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October 2015
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December 2015

November 2015

We Couldna Gone to Isla Mujeres

Sailing is about patience and, as Keith from S/V Kookaburra says, "Plans written in sand." In fact, the Kooks are a case in point. They left us in the San Blas weeks and weeks ago only to sit and for weather windows in Columbia, and around the corner somewhere before Bonaire. On Friday, they finally left the ABC's for Virgin Islands. Plans written in sand.

We thought we'd not get a safe window to leave the San Blas before November 10. Instead, we here we are November 11, smack between Cuba and Mexico and heading north. With the now named Kate Tropical Storm or Hurricane (safe passage for those heading to the Eastern Caribbean, please) we will have increased NE winds in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly the area in which we must travel to reach Key West. AS of the 10th, Chris Parker thought the increased winds won't arrive before Saturday, giving us three days to anchor in a safe harbor. None of us thought we'd arrive in Key West in time, but Chris Parker offered a new destination: the Dry Tortugas.

OK. We can get behind that. Sure, we look forward to visiting Isla Mujeres,(EW hears there's lots of music there.) (And Margueritas.) but going there now isn't our goal. Our goal is to be in Fernandia for Thanksgiving and St. Augustine on December 1. (Even those dates are written in sand, but we used a sharper stick.) So we looked at the chart and at Chris Parker's suggestions, and are now making our way north and a bit east, looking for that 3 knot current he promised. The plan is to reach 24 North, at a point east of 86 on Thursday morning and then turn east to the Dry Tortugas, anchoring there before dark on Friday.

Yesterday, we left a wake sailing towards our goal at 6 knots and more. Woowee! OK it was a little wake. Overnight. Not so much. I hand steered in light winds from 0100 to 0400 and finally woke EW and asked him to help me furl the jib. Pinetop is chugging along as we head for that current and hope we find wind. We have two fall back positions:
1. If we don't reach our northern mark in time, we could continue to sail north for a day or so, then head south east to Key West, arriving after the strongest winds. I've marked the back or northern channel. Chris Parker suggested that option. 2. We beat feet back to Isla Mujeres. None of us like this and will only turn tail if we have bad weather. I think Chris is concerned that the northern winds may build and stay and who knows how long we'd be stuck in Mexico?

We have two different electronic charts of the Keys and the Dry Tortugas and the chart pack for Florida. If we need more information, we can get it from the SSCA morning net. This new service for all cruisers they use directional signals like Chris Parker does so that most boats in the Eastern Caribbean, Western Caribbean, and Bahamas can check in. Since it is a new service, not many are using it yet, and I've taken advantage of that. This morning when I check in, Scott will have information for me about entering Isla Mujeres (what a difference a day makes). I will thank him and see what he knows about Key West. Finally, I'll ask him to give great big hugs to Lynn and Steve Kaufmann, Carl and Carrie Butler, and anyone else we know at the SSCA Gam this weekend.

Some may consider writing your plans in sand to be a negative thing. Over the past five years the serendipities have allowed us to meet and become friends of many wonderful people.

And this writing in sand may have taught me just a small hourglass full of patience.

A bit.

Maybe.

If you have SSB radio, tune in to then new SSCA Net at 7:45 at 8104. I think that's Daylight Savings Time. I know we tune in at 6:45 here in the Western Caribbean, where they don't worry about that silly hour of daylight.

As of 0612 on November 11 --OH Happy Veterans' Day. And Thank you all! Big hugs to Howie and his boys.

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. We are here: 20 degrees 47 minutes North and 85 degrees 35 minutes West.

Addendum: So it's 10:10 and we've talked with Chris. Looks like he picked THE window for this trip. Things are messy in the southwest Caribbean and will get messy up here next week. We started sailing again at 7:00, and are now motor sailing to allow us to increase our speed to 6 knots. We need to be at 23 30 North, as far East as possible on Thursday and will then motor sail in the gulf stream (bouncy) to the Dry Tortugas, with the plan to arrive there in the afternoon on Friday. Depending on what happens with weather in the Atlantic, we may be there for a few days or a week. We have enough food and wine, may get low on beer, and may have to conserve water. All is good. (Well, except for the beer part.)

Flipper and Dinner

I made a bunch of new friends yesterday, during the last hour of my afternoon watch. I was sleepy but pretending to be alert, checking the horizon for traffic, when we were approached by a fleet (pod/troop/bevy) of dolphins. Now this isn't the first time we've had dolphins cavort near La Luna. It's happened before, but never by such a large group and never for nearly an hour.

These appeared to be bottle nosed dolphins--just like Flipper---and they spent the hour playing and performing for me. I was a most appreciative audience. At first I stayed in the cockpit and provided verbal ovations: "Hello beautiful." "Aren't you the best?" followed by many oohs and ahs and soft hand claps of pleasure. It seemed as though many of them swam near the cockpit in response to my appreciation. I called to EW and he joined me for some minutes before going below to read the engine manual. (Don't ask.)

Weve had groups of dolphins play in our wake in the Azores and Trinidad, but again, not for as long or as exuberantly as this group in the Northwest Caribbean. EW handed me the camera and I again stayed in the cockpit, taking photos and exclaiming. Finally, I ducked below to put on the life jacket and harness and made my way to the bow. There, I was the sole audience for a spectacular show. They leapt fully out of the water; three of them slapped their tails in turn; one stood on his tail to spy me; one did a flip; and all of them chased each other around the boat, passing back and forth in front of La Luna's wake. I snapped photos and wondered at one point whether they were enjoying the sounds of the camera, the little tone and snick-snick-snick that meant I was in sport mode, trying to take many photos to get one good shot. Later, I put the camera aside and simply enjoyed their acrobatics and joy.

I got splashed and laughed. I continued to talk with them. It was my best dolphin experience ever.

Both EW and I feel that seeing dolphins play near your boat is a good omen. It certainly made my day.

As did our progress. As of 0900 on Sunday morning (Panama Time) we are located at 17 degrees 20.42 minutes North, and 82 degrees 12.90 minutes West. We are sailing between 4-5 knots downwind in an East breeze. We have about 400 miles left to the arbitrary mark made off Isla Mujeres, and over 200 miles beyond that to Key West. We realize, however, that this East breeze will be Northeast in the Gulf of Mexico and we see tacking ahead of us, perhaps doubling that 200 miles. No worries. My friend Chris Parker will help us pick the right days and routes for that last passage to US shores.

Hey, are dolphins like dogs in that if they swim upside down, showing their white bellies, does it mean they trust you? I did not provide belly rubs, but I so wanted to. The harness (and I) remained tethered to the deck.

For the dinner portion of this message, let me tell you about the excellent lupper we enjoyed this afternoon. For EW's birthday, two days ago, I had cooked the smoked pork chops available in Panama and served them with roasted veggies including chunks of potato, onions, peppers, and eggplant. Today I smashed the leftover veggies and dumped them into hot olive oil in my small iron skillet, and fried that mess until the bottom was a bit crunchy. I whisked four eggs, added shredded cheddar cheese, basil, and mustard and poured that over the vegetable crust. Then I popped it into the oven for 20 minutes.

We have a winner.

This email will go out later this afternoon, so let me give you more up to date coordinates:
17 degrees 27.98 minutes North; 82 degrees 37.193 minutes West.

Notes From Our Fourth Day at Sea (Parenthically Speaking)

It always takes us a couple of days to settle in on a passage. We left Porvenir between one and two in the afternoon on Tuesday, and I didn't really get 'settled' until today, our fourth day at sea. Just as Chris Parker had told us, we had to motor for the first full day and the better part of the next 24 hours. (Jimmy Cornell in "World Cruising Routes" says that any yacht making this passage will have to expect to motor for part of it.) Motoring is no fun, but it's more fun that bobbing around with flogging sails, and we have to keep moving so we can take advantage of that "benign" weather window. One of the problems, of course, is that we can't hear each other speak when we are motoring. Understand, that we normally aren't sitting together much during a passage; one of us is doing a project, cooking, writing, or sleeping, while the other is on deck on watch. EW (and less often, I) will simply start talking prior to ascertaining whether the other can hear. This results in frequent repetitions of whole sentences and thoughts, or the more occasional "Never mind!" It does not result in good communication. When the motor was finally turned off, my entire body and soul settled.

Once we were able to sail we also had, as Chris Parker had promised, squalls. Now these were benign squalls. (This is evidently my new favorite passage word. Sure beats "horrific".) Only one hit over 30 knots and the seas weren't bad and we had (glory be!) no lightning. (After nearly 6 months in Eastern Panama going four days without being in a lightning storm is heavenly.)Our only problem with squalls is that "Casey" our auto-pilot sometimes had a hissy fit with a strong shift in wind and seas and turns himself off. Unfortunately, he doesn't turn off totally, so someone must press the "human" button in order to take the helm. That wouldn't be an issue if our auto pilot remote weren't in pieces in a plastic zip-lock. If Casey (not La Luna) get's smacked down, the on-deck person will yell, "HUMAN!", and the below deck person will dive for the button, yelling "Human!" back once it's been pressed. If the down below person was in deep sleep, or has to find glasses, or was "indisposed", then we will have rounded so much that the sails won't allow us to come back on course without help from "Pinetop" (the engine). I'm not sure who to feel more sorry for last night: All of the squalls occurred on my watch, so I was the one manning the wheel in the rain and yelling "HUMAN!"; but EW was the one who was off watch, supposedly getting 5+ hours of rest who kept stumbling out of bed to press the button, and if need be turn off "Gramps" (wind generator) so that I could start the engine. I let him go an extra half hour after midnight, and got up at 5 to give him an extra hour this morning. I called my generosity his birthday present. He was thrilled with his gift.

Remember when you (or your kids) were young and delighted to make a new friend, and called that new friend by his or her full name? "My friend Kathy Hunt's parents own a restaurant." "My friend Kathy Hunt's mom crosses us when we cross Main street." Well, he doesn't know it but Chris Parker is my new friend and on this trip I have been referring to him as "Chris Parker": "Chris Parker got it right when he told us the squalls would end and we'd have 15-18 at 090 degrees." "Chris Parker is always so patient with all of us." "I wonder how Chris Parker keeps track of each boat." This morning, he was late getting to the Western Caribbean because he is helping the Salty Dog rally head to the Virgin Islands. In an unusual confluence of radio waves propagation, we could hear Chris Parker as he spoke to the subscribers at sea between Bermuda and the US. All of this has helped me to understand more fully how important 50 miles can be at sea. Boats 50 to 100 miles apart in the same ocean can be experiencing different weather patterns and may have different solutions available to them for missing a trough that contains 40 knots of wind. (We don't like 40. We don't love 30, but it's not horrible or horrific. We do not like 40.) So far my new best friend, Chris Parker, has been spot on for us.

So today, we have been sailing a 6-6.5 knots with lovely trades from the East, under blue skies with fluffy white clouds. This definitely does not suck. With Chris Parker, we have decided to try to make directly for Key West, which is a 48 hour sail (give or take) from the Yucatan off of Isla Mujeres. We cannot make that sail in strong northeast winds and will not arrive at the Yucatan (that body of water between Mexico and Cuba) in time to take advantage of a window open from Sunday night through Tuesday. This morning, Chris Parker said there may be a window on Thursday/Friday or Friday/Saturday. No problem. Chris Parker also said that the winds were going to calm down to 15-18 knots, we'd go more slowly, and (ideally) we will arrive at the turn just in time for the favorable window. (From Chris Parker's lips to the sea gods' ears.) Fingers crossed.

As of 13:15 on Friday November 6 (Happy Birthday, my love!) we are located at 15 degrees 16.29 North and 80 degrees 04.15 West. Raise a glass to (and for) EW. He won't be drinking any spirits until we're in a safe harbor.