Even though I never intended to announce that I was planning to make this single handed crossing from Corpus Christi Texas to Ft. Myers Florida, I have the gift of gab and told everyone who I met. I did not want the pressure of everyone knowing incase I got two days out and decided it was not for me. Anyways I have been preparing the boat for quite a while for a departure sometime in April. My departure date was to be wide open as I did not want the pressure of needing to hurry up. Unfortunately but yet fortunately I recently received an invite to help deliver an Island Packet 40 from St. Martins to the Chesapeake Bay. In order to do both I had to get on my way with the Gulf crossing.
Luckily I wound up with what should have been a near perfect weather window. I would leave a day before a northern hit and allow it to get me off shore and in a southeasterly direction. The winds were then going to clock out of the east which would allow for me to scoot further south and try getting below a line that I felt I need to be below in order to sail into Ft Myers Florida against prevailing winds. Later in the forecast the winds were to be out of the south and that would be fantastic for my trip. Well you know how weather predictions can be!
Kerry and I got me underway about 6:15 in the morning on April the 14th. Crossing the Corpus Christi Bay I tinkered with the Aries wind steering and it wound up performing throughout the trip better then I could have ever expected. I relied heavily on it, my Broadband Radar, AIS, and a cheap egg timer to keep me safe. The weather for about the first three days was close to the prediction even though the nights were usually rough. I woke up one night with seaweed on the lower life lines. I knew I was being tossed around but did not realize it was that bad.
Since I was single handing I need to stay on a tight sleep schedule, so after getting out of the Port Aransas jetties and on course I took my first nap at 2 in the afternoon. I set my egg timer for 30 minutes at a time and after looking around for traffic I went back to sleep. I did this for just about the entire trip. I was never completely wide awake or dead tired. It was perhaps the coolest part of the trip. As the trip progressed it was as if I was high. The things that I experienced and the way I felt are the kind of thing that drives a drug addict to take some more, as the experiences were wonderful. I never felt alone. When I would be lying in the cockpit napping I always felt safe as I knew the helmsman was keeping an eye out. Wow! Also whenever something broke I was not on my boat. It was someone elseís. I attribute this to the fact that it has always been someone elseís boat that I was on when I did blue water crossings. I canít say enough about my frame of mind and yes it makes me crave for more. That said I think I was always in control of myself. I religiously made notes in my log book and thought things out.
During the day I was usually trying to make some easting and at night I would reef down and go south. It blew hard just about every night. My boat developed creaks and moans that I had never heard before but I think it lived up to its blue water reputation. The things that broke, and there were plenty, can be blamed on age of the parts. My jib sheet car sheaves cracked up and cut into the sheets. The same happened to a sheave for the self-steering. A stantion came loose from its base on the same night that I was pulling seaweed off of them. The Bimini frame broke in a blow and I was startled when I looked up at the broken frame flailing above my head. That was my fault as it was on my to do list to fix before I left. I never used the head in the overboard position before this trip and unfortunately every time I flushed it all of the fluid between the vent above the waterline and the head made its way back into the head and eventually on the floor. I did not have to worry about this for long because after a few days the entire head broke leaving me to dig, you know what, out of it and taking it apart. Well I was not able to fix it so I had to improvise for the rest of the trip.
It seemed as If I could not get east of the boot of Louisiana. I was 100 plus miles south of it but it drove me crazy to see day after day that dam land north of me. Like I said my nights were usually rough. I made little progress at night as I did not want to spend a lot of time on deck in the heavy seas at night. I did a lot of tossing and turning. The night before I decided to change course I left all of the sails out and decided I would let the boat push hard south through the night. I woke up at 2:40 am to look at the chart plotter and radar and saw that the heading on the plotter was going crazy. We were north, south and everywhere else. The boat was heeled over on a port tack and should have been rocketing along but the boat speed was .5 kts. I went on deck and found the chart plotter at the helm doing the same thing. I was stuck in a current and the wind was also blowing like snot. I decided to first roll in the Yankee but as I pulled out the furler line the sail did not roll up. The furler was broken and I would wait for calmer winds before I pulled the sail down. I did get to see stars, the kind that pop into your head when it is struck. A flailing jib sheet smacked me pretty good as all I saw was a bright flash.
Well I decided to put the boat close hauled on a starboard tack and let it do what it wanted to do throughout the rest of the night. I was now aimed at 90 degrees magnetic the motion of the boat was no longer hobby horsing but smooth like a dolphin gliding thru the seas. Just before sun up the jib back winded. I went on deck and got the boat back on course. But there was a problem. The magnetic compass was at 90 but the chart plotter said we were doing about 30. Soon the sun rose and seeing it at the bow confirmed 90 it was. I was in a terrible current and I was pissed. For so many nights I had tried to get south and now my ass was being drug north at an alarming rate. Throughout the morning I tried to get through the current. I motored for a while but felt I was using valuable diesel. At 10:40 am I tuned my SSB to 14.300 to a radio net that monitors sailors on their trips. They gave me a weather report and confirmed what I already knew, that it was to blow 15 to 20 from the south east for several days. The direction I had been trying to go for over a week. I had enough fun so I asked for the weather if I were to go to Gulfport Mississippi. Looks good was the reply so I eased the sheets and changed my course for 350 magnetic.
WOW! 23 feet of waterline and I did a steady 9 to 10 knots for well over 5 hours. I even recorded this on my camcorder and when I checked my travel from one of my positions that morning to the afternoon I went 100 miles north in 13.5 hrs. Some of that time was when I had boat pointed east. A friend who left Corpus four days after me also going to Ft. Myers kept in touch via SSB and told me I was wrong and that the strongest current in the gulf was about 1.5 kts. Two days later he confirmed that it was strong. For him he caught it at the top of the loop and it slung him towards Florida.
This trip was a test for me to decide if I wanted to make these kinds of trips. I was concerned as to whether or not I could keep myself composed in order to make the right decisions. Would I get totally confused? Could I feel comfortable in my chart plotting to trust that I am headed in the right direction when there is nothing in sight? I figured before I left that this may be my only such adventure as I did not know how I would like it. I told people this trip was for me but on my other trips I look forward to having guest ride along. But I have to admit that I look forward to getting back out there and toking on that bowl of sailing euphoria and taking my mind back to where I was on this trip. WOW!