Monday, May 27, 2013

Departing on the Magical Mystery Tour - The Gulf of Mexico

The outlet from St. Pete Municipal Marina to Tampa Bay

One Last Meeting with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Eggmont Key Channel ahead to Starboard, the gateway to the Gulf From Tampa Bay

John Spent his life aboard this type of Ocean going Tow keeping the  engines and  Captain happy. 

Our first Sunset Wed. Evening...hoping to see the Green Flash

Planning for the Crossing

May is typically one of the better months of the year for a Gulf Crossing. The Cold Fronts are diminishing and less severe. Weather forecast seem to be more consistent and of course it is a last chance to get across before Hurricane season officially starts in June. The Primary weather forecasting we rely on comes from:
NOAA Marine Weather : and Passage Weather: . Of course there are a number of other resources that we check just to see if there is some consistency in the forcast models out there. It helps to have more than one set of eyes scanning the weather sources and here is where the crew come in as they are also paying attention to their favorite sources as well so the discussion begins weeks before the planned departure date. It is quite normal to be delayed a few days or even more. A planned depature date is just a work in progress.
Besides the weather are the Ocean currents that will certainly have a positive or negative influence on the planned route. There is a constant clockwise Loop Current formed by the Gulf Stream just about 140 nautical miles West of Tampa Bay. The currents can be 3+ knots or insignificant. The Current may stray to the North, South, East or West depending on ocean temps and lots of other factors. NOAA Marine weather and are good sources of information regarding the Loop Current. Carey, Maureens husband sent me the NOAA site which was more detailed than PassageWeather: . After viewing the more detailed page I changed our route around the Loop to the South to avoid the 3 knot East current and take advantage of the West flowing current. It would be a minor deviation in the Original straight line originally plotted across the Gulf.
Of Course the Next concern are all the oil rig platforms that populate the Gulf Waters. I googled for a Google Earth pic of the Platforms and found this site: . Just click on the link free GPS Map and you get a great Google Earth pic of all the Platforms out there. I used the Google Earth ruler Tool to draw our route line on the map. Zooming in I could see that our planned route would take us no closer than 1 1/2 miles to the nearest Rig. Of course BP could easily drag one out and set it up before it appears on this map so  a constant visual lookout  was mandatory. These rigs are serviced 24/7 by all types of ships and so they are constantly a Hazard anywhere in the Gulf.
Along with planning for weather, currents and obstacles/hazards we made sure we had up to date safety equipment aboard. We purchased Two ACR PLB's, or Personal Locator Beacons. these replace the old standard of the bigger and more expensive EPIRB's. I like these much better since they are small and you wear them so they are instantly available if needed, you do not have to waist valuable time going below or through the ditch bag to activate it.

We decided to rent a four man Offshore Life raft from Solution One Maritime in Tampa: The rental cost $250 for the week and is the no brainer solution for long distance offshore passages. The rafts cost around $2400 new and require costly re-certifications every 3-5 years. The cost to ship it back to Tampa by UPS was just $50. We already had plenty of water activated inflatable ife vest with built in Harness l, Jack lines, and tethers.

Fuel of course is a concern. I have heard the stories of some who had no wind all the way across and had to motor all the way. We carried 72 gallons of diesal in the tank and another 25 gallons in four jerry cans on the deck. At 1400 RPM we should be able to motor all the way if needed at about 4 knots. The first two days would be motoring if the forecast held and then the winds would fill in and we should have wind all the rest of the way to Corpus. The trip would take 8 full days at an average of 4 knots, just over 800 miles.

As we neared the planned departure date of May 8 as the weather forecast looked promising  I began to plan the provisions and surveying the crew for the things they would like to have for the trip.. Food is the last thing on board as fresh foods can spoil of bought to soon. The Admiral helped provision all the non spoil goods and on May 7 I made two trips to the local stores in St. Pete to get the rest.

Day 162/II St. Petersburg Municipal Marina

5/08/13 Departed 1330 hrs.  Arrived 1330 hrs; Avg. Speed 4.9 10-15 mph W winds, Sunny 85 degrees

The trip was on. I got up early to drive over to Tampa and pick up the Life Raft and First Mate John Furlinger. Maureen was already stowing her gear as we drove back over to Tampa. The Admiral walked over to pick up some Subway for Lunch and after lunch the crew automatically began to prepare Wand'rin Star for departure  Very few directions were required as  everyone knew exactly what we needed to get done to depart the Marina. The water tanks topped off, the foredeck was cleared except for the dingy and all the items stowed on the aft deck were secured. Jack lines were secured and all the safety equipment reviewed. By 1300 we were ready to toss off the lines just after a few good-bys and photos of the crew.Some new friends we made on NB dock came to assist the departure and by 1330 we were motoring out of the marina to take advantage of an Ebb tide to the Gulf of Mexico

We had discussed possible watch schedules and agreed to a 3.5 hour night schedule and a 4.5 hour daylight watch schedule so we could stay on the same schedule throughout the trip. John took the first watch from 20:30 to 00:00, I took the 00:00 to 3:30 watch, and Maureen took the 3:30 to 07:00 then John was back on from 0700 to 1130, I had the 1130 to 1600 and Maureen the 1600 to 2030. This provided everyone with at least 6 hours or more sleep. This three person watch schedule worked great for us, We each had our space below as Maureen took the Aft Stateroom, John took the V-Berth and I took the Saloon so I would be close by the cockpit in the event the watch stander needed assistance.
By 1600 we exited Tampa Bay through Eggmont Channel in 2-3' Seas motoring at 4+knots at 1400 RPM.
We discussed the planned route and decided to change the route to go directly to the waypoint at the southern edge of the Loop Current rather than to follow my pre-planned route due West and then turn sharply to the West. This would cut off a few miles and make sure we missed any opposing current if the Loop shifted while we were in route.So our heading was 272 and as we neared deeper water the swells were just 1' eventually becoming what John called oily seas, flat and so smooth the brilliant star studded night reflected off the water in amazing detail along with the Bio-Luminescence streaming off the hull as we motored on through the night.

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