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 !