As I sail, I frequently check on my weather and location. Aids such as GPS, radar, web sites and charts help me crosscheck reality. They help me comprehend what is ahead of me. And they all also help me check-in with myself - my intentions, energy and goals for each day.
Yesterday July 10, 2017 as I motor-sailed Mystique northward along the Florida Keys Florida Strait's Hawk Channel from Marathon to Tavenier, my sailing friend, Michael called me from his boat Tiger to tell me that a fairly intense storm was approaching from the southeast. He reminded me to be on the lookout for it later in the afternoon. His thoughtful gesture alerted and helped me plan my course.
Instead of staying outside east of the Florida Keys, I decided to turn westward and go inside, under Long Key Bridge. I did not want to get stuck on the ocean side with limited anchorage options so ducking into calmer and more peaceful Everglades National Park, yet shallower waters, made perfect sense. If and when a squall arrived and when darkness eventually descended, I wanted to take the safest and most comfortable course of action. There was after all no rush or human plan to speed up matters.
After a couple of morning phone calls, some fortuitous changes occurred. A northerly squall looming up ahead whipped by with 25-30 knots, 15 minutes later the dousing ended, and then the wind direction changed more southeast, just enough so I could carry more sail and unfurl my jib. Mystique had been making only about 4.5 knots then the squall raised her hull speed to 6.5. In preparation for the unexpected, I had reefed the mainsail while I could.
As I approached the bridge, the flooding current was pulling me towards it while the easterly wind swooned. So I kept Mystique's engines running until about a mile past the Keys when a fresh easterly breeze unveiled itself. I soon unfurled the jib and trimmed sails and turned off the two Yanmars. The experience of shutting off the droning engines and turning on the sounds of my catamaran sliding along quietly was indeed a welcome relief. Though moving along slowly, but smoothly at 6 knots on almost waveless water can be almost as exhilarating and enlivening as riding ocean rollers!
There is an art to reading and interpreting sailing conditions. It's more than simple observation or even dead reckoning. It's combining and interpolating different views of reality. Each way has benefits, but when used in combination, the information is only as good as one's ability to process them. Yesterday was a good example of the art of navigation, communication, energy and observation all coloring the canvas together.
By the way, the storm that Mikel warned me about never did materialize near me. Soon after he called, I saw the radar colorization indicating its approach, but for some inexplicable reason it veared away from my location. When I spoke with Mikel later, he mentioned the squall hit his location near Marathon and had packed 30 knot winds and torrential rain.