Date: 16 Nov 96 12:40:48 EST
From: Gene Gruender <104675.2134@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Sailing to Port O'connor

Map to Port O'Connor

Rainbow Chaser is on the move.

We had planned to sail to Port O'connor a few weeks ago, but the weather outlook was awful. We chose to blow it off for the time. The next few days look real good and we have no commitments, so we're off!

It's amazing to me, although others may have already discovered this, that it is a real chore to get a boat ready to sail after being at the dock for a week or two. We have accumulated so much "junk" laying everywhere that it seemed to be about a days work to be in a shape to go.

After our pounding trip down, we made sure everything we would need was found beforehand and everything that could move was stowed before leaving. Another trip to the store, then we finally got our "early " start about 9am. The forecast was for 5 knots of wind until afternoon, then building to 15. It was supposed to be sunny with a high in the 80's.

I figured the big drifter John Bartlett built for me from a huge used sail would be just right. We'd put up the drifter and the big full batten main John also made for me and we'd really fly with the wind on the quarter.

We motored out from the slip in Key Allegro, through the narrow channels and out into the bay. We weren't going offshore this time. I have never been to Port O'connor before and if we went the 10 miles south to Port Aransas to get out to the Gulf, it would be long after dark when we got to our destination. So we headed north up the intercoastal waterway.

I've never traveled on the intercoastal in anything but a small bass boat, either, so this was a new experience. I do know it is narrow and sometimes shoals up, but there are some pretty big tugs going up and down there. If they can make it, I think I'll be OK, too.

We got out and raised the big drifter and the main, turned off to head for the intercoastal, and it was like the tail wagging the dog. The wind was around 15 already and, boy, it drove the bow down and we were off. There was no problem keeping hull speed, but it was marginal controlling it. Too much sail up.

But we wanted to make good time, so we tried to see how it would work. About 2 miles down the channel we approached a tug with several barges coming towards us. We talked to him about where to pass. He was having trouble keeping his barges under control. The wind was trying to push his bow out of the channel on the leeward side, so he was coming down the channel at about a 30 degree crab. This used more channel than there was available. He apologized, but asked me to give him plenty of room. He suggested I pass him on the "red". (That's pilot talk. The intercoastal is marked green on one side, red on the other. It doesn't change as it goes from port to port, they refer to the sides as "red" or "green".)

The problem for me was, that would leave me on his lee (downwind) side, messing up my wind, and I'd be sailing down the lee side of the channel. If I hit a shallow spot I'd be not only stuck, but stuck on the lee side with nothing but shallow water and 15 knots of wind trying to blow me farther over there. I asked if he minded if I stayed on the green - I'd just go out of the channel some. That was fine with him, but he reminded me that his nose would be way out there.

As I got closer, I regretted the decision, as his nose was REALLY, out there - 100 feet or more. I had to go much farther out than I'd planned. I also had less water than I'd planned. I draw 4 1/2 feet, my depth gauge reads 2 feet less than the actual water depth. I found myself doing about 8 knots, and reading from 3 to 3.5 feet most of the time. Then I got to thinking, If I run aground, can I get far enough out to get out of his way? If I hit bottom, stop and come loose, will I just drift in front of him before I get up enough speed to get out of his way? Then I noticed that he was so far out that I could have had plenty of room on the "red" side. There wasn't nearly enough time left to cut across to the other side. Let me tell you, those barges look pretty damn big from fifty feet, closing at about 15 knots. We did make it, did not bump bottom, and I'll re-think how I pass the next barge.

After about a mile or so after passing the barge, Nellie got to take the helm, pinned ankle, Darth Vader boot and all, while I pulled down that big thing. I got the working jib up and, boy , what a difference. We may have lost a half a knot, but now it was a good ride.

We kept up about 7 to 7 1/2 knots. Smooth water. No tacks, no gusts. You guys still sailing on Lake Travis eat your hearts out. I'll let a little secret out before finishing the story. We went about 50 miles and never tacked! And never dropped below 5 knots!

Every mile or two there were a few dolphins who would come play with us. And every now and then we'd pass someone wade fishing. In a lot of cases, they'd be ankle deep and only 50 feet from the boat. That reminded us very clearly what a problem we'd have if we lost interest in our steering.

As the day went by, the wind kept coming a little farther around to the bow. Part of this was due to the wind shifting and part was due to some very gradual changes of direction of the intercoastal. But eventually, we were as hard on the wind as Rainbow Chaser would sail. I really didn't want to motor, and I sure didn't want to tack back and forth in that narrow channel. As I pinched closer and closer to the wind, the jib would flutter some of the time and the speed kept dropping. Our 7 to 8 knots became 4.5 to 5 knots. I took the lazy jib sheet and pulled it across the boat and tied it off to pull the jib in tighter to gain a couple degrees. Each little gust would have to be used to keep us off the lee bank.

We planned to turn to starboard (green side) down a channel to a state park on Matagorda Island. This is a channel with an 8 foot depth, according to the charts, which is used by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept. ferry to take people over there. Someone had told us about it and about a protected dock with first come, first serve free use. It seemed interesting to go there, see the park in the morning and then go on to the boat excavation. We got to the entrance of the channel about 4 PM, giving us about 2 hours daylight to make the 5 miles and get docked.

As we approached the entrance, a tugboat pushing a barge with a bunch of vehicles sitting on it's deck was coming out. I took close note of where he was in the channel and started down it when he got out. He'd stirred up so much dirt that my depth gauge only got true reading every once in a while, but they were all about 6 feet (a true 8 ft.) when they got a real reading. It would read 1.5, 2.2, 3.1 2.0, then 6, then about the same again. We went about a half mile and were almost to the point when we would be out of the cut and into the open bay with the gauge reading 6 feet almost all the time. All of a sudden, it read 2 feet and lurched to a stop! We went hard into the mud bottom. From 7 or 8 feet to 4 feet all at once. We looked at each other and couldn't believe it! And we were right in the middle of the channel, according to the markers.

Well, that was enough of that. Even if there was deep water ahead, this was a game I didn't want to play. We used the motor, the wind, the natural tendency of the prop to walk to port in reverse, and worked ourselves around 180 degrees. Once we got turned around we continued to use the motor and work ourselves free. Once we got out of that trap we left - very slowly.

We changed out plan a bit and went on the last mile or two to Port O'Connor. I'd been told there was a dock we could stay at for a fee and we elected to do that.

We got tied up and settled in. Before we were even fully tied up, Ninja, the ship's mouser, had jumped ship to look around and explore.

In the morning we'd head out and see the sunken ship excavation and then sail to Port Lavaca for the night. There is marina there who offers a free night's stay for coming to check them out.

(To be continued)

Gene Gruender
aboard Rainbow Chaser