From the time we decided to do the great loop, we watched the trepidatious Gulf of Mexico crossing from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs. As we neared the launch point, it grew in our minds until it blocked our path like an inscrutable dragon. This one was not like Disney or Pixar dragons, friendly and ready to lend assistance. Nor was it malevolent like the great Smaug from the Hobbit. This one was wild and ultimately untamable. Should it so desire, it could stir up the waters of the sea until we were helpless, bobbing our tiny boat about and beating us into submission.
As we neared our destination, the list of things to verify grew. When the guide books say to go from the red R2 buoy on the West side of Dog Island to the R4 buoy that marks the entrance to Tarpon Springs harbor, do they mean build a tiny route with two waypoints, or was there some deeper knowledge we were missing among the forum chatter and the many guidebooks we had on board? How much would the ubiquitous crab pots slow us down? All loopers knew about the crustacean cages tied to rope or cable that could tangle up a propeller and even stop a loop.
Then, we had our conversation with Eddy, the author of Eddy's Weather Wag. This short talk calmed our nerves and steeled our confidence. We brought in Sam Moore, our long time friend, to make the trek with us. Though he was not an experienced captain, he was razor sharp and someone we trust with our lives.
After a brief conversation with George, the Apalachicola Marina's dock master, we felt comfortable enough with our crossing to tinker with the plans. We'd leave straight from Apalachicola and run all of the way to Clearwater after ducking into protected seas near Tarpon Springs. We slept for the night, mostly surprised at the peace we felt about the pending journey. We'd done our weather research and expected seas at one foot and below. In a word, perfect.
The day of the crossing dawned. I taught the final bits of my class and within a half an hour, we were off. Everything that could be tied down was, and we converted the dinette to a bed so we'd have two beds available for the pending overnight crossing.
As we left protected waters and passed the last buoy, a few anxious butterflies fluttered around, but mostly left us just as the sea birds thinned with the increasingly changing climates. The depth finder started ticking up slowly, passing 10 and 20 feet on its way to 60. We prepared our dinner of delicious grouper tacos and marveled at the calming seas as the sun began to set.
We did have a few moments of drama, as all crossings will. We initially set the autopilot incorrectly, and it predicted a crossing 4 hours longer than we'd calculated. After a few anxious minutes, we corrected the problem and the right arrival time began to slowly count down. Later, after the sun set, we looked up to find one of our navigation lights was out. I passed the wheel to Maggie, and climbed to the top of the boat to clamp a backup light to the top of the mast. It was surprisingly easy to do.
As the seas settled and the winds died down, we also settled down for a broken night's sleep. We covered up the electronics we couldn't dim, and tailored the ones we could to maintain our night vision. We fell into a gentle rhythm of two hours asleep and one hour at the helm. Before sitting in the command chair, we'd do those nightly errands like gathering up trash, getting something to eat, and shook off the waking cobwebs.
We will always remember the peace of that evening. Each lonely mariner took a turn in front of the faint glow of the electronics, alone with our thoughts for an hour at a time. Some listened to music. Some thought about life's changes, or prayed, or sang softly. I heard a great splash next to me, and imagined a great dolphin begging the sleepy sailors to come out and play.
Eventually, the early hours crept into a morning glow and a vivid ocean sunrise. We were right where we were supposed to be, and right when we expected to be there. The rest of the morning sped by as we spent the hours working to escape the webs woven from the local fisherman trying to earn an honest day's wage. We took photographs, told tales of the night before, and smiled.
Mostly we smiled. The untamed dragon had left us be for an evening. In the place of questions, it left individual treasures. Some we already appreciated. Some, like the already fading memories, would take years to fully unwrap.