Thursday, December 6, 2012

Carrabelle FL to Tarpon Springs FL

Carrabelle is a quiet and small fishing village and there doesn't seem to be much development or infrastructure (as in town) to speak of.  But those types of cities are nice also.  There was one little park area along the main highway through town with a memorial to veterans from there and it was very nicely done.  There were names as far back as WWI and up to current times.

We ate lunch at a restaurant straight from the 50s and 60s, nothing had changed.

Rhonda and I are still not sure what this means - it's a phone booth and bench marked "World's Smallest Police Station."  Ideas? 

Carrabelle is a jumpoff spot for boaters heading south to the lower gulf coast of Florida and vice versa.  The most common jump is between Carrabelle and Tarpon Springs, roughly 180 miles.  The obvious question is why not take your time and visit all the towns of the Big Bend area like Steinhatchee, Cedar Key, Crystal River, etc.? The inside waters of the Big Bend areas are generally inaccessible to boats with big drafts (depth) because of shallow water.  You have to hit it at high tide going in and coming out and the timing of that may not work with the hours of the day and weather.  Also, the Gulf weather this time of year is very unpredictable and is certainly bad more than good.  So, you may get in one of these locations but might not be able to leave for a while.  There have been many instances where boaters have been stuck for weeks, even departing Carrabelle, waiting for a good weather break.  Remember, we're not just talking sunshine and blue skies - you are 30 miles offshore for most of the trip across and the Gulf can be unfriendly with the wrong combinations of wind, current, tides, fronts, etc..  So, most just stage their departure from Carrabelle (going southbound) and look for a weather window and jump across in depths of water from 15 to 60 feet. The weather prediction is critical because once you are out there, you are committed!  There are even a couple of guys who have gotten pretty good at forecasting good crossing times, and for us it was Wednesday and Thursday. But remember, a forecast is just one person's prediction for what might happen.

The trip across is also complicated by the fact that most trawlers are running about 8 to 9 MPH.  It takes a while to cover 180 miles at those speeds, and that's with no complications.  Also, the general rule of thumb is to leave in the afternoon, run all night, and arrive in the morning.  The evening waters usually settle down in the late afternoon for a smoother ride.  Also, you don't want to arrive Tarpon Springs too early - if you arrive in the dark or before the sunrise gets up and out of your face, you can't cross a minefield of crab pots as you approach land.  I hope all of that made sense.

The forecast for our crossing was to leave at 11 AM on Wednesday, a little earlier in the day than normal, because we would need to run east for a while to hug the shoreline more than normal with some winds forecast from the east.  Two other boats were waiting to cross so we decided to buddy-boat with "Bucket List" from St. Louis and "Bluegrass" from Louisville.  Here's a good shot of Bluegrass, a 39' Mainship, as we were departing Carrabelle.

About 8 miles out we were already questioning the forecast with 2 to 4 foot seas.  That lasted till about 5 PM and things did settle down a bit so we were looking forward to a nice ride. Let me give you a sense of being about 30 miles out in the middle of the gulf just before sunset.  Here's looking west.



And South

Obviously nothing but water as far as you can see.  The sun is about to go down, and you are about to spend the next 14 hours in total darkness on a 44 x 14 piece of wood and fiberglass with nowhere to go but forward.  But prior to that I have a ton of pictures of the evening sunset sequence, just had to pick one to share with you.  Beautiful, huh?

Unfortunately, the smoother water did not last and about 9 PM the wind picked up and the seas and swells got progressively worse.  We were taking the swells on the port side (which rolls the boat big time) and since we had already adjusted our course east to minimize the intensity of these, we had nowhere to go further east.  The other option is to adjust course to the southwest for a while then back southeast to take the swells partially on the stern and bow for a smoother ride but you can do that forever and not make a whole lot of progress.  Ultimately you just have to suck it up and take it.  Let me just say it was not fun.

"Bucket List" had offered to lead leaving Carabelle and  about 9 PM Larry asked for some relief so I agreed to take the lead.  The seas by then were so rough that our autopilot would not hold a course so I had to steer the boat by compass and GPS with 2 to 4 foot seas and 15+ winds all out of the east.  That's not necessarily difficult but somewhat harder than normal with total darkness and the seas trying to take the boat every direction you don't want it to go.  I use my IPAD as one of my chartplotters and at one point the boat was rolling so much that the IPAD was changing back and forth between horizontal and vertical displays! Folks, that's a lot of roll.   To keep control of the boat in those conditions, all the while maintaining a steady course is very tiring.  The weather continued to deteriorate and I think the final count was 6 of the 9 people on the 3 boats got seasick (and I don't mean they just felt bad) and it was just a tough tough night.  I ended up at the helm for the next eleven hours without a break (thank goodness I don't get seasick).  The other boats had their share of difficulties as well. 

But, we made it and had a very welcome sunrise to greet us.  Thankfully, the sky was overcast and we had good visibility of the crab pots as we approached Tarpon Springs.  Also, our course at sunrise took us due east again and the swells were settling down.  After a long trip like we had (total of 21 hours), sunrise was a welcome sight to see.

I don't think I have ever been as tired as I was this morning.  Rhonda recovered quickly from her seasickness (I felt so sorry for her during the night) and we both just crashed once we got the boat docked at one of the local marinas. I should note that in 35 years of boating, Rhonda has never been seasick, so that should attest to just how bad it was.  As I look back on the trip, it was a little bit funny - Rhonda was too sick to help me and I was way too busy to try and help her!

We have visited Tarpon Springs once by car a few years ago.  It's a Greek heritage town and is known for its Greek food and the sponge divers.  So, we should be rested again and will do the sight-seeing thing, resuming our trip around south Florida on Saturday.


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