Playing in Tampa Bay
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Re Metau - Playing in Tampa BayNail Biting Nighttime Navigation
November 2008
 
Taking a sabbatical from work means funds are conserved like fresh water onboard.  The cost of a trip North to visit family for Thanksgiving was not an option, but the cost of a sail for the holiday was negligible.  Heck – hanging on the hook somewhere would probably even thwart any desire to go out and spend what little disposable income we had.

Given the shallow channel between our temporary digs in Clearwater and the Gulf, timing our departure with high tide was crucial.  We still read 18” under our keel in places, but managed to creep out into open water with some fingernails still intact.  We didn’t have a working depth sounder the first time we sailed into Clearwater Bay, and it astounds me that we naively managed to avoid locating the bottom.  Now that we do have it working I Sometimes consider ripping it off the console to reduce the mental strain it causes.

Turning south put the winds at our back, which meant sailing wing-n-wing and leaving the crew in shade the entire way. I tried to remind myself that Northerners would soon be migrating from subzero temperatures to frolic in the apparent winter warmth of Florida.  But my blood had thinned to proper Southern consistency and my timbers were shivering!   Before long, we buried ourselves in jeans, sweatshirts, and fleece jackets. Don chided me for bringing a quilt out to the cockpit but it didn’t stop him from getting under it.

When we rounded east into Egmont channel and put 15 knot winds on our beam and our bodies, I was instantly grateful that the majority of the day’s sail put the wind on our back. BURRRR!!!! Forget the math for apparent wind calculations; I should learn the trigonometry for apparent temperature. I tried to ignore my discomfort by changing my focus to the luxury of having 80’ of water underneath. It was nice to confirm that the higher digits on the depth sounder worked.

The choppy waters excluded Egmont Key as a comfortable spot to drop the hook. Given the sun’s position and our current speed, I convinced Don we’d have just enough daylight to make it to a calm, protected anchorage spot up the Manatee River. Apparently the sun was more anxious to spend time in the southern hemisphere than I had anticipated. We entered into the black hole of the Manatee channel equipped with an antiquated GPS loaded with waypoints I set as a neophyte, a 1,000,000 watt spotlight that could only be deployed from the cockpit, and our ‘Marriage Saving’ Mariner 500 Headset Communicators.

While I was at the helm, Don got some blood warming exercise running up and down the decks looking for markers, comparing them to the GPS, reviewing paper charts, and sweeping the spotlight across our path. Following is an excerpt from the conversation that occurred over our headsets with the method of delivery included:

Nighttime Pelican(Don - encouraging) "You’re doing great. Just stay on this bearing. We’re coming up on a marker now. It says…..14…..it’s marker 14."

(Diana - concerned) "The waypoint on the GPS says 16. Are you sure it’s 14?"

(Don - accusing) "Yeah, you must not have the waypoints marked right in the GPS."

(Diana - defensively) "I know I put those waypoints in right. I think the state came out and changed all the channel markers!"

(Don - calmingly) "Well, don’t worry about it, it’s a wide channel and we have lots of water under us. I’m coming back there to do a spotlight sweep."

(Diana - self-soothing banter) "You know, we’ve used that spotlight more during the last month than in the last 5 years since we bought it. The only other time we used it was that night we overheard that couple daring each other to dance naked on their fly deck."

(Don - disturbed) "Damn! the spotlight isn’t working. It just went dead."

(Diana - not amused) "YOU ARE KIDDING ME! That’s not funny. It probably came unplugged."

(Don - irritatingly calm) "No, the wire’s pulled out…I can feel bare wire. Just keep this heading and watch the depth. I’m going to check the chart."

(Diana - desperate rationale) I can see a boat over there. Let’s just go anchor there. The depth is good."

(Don - schizophrenic)  "I think we can make it. It’s a wide channel with plenty of water. We’re fine. Just go slow. Wait….bear to starboard NOW!!! There is a 2’ shoal to port!! SLOW DOWN! MORE TO STARBOARD!"

(Diana - heightened anxiety) "Man…I can’t see any markers at all. WHOA – I could have reached out and touched that one! Did you see that one? How is it I can have this whole wide river and manage to almost run down the one thing sticking up in the middle?"

(Don - sheepishly) "Yeah – must be marking that shoal we just missed. I don’t see anything else on the chart to worry about. Just stay in the middle of the river. We’re good. There is plenty of water under us between here and the bridge."

Just as I was being pacified by this misinformation, I managed to react to the decreasing numbers on the depth sounder yet again. After repeated pleas of “Let’s anchor here.”, “This looks good.” “Can we drop the anchor now?”, “This looks like a good place to anchor.”, “Want to drop the anchor now?”, it was music to my ears hearing the chain pay out. Once we confirmed the 60lb Bruce was well set (like that was ever going to be a problem), our anxiety quickly turned to euphoria as we congratulated our impressive achievement. Hey - we had no qualms about taking fallacious credit for dumb, blind luck. No one saw us swerving about the river, so our success was purely the result of exceptional nighttime navigation skills. Now - where did I put that nail file?

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