Day Three, Saturday, May 16, 2015: Sand Island to Skull Island
Day three dawned with rather ominous looking thunderheads building on the horizon. As always, my plan was to set out early and get miles under my keel. I waved goodbye to the fleet at about 6:30 a.m. and set and easterly course for Skull Island which I was told was a grassy point a few miles up the East Bay.
|Menacing clouds ahead
The wind had shifted to the east overnight and the vast fetch of Pensacola Bay was filled with heavy chop. I was forced to pinch hard on the wind and Bandit’s bow slammed down on wave after wave. This gave me ample opportunity to exercise a bit of creative vocabulary. I comforted myself with the premise that once I was across the bay and under the first causeway bridge, that things would get better. Three hours of pounding later, I passed under the Pensacola Bay Bridge. It did not get better. On I sailed. I convinced myself that after the second causeway bridge that it would get better. The pounding continued. I excercised more creative vocabulary.
|Pelicans guide my way across Pensacola Bay
I had just about exhausted every possible curse that I could call upon the spirits of wind and sea when I heard and unexpected “clank” and a splash. The hours of pounding had loosened the anchor mount on the bow pulpit and the anchor had fallen off! Bandit sharply spun and wallowed in the chop as the anchor took hold. This provided my first opportunity to scramble onto Bandit’s tiny foredeck while underway. Several exciting moments followed while I lowered sails and hauled in the anchor which had seemingly dug it’s way to China in the heavy mud. After what seemed forever, and which was actually about 10 minutes, I managed to get underway again, a bit shaken and out of breath but seemingly no worse for the wear.
At around noon, I finally passed under the second causeway bridge into the East Bay and things finally did start to get a little bit better. The seas smoothed and I was able to fall off the wind and relax a little for the first time in hours. Ahead of me, I could see John Gibson in his Bolger Micro “Pete” and William Seyler and Doug Moran in their sharp little Pocketship. I followed along in their wakes and at long last, the sheltered, grassy point that was Skull Island hove into view where I could see several other boats waiting at anchor.
Despite the arduous crossing, this proved to be my fastest transit so far having covered 27 miles in just a little over 6 ½ hours! Just as I was about to pat myself on the back, I looked over my left shoulder and spotted Murray White sailing his tiny, open 12 foot O’Day Widgeon into the sheltered cove behind me! That guy can sail!
|The few and the proud at Skull Island
|The “accidental” anchor deployment stripped off a section of Bandit’s rubrail. Fortunately, it just snapped back into place!
|Skull Island fleet including Murray White’s O’Day Widgeon at the left. The smallest boat to reach Skull Island!
|Sand Island to Skull Island, 27 miles (The “kink” between the two bridges was my “surprise anchoring”!)
All told, only about a dozen boats made it to Skull Island that afternoon. Some boats broke. Many more just decided that it wasn’t worth it and either stayed at Sand Island or headed for home early. Several were apparently lured off course by the promise of cool beverages and tasty vittles at Pat Johnson’s nearby “man cave”. Those of us who did make it to Skull Island were rewarded with a relaxing afternoon, floating in the calm, placid lee of the sandy point. As the sun sank toward the horizon, the wind died, the no-see-ums commenced a relentless onslaught and our small group of “survivors” each retreated to our bunks.
Day Four, Sunday, May 17: Skull Island to Shoreline Park
As the sun rose over Skull Island, the small remainder of the fleet discussed our “exit strategies”. Since participants had launched from a variety of locations at the start of the event, there were any number of ways that each would wrap up their journeys.
|Dawn at Skull Island
Intrepid Murray White would sail his tiny Widgeon further up the bay where he had cleverly pre-positioned a bicycle that he would use to retrieve his vehicle and trailer. Several others had communicated with the ever generous Pat Johnson who had offered to pick folks up at a nearby ramp and then car-pool them back to their vehicles. For Bandit and I, it would be a final sail back to our starting point at Shoreline Park. No sooner did the sun peak over the horizon at round 6 a.m. than Bandit and I pushed off for the final leg home.
|Departing Skull Island at the crack of dawn
Both wind and sea had calmed considerably overnight and I enjoyed a pleasant beam reach most of the way back down Pensacola Bay. I sipped coffee and munched on a granola bar with occasional glances over at John Gibson’s plucky Bolger Micro which was matching my course back to Shoreline Park. In many ways, this final leg proved to be one of the most enjoyable transits of the trip.
|John Gibson’s Bolger Micro “Pete” with Bolger Tortoise dinghy “Re-pete”
As I neared the Pensacola Bay Bridge, I glanced down at my GPS and noted the mileage. “120” it read. It was official. Bandit and I had completed our first Florida 120! We celebrated with a bonus granola bar!
It was a couple more hours before we finally reached Shoreline Park to pack up and begin our long trip home. But it had been a heck of a trip and an excellent shakedown cruise. My little Potter had proven herself many times over and we had become quite good friends in the process.
|Skull Island to Shoreline Park, 25 miles
At the end, it seemed more than a little anti-climactic what with no official “goodbye y’all!” and all of the participants scattered to the four winds. But with any luck, those fickle winds would blow us all back together again someday - next year - if not sooner!
Shawn “Lawless” Payment
WWP15 #1823 “Bandit”
Johns Island, SC
The Florida 120 commences the first Thursday after Mother’s Day which will fall on May 12, 2016. Other details about this annual “non-event” can be found on group event pages on Yahoo and Facebook.
Florida 120 Yahoo Group
Florida 120 Facebook Group
Hope to see you next year!