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June 2015

Friends

We didn't really have a rough last day at sea. We just hit the wall. And of course we had to hand steer for a while. We missed the weather report on Monday morning, but did manage to hear the San Blas Cruisers' net and did talk with Keith on Kookaburra, telling him we'd arrive around 2:00. They hauled their anchor and came out to meet us, our radio rendezvous and in-real-life sighting occurred at 2:02 or 1402. Jaime asked what took us so long, and said, "We've been waiting here an hour!" I called her the B-word and knew we were back with friends. Friends who know how to hit our sweet spots. They've been waiting for us for a couple of weeks or more. We are late to the party.

These are true friends, ready and waiting to greet us and lead us into Proviner, the small harbor with a difficult entry. S/V Kookaburra was our own private pilot boat. Once we anchored, the crew from our private pilot boat arrived on board with cheese, crackers, and a bit of the bubbly. How cool is that? We have a lot to catch up on. While we were in the Azores and Canaries, they spent 27 days in Peru, including a trip to Machu Pichu. We'll travel with them among the Guna Yala islands this week, learning about some of their favorite anchorages, then they are off to visit friends and family in the states (mostly Massachusetts), leaving us to meet new friends, explore on our own and do a LOT of boat work.

On Monday, we are anchored in a space surrounded by reefs. After being at sea in 2000+ feet of water with no land or other boats in sight, this is a whole different world. Guna Indians stopped by to offer fish and molas. "Thank you, not today," is our response. I'm looking forward to having them stop by with fresh fruits and veggies and have been assured that will happen shortly.

This is out of the hurricane zone, but still isn't the high season for Guna Yala cruising. Jaime said there are only 30 boats here in the whole chain---this could be a challenge for two extroverts, but we do have long work lists, so that's a help. To further earn their sainthood, Kookaburra welcomed us aboard for a delicious meal of pasta and sauce -- comfort food -- and wine. We supplied the chocolate. This morning, we checked into the country, toured a couple of these islands, and visit the only grocery store in the chain. (They had chips and soda; nothing else. The other store had sewing notions, cell phones and the same groceries.)Then we began the "Kook's Tour" of Guna Yala. I've been told that paddle boarding and snorkeling are on the list. Oh darn. We've also picked out the spot when we expect to spend most of the time they are gone. Great snorkeling and a very close cell tower which will allow us to email and get on-line, and (we hope) Skype.

Already we know this will be an experience like no other. Boaters have stayed in the area for 2 and 3 years because they enjoy the islands and never run out of new anchorages and new places to explore. Through our neighbors on the mooring in St. Thomas, we know of one couple who sails back and forth between St. Thomas and here every year. I'm anxious to meet them and to learn about their route, as I assume they don't the same passage we just experienced twice a year. No one would make that passage twice a year. Few would do it once. We shouldn't have, but there you go and here we are.

Anchored.

After checking into the country and the autonomous region of Guna Yala, we followed Kookaburra to the Lemon Cays, where we purchased one lovely live sea crab. Crab risoto for dinner tonight.

We have arrived.

Tonight's anchorage is 9 33.708 North and 078 51.783 West. We will leave here tomorrow for the next stop on our whirlwind tour. If it's Tuesday, this must be the Lemon Cays.

No Worries. Be Happy

Two in one post. First, written on the 21st at 1300 or so: Greetings from 134 miles from the goal. The end is in sight and the waves and seas have finally died down to 8 - 10 feet, and 20-30 knots, respectively. From that you can infer that last night was another night of 99s. We hand steered from 2000 (8:00 PM) until morning. When I forced myself out of the sea bunk around 7:00 I convinced EW to try Casey. Things had calmed enough and he's been operating beautifully, though it took a bit of work and configuring of the settings. While that was going on, we pro

Last night we had gusts to 40 (and a few over) swells from one direction and waves from a slightly different direction. If I could figure out how to get my core more involved steering the boat would be a full body workout. As it is, my hands, arms, hips, legs and feet all work together to drive the boat and keep me upright (mostly).

Here's a secret: I realized that I was enjoying myself. There we were, the only foolish pleasure boat to be sailing in this section of the Caribbean Sea, hand steering through the night, with stars, a sliver of a moon, and big waves which frequently dumped bucket loads of water into the cockpit and onto me. EW was off, sleeping down below, and I was singing every song I could think of and grinning like an idiot. La Luna is the perfect boat for this: well-shaped, heavy, and responsive. I was exhausted and sore, but happy.

I'll be happier still when we get there. This morning we were finally able to pick up the cruisers' net on the SSB. I could hear Net Control only faintly but did hear him request that any boats under way "check in now." That would be La Luna. I checked in and gave him our position. Afterward, I heard another boat call Net Control, asking to speak with me. "We have a message from Kookaburra for La Luna." Yippee. We confirmed that we'd arrive sometime tomorrow, that we'd go directly to check in if it was early in the day (not likely, we've slowed) and go to the nearby island of Chichime if we were too late to make navigate around the reefs safely. We know that Kookaburra is waiting for us, that they will be monitoring the VHF, and we are all anticipating our arrival.

It's good to have friends at sea.

In the meantime, I'm going to try to finish the Panamanian flag while EW sleeps.

Written June 22 at 0125: At that point, Casey crapped out and I hand steered for two hours instead of waking EW. The flag is not done. We had a few other minor issues, and things that turned out not to be issues, resulting in not getting as much sleep as we should have during the day. EW sent me down for four hours at 1900 Panama time, and he's off for his four hours now.

I woke up to a new reality. We have 12 to 15 knots of wind seas of 2-4 feet, no water splashing on deck and no slapping and banging of waves on the hull. It's a mostly clear night with a million stars and we are heading for land. I keep confusing the horizon with shore, but we are 80 miles out still and I am not seeing shore in the distance. At 0300, I'll probably go down for half the remaining darkness, and have EW do the same when I get up, then we'll get ready for the Guna Yala and our cruising friends. After all, I promised Jaime that we'd be huggable clean when we saw her.

As of 0130 on June 22, we were located at 10 40.883 North and 78 45.872 West. Expect to arrive in the region by noon or shortly after and anchor in Chichime tonight.

The Five Senses

Most of these posts have been about the adventure, what is happening (or not happening) and how I feel about it. We are nearing the end of this passage, and I have a bit of time to help you sense what we are experiencing.

Sight.

On deck we have had stars and a sliver of moon at night. I've seen three falling stars on this trip. On most nights we can see the dark shapes of the nearby waves, and discern the white froth as they break. We wear a headlamp on watch, with the red bulb operating so that we retain our night vision, so the compass, cockpit, wind indicator, and our iPad and Kindle all have a red cast to them. This morning, we sailed in a silvery sea of crumpled wave-shaped mounds of aluminum foil. Each ripple of every wave sparkled with the sun on an otherwise gray morning. It looked as if some ingenious waiter had formed a sea sculpture for our left-over seafood dinner. Except for this morning's sun magic, the sea has been a nearly relentless slate gray, with frothy crests. To remind us of what waits for us in the islands, each time a wave breaks, the bubbles below the surface allow sunlight to penetrate, creating a Caribbean beach turquoise flicker in the wave, and a residual pool of turquoise water after the wave's passing. The color combination of gray, turquoise, and white reminded me of shift dresses and home decor of the 1960's---except I remember those fashions to offer the three colors in equal amounts. Here we have gray,with a smattering of white and a tiny smidgeon of turquoise. The boat, recipient of frequent sea water showers looks pristine, every item stowed on deck is tied and remains in place. We are seaworthy and look it.

Below deck, the galley is tidy, and the main salon has a mash of pillows, sheets, and other covers over the mattresses. The dinette area has been made into a nearly king-size bunk, with a canvas lee-cloth on the fourth side to keep us in place at night. The rest of the boat is a mess. Aft,there is a pile of wet, salty clothing in the shower; the mattress in the master stateroom is hosting the outboard motor for the dinghy and the grill---strapped to heavy eye-bolts permanently installed on either side of the bed; and because I attempted to take care of the wet laundry yesterday, two clothes lines are strung from port-light to port-light with still damp, though no longer salty, clothing hung to dry. The forward cabin and pilot berth area are packed with cushions from the main salon, ditch bag, things we don't really need, things we do need, and things we are taking the Jaime and Keith.

Smell.

On deck, I don't notice the smell of the sea, though every so often I get a whiff of my own odor and it's not pleasant.

Below deck. Welcome to Funky Town. I keep the galley clean, clean the head, and wipe up the sole, but the wet clothing, infrequently washed bodies, and inability to open ports or hatches creates a less than enticing aroma. I'm ashamed to say that I'm getting used to it, but much of my day-dreaming and planning while on watch involves exactly how we will clean this mess (and how quickly I will open the hatches) once we anchor. I made bread on my midnight watch, so EW awoke to the smell of fresh baked bread. He loves that. Alas, the aroma did not linger.

Taste.

The prevailing taste is salt. Waves constantly splash the boat, sometimes from the forward quarter, more often into the cockpit. I was afraid our water tanks were bad until I realized that my Tervis tumbler and straw were sprinkled with salt. This is a different passage that any other I've done, and making full meals is difficult. Our meals are basic: beans and franks; feta/beet salad with lettuce early in the trip, with cabbage near the end; quesadillas and salsa; tuna salad and cole slaw. Our primary sweets this trip are fruit juice packs and fruit cups, and the occasional chocolate kiss. EW enjoys a handful of hard candies when on watch. I am fortunate he is grateful for all I prepare.

Hearing.

Below, we hear the few things that clatter and rattle, the groaning of the auto-pilot, the movement of the propeller, and some sounds from on-deck.

On deck, we hear the wind---20-30 knots with gusts to 45 (just a few times) is loud. We hear the sea smacking, slamming, splashing, and rolling into the boat and the rush of water on the deck and in the cockpit that results. A few days ago, we took waves on the starboard quarter and those that were going to hit us had a rhythm similar to that of a bowler on a cricket team. I was the unprotected wicket, and I swear I could hear each bowling wave stutter step as it prepared to fling the ball of water onto my front or back. In addition to the wind and waves, there are boat sounds: the down-wind pole rattles against the mast, the out-haul clatters against the boom, and the flag is committing suicide on these downwind legs, beating itself against the man overboard pole, stern rail, and various antennas.

Touch.

At first I was disconcerted to feel rough grainy "dirt" on my ankles, than realized it was salt. When we come off watch, we are sweaty and sticky and we remove our on-deck clothing, then wet our personal "salt towel" with fresh water to wipe the salt from our extremities. For me, more than the salt are the unavoidable bumps,bruises, and scrapes that are inevitable when trying to move, cook, fix things, sit, or eat on a bouncing boat at sea. Yesterday, I told EW that if he wants to cruise in his next life, perhaps he should seek a more graceful partner. So far, in addition to simply running or falling into doorways, the wheel, counter-tops, and the mast, I have had three amazing tumbles. EW witnessed most of the first one from on deck, looking below to see me hurtle out of the galley, bounce off the back of the dinette, pirouette, and fall in a heap into a tiny section of open floor by the chart table. "Are you all right?" "I don't know!" I was fine, one bruised elbow and one deeply bruised thigh. Last evening, the boat lurched as I was holding a bowl of just mixed bread dough, while trying to get a clean dish cloth out of the cupboard. The one and a half gainer left me planted face-first into the sea bunk, with my legs projecting up over the lee cloth. The bread remained in the bowl. For some reason, that episode sprained my right foot -- but not badly. We hurt in strange places, and are careful when we kiss. (I'm even more careful when we kiss as EW has wisely decided not to go near his face with a sharp object in these conditions, so his kisses have bite.) We've learned to make sure to greet each other and share a kiss or two with each watch. We aren't room-mates; we are life partners, spouses, and lovers. It's important to remember that, and to touch.

As of 3:00 PM on June 20, we are located at 13 20.172 North and 78 25.300 West. Our heading is almost directly to our goal, and we have 222 miles to go.

Jaime and Keith, we will shower before we arrive so hugging us will not be hazardous to your health. We suggest you don't go down below, though.

The Five Senses

Most of these posts have been about the adventure, what is happening (or not happening) and how I feel about it. We are nearing the end of this passage, and I have a bit of time to help you sense what we are experiencing.

Sight.

On deck we have had stars and a sliver of moon at night. I've seen three falling stars on this trip. On most nights we can see the dark shapes of the nearby waves, and discern the white froth as they break. We wear a headlamp on watch, with the red bulb operating so that we retain our night vision, so the compass, cockpit, wind indicator, and our iPad and Kindle all have a red cast to them. This morning, we sailed in a silvery sea of crumpled wave-shaped mounds of aluminum foil. Each ripple of every wave sparkled with the sun on an otherwise gray morning. It looked as if some ingenious waiter had formed a sea sculpture for our left-over seafood dinner. Except for this morning's sun magic, the sea has been a nearly relentless slate gray, with frothy crests. To remind us of what waits for us in the islands, each time a wave breaks, the bubbles below the surface allow sunlight to penetrate, creating a Caribbean beach turquoise flicker in the wave, and a residual pool of turquoise water after the wave's passing. The color combination of gray, turquoise, and white reminded me of shift dresses and home decor of the 1960's---except I remember those fashions to offer the three colors in equal amounts. Here we have gray,with a smattering of white and a tiny smidgeon of turquoise. The boat, recipient of frequent sea water showers looks pristine, every item stowed on deck is tied and remains in place. We are seaworthy and look it.

Below deck, the galley is tidy, and the main salon has a mash of pillows, sheets, and other covers over the mattresses. The dinette area has been made into a nearly king-size bunk, with a canvas lee-cloth on the fourth side to keep us in place at night. The rest of the boat is a mess. Aft,there is a pile of wet, salty clothing in the shower; the mattress in the master stateroom is hosting the outboard motor for the dinghy and the grill---strapped to heavy eye-bolts permanently installed on either side of the bed; and because I attempted to take care of the wet laundry yesterday, two clothes lines are strung from port-light to port-light with still damp, though no longer salty, clothing hung to dry. The forward cabin and pilot berth area are packed with cushions from the main salon, ditch bag, things we don't really need, things we do need, and things we are taking the Jaime and Keith.

Smell.

On deck, I don't notice the smell of the sea, though every so often I get a whiff of my own odor and it's not pleasant.

Below deck. Welcome to Funky Town. I keep the galley clean, clean the head, and wipe up the sole, but the wet clothing, infrequently washed bodies, and inability to open ports or hatches creates a less than enticing aroma. I'm ashamed to say that I'm getting used to it, but much of my day-dreaming and planning while on watch involves exactly how we will clean this mess (and how quickly I will open the hatches) once we anchor. I made bread on my midnight watch, so EW awoke to the smell of fresh baked bread. He loves that. Alas, the aroma did not linger.

Taste.

The prevailing taste is salt. Waves constantly splash the boat, sometimes from the forward quarter, more often into the cockpit. I was afraid our water tanks were bad until I realized that my Tervis tumbler and straw were sprinkled with salt. This is a different passage that any other I've done, and making full meals is difficult. Our meals are basic: beans and franks; feta/beet salad with lettuce early in the trip, with cabbage near the end; quesadillas and salsa; tuna salad and cole slaw. Our primary sweets this trip are fruit juice packs and fruit cups, and the occasional chocolate kiss. EW enjoys a handful of hard candies when on watch. I am fortunate he is grateful for all I prepare.

Hearing.

Below, we hear the few things that clatter and rattle, the groaning of the auto-pilot, the movement of the propeller, and some sounds from on-deck.

On deck, we hear the wind---20-30 knots with gusts to 45 (just a few times) is loud. We hear the sea smacking, slamming, splashing, and rolling into the boat and the rush of water on the deck and in the cockpit that results. A few days ago, we took waves on the starboard quarter and those that were going to hit us had a rhythm similar to that of a bowler on a cricket team. I was the unprotected wicket, and I swear I could hear each bowling wave stutter step as it prepared to fling the ball of water onto my front or back. In addition to the wind and waves, there are boat sounds: the down-wind pole rattles against the mast, the out-haul clatters against the boom, and the flag is committing suicide on these downwind legs, beating itself against the man overboard pole, stern rail, and various antennas.

Touch.

At first I was disconcerted to feel rough grainy "dirt" on my ankles, than realized it was salt. When we come off watch, we are sweaty and sticky and we remove our on-deck clothing, then wet our personal "salt towel" with fresh water to wipe the salt from our extremities. For me, more than the salt are the unavoidable bumps,bruises, and scrapes that are inevitable when trying to move, cook, fix things, sit, or eat on a bouncing boat at sea. Yesterday, I told EW that if he wants to cruise in his next life, perhaps he should seek a more graceful partner. So far, in addition to simply running or falling into doorways, the wheel, counter-tops, and the mast, I have had three amazing tumbles. EW witnessed most of the first one from on deck, looking below to see me hurtle out of the galley, bounce off the back of the dinette, pirouette, and fall in a heap into a tiny section of open floor by the chart table. "Are you all right?" "I don't know!" I was fine, one bruised elbow and one deeply bruised thigh. Last evening, the boat lurched as I was holding a bowl of just mixed bread dough, while trying to get a clean dish cloth out of the cupboard. The one and a half gainer left me planted face-first into the sea bunk, with my legs projecting up over the lee cloth. The bread remained in the bowl. For some reason, that episode sprained my right foot -- but not badly. We hurt in strange places, and are careful when we kiss. (I'm even more careful when we kiss as EW has wisely decided not to go near his face with a sharp object in these conditions, so his kisses have bite.) We've learned to make sure to greet each other and share a kiss or two with each watch. We aren't room-mates; we are life partners, spouses, and lovers. It's important to remember that, and to touch.

As of 3:00 PM on June 20, we are located at 13 20.172 North and 78 25.300 West. Our heading is almost directly to our goal, and we have 222 miles to go.

Jaime and Keith, we will shower before we arrive so hugging us will not be hazardous to your health. We suggest you don't go down below, though.

You Sa y "Horrendous" ; I Say Not so Much

It occurred to me that the last post may have horrified some folk. We had been doing our "99s" all night, when one sails the boat and the other sets the kitchen timer to the max---99 minutes. I was pretty tired. Allow me to clarify some things:

First, one person's "horrendous" conditions is another person's "all systems go". When we were in Sint Maarten getting ready to cross to the Azores last year, we attended a meeting about the crossing and various routes. Mike from S/V Quinn organized the gathering and he had a burly man from Germany discuss the northern route for those going directly to Great Britain or Ireland. This gentleman opened his talk by drawing a charming middle ages dragon at the top of the chalkboard Atlantic "chart", saying, "This way, therrrre be dragons." He proceeded to discuss what one expects to encounter on that route and what one must do to remain safe. There, 40 knots of winds and 12-15 foot seas are the norm. Add to that cold temperatures and the requirement that someone on each watch stay on deck specifically to watch for ice bergs. That is horrendous.

What we experienced the night of the 17th and 18th wasn't horrendous for us. It wasn't comfortable, and it's not conducive for cooking, staying dry, or moving about the boat in an upright position, but it wasn't horrendous. We hove-to just before we turned on Chris Parker yesterday, in order to get some things done before heading (finally) southwest (again)(for the last time). During the heaving-to process as I drove the boat into the wind we met a 15 foot wave, climbing up and going down the other side, smooth as silk. I was exuberant. "That's my biggest wave ever!" "You had a bunch of them last night," said EW. "You just couldn't see them in the dark." So for us with this heavy cruising boat,these conditions aren't horrendous, but they aren't comfortable and they slow us down, so they aren't making me happy either.

EW has gotten the auto pilot to work about 75 per cent of the time. My mood is directly related to whether A)It's working well enough for us to stand normal watches instead of 99s and B)I don't have to steer three out of the four hours of my normal watch as I had to do this morning from six to ten. Forget cuisine, meals are food--whatever I can prepare eat and clean up in 45 minutes. We are wearing foul weather jackets for almost the first time since leaving Florida, just to help us stay dry from the salt spray. EW was so incensed about getting soaked again and again that one day that he put on the full gear and lived in a sweat suit for four hours. As I write this I have a bucket load going to clean the wet, salty pile of clothing that's been growing in the shower. We are finally on a beam reach (yea) heading more south than west(double yea)so while the boat is still bouncing, we are heeling slightly more decidedly to starboard, allowing the bucket to settle in to one corner of the shower---mostly.

When we left St. Thomas, I told you to expect us to take 8-12 days. I was hoping for eight and pretty positive we'd arrive in 9 or 10 days. It's Day 9 and we're 338 miles out. Looks like 12 days. Ah well. There are no bugs, no tooth-aches, nothing serious has broken, we love, praise, and kiss each other on every watch, and we still like each other. We have plenty of propane and the freezer/fridge is working great. You couldn't say any of these things about the Endurance Crossing. We have also learned that some of the things we've done to prepare the boat for an Atlantic crossing were not adequate. They worked fine on the crossings because we had light winds and seas---lighter than normal for both crossings. So we have a list going for things to change, purchase, or fix' but it's a doable list.

This is a great boat; I love watching her slide down a wave. All in all, it's pretty exhilarating. And there are some gorgeous Caribbean islands and great friends in our very near future. That's not horrendous at all.

As of 12:23 on June 19, we were located at 15 10.85 north and 77 29.01 West, heading 210 -- mostly. If the waves let us.

Do You Know the Way to the San Blas? Ta-Da-Da-Da-da-da-Ta-da-da

With apologies to Bert (Burt?)B. We kinda screwed up this passage---mainly in the planning and navigation process, which would be my bad. It's embarrassing but I will share the truth at some future point. Keith and Jaime on S/V Kookaburra have been helpful and patient. Waiting for us, their parts, and sending emails in reply to my questions. We are about 500 miles out and actually see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Note to family, friends, non-sailors and small boat sailors: We have never been in danger.

Now then, we have sailed in the largest waves and longest sustained big winds than I have ever sailed.

We are not done. We have 500 miles to the goal and drinks with Jaime and Keith. (Lots of drinks.) Of course we will be arriving with the projected squalls. It's that kind of trip. La Luna is an excellent heavy-weather sailing boat. We are sailing in heavy weather. Chris Parker, radio weather guru called the conditions "horrendous". That is not encouraging. We are out in it. We are doing fine, and all harbors are too far from the rhumb line to do us any good. So we will be sailing in 30 knots with higher gusts, and 12-15 foot seas.

I'd be nervous, but we've been in these conditions for 4 days now. I'm getting used to it. We won't be near any reefs, we watch for ships and other sailors, and we keep fed, hydrated, and rested.

As of 9:00 AM on the 18th, We are at 16 22.49 N and 75 46.610 W. We will clean the galley and set sails for our San Blas Rhum line. Life is still good at sea.

Mr. Bill

On one of our last trips the the ACE Hardware Store in St. Thomas, we were gifted with a small rubber duck for making a purchase over $X.00. Both of us were delighted for some reason. The clerk at the checkout counter and the nearby elderly security/greeter laughed at us, as she said, "More of the adults like the duck than the kids do."

Of course we don't need a rubber duck; we have no tub and he would easily get lost in the vast ocean, so we keep him on a safe perch down below. EW did allow him on deck for a photo opportunity today. It will be posted after we are at anchor. And of course, being the kind of people we are, we had to name the duck. For a few days we called him "Buck", a name neither of us were happy with. Once we started on this interesting part of our trip -- the 40 knot gust part with no auto-pilot -- that part -- EW suggested we change his name to "Mr. Bill", as in "Oh No! Mister Bill!"

So we did. Occasionally one or the other of us (usually EW) will pull poor Mr. Bill off his perch and shout, "Oh no, Mr. Bill!" before squashing his poor little head. It's a great stress reliever. Why do we need a stress reliever? Not because of any real discomfort, danger, or boat issues. This is definitely NOT another "Endurance Crossing" (read posts about our December passage from the Canaries to Guadalupe for that story, as well as the post written after we had recovered, entitled, "Endurance Crossing".) So we are "stressed" by boat bruises, spilling a full basket of fresh ground coffee, getting sprayed by large waves, and realizing that the motion of the boat definitely makes working on certain boat projects interesting, if not impossible. We have been hove-to for 36 hours, it's tedious, and we can only hope that the weather will abate tomorrow so that we an once again sail.

On the plus side, we have gotten caught up on our sleep and it's a well-needed rest; some of my boat bruises and all of the ground coffee spill can be attributed to fatigue. Mr. Bill has helped us maintain our sense of humor -- collectively and individually. It's the little things that amuse us. Yesterday I undertook a couple of house cleaning projects, sweeping and washing the sole (floor)was one necessary task I thought would be easily undertaken at sea. Not so much. I dimly remember an old cartoon of someone on a sailing ship swabbing the decks while trying to keep track of the bucket of water as it slid from port to starboard with each wave. It was like that. Only in my case my sweat soaked knees also slid along the sole, not exactly in time with the bucket. It became swab the sole, slide to port, grab the bucket. "Oh no, Mr. Bill!" Smash!

My parents would be appalled by some of my sailor swear words, and I'm thinking it may be time to clean up my act a bit. Do you think "Oh no, Mr. Bill!" would be a good substitute? It's sort of like those cockney rhymes. (Think about it. Some of you will understand that one.)

It's 1420 on June 16th. We are located at 15.06.71 North and 73.38.82 West. Our course is 311, and we are moving at 1.7 knots.

Heaving-To

We are fairly careful when we sail, checking various weather sources, and avoid rough weather as much as possible. We have been fortunate that the only bad storm we've experienced in 5 years of cruising was the storm off Cape Fear in November of 2010. (You can find it on this blog.) We may have (did) mess up a bit on this crossing. Our sail plan was to keep just south of the south coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before heading southwest to Panama. The winds were from the east and once underway EW suggested sailing directly southeast from south of Salinas, Puerto Rico.

Three days later I remembered why we should have stayed north. Folks often travel to the San Blas from the ABCs -- Aruba, Barbuda, and Curacao. When they do, we have frequently heard them on the weather channels discussing when to make the leap from Aruba to Cartagena. That passage along the north coasts of Venezuela and Columbia are known for rougher weather than nearby areas.

To add to that, the grib files and other reports indicated 18-22 knots of wind pretty much everywhere in this section of the Caribbean Sea. For the second day in a row, we are in 25-35 knots of wind with 9-10 foot seas. Yesterday, our route took us to 120 miles north of the Columbia/Venezuela border, where we experienced stronger seas and sustained gusts at 40 knots. Hand steering was exhausting and we were concerned about the boat. We were taking shifts slightly less than two-hours in duration. The person off watch would set the kitchen timer to maximum - 98 minutes - go to sleep and get rudely awakened by the timer. He or she would take care of a few personal and boat things, and make his or her way on deck. And the cycle would continue.

When it was time for EW to join me early this morning, I initiated discussion about how we had underestimated this coastline and had to get out of here. Sure, it was technically possible for us to continue along the coast and reach our destination in 3 days --- if nothing went wrong and if we could physically handle it. Both of us knew that was untenable. I thought the only thing we could do would be to head back northwest, in the same conditions but to where we at least only had 35 knot gusts and slightly lower seas. EW had a better idea.

We hove-to. I'll have to explain it to my land-lubber friends later. For you sailors who have never had to heave-to, it's a miracle. EW calmly outlined the steps. The jib was fully furled and we were sailing under a reefed main. We had to shorten the main some more (not easy in those conditions),and then let the jib out a little bit. We sheeted the main amidships and the jib onto the starboard side and turned the boat to port. Once we got her over, we turned the wheel back to starboard and tied her there. Calm was restored immediately. The miracle is that we novices got it right; if we had sheeted everything onto the other side of the boat, we'd be heading into the rougher waters, closer to shore. This way we are drifting along at 1.5-2 knots to the northwest, without steering the boat, without putting huge wear and tear on the boat, without exhausting ourselves. There is little traffic out here and no reefs or islands. We stand watch, clean the boat, sleep.

By tomorrow night we hope that the weather forecasts are correct and that the winds and seas have died down enough for us to steer the boat more comfortably again to the northwest. If Casey still can't handle it, we'll have to hand steer again, but it won't be as difficult. Once we reach 16 north and 77 West we'll turn southwest for the Guna Yala (formerly known as the San Blas) Islands. The whole thing may take 5 days, but who cares? We have plenty of provisions, and no tropical storms are expected for this region. We'll be out of the hurricane zone in a few days, having drinks on deck with Jaime and Keith and going over those things we did right and those we did wrong. Every lesson truly learned is a good lesson at sea.

A side note: Remember I mentioned that plane? Still not sure what country it's from, but we heard it again yesterday afternoon, and at 7:30 it buzzed very low directly over our mast. I was not pleased. We've heard it again today. Kinda feels like target practice.

Hand Steering

Hi there. Things are hunky dory. Just fine. Love this boat and love my captain. Casey -- not so much. I've decided that when we are going downwind in stiff breeze and he gives up that he has two personalities. The second one is Freddy the Freeloader. EW and I are hand steering changing watch every 2 hours. It's not horrible. Most gusts aren't above 30, it's warm, and we've had no squalls. Just lots of wind and seas. Everyone is fine. Freddy the Freeloader is the only one getting enough sleep. Ciao!

It's 2030 on June 14. Happy Flag Day. We are at 14 41 181 North and 072 31 710 West. Supposed to calm down tomorrow.

Casey at the Helm

Or not.

We call our auto-pilot Casey. When La Luna is steaming along a reach, she reminds EW of a locomotive. (He even got an engineer's hat back when we were in Maine. It was his favorite sailing hat for a time.) For years, I loved Casey. I believed in him. When we were in that storm off Cape Fear back in 2010, Casey never faltered in 36 hours of beating with 40 knot gusts. He never faltered.

Casey failed us as we set off for the Azores last year, requiring us to hand steer back to St. Martin and spent another week and another thousand repairing him. After that, I lost my faith in Casey. This is not good. EW has taught me that you must trust your boat. Of course in order to do so, we must repair and maintain La Luna and her bits and bobs. We do. EW is an excellent captain and knows boats, and he can repair most things on board. Still, I stopped trusting Casey. It didn't help that he failed us a few times at sea, causing a couple of unintentional gybes. That's a bad thing. One ripped out a section of our aluminum toe rail.

It also didn't help that I didn't discuss this lack of boat trust with EW. Instead, I've awakened him with various worries while he was off watch. Last night the wind shifted and strengthened. Instead of heading directly to our goal, we were aiming for Venezuela in 20-25 knots of wind with 30 knot gusts. The third time I woke EW, he agreed we needed to hand steer. What I didn't understand is that -- while the problem is Casey --- the problem only occurs when we are sailing down wind. For this entire sail (until today) we have been just shy of heading directly down wind. Casey cannot handle that well in strong winds and contrary seas.

We gybed the boat to head northwest (on purpose and carefully) and steered in one hour shifts all night long. Yes, it was exhausting. It was also beautiful. There was no rain, there were no squalls. We had fluky winds, going from 14 knots to 25 in a heartbeat, and correspondingly fluky seas. I didn't enjoy myself. But I wasn't scared and didn't hate it. Here are a few observations and lessons from the last 24 hours at sea.

1. When steering downwind at night I can let my mind wander and still pay attention to the wind indicator, making sure that I don't unintentionally gybe the boat.
2. However, I cannot "write" an article in my head. Doing that causes me to lose too much focus on the task at hand.
3. I am always in awe of how fast 6 knots feels when one is sailing at night surfing down waves. It feels as though we are hurtling into a void. Again, I'm not frightened by it, but I am in awe of the power of the sea, and of the strength of our boat.
4. Having ample opportunity to think while on watch, I was able to better articulate my feelings about Casey and how they have led me to not trust our boat. More important, I was able to express this to EW and we had an excellent conversation about auto-pilots, wind vanes, boat balance, and the fact that we have done more downwind sailing in the past year than in all the other 12 years we've had the boat.
5. As a result, when the wind shifted this morning and we gybed back on course, to find we were on a reach to our goal, EW activated Casey, and I began to trust again. Now, eight hours later, we are sailing on a reach in 15-20 knots with gusts to 30 and Casey is doing his job with skill. That's a good thing as we need our sleep.

I'll be sending this off shortly after 1800. It's 1630 now and we are located at 15 degrees, 14.962 minutes North, and 070 degrees 17.79 minutes West.

EW is off watch for the second time today, and I have had not reason to disturb his sleep. BREAK BREAK! Just as I finished that sentence, I heard an engine. We have seen no other boats for 3 days. We have seen one -- just one -- "target" on the AIS and that was 2 days ago. Hearing an engine was disconcerting to say the least. I knew right away that it was a plane and sure enough, I got on deck in time to see a plane with a radar disc going low past our starboard side. As they circled to come back again, I woke up EW, sure he'd want to see it. (I was right.) It was smaller than a P3 and had a blue strip similar to the US Coast Guard stripe, with smaller red stripes on the outside of the blue. They do not show up on AIS.

Life sure is interesting at sea.