Wind, wind, and more wind…

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I like wind. Wind helps us sailors to live cheap, spending little at the diesel pump. The fixed prop on Thyme Hyssop & Wry prefers wind in the 12-15 knot range to get her moving at hull speed. And I find a light breeze rustling through pines and palms a comforting sound. But there can often be too much of a good thing.

This winter we’ve had a lot of wind. A lot. We had a lot of wind last winter too, but it seems more this year. Once we left the GICW (back in January) every trip we’ve made has been dictated by the wind forecast. Unlike our summers in the North Channel, we can’t just “go as the wind blows.” We need to plan, check the forecast, check the charts, then check the forecast again. Last week, it got tiresome. And stressful.

We left the mooring field at Fort Myers Beach early on a Saturday morning, skipping the annual Cruiser’s Appreciation event at the Mantanza’s Inn. It was nice last year, but we wanted to get through “the Miserable Mile” and to an anchorage at Ding Darling before heavy SW winds piped up, forecast by afternoon.

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This is something a sailing vessel does not want to see approaching them in a narrow channel: a large power vessel throwing a huge wake. Thankfully, this captain showed great seamanship by nearly stopping right after this photo was taken and passing us at a low idle. Thank you!

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The Miserable Mile wasn’t too bad–the huge 70-foot power cruiser charging down on us slowed to pass us at idle. And then, just as we were reaching the end of this narrow channel between shoals, we ran aground. It was just sand, but our 4’10” keel was stuck. We believe a buoy marking a slight jog in this channel that was in place when we traversed this area in January was gone from station (really need to check those notice to mariners reports). Ron really hates running aground. Fortunately, our sail saved us again: rolled out the jib a bit to catch some wind, and the wind tipped the boat enough to diminish our draft, allowing us to power off. Whew!

We anchored at Ding Darling by mid-morning and already the wind was gusting close to 20 knots. By afternoon, it was blowing a steady 20, gusting higher. We were anchored a distance from shore and even though the low whitecaps in the anchorage weren’t uncomfortable, neither of us were comfortable in launching the dinghy and leaving the boat. So we stayed on board. Although the wind abated a bit during the night, by sunrise it was blowing a steady 18 knots with a forecast of gale-force gusts. At least the wind would be behind us, sailing up Pine Island Sound to Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa Island.

We left Ding Darling right after sunset, after making a cup of coffee to go. Forget breakfast. The updated forecast was calling for winds to increase mid-day, with a possibility of severe thunderstorms at 5:00 PM as the cold front approached, and then the strong SW winds would shift to strong NW and stay northerly for a while.

We felt that Cayo Costa would be okay in NW winds; we would want to get out of there once they went NE as Pelican Bay is open to the NE. We planned, according to the forecast, to leave on Wednesday, when the winds were forecast to shift and die down a bit, to head into a marina for a night to get a final pumpout before heading up to the boat storage yard, across Charlotte Harbor.

Pelican Bay at Cayo Costa was fine in the SW winds. There were many boats anchored there. We thought about going into shore since we arrived just after noon, but it was so windy and the sky didn’t look great, though there seemed to be nothing on radar. And then by 3:30 PM we began hearing thunder. We heard rumblings of thunder for two hours as storms formed offshore in the Gulf and moved east, every one passing just to the north of us. We never experienced any of the storms; one brought just enough rain to close our hatches and opening ports for about 10 minutes.

The wind was nearly calm when went to bed that night. The day had been sunny, hot and humid. The night was still warm and sticky. And then, at 6:00 AM we were both awakened by the wind shifting to the NW, the suddenly cool breeze causing us to pull another blanket on to our bed. It was apparent then that this was not going to be a very comfortable anchorage to sit out any wind out of the north. Even though the wind was coming at us over the land, waves were wrapping around the tip of the island and coming down the bay. With wind gusting to 25 knots and lots of whitecaps throughout the anchorage, again we were not comfortable with launching the dinghy. It would be our 3rd day aboard the boat, not getting to shore.

On Monday we began rethinking our plan. The anchorage was not comfortable and the howling wind was getting very tiresome. The forecast was predicting the winds we were experiencing to shift to NE and continue through Wednesday before finally dying down on Thursday. There appeared to be lighter winds (15 knots rather than 20) forecast for Tuesday morning before shifting and so a change of plans: we phoned a marina about 12 miles to our northeast and made a reservation for 2 nights. We would sit out the remainder of these winds at a dock, our first time at a dock this season.

We left on a rising tide, following our track to get out of Pelican Bay. There are two shoals with a narrow 6-8′ channel that runs very close to a beach. You have to stay parallel and within about 100′ of this beach. What we didn’t account for was the 2-foot waves rolling into the bay. We were about halfway out when we began bouncing on our keel, briefly aground until the next wave lifted us up and our engine powered us a few feet forward. Crap. Bouncing on our keel in the sand and then into the waves, we made it. Not pretty. Probably not quite close enough to the beach…

The wind that morning never really lightened as forecast, but it did shift strong to the NE later that day, howling even in the secure protection of Burnt Store Marina. It was not a pleasant motor slog across the top of the Sound that morning, but we were satisfied with our decision to move; we won’t be choosing the Pelican Bay anchorage again in a forecasted strong northerly. And even though our marina stay for 2 days could have bought us a half month on the mooring ball at Boot Key Harbor, it was worth the money spent!

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