Sunday, February 17, 2013

2/12/13-2/16/13: Lake Pontchartrain to Panama City: 250 NM

View My Route in a larger map

On Tuesday February 12 I left Orleans Marina on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain at 5 am to beat heavy weather coming in.  I decided to do the ICW instead of battle the Lake.

This is the draw bridge on the Industrial Canal that almost took my mast off on my way in to New Orleans.  If it hadn't have been low tide, it would have.

I had no trouble getting through the Industrial Canal and made my way west through the ICW in light rain.  It runs along the marshes of the Mississippi's alluvial plain.  It was nice.

Along the ICW leaving New Orleans

 My plan was to make Cat Island for the night.  It was ambitious.  I raised the sails as soon as I made the bay and make good time with a brisk wind on my tail.  The wind increased through the day and by the time I made Cat Island it was dark and blowing pretty hard.  I had a very hard time finding a place to drop the hook and eventually dropped it in 4 different places before exhaustion and sea sickness took over.  I found my bunk at 3:30 am.  I was in a nasty exposed spit of water in the middle of nowhere.  I rocked and rolled all night getting no sleep at all.  It was my very personal Hell on Earth kind of night.

The next morning I woke up to an all out gale.  I had to get up and get moving before I caught the full fury of the wind.  I double reefed my main before I weighed anchor and made 7 knots speed with double reefed main only.  It was hard to control the boat in the 6 ft. chop.  I was racing for the cover of Ship Island just a few miles away.  The wind smacked me all the way to the east side of Horn Island where I had had enough.  I dropped anchor around 3 pm in another bumpy spot and cleaned the boat.  It was a disaster.

Horn Island sunset
My waypoints along this section

I was headed to Perdido Pass which was 54 miles away, another long day.  The first half of the day was nice with moderate winds and I took some cat naps as the cape horn steered the boat.  Around noon the wind died and I motored the rest of the day.  Bro Pete texted that there was a crippled Carnival Cruise ship in the area.  I soon saw it being towed into Mobile Bay.
A tug pulling in the crippled Carnival Ship

I made Perdido Pass after dark and was trying to anchor just inside the pass.  I was inching forward in the dark and grounded the boat and was stuck.  I threw her in reverse and bulled my way out but stuck the stern, full throttle forward and a swing of the tiller got me out.  It was unnerving.  So I motored out onto the beach and decided to anchor right of the beach.  There was no wind but only a slight swell.  I was going to set two anchors and was moving forward slowly while hand feeding line out to my stern anchor.  Well, the line wrapped around my wrist and the anchor set and the anchor was pulling me overboard.  I unwrapped the line just before going over the lifelines.  This was becoming a fiasco.  So in a matter of one hour I ground the boat and lose and anchor.  One anchor will have to do.  I hit the bunk feeling pretty low.

The next morning a pod of dolphins swam right up the boat.  All swam off but one small one.  She stayed and did 6 jumps just feet from the boat.  She must have sensed my mood and did all she could to cheer me up.  It worked.  Soon after and found my floating anchor line from the lost anchor and retrieved it.  Things were looking up.  I was headed for Destin, FL 57 miles away.  Another long day.  I had good sailing for half a day and then had to motor from mid afternoon on.

The wind shifted, coming from my rear.  After nightfall the wind and waves really began to build.  Soon there were breaking waves chasing me down from behind.  It was a rush.  When I made East Pass in Destin I was in some really nasty seas.  I was exhausted and could not make out the way through the pass.  I was getting punchy.  I finally got on my radio and called out for assistance.  The Coast Guard responded and tried to talk me through the pass.  They soon realized I was toast and came out to escort me through the pass.  I was very grateful.  I would have beached the boat if they hadn't come out for me.  They stayed with me until I anchored in Destin Harbor and came up to the boat to ask where I came from.  I told them Little Rock and then they told me to get some sleep.  And I did the entire next day in Destin.

I left Destin February 17 heading for Panama City.  It was 48 miles away.  The wind died after 1 hour of sailing so I motor sailed the rest of the way making over 6 knots most of the way.  I was in St. Andrews Bay by 4 pm and had a nice walk on the beach before catching up on the journal.

Anchored at St. Andrew Bay, Panama City

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