Our first Gulf crossing (well sort of)

Saturday, departure day.  I think we’re both a little anxious and just want to get started, so we are up early.  Of course, we’re fogged in.  We spend a few hours listening to weather reports, second guessing our route and securing items that had already been secured just to work off some of the nervous energy. 

Still fogged in but no problem, the weather man says it will burn off around 10 am.  We’re anchored about an hour away from the Gulf via clearly marked channels so just before 10 we crank up the motor and head out.  As we slowly make our way toward the Gulf, the fog is still not lifting.  According to our AIS and radar we were surrounded by ships, but we couldn’t actually see them.

Leaving Galveston Bay

The plan was to leave Galveston and enter the Gulf heading south. We would skirt the fairways to avoid drilling rigs then turn east to Fort Myers, Florida.  The wind is expected to be on our nose, but minimal, for the run south with waves up to two meters.  There is a cold front expected in a couple of days which would bring high winds from the north and we wanted to get below that.

About a half hour after entering the Gulf the fog lifted but the swells built.  Swell may not be the correct term; a better description would be washing machine effect.  They were coming from all directions of varying heights and with the wind on our nose the boat was rocking and rolling.  About that time my seasickness kicked in.  I got Russell to put a patch on me which proved to be a grave error.  I have never used the patch before and must have had some type of reaction to it because for the next 3 days I was passed out, waking up only to sip water and throw up.

Russell basically became a single hander.  Amazingly he had cell service for a short period about a 150 miles out and was able to post a picture on Facebook.  He saw some dolphins, a meteor and big waves.  I think he was enjoying the challenge and having a great time!

On Sunday afternoon he had to cross the shipping lane which was so busy, he had to wait for five ships to pass before he could cross.   Later he decided to put out the jib as he had been motor sailing with just the main and wanted to give the motor a break. 

Gulf Sailing

A few hours later, the winds increased and all hell broke loose!

I remember waking up to the boat heeled over and hearing water.  I got up and looked in the bathroom to see water pouring in through the window. As I was trying to make my way up on deck the bilge alarm went off, so I just opened the cabinet and started pumping away with the manual bilge pump.  I still have no idea what is going on because I’d been passed out for two days at this point.

Meanwhile, Russell hears a loud bang and the jib sail went slack. The whisker stay, which is a rod under the bow sprit at the front of the boat, had broken.  He had to hurry and get the sails down to take the pressure off of the rigging.

The purpose of the whisker stay is to hold up the mast and rigging.  Without it we could have lost all of our rigging.  Fortunately, he was able use lines to tie off the mast. He disconnected the bottom of our roller furler and tied it off.  He also had to take the anchor off to reduce the weight on the bow.  He then checked the window found half of the seal was missing which had caused the water that was coming into the boat when we were heeled over.

Distance wise, the closest option would have been to head north however, due to the cold front coming down, that have meant bashing directly into waves and wind.  This would have put too much pressure on the temporary fix to the rigging so Russell made the decision to continue on the Ft Myers.

I was only able to stay awake long enough to give him a short break so, through all of this. he had been functioning by taking periodic 15 minute naps.  I am amazed and grateful he was able to analyze and implement the fix to our rigging!

The patch that I had put on was supposed to work for three days so on Monday I began to be able to stay awake for more than a few minutes.  I guess the fact that I still had the damn thing on just shows how out of it I was.  Once I took it off, I was able to begin to function even though I was still a little nauseous.

We were still running south to protect our rigging as much as possible.  Because we couldn’t put any up sail to stabilize us, the boat was rolling and pitching in every direction imaginable.  Anything not tied down was flying everywhere including us.  At one point a full bottle of laundry detergent flew out of a cabinet and spilled across the salon floor.  Cleaning that up while sliding back and forth across the floor was an experience I don’t ever want to repeat.

On the plus side, we did get close enough to Cuba to catch a radio station!  Finally the winds turned enough that we could start to head northeast to meet our original track.  Although it was still very rough and hard to move around the boat, we had a couple of beautiful hot (almost 90 degree) days with a full moon at night. We had still hoped to get to the east coast of Florida but since that would have required bashing into the wind and waves, later we chose to head for the panhandle.

Looking out and seeing nothing but open water as far as the eye can see, with you in a small boat, is pretty awe-inspiring.  There were more dolphins and lots of Portuguese Man of War jellies.  We probably motored a few hundred miles north before seeing the first deep water oil platform.  These things are impressive!  While passing one of these platforms, the autopilot suddenly wanted to turn us then gave an error message.  After numerous attempts to fix it, we realized we would be hand steering the rest of the way.  Twenty or so hours of switching off every two to three we were near Pensacola.


Of course, this trip ended just as it began – in pea soup fog.  Using the charts, peering through the fog for the next marker and fighting a very strong outgoing current, we made our way behind Pensacola beach into English Navy Cove and dropped the anchor after five days at sea.

Now we’ll get some rest, fix what we broke and plan the next leg of this adventure!

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