We last wrote of Morgan City, LA, a pleasant little town seeped in the oil and fishing industries. After spending more than a week there, we were ready for an adventure, so we decided to make the voyage to Lake Charles, LA out in the Gulf. It had been almost a month since being out there for more than a day, and that quiet voyage ending in a flurry of wind changes and building seas. But nonetheless, we went on down the Atchafalaya River and out Atchafalaya Bay for a 150-mile offshore passage. This time, although there was light rain and strong current coming in off the Gulf, the bulk of the trip was spent behind a full spinnaker pulling us at 6 to 7 knots across a placid Gulf. Even the orange glows of the refineries’ flares were beautifully visible 20 miles away throughout the night.
After staying overnight in Cameron, LA, we continued up the Calcasieu River to Lake Charles, LA. Although it was a navigational challenge to actually enter the lake, it turned out to be as nice a place to stay as Mandeville, LA. We really enjoyed Lake Charles and it’s beautiful waterfront bike path, stores, laundromat, libraries, parks and friendly locals. Mapleleaf Bruce Graham, the commanding officer at the USCG station there even stopped by and admired Windigo one day. When he spoke of he & his wife spending a few years right after retirement doing what we do, I encouraged him, as I have many others since moving aboard. It appears that we may meet up with several of the more adventurous among those we have encountered in the years to come.
After a very relaxing few days, we left Lake Charles one very foggy morning, visibility measured in yards. Heard news of the Shuttle Columbia on the VHF radio in the form of a Coast Guard Pan-Pan (emergency) message alerting all vessels in the area to be on the lookout for debris. It was not until much later in Corpus Christi did we realize how close we were to the extended crash site. A somber reminder of the crash sites I was assigned to while serving in the USAF.
Sailing on, and crossing the Sabine River put us into the very eastern edge of Texas, with Orange being the first stop in that state. We visited the Wal-Mart to contribute to the local economy, and got an extended bike ride in. The bike ride was bigger. The Wal-Mart was bigger. By golly, everything was bigger in Texas.
On to Beaumont, TX where we experienced a high engine temperature alarm as we approached the railroad bridge. Turned out to be a failed hose clamp resulting in coolant loss. [Little did we realize this was the beginning of a series of tests coming for us] We found an excellent city dock and took advantage of wonderful weather to finish several boat projects. The library was close, and we found good use of our time here - much activity ensued the three days we stayed there.
The pending Iraqi War was most apparent here as it is a major deployment point for forces and equipment. They are pulling ships out of the dozens of rows available at the nearby navel basin on the Calcasieu River and bringing them to Beaumont to load with hundreds of every type of earth-moving machinery and semi-tractors to haul them. We saw graders, dozers, backhoes, front-end loaders, generator trucks, flatbed trucks, troop carriers, and on & on. Several 100- to 150-car trains arrived each day to be unloaded onto whatever ship was not full yet. The Cape Washington and Star Hosanger were there for our stay. A grim reassurance that we ARE going to be involved in a war soon.
From this point forward along the TX coast, I had marked possible anchorages every 30 miles or so. But without any type of cruising guide, these were only based on small irregularities in the coastline of the chart and little population centers along the way. With a late start from Beaumont, the very first opportunity to stop was an abandoned remains of a dock near High Island, TX -- 50 nautical miles for the day. It was an ‘uphill’ struggle against strong current, and we reached it exhausted at 8:30pm.
With an early start, we continued down the IntraCostal Waterway heading for Houston after a planned intermediate stop. But studying weather indications, it appeared that a strong northerly was making itself known a couple days early. The trip through Galveston Bay to Houston was generally north, with lots of water on both sides of the channel. Being tired from the long previous day, and just using what common sense we found lying around, we decided to pass smoothly by Galveston and Houston. It did not go so smoothly.
By the time we reached the entrance to Galveston Bay, the weather had turned a bit foul, blowing 25 to 30 knots out of the Northwest with rain & fog. Crossing the opening for Galveston Bay is pretty open to the NW, so the weather was very apparent. Although only large commercial vessels are required to use the Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) by radioing the Coast Guard on channel 12, I decided it would be wise to check in and notify the controller of our presence and intentions. After identifying Windigo, he instructed me to continue on and just let him know when we were clear of crossing the Ship Channel.
Now with the weather deteriorating, many of the larger barge tows had decided to tie up to mooring cells along the ICW and wait for better conditions. The Ship Channel crossing the ICW at the entrance of the Bay was very busy with even larger ocean freighters in any case. With large vessel traffic in both directions on two separate channels, we negotiated a bit of a squirrelly course to make evident our intention of NOT getting in anyone’s way! The worst of the weather occurred at this time, and this was a very memorable 2 miles of our journey.
But hey, with a bit of effort, we managed to work our way across and just as I was reaching for the radio to call the man on ch.12 to let him know we were outta there, Karin, who is piloting, says there is a barge blocking the IntraCostal Waterway. I ask, “is it THAT wide?” She says, “No, it is SIDEWAYS!” Well, although it was nearly ashore on the port side, there was a 40’-50’ gap on the starboard side between the barges and one of the very few navigational markers within 100 miles. “Go ahead”, the captain says, and we promptly run aground. It seems that the navigational marker was NOT to be trusted.
OK, so with 28 knots of wind and 3-foot waves, we should be able to tip the keel up and push right off, sliding right between two mooring cells 15 yards to leeward. But wait! The out-of-control-sideways-in-the-ICW barge has ‘tugged’ itself off the lee shore, and is turning to tie to the ALL the mooring cells next to us – blocking our escape. Down came the sails in a hurry!
I thought this was a good time to actually use the radio yet clutched firmly in my hand “. . . Yes, we are aground . . . No, there is no environmental damage, and no one is injured . . . But the situation is NOT stable, and no, there seems to be no indication of assistance from the nearby barges” [not that I had much hope in their abilities, anyway!] I even gave the word to send assistance. The dynamics of the day would not allow that, heavens no! We start nudging toward the barge & mooring cells even with the sails down.
With Karin at the wheel, and me manning the fenderboard (it was too rough to leave it just tied to the beam of the boat) we slide off of the shallows and aim for the mooring cell. Using the fenderboard, we roll around the mooring cell until aimed in the proper direction [AWAY from the barge] and tell Karin to “GIVE ‘ER”. With all the might Windigo’s little engine could muster (I believe Windigo had an adrenaline rush comparable to ours) we came about and passed around the stern of the tug.
In a very calm voice (yeah, right) I inform the man on Channel 12 that all was once again right with the Sailing Vessel Windigo III. He said “Thank you for checking in and have a nice voyage.” Oh, brother.
It was 8:30pm once again when we “found” a place to anchor for the night. It was actually just a shallow spot along the ICW just short of Freeport, TX, but we were pooped. The next morning we sailed through town and anchored up the Brazos River. An uneventful day down to Matagorda Harbor led us to believe that we had been through the worst. They wanted $20 to stay in the Harbor, but it was actually still daylight, and the Harbormaster told us of a nice anchorage in a little by-pass next to the lock at the edge of town. We continue down, being delayed some time by the cable TV guys running a cable over the pontoon swing bridge just before the lock. Finally, they get it clear, and we anchor in the little by-pass. And it was still daylight! Man, our luck has come right around . . .
It turns out the little by-pass runs straight to the Gulf, and carries quite a current; which changes a couple times a day. Hardly noticeable, except if you happen to look at the anchor trip line, which by 8:30pm had completely fouled in the rudder. So I set the second bow anchor to be safe, and we go to bed.
I plan on taking a little more time hauling up the two anchors in the morning. But soon realize that time is not all we are going to need. We did get the our mighty 70 pound stainless steel anchor up, with the help of a knife to cut the trip line float, an anchor sentinel, another length of chain, 400’ of line and a block & tackle on the end of the boom, but the trip line was still firmly caught in the rudder, and maybe even the prop. Rats. Set a third anchor for safety, and start rearranging to try to free it.
Getting the end of the trip line (cut from the anchor) worked into various positions, it was apparently not going to come free easily. With the chances of it being in the prop, we could not just yank it out with brute force. Somebody needed to go down and assess the knotty situation.
Karin volunteered. No, really, she did.
With the water temperature at 9°C. [48°F.] and the air temperature 7.6°C. [45°F.] and three knots of current coming in from the Gulf, I checked the exposure chart and would not allow her more than 15 minutes in the water. With two lines on the boat and me holding a third tether, she managed to get in, cut a bit of the gnarly mess away, and more importantly, assure the prop was clear of any entanglement.
After getting her back into the warm cabin, I winched the rope and twisted the rudder until the line came free. A simple four-hour procedure that left us even more exhausted. We moved the boat through the locks, around the corner and four miles up the Colorado River and tied to a dock at a vacant fishcamp at 1pm. Believe it or not, the sun appeared, it warmed up to a balmy 15°C., and we cleaned up and took a nap. Marvelous.
The next day, we had an easy 35-mile sail to Port O’Connor, TX. We began to walk the two-and-a-half miles to the laundromat (the “dock” we chose made it impossible to get our bikes ashore because we had to scale a wall) and a friendly local stopped and gave us a ride. When the clothes were finished, we began the return walk, when Suzie pulled up beside us once again and said, “I thought y’all would be finished ‘bout now” and drove us not only back to the boat, but around the town for a tour. Suzie is a shrimp boat captain, and she invited us to go “oystering” the next day. We accepted, but alas, her crew was not as dependable as we, so the outing was cancelled. Feeling badly, she phoned her friend in Corpus Christi and made arrangements for us to ride in his shrimp boat when we got there if we wished.
Our stay in Aransas Pass, TX was an uneventful evening in the City’s Conn Brown Harbor with dozens of shrimp boats all around. We left early the next morning, relocating for our eighth day in a row. But this day we were embarking on the very last leg of this portion of our journey, for the destination was Corpus Christi, TX. Just as they have done several other days, the dolphins followed us for quite a while as we sailed along the ICW. Pacing us, and occasionally darting and crossing at the bow, a pod of a couple dozen played and showed off for the crew of Windigo III.
Just to make sure we were paying attention, the weather once again became thick with fog. But it was a short 25 miles to travel, and Corpus Christi Bay is deep enough for us to slip out of the main channel and sail around the beachfront and into the harbor where we have been for the last few weeks.
My Mom visited us here, staying with her good friends the Schuler’s. The Schuler’s have also been our best friends, taking us shopping [big restocking trip to Sam’s Club] and to church, feeding us frequently [Karl is quite the shrimpboil chef] and even exposing us to the terrific windsurfing that is very popular in this windy area of large, shallow bodies of water.
We have finished every single boat project we can think of. So now it appears we are ready for “The Crossing”. All we are awaiting is the arrival of The Good Doctor.
Our permanent and EXACT address:
Capt. KL & Karin Hughes
S/V WindigoIII • PMB 365
88005 Overseas Hwy. #9
Islamorada, FL 36033-3087
Text-only Email addresses aboard Windigo, checked daily:
Email addresses checked when at a computer
And of course, the Windigo Travelogue Catalogue: