If you’ve cruised, you know narrow channels are marked with red and green buoys or numbered placards and you stay well inside them. They mark the limits of the dredged channel so you don’t run aground. On the West Coast water’s pretty deep most places. In the Gulf, people walk a few feet from your boat standing upright.
My day job is to glue binoculars to my forehead and locate these day marks, then the next one, then the next one because they’re not always close and sometimes they’re missing. Mark’s job is to keep the boat in the center of the channel.
Last Wednesday we officially began our journey, shoving off from Orange Beach, Al. into a local skinny channel that wound around like an old river. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is not much better. Following canals, riverbeds, and dredged channels through shallow bays, it’s a series of skinny ditches that go all the way to Carrabelle, Fla. The longest one was from Panama City to Apalachicola—a scenic narrow ditch through cypress groves with a shallow lake in between.
We made it to Carrabelle on Saturday, anchored out, and prepared for the longest voyage yet…180 miles down the Coast, from 30 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Most of you know I’m a white-knuckle sailor. I don’t like wind or heavy chop. I was promised there wouldn’t be either. But we’d be cruising off shore, all alone, at night, through fog. Gulp!
Sometimes you reach deep into your psyche and find courage you didn’t think you had. We left the harbor at midnight, settled our course, and headed for Tarpon Springs on the central west coast. We both stayed up all night, eating chocolate, entertaining the fish with a Jimmy Buffet concert, eyes on the radar screen. Glassy seas meant Auto-Pilot got to drive much of the way.
We arrived in Tarpon the next day around 5 p.m., exhausted, having fought wind and chop the final three hours only. We got the last spot in an anchorage near the town, downed a congratulatory rum and tonic, and collapsed.
Back to skinny ditches again.