Bombs Over Baghdad!

May 5, 2014:

Shrimpers.  That’s what they were.  Those strange looking UFO ships out on the water.

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They were huge shrimping vessels with massive football stadium-like lights flooding the deck.  No red or green for port or starboard, so you couldn’t tell which way they were going (or coming!), only that they were getting closer and closer and closer.  Super annoying when you’re cruising at night and not sure if the shrimp boat is going to come across your bow or cut behind your stern.  And, what was worse, when they finally passed us about 100 yards off of our port stern, it looked like there was no one on deck or at the helm.  They were probably all below playing poker and smoking cigars or something, just trudging blind across the Gulf, blissfully unaware of any other potential vessels in their path!  Stinking shrimpers!  We were cursing them all night.  We probably “encountered” four or five of their “kind” that night and had to stay on constant watch.

Sadly, too, there wasn’t much wind that night.  We had to motor until about 1:00 a.m. when the winds finally picked up to about 3 knots.  It wasn’t much, but it was the most we’d seen in 12 hours, so it was enough for us to throw out the sails.  I will say the Hinterhoeller is an exceptional lightwind boat.  Favorable seas and any breeze 3 knots or greater and we can usually achieve hull speed about 2 knots less than the wind, if not more.  So, if it’s blowing 5 knots and we’re not beating into big waves, we can usually make around 3 knots, which is great.  A typical wind of 7-8 knots, and we’re often making 5, easy.  Like I said, an incredible vessel that still never ceases to amaze us.  Thankfully, with a light 3 knots of wind that night, we were able to finally kill the engine for a bit and sail!  Until about 4:30 a.m., when the wind died out again and we had to crank back up.  Dag nabbit!  But, we did cruise right on into a beautiful sunrise over the Gulf.

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May 6, 2014:

And, have you ever had one of those perfect Saturday mornings where you wake up, lounge around in your PJs, make a big weekend-morning breakfast like french toast, or pancakes, and then fall back asleep till like 10:00 a.m.?  Ahhh …  Isn’t that the best?  Well, this morning was kind of like that.  We watched the sun rise, made some piping hot coffee, sipped it, devoured two heaping bowls of steaming oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar and then …

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took a nap!  The morning chill was still in the air and we were both a little tired from the two-hour shifts the night before, so we eased into the day nice and slow like, taking turns napping in the cockpit.  But, the sun finally started to ease up and so did we.  It was a gorgeous day out in the Gulf.

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Unlike the crystal green waters we had encountered around Clearwater and Tampa Bay, the waters here were a deep, rich royal blue,

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and just as stunning in their own way.  We even had a sea turtle come and visit us!

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I know, looks kind of like a grainy alien photo, but I promise, it’s a turtle.  I finished a fun, quick suspense read that morning – Lee Child’s 61 Hours – and the joke was we had been motoring about that long, too.  61 hours, huh?  Not quite that long, but it felt like it.  About 12 hours the day and night before, and add another 6 or so since we’d cranked around 4:30 that morning.  So, 18 hours so far, which is a long time to keep that engine going.  We decided to turn her off and bob for a bit so we could let her cool and check the oil.

You know what they say — “Diesels love oil like a sailor loves rum.”  (And, by “they” I mean Captain Ronnaturally)

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There you go girl …  Drink up!

The wind was still mocking us, gracing by our boat at a light 0.5 to 1.3 knots.  1.3??  Look out!  It’s getting gusty up here!!  It was amazing to see the waters of the Gulf, which we have seen many times brimming with 3 foot, 4 foot, even 6 foot waves, look like solid … glass.

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There would be no sailing for this vessel anytime soon.  So, we cranked back up and decided to heat up some of our broccoli-less broccoli crappola (also known as sweet potato chili),

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and throw together a great cucumber, tomato and feta salad for lunch.

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This salad is great because it’s super easy.  It’s literally cucumber, tomato, a little bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and feta.  A great way to throw together some random vegetables you may have on the boat or some feta that needs to be eaten.  With water like glass, a nice lunch spread laid out before us, and nothing but easy motoring to do, we thought we were in for an tranquil day.  But, that’s when it struck …

You might recall me asking you all, in jest — What’s the Worst Thing You Can Have On a Boat?  And, no, it was not the “busted mate”

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(although that was close).  For us, it was the LEAK!

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Our stupid dripping dripless.  That was the worst thing we’d had on the boat … up unto that point at least.  But recall we ran through some possibilities then – fire, lightning, etc.  Now, it seemed we were about to have something new.  Phillip and I had just curled up in the cockpit with our chili and salad and were ready to kick back for a relaxing lunch when

>> BOOM <<

Out of nowhere, with nothing out of ordinary in sight.  We both jolted upright and starting looking around.  And then again

>> BOOM <<

It sounded like bombs were exploding over head.  I’ll never forget how quickly Phillip put his bowl down and jumped behind the helm, scanning the horizon.  In military mode.  Of all the things that we could expect to happen on the boat.  A bomb?!?  You have got to be kidding me.  When another BOOM came with no sign of an explosion or threat near our boat, we started to run through the possibilities.  Phillip said he knew they often used the northern part of the Gulf as a testing zone for bombs and other detonation devices.  They would fly out of Tyndall or Eglin Air Force Base and drop in the designated zones.  Tyndall AFB is just south of Panama City.

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Assuming they had a drop zone about … yay … big (give or take)

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and assuming our projected path of about … here’ish (I know, real technical stuff),

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it was wholly probable that we were either in their testing zone or at least close enough to hear it.  While Phillip knew they often did testing in this area of the Gulf, he said they usually issued some notice or warning to mariners over the radio to advise of the bombings.  If they were bombing anywhere near us, he would have expected to have heard an advisory go out over the radio or to have seen marine vessels or air support checking to make sure the testing zone was clear.  He clicked on the radio and listened for any advisories, but we didn’t hear anything.  Either the testing was occurring much too far away to constitute any potential threat to us (although I can assure you it did not sound like it), or the ole’ Rest had gone rogue and done slipped through their barriers!  Flanking them on the inside!  We didn’t see any action on the horizon or hear any advisories on the radio, so we figured we were at a safe enough distance, but that didn’t stop us from standing up and doing a 360 every time another bomb went off!  BOOM!

It was the wildest thing.  As cruisers, you prepare for a lot of contingencies when you start doing overnight passages and Gulf crossings – you pack spares for every single piece of equipment, and then spares for those spares, you have a ditch bag handy and rehearse man-overboard drills, you keep a knife, a flashlight and a gaff near the cockpit in case someone or some thing goes overboard – all kinds of safety precautions.  But, a bomb plan??  I can tell you we certainly did NOT have that.  But, like I said, they seemed to be no real threat, so we let the bombs drop all around us all afternoon while we continued to motor toward Carrabelle.  As the sun started the drop, the wind laid down even more (it was blowing — if you can even qualify it as “blowing” — between 0.3 and 0.5 knots) and the water began to look like a smooth satin sheet laid out before us.

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Eventually the two became one and there was no discernible horizon.

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It was incredibly beautiful and humbling, to know that a body of water so dangerous and deadly at times could lay down and  spread out like a smooth silk path for our passage.  Even more awe-inspiring was the friend who joined us for dinner.  A tiny, lone sparrow flitted around our boat twice before finally coming to a shaky halt on a lifeline and heaving little pants of exhaustion from his overwhelming flight.

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Where did he come from?  Where was he going?  How did he make it all the way to our boat, more than a hundred miles offshore, in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico?  We didn’t know, but we didn’t need to.  He was welcome regardless.  He closed his beady little eyes and stayed right with us until the sun set and we could no longer make him out.

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It was Phillip, the bird and I, motoring into another night on the Gulf, with Carrabelle awaiting us, on the other side of the sunrise.

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This entry was posted in Cruise to the Keys 2014, Good Grub, Gulf Crossing, Sail Skills and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Bombs Over Baghdad!

  1. Casey says:

    Ahhhh, the extra attention to detail needed on the night watch. That special period of time when you are even more prone to the dangers of the sea, and in all likelihood when the worst things happen. What you don’t know can hurt you, or kill you. Good experience for a 2nd mate to undergo. Gives them the opportunity to see the reality of life underway. So, at least the larger, better equipped shrimpers have their deck lights on, which at least makes you aware that they are there, even if it washes out the nav lights (illegal by the way). Did you use binoculars to check the running lights? No? Did you check your radar to determine range and bearing? Yeah, I know, they are expensive to buy and maintain. Did you shoot a couple of relative bearings at 5 minute intervals to determine a vector? No? Then, did you make a radio call to contact the other vessel(s) to establish speed, direction and intentions. No? Then your sailing blind, and you’ll end up with a close aboard approach. Sometimes a CBDR not determined in time will make for a really, really bad night. Yeah, it’s all a pain, but it’s the life of the prudent mariner. Funny how that tends to happen out in the middle of the Gulf on a beautiful, calm night too. Then, there are the vessels not displaying any lights at all (illegal by the way). But when you’re running cocaine, heroine, or pot at a high rate of speed to try to avoid the Coast Guard, DEA, and Customs (yeah they’re all out there too running darkened ship to catch the bad guys) you don’t have time for the rules of the road. If you had made a radio call, you probably would have realized just how right you are that they probably don’t have a proper watch on the bridge. (sadly, that’s the case with some of the deep draft vessels too by the way)(also illegal by the way). Be/stay alert out there! Moving on to the “bombs”. I’m thinking it might have been sonic booms rather than live ordnance. You’re right that they would likely be making BNTMs regarding training/firing exercises, but some of the ranges are always hot. They are depicted on the nautical charts (practically the whole Gulf, Ha!) I’m thinking what you heard were the “fast movers” doing aerial combat training. They usually have a “hard deck” of 10,000ft, and your hearing them either go into and out of the “fight box”. Tyndall does do target drone launches for live fire exercises, but in addition to the broadcasts they usually fly over the area where the pieces parts are likely to fall to make sure no one’s cruising through the area and have a recovery vessel on scene to warn you off. Then, if you get really lucky, a couple of those fast movers will drop down low over the water (50-100 ft) just for fun at about 500mph, and make you think God just took you home. They aren’t doing it intentionally (usually) you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Neat as hell to see from 1000 ft. away if you are ready for it, but cataclysmic from any closer. You’ll start to realize what it was (if you are still capable of realization) after you are deaf, shaking uncontrollably, don’t know your own name, soaking wet, if not knocked overboard (in which case you will be soaking wet) and probably having lost control of all bodily functions. That will jolt you out of that serene, lazy morning breakfast bliss. Have fun out there!

  2. Pingback: The Whole World … and Only Carrabelle’s Got It | Have Wind Will Travel

  3. Pingback: Who You Gonna Call? | Have Wind Will Travel

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