Sunday, May 28, 2017

The final hundred miles

We are anchored in Redfish Bay, part of Laguna Madre, between Padre Island and the Texas mainland (map). Winds are 25 knots or more out of the southeast, and with five miles of fetch we have three foot seas with whitecaps. Vector is pitching gently, and Louise reports she can only do organic wavy line quilting.

This is the second straight day of winds much higher than forecast. For two days straight we've been running with 25-30 knots, mostly on the beam. The stabilizer fins have been pegged the whole time, and at six knots they've not been able to keep us vertical.

One consequence of this is that Meriwether, the pilothouse air conditioner that we can run under way, has been peeing all over Louise. The condensate pan drains on the port side of the unit, and when we are mostly level it's not a problem. But with a constant starboard list of several degrees, the condensate has been overflowing the starboard side of the pan and dripping out. Here in coastal Texas, with 85% humidity, the amount has been prodigious; we jury-rigged a collection system and have been emptying well over a liter each day.

You can't see the starboard lean in this photo. Ratty microfiber is leading the leaking condensate down to the plastic container. White plastic above Louise's head is a diverter to keep the cold air off her head. Curtain at left is something we made to keep light out of the pilothouse at night; instead we use it more to keep the cool air in when using the air conditioner.

Yesterday's cruise had a similar ending, with us turning off the ICW channel in one of the very few spots deep enough for Vector, a part of Baffin Bay just south of Penascal Rincon and its enormous wind farm (map). At that anchorage the fetch was not nearly so long, and we had a comfortable night, even though we dropped the hook in 30-knot winds. The depths were lower than charted, and we had just six inches under our keel when we set the anchor.

Things calmed down considerably overnight and we weighed anchor in just ten knots or so of wind. The first couple of hours of our cruise we even managed to stay fairly level. This being the heart of Memorial Day weekend, even though we were in the middle of nowhere, we still had a dozen zippy fishing boats fly by us this morning before we weighed anchor. We later learned where, more or less, they were all headed.

We also ran Mr. Roboto in the stateroom under way to try to keep things cool and dry in the coastal Texas heat and humidity.

We first observed the holiday weekend chaos as we passed the iconic Snoopy's Pier and it's neighbor. Doc's, at the very north end of Padre Island just past the bridge yesterday. Even in these winds, it would seem, the small "flats" boats common to this area will venture forth. There was quite a bit of traffic at the north end of the island, but it tapered off very quickly after we passed the end of the developed portion of the island.

After passing under the bridge, the ICW becomes a very long, very straight, very narrow dredged channel through the otherwise very shallow Laguna Madre. Spoil islands line the ditch, mostly toward the barrier island side but some on the landward side as well. On many of the spoil islands are small fishing cabins, some of which have stood for decades.

It turns out the privately built cabins are regulated by the Texas General Land Office (GLO); the cabin holders pay an annual lease based on square footage. Some are little more than shacks and others are quite elaborate. There are no utilities, so the occupants collect rainwater and generate their own electricity when they are there. There is no access except by boat.

It looks like we are passing through a town, but these structures lining both sides of the channel are remote fishing cabins.

After passing the first group of spoil islands south of the developed end of the island, we could see the Bird Island recreation area, part of the National Seashore, well off to port. Lots of campers, windsurfers, and kiteboarders, and the boat ramp was quite busy as well. We remember visiting in Odyssey; the area is just north of the end of the paved road into the park, and long time readers may know we stayed in the campground on the gulf side of the island.

The ICW is so narrow, and the area outside the channel so shallow, that there are few places to anchor. We had to proceed nearly 30 miles to Baffin Bay to even be able to turn off the channel. This morning was more of the same for the first dozen miles after leaving Baffin Bay. After that, the water runs out completely, and the ICW is quite literally a ditch -- a section known as the "land cut" slices through the Saltillo Flats, an occasionally inundated land bridge that connected Padre Island to the mainland.

Even here, the dredge spoils are piled up, forming always-dry islands which are again dotted with cabins. Honestly I had expected to find desolation this far from Corpus, but it seems to be GLO cabins all the way down. The horde of boats that passed us this morning were, no doubt, on their way to these cabins, or else on their way from the cabins to their preferred fishing grounds.

Our anemometer display just after anchoring, showing wind at 34mph with a peak of 37 and average of 33.

The other thing I expected to happen along here was to run out of Internet coverage. I'm been quite pleasantly surprised that we've had AT&T 4G coverage on our ZTE Mobley device for almost the entire trip. We were briefly out of coverage intermittently at the southern end of the land cut, but now that we are only a few miles from Port Mansfield we again have good signal.

Shortly before arriving here, again one of the few places deep enough to even turn out of the ICW channel, we exited the land cut into Redfish Bay. Redfish Bay is part of Lower Laguna Madre, as Baffin Bay is part of Upper Laguna Madre. Even though the Saltillo Flats were at times dry (before the Corps of Engineers cut through it), it is considered one body of water.

All of Laguna Madre is a hypersaline coastal lagoon, with salinity much higher than the gulf itself. This apparently makes for great fishing for certain species, but it also means that Vector is absolutely covered with salt after spending two full days in 30-plus-knot winds driving spray all over the boat. A thunderstorm is forecast for tonight and we're hoping it will wash most of the salt off the boat for us.

Dolphins playing in our bow way under way in Redfish Bay.

Not long after exiting the land cut, a pod of dolphins swam over to us and spent some time playing in our bow wave. Normally the dolphins get bored with us in just a few seconds, but these stayed for quite a while -- not many big boats in this lagoon.

The last few miles here to the anchorage, where the fetch was the greatest, was a bit of a rough ride. While I was doing my routine run-up to 80% load (once every few hours, to mitigate wet-stacking), we took quite a bit of water over the deck. I'm hoping we're done with the 30-knot winds for a while, but the forecast had only called for half that so I don't know what to believe any longer. We're very happy to now have our own anemometer so we can put real numbers to these wind events; a wise investment of just fifty bucks or so plus some time to fasten it to the flybridge top.

Vector pushing through heavy chop in Redfish Bay. Those are three foot waves; the steady ride is courtesy of our stabilizers.

We're just about two thirds of the way down Padre Island, and it's taken us the better part of two days to get here from the northern end of the island. Padre Island is the longest barrier island in the world, at 113 miles long. The middle 80 miles of that is undeveloped, roadless, and protected. Tomorrow we should make it the rest of the way past the island, and end up at the developed southern tip of the island.

Tomorrow will also bring us to the end of the Intracoastal Waterway system. Aside from the 80 statute miles between Mobile Bay and the Rigolets, and another 60 statute miles south of Biscayne Bay, Florida that is too shallow for Vector, we will have done the entire waterway from its beginning, mile marker 0 in Norfolk Virginia, to the very end at mile marker 665 WHL (West of Harvey Lock). (The waterway is not continuous; there are gaps along the gulf coast that must be traversed in open water.)

Tomorrow morning we will pass the Mansfield Channel, an artificial cut through Padre Island dug out in the 60's, and the mostly silted-in harbor of Port Mansfield, too shallow for Vector even to enter. There are no further anchorages for us now until we arrive at the Brownsville Ship Channel in Port Isabel, the end of the waterway. Tomorrow evening we should be anchored off South Padre Island.

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