Sunday, September 28, 2008

It started six years ago...

I was lucky.  Four months after I finished Graduate School I had a good job making some money in sales.  Despite a little early success I could not shake a strong sense of foreboding.  Something wasn't right.

I couldn't put my finger on it, but something had to change.  That's when I began searching myself and the web for an answer.  Eventually I heard the name Slocum and started digging in.  Joshua Slocum was the first to ever sail a small craft around the world single handed.  He documented the voyage in the book, Sailing Alone Around the World in 1900.  Ninety six years later it would profoundly change my life.

Not long after reading Sailing Alone I came across a little website called Project Bluesphere.  It told the story of a modern day Slocum, Alex Dorsey.  Alex was showing in detail through video and blogs how to break free from the safety and security of the status quo and forge a life of rewarding experience and adventure on the sea.  It was then that I knew what I had to do.

For over five years as I learned to sail and struggled through the corporate world I pulled inspiration from Alex and his updates.  I was hooked and it was a rare day I didn't log in looking for a new post.  The navigation and layout of his site was as familiar to me as my own home.  It was that familiarity with BlueSphere that prompted the shock I received this afternoon.

David Wilson is the man behind the technical scenes of Project Bluesphere.  Through a brief conversation with Alex I later met and recently began working with David.  Amazingly he lives just down the road from me.  David has taken the template of my new website and is turning it into the tool I will use to document my own circumnavigation.

David sent me an update today that incorporated all the advanced blogging features a cruising sailor needs.  What astonished me was seeing the all too familiar navigation of BlueSphere, from which I've drawn so much inspiration, incorporated on a site of my own.

I was shocked at my own reaction to seeing the site.  In many ways it is the technical realization of a plan five years in the making.  David and Alex, Thank You.

(The new site should go live in the next few weeks.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A fellow Cruisers Video

Solo from the Caribbean to New York in 28 days from nickj on Vimeo.

Cool Hand Luke

I just heard the news, Paul Newman passed on.  I don't keep track much of popular culture, but Cool Hand Luke was a favorite movie of mine.  I was thinking about that character this morning over my coffee and found a question I could not answer.  Not to ruin the plot, but at the end Luke is shot down after escaping from prison for the third time.  Knowing what his fate would be, he ran anyway. 

I couldn't figure out if the story was about a man who chose to stay true to himself despite the ultimate consequence or did he ever have a choice to run?  I know, it's just a movie, but we did lose a pretty great actor.

Since Ike a strange lethargy settled over my preparations.  I thought it was just me, but after talking to my neighbors and friends down here it hit a lot of people.  I guess after the intense exertion of the storm and immediate clean up everyone just kind of collapsed once a basic return to normalcy had been achieved.

I got shaken out of it by an email from David Wilson, my new web guru and the admin for  He sent me an email saying he was almost done with the blogging tool that will allow me to update the new blog remotely while I am underway.  If a person who is volunteering their time is working to get me ready the least I can do is kick it back into high gear and do my part.

I am posting this blog from my new laptop that will be the ships computer once I am underway.  As soon as this is posted I'll clean up the decks and start laying down more blue tape so I can finish the non-skid painting project.

This past week was the close of my 3rd quarter.  For any salesman it's one of the busiest times of the year.  I had a good finish and now I've got some decisions to make.  It's about to get interesting.

It's a beautiful day.....get outside and enjoy it.


Saturday, September 20, 2008


It is not easy to strike me speechless. In fact, it's pretty damn hard. A couple of my readers figured out how to do it.

As I was walking down my dock I saw three good sized guys walking around my boat. One of them knocked and bellowed, "Lee Winters". I kind of figured I was in big trouble. Not being smart enough to choose the flight part of the fight or flight response I yelled over to them as I approached.

They quickly explained that two of them were boat owners in the Marina, but resided in Austin. When the media was reporting the area was a total loss they referred to my blog for specific updates on our area. In thanks, they handed me a brand new Flip Video Camera to replace the one I lost while wading to our docks.

I was so astonished I don't think I accurately expressed my gratitude. Fellas, Thank You. I still didn't get all of your names so please shoot me an email or comment here. It would be my pleasure to buy you a beer.

Friday, September 19, 2008

IKE - Seeing the good and the bad in people.

Trying times tend to reveal a persons character. Mostly, the revelations I've seen have been resoundingly positive. Since IKE blew threw people have worked really hard around Clear Lake to support one another. It really has been neighbor helping neighbor and much has been accomplished. After the storm, with no power or water, neighbors began walking the streets and talking to one another. Often time for the first time since they had lived in their respective homes. Everyone seemed ready to pitch in and help at the drop of a hat.

The same went before the storm. Many people called me while I was in California to find out if I needed help securing my boat. Had I not been able to make it back I know it would have been as prepared as I was able to make it myself.

I've also been disappointed on more than a few occasions. The disappointments have come almost entirely from the marina management in which I live. I hate to say any of this considering I live here and life could get more difficult, but I think it needs to be said.

First, on Thursday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., 36 hours before the storm hit, the management turned off the power and water to the docks. When you are working your ass off in 90 degree heat, having water, electricity, and air conditioning allow you to get a difficult job done. I was astonished they would leave their residents high and dry.

Second, many boat owners knew that the slip they were in was not well protected enough to ensure they and their boats would make it through the storm. My marina is well known as the best hurricane hole on the Gulf Coast. If a boater wanted to weather the storm in a vacant slip, they only had to drop a non refundable two month rental deposit, on average around $900. It is not price gouging, as their website clearly states that there is a two month minimum. This still seems pretty heartless considering the storm that was bearing down on us.

Finally, the one that bothers me the most. The same guy owned both Sundance 1 & 2. Since Sundance 1 was wiped out by the storm surge some difficult decision had to be made. Unfortunately, a good friend of mine and the long time bartender at Sundance 2 was let go to make room for the staff from Sundance 1. Craig was a staple, a good friend, and one of the best bartenders I've ever known. Many of us will not be back until Craig returns.

A hurricane brings difficult times. How those difficulties are handled depends on the people who are working through them. I see individuals making incredible choices to help each other. I wish I saw more businesses looking after their people the same way.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Marina Report along Clear Lake

Blue Dolphin Marina - 95 percent undamaged
Boardwalk Marina - 80 percent undamaged
Clear Lake Marine Center - 90 percent damage
Clear Lake Shores Marina - 70 percent damage
Hilton Marina - marina wiped out; 15 percent of boats undamaged
Lakewood Yacht Club - 80 percent damaged/destroyed on west side; 90 percent undamaged on east side; 60-, 70- and 80-foot boats sank
Portofino Marina - 80 percent undamaged
Seabrook Ship Yard - marina 50 percent damaged; shipyard 80 percent damaged
South Shore Harbor Marina - most boats undamaged; some torn sails
Waterford Harbor Marina - minimal damage
Watergate Marina - 60 percent damaged; many boats sank

Memory Lane Flooded

I woke up yesterday with an overwhelming need to get my office emptied so that I could walk away from it for good. The salt water, mud, and sewage ruined almost every thing in the office. What took a U-Haul to relocate from New Mexico a year and a half ago only took a few square feet of my truck bed to evacuate yesterday.

The tidal surge seemed to place random value on items that in no way coincided with my own value for my stuff. Of the surviving gear I pulled out a news article on my parents form the 60’s, a valentine’s day card someone special gave me years ago, the slingshot my grandpa made for me when I was a little kid, the field book I used to record my masters thesis research. All around the office the faces of people from my past stared from water blurred photos as I moved waterlogged items to the dumpster.

That job is done. I am sorry to have lost so many reminders of times and people in the past. I did find one book soaked from cover to cover that I didn’t even know I still had. It was crumbling like wet toilet paper, but it opened to a page I remember reading very well almost 7 years ago. I’ve kept its message close in my mind as I’ve figured out what I am doing and where I want my path to go. I am quoting it here:

“Listen to the still small voice inside you. If you do not live your life completely, realizing goals you hold to be worthwhile, making your unique contribution to the world, nobody ever will. Your song will die with you.

Many of us have discovered what we want to do with our lives. We have a purpose that resonates to the very core of our being. Somehow our lives will never be complete unless we answer this calling. But, we refrain…the “still small voice” whispers a dream…but later that day or the next our vision starts to fade…immersed in the practical, our dreams and aspirations seem uncertain and perhaps a bit foolish.

We plod the highway of conformity, each following the other. We seek what others seek – comfort, security, money, power, pleasure. We are not alone, but only a stranger to our better selves. Years leave wrinkles upon the skin. But this loss of enthusiasm leaves wrinkles upon the soul.

It is impossible to tell another what path he should follow. Only you, in stillness and humility, can listen to that still small voice. Success and happiness are not distant goals to capture and hold. They happen incidentally while you are fulfilling yourself."
- Michael Lynberg, Author

We’ve taken a pretty good hit down here. Overall, I came out pretty well. Given the very limited time I had to prep I would do it again exactly the same. The boat comes before the office and “stuff” every time. I’ve pulled the countdown timer off the blog for now. I need some time to regroup and reassess where I am and when I can go. It will be back up. We are talking about days weeks, and maybe even a month or two, but not months or years.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Hurricane IKE - FEMA: Gas, food, water, and ice

I woke up this morning after a great nights sleep on the boat. The battery bank and propane stove let me listen to the latest news and make a breakfast of eggs, toast, and coffee. Having refueled myself I gathered the motivation to head over to my completely destroyed office.

Opening the door the first thing that hits you is the smell. It was inundated with a little over seven feet of muddy, sewage filled, salt water. I think a few fish may have died in there. I couldn't bring myself to push through the mess yet and opened the doors, taped them off, and left for a few hours to let it dry out.

Once I pulled out of the marina I headed towards a gas station that got power back on early. Coyote's had just received a load of gas so I jumped in line. An hour later I was filling up my truck and our jerry cans that Gary and Lisa brought over from the house. With a new full tank of gas I decided to go check out one of the rumored FEMA PODs or Point of Distribution.

It was located on Nasa Parkway by Clear Lake Park and was pretty well organized. It took about an hour and each car drove away with two bags of ice, two cases of bottled water, and what they are calling MREs or Meals Ready to Eat. They should have a warning label on them.

Military MRE's are not bad at all. They even come with several sides, an entree, instant Gatorade mix, and a little heater so you can eat a hot meal. These things are zip lock bags with canned lasagna, peanuts, a nutri-grain bar, and crystal light. I guess anything is better than nothing if you are really low on supplies. Luckily, I've got lots of food left before we'll really need to resort to canned lasagna.

I am off to check on the office. It's a nasty job, but no one else is going to do it. I am looking forward to getting back to a sense of normalcy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Taken aback at Watergate, Clear Lake, and Surrounding Areas

I need to apologize to anyone I may have sent an email to saying that things had been over hyped down here and that all was well. It really wasn't the case. The truth is that I did luck out as did most people in Waterford Harbor Marina. The damage there is negligible compared to most the other marinas around town.

I took a walk today through Watergate to check on boats there in more details and determine how to handle my office. Well, much of my office and much of Watergate are both total losses. It seems that the close you get to Galveston Bay the worse it is. Additionally, the north side of Clear Lake got hit much harder than the south side. If your boat was at a fixed dock then odds are you'll have some damage. If it had not been prepped for Ike then you almost certainly will.

Fixed piers have accounted for the vast majority of damage to boats. Short piling fixed piers have washed away completely and long fixed pilings often ended up on the wrong side of the boats as the settled back down when the surge started to subside.

I've gotten a lot of requests to check certain boats and I am sorry I haven't been able to respond better. I've been overloaded and moving around is just not that easy. Many areas are still inaccessible. The video camera was lost while trying to reach my boat so still shots only from here out.
One of the piers across from the swimming pool by the restaurant in Watergate. Boats came lose, piled up, and came down on the wrong side of the finger piers. Many sung outright. Carnage is the only word that came to mind.

These are not small boats that got tossed around. The surge picked these vessels up and took them inland before dropping them down in many varied places. People were crying, many were laughing surprisingly, and life carries on. The ducks didn't know what happened.

One of the dealers thought that his boats would be better on the hard than in the water. That might be right when you don't get hit with a 13+ storm surge. The boats were floated up and off of thier jack stands. They landed all over the place.

Hard to believe all these boats have so far been from Watergate. It's crazy how they end up. Chaos. How do you even begin to start cleaning and recoving from this?
Found it. Now what? Watergate Marina drive next to the main office.

This last shot if of Clear Lake Marine Center on the North Shore of Clear Lake on Nasa Road 1. It was a total and complete disaster. Baots sunk, got tossed on the road, and crushed as they came to thier resting places. Many business will be impacted. Homes in the area are often in the same condition.

So far we are one of the lucky ones. The house we are staying in has had the water pressure come back on, but we are in the vast minority. The city is predicting weeks before power may be restored and days still before water is restored. Neither exists at Waterford. What amazes me is that FEMA hasn't started providing resources to anyone. They are still trying to figure out how to move supplies from the staging areas to distribution centers. I can't count how many times today I heard radio voices telling me that they were trying to figure out how to give food to people. Give me a #^%$ break.

Houston is in a bad way. Far worse than I thought. My friends and I are donig great supporting one another and luckily have about 5 friends who just went out of town. We've been restocking from their freezers as needed saving the presishable foods. We don't need the relief just yet, but some do. There is no gasoline anywhere in the city and Ice is extremely hard to come by.

Weathering Ike wasn't so bad. Weathing the full brunt of the aftermath is what's starting to scare me.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Ike - Photos from the Clear Lake & Kemah area

Here are the photos I got this afternoon. I finally got dry and without running water to take a shower I didn't want to go swimming in the salt water again. The city is pretty well shut down and road blocks are everywhere. Not a bad police presence. A few folks had asked for specific updates and my apologies if I haven't responded yet. Communications are spotty and I can only check things from a cell and a borrowed laptop on occasion connecting through a cell air card.....the old slow kind. Power is coming from a portable generator I bought that got delivered on Thursday. Got lucky there.

Waterford Harbor Marina. Water was 4 - 5 feet over the bulkead this morning. It looked really peacefull this afternoon compared to what we went through this morning. Overall, we fared excellently in this marina. On Nasa 1 there were a few marinas that were completely wiped out. Nothing left. Fixed piers on the North side of Clear Lake got hit hardest around here. If you were on a south side marina, especially Watergate, you have a fair chance of having a salvageable boat.

A tree in the front yard of the house we are staying at. Trees much bigger than this and everything smaller are down all over the place. Road crews have opened up the main roads really quickly. You still have to be carefull where you are going.

This is the scene at the intersection of 2094 and 146 a stones throw from the Kemah Boardwalk. Roads where shut down. I couldn't resist a shot of the evacuation route sign.

My friends and neighbors Gany and Lisa. These things are scattered everywhere. I've only seen one working traffic light in all of the Clear Lake Area.

This is on Nasa Road 1. Boats over here took a beating and reports say that the Marine Center here was wiped out. This sailboat came lose and grounded next to the Hilton. The hotel took quite a bit of damage and the marina behind it doesn't exist anymore.

In trying to get to Seabrook to check on a friends boat we found ourselves in the Home Depot and Target parking lot. It was a debris field. Here is a shot looking over another traffic light, not the one from the other picture, towards the Kemah Bridge.

These boats sit out in a field and have been there for years up on blocks. The surge got high enough to get at least one of them off. The sad part is a bunch of boats were put on blocks at the shipyard at Watergate Marina. We found them this morning scatted all over the place. Boats float. Don't put them on blocks when a storm surge is coming.

Typical structural damage all along Nasa Road 1. This side of the lake really took it hard. We though everyone was exaggerating about how bad this storm was. Turns out, we just lucked out.

We found almost every intersection looking just like this on the way to the marina this morning.

A resident of Clear Lake Shores looking over the debris in Kemah for any remnants that might have come from his house. There was no way for them to get to thier property as the water was, and is, still way too high. The first floor of most two story houses was completely covered. People were being brough out today by boat.

All over Houston billboards are down. We saw several of these in different states from unscathed to demolished.

The activity of the past few days is starting to catch up with me. Going offline for awhile so no worries if updates slow for a bit. Again, sorry if I didn't get back to everyone. Lots of questions and requests. We are alive, unhurt, and our homes - our boats, are OK.

P.S. For those who asked, my pup Georgia has no idea a hurricane even happened. She is happily sleeping on top of my feet as I write this.

Ike - The Aftermath

I finally fell asleep last night around 2:30 a.m. when the first of the eye wall passed. The next thing I remember hearing was my neighbor Gary yelling across the room, "wanna go check on the boats"? I shot up instantly and yelled back, "Yeah".

Driving from Webster to Kemah required more than average attention. Trees and billboards covered the road and there wasn't a traffic light anywhere that wasn't missing it's frame or hanging by a single wire, if it was there at all. We made it as far as Blue Water Ships Store on FM 2094 before the water became too high to take my truck into any further. We parked and prepared for the hike.

Walking down the road in knee deep water we made it to the back entrance thinking we could find an easy route. When we got to the marina edge we were greated with howling winds and the machine gun like flapping of dozens and dozens of sails that had come lose and were flapping violently in the 30 - 40 knot sustained winds. Gusts easily hit 60+. Water had risen over the bulkhead retaining wall making progress slow. Eventually we arrived at our docks.

I looked with extreme trepedation at the water that lie between us and the gangway that connected the bulkhead to the floating pier. It was pointing up at a 45 degree angle and we had a lot water to get through before we could figure out how to climb it. Gary waded into the water with the rest of us following and we worked our way onto the dock with water up to our chest.

I don't think my heart has ever been lighter than the moment I walked up to my slip and saw that boat riding easily to the wind. Not a line appeared to be out of place and I knew we had weathered the storm. The sudden reliefe makes the damage sustained at my office seem negligable. The "stuff" can be replaced. The boat, and plans, are still in tact.

To be flip video was lost to the surge when we worked out to the boats. I'll try to get some stills this afternoon.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A few vids I shot today.

Once all the prep work was done, or at least as done as time allowed, we went to have a look around. These are a few vids I captured today.

In this one I had just realized that it was too late to do much to save my office. I got back into Houston from California Thursday afternoon. Almost every hour from then until the surge was here was spent prepping the boat to take on the full force of Ike. I got to the office just in time to save a few critical things.

When I got back later that day all I could do was laugh. It is only stuff after all. My stuff, but stuff none the less. Anyone want to buy a used bed and desk? Only slightly used. Minor water damage. I really am not looking forward to going back to that office. By now it is probably seven or eight feet under water. Not much left to salvage.

Watergate Marina, where I keep my office, is getting hit much harder than Waterford Harbor Marina, where I keep my boat. You can see that the docs are completely submerged. The big problem is that since these docks are fixed the boats can only go up so high. Most of these boats have already hit that point. If no one loosens the lines then they begin to hold the boats down instead of letting them rise. Something has to give. Also in the distance here you can see canvas being stripped off the boat by the wind. That's why I took everything I could off my boat.

My last for tonight is a quick look at my marina. I think she, my boat, can take the wind. What has me scared is the storm surge. The water has been coming in crazy quick and they are forcasting 15 - 20 feet here. Our pilings are 18 feet. Worst case scenario, the docks simply float off over the top of the pilings and pile themselves up in one huge wreck of a mess. That would do me in for awhile. For now, I believe all is well.

Signing off for tonight. No more blogs or tweets. I want to get some sleep and get back to the boat at first light if possible assuming the eye has passed and the winds abated. There is a lot of water down here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hurricane Ike

I'd put a long blog together documenting the work I'd gotten done lately, but it really doesn't matter at this stage. Hurricane Ike is forcast to come in right on top of us. Luckily its been downgraded from a Category 3 to a Category 2, but who knows before it makes landfall. I've got everything wrapped up in this boat so I am taking it pretty hard right now. She's tied up tight, been stripped of all her canvas and anything else that could create windage, and will ride the storm as best she can.

I really can't say it any better than the most recent marine forcast. Bay waters.....Dangerous.

Tropical storm conditions early...hurricane conditions expected late. Northeast winds 40 to 45 knots with gusts to around 60 knots increasing to 45 to 55 knots with gusts to around 75 knots in the afternoon. Bay waters dangerous. A chance of showers and thunderstorms in the morning...then showers and thunderstorms likely in the afternoon.

Friday Night
Hurricane conditions expected. Northeast winds 55 to 75 knots with gusts to around 90knots becoming southeast 70 to 90 knots with gusts to around 110 knots after midnight. Bay waters dangerous. Showers and thunderstorms.

Hurricane conditions expected early...tropical storm conditions expected late. Southwest winds 55 to 65 knots with gusts to around 85 knots decreasing to around 40 knots with gusts to around 55 knots in the afternoon. Bay waters dangerous decreasing to extremely rough in the afternoon. Showers and thunderstorms.