Weekender “Herriot” goes
on the B.E.E.R. cruise

by John Weigandt

A Vague Idea Forms

When I have time, I frequent the regular chat nights on the Trailer Sailor web site (www.trailersailor.com) . On one such night probably last January or February, the subject of the Backwater Environmental Escape Rendesvous came up. I commented that it sure would be nice to have a bigger boat at times, to go on such adventures, and the concensus of the group was. “The Weekender will do just fine…. Come on down”.

With a graduating high school senior in the house, and lots of summer activities, there was no big summer trip on the schedule for the family, so I sheepishly asked my wife, “would it hurt your feelings if Thomas and I went on a weeks sailing adventure this summer.” Much to my surprise, she said “Not a problem”, so the planning began.

I had launched my Weekender “Herriot” in late August of ’98, but for the most part, she has been a day sailor. I had camped on her a couple of nights at a messabout in Bloomington Indiana, but that was it. We live about a mile from the launch ramp on the Mississippi River, in Moline, Illinois, and the Weekender with her 15 minute setup, and extreme shallow draft is the perfect little river vessel for me. But a cruise… an honest to goodness cruise was a horse of a different color.

I had spent lots of time on the water in many varied conditions, including taking the 6 foot summation of 2 powerboat wakes over the bow, 37 mph winds on Lake Monroe, everything from dead calm to heeling over till water came over the top rail, river currents etc, so the sailing part wasn’t intimidating at this point. We’d been on Table Rock, McBride, Okoboji, 2 area small lakes, and the Mississippi, But it was the cruising… being in strange places with the need to be self reliant that was intriguing. Also the lure of bigger water, salt water, dolphins, turtles etc., smelled like an adventure.

Self reliance is of course relative. The BEER cruise would ultimately involve about 46 sailboats of all sizes and shapes, most of them production boats. There is great safety in numbers.


We gathered gear slowly over the months that followed. I already had, handheld VHF, GPS, portapot, one burner propane stove, bilge pump (the cockpit in the weekender is not self draining). The plan was for each sailor to have his own duffel for clothes and personal effects (Thomas the 10 year old couldn’t go completely without gameboy.) I would get 2 rectangular sterilite brand containers. One was for food, and the other for boat gear, tools spare prop, shear pins, flares, horn, first aid, medicine, whistles etc. We also had a medium sized cooler.

Cabin space being precious, we would move the plastic bins out to the cockpit at night, along with the cooler, and into the cabin during daytime.

Having spent 2 nights at Monroe on 2 of the closed cell hard camp pads, I decided to obtain 2 more pads of the “self inflating” variety. One was “coleman”,, and the other “Ozark Trail” The latter turned out to be the better pad because it was divided into sections, with more foam available for your back and butt, and a separate pillow compartment. The self inflators were placed on the cabin floor on top of the old closed cell backpacking pads. The combination was adequate, but not luxurious.

How Do You Make a Boat the Size of a Weekender into a “Cruiser”?

Starting at the bow, we had 1 small and 1 larger danforth style anchor, 1 mushroom river/lake style anchor. 10 feet of chain followed by 100 feet of rode, in a large square cat food bucket, and another separate 50 foot rode. These lived under the hatch in the forepeak. There was also room up there for our Coleman 3 person inflatable in its duffel bag. We had learned the year before at Table Rock that the oars that come with the Coleman were nearly worthless. It becomes a very maneuverable little dink when paddled with a kayak double paddle, which was lashed to the forward shroud with sail ties when cruising. We had a 12 volt inflator that can set up the dink in a couple of minutes. The jib was also stowed in the forepeak, with a few bottles of water filling in the cracks.

Just after the forward bulkhead, with it’s new mosquito netting , our duffels would reside at our heads. The Weekender has 2 small shelves that held paper towels, kleenex, diaper wipes for freshening up faces etc. Books, gameboy, sony walkman, etc also stayed here. The shelves are actually angled back to the inside of the hull and stuff stays put at some amazing angles of heal. I mounted rubber “pole grippers” above and below the shelves. These held our Minn Kota telescoping combo paddle and boat hook (highly recommended), Along with the removable navigation light poles (Attwood). The bedding was as previously described. Since we were heading to Florida, we took along only small light “fleece” style sleeping bags, and small travel pillows. The portapot sat center just under the sliding hatch, forward of the combination companionway seat/deep cycle battery box. The battery box also held charts (graciously prepared by someone on the BEER organizing committee.) some small tools, extra zip ties, and the 12 volt inflator for the coleman dink. Hanging overhead, was the one piece of gear that proved indispensable. It was a Coleman tent fan. It runs off of 1 D cell and is rated to run for 16 hours on 1 battery. It actually exceeded this in our use, and was a lifesaver in what turned out to be a couple of hot nights.

To sleep in a weekender, your feet actually extend into a compartment that goes through the aft bulkhead under the area of the cockpit seats (up to about ½ way back). Its plenty of length for someone much taller than me, but I took advantage of the fact that I’m 5’9” and put the large million candle handheld search light, and a throwable seat pad beyond my feet, and a case of bottled water at Thomas’s feet. Fire extinguisher mounted high on the starbord side of the rear bulkhead. We had a “dry bag” of the canoe/kayak variety that held spare shoes, paper towels, and dry cloth towels.

The movable Sterilites were pretty much kept to one side during the day, along with the dry bag, so Thomas could still retire to the cabin to get out of the sun. I had both the solid hatch board and a matching mosquito screen hatch frame.

Moving out to the cockpit, we had 2 self inflatable seat pads (highly recommended and much more comfy than the thicker harder throwable). Under the cockpit seats on 1 side was 4 gallons of fresh water in 1 gallon jugs, along with a collapsible style water container, and a “sun shower”. The other side had a plastic dishpan, 1 burner propane camp stove, and a boy scout style mess kit for cooking and heating water.

Overhead we had our “Hillbilly Bimini” The weekender has a cabin sweeping boom, so bimini under sail is impossible, but for motoring and anchoring, I had made for last year’s vacation, a polytarp shade with 2 pvc cross poles that mounts to the boom when it is pulled up by the gaff apparatus in “topping lift” fasion.

Herriot in cruising configuration with her “hillbilly bimini” and yellow dry bag
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Bringing up the rear in the Lazarette were two Gas cans of 1 ¼ gallon capacity. I outfitted these with a spout that you press to deliver gas, and when you withdraw, the gas stops immediately making refuel on the water a much more practical matter. Hanging off the stern would be our trusty 3.3 Mercury 2 stroke on a spring loaded lifting bracket. It runs about 1 hour on about 1/3 gallon of gas… taking you about 5 ½ miles under calm no current conditions. Starting with a full Merc, that would give me about 35 miles range before refuel if motoring. I also made a custom wood swim ladder for the trip. I had been embarrased in front of my family at Okoboji, when I demonstrated that it was impossible to reboard the Weekender from the water or a swim tube unaided. So, after months of consideration and planning, my little day sailor was now a cruiser.

Off We Go .. Destination Pensicola.

The drive down was to take the better part of 2 days. We poured it on the first day, arriving somewhere at a motel in Northern Alabama the first night. To our surprise, the parking lot was covered with Model A Fords on a road ralley. We awoke on Friday morning to see them off, and one nice driver let Thomas sit in the drivers seat for a few minutes.

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We arrived at the Pensacola Naval Shipyard Marina late afternoon, and rigged the boat. Loading was another story. My normal 15 minute launch ritual was extended to more like an hour. After meeting and greeting folks I had known for sometimes 4 years, but never met (isn’t the internet wonderful), we launched Herriot. She was a surprising sight. I had never seen her floating so low, laden with all that cruising gear. “She usually floats like a leaf”, I thought, “she’ll sail like a dog”. We then motored around to the shallow side of C dock. The 2 most common comments were “What a pretty boat”, and “ You’re not really sleeping in there are you??”.

Impromptu dock party
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As night fell, we had supper of sandwiches, applesauce, cheese, cookies, and I had an adult beverage. Thomas went up and down the dock meeting other kids and checking out different boats. He spent much of the evening watching a movie on portable DVD with Kevin on “Liberty Call”, while Dad went back and forth between there, and talking with everyone else. Once Thomas was bedded down, (actually reading a book), I listened to Charles Brennan and Noemi Ybarra on “Urchin” playing guitar and singing. When I retired, I was hot, due to lack of breeze, and the coleman fan probably saved my life. I was also like a kid on Christmas eve, so sleep didn’t come easily.

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Leaving the Shipyard under sail, motor up
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We leave civilization

Morning came, and as we rolled up the bedding, I noticed Thomas’s pillow was wet. We had taken on about a few ounces of water on the port side overnight. A thousand miles of trailering had evidently taken its toll, but the closed cell foam camp pads had kept everything except the pillow dry. I got some fast cure 5200 and sealed as best I could where the water appeared, and later would put our chamois camp towel in that area. We continued to take on about a hand towel full of water per 12 hours for the duration of the cruise.

After coffee and donuts at the marina shelter, a light breeze started, and it was time to shove off. We motored a short way out into the narrow channel leading to Pensacola bay, and raised the sails. A light breeze carried us under the bridge and out into the bay and we were off. The sail down the bay to the more open water was tame but pleasant. We gave wide berth to the Naval Base. Sailboats were in front and behind us filling the bay. We headed west after clearing the base, and the wind died. Thomas, who was in a full life jacket was sweating like a horse, so I let him unbuckle and air out some. He suggested starting the motor, but I told him that we wouldn’t be the first. After seeing some other motors come on, we motor sailed for maybe ½ hour west, when the wind seemed to return a bit. What’s that… dark clouds on the horizon. “Hey Thomas, you see that place where the air beneath the clouds is dark.. that’s rain, and it’s gonna hit us”.

Thomas at the helm, just before the squall. “If I close one eye, I can follow the other boat better, maybe that’s why Pirates have eye patches”
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So Thomas dutifully rooted through the gear box for the foulies. The first rain hit before we donned them, but it was warm and refreshing, not the bone chilling Illinois variety. I was watching the water for evidence of high wind, and seeing nothing alarming on the way, we stayed at full sail. Things picked up a bit, and we both climbed to the windward side of the cockpit, as we had so many times before. I’m guessing that top wind for the day was in the 20 mph range. We saw other boats striking sail, and it is prudent to stay well within your comfort zone, but we’d been here before in cold wind, and this warm summer storm was kind of fun. We also noticed that even laden so heavily, motoring or sailing, Herriot was doing a respectable job of keeping pace with the fleet. Sure the Precision and Tri blew our doors off, but the Mac’s and Potter kept fairly close company, along with the other small boat with big sail, Damion on his little 16 footer.

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Damion with more Harken gear than I’ve ever seen
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Lightning seemed high and in the distance, and besides we had 45 aluminum lightning rods surrounding our wooden boat. As we pressed on into the narrows, we lost much of the wind, and what little was there was coming on the nose, so motoring again were we. We were overtaken by the one Trimaran on the cruise, but I told Thomas that any time he wasn’t going 3 times our speed, we were winning.

Herriot Sailing on Pensacola Bay (photo by Damion Esmond)

After leaving the narrows, going across the big lagoon, more sailing was possible. Final destination was Roberts Bayou behind Pirates Cove Marina. Herriot had covered 23 miles or so, her longest adventure from any launch point to date. Charlie Jones (a sailors gentleman by any measure) invited us to raft up with Laura and him on “Necessity” , since he was already anchored with a big plow. After some putzing with my 4 fenders, we had arrived. Brennan was already snorkeling around the boats setting anchors. Thomas went for a swim and snorkel, bobbing around in his life jacket, for a well earned rest. And not very much later, I joined him. The water was surprisingly warm.

Later, we inflated the coleman, and paddled ashore for a visit to pirates cove for a late lunch of chicken fingers for Tom and corn dog for me. Thomas swam at the beach next to the long finger pier, and I gabbed, while watching him with one eye. Pirates cove is an amazing laid back place. Later we climbed back into the dink and rowed over to see how the other half lives. We boarded Tom Parrent’s chartered monster catamaran for a short chat. Got ice from Pirates cove, and returned to our boat, where we had hot dogs, canned fruit, more cheese, I heated some water and Thomas had a sponge bath and went to bed. I talked with the others in our small raft up, and climbed aboard “Necessity” for a short time to chat. I think that’s the night I had some of Charles Brennan’s world famous planter’s punch. Just a little bit of that stuff will make you forget just when you drank it, but it goes down like soda pop. Some of our “overflow “ gear stayed in the dink for the night. The most surprising part of the trip so far was the complete absence of any biting bugs at all… zip zero nada… It was cooler than the night before, and when my head hit the pillow I was out.

Inside Pirates Cove
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Laura on Necessity
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Recreation in the bayou
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Morning on Robert’s Bayou
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Cheeseburger in Paradise

Woke up next morning. Time… what’s time? Breakfast was bacon and egg beaters (very cooler friendly, egg beaters) , and peanut butter and jelly toast. It was clear and gonna be sunny and warm. No make that sunny and hot. We cast off our lines said goodby to Charlie and Laura, and motored out heading west. Destination Lulu’s. (run by Jimmy Buffet’s sister) We motored down the intracoastal waterway, towing the dink for a short time, but it had way too much drag, so we pulled it alongside and angled it lashing it to the side of the boat with only one side of the inflatable in the water. This was a much more acceptable arrangement, and would allow sailing…. But where was the wind? My sun screen had let me down yesterday after noon, so I wore a loose long sleeve shirt today. After a couple of power boat wakes bounced the dink out of position, and there being no wind, we simply pulled it aboard and leaned it on the starboard deck. The hillbilly bimini was stowed and lashed to deck, as it’s angle would offer little relief from the sun in the east while motoring west. Thomas liked seeing the sunken barges and a derelict “ghost” tug boat.

We arrived at Lulus (run by Jimmy Buffet’s sister) at … oh yea…time, what’s time? There was a backwater off the narrow canal where the fleet would anchor and raft up. We anchored/rafted with another small boat, a Montgomery 16, and set the tarp..er bimini We were ferried to the restaurant dock by one of the BEER organizers, who ran his sailboat as a ferry all afternoon, missing most of the festivities. I had an open face crab melt sandwich, and Thomas a cheesburger. Primo food, smiling service, cute waitress, nice cold cola with lots of ice.

Thomas at Lulu’s

The fleet behind Lulu’s. Author in inflatable next to Herriot
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We were ferried back to the boat, and about then while resting off our lunch, a helicopter appeared low overhead. It circled the fleet several times, and someone was leaning out the window with a telephoto lens. I guess this many sailboats in use in one place is quite a sight even on the gulf coast. I paddled around in the Coleman to get pictures of the fleet and our boat, and after a time, we pulled anchor and bid Lulu’s goodbye.

We headed back east on the intracoastal, down the narrow channel without benefit of wind. Sunday power boaters bounced us around some, but not that different from home. About halfway back the wind picked up some from behind, and we raised the sails. Sailing became even more fun as the waterway widened and we headed for Ingram’s bayou. Charlie and Laura passed us sailing. As they did, I made sure that I pulled the motor mount all the way up to demonstrate that we were indeed sailing. Winds were generally light, but some cloud cover came over, and gave relief from the Sun’s heat. Coming into the Bayou, we once again rafted up with Necessity, and after getting squared away, went in for a swim… as did many others from the flotilla. We had people milling around talking, kids jumping on and off various boats, kayaks paddling around, and a tourist boat loaded to the gills came through just to gawk at the site. So did the water cops.

A survey of the sky showed that less pleasant weather was on the way. The weather radio reported a tropical depression was forming. Thomas and I dined on corned beef hash, and deflated and stowed the dink. He washed up, and went below. I started to “harden up” the bimini with additional bungees just as the first high winds hit. This was followed by liberal amounts of rain. I squared things away and went below, where Thomas and I played “Wheel of Fortune” on the gameboy, while the weather howled outside. I heard at least 1 large klunk on the cabin roof, and after the blow died down some, went out to investigate. The hillbilly bimini had survived, but Charlies bimini had thrown a batten, which the crew of the Herriot returned.

Monday morning, I awoke to overcast, breezy, damp conditions. The wind seemed to be building as we ate breakfast. The original plan had been to go to a place called Mosquito cove, but that would involve an extended sail and the both Mosquito cove and Ingram’s bayou would be isolated from any ramp if the weather stayed bad. The group decided plan B would be to head back around the point to Pirates cove and Roberts bayou to out wait the weather. Thomas and I stowed the bimini, due to the expectation of high winds, cast of from our raft mates and motored out of the cove. Waves in the waterway proved to be manageable, and we were able to cut the journey around the point somewhat short as we had shoal draft and weren’t confined to the channel, which would have added a mile or so to the trip. The wind picked up and the waves got bigger and more confused approaching the entrance to pirates cove. I decided to beach there at the cove entrance to obtain gas and ice. We rounded up into the now considerable wind, gunned the motor with the plan to get some momentum and tilt the motor before beaching. The wind was too much on first attempt. Second attempt I would come in closer before tilting the motor, but the beach had another idea. The bottom came up and sheared the prop’s shear pin.

So here we are in the cove entrance, no propulsion, in high winds and rain. But wait. The boat falls off and is moving well under “bare poles” I had steerage! We ran down wind a hundred feet or so, and hugged the shoreline at the cove entrance, made a right turn and drifted with the accumulated speed into a protected spot on the upwind lip of the cove. Anchor was dropped off the bow, and we were safe, stopped, and out of the wind. Those who didn’t see the beaching attempt might have thought I planned it that way, such a sweet ballet. Some heavy rain followed, and after it let up, I pulled the motor into the cockpit, pulled the prop, and tried to pound out the remainder of the shear pin. I had a needle nosed pliers to act as a punch, but no hammer.. Hmmm reached into the food supply for a can of Chef Boy ar Dee ravioli, which made a most serviceable hammer. Re mounted the now repaired motor, and waited for a break in the rain.

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Motoring back to the Pirates cove dock after things calmed down. Draft = about 1 foot with rudder up

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It wouldn’t be possible to cross the open part of the cove’s mouth to get back to the Restaurant and marina in the Coleman. There was just too much wind there. After a time, we fired up the motor, and found a spot on the dock next to the launch ramp. We went inside, played pinball, had a little lunch, dried out some, and watched the dolphins swimming in the cove entrance.

(Photo by Noemi Ybarra - click image to enlarge)
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We Say Goodbye

Since Tuesday was to be our last day on the water, and getting pinned down somewhere wasn’t on my list of options, I contemplated a journey back to the shipyard marina. The weather reports weren’t good for today. Small craft advisories for the bay. Some folks caught a long taxi ride back to the shipyard marina and started ferrying back trucks and trailers overland to pull out. We decided to catch a ride with someone and do the same. While waiting for our ride to return, conditions calmed some, and we practiced paddling the boat by hand around the anchorage, letting others have access to the dock. We showered at the marina, gabbed some more, retrieved the van and trailer and pulled the boat about 8:30 pm while many of the others who remained were inside of pirates cove in an impromptu folk jam session. The wind was literally whistling as it cut through the rigging of the boats in the marina.

We headed north that night, leaving behind many new friends. We had stayed aboard our little minimalist cruiser for 3 nights, and supplies would have held for 6, but our vacation time was limited. As it turned out, those who stayed had a fairly nice day of sailing on Tuesday that we would miss, (we took in the space museum at Huntsville Alabama) but we were taking with us memories that will last a lifetime.

My thanks to the folks on the Trailer Sailor board who posted pictures of the event, some of which are included here. Anyone interested in my boat building adventures can go to www.riverbendvet.com/newweb Plans for the weekender can be obtained from www.stevproj.com