Turning Around

Candace and I woke up at sunrise ready to continue further down the Texas coast to Matagorda bay. The forecast was chance of showers and 2 to 3 foot seas, this sounded optimal.

Motoring through the Freeport jetties we accidentally cut off an enormous tanker under tow. A tug gave us 6 short horn blasts, basically saying "our movement is restricted, what are you doing".

The seas go big pretty fast, the waves were so large I was afraid to go to the bow of the boat (especially with no jacklines) to unfurl the foresail. We kept motoring further out hoping the seas would get better, but they didn't. Even if we could get the foresail up, the sailing in this would slow pounding endeavor. The boat was too small to cut through the 3 foot seas. The Matagorda bay entrance was 70 miles away. Which could easily take 12 + hours. Not wanting to enter an unfamiliar harbor at night, we decided head back into the jetties and take the ICW.

A few miles into the ICW the boat slowed from 6 knots to 2. With seemingly no explanation. No amount of fiddling with it on the water would make it work. This was bad. Not only could we not sail, we could not motor. I started calling places in Freeport asking about docking while we got the engine looked at by a mechanic. Repairs could take several days so squatting did not seem practical. We chose The Freeport municipal marina and it only cost us sixtyish bucks until the end of July. We limped over there. Recovering the ground we covered in the ICW took around 3 hours. Once we were in Freeport harbor I sailed up toward the marina. Navigating through the guillotine storm gate and around the industrial activity under full sail was awesome.

We berthed at the marina and met the local liveaboarders.

We were pretty stumped about what to do next. Some of the friendly folks at the marina gave us the number of an outboard mechanic. We got a ride to Houston, and scheduled an appointment with the mechanic. Two days later he got back to us and told us all it was, was a "spun prop". Basically there is a plastic bushing between the rotating axle and the prop itself. He didn't charge us because this was a pretty simple thing he could diagnose on inspection. We went back to Freeport the next day, removed the prop and had the bushing replaced for a grand total of $44. The next day we returned to the marina.

Candace took the initiative to install the prop. She dropped a vital component, a special washer that fits between the prop and the shaft, into the water. The water was around five feet deep and zero visibility. There was no way the boat would go anywhere without the washer. What followed was 30 minutes of feeling around in the mud, rocks, and sharp oyster shells. When I finally felt the washer, I was so excited I swam up quickly and hit my head on the bottom of the floating dock. After a panicky moment trying to feel which way I had to go to surface I came up and put the washer on the dock. My head and hands were bloody but I couldn't have been happier to find that stupid washer.

We were still unsure about heading out the next day. The forecast was again 2-3 foot seas. We could head down the ICW. Or we could turn around, put the boat up for sale in clear lake and take a bus to Mexico. We decided to sleep on it.

We woke up before sunrise and decided to shove off towards the ocean. Exiting the storm gate we heard warnings on the radio about a hydrochloric acid spill prohibiting exiting the harbor. We saw a coastguard patrol boat circling and we figured we could just try to leave and play dumb if they stopped us. Which they did immediately. We were told the harbor exit would be blocked for an indefinite amount of time. Of course this meant a late start towards Matagorda bay, which means we would be traveling at night.

It was nearing the end of July. I realize I had made several mistakes. I overestimated how our 24' boat would handle in the ocean. I overestimated our speed. Maybe we could wait for more favorable ocean conditions but that would slow us down even more. Considering this, and after looking at prices for bus tickets to México, we decided to head back to Clear Lake and re-sell the boat.

I was pretty disappointed. I was embarrassed. I would not be living out my daydreams about cruising to California on a shoestring. I would go back and see my friends to and hear a lot of "I told you so - blah blah blah". But I tried, and had a blast, and learned so much. I don't regret trying. And I'll try again. I owe a lot to the folks that helped us out, Tommy and Suzy Granger for food, supplies, and encouragement. And the late WD Granger who was an invaluable source of inspiration and advice.

I was procrastinating this post for a long time, then I read about Grimes' attempt to raft down the Mississippi. We both had nautical wonderlust and no cash. We both failed pretty hard after only a few days. Failure happens to everyone.


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