48hr Gulf Crossing
Hey guys! This was a tough post for me to write, and I suppose I have been putting it off. Writing this post meant reliving the journey, which was stressful to say the least. Sorry it took so long, hope to get back in the groove now that the holidays have passed! Be sure to check out the video section as there are some new ones up (from pensacola and from panama city). Big thanks to Ray who we met in Chattanooga on Chikamuaga for giving me the motivation to finish this up! I hope you enjoy, and drop any questions or comments below. I love hearing from everyone!
We stayed a couple weeks here and couple weeks there while we were in Panama City, and before we knew it a whole month had passed! It was starting to cool down and I was ready to get a move on somewhere! We discussed potentially heading further east to Appalachicola, but anchorages looked scarce. If we did make it that far east we could potentially be waiting weeks for the ideal weather window and without many good looking anchorages we sort of just put it off. Any further east than Appalachicola and you are in the “armpit of florida” where its too shallow to head to shore, there are no protected anchorages, and there is no intercoastal waterway. So you could hug the shore and head south, but it would take three times longer and there are no benefits. So when the perfect weather window opened up for us, we decided to go ahead and make the jump from Panama City to St. Pete (area).
It is about a 200 mile journey from Panama City to St. Pete, and we talked with our folks about what we were doing, and that it should take us between 48-72hrs depending on wind conditions. We left my dad in charge of contacting authorities if we were past due by a day or two. We knew after a couple miles offshore we would lose all cell phone service. We pumped out, filled up on water, and still had plenty of diesel from our last attempt out of Pensacola. Our fuel tank holds 20 gallons, and we carry an extra 20 gallons in jerry cans, so it was comforting knowing that if worse came to worse we would have enough fuel to run the motor the entire time.
The wind was non existent when we left Panama City at around 10am. We motored for about the first 6-8hrs. I was proactive about my seasickness and put a patch on an hour before we left (Though it did suggest doing it 12hrs before, I didnt read that till it was too late). The seas were super calm and so we went, a good start to an arduous trip.
It was still nice and calm around noon so I went down below and made some sandwiches. This was similiar to all the trips we had taken thus far. We had just lost sight of land. Knowing we were in for the long haul Erik went and laid down for a spell while I drove on. By the time he got up the wind had picked up a bit and we adjusted the sails to take full advantage. Leaving Panama City we headed due South for about 8 hours or 50miles before we began heading East South East. We manually held our course using the compass and steering wheel since we have no autopilot. Usually this hasnt been an issue for us as we have been taking short day trips using landmarks to help navigate, but when you are out there in the middle of the ocean there are no landmarks. If you quit paying attention it was very easy to go off course. At some point we switched out again so Erik could drive through the dusk.
We have read about autopilot and it sounds lovely, but it is not cheap. After this passage we have decided autopilot is a necessity! We are in the market for one as we speak! You simply program it to the direction you wish to head and it holds the course. Of course someone must still be on watch, but instead of gripping the giant wheel and wearing out your shoulders literally the entire time, you could simply check that its on the right course, check your surroundings, make some food, read a book, adjust sails, stretch, and pretty much any other activity that is essential for traveling. Without the autopilot we really wore ourselves out.
After the sun set on the first day, it began to set in that we still had quite a long way to go. I took over the first night watch, as I can stay up sorta late but Erik is a true night owl. I was up from 9pm-1am. And I was really struggling. My mind went to scary places, but I tried not to go too deep. Things like what if the engine dies, well then we have sails. What if the sails break, well then we have an engine (and back up sails). What if all of our through hulls failed simultaneously and our boat sunk instantly…. well that won’t ever happen but we do have an EPIRB. I was nodding in and out from exhaustion when I thought I was hallucinating. I was seeing things, dolphins, but they were real! A giant pod of 20 dolphins swam beside me in the middle of the night. I was so excited it gave me the energy needed to push on until Erik came up.
He finally relieved me and I went down below for some rest. Sleeping while traversing an ocean is not good sleep. You get into a rythmic motion of the waves slapping the hull, the boat rocking back and forth, and eventually your eyes close. But as soon as the motion is disrupted I would wake up until I was lulled back to sleep. My neausea was mild, but laying down really helped. At around 6am I rose to a beautiful sunrise with everything good and under control. Erik and I switched off. We were making really good progress sailing at about 6 knots through the entire night.
The next morning at the 24 hr mark, around 10am, we were headed into the wind. So we kept the main sail up and turned the motor on so we could continue making good progress. Having the sail up really helps with the rocking of the boat. I napped in the afternoon while Erik drove, and then switched off in the later afternoon. Around 3pm the wind was extremely light so we continued motoring. As the sun began to set on the second day the wind picked up. Erik adjusted the sails for me as I was on watch and he napped. As the sun set we had about 70 miles to Tampa. While it was my turn everything was going smoothly and the sailing conditions were great! We were going at least 6knots and the seas were minimal. But the wind and seas really started to pick up late into the night. Once we began to feel overpowered by the wind with both sails up, we attempted to roll up the foresail. It was mostly rolled but the last little bit wasn’t wanting to roll up, so Erik gave it all he had and winched in the furler line when it snapped! It was very high wind so if he didn’t act fast we could’ve been in some trouble. Luckily he’s quick on his feet and ran to the front of the boat to cleat off the line and wrap up the foresail very tight for the last leg of the trip. That was a little nerve wracking! Then even with the main sail up we still felt too overpowered, so he also took that sail down. It was very stressful for me as I was handling the boat in large seas and we were bobbing around I just imagined him falling off in the dark (Erik points out that he was tethered by a harness…) and by the time he got back to the cockpit I was in tears from the stress and exhaustion. In retrospect, this is where we should have reefed the mainsail instead of taking it down fully, because with no sail up to stabilize the boat, the waves were really knocking us around violently. At this point we only had 20 more miles to go, so I went and laid down until the sun started to rise.
When I got up around 5am, we were so close yet so far. The sunrise was beautiful, and though I could not see land I could see the red lights of a cell tower blinking in the distance. I knew we were close! After the long and stressful night Erik finally went to lay down. After about 30min I hear a loud “THUNK DA THUNK DA THUNK DA THUNK DA THUNK” and in my delusional state of exhaustion I had no idea what was happening when Erik hollered from down below, “The anchor! Put it in neutral!”. The anchor had somehow worked itself loose and self deployed! Only about 10 miles offshore we were in 80ft of water… we have 75ft of chain, 225ft of rope so a total of 300ft and when Erik got the the front there was only about 15ft left in the anchor locker. We were so close to losing our brand new anchor set up! Erik said there is a large knot tied in the end that would probably stop us from losing it in calm conditions, but honestly it probably would’ve ripped the anchor locker door right off if it caught with enough force! We were lucky ducks. Erik took a lot into consideration when we invested in our new anchor system. The fact we have no windlass and how much our entire rode would weigh when completely deployed was a factor he considered, and he sized it to be still barely manageable to pull in by hand even when all the chain is hanging free in deep water. So he puts on some gloves and goes and sits at the front and slowly pulls up the rope, while I’m in the cockpit trying my best to drive the boat toward the anchor to help pull it in. The seas were rough and sloshing around. Finally Erik managed to get it all pulled up (and secured) and laid back down.
Early in the morning I could see buildings but as the day progressed a fog set in, so I lost sight of land even though we were so close it still seemed so far! I was definitely delusional, and the boat traffic was confusing me as to where the inlet was, but I just followed the gps the best I could. There were tons of boats out, it was early Sunday morning. And then there were crab pots, rows and rows and rows of crab pots. They are very small floating bouys that you can’t see when the sun, wind, or waves hits them just right. And with the dinghy strapped on the bow of the boat it made it even more difficult to spot. I dodged them for at least 2 hours before Erik woke up and helped me out. And then we were there! The channel was right in front of us! We wearily navigated behind other boats (it was packed!) on the ICW and found a decent, good enough spot, for some rest at around 10am. We joked about how the minor wake we got from passing boats was peaceful compared to the large seas we just sailed. And then we slept.
We got up in the evening, and ate a little bit of food, the first in a very long time. I only threw up once on the entire trip, but my stomach was in knots and I never felt hungry. We probably only ate 3 meals on the entire 48hrs. Anyways after we sat around for a little bit in awe of what just happened, we went back to bed. Overall the trip was a huge success! Our engine never gave us any grief, we didn’t sink the boat, and we made it in one piece. I think we also learned a lot from the trip as well, so thats always good! However it was a lot more difficult than either one of us imagined, it was a true test of endurance. We will take all the lessons learned and mistakes made and hopefully make our next journey better!