This trip is an accumulation of milestones. Starting the trip at Mackinaw City, Boating through Chicago, Tackling the Mississippi River, Mastering the lock systems, Entering the Tenn-Tom Waterway; Reaching Mobile Alabama; Crossing Mobile Bay; Navigating the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to Carrabelle Florida and now we have one more to check off—
NIGHT CROSSING OF THE GULF OF MEXICO!
CHOOSING A ROUTE TO CROSS THE BEND
The area of the Florida Panhandle that curves from the panhandle south to Tarpon Springs is shallow and navigating the area close to shore is not safe for boats that have a deeper draft. There are a couple towns that can be reached via channels; however with the tide, there is still a high chance of running aground. Some boaters chose to do the run from Carrabelle to Steinhatchee to Crystal river then continue to Tarpon Springs. Aside from the shallow waters, this requires waiting for good weather on 3 different short crossings; and it may extend the wait time at each harbor to get good calm weather to do the next leg.
The other option, and the one we chose, is to bite the bullet and cross directly from Carrabelle on the panhandle of Florida and head south to Tarpon Springs and locations beyond. This is 170 miles dock to dock. The challenge that meets the boaters on the southern end of the crossing are crab pots sprinkled across the bay. To avoid approaching the crab pots in the early morning hours (when the sun might be directly in your eyes); it is strategic to leave Carrabelle at 2 pm; motor through the night and arrive at the channel marker (and crab pot areas) after 10 am when the sun is up high enough that it doesn’t blind the captain. Once past the crab pots and channel markers, it is an additional hour or two south through the intracoastal waterway to reach the marinas. Total of aprox. 22 hours!
CHART ROOM FOR FINAL CAPTAINS MEETING
One final meeting of the minds in the Chart room at Carrabelle.
We are traveling with Enterprise; CJ, Miss Bailey , Follow the Dream and us on Moon Shadow. Once we get to Dog Island we will be joined by Horizon Chaser and Sweet T making a flotilla of 7 boats crossing together.
Our float plans our filed with family or friends on land. We all checked our lights the night before to make sure they work; and also tested the dimmers on the navigation panels so they don’t blind us by being too bright at night.
Our guidelines for speed, course and even what order we will start out in our discussed so each boater has an idea of where others will be in the middle of the night. We expect to stay within .5 mile of each other and will have sight of our lights throughout the night. The first and last boats have AIS transponder and receiver as well as radar so will be able to easily see the other 7 boats on the chart plotter. Those of us in the middle may not have AIS or may just have a receiver.
Driving our boats at night is usually something we try to avoid on this trip; so this will certainly be an adventure!
OFFICIAL STARTING LINE – BUOY R2 BY DOG ISLAND
The first step is to leave the marina at the designated time and meet at Dog Island about 8 miles from the marina. Two boats needed to stop at the fuel dock, the rest of us filed out toward the island.
As agreed, we headed for a channel marker R2 where we set course for the R2 marker near Anclote River- 155 miles to the south east. This is the official start point and we are off right on time!
FULL MOON OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO
The beautiful moon rose on a clear night – dubbed the Super Moon!
CRAB POTS AS PREDICTED
The small softball size crab pot buoy floats are colorful and dot the water about 30 miles from our destination.
The lead boat started calling them out on the radio as they dodged them. “yellow stripe pot on the starboard”. “red and green to our port” “Green -oops I think we hit that one’”. As it popped out behind- luckily did not get caught!
We lined up and followed along- it felt like a slalom course as we dipped and dived around the crab pots.
Important to avoid them, if the line that connects the marker ball to the pot hanging below it gets caught in a propeller it is not good news.
ROLL CALL, SNACKS AND NAP
How to stay awake for 22 hours on a boat? Take turns at the helm, and nap if you can. We were lucky to have calm seas; and could take an hour or 2 nap each. When Dave was at the helm- music kept him going. When Colleen took the helm, (and Dave was sleeping), an audio book passed the time. In hindsight, Message in a Bottle may not have been such a good choice. I didn’t realize it involved a sailboat lost at sea in a storm!! (expected a simple love story)
Each hour one of the boats would call out for roll call- we each responded on the radio and confirmed we were awake and not just on auto pilot!
A few snacks helped pass the time as well- can’t beat cheese and crackers, fruit and pasta salad at midnight.
It also became a challenge to get a good photo of the moon, of the dark water, or the dolphins.
SUNRISE OVER THE GULF OF MEXICO
The sunrise was awesome, although the clouds were filling in by then. Good timing as we were ahead of schedule, but felt the sun in our eyes when searching for crab pots would not be an issue.
22 HOURS LATER; ARRIVE AT DUNEDIN, FL. MARKER 1 MARINA
We arrived at Marker1 marina and were met by able dock hands to help guide us in and tie up our lines. Several boats turned off at Turtle Cove in Tarpon Springs, we continued abut 7 miles to Marker 1 marina. This area has 3 foot tides, so we were watchful that it wasn’t too shallow when we approached the marina.
The tides will be a new challenge as we move south along the coast of Florida. At low tides we can see birds standing in areas that would be 3 feet deep in high tide a few hours later.
It is not uncommon to see a boat run aground by passing outside a channel or moving into an area at the wrong time of tide! The tow boats are quick to respond when needed. Or the boat just sits and waits a few hours for the tide to rise them off the bottom!
RECAP OF THE CROSSING
Left on Monday November 14 from Carrabelle at 2:00 PM. Arrived Tuesday November 15 at 12 noon. Traveled 170 miles in 22 hours.