Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Long Cruise & Lots of Complicated Options

Days on cruise:  241

Distance traveled:  78.1 miles

Travel time:  7 hrs, 36 minutes

Total trip odometer:  5,358 statute miles

A major Great Loop milestone is coming up soon, referred to as the “Gulf Crossing”.  It’s one of the 3-4 biggest challenges Loopers face, and most spend a good bit of time planning for it. There’s a guy, Tom Conrad, who has made the journey a zillion times, and from November to March each year, he posts daily “Tom’s Musings”, summarizing his view of any days that constitute a good, safe, comfortable crossing based on weather data and lots of other inputs. His reputation for calling these weather windows accurately is so great that he’s considered the Looper’s Guru of Gulf Crossings. We’ve been reading his daily winter musings for three years and are impressed.  AND he’s funny!

Not surprisingly then, we’ve been closely following his daily musings since our return to Next To Me almost a week ago as we traveled east along the Florida Panhandle, drawing closer each day to the “jumping off point” for the Gulf crossing.  This morning we read he’s predicting a 3-4 day window of opportunity starting tomorrow (Wednesday) night, so unexpectedly, we decided to pick up our pace and position ourselves for the possibility of doing The Crossing this weekend. Below is the 78-mile journey we made today, starting late, and ending just as it was getting dark at our anchorage in Wetappo Creek. This is the first time it’s been warm enough to anchor out without heat.

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At the Great Loop Rendezvous on the Tennessee River in October, Tom was a seminar presenter, and among other things, explained the demographics of Florida using the chart below.

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Today’s journey provided us with a smaller number of dolphin sightings, but we did have companions surfing our bow wave a couple of times.  Happily, today was at least 10 degrees warmer, both lows and highs, than we’ve seen since we returned to the boat, though the sky remained grey.


Portions of the trip were in narrower channels that looked sort of like the Midwest and southern rivers,


including some humble abodes,


and two adventurous kayakers willing to travel in alligator country.


Wind and water were calm all day.


Late in the afternoon we entered marsh country, with more trees, but otherwise looking a bit like the Georgia Marsh Country we traveled early last April.


The map below depicts the Gulf Crossing issue. Two alternative blue lines leave the tiny town of Carabelle on the Panhandle: one hugs the shoreline heading east and the other “jumps” across the Gulf.  The shoreline route is  severely shallow, and so tide dependent, that few people take it, as it can take a week, or even two, to link together enough good weather days with tides to complete it. The “jump” route is 170 miles across wide open water from Carabelle to Tarpon Springs on the west coast of Florida, and those who take this route are 50 miles off-shore at the greatest point. Most Loop boats are slow trawlers than make the journey at 8-10 mph, so need 17 or more hours to complete the journey. This requires an overnight trip, with 11-12 hours of it in the dark.  Fast trawlers, like ours, can do it in about 11 hours total, so can complete the whole trip in daylight hours if all goes well. The challenge is finding one or more “buddy boats” to accompany you, at your speed and schedule. As far as we know, no one makes this trip alone as you want someone close by and in VHF radio contact in the event of any problems while a long way offshore.

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So while underway, we spent most of today researching alternatives. Craig and Barbara on “Blue Heron” have a fast trawler and will be ready to make their Gulf Crossing about a week from now.  Stephen and Charlotte on “Jackets II” also have a fast trawler and will be ready to cross in 10 days to two weeks. Unfortunately, we’ll be in Carabelle tomorrow night, and it’s a tiny town with almost nothing to do, so a long wait is not appealing. Further, suitable “weather windows” to make the crossing can be rare in winter months, and one seems to be starting tomorrow for 3-4 days, so our conundrum is whether to make an overnight crossing with other slow boats who are ready now, or wait on our fast boat friends? Ross and Laura on “The Zone”, our Big Sister Ship (a 52-foot Jefferson to our 42-foot Jefferson) are already in Carabelle and poised to make an overnight journey in the next couple of days. So . . . what to do? We’ll keep you posted as plans develop!

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