|Wave Dancer prepared to depart Corpus Christi bound for Pensacola, Fl.|
|The 1st Sunset with 2-3' seas and 10-15 knot winds.|
|Time to Motor Sail, Cap'n Lynn had just successfully cut a line from his prop while fighting off Ramora's|
We then walked over to D dock to meet with the Crew of "Susan II" a Catalina 400 that would be the lead boat I just learned. Wow, this would be great having the comfort and safety of a second boat on the trip, I even recognized an old friend Walt who I knew since our days at HCYC. The skipper of Susan II was Cap'n Lynn , his crew was Chip and Walt. Cap'n Lynn would be the chief navigator for the tiny fleet as he had previously moved his boat from Florida to Corpus. At first the combined experience of the Captains & crew seemed impressive, all had years of coastal cruising & charter boat experience, all owned boats 30' and above and all were either near retirement or retired from careers at the top of their respective career paths including two impressive military careers, homeland security, private business, Super Max Canadian prison warden, and me the educator.
It was 11:30 the plan was to top off the fuel tanks and meet in Port Aransas where we would determine if the weather was good to go or if we should wait till the following morning as we would be venturing out into the gulf following a Northern front that had passed almost two days earlier. all of a sudden the crews got into high gear and we were off to the fuel dock. While on the fuel dock I realized I was about to get on a boat and not one had ever made a Gulf crossing before. It was a bit of security though knowing we had over 125 gallons of fuel on board, a new chart plotter with Sirus weather, and a brand new Radar, so new Cap'n Bill was not familiar with all the functions yet. There are also power concerns when you are out sailing for long periods of time and all those electronics can eat away at your battery storage. We motored sailed across Corpus Christi Bay leading the way to Port Aransas and at 1615 by VHF radio it was decided the weather was a go, we had 10-15 mph winds and 2-3 foot seas, we were clear of the Port A jetties just after 1630 and I was in heaven again, I was not seasick and for the first time sailing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Day 1 As we cleared the Jetties the C400 led the way. Prior to departing Cap'n Bill explained that we would rotate on 4 hour watches, two on two off. Pam & I would rotate with Bill and Chris. We were all so excited that no one mentioned when we would start our rotation and who would go down and get rested so they could be alert during late night and early morning hours. Just at sunset I realized someone had to rest so I said I would go down and try to rest and then I would come back up to relieve Cap'n Bill & Chris. Well trying to go to sleep when the adrenaline is still pumping was just not going to happen, so I just laid and tried to rest as much as possible to prepare for my watch. I could tell the seas were starting to build as the motion down below also prevented the idea of sleep and promoted a bit of queasiness. I finally just gave up and after about 3 hours or so came back up to the cockpit. Wow...I was really queasy. In fact just then I leaned over the rail and everything that was in my body projectiled out in 1 second. Now I felt better. For the next 12 hours I could not eat anything without it shooting right back out. Cap'n Bill put some oily stuff just behind my ear and that was the end of my 1st experience with seasickness. No one was getting any real sleep, & I could feel that we were all beginning to experience some exhaustion.
Day 2 We had successfully navigated at night with full sail through the oil platforms and with the morning light the seas were 5-6 and we were making great time. By the late afternoon winds were building along with the seas. For the first time I was experiencing 10-12' waves, and we were still under full sail, rail in the water. The number of lights, platforms, and boats of all sorts were all around us and it took all eyes to sort out this incredible environment. Around 2000 We decide to reef the Genoa, something went wrong in the dark as we were trying to pull in on the roller furling line and ease the sheet. I heard Bill holler in pain and realized all or part of his hand was caught up in the sheet. I instinctively blew the sheet fearing he might have seriously injured his hand. Then without full attention on the helm, the bow went through the wind and the Genoa hour glassed around the head stay, and the port side sheet was violently whipping about. Cap'n Bill ordered me to take the helm while he and Chris went forward to sort out the mess. It was so dark I could not see the foredeck, Bill or Chris, I could barely hear them over the winds and roar of the sea, Pam was by my side providing extra ears and eyes. Bill was ordering a 360 degree turn to starboard to unwrap the head sail, there seemed to be lights and platforms all around us. I took precaution and turned the boat slowly through the waves fearing a violent jib. Bill and Chris were being punished by the waves on the foredeck and I was not even sure they were still there. Due to lack of sleep I began to hallucinate..I saw structures in the water that I tried with all my might to avoid but Pam said they were not there. Three old sailors appeared at the mast pulpit staring at me all in foul weather gear, one red, one yellow and one blue. After at least 1 1/2 hour hour we had the nightmare sorted out and Cap'n Bill and Chris were back in the cockpit. I was so thankful they had not been washed overboard, I had hit the Wall, and around 2200 I explained to all that I had to go to bed. I went below and laid down in the v-berth and in spite of the bow crashing through 12 foot seas I crashed harder than ever in my life.
Day 4: The next day was just a beautiful sail across the Gulf as the crew was now well into the routine of the 4 hours on, 4 off watch schedule and we felt rested. All the crew was much more adept at identifying the lights even though there were fewer as we sailed further from Louisiana and closer to Florida. That night Pam & I were on the helm again when I spotted a ship that would pass right in front of us. I radioed crewman Walt on Susan II " Wave Dancer to Susan II" "Susan II Over" " Hey Walt, there is a Big Butt ship at 11:00 o'clock, that will pass in front of us, over" Walt replied "I do not see her" " Look again she is moving fast, from our Port side about to be right in front of us, we need to pass her stern" " OK I see her" " Roger that, Wave Dancer standing by on 16". Nearing Pensacola we knew we would be in a slip for a safe mooring by night time. We easily navigated the Pensacola channel and headed to the Navy Base where retired Navy Cap'n Lynn had two slips reserved for us that night.But alas, the channel to the Navy Marina was to shallow for the 6'+ draft of Wave Dancer and after briefly running aground, Admiral Pam searched the chart plotter and found the Pensacola Yacht Club, just around the corner. We were tied up just as the end of daylight slipped away. Where are the Showers? Thank God the PYC were great host and we had the combo to the Locker rooms pronto, we all enjoyed a great long hot shower. Lynn had packed me some baby wipes and they had come in handy as after each watch I would wipe down my whole body and slip on a fresh t-shirt, sleep, put on the same salty foulies and get back on deck.
Cap'n Lynn's wife Susan met us at the Marina and we loaded up in her Caddy and went to Sonny's BBQ for food, Beer and sailing stories. Some very generous person paid our entire bill, my hunch was a Pensacola YC sailor who appreciated our recent accomplishment. Back to the Boat and all four of us were asleep in 2 seconds.
This experience set the tone for our preparation and plans for cruising. I considered myself lucky to experience the full nine yards on this trip. I had the full range from euphoric Ocean sailing to near death crises. Sleep deprivation and finally getting into the groove of four hours on four hours off. I lost 6 pounds in 4 1/2 days. We learned lights, satellite phones, electronic navigation and many details to numerous to mention. But for those considering such an ocean Passage a few reccomendations.
4. If other boats are accompanying and they stray off course or go a different way do not feel it is your job to keep up with them. Sail your course and your preferred speed and comfort level.
6. Bring baby wipes
7. Wear your harness and tether at all times in the cockpit and the deck. A wave came over the Starboard quarter and completely covered Cap'n Bill at the Helm...I could only laugh.
8. Do not sail close to anything just for a close look...use your binoculars.