Thumbs down. – Looks like I will stay put for another few days. I deverted from heading to Tampa at only one third of the way and cut east to Panama City yesterday. Too strong SE winds, too little progress. They call this wind „trade wind“ but I don’t see much to buy for it. However if I could, yes, I would trade it for anything but southeast and have to admit: I underestimated its strengs and endurance. Thinking of being a big boy who crossed an ocean in my imagination that little up wind sailing did not look that bad. – But bad is the mildest word I used in the last days to describe it.
In general the weather pattern seems exaclty the same as last week and the week before: „WINDS TO GALE FORCE AND RAPIDLY BUILDING SEAS ARE EXPECTED IN THE WAKE OF THE FRONT… THE FRONT WILL WEAKEN AND STALL OVER THE SOUTH EAST GULF SATURDAY.“ (NOAA Forecast from today) Experience tells, it will then lift back north as a warm front on Sunday and back south and back north and so on and so on …
That reminds me of a great time I had rafted up to Heimkehr in Charleston, SC. This same pattern happend there in April 2011 along the Carolina coast (what a timely coincident). We had to wait a long time before a window opened that was safe enough to risk a six days off-shore passage.
However I had some ocean sailing – Thumbs up! – Always pure fun! It took less than a few hours until the Gulf provided a nice one-person sized tuna and less than another hour before steaks and bites where fryed. Stakes for lunch and dinner, and a bowl of fried tuna bites to nibble over the time in bewtween.
The Gulf signifficantly calmed down after I crossed the 200 ft. depth line and a mixture of clouds and sun provided power for the solar panel and shade for the skipper. The sea gentley rushed by at four to six knots on a south to east tack into the upcomming first night at sea.
Tacking in a windfetched sea, not big enough to form a real swell, is not the greatest fun, but even that could’t disturb the privilige I felt to be out here, to be able to do what I do and I thankfully thought of people who helped me getting here. Has it been by technical suggestions, just by a short email or even a PayPal-Donation. There where people helpful everywhere and whithout these countles supports I would never have been able to be where I am and to write about the Gulf of Mexico now.
But – Thumbs down! – the wake put me on a wind angle of more than 60 degrees. Effective tacking works good at 45 degrees or even less. To understand: Sailboats can’t head straight into the wind. They point windward to somewhat around 45 degree. A realy windward destination has to be reached this way turn by turn. Wind from one side – tack – wind from the other side – tack… With some planing the resulting zick-zack crosses the point to go to. But that trick is not for free. It causes a 300 mile direct way quickly to become more then 600 miles in the end, making a three day passage … right, five to six days at sea.
Heading generally south I had mainly three options to take: No stopover in Tampa, keep it straitht for Key West. – Not an option as south of Tampa the wind was forecasted 20 Knots and already from the south. I have a front chasing me and closing in from behind at about 200 miles per hour, reaching the gulf by Late Thursday. Keep aiming for Tampa. – Not an option as the wind is forecasted to increase faster than expected and I forecasted myself to not make it to Tampa before the front will arrive. The disadvantages of Tampa Bay lee shore with less than 30ft of water? – Its about surfing up to eight foot high breakers into a narrow fairway if not worse. Devert to Apalachicola. Thumbs up! Good option. From here along the Florida Coast I have a way more southerly approach for my next try. That means better sailing in southeasterly winds, especially over night, when a down cooling land causes an easterly off land flow. And in worst case from here to Tarpon Springs, the first port suitable for a sailboat in Tampa Area, its only about 150 Miles! – Two days! In best case I can bypass Tampa and keep goint straight along the coast to Key West.
I finally headed for Panama City. A little further south than Apalachicola but the place has some stores for boat parts. A good call after I lost my best anchor and chain in Penscaola two days ago. That cuts the budget for April down to way below zero.
I found a galvanized chain of an appropriate length today for about $110. But simply galvanized means just a temporary solution. It will rust quickly in saltwater. The one I lost was a hot dipped galvanized steel chain. Got it in England and it looked after all the time as if I had bought it a day before. But that seems to be hard to get here. Either cheap crap or stainless steel for the price of a new boat.
The temporary solution takes at least some pressure off the next Credit Card bill, but I have a strong feeling that chain will not get cheaper in the Caribbean and has to be replaced before I leave the US. The lost anchor itself adds another $200 but at least I can go with my unnamed stormsized anchor for April and put the new one on the next month.
And then? From Tampa or Key West? I realy have no clue what is going to happen! A planned and booked flight for Kinga to the Dominican Republic is putting me on a „go“ mode. Every day lost on the way hurts. That makes me think of options I would not even consider if I would not have to. Like this morning, when it seemed like a suitable way to head out here tomorrow, in forecasted thunderstorms and watersouts to use 30 knots southerly wind to gain as much room to the west as possible and on friday use the forecasted 30 to 35 knots westerly winds to go in or even around Key West. I guess it would work. Even in „Rough seas 8 to 10 foot“. I maybe would do it in a bigger boat. Third reef, small jib and go. But Paulinchen is not a bigger boat. She would still handle it. even now that from stays to sails things are a little more worn out then on her last atlantic passage.
I know I could still handle it if that gale or even more wind would catch me half way across an ocean I would have to as I had to before. But this is not an ocean. It’s not endless open water. Here are sheltered harbors and anchorages everywhere and there is no other need to put that much load on the rigg and boat then to keep up with a too tight schedule. – So much thumbs down for sailing on tight schedules!
Logically everything from leaving on Saturday after the front to spending the hurrican season in the US is currently an option. We also have a Plan B in case I might not make it in time to Dominican Republic. At least one to see us. But that causes me to stay in southern Florida until May 24. – Leaving from there right at beginning of Hurrican season is still possible. But weather does not know about a calendar. There have been early hurricans in May before.
My opportunity for Cuba however seems gone. There is no time left to do so. Maybe I can put it in the route from Trinidad to Panama in Fall… More importent now: If I will not make it to Key West within the next ten days, I will probably only do a quick run to the Bahamas for a renewal of my cruising permit and seek for a place to work on the Boat here. At least it would make me have the boat in a better shape when heading into the caribbean in fall instead of taking a boat in mid-bad shape south upwind all the way to Trinidad to work there.
And a few month of no motion will also give some time to get other projects done that I currently have to put on hold for keep myself going. And so, after I arrived in Panama City I walked on the pier at sunset. First time off the boat in civilisation for more than a week and and a little ashamed for not having been in the water for four days. And as the City prepared to fall asleep It is remarkable how noisy little Oysters banks become on a marina piling at falling tide. I asked myself what purpose they have and watched pelicans soaring above the sound and seaguls singing the day a good bye. – What does it count for if I am in Trinidad or Florida? – Thumbs up!