Our Passage From Cartagena To Puerto Rico

Settle in…this one will take awhile.

To make the Eastern Caribbean, Scott’s plan was to head immediately north out of Cartagena, getting as much distance from the Colombian coast as possible, before turning east in a tight reach run toward Puerto Rico.

With this passage being our longest and most challenging, he decided to defer to a professional, and pay for weather routing. The plan came back for us to follow the Colombian coast, keeping out of some current and then turn north. Scott wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but he resisted the urge to argue.

Taking into account the oncoming wind and waves, and constant use of the paravanes, we hoped for a speed of six knots, worse case five. When we received the route, it had us arriving a day earlier than Scott’s calculations, so there was some back and forth to confirm how fast our boat would be able to travel.

With a weather window that wouldn’t get any better in the near future, we cast off lines, and headed east. Our destination was Ponce, located on Puerto Rico’s south central coast. There were other options, but Ponce was farther east, and had many stores in the area for us to shop (Walmart Supercenter, Home Depot, Ace Hardware, auto parts stores, PetSmart, and….fast foodl!).

Sunday – Day One: We made our way out of Cartagena’s harbor through the north cut. It was shorter than the south route we followed into Cartagena, by more than two hours, but challenging to navigate.

There is an old submerged wall at the north cut, put in place to be a harbor defense. Ships would run aground on the wall, tearing their bottom out. This forced them to use the deeper south entrance, which is visible from forts in the area and more easily defended.

A section of the submerged wall has been removed for boats to pass through, but we were unsure of it’s depth. After inquiring online, a local expat informed us that we had eight feet to work with; more than enough, as we only needed five. We made our way easily through the cut, and out into the Caribbean Sea.

As predicted, our passage began with unusually calm conditions, considering Colombia’s coast is the most challenging Caribbean location to “escape” from. Even with virtually non-existent wind, the swells were very sizable. Luckily, they were far enough apart, so even in a head sea we traveled over them comfortably.

As is usual for this area, the winds picked up considerably as evening approached. We spent the entire night traveling right into 20 knot winds, which was a bit lumpy. I was so grateful for our bow height! Even at nine feet above the waterline, we were getting covered in heavy spray. The pilot house was also worth it’s weight in gold at this point, provding the opportunity to be inside!

Howard did not enjoy the increase in wind and swells. I managed to get food into him in the afternoon, and we made two successful trips to the litter box. I helped brace him as he did both numbers one and two (it was clear by the look on his face that he was mortified by this), and was satisfied that basic needs were being met.

However, later attempts to get food into him resulted in two vomiting episodes, and a generally miserable feline. I tucked him in tight with pillows to keep his movement to a minimum and covered him in cold towels to help keep him cool, which seemed to help.

We began the passage with the saloon doors open and the screen pulled across for fresh air. After dark, the sounds of flying fish landing and flopping in the cockpit was too distracting for seasick Howard. It wasn’t worth risking more vomit, so we closed the doors.

I have a hard time sleeping while on passage, only getting an hour or so at a time, and this time was no different.  It’s hard for me to block out movement of the boat and noise of the motor. On this passage, I was also trying to block out noise of the wind and waves, which was almost impossible.

As a result, I took watch as much as possible, and let Scott store up on sleep. He’d begin the day at dawn, while I rested on the couch and did a few chores. At about 10-11am, I’d come back up to the pilothouse until 5pm, and Scott would come on until I started my night watch, which usually ran from 10pm until 5am.

As usual, I sang my way through eight hours of night watch, while keeping an eye on the instruments and radar. Our Delorme satellite tracker is invaluable when we’re underway. I am able to text with others cruisers, and friends at home, until they go to bed. Then I switch over to friends in the UK as they wake up…awesome!

Monday – Day Two: When I woke Scott at dawn, the winds were back down to ten knots. We opened the saloon doors and the smell of dead flying fish hit us in the face. Scott collected thirty, from both the cockpit and side decks.

Later in the day, he went up onto the flybridge, to investigate an unnerving noise (Many sounds occur in big seas, from unexpected items rolling around. Some are never identified, and remain maddening), and found a dead flying fish up there as well!

Even though the winds had subsided, it took hours for the swells to follow suit, but by late morning we were back in easily tolerable head seas. I took the calmer conditions as a chance for Howard to lap up some chicken broth, and he was able to get some actual rest, wedged in between the legs of whomever was sleeping on the couch.

Again, the winds increased in the evening. Scott was concerned that we were now near the Colombia/Venezuelan border, and asked me to be extra diligent as I kept an eye on the radar screen that night. There haven’t been any recent reports of issues with boats in the area, but it never hurts to be more aware. I saw two or three large ships on the screen, more than twelve miles out; aside from that, we were alone.

Tuesday – Day Three: I’d spent the night hearing almost constant thuds outside from fish impact, and in the light of day I could see why. The dead carcasses were everywhere, and their odor came right through the closed doors. Our saloon smelled like a fish cannery, and Scott’s morning carcass count came to a whopping 130!

Fish aside, by now, I could no longer stand the smell of myself. At night, the saloon and pilothouse doors were closed, to keep flying fish out. This stems from one managing to make it’s way through a window that was barely cracked open on a previous passage. It landed on Scott’s face as he slept on the saloon couch, so now….doors closed at dark!

As a result, the boat gets quite toasty inside at night. We keep fans pointed at us, but it’s still pretty darned warm. The need for a shower was now interfering with what little sleep I manage to get, so I decided that come hell, big wind or swells, I was bathing today! It went better than expected, with the molded shower seat coming in handy, and I emerged a new, non-smelly person.

By late afternoon, the winds ramped up with a vengeance. I spent the night watching winds stay at 20+ knots, almost squarely on our nose. We now had white caps and sizable waves along with the huge swells. At one point, I looked out, and saw the churning sea below us. We were perched up on a big-mamma wave, before sliding down it’s side. I was glad that it would soon be dark, hiding my view of the chaotic water coming at us.

Frequently, as we were coming down a wave, another would hit with us from underneath, and the sound of impact was loud, jarring and scary. Sea Life handled the conditions like a champ; the crew, not so much. Howard threw up again, and Scott went to sleep with the assistance of a Valium.

Wednesday – Day Four: Since we were virtually alone, and there was just the occasional ship passing 12 or 16 miles away, I’d spent the night watching movies. Our friends aboard s/v Prism were also underway, heading from the San Blas to the Cayman Islands. We each have a Delorme, so Shannon and I spent time each evening chatting  back and forth. At dawn, I came off watch and woke Scott. Our morning fish carcass count was only 30. I think we were too much of a moving target, for them to intersect with.

Howard was becoming more tolerant of the conditions underway. He kept down some broth and canned chicken, and made another successful visit to the litter box with help from me for stabilization. I considered it progress.

The stupid, big winds lasted for 18 nerve-wracking hours, before dropping back down to 12 or so knots mid-morning. It’s amazing how quiet and calm 12 knots is, after living with winds in the 20s for so long. The strong winds along with current in the area kept pushing us west during the night but Scott was now able to change our course a bit, putting us more on track for Puerto Rico. We are finally crossed the halfway point, but three more days of this seems like forever!

Thursday – Day Five: Overnight conditions remained the same as the previous night. Winds increased, and we lumbered through the waves and swells. While on watch, I suddenly heard a strange thud in front of me, inside the pilothouse, and knew exactly what had happened….fish breach.

I mentioned Scott being hit in the face as he slept, when a fish came through a cracked window. This time, one managed to travel under the solar panels (which are mounted above the pilothouse, and sit only six inches above the pilothouse roof) and down through one of the small hatches in ceiling! We keep these hatches open, unless the air conditioning is running. With the solar panels mounted just above them, we can get air into the pilothouse without worrying about rain or the sun’s heat coming in, but obviously fish are a concern.

As the smelly fish flopped around on the chart table, I stayed put on the bench and yelled out, “SCOTT!!!!…..FISH!!!…SCOTT??!?!?…FISH INSIDE!!! Scott woke immediately from his sleep, and quickly appeared with paper towel in hand. In the dim light, he located and grabbed the icky, flopping fish and chucked it out of the pilothouse door. Scott then attempted to wipe up the mess left behind; slim, scales and whatever those things throw up when they’re under stress. As you can imagine, the pilothouse now smelled wonderful. Aside from the drama of a fish breach, the rest of my night watch was uneventful. I saw one or two ships on the radar the entire time, none closer than 12 miles.

Day five brought several variables converging at once, making for a stressful day of calculations, schedule change and worry.

After learning that Colombia only sells bio-diesel fuel, we did not take on fuel in Cartagena, A mix of diesel and vegetable oil, it’s make-up “cleans” the build up inside fuel tanks, resulting in clogged filters and the need to change them more frequently to avoid motor issues. Scott stocks spares (of everything), but did not want to make a passage of this distance not knowing how the bio-diesel would react, and not wanting to be in the engine room changing filters throughout the trip.

Scott keeps records of our fuel usage, and accurately knows how much we use, depending on travel speed. What he needed to know, was how much fuel remained in our tanks as we prepared to leave Cartagena . Getting a somewhat accurate read on our fuel levels was challenging, as the tanks are oddly shaped, versus a clean rectangle or square.

There are sight lines marked on the tanks, but Scott was unsure as to their accuracy. After discussions with fellow Krogen owners, who have boats of similar age and cruising distance as Sea Life, Scott calculated, and calculated and calculated some more….and after more calculations was comfortable that we had enough fuel to get us from Cartagena to Puerto Rico, with 100 or so gallons to spare..great!

This was all well and good until day three of our passage, when we began to fight a strong, unexpected oncoming current, which slowed our speed considerably. Scott estimated our speed to average at near 5.5 knots, allowing for slowing from paravane use, increased wind and a running in and out of some current. Unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to shake the current, and winds were also stronger than predicted. These variables had us traveling at an average closer to 4 knots (much of the time, in the high 3 knot range).

At this much slower speed, it seemed our arrival time may be delayed by a day, maybe two. This brought concern as to whether there was enough fuel to continue for that amount of time. We discussed alternate locations (Dominican Republic and Jamaica), but weren’t sure they were viable options for saving fuel. Scott checked the levels again, which was challenging with the movement of being underway. We had fuel left in both tanks, and Scott planned to run one dry, giving him an idea of how much we’d have left in the remaining tank to use.

Meanwhile, I was wrapping my brain around the possibility that we had more days ahead of us than originally planned. My threshold for passages is three days, after that, I’m done; done with wind, boat movement, motor noise, shifts, odd sleep patterns…just done. Our longest trip so far has been almost four full days, and that was more than enough for me. I was already dreading the fact that we had to endure six days to get to Puerto Rico. My passage frustration peaked on day four, and the idea of more travel time made me insane.

Friday – Day Six: During my overnight shift, our speed suffered, averaging  2.9-3.5 knots. We just couldn’t escape the strong, oncoming current, and it was maddening. After awhile, I just stopped looking at the speed. I’d already stopped looking at the weather station, as our wind speed never went below 20. Passages suck.

The only ship that we were able to visibly see (not just on radar) passed by off to our starboard side in the morning. It detoured around us, saving an uncomfortable course change. This photo doesn’t look across the water at the ship. You’re looking at a wall of water.

At roughly 3pm, the winds increased to 30 knots. Our speed, which had gone back up closer to 4 knots, was now back at 2.9-3….terrific.These conditions were insanely unnerving. We were seeing more sky than water out of the front windows, as the boat launched up huge waves. The noise of the wind, and the sound of the motor as the boat battled it’s way up and down the waves was terrifying at times.

When we began cruising, the sight of larger waves and water coming at us scared me to death. It’s one of the main reasons that I choose to do the all-night watch, so I cannot see the big water. I have made great strides along the way, realizing that Sea Life can handle this stuff, and have become much better at looking out the windows. I was very proud of myself on this passage, being able to stare out at a sea in 20+ knots of wind and not flinch….up until now.

At 30 knots, the seas were huge and angry looking, so I did the last of my afternoon watch focusing on the radar, or the computer screen, and not outside. Downstairs on a break before my night shift, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to go back up to the pilothouse; I was terrified. However, by 10pm, after seven hours of 30 knots and huge seas, I was numb to it, and handled my night shift just fine.

Oddly, as outside conditions worsened, Howard transitioned, and became much more tolerant of all the movement and noise. It was as if he thought this was his new life, and he may as well adjust to the situation. Wind or no wind, wave jolts aside, motor noise be damned, he was gonna eat and sleep as usual.

He began to demand food, jumping from the end table up to the raised galley counter, where he could lay supported by the surrounding fiddles (raised wood trim). I hesitantly fed him, and he demanded more, so I gave him seconds. Later in the day, I noticed that he’d made a successful trip to the litter box on his own. Howard was becoming a champion passage cat!

Scott continued to keep a close eye on our fuel consumption. We were still drawing from the tank that he planned to run dry,  so it seemed that we’d make Ponce without having to paddle….fingers crossed.

By 3am, the winds eased a bit, and were back down to just over 20 knots, but it was still an unnerving go. Shortly after, I noticed a band of rain heading for us. I woke Scott, just to be sure it wasn’t something to be concerned about. After checking the radar screen, he informed me that it would most likely miss us. It did not miss us, and the winds quickly ramped up to 37 knots, with higher gusts….yay for us.

Saturday – Day Seven:  We’d expected to arrive in Ponce Puerto Rico sometime after dawn this morning, but were now just hoping to make it by dark. The good news was that Scott was now completely confident that we had the fuel to get there.

I came downstairs after my night watch to wake Scott, and found Howard laying on the floor outside the galley, waiting for food. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was sliding back and forth with the movement of the boat. I fed him a normal amount of his usual food, and he scarfed it up. At least someone was tolerating this stuff.

Moving around the boat had been challenging since the beginning. We have grab rails in place, allowing something to hold on to while coming out of the pilothouse and down to the galley, and also going down below to the head.

Getting to and from the couch in the saloon to sleep, was a different matter. Scott is tall enough to reach the grab rail along the ceiling, but it’s a reach for me when we’re not moving, and became impossible during our lumpy ride. I would swing myself toward the couch, using the pole in the galley counter, landing in a flop. Getting off of the couch was more difficult. With nothing to pull myself up, I’d end up launching forward as I rose, going into an immediate crab walk to keep from falling over.

As conditions worsened, it became increasingly hard to move around. Simple things became challenging, and sometimes dangerous. When getting something out of the refrigerator, you had to keep hold of the door with one hand, to keep it from banging into you. Going up and down to the pilot house was hard, even with the grab rails. I chose to almost crawl, keeping a low center of gravity, and my crab walk had become more of a caveman-like stomp.

I was dying for another shower, but it was just too stinkin’ rough to chance it. Instead, I settled for attempting freshness with baby wipes, deodorant and fresh clothes.

In Howard’s efforts to adjust to his “new life,” he attempted sleeping in his usual spots. I discovered him trying to sleep on top of the cabinet below our tv. Again, he was sliding back and forth with the boat’s movement, so I wedged a towel on one side of him for support.  Next, he attempted to sleep in his “taco,” which is attached atop a scratching post, Worried it would topple over, with his weight to one side of it, I took him out and laid the thing down on it’s side. He promptly straddled it, to stretch and scratch. If only I could adjust half this well.

The rain squalls moved over us until late morning. I laid on the couch, listening to the winds howl, and bracing myself against the boat’s movement, having another bought with terror. After some time, I again realized the boat could handle it, but was beyond done with wind, waves and current. With Scott being well rested, he offered to hunker down and keep watch for the final leg, God love him. Not that there was much to watch…winds still mid to upper 20s, with occasional stretches of 30, current still against us and seas still angry.

Scott settled into an iPod trance in the pilothouse, I continued my marathon re-watching of the tv show LOST in the saloon and Howard became an eating machine, making up for lost time earlier in the week;  we were all just trying to get through it.

I’d occasionally check on Scott, and find the winds, current and sea state just as I’d left them. By mid afternoon our speed was thankfully back up to 4 knots, and we were on track to arrive in Ponce at approximately 6pm! Scott was now counting down time to our arrival at the channel’s entrance. From there, it would be less than an hour to the marina.

Soon, Puerto Rico finally came into view! As the coast of Ponce got closer, we kept our eyes glued to the horizon, for a first glimpse of the red and green channel markers.

Just before 6pm, we entered the Holy Land….Ponce channel! As we approached the marina, Scott brought the boat to idle, so he could pull the birds in, raise the paravanes and get our fenders down from the flybridge for docking. We had our slip assignment at Ponce Yacht & Fishing Club, but weren’t up for trying to find it in the dark.  Since the tanks had to be filled at some point, we chose to tie to the fuel dock for the night, allowing us to get that job out of the way first thing in the morning.

At 6:30pm on April 29th, we turned off the motor, which had run for six and a half days. Considering our struggles along the way, we could live with arriving twelve hours past our original target time. Sea Life had handled the passage like a champ. We were reconfirmed of our decision to purchase a Krogen, with it’s incredibly seaworthy, full displacement hull. She was a tank in the heavy winds and huge seas, not slamming up and down, but firmly launching up one side of a wave, before sliding down the other side like a beach ball.

We were completely exhausted, but thrilled to be over this huge hurdle, and safely in the Eastern Caribbean! As we tied up to the dock and opened the doors, Howard was happy as a clam to breath in the new smells, and scope out his land surroundings.

Once we were safely tied to the dock, Scott ran the generator so we could sleep in the air conditioning. Now, first and foremost….showers, showers, SHOWERS!! We enjoyed some well deserved celebratory cocktails with a frozen pizza dinner, and then the crew of Sea Life, Howard included, collapsed into post-passage comas.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Eastern Caribbean…Here We Come!

Our month in Cartagena flew by, and we were preparing to head for the Eastern Caribbean. There is no good way to travel east. The trade winds run from east to west, which means traveling into the wind. A head sea is no one’s favorite direction, whether you’re sailing, or motoring.

Getting out of Cartagena, or should I say away from Colombia, is especially challenging. There is an almost constant low pressure down here, which causes the wind to howl, especially at night. Sustained thirty knot winds are a regular occurrence; not good when you prefer a threshold of fifteen.

The most obvious route is to travel off the coast of Colombia, round a “bump-out” of land near the Venezuelan border, and head for the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Winds are most vicious off of the bump-out, and we’re leery to travel anywhere near Venezuela. Six days of a full-on head sea is also a negative.

So after much consideration, we’ve decided to do more of a “tight reach,” to use a sailing term, or head in a diagonal direction up to Puerto Rico. This plan keeps us from traveling in a full-on head sea the entire way, and fingers crossed, gives us a better ride.

After watching and waiting for good weather, winds are predicted to calm over the next few days, giving us the best conditions we’re going to get for the next 14 – 21 days. Our plan is to follow the coast for a bit, to stay out of a current, before turning toward Puerto Rico.

This will by no means be a calm trip, even though the winds are down. Our first and last 24 hours are expected to be  uncomfortable, but we’re hoping that the middle will be better.

The run to Puerto Rico will be our longest to date, and should take six days; I hope we’re all up for this. We have several friends who are currently crossing the Pacific, so it could be worse for me (and Howard).

Even though this passage is going to be a bear, we are so glad to have spent time in Cartagena. The city is beautiful and vibrant, with much to see and do. Safety was never a concern for us, and we walked everywhere with ease. The entire area was incredibly clean for a large city (aside from the treacherous sidewalks!), and everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful. As usual, we’d have liked more time here, but hurricane season is coming, and we have to be in Grenada by the first of July, so Puerto Rico here we come!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Our Passage From Roatan to Providencia

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!”

 

 

 

 

 

Our Cruising Life – Passages

Several people have commented on our blog, asking about  passages; how we decide when to go and what happens along the way. What follows are my thoughts, and our routine for passages. Disclaimer: *these opinions do not reflect those of the general population of cruisers. They may not be the norm, but these are my feelings (the good, the bad and the ugly) about the whole process. It’s lengthy, but hopefully interesting and informative.

A cruiser’s life is made up of passages and/or crossings, there’s no way around it. Traveling from one side of an ocean to another is referred to as a crossing, which can take weeks (many weeks, when it comes to the Pacific). This girl has no intention of ever making a crossing, a feeling which has been reinforced on our passages during this journey.

Passages take you from island to island, or country to country, which may call for you to travel eight or ten hours, or three, five or seven days without stopping. You’re not crossing an ocean, but are frequently traveling a decent distance, which very likely includes traveling throughout the night. Reasons for going round the clock vary: there aren’t any safe or protected places to anchor for the night, you only have so much good weather to get to your destination, you have to arrive at a location by a certain date or any combination of these scenarios.

Our overnight passages are dictated by a bit of all three. If we want to head for a new location that takes days for us to get to, anchoring in safe spots along the way to break it up may mean staying there for days or weeks, waiting for favorable weather to continue on. This cuts into the time in our intended destination, and because our cruising life isn’t open ended, we prefer not to spend time waiting en-route if it can be helped. Other times, there aren’t any safe anchoring options along the way, even if we wanted to stop, so over-nighters are what we’re left with.

No matter what reasons make up your decision, at the core, weather is definitely the driving factor. You always want great weather, and why wouldn’t you? Sailors want wind, not a gale, but more than a breeze. Even though we travel at sailboat speed, we are a still a power boat, so we look for as little wind as possible. There are countless sources for wind, waves and overall weather prediction, and Scott consults many of them. In addition to reading many, many books, he has taken extensive classes taught by Lee Chesneau, a meteorologist who provided weather routing for the U.S. Navy.

We also enlist the services of Chris Parker, who provides weather prediction and planning for cruisers along the east coast and throughout the Caribbean. Chris transmits his forecasts each morning via SSB radio, with each region having a different time and channel to tune in. If you choose to, you can pay to talk with him about your upcoming passage, when to go and what route may be best to take. You may also pay to receive emails that Chris sends out daily for each region, allowing you to receive forecasts for all areas (east coast, Florida & The Bahamas, Eastern and Western Caribbean, etc.).

We take into account many sources, when planning to get from A to B safely and hopefully comfortably. The challenging, and maddening part is choosing when to go, because we all know that weather prediction is by no means a guarantee. Great weather at your start point may disappear as you travel, leaving you with something much worse on the other end. Since it’s rare to have perfect conditions throughout, you’re left choosing a weather “window,” which may remain open, or close shut along the way unexpectedly. This whole situation is so frustrating that I often think it easier to just flip a stupid coin.

The magic wind number for us, and for many cruisers we’ve met, is 15 knots. More than 15 isn’t necessarily dangerous, but can become a rough and uncomfortable go. However, we expect that if the forecast calls for 10-15 knots, it’s a safe bet that there will be higher winds at some point (due to no weather guarantee). Sometimes we get lucky, and 10-15 is actually what we get, but most times we experience higher winds for some (or all) of the passage.

Currents, tides and changes in depth all affect wave strength and height for the worst. We learned this during our many years of cruising in the Chesapeake Bay, but not knowing the challenges of specific areas that we travel through now, and are unfamiliar with, is frustrating. We usually have to learn the hard way, and for us the only real way to learn about these scenarios is from cruisers who have traveled the area before you. Unfortunately, their experience, travel speed and course usually differ from ours, so we have to pick out useful bits as we go.

Ok, so good or bad, we’ve chosen a window, now it’s time to prepare. Many people take a day to make food for passages, having quick, go-to meals to eat. We seem to spend our last days shopping, running last minute errands and spending time with our latest friends, so I usually make one thing, say pasta salad or something similar, and then have snack stuff on hand: fruit, granola/protein bars, chips and candy, microwave meals, etc.

Scott makes sure that the Aluminum Princess, and all else on the flybridge is secure, and does any pre passage engine room and system checks. He also spends much time going over our route, making navigation notes as needed. I do any “pending” laundry, a general interior boat cleaning and then secure everything inside that moves when we do. We also secure our table and chairs (our couch and tiki pole are permanently secured to both the floor and wall). We’ve learned to make sure that the fridge is full, and that towels are wedged in certain cabinets, to prevent rattling and clanging underway (which is maddening!).

Howard has come to know when we’re leaving on a passage, and prepares for the “torture” that is to come. As soon as Scott makes one beep from something electronic in the pilot house, Howard assumes a rigid, terrified position on the couch. It takes him hours to check his terror, and settle in. I’ve found that the best place for him to travel is on the couch in the saloon (unless we’re having a smooth run). There is motor noise, but that bothers him less than the wave noise outside the open pilot house doors. It also provides the least amount of movement for him, as I tuck him against the back of the couch, in a “pillow fort.”

We take shifts on watch in the pilot house, monitoring radar (especially important at night), gauges, speed, water depth and the chart/route. Many times, we have to make route changes to avoid shallow water, coral, submerged things and occasionally for dangerous (or “pirate”) areas. Most cruisers take turns in shifts that vary from four to six hours. Scott and I have gotten into a routine where we toss the ball back and forth during the day. Scott will fish, if conditions are right, we’ll catch naps or watch a movie if all is well.

Because I’m not keen on watching big water come at me, I have taken to doing the bulk of the evening watch, usually from just after dark until dawn. I have our Ipod at the ready, choose my favorite songs and go into late night dance party mode to pass the time. Because Scott has countless more hours on the water than me, I will wake him to consult or act on route and weather changes that are questionable (luckily, he can practically sleep and wake on command). This system usually gives him a chunk of sleep at one time.

If you ask me to sum up it up in my own words: in general, passages suck. Yeah, yeah, you’re out on the open ocean, with pretty water, dolphins, stars and such, but that’s usually just a small (in my opinion) part. Here’s our reality:

Your schedule and body clock are completely off from any kind of normal routine. When you should, or have time to sleep, you’re not always tired. Sleep often comes in bits, and is hard with the boat movement. I cannot shut out said movement in our staterooms, as they are located forward. Instead, I catch sleep on the couch in the saloon, sharing space with Howard. I wear ear plugs to knock down the motor noise, and a sleep mask to keep out daylight when needed. After a day or so, I’m so tired and turned around that I wake from what must have been a deep, restful lengthy sleep, to find that only 30 minutes has passed.

It seems we’re always craving what we don’t have to eat. I could prepare twenty different choices, but we’ll want something completely different. Scott and I find that we’re not normally very hungry on a passage, hence the stocking of snacks and such. Most times, we’ll just nibble, or eat whatever meal I’ve made right out of the bowl it’s in, who’s there to judge? We try to keep well hydrated, and resist the urge for a cocktail when things seem monotonous or when the weather and ride are stellar.

It’s challenging keeping Howard fed and watered for days at a time, when he usually isn’t interested in either. Using the litter box is also a challenge, as he has been known to hold it for days, which freaks me out. Lately, with the increasing heat and humidity, he’s had a hard time keeping cool. To prevent heat exhaustion, we cover him with cool, wet towels and direct one of our 12 volt fans toward him. Air from the fan evaporates the water in the towel, providing a cooling effect. He doesn’t love the towel, but tolerates it, realizing that it helps.

Bodily hygiene goes out the window, for the most part (again, who’s there to judge??). Showers can be challenging underway, and we opt instead to apply layer after layer of deodorant and powder or body spray. With the passage of time a blur, we have to remind each other that we stink, or to brush our teeth. Scott is especially good at trying to get as much use out of a shirt as possible. As a result, I can usually smell him as soon as he enters a room, and will immediately request a wardrobe change.

It’s usually hot, hot, hot inside the boat, especially if we’re going with the wind (no breeze), or if the sun is beating into the pilot house. The saloon stays especially hot, with the motor running constantly under the floor, which makes sleeping there even more inviting. We use cooling towels for ourselves as well, that are kept in the fridge, and drape them on our heads or around our necks. If a model agency caught sight of me during a passage, I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t immediately sign me to a magazine cover deal!

The weather rarely seems to cooperate. Yes, occasionally we get a great run, where the waters are calm all the way. However, more often than not I am cursing the weather forecasts and sources that made us decide to go. Wondering if conditions will worsen and for how long is so stressful. Bad wind and weather can cause us to slow our speed, for comfort or safety, resulting in an even longer travel time…ugh!

We also have to be aware of our arrival time. Most anchorages aren’t favorable for arriving after sunset, or even when the sun is low in the sky (depth of water, coral, unlit or unmarked channels, etc.). Scott never likes to drop anchor in the dark, so we may have to slow or increase speed to avoid these situations. Igor, a fellow cruiser we met in Isla Mujeres, summed up how we often feel, with his Russian-accent and broken English, “Sailing…every day, bad.”

Time and days get monotonous, and by day three I am through with a passage (remember my statement about never crossing an ocean). I want to stop the motor, take a shower, get normal sleep, hit land and see people. I don’t have to know them, I just want to see and be around them.

The longer a passage takes, the more restless, impatient and cranky I become (Howard is right behind me). Our Delorme satellite tracker is invaluable. In addition to tracking our path on the blog, it allows me to text and email friends and family while underway. They are frequently berated with communications during my times of boredom and frustration.

Even though “passages suck,” there are definitely some positives:

We enjoy beautiful cloud formations, rainbows, sunrises and sunsets.

When skies are clear, the stars are amazing.

Dolphins visit regularly, and we never tire of seeing them play in the waves off of the boat.

It’s anything goes for food, eat what you want when you want.

Shower or not, no one cares.

I have gotten much more comfortable with big waves and swells, and how they move our boat (although I still prefer the black-out of the night shift)

Scott is a champ at keeping the faith, and keeping the passage “train” rolling.

Realizing that you’re traveling open ocean waters in your own boat is pretty cool.

In the end, good or bad, passages have given us perspective  on  feelings about safety, the power of mother nature, appreciating a good anchorage or the comforts of home. Scott equates it to the weekend not being as valuable to you if you didn’t work all week. After being in the same place for some time, we tend to get a bit too comfortable. As a our friend, Larry, a fellow Krogen cruiser has told Scott, “Sometimes, you just got to to to sea.”

Passages are also a means to an end for us. We can’t get where we’re going without them, so we adapt, adjust and get through it. Here endeth my version of the passage lesson.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

On To Panama…By Way Of Colombia.

A weather window has presented itself this week, so we raced back from Guanaja and have been preparing full steam for the next leg of our journey.

We will leave this morning, and travel 60-70 hours straight through to the island of Providencia. The island sits approximately 100 nautical miles off the coast of Nicaragua, but is owned by Colombia, and many cruisers stop here on there way to and from Panama. We’ll clear in and stay for a bit, before heading on toward Panama.

Our friends Kevin and Marina, who are cruising on Lucky Seven, will meet us there. They left from the Cayman islands on Friday,  and should arrive today. We met them during our stay in Isla Mujeres, and it will be nice to see a familiar face when we arrive in Providencia. They plan to spend hurricane season in Panama as well, so we can all endure the heat together!

The last five days have been busy with passage preparations. Scott fixed our fridge (hooray!), and we spent a day stocking up on cold and frozen foods. We also visited the “mall” for some things, as well as Ace Hardware and the pharmacy. Howard also took a field trip to the vet for his rabies shot, so he’s ready as well.

We’ve said final good byes to our friends here at the marina, and spent a day with our British friends, Richard and Jan. After time with some sloths in the morning (more to come!), we enjoyed some more bobbing, this time here in our own “backyard,” at the resort. It’s surprising how quickly you get comfortable in a place. We already feel so at home here at Fantasy Island Marina, and will miss it.

I have had no time to pour through photos and update the blog, so that will be something to take up my time as we travel the next few days. When we arrive in Providencia, I’ll catch you up on our waterfall hike in Guanaja, the crazy monkey business here at the marina and our day of sloths and bobbing. I also plan to write about our passages, how and when we decided to go, prepare for and endure them.

Be sure to follow the link on the Where Are We Now page, and check our progress over the next few days. On to Panama!!, by way of Colombia.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Passage To Honduras

As the sun rose on Thursday, we left the anchorage in Isla Mujeres to begin our passage to Honduras. We were headed to the bay islands, and Guanaja (gwa na ha) would be our first stop. As we rounded the corner out of the harbor, we said a quiet, and somewhat sad goodbye to our friends in the fleet.

We estimated the trip to take between 60 and 70 hours, allowing for slower speeds in the current off of Mexico’s coast. The current did not disappoint. Even though the winds were light and variable, we rolled through large swells and confused seas.

Our first day was rough in other ways as well. I was getting over a cough, and battling allergy symptoms from something that found it’s way up my nose at dinner the night before. As I was trying to squash my itchy, watery nose and eyes, Scott was fighting some stomach discomfort. On Friday, Howard joined the fun, and threw up several times, before finally using his litter box for the first time in two days. We were a sad bunch.

Late Thursday afternoon, a Mexican navy ship appeared on the horizon, and proceeded to make a distant, but complete circle around us. Scott was sure that they were going to come closer, or make radio contact (God forbid, want to board us). I guess they deemed us uninteresting, because eventually they headed away from us and to the north.

Scott threw his fishing lines in, hoping to catch something. He didn’t have to wait long before something LARGE pulled on his line. The pole bowed from the weight, and the line flew out like it wasn’t attached at all. Whatever it was grabbed the lure, began to dive aggressively, and then let go.

After getting over the surprise of how large the mystery catch was, Scott wondered  what it could have caused it to come off the lure. He worried that his hooks aren’t as sharp as they should be; one is beginning to rust.

As he went on about how large and  heavy the mystery catch must have been, I realized that we had nowhere to put it! With our compressor issue, we are working with less freezer and refrigerator space. So sadly, fishing was shut down.

Things calmed a bit by Friday afternoon, with both the sea state and the crew. As we neared the south end of Mexico, and the Belize border, the current weakened and we were finally into more settled waters.

As I came on for my evening watch, we were still traveling slower than we’d have liked, but our ride was great. It was a quiet night for me. We were traveling approximately 80 miles off of the coast, so something showing up on radar was extremely rare. I only saw two large boats in 8  hours, both passing us at a great distance away.

When the sun came up, I went down to catch some sleep, and left Scott on watch. Of course, that’s when a large pod of dolphins decided to visit! There were many more than in this photo, but Scott couldn’t get them all in one shot.

They are “blurry” looking due to the fact that they were ten feet under the surface (some deeper)….clear water!

Because things had gotten so much calmer, I actually slept in our bed. During a passage, I have gotten in the habit of sleeping on the couch in the saloon, where things are usually more stable than up toward the bow. When I woke up, I couldn’t hear the motor from up in our stateroom (ear plugs also a factor). Things were so smooth and quiet that I thought Scott had anchored while I was asleep.

I came up to find that the seas were now glassy-calm. So much so that we could see the birds hanging down from our paravanes. They were clearly visible, fifteen feet down.

By this time, Howard was done with traveling, and just wanted food. I’m guessing he thought that lying in the galley would get his point across.

When lunch wasn’t served in a timely fashion he gave up and retreated to the guest stateroom for a nap, nestled among beer and laundry detergent.

The glassy waters made a beautiful setting, as Guanaja appeared on the horizon. It’s the first mountainous island that we’ve visited on this adventure, and the views were exciting to see.

We anchored between mainland Guanaja and the town of Bonacca, where we’ll go to clear into the country. Bonacca is built entirely over water. More on this later, as we explore the town.

We’ll head to a more protected anchorage, but that isn’t allowed until we after we clear in (not really sure why).

For now, we’re happy that our journey took less time than expected…only 52 hours! We’re also very grateful that most of it was smooth, which meant less stress and more rest! It was certainly a welcome change from our trip to Isla Mujeres from the Dry Tortugas. Maybe passages can be enjoyable!

Here are some more photos from our passage….we’re in Honduras!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Hola Mexico!

We are in Mexico!! After two long weeks of waiting  for decent weather and winds to continue to Isla Mujeres, a tight window finally appeared. It wasn’t the best scenario, so we discussed our options:
1 – Head to Mexico, and hope that the weather forecast was correct, knowing that it wouldn’t be the smoothest journey.
2 – Go back to Florida and get a mooring ball(in Ft. Myers) and wait for the endless string of cold fronts to slow down, most likely taking a month. We’d spend money that was meant for Mexico, need an additional 18+ hours to get there and have a month less time to get past Costa Rica before hurricane season sets in.
3 – Stay  anchored off of Fort Jefferson, in the Dry Tortugas national park. We’d endure at least two – three more weeks of cold fronts at anchor, losing what was left of our sanity (more on our time at anchor here later).

Scott left the decision up to me, releasing himself of blame from whatever option was chosen. None of them were good, in my opinion. I definitely didn’t want to spend unplanned money or go backward and add time to our Mexico trip, so option two was out. The thought of staying two or three more weeks at anchor where we were made me crazy, but I was very nervous to continue on with the current weather window. After much back and forth, I told myself that we’d chosen the Krogen for it’s seaworthiness, and crossing conditions weren’t always (almost never) going to be perfect, so on to Mexico it was!

Knowing that the sea conditions in the area still weren’t great (the winds had died, but swells take more time to settle), we left Sunday at noon. A cold front with strong winds was coming to Isla Mujeres on Wednesday, and we wanted to arrive ahead of it. The plan was to leave in  “bumpier” water, and eventually have it get better as we traveled. We  hoped to be at the marina in Isla Mujeres sometime on Tuesday afternoon.

Scott had a track mapped out which would take us southwest toward Cuba, more westward off of Cuba, south once we rounded Cuba and then west  toward Mexico, before heading north to Isla Mujeres. It wasn’t the most direct path, but he chose this route to try  and cross the Gulf Stream current  (which would oppose us and slow us down) as quickly as possible, and then stay in it’s counter current, keeping our speed up. We also planned to travel with our motor at a higher rpm than normal, hoping to stay at 6 knots or above and make our arrival window in Isla Mujeres before the coming cold  front.

Once  out of the reef around our anchorage, we realized that the waters were more than bumpy. The swells were pretty large, close to nine feet. It was quite an adjustment, but swells aren’t as jolting as waves, so we rolled our way toward the waters off of Cuba. We traveled at 8 and 7 knots for the first seven hours, which was great! I came on for my shift at dark, and things settled down over night to a much more comfortable ride.

At one point, a boat appeared on the radar about four miles off of our port side. After some time, it dropped back behind us, and then headed off of our starboard side and off of the radar. Scott assumed that it was the Coast Guard, making sure that we weren’t headed to Cuba.

By daylight the winds had calmed even more, and we enjoyed a terrific ride for most of the day. Scott was even tempted to make a drink and enjoy some time up on the bow! All good things come to an end however, and by late afternoon, the winds had increased again. Scott took us closer to Cuba than expected, trying to get some protection from the building winds. We were about 14 miles  off of the coast and still in the counter current, making about 8 knots.

When I came on again at dark on Monday evening, our ride was getting more “spirited,” as Scott likes to call it. We were rounding the western coast of Cuba and heading south, still in the counter current and still making good speed. Wind and waves continued to build, and it felt at times like we were on a roller coaster ride, rising and falling, and then jolting from side to side suddenly along the way. Once in awhile we’d get a really good roll (or should I say jolt)to the side, which would wake Scott up. He would come up to make a course change, trying to smooth things out a bit. It would be effective for awhile, and then we’d start to hard roll again, and he’d have to readjust. He’d planned to turn more south overnight, but it would have put us in a pretty big beam sea (side to side) even with our paravanes out, so we stayed where we were.

I stayed on watch for eleven hours overnight, trying to give Scott a chance to rest and stay out of the pilot house as much as possible. By 2am or so, things started to calm down a bit, and I think he  got some bits of actual sleep. At 6:30am, when Scott came back on watch, I was looking forward to some actual sleep myself, in calmer conditions. That lasted all of 40 minutes.

I awoke to  another, bigger, faster roller coaster ride. Knowing that Scott would call if he needed me, and not wanting to see what was causing the roller coaster ride (I had a sleep mask on, to keep daylight out, and also the site of big waves), I stayed on the couch, which was a bit challenging. We were rolling so hard that the couch was trying to move, even though Scott had it screwed down. The same was true for our table, that was tied to the wall. It was doing it’s best to come across the saloon toward me. Our end table moved back and forth so much that one of the legs unscrewed itself. Thankfully, I had stuffed towels into the refrigerator and some of the cabinets, to keep the clanking of bottles down.

When I finally couldn’t hold off  a trip to the head any longer, I made my way there with the sleep mask on, not wanting to catch any glimpse of what was going on outside through windows. I managed to feel my way there and back,  flopping onto the couch and assuming a braced position on my side.

I kept waiting and waiting for the winds to calm as I laid on the couch, trying to hold on without getting my fingers pinched as it tried to move back and forth. After almost four hours, things seemed somewhat better, so I ventured up to the pilot house  to see how Scott was faring. I learned that my decision to stay put, with my mask on, was a wise one. We had come into big, BIG seas. Our autopilot was working, but Scott had to constantly change course, to keep the confused seas on our stern, so he ended up hand steering through it.

Scott estimated that the waves were as high as 14 feet. My husband doesn’t exaggerate, or embellish for effect. Believe me, we’d much rather brag that we had glass calm seas! The waves around us were larger and higher than our boat. Scott’s eye level is approximately 12 feet off of the water line when at the wheel, and the waves were well above his eye level. He’d see the wall of water coming at him, and then a hole would open and our boat would go through. Waves were  higher than our flybridge on all sides.

We would roll to about 30-35 degrees, and hold there, until another wave came from behind to push us back. At some points, the waves were large enough and steep enough that we were sliding down them sideways. Again, I was VERY happy to have been down on the couch, with my mask on….can you say heart attack at sea?! During all of this madness, our speed went down to as low as 3 knots, when we weren’t surfing down a wave at 9!

We were still clawing our way south. Every time Scott would change course, the waves and winds would pick up again and we’d have to adjust back to the north. There is an entrance to Isla Mujeres from the north, but a sandbar runs across it. Scott was worried about waves from the large swells breaking  on the sandbar, causing us to drop and hit bottom, or causing our paravanes to hit bottom, so we stayed on course for a southern entrance. By noon, things had calmed to a  “normal”, big roll, and we were approximately two hours or so from Isla Mujeres. Those last two hours felt like two days! Seas were still big, and we were still fighting our way south.

FINALLY, Isla Mujeres came in sight!

 

 

 

As we moved behind it, the waves died down from protection of land, and we picked up some current that pushed us back up to 8 knots…thank the Lord! We had to bring the birds in, as we came into waters below 25 feet or so. To do this, the boat has to be at idle and pointed into the wind. Thankfully, as the waves  had died considerably, this went really smoothly. We’ll take smooth wherever we can get it! Scott also raised the paravanes up, to prepare for coming into a slip.

We made our way past beaches and hotels along the shoreline, and into the harbor of Isla Mujeres. After finding Marina Paraiso, we tied to the end of a pier, to await our slip assignment and instructions on how to proceed with customs (more on this later). We arrived at the dock at 3pm on Tuesday, 51 hours after raising anchor in the Dry Tortugas.

Looking back at those few hours of stress and worry in huge seas, we realize how great our boat handled it. Had Scott not hand steered, it still would have been fine. He was just trying to make it somewhat more comfortable for us. We could have let it continue on autopilot, and would have made our destination with no problem. This  boat has crossed the Atlantic with a previous owner, without paravane stabilization, so a few hours of 14 foot seas was probably just a blip on it’s radar.

The best that Scott can figure, is that the high waves were caused by a combination of depth change (as we entered more shallow waters) and eddy currents (currents that spin off of a main current) opposing the  25 knots winds. All of these factors came together at the right time to cause large, confused seas.

Howard weathered the trip like a champ, enduring it better than us! He was tucked into his “triangle of safety” on the pilot house bench, where he now spends long passages.

 

When we had a sudden roll, or a wave would break on us, he’d raise his head, eyes wide. We just had to pet him a few times and tell him he was fine, and he’d settle back into his travel coma (not drug induced this time!). I don’t think he was actually getting much sleep either, more like just trying to get through it, like the rest of us.

Now that it’s all behind us, we’re  thrilled to be here! I will be posting about our trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas, and our two weeks at anchor there soon, as well are our customs experience. For now, we’re still getting settled here, washing our salt covered boat, doing laundry, orienting ourselves to the area, etc. Hurra Mexico!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

Traveling To Key West

We have been in Key West, Florida for almost a week, and I finally have a chance to sit down and catch you up on our journey here.

Our last ten days in the Exumas were frustrating. We had strong, sustained winds for seven straight days, out of nine. The noise of the wind was terribly unnerving, and the slapping of the waves against the Aluminum Princess tied behind us added to the madness. By day five or so, I resorted to blasting music to try and drown it all out. We’d hoped to get to one or to more cays during our stay, but time was getting short. The check in date for our slip in Key West was getting close, and the weather window for good gulf stream travel was very small. The weather in the Exumas was calming down, but there was a cold front predicted for the Florida area, bringing rain, storms and winds in the 30mph range.  We decided to do a 50 hour run straight through to Key West, and hopefully keep ahead of the front.

At 6am on Tuesday, we pulled up our anchor and started the long journey to the keys that would take us across the Bahama Bank, up the Tongue of the Ocean, back across the bank and then into the Atlantic, crossing the gulf and continuing on in the Atlantic to Key West.

The Bahama Banks is similar to the Chesapeake Bay, in that it is an overall shallow body of water, averaging less than 30 feet. Because it is shallow, waves are closer together, or have a “shorter wave period.” This is can quickly become unnerving and uncomfortable, which it did (for me). Unfortunately, we could not deploy our paravanes in less than 30 feet, to avoid them possibly hitting bottom as we roll. So, we rolled our way across the banks.

I was watching the depth finder like a hawk, and as soon as we approached the Tongue of the Ocean, and deep water, I shouted out for the paravanes. As Scott suspected, our trip up the tongue was “spirited.” The winds had finally calmed down after seven days, but it takes water longer to settle. Even with the paravanes deployed, we were really moving about. I worried that it would get worse, not better as we approached our second banks crossing. Scott predicted that it would settle by the time we hit the banks, and it did…in time for him to go off watch and to sleep, lucky dog!

Of course, as we approached the Atlantic things picked up again. We consistently rolled, As a result, I didn’t enjoy the calm-water sleep that Scott had. It wasn’t as bad as we’d had in the tongue, and I eventually got used to it, keeping in mind that the boat will take way more than I am comfortable with!

Howard bounced back to his old travel self, and again wanted to be in the pilot house with us, where he assumed is “trucker” pose on the bench.

As it got more rough, we made a “triangle of safety,” to keep him from sliding back and forth as he slept. He approved.

Since we were traveling in the deep waters of the Atlantic and the gulf stream, Scott decided to set the fishing rods out and see if he could get a bite. About an hour later, one of the reels started spinning, and he’d caught a mahi mahi (dolphin fish)! I was then berated with commands…”FISH ON!! FISH ON!! PUT IT IN NEUTRAL, BRING THE GAS DOWN, COME REEL IN THIS OTHER LINE, GET THE CAMERA, OPEN THE TRANSOM DOOR, MAKE SURE HOWARD STAYS INSIDE!!” I tried to do all of these things at once, running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.  Scott reeled the mahi in toward the boat, and as he went to gaff it (a pole with a sharp hook on the end that is used to stab the fish and then lift it into the boat) the  fish slipped off of the lure. ARRGHH!! He reset the line, and it was back to the drawing board.

Not 30 minutes later….FISH ON!!

This time, I handled my ten jobs at once much better, and Scott decided to pull the mahi into the cockpit and then kill it. The fish was pretty sizable, and was still putting up a fight. I ran inside and closed the screen door, not wanting to entertain a mahi in the saloon! Scott quickly killed it…our first fish!!

 

At 7pm on night two, Scott came on watch. I stayed up until about 8:30, and then went down to try and catch a nap in the saloon (I have trouble sleeping in our bed when we’re underway, too much movement down there). An hour later, I woke up to a new noise in the cockpit. When I called up to Scott about it, he informed me that it was our flag, whipping in the increased winds, and that we were coming into a thunderstorm. Thunderstorm….in the dark. I rolled over, and prepared for terror, Howard ran up to the pilot house with Scott!

We were in the storm for almost 45 minutes. The winds quickly kicked up to 60mph, and the waves grew so much that Scott had to bring the motor speed down. At almost idle speed, the boat slammed up and down less. It was a challenge for Scott, not being able to see the waves, and it was also the strongest winds we’ve ever been in, but eventually the storm passed. Scott increased our speed, and we continued on. Howard weathered the storm out in the triangle of safety.

At approximately 2:30 am on Thursday, we were off the coast of Key Largo, and made our turn to continue another six or so hours to Key West. I was on watch, and noticing lightening off to our port side. Scott was sleeping on the bench behind me, and said that it was most likely in the gulf and would stay there. However, by the time my watch ended, just before 6am,  rain  was again appearing on our radar and the lightening was now visible in front of us as well as to our port side.

We were back in range for cell service, so Scott pulled up radar on the internet. A MASSIVE front was moving toward us, full of red and yellow precipitation. I immediately felt nauseous. The thought of going through this thing terrified me. After viewing it for some time, Scott was fairly confident that we could beat the worst of it to Key West, and get tied up in time to ride out the rest. So the race was on! He chose a quicker route that required us to maneuver through some crab pots, but we’re very experienced with that, having cruised the Chesapeake for so long!

We were now moving against the current, so our speed was  down. It felt like we would never get there! After 52  hours and another, bigger pending storm, I was done. Finally, we turned into slip A-7 at the Key West Bight Marina, and tied Sea Life to the pier. Thankfully, the worst of the front stayed to the west of us, and we just had some light off and on rain until evening.

So, we’d traveled 52 hours straight..our longest leg yet! We arrived at 8:30am on Thursday, and by the time we tied up and got the systems running on shore power and such, it was 10:30; we were zombies. There was debate as to whether to sleep until the afternoon, but we decided to go into town for lunch, have a few celebratory beers and try and stay up until late afternoon. We made it until 6pm, and then collapsed for 12 hours of straight sleep.

We are here in Key West for the month, and look forward to holiday events and visitors from home!

Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

Traveling To The Exuma Cays

We left our Hoffman’s Cay anchorage at 4pm on Thursday, and headed south on an overnight run to the Exuma Cays. The winds are forecasted to increase this weekend, so we wanted to get a jump on them and get a comfortable passage in. There may be more tropical weather to deal with next week, but Scott has scouted out several protected anchorages for us if needed.

As we left the Berry Islands, a beautiful sunset sent us off on our way

Our journey took us down the Atlantic, through the “Tongue of the Ocean,” (named for it’s shape) where we were in 2700+ feet of water. Scott thought about fishing, but we decided against it, not wanting to deal with it while traveling overnight. Our depth finders stop working in these depths, and one of ours shows 5-6 feet, which will freak you out when you glance at it in the middle of the night! Then we turned east,  back onto the Great Bahama Bank which took us over to the Exumas Cays and back into 30 or so feet of water.

We arrived in the Exumas mid morning on Friday, much earlier than expected, and anchored north of Staniel Cay, off of  Big Majors Spot. The water here is stunning, a gorgeous acrylic blue. The white sandy bottom makes it crystal clear, and we can’t stare at it enough.

 

During overnight, extended passages, your sleeping and eating clock gets all turned around. It’s like jet lag after a long flight,  so after anchoring we usually eat, shower and nap. But first things first…we got into that gorgeous water! It was great to float around and cool off for a bit. No barracuda yet, but two small sharks have already found us. We’re happy to share the anchorage with them…their mouths are far less intimidating!

Once the journey  was officially behind us and we were refreshed from a dip, a meal and a nap, we were anxious to explore the area around us. Scott lowered the Aluminum Princess from the flybridge, and we set off on a late afternoon ride. Like our Hoffman’s Cay anchorage, this area is a full of small, rocky islands. Some are  just big rocks with scraggly trees, and others have beaches and height to them. Their shorelines jut out like the bow of a ship.

We then headed off to enjoy the sunset, before heading back to the boat.

We’re excited to spend some time here, and explore the surrounding area and town. Here are our photos.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

Our Ocean Leg From Beaufort, SC to Fernandina Beach…FLORIDA!!

As of this morning, we are officially in Florida!! With the journey being approximately 18 hours, we chose to leave Beaufort, SC at 4pm. That would prevent us from coming through the St. Mary’s inlet near Fernandina Beach in the dark, something Scott feels is the smart thing to do.

Our trip went off without a hitch. We had glassy water coming out of the Port Royal Sound inlet, south of Beaufort. The swells were still calming down from the previous day’s big winds and rain, but they gave us no trouble. Scott took us out of the inlet, and up until 7pm, when I took over until midnight.

Surprisingly, I actually enjoy the night watches. In the dark, I can’t see what’s causing the boat to roll, making it less stressful. I just keep an eye on the radar, and the gauges, and keep the music going! With an almost full moon, it was very bright out there, when I did need to see boat traffic (which was good, considering we crossed two shipping channels in the dark).

Howard did amazingly well on this trip. I chose not to try and medicate him, and got much better results. He’s getting used to the louder sound of wave noise, versus the more quite waters of the Intracoastal. The rolling motion of the boat is becoming more tolerable for him too, although we do try to put pillow and/or blanket “bumpers” around him.

We’d put the paravanes out just before the 6am shift change, as the winds picked up a bit. As we came close to our turn for the St. Mary’s inlet, we met a  wicked current coming at us. It knocked our speed down from 7 knots to just over 4…sigh. Once we were around the corner from Fernandina Harbor Marina, Scott slowed the motor to an idle, so he could bring in the paravanes. Luckily, the opposing wind and current kept us somewhat in place, while he got them in and secured.

So now it gets interesting….We called for a mooring ball assignment in Fernandina Harbor. (For those of  you who don’t know, a mooring ball floats on the waterline, with a line that is secured to the ground below, and another line that extends from the ball with a loop on the end of it. You bring your boat up to the ball, snag the loop, tie to it, and you’re done) They told us to choose any one that we wanted, which we did.

However…this is where the “without a hitch” part ends. Once you tie to a mooring ball, it settles in off of the bow of your boat, to one side or the other. Because our boat catches more wind at anchor than a sailboat, the opposing wind and current caused the mooring ball to go one one side of the boat, and the loop (which was metal) to go on the other. Now we had the ball beating against one side of our hull, scratching the paint, and the metal loop (did I say it was metal?) beating against the other side of our hull, taking the paint off!

Scott proceeds to tie as many random things off of our stern, to create drag. In other words, he wanted enough drag for the current to grab it and pull the boat back, causing the ball to completely go to one side.

In addition to the round fender, Howard’s emergency life line, a wooden step stool and a bundle of blue towels, there is an empty gallon jug, and a orbital sander case, and anything else that was not bolted down, under the waterline.The reason that the blue towels and sander case were used, is because Scott discovered that a tupperware bin in our lazarette had filled with water, so they were water-logged.  This was caused by a clogged hatch drain and an ajar lid, go figure.

The glob of stuff helped for the moment, as the ball and it’s line went off of our starboard side. In addition, Scott duct-taped a towel around the metal loop, to stop it from taking more paint off of the hull.

So now that the mooring ball and loop are behaving, Scott gets our inflatable dingy out, so we can go to shore (our aluminum dingy on steroids is not quite ready for prime time). He finds that his waterproof, meaning submersible bag with dingy attachments (lights, lifejackets, etc.) is also full of water! Really?!!? Waterproof?? Submersible??

After he gets all of that out to dry, and hopefully still work, he attaches the dingy motor, that has had issues since we bought it. He, of course, has to spend time working on that, so that we have a prayer of starting it.  This is the motor that goes on my dingy.  Scott wanted to replace it with an electric outboard, but funds ran out.

In the meantime, the current and wind are now going in the same direction for the next six hours, so Scott’s glob of “drag” is now alongside the boat, instead of behind it. We have to untangle it from the dingy, and haul it back into the cockpit. Oh, and along the way Scott slammed his finger in a hatch.

So our timing for ocean travel was terrific, but timing for a mooring ball was terrible! I suggested that we just relax and stay onboard for the rest of the day, and venture into town tomorrow. Ha! Scott is determined to go to shore, after the circus of events. Cross your fingers folks! While you do that, here are some photos of our ocean journey from Beaufort to Fernandina Beach.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”