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.

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.