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. 


  1. I am always on the edge of my seat when you talk about weather and things that break. Its not like you can just slip into a service station or shop and get stuff fixed, or stop at a rest stop to wait out the storm. I'm not sure the stress would be a good thing for me. Glad you are there safe.

    1. Thanks Lorne! It can get exciting and as Captain Ron says, "If it is going to happen, it is going to happen out there!".

  2. That sounds like a scary situation that could have turned out much worse. Glad you made it okay!

    1. Not really too scary, just bummed that the pole failed. I was really enjoying sailing with it. I am having trouble finding one. It seems at 14 feet long they are hard to ship.

  3. Wow, I'm like Jim/Barb, sounds a little scary. I guess whither it's an RV or boat, things break. And it can get expensive. Glad you made it to Carrabelle and like you we love that place. Hope to catch you later in the spring or summer.
    BTW... with these coronavirus updates we are getting we may all wish we were out in the open sea with you guys. LOL
    Dick & Cathy

    1. It wasn't really scary. It was just a matter of dealing with it and making a new plan. The good news is that I can buy a used replacement pole pretty cheap. We have certainly discussed that a sailboat that is self sufficient as ours would be a great way to wait out a problem.