In 2007 Chuck Leinweber from Duckworksmagazine.com proposed an adventure he called the Texas200. The idea was to get a bunch of boats together and sail from deep south Texas for five days through the Texas bay and intercoastal waterway system to Magnolia Beach Texas. As soon as I read the proposal, I was in. To do a trip like this had been a dream of mine for years, but I had been hesitant since I wasn't sure what to expect and the idea of doing it in numbers offered a little extra assurance. I began prep on my Bobcat which included adding an outboard. Another concern was the boats tendency to start rocking and rolling almost into a "death roll" while running downwind and threatening to capsize at times. I was completely baffled as to the cause because most of the boats I had sailed up to this point behaved quite dociley when running, in fact in rough and windy conditions this was the point of sail one would usually go to for a break. But not this boat. Some inquiries on the forums we were using at the time and John Welsford recommended a boom vang. I trusted John's opinion because he has a reputation of designing beautiful, seaworthy boats. It was not easy to add a boom vang to a catboat, but I made it happen. In trials it definitely made a difference and the boat was as docile as any other downwind.
The date of the first Texasa200 arrived in June 2008 and I made the long trip to Port Mansfield Texas. I launched my boat and did the long day of shuffling tow vehicles to the finish and the bus ride back. I was thoroughly amazed at how many people were here for this event and some had travelled across the country to participate.
Day One. We sailed out of Port Mansfield and up the Lower Laguna Madre, into a "canal" known as the Land Cut and end in a spot along the Land cut known as "Happs Cut". Which is more affectionately known now as "Mud Hole". The Laguna Madre looks like it should be a tranquil, smooth, narrow body of water on the charts, but that is deceiving. This body of water is pretty wide and very long, running North and South body of water. The winds this time of year tend to pipe up well in excess of twenty knots. It deceived me so much that I set out with full sail up, not really being all that familiar with reefing even though I now had reef points in my sail as one of the modifications I did in preparation for this trip.
As I started my day all was well, the winds started to build and we were going fast, riding the swells as they came along from behind. Then with a loud bang a cheap piece of hardware I had used in the boom vang installation blew apart. The boat immediately starts it's favorite side to side rolling dance. I considered my predicament for a bit and decided to try something a fisherman a hundred years ago would have been familiar with, but was a totally new concept to me. I decided to "scandalize" the sail. This consists of releasing the peak halyard and allowing the gaff to just fall off forward, thus tremendously reducing sail. This reduced the rocking motion and I crawled out onto the deck to get my boom vang reattached sans the cheap hardware. With that repair done the boat came very much under control again and I returned to the cockpit. Checking my speed, I decided I would leave the sail scandalized as I was in excess of hull speed still and moving in a comfortable fashion. Once in the "Land Cut" all wave action is left behind you and it is a very pleasant sail with beautiful south Texas scenery all around as you sail along the historic King Ranch.
Day Two. I set out early in hopes of crossing Baffin Bay before the winds piped up too much and stirred the waves and swells awake. To accomplish this I decided not to use my tent the night before and slept in the cockpit of my boat. Which was surprisingly comfortable after I pulled out a sheet to cover up with. I was surprised to actually be cold in June , in South Texas. This day was fairly uneventful, I did tie in a double reef to help a sure that, and even though the wind built nicely the bay never got excessively choppy. We ended this day at the Padre Island Yacht Club which offerred us transportation to a fun restaurant on the water and hot showers.
Day Three. This was probably my favorite day of sailing. We left the yacht club and headed out into Corpus Christi Bay. I had taken to trying to hug shorelines as much as possible to stay in smooth water. This was rather difficult here because the channel is protected by spoils for a long way out into the bay before you can exit it and head more easterly toward Stingray hole. Once I could turn though I headed hard onto the wind toward Shamrock Island and windward shore. From there it was through Stingray hole and turn into the wind and the Port Aransas Ship Channel . This leg of the sail takes us through a heavily populated area and Port Aransas which is one of my favorite places on earth. There is a lot of boat traffic in the channel and meeting Super Tanker in the channel is more than a little intimidating. As I met one I saw the huge wave running along the shore from the wake of the ship and watched as two other participants that had stopped along the shore were trying desperately to keep their boat from being washed onto dry land. This leg was a beat and I had to tack several times back and forth up the channel. Bobcat being a catboat is not the greatest at sailing to windward, but she does pretty good and I was able to make good headway on the favored tack. Eventually I made it to the Lydia Ann Channel and turned down wind into it and before long passing by the historic Lydia Ann Light House.
Exiting the Lydia Ann Channel put us into Aransas Bay and I hugged the back side of Mud Island and then San Jose Island all the way to our next camp at Paul's Mott. The sailing that afternoon was absolutely beautiful. The winds were a little less and I only had one reef in as I sailed along fast in smooth green water in a state of bliss all the way to camp.
Day Four. There had been much debate and back channel discussions at many of the camps about what way to go today. There was talk of a shortcut through some small back bays to get to San Antonio bay or you could sail over to the ship channel and follow a deep water canal cut that would lead you to the bay, but you would emerge a long way from the windward shore. The GPS I was using at the time was not a mapping GPS, those were out of my price range at the time and this was long before the advent of smart phones and apps like Navionics. I did not have the waypoints for the entrances to the backwater cuts to get through all the reefs that were there so I opted for the long way.
The day's sail started out rather nice, the winds weren't too strong and the canal portion of the sail was peaceful. I came to rattlesnake cut which was the first opening that would allow a shallow draft boat to enter the bay and turned toward the east. Once out in the bay I had a choice, head hard into the wind and get to the windward shore or head straight across the bay to my way point at Panther Cut. In hindsight I should have headed for the windward shore but instead opted to head for the waypoint since it seemed to not be too choppy. After less than an hour of sailing the winds built to something fierce. I was reefed well but the wave action was wild. I was having to sail a close reach to my waypoint and these waves were hitting the side of the boat with enough force that at times I thought some were going to lift my boat up and over. Spray was coming aboard and everything in the cockpit was getting wet. Somewhere about the middle of the bay with no real sight of land, nor could I see any other boats from our fleet at this time, my GPS went dead. Apparently it was not as water proof as one might have hoped. Then my marine radio quit working from the same fate. At this point I only had a compass bearing and no connection to the outside world. I began remembering news stories of boats capsizing while being out in small craft warnings, which we were under at this time. I decided that I didn't want to make the news and began to consider what alternatives I had. The wave action was threatening to throw my boat over on this point of sail, so I decided to turn and run with the waves and the wind. Thank goodness for the boom vang! Once I was running with the waves they were no longer threatening to throw me over and things settled down. After a few minutes of sailing I saw a spot of green on the horizon to the Northwest and aimed at it. The radio dried out after a while and I heard a lot of chatter from other people having a difficult time as well and abandoning their attempts to make it to the next camp, which was Army hole. The spot of green grew and after a while I realized that it was trees at the entrance to the intercoastal canal and calm water. Once in the canal I pulled onto shore and pulled out a cold drink to settle my nerves. As I sat there sipping, I saw a boat come around the corner, it was a new friend I had made on the trip and he had been following me! I apologized for giving up on the next camp, and he said he was glad to be out of those conditions as well. We joined up with some other boats as we sailed up the channel to Port O'Connnor where we spent the night in comfortable air conditioned motel rooms. I know it was like cheating, but hey we didn't make the news!
Day Five. was a rather short sail from Port O'Connor to Magnolia Beach that took about three hours. The wind was pleasant and it was a very broad reach. A dolphin accompanied me for a part of the way, which although I had encountered many dolphin on this trip, it is something I never get tired of.
Arriving at the beach a severe sense of accomplishment came over me. A bit of sadness that it was over in spite of the fact that I was tired but it was tempered with the joy of seeing my family. The first Texas200 was in the books and I was hooked!