Water so blue it almost looks poisonous, phosphorescent sparkling in the wake of the boat at night and a green flash as the sun sets over the horizon. While the landlubber sits back and questions whether these things exist, the sailor gets to be mesmerized by their magic.
I recently got to take a trip across the Gulf of Mexico from Port Aransas Texas to Clearwater Florida with Lynn Walton and Andy Horner on Lynn’s Catalina 400, “Susan two“. From my perspective there was nothing bad about the entire trip. Lynn and Andy were great people to spend a week with as we spent our days figuring out the world’s problems and trying to make the boat point in a direction the God’s did not want us to go. We spent most of our time beating into the wind 30 or 40° from our rhumb line.
When we left port Aransas we sailed on a southerly tack that soon took us out of sight of oil rigs but it was not long after we thought we were in deep enough water that we would be free of rigs that we saw a huge oil platform, if I remember right, in over 2000 feet of water. After doing my overnight watch and going to bed, I woke up to find that we were now on a northerly tack and getting into the Louisiana oil patch, where we would remain for two days. Sailing in the oil patch during the daytime is no problem but at night the strain on your eyes, trying to look for unlit oil rigs, can wear a person out.
We spent two nights sailing in the oil patch and on one of those nights we sailed into an Anchorage of several large ships. If you have never tried to distinguishing between light shapes and colors at night, you are missing something that is an art by itself. On this night I was laying down resting when I heard Lynn and Andy discussing what they thought they saw and whether not it was moving. I sprung up out of bed when I heard them say they thought it was a barge moving away from us. Some of you may not know this but my first sailboat was totaled by an 800 foot barge when I was taking it home to Texas from Mississippi. The barge did not complete a turn and broadsided my boat pushing me onto a rock jetty. After hearing Lynn’s and Andy’s conversation I grabbed a pair binoculars as I just wanted to make certain that we were not in a collision course with a boat that they thought was doing one thing but was actually doing another. It is not that I did not trust them rather that I had to convince myself that we were safe. I spent the rest of the evening with Andy trying to distinguish between lights and deciding which way we needed to go to stay clear of the anchored ships. Soon the challenge would increased as it started to pour down rain.
That night, after I went to sleep, I woke up when I heard Andy calling “Help”. Rain had been pouring down and there was no visibility past the eisenglass. The wind had stopped then shifted directions and he found himself disorientated and unable to get the boat to go in the direction it needed to go. I helped him by adjusting the sails as he pointed the boat to the compass heading we needed. Soon Andy was back underway sailing in the blinding rain.
The next day we were out of the oil patch except for a few large Deepwater rigs and a cargo ship converted to a oil drilling platform. The wind changed and put us on a run. We were able to sail wing on wing and do some fishing. We had three hits on our line and Andy confirmed the third to be a sailfish. Unfortunately nothing was caught and though we tried we never had a bite the rest of the trip. That day I also tried to do some laundry but it did not dry in time and wound up smelling musky.
Running with the wind was short-lived and we found ourselves the next day beating. Lynn would spend these last days looking at the weather forecast and making calculations to determine the best angle of sail. On the last night of the trip when I woke up to do my watch Lynn told me to go back to sleep and switch watches with Andy. They had been pondering over our angle of sail and our lack of diesel. Andy did not get any sleep and wanted to do my earlier shift. Later in the wee morning hours my watch started as more the same, beating in a direction that would not taken us where we want to go .
Later while everybody was asleep the winds angle to the boat started to move towards a more favorable direction. We were sailing at 50° on the compass but needing 90°. I started jogging the autopilot a couple degrees at a time and the boat started to sail closer to the direction we needed to go. Lynn was to take the watch at four a.m. but I was having so much fun inching the boat closer and closer to 90° on the compass I did not wake him up. The boat was in its groove powering on like a steam train. When the boat would start to calm down and its heel lesson I would click the auto pilot a few more degrees pointing her back into the wind. Like throwing coal into a steam engine boiler, the boat would come to life charging into the seas. Well at least that is how it felt at 5 a.m. and half tired.
It was around five when Lynn woke up, asking if it was time for a shift. I told him his shift started at an hour ago. He asked why I didn’t wake him up and I told him I was having too much fun and we were now sailing at 86°. Lynn happily took over the helm and later in the day we came close enough to shore the start of the diesel and finish the trip .
I really enjoyed the opportunity to go sailing with Lynn and Andy. They were two fantastic people to spend a week with and the best thing I learned from Lynn was how to be a better host when I have guests on