“When are you leaving?”
It was a question we heard fairly often as October gave way to November. We had commitments in Pensacola that held us here until November 5th, but our plan was to depart in order to start our 4th cruising season whenever the next weather window opened after that.
With that in mind, we prepared Eagle Too to get underway. All the gear we’d put in storage for the summer came back onboard. We finished our final provisioning runs and stowed a season’s worth of supplies. We topped off the fuel tank, and filled the Jerry jugs with extra gas and diesel. We settled up with the marina, the diver, and the canvas shop. We had our final meals at our favorite restaurants, and said our goodbyes to friends and family.
Then we waited. We had a reservation at the St Petersburg Municipal Marina beginning November 15th. We intended to spend the holidays in St Pete, and then start heading further south after the first of the year.
Everything was ready except the weather. As the first week of November came to an end, a stalled front settled over the area, generating significant rain, rough seas and unfavorable winds. For almost a week it wagged back and forth, settling a little south of us, and then retreating a bit to the north.
Then a series of winter cold fronts stacked up one after another. The strong north winds they brought finally blew the stalled front away, but produced freezing temperatures in their wake. If you know us even a little bit, you know that we can’t stand sailing in cold weather. And 58 degrees is cold to us. When they say the lows are going to be in the 30’s, well, you can just forget it. We do this to have fun— it’s not some kind of personal endurance test.
We almost left during the second week of November. It looked like a 48 hour window with predicted mild temperatures, gentle south winds, and calm seas would give us just enough time to motorsail directly across the Gulf from Pensacola to Clearwater, Florida before an extremely strong winter cold front blew through. We were so certain we should take the window that Rhonda pre-cooked underway rations and I stopped by Subway to pick up two 12” subs (an easy underway snack). But when we woke up on what would have been departure morning, things just didn’t feel right. While we believe Eagle Too is in excellent shape, she’s sat mostly stationary for five months now, and I just didn’t feel comfortable depending on the engine to wake up from its prolonged slumber and propel us for 48 straight hours across the Gulf. If any little hiccup at all had occurred, we’d have been caught 75 to 100 miles offshore with a huge front bearing down that was predicted to bring 35 knot winds and 6 to 8 foot seas. Better to wait for a longer window so that we could break the trip up into several smaller leaps and slowly reintroduce the boat to cruising again.
With all our preparations made and little left to do except wait for weather, we found ourselves with some time on our hands. So one day, we asked our dock friends Stephen and Beth on S/V Cattywampus if we could borrow their car to take a drive, run a few errands, and get off the boat for a few hours. They happily obliged.
We had no way of knowing at the time how profoundly their little gesture of kindness would affect the trajectory of our lives…