Gulfport, Mississippi was our destination.
We left Offatts Bayou in Galveston 2017.08.07, Monday, 0900. We arrived back in Galveston 2017.08.11, Friday, 2200.
We only made it as far as Atchafalaya Bay off the Louisiana coast and the planned route was supposed to take us well around the tip of Louisiana on our way to Gulfport
There were no breakdowns or mechanical difficulties that necessitated our return. The sailing was smooth and easy by all accounts.
When we got into the Gulf of Mexico from Galveston we had a good wind from the SE and were sailing along at around 5 knots. By Monday night, the wind abated and we were doing around 3 knots. It was at this point that Jodi said that she was not feeling well and she was going down below to rest.
She essentially never came back into the cockpit until we anchored back outside Galveston Friday night.
After being at the helm for over 17 hours, I was tired. We don’t have an autopilot or self-steering system. We were outside the Galveston shipping lanes, so I hove to and set my alarm to allow for 2 hours of rest. I got that, but upon waking found that we had actually drifted NW approximately 4 nm. Great, now I had to make up those extra miles. Lesson learned. I did not heave to again and instead set about getting the sheet-to-wheel steering system up and working. I did finally get it working good enough. Another lesson learned was that it would not work if we were set against a current. This meant that my rest periods had to coincide with when we were sailing in a steady breeze where I could get the sails trimmed and balanced and we had no current to speak of. A simple look at the compass heading and the GPS heading would tell me this for sure, but I usually already knew because with a current set against us, I couldn’t get Emet to track a heading for more than a minute or so without steering input.
Tuesday morning around 0800 we were sailing along at about 3 knots. The air was warm and muggy and our heading was SE 128 degrees true. There were some storm clouds on the horizon. Suddenly, the air temperature dropped about 10 degrees and I was hopeful that we were going to get some good wind to help make up for the time that we lost drifting backward. I have no idea the wind speed that came in, but I was carrying full headsail and 1 reef in the main. Emet immediately heeled over 50 degrees to port. The toe rail was completely buried in water. I sprang to action furling the head sail in an attempt to de-power us a bit and gain some control. The furling line and winch are on the port side. As I was winching in the furling line, water was rushing by the winch within a couple of inches. I was thankful that Jodi was actually down below asleep otherwise she would have been screaming. It seemed like an eternity, but I’m sure it was only a minute or two before I got the head sail furled enough to be able to set it properly and maintain a nice heading. Once that was done, we were zipping along at about 7 knots. “This is what sailing is supposed to be,” I thought to myself as I was standing on the lee side cockpit seat edge at a 45 degree angle.
The wind didn’t last long and we were back to 2 to 3 knots. That was pretty much what we had for the next several days. 2 to 3 knots of wind with a 0.5 knot current against us so that we only made progress at 1.5 to 2.5 knots. Jodi was feeling awful and slept almost the whole time. The wind direction and current meant that I couldn’t make real progress along the plotted route SE. We were headed more E. I made a few tacks to get us further south, but it was arduous progress at best.
Early Thursday morning I discussed with Jodi our options. At this point we had well over 320 nm to get to Gulfport, we had been drifting toward the Atchafalaya River at a speed of 1 knot for the past 12 hours even though our heading was now SE. The current allowed us to make no real forward progress.
We could try to motor up the river to Morgan City where we could refuel and then travel the ICW to Gulfport. We could bob around where we were waiting for the wind to come back and then continue on to Gulfport not knowing how long it would take. Or we could turn around and head back.
We made the decision to turn around and head back. We still had no wind. I poured in the 5 gallons of diesel from the jerry can. A quick measurement of the fuel level told me about 11 gallons. We have a stick that is marked in 5 gallon increments. I lower the stick to the bottom of the diesel tank and then read the level. An accurate reading requires that Emet NOT be heeled over. Emet was heeled over to starboard about 5 to 1o degrees at this point as a little wind had filled in. I estimated that we had about 15 gallons. My rough consumption estimates over the years have told me that we consume about 1 gallon per hour. We could motor for 15 hours before we had to sail.
I told Jodi that we would motor west for 5 hours to get out of the current that was pushing us toward the Louisiana coast and Atchafalaya Bay and then we would have to sail until we got within motoring distance of Galveston. She said OK and went back to sleep.
So, I cranked up the Westerbeke and we motor sailed at about 5 knots with a heading of 270 degrees west. At the 5 hour mark I turned off the motor and the wind came in from the southwest. It had been from the east/southeast since Monday. We continued sailing at 5 knots.
From our origin point off Louisiana to the center of the jetties at Galveston was a straight line heading of exactly 270 degrees west magnetic. I never strayed from this heading except to avoid two offshore oil platforms and the wind never changed direction or let up.
We sailed a straight line at an average of 5 knots.
When we were 60 nm from Galveston, I turned on the diesel and motor sailed the remainder of the way at an average of 6 knots. The weather was clear and beautiful the whole time and, again, our heading was 270 degrees west magnetic. I was able to set up the sheet-to-wheel steering to allow for about 2 hours of rest as we zipped along. I woke up and the compass heading was still 270 degrees.
When we finally anchored outside the north jetty in Galveston, I checked our fuel and we still had 12 gallons. We had motored for a total of 29 to 30 hours and we had a total of 30 gallons of diesel when we started. Our consumption is closer to 0.6 gallons per hour than 1 gallon per hour at a standard RPM of 2,000.
On the way back we sailed through a jellyfish bloom that was absolutely breathtaking in the moonlight. I wish Jodi had seen it. I didn’t have my camera in the cockpit and the iPad just wouldn’t capture the pic. I suppose it’s best that way. Sometimes, a picture just doesn’t do a scene justice and I just didn’t have the time to man the DSLR and maintain our course. There were thousands of jellyfish all around us. They were glistening in the moonlight and had pink borders as I shown a flashlight on them. I now know they were Moon Jellies. I saw some spectacular lightning shows and had a pod of dolphins swim with us for about 30 minutes. There were also some fish that were about 6 to 8 inches long with grey/silvery bodies and lemon yellow tails that would swim right beside Emet. And of course, there were gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.
I was essentially alone on the ocean for 6 days. I found it tranquil and exhilarating simultaneously. Jodi and I both lost quite a bit, relatively speaking, of weight. Jodi ate NOTHING for 6 days and all I had was half a box of cheese nip crackers and 1 mango. We both probably drank a minimum amount of water even though we had 140 gallons on board.
Saturday morning we contacted Harborwalk and asked to come back to our slip. They said, “Absolutely!”. We motored back in and tied up.
“We’re selling the boat,” Jodi said flatly.
I can’t really say that I hold it against her at this point. She’s gone along with this crazy idea for the past 3 years. I wouldn’t want to do anything that made me sick for 6 days either.
So, we’re tied up in our slip and wondering where to go from here. I have learned so much about so many things through this experience. I have gotten back into writing though my photography hasn’t come back really. I have no real heading at this point and it’s kind of disorienting. Before, everything I did was for the purpose of sailing off.
That is no longer the plan.
I suppose I have to find a new direction.
If only it could be as simple as 270 degrees west.