Chapter Twelve: The Final Storm

The sunrises at Port St. Joe have been some of the best we’ve seen.  The last time Phillip and I left there the year before, it had been at sunrise, the boat was bobbing along in slick, pink water toward the ditch with pelicans just grazing the surface.


As we motored away from the Port St. Joe Marina in Mitch’s Nonsuch the day seemed no different (although we were headed offshore this time as opposed to up the ditch), but the sky was still stained a pastel pink behind the marina, and the air felt crisp and cool as we tidied up the dock lines and prepared the Nonsuch for her last offshore passage on her way to Pensacola.


While the winds were very light in the marina, Mitch did a good job of de-docking the boat and easing us away from all those treacherous pilings and docks.  (Marinas can be a very dangerous place for boats you know!)  Phillip and I could both tell Mitch was getting more and more of a feel for the boat the more we made him single-hand it (with us aboard as make-shift “training wheels,” mind you), but he was still virtually cruising along on his own without too much help from us, which was fun to see.

As we pulled out of St. Joseph Bay and back into the Gulf, it seemed the winds had decided it was not our lucky day to sail.  They were right on the nose, initially not enough, then too much.  We kept the motor going for momentum, but it was sail up, then sail down (to reef it), then sail back upkind of frustrating, particularly with the big Nonsuch sailbut we were still technically sailing across calm waters, so we had little to complain about.

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After seven hours of light winds and unfavorable tacking, though, Phillip finally decided to give it up.  Poor thing, he’d been wanting to sail for days on this trip and it just wasn’t happening.  While we never wanted rough seas and heavy weather, some nice sailing would have been, well … nice.  But, alas.  Such is life.  When we saw we still had 30 hours to go to make it to Pensacola and we had been going 7 already (on what was supposed to be about a 24-26 hour trip total), we decided it was time to drop the sail and just crank on again, relying solely on the Westerbeke to help chug this vessel home in hopes that she would someday do some great sailing in Pensacola Bay.

We were still out there in blue waters, enjoying the vast horizon and the calm surroundings.  Absent the fickle winds, it really was a beautiful day out in the Gulf.


A little after noon, we heard a distress call come over the radio.  We had been monitoring Channel 16 for any distress calls and this was the first time we’d heard something significant come over.  We always find it incredibly interesting to listen to these types of calls: a) for learning purposes (as we learn more about how to respond to an emergency aboard our vessel) and b) because you often only hear one side of the conversation─that of the Coast Guard’s because their VHF reach is further.  We have heard such conversations before play out as follows:

USCG:  “How many aboard your vessel sir?”

       No response.

USCG:  “Where did the leak begin?”

       No response.

USCG:  “Are you able to bail water faster than the intake?”


Yeah … not really the conversation you want to hear out on the water.  What was the first cackled inquiry we heard from the Coast Guard this time?

USCG:  “Where did the fire begin?”

       No response.

At first we didn’t hear anything. We didn’t see anything on the horizon.  Then we saw a big sport fishing boat cross our bow a few miles ahead and the radio crackled back to life.

Fishing Boat:  “We’re approximately 10 miles from the burning vessel.”

The Coast Guard swapped him over from Channel 16 to 22─where we (of course) swap over as well to listen─before responding:

USCG:  “Sport vessel, if you are able, please respond to the vessel in distress, assist as needed and report back.  We’re an hour and a half out.”

All three of us perked up and began looking around the horizon.  Then, faintly after a few minutes, the tiniest cloud of grey began to appear on the horizon.  It then deepened in color and began to billow toward the sky.  It was right there.  We could see it!  A vessel on fire!

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I’m not sure I can imagine much worse on a boat than a fire aboard.  Thankfully─after ten pretty intense minutes─the fishing boat finally arrived to the scene and reported several people adrift behind the vessel in a life raft and others swimming in the water.  Finally the captain of the burning vessel got on the radio and told the USCG: “I’m the Captain of the vessel.  I’ll bet you want to speak to me.”  Ummm … yes!

Thankfully, the Captain reported that all the crew aboard were safely evacuated, including his eleven year-old son, but the vessel was a total loss.  *sigh*  Can you imagine??  Thankfully they were all safe, but what a sad thing to watch your boat burn on the water.  I don’t even want to think about it.  That said, while Mitch, Phillip and I were not thrilled to be motoring across the Gulf, we were certainly counting our blessings knowing our vessel was intact and chugging along safely toward home port.  Sometimes a little perspective can change everything.  When fire was the very real alternative, motoring wasn’t so bad.

We were also trying to get Mitch’s boat back to the dock in Pensacola by 4:00 p.m. the following day so we could avoid bringing his boat back into a new port and new dock in the dark.  We cruised along into the afternoon, cleaned up in the cockpit around dusk and settled into a nice evening routine.

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But, that’s where we made our mistake.  We let our guard down.  Just as we got settled into the evening, we’d divied up the night shifts and decided we were going to have a nice, easy night motoring along, that’s when Mother Nature decided just the opposite.  Once again (I swear to you, we were haunted by thunderheads on this trip), big ominous clouds began to billow and build to the north of us and it was just after sunset that we saw our first slither of white against the sky.  It was lightning.  Again.

It mostly stayed at bay but we decided to put the bimini back up just in case it rained during the night and get our foul weather gear ready.  [One side note, I do love that the bimini on Mitch’s boat drops like a convertible.  While I know we can’t do the same on ours both as a matter of design and now, because of the solar panels, of which I am a huge fan, I still envy the ease with which Mitch’s boat becomes a cool, topless cruiser at the drop of a hat.]  But this was not going to be the night for us to cruise gently underneath the stars.  There would be no dancing on top of the coaming, belting out some incorrect Lorde lyrics.  None of that.  Not this night.



This would be the night that the storms finally found us.  All of those evenings we watched as beautiful storm clouds brewed in the distance, enchanting us with sparks of lightning left and right.  


This was going to be the night she decided to squat right on top of us.  Mitch woke me for my first night shift around midnight as he headed to the vberth to get some rest.  We still had hard winds right on the nose so we were still motoring along fine but the clouds to the north continued to build and blot out the horizon.  There was no longer sky and sea to starboard, it was just black.  I eased us off a little more to the west in hopes of avoiding it but it seemed to be bent on chasing us.  When it was time for me to wake Phillip for his shift at 1:30 a.m., it looked like it was about to drop on us at any moment.  I stayed up with Phillip until 2:00 a.m. to see if it would stay at bay or so I would be ready on deck to help him if it did not.  

Phillip and I were both hunkered down by the companionway.  While Mitch’s boat does have a huge bimini, it does not have a dodger so the only place to really hide from the spitting rain was curled up under the height of the companionway.  The auto-pilot was holding at the time and Phillip and I were keeping a constant look at the horizon.  Phillip would step back behind the helm every ten-or-so minutes to check the instruments and readings and then would come back and hunker down again with me.  I watched his face every time, as his eyes darting from instrument to instrument─comforted by the lack of change in his expression, which told me everything was running smoothly.  But just as I shifted my gaze back to the horizon, I heard him say it.

“The GPS is out.”

I blinked back at him through the rain.  “The what?” I asked, although I knew exactly what he had said.  I had heard the words.  I knew what they were, but I just couldn’t quite get my mind to comprehend to put them together and tell me exactly what that meant.  The GPS is out … 

“It’s out,” Phillip said again.  “It can’t seem to find our location.”

My gears finally started to turn and knock some rust to the floor.  “Is the compass still lit?” I asked, recalling during our passage in the Niagara across the Gulf that the compass light had flickered a time or two and I thought to myself at the time: What if both the GPS and the compass light went out?  I’m sure worse has happened to many out there, and I guess you could get a head lamp or flash light to keep the compass lit, but you don’t really ponder these things until your instruments start dropping one by one.

“Yeah, we’ve got a heading and the auto-pilot is holding,” Phillip said, “but the storm must be so heavy on us, we can’t get a satellite signal.  The GPS can’t pick us up.”

I just frowned at him. What else was I going to do?  The best person to be sitting in front of that gismo trying to make it work was Phillip.  I didn’t have any brilliant ideas other than restart it─like a goobered up computer.  Just re-boot it.  But, Phillip knew that was my go-to.  There wasn’t anything I could tell him he hadn’t already thought of or tried.  

“Well,” I said.  “I’ll keep a good lookout,” I told him, knowing the worst part of a lost GPS was the fact that we couldn’t see upcoming obstacles on the screen─bouys, markers, towers, and the dangerous like.  It was hard, though, to see anything on the horizon with the clouds and rain on us.  I could barely differentiate the water from the sky, but I kept squinting out, keeping my eyes level with where I thought the horizon was in case anything could stand out.  Phillip’s shift played out like this for another thirty minutes until he sent me down to get some rest around 2:30 a.m. 

I heard him rustle Mitch a little before 3:00 a.m.  I looked at the clock to note the time and figured everything was fine as it was just time for Mitch’s shift.  Then I heard Mitch and Phillip speaking loudly in the cockpit, likely to be heard over the rain and likely because Mitch is just a loud guy and was clearly worked up.  When I heard my name, I stuck my head out of the companionway to see what was going on.

“Good, get up here,” Mitch said as he grabbed one of my elbows and started to pull me into the cockpit.  I looked around and then back at Phillip to get some reassurance.  The storm was still rolling and churning on our starboard side.  Closer now, but no more intense than when Phillip and I had been watching it some thirty minutes earlier.

“No,” Phillip said.  I didn’t know what they had been arguing about so I just stood still for a moment to see what Phillip wanted me to do.  Then it dawned on me.  This was Mitch’s first time, on his boat, in a storm.  The clouds had been ominous when he had gone down below around midnight but they hadn’t been this threatening.  Phillip and I had watched them build and Phillip and I had sailed through worse so, for Mitch─and particularly for the first time facing something like this on his boat─this was a bit frightening.

“If the storm’s going to hit, we should all stay up and weather it together,” Mitch said.  I remained silent.  While I didn’t mind staying up another shift if it was needed, I wasn’t sure it was and Phillip’s was the cue I was going to follow.  In situations like this, it always is.

“Why are you going to do that, huh?” Phillip said to Mitch a little sharply.  “You’re going to keep us all up and exhaust us all so that no one is fresh and ready to take over the wheel when your shift is over?”

Mitch sat kind of still for a moment, just blinking and looking at Phillip.  I knew he was a little frightened.  This was going to be a pretty big notch in his sailing belt, handling his own boat offshore in a storm.  I completely understood why he wanted help.  But, Phillip was right.  If we all stayed up, we would all be exhausted.  If the boys could handle it, they should, so that I could sleep and take over fresh the next shift.  I just looked at Mitch, pulled my elbow gently away and told them I was just a shout away if they needed anything.

“We’ll let you know,” Phillip said.  “Put the electronics in the oven and shut the companionway up on your way down in case it starts to rain.”

As I did, I watched Mitch watching me.  His eyes were kind of pleading like a dog who doesn’t want to be left outside.  A part of me felt bad for him but a bigger part did not.  This was just part of it.  It looked to be a pretty tolerable storm, but there’s nothing you can do but be as prepared as you can and then just be as smart as you can, which includes ensuring your crew is as rested and well-managed as possible.  Phillip was taking one for the team by staying up with Mitch during his shift, and that meant he would really need me to be fresh when my time rolled around.  Besides, I knew if the storm hit at the end of Mitch’s stint, my 4:00 a.m. shift was going to be hell on black water so rest was the best thing I could do for myself.  I closed the top to the companionway and tucked back down on the settee as I heard thunder rumble in the distance.  I hadn’t heard Phillip mention anything to Mitch about the GPS being out and I was pretty sure he just wouldn’t tell him.  Mitch didn’t need anything else to worry about right now.


I heard his voice straining through a little crack in the companionway.  It was Mitch, which didn’t mean I was not worried, but had it been Phillip’s I probably would have sprung out of bed and busted through those little companionway saloon doors in two steps.

“Yeah,” I said as I sat up on the settee.

“It’s your shift,” Mitch said.

I hate to admit but I’m sure my shoulders kind of fell and I know a little huff found its way out of me.  I was just tired.  I’d gone to bed around 10:00 p.m., woke around midnight to hold my shift, gone back to bed close to 3:00 a.m. and now it was just 4:00 a.m. and I was about to be back on deck till likely sunrise.  Now I know, when it comes to hearty tales of boats at sea─leaking all the way across the Atlantic with a crew that has to stay up around the clock for three days pumping water and holding the helm just to get the boat home─that my little “I’m tired” spiel this particular night means nothing, but at the moment it meant a lot to me.  It’s just honestly how I felt.  Like I wished I could have rolled back over and just kept sleeping.  But when I blinked myself awake and really took in my sights and sounds my adrenaline started to wake me up.  I could now see Mitch’s head was dripping into the companionway.  His hair was wet and I could now hear rain outside on the deck.  I hear a gust of wind rip through the cockpit and I heard Mitch’s feet scramble as he balanced himself over a wave.  I then thought about Phillip who had been up there since 1:30 a.m. and I cursed myself for entertaining my little pouty tired spell even for one minute.

I peeked up through the crack Mitch had made in the companionway opening to see Phillip still at the helm, which I’m sure he had held the entire time.  The man does not like the give up the wheel in a storm.  He was eyeing the storm still to the north of us and guiding the boat through 3-4 foot rollers.  I pulled myself into my sweaty foul weather gear and made my way topside.  Mitch seemed to be keen on the “crew needs rest” idea─now that it was his turn to go below─and he passed me with a quick, “Holler if you need me,” on his way down the companionway, which was fine.  It was his turn to sleep, but I was worried about Phillip, who was now going on his third shift in a row.

“I’m fine,” he said, anticipating my first inquiry as I settled into the cockpit, followed by, “it’s not too bad,” anticipating my second.  “It’s just spitting rain at us and pushing the boat around a little but, really, it’s not too bad.  I think it will pass in a couple of hours.”

I nodded at him.  “Oh, and the good news,” he said.  “The GPS is back up.”

Ahhh …  I had almost forgot, which sounds terrible but Phillip had just been manning everything so well it was kind of easy to forget.  Feeling guilty, I tried to get him to go below to get some rest but the man is stubborn, particularly in a storm.  He agreed to let me keep primary watch, although the auto-pilot was doing pretty well, while he sat and rested his eyes a bit with me in the cockpit.  We both kind of hunkered down across from one other, tucking up close to the companionway where it seemed to be the most protected and driest.  We were lucky it was the end of June and warm out there.  Had it been cold wind and rain spraying us, we would have been miserable.  It wasn’t fun, but it was intolerable and I guess Phillip and I could say this was just the type of experience we were hoping to get volunteering for another offshore passage.  We were definitely out there, battling the elements and facing Mother Nature head on.  That was part of what we wanted to get out of this trip, so in a sense we were getting just what we’d asked for.

For the most part it remained like that, just stinging rain and an uncomfortable sea state.  There was about a twenty-minute spell of hard, driving rain that made Phillip and I both a little uneasy.  We could barely hear each other shouting through it, confirming no obstacles were visible on either side (although confirmation was a bit shaky with visibility being so poor).  And the GPS went out again during this downpour, but it passed pretty soon, the GPS came back again and the storm seemed to ease up a bit afterward.

We woke Mitch up at 5:30 a.m. to hold his shift.  While it was still spattering and pushing us around, it wasn’t too bad at that point and Phillip and I both decided Mitch needed to get a feel for the boat in such conditions.  I stayed up in the cockpit with him, while Phillip crashed hard on the settee below.  Mitch was a little jittery at first but after twenty-or-so minutes behind the helm (just monitoring the auto-pilot mind you but still “second in charge”) and the storm easing off, his nerves seemed to calm and he was handling the boat well.  The true champions that night, though, were the engine and the auto-pilot.  That night would have been far more intimidating and exhausting without them.

I was in and out of sleep in the cockpit until the sun rose.  The storm had dissipated by then and we were all grateful to finally once again be able to differentiate between the sky and the water.  Ahhhh … the horizon!  


And, it was nice to see something recognizable in our sights.  There’s Destin!


Phillip woke around 7:15 a.m. and decided we should cut the engine to check the fluids.  Good idea boss!  We were all surprised to see they were in fine shape.  Somehow we hadn’t burned near as much oil the evening before as our last two passages.  We chalked it up to knocking the rust off, brushing off the cobwebs and getting the Nonsuch dialed in a bit tighter.  This is what she was meant to do─travel!  And, she seemed to be liking the adventure.  As the crew neared the Pensacola Pass, spirits were soaring!  We had done it!  Brought another Hinterhoeller safely home across the Gulf of Mexico.

Some egos were getting bigger than others:


But these two were pretty proud as well.


We were thrilled to see Mitch’s Nonsuch make its way to the dock and be tied up for the first time in Pensacola.  He had done it.  Really done it.  Mitch, While-You’re-Down-There, Roberts had bought a boat.  And here she sat─having chugged her way across the Gulf to her new home─ready for new adventures in our local anchorages.


While watching Mitch learn the ropes (literally) and learn to handle his new boat on passage, Phillip and I knew the real show was about to start, i.e., watching our friend become a new-boat owner.  Open your wallet and let the fun begin!  I’m pretty sure half the reason we agreed to make this trip with Mitch is so we could have full teasing rights anytime he started griping about boat projects, because there were plenty in store.  When you have a friend that gets bit by the boat bug, often your first instinct is to try to steer them away: “It’s too much work, buddy.  It’s going to cost you a lot of time and money, and did we mention the work?”  But, if they keep fighting you and pushing for it, a seeming glutton for punishment, a small part of you starts to develop a little sense of pride and kinship with them because you know they’re just like you.  No matter how costly or time-consuming the project, having a boat that can take you to blue horizons will always be worth it.


“Believe me my young friend there is nothingabsolutely nothinghalf so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.  In or out of ’em, it doesn’t matter.  Nothing seems really to matter, that’s the charm of it.  Whether you get away, or whether you don’t; whether you arrive at your destination or whether you reach somewhere else, or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy, and you never do anything in particular; and when you’ve done it, there’s always something else to do.”

─ Kenneth Grahame, author of Wind in the Willows


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Chapter Six: Man Overboard

Lightning is beautiful.  It really is.  When it’s far away and you can just watch it and wonder about the illusive static forces that are causing such shocking white streaks in the sky.  


Just wondering how it occurs is fun.  Wondering whether it’s going to come right up over your boat, however, is not.  When I turned in for my first sleep shift around 10:00 p.m. our first night on passage from Ft. Myers to Clearwater on s/v Tanglefoot, the lightning storm was just that: beautiful and far away.  Mid-way through my 2:00 a.m. shift at the helm, it started clocking around our port side and getting closer.  

Mitch cracked me up when he finished his 12-2 shift and woke me at 2:00 a.m.  I guess having sailed with Phillip for so long there are just some routines, some mutual unspoken courtesies that we fell into that Mitch apparently wasn’t privy to.  But I guess that’s our fault.  This was his first offshore passage with solo night shifts and we didn’t tell him.  When Phillip or I are approaching a shift change, we generally go rouse the man coming on about ten minutes before our shift is over to give him time to wake up, get some water, brush his teeth.  Whatever it is he feels he needs to do feel fresh and alert for his shift.  Then we usually sit together for a bit, discuss the conditions, give a report of any notable events, sightings or observations and fill out the cruising log together (the time for which usually corresponds with the shift change).  In general, we just have a routine of helping ease one another from dead sleep to alert watchman.  It’s not anything Phillip and I talked about or planned out, it was just a pattern we flowed into.

But Mitch?  He shook me awake on the starboard settee at 2:00 a.m. sharp, said “Annie, it’s your shift,” and started stripping gear off and heading back to the vberth.  “Auto’s on.  All’s clear right now.  Holler if you need me,” he said on his way back.  I blinked a couple of times trying to rouse myself quickly.

“Phillip’s on next, though,” Mitch was sure to remind me.

Thanks buddy, because I might have forgotten that part.  But man I wish Mitch had the shift after me.  I would have loved to have woken him in the same fashion: “Hey, buddy!  Snap to.  The helm’s unmanned.  Get up there.”  Now, to be fair, Mitch had not been indoctrinated in our slow-and-smooth method (patent pending) for shift changes and, technically, he had every right.  It was my shift.  My turn to hold watch.  I needed to get up there.  But … I was going to educate him next time.  I like my ten minutes.  I need it to clear my sleep fog.  But, it was a minor transgression.  Mitch had held his first solo shift─without complaint─and had done a good job of it.

It didn’t take me long, though, to ease into the atmosphere in the cockpit.  It was so crisp in the Gulf, the moon lighting every little chop on the water, like the water was prickling with energy.  The stars were so clear against the black sky.  When you’re out on the water they don’t have to compete with any man-made light.  It’s like everything is clicked into high definition.  A view that was once hazy is wiped crystal clean and you can see, now, that all of the stars you could see on land actually have fifteen equally bright stars between them and five more little sparkling ones between each of those.  It seems impossible to find a patch of pure black.  I wish we could have dropped the bimini during the night but we still had the lightning storm on our stern, although it was far off in the distance─just a mesmerizing natural wonder to watch and wonder about.  I hated that we were still motoring but the wind was still so lightblowing maybe five knots─right on our nose.  The motor on the Nonsuch was chugging right along, though, impressing us all.  And Mitch was blessed with a linear-drive AutoHelm 6000 on the Nonsuch.  That thing held in twice the weather as the little wheel-pilot AutoHelm 3000 Phillip and I have on our Niagara.  We had already been talking about upgrading our auto pilot for the past year but this trip on Mitch’s boat served as a stark awakening that we needed to stop talking and do it already.  The autopilot on the Nonsuch was our champion on the trip.  With the autopilot and the Westerbeke purring right along, the first hour of my shift was pretty easy.  

Around 3:00 a.m., though, the beautiful, bewildering lightning storm that had stayed on our stern all night now started to drift over to my port side.  Every once in a while I would see a crack of lightning out of my peripheral on the left, then every once in a while became every few minutes.  With only the iron sail pushing us along, we had pretty much free reign over what direction we wanted to go.  I picked the one that would take us away from the lightning storm.  I clocked us over about thirty degrees east to try and head away from it.  I hated to take us off course but if there was a lightning storm on our previous heading, an earlier arrival time was a sacrifice I was more than willing to make to avoid a storm.  When I roused Phillip around 3:45 a.m.─yes, with the obligatory ten-minute wake-up routine─I let him know the status and he remained on my east heading as I fell back into the dead zone.  

It seemed the Gulf just wanted to toy with us this time, though, because the lightning storm never fell on us.  The crew woke to still waters and a stunning sunset off the starboard side.

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Mitch seemed to be faring pretty well.  Whatever queasiness had come over him the night before seemed to have subsided.  We all had fun talking about the evening and the unique experiences we had during our solo night shifts.  Mitch told us with the lightning storm threatening us from the stern and only the chugging engine capable of pushing us to safety, he admitted he was a little worried, a little scared.  Which is justifiable.  If the engine quit for whatever, a hundred totally possible reasons, we wouldn’t have been able to sail away from that storm with the light wind on our nose.  The engine was our only ticket to safety and Mitch told us he just sat in the cockpit checking the engine temp and patting the the coaming saying: “Tanglefoot.  You got this.”


It was cute.  And totally understandable.  But, Tanglefoot proved herself steady and true, chugging us right through the night, away from the storm and into a beautiful streaking sunrise.  It had been a slightly frightening but also awe-inspiring first night on passage.  The only bummer was the motoring but that engine, I’ll tell you, was solid as a rock.  Never a hiccup, never an issue (that wasn’t a result of operator error).  Thankfully, the breeze freshened up around 9:00 a.m.  We hoisted that huge ass Nonsuch sail (again with the same halyard explosion threat but we did finally get her cranked up) and finally were able to sail without the engine.

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There’s just something about moving through a vast body of blue water by the sheer power of the wind.  It sparks a soothing at-oneness with the world around you.  We all kicked back in solace and just appreciated what the boat was doing.  I will say the ability to easily drop the bimini on the Nonsuch was nice.  It makes you feel so open and connected with the salt air and sky.

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Sadly, it didn’t last long.  If I said the breeze was fresh around 9:00 a.m., it had grown a little stale and flat before noon.  And, without the wind, it was scorching under the hot, overhead sun.  We knew we were going to have to re-crank but Phillip wanted to check the fluids before we turned the engine over again.  All told, she had been running a little over twenty-four hours straight through the night before we shut her down.  Having experienced a rather unfortunate engine failure on our own boat due to lack of fluids after a solid thirty-hour run, Phillip and I were a little sensitive about the fluid situation.  Again we made Mitch do most of the heavy lifting in checking all the fluids to be sure he knew how to access each one and identify issues.  And, do recall all three─transmission, oil and coolant─are located in three separate areas on the boat.  I’m not saying I could check them all in under five minutes but I will say it wouldn’t take me a damn hour!  Oh, alright forty-five minutes but still.


Mitch did check them all himself, though, and assured us we were ready to re-crank and carry on.  But, first things first.  I did mention it was hot!  We decided it was time for a quick dip.  We dropped the sails and let the boat bob for a minute so we could go for a swim.


My God the water felt good.  It was just the refresher we needed.  And there must have been some strong current outside of Clearwater because we were still doing 1.8 knots with no sails and no engine.  Mitch was struggling a bit to keep up with the boat so we threw him a line and all got a big laugh out of his “Tanglefoot!” re-enactment.


I was using the swim break to rinse our breakfast dishes and that current must have been stronger than I thought because when I looked back to make sure Mitch was still lassoed behind the boat, it seemed the water had sucked his britches clean off.  We had a man overboard minus his drawers!


Oh, alright.  He didn’t actually lose his britches.  It sure looked like it, though, seeing him splash around in drawers the distinct color of bare bottom.  And I wouldn’t have put it past him.  After a quick, refreshing bathing-suit-clad dip, we piled back in the boat, cranked her up and set our sights on Clearwater.  We were just a few hours out and this crew was ready for some shore leave!

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Close Encounters of the Gulf Kind

May 4-5, 2014:

With 4-6 foot seas, a steady 17-20 knots of wind pushing us in, and our bow doing a nice ‘figure eight‘ motion in and around the Venice inlet, we made our way in.  The Captain did a phenomenal job holding a steady line and making his way between the two rocky jetties on either side.  No small feat considering the boat that had traversed before us, ended up like this.

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Shaken and stirred, and most definitely ON THE ROCKS!  That is such a terrible sight to see.  I kept imagining the keel digging in between rocks with each passing swell, with paint and flecks of fiberglass grinding off.  Uhhhh …  Still makes me cringe just thinking about it.  Thankfully, we passed through the inlet unscathed and got our boat safely docked back in the slip at Venice.  While we had been excited to head out that day and we would have loved to have made the passage to Clearwater that night instead of coming back to Venice, the rough sea state and boat beating on the rocks of the inlet made us incredibly thankful to have our boat safe and secure.  One more day wasn’t really too much to give up, particularly when it meant the difference between a rough and potentially treacherous passage across the Gulf as opposed to a predicted smooth one.  Schedules are a sailor’s worst enemy.  So, having docked our boat once more and resigned to staying another night, we did what any good mariners would do, and went to see what the status was with the boat on the rocks!  And, I have to tell you … it was not pretty.

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While I’m sure the keel was stuck, the hull on the side was also in contact with the rocks, beating against them with each mild wake and letting out a gut-wrenching, nails-on-the-chalkboard kind of metallic groan when it did.

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There was a pretty good group gathered on the shore watching this poor sailor, but there was little that could be done.  Nobody seemed to know much and the guess was that he lost his steering or engine power somehow as he was coming in.  Of all the luck …   But, it seemed the worst of it wasn’t over for this poor bloke, because soon Sheriff Willingham showed up!


Or, at least that’s what I assume his name was.  He looked like a Willingham.  He seemed to keep asking the pitiful Captain for his “papers” – for towing I assume, but perhaps registration, insurance, who knows?  And, everyone was just gathered around staring at his guy.  I felt so bad, I stood there and not only stared, but filmed the whole thing too!

See, once again, I almost could have gotten myself arrested trying to capture this tale!  Such a dangerous sport, this blogging!

It was a beautiful afternoon in Venice, though, with lots of entertainment at the jetty.

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We even got to see one of those weird pre-evolution snail-like things I’ve been going on and on about up close and personal!  A nice, young bloke (a.k.a, your average pre-teen American redneck boy) fished one out of the water in his baseball cap and showed it to the crowd.


It was a little shy at first (all closed up),


until another nice young dame (a.k.a. your average pre-teen American redneck gal) fished it right out of his hat and started rolling it around in her hands telling the crowd — “It’s a conch.  I’ve seen ’em before.”

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Mmmhhh-Hmmmm … a conch without its shell.  That little snail thought so highly of her characterization that he peed purple all over hands.

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Nice.  Then she proceeded to shriek and scream and sling it all over the crowd, including Phillip and his perfectly white shirt.  Even nicer.

In all, it was a great “show” at the Venice jetty that afternoon.  After taking in the show, Phillip and I finally sauntered back to our boat and were sipping cocktails in the cockpit when we saw the tow boat coming to get the struggling sailboat off of the rocks.

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I’m sure it was a bad day for that fella, but, Phillip and I both acknowledged as we watched him pass by, that it’s happened to others before him and it will happen to others after.  While we certainly hope it never happens to us, seeing it in person was a good reminder that it is entirely possible.  Something can always go wrong with the boat, and it’s just as likely to happen when you’re coming in to a rocky inlet as when you’re in the middle of the Gulf, a safe distance from any rocks, docks or other detrimental obstacles for the boat.  It is totally possible that could have been us out there on the rocks.  Thankfully it wasn’t, and hopefully it never will be (knock on wood), but it was nice to see he was still afloat, being safely towed to a dock and that, aside from a costly bottom job repair, he and the boat were both going to survive it.  At the very least, he could be thankful for that and admire the gorgeous sunset that was falling over the inlet.

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Phillip and I enjoyed another dinner at the Crow’s Nest Tavern that night and talked of the next day’s passage.  Because of our failed start that day and our extra night in Venice, we were technically one day behind schedule (if we even wanted to admit we had such a thing on this trip).  So, I decided to pitch another idea …

Instead of making the passage tomorrow to Clearwater to stay the night and then make the big jump across the Gulf to Carrabelle,

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what if we left out of Venice tomorrow and headed straight for Carrabelle?


“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Phillip said.


It was certainly worth a thought.  The weather prediction was great.  The seas were supposed to lay down.  We were expecting a nice 10 knot breeze out of the North or Northwest.  So, rather than the approximate 16-18 hour trip we were planning to Clearwater, why not try to make the approximate 40-hour trip all the way to Carrabelle.  Go ahead and make the big leap?  Why not?  We had made about a 44-hour trip from Pensacola to Port St. Joe our first passage out of the gate on this trip and, while that was tiring, it was certainly doable.  So … we decided to go for it.  It was Carrabelle or bust!

May 5, 2014:

The next morning, we readied the boat (again), checked the fluids and headed out around 10:00 a.m.

See ya!


The seas were in much better shape this time.  Whew!  Unfortunately, the wind was right on our nose, so we had to motor quite a bit throughout the day, but we spent a beautiful day out in the Gulf.  Man, what a difference a day makes.

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We even had a whole fleet of fun little mammals come and visit us at the bow!!!  They swam with us for about 10 minutes, flipping and flicking and rolling around up there.  It’s true!  That’s no …


I snapped a whole roll of them!  (And, by roll, I mean approximately 34 iPhone pics – give or take).  Notice the occasional thumbs and fingers in the shot.  Very artistic …

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But, it was rocking and rolling and if there’s one thing I do NOT want to drop while up at the bow … it’s my phone.  So, grip it or lose it.  I did manage to get some fun footage though:

And, lookie there!  A real … 


With the wind on our nose, we had to motor most of the morning.  Around mid-afternoon, we decided to try and do some sailing, if at the very least, to give the engine a break.  The tacks we had to make were so wide, though, that we were sure we were losing ground.  We did some research and calculations of our velocity made good (VMG) to try and determine what speed we were actually making along our rhumb line.  A little sailing knowledge for you:


So, let’s say (just to make it easy), your heading is 90 degrees, dead east, but the wind is coming directly on your nose, so to make way along your heading, you have to tack back and forth into the wind.  Let’s assume, when you tack, the highest point at which you can hold the wind is 50 degrees off your course, either 40 degrees ENE or 140 degrees SSE.


VMG is the speed you’re actually traveling along your rhumb line (90 degrees) by tacking back and forth at 40 degrees and 150 degrees.  You can use a VMG chart to determine what speed you are actually making along the 90 degree axis by using the speed you are making along the tack lines (the 40 and 140).


If you find that the speed you’re making along your rhumb line (using the VMG table) by tacking back and forth is less than the speed you are making just motoring directly into the wind, then it may be best just to continue motoring.  We found this to be true in our case.  We were doing about 4 knots motoring into the wind and on tack (about 50 degrees off), we were only achieving about 3.5 knots, where according to the table we would have to reach 6.2 knots on tack to achieve VMG.  So, we decided to continue motoring, but we did enjoy learning the VMG tables and working the calculations.  I mean – don’t you feel just a little bit smarter now?


You can thank me later.  It never hurts to learn something new, and one of the great things about sailing is that you always seem to learn something new – every passage, every docking, every trip.  We cranked back up and continued pumping on into the evening.

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We made coffee right around dusk and curled up in the cockpit to enjoy the sunset.

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There she goes!

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There’s something so freeing about watching that bright pink ball sink beneath the horizon.  Sometimes it can give you a little chill because you know you’re about to be faced with darkness, unable to see the horizon and barreling forward into the unknown for hours on end.  But, a big part of that is also exhilarating.  You’re about to forge into the darkness, with no horizon in sight, trudging for hours on end into the great unknown.  It’s equally exciting and spine-tingling.  And, this night was no different.  While we have experienced quite a bit in the middle of the Gulf, we faced something that night that we had not yet seen before.

An eerie glow in the Gulf …


Was it another ship?  A wayward, bobbing booey?  Some mysterious glowing trajectory from a passing UFO …  ??


Who knows.  But, it kept inching toward us seemingly oblivious to anything in its path …

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