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Longboat Key Pass

Copy Write  1/4/2006 ©   Updated  1/4/2006

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The first sailboat I actually owned was a Christmas gift from my wife Lela, boy she didn't understand what she got started until it was too late. The boat was a Wellcraft Marinebuilt Starwind 18' a Bucaneer Class sloop rigged mess of fun and adventure. Narrow beam with a swing keel, the crew is the ballast. Sarasota Sailing Squadron was the home for this boat, the club caters to trailer sailors and most boats are kept on their trailers ready to go. The plan entailed sailing under a bridge along Sarasota Bay out Sarasota Pass into the Gulf of Mexico for a few miles. Sarasota Pass is rather wide, the Gulf calm and winds mild. Back in Longboat Pass, which is very narrow, under the Longboat Key Bridge. Along the channel back into Sarasota Bay with the Sarasoat Sailing Squadron right there.
A friend named Kevin was along for the ride.

It seems to me all adventures follow the same pattern.
The Planning Stage: Yea I can do that!
The Pre-Adventure Stage: Oh boy didn't I tell you we could do this!
The Adventure Stage: I don't understand how this could happen!
The Post Adventure Stage: I should have thought of that!
The After Glow Stage: Ain't that kinda funny!

The trip out is one of those things that sailboat folks just love. Real steady Gulf winds from the south, typical summer situation. We enjoyed the ride. Sarasota Pass was wide enough we could tack back and fourth out the pass. For some reason the boat traffic thru the pass was not that bad. "Oh yea" here we are out in the Gulf of Mexico sailing along the beach. Kevin and I are having a grand time.

A quick word about Kevin. At the time I lived in an apartment between Sarasota and Bradenton Florida. The drive time to Sarasot Sailing Squadron was not that much. Kevin and his wife were neighbors recently moved in from Ohio. We sailed together many times. It was not uncommon for Lela and I along with Kevin and his wife pile into my boat and dink around Sarasota Bay. Or load up the boat with an obscene amount of stuff and find a sand bar out in the bay to spend the afternoon goofing off. Until he met me he had no sailing experience!

It was late in the evening when we pointed the bow inland again working our way down wind into Longboat Pass, congratulating ourselves on an excursion well done. The first indication of trouble was when I noticed we weren't making much headway despite an almost dead down wind run. Granted the wind was not real strong. Looking around I realized the tide was going out and with the narrow pass the current was much greater than anticipated. It is common knowledge among sail boaters dead down wind sailing is the slowest point of sail, sometimes it is best to change to a broad reach, and I advised Kevin we were going to change tactics to get a more boat speed to counter the current. Good thing the Buccaneer is a small boat, tacking across the narrow channel was possible and once again we were making some headway. Further into the pass I realized for the first time we just might have a problem. The further in the narrower the channel, less room to get the boat thru the tack and up to speed.

I imagine many of you reading this know exactly what I had in mind to solve this problem. After all it is a natural thought. If you have either light wind or no wind just crank up the motor and keep on going. Sounds like a good plan to me! Just one small detail, I never had a motor for that boat.
Sails and paddles only.
Hey it is a small boat.

So once again we change sailing tactics. Back to running down wind wing-n-wing, both of us paddling as best we can against the current. Meanwhile time marches on and it is near sunset. I had some small battery powered flashlight style running lights aboard for this trip in case we came in after dark. It didn't take much to set them up and we are ready for night running.

Here we are Kevin and I paddling and sailing trying to make headway against an outgoing tide that got stronger the closer we got to the bridge. Yea it was some work but what the hey, we are doing manly stuff.

A beautiful Gulf of Mexico sunset and night was falling all around us. Any other night and the sea breeze would have followed its usual pattern. Once the sun sets the sea breeze continues blowing for several hours gradually failing, then a period of dead calm until the wind reverses and becomes a land breeze. Not this night. Once the sun set it was like a switch.

Hey who turned off the wind???

Before I thought we may have a problem, now we really have a problem. If we lose control of the boat the tide will carry us out to sea. The sides of the channel are lined with rocks to reduce erosion, not a friendly place for a fiberglass sail boat. Both Kevin and I dig in with the paddles. It is some serious work but we finally make it to the bridge's wooden fender system. The bridge is the narrowest part of this channel and the current is really ripping. Kevin climbs onto the wooden fenders and secures a bow line. At least we aren't on our way out into the Gulf. Time for a break and some thinking, there are not too many options available at this point.

As we are sitting there contemplating our future a power boat comes up slows and asks if we have a problem? He offers a tow the last bit thru the pass and near the Sarasota Sailing Squadron so we can return to home port. Needless to say we accepted and shortly after our adventure came to an end.

After this experience I made several additional trips outside to play, never very far off shore. I planned the excursions early in the day to allow time to be back well before evening. Paid greater attention to the tides and avoided Longboat Pass for returning back if there was any possibility of a foul tide. Sarasota Pass was wider, no bridge and had beaches along both sides.



The information on this page is not intended as a "definitive" guide to sailing .
Rather it is a collection of things that work for me also ideas I have learned from other sources.
The information is specific to my Starwind 18'a18' Buccaneer Class Sailboat.
The sailing area was the Sarasota Bay Area
Use at your own risk
Any good sailing resource book should provide a comprehensive review of sailing theory.

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