'd do it all again. I assured him that he'd feel like a cheese burger half an hour after we got in the slip, but I'm not sure he believed me.

We also found we had some more leaks to find. A couple lockers were wet and we had a few drips around. But, nothing serious, just enough to irritate.

When daylight came, we saw what we were up against. I've seen some videos of the Whitbread around the world races where they were in the roaring 40's, looking back over the helmsmans shoulders. I swear, that's where we were - looked the same, except in the videos I saw, they were always running from the waves. We were pounding into them. And we were making about 3 knots with the staysail and 2 reefs in the main.

After making such good time the night before, we found we were making about 2 knots towards our goal. By 1 or two in the afternoon, it looked like we were going to get in some time Monday. Zachery was still pretty sick, Nellie and I had had about 1 hour sleep each since Friday morning, and this was Sunday afternoon. We could continue to pound into these seas for probably another 24 hours to make the remaining 50 miles, or motor directly at about 4 to 5 knots. It would be a much rougher ride, but it would get us there in about one third the time. So, we tied up the remaining sails and fired up the Yanmar. Talk about a pounding. About every third wave we'd drop off and stick our nose ito the next one, a few of them would come all the way back to the cockpit. And rock? Some of them would throw us around with one rail in the water, slam over and stick the other in and back with the first one under again. The sails definately stabilized it when they were up.

This went on hour after hour. Remember, we were hand steering, too. Talk about sore backs and hands. Not fun at all. When we were an hour or so from where we thought the jetties should be I went below to sudy the charts some more. 5 was sitting at the nave desk on the port side when a huge wave hit us on that side. It picked me up and threw me across the boat. I went head first into the cabinet work on the other side. My trip was only slowed by my glasses, which took some of the impact, while shattering and being embedded in my eyebrow. Then I dropped to the setee on top of Zachery, whod beaten me there.

Nellei, being the nurse she is, wanted to put stiches in it. In these seas, are you kidding? She'd go for my eyebrow and hit my elbow. I don't think so. It'll be just fine.

We finally got in the area of the Jetties of Port Aransas about 10 pm. Problem was, I was having trouble finding the bouys. With 15 foot seas running, they were out of sight most of the time. I'd been here before, and made the jetties at night from both the north and the south. I knew they were hard to see, and I knew that the bouys inside the jetties could be seen over the jetties, so, even if you saw the red and green, you could sail right into the sides of the jetties if you weren't careful.

After nearly 3 days with no sleep, we were not as diligent as we should have been. I saw what I thought was the flashing white light that markes the start of the entrance. Inside of there, there would be red and green markers to lead us in. I got near the flashing white and Nellie pointed out the green up ahead. I couldn't see the red, but figured it was just being hidden by waves. I stopped watching the depth guage and started keeping my eye on the green, trying to keep on course, as the waves were swinging us around quite a bit.

All of a sudden, a huge wave picked us up, threw us sideways, and broke completely over the boa from the sidet. It filled the cockpit this time, and a lot went down below. Nellie was in the galley and got washed out of it. I knew at once I was in the surf - I didn't know how the hell it happened, but there was no doubt where we were now. I screemed at Nellie the we were in the surf, hang on, and hit full throttle, swwinging the wheel around, knowing there wasn't a damn thing I could do to keep us off the beach. But, I'd wash up on it fighting every inch of the way. We got the nose almost around the way we came from and another breaker hit us, rolling all the way over the boat again, re-filling the cockpit and spilling some more down below. This one pushed us backwards, but the nose didn't go any farther back. We almost broke even. By the time the next one hit us, I had it pointing off shore. It rolled over the front and all the way down the boat, filling the cockpit back to the top. But we were going the right way. I glanced at the depth guage and it was going from 3 to 6 feet. At 2.5, wewould hit bottom. Another wave washed over us, but we kept moving forwards a little. After that one, it was about 4 to 8 feet. We had about 3 more roll over the nose, crashing a huge white foam and green water, almost covering the boat, but each time the depth guage averaged a little more. It looked like we might have a chance after all. I grabbed the flashlight to glance at the compass ( the light was out) and saw that we were heading at about 240 degrees- straight offshore like I hoped - and were still making headway. Now the depth was going from 9 to as much as 15 feet. We were going to make it!

We weren't sure yet how we'd made the mistake, but we still had to find the channel - or stand off all night. It is very easy to find in the daylight, but we were exhausted and really needed to get in.

Then Nellie saw a ship. We had what we should have waited for in the first place, someone to follow in. It took us about a half hour to pound on up to where he'd been, but we found the markers - we could see most of them, and the range lights for the large ships. We made it on in, and found our slip. It took another hour to get the lines on, the electric line hooked up, and to shove stuff into the floor for a spot to sleep. By then, Zachery was fine and awake. he's had plenty of sleep and didn't want to go to bed! 12 hours later, I woke up and could think a little better.

In talking to friends, we found that the green we got confused with has been over there for some time. Nobody seems to know why. It's not on the charts. If we'd been more rested, we'd have stopped to check flashing times, etc, to verify what marker it was. We'd have spent more time checking the gps to make sure it matched. We'd have looked for the ship in the first place when things didn't match. Luckily, we still have a boat to try again. We learned.

And, on a personal note, Nellie hadn't been through much offshore before. She'd gone to Vera Cruz in the Regatta De Amigos with a crew of 5, and fine weather. She went to a week of Womanship Sailing School last year in the Virgin Islands, where they puttered around during the day, stopped and swam, and made a bar each night, then they slept at anchor. Not quite the same. I had my doubts. But, when the second night, at about 3 in the morning with all hell breaking loose, spray coming all over the boat, no sleep, and she was still smiling and asking if we were having fun yet, I knew it would be ok. As she said, "Tell everybody I'm not a weenie!"

Gene Gruender aboard Rainbow Chaser (Only through luck)

Gene Gruender aboard Rainbow Chaser