Friday, 20 December 2013

Human nature

One of the things that cruising sailors chat about over drinks is boat theft.  Mostly it isn't about the whole boat that has been stolen, (although I'm sure it's happened somewhere) but theft of dinghies, fishing gear, or electronics off boats is something we heard about regularly in our travels.  To be sure, we have often sailed in regions that would be considered poor, and those on sailboats are often viewed as rich foreigners (and rightly so, comparatively.)

The Captain and I subscribe to the "no advertising" policy.  This means that everything gets picked up and put away, on the deck and even in the cabin.  The theory is that we do not want to leave any visible temptation for someone to come aboard, and if they did get as far as below decks, they'd have to work a bit to find anything of value. It won't stop a determined thief, but might put off an opportunist.

We've still had our adventures, but they haven't turned out the way you might imagine.

In Bocas Town in Panama, we were told in several places to keep our dinghy close to the boat and only use the public docks in daylight. Now, to be fair, our dinghy isn't the most desirable, only having a 3 horsepower engine, but we would still be upset if we came back and found it was gone.  So we were diligent, pulling it up on deck each night. And then a funny thing happened.

We were coming through the main channel of the town in Diva, returning to town from Starfish Beach, and I was on the helm.  Something caught my eye on my right, so I looked over and there was a man in a panga (the taxi boats in Panama) who was waving frantically at us.  I called to the Captain to see what the man wanted, since I needed to concentrate on getting us through the channel, watching for shallows and other boats.

The Captain looked over and after some yelling back and forth, turned to me and said, "He has our dinghy. Hold your course so he can approach us and pass it back to me."

"He has what?" I said, not understanding right away.

Turns out that although the Captain had tied the dinghy on the back as we usually do, the vibration of the engine must have loosened the line and it slipped away without us even noticing. And one of the fine citizens of this supposedly-dinghy-thieving-town had seen it happen and had taken it upon himself to return it to us!

In Jamaica, the prevailing wisdom is also that if it isn't locked or behind bars, your possessions will find new homes all by themselves. The Captain had a bicycle in Montego Bay, which he kept locked to a gate at the Yacht Club and used for runs into town to buy groceries, etc. It wasn't the snazziest of bikes, but it was functional, and he was very annoyed when someone stole the brake cable off the back wheel one day in May back when we were getting Diva ready to go.  He replaced the cable, (it cost less than $2 in town) and when we left, we told a friend that he could have the bike. He didn't really want it, but agreed to look after it. The day before we left, we took the lock off, (which we thought we might need for something else, like maybe our dinghy?) and left the bike leaning against the fence.

Imagine our surprise when we returned back to Jamaica 6 months later to discover that the bike was still there, leaning against the fence!  The tires were flat, but with that exception, it was as good as new, (okay, even new it was a bit of a sucky bike, but that's not what is important in this story.)

Three or four nights ago, we took the dinghy ashore to do some shopping and were late coming back. (Long lines in stores these days, sound familiar anyone?) We rushed back to the boat to drop off the shopping and then over to a friend's place on the far dock, where we were late for drinks.  It wasn't until we were ready to go back to the boat, at about 7 pm in the evening, that the Captain commented,

"I haven't checked the petrol lately; I hope we have enough to get home."

"Well, no worries," I replied, "We can always just row back."

In Montego Bay we almost always just row instead of using the outboard, but one of the oarlocks broke in Providencia and it is a bit of a complicated fix so it hasn't been done yet.  We still carry the oars everywhere, because the outboard is temperamental, and we can paddle canoe-style if necessary.

So - I bet you can see where this is going - imagine our surprise when we arrived back at the dinghy to find that the oars were missing. And partly because we'd already had a few drinks and partly because we were worried about running out of gas, there were some not-very-nice curse words spoken out loud and threats made to get those *&%#*#$ oar stealers!

Fortunately, we did have enough petrol to get back to Diva without any problems.  Montego Bay inner harbour isn't very big, and the Captain is well-known by most of the neighbourhood boaters, so it seemed unlikely that a blatant theft had occurred without someone knowing about it.  So the next morning he went out early in the dinghy, (after having put in some more gas) and found our oars in another dinghy that was regularly used to ferry people back and forth to a big catamaran out on a mooring.  They had just been "borrowed," of course, so the Captain "borrowed" them back!

And so the moral of the story is... Well, I'm not exactly sure, but it is nice to be reminded that human nature is a fickle thing, no matter what you've been told.

P.S. In case you haven't heard yet, we are stopping in Jamaica for a month or two, and expecting to head out on Diva for more adventures in February, weather dependent.

P.P.S. As we left Providencia, they finally turned on the lights of their town Christmas tree.  Only 5 shopping days left - I hope you're finding some time to enjoy the season amidst the frenzy.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

All the way home

Just over one week ago we escaped from Providencia and set sail for Montego Bay, Jamaica.  The journey took six days in all, and we arrived in Mobay at 8:30 am on the morning of my birthday, December 7th, which was a fantastic birthday present.

The Saturday we arrived was also the last day of sailing for the Jammin' J22 regatta held each year, so there were lots of sailors on the dock to welcome us home.  Within an hour of being back, the Captain had been asked to be part of the race committee and I was asked to crew.  Begging a lack of sleep, we declined.

Now that I am feeling a bit more normal, I thought I'd post the track of our trip from our navigation software.  We sailed about 80% of this voyage.  Unlike what you can see on the satellite view when I checked in twice a day, our track wasn't even close to a straight line.

Here are a few basics to help you understand the chart below:
  • All the blue on the chart is water, dark blue are shallower areas.  This is a high resolution view; if I zoomed in the navigational software, you would see more detailed depth information.
  • The purple line on the left is our track from Providencia to Jamaica this December.
  • The purple line on the right is our track from Jamaica heading to Cartagena, Colombia from June.
  • In case you don't already know, sailboats don't go well to wind.  We had a fresh breeze from northeast to east all the way there.  Exactly the direction we wanted to go.

At the red arrow: Deciding at the last minute to leave Monday evening instead of Tuesday morning, we motored out of Providencia for the first night since there was no breeze but flat seas.  The goal was to maximize the window of calm seas and reasonable winds which stretched for about 4 days until heavier weather. The next morning we had sailing wind, so we put up the sails and continued on a heading in exactly the direction we wanted to travel.

Green arrow: You can tell when we are sailing and when we are motoring: the track line is more squiggly while sailing because of the constant little wind shifts. We also got caught in a couple of small rain showers, which is bad news in a sail boat, not because you get wet, but because the wind does funky things, like change direction totally, come in annoying gusts, or stop all together when the rain is heavy.  I may have accidentally backed the jib and we did a 360 degree turn in effort to get me sorted out.  I'd like to say that no one was around to see it, but we were traveling with another boat and they told us later that they were wondering what exactly was going on over on our boat.

Black arrow: Here we motored for four or five hours because we were between two offshore banks and needed to avoid the shallows. You can see when we put the sails back out because the track starts to curve north again as we sailed on north-easterly winds.

Pink arrow: At this point we had been sailing for about two days. We were just over one hundred nautical miles from Negril, on the westernmost point of Jamaica. The wind had shifted and we were struggling to make north, and with current mostly traveling west of north. Here we had to decide if we were going to take the easy route and skip Jamaica and go to Cayman or Cuba, and continue sailing north. At midnight we optimistically tacked, heading southeast, trying to get closer to Jamaica, but mostly it just felt like we were going back to Cartagena, Colombia.

Blue arrow: Point of desperation. This was at about nine o'clock Thursday morning, and we'd been sailing at only three knots since midnight, (we usually average five knots, but were fighting current that ran from east to west and some one to two meter seas.) After nine hours, we were only about 12 miles closer to Negril as the crow flies.  I was beginning to despair that we'd never get there, and that we'd be stuck in the ocean forever... (I was also pretty sleep deprived by this point.  All things seemed possible. Or impossible.)

Attempting to keep me from jumping overboard and trying my luck at swimming, the Captain decided we'd turn on the engine and try to steer directly for Negril. So we put the jib away and picked up all the self-steering gear and turned on the engine.  The Captain looked over the side and...  no water was coming out of the exhaust, not a good sign!

Off went the engine, back came out the jib.  I sailed by hand while the Captain took off the boards covering the access to the motor and began to investigate what was wrong.  Fortunately, it was another disintegrated impeller, our third in this six month trip. (Tropical temperatures coupled with engine heat isn't good for plastic parts.)  We are, luckily enough, smart enough to carry a spare impeller, and the Captain is a dab hand at installing them, in spite of the constant tossing of the boat in the seas.

Eventually we were able to turn on the engine, but the motoring only lasted a couple of hours.  We had to go straight into the swell so it was very uncomfortable as we climbed up and then crashed down each wave, and we weren't going any faster than when we were sailing.  Plus, one of us had to sit there and hold the wheel the whole time.  So we put the sails back up and continued on our southwest bearing. (Back to Cartagena, I thought, but was too tired to care. Just get me somewhere, anywhere will do.)

Yellow arrow: Finally in the afternoon the Captain decided we could tack north again, if only because the log entry at noon said we were 96 miles from Negril and at three o'clock in the afternoon we were still 96 miles from Negril and a only a little further east for our troubles.

So we put up the sails and the wind cooperated beautifully.  You can see a nice arc where the wind took the boat in exactly the direction we wanted to go. Later that night, I came up to do my watch. Slowly, over the course of my watch the wind shifted so we were heading north again.  The Captain came up for his watch and the wind shifted back so we were heading in the right direction again. Two hours later I came back up, and sure enough the boat shifted to a more northerly heading.  I swear I didn't touch anything!

Purple arrow: Our last tack, on Friday morning. The sea was heavy, again too much to motor directly through.  Instead we sailed until we were 20 miles away from Negril and then the wind died.  In spite of the Captain's regret that we hadn't been able to sail all the way into Negril, I was glad when we turned on the engine and were able to take the shortest route possible to land. Fantastically, four dolphins came by to play in the bow wake and escort us in to shore.

We dropped anchor just offshore Negril Beach at about five in the evening.  We watched a spectacular sunset and had a quick bite to eat before heading to bed.  We slept like the dead until the alarm went off at midnight, the Captain wished me happy birthday and we got out of bed, upped anchor and started the eight hour motor to Montego Bay, taking advantage of the relative ease at night of the wind and waves on the north coast of Jamaica.

Overall, the trip went really well.  We are proud of ourselves for all the sailing we did, and making it through the longest passage yet that the two of us alone have completed. It might have something to do with the good karma we generated by giving a ride for the night to a little bird that joined us on the third night of our passage, way way way off shore.

Our little stowaway.

Trying to convince the Captain that she should be allowed below to spend the night.  He was a pushover, even put out a bit of water and a piece of spaghetti for food.  She didn't seem to be a pasta fan, I think she would have rather had some bugs.

Sunset bits at sea.

Sunday, 1 December 2013


The ship above came into the harbour in Providencia the day after we arrived.  It came down the channel at a good speed, turned at the last mark, and... ran aground.  It took a week for the ship to be freed, which seemed to involve lots of men standing around, looking over the side and shaking their heads. 

When we talked to a fisherman nearby, he said that this was not the first time the ship has been in the harbour and became stuck.  According to him, everyone knows the channel is shallow and only allows for nine feet of draft, but this captain was going to try and gun it through with an overloaded ship of a draft of eleven feet.  As you can see, it didn't work.

We feel a little bit stuck in Providencia too.  We've been waiting for a weather window to move on to Jamaica, but it is proving a bit tricky to find. (We just might have found one, but I can't make any promises yet, that might jinx it.)  And oddly enough, we were stuck in the main anchorage where the wind was blowing straight through at 25 knots for two days and, for an assortment of reasons, we couldn't get permission to move to the calmer anchorage.

I don't think we're the only ones feeling stuck on this island.  Providencia's population is only about seven thousand people and the island is less than four miles long and two miles wide.  The closest place to go is San Andreas, two and a half hours by fast ferry south, which isn't a very big island itself, altough I hear it has better shopping.  Mainland Nicaragua is closer than mainland Colombia, although Providencia is a territory of Colombia, but both of those options are at least a couple of hours by plane.  So there aren't very many places to go if you live on Providencia, and everyone probably knows your name.

It reminds me a lot of the small town where I grew up in Manitoba.  There are about the same number of places to order fried chicken as where I grew up too.

The island's culture is a mix of the legacies of both the British and Spanish colonialists.  All the shops close from noon to three for the siesta, but many of the signs are in English.  In fact, mainland Colombia recently sent seventy of its teachers to stay in Providencia so they could improve their spoken English. 

It's a funny little place, a small town stuck way out in the Caribbean ocean, and stuck a little bit in the past too. They have bareback horse races down the beach as part of their annual festival. (We saw a horse and rider practicing and they both went for a swim in the ocean to cool off afterwards.) We were lucky enough to see a local music group that plays old time melodies while traditional dancers waltz along.

I haven't taken a lot of pictures, but here are a few so you get a sense of the place.

The belle island of Providencia, a welcome sight for weary sailors for centuries,

Looking towards town.  All the wind was coming directly through the gap on the left side of the picture.

Churches - inescapable from either the British or Spanish colonizers and a few other variations in recent years.

The lovely coast we sailed down once we finally had permission to hang out in the anchorage off the beach.
The Captain and Crew hiked up to the statue on this hill.  The Captain with much protesting, but he was rewarded by a very pretty beach on the other side, and of course, the requisite beer at the finish.

The community event we attended.  No, they did not turn on the tree lights after all, but there were speeches and music and dancing.

The Captain (on the left) with Mike and Karen, who are on S/V Drifter, and came over to see the tree (not) get lit as well.

The musical entertainment portion of the evening.  It's a bit hard to see, but these guys are keeping the rhythm on a horse jaw bone.

The band was a mix of the old timers and...

...the younger generation.

Maybe being stuck isn't so bad after all.