When we last left you we were uploading the blog about five miles north of Apalachicola as we headed south so the Captain could change out crew at Miller Marine in Apalachicola to do an overnight Gulf crossing. This is the Captain’s story of their adventure.
A pelican pays us a visit at the White City public dock.
As we approached Apalachicola we noticed that the fog was getting thicker and thicker so I turned on the radar and hoped there was not much traffic on the river. By the time we got within a half-mile of Miller Marine the fog was so thick you couldn’t see 50 feet in front of the boat. I immediately radioed Miller Marine and informed them that I needed fuel and inquired if any other boats were tied to the fuel dock. The marina informed me that there was a large sailboat tied to the dock but that I would have plenty of room on the upriver end of the dock. We inched our way along with our fog horn blowing and the radar showing us which way to head. We finally got sight of the marina less than 25 yards off our bow, and our stress level began to subside…but only for a short while.
“Crystal River Bob” and Art, my crew for the Gulf crossing, were there to help us tie up and take on fuel. Now it was decision time, do we go or do we cancel our crossing because of the dense fog? We knew we needed to leave the marina within 30 minutes because we didn’t want to attempt Government Cut in the dark. However, if we did decide to go we also had to negotiate getting under a bridge, a shallow bay of water without many navigational markers, shrimp boats and other small boat traffic that was trying to get back to Apalachicola, and all of this in dense fog. We also talked with a shrimp boat that was still off shore and informed us that the fog was also very thick in the Gulf of Mexico.
Needless to say I was as nervous as a whore in church! Since I was going to be in the company of two very seasoned sailors on our trip across the Gulf I asked them, “If this was your boat would you attempt to head out in the weather?” Without hesitation they both said yes, as long as I had working radar and a chart plotter, both of which I had. So after a quick kiss and hug with the Admiral I told her goodbye and we untied the lines and disappeared back out into the fog. The sailboat that was tied up to the fuel dock also decided to leave with us and follow us out to Government Cut; however, they ended up running aground before getting there and had to wait on the tide to lift them up.
Right after heading under the bridge I became very disoriented and struggled to keep our bow pointed south. After a few tense moments and almost grounding “Life’s2Short,” a very talented crew helped get me back on track thanks, in part, to the autopilot.
Shortly after getting back on track a shrimp boat appeared out of the fog, right on our bow, and had both its stabilizer arms out over the water. I almost crapped my shorts! We took a hard turn to port and were able to miss taking off our flybridge with his starboard stabilizer by less than 75 feet!! By now I was really questioning if leaving the dock was a good idea. Every three or four minutes Bob would call out on the VHF radio and announce our position in the channel. We knew there was other boat traffic in the area and every once in a while you would feel somebody’s boat wake slap the side of the boat but you would never see them…very spooky!
We finally arrived at Government Cut just as it was starting to get dark, got ourselves lined up to make the 3/4 mile run through the island, and safely arrived out in the Gulf as darkness set in. Needless to say the fog had not gotten any better but at night it doesn’t really make any difference if it’s foggy or not when you are out in an open body of water like the Gulf of Mexico. However, radar is a must!
At this point I had had enough of being the Captain so I turned over the helm to Art for a few hours so I could sit back and relax and thank my lucky stars that we made it into the Gulf of Mexico without becoming impaled by a shrimp boat! The three of us took turns through the night manning the helm, quite a boring job for the 19 hour trip to Crystal River. The heavy fog stayed with us through the night and finally started to let up the next morning when we were within sight of the west coast of Florida.
The seas were running about three feet on our bow when we started but by early the next morning they were calm and smooth. Now we just had to dodge all the crab pots before we headed up the river to Crystal River. We thought we were home-free on the crab pots when all of a sudden we dodged one pot only to get another pot caught in our prop and rudder, a fine way to wind up our crossing! With a little coaching from Bob we were able to get the crab pot free of the boat without yours truly having to dive overboard.
We arrived at Pete’s Pier in Crystal River shortly before noon, got tied up and headed over to Bob & Phillis's for a Bloody Mary and lunch. Needless to say after one Bloody Mary and a belly full of wonderful barbecued pork sandwiches I was ready for a long afternoon nap!
The crossing crew toasts the end of a long and successful overnight adventure.
The most important thing I learned on this crossing was to use your autopilot in heavy fog. You just can’t count on your brain and common sense to tell you that you are heading in the right direction…at least my brain and common sense, or what’s left of it!
I also want to take a moment to thank my Gulf crossing crew. What a great couple of guys I had on board! Art and his wife have circumnavigated the world in their sailboat, and Bob and his wife have spent many, many years living and cruising all over North and Central America. In hindsight I’m glad we made the crossing that night. Had it been just the Admiral and I we would never have gone based on our experience.
The other interesting note about this crossing was that it was two years ago to the day we pulled in to Apalachicola in the same heavy fog and decided to wait a day before leaving the dock. That was the trip when we left with “Flagmaker” and less than 36 hours later he passed away, on his boat, at Pete’s Pier in Crystal River. RIP Jack.
After spending a few days in Crystal River and having a wonderful get-together at Bob & Phillis’s Tuesday evening with friends Mo (“MOTU”) & Joe and Bruce & Adele, we decided to take our chances with the forecast and head toward St. Petersburg early Wednesday morning.
Mo and Bob get in the holiday spirit!
The gang’s all gathered in the living room enjoying some pre-dinner conversation.
Bruce poses with Phillis and Mo in the garage while Honey gets a little loving.
Adele poses with Joe and Bob on the back deck.
Mo, what are you doing to the Captain (not that he seems to mind!).
Another great dinner with friends, courtesy of Bob & Phillis.
After some tense moments getting out of the Crystal River channel at low tide, we ended up traveling about 85 miles to a protected anchorage in Clearwater for the evening. The seas were much less than the predicted two- to four-feet but the white caps made it difficult to spot crab pots. Fortunately, there weren’t nearly as many in our path as we typically see between Crystal River and Tarpon Springs.
The Captain loves going out on the side rail to watch the porpoises play.
We covered the remaining 21 miles to Cathy’s house in St. Petersburg on a very windy Thursday, but it sure was nice to be “home” again! Since then we have essentially been lounging and enjoying being in a real house, watching a big screen television from a big, comfortable wrap-around couch. Cathy made a quick 48-hour trip to St. Louis on Friday to celebrate a life-long friend’s 50th birthday so we watched the kids, Taz and Jack, and then picked her up at the airport Sunday evening.
Saturday afternoon we made a trip to downtown St. Petersburg to check it out. Even though we’ve spent a lot of time in St. Petersburg, we’ve never seen the downtown area. We drove by the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and the Municipal Marina and then walked a few blocks of the downtown area where we stumbled upon a bar called Mastry’s. While there we learned that Mastry’s was voted one of the eight best dive bars in American in 2007 by Maxim magazine. Just our kind of joint!
Today is Monday, December 21st, and we are off to Colorado tomorrow to spend Christmas with Todd’s family in Boulder. This is the first time in several years that his entire family has been able to be together for Christmas and I’m sure a good time will be had by all at the Lanning household!
As we close this post the crew of “Life’s2Short” would like to wish all our great friends and wonderfully supportive families a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and Happy New Year!
See you in 2010!