How did I get here?
Those were the words going through my head Saturday afternoon as I was piloting my friend’s yacht Providence at ten knots through the narrow turbulent locks in Freeport.
At this time a year ago, I had just started a new job and was still licking the wounds from a really bad breakup. I was headed aimlessly back into middle class corporate America with no goals or hope in sight. I just wanted to earn a paycheck and spend it all away, partying on the weekends. It only took a little nudge from a friend, a visit with Alex, and a lot of soul searching to really take this leap. Looking back, I never would’ve thought I’d be where I am now – only a year later. I have learned so much and experienced so much, and yet my path has only begun.
Friday morning I sold my house. I worked out a great deal with my brother that allowed us to basically change the deed with minimal money from both of us. So after it was made official, I headed to Rockport with my little Honda Civic loaded down with tools and gear for a weekend of work. At some point during the three-hour drive, my friend in the yard sent me a text saying that Providence was ready for her trip back to Galveston and that they’d like me to tag along. With nothing but rain in the forecast, I decided to go. Heck, why not? It’s only rain….
As soon as I got to the yard, we cast off the docklines and headed out. With some uncertainty in the forecast, the skipper opted to motor through the ICW (Intercoastal Waterway) at least until we could jump out into the Gulf at Port O’Connor. Aside from dodging tugboat traffic and a little light rain, the first few hours of the trip were pretty enjoyable. We even unfurled the jib, giving us a nice little bit of extra speed down the Ditch. As the sun went down, there were storms brewing all around us. I had my iPhone out for navigational purposes (the Garmin was a bit dodgy at first), so I began receiving LOTS of severe weather alerts. Tornado warnings were popping up all around us. For the most part though, the storm split up right around us, providing for a really nice light show. Judging by the radar and Grib files, there was more to come though, so the skipper made the call to dock up for the night. We pulled into Sanctuary Marina (appropriate right?) and settled in for the night.
There were high and low pressure fronts battling around us all weekend, and on Saturday the Low was winning. With gnarly weather again in the forecast, we spent much of the day in the ditch, watching it rain and dodging tug traffic. We motor-sailed much of the way, which provided some healthy distraction. After clearing the locks in Matagorda, I happened to look up and see my parents standing on the shore waving at us! They were bored and decided to make a day trip to see us pass. What a nice surprise! :)
Late that evening, we were approaching Freeport. Freeport is a primarily an industrial port, with refineries and chemical plants all around. There’s not much to see in the way of scenery, but there was one notable event. The Brazos River ends in Freeport, and the Corps of Engineers has built a set of locks on the ICW to protect it from debris and high waters from the river. The Brazos is kind of like the Mississippi River of Texas. It’s large, muddy, and very powerful. When flooded, it’s not uncommon to see fully grown oak trees tumbling downstream. We had a LOT of rain in the past few days, with some areas getting 6-8 inches on Friday. So the Brazos was high and mighty. As we approached the locks, our handheld VHF decided to stop working. Of course. And the primary VHF was installed near the engine, so it could not be heard. I was at the helm and rapidly approaching the locks without the ability to hail the lockmaster. There was a tugboat entering right before us, and the current was so strong it turned the tug nearly sideways in the locks. It was like a class 5 rapid in there. With the “pucker factor” in full force, I steered Providence through both sets of locks like a bullet. Almost as if it was some kind of reward for our efforts, the clouds parted and gave us a picturesque sunset. Exhausted from a day in the rain, we docked at Freeport Marina for the night.
We awoke Sunday morning to a clear and sunny day. The wind was perfect and the sea conditions couldn’t have been better. We motored through the jetties and set sail on a beam reach for Galveston. After passing a few tankers and a pair of large cruise ships, we docked Providence at her slip and headed home – again through the rain.