Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dry Tortugas to Tampa to Gulf Shores

Open sea headed to Dry Tortugas
On the hook
3/31/12 We depart Key West bight at 1100 headed West to the Dry Torgugas.  The trip is 70 miles of open water, however since we don't want to have to navigate the coral reef shallows of the Dry Tortugas at night, we plan to go only to Marquesas Island, and there drop the hook.  Marquesas is a small island about 30 miles west of Key West.  Our late start will put us at Marquesas Key in the late afternoon, early enough to get the anchor set before dark.  We would be anchored in the vicinity of the wreck of the Atocha, though we would only be in 10 feet of water, while the Atocha was on the bottom about 55 feet down.  Cuba is 90 miles South and Gulf Shores, Alabama is 450 miles to our North. The Marquesas Keys are actually a small group of sand, coral and mangrove islands that cover an area of about two miles square, but since it is only about 2 feet above sea level, you do not see it until you are within a couple of miles.  Since the weather was nice, we were able to anchor about 1 mile offshore for a quiet and beautiful starlit night.

4/1/12 0600 We are up and weighing anchor.  0730 we have had coffee and are sailing out of the shallows watching for coral heads toward deep water and setting our course to Dry Tortugas.  We will have to skirt a 10 mile shoal known as the quicksands, and then make markers that keep us off of Isaac Shoal and Rebecca Shoal. 

Arrival at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

We do that on que, and at 1630 we arrive in the harbor of Fort Jefferson, the bastion of the Dry Tortugas.  Fort Jefferson was built as a strategic stronghold fort to protect US ships that were anchored in the unique and protected shallows out in the Gulf of Mexico, as they patrolled the Gulf shipping lanes.  The fort was built from 1846 to 1875, and though it was never completed, it served a useful purpose for our young nation.

Quinn at the fort entrance

We anchored about 100 yards off the main dock where the 90 foot ferry comes in, and just in front of the landing path of the Fort Jefferson sea plane. We go ashore and register with the Park Rangers and then I talk with the ferry captain and the sea plane pilot to ensure that we are anchored far enough out of their route path. Since the wind and seas are calm, they assure me that we are fine. Quinn and I pay our $5.00 fee and take the tour through the fort. We hooked up with a tour-guide that was working for the ferry company, and got
Ferry boat at the Ranger dock

adopted as part of their tour.  That was very helpful, and we learned a lot about the history of the fort that we would not have gleaned from just walking the halls.  This is a great place to visit, and it has about the prettiest water I have seen anywhere. 

OneEighty as seen through the cannor sites
We joined the tour group

Cuban refugee boat

Staring down the barrell

OneEighty and other cruisers anchored at Ft. Jefferson

Sunset at Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas

4/3/2012  We have stayed a couple of days at Ft. Jefferson and now we are thinking of our trip back up the Gulf.  The only weather report we have is a 4 day old GRIB 8-day report (that surely will become less accurate with time) and the daily weather report that the park rangers post at the dock house. GRIB (GRIdded Binary or General Regularly-distributed Information in Binary form) is a mathematically concise data format commonly used in meteorology to store historical and forecast weather data used extensively by NOAA and the US Navy. In the past it was too complex for commoners like me to use, but today with the help of smart software models, it is put into a format that even I can read.  There is no cell phone, no 3G and getting fresh weather reports here is schetchy at best.  We are able to pick up Key West weather on the VHF, but that really does not give us a window across the Gulf.  We decide that since the GRIB looks favorable for the next 48 hours, and that the forcast is more accurate today than tomorrow, we will leave tomorrow at first light.  We have decided not to sail straight across the Gulf to Pensacola (450 miles) primarially for two reasons.  One we do not have a good enough weather report and two, we do not have enough crew to get us through any emergencies and night watches.  Fatigue could be our worst enemy.  We are going to cut over to Florida (Ft. Myers) and then cut out to Port St. Joe.  By 0935 we have  motored out of the narrows and are headed for the open Gulf.  Sails are now up and engine off and we are sailing 6.4 kts, course 15 degrees for Fort Myers at a distance of about 125 miles.  ETA is 0900 tomorrow morning.

Friends are frolicking with us
Dancing off the bow

Today is a beautiful sail as we get further out into the open Gulf.  We will be about 100 miles offshore headed for San Carlos Bay off Sanibel Island.  We feel lucky when the Dauphins play and frolic with us as we glide soundless through the waves. 
Dauphins are like Golden Retrivers of the sea!

I want to pet him

4/3/12 1725 hrs.  Engine on.  Winds have ceased to less than 6 kts. 
2000 hrs.  dinner is ready, hot stew and pasta. 
2200 hrs.  Quinn is on watch and I am going to get some rest.
2400 hrs.  Midnight.  I'm up and notice that the tachometer and alternator are not working.  The tach runs off the alternator and we are not charging the batteries even though the engine is running.  We are conserving amp usage by using very few lights, though we must have running lights, radar, refrigerator and navigation equipment.  We are drawing about 9 amps total, mostly from the motor in the autopilot. Glad we have the L.E.D. nav lights.  Plan to upgrade the cabin lights to LED next port.  We have about 400 amp hours in our house battery bank so I am not too worried about losing our power.  We can always crank the generator and make electrictiy to charge the batteries. 
4/4/12 0530 hrs.  We are about 20 miles off shore now, and can see the lights from Ft. Myers. 
0725 hrs.  We see the sun rise over Fort Myers.  It will be a couple of more hours before we enter the harbor and tie up at Moss Marina which is just a block off the main beach strip in Ft. Myers. 
Sunrise over Fort Myers Florida
as we make landfall

Fort Myers Beach
 Upon arriving, we first filled up with diesel, 23 gallons since Key West, and then went over to slip A-17.  As soon as we got settled in the slip at Moss Marine, shower and a nap, we took a hike to explore Fort Myers Beach.  When we got there I was amazed at how many people were still on the beaches, walking the streets, and in the restaurants.  We were told that it was a mix of spring break and Easter vacationers that made up the crowds.  When I saw the streets and buildings of Ft. Myers beach I had a sense of Deja' Vu.  It all looked familiar.  I can only think that I passed this way in the early 80's when I was working with Paradyne Corporation on business in South Florida. 
Tampa Bay Skyway Bridge
4/6/12 Today we are headed out through Stickeny Point Bridge, and North across Sarasota Bay.  As soon as we pass Cortez Bridge opening, we enter Tampa Bay.  We have decided to sail into Tampa Bay and catch the ICW towards Clearwater.  Since the wind would be off our nose at 20+ knots all day if we went outside, we will sail into Tampa Bay, under the Skyway Bridge, and then North into the ICW.  We sail and motor all day and at 1800 hrs we are tied up at John's Pass Marina right beside Madeira Beach and the John,s Pass lift bridge.  We walk across the bridge and have dinner at Hooters.  Not my favorite, but it was the only place without a long line, and we were tired.
John's Pass Bridge,
our gateway back into the Gulf

4/6/12  2030 hrs.  We are back on the boat and after checking the weather report, GRIB files and long range forecast, we decide that the best weather window to cross the Gulf to Panama City will be first thing in the morning.  A high pressure front is moving over Florida's West coast and will dominate that part of the Gulf for the next 48 hours.  A high means that we will not have much of a chance for thunderstorms and rain, and if we get in on the lead of the front, we will have good winds until it settles in.  That's what we are doing, so we stay up pretty late studying weather and nav charts, and filling our water tanks.  First thing in the morning we will top off with Diesel, and then head out through the John's Pass Bridge.  We are advised that the pass has shoaled badly on the North side of the channel, and sure enough, we can see breakers on that side.  We stay on the South side of the channel and hug the red markers for about two miles out the pass and into deep water.  The most shallow that I recorded was 10 feet, and for the most part it was averaging 15 feet in the pass.  Just stay way off the North side and you should be o.k.
4/7/2012  0830 hrs.  We have fueled and now departed, through the bridge and headed towards Cape San Blas for Port St. Joe.  This will be a course of 314 degrees and approximately 190 miles.  Weather forecast looks good so we are off. 
0930 hrs. Winds start off perfect and we are sailing 6-7 kts on a beautiful beam reach.  Like any passage, winds and sea-state can and do change.
1800 hrs. Winds have come to NE/N and we are having to sail off our rum line closer to 300 degrees.  That will put us much too far West of our target over a 190 mile track.  We are close hauled with all sails up, winds 18-20 kts, rail under in building seas.  Great sailing, but a stress on the boat and us, and also is taking us off our rumline.  We will have to take some tacks which will extend our trip to 200 miles over ground.
4/8/12  2410 hrs.  winds have died to <6kts and we are cranking the engine.  We need to charge batteries anyway. BTW, the alternator seemed to fix itself.  It is working now.
4/8/12  0630 Winds have freshened up again and are now around the NE  to E at 13kts.  Engine off and sailing 5-6 kts. 
Calm waters for now in our first few hours
0930 hrs.  Winds have come around from the South and we are running down wind in 4-6 ft. seas and building.  It is very rolly and feels like a washing machine.  We douse the main and are running under mizzen and jib.  Hard to stabilize in now 6-8 ft seas down wind with following seas.  We are running off the top of one wave and into the trough of the next.  Lamps and pots are in the floor and we have burst some of the water jugs that are in the stowage.  Settee is wet.  Hope it's fresh water.
1230 hrs.  Enough of this! We turn the engine and douse all but the mizzen.  We are now able to time our speed so that we can surf the waves and make life a little more bearable.  No sleep for anyone.
Oh, yeah, today is Easter Sunday and this morning I had Easter Service by reading Matthew 27 and 28.  It is easy to pray when you are pitching in the waves 100 miles offshore. 
1400 hrs.  Winds have abated and the seas have begun to settle down.  We are heading towards Cape San Blas which we have to give a 20 mile berth because of the shallows.   It seems like we will never get there, and when we do, we have another 20 miles to the entrance of Port St. Joe, a beautiful and protected harbor. 
1800 hrs.  We enter Port St. Joe pass and anchor just East off the point of the state park peninsula.  Absoutely beautiful anchorage, and after traveling nearly 3000 miles I can say that this is as pretty an anchorage as we have seen anywhere.  Today is Easter, and we are anchored by the Palms.  Kind of like Palm Sunday and Easter wrapped into one. 
4/9/2012  0800.  Up, but not moving fast.  Coffee on the veranda.  Quiet and beautiful facing the beach and palms.  Quinn is reading in the V berth and I am writing in the log.  Now that we are at rest, I've got to tell you about a really neat thing that happened yesterday at sea about 1900 hours.  Just before dark we saw some birds flying around the boat that did not look like sea birds.  They were like black starlings or finches with a red mark on their breast.  But why were they out 60 miles out at sea, and nowhere to land.  At dusk, one came on board the transom rail to rest.  Then he came into the cockpit and sat on my sholder.  We, me and the bird, just sat there watching each other.  He later flew over to the cabin top and sat under the canopy on my blanket shielded from the wind for a long while.  Then he said "goodby" and maybe "thanks" and flew away.  I know that because he sent me a "tweet".  He was an original twitter.  I think every young person should have to spend time in the wilderness (at sea) so that they can see the non electronic world and God's age old plan that makes it spin.  It would give a good foundation for what they are learning with technology.  There is no 3-G out here, but you sure get a good reception with the #1 G. 

1045 hrs.  Anchor is up and we are headed to Panama City.  It is only 23 miles and then we will go inside and hook up with the ICW.  I do not want to try to enter the pass at Ft. Walton for two reasons: 1.  the bridge is 49 feet and we are 49 feet.  Too close for comfort in choppy water, and 2.  the pass is shallow, shifting, and often buffeted by breakers.  The last time I came in there two years ago,  I promised it was the last.  It is 100 miles to Pensacola, and we do not want to pull another overnighter.  Old men need rest.  This sailing thing is supposed to be restful.  We've been on a marathon since we left...well, Marathon. 
Anchored just off ICW in West Panama City. 

4/10/12 0800 hrs.  We are up and headed to Fort Walton.  Thinking about a 49 foot bridge that we will have to get under.  If we can't get under this bridge we will have to turn around and backtrack to the ship channel in Panama City, a 50 mile detour.
1500 hrs.  We are at Ft. Walton Bridge, and after nudging up to it verrrrrry slowly, we determine that we cannot get under it.  It is two hours until high tide, and then low tide is at 0300 tomorrow morning.  I notice Quinn is talking to the Sea Doo rental guys and struck a deal with them.  He sells me on the idea and we put it in action.  We hire the seadoo guy to tie our halyard from the top of the mast to his Sea Doo, and he is to pull us sideways as we motor under the bridge.  We practice several times and yank him off the sea doo twice.  Finally we figure he has to go 45 degrees starbord off our bow and we are to motor 20 degrees to port.  It works! We get under the bridge and yell with joy....also release of anxiety.  Worked great, but a screw-up would have been really ugly.  Don't want to do that again.
Navarre Bridge
We anchor that night behind an island in Santa Rosa Sound behind Hurlbert Field, USAF.  Planes flew over all night, cannons thundered, and we slept like babies.  That is until 0600 when they played reveille over the loud speakers.  That got us up, and we were off again by 0730.

4/11/12  We are motoring and sailing as we can and to our surprise, when we get to Navarre Beach, we have another 49 foot bridge.  This one we ease up on and as we go under the antenna on the masthead twangs each of the girders, but no harm done, and nothing breaks.
We are now home free and headed to Gulf Shores, Sailboat Bay.  When we see the Pensacola NAS light house, we know we are close to home.
Pensacola Light House
We know we are close to home
4/11/12 1500 hrs.  We are now very much on the way home.  We just passed Pirates Cove and then at 1530 we pass the Wharf in Orange Beach.  As much as we have been pressing to get home, I am now feeling an anxiety about ending the trip.  This is a trip we started over 9 months ago with a new boat and a dream, and we didn't know exactly how it would play out.  We ended up sailing 3000 miles and captured a tiny bit of each mile hidden in the treasure chests of our minds.  We chose the long way home coming East across Lake Erie from Sandusky, Ohio, through 250 miles of the Erie Canal across upstate New York and down the Hudson River flowing south, over, around and through a storied history of our country's foundation.  We sailed right down the very Hudson river that Commander Sulley landed flight 1549, saluted the Statue of Liberty and sailed under the Verrazano-Narrows bridge to Sandy Hook point, then into the North Atlantic to make our way South. We spent time with friends that live on the Chesapeake Bay, and my son Chase flew in from Denver and made a leg with us.  We port-hopped into beautiful and historic cities like Cape May, Ocracoke, Beaufort and "Beaufort", Cape Fear, Charleston, Hilton Head, Savannah, and right on down into Florida spending time in St. Augustine, Ft. Lauderdale and Marathon.  Instead of rounding the Florida straights we went South and West to Key West, then further West out to the Dry Tortugas.  We made a 200 and 130 mile crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.  And yes, we made it to here.  But not without challenges.  We have had to deal with running aground, engine failures, storms and heavy seas, a huricane in the Chesapeake, 40 knot winds in South Carolina, $5+ fuel prices and refrigeration replacement in St. Augustine.  Off the water we had to deal with one way car rentals, airline scheduling, a bout with cancer, a pulled back muscle, us turning 64 and 70, tornado devastation of Quinn's marina and juggling of all the other demands that life offers.  Was it worth it?  Yes.   Now that we have the boat in her home berth, I can't wait to plan the next excursion.  First I want to come back to the beautiful spots close to home like Port St Joe, Panama City and Pensacola.  Then there is always Mexico, Bahamas, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.  I really thank the good Lord for a safe journey. 

One Eightly in her new home
Susie's welcome home banner
When we arrived Sailboat Bay in Gulf Shores, Susie had arranged a welcome party with baloons, banners and close friends.  The high school band and fire-boats streaming could not make it, but we were glad to have the welcome home.

To see the complete picture album, click here:

OneEighty and Briar Patch (our old boat) together at last

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