Thursday, January 3, 2008

A Cool Start to the New Year

January 3, 2008 -- Sandollar Resort near Rockport, TX

A cold front blew across the region New Years Eve and we've had morning lows near freezing the past couple of days. But the days redeem themselves with light winds and mostly sunny skies, and highs around 60. Compared to the beating much of the rest of the country is taking this winter, you'll hear no complaints from this guy.

We normally don't do much on New Years Eve. But this year we were torn between going with one group of neighbors to a nearby retirement community dance (bring your own bottle, snacks, oxygen) or walking with another group down to the neighborhood bar -- Alice Faye's on the Bay -- complete with rock band, crowds, bawdiness, and fun. So, in typical Midwest fashion, we ended up doing both. Dar likes all kind of dance and had a good number of turns on the floor at both places.

Getting home at 2am, at least for us, means it's going to be late the next morning before we're awake and taking nourishment. So New Years Day was a hang around the camper day. Dar rolled herself out of bed early enough to see the Rose Bowl Parade -- a "must do" every year for her. And we did get up the energy for an hour-long vigorous walk along Rockport Beach during the afternoon. I normally don't spend much time watching TV sports but I did tune in to the Rose Bowl game -- until it just became too painful to watch.

Rockport is home of The Texas Maritime Museum. It's a small but very well done museum focusing on the importance of the Gulf to the State of Texas. The centerpiece exhibit is about a ship named La Belle, which sank in 1684 in Matagorda Bay, just to the north of where we're staying. The La Belle was part of an expedition of four French ships belonging to Robert de La Salle, a French Explorer, on a quest to find the mouth of the Mississippi River. La Salle was a harsh taskmaster and poor leader, and apparently a not too talented navigator based on the fact that he missed the big river by over 400 miles. Eventually the entire expedition failed and La Salle was shot by his own crew. The La Belle sank in minutes after it became grounded and was quickly filled and covered with silt, which preserved it's contents for over 300 years. In 1995, a team of Texas State Archaeologists found the wreck and recovered millions of artifacts, many in amazingly good condition. The silt preserves material so well that even full coils of rope were found -- an extremely unusual find in shipwrecks. Many of the artifacts from La Belle are on display here.

An interesting tidbit of knowledge I picked up at the museum was on the subject of navigation. In those early sailing days, determining your precise location on the planet was not an easy task. By measuring the angle of certain celestial bodies above the horizon, finding your latitude -- your north/south position -- was more precise than determining your longitude -- your east/west position. A skilled navigator could fix a latitudinal position to within 20 miles or so, but the accuracy of a longitudinal position was far less accurate. Perhaps that's why La Salle sailed past the mouth of the Mississippi and ended up in Texas.

I think we've got a little more of our own exploration of the area to do today. Hopefully our navigational skills are better than La Salle's. And it's probably a good thing our GPS unit wasn't made in France.

T