1) Thanks for your patience if you’ve been waiting for this! (We’ve had our hands full.)
2) This blog post will have several updates over the next few hours and days.
3) Format: Facts first just to get them out there this a.m.
Some additional color commentary and background will be filled in later.
Sunrise: 7:00 ish
Sunset: 5:45 ish,
(So: 10.75+1 hours of daylight.)
“Half” Moon will set at 11:40 pm. Depending on cloud cover, this is a key piece of helpful info to know. My brother commented, “You should have scheduled this with a full moon all night.” My response: “Just reschedule all your trade shows!” ((This will make sense further below.))
Interesting note: unlike the panhandle area towns around them, Apalachicola and Carrabelle are both in the EST zone for us this trip (as is TS). So we just made sure all the “stuff” that mattered were set to that zone.
Why does this matter?
Well, in the past week or two we’ve crossed from CT to ET and from daylight savings to standard time. So different phones, clocks, and “magic” navigational aids each can get messed up. Calculated ETA, for example, can get skewed by “magic” technology being mis-configured.
One of our many weather synopses (an exercise done every day and every few hours leading up to “last line”):
“AP” is west end start point.
“TS” is east end finish point.
Noted: Predicted Wind, cloud cover, sea state predicted, for every few hours of both ends of our trip. Paying most attention to which end we’ll be.
Our Go-NoGo criteria for our Mainship 390:
Waves <2′ on bow-stern, <1′ beam. Wind 15mph. Wave Period : Height at least 2:1.
Navigation – Float Plan:
3 segments-speed 8K, Depart Friday – arrive Saturday.
Carrabelle: 24.24 nm (3 hours)
R4 off Ancote (TS=Tarpon Springs) 131.2 nm (16.4 hours)
Anchorage inside left at TS: 6.4 nm (0.8 hours)
In a word, we had a fantastic crossing. The weather and sea state was better than predicted for all segments.
Weather during the day.
Below, we had visitors riding our bow wake.
Queen B one mile ahead. Porpoise in the foreground.
Below, Ray’s brother Russ!
Great weather after dark too.
For example, Brenda of Queen B observed: “The sea is like glass!” This was true for a good part of the night.
Pictured below: a Setting moon with not enough wind to move the flag!
We had two USCG Masters aboard, as my brother Russell from Edgecomb Maine was in between fishing and commercial marine trade shows, (Orlando and Seattle.)
Soon after Russ arrived at the boat, we had a couple of “meetings” to get him on-board with all the preparations and weather windows. We also did an orientation to upgrades we have done to systems on the boat, auto-pilot operation, and the routes we had in the chart plotter.
Below, Russ takes a selfie with Shellerina as background.
(Incidentally, all three of us Shelly, Ray, and Russ, have LOTS of experience navigating through minefields of Maine Lobster pots, both day and night.”)
As planned, we depart Water Street Motel & Marina in Apalachicola Friday 9:30am, to meet Walter & Brenda of Queen B out to Carrabelle’s East Pass.
On the way out of Apalachicola, we also find several other Looper friends underway also heading east on a beautiful cruising day: Best Mate, Rachel Ann, Scout. We learn underway that they each have different float plans that do not align with ours.
So, it looks like TWO boats going to TS together; both plan on 8K speed for tonight’s trip.
I radio’d Queen B with my near-final ‘go’ decision as we approached East Pass.
We are expecting 1-2ft seas when get out there, which are predicted to decease as the midday hours click by. I will make our final ‘Go-NoGo’ after we get out there for a while!
We were all (crews of both boats) favorably impressed with weather conditions at the beginning of this trip once we got out there.
We knew things were going to be getting crappy on this route starting from west to east overnight. So our earlier-than-normal Looper start time for this trip was to ensure we kept many hours (+/- 6) of separation between us and the predicted weather coming into the Gulf behind us.
Our earlier arrival (i.e. in the dark) at R4 off TS meant we had options that we’d have to consider. We could stop or slow down significantly along the route as needed on the calmer eastern end of the route. We could put our Maine-bred watch-person-on-the-bow-with-flashlight “trick” as we entered the crap pots area. Or any combination of the above.
Without the luxury of modern day headsets, we did this hundreds of times as kids among the Lobster Pots in Maine. “It’s no big deal.” The person on the bow simply “focuses” their spotlight on the pot buoy, the helmsman steers clear. We have experience doing this for hours on pitch black moonless nights!
Both boats loved having a buddy boat along for this passage. Shellerina followed the larger boat at 0.5 to 1 mile after dark. Both boats had radar, AIS, and of course VHF and proper running lights. We monitored VHF 16 and 68.
We had only met Walter Vaughn of Queen B for a few minutes the day before we departed. It seemed like their plan and ours aligned nicely. That continued for most all of the trip! As it got dark underway we coordinated a “touch base” call at top of every even hour. 6, 8, 10, midnight, 2a.m. Etc.
During these calls our familiarity with each boat’s crew members grew, and the roots of true friendships began. Sharing intel and observations, requests for watching over each other’s helmsman-changes occurred. Who we would get on the next 2-hour check in was always a fun surprise. I think it was the 2am check-in where the two admirals did all the talking as they where entrusted to the helms. It was fun. On one of the check-ins after the moon went down, the romantics Walter and Brenda, let us know that they were turningy off their running lights, so they could “see the stars!” It’s a darn good place to do that! (Of course we could still “see” our Buddy Boat on AIS and radar.)
Queen B also had a satellite weather system on-board, (a Garmin – Sirius XM – GXM54). That was good to know, and was good to have!
One of the things we have learned first-hand over the past week has been how much variability there can be from day to day and hour to hour in the Gulf of Mexico. “The predictions keep changing!”
Starting about 25 miles from Carrabelle our last “bars” of digital-terrestrial intelligence was lost. Ray’s Whooped Up wireless set up would not be of much use to us any more!
After that point, Walter’s multiple reports that, “Things continue to look real good ahead!” were comforting. He had key information we did not have!
But, Ray did have HF-SSB ham radio aboard! And with it from the middle of the Gulf, he checked into the “Maritime Mobile Service Net” (14.300 mHz). an all-day ‘meeting’ for mariners and interested land-stations to exchange messages of routine or emergency nature. The hams did relay NWS Gulf weather info to us, but I assure you it wasn’t as graphic or “sexy” or useful as what I was accustomed to, nor as cool as the stuff Walter was getting on his satellite receiver system. Hams will gladly “relay” messages to loved ones back home, e.g. that ￼all is well and going according to plan.
These two things were certainly not “must haves”! But kinda nice to have.
On the 4:00am check-in, Queen B reported “Land Ho!” But then clarified that land was now seen on-radar.
What we were visually seeing on the port bow was not land. It was more likely a fog bank or low clouds. But it sure looked like land!
Both boats had slowed to 7K around midnight, as we were thrilled by the great weather and sea state. “No need to keep up the fast pace across the Gulf to beat the weather behind us,” was our thinking.
We started comparing final notes on how we would approach the final 20-30 miles.
Soon thereafter, I saw my first crab pot. Then Russ saw one, and me a third. Position: 28-29 miles from downtown TS (not R4). Once it was clear I was not “seeing things” I went up forward with a couple of 3x “D-cell” flashlights, Light jacket on. Russ at helm. We quickly observed we liked the Mag-Lite better than the Husky.
It didn’t take long before we were seeing quite a few more crab pots. But we felt, “We’ve got this!” as we did as kids holding the flashlight for Dad or each other. “No need to stop.”
The low clouds over Tampa Bay and St Pete where illuminated by those cities’ lights! It was almost like the moon never went down. There was still plenty of residual light on the, now moonless night.
Then we lost visual of Queen B, they reported being in that fog bank. Both boats were fairly well- rested. Both boats had the electronics to keep going in fog. We both pressed on for a half hour or so. We were now in the pea-soup fog too.
The benefit of those illuminated low clouds over Tampa Bay disappeared.
The fog began interfering with my Mag-Light’s clear vision ahead, as I stood on the bow for my helmsman.
Perhaps a bit prematurely, I decided to “drop the hook” here in calm seas, in 45ft of water in the middle of nowhere, 27 nm from TS downtown… we’d all get some SLEEP! We’d finish with the full benefit of daylight.
Queen B noticed the change on AIS or radar or both. “What are you doing Shellerina?” I then let Walter know we had just secured for the night. It would have been better for us to let them know our intentions before executing rather than after.
“Ok! See you in-port.” We wished each other safe passage, and everyone on our boat went to bed! It was a little rolly, but not enough to keep anyone awake for very long.
Before I put my head down, there was also a brief deployment of our Raymarine VHF-73’s automatic fog horn!!! Great feature, I thought!
That didn’t last long <grin>.
My crew would have thrown me overboard before putting up with that crazy noise all night… or what was left of this seemingly short night. We only had 3 hours until sunrise after all!
To avert my ultimate legacy being recorded in a new blog post entitled a “Mutiny on the Shellerina” I quickly figured how to shut that feature off in the VHF radio’s menu system.
With radar reflector, AIS transmit, good anchor light, and zero observed traffic (besides our buddy boat) all night, safety meant “saving my hide” and that beat all the other options.
To my crew I explained, “That cool feature isn’t that bad in daylight hours.” So long as it was OFF for this night, they accepted my observation.
More to come!
-Troubleshooting a problem at first light.
-TowBoatUS and unanticipated fuel savings
-In-town dockage right in “the thick of things” in busy Tarpon Springs during the annual Seafood Festival this weekend, (also unanticipated).
-Dinner at Hellas Bakery and Restaurant.
-Taxi in TS!
More to come!