Friday, January 23, 2015

(Planning) Gulf of Mexico Passage – Tampa Bay Florida to Kemah Texas

The weather gave us a slight breather Thursday afternoon, so we met Blaine at the marina bar broke out the laptops and worked through a series of weather planning sites.  For this one, we used Sailflow (excellent visual representation of wind, pressure, and sea state.  This appears to be gathered from a variety of sources, including NOAA and the way it’s displayed is easy on the eyes).  We also used the NOAA site ( most of the information you need is there but it can be hard to sort through.  They use a completely different format for the offshore forecast and the various coastal areas that I find cumbersome to navigate.  Once you get to the info it’s a very simple text format.  Not much granularity but good for the big picture.  We also used, which is a recommendation I got a while back from Cruisers Forum and find useful.  Yes it’s gribs files, and yes I understand that gribs are not always the be all end all of weather forecasts but, so far they’ve been good for things like wind/wave direction, as well as a general feel for strength.  Our concern was that we really wanted to get across in a generally North West direction from the Tampa Bay channel to somewhere just off shore of New Orleans or Mobile.  In a sailboat this can be a challenge in a strong North wind since most boats don’t like to sail upwind closer than 45-50 degrees on the wind.  We’ve noticed that in a light sea 50-55 degrees is doable but 60 is more comfortable if the seas are a bit heavier.  We didn’t sea anything huge (or we wouldn’t have gone) but where seeing regular projections of 3-5 and 4-6ft seas.  This alone isn’t all that big but unfortunately the period (time between successive wave crests) was showing to be in the 3-5 second range.  All that really means is it was going to be a very bumpy ride and with the waves so close together we would likely struggle getting our comfy 25,000lb boat to come close enough to the wind to get the NW route we’d like.  It was looking like WNW was about the best we could do.  Some of the models did show the wind shifting from NW and N to a more NE direction late Friday and then on Sat shifting to East, which would be close to perfect, minus the seas.  But as they say, welcome to the Gulf…in January

We really wanted to ensure we didn’t get stuck out in the gulf for an extended period of time waiting for a wind shift, so we decided to wait for the morning weather update to make the final call.  Kara and I made it an early night, filled tanks and just organized everything for the passage so we’d be ready if we could in fact leave.  We also needed to be worried about the tide.  Thursday AM thanks to that strong N/NW winds in the 30-40 knot range, Baboo was actually sitting on the bottom in her slip.  Glad we don’t have a bolt on keel.  We talked to several of the liveaboards in the marina who where also aground in their slips and evidently this was a very uncommon occurrence.  The day before we backed Baboo into her slip (really cleanly I might add) right at low tide and had plenty of clearance.  Evidently the heavy winds Wed night and all day Thursday had literally blown the water out of the bay, so that low tide was much lower than normal.  The conditions had been improving Thursday afternoon and we suspected Friday AM we’d be clear of the bottom.  If not, we’d be in our slip until later in the day, regardless of what we wanted to do.

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