Howdy Folks, below are a couple posts I wrote during or recent passage from Kemah TX. to St Petersburg Florida. But before I share them, I wanted to say that Kara and I finally did it. We actually quit two excellent jobs, moved aboard and untied the lines and headed out into the wide blue world. We took a total of 5 days to cross the gulf of Mexico to Tampa Bay.
Since leaving Kemah, the day after my 44th Birthday (May 23rd 2017). We’ve been slowly working our way down Florida’s gulf coast and are now sitting at anchor at Ding Darling – National Wildlife Refuge. We’re hoping to spend a day or two here SUP’ing, biking and exploring before heading down to Naples and prepping for an offshore hop to the Dry Tortugas, if the weather cooperates. We really want to go, but also need to be moving to the Atlantic side so we can start working our way North. So, if we can get a weather window in the next week or so, we’ll make our run to the Tortugas. If not, we may just have to settle for the keys and continue around.
But more on that, a little later. If you’re interested, see below for my ramblings on the passage.
Escape from Kemah – Day 3/4 Friday
Howdy Folks, as I write this I’m relaxing in the cockpit under full sail and a crystal clear blue sky. A cool 7-9 knot breeze is blowing out of the South East and we’re making somewhere between 4-5 knots towards Florida. Our intended landfall is St. Pete but currently our course has us heading north of Tampa Bay due to the wind direction. Fortunately the wind is expected to shift to a more southerly SSE tonight and tomorrow. We have the autopilot set on windvane steering which allows us to trim our sails for a close hauled course and then as the wind shifts South, our course will follow it, since this option allows us maintain our course relative to the wind angle. This was something we had intended to do with the Hydrovane self steering system we bought and paid for, but Will and the folks at Hydrovane don’t actually stand behind their “guarantee that it will work for our boat”. So, we had to make other arrangements. There will definitely be more details to follow on the Hydrovane debacle, but until then suffice it to say that after spending many MANY days working on mounting and addressing the various clearance issues we ran into.. I believe it to be a fantastic product with absolutely abysmal customer focus. They have no willingness to stand behind what they tell you at a boat show. Once they have the cash, it’s your problem…but I digress.
This isn’t about that, this is about us finally untying the dock lines and making our way to Florida to begin our cruising lives. Kara and I planned, prepped and saved for years. It was about a month behind our intended departure date, due to project poop tank. But sitting here now enjoying this cool breeze and deep blue water (Irie – you guys would love it) it all seems worth it. We left a day after our revised departure date due to some challenges getting our top down spinnaker furler installed, but we did in-fact finally leave. And you know what…that feels pretty great.
Sure our first night out, right in-front of a low pressure front was a bit..sporty with plenty of wind and lots and lots of rain and lighting. That all amounted to us motoring pretty much all that first night, but we were on our way. The next morning, as expected the winds clocked around to NW and then to W, which is a great thing if your leaving Texas for Florida. So with a reefed main and full Genoa, we headed due East. Over the next couple days we played a little Frogger with the rigs and shipping traffic . I must admit, AIS and Radar make life much simpler than when we did the reverse of this trip a couple years ago and had neither. If you can swing it, I highly recommend both.
Last night the wind was too light to sail and right in our face, so we motor sailed with the main and Staysail. Which reminds me, I’m super glad to have that dinghy off the deck and secured in the arch…thanks JZ customrails. Now the winds are out of the SE, but there’s enough of it to sail. Which makes for a nice relaxing afternoon, even if it is a bit slow at 4.5 knots in an 8 knot breeze (currently). The beauty here is the engine is off, solar and wind are EASILY keeping up with the AP, instruments, fridge/freezer and various other charging requirements.
If this keeps up we should be in St. Pete sometime late Sunday, which would be great. That would mean 5 days of actual travel to make Florida. This is the reason Kara and I opted to start our cruise off with a delivery skipper. Since we’re still building our skills from a cruising and managing the boat 24 hours a day while underway perspective. Having someone aboard to share their experience and make the watch schedule a bit more manageable seemed like a good move. So, we called our friend Blaine Parks who helped get the boat from Maryland to the Bahamas and then down to Texas a few years ago. Now that we’re out here, I know we’ve been more efficient from a routing perspective, with Blaine’s help. The trick is to always be dealing not only with the weather you have, but be looking at what’s expected tomorrow and the next day, to plan the moves you make today and set up for tomorrow’s weather. So yes, having him here has been great, but now that we’re here, I’m also confident that we could have done this on our own, and sometimes I think we SHOULD have. Not because Blaine’s not great at what he does, he certainly is. More because asking for help, even paid help…always feels weird and leaves me thinking, you could have figure this out yourself.
On the other hand, having him along has reduced the stress level significantly aboard Vela. I don’t know about everyone else, but for us…selling our house and cars, trying to rent the condo, and dumping all your stuff, and quitting your jobs, and saying goodbye to all your friends and family, and let’s not forget last second boat projects and blown deadlines…all kinda adds up. We knew that due to the later than intended departure date we really had two options. We could either keep stress down and go the ICW route. This would have been less stressful in that your inshore and able to anchor every night, but it takes a long time and would have forced us to rush through Florida to get north for H-season. Or, go the direct across the Gulf route and have the stress of 5-6 day crossing in what can be a challenging body of water as a short handed crew on a 24 hour a day schedule. So, we opted for the direct route, but with help. Thanks Blaine! For the record, if we were in the ICW we wouldn’t even be to NOLA yet. In fact if this weather holds. we should be to Florida in under the week it would have taken to motor up the ditch to NOLA.
Oh and did I mention we’re sailing, there’s absolutely nothing on the horizon but blue sky and even bluer water..and it’s freaking B-E-A-U-tiful out here?
….We might need a new grill cover though…
Despite the fact that we’ve had almost no wind (2-3 knots most of the day) today’s been another great one. Who’d have thought we’d have such great weather for this passage? I mean the forecast looked great for everything after the first night, but I just assumed it was too good to be true. Of course, with the complete lack of wind, we’ve been motoring all day which obviously isn’t ideal but fortunately Vela carries a lot if diesel, so we have the range to do it.
Obviously motoring all day isn’t the great part, yesterday afternoon and evening was great with 10-15 knots from the SE, so we where able to sail through the night until this morning when it just stopped. But of course with no wind comes nice flat, and I mean flat calm seas, almost glassy. So we showered in the forward head to reduce the salt and grime level aboard.
To reward us for our excellent hygiene Neptune sent us not just one, but two pods of playful proposes today. We got one about mid day that stayed and played for 20+ minutes in the bow wave. Then, just after a dinner of chicken fajitas, we noticed a pod feeding on something near the surface. When they noticed us, the race was on to see who could be first to ride Vela’s bow wave. It’s so cool to watch these guys play, it honestly looks and sounds (you can hear them calling to each other) like they’re just having a blast. In fact they seem to really like the attention and increase their acrobatics for us any time we cheer…and cheer we did.
So now Kara and I are in the cockpit relaxing for her 6-8pm watch. She’s reviewing video content so we can finally get off our asses and but together a video or two and I’m going through photos from the days visitors as the sun sinks behind us into the now crystal clear blue water. It looks like we’re about 120 miles from Tampa, which should put us into the bay tomorrow. In fact I think we’ve decided we’ll head to St. Petersburg for 1-2 nights in a marina while we clean up the boat and restock. Then we’ll start working our way south towards the Dry Tortugas and into the Keys.
OK, time to kick back relax and enjoy the view.