I started building a John Welsford Pathfinder in July 2008. The boat was completed in Oct, 2010.

This blog now records our use of the boat, but documentation of building the boat can be found in the archives.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Last Day of Summer

We have not been sailing in quite awhile, but here we are on the last day of summer before school starts.  Turned out to be an excellent day, with enough wind to go wherever we wanted, and enough cloud cover to provide some shade every now and then.

I lost my anchor (an anchor we had previously found on the exposed shore of one of our dried up lakes).  As I lowered it, I knew it wasn't tied off to anything so as I got close to the end of the line, I gave it a few wraps around the mast with what I thought was enough of a hitch to hold while I lowered the jib which was beginning to flap enough to be distracting.  As the jib came down, I saw the end of our anchor line descending into the water very casually.  A little disappointing--next time I think I'll secure the end well before lowering away.  

Here are a few shots Miki took. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Texas 200

No, I didn't do the TX 200 this year, but we did take a little sailing/beach trip down to the coast at the same time.  I've been wanting to get more experience sailing in the area (Laguna Madre in this case) and also thought it would be fun to see the boats going by since I've followed them on the internet since before I built this boat.  We camped at Bird Island Basin, a well known spot for wind surfers and also close to one of the camps for the TX 200 guys.  We arrived and setup camp the day before they would come through.

The next morning I set up the boat and my daughter and I sailed it from the ramp upwind a mile or so then back across to our camp.

We had a really good spot right on the water.  No one else was around so we had the whole area to ourselves.  Our giant Walmart tent wasn't really up to the wind that we would experience, so I tied it off to the picnic shelter the best I could.

Our first family sail turned out to be the only one of the trip.  It was nice, winds about 15mph, I had one reef in the main to be safe.  We sailed out a couple of miles and anchored to fish.  We caught and released a few small catfish before we ran out of bait, then headed back.  I was looking forward to the next sail to do a little more exploring of the area. 

While we were fishing, we began to see the first of the Texas 200 fleet passing through.  With a pair of binoculars, I could identify a few of the boats including Mike Monies' Red Scamp (Welsford design) I'm pretty sure.  Unfortunately these were all too far away to make any pictures possible.

The next day we were up early to watch a sea turtle release at Malaquite beach which the kids really enjoyed.  After that, I was ready for more sailing but the wind was coming up pretty fast so I offered to go out for a "test" sail to see what the conditions were like and my daughter wanted to come with me, so we were off.  

Out of an abundance of caution, I didn't set the mainsail.  I'm not sure the conditions really warranted that, and I found pretty quickly that I couldn't point upwind very well like this.  The situation there is complicated by the fact that the laguna madre is on average very shallow and that in many places, particularly when close to shore, we had to raise the centerboard enough to avoid dragging and the rudder comes up as well.

At one point, I suggested to my daughter that I might not be able to get back to the camp (because I wasn't getting upwind enough) and that I might need to use the motor.  Her response was "what?, we're already going back?"  She enjoys the sailing and isn't rattled easily.

According to the wind log from the area, the wind at this point was on average 20mph with gusts to 25.  Under those conditions the boat was still very easy to handle with no mainsail up and I eventually was able to get it to point high enough to get upwind of our camp and sail back with no assistance from the motor.  One of the reasons I wanted to "spy" on the TX 200 was to get a feel for the area and the conditions during the event so this was helpful.  Sailing downwind or on a reach, as most of the TX 200 route is, would have been very nice and just the two sails provided plenty of power for the boat, but since I had to be able to come back to where I started in this case, the upwind sailing was a bit tricky for me.

Here are a few pictures of us during the "test" sail.  One really nice thing about this area for sailing is that the wind is not able to build up much chop in the Laguna Madre on the east shore  (I understand the bays are a different story).  In the pictures, you can see how calm the surface is.  With this kind of wind on our inland lakes, the chop become quite significant very quickly.

Unfortunately, after that, the wind only increased for the duration of our stay, culminating with 30mph with gusts to 35 (from the weather station data) at 2am on our last night.  Definitely too much wind for me to consider sailing in.   The boat sat just off the shore of our camp for the rest of the time, posing for pictures with the water making the scene look much more placid than it was..

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Summer Sailing

We finally got a decent sail in since Sail Oklahoma despite two unsuccessful attempts.

In April we went out in some high winds and learned where the limits for family sailing should be set.  We had some gusts up to 30 mph and even with only the jib and mizzen up the boat heeled during some gusts more than I've experienced so far.  The Pathfinder performed well in these conditions, but it was really too rough to be taking kids out in.  I believe if we had anyone fall out of the boat in those conditions, it would have been pretty scary given the closely spaced chop that builds up in our rock-shored lakes.  In addition, the jib's connection to it's wire luff failed during a gust, leaving me with an un-furlable headsail and given that the wire luff is also the forestay, it couldn't be taken down and is very difficult to douse in those conditions.  After a white-knuckled motoring back to dock with a wildly flogging half doused jib, I decided that I don't want to have sail that can't be taken down any more.

The result is that now I have made a new wire forestay and sewed up a new jib using a Sailrite kit that is hanked on.   I have been wanting to try out sail making for awhile and used this as an excuse to try it on a small sail.  I found the kit to be really excellent and the new sail performs well.  I will repair my old sail and may try hoisting it with the furler using the separate forestay to see how it does like that although I've heard it is difficult to get correct tension on the luff of the sail with that method.  In any case, I'll have a spare jib and will be able to decide which setup I like better.  As long as I can take the sail down if I need, I'll be happy.

Our next failure was not quite so catastrophic, but annoying.  We tried to sail on the Sunday before memorial day, and literally could not find a place to launch because of the overwhelming crowds of boaters and we went home without ever setting the boat up.

Finally, we got to the lake on my kids' first day of summer vacation and enjoyed some excellent sailing weather with light but steady wind.  It really takes the slightest of breezes to get the Pathfinder up to speed.

Here is a picture showing the new jib:

These guys are enormously happy to be in the water again.

This one is too.

We stopped on our favorite island and found it covered with wildflowers.  You can't see all of the colors in the photo, but it was quite stunning in person.

Given our experience with high winds last month, we used this outing to practice a few things.  First, we tried out reboarding the boat with a crude rope ladder that I've always carried around with us.  It was difficult at first to use, but I think we figured out a good method for boarding with it that isn't too hard...we'll need to practice it again next time.  I also had my wife and daughter practice getting the boat back to a man-overboard using the outboard.  And, winds were light enough that my wife agreed to sail some this time....here is the proof.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sail Oklahoma 2011

This last weekend we took the Pathfinder up to Eufaula, OK for the 2nd annual Sail Oklahoma which is a great event put on by Mike and Jackie Monies.  This year they hosted the 2011 World's Puddle Duck races, so people with PDR's from across the country converged there to race.  The main attraction for me was the fact the John Welsford would be there as part of his tour of the US and some other Welsford boats would be there as well, but it was a lot of fun to see all the different PDRs and watch the races.  Graham Byrnes and Jim Michalak were also there as were boats of their design, so what a great gathering.  

Lake Eufaula is a nice, big lake with lots of gently sloped sandy beaches and I would have loved to be able to stay long enough to explore it, but we were only able to stay 2 nights.  

We launched from a ramp a couple of miles away from the event and sailed over to the beach.  The weather was really excellent for this gathering.  The wind was steady between 15-20 mph during our first sail, with some pretty serious gusts on occasion.   I reefed the mainsail and we flew over to the beach.  

I'm used to the fairly steep shorelines in Canyon Lake, so as I was trying to coast into the beach we kept slowing to a halt 30 or 40 feet from the shore.  It took me a few tries to realize we were dragging the centerboard in some very fine mud that far out.  When we finally made it in, I jumped out expecting to land in about 2 feet of water like I usually do and almost hurt myself as I landed in about 4 inches of water.

Having John Welsford in the country is a rare event, so I made an effort to see him both at Canyon lake and Inks Lake during his visit to Texas.  In Oklahoma I was able to get him to go for a quick sail in between races. He was racing the Kiwi PDR that he designed and he tied for 2nd place, which, considering he had never sailed a PDR before, says a lot.  

The following video, which is very poorly shot, is I think the first time John had stepped aboard the PDR.  I wish we had gotten some footage of the actual race.

Here we are discussing something really important just before I got John onto the boat.

I had no shame and asked him how to properly tie the lashings on my side stays.

I am not an idol worshiping kind of person and I don't have posters of John up on my shop wall or anything, but I have to admit it was a really exceptional experience to have him aboard after spending a couple of years building the boat and the last year learning about sailing it.  In his talk at Canyon Lake, John said that boat design is about relationships.  Seeing him interact with people, I can understand what he means.  He works really hard to connect with everyone interested to talk to him about boats, he speaks well and is really clear with his ideas, and he is in his element out there with the boats, helping to rig them better, helping to sail them better, and just looks happy to be there and to help where he can.

Here is a photo of John and I pushing off.

My daughter begged us for a ride, but I convinced her to wait for the next one.

Here is a bit of video of our sail.  I still had a reef in the mainsail from the breezy conditions earlier, but by now the wind had died down quite a bit.

Landing on the beach , I think you can see a big grin on my face, and maybe even a bit of one on John's.

I'm including all pictures with John on my boat.

After that we went for a family sail.  The wind was up a bit more than my family is used to, so as the Pathfinder healed a bit, they had to work out just how to feel ok about it.

Among the other Welsford boats was George Cunningham's brand new Houdini.  I knew George's name and his boat from the jwbuilders forum on yahoo, so it was really interesting to meet him and see the boat in person.

And a bit of video of John and George sailing in.

Here are three Welsford boats lined up, the Pathfinder, Scamp and Houdini.

The red Scamp was built by Mike Monies (one of the hosts of Sail OK).  Scamp is a very tough 12' sailboat that can handle a lot and Mike's is a really nice example.

Finally on our way back to the ramp we had another fun sail.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Texas Heat

Texas is hot and dry these days.  Despite that, we had a nice daysail, a little over 11 miles on Canyon Lake, with 2 stops for swimming and cooling off.

You can kind of see from this how the wind is shifted and sometimes funneled by the hilly terrain around the lake.  Some people enjoy this constant action when sailing, but I really enjoyed the constant gulf breeze when we were on the coast.  I don't mind shifts in direction so much, but today we encountered a gust that lasted around 20 seconds (I estimate something over 20mph) followed immediately by absolute still, zero wind, for the next few minutes.  It is fairly common on these lakes and I suppose good practice.

Snacks are important.  And water.  I have filled the boat lockers with extra water, dried fruit and energy bar type things.  It is always good to have more than needed, especially water in this heat.

I recently made a new set of side stays.  The first set was made of a dyneema type line, but I never was entirely sure of the specifications of the rope, and I tied bowline knots in one end instead of splicing an eye so that I could figure out exactly how long it needed to be.  I wanted to make another set with something that I knew the specs on, and also eyespliced at both ends.   It is also good to have a spare set of anything on a boat.

I had been using turnbuckles to tighten the stays, the kind you normally see on boats with steel wire stays.  Although the dyneema is very low stretch and stronger than the wire rope, it does seem to stretch a little bit.  So, the problem of splicing eyes onto both ends is tricky.  I did my best to figure in the amount of length change that occurs from the splice and also to make them short enough to account for some stretch, but after using them on our coastal trip, they were a little too long to make good use of the turnbuckles anymore.

Todays experiment was to use a lashing to tighten them.  I believe this is what John Welsford suggests, but had never tried it before and I'm sure haven't done it exactly right.  However, it worked amazingly well for tightening the stays.  I can easily get the stays tighter than with the turnbuckles and much quicker.  I'm still not sure how to tie the knot, but this one held for a good day of sailing without loosening much.

My family has been great about remaining mostly cheerful during a very hot sail.

This is pretty much the only way to cool off.

I usually start with the mainsail reefed these days, only opting to shake it out if we can't make enough speed.  With the kids on board and the fluky winds here, I have been leaving that reef in a lot and we still get around the lake fast enough for me.  

Little guy is learning to sail:

Sister steering pretty well:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Change of Scenery--Laguna Madre on July 4th

The Trip

For the last 4 years, my family has been taking a beach vacation to the deep south Texas coast to get away from dry Dripping Springs.  We usually stay in Port Isabel, just across the bridge from South Padre Island where the beach is.  This year we added sailing to the activities.


After taking the above picture, we drove down our street about 1/4 mile and were stopped by a guy admiring the Pathfinder.  He tells me that he is the guy who does the maps for the Texas200, an event that I've been following since it started and that I had planned to attend this year in the Pathfinder.  My plans to do the Texas200 were complicated by scheduling and frankly, I didn't feel completely ready to do it yet.  In any case, I had no idea he lived in my neighborhood about a mile away....I guess I am really a recluse.

The other strange thing--this year the Texas200 changed its route and started from Port Isabel rather than Port Mansfield.  So, he had just been to where we were headed, and I met him for the first time at the end of my street as we pulled out to go to Port Isabel, where we go each year, about two weeks after the first time the Texas200 started from there.

The Hotel

We have stayed at the White Sands Motel in Port Isabel almost every time we have been down there.  It isn't the typical place to stay when you go to the beach at South Padre, but we like it better than staying on the island.  

The White Sands is in Port Isabel on the Laguna Madre and caters to fishermen.  The Laguna Madre is a long shallow bay that sits between the mainland and Padre Island.  Padre Island is about 130 miles long and I think is one of the longest barrier islands in the US.  The area is fairly unspoiled and the bay is the most productive in Texas.

The first time we went to the White Sands, I had just received plans for my Pathfinder.  When I realized they have boat slips for rent behind the motel, I couldn't stop thinking about finishing the boat and bringing it there to sail the Laguna Madre.  I'm happy to say that we finally made that happen.

Getting the Boat In

You can't tell so much from this picture, but there is a line (might be power, but probably data, I didn't look that closely) running right across the entrance to the boat ramp.  Most fishermen coming here don't use sailboats apparently.  So, with a sailboat you just park on the ramp, step the mast, then drop the boat in.  You just have to remember as you pull the boat out to stop at the top of the ramp, unstep the mast, and proceed.  Wish me luck to remember that last detail....I will need it.

Getting ready for a first dip in the salt water.


I am generally laid back, but I was nervous about a number of things on this trip.  Trailering the boat a great distance was new, so I put two new tires on the trailer and used an old one for a spare.  Launching the boat in an unfamiliar place and tying up in a slip with tides concerned me a bit also.  And then there is sailing in an unfamiliar location with my family aboard.  

When we arrived, there was a half sunken motorboat in our reserved slip.  I should have taken a picture.  

After a couple of hours, it became apparent that the guy who owned it wasn't coming anytime soon.  The guys at the marina were laid back, and I pretended to be also.  They moved me to a better slip and soon all was well.  I was now two slips down from a guy living aboard a 45' sailboat.  Walt can be described as an "old-salt."  He had years of sailing and piloting for a living and was now taking it easy.  His first comment was basically, "looks like you're about two weeks late."  Apparently a lot of the Texas200 boats came through the White Sands Marina.

The next day I was a little disturbed to see my masts leaning over about 15 degrees as I approach the boat.  The tide had gone low enough to catch the aft side deck under the dock.  Luckily, it hadn't risen too much and I was able to push it out without any damage.  Walt probably thought this was funny and helped me learn a little about how to tie up more properly.  

The same morning, after recovering my nerves from the leaning boat incident, another funny thing happened.   We had the empty trailer parked in a space just outside our motel door with the car next to it.  I had been playing a game with my 3 year old, telling him "the car is gone Adrian!  You better go check it".  He'd go and find it there, etc...  So, when I looked out our door and found that our trailer was actually gone, no one believed me.    

I was a little confused and shocked.  I had a lock on the trailer (yes, I am paranoid) and had just seen it there 15 minutes earlier.  I immediately began calculating how much it would cost to get another trailer so we could a least get the boat home, how much time that would take from the vacation, etc.  I took a breath, then wondered if someone just moved it.  I looked at the marina "trailer parking" area, and, well, it was sitting right there with the lock still on.  The motel and the marina have a loose affiliation, and someone from the motel moved it to the marina parking lot because they aren't allowed in front of the rooms.     

Here is my son proving that in fact, it was gone.


My final apprehension was related to sailing an unfamiliar area with my family aboard.  We were extremely lucky to have just missed the weather from a tropical depression that had hit south of Port Isabel in Mexico a day earlier than we arrived.  The forecast for us was 10-15 knts from the east for the first day, 10 knts from the east for the remaining two sailing days.  The sailing turned out to be wonderful.   The wind was extremely consistent, almost always the same speed from the same direction.  I'm used to our inland lakes with fluky wind and unexpected gusts, so this was nice.  I kept 1 reef in the mainsail the whole time.  We could have put the whole sail up, but I wanted to be very careful with kids aboard, and I have also found that my boat moves almost at hull speed with a single reef and 10 knt winds.  I'm not racing, so why go faster?  

Here is our slip:

And us ready for the first sail.  The humidity is killing me there.

And I know my hat is funny.

We were trying go sailing and go to the beach each day, so our sails were fairly short.  No big adventures here, but we got a little more experience in new waters.  On the first day we tried to head over to and under the causeway bridge.  Of course, it was almost directly upwind.  I feel like there must have also been a current pushing us back as well.  The tacking angles on the image below I think confirm that....compared to the angles I've gotten in our lakes, it doesn't look too good.  In any case, we made it under the bridge and it was time to head back and get to the beach.

Here is a short video of us coming back under the bridge on the downwind leg:

Our sails on the next two days were fairly similar, but this time we anchored and tried some fishing.

Here is another short video of sailing out to go fishing.


The fishing in the Laguna Madre is supposed to be very good.  I am not a fisherman, and have caught only a handful of fish in my life, but my seven year old daughter is getting very interested in it, and hounded me until we finally got some "real" bait and went fishing.  Actually, with the sailing time competing with beach time, we needed something to make the sailing more interesting if I was going to get to play with the boat any.

We got some "fresh dead" shrimp for bait.  The live shrimp requires an apparatus that involves an aerator, so I went with the dead stuff.  We also got the same bobbers and hooks that everyone else seemed to be using.   Great, now I have a reason to test my anchoring skill.  We sailed out, anchored in an area that looked shallow.  This was really my first time anchoring the boat, because we normally sail in inland lakes that are very deep and have steep rocky shores and we generally don't have reason to anchor anyway.  I used the anchor well built into the Pathfinder.  It is a little hard to lean out to drop and retrieve, but not impossible and I didn't have to climb onto the deck.

As soon as our hooks were in, Sophia caught a small silver fish.  I still haven't identified it, but it was about 7 inches long, a tall body like a tilapia, faint yellow stripes with purple up near the dorsel fin.  Very nice looking. We got two of those right away, threw them back, threw back some small catfish, then Sophia got a spotted Sea Trout.  This was basically more fish than I've ever caught in my life, and we kept the Sea Trout.  It turned out to be only slightly under the legal limit (sorry), but we ate it and I studied the rules and brought a tape measure the next day.

The next day, Sophia caught an 18" Spanish Mackerel within about 20 minutes.  I could only catch tiny catfish, but somehow she has the luck.  We had the Mackerel for dinner.  I'm sure this is no prize for someone into fishing, but for us it was pretty incredible and Sophia is hooked now.  

We don't have a picture, but Sophia also caught a pretty large catfish that we threw back.   She's got the luck.

Coming Home

Now all we have to do is get the boat out and home safely.  Remember this picture?

Well, I didn't.  I got the boat on the trailer, pulled up the ramp and started for the parking lot.  I looked in the rear view mirror and noticed my wife and kids still standing on the dock, not following me.  Why are they just standing there, aren't they coming with me over to the parking lot to put away the boat?  Then I noticed my wife smiling sort of, gesturing something, looking a little more concerned now....ok, maybe I left the rudder down and it was dragging.  I stopped the car and got out.  "Oh," she said, "I thought you were about to drive right through the power line."  "I was just about to," I said.

Through some strange fortune, I had stopped with the mast about 4 feet from the wire.  I'm not sure what would have happened if I had continued, but obviously, something would have broken, it would have put a huge damper on the end of the trip, and I probably wouldn't feel all that welcome coming back to the White Sands again.  I'm so happy that my wife was back there.  I told her from now on to always assume I'm about to do something stupid....don't assume I know what I'm doing.

After that, the drive home was uneventful.  I will have to start planning our next sailing fishing trip down to the coast now.