Friday, March 14th
On March 10th, after waiting nearly two weeks, we found a weather window that allowed us to leave Venice, LA and sail 490 nautical miles across the Gulf of Mexico to the Dry Tortugas. It took us exactly 4 days (plus an hour), for an average speed of just over 5 knots. We left the marina about 8:15 Monday morning, sailed about 20 miles down the Mississippi River, and out the South Pass into the Gulf of Mexico.
As soon as we got offshore, we realized that the weather was not as calm as predicted. But going back up the Mississippi to was not an option and we had faith that better weather would come. As it turned out, our weather window was only half as good as we had hoped. The first two days were pretty rough, motor sailing into 4 - 7 ft. waves with the wind almost on the nose. The result was a rocky two days where our stomachs were queasy and the ocean found its way into every tiny leak our boat has. Our bow was often plunging into the waves, with blue green water washing down the decks. Our dodger and cockpit plastic kept us pretty dry. Inside the boat didn't fare quite as well. Poor Chris' bed got wet, as did all of Nancy's clothes. Chris switched sleeping locations and Nancy will wear what she can until we can get it all washed and dried. Dave tried to turn the motor off to just sail a few times during the first day and a half with little success.
On our second morning at sea, we came upon and circled the Discovery offshore rig. This huge platform is anchored in over 9000 feet of water and processes natural gas from a deep well in the seabed below. This massive, floating platform is about the size of a city block and is almost 34 stories high. The National Geographic Channel is airing a program about the Independence Hub on April 10th, 11th and 12th.
Here is the offshore report we sent by satellite phone email to our family at the end of our second day at sea:
As the sun sets over a confused sea, we finally have clear skies and favorable winds, and a crescent moon to boot. Our first 30 hours were painful, but the passage of a weak front and a heavy downpour brought NW winds, even if we are still bouncing around the washing-machine seas. We're making progress and alive and well.
We saw dolphins this morning! A pod of small dolphins joined us for about 10 minutes. They swam with us and jumped near our bow and port side. They were definitely not bottlenose dolphins. Perhaps they were juvenile spotted dolphins or spinners, although they did not do aerial tricks for us.
Hope you are all well. Happy Birthday Mike!
The seas and wind settled down some the last two days. We were able to sail for about a day and a half before the winds died almost completely and turned directly on the nose. With about 24 hours to go, we turned on the motor again and didn't turn it off until we dropped anchor in the Dry Tortugas on Friday morning, March 14th. Here's our next offshore report:
It is Thursday evening and we are approx. 65 miles from the Dry Tortugas. Our position is 25.12N, 83.58W. Today was warm and pleasant. We shed a few layers of clothes, which made us very happy. (Nancy was very tired of wearing her long johns.) The seas were much calmer today. We sailed most of last night, but today found the wind both light and pretty much on the nose. So we are motor sailing and it is comfortable. We even cooked a hot meal today. We expect to arrive in the Dry Tortugas at daybreak.
Joshua lost a tooth today. We'll see if the Tooth Fairy has GPS!
Each day we sailed south the weather got warmer and the crews' morale improved in equal shares. The Tooth Fairy does use GPS it turns out, much to Joshua's delight.
On that last evening at sea, the entire crew was below for a few minutes discussing dinner plans, when Nancy and Dave both heard an abnormal sound and exclaimed in unison "what's that noise?" Rushing to the cockpit, Nancy realized it first - it was the fishing reel buzzing, with a fish peeling off line at great speed. Dave fought a nice Wahoo (the first Wahoo we've ever caught) to the side and on board, where it was quickly dispatched and filleted. Lightly fried, it made a great meal that last evening at sea (and provided a second meal after arriving in the Dry Tortugas).
When we sail offshore, we sail day and night. There is no where to anchor in 8000 feet of water! During the day, we take turns at the helm, although Dave does much of the sail trimming. We take naps as needed and spend the time reading, doing schoolwork, and playing games as the conditions allow. We always have 2 or 3 fishing lures dragging behind the boat, and every once in a while we actually catch something! Dave usually goes to sleep as the sun sets and Nancy takes the helm as long as she can. The boys usually stay up with her until about 9:00 or 10:00 pm. Chris prides himself on being old enough to stay up longer and he and Nancy have taken to playing a lot of backgammon to stay awake. Dave takes the helm around 11:00 or midnight and lets Nancy sleep until morning. He really likes sailing at night. There's something about plunging through the seas, with the wind making the boat groan and the rigging creak, which requires a huge amount of faith. When the moon sets, every star comes out, the water sometimes glows with green phosphorescence, and on rare occasions a pod of dolphins will swim alongside, unseen but announcing their presence with loud exhaling through their blowholes and the occasional splash.
Our last night at sea, motorsailing through calm waters in the bay of Florida, was quiet and uneventful. At 7:28 am the cry "Land Ho!" went up as the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key came into hazy view. We arrived at our waypoint at the Dry Tortugas channel entrance at 8:55 am and had the anchor down in the anchorage at 9:15. By the time we finished our third anchoring attempt (first the rangers chased us out of the channel, then we took a couple of tries to squeeze in between other boats in the anchorage, while staying away from shallow water) another hour had passed. We got the anchor set and the dinghy down and headed to shore after a quick lunch.
Our 490 nm passage took 4 days and an hour, and we had the motor on for just under 60% of the time. No one got hurt too badly (the usual bruises excluded) and equipment broken and lost overboard was not too expensive. We didn't run out of diesel, and took advantage of the wind when we could. It was a good first offshore passage, and the longest we expect to make for a long time.
Nancy, Dave, Chris and Josh
Aboard s/v Liberty in the Dry Tortugas
Josh checks the fishing lines
A beautiful sunset at sea
Nancy & Chris play Backgammon to stay awake
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins welcome us to the Dry Tortugas
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins playing in our bow wake
Lighthouse on Loggerhead Key
Approaching Fort Jefferson on Garden Key