Miles today: 194.5 Total miles: 2,481
Hours today: 27.7
Locks today: 0. Total locks: 34
Mara Beel was part of the flotilla that took advantage of only the second weather window in November to cross the Gulf of Mexico between the Panhandle and the west coast of Florida. (Last year there were 10 weather windows in November.) Some boats waited as long as 2 weeks for good weather. We did not wait at all due to our unplanned trips home.
Once we started the Loop, the Gulf crossing hung over us. We kept it at the very back of our minds most of the time, but there is a certain amount of apprehension about facing the unknown. It's something we just want to get through and not suffer too much while doing it. It can't be scheduled in advance and it can't be done impulsively. But the reward on the other side is warm sunny weather and a huge sigh of relief.
We traveled with 4 other boats. The captains did a lot of detailed planning before we ventured out- course, speed, procedures, etc. were carefully decided upon in advance. Our group was like-minded in these things, which made the trip a lot easier. Sea Horse, Mara Beel, Ta Ta, Serenity, and Perfect Balance made up a terrific little fleet!
It was a beautiful day to go! We are the boat on the right in this photo. Right around East Pass the waves were bumpy and we all thought we were in for a rough ride. However, after a few miles the water smoothed out and continued to get better. We watched the sun set with sadness, knowing it was about to become very dark.
We had a bit of moon light for a short time, and then it, too, disappeared. Let me tell you, it was DARK out there. Very dark. Pitch black. Impossible to differentiate between sky and sea. Our instruments were on night mode, meaning the radar showed a black screen and the panel was illuminated by soft red lights. We could not have any other lights on because light would destroy our night vision for 20 minutes or so. So no reading, knitting, no cell service, etc. Just sitting and talking. It made for a long night. A really long night.
Mark and I did 2-hour shifts. Our autopilot was steering, so we just needed to keep an eye on our radar to make sure the group stayed intact. We both slept pretty well on the settee during our down times. We had check-ins by radio every 30 minutes, and we all looked forward to those. It was great to hear voices and see the navigation light of our companions. We were blessed with smooth water the entire trip, and no one was sea sick. No mechanical issues, either. We couldn't ask for a better crossing!
When the sun finally made its presence known, it was time to dodge crab traps. These are submerged wire cages with a floating ball attached to each one with rope. They are strung out in lines with the traps about 100 feet apart, usually in 20-30 feet of water. We saw about a million of them. The floats are all different colors according to their owners. Our least favorites were the ones with blue tops on the balls- the same color as the water. Don't know why they don't use day-glo Orange. Hitting one of these would result in the rope wrapped around the propeller, which would obviously be bad news. We had line cutters installed on our props just in case. Guess we can't tell if they worked, since we don't think we hit anything.
We finally sighted red marker 4 and turned on to the Intra Coastal Waterway with great elation! We continued south to Dunedin where many of us will leave our boats to go home for Christmas.
Last night one of the couples who arrived several weeks ago grilled chicken for our group, and we all contributed a dish to share. The champagne corks were popped and we toasted our successful crossing.