Thursday, January 29, 2015

Gulf Crossing - Photos to Follow

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There will be more to come, including pictures, but we wanted to post this before we untie Midas Touch from the mooring ball in Sarasota Harbor and continue south, hoping for warmer temperatures. The adventures continue.

Mike's recollection:
St. Catherine’s Island - Carrabelle connection?  Sometimes the phrase “It’s a small world” does seem to fit for some of the events that happen to us on the Loop; maybe “It’s a weird crazy world” would be more accurate.  I know you have experienced these same types of small world events, but sometimes after this happens to me, I start thinking maybe there are multiple universes. In 2012 Marian and I took the Midas Touch from Richmond Hill south down the ICW to Darien to get her bottom painted. I vividly remember this trip because we followed Tropical Depression Beryl, which made for a very rough crossing of St. Catherine's sound.

We made it into an anchorage before dark, but we had a hard time getting the anchor to hold (Mike's first lesson on anchoring a 23 ton boat). We finally hooked the bottom - or so we believed -  and hit the sack.  The next morning we discovered the anchor had come loose as the tide rose during the night; we floated across Wahlburg Creek and had grounded against the bank on an outgoing tide. This meant we were going to be there for the next five hours, with the boat tilting to a 45-degree angle. Luckily the St Catherine's Research center's dock was only 50 yards away.  The staff that came to work from the mainland stopped and invited us to wait for the tide to turn at the research center. They were more than good to us, suggesting we add a stern anchor, offering the use of bathrooms, letting us settle on a breezy porch with rocking chairs where we could read, and later giving us a tour of the center.  We saw ring-tailed lemurs up close and met a pair of African hornbills. One of the people welcoming us to the research center was a man named Tim

After the tide came in and our boat was again afloat, their boat captain helped me pull the anchors and bring the boat back to the dock.  By then, it was late afternoon, and he suggested we stay the night, tied up safely to their dock. Then they offered us the use of showers in one of the staff houses, a beer, and some home made pizza.  They even offered to put sheets on a bed in the house – tempting because it was air-conditioned, but we decided to sleep on the boat. We were so thankful for the kindness that we sent a gift of some fudge from Dahlonega’s Fudge Factory for the staff to enjoy. 

So what is the connection to being delayed here in Carrabelle, FL?  Keep in mind that it’s 340 miles from here to St. Catherine’s Island. Shortly after arriving in Carrabelle, I took a walk to look over the town, and came to the Carrabelle History Museum (http://www.carrabellehistorymuseum.org/)
I went in and met the director Tamara, a very nice person who has a wealth of knowledge about Carrabelle and this area of Florida.  Tamara’s legs are her electric scooter, and when she told me about having trouble getting the city to take down the museum’s Christmas lights, I told her I would take a look at them, and ended up taking them down with little time or effort involved. Even so,  Tamara was very thankful.  We ended up going to dinner at The Fisherman’s Wife (a must visit if you come to Carrabelle) with Tamara and her husband Cal, and they offered to take us up to the Walmart in Crawfordville if we needed a ride.  A few day later we were up “on the hard,” a term for a boat being on land and on blocks at a boat yard for repairs. We heard a knock on the side, and I opened our side door to find a man, who looked vaguely familiar, standing down below. “I think I know you,” I said. “I met you on St. Catherine’s Island when you were grounded,” he replied.  “Tamara told us you were over here.” My gosh, what a small world.  Tim went on, “The real reason I’m over here is to lend you our truck. I know you can use one while you’re stuck here.  We’re heading back over to the research center on St. Catherine’s Island in a couple of days, and we won’t be needing it.”

A constant theme of our Loop has been one random act of kindness after another, from the dentist who would not accept payment for a tooth extraction to fellow Loopers who walk Midas when we left him on the boat while we visited the St. Louis Arch to the loan of a truck.  We now have good friends in Carrabelle that we will always be thinking about; we will be thinking about them, and wishing we could see them.

The Great Jump:

Sea Fever
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

After some hasty repairs to a bow mishap at Dockside Marina, I said, “Richie, that’s good enough, we’ve got a weather window we must make.”  A good weather window for a Gulf of Mexico crossing is something you must take or be prepared to wait weeks for the next one.  By 2:30 pm we had fired up the Lehman engine, pushed back from the dock, and headed out the six miles to the end of Dog Island, our jumping across spot.  We had filed a float plan with friends and family, but in retrospect it is best to find a fellow Looper or boating buddy to be your main contact. They would call the US Coast Guard if we didn’t show up at the appointed time in the designated spot on the other side.  For part of the Gulf crossing, boaters are out of cell phone and VHF radio range. Luckily we had Andy and Jamie on Raptor.  We reached them on the VHF radio about 20 miles from our destination, when we knew we would arrive soon and land was again in sight.   
When we reached Red Marker # 2 on the south end of Dog Island at 4 pm, we were in the Gulf and on our way, following a heading 140 degrees.  We slowly watched the shore behind us become smaller and smaller until we had nothing but water as far as we could see on all sides of the Midas Touch.  The Midas Touch does not move fast – she is not supposed to, but we were surprised to find her doing 7 knots (almost 9 mph) into a wind.  One thing I took care of while we were at Dockside was to check our RPMs, and we found that our tachometer was off. The tach was reading higher that the actual RPMs. This means we could bump up the throttle a little more.  However, a trawler has an optimum hull speed; any more throttle than that, and you are just burning more fuel.  As time went by we watched an already low sun sink into the water, of course in the Western sky.  No sizzle, because a few clouds hid that, but an orange flame to black.

I must admit that watching the sky grow darker and darker is a little bit of a lonely feeling, especially when you know you must wait all night until dawn before the light comes back.  With out an autopilot, I found it easer to pick a star as a reference point, and glance at the compass heading, that is until the star climbs up too high to see through the bikini top.

Sometime in the middle of the night the tachometer quit on me, but I knew why immediately. “We need to kill the engine, Marian, “ I said and down into the engine room I went to tighten up on the alternator belt.  The next bit of anxiety comes when you restart the engine.  What a beautiful sound it is when that Lehman fires up again.  On through the night, and you know what, that day light did come back hours later.

Marian's Great Loop Forum post, published January 21st:
The Dreaded Gulf Crossing - We Did It!
As far as we know, we were the only Loopers in Carrabelle ready to cross the Gulf on Monday. After two weeks at Dockside Marina getting a new shaft log installed, we were eager to get back on the water. We said good-bye to Byron, Cynthia and Toots (Bright Angel - also at Dockside for hull repair).   Robby and Brenda on Crazzy Nufff had use of a vehicle and came over from C-Quarters to wish us well.  FedEx delivered our rental EPIRB about noon; Marian met the truck leaving as she returned from IGA with lunch (it was spaghetti Monday, and we knew we wouldn't do much cooking on the crossing). By 2:50, everything was ready, including a last minute bow repair after the low tide dropped us on the corner of a concrete dock, and the GREAT crew from Dockside untied our lines and gave us a push.  We were on our way.  We knew Monday would be our best weather window, although we didn't see Monday's Forum before we left.
Our crossing was smooth and beautiful - light wind, calm seas (waves were one foot or less most of the way), and a star to steer by. Mike had set up our route on the chartplotter and in Navionics, and once we cleared the markers leaving East Pass, it was simply a matter of maintaining a heading. Midas Touch is 29 years old and has no autopilot. We took turns at the helm, although Mike did far more of the driving while Marian played solitaire on the iPad and made coffee, and Midas, our Golden Retriever, snoozed on his usual port side bench location, rousing occasionally to stretch or turn around.  He woke up long enough to share a snack of cheese and crackers, then went back to sleep. 

We had one glitch, a loose alternator belt. When our RPM meter suddenly dropped to zero, Mike knew exactly what to do. We cut the engine, Mike quickly tightened the belt, and we were back underway.  Monday morning was overcast as we approached Dunedin, so we didn't have the sun in our eyes as we traveled east-southeast toward Marker 1 and the north entrance to St. Joseph's Sound, between Anclote Key and Three Rooker Bar. (The great crew at the Wharf Marina in Orange Beach had printed out a Marker1Marina brochure including a detailed chart with the route and turns clearly marked. These excellent marinas are owned by the safe company.)
Don, the dockmaster, was waiting for us when we cleared the causeway bridge to Honeymoon Island, and after a pump out, we tied up on the face dock, showered, and sacked out.  (Midas was very glad to go ashore for his own pump out.) 
The crossing took just over 20 hours, and we are all proud that we did it. We'll take a day or so for boat cleaning and laundry, then start south toward Marathon, with stops along the way. We're hoping to reconnect with Looper friends and make new ones on this last phase of our Great Loop adventure.  
 

Sunset as we crossed the Gulf from Carrabelle to Dunedin

 
 Midas at his post, ready for a long ride.