Day 110, Year 1: Day Five of Our Passage to the San Blas
Date: Saturday, February 4, 2006
Weather: Totally Overcast; Winds Continue at 20-25 knots, Sometimes 25-30
Air Temperature: 82 degrees F
Water Temperature: 80 degrees F
Latitude: N 13 degrees 12 minutes
Longitude: W 77 degrees 39 minutes
Location: Passage from Curacao to Panama, Day 5

Miles to go-243. We’ve gone about 152 miles since this time yesterday. We are still sailing with a double-reefed main and Yankee head sail poled out. We have been on the same course for 24 hours heading west/southwest-243 degrees on the compass. Winds continue to be 20 to 25 with some periods of 25 to 30 and the seas are slowly calming although the occasional big waves are still throwing us about a little. Today was totally overcast until about 1400, but then the sun decided to break through those clouds and brighten the afternoon. This evening we will reach 78 degrees N and turn to head south. That will be a good feeling. When we talked to Herb this afternoon, he said the winds will diminish to 15 sometime during the night and then back around to the northeast by tomorrow afternoon. If that happens, we will continue to have the winds at our back and we might have to motor some to make sure we get through the pass and into the islands when we have the best light on Monday. Herb seemed like a proud papa this afternoon when he said that it looks like we are going to avoid the fireworks off the Columbian coast to our south on this passage. We have followed his directions exactly as given and things are going well. Thank goodness for Herb.

Just after I wrote the log yesterday stating that we had seen no signs of life, a brown booby decided to come visit. The brown booby is a common sea bird in the Caribbean. She did her fly by the starboard side of the boat peering in to see what I was doing and then swooped up and turned to fly by the port side. She did this a couple of times and then disappeared. During the day today, either that same bird, or another just like her has done the same reconnaissance flight a couple of times during the afternoon. It is interesting how the flight pattern is the same each time – from starboard to the stern, then turn, and then fly up the port side. Again, we saw only one cargo ship during the night and nothing at all today.

The galley queen made it through another dinner with no more life-threatening antics, so either I am learning or it is a lot calmer. Last night when I was on watch, I wondered if those of you reading have any idea of what happens on Windbird during a watch period. Watches are pretty regimented. The first thing that happens when the new person comes on watch is putting on a PFD. That’s a personal floatation device or life jacket. Our inflatables have a tether attached that is clipped into a jack line that runs along the cockpit floor. If somehow the person on watch should be thrown out of the cockpit, you would be attached and could hopefully scramble back in avoiding going overboard. Next you put on a head lamp for reading. This is essential gear on Windbird. Also essential are the padded folding seats that sit on the starboard and port cockpit seats. For watches, they are placed facing the bow of the boat and extra pillows are used to pad the outside. The person on watch picks the seat on the downhill side and settles in with feet propped in front. We always have a liter of drinking water readily available and whatever book or books we are reading. During the watch hours, you alternate sitting and reading with getting up to go to the back of the cockpit to do a 360 degree visual survey (with headlamp off) every fifteen minutes. The purpose is to scan the horizon very, very slowly looking for any sign of lights. If nothing is seen, you check the GPS to see if the course needs any adjustment, and if all is fine, you go back to your “nest” to read. As I am writing this, I am on a daytime watch while Mark is napping. I just looked up to do the 360 and saw the biggest container ship I have ever seen. This cargo ship must have thousands of containers on deck. It is too far away for me to see clearly, but I am taking this as an indication that watch tonight needs to be done with great vigilance. We are getting closer to the Panama Canal and will probably see more and more cargo ships. Last night on watch there was only the one ship, but you could clearly see the “lights” of the Big Dipper and the North Star on our starboard side and the Southern Cross on our port side. The other lights that stay with us constantly are what Mark calls the “fairy dust” that sparkles as we move through the water. These sparkling lights come from the disturbed phosphorescent matter in the water.

If we keep up the current speed, we will reach the San Blas on Monday. We have to time our entrance into the reef area between 1000 and 1500 on whichever day we arrive in order to have the right lighting for seeing the underwater coral covered islands. The sun needs to high in the sky and at the right angle. The San Blas are islands that went through a geologic shake up during the earthquake of 1882 . About half of the islands stayed above sea level but the other half dipped below and are now covered with coral. In 1887, the mother of all floods, Mu Dummat, washed even more islands away. It is these island that are below sea level that we have to visually watch out for as we move into the island region. We have charts, but they are not enough by themselves. Most of the chart data is more than a hundred years old – long before GPS. One of us will have to perch ourselves high on the mast steps and look constantly down into the water while wearing polarized sun glasses to identify the coral reefs. This will be a new experience for us, but a skill that will be necessary throughout our ventures in the South Pacific islands. I have a feeling I’ll be the “perchee”, so I’ll let you know how that goes. Now back to “watching”.

Day 111, Year 1: Day Six of Our Passage to the San Blas
Day 109, Year 1: Day Four of Our Passage to the San Blas