Skip to main content

Voyages - The time has come to choose a homeport

Sea Trek puts in after a long and winding voyage — for as long as it takes to plan the next adventure

Sea Trek puts in after a long and winding voyage — for as long as it takes to plan the next adventure

Chuck Baier and Susan Landry are a cruising couple from Marathon, Fla. They sailed out of U.S. waters aboard their 40-foot ketch, Sea Trek, bound for ports in Guatemala, the Caribbean, Mexico, Belize and the Gulf of Mexico. Their dispatches from Internet cafes along the way have appeared in Soundings. This is their final dispatch.

We sat in the cockpit on this morning drinking our coffee and reflecting on where we had been and where we are now. Did we really do this trip or are we just waking up from a really long and pleasant dream? This is always, for us, the most difficult part of our cruises — to put into words the feelings and emotions on that last day before we must once again integrate ourselves into that “normal” part of society in which most everyone else lives.

It can’t be a dream because we are tied to the dock at a small restaurant on the ICW at the southern end of GalvestonBay. After being based out of South Florida for the past 10 years, we had to have arrived here somehow. It was time to cast off the dock lines one more time and do it.

GalvestonBay is actually made up of four bays. GalvestonBay covers the south and the northwest area while the southern portion is divided into EastBay and WestBay and TrinityBay covering the northwest area. The bay averages 6 to 10 feet outside the dredged channels and with our 6-foot draft we needed to pay close attention. The bay is 30 miles long and at some points nearly 20 miles wide.

This is one of the busiest seaports in the United States and most certainly the busiest we have ever transited. Even as we approached the bay entrance on the Intracoastal we were aware of the parade of vessels both entering from the Gulf and from The ICW in every direction. At the same time, ships and barges were coming down the channel to exit the bay.

With everything going on we found we would not have time to wallow in the funk that usually accompanied us on our final day. As usual, we had laid out our route up the bay and put in all waypoints in the GPS the night before. We studied the charts and had a pretty good idea of where we wanted to go. The weather forecast for the day called for easterly winds to settle down to 10 to 15 knots. As we turned to starboard into the bay we were greeted with northwesterlies on our nose at about 20. Fortunately the seas had not had time to build, but it was still pretty choppy and nasty.

Our choice of a route was to travel about a mile east of the main ship channel until we reached the Redfish Point area, then cross the ship channel and run just outside the green buoys until we made the turn toward ClearLake. What we did not anticipate was having to constantly be on the lookout for — and constantly dodging — abandoned oil platforms and the commercial fleet that was out gathering shrimp, oysters and all varieties of seafood.

Our total trip up the bay to ClearLake would only be about 25 miles. We can usually cover this distance in about four hours. But even motorsailing, with the engine pushing hard, we found these last miles hard-fought and the going slow. Perhaps the deity that watches over fools and sailors was trying to tell us something.

An unexpected issue became apparent when it was time to cross the ship channel. With our vesselSea Trek making only about 4 to 5 knots against wind and sea, the oncoming ships traveling up and down the channel at 18 to 20-some knots made getting across for us a bit dicey. So for about 20 minutes we just circled outside the channel until we saw an opening and had to make a decision fast and get across quickly.

We angled the boat so the wind was on the aft starboard beam, pushed the throttle full forward and shot across the channel before the next behemoth coming down the channel made fiberglass splinters out of us. We made it across with room and time to spare, but when these large ships are bearing down it doesn’t seem like it at that time. Other than the commercial vessels we were the only pleasure craft on this section of the bay today.

We pushed on to the northwest and finally hit our waypoint to make the turn toward ClearLake.

We had reviewed the guide book for marina info and had several good recommendations from fellow cruisers from this area that we had met in the western Caribbean. This was the reason we were here to begin with. To the person, every sailor we met from Texas, or who had passed through here, told us we must go to ClearLake. So here we are.

Based on all of that information we decided on a large marina complex just inside the lake. We had been in communication with them for about a week and arranged for a slip to park for a while. Our first plan was to stay there for a week or so, be sure that we were going to like it and scout out any others that might look inviting. As we made the turn off the ship channel we called the marina and announced our arrival. We were instructed to call back when we entered the lake for instructions and slip assignment. We confirmed that the slip needed to accommodate a 6-foot draft.

Entering ClearLake is a bit of a surreal experience. We had just exited an extremely busy ship channel, dodged huge oil platforms as well as derelict platforms and all manner of fishing vessels. As we approached and entered the ClearLake channel we were greeted by a variety of touristy buildings, ferris wheels, tower rides and what can only be described as a miniature amusement park. At first we were a bit surprised, but then we looked at each other and could only say, “Cool.”

A call to the marina again got us precise directions since there are several channels to choose from once inside the lake. We stayed on the phone with them until we felt sure we understood exactly where our slip was. With dock lines and fenders ready, we made the turn into the slip and abruptly ran aground halfway in. Fortunately, we were close enough to the finger pier to get off and walk up to the office and correct the problem.

“Oh yes,” we were told, “that portion of the marina is pretty shallow at low tide.” While we had been telling them for some time we needed at least 6 feet, maybe we were not specific enough to state that we wanted that at all stages of the tides.

The marina personnel gave us another slip and assured us that it was in a deeper part of the basin, on a T-dock. The bottom of the lake is a soft mud and backing out of the spot we were in was not too difficult.

Once settled in on the T-dock, we sat still and took in these new surroundings. Even with the less-than-dignified arrival, it was a nice place, albeit a bit larger than we were used to. The marina has about 1,200 slips with club houses, swimming pools and well-cared-for grounds. We knew without any more research that we would stay here for the duration.

Our pleasant surroundings and the warm greetings we received did relieve some of the sadness we felt that we must now close this chapter, but we would almost immediately begin planning the next.

We are not, by any stretch of the imagination, wealthy people. Nor do we have any retirement money to tap and fund our cruising. We found many years ago — when first planning our change in lifestyle — that many of our friends who worked hard and planned hard just for this opportunity fell to illness or became embroiled in family problems, financial or personal disasters that ended their cruising plans before they ever began.

We made the decision to not let that happen to us. We sold our business, home, cars and everything that would not fit on the boat and hit the trail, as our Texas friends say.

Paying off our mortgages and the failure of the individual who bought our business, who has yet to pay us, didn’t allow for a nest egg that could be invested to maintain our way of life.

So our plan is to have no plan. We decide on the length of cruise we want to do, how much we need in the bank to carry us through and how much we need at the end to get us settled back in. Many have asked us if we are not afraid going to a new place with no income, no job prospects and no support groups. Our answer is always a resounding, “No.”

With our backgrounds [Chuck a marine mechanic, Susan a social worker] we never have a problem finding work. This stop found work for one of us three days after our arrival and the other within weeks, which is typical.

We will stay for as long as it takes to build the kitty for the next cruise and we will be off again. Where and when is yet to be determined, but it is comforting to just know there will be a where and when.

For those readers who have followed us through these articles in Soundings we hope you have lived vicariously through us if you are unable to put out to sea yourselves. We hope we have inspired some to untie the dock lines and go.

Fair winds to you all and we hope you will follow us on the next journey.