To travel straight through from Roatan to Bocas del Toro, our first stop in Panama, would mean running approximately 140 hours (or seven days) straight through. You now know how I feel about lengthy passages, and since there are several secure places to anchor and explore along the way, we obviously chose to break up the journey into several legs.
Our first stop along the will be Providencia. The island sits off of main land Nicaragua, but is owned by Colombia. It’s a popular stop for cruisers on their way to and from Panama.
Monday: We left our Fantasy Island family in the early morning, for a 70-80 hour run to Providencia . A “great” weather widow had been predicted for days, with winds at 5-10 knots, and waves at 2-3 feet, sometimes less. Before we even tossed the lines, Scott bashed a toe when making final checks in the engine room (good thing he’s better at shaking off pain than I am).
We headed east, with our slip neighbors on Scurvy Dog off our port side, as they traveled to Guanaja for a few days. After six hours or so, as we passed by Guanaja, the winds and seas picked up considerably. By evening, we were into a hefty, unnerving head sea. If I had to describe it, the movement feels like being on a roller coaster ride, when it’s traveling across a stretch of short hills; a continuous undulating motion.
Unfortunately, the sea state had me too rattled to do my usual night shift, so Scott filled in. I laid down with Howard, who was also less than thrilled with the change in wind and seas. He hadn’t used his litter box in over a day, and now that we were under way, his bladder was beyond full. The poor guy was too nervous to get to his box, with our rolling, up-down movement, so he relieved himself on a towel in front of the saloon doors. When he finally finished, I threw it outside into the cockpit, to deal with it once we’d anchored. He then settled into his usual travel spot on the couch.
After re-acclimating myself to passage rolling, I realized that we’d been dealt a bad hand with the forecast, and that the winds weren’t dying down anytime soon. I relieved Scott in the wee hours of the morning, and he got some rest.
Tuesday: The winds died a bit during the day, but were still nowhere near what was predicted. We’d set a course to travel almost 40 miles off the coast of main land Honduras, hoping to keep clear of any pirate activity that randomly occurs in this area.
In the early morning, I spotted a large boat on the horizon. I thought it was something commercial, and went to wake Scott so he could confirm. He didn’t feel that it was a commercial boat, and changed course to stay away from it. We haven’t needed to check for boats at a greater distance until now, so by the time I noticed it, the boat was within two miles of us.
When Scott changed course, the boat did the exact same. Three more times Scott changed course, and three more times the boat followed our course change. After the fourth course change, Scott said to me, “they’re coming at us.”
I began to immediately shake uncontrollably, at the thought of being boarded. We’ve heard about many incidents of cruisers being boarded, robbed and assaulted while passing through this area, and therefore chose to travel this far off shore. This was not what we had planned for.
Scott put out a pan pan call on the vhf, stating that a large, steel boat was coming at us. A pan pan is an international radio distress signal, less urgent than a mayday signal. At the same time, I was alerting my brother-in-law on the Delorme, as he’s our level-headed, emergency go-to. I gave him a brief description of what was happening, and he received our latitude and longitude coordinates with the text.
The boat replied to Scott’s pan pan, saying that he saw us. Scott made him aware that he’d mimicked four course changes that we’d made, and the captain replied that he was heading for La Cieba, on main land Honduras. Scott replied, “fine, you hold your course, and I’ll hold mine.” It took forever for him to move away from us, and then finally turn away.
Shortly after, a huge pod of dolphins arrived for a visit; there must have been 15 or more. It was as if they knew we’d been shaken, and were there to lighten the mood. They stayed and played around us for almost 30 minutes, before heading off on their way.
It got hotter and hotter as the day went on. We tried to keep the pilot house doors open, and let in as much air and breeze as possible, but had to close the port side after a large wave broke on us, splashing water all the way down into the saloon. The heat made it even more challenging for me to sleep, but Howard was faring better, sleeping under a fan, with a damp towel.
In the early evening, I spotted another boat on radar. This one was smaller and farther away. I woke Scott, and we both watched it slowly approach. The boat had running lights, and when it got closer to us, they changed course and moved away. We assumed they were legitimately fishing, and running without radar, making it unable to see us until we were very close. Big sigh of relief number two!
I finally got some bits of sleep, and relieved Scott sometime around midnight. The stupid winds were sustained at 23 knots, and as a result the seas were big. Scott’s toe was looking really ugly, and we assume he’d broken it. Luckily, he says, it’s a “non-essential” little toe. We were on track for arrival in Providencia by sunset on Thursday. A few hours later than we’d planned, but still better than a Friday arrival.
It had become sauna-hot inside the boat, as we weren’t getting air from the strong winds outside. By now, I couldn’t stand the smell of myself, and vowed to take a shower the next day, no matter how challenging!
Wednesday: We listened to Chris Parker at 7am. His forecast must have been for a parallel universe, because we were seeing a much different picture outside our windows. Instead of his continued forecast of 5-10 knot wind, we had sustained 20s. with large swells. At several times, Scott would take us down a half knot or so in speed, to try and improve our ride, and we watched our arrival time get later and later. We were now on course for a Friday morning arrival…for the love of Pete!
At this point, Howard and I were thoroughly done with this passage! The seas, wind and heat had gotten very old. Howard kept trying to relocate, becoming sick of just laying on the couch under a damp towel. Unfortunately, moving around was a wobbly go, and every new location was unstable, so inevitably it was back to the couch.
As we passed far off of the Honduras/Nicaragua border, Scott spotted two large ships on the radar, at the point where we were to make our final turn. Thinking that they were up to no good, and working together, he changed our course to avoid coming close to them. However, they never moved, so we assumed that they were just fishing, most likely with one large net strung between the two of them…whew!
With the worst of the “threat” area behind us, it was time for me to bathe! I could stand it no more, and went down for a shower. Luckily, our guest head has a built in seat, and I made good use of it, emerging a new and unoffensive person!
As I came on shift at 9:30pm, lightening was visible all around us. Lightening is one of Scott’s two biggest fears (fire being the other). It’s scary enough when you’re at anchor, or in a slip, but on a passage, you’re an open target. I kept an eye on the radar, watching the front come closer and grow larger.
At the same time, the winds became more and more calm, subsiding to 3 knots…calm before the storm? I hoped not.
On a positive note, Scott had finally caught sight of the Southern Cross constellation, before coming off watch…..pretty cool!
Thursday: I woke Scott in the early morning, as the front had finally come to within ten miles of us. We watched, amazed, as the whole ugly thing broke apart and passed by, moving off behind us. We were grateful to have dodged the bullet. However, the stronger winds had that had been blocked for the last twelve hours or so by the large storm front came quickly back, in full force…terrific.
As the morning went on, Howard must have thought that the motor was never going to stop, so he may as well eat. He was a machine, making up for lost time, and chowed through an entire can of food in a flash. His balancing skills also improved, as he braced himself in front of the food bowl.
Finally, we caught sight of Providencia in the distance!
We had somehow made up time, and were on track to arrive and anchor at 1pm…hooray!! We stared at the island, as it inched closer. This time Scott was the impatient one, feeling that we must have slowed down (we hadn’t), and why the heck was it taking so long?!
As a final icing on our passage “cake,” the entire island was suddenly blocked from view…by rain. A lot of rain….a big, wide dark swath of pouring rain.
Luckily, there was no lightening associated with this one, and it moved quickly. In just minutes, we were traveling through a downpour. However, with no lightening threat, and little wind increase, we were happy to have the boat get a good rinse before coming in to anchor.
As we came into anchor, I immediately hailed our friends, Marina and Kevin, on s/v Lucky Seven. We hadn’t seen them since we left Isla Mujeres two months ago, and I was eager for a hello. Marina replied, saying that it was good to finally see us arrive, and Kevin came over by dinghy soon after we dropped anchor.
We all went into town together, rapidly chattering to each other as we tied to the town dock and made our way to find Mr. Bush, the customs agent; we needed to start our check in, and they needed to pick up their papers. Mr. Bush started our check in process, but there seemed to be no hurry to finish. We expect it to take a few days.
Once back aboard Sea Life, we probably should have slept, but were too wound up. Kevin soon hailed us on the radio…”we’re coming over.” We had drinks, and enjoyed a dinner of peanuts, pretzels and potato chips, while catching up on the last two months of each others cruising lives. In no time, it was 9:30, and Marina declared it time for us to sleep!
With our windy, bumpy passage behind us, we look forward to exploring Providencia for a week or so…..or at least until I can forget the last four days! Here are photos from our passage.
“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”