The sun peeked up above the horizon around 6:00 a.m. the next morning, finding us stretching and blinking in the cockpit, ready for a big cup of coffee and a crisp morning sail. We readied the boat, taped up a new catch bin under the transmission and tossed the lines. The sea that morning was calm and the waves were dancing and playing around the boat, literally pulling us home. We headed out of the pass at Panama City and set our sights west towards Pensacola.
To this day, Phillip and I still talk about that sail, with a dreamy look in our eyes, a blissful, breathy sigh and, sometimes, a small salty tear in one eye. Okay, no tear – those are just allergies – but we always refer to that sail as the “best sail of our life.” Because it was. The sea state was calm, 2 to 3 foot waves lulled and pushed our boat, and the water was a soft, denim blue.
It was a beautiful, sunny May day (not “May Day!” — just a day in May) and we spent most of the morning basking up on the foredeck and watching horizon.
And please do note here the fancy schmancy trash bag tied to the shroud. Just so happens we lost the flag with the dinghy (https://havewindwilltravel.com/2013/06/24/april-17-23-2013-the-crossing-chapter-five-a-harrowing-debacle/)and this was our rigged-up wind indicator in the interim: a good old Glad trash bag tied to a pole. We do get creative on the boat!
At one point we were sitting in the cockpit and Phillip saw a patch of light brown ahead on the water. He started checking the map and the depth gage to make sure it wasn’t a shoal sticking out that would cause us to run aground (we’re always worried about that damn depth!). He asked me to go up to the bow and look to see what it was. As I went forward, I could see the big, brown patch he was talking about but as we neared it, I could tell it was just some dirty, frothy blob of something floating out to sea. For my environmentally conscious followers out there, I’m sure it wasn’t pollutants, or radio-active at least. It was just sea junk. But it was shallow there, about 8 feet and the water was a crystal green, so clear I could see straight through to the bottom. Just as I was looking down admiring the water, five, six, seven dolphins came swimming up and around the bow of our boat, rolling around on each other, playing, jumping and diving.
Like a tweenager at a Justin Bieber concert, I started giggling and screaming at the sight of them. (And know that I had to Google Bieber to make sure I spelled it right – apparently it’s “i” before “e” – that’s just how big a fan I am). I scared Phillip half to death back in the cockpit, him thinking we were about to run up on a shoal and wreck the whole boat. But, I quickly assured him, it was just the most amazing sight I’d ever seen – no big deal. Those dolphins really were something. I’ve never seen so many swimming around and playing together like that. As a fun little aside, I now know what I think they were doing, click here if you’re interested: http://scienceline.ucsb.edu/getkey.php?key=1132.
While the dolphins were certainly “pleasurable,” the rest of that sail is what Phillip and I are really talking about when we mention the “best sail of our life.” It was around noon that day, and we’d just had a great lunch, a refreshing drink and were kicked back enjoying the sail when the wind came on us south, southwest at about 10-12 knots. The sails filled and never moved. We stayed on that tack for 16 hours. Six-teen. We barely had to hold the wheel, the sails were so balanced.
We set the auto pilot so it could make the centimeter adjustment that was needed every hour,
All set here Cap’n. Turn on the “Otto!”
then we moved up to the foredeck picnic style, with snacks, chairs, a book, and just enjoyed life. Phillip said he had never been a tack that long. It was incredible. The sea state started to pick up into the evening,
but it stayed on the same angle, south southwest, which only meant we went faster, still perfectly balanced, still gliding right along on our path with the helm needing only intermittent supervision.
Around ten, we saw fireworks on the horizon. Just tiny little dots exploding above the water.
We thought it might have been Destin, although we weren’t sure, we were so far from shore. But it didn’t matter where they were coming from, in our minds, they were for us. Our own little private fireworks show in the middle of the Gulf.
And, the moon that night was exceptional. It was bigger and brighter than I had ever seen it before, with defined crevices and craters crawling all over it.
Just amazing. It felt like we had a beacon spotlight pouring into the cockpit all night long. We kept turning around out of habit to see what big ass barge was coming up on us with that blinding light. We felt like those teenagers who got caught fooling around in the backseat in the parking lot when the cop comes up and shines a blinding light through the window. But, turns out, it was just the moon. It was shocking how clearly we could see everything. I could hold up my hand and see every wrinkle (yes, my hands have wrinkles – they work hard) in the middle of the night. And, it was a little cool so we were wearing our fleeces. We huddled up with some mugs of hot tea and just sat, letting the sound of the wind blowing through the sails entertain us. No incessant chatter, no small talk, and especially no freaking Delilah.
We neared Pensacola Pass around 4:00 a.m. and I tell you (aside from the time I jumped off without a line) I’ve never seen Phillip’s eyes light up like that. He looked like a little boy about to get a big cotton candy at the fair, sticky little fingers outstretched, hopping on one toe. He was finally home. Finally in waters he recognized. I’ll never forget his face when he saw the Pensacola Lighthouse. And, it really was neat to think this was the same lighthouse that had been bringing sailors into the Pensacola Pass for centuries.
http://www.pensacolalighthouse.org/index/history/early-history. That’s right. That life-saving beacon was built in 1824 (for a smooth $5,000 too!) and has been spinning ever since. Phillip and I took the tour a while back and really enjoyed it. The history and building are breath-taking.
With the lighthouse guiding us, we came into the Pass and started making our way home, having agreed that would forever be the best sail of our lives. Everything had been so perfect. Apparently too perfect. We finally had to pull off of our tack, that beautiful, glorious 16-hour tack, and crank the engine. Yes, the engine. The root of all evil! But it was the first time we’d had to crank it in about a 20-hour passage so all-told, it was worth it for that perfect sail. But, we had to have the engine to maneuver our way toward the pier. I went down to check on our catch bin and unfortunately she was filling up quickly. I know, the damn transmission again – could it BE anything else?? If you recall, in order to dump the “caught” fluid back into the transmission, we had to kill the engine and let her cool for about 10 minutes before I could touch the bolt to the transmission chamber to pour the fluid back in. Unfortunately, though, we really didn’t have ten minutes of sea to be a-floating through aimlessly. The wind was not working in our favor in the Bay and we needed the engine to keep us on track toward the entrance to the pier. We had to have a motor running, but our bin was filling fast. I was watching it rise to the top, clocking the speed of the drops, and trying to guess how much time we had left.
I hollered up to Phillip, “I think we’ve got about five minutes left on this bottle.”
Phillip hollered back, “We’ve got about ten minutes left to go.”