Texas 200 - 2009 "A Tale of Ducks, Men and Maidens"

This story is a little different. It consists of two perspectives as it was originally published on First will be my perspective of each day and then my 13 year old daughter's perspective. We had quite an adventure and it is interesting to hear the two different viewpoints. Sit back relax and see the world for a few minutes from a very protective dad and teenage daughter as they describe their first trip together that changed their relationship forever. She is 24 now but I still look back at this trip as the event that brought us so close together.

Introductions: Dad's View

As I sit here in my office writing this, Reflections 2, my San Juan 21 is out in the yard sitting peacefully on it’s trailer, my daughter is falling asleep in the safety of her bed, all is well. But a few days ago this ending to the story seemed difficult to imagine.

The Texas200 is a difficult event, a wonderful event, a time in beautiful wilderness, a time of fear, a time of joy, a time with friends, a time of feeling truly alive. Looking at a map it wouldn’t seem so difficult, crossing several little bays, sailing a along a few canals, what could be so hard? The Texas wind is what! The bays we are crossing are a lot bigger and longer than the charts would initially lead you to believe. Add to that fact that the winds blow along the length of the bay in excess of twenty miles per hour this time of year and you have an opportunity for plenty of hefty chop. Alternate routes to avoid the heavy seas are few and usually sprinkled with a lot of shallow water and oyster reefs. The Texas200 is not a BEER cruise, it is not an Everglades Challenge either. It is a difficult test of endurance to the casual cruiser, sometimes a little more test than he or she ever bargained for. I thought I had learned that last year in my 12 foot long Bobcat, but I learned this year that a larger boat doesn’t make it any easier.

My story begins when I asked my 13-year-old daughter, Kristen, to join me on the trip this year. She quickly agreed and several weeks later when my wife finally realized that our daughter was actually serious about going, she announced that I was not taking her little girl on “that trip” in “that little boat”. Of course I did the only thing that a good husband would do and agreed that she was absolutely right, it just wouldn’t be safe. The only thing to do in this situation was that I would just have to buy another boat! (What a stroke of genius on my part!) I soon decided that now was the perfect time to buy the San Juan 21 I had been wanting for several years. My wife agreed (reluctantly), but I confess shamelessly I had her over a barrel. So the next several weeks were spent shopping continuously for a suitable boat. I even considered other boats due to the lack of availability of San Juan’s in Texas, but was finally able to find one in Oklahoma which was in driving distance. My son and I drove up, acquired the boat and began going over it with a fine tooth comb and outfitting for the trip.

Introductions: Kristen's View

My name is Kristen. I’m 13 yrs old and several months ago my dad asked if I wanted to sail the Texas200 with him this year. Of course I said “YES!” My mom said “NO!” She thought we’d be sailing our 12 ft Bobcat my dad built but she finally agreed when he bought a San Juan 21. But it seemed like it took forever to finally start the trip. My dad has been pestering me to write what I thought of the Texas 200 since forever (or at least since we got back). I’m not really sure how to put all this but I’ll just try to do my best.

Early Saturday morning we left La Grange and drove, and drove, and drove, and drove some more. Finally we reached Port Mansfield. As soon as we got out of the car Mr. Votaw and his two grandsons pulled up right next to us. I knew my dad was just thrilled! We continued on with our day. Transferring some of our things into the boat, putting the rudder on and the mast up, putting the boat in the water, and putting the boat into the slip. For some odd reason though we always had lots of help from Mr. Votaw’s grandsons Garrett and Travis.

The next morning (Sunday) we went to the meeting then headed off to Indianola to drop off our truck and trailer. Unfortunately someone was having problems getting there so we all had to wait two hours or something like that until he got there. Once we got in the bus to head back to Port Mansfield my dad and I discovered that we got the lucky seats - apparently the air conditioner was right above our heads and it had a leak! So every time the bus would come to a stop we got rained on - it really was quite funny, to me at least. We all got back to Port Mansfield later and went to dinner. Mr. Votaw’s grandson, Travis, entertained us with his awesome card tricks while we waited.

Day One: Dad's View

This year the weather was much like last year, very windy with some very choppy bays. There were several small boats that a lot of us were worried about out in those conditions. The trip across the Lower Laguna Madre proved once again to be a difficult initiation to the waters of the Texas Coast, several boats encountered difficulties including a capsizing, a dis-masting, and a swamping of our chase boat. The wind was blowing so hard that my arm threatened to fall off from fighting the weather helm all day, but we finally arrived at Camp One, affectionately known as The Mud Hole. I discovered something interesting the first night, when you travel with a teenage daughter you have no shortage of help from teenage boys. Travis Votaw’s grandsons let us know over the radio as we arrived that they had saved us one of the only two spots at the dock. Thus we would not have to step off the boat into the mud and as luck might have it be right next to them, hmm.

Day One: Kristen's View

Monday - FINALLY we were done with all the driving and could start sailing! But once we were in the ship channel we realized water was coming in through the keel-hole-thing. So Dad stuffed H-E-B bags into the holes to keep the water out and I got all the water out of the cabin with a rag. I would have used the pump but there was too little water for that. While I was in the cabin I realized the Pilgrim (Mr. Votaw’s boat ) had passed us already, I asked my dad how he let that happen! He said “I know! I guess they just snuck up on us”. So for the rest of the week it was a race between us and the Pilgrim. We continued on our way, trying to catch up. We didn’t. Finally we made it to the famous “Mud Hole”. I realized that being friends with Mr. Travis has a very good effect though - he had saved us a spot on the dock next to them! So while everyone else was wading through the squishy mud we walked off onto boards. Cool. But I loved Jason’s idea to trail sea weed all the way out to his boat - what a great idea. That night I met Meridith who was sailing with her mom on the Dingleberry. Meridith, her mom and I went swimming that afternoon. I never would have believed how salty that water was!

Day Two: Dad's View

The run from there to the Padre Island Yacht Club was pleasantly uneventful, the bays we are crossing here don’t have a lot of chop and it is a pretty sail along a desolate area of Texas, with tall cactus along the shore line and an astonishing recovery of an old species for the Texas coast: the Windmill. When I was a teenager windmills covered south and central Texas but then began to disappear with the advent of cheap electricity and rural water companies. Now the King Ranch is literally covered with windmills. I couldn’t believe that they all had sprouted up since last year.

The Padre Island Yacht Club really rolls out the carpet for us, they treat us like kings when we arrive and are exceptionally friendly and helpful. There is no Big Yacht Snobbery going on here. They run errands for us, purchasing supplies, like ice and water and then providing round trip transportation to Snoopy’s. a wonderful seafood restaurant on the bay for a sunset dinner.

Day Two: Kristen's View

Tuesday - the day we got to take a SHOWER!! We hurried off fairly early that morning. Nothing too eventful that day. Nice view, lots of wind mills, lots of little houses, and an easy ride. We got to the docks and tied up the boat. Dad and I went up to the Yacht Club and talked to a few of the guys, but I wanted to take that shower! So I did. I think that was the best and longest shower I’ve ever had! Later I went into that room with all of the chairs and tables (I’m not sure what its called) and hung out with my new friends. Travis and Garrett taught me how to play “Squares” - what a cool card game! In case you don’t know how to play it, you have a partner and your each supposed to get four of a kind. Whoever gets four of a kind first is supposed to secretly signal their partner so they can say “squares” and win. But if the other set of partners your playing with sees your signal they say “cut” and they win. My brilliant signal to Travis was to kick him in the shins under the table, that way Matt and Garrett couldn’t see it. But while Matt went to take his shower Giggles (aka Thomas) took his place. Giggles got four of a kind and was trying to signal Garrett by throwing nuts at him. Garrett was so involved with his cards he didn’t realize it was a signal yet, so Giggles started waving his cards up and down and throwing more and more nuts at him, everyone else was laughing so hard but Garret just got mad at Giggles for throwing them! Finally I said “Cut?” Giggles yelled “UGH!!” Garrett looked up all of a sudden, stunned. I wish I had a camera so I could have taken a picture of the look on Garrett’s face! Hysterical! Later everyone piled onto some dude’s motor home to get a ride to Snoopy’s for dinner. There was so many of us in there, we all joked how bad it would be if Immigration Control pulled us over!

Day Three: Dad's View

Wednesday brought a forecast of winds in excess of 25 mph and we all wanted to get across Corpus Christi Bay before she became too unsettled. Quite a few of us tried to get an early start and beat the chop but it was to no avail. When we entered the bay proper, the swells were already running pretty strong. Some of the wave periods were quite close together and the action could be more than a little unsettling. The crossing definitely saw to it that you had one hand firmly on the tiller the whole time, to control all the rocking and rolling, trying to avoid a broach. At one point while I was fighting to keep the boat under control, I leaned over to check on Kristen in the cabin and see how she was doing. She was kicked back in her bunk, chilling, and reading a book! I asked her how she was doing and she said fine. I asked her if she wasn’t going to get motion sick while reading, she replied that she reads in the car all the time, I pointed out that the car usually doesn’t rock and roll quite this much.

That evening up and down the beach at Pauls Mott there was much discussion about what route to take for Thursday. San Antonio Bay has become known as a great divide that separates Pauls Mott and Army Hole. There are two ways across this great divide. One is to sail over to the intercoastal, follow it to where it comes out on San Antonio Bay and then beat across to Steam Boat Island’s South Pass, or you can go straight downwind from Pauls Mott and weave your way through several tiny cuts separating Aransas Bay, Carlos Bay, Mesquite Bay and San Antonio Bay. At this point you will be on the windward side of San Antonio Bay and sailing along a lee shore. I have been instrumental in getting out the rap on this bay. Last year San Antonio Bay was a virtual washing machine, the wind howling across the bay had caused a severe and confused chop which forced us all to do a beat, or close reach across. Everyone that headed across for Army Hole has a story to tell of bailing, being knocked around, or equipment failures. It was a scary and difficult ride. I had tried and made it halfway but after having several waves pick my little boat up and threaten to throw it over I started thinking of the news stories you always hear about people being out in a small boat during a “Small Craft Advisory”. I have always said those people were stupid and I didn’t want to be one of those news stories, so I finally turned, running with the waves and eventually out of the bay.

The general consensus is that you will need to have a mapping GPS. I don’t, but I am confident that I can make my way through using the waypoints I have stored in my GPS and as an extra precaution, I have decided to make the run in unison with Chris Tomsett who does have one. I decided that the best way to get through these shallows is with my keel mostly up and sailing under jib alone, keeping the motor down the whole time to power out of any trouble that may arise. Several people doing the trip for the first time asked me which way I plan to go, I tell them all that the back water passes are the only way to go…words that will come back to haunt me later.

Day Three: Kristen's View

Wednesday was real cool - the view was great and being out there in the middle of the water was awesome. Plus we almost beat the Pilgrim! We were ahead until the end of Aransas Bay but they came up behind us and snuck around again! I was so mad - we almost had them! But once we got there I realized we were the second boat on the beach! …. Where was Charlie and Laura? Did we beat them? When they did get there Dad told me to go brag to Laura. I told him I was good, but he could if he wanted to. There wasn’t much to do there so all of us kids just hung out around the little pond (big puddle, whatever) and talked. Meredith came up with nick names for all of us. But I’m NOT going to say what they were. We thought about playing cards again but it was way too windy. So we all just sat around the shore and skipped seashells. At first I was horrible until my friends showed me I was throwing them completely the wrong way. Oops. The best part was when all the puddle duckers came sailing in. The sun was almost down, and them in V-formation. So cool, I loved it!

Day Four: Dad's View

Thursday morning the wind was blowing across Pauls Mott early as we set sail for the first pass through the reef a few miles across the bay. As we entered the shallower water near the first reef the color of the water turned from a greenish tint to an ominous gray. The wind had stirred the everything up quite well making the water impossible to see any hints of the bottom. The waves were breaking slightly making it difficult to see any signs of shoaling until you were right up on it or downwind of them. I was disappointed to find that the reef was not at all visible other than as a representation on the map and the few pilings that marked the edges of the channel. We made it through the first two reef cuts with a little help from Chuck Leinweber and Chris Tomsett, and after using up my supply of outboard motor shear pins. The cut at Cedar Dugout was a little nerve racking in that it turns more toward the east and becomes almost a close reach. When we came out of the cut we were sailing as close to the wind as we could with only our jib up.

The chart indicates that you can sail straight from Cedar Dugout to Ayers Dugout, the final reef that separates us from San Antonio Bay. As we approach the cut I can see the rooftops of the fishing huts that are located on the island next to the channel as shown on the chart, but something doesn’t seem right. It appears to me that I am seeing the backsides of the huts and the chart says that I should be seeing the front of the huts. As I approach I am more than a little concerned about this discrepancy. I also begin to notice that several boats are pulled up on the beach at the cut and several more are milling about as if confused. This does nothing for my dwindling confidence. The radio crackles to life and informs us (I am sailing in company of several boats) that we all need to go more upwind until we can see the PVC pipe marking the channel. The instructions are confusing as I strain my eyes searching for this pipe. The radio comes back to life and tells me directly that if I do not go more upwind I am going to hit the reef. “WHAT REEF”? I think to myself. I am becoming frustrated, with my keel withdrawn most of the way, only a jib up and no motor available I cannot go anymore to windward. After trying a couple of times I realize that I am not going to make it to windward. I make a quick decision and throw out my anchor, my hope is to anchor before I get blown too far into the shallow water and replace the shear pin on my motor. After I left the last cut I remembered that I had another shear pin meant for another motor and I was sure I could make it work. The anchor drug, and drug, and drug. I dropped sail and it drug and drug. The boat finally came to a stop and I hopped out to make repairs. After a little bit of modification the pin is in and we are back aboard pulling in the anchor. This became another bad omen, instead of the boat moving toward the anchor as I pulled on the rope, the anchor came to me. “What the heck”? The water was over knee deep here, we shouldn’t have been hung up on the reef. The motor was running as I pulled the anchor in and once I had it aboard I put the motor in gear and……….we are going nowhere. I jump down into the cabin and crank as hard as I can on the keel winch, she seems tight, but the indicator on the cable shows down a little. I crank harder…….something makes an ugly noise in the centerboard trunk. I check the cable and it is still tight so I figure all is okay. Next I hop out of the boat and try to move the boat by push power. Although I am in deeper water than the last time I am grounded and even though the keel winch acts like the keel is all the way up, I am still going nowhere. Kristen joins me to futilely try moving the boat. After several attempts including using the anchor to try and skedge off the reef we appear to be hopelessly stuck.

As I was trying to skedge my boat off, I notice another having difficulty as well. John Turpin in a Potter 15 was bumping the bottom and being blown about when I see him suddenly capsize. The boat goes all the way over and stays there with the captain left standing in the water next to the boat. I want to go over and help him, but know there is nothing I can do for him, just as there is nothing he can do for me. I get on the radio and call to the guys on the island, but they cannot get to him either. I inform them that I am solidly stuck and ask if they have any advice. The caller on the other end says that they are all talking it over and tell me to wait for their decision. Kristen and I sat in our boat and rested, I was completely worn out physically and emotionally. I began to consider my options and abandoning the boat on the reef begins to look like a real possibility. It seems obvious that no boat can get to me to try and pull me off the reef, and I cannot get it done myself.

Eventually a fishing boat comes through, stops at the capsized Potter 15 and gives John a ride to the island. He has stood his boat up several times only to have it go back over again due to being completely swamped, including the cabin. I call on the radio to see if the boat can give us a ride as well, unfortunately the report back is that we are just too far onto the reef to get to. It is suggested that we could walk across the reef to the cut and then swim across the channel to the island. This is a possibility that I consider for about three seconds before I set it back to the “last resort” option. I am not crazy about taking my daughter swimming across channels with such swift currents, and especially not out in the middle of nowhere. For now, I tell Kristen to prepare an abandon ship bag with all of our valuables. She complies without question or even apparent concern…merely another day sailing with Dad I guess. Meanwhile I sit there thinking. I realize that I do not like any of our options, and the radio is crackling with commercial boats talking about winds this afternoon in excess of thirty mph. If we have to spend the night in our boat stuck out on the reef, it might be more than just a little uncomfortable. At this point all I can think of is how to get my daughter back to safety.

Another fishing boat comes through, from the other direction this time. He stops at Johns boat and several people get off the boat making their way over to it. I thought these were all just fisherman looking to help their fellow boaters out when the fishing boat takes off, bringing me to the conclusion that he had merely given a ride to some of our people from the island. They set about trying to right Johns boat, just to have it swamp again over and over. After a while I realize two of the guys have started crossing the reef and are coming in my direction! From even a distance I realize that these guys are Andrew Linn and Jason Nabors. (I have been sailing with these two guys for a few years now at Messabouts as well as this very event last year. They are both doing the Texas200 in Puddle Ducks.) I feel a huge wave of relief as I realize who is coming, these guys embody the We-Can-Get-It-Done attitude. Add to that the fact that both of them are a blast to be around, and use humor to shrug off any shards of fear, of which I can certainly use at this point! I can’t imagine that pioneers on the frontier felt any better when they saw the cavalry coming than I did when I recognized Andrew and Jason walking across the reef!

Once they arrived, we spent some time considering my options. Our first thought was that maybe the keel wouldn’t come up due to some lateral force exerted on it from being on the bottom. We tried to free the boat with Jason and Andrew pulling while I tried to raise the keel. While trying this, the cable snapped with a loud twang and thoughts of abandoning the boat returned. We then bent the spinnaker pole with our efforts trying to get the keel to budge off the reef, but to no avail. I finally got down in my cabin working to remove screws from the cover on top of the centerboard trunk, when I noticed my boat surrounded by people. All of the guys from the other boats were here too!

We eventually decided to try manually dragging the boat off the reef. Eight men of a duckish descent and myself grunted and groaned as the boat slowly and stubbornly broke free. We then used a rope slung under the boat and attached to the two winches to hold the keel off the bottom and the boat was floating freely. We pulled my boat out to deeper water and nearer to Johns foundered boat. With all of us (about nine guys in all, Kristen stayed behind to watch the anchor on our boat she was actually having fun? Kids!) we were able to stabilize John’s boat, wrap a sail under it to prevent water intrusion through the centerboard trunk and then hold it while one guy bailed with a five gallon bucket. That boat was now floating freely. With much difficulty (the rope holding the keel up on my boat kept coming loose and we kept finding shallow water) and a lot of pushing by Gordo Barcomb, we finally got my boat over to the channel and beached with deep water under the keel. John’s boat was finally floated across the channel by using a rope to guide it and we now had both boats “rescued”.

Once on shore, Chris Tomsett took a look at my keel and found a way to lock the keel in the up position, thus not having to rely on the rope which had proven so undependable. After much sweat on his part, I could barely turn the hand drill he was using, a hole was made in the trunk and the keel locked.

At this point my nerves were completely shot. I no longer had much confidence in myself, my boat or the weather. A discussion as to what I should do now presented several options: one of which was to sail back the way I had just come, alone, and “find” the channel that was a shortcut back to the intercoastal, then follow it back to Aransas Bay and to Goose Island to pull out. I didn’t like that plan. Another option was to get through the rest of the cut and run downwind across San Antonio Bay and take out at Seadrift. I wasn’t crazy about braving San Antonio’s Bay with a damaged keel (the rough water in that bay was what got me here in the first place!). The only other “self rescuing” options were to continue on to Army Hole, or I could stay here on this island and wait for a tow. As I considered carrying on to Army Hole, I looked at the charts and realized that to stay in the wind shadow of the island chain, I would have to do a close reach most of the way. There was no way I was going to raise the mainsail with the keel up. It seemed my decision was made when the Puddle Duck guys almost in unison, said “use the motor, turbo-sail!”. I admit this sounds like a great idea but will my boat’s little 3.5hp motor run that long? Add to that, the motor came with the boat when I bought it, and was serviced by me before we left….yikes!

Amid my feelings of indecision and downright paralysis, Kristen tells me her vote is to go to Army Hole (I realize she just wants to see her new friends she’s made on the trip). I also realize that as crazy as it sounds Army Hole is the “easiest” place to get to. So at sometime after three o’clock (we’ve now been here for over four hours), David Richey helps me push my boat off the beach. I must admit this was one of the hardest things I have ever done, I was leaving safety and had no confidence in myself or my boat. The funny thing is that as everybody set out and sailed the remainder of the pass through the reef in unison, my uneasiness began to subside. By the time we were in clear water and I had the jib up I was beginning to feel like a sailor again. The motor ran almost flawlessly for the next four hours and we made it all the way to Army Hole sometime after eight o’clock that evening, after a remarkably beautiful late afternoon sail.

I felt very bad about the Puddle Duckers though. They didn’t make Army Hole that evening, not through any fault of their own but because they had spent so much time helping me and John out. Their boats are much slower and I felt guilty as I sailed off and left them behind. Over the course of this year and last years event I have changed my opinio