Panama City to Carrabelle, FL

Haden and Emily, aboard the Hard A Lee, reporting on The Adventure thus far:

1:22 PM
6 March 2018
Carrabelle, FL

Ten minutes before sunset on Thursday, February 22nd, 2018, we set out on the Hard A Lee. We left Haden’s family in Panama City under full sail, and spent an hour making our way to the Saint Andrew’s Bay Pass, expecting to set out into the Gulf in the morning.
We had spent a month living on the Hard A Lee already, so we were comfortable sleeping in the small forward bunk, the V Berth. What was unfamiliar was the choppy rocking of the boat in the fifteen foot-deep water, the new gentle sounds, and the near-total darkness. Our little anchor light glowed at the top of the mast and we slept well.
The next morning we awoke to a bright sunrise, made coffee on our alcohol stove, and set out for the pass. Emily took the helm for her second sail in near perfect conditions. The wind was right for our exit south through the pass, and the sails filled beautifully.
Narrowly skirting a fast-moving barge entering the pass as we exited (“We need you out of the pass, captain!”), we found ourselves at last in the Gulf. Two months’ preparation had preceded this moment. We had toiled through projects in carpentry, electrical systems, fiberglass, and completely re-rigged the boat by hand, spending twelve hour days in the boat yard. We had planned the first two weeks, aiming first for Crooked Island, which lies a short distance to the southeast of the pass. The wind on that first day was coming directly out of Crooked Island, which meant we would have to tack back and forth at 30° angles to the wind. Out in the Gulf, in beating sun and four-foot swells, we headed south.
Sailing upwind, the waves are choppy and unpredictable and the boat does not roll comfortably, but tosses and turns, fighting to fall off the wind. We admitted to each other that we felt the beginnings of sea sickness, but that was not enough to make us turn back. We drank water, applied sunscreen, and excitedly held our course. We made our first tack, both watching the horizon to quell the budding nausea. We were now aiming farther north, at a 60° angle to our original course. Unfortunately, a boat so small and heavy doesn’t behave well in these conditions, and the Hard A Lee was being pressed back by the wind almost as quickly as she was able to move forward. The ability of a boat to hold its course against other elements is called pointing, and we were finding that our well-provisioned little boat did not point well. Our second tack was almost parallel to the first, reducing the would-be 60° angle to nearly 180°.
Fighting the urge to press on, but realizing that it would take more hours than are in the day to make it even halfway to Crooked Island in such conditions, we decided at last to turn back. Exhausted, we limped back into St. Andrew’s Bay, sailed to a remote bayou, anchored, and fell immediately asleep.

Since that first foray into the Gulf with our little 25’ Cape Dory, we have sailed and motored nearly 150 miles, traveling from West Bay in Bay County to Apalachicola, to Dog Island, and finally to the Carrabelle River where we are sending out this report. We have learned that cruising sailors spend a lot of time waiting for the weather to be just right for a passage. We have also learned that cruisers generally don’t beat upwind for hundreds of miles. Instead, when faced with a strong headwind, we either wait for the wind to change, or we change our destination.

We have reorganized everything on our tiny boat at least three times in search of the perfect nook and cranny for each of our belongings, re-taped the rigging, tightened screws and tapped in errant hinges, and gradually made the Hard A Lee our home.

We have spent time with old friends and made new ones, with Haden playing music at every stop along the way. Every conversation with an experienced sailor leaves us with more advice to consider and a greater confidence that we are setting off on a grand adventure.

Now we are waiting for a cold front to pass through so we can make a safe passage to Clearwater, FL, 140 nautical miles southeast of our anchorage in Carrabelle, FL. We’ll be crossing our fingers for a comfortable breeze from the west next week.

Thank you all for your love and support at the outset of this grand adventure.

Wishing you calm seas and a following breeze,

Haden and Emily