Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Crossing…We Made It! 180 miles of open water on the Gulf of Mexico

Ok, where do I start to describe our crossing experience?

We had a flotilla of eight boats all pulling out of Carrabelle together at 3:00 pm on Friday, January 11th. Sareanna (Dick and Deanna - the lead boat and flotilla leaders), Sea Dog (Doug and Beverly - able cruisers), The Zone (Ross and Laura, course and weather consultant and poet laureate), Lime Light (Don and Anita – emergency backup go-fast boat and humor suppliers), Proud Lady (Bill and Joy – Inspirational source), Next to Me (Bob and Kathryn – able cruisers and flexi-boaters), Sea N’ Red (Buddy and Phyllis – brand new loopers and ultimate “wing men”, so to speak) and Why Knot (us - weather gronk and float plan instigators {somebody had to do it}). We all met daily on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday going over the float plan together, understanding the conditions as best we could and making sure that as a flotilla we all had rolls so that we could make this the best crossing that we could put together. (Sailboat loopers Paul and John of Memsahib and Bill and crew of Catmandu were also making the crossing but just ahead of us.)

Why Knot in the Gulf (taken by Next To Me)

A few boats from the flotilla heading out

The conditions that we had to contend with were pretty intense. For the past several days there had been teases that tempted us to finally put up or shut up and make the crossing starting on Friday. (See the previous post for more about that.) The bottom line on conditions was that we knew that these were not going to be ideal conditions, that being waves two foot or less with winds less than ten knots, and, oh by the way, the wave swell height at good ol’ marine buoy 42036 had to show the swell height at two feet or less also. (Buoy 42036 is the closest open water NOAA buoy in that area of the gulf.) I came up with a course (just to get things going) for the cruise that everyone tweaked. I then was able to check the conditions forecast for the waypoints along that route for the period starting at 3:00 pm on Friday just outside the Carrabelle harbor, along the waypoints to the end in Tarpon Springs. With sizable input from Ross, and with everyone else doing their due diligence at examining the weather also, we came up with a profile that played out like this (roughly): The first third would be relatively rough with waves of three feet, the second third would be improving with waves around two feet and diminishing the further south we travelled and the third third would be good with waves of two feet or less, with a lot of areas at one foot. Winds would not be a factor.  

So we set out. Unfortunately we quickly realized that while our profile was correct the severity of the waves and seas were far more intense than we had anticipated. Waves and swells for the first third of the trip were three to five feet (a few higher popped in), the second third were two to four feet and the final third were much better with swells more in line with our prognostication.  The wind was not a factor.

To put it simply, we got rocked hard. A few minutes after sundown it did kind of settle, perhaps, a bit and we were soon out in the dark. And it was VERY dark. The sky was full of stars but that did nothing to lighten the world below. Very early on we reached the point of no return. We had to keep going. The rocking and rolling just kept a’ coming and we all knew that this was going to be a test of our abilities, our gear and our courage. A few hours into the trip we had consultations via radio and decided that course changes were needed. The first was that instead of continuing on a southeasterly course towards the second waypoint (at which we would turn in a more southerly direction) we needed to beat a path more to the south sooner by bypassing the second and third waypoints and go directly to waypoint number four (out of five), in search of improved conditions. This leg was very long, something like 86 miles, and while the wave height was less, four foot instead of five or six feet, it made for a very uncomfortable ride, to put it mildly. It was dark, very dark and the only things we could see were the lights of the other boats in our flotilla. We could not see the waves at all and had no idea when we were going to be hit. All we could do was set our autopilots, trust our boats and gear, suck it up and ride it out. We made other course changes to fade to the west a bit so that we would stay away from shallower waters with the anticipated crab pot floats during darkness.

Very early dawn

Dawn heading down to Tarpon Springs

Proud Lady and Why Knot maneuvering towards Tarpon Springs in the morning

Dolphins playing at our bow. We were told they were also playing in out wake.

Anclote Key, Tarpon Springs
All good loopers all in a row
 Earlier on I talked about our flotilla mates and the time we spent carefully planning the cruise. We all had rolls in this endeavor. For instance, Dick and Deanna of Sareanna “volunteered” to be the lead boat. Their job was to keep us going in the right directions and was, at times, the final arbiter of decisions that needed to be made with all of us contributing. Buddy and Phyllis were the last boat, the wingmen mentioned earlier. Their job was to always be in the back and make sure there were not to be any stragglers. Our job on Why Knot was to be the fount of some knowledge having to do with the original float plan, and to do a roll call at the top of every hour to make sure everyone was still with the group. The captains of all the boats had valuable input as to what was going on, what could happen and what we needed to do. We were a very good team.

There was only one mishap that happened twice. The starboard engine on Proud Lady quit twice during the cruise. Bill was solid as a rock to respond to the challenges. He got it going again after the first time only for it to fail a second time. He ended up pulling her into Tarpon Springs on just the one engine. He thinks that the fuel filter system got clogged by sludge and crud that got stirred up in the fuel tanks with all the turbulence. This can happen. We all had agreed in advance that if this kind of thing would happen to any of us we would not proceed without them, and if we have to run at a slower speed so be it. This was in fact the case which worked out to our advantage in that we needed to slow down anyway to better time our arrival in Tarpon Springs so that we could more easily see crab pot buoys in the shallower water and maneuver around them. Also, this was an example of the importance of Buddy and Phyllis being the designated last boat.
Darrell and Lisa

The Admirals - Phyllis, Kathryn, Deanna, Anita, Joy, Laura and Lisa

Ross and Laura

John and Paul Kessinger of Memsahib

Kathryn, Laura and Lisa

As sunlight began to sneak over the eastern horizon about 6:30 am and we began to finally see our surroundings the conditions improved markedly. The seas were not calm per se but were low and broad. The boating onto Tarpon Springs was easy except for having to run through a patch of the aforementioned crab pot floats. Sea Dog split away from us to continue onto his dockage choice in Dunedin, a short distance further down the coast. The remaining seven of us went in to Tarpon Springs to our marina. We arrived about 12:30 pm and after docking we all gathered up on the land and had a few docktails to celebrate our accomplishment. Several of us (myself included) had a bit of a problem not having out land legs. We would stand or sit and our bodies would still swing and pivot as if we were still on the boats in the rough stuff.

It was a wild ride. Personally, I never felt that we were in danger though the risks for it turning into something dangerous were there. There were times I felt helpless. All I could do was sit in the captain’s chair, watch the radar and chart plotter to keep us on course and with the others, and take the beating not knowing what was going to happen next. Could some rogue big wave pile-drive us without any warning? It certainly could have, but it didn’t. In the end it was a wooly experience that we all, as a team, successfully accomplished. We were all smiles at the docktail party afterwards. And I guess that was the best way for us, and anyone, to be at the end of the crossing.

Way back in the beginning of this post I mentioned that Laura was the poet laureate of the flotilla. Here is her contribution which she read over the radio.
There once was a looper named Darrell,
Who wanted to cross in a barrel,
Until Lisa said,
“Let’s examine your head,”
and so Darrell did the crazy crossing with all of us here tonight anyway.

Now that's poetry!


Mike T said...

Glad to see you made it across, safe and sound.

Hope you have a nice and enjoyable trip down the west coast.

Nice pictures.


Mike T.
DeFever 40
Palm Coast FL.

Mike T said...


Sorry to take up your time to consider a second comment, but the following got lost on my copy/paste - (Ignore this till morning, get some sleep.) I did not realize till I saw the published comment.

Great writing - felt like I had been there for the ride.

Mike T.
Palm Coast FL

Linda said...

Congrats! You will never have to fear the Gulf again---you have conquered it! Way to go...
Fred and Linda

Kermit and Katherine said...

Great job!! Sorry the ride was not smooth and boring but it is over. Now you can enjoy the sunshine and relax. Hope to see you soon!

Katherine on Good Karma in Ft. Myers at Legacy Harbour Marina

Barry said...

Good information for our future crossing. We will continue to follow the expereince and of course docktails.

Barry & Denise
aboard "0 Regrets"