Sabine Pass, TX to Port Fourchon, LA
18 March 2012 | Port Fourchon, Louisiana
Team Lester and Robyn
Our friend Roger from Clear Lake Shores Texas arrived on Monday evening to crew for us from Port Arthur. We all awoke to heavy fog Tuesday morning. Under most conditions, we would have waited for the fog to lift, but the mosquitoes had surrounded Seanna and they were demanding our surrender. So, under less than ideal conditions, we untied Seanna, and headed out to sea. We motored down the Port Arthur ship channel towards the Gulf. We were escorted by several dolphins, and Robyn was just absolutely thrilled to see such large animals so close to Seanna.
Our first major event while underway came about two or three miles out in the Gulf. We were all enjoying the ride and visiting when suddenly, I was sure I could hear the rumble of a large engine. There we were, in heavy fog, the radar wasn't on, and we might have been on a collision course with an in-bound ship. We were all straining our ears and eyes. All of our senses were on edge. I knew it would take several moments for the radar to spin up. We didn't have time for that! I reached for the radio mike and announced on the radio, "pan pan, pan pan, pan pan, this is the sailing vessel Seanna. Our position is... , we are in heavy fog and can hear the engines of a ship nearby. Any vessel in our vicinity, please announce yourself."
The Captain of a motor vessel came on the radio, and told us he thought his vessel was the one we were hearing. I wasn't convinced! "Captain, would you please blow your horn so we can confirm?" We waited, but we didn't hear anything except the constant rumble of the engines. "Captain, we don't hear your horn". The Captain came back and said he would try it again and blow the horns for a longer time. This time, we were greeted by the deep resonance of his horns. "I hear you! What is your bearing?" He gave us his position and bearing, and he told us he could see us on his radar. What a relief! By now our radar had spun up, and we could see him too. Disaster averted!
Our destination was Grand Isle, Louisiana. I had calculated that it would take around 48 hours. That would give us a daylight landfall. Well, the trip actually took 55 hours, and we weren't going to make a daylight landfall in Grand Isle. So we diverted to Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Grand Isle is another half day sail away.
For 55 hours, we experienced so much. Robyn had a real fear of sailing in the Gulf at night. She was scared when our first night came and it was still pretty foggy. The fog did become more patchy and as she sailed into the areas without fog, she saw that it wasn't quite as scary as she thought it would be. Robyn can now sail confidently through the night. Another thing we experienced that was a shock to both of us was how you really have to just sail on through the night with blind faith. You have to trust your chartplotter, radar, and other instruments to help you safely travel through the darkness.
Now, you may wonder what it is like in the Gulf of Mexico at night. I can't even begin to describe how bright the stars are. Without all of the light pollution from land, you get to see enormous clusters of stars that can only be seen from the near total darkness of the ocean. The stars were just beyond description. We weren't fortunate enough to sail under a full moon, but when the moon would rise, its reflection on the water was best described by Robyn as, "sailing down the moonlight highway."
Dad, I know you are wondering how the fishing was. Not worth a darn, unless you consider catching the same sea gull twice! We were trolling a squid type lure when I saw the gull swoop down and pick up the lure. I didn't want to hook him, but I was realing him in pretty fast when he dropped the lure. The he swooped down and picked it up again. Robyn found it extremely funny as I yelled at him to drop it! Another 24 hours at sea, and I might have considered a sea gull salad sandwich!
Another fear we had was sailing around the many offshore oil wells and drilling platforms. The experience wasn't as bad as we had heard. We only saw one unlit well. Most of them have horns that can be heard as you approach. From a distance, they look like houses lit up by Christmas lights and are really quite beautiful. We found that the wells actually helped make navigation easier. When a well was spotted on the horizon, we would have a sense of direction without constantly relying on the compass. The wells and platforms seemed more like beacons in the night as they sparkled and reflected off the water.
We did discover in this shake-down cruise, that we still have a few more things to take care of on the boat. We had to hand steer Seanna for 55 hours because the auto pilot has a leaking seal. We will be getting that repaired ASAP. The radar and navigation lights put a larger drain on our electrical system than we thought. Therefore, we are going to buy a small Honda generator for a back up. One other thing we would like to add for safety is an AIS receiver. An AIS (automatic identification system) receiver ties into our chartplotter and gives us information on commercial vessels within our sailing area. For instance, it will give us the name of the vessel, its heading, and speed. With these few things, perhaps we will not have any more terrifying moments in fog, and we won't be completely exhausted from round-the-clock butt time behind the helm!
During this trip, we also were able to learn a few more lessons on the care and feeding of the crew. This crossing was very monotonous. So, snacks, and comfort food were very important. We had been told by our friends, Sonny and Kay of the sailing vessel Valentina, that snacks and comfort foods were imperative on any crossing. Fortunately, we had stocked up pretty well. Sleep deprivation was another thing that was hard to deal with. For me, (Lester), it was really tough to get any sleep because my ears were tuned to the engine and all of the other sounds. Any change in tone would immediately wake me up. Although, I did seem to do better when I would sleep in the cockpit while Robyn was at the helm. For me, (Robyn), I immediately cleared my mind, said a prayer, and fell asleep. I knew that I would end up feeling very sick without my rest. Neither one of us were affected too much by sea sickness, lucky for Roger! We both did experience some queasyness during the first few hours of the trip. We attribute that to nerves.
To wrap it all up, this was an awesome experience for both of us. We can't thank Roger enough for going with us and giving us the confidence boost we needed to continue our adventure. We learned a lot, not only about Seanna, but about ourselves. Those of you who knew Robyn before this adventure, would be absolutely shocked to see her now. She has done things in the last 55 hours that are just awe-inspiring to me. Driving a 28,000-pound boat pounding through the seas at night, confidently taking her watch, and without exception, doing whatever was necessary to maintain Seanna and her crew, was amazing! If I sound proud of her, then good. I am so proud and impressed with Robyn. There is not a single person in the world I would rather have sharing this adventure with me. We are equal partners and co-captains. I would trust her in any situation, and she is an invaluable crew mate. We both have our fears, but together, we are just checking them off the list. I love the two Irish ladies in my life, Robyn and Seanna!
As for me (Robyn), I am happy to be sharing in this dream of Lester's. I would do this with no one else in the world. I have so much respect and admiration for his knowledge, abilities, and passion. I think we make a pretty good team, and we are ready to sail on! (Darn - Lester just said we are leaving again on Tuesday! Already?!) Oh well, I am ready to get out of Port Crappy - or is that pronounced in Cajun country, Port Crape'?