Sailing Adventure Islands...to the Island! February 16, 2013 (first of many blogs & articles)
Alan Ap Torre is an interesting dude. When I worked at Mariner Sails we would often get a call from someone with a hammed up country (or other) accent asking a series of off-the-wall questions about our products. When this person would finally ask something like "Can I put my 400 lb girlfriend on a standup paddle board with me so we can both fish?" Of course we would politely answer as best as we could, but finally it would dawn on us that Torre had pulled a fast one on us once again.
This jovial Filipino now owns four Hobie Adventure Islands and a Hobie Getaway catamaran. "Why do you have so many boats now?" I asked him once. "I got a big family, Alan," he responded.
I received a call from Alan Torre at work and Port O'Connor came up, when I told him it was my hometown he said "Oh Alan, you're my new best friend!" He and some of his family were planning a trip to the coast, and had come to POC once before when the Matagorda Island ferry still took people over to the island. They were psyched up to go again in late October, but this time take all four of their Adventure Islands, and get out to Matagorda Island in style.
This is where I came in - they wanted someone to show them around, or were considering hiring a guide. I told them that I could just do it myself, especially since there aren't many guides that know much about sailing. I had kayaked and windsurfed in various places around the bay (not to mention fished and ran crab traps for years). So we planned the trip...
Alan Torre pestered me over the next six weeks with questions and plans via email and phone - which I gladly answered since I FINALLY had an opportunity to get these wonderful boats into the bay. A snag came up, however. A cold front was blowing in the evening after they planned to arrive. Locals know how intense these cold fronts (we call northers') can be on the bay, even in October.
**Warning, slight tangent**
On one trip to the island in my early twenties (which also happened to be in the fall) we went out on an absolutely gorgerous afternoon, grilled, caught two nice black drum, and I even windsurfed a bit. A couple of hours after dark the cold front blew in immediately ripping the top canopy cover off of the tent. A combination of light rain and sand pestered us the entire night, and keeping the tent erect was hopeless...SO I got my buds up as soon as there was enough light to drive the boat in and said, "Okay guys lets get out of here."
We packed up our completely collapsed tent and sand covered gear as best as we could. The ride back against the whitecaps...wet, wild, and very cold. In the end, we still had a great time and great adventure (albeit an uncomfortable one).
**Slight tangent ends here**
I warned Alan that they did not want to be on the island when the norther' blew in, and that they should either delay their trip a day, or make plans to stay in town for at least one night and sail to the island the next day. They decided to continue as planned and we would keep an eye on the weather and plan accordingly.
As usual, I began the 6.5 hour drive from Dallas after work, and when I rolled into POC in the wee hours of the morning, I noticed something odd. An RV towing a trailer full of Adventure Islands was blocking the road almost jackknifing a turn into an RV Park. I rolled up behind it and honked my horn a bit frantically, and when they finally got into the RV park I drove up to see Alan Torre approaching with a confused look on his face. First he chuckled and said that they thought Seadrfit was POC, since GPS's are finicky in this part of the world. And he wasn't sure if he was in the correct RV park.
They decided to stay put (after some clueless looking around for the right RV park) and resolve the booking issue in the morning.
And a beautiful morning it was! Alan Torre had with him his sister Dina, and two brother-in-laws Pong and Lorey, who's morning smiles were as warm as the sunrise over the bay when I greeted them at their RV. After a Texas-Filipino fusion breakfast I explained that it is 'tradition' in Port O'Connor to 'make the rounds', and drive by the front beach, docks, boat ramps etc to see what was going on, take note of new things, and make sure old things were still where they were supposed to be.
I was shocked that they never drove around town when they came down on their first trip, and had not even been aware of King Fisher Beach, the little jetties, etc, pretty much the beach hangouts of town. We checked the weather; that worrisome cold front had an ETA of 11pm that evening. The revised plan, which I insisted on, was to sail out to the Island, have a grilled dinner and possibly fish, and come back that evening before the norther' hit. The next day we could look for the winds to slack off and see about camping the next evening.
These guys really know how to pack an Adventure Island. They had made 'benches' from 2 by 4's that fit on grooves right over the aka's (braces), this allowed us to bungee down ice chests and/or provide a rigid seat for anyone who wanted to hang out on the aka's. We set off from the front beach sailing pretty much upwind in the 10mph breeze. Four miles to go - it would be enough to get there in time. We would sail out into Matagorda Bay and make several tacks into the south winds. Certainly slow sailing upwind, yet easy and safe. The water depth between us and our destination was anywhere from 1 to 5 feet deep. This worked to our advantage when we discovered that one of the drain plugs had come out of Alan Torre's boat (probably when dragged on the beach) and he took on a bit of water. The five foot depths allowed us to fix this issue easily.
While we fixed the drain plug we spotted a blue trimaran of some kind making its way out to the island about a quarter-mile distance. We think it was a Weta trimaran - pretty different from the AI - but still appropriate for the waters we were in.
This Weta show left pretty much looks like the animal, except the one we saw was blue.
With the low tide we dodged or paddled around several sandbars, especially during our final approach near Pass Cavallo and sailing west to the 'J-Hook' that points off of Matagorda Island - there is a very narrow opening to get through what I call the 'lagoon', once you get through it you have a straight shot southwest to 'Sunday Beach', a narrow strip of the island where you can walk across to the gulf beach. BUT we had about an hour and a half until sunset, so we settled for parking at the tip of the 'J-hook', I assured them that they would like it there.
Sure enough, our first delight was the evening dolphins, who feed a few feet from the bank. There are a LOT of inshore and pelagic fish species that run through Pass Cavallo. Lorey and I fished some, we caught mostly croakers, whiting, and hardheads on fresh dead shrimp, but the fun catch was a lady fish. No bull reds or black drum that evening, it was hard to focus on fishing when the smell of some excellent steaks and fajitas were coming from the grill.
Although we elected to start sailing back at sunset we still had plenty of time to really relax and enjoy the island. Clouds were on the northern horizon, and the south wind now blew a steady 15 to 20 mph. With LED lights fitted to the boats and on, we were well prepared for the night-sail back. There is nothing like sailing down-wind in light chop at twilight in an adventure island. This is fast, wet, thrilling, and our hoots and hollars were genuine expressions of fun; this also served to let each other know that we were not overwhelmed, enjoying ourselves, and okay. The sail back took only about 45 minutes.
As anticipated, the norther blew in with light rain (not much) and dropped the temperature down to about fifty degrees (this is chili for me, especially in 25-30 mph winds). The forecast showed that there would be a strong north wind over the next couple of days. Morning rounds showed that the tide had been sucked way out with furious whitecaps on the front beach, making this an impractical launch option. The ramps and docks on the Intracoastal Canal were still fine for launching - we could go the 'back way' through the back bays, cuts, and lagoons to reach the island and be very safe from rough waters, and since I knew the indirect route well, this would be the 'easy part'. The hard part would be returning against the wind; I could only hope that it would die down later on. At least the sun was shining.
We set out from The Fishing Center boat ramp with Johnny (the owner) simply saying with a grin "Have fun." Luckily things were really slow around town so we could take our time loading up without blocking anyone else who might try to launch.
Off we went across the canal to Fisherman's Cut into Baroom Bay, and very fast sailing ensued. By the time we reached Michell's Cut the dolphins were about as frisky and playful as I had ever seen them - something about cooler weather makes them this way. One of them actually bumped the back of one of our boats. They seemed to be highly curious about the AI's, and some splashed around us at an arms reach.
On our final leg we passed where we hung out the night before at the J-Hook and the sailing became very leisurely as we entered the lagoon near Sunday beach. After making the traditional trot across the island to the Gulf Beach we setup camp, found the best of the damp firewood that we could, and soon began to relax. Alan Torre had a field day with his photography hobby. I decided to try some crabbing with a leftover drum stick from the night before. This met with limited success since I forgot to bring a net.
As night fell chicken went on to boil, some kind of delicious Filipino soup was brewing. I took the opportunity to prep the shrimp and flounder I brought for cooking. The wind was still fairly chilly and strong, so we took the 'benches' from the Adventure Islands and made a kind of barricade around the fire. This worked out well, and I had just enough coals left after the soup was done to cook most of my shrimp and flounder in lemon butter. Unfortunately my uneven seasoning caused some of the shrimp to have a little more 'kick' than I had intended, but all the food cooked over a natural beach fire did us right.
The winds continued to blow through the night. Although chilly at times I managed to stay warm enough, the thing that kept me up wasn't the wind or the cold so much, but the sense that something was outside; almost certainly coyotes. With the wind blowing I found myself constantly straining to hear what was going on outside my tent. The next morning sure enough Lorey pointed out coyote tracks scattered around our camp, though they left everything undisturbed.
My feet just a bit cold.
The wind had not slowed down, and the rising sun peaked through broken clouds. Quite appropriately Dina grabbed her portable player and played 'Morning has Broken' by Cat Stevens. A breakfast of rice and seasoned sardines worked out extremely well. That was the first time I had ever eaten sardines in my life. They look really funny in the can, despite this they are very good with the right seasoning.
Understandably, I had to 'psyche up' for the sail back. We had two choices of route, one is through the back lakes of Fish Pond and then Mule Slough which would have been nice and calm. It would've also been straight up wind, and with the tide so low I wasn't sure we could get through it in a reasonable amount of time. So back the way we came is how we went. We had to tack MANY times through some respectable swells in the lagoon since the wind blew directly into it. The rudder on my 2010 Island is a bit smaller than what the other guys had, so I found holding a course in the chop fairly difficult, while my comrades had less difficulty. Eventually we found our way into Matagorda Bay itself, for a brief time we experienced some extreme chop until we took a left into Saluria Bayou past the the ruined coast guard station. At Michell's the dolphins were still there, only not nearly as frisky as the day before.
After about 3.5 hours of tacks and a great deal of paddling we arrived back in Port O'Connor utterly exhausted. I felt sorry for them as they would now need to make a ten hour drive back to Odessa. They seemed to be okay with it and would be taking shifts for driving back.
I looked forward to telling everyone how well the trip went even though it went from serene to extreme; we experienced a buffet of conditions that tested the AI's; these boats performed beyond all our expectations. Back at the dock we were surprised to see the Weta Trimaran motoring up with what appeared to be a father and daughter crew. The captain seemed very intrigued about the Adventure Islands and asked where he might rent them. Since I was chest deep in water unloading a boat I had to settle with simply saying "Come find me here in March, I will have one you can rent."
There were virtually no complaints from this group about the conditions, weather, or anything, all was 'Wapen', which is Filipino for "It's all good!"