Friday, March 27, 2020

Real Time Update From Near Jackson, Alabama

I thought I would do a real time update from our current location at a small park and boat ramp near Jackson,  Alabama. 

We made it 100 miles from Mobile to this location in 3 days. We were pushing into a 2 knot current, so we were only averaging 4 knots. The crazy thing is that we had good wind that at times was at the right angle to sail. We must have looked strange to the passing barges or "Tows" as they are called on the river.

We have been watching the river levels closely.  Some recent rainfall is causing the river to rise and will increase the current. Our current anchorage is very nice. We are very protected, we have a bathroom,  water and trash collection at a boat ramp about 100 yards from the boat. We have decided to stay here for a few days to see if the river comes down as it is forecast to do. This is also a very good place to stay isolated from population.

We will see how things develop over the next few days and then decide what to do next.  Stay safe and stay healthy.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Real Time Update and Overnight Sail to Pensacola

I am writing this entry while being stuck on the boat at Turner's Marina in Mobile, Alabama. We have been staying in the boat and limiting our social interaction with others as much as possible. We are planning to leave here tomorrow and head up the waterways to Demopolis, AL. This move is needed to get the boat to it's home port for the next 6 months or longer. We estimate that the 200+ mile trip up the waterway will take us about 7 days. We expect to be isolated that entire time. We will have our buddy boat along, but our days will be filled with motoring along at about 5 knots depending on current. We will be anchoring out each night. We are feeling well and are praying in the next week things make a major turn for the better, but will be keeping close tabs on the virus situation. It has amazed us how fast this has all changed our lives. Now back to the blog entry from March 10.

We awoke on March 10 to a calm anchorage just west of Port St. Joe, Florida. We had good protection from the Gulf of Mexico swell because of St. Joseph Peninsula. We did not need to get going quickly, because we had a 24 hour sail if we averaged 5 knots. As always, we did not want to get to the pass at Pensacola in the dark. The weather forecast was for light winds in the morning and then no wind through mid day and then building to 10 knots out of the south overnight.

Byron and I have a hard time waiting around, so we got moving by about 8 am. For the first couple of hours we sailed in a light breeze on smooth water in the lee of St. Joseph Peninsula. It was a very pleasant way to start the trip. When we planned this trip, we looked at doing day sails to Panama City and then Destin and then Pensacola, but the inlet at Destin has a bad reputation and it was shorter to just go straight across. At the end of the trip, we were happy with our decision. We would only be about 20 miles off shore at the furthest point.

Our view as we left our anchorage at PortSt. Joe. Calm water and light breeze.
We spent much of the day sailing. Then we would have to turn the motors on for a while. Back and forth. As we made it to open water the swell from the south became noticeable. It stayed with us the entire trip. It built to be 4 to 6 feet at times, but with a long period or gap, which made it fairly comfortable. The problem was that it was hitting us on the beam. When we had some wind and drive forward, it was a more comfortable ride.

A shot of Serendipity alongside. 
I shot some video of Serendipity in the large swell, you can see it better with a boat in the frame. At times the entire hull of the boat would disappear behind the moving walls of water. I will publish that video in the coming days.

We periodically saw fighter jets overhead. They were flying out of Eglin AFB or Pensacola NAS. At one point we saw a group of 4 F-35's come over low. One of the planes broke formation and came down very low and waged his wings at us. That was more than cool!

We had a beautiful sunset followed by the best moonrise I have ever seen. The pictures just do not do it justice.

Moonrise over the Gulf of Mexico

  The wind picked up as predicted and we were able to turn the motors off for about 8 hours overnight. The swell never left, but the sail was still very pleasant.

We arrived at the Pensacola inlet right as the sun was coming up. We turned into the channel and immediately noticed a strong current running against us. I had checked the tides and it should have been an inbound current. Once again the heavy rains up north had created swollen rivers and that was overrunning the tidal current. We plodded along at about 3.5 knots for about an hour to make it to the ICW. That was the toughest part of the trip. I was tired and ready to go to bed and we were making very slow progress. The good news is that our anchorage was just after we joined the ICW at Spanish Point.

As we put our anchors down there was almost no wind and we had great protection. We were right off the end of the runway at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Home of the Blue Angels. We did not get to see any Blue Angels, but had many fighter jets flying over.

That made our 4th overnight passage on this trip. I am not going to say we enjoy them. They are long and we both get tired, but they are getting easier and I am much less apprehensive about doing it. Sometimes it just is the best way to go in a sailboat. It just takes too much time to go in and back out of an inlet. You are going so slow, time is the most important factor to make miles. With a good auto-pilot, you can just set the boat and leave it alone for long periods of time. You do have to keep watch to make sure other boats aren't around, or if conditions change, but it is hours and hours of very relaxed time.

Kim was able to sleep quite a bit on this trip. I was only able to get a couple of hours, but after we arrived, I quickly went to bed and slept for about 4 hours. We were happy to be in Pensacola. That marked the end of the big sails on this trip. Come back to see where we went from there.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Carrabelle to Port St. Joe, Florida

We left Carrabelle early on March 9, 2020. We had enjoyed our time in Carrabelle, but a week was long enough to look forward to being back on the water. Byron and I had sat out on the docks the night before looking at a fairly stiff breeze blowing and discussed how we would get off of the dock. As it turned out, the wind was much less by morning, but the current was much stronger than we had expected. As I pulled out of the slip the current pull my stern to starboard and wedged my bowsprit behind a piling on the port side. Kim did not have the strength to push us off, so I ran to the bow and gave us a shove and we were then able to power our way out of there. Not a great start, but we were on our way with no damage to the boat.

A beautiful view of the setting moon as we motored out of the river at Carrabelle. 
As we hit the St. George Sound, we were exposed to the 15 to 20 knot breeze coming out of the Northeast. We were able to shut off our engines and put up our head sails and run downwind in the strong breeze.

A View of the inlet we came in a week earlier on a much calmer day. 

We had a fun sail over the next 4 hours until we approached Apalachicola. It was at that point, I saw what looked like a large dredge in the channel. There was a red marker to their right and a green on the left. There was no indication on which way to go. We chose right, but just as we past the head of the dredge, I guy came up on deck and started yelling at us to go the other way. We had no room to maneuver, so I spun around as quick as a 40 foot sailboat spins and went back to the other side. It looked like the crew was having a hard time keeping the dredge pipe in place in the strong wind. We hugged the side of the pipe all the way down to stay in the channel. At one point, the dredge pipe was sticking out and pushed me into shallow water. My shallow water alarm went off and we showed 4 foot 2 inches. We draft 4 foot 6 inches, so we must have passed through some muddy bottom. We made it to the inlet and were met with strong current. I was making only 3.9 knots SOG. Then Byron put up his head sail again. I saw what he did and did the same. We immediately jumped up a knot and we were able to maintain that for the next few miles until we left the Apalachicola river and went into the Jackson river. We were then down current all the way to Port St. Joe.

I did not take many pictures on this day, but I did shoot some video updates of the trip. You can click on this link and see the videos:  Video Updates Carrabelle to Port St Joe

We passed by an area called the Impenetrable Swamp. It was beautiful with large Cypress trees and lots of wildlife. We cruised along and made it to our anchorage at 5 PM and put the hook down in a St. Joseph Bay.

Sunset over St. Joseph Bay. Byron and Mary in Serendipity along side. 
The wind died down overnight as forecast and we had a beautiful evening and good sleep. We would need that sleep, because the next morning we were headed out for our 24+ hour sail to Pensacola. I will tell that story in my next entry. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Enjoying Carrabelle, Florida

We arrived in Carrabelle, Florida on March 2nd after a 28 hour passage from Tarpon Springs. We decided during the trip that it made good sense to stay at a marina. We had considered dropping the hook behind the barrier islands just off the mainland, but we were all tired and the weather for the coming days did not look good with a cold front coming in. We chose The Moorings Marina. They had a daily rate of $1.50 per foot or if you stay 5, you get two nights free. We decided that we would stay the 7. The weather was looking good for that time frame. The one great thing about this marina is that it is also a hotel and they offer a free hot breakfast with the slip rental. We really enjoyed our hot breakfast each morning.

Here is a shot of The Mooring Marina in Carrabelle. Our boats are just behind that grey FWC boat in the center of the picture. The building in front of the boats had a nice lounge with a large screen TV, a pool table and game table. The bathrooms/showers are on the lower level and are very nice. 
 This is a quiet time for boating activity along this coast, so it was just us and a few other boats and a few hotel guests at breakfast. The marina is well protected from wakes, but the docks are in rough shape, still recovering from damage caused by hurricane Michael, 18 months ago.

The town of Carrabelle sits on the Crooked River and is well protected from the open gulf by Dog Island. The river creates one of the best deep water ports along the Florida Panhandle. Although the weather was cooler than we had been experiencing further south in Florida, it was still quite pleasant most of the time. We did not have transportation, so we walked everywhere we went. A grocery store and laundromat was a short walk away, so we made frequent walks all over town.

Part of the downtown area of Carrabelle

A view of the harbor of Carrabelle. The Moorings is in the center of this shot. 

As with most small towns in the USA, there is a war memorial along the main street. 
The first night, we had dinner at the "Fisherman's Wife". I would say it was good, but not great. The second night we had our own fish fry and ate some of the Greater Amberjack, that Byron had caught during the passage. I bought some shrimp at the local seafood market and that meal was great!

Carrabelle has three museums that celebrate the local history. We decided to walk the 2 miles up the road to the Camp Gordon Johnston museum. That is where many troops were trained in amphibious landings during World War 2. There was a good history of the camp and many personal memorabilia collections that have been donated by local veterans of WW2.

We arrived just a bit before the museum opened for the day, so we went to visit the beach that was used for the landing practice.

Captain Byron, Mary and Kim
Just another Kim on a beach photo. That girl can't wait to get her feet wet.

German Flags and helmets

German Rifles and bayonets

German Pistols 

Japanese Weapons

The centerpiece of the museum is this half size Higgins boat, that was used for landings in both theaters of operation. It always amazes me to see they were made of wood with no armor plating.
While we were at the Johnston museum, we met Dennis. He was also visiting the area and offered to give us a ride to the Crooked Rover Lighthouse and then back to our marina. We gladly accepted.

Crooked River Lighthouse. We climbed all 176 steps to the top. 
The Lighthouse visitor center and museum.

Kim and Mary playing in the playground. We have been having a blast traveling with another couple. So much of our travel has just been the two of us. 
The view from the top. That is the inlet that we came through two days prior. 
I had to include a shot of Dennis on the left and Byron. Dennis was the guy who gave us a ride. Thanks Dennis!!

The following day, we went to the historical museum in downtown Carrabelle. We were lucky to get a personal tour by the curator of the museum. She told us many stories of the founding and development of Carrabelle. The town has declined from the high point in the 1920's, but it still is a cool little town.

I liked this painting of the town during the Boom years. The town is about the same size now. 
Carrabelle is known to have the smallest Police Station in the world. Here is a picture of the one on the street now:

Here is the original that was now in the museum.
We really enjoyed our time in Carrabelle. We needed the rest and this place was the perfect place to do that, but now it was time to move along. We had a good weather window approaching and we were ready to sail west. We had a plan to make it to Pensacola in two days, which was almost 200 miles away. Come back to see how that passage went.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Found Video, Just After Pole Failure

I did a video update just after our spinnaker pole broke during our passage from Tarpon Springs to Carrabelle, Florida on March 2, 2020. The video had some problems, but I was able to do some editing and make it watchable. It is short, but it shows the sea state at the time. You can see how much the boat is rolling and pitching.

Watch the video by clicking here: Pole Failure

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Video Updates from Gulf Crossing

I did a couple of video updates during the Gulf of Mexico crossing on March 1-2, 2020. This is in the first half of the trip. I never seem to think about taking video while this are a bit crazy.

Click here to watch video: Gulf Crossing from Tarpon Springs to Carrabelle

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Gulfport to Carabelle, Florida, Hours of Boredom Followed by Minutes of Excitement

We came to Gulfport, Florida to catch up with some friends in the area. We were also watching the weather to find a good window to cross the Gulf of Mexico. We arrived in Gulfport on Tuesday, February 25. The wind was up, so we stayed on the boat until the next morning. We made plans to have lunch with our now good friend Mike, who was also our broker when we bought our boat. We got the dingy down and made it to the free dock at the Gulfport Casino. Mike has been having a health issue and we were very happy to find out that he was doing very well. He is a great resource for advice and information and we had lunch together and spent a couple of hours catching up.

Wednesday was another bad weather day, so we stayed on the boat. We made contact with Geoff and Marsha and Don and Kim and planned to get together on Thursday. Thursday was the most settled weather day of the week. We got the dingy down and had a blast hanging out with the other two couples. Gulfport is a cool little area just south of St. Petersburg. For some unknown reason, I failed to take one picture of our very enjoyable day.

The main street in Gulfport. Lots of shops and restaurants. 
I was watching the weather closely and decided that the crossing was possible for March 1 and 2. We would have to leave on Saturday, February 29 and motor 33 NM up the ICW to Tarpon Springs. We would have to motor because the wind was forecast to blow 15 to 25 out of the North, which was exactly the direction we needed to go.

We got the dingy on the back of the big boat and prepared for the next three days.

We left at just after sunrise and started motoring to the first bridge. We would open a total of 7 bridges on the day. The winds were as predicted and kind of cold at right at 50 degrees. I was glad we brought all of our bad weather gear.

Motoring along on the ICW, talking to bridge tenders. I was bundled up against the cold north wind, but was very comfortable. 
We finally arrived at the anchorage at 4 pm. It was a long day that I was happy to have behind us. The anchorage was tight and had a bunch of unattended boats in it. We found a place and dropped the hook in 10 feet of water along the shore. It was very calm and that felt great after the wind from the day.

Our anchorage at the Tarpon Springs power plant. The boat to the right is Serendipity, which is our buddy boat for this trip. The others are unattended, which took up most of the space. 

The anchorage is in the inlet for this power plant. I could see the smoke stack 40 miles off shore the next day. 
The forecast was for light winds in the morning and then almost no wind for a couple of hours and then south winds building to 10 knots into the next day. We were up early and left just after sunrise and headed out into the bay. We had almost no wind and motored for the first two hours. Then the wind came up enough to sail along for about 2 hours at 4 knots. Then the wind just died again.

Light winds and calm seas. That is Byron and Mary on Serendipity in the distance. 
The wind died off completely and we motored for almost 12 hours. It was nice to cruise along in calm seas as we got further and further from land, but the drone of the engine is not my favorite sound. We were both fishing, but only Byron had any luck. He caught a nice Amberjack and then grilled it for dinner while they were moving along. Kim and I both took naps and felt good throughout the trip.

We had a beautiful sunset out on the open water

About 1:30 am, the wind started to build from the south. At first, it was a nice 5 to 8 knots. I put up our pole and we picked up speed and then turned off the motor. We had a great sail for the next 3 hours. By 4:30 the winds were up to close to 20 knots and the seas were building. What happened to the 10 to 15??? Our speed picked up and we were flying along at 7+ knots. Surfing down waves that had now built to close to 6 feet. It was an exciting ride in the dark. By daylight at 7 am the seas were getting more confused as we got closer to land. The northern Florida coast is known for big seas that stack up on shore when the wind is out of the south. We got hit on the side with a large swell and the boat slammed down hard as a gust turned the boat. It was then that Kim yelled, " look at the pole!" It had snapped in two pieces and was dangling in the water. I attached a tether to my life vest and went to the foredeck in the pitching seas. I was able to get the pole detached and handed it to Kim to stow below. I organized the lines so that we could sail on just the mainsail and made it back to the cockpit without issue.

The aftermath of our pole failure. I was told by our rigger that it was undersized for our boat, now I believe him. We are now in search of another one. A brand new one is over $2000.
We were still moving along at over 5 knots, but I needed more drive from the front of the boat, so I put out a heavily reefed Genoa. All was good from there and at about 11 am we made the inlet at Carrabelle. We dropped the mainsail in the lee of Dog Island and motored to the mouth of the river. It was like another world, we could still feel the wind, but the water was flat. We moved on in to the Moorings Marina and took on fuel. We have burned a total of 20 gallons from Punta Gorda to Carrabelle. We still had 38 gallons on board.

We covered a total of 149.9 nm, which is 172 miles in about 29.5 hours. We all felt like it was a significant accomplishment and were happy to have it behind us.

We are now tucked into slip 83 and will probably stay here for a week to wait for the right weather to move further west. Byron and Mary had a bit rougher passage than we did. Their 31 foot boat is much lighter than SHIFT and was thrown about in the rough seas. They also had a mainsail issue and it was out of action for most of the night. They made it safely and are right next to us in the marina.

Carrabelle, Florida is a cool little town. I will introduce you to this quiet fishing village in my next entry. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Video of Sail from Punta Gorda to Gulfport, Florida

I am writing this from Carrabelle, Florida. We made it safely. I can't wait to write about the trip. It was not without excitement.

I recorded some updates as we traveled along the west coast of Florida from Punta Gorda to Gulfport. It was a fun downwind sail until we got close to Tampa Bay. It was at that point the winds piped up and the swell built, but we made it safely to Gulfport and dropped the hook in Boca Ciega Bay.

Click here to watch the video: Sail from Punta Gorda to Gulfport, Florida