Thursday, March 21, 2013

First sail of the season

What is a story without drama? Without risks and challenges, there is no adventure, just vacation. And really, who wants to spend their weekends relaxing?

Saturday morning the Seahorse finally left its slip at Marina Del Sol for the first time in 2013. Temperature was in the mid-60s and the wind was described as “breezy” in the forecast. According to our friends’ instruments it was a steady 15 knots with gusts up to 30.

We set out into Clear Lake around 10 a.m. and immediately got stuck in the channel right outside the entrance to Marina Del Sol. Throttling up and rocking the boat slowly plowed us through the mud and into the freedom of Clear Lake where we turned east and headed for the boardwalk.


The bouncing swells started at the mouth of the bay and a few waves broke over the bow splashing us in the cockpit, but we pulled up a double reefed main and headed for Redfish Island. We motor-sailed with the main close-hauled and made what is usually a three-hour trip in one hour and fifteen minutes.

We dropped the sail and turned to motor into the wind. That is the moment when the real adventure began.


This was the first time I had crossed into the Houston Ship Channel and left the confines of upper Galveston Bay. It was also the first time I had motored head-on into 30knot winds and pounding waves.

The good – my tough little Kubota Z482 kept running for the next five hours, pushing us south to Galveston. The bad – I couldn’t make more than 4.5 knots and the motor wouldn’t rev over 3,000 rpm.

The stretch from Redfish Island to the Galveston Causeway was a very rough, wet ride. The Seahorse became a bucking bronco and the cockpit was constantly being showered with spray. It was enough to chill you just to the point of shivering, but thankfully not so bad that it was unbearable. However, I had packed four different cameras to document the trip, and it was too wet to pull out anything but the dive camera, but even most of those photos were ruined by water droplets on the lens.

First sail of 2013!

We motored on and on, following our friends in the Escondida who were leading the way, for what seemed like forever. Then, we finally came upon the Texas City Dike and turned west.

I had hoped that being on the north side of Galveston Island would give us some reprieve from the south wind, but it did not. We crossed the Texas City Flats heeled over despite not having any sail up, and we kept drifting to the edge of the channel. Halfway across, the autopilot refused to steer the nose back up anymore, so I had to hand steer. I made the mistake of trying to cut a corner of the channel as we got closer to the bridge. We came to a very abrupt halt as we ran aground for the second time. Thankfully we were broadside to the wind, so with a bit of reverse, it rolled us around 180 degrees and I was then able to pull back into the channel. After another U-turn we were back on track.

Waiting on the bridge

The railroad bridge was down when we reached the causeway, so we puttered in slow circles for 15 minutes while the trains rolled by before we could cross into Offatts Bayou. When we finally crossed, it was so good to see those glass pyramids at Moody Gardens. Our trip clocked in right at six hours as we were dropping the anchor.


Offatts is around 20’ deep, and I had only been carrying 5’ of chain and 100’ of rode. I decided to add another 20’ of chain before the trip to make sure we didn’t drag during the night. That’s when my friend Ray mentioned he had an extra 20’ of chain that he would donate to the cause if we needed it. What he didn’t tell us what that it was the thickest, heaviest chain I’ve ever seen on a pleasure craft. Needless to say, we did NOT drag.

Anchored in Offatts Bayou

I dropped the anchor while Mary was backing up the boat, but we had a pontoon boat full of spring breakers pass right behind us. I don’t know if she got nervous or if it was their wake, but suddenly we had made a U-turn and backed over our own anchor line. The engine came to an abrupt stop.

I knew immediately that I was going for a swim to get the rode off the prop, but I got out a pole and started pushing and lifting the line in hopes it would come loose. No luck.

I went downstairs and put on my swimsuit, bracing myself for the chill of the water. I don’t like cold water. I deployed the swim ladder and gingerly stepped into the water. It was cold, but if all those spring breakers were doing it over on the other side of the island, so could I.

Luckily Offatts Bayou has much more visibility than Kemah, so even without a mask, I could actually see the prop and the anchor line wrapped around it. It only took three dives to get it loose, and everything was good again. Thankfully there was no more adventure that night, but Matt did have to pull apart the carburetor on his dinghy three times in a row to get it running.

Cleaning the dinghy carburetor ... again

The wind finally died, and we got to witness a beautiful sunset before visiting friends on the Tina Marie for drinks, then having dinner aboard the Escondida. Our friend Carla prepared chicken mole and pumpkin pie. I struggle to make sandwiches on a boat, much less pumpkin pie. I have much to learn about cruising.

Moody Gardens at Sunset

Unlike the last summer’s overnight anchoring incident, which included bouncing off the bottom at low tide, a dragging anchor, and no sleep, I crawled into the V-berth and was out like a light. I woke up around 5 a.m., stuck my head up out of the hatch to make sure we were still in the same place, then fell back asleep until 8 a.m.

I filled the ancient Origo stove and boiled water for some instant coffee. It was terrible, so I pulled the percolator out of storage and tried that. Much improved, but still not great.

Tina and Ray invited us all for breakfast aboard the Tina Marie, and thankfully they had real coffee. I think we went through two pots before finally hitching a ride back to the Seahorse and getting ready for the trip home.

I was warned that the bridge operator got upset when people sailed under the bridge, so we kept our sails down until we crossed under, then we shut the motor off and found that excellent moment of silence and symbiosis with the wind and water that comes from sailing.


We had dolphins swim by just as we reached the ship channel, and as we turned north I deployed the spinnaker pole for the downwind run all the way home.


It was my first time to use the spinnaker pole by myself, so setup didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped.

Struggling with the whisker pole

But eventually we got it.

Running downwind wing and wing

Everything was going great until Mary went downstairs to use the head. She called back up to me, “There’s water coming up through the cracks in the floor.” Apparently sometime during the trip we’d lost the bilge pump. I handed her down the manual pump and a bucket.

Pumping the bilge

It was about that time that we also lost the depth gauge. It just started flashing zero. I haven’t started troubleshooting that issue yet.

We didn’t take on much water while sailing, but every 30 minutes or so we’d pump out another bucket just to be safe and stay ahead of it.


When we turned in at Redfish, we were on a broad reach headed towards the Kemah bridge. The GPS on my iPhone was reading 6.5 knots – the Seahorse speed record – before we reefed the main.

Seahorse speed record

That dropped us to 5.5 knots. About 30 minutes later as the wind continued to pick up and some nasty looking clouds moved in, we went ahead and dropped the sails and motored the last stretch. Motoring was causing much more ingress of water, so I probably need to tighten the stuffing box.

We pulled back into Marina Del Sol Sunday evening with stories to tell, and our first real trip under our belt. I also have a list of things to fix this weekend before we attempt this again – but it wouldn’t be a boat without something to repair.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What do you do when it's dark outside?

Saying that work has been busy is an understatement. We launched an entirely new program focused on early career development, and I'm now in the middle of converting our new hire orientation into an engaging animated video. Even with the onset of daylight savings time, I haven't been out with the camera before dark in a couple of weeks.

So what do you do when it's dark and you want to shoot photos? Well, you experiment with lighting, of course.

Last week I did some work on my macro and food photography. Shooting cookies is always enjoyable. I meant to shoot some Girl Scout Cookies as well, but ... they didn't last long enough.

Fat free [Explored 2-26-2013]

With the macro shots, I found I got the best results at f5.6. The macro tubes dramatically reduce the depth of field.

This week I took it up a notch to attempt some of the fancier lighting I've seen on strobist. Last night I attempted this boxing scene in preparation to shoot a friend for his MMA posters.

Eye of the tiger

This scene was shot at f4. It has a backlight to camera left putting the highlight on the bag, supplying most of the light to me, and creating an extreme contrast with the unlit background. A second light is behind me to create a halo effect and outline. (It was probably pointed a little too low.) Then there's another light to camera left in front of the bag to provide fill light. I felt like it was a good first attempt, and I like the backlit contrast for the gritty topic, but I'm not sure what to do about the shadows cast by the arms when punching. Guess it's back to the Internet for more tips and then back to the studio for more trial and error.

We'll finally be on the water again this weekend with an overnight sailing trip to Galveston aboard the Seahorse. Hopefully there will finally be something more interesting to shoot!