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.

1 comment:

  1. Seems those birdies hitch rides all over the Carribean!

    Nice squiggle home friends!