Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sailing Along the Florida Coast

We had been at Fishermen's Village Yacht Basin since January 27. I found a three day weather window that would allow us to sail North. But first, we had to get out of the Marina.  The three previous days had seen strong Northeast winds. In Charlotte harbor,  that means very low water.  We had been reading 3.5 feet on our depth finder. The problem is that we draw 4.5 feet. SHIFT had been sitting on the bottom for three days.  On Sunday,  the wind shifted to the East and we watched and waited as the water rose. We would have to wait for high tide and hope for the best. High tide was not until 4:09 pm on Sunday February 23.

We had spent the two previous days preparing everything for departure.  By 1:30 the boat was clearly floating free. We decided it was time and pulled out and motored out of the marina with ease. Whew! That was a big load off of my mind.

Once we got out in the harbor, the wind picked up to about 10 knots. We had flat water, which means we had a wonderful 3 hour sail down to Bull Key, where we anchored for the night. We enjoyed dinner in the cockpit watching a beautiful sunset. By Monday morning the wind had shifted to the Southeast,  which made for a rolling boat and some lost sleep. 

Sunset at Boca Grande Pass
We were up before sunrise on Monday and raised the anchor and headed out to the Gulf of Mexico through Boca Grande pass. The wind was light enough to use the cut along the beach. That saved us about an hour on the day.

Sunrise the next morning. Ready to go!
We sailed along nicely on a broad reach, then the wind shifted to straight out of the south at about 10 knots. That is perfect conditions for a wing and wing configuration.  I was eager to try a new whisker pole rig I had put together while we were in Punta Gorda. It took me about 20 minutes to set it all up, but we picked up about 2 knots over just the mainsail. We were able to set the autopilot and cruise with the wind all the way to Venice. In this configuration,  the boat is flat and the wind feels much lighter than it is. It was a great ride!

Not a great picture, but that is the "pole" setup.

We saw many pods of dolphins on this day and the next. I shot a bunch of video. I will try to get that edited in the coming weeks and post it.

A great part of my new pole setup was what I discovered when we arrived at Venice. I was able to furl the genoa and move the pole parallel to the boat, all from the cockpit.  As the day went by, the swell was building from the south and we really felt it when we turned to make the run into the inlet.  The wind was now on the beam with the swell and it was a rough ride.

Once we were in the protection of the rock jetty all was calm and we motored the 2.5 miles to Blackburn Bay.  We had the hook down by 3 pm. The wind picked up during the night,  but we slept well in our very protected spot.

We spent the evening looking at our options for the next day. We thought about staying in the ICW and motoring up to The Tampa Bay area,  but we really prefer to sail. The forecast was for 20 knots out of the south,  which would be the same as the previous day except more wind and bigger swell.  We decided to sail.

We were up again before sunrise and motored back south to the Venice inlet.  When we hit the open water it was as predicted.  The swell built all day and so did the wind to over 20 knots.  It was exciting,  but comfortable.  SHIFT did an amazing job handling the conditions.  We were going so well that we decided to go all the way to Gulfport,  Florida. That was a run of over 50 miles.

We were in the company of dolphins most of the day. They must have been hanging out with us because we were about the only boat out in these conditions.

When we cleared the ship channel into Tampa, we made the turn to the east and the wind strength became obvious. We sailed into Passe Grille pass with the mainsail still up because I really didn't want to go up to the mast to drop the sail in those conditions. We went to the Anchorage just off the cool waterfront area of Gulfport. We dropped the anchor and then dropped the mainsail. It all worked as planned. I feel like we are becoming a very competent team. 

The Boca Ciega Bay at Gulfport, Florida. This is just south of St. Petersburg
This was a very memorable day.  We had made it from Punta Gorda to Gulfport in 3 days and we were tired, but satisfied with our accomplishment. 

We had plans to see some friends in the area, all the while looking for a weather window for our longest sail yet. The Gulf of Mexico crossing to the Florida panhandle is next on the agenda. Come back to see the next chapter in this adventure. 


  1. Travelling in a sailboat is truly adventurous. Reading your blog has inspired me to add that to my bucket list. Though, watching you brave through tough winds and tides is making me a bit skeptical. Keep enriching us with beautiful sail stories!!!

  2. Thanks for reading, Andrea! We have been having some exciting sails, today was one that I can't wait to write about.