Clear Lake couple lives ‘life on the hook’ in Beneteau Sense 50
Bryan Austin, a NASA engineer, is working on the Orion Project, preparing for deep space manned exploration. He’s helping to design the spacecraft, including the crew module that will eventually make a manned voyage to Mars. Orion is due to make its first unmanned experimental mission beyond the moon in 2018.
By the time Orion makes that experimental launch, however, Bryan and his wife, Cindy, plan to be retired and on their own voyage to distant parts. They’ll be aboard their boat, the 50-foot Austintatious, a new Beneteau Sense series sloop.
“We might even watch the launch from our boat as we sail by,” Bryan Austin said. “That would be neat.”
Until recently, the Austins were living on their boat in Waterford Harbor, a leafy, tree-shaded development with well-tended lawns and well-appointed homes on the south shore of Clear Lake. The development of the Johnson Space Center in the 1970s was hugely transformative to the upper Texas Coast in many ways, but one of them was in the proliferation of yachts and yacht harbors on the shores of Clear Lake.
With more than 650 floating boat docks arranged in a labyrinth of waterways, Waterford is more than a typical upscale development; it’s a major component of one of the largest collections of sailing yachts in America.
Not all of these boats are just for weekend use. Bryan Austin estimates that as many as 30 of the boats in Waterford Harbor are full-time homes for their owners.
Bryan and Cindy, a nutritional consultant and entrepreneur, joined the live-aboard community late in 2015. But in July this year, they moved into a berth in the Watergate Yachting Center, adjacent to Waterford Harbor. One aspect of living on a boat is that you can always change your address.
With her characteristic plumb stem, Austintatious is readily identifiable as a product of the French Beneteau Boatyard. The company has been active since 1884 and has specialized in strong fiberglass sailboats since the 1960s, most with the vertical bow and little overhang forward.
“We went on vacation to visit the yard in France while the boat was under construction,” Bryan Austin said. “It was like watching the birth of a child.”
In the way of modern boat construction, the hull was molded and faired upside-down, then turned over for installation of machinery and the fitting of the interior compartments before the deck was lowered over it and fastened in place.
The Austins were at the yard before the deck was placed, and so were able to make a few adjustments needed for Gulf Coast living, such as the inclusion of an ice maker. Air conditioning was standard in this model.
A more critical modification was needed: As designed, the mast had been about 4 feet too tall to clear the Kemah Bridge at the entrance to Clear Lake. Beneteau obligingly modified the rig to bring the height down to the 70-foot maximum needed to clear it.
“We’ve got the tallest mast behind the bridge,” Austin said. “She’ll clear it, but the antennas at the top of the mast may have to bend. I call them my curb feelers.”
Austintatious is equipped with the twin steering wheels of a modern ocean racer, allowing the helmsman to steer from the lee side of the cockpit with a clear view of the set of the headsails. There is another reason for the twin wheels, though. The low platform and open transom at the stern of the boat allow an easy step aboard from the dock, and the space between the wheels provides free passage to the comfortable living room that is the shaded cockpit.
Without compromising the sailing qualities that make her a true blue-water boat, the Beneteau is designed for comfortable living.
“In terms of square feet of space, the Beneteau is a little larger than the Orion crew module,” Bryan Austin said. “But in space flight, we design in terms of cubic feet; in zero gravity, all the space is equally useful.”
The Austins sold their 4,000-square-foot League City house to live aboard Austintatious full time.
“It’s been good preparation for life on the hook,” she said. “We’ll set off in 2018. That’s the plan.”
About Austintatious, a Beneteau Sense 50
Length overall: 50 feet, 10 inches
Hull length: 49 feet, 2 inches
Beam: 15 feet, 9 inches
Draft: 5 feet, 9 inches with fixed fin keel
Sail Area (main, genoa Jib): 1,367 square feet
Mast: 70 feet, 6 inches
Roller furling: Main and jib
Main engine: 75 horsepower Yanmar diesel
Generator: Onan 7.5 kilowatts
Tanks: Fuel, 220 gallons; water, 200 gallons
Accommodations: Two staterooms, two heads with showers; private office; full galley with microwave, refrigerator, ice-maker; washer-dryer unit and water-maker to be installed for cruising