Chris, Robert, and Dan drove down from Tallahassee last night. After talking with Buddy yesterday afternoon, we made the decision to leave at 4:00 AM this morning instead of waiting on daylight. Buddy was afraid that their might be fog around sunrise and we would not be able to leave for several hours. I was not real excited about traveling thru the Carrabelle River in the dark. It is about two miles out to the bay. We will also have to navigate the East Pass in the dark. We are all up at 3:30 AM for a 4:00AM departure. The stars are out in full force and it is a beautiful morning for the crossing. We are the only boat stirring. Ring-N-Wet is leaving today also but they are still sound asleep. They are much faster than us (24 mph) and will not leave until after daylight.
For the first ½ mile the lights from the town light up the harbor and navigation is fairly easy. Chris is on the bow with the headset navigating with Jeff who is in the pilot house. Chris has been in and out of this harbor many times and knows exactly where each buoy is located. Dan is working the spot light and Robert has the night vision. We pick our way from buoy to buoy. Once outside of town the harbor becomes pitch black. We use the spot light to pick up our buoys. Jeff can also see the buoy location on the radar. Once out of the harbor, we pick up the buoys for The East Pass which runs between St. George Island and Dog Island. I am much relieved once we exit the narrow channel and are in the bay. After passing Dog Island we exit the marked channel and set the auto pilot for a heading of 150 degrees south. Ft. Myers is 270 miles away.
The seas are only about two feet so we have decided to take the direct route instead of heading east and running closer to shore. Buddy had recommended that we head east and run closer to the coast in case the seas turned nasty. This would add 3-4 hours to our trip.
About 9:00 AM we have two dolphins that swim with us for several miles. Robert puts the fishing lines out for trolling. We see a boat on the horizon to our east. We assume it must be Ring-N-Wet so we hail them on the VHF. We were correct. They left about 7:00 AM. They run twice our speed and will be in Clearwater by 3:00 PM. The captain of Ring-N-Wet said there was no fog in the harbor when he left. I guess we could have waited until daylight but it was a good experience.
At about 10:00 AM, Daisy, Sebastian, and I were out on the front deck enjoying the morning when we hear KABOOM.
Daisy being scared of gun shots bolts for the inside. We hear several more explosions over the next few minutes. It sounds as if bombs are going off all around us. A few minutes later we see six F-18’s practicing overhead. We could see the trail of several missiles being fired from the planes. We are in the middle of a military training exercise area. I hope they know we are here. Daisy and Sebastian are petrified. Their whole bodies shake for about 30 minutes while I hold them in my lap.
At about 1:00 PM, the seas calm down to less than one foot. It is like glass out here. The sun is out and there is not a cloud in the sky. We see another cruiser pass us off our port. We have been trolling since leaving Carrabelle but have had no bites. Around 5:00 PM someone hales IT on the VHF. It is Buddy from the Moorings. He is calling to check and see how we are doing. He wanted to make sure the Admiral was happy with his weather forecast. We tell him what a great job he did in predicting our weather window. We will call him once we arrive in Ft. Myers. It was amazing that we could pick him up on the VHF this far our. A few minutes later, we see a large school of dolphins fishing in front of us. They stop their fishing for a few minutes of play riding our bow wake.
At 8:00 PM we start our three hour watches. Dan and I take the 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM watch. When we near the Tampa area we pick up many targets in the shipping channel. We divert our course for one large container ship off our bow. At 11:00 PM the boat suddenly turns to port. We look at our computer program and it is showing we are three miles off course. Just a few minutes ago we were within feet of the course track. For some reason the computer moved our route and has us heading directly for shore. We know this is not correct but don’t know why this happened or how to correct it. Chris, Dan, Robert and I are in the pilot house. Jeff is asleep. We instantly decide that we need his help on this one so I go wake him. Jeff resets our course. We are not sure why the computer changed our course like it did. This shows that you can not rely on the auto pilot. Had we not been watching what she was doing we would have headed straight for land. That would not have been a good thing! This is another reason why we back up our position on the paper charts every hour. We also do an engine check every hour. The seas remain calm for the rest of the night.
Upon waking the next morning, I find Jeff still in the pilot house. He and Dan have been up all night. Chris and Robert had also been up for most of the night. It is really fogy. They said the fog came in about 3:00 AM and completely engulfed them. They have been sounding the fog horn and running the search light ahead of us ever since. It is probably good that I was asleep before the fog came. Otherwise I would have been awake all night also. The fog lifts about 7:00 AM and it looks like we will have another great cruising day. The seas are only 1-2 feet. We take the dogs out for a walk. Sebastian is afraid to go outside. The kabooms yesterday really scared him. They are still holding out for dry land. After breakfast, Dan and Jeff try to get some sleep. They must be really tired.
At 2:00 PM we are nearing the entrance to the Caloosahatchee River which leads to Ft. Myers. The water has turned to a beautiful light blue color. There are many crab pots which we have to dodge. We are surprised to spot Ring-N-Wet just off our port. After hailing them on the VHF, we learn that they had a good night in Clearwater and are now on their way to Key West. We have been running all night while they were asleep in the marina and we are now crossing each others wake in Ft. Myers. We say goodbye to them as we turn into the Caloosahatchee River. Our boat traffic has suddenly increased dramatically. Boats are going everywhere with no respect for the fellow boater. It is this way all the way up to Ft. Myers 15 miles away. We feel like we are on a major interstate except there are no traffic rules. It is a real zoo out here.
We have to slow to idle speed at many places due to manatee zones. The shore is lined with multi million dollar houses. This is quite the cultural shock after being in Carrabelle for two weeks.
At 4:00 PM we arrive at the entrance to the Royal Palm Yacht Club.
After securing the boat and doing a few minor shores, we all head to Joe’s Crab Shack for a celebratory dinner. Joe’s Crab Shack is only three blocks from the marina. We all have very good meals and retire back to the boat for some much needed rest.
Sebastian was very good at his job as cruise director.
He made sure the guest had plenty of activities to do (mainly petting him).
There were no security issues for Daisy to investigate.
Our total trip across the gulf took 36 hours. The total mileage was 325 miles. We burned 135 gallons of fuel.
We would like to extend an extra special thanks to Chris, Robert and Dan. You made the trip much more special. A big thanks for all your help and company. We are truly blessed to have such good friends!