Sailors return safely after a week in the Gulf

All photos Lafe Henderson/Catalyst

It was a rough night for first year Michael Long. His dream of sailing to the Dry Tortugas, an Island to the far West of the Florida Keys, was just to audacious given the short time frame of fall break. Long, the captain of a 30 foot long Santana sailboat, made the executive discussion with the aid of his crew to alter the course. The journey would now take the adventurers south to the island of Cayo Casta, a state park just south of Boca Grande Pass.

The crew each had their own vision for the journey. Long, a self proclaimed workaholic, loved the challenge of sailing. He has learned the art of sailing mostly on his own and wanted to test his abilities with a challenging journey.  The crew consisted of first year Nico Segal-Wright, first year McKinnley Workman, and the Catalyst’s own first year Lafe Henderson. All members of the crew were relatively inexperienced sailers.

Segal-Wright is interested in alternative methods of transportation, he was attracted by the green aspects of sailing, and allured by the prospect of independence from fossil fuels. Workman loves nature, and the prospect of exploring islands, snorkeling and swimming with dolphins attracted her. The adventure and freedom of sailing inspired all onboard.

On Friday Oct. 8 at six in the afternoon the group hove to for Cayo Casta Island.

Motoring out of port the group meet their first difficulty. The group lost sight of the proper marker and ran ashore on a shoal before they even made it out of the pass. Despite efforts to raise the sail and motor off of the shoal, the group radioed in to sea-tow for help. Sea-tow is a company that specializes in towing boats off shoals and aiding boats that are stuck. Fortunately Long already payed for Sea-tow membership, so the service was free. The group decided to anchor for the night and navigate the last portion of the pass at dawn. The next day the sailors raised anchor and motored the final portion of the pass by the light of day. Saturday Oct. 9 the group sailed south aided by a north wind. With two fishing rods trawling behind the group hooked a nice Spanish mackerel for dinner. Long showed the group how to fillet the fish, and Segal-Wright cooked the fillets for dinner. Another problem beset the group at nightfall. The toilet or “head” as it is called on a yacht, began to leak. While Long was able to contain some of the leak, the cabin began to smell, and the crew tried to not to think of what they where walking through when below deck.

The hardy adventurers sailed late into the night. Workman displayed her celestial knowledge, pointing out the different constellations and the myths that accompanied them. At the mouth of Boca Grande pass the group laid anchor and went to sleep opting to navigate the pass by the light of day.

Sunday the group navigated through Boca Grande pass and slipped into the protected harbor of Cayo Casta Island. The four set out in the dingy for the Island to explore the island. Cayo Casta is a state park complete with a camp ground, a ranger station, and rustic cabins. The group hiked a five mile trail around the island went snorkeling in the clear waters of Cayo Casta’s beaches. At night they built a small fire on the beach and roasted smores and hotdogs. The group elected to sleep on the boat to avoid expenses. The next morning the group went back to the island for a short time. In the afternoon they shove to again navigating the pass and heading south again bound for Sanibel Island. Though the group planned to navigate around Sanibel through a pass to Saint James, the wind died almost completely in the afternoon. The group motored near the shore of Sanibel Island and laid anchor. A pod of dolphins swam by and the all hands jumped off deck to swim with them. After the swim the group motored ashore on the dingy and had a night on the town. they explored the Ding Darling National wildlife refuge and some of the local shops. Segal-Wright was happy to find a grocery store where he could find some fresh vegetables, all enjoyed pizza at a local restaurant. On the way back to the boat the sailers enjoyed a quick soak in a local timeshares hot tub before they pulled anchor and motored north throughout the night. Long insisted that the crew sleep while he navigated.

The return trip proved to a challenge. The wind blew consistently from the North so the sailers were forced to tack over and over again in order to make headway against the wind. The sailers worked in shifts to keep the boat sailing north. All hands had a lot of homework due the following week so all where anxious to get back as soon as possible. On Wednesday the group sailed hard through stiff breezes. Finally the winds became to much and the group dropped sail and kicked on the motor. While no-one wanted to use the motor, everyone needed to get home to finish our homework and other attend to responsibilities. Segal-Wright was especially upset by the use of the motor because part of his interest in the trip revolved around its dependance from fossil fuels.

Long often called Segal-Wright the “conscience” of the trip. Finally on Thursday at around three in the afternoon the group made its way back into through the pass and into home port. The wind was finally right to raise the sails so the group sailed to the dock triumphantly by the power of the wind alone.

After six days at sea all the hands had grown to be a great team. It was a strange feeling for all to be back in Sarasota after giving the boat a good cleaning the team was ready to return home and finally get a good rest.

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