Saturday, April 4th, 2015
Thursday, 19 March 2015
I had grown lazy in Isla Mujeres. The living was easy and weather forecasts for crossing to Cuba very discouraging.
Eventually I decided to miss Cuba and head directly for Fort Myers, on the west coast of Florida and the start of the Okeechobee canal, as soon as the succession of northers relented. Today the weather looked benign enough even for the likes of me and I cleared out with the port captain and left in the afternoon, anxious to avoid starting a passage on a Friday.
So here I am: motoring along on a deceptively flat sea trying to outwit the fiendish gulf loop current. I had no idea what I was going to be up against until I downloaded the gulf stream forecast from passageweather.com. Snakes and Ladders on the high seas. I started off at 3 in the afternoon, optimistically heading north with the current and no need for the engine.
Just before sunset a tired little barn swallow decided to take a break for the night and found a cozy perch below on the potholder hook. He tucked his head under a wing and fell asleep tired out after a long flight. Unfortunately his chosen perch was right above the stove so I had to make do with a cold supper. No problem, as I had fresh rolls and a perfectly ripe avocado.
It was starting to become worryingly obvious that we were being swept way off west by the current. We were sailing as close to the wind as possible but were no match for the 4-5 knot gulf loop current. I was going to need some help from the engine.
Friday, 20 March 2015
It had been a dark, moonless night but now the sun was just coming up and I needed my first mug of coffee for the day. The swallow was still enjoying his snug perch. I started moving things about in the galley and he got the message, sat outside in the cockpit for a few minutes, not interested in the water and breadcrumbs I’d put out for him, and then, after circling the boat, flew off confidently, going west with the wind. I’d enjoyed having his company on the first night out.
A day of steady motoring followed. Not my preferred mode of travel but if I wanted to avoid ending up in Texas it seemed my best option. I started to carefully monitor the diesel consumption. I carry about 90 litres in a flexible tank and a further 20 in two small jerry cans. Plus the 10 litre day tank above the engine. I had prudently filled all to capacity before leaving Isla Mujeres. When the level of the day tank drops I refill it using a foot pump. Each squirt gives 75ml. By keeping a careful count I was able to work out that we were using 850ml per hour. Cruising along at medium revs just at the point where the engine was purring comfortably and not vibrating as it does at very low revs. This speed gave me enough of an edge over the current to head in a more favourable direction.
When the sun set this evening there was the most spectacular green flash that I have ever seen. Starting with a medium green it changed to a bright emerald sliver before disappearing. All over in a second but unforgettable.
Sunday, 22 March 2015
After two comfortably lazy days at sea we were nearly abeam of Fort Myers about 200nm offshore. At this point a part of the current branches off in a big loop back down to the Florida Channel. I was able to start heading east. After another good look at the wind forecast (nothing) I decided to alter course for the Dry Tortugas which could be reached by following the current and would be a good place to wait for an east wind to get me up to Fort Myers.
Monday, 23 March 2015
At last we were able to sail again as a nice SW breeze set in. Wonderfully peaceful after hours and hours of motoring.
I reached the shallow waters of the Dry Tortugas just before sunset. For the last few hours a squall cloud had been looming threateningly behind me. I had reduced sail, found my raincoat and removed my hearing-aids just in case it hit us before we got in. And of course it did. A very sudden, totally disorienting blast bringing torrential rain, whipping up the water around us and reducing visibility to nil. Shoal patches lurked on all sides. Impossible to carry on, so I used the engine to come up into the wind and just hung in there until it passed. It only lasted about 10 or 15 minutes and we were still able to find a place to anchor before dark, totally drenched and ready for my sundowner.
Tuesday, 24 March 2015
I woke to a the clamour of 100,000 birds constantly on the move above their nesting colonies on Bush Cay. The Dry Tortugas provides sanctuary for them and the breeding ground is off limits but can easily be watched from the anchorage. Each year Brown Noddies, Sooty Terns and Magnificent Frigate Birds come here to breed. The sooty terns were a first for me although I was quite familiar with the frigate birds and Brown Noddies. The latter have used my boat as a convenient night time stopover on many occasions. This was an opportunity to see them on their home turf.