We set off a little behind schedule on Saturday morning.  Our first big trip on Sundowner.  So many firsts ahead.  At least the forecast wasn’t too bad.  South winds should fill in and then clock around until we had a west wind by Monday or Tuesday.

It didn’t take very long us to find out just how incorrect the multiple forecasts we read before setting out would be.  This is us as we left Southshore marina on our way to the north side of the lake.  You can see the thunderstorm coming south towards us.
Tate by the mainsail with storms in the background

Just after we got the sails hoisted, it looked about like this.
Storms on Lake Pontchartrain
Being the quick thinkers we are, Dani and I donned our foulie jackets just as the storm hit us.  Usually these Louisiana storms bring lots of rain and lightning, but this one carried some pretty serious gusts, probably up to about 20kts which pushed us around.
Dani and Tate in a storm on Lake Pontchartrain

I got up on deck and put two reefs in the main and dropped the jib.  It was the first time I’ve ever “really” reefed.  A learning experience.  I was impressed by how much force it took to pull the sail down and pull the clew out.  Little did I know how good I would get at reefing and how quickly.

The weather was so bad that Dani and I gave up attempting to make it out to Ship or Cat Island on day one and tucked into the Rabbit Island anchorage we used during our Honeymoon.  It was familiar and we were protected but the current that passes through it is fast and we spun around quite a bit.  No biggie.  We waited and entire day and night there listening to the forecasts and being reassured that leaving on Monday was a good plan.

So Monday morning I hauled up the anchor and off we went into the ICW towards Alabama.  Right out of the gate we were passed by 3 push boats all with huge barges.  I figured we’d have terrible commercial traffic all day, but after those three went past the sky cleared, no one was behind us and the south winds finally filled in.  Suddenly it was a solid 15kts on the stern quarter/beam and we set the sails.  It was like the rockets turned on.
GPS showing 7.3 knots

Despite making great speed the boat felt great and the wind vane steered for us.  We were at a 10-15 degree heel which was comfortable to us.  We were making such good time that we actually passed one of the push boats that had gone ahead of us earlier.  Eat our wake push boats.  In my reading I know it is often said that W32s do great on crossings since they can average 125ish miles a day.  On this day we did over 80 nautical miles in 12 hours.  Who says a W32 is slow?

The day was very fun for Dani and I.  It was amazing to watch the water change from muddy, to tea like, to green, and then finally to a foamy green from the salt water.  We had fun looking at the beaches of all the gulf islands as we passed them.  And of course Dani enjoyed sunbathing.
Dani in bathing suit on deck
About an hour before sundown we had made it to the very Western tip of Dauphine Island.  Since the wind forecast was South clocking to West we tucked in as close as we could.  There was another boat anchored there as well.  Savoir Faire.
Anchorage off Dauphine Island MS
Curiously, right before sundown, they upped anchor turned a little further away and reanchored.  Did we smell or something?  It’s not like we were close.  Oh well.  We wouldn’t find out the real reason for many hours.

After dinner Dani and I read books and played our games and hit the sack around 10pm.  At 12:30pm I was awakened by the anchor alarm going off and I knew immediately that something wasn’t right.  It might have taken 2 seconds between the opening of my eyes to the time I was on deck, but maybe it was 3.

On deck the wind was so loud that I was deaf for a moment.  The Manson Boss anchor was holding, we’d just swung around and that set off the alarm.  The wind was so strong that the anchor rode stretched to its full length and made incredible creaking noises.

I fired up the engine and turned on the VHF which was howling every half hour or so about a weather alert.  “Warning warning, a storm system is moving South at 35 kts.  Winds of no less than 37kts.”  The commercial traffic was talking about it too and the bridge at Dauphine Island reported upwards of 50kts.  I don’t guess I’ll ever know for sure how strong it was.

It didn’t take long to kick up an incredible chop in the shallow waters.  We were getting pounded by quick waves and the boat was hobby horsing wildly.  We had about 15 feet that we could drag before we’d be aground.  I was terrified so I spent from 12:30 am to 4:00 am in the cockpit at the tiller ready to punch the engine and cut the anchor free if it were to start dragging or if the anchor rode would pop.

I sent Dani back to bed in case it would last long enough that watch standing would be required.  Alone in the banshee like winds I cursed myself for not replacing the chain rode sooner.  We were on almost entirely 5/8″ 3strand nylon rode.  And I was a very worried person.  Chafe terrified me.

On three separate occasions I crawled to the foredeck, tied off to the boat as I went, and let out about a half foot to change where the line was rubbing.  I was glad I did because the line did rub and it did chafe.

I wrapped the rode around the sampson posts since I don’t fully trust the cleats on the foredeck.  The rode slid up past the metal on the posts to the wood and today you can see a half inch deep indention in them that is exactly the braid of the anchor line.  I’m lucky they didn’t snap off.

In the enraged darkness, tired and wet and I sat there staring out into the bleary rain and watching the anchor light of the boat near us.  Sometimes I couldn’t see him, sometimes I could.  The light bounced around wildly and I found myself wondering how he could handle it.  And then I realized that to him I probably looked just the same or worse.  Our anchor light was swinging so wildly around that it was plunging the boat into an other worldly sort of look.  I had to be careful not to be mesmerized by the scintillating colors and keep my bearings on the stationary marks. I think I spent a lot of my night worried about the other boat, and I imagine they were worried about us.

Thankfully by 3am the wind died down and by 4am the waves subsided and finally at 4:30am I turned off the motor, went below and slept.  I was awake at around 5am the next morning and Dani and I upped the anchor.  It was very difficult.  Without the windlass I couldn’t have gotten it out.  As it was I had to go to “low” gear and just keep inching it up for over five minutes.  I wasn’t complaining though, I had bought the Boss for situations just like this.  I just wasn’t ready to test it out yet.

Heading to Mobile Bay, the conditions were wonderful again.  We hoisted full sail again and made good time, keeping ahead of our neighbor boat “Savoir Faire” that had also survived.  However, that was soon to change.  If we had wanted a shake down cruise, we were damn sure going to get it.

As we approached the bridge to Mobile Bay I took down the jib and double reefed the main again.  I could see the squalls ahead.
Approaching Dauphine Island bridge
I was worried since I’d heard that Mobile Bay could be very bad in a blow.  Commercial traffic everywhere.  Rigs everywhere.  Shallow and huge fetch so the waves can eat you up.  It sounded a lot like our home waters of Lake Ponchy.  As we started to follow the ICW the other sailboat continued east.

I radioed them and asked if it was safe to cut across and they said it was what they were going to do.  More huge systems were coming in from the North (DESPITE ALL FORECASTS SAYING SOUTH WINDS) and they were going to make a break for it.  We fell in behind them motor sailing with our double reef.  They had no sail up.  I also learned why the changed their anchoring spot.  A friend had called them and warned them of the storm system that had formed in north Mississippi/Alabama and was making its way south.  They needed more room between themselves and the beach.

Around a half hour late the storms hit us.  3-4ft seas were on the beam and we made 6kts with a double reefed main and the motor just above idle speed as we matched speed with Savoir Faire who led the way.

Once we found our way under the lee of the land on the east side of the bay we saw a sailboat heading out.  Savoir Faire, Us, another unidentified boat, and two shrimp boats all advised them not to enter the bay.  It was that bad.  Savoir Faire said he’d crossed Mobile Bay about fifteen times and this is the worst he’d ever seen it.  One of the shrimp boat captains said it was some of the worst in his 15 years.  I could hardly believe that Dani and I made it.  It was surreal.

Battle tested at sail and anchor, we entered Bear Point marina at around 2pm yesterday.  I breathed an incredible sigh of relief.  Even the narrower than I was used to fairway didn’t phase me while parking the boat.
Sundowner at Bear Point Marina Al

We’re going to meet Savoir Faire tomorrow.  Today and yesterday we spent with my family here in Gulf Shores.  The beach is a dream.  I slept the sleep of the dead last night.  I’m hoping the ride home will be less “interesting”, but if it gets snotty, we’ll be ready.

Later after our trip home I intend to post a full report about the anchoring with the Boss and the few gear failures we’ve had.  But really… I’ve rambled on too long, and their is a rum and pineapple with my name on it down by the beach.

Sundowner reporting all well.  Out.   =)