Monday, February 24, 2014

To go or not to go ...

When we were getting ready to cut the dock lines and head out everyone wanted to know where we were going. Our answer was always the same. Since this was our first year and the boat and I don't really like each other all that much yet, staying in the Keys while we figured things out just seemed like a good thing to do. We shipped the boat to Oak Harbor, got going, transversed the Chesapeake, found Norfolk, managed the ICW, did a couple of outside jumps including 2 overnight passages, and made it to the Keys. My very conservative approach to learning the cruising life-style was a success. We are "out here".

Once in FL we started getting suggestions about what to do next. Key West was on the list, obviously, along with the Dry Tortugas. And, we were reminded, the water in the northern Gulf in Florida's Big Bend are "almost as good as the Bahamas". We started making plans. And in the process discovered a pretty interesting fact. It is better than 400nm from Key West to Pensacola. A three to five day straight shot sail, pretty far off shore, with very few places to bail out and hide should things go hinky with boat or weather. From No Name Harbor to Old Bahama Marina at the West End is about 87nm. An easy overnight, less distance than either of our two previous jumps, and when done one isn't in water "just like in the Bahamas, one is actually in Bahamian waters.

So much for the conservative approach. We switched plans, stuffed the boat full of stuff, and here we sit. There is a real sense of balance to being here. Where we sit is the slip next to the one we sat in on Quetzal while sailing a Bahamas Bash with Friend John. That trip cemented the idea that this was something we were going to do. We did, only this time we are here on our own boat, having made the crossing with just the two of us doing our own planning, provisioning, and weather guessing. (Yep, I made the call on the weather using a lifetime of weather planning experience as a pilot. I am much happier trusting me to me than trusting me to someone who isn't going to be sitting on the boat in whatever weather shows, forecast or not.)

No all was cruiser paradise. Having mis-timed putting on my patch, or perhaps having a drink (okay 2 drinks) the night before we left, or going up on the bow to strap down the anchor with the boat pitching in 5 foot swells at the mouth of the Biscayne Bay channel, whatever it was I could barely hold onto my lunch for the first hour or so into the trip. Deb carried me along inert and mumbling expletives at being felled so on such an easy ocean. But I recovered before the sun set and we went on.

Next up was an unforecast batch of really active thunderstorms. It has been a while since I have seen that much lightning flash continuously for that long and I will have to admit to being very cautious around Thor's fireworks. I am used to having RADAR, lightning detectors, uplinked weather in the cockpit, and moving at 400 knots 8 miles in the sky when playing tag with bumpers. Open ocean with little in the way of technical support, unable to move very fast, and somewhat restricted in the directions available for a slow bailout switched me from "Ho-hum just another day in the office" jet driver mode to "If I screw this up and stumble into the path of these storms, we are going to take a serious beating, long out of sight of land, and in the middle of a moonless and cloudy night" mode.

We talked with two Cruise Ships, asking them what they were seeing on their bridge RADAR, and which way the storms were heading. Both assured us the weather was moving ENE ... something I found hard to believe. It turns out that maybe cruise ship officers working the late shift may not be the ACE radar gurus to match most professional pilots. The storms were moving in a much more likely direction, east with a slight drift south, and not moving very fast. We tacked away to the east, reduced sail to slow down, and gave the storms the rest of the night to figure out were they wanted to go. As the sun rose we tacked back north, now passing behind the worst of the fading weather, and making West End with just one brief and very light shower dropping cold water on my bald head.

All in all we are very pleased at having changed our minds. "Cautious" and "conservative" are still the words of the day, and I think we made some good decisions in getter here. In my mind the 90 mile jump across the Gulf Stream was an easier and better choice than a 400 mile jump across the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. Which isn't to say we will not be doing that very thing a year from now, but for this year "you is in de Islands, Mon - relax and have some fun".

4 comments:

Ben & Terri said...

Nicely done, and now have fun!

John Clark said...

Sorry for commenting on all 3 Bahama blogs, but I am just thrilled for y'all.

corsair28r said...

tellin ya .....
now find the island with the wild pigs ....
sorry for the fire works, by the way ....

thor

Rharriscpa said...

So glad to read you made it enjoy and relax and jump in the water.