By Jackie Monies - Eufaula, Oklahoma - USA

Preparing For the Texas 200 - A Survival Guide - Part One
click for bio


To Part Two

Thanks to Kevin O’Neill a Texas 200 veteran who collected most of this data and thanks to all those who sailed in 2008 and 2009, contributing their suggestions for those who aspire to begin the voyage or just complete it. Sail on!

What is it about the Texas 200 that makes it such a hard event to complete? Why do roughly forty percent of all the boats that leave Port Mansfield never make it to the end in Magnolia Beach? Is it the type of boat sailed, the weather, the climate, the sailor himself or just bad karma? A number of veterans of the endurance sail that is the Texas 200 responded with comments, suggestions and advice for those considering the event for this year.

Perhaps of all the answers Skip Johnson’s said it best. Skip has never completed the Texas 200 but he continues to try. “First, it’s serious. Even the well prepared operate at the mercy of the Fates and Murphy. Second, a flexible attitude coupled with the appreciation of where you are, physically, mentally, emotionally and navigationally are essential when challenges arise. Third, enjoy the adventure. It would have been nice to arrive at Magnolia Beach sans the hitchhiking but I don’t regret having made the effort. The whole experience was one of adventure, companionship and finding your limits.”

"First, it’s serious," Skip Johnson

Reading over sailors’ comments one criteria stood out as most important. Gordo Barcomb, Puddleduck Racer said it all. “I would add that really boat prep and equipment, while important, are less an issue than attitude and character. I have done so many things in life that tried my strength and ability to persevere. If someone has a history of giving up or avoiding challenges, this isn’t for them. I love having to really struggle to achieve. That’s who likes this stuff!”

Another Puddleducker, Jon Kowitz agreed with Gordo.” First and foremost, there is contending with the course’s hazards and basic necessities. If you’ve got the basics covered, then after that it’s all attitude. How badly do you want to make it? If you want it badly enough, you’ll drag the wreckage of your ruined boat to Magnolia Beach with your bare hands. If you don’t really want it, you’ll give up and pull out the first time you ship a little water over the nose of the boat.”

So, it is an endurance event. Conditions are not always favorable, there are hazards, there is a lot of wind and sun, skinny water and long hours on the water. Sixty percent of those who started in Port Mansfield finished, forty percent did not. Even those who did not finish, who lost equipment or even boats, still gave the Texas 200 a thumbs up. Most will be back again in 2010 to try to make it to Army Hole or all the way to Magnolia Beach, whatever their personal goals of completion are. For each sailor the goal and the achievements taken away from the Texas 200 are both different and personal. But many agree it has changed their lives for the better. They invite others to join them and offer advice to make it to the end.

“The Texas 200 is not a sailboat race,” says Kevin Nicolin. “It’s a five day, 200 mile survival test. This mind set is the key to the successful completion of the route. The wise skipper will adopt a conservative sailing approach so as to not over stress his boat in the typical 20 to 30 knot winds that dominate the event.” Additionally, Kevin notes, “The Texas 200 is not for the novice sailor, nor for the unskilled navigator. An abundance of shoals and navigation challenges demand, not only careful advance planning, but quick, decisive and correct decision making as a variety of restricted water maneuvering situations are negotiated. Additionally, the prevailing local weather conditions require an experienced skipper who can react properly to extremely challenging circumstances at sea.”

“It’s a five day, 200 mile survival test." Kevin Nicolin

“The Texas 200 is more mental than physical,” agrees another Ducker, Andrew Linn. “The wind is strong, but nearly constant. Some of the water is large, but it is warm and shallow. The route is desolate, but there are many people out there, as well as cities and towns. While it isn’t particularly safe, a person would have a hard time dying during the Texas 200. While it isn’t particularly difficult, you have to be determined to finish.”

Andrew’s number one piece of advice? “Trust your boat. Trust your boat, you can survive anything. And “pod up”. The human spirit is an exponentially additive entity. Doing the Texas 200 solo would be a disheartening experience. It’s all mental. The more Ducks there are, the easier it is, but it ain’t ever easy. If you wanna prep for the Texas 200 in a PDR, go sit outside in the sun and the wind for ten hours. Did you like that? Ok, now do it for four more days!”

“Attitude is definitely a big factor in successfully completing any challenging or potentially risky endeavor,” agrees Chuck Pierce. “When we got back to Port Mansfield on Sunday evening after we had made the shuttle to Magnolia Beach, I can remember commenting to my brother-in-law Bryon who crewed with me, “Well, at this point we are committed to finishing.” Although I would be the last one to second guess anyone’s decision to pull out and think no less of those who did, our boat would have had to have been damaged to the point that it was unsailable for us to have quit. It was a challenging course but we knew that going into the event.”

Chuck Leinweber, owner of Duckworks Magazine began the TX 200 two years ago as a way to get a few friends to join him in a sail along the south Texas coast. Those friends have morphed into an army of devotees. Chuck believes that the most important thing is the boat. “It should be handy and shallow draft. You need to be able to get it off a reef by yourself or with your crew. If you go aground, and you will go aground, you don’t want to be wrestling that thing in neck deep water. You want to be in knee deep water or less so that you have a chance of getting back to deeper water.”

He adds, “You need a boat that will reef easily. The second most important thing is to reef early and reef often. Don’t be afraid to reduce sail - usually your boat will sail better- often faster with less sail. That is counter-intuitive but true. After those two important things there are a lot of less important things.”

“No one is going to do well on the course we are traveling in a deep keeled boat. You could sail the Intercoastal Waterway just fine, but this is beach cruising and you need the right boat for it.” Chuck commissioned Jim Michalak to design the Laguna 23 specifically for such beach cruising. A fleet of Lagunas are being built with shallow draft, large open cockpits, lee boards and beach friendly design.

"If you wanna prep for the Texas 200 in a PDR, go sit outside in the sun and the wind for ten hours. Did you like that? Ok, now do it for four more days!” Andrew Linn (standing with Gordon Barcomb left)

Stan Roberts, veteran of both years sailings, echoes Chuck’s thoughts on bringing the right boat. Stan says, “Just because you already own a Blubber 9 or a Screaming Photon 12 doesn’t make it a good choice. The Texas 200 is not a race. There is no race committee to yell at when your boat is dismasted, rolled, the rudder shredded, all your gear lost. You need a boat that can handle shallow water, high winds and steep bay chop with waves to four feet.” Additionally, Stan adds is the fact you will have to push your boat off from shoals or beaches, probably tow it some distance by hand, usually in waves and often against the wind. Stan knows what he is talking about. The first year his Piccup pram was overpowered by large waves in Aransas Bay. The second year he brought a larger boat.

No one will deny that the Puddleduck Racers have successfully sailed the Texas 200 in their small four by eight boxy boats. All Ducks have made it to Magnolia Beach in both years, rescuing and assisting many others in the 2009 sailing. They are undeniably the heroes of the TX 200 legend. Yet Kevin Hahn, who crewed on several boats and was himself involved in more than one rescue and assist worries that this very success will lull other small boaters into a false sense of security in attempting the Texas 200.

“I think the other big thing people need to watch out for is what I call the “Puddleduck Trap.” A lot of people may look at the Texas 200 stories and think to themselves, “If these guys can do that in those eight foot Ducks, then my nine to fourteen foot pond sailor will be just fine.” Kevin added, “I think this is a horrible misconception and needs to be avoided. The only real limiting factor on a Duck is speed. If you pulled the mast and rowed, you could use the average Duck as a small rescue craft. With a high freeboard and a modest sail plan, you are just moving slow and steadily. The Ducks have a much higher stability than people give them credit for.”

Californian Kim Apel crewed on a Core Sound 17 in the 2009 sail. “Among the things I got right were choosing a good partner and starting with the right attitude. We never had a cross word between us, despite a fair amount of stress. We were in an appropriate boat, the Core Sound 17, but among the things we didn’t get right was lacking tools and spare parts to respond to problems when they came up with the boat. The boat wasn’t prepared for the stresses that were experienced. We did seek help and accept it when needed and that kept us in the game for awhile.”

A two time veteran of the Texas 200, Bobby Chilek feels that in preparing for the Texas 200 boat selection and preparation of the boat are very important. “Skinny, tipsy boats are not good, but heavy keel boats are not much better if you head into shallow water. The boat needs to handle a following sea. If conditions are the same as for the past two years, you will be in three to four foot seas at times. Make sure you can handle you boat in rough conditions for long periods, the hours turn into days. “

“Skinny, tipsy boats are not good..." Bobby Chilek

Bobby says, “Check your reefing capabilities, winds in excess of twenty miles per hour, with gusts to thirty have been the norm the past two years. Go over the boat with a fine tooth comb, pay careful attention to the rudder, mast and any standing rigging. The rudder will be subjected to some heavy loads in the following seas. The mast will be seeing more wind than most of us normally elect to sail in. Materials for the boat need to be of the strongest capabilities to withstand the stresses.”

“If you select a good boat, prepare it well and practice in the roughest conditions you can, these three steps will put you on your way to completing the Texas 200,” Bobby feels.

“The Texas 200 requires a sturdy boat built to withstand high winds and seas,” says Kevin Nicolin. “It should be of shallow draft and most importantly, have the ability to reduce sail. Mainsails should have two rows of reef points, jibs with roller furling capability are a big plus. The skipper and his crew must be able to reduce sail quickly, often in a downwind scenario.” Kevin believes that only the most highly skilled skippers should attempt to sail the Texas 200 singlehanded.

The importance of reefing was stressed over and over in all sailors’ comments. Mike Monies who was dismasted in a capsize felt it was the most important point to emphasize for new members. “We go to Texas for the wind. Be prepared for it. It is going to blow steadily and often in higher gusts. You must have reef points on your sails. You must be able to reef your sails from inside the boat while on the water.” Mike had only one set of reef points on his leg-o-mutton sail in 2009 but will have two sets of reef points on the lug sails he will use in 2010. He pointed out that many types of sails are difficult to reef down well or easily and should be considered when planning what kind of boat or sails to use.

Kenneth Purdy agreed with Mike’s viewpoint on reefing. “Many people had trouble because they did not reef early enough. Reef early and if you make your own sails, heavily reinforce the sail in the area around the reef points.”

Kevin Nicolin points out, “Last year my son and I sailed our Core Sound 17 with both main and mizzen double-reefed four of the five days of the Texas 200. If your style is to maximize canvas in order to sail as fast as possible, you’re asking for trouble and this event is probably not for you.”

"How badly do you want to make it? If you want it badly enough, you’ll drag the wreckage of your ruined boat to Magnolia Beach with your bare hands." Jon Kowitz

“You are going to get more wind than you are used to, so have a deeper reef than you think you need, “advises Dan. St. Gean. “Know when to reef! Either use the Beaufort scale or some other visual reference. Wind indicators have to be combined with boat speed downwind in order to get true readings.” Dan added, “You are going to be going downwind for at least two days. Make sure you can sail balanced without weather or lee helm in twenty knots downwind without too much stress.”

Many others agreed with Dan on this point. “Some of the boats did not have adequate reefing capabilities,” agreed Chuck Pierce. “Make sure you can reef to the point that the boat can sail well in 20-25 knot winds.”

Gordo Barcomb admits he did not realize the importance of reefing. “My big issue was reefing. I thought I wouldn’t need to since I had a small sail. Wrong!!!” Fellow Ducker Andrew Linn found that when he finally reefed his sail down on his PDR he not only sailed better but he made better time. He said, “Go figure. Who’da thunk making the sail smaller would make it go faster?”

How do you prepare for sailing in conditions that may be totally different than those in which you normally sail? Veteran sailor and boat designer John Welsford commented, “One learns from mistakes and cruisers don’t normally push hard enough to make those learning opportunities happen because the consequences are too severe, so when they do push hard they get beyond their experience level very quickly.”

“I think the other big thing people need to watch out for is what I call the “Puddleduck Trap.” Kevin Hahn

JohnW added, “Sail the boat nonstop for ten hours, take it home and change everything that did not work or is not comfortable. Do it again. And again. Three times minimum.”

“Be adaptable, have perseverance and be ready to deal with what you are thrown,” says Dan St. Gean. “Lots of boats had trouble because at home they don’t go out on Small Craft Advisory days. That’s most every day in south Texas in the early summer. Don’t be fooled by the Intercoastal Waterway. The bays are big and small craft will have trouble with the short, steep chop that it kicks up. Sometimes larger ocean swells are a lot more friendly than the two to three foot chop you will find in San Antonio Bay.”

Skip Johnson points out that to prep for the Texas 200 you need to sail your boat. “ Sail your boat . Then sail some more. Sail an overnight trip, sail in high winds. With crew if you intend to sail with a crew, solo if solo.”

“An important thing would be to go sailing a few times in the boat you are doing the trip in with whoever is crewing,” points out Chuck Pierce. “Because of medical issues we didn’t get to do much sailing before the Texas 200. My brother-in-law and I have spent a lot of time together over the years in other boats, but he had been out only a few times in the Potter 19. It took him a couple of days to learn where everything was and get comfortable with the boat.”

“Just because you already own a Blubber 9 or a Screaming Photon 12 doesn’t make it a good choice." Stan Roberts

Dan St. Gean agrees with Chuck. “One lesson we learned was that you must test sail under challenging conditions. In our case we did not do so at all. The second lesson is to bring good crew, single-handing a boat on the Texas 200 is more than twice as hard.”

“If you’ve never sailed for five hours straight in at least 25 knot winds with five miles of fetch (the 5-25-5 rule, if you’ve never gotten underway or maneuvered dockside in those same windy conditions…..stay home,” advises Kevin Nicolin. “Last year one boat was holed (T-boned) by another attempting a landing in high winds.”

Kevin O’Neill advises, “Take the boat you’re going to bring, loaded with all the stuff you’re going to take and the crew you’re going to sail with. Go to the leeward end of the biggest lake you can find, somewhere that there’s a lot of fetch so you can actually see some chop. Go on a weekend when there are Small Craft warnings posted with winds over twenty miles per hour. Sail all weekend without stop, back and forth, beating and running and reaching. Put forty miles on your GPS both days. Get used to several hours of on end steering. When you need to eat or pee or drink or put on SPF 30, someone still has to steer. More than anything though, be sure that you and the boat can both handle big wind and waves for hours on end. That’s what you are in for.”

Words to the wise about capsize. There were several capsizes in past Texas 200 events, some of which resulted in loss of masts, sails, gear, equipment, even boats. Bill Moffitt offers these observations, “If you are careful and lucky, you won’t capsize. Otherwise, be sure to have practiced this maneuver several times, at least once with all your gear aboard.See where your gear ends up and strap down accordingly. If you don’t need your GPS, the VHF hand-held, the binoculars or the bailing bucket, then don’t bother to tether them to the boat at all times.”

Adds Bill, “Imagine waves slapping up over your hatches until you get upright. How much do they really leak? Oh, and where are your oars, shoes, hat, glasses and flask? Do try to plan for the worse.”

Mike Monies thought he had tied down his gear securely and attached a tether to his mast. When he dismasted in a capsize he found gear floating away and the mast and sail gone. Mike plans different strategies this year. “I added additional flotation to the Laguna, beyond the plan’s requirement. I added more watertight lockers and hatches to stow gear away in. The masts and sails will be more buoyant and secured. Nothing should be loose in the boat. We will have safety lines or tethers for those sailing her.”

"That’s what you are in for.” Kevin O’Neill

Safety harnesses and safety lines were strong recommendations from John Welsford, who suggested them to both Stan Roberts and Mike. JohnW said, “If sailing single handed in rough conditions and away from the shore, I strongly suggest wearing a safety harness and line. Mine is a bit over six meters long (about 20 feet), has two clips and a full harness. I’ve been glad of it a couple of times.” John explained, “The reason for the long safety line is twofold. One is that I have a hook at the far end and another 2.5 meter from the end. That enables me to alter my securing point when moving about the boat without having the line unclipped at any time. The other is if the boat is on its’ side it is then necessary to swim up to the bow and get her head to wind, then back to the mast to get the main halyard loose and the main down, then around to the centerboard to climb up and heave her back upright. With enough length in the safety line you can do all this without unclipping.”

“After many years of single handed cruising in open boats I find that staying afloat is not an issue, so a lot of times I do not wear my PFD,” JohnW admits. “But staying with a boat can be a problem, as it will often drift faster than a person encumbered with wet weather gear and boots can swim. I have come to the conclusion after much experimentation that for the unique needs of single handed open boats in open waters, the best combination is a kayak vest which allows a lot more movement of the torso and the long tether line with its two clips well apart.”

Stan Roberts agreed that Mike’s difficulties in the high winds and water after his capsize pointed out the difficulties a sailor faces in righting a small boat in the Texas 200, should they be broached or knocked down. Stan said, “Thanks JohnW for the information on self rescue for small boats. I plan to wear my PFD and a safety harness with a long tether on the next Texas 200 because it makes sense in dinghy cruising.”

Personal flotation devices or PFD’s are absolutely essential for those sailing in the Texas 200 or any other challenge or raid type event. The possibility of capsize, broaching and swamping exists daily, as well as accidental overboards due to slips, falls or other mishaps. The majority of those sailing agreed that they wore their PFD’s at all times and the comfort of the style chosen played a major part in doing so. Stan Roberts found that a non-inflatable PFD with large pockets for gear worked best.

Stan offers good advice in regards to PFD’s. “First, everyone should wear one the entire time you are on the water. In a capsize, the first thing that floats off are the PFD’s. The second thing that floats off is the boat, faster than you can swim. Second, get a PFD that is very comfortable and has pockets. You will wear it if it’s comfy and stuffing all the essentials in the pockets saves a lot of searching motions in a small boat. Third, buy a bright color and skip the camo ones, you will want to be seen at a distance. Fourth, inflatable jackets are like parachutes. There is always a question of whether they are going to open/inflate or not when you pull the string. Make sure it has a manual inflation tube also. Mine was designed for kayaking and is very comfortable. In addition it makes a nice pillow at night for camping.”

John Miller adds, “Back in the 80”s while sailing beach cats on the coast, we always wore life jackets. Maybe it was just to get them out of the way or maybe for safety. My favorite PFD was a lightweight jacket with a lot of flotation up front and not much on the sides or back. It worked well in the Texas heat and I still have it and use it on board boats and catamarans.” John believes if your PFD is comfortable for the conditions you will wear it. He added, “Use the spare square PFD for a seat cushion.”

“When sailing or motor boating, I can’t see not wearing your PFD,” says Gordo Barcomb. “There’s little concern for extreme physical strain and the ramifications of hitting the water are all too great. The main reason given for not wearing a PFD is discomfort, so no matter what style you choose, comfort is key. I once saw an older gentleman walking all around Academy Sports with a PFD on. I assumed he was making sure he liked it!”

“Actually my PFD was comfortable to sail in,” agrees Mike Monies, “and I wore it constantly on the trip. I never sweated once on the whole trip so it must not have been hot to wear. All vests seem to ride up when you are in the water.”

Stan Roberts pointed out, “Mike’s a good example. Mike spent 30 minutes to an hour in the water in large waves trying to deal with a capsized boat. He was exhausted by the time he reached land. He lost a lot of his equipment because it floated off after the capsize. However, he was alive, functional and continued on to finish the Texas 200 because he wore a PFD instead of using it as a chair or a footstool.”

The advice offered today is only part of the suggestions from the 2008-2009 Texas 200 veterans. Part Two will cover gear for the boat, supplies, personal gear, provisions, physical preparedness, sailing and navigational ability. Advice concerning weather, geography, water and wind conditions, and more about the psychological and mental preparation will be expanded on. The Texas 200 requires a great deal of organization and preparation in all these area and those who have sailed successfully hope their lessons learned will help avoid future mishaps in 2010.

The mantra for the Texas 200 is: Prepare, prepare, then prepare some more.

Reef, then reef some more. Sail, then sail some more. Pack the boat, then sail it packed.

Sail with your crew, then sail with your crew and the boat packed. Sail in conditions you would not normally sail in, then try it again.

One sailor who was considering sailing in the Everglades Challenge a few years ago took this exact advice. He did all the above. And? He did not sail in the Everglades Challenge. He saw his limitations when confronted with sailing conditions that exceeded his experience.

Bill Moffitt, veteran sailor said the same thing. “This should be a step down from other things you have done in the past, not a step up. If you are not prepared you are putting not only yourself in danger but those who will try to help you in danger. And that is not fair.”

"There is no such thing as packing too much whiskey” Bill Moffitt

“Most importantly, bring enough whiskey to see you through to the end. There is no such thing as packing too much whiskey,” Bill said. Or as the Ducks would put it, “Now we know why the rum is always gone.”

“Preparation is not necessary as long as you are prepared to accept the consequences” is a favorite quotation of another veteran Texas 200 sailor. We will explore how to get ready for the mud, sun, bugs, wind, waves, exhaustion and general fun and mayhem of the Texas 200 in Part 2 next month. Thanks to all those who contributed their time and thoughts to make this article possible.


To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit our forum