June 9 - 13, 2008

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The Millers Family “Miss Adventure”

We are all home and safe now. We pulled into the driveway at about 10:30 Saturday night (June 14). The dogs and our daughter were happy to see us and we were happy to see them (I think the dogs were a little more excited). It is very nice to be home and sleep in our own beds.

I’ll start this story with us leaving the Beach at Port Mansfield late. It is important to know that the reasons we left late were that as a crew we didn’t understand the importance of leaving with the group. Because of this lack of understanding we allowed ourselves to take too much leisure time getting to Port Mansfield. Because we got to Port Mansfield late we didn’t have the time to find out who was there, where their boats were, or what time they would be leaving. Of course looking back on our inexperience of costal sailing even if we had gotten there earlier we probably still would have slept in Monday morning and left late.

About five miles off the beach at Port Mansfield I started to realize that we were an undisciplined and uneducated crew. I knew how to sail my boat but my crew wanted to help and I didn’t know how to relay orders to them. I knew which halyard and sheet to pull and release but under sail couldn’t find the words like “pull the jib halyard and tighten the port jib sheet“. I obviously did not do a good job of teaching my crew before hand.

Also in our desire not to compensate luxury for adventure we had over loaded our boat with gear. We had more food, water, bedding, clothing, and extras than what we needed. While preparing and packing for this trip we over planed because of inexperience and we also fell into the trap of: “Oh one more item won’t hurt - it will make our trip more enjoyable.”

Man Overboard

As soon as we started Joseph (my youngest; the timid but very sociable one) wanted to steer. He was sitting on the deck at the stern of the boat waiting at the ready for a chance to grab the tiller. About five miles out I was working the tiller and the main sheet and trying to talk Wendy and Thomas (my oldest boy - the sun-burnt redhead) through how to hoist and work the jib. We had gone over some shallows earlier so the rudder had kicked up and I had neglected to put it back down. A gust of wind came up and I pulled hard on the tiller to compensate. Joseph let out a yell and the next thing I knew he was in the water and we were sailing quickly away from him.

The rudder was kicked up high and I wasn’t sure what position the centerboard was in but I think it was about half up and half down bouncing along the bottom. I rounded up into the wind to change direction and sail back to Joseph but every time I tried the boat would stall in the turn and get stuck in irons. I would then (against his mothers instincts) turn away to gain speed and sail farther away from my son. On about the fifth try I told Thomas (who had been yelling “Joseph don’t panic people die when they panic!) to start praying (Thomas is the most faithful of our whole family) He sat down folded his arms and started to pray. As I rounded up into the wind yet again a gust of wind came up and pushed us through the turn. By then we could only occasionally see Joseph; he was about 300 yards out, bobbing in the waves. Wendy was getting ready to pluck him out of the water as we sailed by and was worried that I was on the wrong course and we were going to miss him. I explained that I was aiming a little down wind of him so that when we got just down wind I could turn into the wind and drift to a stop right where he was. As it turned out though, the wind was blowing so hard that as soon as I turned into the wind the boat stopped and Joseph was about 10 yards up wind of the bow and we were drifting faster than he was. I didn’t think that he could stand for us to turn and sail away from him again for another attempt so I ordered Wendy to jump ship and swim to him while I tried again. She looked at me like I was crazy and I barked the order again as she was getting ready to go in Thomas reminded me to throw the fender to Joseph. As Wendy went overboard she lost her hat. I threw the fender and got it about half way to Joseph. Thus the first of our gear was lost: A sun hat and a boat fender. On the second try I sailed right to them and Thomas helped Wendy get Joseph on board and I helped Wendy climb back onboard. We took the time to explain that that is why we always, always, always, where our life vests.

Another Man Overboard

While we were still on shore I had repeated to them what Charlie Jones had said to me the night before while he was unloading his camping gear from his boat.

“The difference between and ordeal and an adventure is your attitude.”

Once we settled into the boat and were back on course, Joseph said: “that wasn’t an adventure it was the other thing!” [an ordeal] Joseph and Wendy were wet, stressed, and tired so they settled down as low as they could in our over loaded cockpit and tried to rest while getting seasick in the chop. Joseph would occasionally lean over the side of the boat to release the butterflies from his belly. We soon saw the catamarans that left the beach after us coming up fast behind us and then first one then the other passing us. A short time later one of the catamarans luffed up into the wind and appeared to be having trouble with the kayak that they were towing. We sailed close and hollered to ask if they needed help but with the wind could not hear their answer. We tried to turn back to offer help but soon realized that they needed help less than we needed to stay out of trouble ourselves. I fell over board and Wendy quickly put the boat into the safety position while I was swimming back to the boat I realized that I had lost the VHF radio that was clipped to my life vest. I climbed back on board and started thinking about making an announcement at camp that no one had better rely on us for help because we were not going to be able to offer any. I also started thinking about having Chuck take Wendy and Joseph and Thomas into PIYC the second day and having them rent a car and drive to Magnolia Beach. I did not want to subject them to these conditions.

A needed break

With all of our inexperience and difficulties and all of the wind our jib sail had gotten twisted all around the fore stay. It looked like it was haphazardly roller furled but was probably a good thing because it forced us to sail under main alone. We were sailing at between 4 ½ and 5 ½ mph. Joseph and Wendy were able to calm down a little and Joseph started moving about the boat. Wendy felt the call of nature and we sailed to a small island. The boys explored the small island while Wendy rearranged the over crowded cockpit and I corrected all the problems with the rigging. I untangled the jib and re-set it. I should have just stowed it away but while we were anchored at the island. The two Shearwaters passed by and I figured that that put us at the tail end of the group. It was after noon and we still weren’t half way. I figured if we could do 5 mph with main alone we could do 6 maybe 7 with the jib also.

We called the boys back to the boat. (Thomas got stung by a jelly) Wendy got ready to take the tiller while I pushed the boat out of the muck around the island. I was planning on jumping in the stern of the boat as soon as the wind caught the sails and pulled us out of the mud but the wind had other plans and I was dragged behind the boat for quite a while until I could climb back in. I was wet and tired but we were sailing into the cut at 8 to 9 mph.

OH S%!+

We had the hang of it now (yea right). Once we were in the cut our speed fell to 7 to 8 mph but figured we would still make the camping spot by four or five o’clock. And then, what joy, we saw sails on the horizon and we were gaining on them. The boys had started arguing and complaining like brothers do and so I told them that if they were good I’d let them squirt the boat ahead of us as we passed. They immediately settled down, got their squirt guns ready and we all started talking pirate-y talk as we steadily gained on our foe. The main sheet was in my hand but clamped and the jib sheet was also clamped. A strong gust of wind came up. I pulled hard on the tiller, yanked the main sheet, and released the cleat, letting the main fly, but didn’t get the jib sheet loosed in time. Around we spun and then we were over on our side. For the first time I had capsized my boat. I had rolled off the stern into the water so I immediately swam to the centerboard and started to climb up as the boat was going turtle. Wendy and the boys had all gone off the starboard side - the same side that went under. I couldn’t see them and was worried that they were trapped under the boat or in the rigging. I hollered to them and they each responded and as the hull of the boat rounded up I saw the boys floating next to the boat and Wendy swimming after the stuff that was floating away from the boat. I tried a few times to right the boat but realized that it wasn’t going to happen like the sailing books describe.

Luckily we were in the narrow land cut. My longest line was my anchor rode so I took it and swam for the east shore of the cut. Wendy had drifted with what she could gather of our supplies that had capsized to the west shore. I anchored the boat to shore and had the boys one by one follow the rope to shore. I went back to the boat to assess its condition. The hatch to the inside of the hull had come open during the capsize and the hull was swamped. I figured that was why it wouldn’t roll back over like it should. I started disassembling the rigging, haphazardly made a shade shelter out of the jib, and started gathering as much gear as I could from the boat. Wendy eventually made a few piles of the more important stuff that she found on the West shore and then swam over to where we were. We tried for hours (4) to right the boat until we saw the maroon sail of another boat: the Martha Jane (Terrapin). Her skipper, George Broadlick, and his grown boys, David and James, were able to help us right the boat and get it dragged up onto the beach so it could be drained. Then they went over to the west shore, collected what they could find of our gear in the diminishing light, and continued on to meet up with the rest of the group about ten or twelve miles up the cut at the camp site. The boat wasn’t in any condition to sail and I was too exhausted anyway, so we made camp. We put Lanicane and aloe all over Thomas and Joseph got them changed and put to bed. Then as Wendy says: “We danced naked on the beach.” and went to bed ourselves. Wendy wasn’t very happy with me for taking all the soft sand and leaving her with the hard stuff that was left but oh well.

On to Padre Island Yacht Club

I woke up the next morning (Tuesday) to the daunting task of making the boat ready to sail to PIYC. I told Wendy that I was going to get the boat ready to sail and that I didn’t care about any of the gear If she wanted to salvage anything that she would have to take care of it herself. I wasn’t even going to take down the tent; I was just too exhausted and we needed to get to PIYC and pull out. I pushed the boat back into the water and to the fishing shack that was down the beach a ways and tied off to the dock. I started re-rigging the boat and Wendy did a great job of collecting the gear. Joseph helped both of us. Thomas who was starting to feel the effects of his jelly stings and sun poisoning laid in the shade. We emptied the boat of all the gear and piled it up on the dock. We then sorted out the stuff that Wendy thought we needed to not leave behind and stowed it below deck. We left the tent set up on the beach and a large pile of trash and somewhat usable gear on the dock. I hope that the critters will take care of the food and trash and that the usable stuff we left will make up for the trash that someone else will have to clean up.

At about noon I hoisted the main (all other sails were stowed below) and started the long track to PIYC. Even with the main alone we were making about 5 to 7 mph I was careful not to let the sheet get in the cleat and I kept my hands on the tiller and the sheet the entire time. Joseph sat next to the mast while Wendy read the boys “The Castle In The Attic”. Wendy and I sat on the starboard side bench and Thomas laid under a sheet on the port bench. We saw a lot of fishermen and passed by a few barges. Other than stealing our wind, the barges caused us no problems at all. Most of the fishermen gave us a wide berth but even when they didn’t, their flat bottom boats didn’t make much wake.

Dolphins and more Dolphins

As we came out of the cut I saw a small shark’s fin pierce the water and circle then go under off the starboard bow. Then I saw it again I made the mistake of mentioning it to everyone else and they all got startled and nervous and Joseph started to panic when he saw them. Now there were two and they started heading for us. Wendy was trying to calm him down when it happened! Their fins started to raise and the shiny gray skin of their backs started to break the surface of the water! They were bigger than I thought, and were they getting ready to strike? Then all at once they blew air straight up and I looked into their round dark intelligent eyes. These weren’t sharks, they were dolphins; wild dolphins only about 15 feet off our starboard side. Then they were under and gone again. Wow! Wild dolphins! I had seen what I had hoped I would see on this trip most, wild dolphins.

Not much longer and they were swimming all around us. They were behind us and in front of us swimming towards us and away from us they were everywhere. Wendy and the boys were looking all around seeing how many they could spot. I was only allowed to look forward and Wendy kept reminding me that I was only allowed to concentrate on sailing the boat. None of the dolphins were coming more that about twenty feet from us, then all of the sudden two surfaced and blew about two feet off the port bow. Wendy and the boys didn’t see them. They had been watching a pod playing off to starboard. I let out a holler for them to look but it was too late they had gone back under. Wendy asked me where they were and I explained that “they were so close if the one had been over six more inches he would have tipped us over“. It was an exaggeration but it was enough to send fear coursing through Joseph’s body. Wendy and I were explaining to him that I was just exaggerating and that a dolphin wouldn’t really tip our boat when one came up right along side the port stern just where Joseph happened to be looking. It was right there. If I had been sitting on the port side instead of the starboard side I could have touched him. It was way too close for Joseph. He let out a piercing scream and that was the last we saw of dolphins for another ten miles.

We sailed on the rest of the day uneventfully. When the water got choppy Wendy would stop reading and lay down to try and keep her stomach settled. I would lean off the side over the water and let the waves crashing against the hull splash and spray my face. This is what I had come for: the wind, the spray, and the dolphins. At about 5 o’clock we saw the causeway bridge from Corpus Christi to Padre Island we checked the GPS and estimated 15 miles at 4 ½ to 5 mph we would make it in to the yacht club about 8 or 8:30 just before sunset. We would be okay.

All I knew about the stopping point for that night was what I had remembered from Goggle Earth and the TX200 forum. We were going to be anchoring and camping across the channel from the yacht club. Off in the distance I saw a building with the masts from large yachts and I kept looking up each channel to see if any of the boats from our group were “camped” or anchored but didn’t see any so I would go on to the next channel. Wendy looked up from her book just as we passed what she thought would have been the Yacht Club (she was right). She started to complain but I had two large fast boats bearing down on me and they were not yielding me (the sail boat) right of way. I gave up my turn back to the Yacht Club and faced into the wake of the first boat. Hey that’s a Coast Guard patrol - that idiot - he should know better even if I’m on the wrong tack and I don’t know better, he’s the Coast Guard he should know to give me the right of way and have the courtesy not to swamp a small boat with his wake. I didn’t take any chances with the second boat - again Coast Guard. I headed downwind to the other side of the channel, away from the boat and the anchorage I was trying to get to. By the time the ever pleasant Coast Guard was gone we tried to turn and sail upwind to the yacht club but just couldn’t make it work. We turned back towards the causeway and decided to find a phone there and call for help. About halfway to the causeway we met a Potter 15 that was motoring towards the yacht club. We asked for a tow to the yacht club and they happily obliged. Of course that was easier said than done. Motoring their boat up the channel against the wind and current with our 16’ 9” boat in tow was a difficult job for them but they did get us there.

Aren’t We Done Yet?

Once we got to the Yacht Club we had no lack of help. Many people came and helped us tie off our boat and unload ourselves and get into the clubhouse where we could relax and take care of Thomas’ sunburn. Joseph went around and talked to every person he could, became smitten by Marissa and decided that he wanted to finish the trip in the sail boat. Jason Nabors’ wife took Wendy to get us some fast food - MMMMM burgers never tasted so good. A local teacher, Joletta Vonasek, who was at the Yacht Club to watch the crazy people come in on their small sailboats offered us her home and extra bed. We slept well that night.

The next day we rented a car and headed to Magnolia Beach to pick up our van and trailer. We spent half an hour on the beach picking up seashells then headed to Charlie and Laura’s place to get our van. As we pulled in, Wendy saw what appeared to be a 21 foot cabin cruiser. She said now if we had something like that this trip wouldn’t be bad. We got back to the Padre Island Yacht Club at about 4:30. I had dropped off the van and trailer at the boat ramp at the causeway and was getting ready to sail there. Wendy was going to meet me to help me load the boat but she noticed that Thomas’ legs were swelling up so she took him to the emergency room instead. I sailed the boat to the causeway and loaded it on the trailer and headed to the ER to meet up with Wendy and the boys. The Dr. said he was suffering from sever sunburn complicated by something stinging him (yea we already knew that) and gave us a prescription for pain medicine and a salve to put on his legs to keep them from getting infected.

Home At Last

It was a long trip home but we pulled into the drive way at about 10:30 p.m. last night. I’m sorry that we never made it back to the messabout to see everyone finish the trip and to help out those who were so helpful to us. Wendy has told me that I can not do the Texas 200 by myself until I complete it with another adult, either in my boat or theirs. Also I can not take the boys until they are older (14-16). I’m ready to go again so if any one needs a hand on their boat let me know (I don’t think I’ll have a boat ready by next year) and it will be a while before I have a boat that Wendy will be willing to make the trip with.