My worst fear was that we would be caught in a lot of rain at night with no visibility and wet, cold, miserable conditions. This was far from that, it was perfect. Well, I could have had a bit more of a meal than a pre-made Publix ham sub, but it was decent for the lack of preparation needed.
The winds began to die, however, and we slowed to a crawl at around 2.5 knots. I knew the winds would be picking up out of the Northwest sometime overnight or Sunday morning, but had no clue when. I began to worry that at this pace, we wouldn't make it down to Gulfport in the daylight to pull into the marina and meet our ride out. So I cranked the motor
and pushed along for about an hour and a half. I really wished I could have been patient and just sailed slowly and peacefully, but I felt the need to keep on schedule and to the plan. I hoped to stay close to a 5 knot
average the whole trip, 4 at the minimum.
We motor-sailed along at about 6.5 knots and brought our average pace up a good bit. After dark we made sure things were neat and tidy around the boat. I considered reefing in the mainsail
(making the sail area smaller in case of heavy winds) so I wouldn't have to do it on deck
at night if needed, but decided against it since the wind
was dead right then. This would come to be a stupid mistake later on.
When I noticed the winds finally had switched and come up about 10-15 knots out of the Northwest, I stopped the motor and we were sailing a good 5 knots. Jeff took the help at this time so that I could prepare for a long night shift. We both agreed that since he usually goes to bed
earlier than me, I would take first watch. I rested up a bit and was able to find reception
to call my parents and Jenny briefly. This was around 9:30 I believe and we were moving South-southeast back towards land. I brought along my backpacking stove to make some coffee so I brewed a large cup for my watch. I prepared another sandwich to eat later, my ipod and all of my safety
gear. For nighttime we made sure to have on our life jackets on, safety harnesses tethered into the jacklines
at all times, headlamps, emergency
strobe lights and whistles, etc. Our biggest fear was a man overboard
as it would be very hard for one person to get back to the person. So we took all precautions.
At 10:00 I took on the watch and Jeff began to settle down for some sleep. If I needed to wake him I would yell, shine the spotlight at him, and maybe even blow the air horn if need be. The wind was slowly picking up and we were churning along at a good 5.5-6 knot
average now. The seas were also picking up and the waves were coming from behind us. They weren't too large yet, but they were very close together. They would come up under the boat and the boat would try to lurch to the right, up the wave and into the wind. This was a heavy motion and took me a bit to get used to, but once I did I was able to anticipate the waves and compensate with the wheel
to steer straight and keep control. I was a little nervy at first, but once I got it it was incredibly fun. I've never sailed in more than 15 knot winds, and they were now picking up close to 20. Around midnight we came near Anclote Key outside of Tarpon Springs and were were finally close to land. The rest of the trip would be hugging the coast line around 2-3 miles out. There were tons of buildings and towers now, so lights littered the horizon providing even more comfort.
Over the next 4 hours the wind kept coming up and the waves grew with it. I was having an exhilarating time sailing so fast, now surfing down waves big enough to launch us to 8.5 knots at times. That is way above the hull speed
of 7.3 knots. This is a big, heavy, tank of a sailboat and to have it go this fast is a big deal for someone not used to handling it. I felt like a bat out of hell and was having the time of my life. I did realize at this time (around 2:00 a.m.), however, that I really should have reefed the main before dark. We were overpowered at this time and things were only getting crazier out there. The waves were getting bigger and bigger, and steering
became more intense. I knew if I had to go out to reef the main, it would be a scary event. At around 2:30 a.m. the stay-sail was caught up on the jib lines and was becoming erratic. I decided it was time for some rest after I fixed the sail, so I woke up Jeff to take the helm
. While he was getting ready things seemed to get even more intense so I hurried him up, nervous about the beating the stay-sail boom was giving the deck
Once he was at the helm I strapped up and fixed the problems up front. It was wasn't too bad going up on the deck, but Jeff had just woken up and was tossed into a difficult steering
situation. As he was getting used to it I was being lurched around on deck, basically crawling along on hands and knees holding onto the handles as hard as I could. I eventually fixed the problems and went down below to attempt to get rest. I called my dad one last time to confirm we were OK and that we were now near land.
It had occurred to me at some point that we were now flying along so fast, that at this rate we would make it to Pass-a-grille inlet, our destination
to come inland, a few hours before dark. This was pretty ironic considering my nerves about the earlier light winds, and motoring through them. How to stall for time was something we needed to plan, especially considering it got very shallow any further south of the inlet towards the mouth of Tampa Bay.
I had no luck getting any sleep with thoughts of how we would stall and the general nerves of not being up top watching over things lurked on me. I could feel and hear things getting more chaotic up top, and knew we weren't too far away from the inlet. At around 4:00 a.m. Jeff told me we had arrived, and we had to quickly decide what to do. We could go south for a few more miles before we would have to turn west. We decided to do that for a bit and I tried to give sleep another attempt before daylight. Before I turned in I went on deck to take down the stay-sail. It was a wild ride on deck, but I got the sail down quickly.
Soon after things became a blur of adrenaline and nerves. The weather got worse and worse and we decided we needed to get out of these crazy waters and turn back towards the inlet. I pulled out my new 3-million candle spotlight in hopes that we could find the channel markers at night. As we tracked back, we found ourselves pointing too close to the wind, unable to sail. Even so, the wind was howling now with 25+ knots. There was no getting around the fact that I needed to take down all of the sails. So we cranked the motor and I got ready to head
out on deck again.
We were now pounding into the waves, which were a good 7+ feet with a quick period, sometimes less than a second before the next. It was like going into class 6 rapids on a whitewater river. I crawled up to the mast
to take down the mainsail
, hugging the mast for dear life anytime I felt a wave lurch under us. I had the sail down quickly, but tying it up took a little time. I didn't have the sail ties with me so I just used a spare line I had for these kind of things.
After the mainsail was down I crawled back to the cockpit
to roll in the jib, the last remaining sail. As if the ocean decided we needed to be tested further, I found the roller furling
completely jammed. I was unable to roll in the sail, and if I couldn't figure it out I would need to somehow wrap it around itself by hand, up at the bow, plunging into the waves...scary thought. I realized the jib sheets
were tangled around the flag hoists, so I ran up to untangle the horrible knots they were in. This had no effect on the roller furling
, so I began to get extremely worried what would happen if we couldn't get the sail down and needed to go into a narrow channel. I did the only thing I could and went back up to the deck and onto the bowsprint. I ran up there to fiddle with it, cranked on the roller line and made sure all other lines weren't tangled on anything. This was easily the most terrifying moment of the night, and one of the most of my life. Seeing each wave come at me one after the other and splash over me as the bow plunged into them is something that is burned into my brain. If I fell out Jeff would have had a near impossible time getting back to me. I held on tight, grit my teeth and did what I could though. Unfortunately, the jib still wouldn't roll in. To help things, we angled more Northeast so the jib was holding wind and helping us along, instead of flapping wildly. I made it back to the cockpit
and we motored uncomfortably in the washing
machine towards the channel entrance.
When we got to the entrance I began to shine the spotlight to find the markers, which were easily spotted with the light. We were both relieved that seeing the channel wouldn't be much of an issue, particularly with my GPS chartplotter
never letting us down and pinpointing us accurately. There were breakers on each side of the channel leading in, a clear indicator that we better stay on course no matter what.
As if on queue, we neared the entrance to the Pass-a-grille inlet and light began to show on the horizon. The land began to surround us and the water calmed into near-glass. Our first protected waters began right as the sun came out and things calmed down.
I don't have any more pictures for the night-time part of the journey. Mostly because my camera
is horrible at night pictures and Jeff was passed out. Once he was up he needed to be at the wheel while I rested, and then things got interesting so cameras were the last thing on our mind. But once we entered the channel to the sunrise, we had to snap shots in relief and celebration.
We were both in awe that we made it, and took the moment to absorb the accomplishment and the beautiful scene. We motored slowly into the channel and up towards the Inter-coastal Waterway. As the light continued to grow and waters calmed, I walked up to the bowsprint and was able to roll up the jib by hand. I still need to figure out whats wrong with it, but at least the sail is rolled. I surveyed the damage up front and noticed both jibsheet lead blocks shattered at some point during the last battle upwind, and the whisker pole topping lift
broke while holding the stay-sail boom in place. Things were a mess on deck, but inside everything was chaos. All items we had neatly stored was thrown about, in particular all the tools, spares and hardware
Soon after we arrived we had to cross under a draw bridge to the main waterway. As it closed we felt like we were finally safe, the craziness of the Gulf behind us.
I called up the marina to see if we could come in, but they said the tide was pretty low for my draft
to approach. So we decided to anchor
out in the bay to clean up, rest and relax before the tide came in. This was about 7:00 a.m., and we had to wait till about 11 for the tide. Jenny wouldn't even be coming until 4:00 so we had a lot of time to kill. Cleaning up was in order along with a small breakfast.
looking at the chaos up front:
After some cleaning we both sat around relaxing with a hard earned drink enjoying the breezy anchorage. It was a beautiful day, perfect for reflecting on the amazing night. We discussed the highlights, lowlights, what we could have done better and admired how much confidence we now had in the boat. We were going to paddle the dinghy
up to a restaurant near the anchorage, but the wind picked up making a paddle difficult. We decided to wait for real food once we dock.
I sent Jeff out on the dinghy
to take some pictures of the boat while I held onto a line:
Dirty dirty boat
At 11:00 we pulled into the marina and docked at the floating transient dock. We had some trouble attempting to turn the boat around in the tight basin, particularly with the wind beating us back towards the dock. Eventually we gave up and decided to try when the winds were better the next week. We tied up tight, attached the shore power
cable and I did my paperwork in the marina office. After a bit we walked up to the same restaurant we saw from the anchorage and had a good meal. By this time we were finally feeling a bit delirious as the lack of sleep and nutrition caught up to us. The meal was delicious but we were out of it.
We returned back to the dock and Jenny called to inform us she was able to get out of work early and was on her way. We finished packing and then waited out the remaining time chatting with other boat owners in the marina about Windsong and our journey. She will remain there for the rest of the week and I will visit her once before we leave next Sunday. I need to figure out the jib furler
and replace some of the broken hardware
. I'd also like to give her a good scrub since she is finally away from the swampy waters.
It was an incredible journey and it never failed to deliver a memorable experience. I feel much more confident in Windsong and myself as a sailor and feel I have accomplished a huge goal. With this experience, the rest of the journey around Florida seems like it will be a piece of cake since I have the ICW
to travel in. The worst that could happen is I crash into a boat or land, but at least that is better than something going wrong way offshore in the middle of the night. Definitely looking forward to getting back to the boat and continue this adventure.