East­bound & Down

POWER & MO­TO­RY­ACHT’S LEG OF THE ASPEN 10,000 MILE TOUR? A 300-MILE, HELL-BENT-FOR-LEATHER DE­LIV­ERY FROM GALVE­STON TO THE BIG EASY.

Power & Motor Yacht - - IN THIS ISSUE - BY CAPT. BILL PIKE

A 300-mile zoom from Galve­ston to the Big Easy is just one crazy leg of the Aspen 10,000 Mile Tour.

We’d fig­ured it out by now. Nav­i­gat­ing the Gulf In­tra­coastal Water­way (GICW) through Texas at night in our Aspen C120 power cat—a speedy, fuel-ef­fi­cient, 40-foot phe­nome of asym­me­try—was a two-man job. At the helm, Larry Graf, Aspen’s founder and CEO, did the steer­ing while si­mul­ta­ne­ously keep­ing tabs on our Garmin plot­ter, where AIS sig­na­tures ma­te­ri­al­ized like measles as the miles mo­seyed along. In the copi­lot’s seat, I han­dled the VHF while si­mul­ta­ne­ously try­ing to in­ter­pret ex­actly what was com­ing at us; or, more to the point, how the phan­tas­mago­ria of run­ning lights, mast­head lights, spe­cial flash­ing lights, deck lights, spot­lights and lights ashore would im­pact the next cou­ple min­utes of run­ning time.

“Man,” mut­tered Larry, a long-time denizen of the Pa­cific North­west, “we never see traf­fic like this out on the West Coast. Most of this stuff is huge. Some of th­ese tows are 1,000-foot­ers at least. Some gotta be 1,200-foot­ers! And they just keep on comin’.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, squint­ing through a set of Steiner binoc­u­lars. “Nav­i­ga­tion down here is a realm unto it­self. Skinny, nar­row wa­ter, too—real skinny, real nar­row.”

It was half past mid­night. We were many hours into a hell-bent­for-leather de­liv­ery of the C120 from Galve­ston to New Or­leans, a dis­tance of roughly 300 miles on the In­tra­coastal. As rain ham­mered the wind­shield and gi­ant bolts of light­ning blazed, our big, pan­to­graph-type wipers slapped rhyth­mi­cally and the Stein­ers re­vealed an im­mense tow in the dis­tance, stack­ing up for a head-on meet­ing. The thing ap­peared to be stalled in a tight horse­shoe bend, the shape of which glowed faintly on the Garmin’s screen.

“Here comes an­other one, Larry,” I noted with res­ig­na­tion. “Let’s hope it’s not an in­stant re­play of the last fra­cas.”

Ear­lier in the evening, dur­ing my own stint at the wheel, a meet­ing in a sim­i­lar bend with an equally im­mense, spot­light-blast­ing tow had caused me to squish our star­board bow into the mud. Maybe I’m ra­tio­nal­iz­ing here, but it’s my opin­ion that the tug’s gi­ant LED/Xenon spot­lights had con­trib­uted to the event—their bluish glare through the 120’s wind­shield had just about deep-sixed my night vi­sion.

I stud­ied the oncoming tow. For the mo­ment, the tug at the rear was oc­cu­py­ing one side of the chan­nel in the bend, and the head of the tow—il­lu­mi­nated with the same LED/Xenon ra­di­ance we’d got nailed with ear­lier—oc­cu­pied the other side. I checked the ves­sel’s AIS sig­na­ture and keyed the mic. “This is the Knot Waf­flen’, the Knot Waf­flen’, to the Mary Bou

dreaux, the Mary Boudreaux. Please come in, cap.” “This is the Mary, come back,” a voice drawled with such lan­guid ease and con­fi­dence it sounded like the guy was eas­ing down a coun­try road in an old pickup truck in broad day­light.

“Cap,” I con­tin­ued, “we’re the lit­tle plea­sure boat com­ing at you, oh about a mile off. Are you gonna be around that cor­ner next cou­ple of min­utes, so we can get past you on the one whis­tle?”

“Mary back to ya, plea­sure boat,” the drawl con­tin­ued. “No big deal, man. But gimme a lit­tle more time if you would, so I can get straight­ened around. Then sure, I’ll see ya on the one.”

Larry pulled the throt­tle back, just as a light­ning flash il­lu­mi­nated a push­tug work­ing off to star­board, ap­par­ently in the midst of mar­shalling a hodge­podge of barges into a unified tow. The push­tug’s en­gines roared, churn­ing pur­ple, light­ning-lit wa­ter. “What a night,” said Larry, while com­pen­sat­ing for the tug’s wheel wash with a lit­tle star­board helm. We both squinted into the gloom. Given the sig­nif­i­cant dis­tance be­tween the red and green run­ning lights at the head of the Mary Boudreaux’s tow, the mon­ster com­ing our way had to be a “dou­ble-wide” at least. What a night in­deed.

Ham, Po­tato Salad and Pick­les? Oh My!

Like a lot of boat de­liv­er­ies, ours had be­gun af­ter dark in a semifrenzy. When Larry and I had fi­nally ar­rived at the Pier 77 Ma­rine Ser­vice fa­cil­ity in Galve­ston, where the C120 was al­most—but not quite—ready to boo­gie, it was af­ter 10 o’clock at night. This gave us less than eight hours to grab a meal, fill the boat’s wa­ter tanks, or­ga­nize the odds and sods on board, fin­ish off a wash down, get the boat safely freed from the Trav­elift, go shop­ping for gro­ceries and squeeze in a lit­tle shut-eye be­fore our de­par­ture early the next morn­ing.

The in­ten­sity wasn’t pre­med­i­tated. Due to rout­ing prob­lems that had cropped up dur­ing a dusty, trailer-truck portage from south­ern Mex­ico, the 120 had rolled into Galve­ston two days late. So in­stead of a leisurely five-day snooze cruise to New Or­leans, we had to do the trip in just three days. This, the sched­ul­ing gods as­sured us, would guar­an­tee that the boat’s own­ers—Golden Malted waf­fle mag­nate David Jenk­ins and his wife, Sue Ellen—could get back aboard in ac­cor­dance with “the plan” and keep on keepin’ on with the Aspen 10,000 Mile Tour, an ex­trav­a­ganza that, when con­cluded in An­napo­lis, Mary­land, would en­tail a semi-cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of North Amer­ica start­ing with some Alaskan shake­down ad­ven­tures, fol­lowed up by pas­sages down the Pa­cific coast (to Cabo San Lu­cas), up through Mex­ico via truck, across the Gulf Coast to Florida and then fi­nally up the East Coast to the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay.

“Hey Bill,” Larry yelled from the fly­bridge at about 11 o’clock—he was stow­ing PFDs. “I for­got some­thing.”

“What?” I yelled back from the cock­pit, where I was fill­ing a wa­ter

tank with as much ef­fi­ciency as time and talent would al­low.

“Kroger closes at mid­night,” con­tin­ued Larry. “We gotta get a move on. We gotta buy food.”

A stint of ki­net­ics then en­sued that would have done jus­tice to a pair of Olympic ath­letes. Af­ter pulling into the Kroger park­ing lot with our rental car, Larry and I lit­er­ally sprinted for a shop­ping cart. Then we bar­relled through Kroger like wolves on the trail.

“How about this for pro­tein,” I yelled from the meat and seafood sec­tion. I lifted a whop­ping plas­tic-wrapped pack­age of sliced ham into the air. Three days? Huh! It looked like the thing would last three months. Thunk. Into the cart.

“Cool,” Larry sang out from the deli counter, check­ing his watch. “And how about this big tub of po­tato salad. You like pick­les?”

Trou­ble on the High Seas

The morn­ing was young and misty when we hit the trail. Larry ini­tially took the helm while I pe­rused a copy of Water­way Guide

South­ern 2018 in an at­tempt to de­ter­mine the fastest, most com­fort­able route across the Gulf of Mex­ico to the Mis­sis­sippi, given that we’d be tak­ing the seas on the star­board beam if we made straight for South­west Pass. What we in­tended at this point was to forego the In­tra­coastal in fa­vor of the open Gulf and Old Man River in or­der to cut both time and dis­tance off the trip. Once we got well south of the Galve­ston jet­ties, Larry hung a hard left and eased the C120 out of the chan­nel, so we could con­sider our op­tions.

I soon picked up on some weird­ness, though. As we stud­ied the plot­ter, zoom­ing in and out, I’d oc­ca­sion­ally look up to scan the hori­zon and be amazed ev­ery time. Dur­ing the long-gone ’80s, when I ran oil­field sup­ply ves­sels for a liv­ing, the Gulf was a ver­i­ta­ble hot­bed of “oil­field yacht­ing,” as I used to call it. When leav­ing Galve­ston in, say, 1983, you’d see in­bound and out­bound tankers every­where, slews of them, as well as tug­boats, crew­boats, sur­vey boats, sup­ply boats, util­ity boats, mo­tor­ized jackup rigs and semi-sub­mersibles un­der tow, all go­ing ev­ery which­away. But now? Noth­ing.

“Frack­ing,” I even­tu­ally opined. “The sto­ries in the news­pa­pers th­ese days must be true. Frack­ing has just about dec­i­mated the oil­field.”

Of course, you gotta be care­ful about mak­ing glum ob­ser­va­tions like this—they’ll ocas­sion­ally come back to bite you in the tran­som. And hey, just min­utes af­ter I’d made my frack­ing com­ment, the pitch of our sin­gle 435-hp Volvo Penta D6 diesel took a nose dive. Then the trusty lit­tle en­gine be­gan to surge alarm­ingly, a de­vel­op­ment that caused Larry to pull the throt­tles back with a will.

“Plugged fuel fil­ters,” I sug­gested, as we bobbed in 6-foot seas. But here was the rub. Al­though we im­me­di­ately be­gan ri­fling through all the lock­ers, draw­ers and cab­i­nets on board, there were no spare fil­ter el­e­ments to be found. The larder was bare.

“Maybe we can dig up some­thing in Texas,” I pro­posed, as Larry di­aled in a northerly course to­wards Sabine Pass and the re­fin­ery town of Port Arthur be­yond it. We then chugged north for a cou­ple of hours on a slow bell. At length, as we by­passed stacks of side­lined oil­field ves­sels, rigs, cranes and barges in Sabine, we dove into our first lunch—a few slabs of sliced ham apiece, along­side a healthy dol­lop of po­tato salad with a pickle on the side. Yum!

No Coun­try for Old Yachts­men

Larry and I made a few solid dis­cov­er­ies over the re­main­ing 60-plus hours of our jaunt. And cer­tainly, the most use­ful one, in terms of the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of the typ­i­cal Power & Mo­to­ry­acht reader, is that ser­vices for recre­ational ves­sels—as well as the ves­sels them­selves—are few and far be­tween along the Gulf Coast be­tween Texas and Louisiana. In­deed, we couldn’t find a sin­gle fil­ter el­e­ment for our com­mon-asan-old-shoe Ra­cor 500 MAs, either at the Sabine Pass Port Au­thor­ity Ma­rina in Sabine Pass (al­though both dock as­sis­tant Phyl­lis Al­mond and live­aboard Art Fahren­holz did their best to track a few down) or

far­ther north in the oil-re­fin­ery town of Port Arthur.

Par­en­thet­i­cally, we were sur­prised to dis­cover that Garmin’s stan­dard car­tog­ra­phy for the Texas and Louisiana sec­tions of the GICW—which we de­cided to take to Lake Charles, Louisiana, so we could con­tinue our hunt for fil­ter el­e­ments—is un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally sparse on de­tail in spots, per­haps due to the scarcity of yachts and yacht ser­vices in the area. More­over, we were also quite sur­prised to dis­cover that the Water­way Guide South­ern 2018 is also un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally sparse on de­tail for the GICW be­tween Galve­ston and New Or­leans.

“Might just as well toss the Water­way Guide over­board for all the good it does us around here,” I told Larry dur­ing din­ner one evening. Was the hy­per­bolic na­ture of this re­mark in any way con­nected to the fact that at the time, we were tuck­ing into the fourth (or was it the fifth?) ham-po­tato-salad-pickle mélange of the trip? Per­haps.

Long Day’s Jour­ney Into Night

I was ly­ing flat on my back on the fly­bridge lounge, with a PFD stuffed un­der my head for a pil­low. It was 1 o’clock in the morn­ing in New Or­leans, and we were tied along­side a con­crete wharf, hard by the south­ern ap­proach to the city’s In­dus­trial Lock: a long, spook­ily lit thing at night, which would even­tu­ally let us pass through the In­ner Har­bor Nav­i­ga­tion Canal into Lake Pontchar­train and, from thence, to our des­ti­na­tion—a slip at the New Or­leans City Ma­rina.

I was half asleep, half awake, with a hand­held VHF’s speaker ly­ing next to my ear, wait­ing for the voice of the lock­mas­ter to give us the green light. Larry was snooz­ing at the helm, with one eye open. We were both beat—it had been a long, 18-hour day … and night. We’d started at

O-Dark-Thirty from In­tra­coastal City, Louisiana, where we’d caught a few winks while hauled up against a ratty old com­mer­cial dock. Then we’d bee­lined east on the GICW at roughly 17.5 knots, thanks to the nice folks at West Ma­rine in Lake Charles, Louisiana, who, in­ci­den­tally, stock can­nis­ter wrenches and oo­dles of Ra­cor fuel fil­ter el­e­ments.

I ex­am­ined the stars over­head. In spite of the C120’s Bi­mini and the glare of the lock’s lights, I could see them pretty well. They helped me re­mem­ber some of the great stuff about the day and, in­deed, about the whole whirl­wind trip.

Like, for in­stance, the two sales ladies at West Ma­rine in Lake Charles, Vanessa Strick­land and Devin Moses. They’d been at least as ex­cited about stock­ing fil­ter el­e­ments as Larry and I’d been. Or the guy at Rio Fuel & Sup­ply in Mor­gan City, Tommy Du­val. For old time’s sake, I’d asked him if the Wheel­house Lounge was still go­ing strong. The Wheel­house, back in the day, was an oil­field hang­out made al­lur­ingly in­fa­mous by all the bul­let holes that graced its inte- rior. “Nope—gone” Tommy replied, with a rue­ful, know­ing smile.

Or the pure ex­cite­ment of do­ing a 20-knot-plus top end, zoom­ing along the gor­geous green empti­ness of the cy­press-sided Bayou Chene, a nar­row lit­tle water­way that in­ter­con­nects the Atchafalaya River and the GICW. We’d had to de­tour through it to cir­cum­vent Bayou Boeuf Lock, which was closed for re­pairs.

And what a ride! Al­though the C120 is an in­no­va­tively con­fig­ured proa-type power cat, with one en­gine, two dif­fer­ent sized hulls and an as­sort­ment of unique hy­dro­dy­namic fea­tures that en­gen­der ar­row-straight track­ing, she drives like a racy sport­boat. And she con­sumes mod­est amounts of fuel while do­ing so, mak­ing her ideal for trav­els where ser­vices are scarce. More to the point, ac­cord­ing to our test of the model shortly af­ter her launch a year or so ago, fuel burn at a traw­ler­ish 7 knots is just 2.7 gph and at a fast cruise of 14.2 knots just a tad over 9 gph.

“Knot Waf­flen’, Knot Waf­flen’,” came a voice from the hand­held’s speaker. “This is the lock­mas­ter, In­dus­trial Lock. You next, cap.”

“Well,” said Larry, yawn­ing, “I guess they’re ready for us, Bill. Looks like we’re gonna make the city ma­rina on time af­ter all.”

“Yup,” I replied, with a yawn, strap­ping on the PFD so I could safely go be­low and do deck­hand duty, “And Larry—we still got a lit­tle ham and po­tato salad left in the fridge, man. And pick­les, too.”

The ad­ven­ture­some Larry Graf purrs along the Cal­casieu Ship Chan­nel.

De­part­ing the Pier 77 Ma­rine Ser­vice fa­cil­ity in Galve­ston, Texas (left). An im­promptu can­nis­ter wrench jury-rigged from a cargo strap (right).

Knot Waf­flen’cools her heels in Sabine Pass on theTexas coast.The gi­ant crane in the back­ground is used to lift heavy oil­field para­pher­na­lia.

Larry hunts for spare fuel-fil­ter el­e­ments (top); the au­thor at the helm dur­ing a speedy tran­sit of South­ern Louisiana’s Bayou Chene.

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