Day 65 & 66 The Gulf Crossing

The Nautoncall was shoe horned into a slip at The Moorings of Carrabelle staged to get ready for Crossing the Gulf.

The Gulf Crossing is one of the sections of the Loop that scares the most people off. The majority of the Great Loop can be traveled in protected waters. The Great Lakes requires navigating in open waters as well but there are more safe harbours to duck into if things get rough. The problem with the Gulf crossing is that much of the Florida coast, between Carrabelle where the Intracoastal ends and Tarpon Springs where it begins again, is that it is shallow and has few harbours of refuge.

So basically it boils down to two options for Loopers. Firstly they call it the Rim Route where you leave Carrabelle and travel in daylight to Steinhatchee on day one, then to Cedar Key on the second travel day and finally to Tarpon Springs on the third. The second option is to go straight across from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs in one straight line.

The Rim route is generally considered safer because you are not as offshore and if it does get messy you have a shorter distances to endure the waves. The straight line route takes you well off shore where you are without cell service and possibly too far to reach the Coast Guard by VHF radios. For safety reasons generally Loopers go in groups because there IS safety in numbers.

Both routes require a favourable weather window where the winds and seas are calm. The Gulf is a big body of water and swells can come from a long distance. Also local weather systems can affect the seas. Predicting these weather windows is an art and like everything else, everyone has their own opinions and they don’t always agree. There are several sources and paid for services that can be used to pick a favourable weather window. Also the Marina has a local boater with experience that holds daily briefing on weather for the crossing. All the sources agreed that Sunday the 17th and Monday the 18th would be favourable conditions to make the crossing.

For us the decision was fairly easy. I have always wanted to do an overnight crossing, we would be travelling with Knot Diggin so we had each other to rely on if something went wrong, and there were about 10 other boats ready to go so there would be a big group for safety. We would take the straight route across.

The plan was to leave in the afternoon and get far enough offshore before dark so that you could still see the crab pots, then we would be in open water during the dark hours and arrive on the other side after the sun came up so you could see the crab pots and other hazards when getting closer to shore again.

So we had a little time in the morning to tour the little town of Carrabelle. Since it was Sunday, we stopped and said a few words at the Jesus trees.

We found the “Worlds Smallest Police Station”

The story goes that the original Police Station was destroyed in a hurricane so the Sherriff would just park beside the phone booth and wait for calls.

Then it was time to attend the daily weather meeting with Buddy, the local crossing prognosticator, who would not actually commit to saying you should go today, “because I can’t make up your mind for you”

About 12 boats were planning on leaving, 4 were going the Rim route and the rest would do the night crossing with us.

We left the dock at 2PM and made our way out into the Gulf.

This was our last view of shore as we were leaving.

Sunset on the open water. A small one foot swell still left over from the previous North winds.

Just before this, while doing my regular engine check, I found our transmission was leaking fluid. Not pouring out but a steady drip about every 6 to 10 seconds. I found the leak the day before on the trip to Carabelle and tightened some loose bolts. It was still seeping out of one stud so I had taken it out and applied some gasket goo to try and seal it up. Obviously it didn’t work. We were too far out to make it back before dark and I didn’t want to oblige the Watson’s to turn back so I decided to keep going with it and keep an eye on the level. I would stop and top it up if necessary.

A short time later Bill called from Knot Diggin and announced that he had an engine overheating. He had left the dock at low tide and said he stirred up some mud so he went below to clean out the Sea strainers. When that didn’t help he decided to continue on with one engine. (Probably because he didn’t want to make us turn around either) He had to run on one engine earlier in the trip when he had a bearing problem and could stay ahead of Nautoncall easily.

As we lost the twilight and dark set in, the stress level had risen for sure. When it got dark, it got really dark. The moon would not rise until 2230 and we had lost sight of any other boats in the group. The only other light that could be seen was the stern light of Knot Diggin. We were nervous of losing sight of that light. My auto pilot was not working so Janet and I were taking turns hand steering. Without autopilot it can be difficult to steer a straight course. You can steer by compass but you have to watch it constantly to keep a good course. Knot Diggin was using autopilot so it was a matter of keeping the boat aimed at their light. After a while I did figure out a way to use the autopilot on manual setting and we could let go of the wheel and move around a bit.

It was a warm evening on the water and the small swells made for a pleasant ride otherwise. We spent some time sitting on the foredeck steering with the remote control. Every now and then we would hear a splash and find out we were not alone as the dolphins came to watch over us. It was hard to tell in the dark, but at one point there must have been 20 of them escorting Nautoncall through the dark waters. Janet spent some time with the spot light watching them swim in our bow wake.

So that is how we spent the night, taking turns steering, trying to nap, and following one little white light across the gulf. The moon gave a nice show when it rose about 2230 but it went behind the clouds right after that and didn’t really help with visibility.

About 0530 we started to see the beginnings of daylight.

It was a good thing because it was about that time that we started seeing the crab pots. We were still well offshore and in 50’ of water so moved up to the flybridge to better see the little markers in the morning sun.

At 0930 we dropped anchor behind Dutchman Key to take a much needed nap. We made it!

146 Nautical offshore miles under her keel, Nautoncall has brought us safely to our destination yet again.

After our nap we dropped the dinghy in the water to go explore Anclote Key and walk on the beach.

Don McCulloch
1 Comment
  • Barry White
    Posted at 22:18h, 20 December Reply

    Cool stuff!!!! I gotta get a boat.

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