Saturday, March 29, 2014

Oil Spill, locks closed, an unusual docking situation and a rescue

After spending the day holed up awaiting a weather window, we left Sanctuary Costa Grande at sun up.

As we headed out to the ICW from the Sanctuary cut, there were quite a few barges lined up in the ICW heading east into Matagorda bay.  We waited for traffic to pass and merged into the line.  
The wind was down today to about 10-15 mph out of the north east which we assumed would make the 17 miles across the bay pretty rough taking the waves on the quarter.  As we approached the jetties we contacted Nightingale (the other boat that we shared our weather hole with to let him know what kind of weather we were seeing) and let him know the weather was like in the bay.  
We were just coming through the jetties so we told him we would contact him in 15 minutes as we were out in it.  The good news is that the waves were only about 2-3 feet but they were stacked up right against each other and we were heading into the wind so the spray was constant.  We were thankful for the dodger and bimini as we stayed dry and fairly warm.

Here is a nice little video of us sailing in San Antonio Bay the prior day

Barge traffic wasn’t too bad in the bay, and all of the tugs are good about responding on the VHF when you contact them to see which side of them they want to see us pass them on.  As we got to about the center of the bay, the waves were starting to jump up to 4 feet and were stacked 3 and 4 in a row.  For us this meant that we would go up and down the first 2 and then have the 3rd break over the bow and the 4th just slowed us down a bit.    We attempted to call back to Nightingale to let them know since they have a power catamaran that has a fairly low center between the hulls.  For him this would have been a bit of a pounding.  We were too far away from him so we contacted a tug “Reedemer” that was 8 miles behind us going the opposite way and asked him to hail Nightingale and pass on the report.  He did so and we could hear him relay the message.  (Mental note, we don’t have as strong of a VHF signal as I want)

We made it across the bay and into the protected waters again and as we were passing up a tug “Janice Roberts” the captain informed us that the Colorado River West Lock was closed until 1900 (7 pm).  The problem for us is we were hoping to go another 18 miles past the colorado river for the night, now it looks like we need to take a Plan B that is about 5 miles past the lock.     Just over 3 miles from the lock, all of the barge traffic was stopping.  We were able to see them stacked up on the AIS.  After contacting the lock master, they let us know that we could go through the west lock and down river on the Colorado and take the bypass cut around the east lock.  The problem is that cut only has 5 feet of depth and we need 6.  So it was time to just bite the bullet and get in line.  Looking at the tugs, I counted 16 ahead of us.  

We were circling in the ICW trying to determine what we were going to do for the next 4 and half hours and decided that there was no barge traffic coming at us with the locks closed so we would just anchor in the middle.  I went to the bow to ready the anchor and heard one of the tug captains talking to another to let him know that we were behind him.  Deb was manning the VHF and let them know that we were going to anchor here while we waited on the locks to open and then through in a “unless one of you tug captains would let us tie up to you”  We heard one tell us that he wasn’t sure what the company would think of that but he didn’t mind and asked us to just tie up to the first barge in his strung out load.  The cleats on these things are about 3 feet across and docking on it is like pulling up to a nice 10 foot deep bulkhead.  We stopped right next to him and tied up.  He asked us to just make sure we stayed on our vessel which we were glad to do and thankful for the generosity of letting us tie up him rather than anchoring in the middle of the ICW.  

So here I am writing a blog while sitting at the nav station while tied up to a barge.  I made sure that the company name was not visible in these because this was a really cool thing this guy let us do.   As I write this the thunder and lightning is picking up and I am just hoping that the captain of the tug doesn’t call me and ask me to shove off due to my 50 foot lightning rod (mast) tied up to his tug.  If he does, I completely understand, but hoping not.  

I got a call on the radio from the Tug Captain, he said that he was going to start moving on up the ICW a bit further.  We told him we would toss the lines off.  I went down below and had she wouldn't start.  I couldn't believe it.  I called the Captain back and let him know that I was having an issue and working on switching over to an alternate battery.  He asked what we drafted, we answered and he said that he would just carry us along for a while and he would be sure that he kept us in water deep enough (not a problem as he needed 4 feet more depth than we needed.  But it was really cool of him, he just left us tied on and carried us with him a mile or so while we swapped batteries.  We untied while doing about a knot and a half while tied to him.  

So it will get a bit more interesting tonight because these tugs in front of me will take a little bit of time to get going through the lock, which means we may not hit it until dark.  The place we will stay for the night is about 4 miles past the lock.  This delay certainly impacts us however as we were planning on making 55-70 miles today and with this stop we are oily going to make 34, which puts reaching Kemah out of the question by Tuesday.  The goal now is to get to Hitchcock on Tuesday if possible so that our friends can catch their flights back to Dallas.  If they can’t we may need to take a cab from Freeport which may be oostly but potentially the only option.
We were trying to figure out why the West Lock of the Colorado river was closed and then learned it was to keep the traffic from stacking up in Galveston where everything is shut down due to the oil spill and collision between a ship and a barge carrying oil.  It appears that there was about 168,000 gallons of oil spilled into Galveston bay right at the Texas City dyke.  Due to this and the clean up efforts the Intercoastal water way east and west bound is closed at the Houston Ship Channel, the Houston Ship Channel is closed, the Galveston Ship Channel is closed and the Texas City Channel is closed.  This basically means there is no way to get home right now so our plan is to try to get to Hitchcock on the West side of Galveston.  

We received a call from Nightingale, they had attempted to go around a tug and had the prop wash push them into shallow water and had run aground.  We waited for a while to see if they were able to free up and they were not so we turned and went back to give them a tug and see if we could free them.  The good news is that we were able to and we made good time heading up the ICW.  The Captain on Nighingale radioed the lock operator who was willing to let us run through ahead of the barges.  That allowed us to get to our designation for the night.  We both ended up staying at the Matagorda City Harbor for the night.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Waiting on Weather

Nice new floating docks with 50/30 amp power
After getting tied up and settled in at Sanctuary Costa Grande, we filled out the small honor system 1 day contract and dropped a check in the box at the leasing office that was not manned.  There were a few other boats in the marina including the Power Catamaran Nightengale that we passed us in Corpus Christi bay in the dense fog.  

Public patio with grill, sink, furniture and music
This marina was really nice.  They had nice clean bathrooms with 2 showers in the mens and women’s room.   They had 2 ice machines that were available to transient slip renters as well.  There was a great walking trail that went all around the housing development and marina with a boat ramp, gazebo’s with grills, fish cleaning stations and a big 40 by 40 foot patio with nice furniture, lights and ceiling fans.  They even had a control pad to play music all over the patio area.  This was a really nice place.

Since we didn't get to sail this day, I figured I would post a nice video of our sailing the day before in San Antonio Bay.

Clean bathrooms for marina users

club house (not available to transient slip users)

Several gazebo's with grills and ceiling fans

Nightengale (saw them pass us in the fog in Corpus)

The Crew for this trip (Deb, Kenney, Karen and Jim)

We chatted with Gene from Nightengale about the weather expected on Sunday.  It was supposed to be cloudy and the wind was going to be 15-20 knots.  We decided that we didn’t want to fight the fog again like the previous morning so we figured we would leave after about 9am after the sun had some time to burn off the fog.  When I got up at about 8am Nightengale had pulled out already.  As the fog started to lift we started to untie, and prep for departure.  Right when we did we heard Nightengale hail us on the radio.  He had poked his nose out into Matagorda bay and saw 4 foot waves and winds gusting to 35 knots on the note.  He let us know that he was turning around and coming back to our weather hole.  

We relaxed a bit and when he pulled back into the Marina we helped tie him up as he was getting pushed off the dock pretty good by the high winds.  In the end, there are worse places to be stuck.  We had a nice place to stay.

As Gene and I chatted, we talked about potentially leaving the next morning.  We agreed that whoever left would report back to the other on the weather.

Below are some of the pictures we took as we walked around the marina.  Anyone planning on transiting the ICW, this is a really great place to stop. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

There are 2 kinds of people... Those that have grounded and those that lie.

We have been in Corpus Christi Texas for a couple of months now since our granddaughter was born.  With my work travel schedule, it requires me to fly almost every week.  Doing this out of Corpus has been a bit of a challenge due to the size of the airport and the connections.

To that end, we decided it was time to head back to the Kemah area.  This is within 30 minutes of a large airport in Houston (Hobby) and allows travel to be much more easily accommodated.  We started to plan our cruise from Corpus to Kemah via the ICW (InterCoastal Waterway).  and some of our friends wanted to join us for the trip and thought it would be fun.    A Plan was created.

We would give ourselves 4 days (5 with a  buffer) and sail out on a Saturday assuming we would arrive in Kemah on Tuesday.  We spent most of Friday just finishing up last minute things on the boat.

We picked up our friends late friday night, and everyone hit the sack for our early morning departure. Sunrise was scheduled to be 7:30am, so we planned on leaving by 6:30 in hopes to get a head start on the day 1 trip given we were hoping to make 74 miles before sundown.

As we were getting ready we noticed that there was dense fog but decided that we could go out slowly and stay out of the main shipping channel and it should burn off before we got to the narrow portion going to Aransas Pass.  I was surprised at how hard it was to hold a course when you can't see something to "aim" toward.  We made slow progress and it put us a bit behind schedule but really enjoyed the benefit of having AIS at the helm for this trip.  We were able to see ships and tugs and their heading.

Barges pushed against the shore waiting for better weather
The fog cleared mid morning and we finally started to make decent progress as we headed north east on the ICW.  There was a portion of the trip in Aransas Bay and San Antonio Bay where we were able to sail on a beam reach for a good portion of the trip.  We were able to sail at over 7 knots for a good portion of the trip which helped us make up some time for our slow foggy start.   There was quite a bit of barge traffic on the ICW and they were sitting along the bank going in and out of the bays waiting for the wind to die down.  When they go through with a strong cross wind they tend to come through at an angle.  Typically barges are pushed but the odd shaped ones tend to get towed.
Here we are passing a pretty large dredge barge.

Things were starting to go too good so Murphy decided to pay us a visit.  As we were coming out of San Antonio Bay where the Guadalupe Bay cut intersects to it, we hailed a oncoming tug and asked if he was good passing on the "2 whistle" (this means that we will pass him so our Starboard side is closest to him).  This is kind of like driving on the wrong side of the road, but since we were sailing it  is safer to stay on the downwind side of him to avoid potentially being blown into him.    as he approached, I gave him a wide berth so he had room to pass between an anchored tug on his left and us approaching him on his right.  That is when I heard the wake next to the boat start to break and we jerked a bit.  Yep, we ran aground.

From the charts we had a tough time telling where the actual channel was given the intersection area we were in.  We checked the depth all the way around the boat and determined which way we needed to go.  We tried to back off with no luck, we tried to spin on the keel in forward without success.  We were about to take the anchor in the dinghy to kedge off of it when a fishing boat passed by.  We flagged him down and asked him to give us a little tug backwards which he did and helped to get us backed off of it.

So they say that there are only 2 types of sailboaters, those that have grounded their boat and those that lie about having never grounded their boat.  We are not 2 time grounders.

In the end, we actually got free in about 30 minutes and were on our way.  But the delay meant we needed to stop somewhere closer for the night.  We were not going to make it to our planned destination before dark.

Deb to the rescue, she started searching "active captain" points of interest and found a very promising place for the night.   We will save the details of that for the next blog.  

For those that don't know about Active Captain, check it out here.  One of the best free services around!!!