Sea Star schooner provides introduction to excitement of sailing
For those who have never sailed a schooner, let alone circumnavigated Pelican Island aboard one, an island program offers an opportunity to do both.
On a recent Sunday, 12 guests and four crew assembled aboard the Gazelle, one of four schooners at Sea Star Base Galveston, 7509 Broadway on Offatts Bayou. The boats are used in Mike Janota’s Schooner Sunday program, a part of Community Sailing Galveston.
On that Sunday, many of the guests were teenage Sea Scouts, boys and girls from several different units. The other guests on this sail were men and women of a wide range of ages, most of whom had no previous experience with sailing. There is no admission to the Sunday sails for members of the Sea Star Base, but nonmembers are welcome to join any sail for a small fee and an advance reservation.
Guests are invited to work the sails if they like, or even steer, and Janota keeps a running commentary about the points of interest along the route from Offatts Bayou, through West Bay and Pelican Island Cut to the Houston Ship Channel and back by way of Galveston Harbor.
Janota started by introducing the guests, each provided with an approved life jacket, to the boat.
“We don’t have a name for her yet,” Janota said. “We just call her ‘the Gazelle.”
The schooner Gazelle was a brainchild of the prolific designer Tom Colvin. Since it was first produced in 1967 from a concept dating from the 1930s, more than 700 iterations have been built in the United States and abroad, in wood, steel, aluminum, fiberglass and lately in sophisticated composite materials.
The design has become a favorite of those wanting to sail around the world in some comfort and security. It features a covered center cockpit and steering station, with sleeping berths in a cabin aft, a commodious cabin with galley, berths and heads amidships, and V-berths forward.
This Gazelle was built for and outfitted by a wealthy man who intended to retire and sail around the world in it with his second wife. The plan was scuttled when his new wife became pregnant.
“I don’t think she was ever too hot on the idea of spending a year or more sailing around in this boat,” Janota said. “But there was no way she would do it with an infant. The man decided to donate the boat to us.”
The Gazelle is a hard-chined, full-keel vessel, about 60 feet long overall, including a long bowsprit, and draws a little more than 7 feet. Over the shoal and shifting bottom of Galveston Bay and tributaries, Janota keeps her within the dredged channel markers.
On the Intracoastal Waterway, the red buoys and markers are to the north, or inshore, Janota said. In the Houston and Galveston ship channels, the international code of “red right returning from sea” is observed.
Staying within the channel avoids the danger of running aground, but means frequent negotiations with tug-and-barge traffic. Janota radioed the captains to make clear which side they would prefer to pass on. Tugs and barges have very little maneuverability in a narrow channel, so it’s their call, Janota said.
Gazelle’s hard-chined design means the hull doesn’t have the complex rounded shapes of a traditional sailing vessel of her size, but is designed with sharp corners, or chines, which are much easier to construct in sheets of steel or aluminum. This feature helps account for the popularity of the design, though welding in aluminum is a specialized skill.
The Sea Star Base’s Gazelle is rigged as a staysail schooner, with a triangular Marconi mainsail, a main staysail with a boom set on the stay leading forward from the mainmast, and a large overlapping jib set between the foremast and bowsprit. A four-cornered fisherman staysail fills out the sail plan, set high between the main and foremast, though it was not deployed on this outing. Gazelle is a lively sailer in a breeze, and on this Sunday there was plenty of wind.
“Gee, is the boat supposed to tip over like this?” a guest asked as the wind piped up.
“Yes, that’s just the way it works,” she was told.
“Heeling” is part of the excitement of sailing, and Schooner Sunday provides an introduction to that excitement.