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

Day 111, Year 1: Day Six of Our Passage to the San Blas
Date: Sunday, February 5, 2006
Air Temperature: 82 degrees F
Water Temperature: 80 degrees F
Latitude: N 11 degrees 06 minutes
Longitude: W 78 degrees 30 minutes
Location: Passage from Curacao to Panama, Day 6
Miles to go-90. We have had a wonderful 24 hours of sailing since yesterday afternoon. During the evening we made our turn south. The winds died down a little so we took the reefs out of the main sail for the first time in weeks. We had a short period when we had to run the motor, but then the winds picked back up and we have sailed with the full main and head sail flying since the middle of the night. The seas have calmed considerably and provided us with smooth sailing all day today. We have actually had to reef the head sail in order to try and slow ourselves down as we don’t want to get to the San Blas until mid morning tomorrow. It is important to have good light when entering the pass into the islands.

Mark worked on installing the new membranes in the water maker. We tried it and it all seemed to work well so we ran it for about an hour to begin topping up our tanks.

I’ve spent the day trying to figure out which of the islands we will visit. There are hundreds of uninhabited islands as well as many islands with traditional Kuna Indian villages. We want to visit a couple of islands with small villages as well as some of the uninhabited islands. Many say that the San Blas offer just what most cruisers are seeking–white sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, and that beautiful, warm turquoise water. I know that is what this cruiser is seeking, so I am very excited about our arrival in the San Blas.

Day 110, Year 1: Day Five of Our Passage to the San Blas

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

Day 109, Year 1: Day Four of Our Passage to the San Blas
Date: Friday, February 3, 2006
Air Temperature: 82 degrees F
Water Temperature: 78 degrees F
Latitude: N 14 degrees 33 minutes
Longitude: W 75 degrees 21 minutes
Location: Passage from Curacao to Panama, Day 4

Miles to go-395. We are traveling about 140 to150 miles each day which is better than expected. But we have had to go a bit out of our way in order to keep the wind from being directly behind us. When that is the case, we rock and roll and it is not comfortable. So going the extra miles is fine with me. But we did get a bit of good weather news from Herb this afternoon. There has been some easing of conditions off the Columbian coast and we can now set a west/southwest course all the way to 78 degrees W. If this works, there will be no more zig-zagging in the next 24 hours. We are still sailing with the main sail double-reefed and we now have the head sail poled out. We have used the wind vane steering all day today instead of the auto pilot. The auto pilot takes power, whereas the wind vane steering does the same thing but uses only the wind to direct us. We should be able to keep things this way until we reach 78 degrees at about midnight tomorrow night. We then make our turn south and will have to make adjustments. So things are going well.

This morning, Songster, the boat which is one day behind us, made radio contact with us seeking weather information. But other than talking to them, checking in with Herb, and seeing one cargo ship during the early morning hours, we have seen no other signs of life in the last 24 hours. It appears that we have the Interior Caribbean Basin all to ourselves for now.

The galley queen did a better job last night and had no life-threatening events while cooking dinner. And that’s a good thing. I finished reading Michener’s South Pacific and have to make a new choice for tonight. During the day, I am reading research information on our next stop in the San Blas. The Kuna Indians that live there have a fascinating history and as I learn more about them, I am getting anxious to visit their world.

So slowly we move along with the wind filling our sails and the wind guiding our path with the wind vane steering. All the while the wind generator is whirring away making power for us. Out here, the wind can be your best friend or it can be a demon. Right now, it is a good friend and I hope it stays that way until we reach the San Blas.

Day 108, Year 1: Day Three of Our Passage to the San Blas

Day 108, Year 1: Day Three of Our Passage to the San Blas
Date: Thursday, February 2, 2006
Weather: Winds 25-30 knots, Gusting 35-45
Air Temperature: 80 degrees F
Water Temperature: 78 degrees F
Latitude: N 14 degrees 28 minutes
Longitude: W 73 degrees 20 minutes
Location: Passage from Curacao to Panama, Day 3

Miles to go–546. And so far, so good. This dreaded passage is going well. We are currently about 180 miles north of the Columbian border heading across the Columbian Basin. Hopefully staying north will keep us out of the higher seas and winds. We did end up sailing to15 degrees N last night and then turned west/southwest back to 14 degrees 30 minutes. Tonight we will do the same again-head back up to 15 degrees N and then back down to 14 degrees 30 minutes. We go back and forth like this in order to keep the wind on our quarter (off to one side of the aft end of the boat). The boat is steadier with the wind slightly to one side than when it is dead behind us.

We will then stay at around 14 degrees until we get to 77 or 78 degrees W. Then we can head south to Panama.

Winds today have been between 25 and 30 knots, gusting sometimes to 35 to 45. The seas are probably about 8 feet, but are sometimes higher. Since we are traveling downwind, the increases don’t seem to effect us much. Herb says the winds here are 20 knots, but I am here to tell you that we have rarely seen 20 knots in the last 24 hours. He gains his information from weather buoys and computer models, but as we all know, predicting the weather is tricky business.

We saw our first traffic at about 1800 last night-2 cargo ships headed northeast. And then there were 2 more around 0600 this morning and then one headed southeast around 1400 this afternoon. Other than that, we have seen no other signs of life except for the occasional flying fish. We have been in contact with people, however. This morning we were successful in talking to Dave and Pam Gwinn in the Bahamas. They are friends from Shipyard Quarters in Boston and we check in with them every few days. And we connected with Susan on Day Dream and Bob on Kathryn in Curacao. Bob told us that the boat Songster is right behind us, so maybe we will see them in the San Blas. Susan has been successful in sending some of the pictures to our son Justin, so hopefully that rat picture will be on the website soon. Susan, thank you so much for taking on this tedious task for us. We truly appreciate it.

The galley queen tried to harm herself again last night. As I mentioned yesterday, I am a bit challenged with this cooking while bouncing about routine. I thought I had it together for dinner last night. I had everything cooked and just needed to get out one skillet to warm things in. Of course, you need to understand that just getting a skillet out is a trick all of its own. The skillet I was going to use is stored inside another skillet in the area below the oven. When I open that or any other cabinet, I risk everything in the cabinet spilling out if strong wave hits and bounces us about. But I was prepared. I had taken the very heavy wooden cutting board off the stove top and put it on a non-skid placement on the counter. The stove top has a metal guard about an inch and a half tall all around that holds the cutting board in place and then when it is removed, helps to hold the pots on the stove top in place. I got the skillet out safely and placed it on the stove top and bent down to put the other skillet away. Just about that time, a big wave hit us from behind and the skillet on the stove top came flying off and hit me in the back of the head. Thankfully, it was not a cast iron skillet. I was fine, but so much for being prepared. I have braces that I should have had in place to hold the skillet tight, but I had neglected to get those out. Live and learn, but I had better learn a little faster if I want to survive!

Night watches are going well, but I am having trouble sleeping when we are bouncing and rolling. As a result, I have to spend part of my day napping. The days already feel too short without sleeping part of the time away, so I am hoping that I am now used to the movement and will sleep better tonight. Mark has been sleeping fine, so at least the captain is well rested. I was on watch for sunrise this morning and it was another beautiful event. I do love watching the first amber hue in the sky turn to dusky pinks, then brighter pinks with shades of blue mixed in. I will be fascinated to see if sunrises in the Pacific have the same colors. It is magnificent to watch here and I am certainly looking forward to seeing Pacific sunrises and sunsets.

The air temperature is 2 degrees cooler at this higher latitude and the water temperature is 2 degrees cooler as well. I learned in the Gulf Stream that I cannot depend on our high tech built-in water thermometer. Right now it reads 104 degrees F. Not correct. I am using an old aquarium thermometer that we have had for years. To get the water temperature, I fill the forward head with sea water and take the temperature that way. I learned this trick from Rein Ciarfella who sent the suggestion to our website. Thanks, Rein. This system really works.

Day 107, Year 1: Headed to the San Blas Islands, Panama

Day 107, Year 1: Headed to the San Blas Islands, Panama
Date: Wednesday, February 1, 2006
Weather: Squalls Overnight Gusting to 40 knots, Winds E 20-25
Air Temperature: 82 degrees F
Water Temperature: 80 degrees F
Latitude: N 14 degrees 31 minutes
Longitude: W 70 degrees 56 minutes
Location: Passage to Curacao to Panama, Day 2

Miles to go-691. We are making good time and the wind and waves are settling a bit. We are sailing along in 20 to 25 knot winds from due east under a double-reefed main and the headsail. Overnight we got a few squalls with winds gusting to 40 knots so we had the staysail out and kept it that way until mid-day when we put out the yankee head sail. The weather reports are saying that the due east winds are more like summer winds than the typical trade winds that are usually ENE. I think there are no more “typicals” in the weather these days. Seems like there are many more “unusuals” reported. Herb is reporting today that we might not have to head as far north as he thought. But then heading due west from here means the wind would be right behind us, so we’ll probably continue NW a little further before heading southwest. Our goal for today was to reach 14 degrees 30 minutes N by 71 degrees W. We made it. Tomorrow the goal will be to reach 15 degrees north and back to 14 degrees 30 minutes N by 73 W. Since the seas are settling another option would be to take down the head sail and motor sail overnight so we don’t have to jibe back and forth. Right now things are going so smoothly I hate to change anything.

Last night was not terrible, but there were reminders of our passage from Hampton to St. Martin. The squalls started in late afternoon and continued until about 0200. Even though I had most everything ready for dinner, I tried to cook rice and spilled boiling water. I was able to get out of the way and avoided getting burned, but won’t try that again when things are rough. I still have so much to learn about how to cook with only 2 hands when everything is moving and you need at least 6 hands.. I’ve read books by the pros like Lin Pardey and it sounds so easy, or at least doable. Not so. I am definitely challenged.

With night watches last night, we got back to reading. When we are in port we are too busy to read. I am still reading South Pacific by James Michener and Mark is reading Yarns by Tristan Jones. These are short sailing stories. I’m also reading The Care and Feeding of the Sailing Crew by Lin Pardey. I read it a few years ago, but now that we are underway I’m learning so much from her more than 25 years of cruising experiences.

Here’s hoping that the next 24 hours are smooth sailing. Mark is getting ready to sleep and will come on watch at 2200. We will try 4 hour watches tonight. That seems to work best for us. And for those of you in cooler climates, the temperature got down to 77 degrees last night and I had to put on long pants and a jacket. I know, no sympathy, but just thought I’d share that.

Day 106, Year 1: Headed to the San Blas Islands, Panama

Day 106, Year 1: Headed to the San Blas Islands, Panama
Date: Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Air Temperature: 82 degrees F
Water Temperature: 80 degrees F
Latitude: N 12 degrees 42 minutes
Longitude: W 69 degrees 22 minutes
Location: Passage from Curacao to Panama, Day 1

We left Spanish Waters in Curacao at 0830 this morning, so we are 8 hours into our passage. If we average 120 miles per day, the trip to the San Blas will take us 7 days or just 168 hours to go! So sometime early next week we should be making our way through the coral reefs of the San Blas islands. I explained in an earlier log that we are going about 200 miles out of our way to avoid the nasty weather along the Columbian coast. We also decided to skip Aruba since we will be taking extra days to reach the San Blas. If Bonaire was “snorkel ’til you drop”, Aruba is “shop ’til you drop” and probably not our kind of place. It’s a great place to fly into and makes a great cruise ship stop, but is not a “must see” for most cruisers. Maybe we will fly there someday.

Today’s sailing has been great but as we get further away from Curacao, the seas are building. We just finished listening to Herb’s weather report and he tells us the seas will calm down some tomorrow through Friday, but he is also telling us that we might need to go even further north to stay out of very windy conditions south of 15 degrees N. We’ll be almost half way to the Dominican Republic before we can head south to Panama. Maybe we should take a little side trip!

Sailing was so smooth along the coast of Curacao earlier today that I was able to make salmon cakes, boiled eggs, and fried chicken in a wine sauce to put in the freezer as “fast food” options if the weather deteriorates. It’s always nice to be able to pull something out of the freezer that just needs to be warmed rather than trying to cook when things are rough. On Sunday I made pasta salad and key lime pie, so we will be set for a few days.

Last night we went to Happy Hour at Sarifundy’s. We met some new people and said good-bye to those we had met on Friday night. There are at least two boats in Spanish Waters that will be heading to the San Blas and on to the Panama Canal. Islay will probably leave later this week for the San Blas, and today when listening to Herb we heard from Songster in Curacao leaving tomorrow morning and heading our way. Looks like we will have company in the San Blas. We said our farewells to Tory and Piet Hein Elshove from Double Dutch, to Susan Leader and Wayne Wilson from Day Dream, and Bob Gause from Kathryn. Bob is from Winterport, Maine, and has the best dinghy name I have seen yet. It is R-A-A-B-I-D which stands for Rational Adults Against Bush’s Idea of Democracy. He “borrowed” the name from a bumper sticker that was very popular in Maine a couple of years ago. Bob will be sailing to Cartagenia in a few weeks and have his boat taken out of the water and stored on land while he flies back to Maine to refill the cruising coffers. Susan and Wayne are from Vancouver Island and are slowly working their way back home. They invited us to visit Day Dream after Happy Hour. It is a 50 foot aluminum boat and they just finished most of the interior themselves. They did a fantastic job and the boat looks great. We will keep in touch with Susan and Wayne, and Bob, via radio.

When I went into Willemstad yesterday to check out, I had hoped to be able to e-mail pictures to the website. Unfortunately, I could check e-mail but could not send anything. I left a memory stick with Susan on Day Dream and she is going to try and get the pictures sent for us. If she is successful, those of you who just have to see the picture of “the rat” should get your wish in a couple of days. If she cannot get them sent, it will be about 3 weeks before we will reach our next internet caf� site in Panama. Hopefully Susan will be successful and you will not have to wait.