Date: 16 Nov 96 12:40:27 EST
From: Nellie Gruender <104675.2134@CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Sailing to LaSalle's Lost Belle

Re: Sailing to LaSalle's Lost Belle

Map to Port O'Connor

The crew of Rainbow Chaser decided it was time to get away form the docks and do some sailing. It seems when you live aboard you work on the boat to get ready to cruise, and lose sight of the enjoyable sailing.

We had heard repeatedly on the news about the excavation of the French explorer LaSalle's boat, Belle. We found that the excavation sight was about 50 miles from where we were. We decided to take a few days off from boat readying, sail down, and take a peek.

The sail down the ICW was the first time since my injury that I had been at the helm and done any serious sailing. It was heaven!!! We did 7 knots down the narrow channel to Port O'Connor with 75 degree weather and blue skies.

Since Zach was studying explorers in history it was a timely excursion. He had done his research, and found that LaSalle was in search of the Mississippi River in the 1680's. With apparently poor directions he ended up in Matagorda Bay thinking he was only a few mile from the mouth of the Mississippi. (Being a few hundred miles off speaks to their lack of accurate lat and long) Anyway while LaSalle and some of his guys were off tromping around what is now Texas a Norther blew in and his 51 ft boat Belle sank. In Matagorda Bay. This was around 1687.

None of crew drowned, but one guy who was already dead, and had been placed in the bow hold of the boat ended up in a watery grave. The crew made numerous trips to the boat, and took everything they could above the water. Some Spaniards later came along, and burned the top third of the boat. The bottom two thirds were sucked into the sandy bottom of the Gulf, and have remained there for the past 310 years.

Rumor has it locals knew where it was at, but couldn't get much out because it was so mired in the sand. Some time ago the Texas gov't decided to excavate the boat. They took 71/2 months taking 65 foot steel plates, and driving them 45ft into the mud around the site. They have an outer circle, and an inner circle with the inner circle being dry and where the boat is.

We were able to sail our boat right up to the cofferdam to a dock they have set up for visitors. We were taken to the top of the dam on a platform overlooking the excavation. A man from the Dept of Texas History and Antiquities gave us a lecture on the boat, LaSalle, the sinking, and the excavation. I was in awe!

Considering the fact that this boat had been on the bottom of the Gulf for the last 310 years it was in amazing condition. You could see the entire outline of the boat, and tell where the bulkheads were. The most amazing thing was an enormous rope that was still coiled up in the bow. We can't get rope to last more than 5 years, and here was one that was 300 years old. On the rope you could clearly see the remains of man who sunk with the boat. Texas is trying to contact the French gov't to repatriate him.

Other things that could be seen were the copper nesting pots used for cooking, a crate of muskets, and several barrels. Archiologists who specialize in undersea excavations have come form all over the US to participate in this extroidinary find. I kept waiting for Indiana Jones to pop up and dig some mud.

It was an exciting afternoon to say the least. We reboarded Rainbow Chaser with an acute sense of all the sailors who had gone before us who had none of our fancy gadgets, or even a map. What heros! Here I thought I was an adventurer.

After leaving the site we sailed to just out side Port LaVaca. ( We got grounded in two ft of water before we got there by straying just outside the ship channel. Gene had set the Autopilot to change sails, and it was a little off) We tilted and listed, and I kept doing scooting motions with my butt thinking it would somehow move us. We finally got a good gust of wind, and the Chaser was movin' again.

We again had great winds and sun for the return home, and greatfully remembered what cruising (even for short runs) was all about.

A Salute to LaSalle!

Aboard Rainbow Chaser