We left on a high tide which was definitively beneficial as we found our boat (4'11" draft) sat in the mud at low tide at the marina. It wasn't bad, but just enough to hold the keel in place! We made our way down the river to Anclote Key and out into the Gulf. Our first leg took us almost due north with the anticipation of a broad to beam reach given the wind predictions and research I had done.....but no, winds were quite definitely from the northwest, so we were close-hauled. Not too bad at 5-10, but still not the ideal for a long trip. Yes, I suppose we are/have become cruisers when anything less than a downwind sail means its time to stay another day, kick back, and have another "Captain Salty's Anti-grounding Rum"!.........but onward, we needed to make some progress on our trip and things looked OK overall with the weather. We sailed and motor sailed as needed to keep up a 6+ knot average. With 24 hours planned for the crossing, we had a long day/night ahead of us.
Anclote Key viewed from the Gulf
Anclote Power Station - I could not resist!
An hour or so out of Anclote Key and we noticed a lack of boats. the center console fishing boats were no longer present on the horizon. In fact, the AIS which has consistently had a range of 25 to 50 miles showed no targets. Not so unusual, but unusual where this last for hours.
We had noticed that the boating traffic was gradually reducing up the west coast, and from Key West onward was significantly less than our previous legs. But this was very quiet. Almost to the point where I was questioning if the AIS was actually working. Just before nightfall, we saw a commercial fishing boat appear on the horizon. With outriggers out, it looked quite large. But that was the only sighting we had either visually or on AIS until we reached Dog Island. This just confirmed and reinforced how remote the Big Bend area of Florida really is. In fact, it seemed more remote here than any area of the Bahamas we had sailed in due to the lack of other boats and cruisers.
Back to the weather - late in the day, the winds did start to clock around actually anti-clockwise to blow from the west, but that was about at the point where we turned our course to the northwest to make for Dog Island...........so once again, we were close hauled. I actually decided to turn earlier than our planned route to avoid having the wind on our nose. This worked quite well and we were able to sail as the winds picked up, but again close hauled. Between 2 am and 5 am the winds picked up to 20......not per forecast! and started to clock around towards northwest. So we furled the jib at around 3 am and motor-sailed with main only. The seas picked up also, but it was totally dark. An awesome sky with no light pollution revealed the streaks of the milky way, but no moon was visible. We sailed on into the dark. It soon became apparent why some sailors sleep while sailing - not that you are supposed to do, or not that I would condone it or recommend......but to be honest, there was nothing that could be seen - and I mean absolutely nothing! I suppose a boat with lights would be very visible, but aside from that, there was not a lot of point in looking for anything. Nothing on the AIS, nothing on radar, no lights on the horizon. Austin and I took watches, and he slept between. I really did not sleep - other than a reported couple of "eyes closed" at the helm.
After sun-up, I gave Austin the helm and did lie down in the cockpit for about a half hour, then I took over again, and he hit the bunk for a few hours. I saw a couple of thunder storms in the distance ahead of us, but it was hard to guess how far away, as the lightening was high altitude sheet lightening. I just hoped they would dissipate or move out before we reached them......and thankfully they did. The winds subsided as did the sea. The sea had been about 2-3, or perhaps a little more, but it was hard to see. What was noticeable and remarkable was the waves were at a very short period making it very lumpy, and every several minutes we seemed to hit a compound wave that the boat slapped through. I wish I had a photo of the bough braking through waves - with the red and green navigation lights on, it lit the spray in a surreal red and green. The colors were so vivid; I am not sure if this was just due to the complete lack of background light, or if the sea was charged with efflorescence as I have seen on occasion at Cape San Blas. I suspect it was the latter.
About 10 miles out we spotted land - Dog Island and the end of St. George Island.
Approaching Dog Island
I am still amazed at the wonder of modern electronics. I had programmed our course using GPS and sure enough, we were arriving at the channel entry buoy, just as planned -155 miles from our starting point.
Somehow this phenomenon, this wonder of modern science, just had this impact on a tired 15 year old.
By noon, about as planned, we were docking at the The Carrabelle Moorings - for anyone familiar with "The Moorings".....it isn't. The slips are old, but the people are friendly, the marina is clean, and great showers (any shower is great after 24 hours, but a clean one is awesome!), we had a good basic dinner at "The Fisherman's Wife".....and slept.
Next stop - Port St. Joe