By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
Elaine’s daddy was a large man and had been in law enforcement along with serving our nation in the Korean conflict. He wasn’t intimidated by another officer of the law who had also served in our armed forces.
Married 41 years, both Elaine and Jim Dobbins recall with detail the day her daddy met her future husband. “My daddy was cleaning his rifle when Jim came to meet him,” said Elaine.
“He looked at me and said, ‘All I want to know is what are your intentions with my daughter?’ All I could say was, ‘my intentions are good, sir.’” said Jim.
“His voice went up by two octaves when he answered my daddy,” added Elaine.
They met at a Christmas party in 1980 and were married on February 21, 1981. Their life of adventure together began in Orange Texas, Elaine’s hometown.
He took a job in Harris County and the couple moved to his hometown, Houston. “I really didn’t want to move to Houston,” said Elaine.
Coming to Houston, they added four children to their lives, two girls and two boys. How to keep the family happy and entertained on one paycheck meant they would invest in their first 27-foot sailboat.
Jim was no stranger to sailing, he had taken it upon himself to learn how to sail one summer at a Boy Scout Jamboree in Pennsylvania. “From our side of the lake I could see all the families and girls on the other side, so I decided to get my sailing merit badge,” explained Jim.
It was the day after he was awarded his patch that he set sail across the lake with the sole intention of flirting. Arriving on the other side of the lake, he met two girls who were 12 and 13 years old and they joined him sailing the lake.
“My daddy wouldn’t have let me get in a sailboat with a boy when I was 13,” Elaine interjected with a sly smile. Jim was only 13 himself.
Elaine, with her background as a ballerina, took to sailing quickly. She became very adept in the world of sailing. Together they have crossed from Texas to Florida many times.
The first boat grew too small, so they purchased a 37-foot Irwin, named Juscruzen. The boat was harbored in Tarpon Springs, Florida and would be sailed back to Texas with their son, a family friend and Captain Jim.
Along the journey Jim was toting his brother in an urn; more accurately, it was his brother in the form of ashes. Their historic sail across the Gulf happened before there was the prolific use of internet information sharing or quality GPS devices.
They set sail in what had seemed to be good weather for their voyage as per all information available to Captain Jim via NOAA. Tropical Storm Edouard decided to behave erratically as it swept over Florida from the Atlantic and entered the Gulf of Mexico. Then Edouard bumped into Tropical Storm Fay.
In the middle of the night, with his new-to-him sailboat, Captain Jim was caught up in a hurricane. “I had to harness myself to the cleats of the boat while I steered the boat through the storm,” explained Captain Jim.
At 251 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, the storm was heading to Panama Beach, Florida. The boat took on a lot of water, her sails were ripped away and his crew were down below. He determined it was best to go with the storm than to fight against it. So, he and the wind steered the boat towards Florida.
The story of his hurricane boatmanship and the 48 treacherous hours of operating on survival instincts is one that he recalls as though it was just last week. His wife, meanwhile, safe in Houston, woke up in the middle of the night knowing something was wrong.
She was horrified to learn there were two storms out where her son and her husband were sailing. Her first instinct was to call the Coast Guard, who relayed to her his situation. Next, she enlisted his coworker to drive her to Florida.
He and all his crew, with the assistance of the Coast Guard and another boat named Leroy Tennis Shoe, made it to Panama City. “We were greeted by people who had been listening in on our radio calls. The people took us out to eat and made sure we had some clothing,” said Captain Jim.
His brother’s ashes were strewn across the only area on the boat that didn’t get wet and so Jim used a handheld vacuum and gathered his remains to be sure on another trip he would give his brother a proper sea burial.
Juszruzen was repaired and they began their lives as business owners taking people out to sea for burials. Neither will ever forget the first attempt at a sea burial with two storms bearing their middle names, Fay and Edward.
A larger boat was calling them, and their next purchase was another Irwin. “They build them like tanks,” said the couple. After much research for a name never used before for a boat anywhere in the world, they came up with the name Barefoot Babe for their 54-foot boat.
Juscruzen sat at the dock with offers to purchase her because she was clearly a lucky boat, having survived sailing in hurricane force winds. When Hurricane Ike wiped out almost every boat at Watergate Yachting Center, Juscruzen remained unharmed. She became even more desired, and the couple sold her.
Jim’s final position in law enforcement was chief of police for Houston Community College. He retired in 2010.
Right around that time, they had taken a senior woman out to disperse her husband’s ashes at sea. Usually for burial charters they don’t put up the sails, but for fun they treated her to the sails. She suggested her friends would like a sailboat ride.
Then their second business was born, Sail Galveston Bay. They take people out for sea burials, just for fun joy rides, and celebrations of all types. They got requests for weddings to be hosted on their boat, so Captain Jim evolved to become an ordained minister who can perform weddings and funerals.
With their children raised, the couple is enjoying retirement years running their charter sailing business and living in a 600-foot house nestled on their property in San Leon.
They share their living space with half a dozen cats and dogs who accompany them on their long-distance voyages. They also own an RV which is nestled on their property where they can host out of town family guests or go on road trips together.