Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico - Part One

Photo credit: Thanks, Raymond!
Leaving Kemah for ports unknown has an anticlimactic feel. You toss off the dock lines, wave goodbye to your neighbors and proceed to spend the next seven hours trying to get out of Galveston Bay. But it's not without its own brand of excitement. You do get the pleasure of navigating one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. More than 7,000 ships and 150,000 barges pass through the Houston Ship Channel each year, and we probably saw every toxic chemical known to man being transported to and from Houston (I can't imagine anyone ever needing that much benzene!). To make matters even more sporting, there's not much wiggle room in the channel. Once outside those red and green markers, the depths drop rapidly, making a shared space with Mr. Benzene your only option. Really though, the ship channel wasn't that bad. We stayed to the far right, kept a sharp watch and only almost got run over once.

We got a late start on Tuesday, and by early evening we were coming past Galveston into the Gulf of Mexico. It had been a little stormy that day, so the winds were brisk with four to six foot seas rolling us about as we tacked back and forth to get beyond the long stone jetties that flank the entrance to the bay. Of course, with each tack we crossed the ship channel again, and though during the day the big ships are impossible to miss, taking up your entire field of vision, at night it was another story. They were like hulking blocks of shadow with three tiny lights on top barreling into the Gulf at 20 knots. I found how difficult they were to see quite disconcerting, and needless to say we got our diminutive butts out of the shipping lane as soon as we got past the jetties, one of which we came a bit too close to for comfort.

That's right about the time that my violent bout of seasickness kicked in, laughing in the face of all the ginger I'd consumed. I won't bore you with the graphic details, but suffice to say I spent the next two days dry heaving and curled up in the fetal position sweating buckets. Vlad was kind enough to turn the fan on for me. Thank goodness my brother came with us because it would have been a pretty horrendous first voyage for Vlad with his only companion, besides the hedgehog, totally incapacitated. I think we might have made it as far as Beaumont.

Once out into the Gulf of Mexico, it took us 10 full days to reach Key West. We traveled more than 1,000 miles, generally heading south, southeast and east, with the occasional north and west thrown in (dang that Russian). The first week we went very slowly due to storms and the wind - which kept pushing us toward the Yucatan (too bad David didn't have his passport). My dad told me later that he went down to my mom's house, and she showed him where we were on the Spot tracker. Not being nautically inclined, he asked my mom if we were making good time, and she replied that it was the worst progress she'd ever seen. She described that first week to me as "like watching paint dry," which wasn't an inaccurate description since we I'm pretty sure we went backwards for two days.

At 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning when we had more miles to go than we did on Friday afternoon, I had generally decided that the whole thing sucked and that I hated the Gulf of Mexico and that I could really use a beer and maybe a sandwich made from something besides peanut butter and jelly. But then we got some wind. What will follow on the blog for the next few days are the highlights of our trip, the things that we found interesting, beautiful, bizarre and frustrating. And I promise I'll explain the Russian.


  1. Reading your posts are a bad thing to do at work. Cracked up at the ginger comment.

    1. I did too. Someone gave me "ginger tea" once when I had a sore throat and just about gagged on it. It reminded me of that.

  2. 'Watching paint dry' HAHAHAHA! Hey, you made it. I'm guessing the sea sickness went away? Please tell me that it went away. Poor you. I can only think that this was your baptism by fire and that all will be smooth sailing and fair winds from now on. Yep. That's the thought I'm holding for you.

  3. Sounds like you had an interesting trip. Looking forward to seeing more.

  4. I'm so sorry you were sick. :( I think that is a big reason we are planning on holing up in Galveston for a day or two. Hopefully the rest of the passage was easier on you then the start!

  5. Oh yes, first passage - third - twenty-third... never know what you're going to get - sea sickness sucks. Here's hoping for some more fun, in the fun to suck ratio! :)

  6. Hahahah. Now you know why I don't go sailing all the time. I get sick sometimes out in the bay. It is not fun. Sorry I had to laugh Glad you arrived safe

  7. Waiting with anticipation for the highlights (along with a photo with you two in it!). So glad you guys made it across safely!

  8. Attila,

    Bless your heart!!! I always was my most sick when the wind was at our back. I never felt like the damn boat was moving. I did much better sailing into the wind. Ginger was an absolute bust for me too. I bought the wrist bands with the nodule that sit over the pulse point in your wrist. I didn't have the "hung over" feeling and I could put them on or pull them off at will!! If you get the chance, take some time to sea kayak. I loved it as well and it was a guaranteed NO SEA SICKNESS!!!! :D I can't wait to hear more about your journey. Good sailing to you and Vlad and be blessed!!!!