Each day we experience has the value of what we presume it to have, and every day holds a new adventure just waiting for us to discover. Making the most of the 24 hours allotted is sometimes a hard feat to accomplish, especially when one finds themselves on a sailboat with seven kids, two adults, a dog, a cat, and the local mildew population exponentially growing wherever moisture is left unchecked (aka EVERYWHERE!!) After spending almost a week amongst some of my landlocked friends, saying farewell, creating memories, sleeping at anomalous hours (if deciding to sleep at all) and promising to write frequently, it was time for me to set out to the water once more. Finally, I reached my own bed and, of course, my charming family, who had now left Clear Lake Shores, Kemah, TX, and had motored Invincible, our 41ft sailboat, down to Offatts Bayou, near Galveston, TX. I arrived with early Christmas presents intended for my six little minions, another pair of helpful hands for my parents, a reverie of warmer Caribbean waters, and a gut full of junk food for the head (the toilet on a boat). My desire for the potential reality of our cruising down to the Islands emerged as genuine as ever- and I couldn’t wait for the day to materialize when it became a reality.
Scrutinizing the weather report two times daily, for news of rising winds or calmer waters, my parents came to the consensus to remain until after the Mayan calendar ended, December 21st, and thus the prediction to the end of the known world, before we hoisted our anchor to sail away. Beseeching the weather to clear, before we all turned to zombies, I nearly had it in mind to perform an anti-rain dance, in the hopes that it would grant us a week of perfect sailing weather straight to Florida. This ritual would have encompassed Tupperware bongo drums, hands cupped over our mouths, and sacrificing Bella (our youngest sister, 6 years old) to Poseidon. But alas, I’ll never discern if my ingenious proposal would have worked, for my younger siblings have more sagacity than I at times, and preferred to watch a movie instead of becoming involved in my elaborate superstitious scheme. So day after day the rains came and the cold, gale force winds blew, and still we lay at anchor awaiting our chance for an escape into paradise.
Christmas Eve found us still sitting in Offatts Bayou awaiting our out of grasp weather window. While the children dreamed of sugar plums and fresh coconuts, Santa swung down our mast, drank our eggnog, and arranged the candy canes into pretty heart shapes, though how he and the reindeer were able to come and go in the gale force winds that had arisen from the north, is a part of the enthralling Christmas mystery I’ll never know. The gift of clean hair would have been the most marvelous of all, but alas, showers would have to wait for another day, for at that moment we were cuddled in the cabin with five foot swells, wind gusts of up to 50 knots (about 60mph), and a tornado warning in surrounding areas. In honor of the holiday season, when the chance arose, we went and walked The Festival of Lights, at the Moody Gardens. Seeing that we were arriving by water, we tied off on the dinghy dock, which just happened to be conveniently situated in the middle of the light display; due to this position we had the opportunity to experience the fun for no cost, repeatedly! With our prime site in the Bayou on New Year’s Eve, we saw a spectacular display of sporadic fireworks from the land near us, and we were able to just sit there, reminiscing on the year that had vanished, and the new one bursting with adventures about to commence.
In the midst of this long wait, I finished Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebie, and the writings of Robin Lee Graham’s circumnavigation in Dove and the dream of doing my “own thing” continued to flourish. I saw no raison d’être why I, a small town girl with absolutely no experience on the water, couldn’t just “Do It.” As soon as the ignorant notion crossed my mind though, I became instantaneously embarrassed of my blatant adolescence and stupidity. Here I was, not even reading the Sailing Fundamentals book my mom had all but shoved down my throat, and just because I’d read some inspiring accounts and peeked through various articles in Cruising World Magazine, I’m all of a sudden equipped to “take on the world”- I don’t think so. In an optimistic light, the idea of departure is what sustains me to sit through the screams, banging feet, and broken CDs with my lovely family- so I can get the experience I need to one day…. But even overcoming the immediate future has yet to deter me from spending what limited internet access I have from scanning the World Wide Web for a humble vessel that could carry me away, when I can actually sail unassisted, and opt to jump ship.
January 3, 2013 brought the daybreak we had all been anxiously awaiting. With the heaving of the anchor, starting the motor, and informing the drawbridge of our departure, it made the actuality that we were finally leaving a buoyant realization. We hadn’t a notion that when we arrived in Offatts Bayou on December 14, 2012 it would be such an extensive wait just to begin our first leg of the journey to Florida. But there always seemed to be another unresolved predicament just waiting to be exposed. Ours, at the moment, had been a faulty wiring situation that was incorrectly charging our house batteries. After some inexorable troubleshooting, the cord had been upgraded and the battery banks stimulated, thus we were, mechanically, in the clear for the present moment. That’s when the weather resolved to turn against us, and the Southeast coast of Texas was battered with five cold fronts concurrently in the frame of two weeks, making it materialize into what seemed an unpromising situation that we would ever leave. But all these pessimistic aspects seemed to fritter away on Thursday the 3rd of January, when we entered the Gulf of Mexico with the intention of sailing in 3-5 foot swells and 10-20 knots of wind coming from the North just as the weather forecast had predicted, and of course how could that be incorrect. It was terribly wrong.
After 56 hours at sea, 36 of those hours with a bucket being used by eight of us to catch the effects of seasickness, which even the dog succumbed to, with nine-foot swells crashing over our bow and gusts of up to 28 knots, we found ourselves with a non-running engine, a bent sail track for our main, and awaiting the arrival of a towboat to take us to safer waters. The morning of Saturday, January 5th found us at the Galveston Yacht Basin Marina, only 57 blocks from where we had been formerly anchored. With unconstrained hot water, Wi-Fi at the touch of our fingertips, and ground that was not bucking under our bare feet, none of us were found complaining about the turn-around, except maybe the bank account, which had to pay for repairs and nightly slip fees.
If knowledge is power, then my mom and dad have total supremacy over that lovely engine of ours. With the decision to go through the Intra Coastal waterways (ICW) from Texas and reaching Florida in about three weeks, the workings of the engine are vital. Wanting to avoid the ICW is what prompted us to face the wrath of the Gulf, of which we had been previously forewarned, but I guess we just needed to test the already proven theory out for ourselves. With the conclusion being drawn that the Gulf of Mexico “is a bathtub, in which all you do is wallow,” we are to go through the ICW. Though we will be paying a pretty penny for diesel, and the obnoxious hum of the never ending engine will get annoying, traveling strictly during daylight hours and anchoring every night to sleep sound better than the nightmarish alternative of the Gulf. With that in mind, on Monday January 13th we left Galveston, again, and headed inland to discover the ICW for ourselves.
I’ve come to fully realize, and only begin to comprehend, that even though the timing is not always in our favor, there is no reason to be ashamed of not reaching a destination within an expected time frame. Because of our engine problems my parents have learned more about the upkeep and maintenance of a diesel engine than ever before, we were able to get our sail fixed for free by the company that made it, and with the decision to go IntraCoastal it gives Connor (7), Hannah (9) and Bella (6) a chance to steer with no parental fear of dramatic wind changes or sail malfunctions. Since the plans we had initially made for the first leg ended in a return to Galveston, we have the chance to start anew, refreshed as a more experienced and cohesive crew. We’ve learned that the brightest way to start an excursion of this sort is with a framework of desired destinations and an open, easy time-frame that plays out at the start of each day. Henceforth, day by day is how we shall live our lives, hoping for the best, and ready to overcome the worst as a family, with the mutual dream of adventure and a sailboat ready to take us there.
Chillin’ eating oatmeal for breakfast