I’ve been told by sailors that there are three kinds of wind: Too much wind, too little wind, and just the right amount of wind in exactly the wrong direction.
We’ve spent nearly a week dealing with too much wind, staying inside the ICW, sometimes in marginal anchorages, and not being able to sail out toward the Dry Tortugas. Last night the winds abated and shifted around toward the North, which is as they should be for going on our way. We got the Sanibel Causeway bridge to open for us at Eleven and headed out into the Gulf.
Now we have another kind of wind: So little that we can barely make progress. In fact, we were drifting down on a crab pot and Brian had to run the engine to get steerage back. It has dropped down to below anything our wind instrument can measure, probably zero to three knots. There is a long gentle swell, only one or two feet, but I was finding that if it went by the boat in the wrong direction, it was enough to keep the sails from behaving well. At this rate, we should have 15 knots on the nose after a week of this.
I finished typing, shut the computer down, then decided to take a bit of a nap. The boat was now moving through the water a little over two knots, which was probably twice as fast, but I hadn’t paid any real attention. After napping for at most an hour and a half, I woke to remember another old saying: If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour. The boat is heeling a bit, and I’m hearing the sound of it plunging through the waves just outside my bunk in the forward cabin, and as I glance up sleepily I see the poor cat trying to walk along the boat, and every few steps we lurch and heel a little more, and she slides sideways along the floor, then stops and starts walking again. I am reminded that the cabin sole is varnished and fairly slippery, especially if you have fuzzy wiffles between your toes. Maybe we’ll have to sand some of that varnish off when we feel like working on the boat again.
The sea is still an amazing shade of light green and the sky is still blue. Now the boat is moving at five or six knots, the wind blowing about ten. We are still heading out from San Carlos Pass and Sanibel Island, after about four hours the depths are getting close to fifty feet, which means we shouldn’t be seeing any more crab pots. Sailing sure isn’t that certain or predictable, but it feels pretty good right now.
We watched the sunset out in the cockpit, and slowly the stars came out as the daylight faded. I very seldom take the time to be out watching something like this, but today I was just steering the boat and didn’t have anyplace else to be or “important” things to distract me. The process was much slower than I was somehow expecting. The sky stayed orange and eventually almost brown. First a bright planet and a few stars started to appear. Eventually the sunset was gone and stars started growing brighter. After that the border between sea and sky became harder to distinguish; I could find it clearly in some directions, but it was nearly invisible in others. And the stars started coming out. Orion was out very clear, not very high off to the west. I wished I could identify something other than the dippers and Orion on that night. One of the planets (I would guess it was Venus) was up in the West, and it was bright enough that it had a really clear trail of reflections below it in the water.
As it got later, I just had to steer and watch for the occasional traffic, mostly shrimpers. I was getting sleepy, and decided I would wake up Brian for his watch when Orion set. As I kept steering, Orion was going down, but I was losing alertness faster. I never looked at the time during the entire watch, so it was sort of timeless, but couldn’t have been that long–When I gave up and woke Brian, it was only 11pm.
It has now been a day and a half since we arrived, and my memories from the night watches are getting more vague and fuzzy as time goes on. As I was writing this, I had to ask Meps when it was that I got up and when I went down to nap, and when she was steering the boat. I took another shift hand steering later in the morning–I had missed the moonrise, but the sliver of moon was still low in the East. I also remember not quite winning another contest with myself to stay alert and on duty; this time until we were one mile from our first waypoint going into the Dry Tortugas. I remember trying to steer downwind and keep our course pretty accurate, and make sure that the sails didn’t bang and crash as we rolled with a swell passing under us. As got sleepy again, my world contracted; I was focused on the steering compass, or looking in front of the boat and keeping that unidentified constellation that was just to the right of the masts where it should be, occasionally risking a glance at the wind instrument.
While the steering was not physically difficult, it took all the concentration I could muster to keep the boat on course as we rolled and yawed with each swell. If there was a light or a boat on the horizon and I tried to figure out what it was, I found myself off course, and had to correct. When I looked at the mizzen sail because it seemed to be fluttering too much, I went off course. When I thought I saw the lighthouse tower in the Dry Tortugas, perhaps both of them, I didn’t take time to look and try to figure it out because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep the boat on course. I did have just enough extra mental energy to decide that when we got to the waypoint we would have to turn the boat onto a new course and even adjust the sails. I decided that there was no way I would trust myself to make those decisions, I was just too groggy. Despite this, I think I was still doing a reasonable job of steering Cayenne on her course as long as I didn’t try and think about anything else.
Finally I decided it was as close to that waypoint as I was going to get (I think it was two miles) I woke Brian again, told him what was going on, and went down below for another nap. A bit later Brian and Meps woke me in time to take the sails down and we motored around behind Garden Key to anchor in the Dry Tortugas.