Time for the big day we had all been thinking about since planning the trip. Crossing open water is not new to us but crossing with a power boat where success depends on having no mechanical failure is always a question. Of course doing so in the company of other boats reduces the anxiety but still a breakdown 40 miles from shore would create difficult issues.
With last minute electronics checks, filling the water tank and then we waited until 1130 to leave the dock. The timing had to be such that we did not arrive at the Red “2” bouy off of Anclote Key until the sun was high enough in the sky so we could see crab pot bouys while staring into the rising sun. We figured we should arrive no sooner than about 1000 hours.
We had agreed with Namaste to maintain visual contact throughout the trip. We passed the Red “2” bouy off of Dog Island at 1245 and then put a course in the auto pilot to take us to a point west of Red “4”. This would be 151 miles and I did not have to touch the wheel for this entire time.
The water was great with just one foot chop and a very comfortable ride. Around 1500 hours we were able to look back to find that at least five other boats were on our same course. These were all boats that travel faster than us so we expected they would pass us sometime during the night. Traveling during the afternoon gave us time to get used to the motion of the sea before time to plow through the same seas in the dark. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and the sunset was also very nice.
Last week, when the winds were not favorable for a crossing of the Gulf a Mainship 34 attempted the crossing. We do not know details of what actually happened but the report is that the boat engine quit so they anchored the boat. The gulf is about 60 feet deep in that area. Then the boat (for whatever reason) started taking on water. This was about 20 miles out. It seems that the Tow Boat from Carrabelle was called but developed its own problems and was not able to come to the rescue. Eventually the U.S. Coast Guard took the couple off of the boat. The Coast Guard had been broadcasting the latitude and longitude of the anchored boat and we went within two miles of that position but saw nothing. My fear is that either the boat went down or that it went adrift and is out there somewhere.
Night fell and it was time to adjust the brightness of the chart plotter and iPad screens for night vision. It was also time to fire up the radar so I could see how far behind Namaste was and see anything out there that did not have an AIS transmitter. With all of this operating it was easy to “see” what needed to be seen.
I adjusted our throttle so that Namaste remained just less than a half mile behind us. The stars were spectacular, the temperature was very comfortable even with the side windows slightly open and the current was with us at almost a half mile per hour. Eventually the moon appeared at about three quarters full and this was enough light so we could see the sea around us. Looking back we saw the running lights of Namaste and then the indistinguishable lights on the other boats that were still trailing. With no scenery to enjoy and with constant staring at the CPU, iPad, radio, compass and auto pilot lighting time passed very slowly. Tonight our lives were not screaming by and time, almost, stood still. Vicki had planned for snacks all the way across to keep us from being bored.
At 2300 hrs we turned on all cabin lights and opened the cabin sole hatch above the oil fill portion of the engine. Based upon previous experience I estimated that the engine was down about a quart of oil by now having been run nearly twelve hours. It burns almost no oil but it weeps oil as it runs. While the engine was running I put in the quart of oil and closed everything up. I kept my eyes on the oil pressure gauge the rest of the trip and all was well.
Around 0200 in the morning Vicki spelled me at the helm for about 45 minutes while I got a chance to lie down and close my eyes. I am not sure that I slept but I may have dozed as the 45 minutes passed quickly. I was able to do this again around 0400 by which time the seas were beginning to build and the wave set seemed to be very confused such that the boat was not just pitching or rolling but doing both making for an uncomfortable ride. This continued for the rest of the trip.
By now we could see at least nine other boats, either visually, on AIS or on the radar, all converging on Red “4”. We had not been alone out there. The sun came up, we looked for crab trap bouys and made our way into the rising sun. Around 0800 a cloud cover appeared that made seeing much easier on the eyes.
We made our way behind Anclote Key and up the Anclote River to Tarpon Springs. How good it felt to finally get in and tied up at Turtle Cove Marina. We determined to take naps first and then to wash the boat down to get all of the salt spray off before showering preparing the boat to accept guests.
Vicki’s cousin Liz and her husband John live in Largo, Florida just south of Tarpon Springs. Their good friends Nigel and Sandra Petch with whom they had traveled to visit us on Orcas were here from England as well. As the Nigel and Sandra were leaving to head back to England the next day we had all agreed to meet for dinner in the evening. They drove up and we visited on the boat for a while before heading to a Greek restaurant. It was great to spend the time together and there was plenty to talk about.