(from Cabbage Key, Monday 27 October, 2014)
I’m sitting in the cockpit of Jacie Sails, facing East, with my laptop set up on the detachable cockpit table. The rising sun is blinding, but this is where I want to be: hunched over with my beard and Cabbage Key ball cap shielding my face and eyes enough to see the screen as I type.
The <shift> key has grown a crunchy, sticky bed of congealed beer from an incident last trip—from which I will spare you, dear reader, the details.
I think I disappointed manager Marlene and owner Rob this morning when I trekked off the dock and up the hill to the inn, only to order two styrofoam cups of coffee to bring back to the boat. As I explained to them, though, I still have several days’ worth of food in the fridge aboard which really shouldn’t be wasted.
The food is excellent here (particularly dinner) and I can get used to Corona beer if I have to. It is highly improbable that I will get through the four remaining chicken breasts, the almost full roll of breakfast sausage, and week’s worth of liquid eggs in the next two days, but I’ll at least give it a good shot.
A dog bays from the porch of one of the few houses here, the cause of his displeasure a mystery. Until now, the only sounds I have heard have been the chirping of ospreys, babbling of mallards, splashing of fish, squawking of seagulls, the thrum of the occasional boat and the murmur of tourists. Oh yes: and the obligatory music around the inn.
* * *
The trip down Thursday night and Friday Morning was a sleigh ride. I left at 0:45 from Gulfport at 6 knots and was out in the Gulf by 1:30. Jacie’s diesel engine purred as smoothly as I’ve heard, but I gave it a rest as soon as we were in the Gulf.
A greasy following sea pitched, rolled and yawed us as we surfed Southeast at hull speed and beyond; and the fresh Northeast breeze kept us pinned on our starboard side. I staggered onto the starboard salon bench every so often for a fifteen minute nap—which before dawn became a continuous series of naps punctuated by quick jaunts up the companionway to scan the horizon for traffic. I saw one other boat all night.
(“Us” = me and Jacie Sails in this case. A man necessarily develops a certain affinity for the vessel that bears him safely from port to port, complaining only occasionally and demanding only that he provide for her continued health and at least moderate happiness.)
“Fresh Breeze” is actually a specific level of wind and waves on the Beaufort Scale, meaning Beaufort Force 5. Since I try to err on the low side when estimating wind speed and wave heights, I hesitate to call the conditions we experienced Force 6. (“Strong Breeze: Wind 22–27 knots. Wave height 9-13 feet. Long waves begin to form. White foam crests are very frequent. Some airborne spray is present.”)
Either way, nothing for an experienced mariner to write home about.
Honestly, I thought the waves to be less than even the 4–6 feet described as Force 4 (“Moderate Breeze”), but I’m certain the wind was absolutely in the range described as Force 5. (“Fresh Breeze: Wind 17–21 knots. Wave height 6–9 feet. Moderate waves of some length. Many whitecaps. Small amounts of spray.”)
It may be that the Florida peninsula blocked the wind from establishing sufficient fetch to build more sizable waves, although I was five miles offshore. It may be that the following sea in the dark seemed smaller than the sea when on a close reach, or beating into the wind.
Around daylight, the wind and seas began to aggravate “Otto,” the autohelm, who threatened to throw us into an accidental tack or an accidental jibe–quite a range of options. I decided we were heeling too much for the rudder to grab properly, and furled the jib for a while to give Otto a rest.
At the same time, three dolphins joined our journey and stayed with us for an hour and a half, playing in the bow wave; and I was treated to the occasional summersault directly forward. I have seen dolphins on almost every cruise, but only rarely do I see them leap entirely out of the water. I enjoyed their company and took it as an endorsement of the basic rightness of our passage.
During the dolphins’ visit, the wind seemed to moderate just a hair, so I hoisted the jib again; and we skated along at 7+ knots. I took a few pictures, which failed to convey any sense of wave height. A video clip of the gimbaled galley stove swinging back and forth as I boiled a pot of water told a better story; as did a clip of the companionway mirror reflecting our swirling progress through the ocean.
When I played the clips back, Jacie Sails creaked and groaned in a way that I had failed to notice before.