When we first paid any attention to Bret, it was a tropical depression in the Bay of Campeche in the Southern Gulf of Mexico. We had just arrived at our place near South Padre Island for our monthly visit – and a few sails on “Welcome Back”, our 19-foot West Wight Potter.
Within just a few hours, Bret had been upgraded to a hurricane and appeared to be heading directly for the Brownsville, Texas area. That took in South Padre Island, the lower Laguna Madre, Port Isabel and two hundred miles of the Texas/Mexico coast from Baffin Bay to Tampico. Within twelve hours, our plans had gone from preparing a lunch for our first leisurely sail, to preparing for a potentially dangerous storm.
We made the decision to secure everything and leave as soon as possible. We hauled “Welcome Back” out of the channel, helped several others do the same, and began to secure our house for the worst. It’s an eerie feeling to remain focused on the threat of a dangerous storm while watching a calm sea, a clear sky, and your devil-may-care neighbors loading up to go fishing.
But, we took the storm-watch seriously – we continued with our evacuation plan. Seventeen hours after our arrival, with the windows boarded up and everything tied down, we locked the front door and pulled out, “Welcome Back” in tow. The swing bridge, which was our means of access, was backed up on both land and sea. Cars, trailers and motor-homes were waiting to evacuate, and boats in the channel were waiting to proceed to their moorings.
We left Cameron County heading North on U.S. 77, as the radio reports announced the approach and increasing strength of the hurricane. At home, some 500 miles north of Brownsville, we heard that Bret had made landfall south of Corpus Christi near Kingsville. We were safe, but sad for those in Bret’s path who weren’t.
Saying Good-bye to a Friend
We now had a decision to make about our Potter. We agreed we’d not launch her in the Laguna Madre again until the hurricane season was over. But, perhaps we had seen our best times with her, and maybe we should pass her along to a new owner. I had really pushed my reluctant wife into sailing in the first place. And, I admit while I had “Welcome Back”, I enjoyed tinkering with the boat and the rigging almost as much as I enjoyed sailing.
I could spend hours – even days – crawling around the deck. I probably put a hundred coats of teak oil on those four little grab rails. I fixed the running lights, repaired scuffs in the gel coat and coiled and re-coiled the anchor rode over and over. I cleaned every surface with a mop or a sponge, and I whipped the ends of every line I could find.
Maybe, in fact, what I really wanted to do more than sail was dream of sailing, because when you just dream of sailing you don’t crash into things or get stuck on sand bars or become dismasted or get into irons or . . . well, you get the idea. You see, the wind is always perfect when you only dream of sailing.
“Welcome Back” has a new home in Florida now, and I’m not ashamed to say I did shed a few tears over it. But, in all candor we’ll never be sorry we had her – or that we made the decision to let her go.