Saturday, December 4, 2021

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico - Part 1

 In my last entry, we were anchored in Ingram Bayou enjoying the Dolphin shows. Our entire focus was on our plans to sail to the Tarpon Springs area of Florida. There was many ways we could do it. We could hug the coast along the panhandle and day hop to Destin, then Panama City, Then go inside to the ICW at Port St. Joe and then down to Carrabelle. From Carrabelle we could then make a 24 hour crossing down to Tarpon Springs. That is the route that we used (only in reverse) when we were coming north in March of 2020. The problem with that route is you have to find multiple weather windows that match your sailing plans and there is a significant amount of motoring. After coming down the river, we were tired of motoring. We wanted to sail as much as possible. SHIFT is a sailboat after all. 

We had this perfect weather window for the day after Thanksgiving, November 26th. It looked like we could head SE out of Pensacola with a 15 knot wind on our beam and head in the direction of just SE of Port St. Joe. We had a bailout at that point if the conditions were not to our liking or if we had a problem. After the first 24 hours, the wind was forecast to diminish to around 10 knots for the next 24 hours and then get very light on Saturday night as we would be approaching the Florida Coast. 

On Thanksgiving day, we weighed anchor and headed out of Ingram Bayou. We motored along the ICW to the Pensacola inlet. 

There was a lot to see along the ICW to Pensacola. This area was hit hard by Hurricane Sally in Fall of 2020. This boat was still up on dry land. 

Lots of nice homes along the water. This one has a nice sailboat.

The anchorage that we selected is right next to the inlet. It is a small basin surrounded by mounds of sand that were deposited here by dredges working in the inlet. 

When we arrived there were a number of other boats at anchor enjoying the nice day. There was one group that had a large pot luck Thanksgiving dinner. Unfortunately, we were not invited. We baked some sweet potatoes and warmed up some deli sliced turkey and had our Thanksgiving feast. 

Here is a shot of the other boats in the anchorage. 

As forecast the wind died off to nothing about sunset. It was beautiful. 

I just love this shot with the Blue Heron on the spit of sand.

Sundown meant it was time to get some sleep and get ready for what was to come. The uncertainty is the hardest part. I was pretty nervous, but I slept well. I would need it.

The forecast called for a wind shift at 2 AM to the North and around 15 knots. I was uncomfortable with a boat that was anchored near me. He had a stern anchor out which meant that he was going to take that north wind broadside. After the day boats left, I pulled up my anchor and moved about 50 yards to stay clear of him. 

We were awoken at exactly 2 AM to the sound of strong wind in the rigging. I got up and found that we were laying  exactly as I had hoped. Clear of other boats and now on the other side of the basin pointed into the now strong north wind. I went back to bed and waited for daylight. 

Just before sunrise, we raised the anchor and headed out to the inlet. I decided to raise the mainsail in the protected water of the bay. We turned and headed out the inlet with a strong 2.5 knot current on our tail, just as had been predicted. I have learned a lot in the past few years of sailing and checking and planning for tides and currents in one of the most important things to do. We had a smooth ride to open water. 

As we headed out we sent a text to 2 of our sons to let them know we were on our way. We had already sent them our float plan and they knew what to do if they did not hear from us. 

Here is our planned route. You can see, we will get pretty close to land after about 100 miles of the 275 trip. Also notice the 7.3 knots of speed over ground.

This is our view as we left the inlet. It was a smooth ride.

When the time came, we made our turn to the East and unfurled our head sails. We had 15 knots of wind and about 3 foot seas. Our speed jumped to 7 knots. It felt great. We got set on a port tack and held that for the entire trip. 

As we headed further from land the wind began to pick up. We started seeing upper teens and the seas were building. I decided it was time to reef. I left the mainsail full, but furled the staysail. Then I furled the Genoa about 50% to be conservative. The boat leveled out a bit, but still was ripping along at 7 knots. We were now rising and falling close to 6 feet in the confused seas. It was a bit exciting, but SHIFT took it all in stride and made no uncomfortable moves. The Autopilot was having to work hard with the confused seas, but was able to keep up. We were just along for the ride. 

This pace continued all day and actually intensified a bit with some gusts as high as 25 knots. We were sustained at about 17 knots of wind dead out of the north. 

As the sun got low in the sky we were treated to an awesome sunset. 

Sunsets at sea are amazing. You can see the confused seas. It was quite a ride. 

At this point in the trip we were both feeling the heavy seas. I was trying to keep food and drink in me and I felt ok. Kim got sick at one point, but afterwards felt much better. She laid down on the starboard side of the cockpit and fell asleep. When she awoke around 10 PM, she told me that she felt good. I asked her if she wanted to go in at Port St. Joe, she said no. We actually got cell signal for a short time and was able to send a text to our boys that all is well and we were going to keep going. 

At that point it was right about midnight. We had covered 110 miles in 17 hours. That is a 6.5 NM per hour average. That is fast for us. We were now on Eastern time and ready to make the move out into the open gulf. All was going well.

In my next entry, I will finish this story. We still had a long ways to go and we would have to spend another night at sea. 


  1. The sunsets are beautiful! I bet it was nice to raise the sails and get them filled with wind. I too would probably get nauseous, glad it was short lived.

    1. I felt bad for Kim. No fun being sick 🤢, but she is tough and wanted to keep going.

  2. I must congratulate you on the blog. It reads like an awesome novel. I am on the edge of my seat all the time hoping all goes well. Panama City was a stomping ground of ours at holiday time for a few years, and we loved to go to St Joe!! We went through there a month after the big hurricane and the devastation was unbelievable. Thank you for entertaining us with your marine and writing skills.

    1. Thank you Lorne for the kind words. I do enjoy writing when I have a good story to tell. Hurricane Michael left the worst damage I have ever seen. The area is still recovering 5 years later.