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Weekend delivery

September 28, 2020

Kemah is Texas’s sailing capital, with a handful of marinas, dozens of boat brokers, hundreds of boats on the market, and even some nearby yacht clubs. It sits on Galveston bay, which is not nearly as nice a sailing bay as Corpus Christi. But boats are made from money, and Kemah also sits next to Houston, where there is a lot of money. So when Chase, a neighbor with small sailing experience, decided he wanted a boat large enough for family sailing, that was where he found a Cape Dory 27 he liked. Now into its fifth decade, it qualifies as a “good old boat.”

Purchase and some repairs completed, that left the task of getting the boat home. Generally speaking, there are two water routes. The faster and easier and more conducive to sailing is to exit the Houston ship channel, then sail over to Port Aransas, enter the jetties, and it is an easy sail home. That takes most of two days, so requires enough crew to work in watches. Being two old men who like to sleep at night, we decided to go by the ICW, stopping at various spots along the way.

The ICW is a narrow channel, cut partly through wetlands and in places through dry land. In many places it seems barely wide enough for the tugboats pushing barges to pass each other. Still, that should provide plenty of room for a small sailboat, even if those on the sailboat aren’t always certain of that. Every trip you will run into spots that are narrowed by ongoing work to dredge or lay pipeline or similar. There are floodgates at the Brazos, locks at the Colorado, and one swing bridge at Caney Creek.

Though commercial traffic is its first purpose, the ICW attracts a variety of recreational vessels, mostly fishing, some cruisers, some just using it as convenient route. All the Texas stops that have a gulf outlet — Freeport, Matagorda, even Port O’Connor — are attracting deep sea fishing boats. Chase was surprised at how many nice, new homes were on the waters nearby these.

Our first day was delayed by a return to Kemah due to mechanical issues. The next day we were able to sail the Houston ship channel. Once in the ICW, like most sailboats, we motor-sailed. It is safer and more convenient, given that you have no choice of course, that the wind isn’t always favorable, that you need to circle while waiting your turn at the swing bridge or other narrow passes, and that it provides a bit more confidence dealing with the commercial traffic. You let the sails out when they give some extra speed, and pull them back in when they become a nuisance. When we stopped at Matagorda, the forecast turned to rain, so we decided to interrupt the delivery. We left the boat there. Then, a sneaky little depression turned into a tropical storm. And we weren’t able to finish the delivery until this weekend past.

Carolyn drove us to Matagorda Friday morning, and we got the boat ready, and set off. There was no wind. Matagorda Bay was eerily glassy. Sounds are different on a bay when the water isn’t moving at all. Everything distant seems to creep up. Under some light, the horizon practically disappears. It is one of those natural phenomenon that can’t be well explained or captured.

We motored to Port O’Connor, where we had rented a slip. It was right on the ICW, between two shrimp boats. The fueling station and boat ramp next to it was heavily trafficked by shallow water fishers.

We left early Saturday for the last leg. A wind from SSE was building, so we were able to motor-sail. It was in the middle of San Antonio bay that this trip had its moment that everything was going well “until.” The engine slows for no reason. Then returns. And slows. And does this a couple of times more, before dying and refusing to start. Fortunately, the wind was favorable and the ICW ahead didn’t have any strange twists, so we had time to ponder things, while proceeding along under sail.

Chase is a pilot with mechanical background, and quickly diagnosed the engine problem as water in the fuel. He drained the primary filter. On both tacks, since the drain is to one side, and doing that on the original tack didn’t seem sufficient. Alas, that still didn’t solve the problem. Which left us figuring out what to do next. In these situations, you spend a surprising amount of time looking at the charts and the latest wind forecasts, thinking about where up ahead you might have difficulty, and where you might decide to pull in. An obvious candidate was House of Boats, a yard near Rockport where people take their boats for both paid and do-it-yourself repairs. But by the time we got there, it seemed like we had favorable wind to get to Corpus Christi bay before sunset. And once in the bay, we were home free, daylight or not.

Which worked. We exited the ICW into the bay with about a half-hour of light remaining. It was dark when we sailed into the marina, but these are home waters.

Sunday, Chase sucked a little more water out of the primary filter, and bled the engine, and got it started. He pulled water from the tank, also. The O-ring on the deck fuel inlet seems worn, so he suspects the rain from tropical storm Beta. After such a trip, I always think of the slips that we made, and what we should have done better. Still a successful delivery: the boat is home, for play and projects.

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