Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Passage to Carrabelle... Complete!

The passage to Carrabelle is now complete.

The total passage time was from June 1st, 2016 to June 13th, 2016. I only numbered the days I was actually in passage. I had to lay up in LaBelle three days to let Tropical Storm Colin pass by and a day in Bradenton to prepare for the Gulf crossing. So, the total days in passage was eight days adding up to 446.25 miles.

Day seven and eight will be dealt with in one post since it was non-stop sailing/motoring from Bradenton to Carrabelle, which took 2 days, 6 hours, and 7 minutes.


The morning was beautiful! I pulled out of the Seafood Shack Marina heading to Galati's Marina in Bradenton... Why? I needed gas! Actually, I needed diesel and the Seafood Shack Marina did not carry diesel. I waited for my last bascule bridge to open at 8:20 AM and arrived at Galati's about 9:00 AM. I filled every tank I had, totaling 95 gallons. I then headed out into the Gulf of Mexico. It would take me two days to cross it.

At the start of the day the Gulf was like a Mill Pond; almost glassy. Boats were everywhere as I left Tampa Bay, (it was Saturday). Here are some pics/videos that tell the story well:

The Skyway Bridge... way out there

Lot's of Fishing boats on the reefs

Water Color changed a few times
As the day progressed, the wind picked up and for a little while, Annie actually sailed for the first time in seven years! (Remember, Annie was on the hard for five years before I bought her and I have had her for a little over two years). 

It was a dream come true! It was so peaceful to turn the engine off and the only sound was the small waves lapping at the boat as Annie gently parted the water. 


Toward the end of the first day the sunset started shaping up...

The darkness came in and the running lights came on. Within a hour I was in the Gulf of Mexico in total darkness and there was not a single boat in sight. Such solitude brings with it a sense of smallness and isolation; your world is reduced to a footprint of 32 feet and there is no contact with the outside world. It is a surreal experience.

As the evening progressed, the clouds began to break up and I was treated to the most amazing sight... the creation. I rarely wax spiritual on this blog, but when I turned off the running lights to witness this sight, I experienced something that can only be described by Scripture...

       "The heavens keep telling the wonders of God, and the skies declare what he has done. Each day informs the following day; each night announces to the next. They don't speak a word, and there is never the sound of a voice. Yet their message reaches all the earth, and it travels around the world." Psalms 19:1-4. 

If God is there (and you know I believe He is... I am a minister and soon to be missionary), then He is obviously omnipotent and I got to see that being shouted from above and - yet there was no sound or words... I was moved!

The seventh day was a dream come true.


The seventh day was a dream come true but the eighth day was the most terrifying of my life. 

First, being a novice sailor, I made some mistakes.

I am, by nature, cheap. If I can get by without having to spend money on something, I will always make that choice. When contemplating this trip, I considered a tiller auto pilot. Annie has a tiller, not a wheel. Westsail's idea was to keep the design simple. Steering wheels require cables, clamps, cams, gears, etc. etc. etc. and the more stuff you put in there, the more stuff that can fail. Tillers are intentional due to their simplicity and many world class cruising boats have them. So, I thought of purchasing a tiller auto pilot but the price was between $400 and $600 bucks! El Cheapo here decided, "I'll tie ropes to the tiller to keep her going in a straight line." Big mistake. Ropes are stupid... they don't correct for wind or waves and it is almost impossible to get them to hold the tiller perfectly straight. The auto tiller keeps consulting its internal compass and moves the tiller right or left to maintain a programmed heading. I said all that to say this; I had to man the tiller all night in order to keep Annie on the right course (in hindsight, I should have killed the engine, drifted, and slept all night).

First mistake: no tiller auto pilot... no sleep. I started the day exhausted.

Yet, the Gulf still greeted me with a wonderful, "Good Morning."

I cat napped all day but it's hard to catch up on a sleepless night. As the day progressed, the temperature on deck was close to 93 degrees... down in the cabin, it was closer to 100 degrees. Now, I'm not only tired, I am hot. My concentration and thought process became clouded.

Second Mistake: as I drew nearer to Carrabelle, I noticed a line of heavy storms coming together on the Forgotten Coast. Now, I've watched enough weather to know that almost all storms in the Panhandle of Florida travel West to East. Notice, I said, "almost all storms." As I surveyed the storms, the course I needed to follow took me to the left, (west) of the storms. OK... the storms are probably going east... no problem. I adjusted Annie's course and we headed for what I thought was the trailing edge of the storms. I was wrong; because this storm was tracking east to west, I put myself in front of the storm and the dream quickly unravelled into a terrifying nightmare.

I raced to the west thinking I was getting behind this when in actuality,
I was getting in front of it!
This was soon to find me.
Before I knew it, the waves kicked up to 3 to 4 feet. Within an hour, they went to 5 to 7 feet. Now, I'm realizing my mistake... I had placed myself in front of this huge storm and it was now bearing down on me. 

As things went from crazy to insane, I looked to the port side of the boat and a 9 foot long brownish shark swam within arm's length of the vessel. This classic picture I saw years ago as a young man came immediately to mind... (if you know who painted it, let me know).

Now, not only have I put myself in this dangerous situation... I had obviously rang the dinner bell for some very big, toothy, friends.

Third Mistake: I did not batten down the hatches. I was so busy trying to get in behind the storm, I didn't think I needed to batten down the hatches. The storms had passed. I was coming in behind them. By the time I realized mistake number two, mistake number three was uncorrectable. The waves had grown close to 9-10 feet. They were coming in sets of three; the first one would lift Annie high and she would plunge into the second one, and then the third wave would hit her and instantly kill any speed her 54 HP motor had generated. By the time she would gain a little speed, the next set of three huge waves would hit, repeating the process. Mistake number three was uncorrectable because I could not release the tiller for a moment or Annie could, and likely would, get sideways and get knocked down. 

Thank God I have a Westsail! I bought a Westsail because I knew that I had very little experience and wanted a strong boat to compensate for any mistakes I might make. The decision to buy a Westsail was NOT a mistake. Annie proved strong! I worried her rigging would give way as she would fall 9 to 10 feet only to crash into a wall of water. She weighs 22,000 lbs. loaded, and the shear impact of that much weight would surely cause something to give way, especially when it kept happening over and over and over again. Not with my girl. She may not be Satori and the storm we found ourselves in was not "The Perfect Storm," but like her sister ship, she was made for strength and safety.

But even though she was strong and probably could have pushed through the storm, her captain decided it was time to run. If I couldn't get in, I would get out! After the most serious prayers I had ever prayed in my life were prayed, there was an opening to turn toward clear skies and run. I took it. I pushed Annie's throttle almost all the way forward and we made a run for open sea. It felt like her engine was going to fly apart, but she broke free... the 8 to 10 foot waves became 5 to 8 foot waves and eventually, the 5 to 8 foot waves became 3 to 5 foot waves. 

Annie had managed to break us away from the storm but she paid a price. Her second belt had broken in our flight and she was starting to overheat, (remember, Day One she threw a belt at Indiantown). I killed the engine and rushed below to put on the last belt I had... if this belt gave way we would be adrift; not something you want 35 miles offshore. (Now, you may think I was insightful to have two spare belts, but they were onboard when I bought her... thank God for the previous owner's insight).

I rushed back up on deck to verify we were clear of the storm, but not before the Gulf slammed a 6 foot rogue wave into Annie's side and threw me around the cabin, bruising my kidney, back, and knocking me to the floor. (By the way, all my pots and pans, food, coffee maker, fishing spear, and other non-nailed down things were all over the cabin).

Bruise and beaten, as I emerged from the cabin, I saw the storm was moving away. I started Annie to tend to her heated engine and we motored away from the storm for the next hour.  

Finally, I was completely exhausted and decided I would kill the engine and drift all night and try to sleep. Realizing the severity of what I just went through and how easily it could have ended in tragedy, at 58 years old, I sat on the deck and wept silently for a moment. 

My being a novitiate could have cost me my life. At one point Annie rolled, (side to side), and if you were standing on the water, you could have reached up and touched her spreaders. With the companionway and her portholes open, if she would have been knocked down, she could have taken on hundreds of gallons of water, lowering her waterline. Waves could have then breached the bulwarks and filled the boat with more water and... ...you get the picture. 

Now, after the storm, I continue to evaluate and re-evaluate everything. How can I be more ready if I find myself in another similar situation? What things could I have done to be more prepared? I learned so much from the experience. I learned experientially the ocean is powerful. Annie weighs 22,000 lbs. fully loaded and she was being tossed around as it she weighed nothing. Many times her propellor came out of the water and spun in open air.

Now that I am safe and sound, I cherish the entire experience of moving my boat and my home from Stuart, FL to Carrabelle, FL. I will never forget it. I will tell my grandchildren the story and watch their imaginative eyes and minds light up as they see the shark, the waves, the storm, the dolphins, the sunsets, the stars, the creation, and I will tell them; 



Fair seas and God bless!


  1. Now you're an experienced sailor. ;-)

    Good job on making it relatively safe. Looks like it was quite an adventure. Really enjoy the videos too seeing nothing but water in every direction. Very exciting and intimidating at the same time.

    1. Yes... it was amazing!

      I am still processing the entire experience but even now, I am in someway glad I went through it.

      I must still grow and learn.

  2. The Gulf Stream is an 1899 oil painting by Winslow Homer. It shows a man in a small rudderless fishing boat struggling against the waves of the sea, and was the artist's last statement on a theme that had interested him for more than a decade. Homer vacationed often in Florida, Cuba, and the Caribbean. Read more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gulf_Stream_(painting)

    Enjoying the blog Dave. Just getting to the dangerous weather part!

    1. Thanks Bob... I knew it was a classic and it captivated my imagination when I was a young man. With so many thoughts racing through my mind as things got crazy, when I saw the 9 ft. shark, this painting came to mind in detail.

      Thanks again.

  3. Bob on Island Song IIIJune 15, 2016 at 3:00 AM

    Dave, what a scary night. It reminds me of the saying that goes something like, "God doesn't give you what you want, he/she gives you what he knows you need". Think about what you learned during that difficult part, and how better prepared you will be when you take your next voyage. Can you imagine ending your cruise with just fair weather and someday heading to St Lucia without all you've learned? I think the Lord blessed you with experience you'll need for what he has planned for you. I'm sure a tiller auto-pilot is something you'll be getting, and now you have time to find a good deal ;-) Another concern that came to mind is what you would do if the boat swamped and went down with the dinghy strapped down and the engine on the back bracket? Perhaps when cruising the dinghy engine should be more easily deployed. Although, still kept clear of the prop when it comes out of the water, so if its towed behind the boat that needs to be addressed. I've also heard of towed boats getting swamped and the added weight during a storm breaks the tow line. Perhaps a dinghy cover to reflect water from waves and excessive rain. Terri might have some suggestions. Glad you are safe. Now that Annie is in cruising shape, you should take some short trips, even if the destination is cruise the Gulf for a few days then back to Carrabelle, to build your experience.

    1. I thought the same thing about the dinghy. I'm not sure with the extreme rolling and pitching of the vessel if I could have got forward and release the dink. Definitely will have a instant inflatable life raft aboard before I head to Saint Lucia. It will also be packaged on deck near the cockpit.

      She is on the hard now and I will be doing a number of finishing jobs completing her refit. She deserves a rest... she proved her worth and strength Sunday night.

  4. Winslow Homer, "Gulf Stream" is the painting you like :)

    http://www.winslowhomer.org/gulf-stream.jsp for more by the same painter.

    1. Thanks Jeremy.

      When I saw the monster shark, that image popped into my mind.

      It's amazing how many thoughts I was having in that last 24 hours of the trip. Now that I made it through, I do wish you could have been with me... you could have battened down the hatches.