As we were awaiting the arrival of The Good Doctor in Corpus Christi, we prepared Windigo for the coming voyage. Stores were renewed and the long-range VHF antenna installed. All rigging was checked and systems made 100% operational.
When our crew compliment was completed by the arrival of The Good Doctor, we made our way out of Corpus Christi Bay and into the gulf. Although The Good Doctor was tired from his normal schedule, after a bit of downtime and he was ready to sail, sail, sail. The helm cover at first kept us warm, and then it protected us from the sun. We did not require it for foul weather cover, as it was deemed we were to have a rain-free crossing. The newly installed windows provide 360° view even with the weathercloth wrapped around the sternrail.
We experienced a shifty northeast breeze the first few days, as opposed to the normal southeast prevailing winds of the Gulf of Mexico. taking advantage of this, we headed southeast to gain room for when the wind surely would veer from that direction, and to make our way to the warmer waters and breezes further south. Traveling this direction also would allow us the pass the ‘geographical center’ of the Gulf, putting us equal distance from all shores, and set us up to use the “Gulfstream” current in the later days of the voyage.
The first day of the voyage was full of excitement. OK, it wasn’t exactly “excitement”, but many different things occurred around us that were not everyday occurrences for us. For the first 30 miles offshore, we passed within site of a dozen oil wells, something The Good Doctor was not accustomed to in his vast Great Lakes experience. Although not a closely spaced as the ones Karin & I sailed through in the oil fields off Louisiana, we did depart at midnight, so careful attention was necessary to safely navigate these huge obstacles and their ever-present supply ships. At noon on the second day we passed VERY close by two deep-water rigs. These would be the last that we would see on this voyage.
The Good Doctor was also not used to the bioluminescence in our bow wake and the accompaniment of dolphins during our near-shore travels.
Radio notification of the presence of a US Navy minesweeper before dawn kept us alert to our exact position. There is a Naval Training base near Corpus Christi and they run nearly constant minesweeper training exercises in the area, which other vessels are not allowed to approach. The minesweeping ship was never within 15 nautical miles of us, so not a concern.
What did cause us to alter our course and tack our sails was a seismic research vessel crossing our path ahead. This particular vessel was towing an eight-mile-long string of ‘geophones’ behind it. They radioed us at 10:30p.m. on the first night and were a bit concerned we could cross the cable they were towing. I’m sure an eight-mile-long string of sonar devices is worth more than a couple bucks, and it would ruin their whole day if it were cut by a passing sailboat. They requested our cooperation and we obliged by changing course away from their path.
As we made our way southeast, the temperatures climbed every few hours, and the calm wind would freshen a bit and then taper off. We put reefs [tie up part of the sail to make it smaller to handle higher winds] in the mainsail a couple times, only to shake them out after an hour or so. We had radio contact with another ship the morning of the fourth day. This was a large Russian container ship that announced it was “NOT UNDER COMMAND”. That’s sailor talk for ‘adrift’ – having no control of one’s vessel. It was of some concern to us as this large ship was reported to be only a few miles from us – UPWIND! We continued on with a sharp lookout, and heard radio chatter from the crewboat that came to the ship to fix it, but never did see it.
Early the next morning, we were approaching the ‘geographical center’ of the Gulf and effects of the Gulfstream current were apparent. The Gulfstream is a “river” the flows through the Atlantic Ocean, originating in the Caribbean, carrying very warm water up into the Gulf of Mexico, then curling around heading back south, then east through the Straits of Florida. It them follows the East Coast of the US, and branches out in the North Atlantic. It happens to be the largest volume of moving water on the planet.
We intended to use this current to increase our speed up and over to St. Petersburg, where the uppermost Gulf section of the Gulfstream curls around to the east, and then back south, this time of year. [The course of the Gulfstream changes with the seasons.] Just as we were entering the effects of this current, the wind died completely for the first time on the voyage. We took advantage of the conditions to drop the sails and go swimming! The air temperature was 30° C. [86° F.] and the water was 26° C. [79° F.] and TWELVE-THOUSAND FEET DEEP! Although the Caribbean has places that are nearly twice as deep, this was one of the deepest places in the Gulf. The color of the water was not like any I have seen, even the deepest places of Lake Superior. It was SO blue, it approached indigo. Although there was nothing to “see” in it, you knew you were looking perhaps a couple hundred feet ‘into’ the water.
Not to completely waste the time, we cleaned a few barnacles off the prop and checked the underwater appendages, as they were completely visible. (Everything checked out, including the ‘wings’ I had welded onto the stainless steel keel shoe. They have been swept upward a bit from forging our way through shallow, muddy bottoms, but are uniform and intact.) All the while we were swimming, the Gulfstream current moved us along at a couple of knots toward our destination.
We no more than stowed our swim masks when the wind veered and picked up, and away we sailed toward St. Petersburg. We managed to stay in the Gulfstream for most of the fifth and sixth days of the voyage; it added 30 and 60 nautical miles to our daily totals, respectively.
We actually encountered true excitement on the sixth day:
Throughout the morning, we monitored a USCG cutter contacting every freighter within radio range to interview the captain. This was an obvious result of our new homeland security procedures. Every ship was asked specific questions regarding crew and cargo, nationality and schedule. I’m sure the data was crosschecked with a master list of shipping activity in US waters. The cutter was conducting training, as each radio contact was initiated by another coastie. We spotted the USCG cutter a few miles off to the north, approaching our position. When it pulled up ½ mile behind us and disgorged an aluminum launch, I knew we were to have visitors. We scurried around picking up dirty laundry and making fresh lemonade! Ha
The launch with eight coasties pulled up along side, and four crew came aboard Windigo for our inspection. They checked our identification, safety equipment, and seaworthiness. Interestingly, one coastie swabbed counter edges and drawer handles with a few wipes for later analysis for traces of drugs or explosives. We chatted in the cockpit for nearly an hour. Then one of the young crewmembers made a comment that she had never been on a sailboat before, and the motion was quite different than that of her large vessel. The chief realized why she made this observation by noticing her pastel green coloration. Fortunately they disembarked and made it safely back before feeling any worse.
It was an enjoyable ‘boarding’ and goes to show you never know who might show up 200 miles offshore!
The remainder of the voyage was very relaxing, with good food, beautiful sunrises, quite time, mind enrichment, and beautiful sunsets. The true calmness of the world was apparent, and a small, tired visitor was not afraid of the crew of Windigo. The water continued to be layered in beautiful colors. It seemed as if we were at once on the vastness of the ocean, but also floating in a small pond.
Upon reaching the beginning of the ship channel leading to Tampa Bay, several pods of dolphins raced from all directions to take advantage of the bow wake in front of a departing freighter. Each taking their turn, they jumped and rolled, flipped and spun in the turbulent water in front of the behemoth.
The fine crew was anticipating the end of the voyage; soon able to return to normal sleep cycles and eating habits. But the crossing was such a positive experience with no disasters or foul weather. A true escape for reality for us, we thought it was ending a bit premature. But end it must, so we were all awake and on deck for the last morning.
We were in the slip at the Tierra Verde Hi & Dry in the early afternoon, cleaning and stowing gear. We retrieved our bicycles from the UPS station (where we had shipped them to get them out of the way for the crossing) and cleaned and assembled them. Our dinghy, Pedigo, had made the crossing in the chain locker of the forepeak. After gathering the pieces and a thorough repainting, it was made ready to haul our stuff and us to shore from future anchorages.
Once again, we thank The Good Doctor for accompanying us on this voyage; his company and contribution made it a most enjoyable adventure.
Our permanent and EXACT address:
Capt. KL & Karin Hughes
S/V WindigoIII • PMB 365
88005 Overseas Hwy. #9
Islamorada, FL 36033-3087
Text-only Email addresses aboard Windigo, checked daily:
Email addresses checked when at a land-based computer:
And of course, the Windigo Travelogue Catalogue: