By - Jon Kowitz – Spokane, Washington - USA

With the boat’s completion delayed due to weather (without a workshop I’m forced to work out doors) I did not get a chance to get much testing and sailing time on the hull. Heck, both times I went out on her was with the sails jury-rigged (though she sailed nicely so I figured it would only get better with proper rigging). The knockdown and recovery testing was promising. She rolled until the rail touched the water and she stiffened up, continuing to slowly roll from there until she was at about 80 degrees or so before plopping over. On dumping me from the cockpit, she floated easily in about 3 inches of water and resting on her hollow mast easily. She wasn’t all that stable on her side either, a gentle tug on the daggerboard sent her upright with a fair amount of force.

Putting the finishing touches on the rigging and loading her up onto her trailer I set out to meet the other half of my driving team.


What can I say, the trip down to Port Mansfield has been a pell-mell, flat-out sprint that lasted 47-hours straight. I think our longest break was about 15-minutes (not counting loading Andrew’s boat and equipment). As I write this we’re on the final leg with an ETA of 3am, with the captain’s meeting starting at 7am. We might even get some shuteye before then!

The trip down was largely uneventful. The boat and gear arrived safely, the van and trailer performed flawlessly. Andy hit a crow while it was his turn to drive, bashing in part of the grill (allegations of an attempted crow-jack of the vehicle have not been ruled out). And just outside of El Paso we encountered a couple with a donkey riding in their jeep. I later heard something along the lines of “Burritos”? Bean and cheese for me if you would.

Around 3 in the morning we finally reach our starting point in Port Mansfield, right on time. After a short sleep, the sun rises and we start getting acquainted with those around us.

Day Zero

High winds, that’s all I have to say about it. I never really considered 64 sqft to be a big sail (especially with the latest generation of ‘ducks sporting sails in the 80 – 90 sqft range) but as soon as I got out in the bay it was obviously too much for my little boat.

It was far more controllable once I put a reef in it, though the stress on the riffing was high enough while running that I didn’t want to risk a gybe for fear of breaking something, so I put the second reef in on reaching shore.

We met a bunch of good people including fellow PDR pilot; Kevin Allison. Jason Nabors came by later that evening and presented us with a gift of rigging knives monogrammed with a TX200 logo. What a neat guy. Later in the evening our final adventurer, Gordo Barcomb arrived bringing our fleet up to 5. A good night’s sleep and we’ll be ready to start.

Day One

I thought I had sailed in rough conditions on Sprague Lake! The wind was up and the wide shelf allows swells to build up pretty high, easily the height of the PDR’s hull. She surfed the following seas quite easily though and once I got used to it I found it kind of fun. She had severe weather-helm running before the wind though and I had to sheet-in the main until it dropped off to a manageable amount. Even with the sail reefed all the way and sheeted in we made really good time, reaching the camp in around 9 hours with an average moving speed of 4.8 mph. Each of the duckers at least touched 7 mph during the trip and mine had a maximum of 7.2 mph. Never gone that fast before! The mast was bending like I’d never seen it do before; I was worried it might break for a while. As we pressed on I gained confidence that it wouldn’t fail, though I was careful to sheet-out and round-up in the puffs.

We broke the tiller trying to re-launch from the beach where we had stopped to wait for Jason to catch up. I slipped in the mud and brought my arm down on it. It came free with a loud ‘pop’. After a moment of panic, I decided to jam it back into place and hope for the best.

Once we reached the campsite, I borrowed a drill and some screws from Gordo and pinned the broken piece back into place. Sure hope it holds up! After resting in the shade for a few minutes, I sent off a message to my loved ones back in Washington. Took forever to find enough signal to get the message off. I’m told it won’t be a problem tomorrow at the yacht club. Real food, cold beer, and hot showers! Can’t wait to get there!

Feeling confident in both myself and my boat’s capabilities will definitely have to be more careful about sun-screening my face though! Pretty singed. Little aloe and a good night’s sleep will hopefully let me recover enough to press-on tomorrow.

Day Two

I wish I had a job where I could be wrong most of the time and still collect a paycheck. Weather forecast was for light winds (10 – 15 mph) out of the SSE all day. By afternoon they were in the 30 mph range. When I designed Ranger, I thought that I’d never need to reef smaller than 33 sqft, but if I’d had another reef pint I would have used it! As much as I was having to depower the sails I probably would have been faster if I could have (this would have left me with a scant 19 sqft of sail). I wonder if I could make do with a sheet tied to the end of my burgee? A number of boats lost masts and rudders and there were times I was worried for Ranger’s mast and rigging. All five of us made it though and four of five were able to successfully tack into the marina (Andrew had lost most of his daggerboard to a mishap yesterday so he was forced to accept a tow).

We saw a pod of dolphins earlier as we headed out and they were simply amazing. They gave us a grand sendoff and escort through the ICW and the bays. They sure wanted a good look at me, coming right up to the boat. Several times so close I could have reached out and touched one. I know how those ancient mariners must have felt seeing those creatures. No matter what else happens, the trip has been worth it.

Day Three

Heroes! We were greeted at Paul’s Mott to a standing ovation, photographs, and tons of handshakes. Heck I barely had time to disembark from my boat before the other sailors hauled Ranger up onto the beach. All this really took place about 25 miles earlier on Pelican Island.

I had gotten ahead of everyone else so I stopped to replace the batteries in my GPS and to wait on everyone else to get there. The other ‘ducks joined me on the beach to do some minor maintenance and repairs on the boats. Shortly afterward the blue Bolger Cartopper that had been dismasted, capsized, and lost her sails was dropped off on the Island with us. Andrew Linn decided to see if there was anything we could do for him. Kevin had a spare lug-rig sail with him and Gordon had a spare spar that could be modified into a mast. While Andy fitted the parts to the Cartopper (using an axe to shave down the base of the spar to fit into the mast step and partner) David R landed his Hobie-14 and told us that he’d seen Bryan’s RAID-41 floating upside-down with no sign of the skipper. My spirit was leaded on learning this and I attempted to raise the Caprice on my hand-held (even on 5W it was too weak to establish contact) and failing that sent a mayday on ch.16 to alert the coastguard that one of our sailors may be in serious trouble and to start SAR. David relayed the coordinates off of his chart to the last known point the vessel was at. After getting the cartopper going again and finishing up our own repairs, we set out for the bridge. As we approached our landing-site I finally heard from Sandra on the Caprice that Bryan was on their boat and that they were trying to track down his errant vessel. With a bit of additional work I got the Coast Guard to contact Caprice and I understand ship and skipper were ultimately reunited (though I understand there was some trouble with the salvage vessel that the Coasties had called in, sorry about that). It was quite a relief to find out that he was okay, most of the times when a boat is found with no one around it the story never ends well.

Attempting to navigate the shallows on the far-side of the bridge, we ran aground and failing to find a navigatable channel we simply dragged the boats across the mud reef to continue. Climbing back into the boats, we sailed on. It slowly dawned on me how quiet the chatter had become, so I looked down to check the VHF’s volume. All that remained was the belt-clip and the broken nub that was supposed to hold it in place. The Puddle Duckers were now cut off from communication with the rest of the group.

Day Four

Oyster reefs are evil. Day four was our first really difficult navigational challenge we faced. To reach Army Hole we would need to thread narrow channels in a series of four oyster reefs; Carlos, Cedar, Ayers, and Steam boat. Jason and I stayed up fairly late on nigh three programming our GPS units to assist in finding the entrances to each. After successfully navigating the channels at Carlos and Cedar we were full of confidence that we could be able to get through the last two. As we approached Ayer’s reef I noticed spray from a shallow reef crossing our intended path. The charts showed no such barrier so assuming we were slightly off course, I pulled to windward to cross the south-side of the island right behind the orange Deansbox (sailed by Josh and Carl Clover) and another vessel that I could not identify. Just as Jason and I reached the inlet, I saw David Richey on the docks, waving his arms and screaming at us in an attempt to warn us away from the inlet; it was a trap! Jason and I quickly attempted tacking around to drive back out just as the Clover’s boat appeared to run aground. Jason in the Tenacious Turtle successfully got around and made its escape but poor Ranger with her deeper draft ran aground on the oyster reefs. Raising the board only allowed the wind to push the vessel deeper onto the reef. Deciding that I was stuck beyond hope of sailing out, I got out of the boat and attempted to drag it around the point back into the channel. Carefully making my way around on the reef (oyster shells are very sharp!) I saw Gordo and David approaching. Knowing how difficult the ground was and not wishing to place them into harms way, I tried to tell them to go back, but they told me ‘no way’ (and besides at that point, it was a shorter walk to me than back to the docks). The three of us easily got Ranger around the point and back into sailable water.

Seeing two other boats also heading for the south side of the island, I sailed out to try to tell them to avoid it. Without my VHF all I could do is get close and hope that I could get their skippers to understand not to go through the area. Sadly, I think I just made things worse for my efforts. Turning back I missed the navigation mark and ran aground once again. Attempts to get the boat sailing again were equally fruitless so for a second time I disembarked to attempt to drag the boat to safety. As I crept the boat towards the navigation mark, I stepped in a hole, lacerating my left leg in several places as well as my left hand (have I mentioned that oyster shells are sharp?) Desperately hanging onto the boat with my right hand for fear she’d blow away from me I carefully extracted my leg from the hole. Looking around and calculating the odds whether I could get her sailing again before grounding on the reef to the NE, I saw Gordo and Jason coming for me again! He was carrying Andrew’s reef socks for me to use instead of my woefully inadequate sandals, thank goodness! Removing the sandal from my right foot (the strap had been torn-through so it wouldn’t stay on in the deep mud any longer), I struggled with the reef sock for nearly 10 minutes. Finally popping on I reached up to take the other one, and realized that I was holding a right-hand reef sock in my hand. Nuts! Once I got them on my feet we dragged the boat across the reef and sailed it across the channel to the far shore where the other boats were collecting. Pulling my first-aid kit out, I dug through it for the antibiotics it SURELY had to contain. No antibiotics, but it did contain a whistle, some wet-naps, a package of napkins, and a pair of scissors that I doubt would cut the packaging on the wet naps. There was money well spent, at least Jason had some denatured alcohol for his stove that I could use. While I irrigated and sterilized my many cuts, the rest of the crew set back out to assist another pair of boats that had fouled on the reef as well.

While waiting for their return and feeling less than confident of the course ahead after this experience, I went over the charts and GPS to fine-tune our remaining waypoints. Once all of the boats were righted, dewatered, freed, and repaired we were treated to a delicious lunch of onions, potatoes, and seared flank steak courtesy of Andrew T. and Stephanie M. With nothing left to do we set back out, crossed the channel through the reef, and sailed into San Antonio Bay. As the afternoon wore on the winds shifted against us, forcing us to beat into it to make any headway toward the channel at South Panther reef (I later learned the reef was under 5 feet of water making it a wasted effort). The windspeed continued to increase and the chop came up, making it dangerous to tack or gybe. By evening the weather had scattered our formation and I landed on a small shovelful of dirt and oyster shells just south of the reef channel along with Jason. We had completely lost sight of Kevin and Gordo by this time and Andrew did his best to beat into weather to get to us, but his broken board wouldn’t let him point high enough. He tried yelling something to us (I later learned he was trying to tell us that his GPS had quit and he needed one of us to come with him) then sailed on towards the mainland. Doing our best to get word out to the rest of the fleet where we were, we set up camp and waited out the night.

Day Five

Grabbing a quick breakfast and preparing Ranger for travel (I was getting pretty quick at getting ready of a morning) we shoved off from our pitiful little island and made for the ICW entrance north of the reef. Entering the land cut the winds died off and we pulled the reefs out of our sails.

For the first time since we arrived six days ago I hoisted the full sail aloft, the tall gaff-rig reaching up into the clean air above the shadow cast by the hills and I happily scooted off down the water, averaging 4.2 mpg down the channel to Port O’Conner. On my way I was passed by a pair of barges, a motor yacht, and countless fishermen enjoying their day out.

We finally met back up with Kevin, Gordo, and Andrew just outside of the town. We cheered for one another’s safety and success and passed out cold beer that Gordo had purchased earlier. Nothing could have tasted so good.

Rounding the point we headed north until we reached Magnolia Beach to a waiting crowd who just couldn’t believe we five sailors had tackled the course in our tiny, 8’ slab-sided boats. That evening we enjoyed cold beer and a fine meal of boiled shrimp, potatoes, corn, and sausage (andouille I think). I’m definitely coming again next year.

Next year we will make it to Army Hole!


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