Respect the Gulf

We did our homework, honest we did! We checked all of the regular weather resources and listened to VHF weather radio.

Our trip from Marathon, Florida to Marco Island anchorage is about 100 miles. Our heading was almost due north. We went past the Everglades and the furthest we would be offshore is 30 miles. The first 5 hours of the 10 hour trip went as planned.  Southeast winds with 1 to 2 foot following seas and clear skies. The next 5 hours of our journey was anything but pleasant. On the horizon ahead was an ominous black shelf cloud that stretched as far as you could see from left to right.  It was moving right at us and we were driving right into it. We were the furthest point from shore and a safe harbor for the trip.

Dorothy and I have seen these shelf clouds on Lake Michigan and we knew what was coming. So we battened down the hatches, secured everything, and moved to the lower helm station to drive from inside.

Boats head into shore as storm clouds move along the coast towards the city of Sydney, Australia

This photo is from the internet. This is what we saw.

At first the winds clocked to the north and picked up to 40 mph. The seas were relatively flat with small white caps. Wind on the bow is good in a trawler. We were handling the storm front as it passed over us. Then the wind really picked up. Our wind reading peaked at 57 mph true plus we were moving into the gusts at 8 mph. The real feel or apparent wind on the boat was 65 mph. Then the seas became ANGRY my friends. The waves built and fortunately for us they were coming from the north. This is the direction we wanted to go so we took them head on.  (For non boaters we would’ve had to turn the boat into the waves to ride out the storm no matter the direction. Trawlers do no handle big waves from the sides or from behind very well.)

The seas built to 6 to 8 breaking waves with short periods, in other words the waves were very close together. The trawler would launch off the back of a wave and then crash into the next one. At least twice we buried the entire bow pulpit into a wave and the decks were awash with Gulf water. SEASONS handled it like a champ and just keep steaming along. The crew did not manage so well. Both Dorothy and I became seasick, I think it was because we had been in a marina to long and lost our seas legs.

After about 2 hours of a fun house ride things began to settle down. The winds lightened and seas laid down to 3 to 4 foot waves.  Land started to appear and we started to feel a little better.

After Anchoring  by Marco Island we began to access the boat and ourselves. That is when we discovered the upper canvas did not fair so well. At some point the top came loose and the only thing stopping it from completely coming off was the mast.



We had the upper deck decorated with crab floats we found and Dorothy painted. The damage is fairly light. Some zippers and snaps will have to be repaired. The frame work is fine and all the crab floats survived.

We did our homework on the weather, but you always have to be ready for anything. Dorothy and I were calm thru the whole affair. I contribute that to our years of sailing on the Great Lakes. We have been in these conditions before. We had our safety equipment available and SEASONS was well prepared. I wish I had taken some photos during the storm, but I was a little busy.

This is a story we will remember and tell many times over.

4 thoughts on “Respect the Gulf

  1. Hi Brian.

    Just read your most recent post re: Respect the Gulf.

    We had an almost identical experience on our Loop trip but in the opposite direction. We had spent 4-5 days in Apalachicola waiting out some weather anticipating crossing the Gulf and traveling to Marco Island to meet up with some friends. Had met a couple in Apa who were anticipating the same route. He was a retired USCG helio pilot and seemed a seasoned seaman. We together poured over weather forecasts, sea predictions, tides, etc. all the things that I’m sure you and Dorothy did. Their boat was a Nordic Tug 37. A good weather window (predicted) and conditions were right to make an uneventful crossing.

    We both departed at the same time but with LaNostra’s greater speed potential (and fuel consumption too.!!) we chose to enter the Gulf thru Government Cut, almost straight south of our current location, then continue slightly SE towards Marco. By the time we got thru the cut the wind was out of the south starting to clock to the east as predicted and picking up slightly but of no concern. He had not yet reached his departure point to enter the gulf but we were in radio contact with each other.

    As we proceeded the wind continued to increase and move closer to an easterly direction until it was pretty much right off our bow. Waves were building and winds were now about 30-35kts, not the 5-10 as predicted. Eventually we found ourselves in 40kt+ winds and seas 6-7ft occasionally 8. I was navigating from the upper helm and Ronda had come up with some breakfast. It was now too lumpy to risk going down to the lower helm so we both stayed put. We were now taking spray over the dodger/bimini, it was impossible to sit in the helm seats. We finally decided to take up a directly E heading and try to get into the lee of the Florida coastline which was still about 30mi away. No way could we try to turn back as we would have to take those seas on the beams doing so.

    Long and short we took a 3 hr pounding similar to your experience. At one point I radioed our friends to warn them of the conditions. His response was ” as soon as we went thru our cut and into those conditions we did an immedeate 180 turn. No way was I going out in that.!!!”

    Eventually we did get into the lee and made our way into Steinhatchee and found an old abandoned pier to tie up to. Wasn’t a soul around anywhere. The weather turned beautiful and we enjoyed a nice dinner onboard. Hard to imagine that two hours earlier we were getting pounded. !!

    Fortunately the only damage we sustained were a dew dents in the main cabin teak sole from wine bottles that fell out of the rack. The entire main cabin furniture were in different locations.

    The next two days the weather was beautiful and the gulf like a bath tub. We made it all the way down to Key West and spent the next six weeks there.

    Two lessons learned:
    I had heard several times that awaiting a proper weather window, wait 24hrs before venturing out. Dunno if that applies all the time but it certainly did in this case.

    Grand Banks builds a very solid, stout, seaworthy vessel.

    Hope you and Dorothy have an enjoyable trip.!!


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