I live on a boat.

Well we’ve finally done it. This past weekend we moved all of our stuff aboard Sundowner and now we officially live on a boat! It’s completely wild and awesome. In short I LOVE IT. Five years in the making and it’s actually happened…I almost can’t wrap my head around it. So was the move stressful? What did we do with all of our stuff? How did we make it happen? Is it cramped? Have I thrown Tate overboard yet? Have we taken a shower yet? These are questions I asked myself about the future over the years, in the future tense of course.

What about all of our STUFF? It’s funny but even before I met Tate in 2009 I had begun the “downsizing” process. When I moved away from college in 2007 I had TWO giant truckloads full of stuff, enough to fit a 2 bedroom house fully furnished and enough clothes to clothe a sports team. It was at this time I had sort of an epiphany. Look at all this stuff I said to myself…I hardly use any of it. After a while I got tired of lugging it around and in late 2008 I made the decision to move into a New Orleans studio apartment with just me myself and I and my little dog Snuggles. I was single and ready for a new life with cheaper rent and not so much clutter. It was a liberating experience to throw or give away the things I didn’t really need. My life was more consolidated and I was more discerning about what I bought in the future.

Then I met Tate and all of his stuff in his 1900 SF house. We dated, decided to buy a world sailing boat and then moved in together in an 1100 SF condo. This meant Tate had to downsize and I had to downsize further. We went through everything and really just tried to bring the bare minimum we needed to live.

This brings us to this past weekend. We shifted any contents of “easy access” lockers on the boat to other areas and then started the BIG MOVE. Crunched for time with a funeral on Saturday (my dear Great Uncle Bob) and work during the week we basically tore through the condo like tornadoes, taking only the things we thought we needed and hauling them to the boat. EVERYTHING else is being given away or set by the side of the road. Was this process hard? NOT. AT. ALL. Easy peasy as most of our stuff is kinda ragged anyways from years of frugal living.
Tate's moving truck

With most all of our stuff on the boat now what sticks out to me the most is how much stuff we left behind. How much stuff we didn’t need. Oodles of pots, pans, cups, plates, clothing, furniture, bath stuff, trinkets etc just didn’t make the cut. We took about 4 pots/pans of different sizes, 8 cups, 5 plates, a little bit of plastic ware, bare essential cooking ware, a certain number of shirts, pants, shorts, underwear, socks, shoes, outerwear, bath stuff, medicine and bedding. That’s pretty much it.

In roughly 8-10 dock carts we loaded all our worldly possessions onboard. Another thing that REALLY sticks out to me is just how much space we have left in the boat for more things! The Westsail 32 is HUGE for storage. I’m confident that you could pack enough stores for 2 people for 6 months on this boat with everything stowed away in cabinets and drawers. Incredible.
The nav table area with all our stuff
The galley area with all our stuff

So was this stressful? To me it was not. I was ready, so so ready to move on the boat and start this much simpler life. Already living on the boat has been an incredible experience. I have every little thing I need right at my finger tips. No excess garbage to go rummaging through. I no longer have two places to clean and let me tell you, cleaning and organizing our boat can be done in 30 minutes including dusting and vacuuming. This is a feature I greatly look forward to as I have spent so many hours in my life cleaning…SO many ever since I was a little kid.
The salon area with all our stuff
The salon area with all our stuff

It’s hard to explain but even with Tate onboard and everything not yet put away into it’s new home the boat doesn’t seem to feel cramped, to me. I’m not sure what Tate’s take on the boat life is so far but I’m sure he’ll enlighten us. Perhaps it’s because there are different “rooms” with the galley, salon, head and vberth all kind of separate.

We also now have the best outdoor patio ever something that was lacking so much from our last place. I think many many nights are going to be spent out there looking at the stars and talking while Tate smokes his pipe. There are Great Blue Herons and Kingfishers that hangout on pilings nearby and we have a unobstructed view of the horizon which leads to beautiful sunsets.

So far we have mostly slept with the hatches open and screens in place letting in wonderful fresh air that makes me feel great. We don’t have an air conditioner or heater onboard but I haven’t felt the need for one yet and the temperatures are still quite mild. 80 degrees or below with them falling all the time. When it gets cold I put my long johns and wool socks on and when it’s warm I wear little and turn our fans on which work great and are quiet.

For showers right now we walk over to the bath house late in the evening although we could shower on the boat with hot water from the kettle and our pump sprayer. To quench my need for hot water in the morning to wash my face we boil water the night before in our awesome kettle on the stove and put it in this fantastic Bunn carafe that keeps the water piping hot for the next day. I use a little bowl and mix the hot water with cool from our tanks to make a wonderful wash basin for my morning ritual. I LOVE that thing.
The head area with all our stuff

Right now we sleep in the vberth with the little triangle insert in to give us some more space. This is very comfortable but we have to get used to (Tate has to get used to) me crawling over him in the middle of night to get to the head. We are working on that. The first night was pretty restless for the both of us with all the new noises and creaks but each night it gets better. Last night I slept like a baby all the way through the night! Maybe it’s because the boat is rocking with the cold front we have coming. Saturday we are looking forward to 30 knots of wind driving the temps down to the 40’s.

Ahh, life on the water, always an adventure. Right now I keep my work clothes hanging my car along with my shoes and belts. For laundry we’ll go our dear friend Michele’s house and bum loads. Later I plan to plunger wash them in a black bucket I got with salt water first and a fresh water rinse, wringing them out in between to minimize fresh water usage and aid line drying.

Another neat benefit of living in a marina is all the people we meet. We have met and talked to more neighbors here in the last 4 days then we have in 3 years at our condo. Just yesterday as I was leaving the boat for work at 8am I saw a new boat just adjacent to us. It was two youngish cruisers who had just sailed this tiny little boat (24 feet I think) from New York to New Orleans via rivers and they has JUST arrived that night. Such interesting people out here I tell you what.

This weekend we’ll finally get some time to put everything away and then rearrange it and put it back away. Hey we might even carve a pumpkin, a little late but you know we are some busy folk these days! Also we don’t have internet on the boat yet so posts will have to be written at home then uploaded somewhere else, leading to less than consistent post intervals. I suppose it’s better to get used to it now as this will no doubt be exaggerated when we leave. I’m super excited to be finally here and can’t wait for what future holds. We are leaving in just about 2 MONTHS!!

Installing a New Scanmar Monitor Windvane

Some of you may remember that our Monitor Windvane bit the dust this year. I had mentioned that we’d be installing a new Monitor to replace the old one. The decision to go back with a Monitor Windvane was not taken lightly. Since we had changed so much of the back of the boat with the new boomkin and parts we had the freedom to pick whatever type of self steering gear we might want, but we decided to keep with the Scanmar Monitor Windvane.

After speaking to Scanmar on the phone, they offered us a great deal. If we returned the old windvane, they’d give us a thousand dollars off the purchase of a new Windvane. We were the “pilot” customer for this offer and we were very happy to take it. Financial incentive aside, Roger Firey had high praise for the windvane and we had enjoyed its use on the boat when we were sailing with it before removing the old one. The other windvanes on the market looked alright but Scanmar had proven their service to us and their solution looked extremely robust compared to other models I had looked into. A proven track record, great service, and financial incentive were enough to make us pull the trigger on a brand new Monitor.

Installing the new windvane which arrived a few months ago was one of my last remaining “big” projects that had to be done before our departure. A couple of weekends ago we finally got to install it.

The new model was to be mounted off the back of the boomkin with two “adapter” plates. These were sold to us by Bud Taplin. They are really just big pipes welded onto plates which bolt to the very back of the boomkin. The windvane is slipped onto these pipes and I drilled through then bolted into place.
Our new scanmar monitor windvane

I loosely bolted the plates on, then put the windvane in place and tied it securely to the boomkin before drilling through the pipes. I did this from the dink. The Monitor had pilot holes drilled to make this easier. I used a 5/16″ Cobalt speed tip bit for this drilling and liberally applied oil as I drilled. These pipes are very thick. It took a long time to make the holes for those bolts.

After that two struts are screwed to the bottom of the windvane and then led to “tabs” on the boomkin and bolted. I had to cut the struts to length then through bolt them as well, again with 5/16″ bolts. My poor old angle grinder went through two cutting wheels to cut the stainless pipe. And in the process, I am happy to report I only broke off two bits.

This windvane mounting was extremely simple because Scanmar and Bud Taplin had already engineered everything to fit together. In one afternoon Sundowner had her self steering back in place!
Aft view of our new scanmar monitor windvane
Side view of our new scanmar monitor windvane

We were also aided by the fact that the routing for the lines to the tiller were also already done.
Our scanmar monitor windvane steering cables

I’m very pleased with the new look. The Monitor is REALLY on there. No wiggle and super sturdy. Heavy duty and looking the part. Some features I noticed and really like of the newer Monitor are:

  • All 316 Stainless (The old one was 304)
  • The gears are either cast or billet stainless (the old one was bronze), so no possibility of slop
  • The air vane is made of corrugated plastic and is a lot bigger
  • The control lines to the rudder are now spectra with little stretch
  • The tiller attachment is no longer chain but instead uses cam cleats

Last thing on the list is mounting/hooking up the new solar panels and this weekend we’ll be moving aboard. Yippee.

Oh my goodness…Good Lord, Lord help me, Jesus Christ. These are really the only phrases that come to mind when I think back about “My Ordeal” during the 2014 Harvest Moon Regatta. Well the only expletive free phrases. I had planned all along to try the Ear Plug Trick for Seasickness during this race as I’ve had such great success with it in the past. Honestly every time I’ve tried it on Ole Lake Pontchy it worked. It has worked even in more than moderate conditions with me on the bow crashing up and down in the waves and also down below getting drinks or searching for something. I figured the offshore HMR in the Gulf of Mexico would be a perfect chance to really give her the old “test”. The aftermath makes me both glad and regretful that I untook this experiment. Unfortunately the trick failed…this time.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic time at the HMR and I would go back out there in a heartbeat (who says we’re adrenaline junkies?). I sailed out with a great crew, saw some beautiful sunsets with dolphins and got to feel the powerful Gulf of Mexico. I don’t want this post to cloud the good things that happened during this trip but I think it’s important to share the experience of the sickest I’ve been in my whole life so this post will mainly focus on seasickness. If you are reading this somehow in 8 foot seas hitting on your bow or on a roller coaster or free fall ride you may want to turn away now.

I had been excited about this race for MONTHS! I just couldn’t wait to get back out there on Morning Sun and see what the Gulf had in store for us. During last year’s race I got to experience the biggest waves I’ve ever seen in real life. They approached 6 feet and came at us on the aft quarter. It was amazing to feel the following seas lift the boat and carry her down, like a surf board. Helming was challenging but not impossible even for me. I craved this type of experience again. I wanted to see what the ocean could do. Also this year they lured us with colorful shirts!
Harvest Moon Regatta shirts

Preparations for this race started early this year. A month and a half before the race I really strained by left thumb during the teak deck seams project. So much so that I couldn’t race locally and had to ice it and baby it for weeks. Still to this day it isn’t quite right, lol. Oh well at least the caulk looks nice. Finally my hand started to feel better but then a week before the race I strained a muscle in my back, a small reverberation from the more intense injury at the beginning of 2013.  With resting, stretching and the help of some medicine my back chilled out and we were ready, it was GO time!

We loaded up the car Wednesday afternoon and made the 6 hours drive to Kemah Tx. On the way there wouldn’t you know I started to get a sore throat? Sigh, oh well let’s stop at the store and make a salt water gargle and pick up some day quill for the next day. The salt water made my throat much better but Wednesday night aboard Morning Sun I couldn’t sleep a wink.  It was a strange night and I’m not sure how but I was both awake and asleep at the same time. Maybe it’s because I was in an unfamiliar place and on the water but 5am came fast and I rose to get ready for the race. A shower and some day quill later and I was ready to go.

I put an ear plug in my left ear as I’ve done before and we left the dock at 7am headed to Galveston to pick up Kay on the fuel dock just before the start.  I felt fine, granted we motored most of the 6 hours it took to get there in calm seas inside the jetties. We watched the sun rise and maneuvered around huge cargo ships and shrimp boats. Shrimp boat out in Gulf of Mexico

Not a bit of queasiness to be had although Tate took the pill form Scopace and Danny put on the patch in anticipation of the forecast. Ah yes the forecast, lets talk about that. The winds were predicted out of the SSE with waves of 5 feet 6 seconds apart while it was forecast to move more out of the South as the night grew on. This meant the winds would be hitting us on the nose and we’d be beating to weather the whole race.  The conditions in the Gulf were true to the forecast, any experienced sailor would have known what this was like. Tate even encouraged me to take medicine early saying the conditions were probably going to be rough but I declined. I wanted to really give the ear plug the test. I am not yet an experienced sailor.

At 1pm Thursday we made it to the Galveston fuel dock, picked up Kay and I went below to make the crew sandwiches, six to be exact. This would be last time I ate or drank anything that would stay down until 2am on Saturday when we tied up at Island Moorings in Port Aransas, Tx 37 hours later. As soon as we made it out of the protection of the land and jetties and into the Gulf of Mexico near the start line the motion of the boat was no longer as stable. It started to roll just a bit in an uncomfortable way. It was at this point I started to feel queasy, right around the start of the race at 2pm. As soon as I started to feel a little sick I took some medicine, half a pill of Scopace as the full one really is strong. Later I wished I had listened to Tate and taken the full pill.

After the race started and we had all of our sails up I was still ok but just feeling a bit dizzy, just slightly seasick. For 4 hours things were ok and the crew was jolly and enjoying the beautiful day albeit rolly 3-4 waves. We all took turns steering. Tate, Kay and I had the first watch from 6-10pm and I can’t quite recall but sometime during this Kay and I really started to get sick. At this point I removed the ear plug as I think it was doing more harm than good at disorienting me.  I think the winds picked up to 20 knots and the seas built to 5 feet. I steered as much as I could during that watch, taking turns with Tate and Kay while trying to hold the overwhelming sickness together. Mentally I tried to forget about it, to push it down and continue to be a productive crew but the motion on the ocean was just too much. The half pill I had taken wasn’t working and I wasn’t able to keep another one down. Defeat!

10pm to 2am was the next 4 hour shift manned by Skipper Todd, Danny and Katerina the Swiss with the iron gut. Tate and I went below to try to get some much needed sleep to prepare for the 2am watch. Kay stayed above as being down below was sweltering hot and made sickness so much worse. In fact I had to go to bed with a trash bag…a bag that happened to be “scented”. To this day I think it’s the worse thing I’ve ever smelled.
Tate and Dani sleeping below

I slept as best I could up there on the top berth and I could feel the conditions get worse. With my eyes closed and my body pressed against the side of the boat due to the boat’s heeling I felt like I was being thrown up in the air and allowed to fall down with my stomach in my throat. Over and over the boat took 5 foot waves on the bow causing it to lose speed a bit, fall down the wave in a rolly sort of motion feeling like it was being held back before being surged forward again by the wind. Two steps forward and a half a step back while rocking side to side and up and down in erratic intervals. Like some kind of possessed amusement park ride it was truly the most uncomfortable motion I’ve ever felt, not to mention it’s hot and ventilation was at a minimum with the ports and hatches mostly shut to keep to seawater out of the boat.

2am comes around and it’s our turn. I struggle to find my life jacket and harness in the mess that is below. The heeling and rolling of the boat has caused gear to be strewn all over the floor. Everyone has to step on top of all the stuff to move around while cleaning up is impossible at this 20 degree angle. In the few minutes it takes me to get prepared to get on deck I’m already so much more sick. So dizzy and sick to my stomach I feel like a huge weight is on my shoulders holding me down and making movement difficult and undesirably. None of this matters though as it’s now 2am and we are 12 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico with a tired watch crew that needs sleep, 20-25 degree heel, sometimes 30, a reefed main, partially furled Genoa and 25 knot gusts,  it’s time for our watch sickness or not.

We crawl out of the boat and I try to keep the extent of sickness hidden from the rest of the crew. Tate knows though, he always knows when I’m sick. I try to get the strength to tell one of the dirty jokes I had printed for watch change and we settle into our positions to look out for rigs and keep the boat sailing as close to the wind as possible. The entire safety of the crew is in our hands and we have to be alert. Tate takes the first hour helming from 2-3am as I scan the horizon sometimes dry heaving over the side. The low side of the boat is actually the most comfortable in the cockpit so I plant myself there propped up on a yellow flotation square. Kay is up on the high side laying down trying to feel better, periodically scanning the horizon for rigs or other dangerous objects that lie silent in the night.

Luckily the full moon shines brightly above and we can see rather well. After checking with Tate I lay down on the low side and shut my eyes trying anything to feel better, it is the only thing that seems to help. The winds are over 20 knots and the boat is heeled so much now that waves are being shipped over the bow and come running down the side deck soaking me with seawater. It’s ok though, this is still the most comfortable place. I am able to sleep for 30 minutes or so and I wake up feeling alright. I have found that right after a nap I feel the best and I made use of this knowledge and took the tiller for 30 minutes. Tate takes my position on the low side feeling sick now, getting soaked also. Luckily the water and air aren’t too cold.

Poor Kay is still so sick even though she planned ahead and wore the Scopolamine patch. I had not taken such precautions and now guilt was starting to set in. I was not an effective crew member, limping around throwing up over the side. In my compromised mental state I started to feel intense guilt for not being more prepared for the forecast conditions and this guilt kept me from totally succumbing to the sickness, at least at that time. Tate took the tiller again, just in time for the Coast Guard rescue and then around 4:15 I took it back. I knew he was sick and so so tired. I encouraged him to get some sleep and I helmed for an hour, somehow, totally sick but unable to quit while Tate slept. It’s a good thing too because at 5:15 he woke back up feeling like a new man and was able to finish the watch.

I was never so happy for 6am and sunrise to come so we could go off watch and go below to sleep. I was completely and totally seasick at this point dry heaving every 10 minutes or so. Going down into the cabin was the hardest. The heat, the smells and the stagnant air made it a real challenge to get into the berths for sleep. It was like forcing yourself to walk on hot coals. It was back to the berth for me and that flowerly awful smelling trash bag. Sleep did not come easy as conditions continued to get worse outside. Every so often seawater would get shipped down the hatch from the waves but no one was in any condition to get the tools needed to close it. It just was.

Now let me say this, I am impressed with the way the Westsail handled the ocean. Wow what a champ. I never for a second felt unsafe or afraid, just damned ill. 10am came around and I forced myself up and onto the deck to help with the last shift. Even though it was no longer “night watch” time the last shift was still tired and we needed to give them some relief. After a bit of my dry heaving I felt somewhat better and tried to take the tiller. I poorly steered for 10 minutes, which felt like an hour. I forced myself as best as I could to help on the boat and take some time steering since really the only ones who had steered the boat in the past 18 hours were the guys. Katerina was too short to helm in the heavy conditions and Kay was just way to sick for anyone to even ask. That left 3 guys and me.

I tried my best not to complain or let on just how awful I was feeling, what did it matter anyways? We were out there miles and miles away from shore in conditions that JUST. WOULDN’T. QUIT. However my poor helm direction didn’t go unnoticed by the crew and finally someone else took over. I starting my bargaining phase of my sickness and started to dream of ways to make the feeling go away. I quietly asked Tate if this is what they meant by “Gentlemen never sail to weather” and what could we do if we were pleasure sailing to make things feel better, hoping there was something that could be done should we accidentally see ourselves in this situation again. He assured me this is where that phrase came from and there were many things that could be done. I felt better knowing that. While hanging over the side of the boat I looked at the water and wondered what it felt like, surely it didn’t move like the boat and I fantasized about laying in it, nice and cool away from the scorching sun that was now high above.

Eventually upon Tate’s prompting I went to lay by the mast and shut my eyes, the only, only thing that gave me some relief. The whole while I was up there my mind was racked with guilt and regret. Why hadn’t I just taken some medicine?! How ridiculous for me to think this was a good time to try the ear plug trick. I mean I read the forecast and it was black and white the worst conditions for the Westsail, beating into the wind. I was sort of sick and running on no sleep, for shame to not come better prepared and now tax the crew with my illness.

I laid there for hours, baking in the sun while waves crashed over the bow and sprinkled me with chilly water. I started to get sunburnt as there was NO WAY to put on sunscreen in my condition. At this point even the most simple and menial tasks were impossible to do. I spent hours thinking I should go below to change the batteries on the GoPro and get my foul weather jacket to protect me from the sun and water but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t ask anyone to do it either because I felt like such a burden. A sick crew member who can’t help AT ALL with any of the sailing now asking others to do what she can not. No…I just laid there. I laid there for hours until the cycle of being chilled by water, warmed by the sun and burnt to the skin was too much. It took so much to sit up and ask Tate if someone could get my jacket. This too caused me guilt since Kay was on the side deck, also in need of her jacket but I couldn’t muster the strength to ask. I had to preserve myself so maybe I could help her.

It’s really insane when I go back and think on how this felt. Seasickness overtakes every part of your mind and body and totally incapacitates you. Around 3pm on Friday the Skipper took a crew vote for calling off the race. Tate forcefully spoke for me, saying we both vote to go in. He knew I would never say we should go in when it was my own damn fault for being sick, he was right. I would have stayed out as long as the crew wanted, fighting guilt and praying to be able to drink some water so I wouldn’t die. By this time I hadn’t eaten or drank anything in 27 hours.

The next 11 hours it took to get to Island Moorings with the motor running are somewhat of a hazy cloud to me. I know the waves grew to 6-8 feet always at 6 second intervals and winds gusted to 30 knots. Eventually as night fell I went below, dry heaving in my floral scented trash bag trying anything to feel better. I started visualizing land, dry beds and the hospital. I thought for sure when we got to the dock I would be so famished and dehydrated that I’d need medical attention. I fantasized about a cool hospital bed and an wet IV that would bring me back to life. I felt so weak, so useless and weighted with guilt. I wasn’t sure I’d ever feel better again. At one point a bunch of seawater crashed through the hatches and into the boat forcing me to get up and bring Tate a life jacket and tether I knew he wasn’t wearing. I suppose only life threatening situations could make me act.

After 34 hours of enduring seasickness right as rain when the boat rounded the jetties and made it into calmer waters I immediately felt some relief. Still in bad shape but able to walk I jumped up on deck and tried to help with whatever I could. The 3 SUPERMEN, Skipper Todd, Danny and Tate had sailed us home safely through some really rough seas all running on very little sleep. I can’t thank them enough and shudder at the thought of being short just one more crew member. We came into the jetties at night unable to see very well the inlet to Island Moorings. It was blowing like crazy but finally we made it in and found our slip. Thankfully we were greeted by a very nice man who helped us tie up the boat. And then it was over. My ordeal had ended and I had survived. I immediately drank a whole gatorade hoping the electrolytes would give me some life as well as two bags of sun chips which is all that sounded appealing. Wet, tired and woozy we all went to the showers, the glorious hot water showers.

Mostly salt free we went back to the somewhat salt water bunks to sleep. The next day was breakfast and the awards ceremony at which I ate my heart out.
Harvest Moon Regatta Barbeque

There was ice cold beer in kegs.
Kegs at the HMR

A band that played some island tunes.
Harvest Moon Regatta Bands

And all the other sailors who had survived the 2014 HMR.
HMR Awards ceremony

From everyone we talked to 30-50% of all crews got terribly sick. It was a really rough ride and I was glad to be back on land. I was honestly dizzy and unstable for the next 5 days feeling seasick every now and then. My sore throat progressed into something worse and I basically lost my voice for a few days and developed a bad cough. As I sit here and type this I’m just getting better from my ordeal. Lord, what a time that was.

As bad as it all sounds I would go back out in that again tomorrow if you asked, you better believe with medicine this time. Does that make me crazy? Probably.

If you have made it this far you have made it to the moral of this story. NO SCENTED TRASH BAGS.  And that the jury for me is still out on whether the ear plug trick is truly a solution for seasickness. It has worked beautifully in the past and this time I had the cards stacked against me at the start with illness, lack of sleep and terrible conditions for the Westsail. But because life is unpredictable and a sick crew member can be a safety issue for the rest of the boat I can not recommend this trick for anything other than perhaps a day sail or truly benign conditions.

This race was a learning experience and I am forever thankful to Skipper Todd and the rest of the crew for graciously allowing me to experiment and suffer while remaining safe. You better believe I’ll be taking medicine ANYTIME Tate and I head offshore. No ifs, ands or butts about it. NOTHING feels as bad as being truly seasick for long periods of time. I hope this helps any of those out there who don’t quite know what this feels like, don’t make the mistake I did.

Harvest Moon Regatta 2014

It all started out so calmly…

We headed out early to pick up crew.
Harvest Moon Regatta 2014 Sunrise

Aboard Todd Johnson’s Morning Sun were six souls. Todd, Tate, Dani, Danny, Kay, and Katerina. The TTDDKK crew. Todd you all know from our posts about last years HMR and he returns this year as a fun and safe skipper. New to us were:

  • Danny, who is an adventurer and W32 owner
  • Kay, who is a kind TX Power Squadron member and crews with Todd often
  • Katerina, who is a bundle of overwhelming energy and impervious to seasickness

We passed familiar sights.
Kemah boardwalk
Harvest Moon Regatta 2014 startline

And got underway:

But if you watched that video above, you know that all wasn’t just smooth water and sunshine. Oh no, this Harvest Moon was a far cry from the last one. We didn’t get much in the way of video after the first day. You’ll find out why… As the sun set, the fun began.
Harvest Moon Regatta 2014 sunset

Thursday started out great. 100 boats in our class all began near to 2pm on Thursday and headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. The breeze was moderate and the seas were not bad, but as the day went on and the night came, the seas built and so did the wind. By the first night watch we had a reef in the main and a furled Genoa. The boat was beating to windward in five foot chop and progress was not looking good. We could not hold the rhumb line and were falling off further and further.

Friendly Fire

Coast Guard boat
The second night watch fell to myself, Dani, and Kay. By this time, Kay and Dani were both very sea sick and the weather had deteriorated. I took the tiller for the first hour of a four hour watch, then Dani was able to helm for a bit, then I took the tiller again. During my second spell at the tiller something very odd happened. Off in the distance I saw a white light being flashed. It was erratic and wild. We were approaching it.

When we came close enough I could see that the light was coming from a sailboat. It was a spot light. Someone was lighting up their sails then scanning the horizon wildly back and forth sometimes beaming me in the face. As I looked around while steering I saw red and blue flashing lights comings from the opposite direction. Something was coming and VERY fast. I assumed it was the Coast Guard. Well, we were only about a quarter of a mile from the boat in distress, but with the CG on the way I decided to continue on and not wake up Todd. Then it happened. Instead of going around us or slowing down, the 45ft CG boat which I estimate was moving at around 30kts crossed our bow about 300 yards away at about a 90 degree angle. I turned the boat 30 degrees to the course of the CG vessel but it did very little to help…

I saw it coming. A giant wake. A wave amongst the waves. It came over the front of the boat above the bowsprit. Kay was on the side deck, she was so ill. The wave picked her up and carried her body down the side of the boat and deposited her in the cockpit beside Dani and myself. She sat up and said, “What was that?” The wave also went through the slightly open forward hatch and hit Danny in the face. He was sleeping in the V-berth. He says he woke up just in time to see a wave literally come into the boat and try to drown him. Todd was asleep in the pilot berth, the most secure place below and even he got drenched. I was hit in the face with a wave that carried on right over the cabin top and slapped me backward. Luckily everyone was clipped in. But there was much cussing from the off watch below. And I was angry.

The strange boat

Foggy night with a tall ship

The steering was hard going but after we’d put some distance between ourselves and the rescue in progress Dani mercifully took over and steered some more despite her seasickness and I rested. I resumed the steering for the last of the watch. The cursed watch. As I took the tiller I noticed a boat behind us and off the starboard quarter. I saw its mast head light. A few moments later I turned and looked for it, but there was nothing. A phantom. A ghost ship? Perhaps. 20 minutes later I see the boat again, no lights onboard, but I can make out the sails from the moonlight and she is heading for us. I turned 30 degrees off our course and held that for about twenty minutes but the boat altered its course for us. Then I turned back to our first course and again the boat turned and continued to head straight for us! Its mast head light would come on sometimes, but just for a moment or two. It was almost time for watch change so I woke up Todd to see what he wanted to do. He lit the boat up with a spot light and it took off like a shot. Very strange indeed. Todd commented on how angry I sounded. I didn’t realize it but I was mad. Two crazy events in one watch along with fatigue had caught up with me. I apologized.

And finally I collapsed below for some rest at 6am.

Dani’s Ordeal

Seasickness photo
I woke up at 10am. Dani was violently ill. Poor baby has never been as sick as she was then. It was her first bout with “real” sea sickness. The kind you cannot escape and must endure for many hours to come. I told her to go to the mast and lay there where the motion was slightest. She did for hours. Many hours. Todd admitted that having not seen her go there initially he thought she was a stowed piece of gear since she was wrapped up in her foulies. She just did not move for the longest time. She and Kay both suffered terribly as we beat to weather. I also got ill but only for a short spell and I eventually recovered. Due to the absolutely sickening conditions below, neither of us had the heart to go below to change the camera’s battery and we weren’t willing to ask anyone else to do it either. We apologize for the abrupt end to the video.

Fortunately, not everyone was *that* uncomfortable though. Todd and Danny seemed alright, but the Iron Gut Champion was Katerina. Her 4’10” frame belies a giant of resiliency. She was sitting on the deck whooping and laughing while eating Swiss chocolate and drinking Schnapps!

We continued on until midday Friday when we had to tack out to make some southing back to the Rhumb line. The angles were horrible and we realized then that it was going to be impossible to make the finish line before the official end of the race. The crew took a vote and we decided to start the motor and use it to head in. (With the motor on we could point high enough to make the rhumb line at speed.) By this time the wind was kicking up to about 20kts. We took in the Genoa fully, raised just the staysail, put a second reef in the main, and began motoring. We were 56 miles from Port Aransas.

Todd eventually fixed up a tiller pilot he was testing for the first time and it did a surprisingly good job in the heavy conditions. By nightfall we were in 25kt winds with gusts above 30kts and waves that were 6ft but some really big rollers coming through were probably higher. It just kept us going along. The staysail/double reefed main was fantastic. We made about 6kts the entire way back and were able to make it to our marina by 2am.

I think everyone was thankful to arrive except maybe Katerina who seemed to be bouncing with energy. We all had a good sleep and lazed around the next day until it was time to go to the awards ceremony. Just like last year, we got a group photo of the crew together.
Harvest Moon Regatta 2014 Crew aboard Morning Sun

Despite not finishing, we felt pretty good. 25% of the boats in our fleet did not finish the race. Despite poor Dani and Kay’s suffering, we had no gear failures. At no point did I actually feel unsafe. There was simply discomfort.

The Good

  • Lessons learned: Coming into port at night is scary. W32s do excellent with their cutter rig in 30+kts of wind. W32s don’t point in a chop.
  • Friends made: Katerina, Candy (our road crew), Danny and Catalina were all excellent people to meet. Seeing Todd and Kay again was awesome as well.
  • Wisdom gained: Dani discovered the discomfort of true seasickness. Despite the downside of the discomfort, she is glad to know what it is like and be prepared for it in the future.
  • Despite getting sick at one point, I recovered. That has never happened to me before. I was sitting there after being sick just waiting and suddenly, I was like… “I’m hungry.” I had a beer and some chips and was back online. Three cheers for knowing what “acclimation” feels like.

The Bad

  • The Coastie will wake your ass. After getting home we looked up the “event” with the coast guard boat. Several media outlets covered it but the stories were all slightly different. See Coast Guard rescues seven people off Matagorda jetties for one account of it. I actually ended up calling the coast guard station at Port O’Connor and was able to speak to the Coxswain of the boat. He said he was doing 15kts. Dani and I both have a lot of trouble believing that but maybe he really was. He apologized for waking us.
  • The boat that almost hit us, the “phantom” boat. It turned out to be a trimaran that had a hatch blown off the foredeck and began to take on water. This may explain why the mast head light was flickering erratically. I don’t know why they followed us so closely until we lit them up with a spot light. The helmsman might have just been following our light while worrying about “other” things as you might be doing while sinking…
  • Several boats suffered damage or injury during the race. There was another boat who had a crew member hit in the head and had to be air lifted to a hospital. Many of the people arriving on the docks were talking about crews that had never been sick during a HMR showing up with puke streaked decks. What a ride.

The Ugly

Bird's pooped all over Tate and Dani's car

Dani and I thought we had Hollywood parking. A spot right at the front. Little did we know why it was vacant. We drove around TX looking for a car wash to no avail. We drove to Louisiana and stopped in Lake Charles looking for a car wash, but the two we found were either out of order or closed! So we drove hundreds of miles covered in bird poop. The crap-mobile rides again!

Thanks to Todd Johnson and his excellent crew. We learned. We sailed. We had a great time !