After the most beautiful, delightful & enchanting trip to the The San Blas Islands, we had to start planning our trip east to Jamaica. Our friends on UnDaunted left Shelter Bay Marina and headed for Cayman Islands. They had a perfect run which gave us a bit more confidence with our run towards Jamaica. The Cayman’s are a bit more north than Jamaica but we would follow a similar path with a slight eastern direction.
This run would put a different notch in our belt. We haven’t done anything where we were so far out into the ocean that we couldn’t turn to get to shore. The closest to this run was when we transited across the Sea of Cortez. The distance from one side to the other is approximately 200 nm. This one was about 500 nm. The difference is a 24 hour vs a 72 hour transit. This all depended on our the speed and weather conditions.
We were located at Linton Bay Marina about half way from the Panama Canal and San Blas Islands, the Northernmost point in Panama. Our friends Ken and Cheryl were planning on joining us again. But they had some complications and weren’t able to make it. We didn’t want to go without a 3rd person on board and we were only 4 days out from leaving. What should we do?? We were panicked, not sure what to do. We had a few choices to make…but which was the right one? Dan and I both agreed we were not doing it alone. We started to assess our options:
- Push out the departure a couple weeks and hope we can find someone to join us
- Find a friend that could fly down, (They would only have 2 days to arrive)
- Find someone local that wanted to go along
- Hire someone
As Dan worked on option 1 & 2, I took off to the office to work on option 3 & 4. We knew finding a friend would be slim given the tight schedule, we started looking at another weather window with pushing out the trip. I started asking questions about help. I found a name on the board and called. He was interested but not available during our time frame. We called our Panama Canal Agent thinking he might have a connection. He did but wanted to get back to us. He sent us a name of a young man named Marcos, he was the brother of John (our line-handler we used through the canal). We called Marcos and chatted about his interest and experience. He had limited experience but had been on boats his whole life, he was flexible on pay and more concerned about growing with his experience. We hired him. Now the prep began.
We checked and pulled out all our Safety gear, making sure we were good to go.
- Safety Gear
- 2 life rafts
- Garmin In-Reach satellite communicator
- 2 ditch bags with survival gear
- At-Sea life vests
- multiple systems for weather forecasting
- multiple systems for navigation
- Flares, water etc…
- Dry bags for our priority items (phones, laptops, ships papers, passports)
On Thursday March 12th we took off, mid-day after checking out of the country, which Marcos helped us with too. It took 3 full days 72 hours to complete the run with a bit rougher seas than we had hoped for.
Below is my ramblings of our adventure as I kept notes along the way.
“Out in the Ocean”
When we took off, the ocean was rough in a lulling kind of way. There were very few white caps and they were small, we were in an up and down motion that gave us all a bit of concern that it could get worse. But we had the hopes that the seas would get a bit calmer as predicted. As we were motoring along the boobie birds were hanging along with us. We could see them diving in the water once in a while for fish. They would coast along the side of us at the same speed almost like saying “hey what are you doing out here” then they would quickly turn and fly over top our bow looking for fish. My guess is that our boat disrupted the fish in the water which then got the birds to be able to catch the fish.
I could see some of the fish were flying fish. If you haven’t seen them fly, it is a cool thing. They are couple inches long and pretty small fish. They jump out of the water and fly just above the water’s surface for a few second maybe even a minute. Then dive back in. The birds can see the flying fish. They watch closely as they swoop around and when they see one they follow and attack. Usually they get the fish but this one fish was not about to get eaten. He turned left and then right and was flying as fast as he could, but the bird kept up. The bird didn’t catch him, the fish eventually dove into the water in hopes that the bird doesn’t dive in too. Somehow the bird missed him and I’m sure he swam off knowing his life was just saved. Lucky me, I got to watch it all.
Then the night sets in. We dim the controls and have a path that is led by darkness and instruments telling us speed, depth, GPS heading and distance hundreds of miles out into the ocean. No moon tonight or covered by clouds, I can see some stars between the dark patches of clouds. It is about 7pm, Dan sleeps while Marco and I stand watch. A freighter that has been on our side for the last 3 hours decided to pass in front of us. At least it gave me something to do. It can be boring at night. So I turn to our port/ left as he pulls in front of us. This also allows for us to go over his wake head on and not get hit on the side. Then we pull back inline on our given path. It is now 8 pm and it has been dark for a couple hours. The sea has not settled any so we struggle a bit with the back and forth movement. Dan arrives to allow Marcos and I to get some sleep, while he does his 10 – 2 watch.
By my next watch at 2am, the moon had come out and I could see a bit of our boats railing and some stars. It is pretty amazing with no city lights. I had two different freighters within that 4 hour watch that I had to dodge around. They were heading straight at me. So I turned a bit right (starboard) they turned a bit and we passed in the night with only their lights for me to see them in the distance. I stand watch until 6am when Marco steps in for me. I go back to bed for a couple more hours of sleep. I grab it when I can.
Marcos and I found the next morning about 6 flying fish that were dead on the deck from the night before travels. It is an odd way for the fish to die and assumed it was some “Harakiri” type of ritual for those fish. We were sad to see them along our decks but they got swept up in the waves and had a rough ending to their life.
The next afternoon, the waves picked up unexpectedly, the boat bounces up and down and rolls from side to side in a somewhat of a regular fashion. About once every minute we are hit with on strong wave. The up and down isn’t as bad as the side to side. Even with Stabilizers we still roll. I think often about brave soles that boarded ships in the 1700 & 1800’s. Not much but the stars to direct them and the wind and waves hitting them for long periods of time. They were crossing the oceans and not having any ability to forecast the weather. It must have been horrible. The ocean has been written about in many ways and when you are out in it you can understand why. It is so beautiful and yet so dangerous. It has two sides or faces. It is alluring, calling out to you with it blue color, rolling waves with its changing ways. It glistens and reflects light with variations, the sea life, clean clear salt sprays hits you with each breath of air. It is truly amazing. In that same breath of air the hit of salt water sprays, stinging and awakens you from your lullaby of dreams, it can be angry with its hard, tall and forceful intent trying to take you down with its beauty. It can beat you up, tear you down, chew you up and spit you back. It can distract you so you are unaware of its purpose beyond your need.
“She can lull you to sleep and take your breath away with her beauty or she frighten you with her anger and dismantle you in seconds”
Our attempt on the 3rd day was to get behind the shadow of the island which protects us from the increased winds and waves we were battling. (Jamaica would block the waves creating what we called a shadow) We actually traveled further north to find the shadow sooner. It added miles and increased our time but had a more smoother run. The smooth run only last a wee bit, as the swells continued to beat at us. It didn’t settle down until we got close to the channel entrance.
We made it to Jamaica and anchored in front of the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club premises. We had been out of contact with the world for 72 hours and the world had changed in those few hours. The coronavirus had taken over the news. We were now in another state of PANIC. Marcos quickly got a flight home the next day. We went and got more provisions, not knowing what would happen. We were really glad we did because we were quickly put into a 14 day quarantine and not allow to go ashore, at all.
NOW WHAT do we do?? We knew this trip would require us to be flexible…but it is sure testing our patience with flexibility.
Follow our next Blog to find out what we decided to do and how it turns out!
Please stay safe and inside!