Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico

Before we left Panama City we were able to meet our friends Rich and Isis that we met last winter at the church we attended.  They came to pick us up and we had dinner at their house with another friend.

After dinner we headed back and stopped on the way to see the lights in a park in downtown Panama City.

It was very nice to be able to see Rich and Isis again.  It seemed as if we had never left.

Ed and Lucy on "I Love Lucy" had left that Saturday morning and we remained for one more day to walk into town to church on Sunday morning and to see a piano concert at the church on Sunday evening.  The concert was by 10 pianists on 5 grand pianos.  We arrived early and were able to get a photo during the rehearsal.

We left Panama City on December 6 and stopped to top off fuel before heading east to stage for crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  We stopped at White City where there is a free dock and very limited power available.  Ed & Lucy were already there and we were able to get in just ahead of them. 

While there we saw our friends on "Ladybug" along with three other boats come by headed for Appalachicola.  Right behind them were friends from Goose Pond Marina "Jolly Tolly" and "Empty Pockets".  It was good to see them again and Stacy hiked to the bridge over the ICW to get photos.  They were heading to Carabelle to stage for the gulf crossing.

We waited at White City for a weather window to make the gulf crossing and finally decided that Friday, December 10 would be the best time to go.  We made our way to Carabelle and anchored out on the 9th along with a few other boats.  We enjoyed a beautiful sunset and had a comfortable anchorage.

We left the next day a little after noon with six other boats.  As we departed, the weather was as forecasted and we were excited and anxious at the same time. 

I Love Lucy Crossing Gulf

After dark we noticed the wind pick up and the waves increased as well. We had a rough time from about 10:00 to about 4:00 in the morning. The waves were not quite on our beam but enough were to rock us. Since we had no moon we could not see anything but the other boats in our group. We maintained radio contact and took turns standing watch.  Before we left Goose Pond I had installed an autopilot that was given to me by someone that was upgrading theirs.  I made a few repairs and replaced our "30 year old autopilot with a 20 year old pilot".  I was amazed at how accurately it would hold a course in the conditions we found ourselves in.  We had not used autopilot but very seldomly on the loop and it is worth having one if for no other reason than to cross the gulf.

The seas calmed somewhat by around 4:00 am and we waited for dawn.  When the skies started to get lighter we noticed what looked like storm clouds ahead. 

It turns out that we did indeed have cloud cover but not storms.  This was actually a good thing as we were to navigate through crab pots and the rising sun can be right in your eyes as you enter the "mine field".  We timed our crossing so that we would not be in the pots until the sun was higher in the sky but the clouds blocked the harsh sun and we had no problem with the crab pots.  Actually there were very few compared to what we were accustomed to in the St. John's river and the Chesapeake Bay.

Prior to departure Stacy went through the boat and secured everything for the crossing.  We tied down everything that was loose and the only things that moved were the table, chairs and couch and everything behind it on the aft deck.  This was during the worst of the beam seas and they did not move again afterward. 

After we arrived in Tarpon Springs we had a celebratory glass of Champagne and realized that the Christmas boat parade was to be held that night and that they were beginning at our marina.

Tarpon Springs is famous for the sponge industry before synthetic sponges became available.  The entire city is Greek and everything was centered around sponge diving and the sponge trade.  Now it is mostly a tourist town with many Greek restaurants and the typical tee shirt shops.

We slept the whole night and the next day we cleaned up the boat from salt spray and generally performed any maintenance chores that needed tending to.  We were not planning to be in the marina for long but a new cold front was roaring in and was bringing 30 mph winds for Sunday through Tuesday.  We decided that we would stay until Wednesday. 

We got together with the other boats that crossed with us at a Greek restaurant in town on Monday night.  It was good to get together with these boaters that we shared our crossing with.

It has been very cold here and we are looking forward to going further south and getting into some warmer weather.  We plan to leave Wednesday and head towards St. Petersburg.