The posting below is longer than what we usually put up on the Cruisers’ Net. However, it is such an excellent account of the often memorable (for good AND bad reasons) experience of crossing Western Florida’s waterwayless “Big Bend” region, I’ve posted the text below in its entirety. Note that this posting is copied from the AGLCA mail list with Captain Quince’s permission
A fellow cruiser has inquired about our Gulf Crossing so I thought I’d chronicle it for him and share it.
We arrived at Dog Island hoping for anchorage as the trip across St George Sound Bay had been a rough ride. We started east okay in one footers but after starting to fight the tide at the bridge, the next bit of open water continued to build until we met the confused waters between Dog Island and St George Island. Waves coming from both directions really kicked us around. Then the Shipping Cove turned out to be too rough to anchor so we turned and cranked up the engines heading to Carrabelle.
The next day brought heavy fog and about noon, a flotilla of Loopers left in a short clearing window. We wondered if we should have gone but the rough water the day before made us wonder. We disconnected power and threw off our lines about 3 0-clock to head out to the anchorage again and abruptly stopped as the fog moved back in. Listened to Hank on Queen Anne’s Revenge come across the bay and up the channel in thick fog. The talked to Mint Julep who anchored in the cove but neither boat ever saw the other. The Fog never lifted.
We contacted Queen Ann and agreed to leave the following day about 1pm to head out to Dog, thinking we’d pick up Mint Julep as well. (never did as they had moved on the night before) Heavy fog stayed with us the whole day so at 1 we headed out anyway, slowly down the channel from the Moorings to Pick up Queen Ann at C-Quarters. They pulled out and led the way as Hank had good
experience the previous day but more likely his experience with using radar as a pilot! It was interesting going out the channel as we met a 90 foot research vessel coming in and a couple of other boats as well. Not really a problem going slow, watching radar and working your way out. After Dog Island, Twins took the lead on a waypoint at Clearwater Pass. Queen Ann intended to drop off about 4 am and head to Tarpon Springs.
The advice we’d received from various sources recommended you be 2 to 3 hours offshore at daybreak so you can see and avoid the crab pots. There are also mileage from the coast guidelines and depth guidelines that help guide where you will start finding them. Like 20-30 miles and less than 30-40 foot depth but I’m not particularly sure of those numbers. So we set a course and started out at 8 knots, later cutting back so we didn’t arrive too early.
The fog stayed thick and with us for quite a while, about half the way. Boats were about a half to a mile apart and we could see their lights most of the time. Sometimes disappearing into the fog and other times more clearly. We turned on Christmas lights on the bridge to help light the way, 5 strings of white LED lights that draw less than 20 watts total. We also turned on the inverter and settled into our salon for most of the trip. About 8 0-clock I turned on the TV and we had satellite reception all across the bend.
How to stay awake for 22.5 hours crossing. Yes, it’s a long day..normal wake up at 7am, departure at 1pm, arrival to private dock on Treasure Island at 11:30 am and then up until about 8pm..what’s that, about 37+ hours! We had rested fairly well at Carrabelle. Vaughn bought a 12 pack of diet pepsi to help stay awake. I make some coffee. You’re wired at first with the fog. Then darkness descends. You set the autopilot and stare at the radar screen. The best part of the crossing may be the other boat nearby. Waves were rolling us for the first few hours, then it seemed to calm more about midnight and the crossing eased.
Vaughn and I took turns at the wheel (actually the radar screen). We ran the boat from above at first and then moved below after darkness. You can pretty well see miles ahead of you with the radar so staring at the screen seems useless. One of us would take the helm, the other watched TV and/or snoozed. We each had about 3 cat naps, the longest was probably an hour and a half. We
snacked on sandwiches. I had a coffee about 10 pm and Vaughn had a few pepsi’s. About 3:30 am Queen Ann slowed down and turned off toward Tarpon Springs, and we redirected for John’s Pass..they would not arrive at their destination until 11:30 due to very heavy fog..Hank’s now the expert!
Stars were first seen in the wee hours and a welcome sight, then more fog. We were lucky in that the fog lifted at daybreak. We never saw any crab pots until sunrise, then we saw a new line every minute. Daybreak and the sunrise are especially welcome after such a passage. My wife, Vaughn get’s to see so few sunrises anyway! We never saw any other boats on the crossing either. It’s possible that one or two targets on the radar were other boats but they were never closer than about 5 miles.
It was a fairly comfortable crossing but at some point I’d reset the autopilot to go to Clearwater and thought I’d arrived at John’s Pass. Took us a little time and phone call to our friends to understand our mistake, then we just motored down the ICW, an enjoyable ride. That afternoon we baked in the sun until we jumped in their pool..freezing at 70 degrees it was not..very refreshing and just what we needed!
So, in hindsight, I could have probably just relocated to Shipping Cove in the fog but you do get a good night’s sleep at the dock. We could have started later and maintained our 8 knots but that would only make about an hour or two’s difference or so. Longer or shorter travels don’t matter that much over such a time and distance when on autopilot (The boat and the crew). Our trip was 195 miles. The waves and winds treated us fairly. Fog sucked but what can you see in the dark anyway? No moon so it would be dark.
Next time I want clear skies, a full moon and the millpond sea!
All that to say we did it with caffeine and cat naps.
Bring on the Keys and Bahamas