Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wrapping up

We've been in the Houston area (Seabrook) for 2½ weeks now. We arrived the day after the previous blog post. I came up for my 6-9 a.m. watch that morning to find that the lovely blue water of the gulf had turned brown and our speed had dropped below 3 knots. We went from thinking that we'd be early to hoping that we'd make it before dark. Most of the day was spent in the Houston Ship Channel, which is long and not very wide with shallow water on both sides. It definitely isn't the most scenic area we've visited, but we knew it wouldn't be. At first the flatness was kind of interesting. As far as we could see the highest spots were man-made: buildings or jetties or bridges and overpasses. The traffic was mostly tankers and barges with a few pleasure craft in the mix. We could have seen for miles, but visibility was very poor. The air looked like a thinner version of the water, and we heard on the radio that Houston had an air quality advisory in effect. Oh, and it was really hot: 103° F and not a dry heat.

As we approached Galveston, I tried to use my cell phone to call Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to find out about checking in, but I couldn't connect. When we could see the buildings from town, I tried again, but still no luck. Fortunately, I'd downloaded the full user guide for the global calling service, and from that I learned that I probably just needed to select a network, but that I'd have to check my phone's user guide to find out how to do that. I knew where that was too, but by the time I'd gotten out the computer and started it up to read the first guide and then found what I needed in the second one, we were past the turning for Galveston and in no mood to turn around. The last time we had cleared into the U.S. mainland (at Key West), they had simply had us come to the office and hadn't looked at the boat at all, so we didn't expect a problem, but we called CBP right away when we were docked. After trying several numbers and being given other numbers to try (it was after 5 o'clock and office hours had ended), I reached an officer in Galveston who told me that I had been supposed to call and then come into Galveston with the boat because they definitely wanted to see it. After I explained, the officer said he would come to us, and he did. His inspection was cursory, and he didn't even ask very many questions as he filled out his paperwork, so in the end, it was painless, and we were officially back in the U.S.

The first week we didn't do much except go to movies in the afternoon to try to escape the heat for awhile. We were at Seabrook Shipyard Marina on the repair yard dock, so we were able to meet the riggers from Stix-n-Rig'n who would pull our mast, and we scheduled that for last Monday (the 13th) thinking that the truck would be here on the 15th. We soon learned, though, that the truck would be delayed, so we rescheduled the haul-out for Monday, the 20th. That meant that we could delay taking the boat apart until after the mast was pulled.

Once the rigging was off, we moved to a motel because without a boom to support our sunshade, it was totally unbearable on the boat. We've spent the past week working on the boat in the mornings and hanging out in air-conditioned comfort in the motel in the afternoon. The exception was an afternoon spent at Space Center Houston. Now we're ready unless the trucker says there's something more we need to remove. He called yesterday and said he'd be here today, so we're waiting for his call.

The people here have been exceptionally nice to us, and we're favorably impressed with that aspect of Houston. There's also a good classical radio station and decent restaurants. We've had some excellent Mexican food and Indian food too. The weather, however, continues to be miserable with record-setting heat, and we're looking forward to leaving tomorrow.

This is pretty much the end of the voyage and blog. The mast, boom, and bow pulpit are literally wrapped up. Solstice continues from here on a truck. When we're back in San Francisco, we plan to live on land and use the boat for recreation, at least for a few years. Then we'll see. We'd like to go cruising again someday, and that's why we're keeping the boat. I'll put together a post soon with the statistics of our voyage. We've never kept track of the miles we've sailed, so I'll have to figure that out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dodging ships and drilling platforms

So far, we've had a lot of variety on this leg of our voyage: from Isla Mujeres to Galveston. We started out sailing along nicely and averaging 5.5 knots. One night the wind and waves kicked up, and we had to put in a couple of reefs in the dark, very dark. The next day the wind dropped off, and we found ourselves motor-sailing at faster than 8 knots for several hours thanks to a strong current in our favor. Until yesterday evening we saw few ships. About the time we saw our first off-shore oil platform, the shipping traffic increased dramatically. I had four on my 6 to 9 p.m. watch. John had eight from 9 to midnight, and I had four again from midnight to 3 a.m. Thanks to AIS, we can tell how close they're going to get, and when they're close enough, we can see their names. I sometimes call them; John doesn't. Last night I called when I had one coming from in front and one from behind. I just tell them that we're a sailing yacht under sail, that I intend to hold our course, and confirm that they see us. They take care of the rest. Last night the two ships worked it out between themselves in Spanish. Muchas gracias, senors!

We're using both electronic and paper charts (thanks to Cindy and Dick Metler), and we need the combination. Neither is exactly right as far as where there are platforms, so the radar is always on too. For weather forecasts we're using National Weather Service forecasts and grib files. Neither of these is exactly right either, but we had to give up on Herb because we couldn't hear him any longer. Once you're out here, the weather is what it is, but it's nice to have something to look forward to. As it turned out, we had a good window, and we've had the engine off most of the time. It's on again now because it looks like we'll make it to Seabrook tomorrow (Thursday) if we keep our speed up.

We've seen lots of dolphins and seaweed, but no oil spills (in case you were wondering about that).

All is well aboard Solstice.

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