Morning came quickly, and all the final details fell into place. We met with Customs and Immigration, obtained our Zarpe, got our passports stamped, then went back to the boat to stow the few last minute items we’d picked up. As we began clearing power cords and dock lines, Clyde, from Kaleidoscope, came down our dock carrying a plate full of warm chocolate chip cookies that he and Mia had baked for us. What a send off! Cruising friends are the best.
We powered away from the dock and made final preparations for the offshore trip, only 500 miles, but still, late November in the Gulf of Mexico. The forecast was generally favorable, but a cold front was due to work its way into the gulf the day after we were to arrive home, so there was no time to dally. Anything could happen.
As we rounded the north end of the island with the mainsail already raised, we unfurled the Genoa and set our sights on Tampa Bay. The southeast winds were light, and Joe and I agreed that if boat speed dropped below 6 knots, we would motor-sail to maintain maximum progress, so the first hours were spent with the Perkins purring away below deck. As our first day, Thanksgiving, wore on, the winds picked up, and we soon were making well over 8 knots. The Angel was in her element, and all of us were enjoying the ride. Sean is only pretending to be asleep! This was his first big offshore trip, and I suspect there will likely be many more to follow. He was a good hard working crewmember, and hopefully he learned a few things along the way.
Joe and I have sailed a good many miles together either on his or my boat, as buddy boats traveling to one place or another, or racing against each other in all sorts of competition from small day sailors to big boats. We and our families have known each other for almost thirty years, and the good times and the trials we’ve weathered together have forged a friendship that we treasure and protect.
This trip across the gulf was our fastest ever averaging better than 8 knots. That speed saved us from getting our butts kicked. When we checked the mid-day weather report on Saturday, we discovered the predicted cold front had turned on the after-burner and it was due to hit Tampa Bay sometime early Sunday morning. Even though we were running at 7 to 8 knots, we checked our fuel level and decided we had enough fuel to motor-sail the rest of the way home. The waves were tall enough to blanket the wind when we were in the troughs, the Angel was wallowing and slowing in the big rolling waves. Bringing the Perkins online increased our speed to more than 10 knots and allowed us to maintain speed through the bottoms of the waves. We anxiously ticked off the miles.
Believe it or not, I made a cell phone call to Customs and Immigration at 4 AM, and was eventually transferred to a sympathetic Homeland Security agent in Miami who cleared us into the U.S.A. at 04:15 on a Sunday morning using our Local Boater ID cards. What a great system!
The crew left me at about 04:45, and I was more than ready to hit the sack. I slept like a rock until about 9 AM, and when I woke, I heard the winds screaming outside the cabin. I rolled out of my bunk, flipped on the instruments, and saw wind speed at the dock of 35 to 40 knots. I was very thankful for Ocean Angel’s speed and glad to be home safe and sound.