Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Crossing the Gulf of Mexico

We left Apalachicola on Friday, January 2nd—having been at Scipio Marina for two nights, right alongside a wonderful seafood restaurant—Pappa Joe’s. We had the crew of “C-Life” over to our boat the day before for a traditional New Year’s Day lunch of turnip greens, black-eyed peas, pork, and cornbread. Yum-yum—I love New Year’s Day! Kay furnished mashed potatoes and gravy, deviled eggs, and a nice bottle of champagne and we all toasted the New Year with gusto—several gustoes!

We left the cute town of Apalachicola mid-morning for a short (30 mile) run to Carrabell. This is the place where most Loopers wait for a calm day to make their crossing of the Gulf of Mexico over to the west coast of Florida. We’ve had friends leave almost immediately and others who have had to wait over a week for a calm sea in order to cross. We had no idea what time frame we would be in—would we get lucky? January is not known for its’ good days to cross—the books say there may be 10 good days out of the whole month that might be favorable—we knew we were behind the main group of Loopers who had crossed before Christmas. Buddy is the “crossing guru” at Moorings Marina (where we were going in Carrabell)—everyone seeks his valued and accurate opinion and goes when he says, “Time to go!” Both “C-Life” and “Bella Luna” were prepared to wait (even if it would, most likely, take us over a week)—we would have a long trip of 82 miles (11-12 hours) in very open waters and no land in sight to get to the other side of the Gulf—Steinhatchee.

So, we got to Carrabell around lunchtime after a calm-but cool-ride. (We’re in Florida, right? I thought we were going to be warm!) Louis and Robert checked in the marina and quickly sought Buddy’s opinion. Showing our Captains his computer generations, Buddy said we needed to leave very early the next morning (yipes!)—there would be 3 days in a row with calm seas—almost unheard of in the month of January. This is great news to us!!! Both couples made a quick dash across the street to the local IGA supermarket to stock up on a few more supplies, knowing our next several nights we wouldn’t have any access to a grocery. We had one more meal of oysters at the local favorite restaurant—with a ride over and back from Tony—and all four of us loved every bite.

Saturday morning, after an abortive attempt at 6:30am, we left the docks at 8am—still in dense fog. It was daylight, but just barely in all that fog—we would be in that soup until almost 3pm! Thank goodness for radar, a great GPS system, no wind, calm waters and the security of having another boat with us! Not only is it a long ride over to the west coast, but it’s another long two days after that to get to Tarpon Springs and the comfort of the ICW. We had three days in a row of pretty weather—we knew we needed to hustle.

And hustle we did! We got to Steinhatchee just at dusk—lots and lots of Saturday fishermen were coming in. And we were tied right at the end of the dock watching all of it! Cooler after cooler went to the fish cleaning station (thinking of you, Bob!), where men and women worked hard to clean their catches of mostly bottom fish. At this local, very old Florida “happening place”, the prettiest catch I saw was 8 large and very heavy red groupers on a string. For once I didn’t beg for a single fish—I was just too tired to clean and cook anything so fresh that evening! Besides, we had to leave before daylight the next morning to go another 80+ miles (about 15 miles offshore) to get to Chrystal River. (The reason we have to go offshore so far is that the waters are just too shallow to run the coastline in this part of the west coast.)

From Steinhatchee to Chrystal River—from dawn to dusk we traveled on calm waters. We had to go out and around several shallow areas—we were 12-15 miles offshore—and had another long day after this one still to go! But we had been assured we would have little wind and a “small sea” so we took advantage of it and pressed on. We got to Pete’s Pier in Chrystal River just at sunset—hit the metal canopy overhead (which we had been assured we could fit under!)—and promptly switched slips. The locals there living on their boats all told us many boaters hit the top of the shed—evidently the owners (whom Louis had talked with 3 times about the height) still didn’t know how “tall” their roofs are! Such is life on the water.

We left Chrystal River at dawn—still having not seen any manatees, which the town is noted for. But we have been assured by Robert, from “C-Life”, that we’ll have many more chances. I’m holding him to that promise! We dodged thousands upon thousands of crab pots almost all day—poor crabs, they don’t have a chance in this area—we had no idea that Florida Marine Fisheries would allow so many in one area—and were grateful for the spurs/cutters on our propellers—we hit two ropes that were invisible and underwater! By reversing our engines several times, thankfully, Louis did not have to go swimming that day.

We have been eating on the boat now for three days and all of us are looking forward to getting to Tarpon Springs today—a huge Greek enclave with lots of fabulous restaurants, bakeries and “The Sponge Capitol of the World”. We’ll be at the City Marina for several days—right beside all the activity of the fishing boats, sponge docks and restaurants—and we all need to just stop and rest for a while. Four longs days on the water in a row is something we wouldn’t have planned—but the weather was perfect for our “crossings” of the Gulf and so, once again, we were lucky. TYJ. (Most Loopers make a 24-26 hour single crossing, traveling overnight, from Carrabell directly to Tarpon Springs. But neither “C-Life” nor “Bella Luna” wanted that long a trip, so we broke it up into 3 days.)

1 comment:

Second Wind said...

Congratulations to Bella Luna and C-Life on your crossing. It's too bad you missed the manatees, but getting across the Gulf is a huge milestone. Enjoy Tarpon Springs, and eat lots of fabulous Greek food. Wish we were docked right beside you guys.
Liz and Bob