Our Shakedown Cruise for L’Attitude…and Bo!
Capt. Bo is planning to sail L’Attitude around the world. So the least I could do beforehand is deckhand a trip to try to “break” her and prepare them both for the upcoming adventure. As it turned out, we picked the perfect time to cross the Gulf of Mexico to put them to the test.
L’Attitude is a 1984 Brewer 42 cutter ketch. She’s had a lot of blue water under her keel, but only a crossing from Clearwater to Pensacola with Bo at the helm. And as Capt. Ron reminds us, “If its goin’ happen, its goin’ happen out there!” So, it was time to get her “out there”.
We prudently checked the forecasts for a trip from Bear Point Marina in Orange Beach, Alabama, out the Pensacola Pass, and straight to Charlotte Harbor in southwestern Florida. The forecasts showed four days of northeast winds around 15 knots, with 3-5 foot seas. That’s common for the Gulf this time of year, and comfortable in a heavy boat like L’Attitude. But things can change rapidly!
We untied the last dock line at sunrise on Saturday morning, and out onto the GIWW for the short two hour run to the Pensacola Pass and the Gulf. The wind was light, and perfect for the spinnaker. The wind began to freshen after lunch, we doused the spinnaker and loaded up all the sails on the cutter ketch. The forecast called for northeast winds on our beam, but we had a westerly at 10-12 kts pushing us at 6 kts. Perfect!!
Having been on the Gulf in the winter at night on my boat, Attitude, the decision to reef at dusk was an easy one. The boat was doing great, but this wasn’t a race, so we slowed her down a little by reefing the main and jib. And sure enough, around 2100, the winds clocked to the northeast and gusting over 20 kts. By dawn, we were sailing at 5 kts with staysail only, in 10+ foot seas and gusts over 35 kts. We strapped ourselves in the cockpit and watched L’Attitude take wave after wave. She loved it!!
Bo reefed the mizzen to balance the staysail, which made the auto pilot’s job much easier. We average over 5 kts the remainder of Sunday and into the night. Taking two hour watches, particularly through the Tampa Bay shipping channel, we lived in the cockpit…helmsman strapped on windward, and the other strapped to leeward, sleeping. L’Attitude’s weight and full keel actually made for comfortable naps!
We projected our arrival time to be late Monday night. Not wanting to navigate the Boca Grande Pass in the dark, and not feeling it was realistic to speed up enough to make it during daylight Monday, we made the decision to slow down, make the ride more comfortable, and come in after daybreak on Tuesday.
The winds and waves began to sit down during the early morning on Tuesday, and made for an easy passage into Charlotte Harbor and to our anchorage in Pelican Pass. The sky was clear, the weather warm, and the anchor secure. Both Bo and L’Attitude handled the conditions successfully and they completed their first blue water test together.
We finished the 350 nautical mile journey in 78 hours, averaged 4.9 knots, and sailed 70% of the time. We experienced waves in excess of 10′ and wind gusts in excess of 35 kts. L’Attitude performed wonderfully, Bo learned a lot more about his boat. And both are a giant step closer to their circumnavigation.
Good luck, Bo!