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Date: 15 June 2014. Anatomy of a Gulf Crossing (departure planning)

[Posted late because I am in transit.]

Deciding on how to cross the Gulf of Mexico is important, and there is no one correct option though goodness knows there are lot of choices.  Initially I'd planned on skirting the edge, following a coastal hopping itinerary so that I could sleep each night safe and secure at anchor.  Then, the new engine was in and plans changed.

One of the fellows who did the work offered to go for a boat ride with me, meaning we could leave Carrabelle, Florida and head across the Gulf of Mexico to Cedar Key. That sounded feasible to me -- 100 miles, give or take and a guy along who could fix anything that might break.  Crew doesn't get much better than that. Another destination considered, St. Pete, is 175 miles across the gulf.

Carrabelle and Cedar Key and St. Pete, Florida

Then Jerry (my friend at Just Right Marine) suggested I hug the coast versus heading across just in case there was an issue with the new-to-me motor. That sounded wise, and that I could do by myself.

Having folks spend the night is weird. There's just my bunk aboard Seaweed, and I'm not into sharing my pillow. [This isn't your daddy's Navy.] So, taking the coastal route means I can anchor every time I get tired, do it solo, and take an extra day or three -- no schedule! That sounds just about perfect.

Side Note: I do have (and recommend highly) TowBoatUS insurance. In this area they will come up to 50 miles off shore -- even further with the Unlimited Package I have.  I tell you, if you have the money for a boat you definitely need to opt for their insurance plan. Thus, I'm covered if there is an issue that I cannot fix myself.

And most cruisers are experts at fixing stuff in transit. Or at least experienced at doing so. More on that, later...

So anyway, Jerry suggested that hopping along the coast would be better as the engine break in period is still underway.  That was a no-brainer, so I'm taking his advice. However, you don't just hop in a boat and take off on a multi-day excursion without some preparation. 
 

Before leaving the checklist included:

 
  1. Fill fuel tank
  2. Confirm enough oil aboard for three complete oil changes (2+ gallons for me)
  3. Have spare impellers for water pump
  4. Having tools necessary to fix things is important too. With my new Volvo I had to buy three new wrenches: 10mm, 12mm and 19mm. All are open end with six point box ends. I'm "ready" -- have tools, will diagnose and fix stuff. Of course I have the shop manual for my engine too.

  5. Fill water tanks

  6. Repair cigarette lighter by Starboard window (connection was loose). This is important as that unit powers both my hand-held GPS and the computer for OpenCPN. I don't like loose wires running helter-skelter, so this keeps things tidy.

    More on OpenCPN in an upcoming article. You can check it out yourself at http://opencpn.org*

    *Side Note on OpenCPN: It's a chart plotter, and the latest upgrade is amazing. The old problem (lost GPS signal) has been resolved. I noted a new AIS display option, along with tides and currents.

    It's amazing software and free. Well, they ask a donation -- and I did. Twice so far. It keeps getting better!
     

  7. Verify food stores are filled. For me, in the days before departure I cooked chicken and other foods so if tired, all I have to do is eat -- no food preparation required.  I want it easy, so just as you would pack for a picnic, I did the same in my galley.

  8. Buy ice (I like iced tea so bought a big bag of ice cubes)
  9. Check that running lights and anchor light work
  10. Continue to monitor the VHF Wx (weather) station for updates on sea conditions
  11. Study charts to decide on potential stops*

This one is particularly critical. By having lots of anchorages chosen in advance, should weather go belly up, or I simply wish to stop for lunch, well, there are options already chosen.  I don't have to "think" or even consider if this place is better than the next.

My stops are marked on the charts (in the margins) and at the first random thought of "it would be nice to rest and relax" -- I do, and at the very next place. By having them spaced so frequently I don't have to worry about getting tired and making a stupid mistake.

Too often, the post-mortem for preventable mistakes
made while underway boil down to one of four things:

#1) Being too tired or exhausted from a passage to make a rational choice and analyze the risks
or
#2) Being too Sure of Yourself, so you to fail to realize the potential down-side for your choice.
or
#3) Filthy fuel and not enough filters to clean the crud out causing engine shutdown.
or
#4) Equipment failure.

 

In the check list above I did not include anything about the engine. Since the new engine went in I've been taking her on river runs, shake-downs, and sea trials. All is well. 

I am so pleased to have a diesel motor now after fighting that gasoline beast for so long. Life does not get much better!

Finally, departure date is here.  I'm definitely going to miss this town, and one particular fellow I met while here -- possibly more than I'd imagined possible. But staying isn't an option so I'm off to points east and south.

Algae is tied to the transom and once out of the slip I will make sure both her lines are attached so they balance.  There are two connection points on Algae. On the inside I have an eye-bolt and outside a u-bolt.  Both are attached to the dinghy davit on Seaweed so the strain on the lines is equal.

Too often people lose dinghies while towing them.  I cannot afford to lose my Algae -- she's my "car" and worse yet: an empty dinghy brings out the Coast Guard on an all points search for presumed missing mariners.  IF you lose your rowboat, it's always a good idea to notify the Coasties so they won't needlessly search for your carcass.

The ice is loaded in two coolers. Excess is in the refrigerator freezer compartment and the rest is in my galley sink.  We're off.  More, from along the coast.

I'd love to hear what you do pre-departure.
And, are you a dock bunny or living life in transit?

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