Thursday, May 24, 2012

Last Leg, Matagorda to Galveston

Well, after checking for pics from the 35-mile leg, I guess we took none.  That's OK, it was uneventful and a nice easy run.  It is mostly narrow GIWW channel, numerous barges, and one short open-water crossing at Chocolate Bay.  Gotta have at least a couple of pics though, so I borrowed from a recent day out on that same stretch.   Approaching from the west on the GIWW, that's Harborwalk straight ahead.  You can also see Galveston in the far distance if you look closely on the right distant horizon.  The second pic is the entrance into Harborwalk after exiting the GIWW.

We've been back at Harborwalk now for almost 8 months.  I've gotten most of the exterior rehab complete and I may post some of the before-and-after pics later.  For now, I'll just post the name changes.

It has been great being close to Austin to help out Adam's family with the cancer-treatment process Jen is going through.  We've been there numerous times and they have joined us here a few times also.  It's a nice break for them and a great spot for kids (and us adults too).

I'll close with a positive note in this regard.  Jen is about a year into the cancer treatment process.  She met with her DR yesterday and they will complete the chemo treatments on August 1st.  Yahoo!  It takes about 6 weeks for all of that to work its way out of  her body and final tests will be on October 3rd.  Please pray for positive results and great news from now until then, especially hopeful for a clean bill of health in October.  If you want to follow Jen's blog, check it out at 

Thanks for checking out our blog.  It's been fun.  More to follow.  We'll be here at least until October per the above and will make our next plans as appropriate pending those results.

Rockport to Freeport

This leg began with a 35-mile run across Matagorda Bay.  It is huge, open water, and it was a bit choppy.  Our confidence was up again after the repairs and a non-eventful cruise the day before.  We took a look at our paper charts and the chartplotter - looked like two options for crossing the bay.  One route is pretty much straight across the middle of the bay - looked like most of the barges were using it.  The other route hugs the shoreline of the barrier islands which we thought would be a little more scenic and less choppy.  Off we go and everything looked just as it should, all the markers were in place, landmarks looked correct, etc.  About 4 miles into the crossing, Rhonda says "stop, we're in 4 feet of water." (That's a problem with a 4-foot draft).  She was correct (confirmed by mud from the bottom stirred up by our props) but how could this be?  We were in the middle of the channel which should normally be protected 9 to 12 feet.  At this point, we also noted that there were no more channel markers ahead.  So, we decided to backtrack and take another run at it just in case we missed something the first time.  No luck, same conclusion, so we backtracked again.  This was really strange.

Setting all of my ego and pride aside (difficult for me on the water), I radioed one of the barges in the distance and asked what was up.  The captain said "You must be using old charts, that channel hasn't been maintained in years.  You need to use this one."  Well, I know that changes occur and charts are updated periodically.  You can even check for changes between updates, but normally they are minor (except on the Mississippi River). But we've never seen an entire route just disappear!  No doubt though, he was right, my bad, we moved over to the "barge crossing channel" as it was identified on our OLD charts and pressed ahead.  Here are some pics from the crossing.

Rhonda looking good at the helm (above), passing port O'Connor (below), just prior to entering Matagorda Bay

After reviewing my pics from the day, I realized there's not much to take pictures of in the middle of 35 miles of open water.  However, we did manage to catch a few pelicans on marker 30. 

Below, back to the security of the GIWW approaching Matagorda.  

Below, crossing the Colorado River in Matagorda.

By this time, Rhonda has her confidence up with all things mechanical on this boat and I manage to catch a nap on the aft deck between Matagorda and Freeport.

Approaching Freeport, you see lots of tankers supporting the "chemical city."  

I should also mention that with our delay for the heat exchanger issue and having bought only a few groceries for, at most, a 3-day trip, we were out of food!  It was imperative that we make Bridgeport Yacht Club before 7 PM - they promised to cook us a couple of burgers.  We did and it was good.  No pics of Bridgeport, tired, home tomorrow.

Rockport to Port O'Connor (plus a wedding)

The run from Rockport to Port O is only 50 miles.  That is normally an easy day.  Only 2 concerns - we just had some significant work done on the boat and there are 2 large open bay areas to cross, Aransas Bay and San Antonio Bay.  Just the possibility of a mechanical issue raises the adrenaline just a bit but off we went.  It was a nice easy run with no mechanical issues.

The Sanctuary development was beautiful.  They only had about 5 boats in the marina area and not more than 3 or 4 homes built so we understand why they wanted more long-term boats there.  The marina building was beautiful, very classy restroom/shower facilities, nice club/pool area across the street, tennis courts, and numerous man-made white sandy beaches throughout the development.  Here are some pics.

On the negative side, there was no WIFI, no cable or even analog antenna coverage, slip renters have no access to the pool (think visiting grandkids), and there are no other people!  The town is very small, basically a fishing village with no amenities to speak of except bait for sale, and the closest things like WalMart, grocery stores, medical facilities, etc. are 25 to 40 miles away at Port LaVaca and Victoria.  Being the leaning-toward-hermit that I am, I probably would have stayed here but Rhonda already has buddies at Harborwalk, and any needs to be met or conveniences you like are right at your fingertips in Galveston and the whole Houston metro area (plus 5 million people to share that with which gives merit to my propensity toward hermitism).  However, considering that not many wives these days would live on a boat for 4 and  1/2 years, I am somewhat indebted to and certainly very appreciative of Rhonda's willingness to do that.  Returning to Harborwalk is the sensible thing to do where all things are already "familiar" and the inconveniences of living aboard are "reduced."  Now, in fairness to the living aboard thing, we have definitely seen some great sights, have some great memories, have met some wonderful people, and if we moved back on land tomorrow, I will always be appreciative of this experience. And in fairness to Rhonda, I really like Harborwalk and the Galveston area also. Back to The Sanctuary, we have a wedding to attend!  

Twice in our live-aboard experience, we have witnessed a wedding from the back deck of our boat.  The first was in Muskogee when we managed the marina - a large wedding, pretty fancy event, big party afterwards, etc.  This one was much smaller with not many people, pretty sad music, and everyone was gone within a few minutes of  "I DO" eventhough they had food/reception stuff set up under cover at the marina building.   There was no "Here Comes The Bride" music, but I do remember the "song" - the same three chords cycled endlessly from a guitar.  There just didn't seem to be much of a festive mood at all about the whole thing.  Anyway, here comes the bride.

Also unfortunately for everyone, it drizzled throughout the ceremony and finally began to rain toward the end.  Here's the wedding party and guests.

And with the rain (the evidence is in the clouds and on the dinghy).

I hope my evaluation of the wedding is wrong, I hate it rained, I hope it was a joyful event for all, and we wish them the best.  After all, it's not about the ceremony, it's about what they do with their lives afterward.

Speaking of afterward, we have lots of miles to cover tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Corpus to Port O'Connor (we think). Actually, Corpus to Rockport

Our plan was to try and make a 110-mile run to a new waterfront development in Port O'Connor called "The Sanctuary."  They have a small marina for about 28 boats.  They only had a few docked there and they were interested in us staying long term to promote the look of the marina and the real estate development.  They offered us a pretty good deal to stay there (as in free) so we planned to dock for the night, get a tour and some promotional info to check it out.

About 25 miles from Corpus and not long after joining the GIWW, Rhonda felt comfortable enough piloting the boat to allow me a chance to check things out in the engine room.  It's pretty customary for this to occur several times during the day just as a good practice.  We darn sure didn't want any surprises on the trip, especially with an unfamiliar boat.  I'm sure you have sensed this coming, so here it is.  The port engine was standing in water with more pouring out of the overflow from the coolant reservoir.  Not good, but everything was running fine, no alarms, no high engine temps, we were still floating, etc.  I made some phone calls to the previous owner, the surveyor, and a mechanic where we had the boat hauled out for the survey.  Everyone was in agreement that the port heat exchanger had sprung a leak and was dumping the extra water out of the overflow.  Assuming this to be the case, we had 3 options.  (1) The Gulfstars are designed to run on one engine if required, or as an option for fuel efficiency. So, we could shut the port side down and run on the starboard only.  (2) Continue to run both which would run salt water through the port side engine all the way to Galveston rather than antifreeze.  (3) Stop and get it fixed before pressing on.

Just to be on the safe side, we decided on the 3rd option.  There was also the possibility that it could be something different than we thought, so best to play it safe.  Unfortunately, after spending more time than we had planned in Corpus, Clint/Linda/Gary/Dianne needed to get back to Galveston, so they waved goodbye and pressed on.  So much for our buddy-boat plan.  Well heck - anybody can boat under ideal conditions.

We pulled into Rockport and the mechanics confirmed what we thought.  I should point out, in fairness to the surveyor, that he had told us to pull and inspect the heat exchangers when we got a chance.  They had lots of hours on them and might last "2 weeks or 2 years" but we were certainly expecting them to hold up more than 25 miles!  Well, that's boating.  You never know, but have to be prepared to take the delay when it hits.  The mechanics found new replacements in CA so we went ahead and bought 2 and had them overnighted, figuring if one was bad, the other might be close behind.  So much for my IRA.

When in Rockport, do as Rockportians do - we ate seafood at JD's and enjoyed ourselves.  We spent 2 nights at Cove Harbor and resumed our trip.  The mechanic had gotten the new heat exchanger on the port side installed, flushed out the salt water in the system, added new coolant, had a spare for the starboard side if necessary, and we were good to go.  Our buddy-boat partners had been impressed with the Sanctuary so we went ahead with our original plan, heading for Port O'Connor.  A couple of dolphins joined us on the way - pretty common on the Gulf coast.  


Plans To "Buddy-Boat" Home

If you recall, our friends, Clint and Linda Bulkley, made the trip with us from Muskogee, OK to Galveston in December 2010 on their 46' Silverton. This pic is in Morgan City, LA on that trip.  They still have their boat here at Harborwalk also.

So, while we were spending our week of familiarization on the Gulfstar, they came down with friends, Gary and Denise, and brought their boat to the City Marina in downtown Corpus to "buddy-boat" the trip with us, just in case we had any problems.  We were not anticipating any difficulties for a short 180-mile trip to Galveston.  After all, we had just finished a 40-mile sea-trial.  If it will go 40, it ought to go 180, right?  But just as an extra precaution, we decided to move the boat from its home at Ingleside On The Bay to join the others at the City Marina which would test it another 20 miles.  So, the ladies took our truck and did whatever ladies do, and the guys moved the boat to Corpus.  Again, she ran fine. That's us behind the post and the Silverton to the right pointing toward you.

We stayed two days in Corpus, went out to eat once, grilled on the boat another time, and prepared to head to Galveston.  Here are a few pics leaving the harbor and some of downtown Corpus.  It's a really nice marina town.

And below, Corpus on the horizon as we cross Corpus Christi Bay enroute back to the GIWW.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Purchasing the Gulfstar

OK, it's been 8 months but we've been busy.  This trip was relatively short compared to the last two 1100+-mile trips, but still worthy of review.  But before we begin the trip, you might be interested in how we decided on the Gulfstar and how that process went. 

As we mentioned in the February 11 post, we sold the Roughwater and had to find another boat.  After lots of states and lots of miles, we had narrowed our search to a 42 Grand Banks, a 52 Vista, several 43 Hatterasses, and we've known all along we loved the 44 Gulfstars.  The Gulfstars in general have lots of positives - beautiful lines, huge aft deck with hardtop (the earlier models), stand-up engine room, relatively small and reliable Perkins engines/decent fuel burn, a beautiful all-teak interior, windows that don't leak, tons of storage space, upper and lower helms, wide and protected walk-around (for Rhonda), walk-around queen in the aft cabin (versus split bunks), two full heads with showers/tub, decent size galley with full-size refrig/freezer, 500 gal fuel (700+-mile range), 250 gal water, 100 gal holding tank, and much more.  Note also that the fuel/water/holding tanks are all fiberglass and molded into the boat (versus iron/steel/aluminum that leak after time and have to be replaced).

In addition to the above, the Gulfstar in Corpus had several things in its favor - a flybridge hardtop (vs canvas), naturally aspirated diesels (no turbo), a second generator belted off of the port engine for use while underway (without having to run the stand-alone gen), a 100-gallon per day water-maker, a fuel polishing system, 3000-watt inverter, canvas/screens/isinglass in decent shape for the aft deck, a meticulously maintained interior with bamboo floors in the salon (we hate carpet), very nice hard-bottom AB Dinghy with davit and electric-start 15-HP outboard, relatively recent bottom job with top-of-the-line bottom paint, new batteries, mostly freshwater history, reverse osmosis drinking water purification system, everything worked, it was close to where we wanted to be (Galveston), and had nice owners.  Don't laugh about that last one - it makes a big difference.  The couple had bought the boat in Florence, AL (about 30 miles from our home), had owned it about 10 years, and mainly used it for trips to the Bahamas.  It was docked in their back yard in Ingleside On The Bay (pic below).  They had accumulated many years in life, had some medical issues pending, and decided it was time to get out of boating.

On the negative side, the exterior needed some cosmetic work (most of which I can do (and enjoy) and the electronics were dated.  I'm not a big fan of fancy electronics anyway.  Give me a depth finder, radio, and paper charts and I'm good to go.  This one had 2 depth finders, 2 VHF radios, a chartplotter, GPS, autopilot, pinwheel speed-log, radar, hailer, RC spotlight, rudder position indicator, and compass (again, dated, but they all worked).

So, we made an initial offer that was refused.  The owners countered but we felt like we should check out the market some more before agreeing to anything and off we went.  After all the miles and all the states we checked out (buying a boat is not like buying a car with all the dealerships a few blocks from each other), we felt that the Corpus Gulfstar was still the best choice for us.  So we headed back to Corpus, spent lots more time on the boat, still liked it, and decided it was worth it to split the difference between our initial offer and their counter.  We also had an agreement that the owners would allow us to move on to the boat after closing and have a week at their dock to familiarize ourselves with the boat before departing for Galveston.

We arranged for the surveyor with a recommendation from a boater I had communicated with on the internet who was familiar with surveyors in that area.  Man, was this surveyor good - started at 8:30 in the morning and finished at 6:30 PM.  I was also impressed that the owner wanted to do the haulout at a marina 20 miles away when there was a lift and boatyard available just around the corner from his house.  If he was confident about a 40-mile/4-hour sea trial, that boosted my confidence level also.  (I think he also probably wanted one final run before giving up the boat). So, off we went.  Here's a pic of the owner as we headed down the GIWW.

I had contracted with the marina to haul the boat and pressure wash for inspection.  As soon as she was out of the water, it was obvious the pressure wash was not necessary.  The bottom was in great shape - another good sign.  Here she hangs in the sling.

The boat ran great the entire trip, the survey report was good with no major deficiencies noted and only a few recommendations.  We closed on September 27, 2011 - boat owners again.