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Sailing Across the Gulf on a Caribbean Adventure
The Calder kids, along with dad Nigel and mom, share their adventures cruisng as children in a series of articles.

By Pippin and Paul Calder, ages 11 and 9
Posted Monday, May 9, 2005

We saw dolphins, lots of sargassum weed, flying fish and a humpback whale! When we spotted the whale it was about 600 feet from the boat. As we got closer it swam away.

Every other year Daddy, the stinky OLD ogre, sticks us in a rotten boat, picks the biggest storm he can find and sails us 600 vomiting miles across the Gulf of Mexico. The reason he picks a storm is because the wind and the current are normally against us, but in a storm, the wind is normally with us. This year Daddy got fed up waiting for a storm, so we left in calm weather, much to his disgust.

The night before we sailed we slept on the boat and then started at 5 a.m. We sailed across 20 mile wide Lake Ponchartain and entered the industrial canal in New Orleans. It was foggy and raining. We passed several tugboats and then reached the first bridge in a stretch of four. One of the bridges was half broken and another was fully broken - we had to wait two hours for it to open.

Once past the bridges, we motored all day down the Mississippi Gulf Outlet Canal, one of the biggest canals in the world, and passed an old fort built by the Spanish in the 1600's. By the time we reached the end of the canal it was night and a thick fog had set in. We crept along the channel that leads from the canal searching for a place to anchor out of the way of ships. We heard many fog horns on nearby oil rigs, but saw few of the rigs. In the end, we anchored behind a small island which we never even saw because of the fog.

The next day, although still foggy, we started motoring again. Our parents were on deck and we were lying in bed. Suddenly the boat lurched violently, nearly flinging us out of our bunks and sending water through the open skylight. Later we learned that a full sized container ship had come looming past us sending tremendous waves that crashed into the boat.

The fog finally cleared at the end of the day. We found ourselves in the Gulf of Mexico at last. That night we had stars above and stars below. What were they? Phosphorescence, which we sailed through all night long. We even saw phosphorescent jelly fish.

For the next few days there was almost no wind so we motored the whole time. We saw dolphins, lots of sargassum weed, flying fish and a humpback whale! When we spotted the whale it was about 600 feet from the boat. As we got closer it swam away.

We started to run out of diesel fuel as we approached Isla Contoy, the first island off the coast of Mexico. About a mile away from the island we ran out altogether. We anchored and got some diesel from the lighthouse keeper in exchange for beer, Cokes, solder and gasoline.

We stayed the rest of the day on Isla Contoy, a wildlife refuge, and saw hundreds of frigate birds. They soar all day on hot air currents caused by the sun shining on the island. Their favorite food is fish, but they cannot tough the water because their feathers have no oil and they would drown. So they fly over the water and grab jumping fish or steal them. They do this by dive bombing other birds, which makes them regurgitate their food. Then the frigate bird grabs the fish before it hits the water.

We also snorkeled on the island. At the end of the dock we saw about 30 trunk fish and two big sting rays. One was about four feet wide and the other boat three and one-half feet wide. We went looking for a canal through the mangroves, which our parents had found 15 years ago, which leads to a lagoon where the frigate birds nest. During mating season the males blow their throats up like a red balloon. A hurricane had knocked down many trees, blocking the channel, so we couldn't get in. However, we did see lots of fish including an eagle ray and many large barracuda which circled the dinghy with their fins sticking out of the water, making them look like baby sharks.

The next day we motored to Isla Mujeres, our Mexico destination, where we checked in with the officials, bringing to an end our voyage across the Gulf of Mexico. For the first time in 15 crossings, nobody had thrown up. We will tell you more about Mexico itself next time.

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