The Motor Vessel "Once Around"

The Motor Vessel "Once Around"
The Motor Vessel "Once Around" in the Florida Keys

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Weather...or NOT!

As I mentioned in my last post, we have only a little less than 100 miles more to move on inland waterways in the panhandle of Florida (down to Carrabelle or Apalachicola) before we hop across the northeast corner of the Gulf of Mexico to Clearwater, Florida.  The gulf crossing is the largest single stretch of “big water” most Loopers will make on the Loop.  Although it is only 150 or so miles (across the north east corner of the gulf), it is fairly intimidating, as conditions on the Gulf of Mexico in winter seem to change on the weather gods’ whim.
We holed up in Panama City waiting for the weather to break and for sea conditions to calm (way) down.  Monday the seas were 5-7 feet and building, as the winds Tuesday peaked (seas were reportedly 11 feet!) following the weather front that just passed over Sunday night and Monday morning.  It rained fairly consistently for those two days.  We (and every Looper around this corner of the gulf) are looking ahead for good sea conditions three or four days out, so we can move down into position and be ready to cross the minute things are calm…because they don’t stay calm for long.
Planning for the crossing is interesting.  Daylight right now lasts from about 6:00 AM to 4:40 PM (approx. 10-1/2 hours).  Boats that can only go say 10 knots will take 15 hours, so they must leave in the dark, and time their cruise to arrive mid-afternoon.  Once Around likes to cruise at that speed, and probably will if conditions are excellent (big IF), but is very capable of doing 15 or 16 knots, shortening or eliminating nighttime exposure.   Being beaten up by rough seas is not fun in the daytime, and I imagine it would be much worse if you couldn’t see the waves coming!  That decision will probably be made at the last moment, or even as we go.
Our good friends on Jolly Tolly showed up at Bay Point Tuesday afternoon in 30 knot winds.  We were listening on the VHF as they approached and heard Ron ask if he could get a pump out.  He was told yes, but he had better check out the wind conditions first and make his choice:  pump out dock or his slip.  Now you will recall his wife Jan is “The Pump-out Queen”, so Carrie and I were 99% sure they would stop at that dock first.  We ran over to that side of the marina just in time to see that they were headed directly for their slip, where we had just come from.  Shows how bad conditions were for Jan to pass on a pump out!  We ran back and Ron brought Jolly Tolly expertly into the slip.  Even though there were whitecaps in the marina, I still am amazed Jan passed that pump-out dock.
Jan on the bow of Jolly Tolly as Ron pulls her in
We had a great evening with them and the rest of the Loopers from Grianan, Boreas and Brandy IV.  Much of the talk was about…what else…the weather.  We are all rather obsessed with it right now.
At 6:30 the next morning we learned several boats were leaving Carrabelle to make their crossing.  We pray for their safety, as conditions are not ideal.  We decided to move a little further down the panhandle to Port St. Joe.  It was a beautiful day to cruise, if a bit nippy. 
Following Jolly Tolly on the ICW

Jolly Tolly turning into Port St. Joe Harbor
The dolphins provided quite a show.  We had a couple dolphin cruise along with us for nearly a half hour.  I think the Admiral got some better shots this time.  Captain Ron told her on the radio that he had heard that if you sing to them, the dolphin will stick around.  Carrie bought that, hook, line and sinker.  It was kind of fun to hear her singing loudly at the dolphin.  But, do you think they appreciated “God Bless America”?  It was a priceless moment!
We’re going to hang out here at Port St. Joe for one or two or ??? days, watching the weather and hoping for a good day to cross soon.  When we think we see one we’ll move down to Carrabelle to be ready.  Meanwhile, this place is supposed to have some great seafood restaurants…so off we go.


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