When we launched at Magnolia Beach earlier in the day, we’d decided this would be our camp for tonight, and surely others would be there by now. I’ve gone back a couple of times to check on a friend who hasn’t sailed for three years due to some rough cancer treatments, and I’m running later than I’d like.
After sailing past the Port O’Connor jetties, I anchor for a half hour to give my friend a chance to catch up…but I’m running out of time. Pass Cavallo is different every time I’ve been there since Hurricane Harvey roared through the area in 2017. I do not feel confident I can find today’s version of the pass in the dark.
Filled with misgivings, I haul the anchor up and sail on.
In the last of the light I see masts a mile or so away, and an anchor light on one of the boats. I head for it. As the sun drops below the horizon it gets dark quickly—really dark. Darker than normal, even. I have read something about Saharan Desert dust in the air, maybe this is a side effect. It’s 2020, after all.
I drag my Mayfly 14, Gamaray, ashore right at 9 p.m. One of the other guys immediately texts our missing friend. He replies that he’s on a beach across from Port O’Connor with a couple of other Texas 200 boats, and that they are camping there for the night. I don’t know why I was worried about him—this guy is smarter and has more sailing experience than pretty much anyone I know. We make plans to meet up at Army Hole the next day, and as I am changing into my dry camp clothes I notice that my clip-on sunglasses are still clamped onto the frame of my glasses. The Mystery of The Darkness is solved.
The next morning we get up, have coffee, breakfast, and some social time (properly distanced, of course) before heading out. This is a new and strange thing for me on the Texas 200. Usually, time is so tight that I am away at first light or shortly thereafter so I can make it to the next camp and get set up before dark. This week, however, we have five whole days to make it to Quarantine Shore.
The Texas 200 organizers had decided early on that the only way to avoid canceling the event was for everyone to sail and camp in small groups; to start and end on whatever days they thought best for their group, and to be prepared to camp socially distanced, to avoid spreading the virus among participants. Some of the fleet is starting in Port Mansfield, some in Magnolia Beach. There is no shuttle bus this year, since the bus company is not even operating at this point. Everyone is truly on their own except for the one evening when we’re all together. Quarantine Shore, in addition being a perfect tie-in to what is going on with the pandemic, has lots of room for distancing. It is the only spot designated as an official Texas 200 camp this year. The idea is for the fleet to meet up there on Wednesday, June 17.
The small group of friends I’ve been sailing with decide that we should put in at Magnolia Beach on Saturday and take out at Magnolia Beach the following Friday, giving us a seven-day Texas 200 and no shuttle. That’s five days upwind, and two days back down to Magnolia Beach…meaning we’ll have some time to explore.
Veteran Texas 200 participant Cathy Tomsett recently gifted a 15-1/2-foot Bolger Featherwind, Hello Kitty, to my friend Matt Schiemer. He replaced the poly-tarp sail with one from Really Simple Sails, modified the rigging for the new sail, and renamed it The Mystery Machine, after the van in the Scooby-Doo cartoons. The Featherwind is a flat-bottomed skiff that's similar to my Mayfly 14, but a couple of feet longer. Matt has done many Texas 200s in an O’Day Mariner 19, a nice boat, but deep draft by 200 standards. This year, he has decided to come over to the dark side of small plywood boats and balanced-lug rigs. He is sacrificing the comfort of his larger boat for the adventure and cool sights that (down here, at least) can only be seen in small, shallow-draft boats. We have decided that we will take less-traveled routes whenever possible, and that starts today.
Our friend Stan Roberts spent a miserable, mosquito-infested night pulled up onto a beach in the ICW. He will be heading through Fisherman’s Cut out into Espiritu Santo Bay towards Army Hole, where we will meet up and have lunch. Matt and I will go from Pass Cavallo to Sunday Pass, which used to be Sunday Beach until Hurricane Harvey opened a cut through the beach into the Gulf. From there it is on to Espiritu Santo Bay and Army Hole through The Fish Pond and Lighthouse Cove.
We aren’t sure if we’ll actually be able to make it through The Fish Pond, which is a foot or two deep on the fishing maps we’re using to navigate. The wind is from the northeast this morning. It will be at our backs going in, so the first thing we need to do is test the ability of the Featherwind to sail upwind in shallow water, in case we have to turn around and sail back out.
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