looking backward, looking forward

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We are happy to report that we survived the first year of Shrimp Boat Projects.

Right before the holidays we had the pleasure of retracing our steps, so to speak, as we moved the F/V Discovery from its most recent home at April Fool Point back to the boatyard, the place where we began restoring our boat and now its winter berth. And we had the distinct pleasure of doing this in a fog so thick that, for the first time, we were beyond sight of land. Pea soup does not do this fog justice. We could have been anywhere. But, in a way, this trip exemplified virtually all of the expeditions we’ve made thus far. Each time we set out, we encounter new challenges, gain new knowledge, and build on what we already know.

As it was, we were definitely on Dickinson Bayou, the tributary to Galveston Bay that became our umbilical cord of sorts in the last year. April Fool Point sits at the mouth of the bayou and the boatyard sits a few miles up the bayou. So we got to know this bayou a bit over the last few months as we first swam in it to cool off after long hours at the boatyard, and then as we began piloting down to the bay for our first days of shrimping, and then begrudgingly back up the bayou when the boat faltered and needed servicing.

As we piloted the boat back up the bayou one more time, the fog forced us to move ever so cautiously. Our trusty GPS chartplotter was our lifeline, helping us stay on course and in the channel of the bayou. Of course, it told us nothing about the course of other boats around us, anchored barges that might be in our way, or many other possible obstacles, so we stood watch on port and starboard sides. Apparently, everyone else knew better than to be on the water in this kind of fog, as we saw no other boats, save for a few barges appearing like hulking islands through the mist.  We heard later that a cargo ship and tanker ship had fallen victim to the fog, colliding near the Texas City dike. We moved at a snail’s pace up the bayou on eerily calm water,  laboring to remember the various landmarks and nuances of this route which, with its many hard turns, general shallowness and narrow channel, can seem treacherous even in perfect visibility.

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Of course, every landmark we passed seemed like of ghost of its former self: the odd horseshoe island maintained as wildlife sanctuary by the Galveston Bay Foundation, the bridge at Rt. 146, the fleet of shrimp boats at Hillman’s Seafood, the beginning of the long stretch of flat marshland that define the upper reaches of the bayou, and the giant utility towers that seem to rise up from nowhere.

It was the boatyard that was the most welcome landmark to finally see again, marked by its many cranes rising up in the distance. Not only was this the end of our trip, but also a refuge for the boat deep up the bayou where we knew it would be more sheltered from the weather while allowing easy access for a few improvements we need to make over the winter. We piloted the boat ever more cautiously on water flat as glass into the narrow slot John had generously afforded us right between the massive barge he’s nearly finished building and the tug boat that’s his latest project. Despite this awkward slip and the very shallow waters, we managed to pull off our best docking job yet, redeeming ourselves for all of the miscues and botched attempts of the past few months. Now with the boat in its winter berth and the shrimping season on the d.l. for a while, we are regrouping, reading, reflecting and finishing our planning for 2012 and beyond. Stay tuned!