We left Port St. Joe to sail across the Gulf of Mexico pretty much at seven o’clock on the dot after a long week and a half of preparing the boat. And ourselves. RJ had been checking multiple weather forecasts multiple times a day to find out when would be the best time to leave.
You see, the way the general route works is to follow the Intracoastal Waterway from Mobile, Alabama to Apalachicola, Florida (or Carrabelle, a small distance to the east) and then cross a small section of the gulf over to the Tarpon Springs, Florida area. This crossing is somewhere in the ballpark of 180 miles, I think.
By this time, there were a lot of other vessels also at the marina in Port St. Joe waiting for a good weather window to do the crossing. We are at the point in the season now where apparently good weather windows have become more rare. The general consensus of the other boaters was to wait until a good weather window was approaching and travel to Carrabelle (a day further east of Port St. Joe) and then cross when able.
RJ and I had a different plan. To leave from Port St. Joe and head Southeast to Clearwater. As soon as we got close enough to land to feel comfortable, we were then going to turn South and sail until we couldn’t sail anymore. Our crossing would be close to 220 miles.
The other vessels waiting were all larger trawlers who prefer glassy calm water to let their big engines roar uninhibited. For a sailboat, glassy calm waters means no wind, which means no sailing. Therefore, we had a little bit of leeway when looking at the weather as a little bit too much wind is much preferred to none at all.
On Tuesday, December 12, knowing the following morning would be our departure, we both worked nonstop.
We still have the list taped up of projects to do before we leave. Of nearly twenty, we only completed about five (and a few more that didn’t end up written down). Scrub the dinghy, deflate dinghy, put dinghy on deck. Deflate paddle board and stow away. Tidy up and secure everything in the cabin to the best of our ability. Schedule blog posts and video posts. Provision the galley (or in land speak, go grocery shopping). Call our mom’s. Things like that. Find a place to put the life raft. Mail life raft warranty. Download ship’s radio license.
Check the weather. Check the weather. Check the weather.
At 5:00 A.M., Wednesday, December 13th, we were awake, fully dressed and sipping hot cocoa (it was frigid cold outside, at least for Florida, hence wanting to head further South). I made a smoothie big enough for the 64 oz. thermos to drink throughout the day and tried to finish everything I thought needed to be finished.
We pumped out at the fuel dock.
And we were out of Port St. Joe Marina at 7:00 A.M. We started our day motor-sailing just for a bit. Really, only until we were out of the Bay of Saint Joe. Then, we turned off the motors and just sailed.
After a few hours on deck with RJ, I headed in for a short nap.
When I woke back up, the sun was much higher in the sky. The wind was gradually growing warmer. Which is exactly what we were hoping to feel.
I started reading a bit of a book on sailing theory. Colgate’s Sailing Theory to be exact and for the first time, it finally clicked for me how the sails work. It’s about suction! Ahah! It’s also about a few other things, but in any case, I had a moment of pure relief because I truly felt like I was going to be useless on this entire voyage. It had been a book that I tried to read before, but it all makes a lot more sense when you have real reference points all around you.
RJ prepared us all of our food while on the crossing. PB&J and freeze-dried meals for all. I felt bad for not helping, but doing anything down below, even simply pumping water into a bottle was making me nauseous.
I can’t remember the exact play-by-play of how the whole day went, but basically RJ slept for as long as I felt comfortable being alone on deck. I slept until I felt too sick rolling around.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, dolphins. And lots of them. And for a long time, I felt like we were flying through the water with the dolphins flying beside us. It was incredible to watch them swimming around underwater with the boat, playing and flipping around until they would jump up for air. I got splashed by water from their blow holes more than a few times. I tasted salt water on my lips.
The dolphins left us as soon as the sun started setting and as soon as the sun started setting, the stars came out brighter and brighter as each wave went by.
I took another nap, this one interrupted by cold feet. So, then I’d move them, wrap the blankets tighter around them. But again, woken by cold feet. And even colder. Or, wait, are they wet? At which point, I felt with my hands that the entirety of the foot of our bed was soaked. Calling to RJ, we decided it wasn’t a life threatening situation, more of an annoyance. Our deck to hull joint in the front of the boat, the part of the boat that holds the top to the bottom, isn’t sealed well. Therefore, strong waves and heavy splashes were able to make their way through. We have room for three more people to sleep, so plenty of room for us to move to a different bed. Even though these ones aren’t as cozy (nobody really wants to sleep on top of their kitchen table), when we were tired enough, it worked.
At this point, it was probably still before ten o’clock at night and I decided it was time to put my warm clothing back on and head outside.
“I feel like I’m on a drug trip,” RJ said.
Speeding through the sky and darting in every direction, the stars were falling. Racing towards the water, splitting into two or three different directions until plunging into the gulf. Becoming a part of the glittering waves moving by our boat. Passing as illuminated specs in the water.
After staring at the sky, RJ tells me to look at the water.
“What? More dolphins?”
And the water was glittering with phosphorescent plankton.
I already had felt that seeing the dolphins earlier had made this the most surreal experience, but this definitely didn’t hurt the tally.
The rest of the night was rough. Both RJ and I were exhausted. The swell, from the high winds, didn’t die down for the remainder of the night.
I kept saying, “Why is this happening?” followed by, “I love you’s,” because I still wanted to be encouraging.
We sat, rocking up and down for an undetermined amount of time. In my mind, that night still hasn’t ended and we’re still bouncing around in the gulf. In reality, those people are still there. Those naive children who had never completed a passage on a sailboat.
Our line of sight was continuously moving between the stars, the sails, and the glowing water, even though our eyes weren’t moving. Actually, we aren’t moving at all, the water is moving Patches, our boat, which we just happen to be on. Along with the wind, pushing her sails, and in turn pushing us, towards the version of ourselves who have completed a passage on a sailboat.
Or, just pushing us towards the West coast of Florida, if you want to think of it in technical terms.
Click here to read: Sailing Across the Gulf of Mexico-Part 2. Also, stayed tuned for RJ’s side of the story, if he can ever stop working and sit down to write for you all.