Sorry, I thought I had posted this and while it is probably not very interesting for regular folks, the point of it is to give the Loopers behind us, a glimpse into what the Crossing was like for us. So here it is…
Week 51 – The Crossing
It is hard to believe that we are about to be done with this epic journey. But home is now within a day’s journey, albeit a very long day.
It poured last night and we woke up to find the carpet in the bridge absolutely soaked, which is unusual. We get as much stuff under it to ventilate it as possible but I know we will smell like a wet dog before long because it is so humid that it won’t dry any time soon. I throw all the wet towels and stuff in the dryer so that we will have some dry things if it pours while we are crossing the Gulf.
We stow everything that could bounce around, ready our ditch bags
and charge all electronics that we might need during the trip.
We empty the dinghy, getting its spare gas can into it and then we secure anything on the decks that might crash around if the seas get rough. Even Basil is seat-belted in for the ride home.
10:00 We meet with Kim at the C-Quarters office for a final weather briefing along with Carol and Tom of Desintation ??? and Lucie and Ben of Lulu. We go back and forth about whether today or tomorrow will be better. The problem with waiting until tomorrow is that we will still be at sea on Monday and the weather on Monday will deteriorate to dangerous conditions. Kim feels that either day will probably be fine but we NEED to be gone with enough time to reach Tarpon before Monday’s weather hits.
The sun is shining and we make a unanimous “GO” decision.
We will need to top off our tanks with “comfort fuel.” Realistically we have enough fuel to reach Tarpon with plenty to spare but we know we will feel better if we are completely topped off. We kill a half hour and then warm up the engines and head over to the fuel dock, which is right next to where Destination??? is docked. As we finish fueling, I look up and no kidding, there is FOG rolling in. Are you kidding me?!!?!? This is NOT what we want! Tom calls that he is rethinking going. Jerry and I tell him that we are going to go ahead and we’ll text or radio back what the conditions look like once we get out of the harbor. We will return to our slip if things do not look comfortable.
11:45 Makin Memories departs alone in the fog with Jerry at the helm. We have about 30-40 feet of visibility and so can pretty much see from marker to marker. Of course we have radar and AIS so we can see anything that might be out there. The water is much calmer than it was when we came into Carrabelle but the proof will be found once we clear the cut by Dog Island and get into the Gulf.
12:28 We radio to our buddy boats that we are clear of Dog Island and waves are as forecast, mostly 2 feet with a couple of 3’s thrown in for good measure. The direction of the waves is also as forecast, from the southeast, which is the best direction for us. The period between waves is about 6 seconds which makes for a gentle up and down rather than a constantly pounding ride, so that’s a positive also.
Visibility is up and down between 40 feet and 40 yards but the sky is bright. Our buddy boats decide they will follow us and should depart within a half hour. We are glad they are coming and try to reassure them that the ride looks decent though visibility is an issue.
No matter what else happens, we are going to be doing about 11 hours of this passage in the dark so, to me, fog is good practice. You can’t see a lot but you can see something and we have radar and a good chart plotter so we can and will have to go on instruments anyway once the sun sets. The fog will prove a good transition.
13:08 We get a text saying that Destination??? and Lulu are returning to the marina. Dang! I get it, you shouldn’t push if you aren’t comfortable and they are not comfortable. Maybe they will come later in the day or the next day but we are now out of cell phone range and won’t know what they decide until tomorrow morning when we are close to shore. Our prayers go with them whatever they decide to do.
13:45-16:00 We have lunch and I take the helm. We have decided to take 2 hour shifts and mine is uneventful. The sky brightens a bit and visibility comes and goes. We are in 40-80 feet of water and it is the beautiful blue-green of the Gulf again. I am so happy to be out of brown water!!!
Jerry reads a while and relaxes but I can tell he’d rather be driving! A sweet little tern flies circles around the boat, traced in gold by sunlight. He stays with us for a half hour or so but I can’t get a photo as the swells make focusing on anything impossible plus I AM driving! 😉
16:00-18:00 Jerry takes the helm and all is calm for about a half hour when he tells me to check the dinghy. It isn’t good. The waves are pulling on the rear outside pontoon and have loosened the back line to where the little boat is being pulled off the cradle. I take the helm and Jerry dons his pfd and goes astern where he tightens the loose line and adds another one to keep the dinghy closer to our stern and up out of the swells. He resumes control and guides us through conditions that are about the same. The wind is still out of the southeast and the waves are still 2’s and occasional 3’s. We can’t really see the sun through the fog but we can tell it is lowering toward the horizon.
18:00- 20:00 I take the helm and the sun is definitely setting or has already set. I can make out the horizon but just barely and eventually what little light there is fades, disappears and all visual cues are completely lost. This has now become an exercise in trust and endurance. I can tell that Jerry doesn’t like this non-existent visibility by his pacing around the boat but eventually he calms into acceptance and relaxes to read for a bit.
I like to drive standing up and even now, I am more comfortable that way. I loosen my knees and allow my body to become one with the motion of the boat. It is much easier than staying stiff and fighting the lift, drop and tilt. In the darkness, I can see my instruments and the faint glow from our running lights on either side of the bridge. Through the glass, I can see absolutely nothing but I am amused that the light from the I-pad reflects off my face, painting a ghostly image on the strata glass that resembles Munch’s The Scream.
We have made enough progress that I can enlarge the I-pad map and can actually see the Anclote River on it. Now I have something definitive to aim for rather than just a general direction and it makes steering much easier. We have opted not to head for the Red 2 buoy, which most folks take as the most direct route. As we are early, we want to stay out as far off shore as possible to avoid the crab traps and so we take a heading directly to Anclote Key.
At the end of 2 hours my ankles, knees and lower back can feel the stress of the constant motion of the bridge and I am glad when Jerry takes over. I grab us a snack and settle in to read for a while.
20:00-22:00 – Jerry’s watch is uneventful. The waves seem to calm a little bit and ease us into a steady rolling pattern. I am constantly thinking of our buddy boats and wondering if they ever left Carrabelle or if they will go Sunday. If they don’t, they will most likely be in Carrabelle for New Year’s Eve. Either way, it’s all good. You have to make a choice and be okay with it, forcing it doesn’t work well. Jerry had really done the homework on conditions and was good with the forecast. I guess the decision was easier for us; one of us has had extensive experience flying an airplane in zero-zero visibility and has also flown under the hood, relying on instruments alone. The other of us kind of believes that historically the people who obeyed when instructed to “Fear not…” generally had some pretty cool things happen to them!
I read for a while and then make us some dinner before we switch roles again. I am glad that I have prepared meals ahead so that food is easy.
22:00-12:00– 2 hours goes fast when you are relaxing or reading but steering without seeing stretches the time out unbelievably. It is like playing the world’s most boring video game, trying to keep your little arrow on the chosen target. Let your mind wander for even a nano-second and your course is off by 45 degrees and then panic has you over-steering to the point where IF you could see your wake, you would see nothing but S turns! Relaxing into a zen-like focus is the best way to deal with the ennui.
I am happy to see Jerry relax, read and then sleep for a good part of the two hours. I am sitting down to steer now and I can’t wait for him to take over. I am going to get an Aleve, my neck and shoulders are feeling the strain and my eyes could use some drops to alleviate the gritty feeling.
12:00 – 2:00 – I read and nap throughout Jerry’s watch. The moon and stars are playing hide and seek with us through fog which must be less dense now but which is still billowing around us and is completely drenching the boat inside and out. The clammy feeling is not pleasant but at least we are making forward progress.
2:00-4:00 – I can now see Anclote Key on my I-pad! HOME!!! This is now exciting. I can see some fish havens between us and the Key and know I will need to navigate between them. These are easy to miss until you have your charts blown up to a detailed level.
Photo Credit: Alamay
Fish havens are artificial shelters or reefs constructed of rocks, concrete, car bodies, and other debris which are placed on the gulf floor to attract fish. Fish havens are often found in the vicinity of fishing ports or major coastal inlets and can be hazards to navigation because they are marked with small yellow buoys (which we aren’t usually looking for) and can also create shallow areas that can be a problem. The moon shines through the fog and I can even see it reflected on the water’s surface which is now glass smooth. There are some gentle swells but there is no wind at all and the peace is amazing.
I keep marking off the distance to shore because I know that once we get 25 mile out, there will be crab traps. We do not want to snag one and have to go under the boat with a knife to cut the line away from our props, especially in the dark!!! A little while later, Jerry is doing his business over the side and sees a float slide by us in the dark. Now we have to be especially alert but shining the spotlight doesn’t do much good as it simply bounces off the fog. Prayer covers us from aboard and ashore and we thankfully manage to avoid them, only seeing two but knowing there is probably a minefield of them out there!
4:00-6:00 – The sandbar off the north end of Anclote Key is now visible on our chart plotter and we stay as far out as we can, away from shore and crabpots and then angle in, working our way safely between the fish havens. We get to the red marker at the tip of the sandbar, angle around it and drop the hook on the east side of the sandbar.
We could probably take the boat home in the dark and fog but we prefer to wait. We are now in a spot that we come to anchor out on the weekends and we want to savor this last little bit of our journey, plus we are exhausted. Fatigue battles with the high of having completed this epic journey and we are punchy reminiscing about having stayed at “the pits, the ritz and everything in between” as Jerry put it. We retire our sadly, gray and well-worn white burgee for a crisp new gold one and Jerry proudly installs it on the bow of the boat.
The sun comes up and starts to burn off the fog and the world melts into view. We are home!
A few hours later the two of us pull up the anchor and bring the gold home to Tarpon Springs.
A dear friend is waiting for us to take a photo of Makin Memories sporting her new gold burgee. It is a little sad that the trip is over but it is truly good to be home!
Photo credit: Sue Thomas
We love living by the wisdom of this quote: “When life gives you choices, choose the path that will lead to a better anecdote!” Boy, has this year been all about that!