I left Pass Christian Mississippi on an adventure to sail our newly purchased Cape Dory 30K to its new home on Matagorda Bay Texas.
The first day was ok except for the biting flies. I lost my wind in the afternoon and had to motor for several hours. I didnít get much sleep that night because I was uncomfortable anchored in the middle of nowhere and the boat tossed and turned all night.
Around 3:30 am I had enough of the bobbing and since there was wind I figured I had better make use of it. Sailing was good until around mid-day when I ran aground because my GPS was zoomed out too far and it did not show a shallow spot. The boat would bump the bottom then a wave would lift me just enough to move forward only to be sat back down on the bottom. About 45 minutes later I was able to make it off of the sandbar. Thank you God! Soon after the grounding the depth found itself in the 100 foot up to 200 foot range. Along with the deeper water came deeper troughs in the waves and after spending the day zipping along in rough seas and dodging oil rigs all I wanted was a place out of the wind to anchor for the night. I needed sleep.
I saw land and I fought a head wind to get there and after several attempts to tack to my anchorage I doused the sails and figured I would motor in. Wrong! The pulley on the raw water pump came loosed and I could not run the diesel. This also meant that my battery life was limited and that was a problem. I would need the GPS, VHF, and lights for anchoring.
I spent the second night bobbing at anchor. But, I closed my eyes around 8 that evening and did not open them until 5 am. I woke up starving because the day before was spent fighting winds and dodging oil rigs, I could not go down below to make a PBJ sandwich. When I did anchor I was too tired to eat.
After fighting the anchor and almost loosing I got it up and was underway. Sailing was good so my spirits were up and I was a sailor once more. Soon I was beating into the wind in rough seas but making good time.There were more platforms and on this day I sailed by 13 Tankers at anchor. Those things are massive.
My course was set for Grand Isle LA. It was the only place on my Computers map program that looked like it may be civilized and within a dayís sail. Wind direction made it so it was not going to be a straight shot to Grand Isle. I tacked back and forth all day and got close. Close but not close enough. When it got dark I decided enough was enough. I was in 25 feet of water so I set out most of my anchor line on one of my two anchors. I knew it was going to be another night of bobbing. Boy did I bob. Around 4 am the bobbing was more than I could take. I was tossing and turning being rolled this way than that and I was starting to hurt. I promised myself not to leave the cabin until sun light as I felt it was unsafe to be on deck in those seas at night.
When daylight came I again found myself fighting the anchor. This time the boat was bobbing harder than ever and waves were crashing over the bow, drenching me as I tugged at the anchor and it tugged even harder at me. That was it! The anchor was not worth it so I whipped out my Marlin Spiked knife and cut the line.
After all of the rough seas I saw on my trip, I found it the roughest was going into the harbor, the channel was a narrow channel deep channel. The seas were hitting me on my stern and shoving me into troughs and spitting me out on the other side. Once I passed thru the channel I was on a see glass. I was sailing what I had heard called Jib and Jigger. I was using my Jib and Mizzen sails and not my main. This de-powered the boat and made an easy cruise into the channel all the way to the peer at the marina that I was headed to.
Woops! I knew that a few days before Ike hit Galveston. What I totally forgot was Louisiana was hit by Gustav a couple weeks earlier. The Island was under Marshall Law. No power and in shambles it was being patrolled by the National Guard, I was confined to my boat at night and had to stay in the marina during the day. The trip was a little more than I bargained for and I had about 400 mile to look forward to.
My wife joined me and we fixed the raw water pump and a few other things like adding an anchor roller to allow me to use the windlass. We managed but not without a snap ring from the water pump go shooting off into the water and having to go diving to get the anchor roller that fell overboard.
Where the seas were a little heavy when I came to port, they were none existent when Kerry and I sailed out. No waves meant no wind. We motored and motor sailed until evening. Our plan was to sail thru the night but that changed when at dusk we noticed that a lot of the oil platforms were not lit. We got as close to shore as we could and threw anchor. The next morning we decided it would be in our best interest to get to the intercostal because we needed to be able to find a city in a few days so that Kerry could get off of the boat. Kerry had a limited time off of work but we originally thought that it would be enough to get to Texas but as we have found with sailing you canít count on anything going as planned.
We motored up the Houma Navigation Channel and made it to Houma Louisiana by midnight where we entered the Inter Coastal Waterway (ICW). We figured there would be plenty of places to dock once we got to the ICW but we were wrong. There were plenty of Barges and more Barges. We wound up anchoring on the edge of the channel where it went thru a marsh. We spent the next day motoring the ICW to Morgan City where Kerry got a rental car to go home and I continued the trip alone.
I was planning on telling friends about the wonderful time I had sailing the Inter Costal Waterway in Louisiana. About the wild life, scenery, and how I was so into the beauty of it all that I even found myself singing. But perhaps we should thumb thru and see how it all ended. On Friday October 3rd 2008 I was hit by an 800 foot barge. My boat was destroyed and it was the only time in my life I thought I was going to die.
After 6 days of motoring I was in sight of Texas. I had been traveling a straight 20 mile stretch of the ICW. There was a rock Jetty on the north bank and I was on that side of the canal. I saw a barge turn into the canal from the south and I thought it was headed my way. No problem, I had passed many barges for the past week. They for the most part were professionals and if they had a concern about me they would radio me.
It soon became apparent that this barge was aimed towards the north bank so I figured I was wrong earlier and he had not finished the turn. No problem, he will be turning soon. So I continued to watch my depth sounder keeping to the north side waiting for him to finish his turn. Being that it was a rock Jetty I knew if I bottomed out there it would not be like the times I did earlier in the canal. It would not be mud. As the distance started to close I idled down my motor to give him time to finish his turn. Soon after the horror hit me he was not going to turn and was on a collision course towards me. I leapt to the radio and screamed for his attention, threw the throttle wide open and steered hard for the rocks.
I was not going to make it. I watched helplessly as this towering behemoth struck my boat and shoved me towards the jetty. I remember saying out loud that I was going to die. Seconds later I was on the jetty, no longer in the boat and watching the 800 foot monster glance up onto the jetty and then settle down into the canal.
I was alive but one look into the cabin and it was clear to me the boat was lost. The bulkheads were torn loose from the hull and what part of the boat that was in the water was submerged. My adventure was over. But I was alive.
A deck hand on the barge was quite professional, asking if I was ok but A white haired old man had nothing better to do than to tell me how I had just won the lottery. I told him I did not want to win the lottery, all I wanted was to be treated right and I explained how I was almost killed but he thought it was more important to advise me on how to screw the company he worked for.
I sat on the jetty collecting my thoughts for a couple of hours as we waited on the coast guard. I did not feel it would be right to be on the tug as I was concerned about liability. I could not see how I was at fault but also knew the crew of the tug had a lot of time to get their stories straight.
Sometime after dark the Coast Guard arrived. After explaining everything they told me I did everything as I should have. The next day the tug company paid me the amount that I thought was fair at the time. Having looked back at everything since then, I should have let my insurance company handle the claim if for no other reason than to give me time to let my emotions settle down before making such a financial decision. I am also thankful that my wife was not with me. My instincts got me from the boat and onto the jetty without a scratch but I could not be guaranteed that hers would have done the same.
The tug owner told me that the barge experienced suction with bank. If some sort of suction took place, could I have been correct early on and the tug did make the turn but the suction drew him over? Or did the suction prevent him from making the corner to begin with? I do feel if this suction phenomenon took place then they would have had plenty of time to warn me that they were out of control.
Lastly I was told that if this barge had a raked bow on it I surly would have been pushed under and killed. That is very sobering.