Well, we did it. We made our Gulf crossing from the panhandle of Florida to the west coast of Florida arriving at Anclote Key. Anclote Key sits just outside the entrance to the Anclote River that when traveled leads you to Tarpon Springs. We arrived with such a feeling of accomplishment.
Our Gulf crossing has occupied our thoughts and plans for the last several weeks and maybe even months for several reasons. One of the reasons is the crossing takes at least 20 hours even in a fast sailboat. Twenty hours means that, at least some of the time, someone would need to be awake and at the helm throughout all the little hours of the night. Crossing the Gulf also meant that we would be completely out of sight of land for more than half of our twenty plus hours. Considering that our joint sailing resume doesn’t include a lot of this type of traveling on Sea Change, we had a few moments of pause to think about the ramifications of this and contingencies ( what would we do if X happened? How would we handle this? ). Additionally, this leg of our travels would take us out of typical communication range. No cell phones, No internet would be available. We did, however, have our VHF ( with appropriate FCC licenses) and our EPIRB (registered with the US Coast Guard). Our other concern has been to pick our weather window to make our crossing. Michael has been studying the fronts, what winds were predicted and how high the waves should be. It looked like, as we got to Carrabelle, that our window of opportunity was opening and we would have a couple of great days with only a little waves and, unfortunately, little wind combined with warm temperatures. No rain or storms were predicted either.
So we got up and made ready with healthy doses of coffee and a light breakfast and began final preparations to leave. Sea Change was officially defunked and anything that could roll around or fly across the boat unexpectedly was stowed carefully away. We left at high tide on the Carabelle River with a playful breeze and the sun shining brightly. As land slipped out of view, the thing that kept coming to the forefront of my thoughts was the color. In fact, when I look back at our 23 hour crossing the thing that I find myself dwelling on is the color of it all. We think of water as blue and the Gulf of Mexico is not an exception to this rule. As we left, I remember thinking that the water wasn’t turquoise or even teal blue but a dark blue with lots of gray like steel blue with a light sliver sheen over the top. It is frustrating to not be able to describe the color better! We tasked Hal 9000 (our auto pilot) with the task of getting us to Anclote Key and let him drive Sea Change. ( He has been behaving much more gentlemanly as of late.) The sky was clear and faintly baby blue with a definite transition from sky to water at the horizon. Michael and I chatted and I read and we listened to the satellite radio. It was a lovely day on the water. We snacked and Michael started his project for the day which was to bake fresh bread during our crossing. Michael never one to turn down a challenge had been told that he wouldn’t be able to make bread while making the crossing and it became game on. Using a no knead recipe, he combined the yeast and sugar and let the dough rise while I babysat Hal and read a book.
As the daylight fled, the waters of the Gulf became darker but remained a steely gray blue just deeper in color but the silver sheen became more pronounced and began to look like a layer of mercury sitting on the top of the water. The surface looked reflective and reminded me a an old fashioned mirror. At least that is how it appeared until you turned to look out toward the setting sun. Looking toward the sun as it was setting, the silver sheen became a deep and rosy colored gold with the water turning a darker, deeper blue. The sun took on a vibrant orange glow as it slipped away leaving us in the dusk of evening. When it went, the sun took our breeze and the water became very still. No ripples and no cat’s paws disturbed the surface of the water. I had not seen such a large body of water become so glassy and flat. Sea Change was creating the only disturbance in the water. As the twilight deepened, the stars and planets became our companions. Mars shone so brightly as it made its appearance, I thought at first that it was the light of an approaching vessel. Mars cast a fiery trail on the silvered surface of the still Gulf water. Jupiter sat at the apex of our part of the heavens and the stars were brilliant against the canvas of the darkened sky. At one point, I climbed out on the cabin top and sat listening to Sea Change as she sliced through the still water. My reverie was broken by the splashing and dark shapes of dolphins as they joined us for a while. First on one side of the boat and then on the other, they would jump and splash in the wake Sea Change was making.
We made use of all our resources and turned on the radar to aid Hal in getting us safely across the Gulf. Michael pointed out the lovely pink color on the radar that was the huge barge headed for Mobile as it passed us on our starboard. I could see the pink echo that was our traveling companion, Soul Serenade. Michael and I split a freshly baked pizza and ship-made bread, still hot from the oven, before settling in for the night. Michael and I took turns taking short naps. I had just woken Michael and was letting him get awake and oriented when we noted a new and unidentified pink echo on our radar. We seemed to be approaching it. I showed Michael and comparing it to the echoes of Soul and the previous barge, it appeared at least four to five times our size. Faintly on the horizon, we were able to make out a solitary light in the distance. Our echo appeared to be at anchor. We considered making course adjustments since according to Hal we would pass close to our unidentified vessel but chose not to make changes. Soul, however, seemed to be on a collision course and fell in behind us for a while. Passing by the vessel it appeared gray with lots of metal and angular surfaces. The single white light on its mast indicated it was at anchor but there were no other lights, no other markings. It sat quiet, hulking and dark as we skimmed by it in the darkness. We made up stories and possibilities of who was on the vessel and what was its purpose for the next several days but we left it undisturbed as we passed on our way.
Sunrise approached as we came closer to our destination. With the lightening of the sky, we could make out Anclote Key with greater definition until finally the sun popped over the horizon in its rosy majesty. Our plan upon reaching the mouth of the Anclote River was to anchor at the entrance of a small tributary near the local power plant. Reputation had this area as a safe and easy anchorage for a short sleep of a couple of hours and then we could make our way upriver at high tide to Tarpon Springs. The coffee colored water (due to high tannins from local vegetation) was shallow enough for an easy anchor. Our breeze had rejoined us before sunrise and in the shade of trees on the bank, Sea Change rocked me gently to sleep. Blue sky, tannic water, green leaves were the palette of the day.