Leaving Jamaica During the Pandemic & Fuel Issues on our Longest Run Ever! …#42

A decision had to be made during our Jamaican 14-day quarantine. We were anchored out in Kingston bay that was full of trash and jellyfish. Everything was closed, we weren’t allowed on shore and we didn’t feel welcomed when we made calls to the marina for assistance. (which they told us we could do) We had to ask ourselves some questions….. Why were we here? What if we get sick? What if one of our family members gets sick? How would we get out of here? 

We were hearing more and more stories of countries closing down their borders and boaters not able to leave. We have multiple friends/acquaintances in Panama (on both side of the Canal) & Costa Rica that are stuck. No place to take their boat and no plane flights out. The countries have shut down entry and exits. No movement allowed even between marinas.

The answer was pretty clear, we needed to go back to the United States as soon as possible!

Our next struggle was getting into Key West, Florida. The Florida Keys are in Monroe County and they had closed their borders to all incoming vessels and to non-residents of the county.  I can’t even image a US citizen, like us, taking a multiple day run in the ocean and not being able to come to shore. Going to the next county, Miami-Dade was at least 1 more additional day journey. We were not willing to risk going an additional day up to Miami. We were either going to find a marina or have to anchor out and rest.

I was in communications with OLOH Motor Yacht via email. They have a blog that I was following and I knew they were in the Keys and they knew the area well. I reached out to AJ and asked some questions about marinas. They were in a good marina and thought that the marina would take us too. So we made the call and asked the question. We were accepted in with only time enough to come in, get re-provisioned and do any repairs we needed. We then had to leave. We were very grateful we found a nice marina willing to risk us coming in and gave us “safe harbor” from the ocean. Thanks to our friends on OLOH!  

Now we had our plans, we just needed a “PERFECT” weather window. This trip was going to be another long one, as was our cruise to Panama & San Francisco. But on each of those we had one extra crew member. This one would be just Dan and I from Jamaica through the Cayman Islands, around Cuba’s West end and North side and up to Key West Florida. With the pandemic going on we wouldn’t be able to have friends or crew join us. It would be the longest trip that we had taken with this boat. We would be alone for 3-4 days, just two of us, A LONG trip and if weather wasn’t the best we would need to make some safety decisions. 

We did plan for a safety stop, one night anchored close in around George Town, Cayman Islands. We would stay one night, rest and then take off again. We were hoping the weather would be nice and we wouldn’t need this stop. We also knew we could get lucky with the strong trade winds/currents. We would be going with the current, rather than against it, it could give us a good push from behind us. This map shows the currents and directions around Cuba and up to the Florida Keys.

We saw a weather window that looked good out about 5 days away. We just kept watching it, sometimes the window will change and/or disappear. We watched it every day, over time it kept getting better and better. We could see calm seas with a 4 day opening and we made the decision to leave as soon as we got checked out of the country.

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Checking out of Jamaica was also a struggle. When we arrived and checked into the country, custom, immigration &  a health inspector came to our boat via a small shuttle boat “pay for service” WE PAID for…..$60 usd. We of course, didn’t know it at the time and got suckered into it. While planning our departure, we didn’t want the same thing to happen. We explained we were not going to pay for someone to shuttle folks out to see us. So we were asked to meet the customs agents at a nearby location at Port Royal. We took our dinghy on Monday morning, the day of our departure, which worked well. Immigrations wanted to meet us the evening before at the fuel dock, so we wouldn’t really come a shore. (they never showed up for the planned appointment). Which again added to our frustrations with Jamaica. We explained it to the customs agent and all seemed to be fine.

img_6417We left Kingston Jamaica on Monday 2/23 at 10:30 am. We had planned a fast and hard run to keep the trip as short as possible, 72 hours non-stop was our plan. We were planning on going at top speed of 1300 rpm which gave us about 10-11 knots speed. As we headed out into the ocean it was a bit rough for the first few hours but once we turned around the tip of Jamaica the wind and waves were at our stern (back of the boat) and pushed us. We had a small amount of swells, but looked like a good trip was in front of us.

First 2 days were totally uneventful, nice weather, sleeping in rotations, eating, manning the helm and repeat. Dan and I were doing our normal watch rotations and we were both tired but really enjoying the trip. It was a nice calm trip so far.

All would not remain so perfect

On the 3rd night’s watch I was up at 2:30 am to take over for Dan. He had noticed that the oil pressure on the starboard engine was fluctuating. He went down to check it out and add a bit of oil. At that very moment, both engines started sputtering and losing power. I wasn’t sure what was happening but I was for sure frightened. I in no way wanted to be in the middle of the ocean with no engine power, in the dark of night. Dan noticed the engines too and quickly changed fuel tanks, we have 4. We were running low on fuel and needed to change fuel tanks. Dan wasn’t quite quick enough and we lost the starboard engine. He came back up to started the engine, but it wouldn’t start. Dan’s assumption was that it pulled some air and lost fuel. He went back down, took care of the oil issue and added some fuel in the Racor fuel filters and tried to start the engine again, multiple times without luck. My thought and question was… is the fuel filter clogged? He didn’t think so, because it was just changed a few weeks ago.  He checked and sure enough it was black and in need of a change. He swapped it out, filled the Racor again, and the engine took off and we were back with full power. We then assumed that the filter was clogged due to the bottom of the fuel tank being sucked up.

BUT still we had another issue

img_6460We were using way too much fuel going as fast as we were. Dan had done his calculations, but they were off a bit and the engines were using more fuel than he expected. We still had 250 miles to go and only 500 gallons of fuel remaining. We would run out of fuel just as we arrived in Florida with none to spare, at this pace. We had to slow down and sip the remaining fuel, versus gulp it. We had expected to arrive Thursday late in the day. It was now going to take an additional 10 ish hours, which would include another overnighter and just more hours out at sea.

img_6486For the remainder of the trip we slowed down to 1000 rpm which gave us about 7-8 knots of speed. Dan also did a regular check on the fuel tank to see the “new” burn rate. We were doing much better and happy with the consumption. We were lucky that the Gulf Stream current was pushing us which increased our speed to about 9.5 knots.

We arrived in the Florida keys around 1:30am Friday with 200 gallons of fuel to spare and a total of 88 hours underway at sea. We were really glad to make it, no matter what time it was. Whew…..

We needed a place to anchor for the night and Dan found one just off Wisteria Island in Key West harbor.  In the morning we planned to get fuel and head to the marina. We were grateful for a lot of things during this trip. Yes it was longer than we would have like, but we made it safe and sound. We had a safe haven from the sea at a marina and we didn’t run out of fuel in the middle of the ocean! All good things!

We were able to check into the US by our new ROAM App. We checked into the marina and I quickly got an Uber to the local grocery store for provisions , while Dan worked on a few repairs, a few new zincs on the bottom, new belts on the engines, new batteries for the the genset, cockpit bilge pump repairs, and a few electrical issues to stimulate his brain.

We are staying safe on our boat and rarely going out other than for food or supplies. I hope you and your family are staying safe too. I know it is hard to stay inside, but the more people go out in public, the longer the virus will take to settle down.

SO PLEASE, stay safe and inside!

Blessing to you and your families during this crazy time.

Dan and Angela on Angelique

 

 

 

 

 

PANIC Strikes, Twice in One Week …#41

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:

  1. Push out the departure a couple weeks and hope we can find someone to join us
  2. Find a friend that could fly down, (They would only have 2 days to arrive)
  3. Find someone local that wanted to go along
  4. 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. img_6319-1I 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
  • epirb
  • 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.

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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.

img_6352We 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!

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The San Blas Islands, A Magical Place…Travel with Us to See… #40

“This is it… This is What I Have Been Waiting For”

Years and years of longing and dreaming about going to Panama in our own boat and anchoring at the San Blas Islands, where the natives row up in their canoes and trade or sell stuff.

I know, you are asking WHY was this my dream.

Well a little history. Back in 2011-ish, don’t even really remember the year for sure, Dan and I were in San Diego. We enjoy boat shopping while we were in areas with yachts. We had stopped at a couple yacht brokers and asked to see motor yachts with the particular features that we were looking for. During one of these stops we had a fairly young broker that showed us a few boats for sale. After the tour the broker invited us back to his office, he was going to do some type of research for the questions we had asked. img_6038During this point I asked this young 20-something broker  “how did you get into this business”. He told me something about his family always had boats…. Blah, blah, blah…. But then he said, “he and his wife spent a year in Panama, San Blas Islands on his sailboat living off fish, swimming and trading fresh water with the locals for fruits & other local items” That was it, I was hooked! I told Dan, that is what I want to do! I think it just sounded so romantic and alluring being anchored off islands and the local come up asking for stuff, just for basic survival.

~And so, our dream began~

Let’s walk through a bit about these beautiful Islands, San Blas.

  • Over 340 Islands
  • A lot of islands are unoccupied
  • The locals are Gunas Indians
  • The local Gunas call their Islands “Guna Yala”
  • Approximately 55,000+ Gunas across the islands
  • The Islands are officially part of Panama as a country
  • The Gunas have their own laws and are not governed by Panama
  • The law is set by chiefs on each island, some have multiple levels of chiefs
  • No Guna is allowed to inter-marry a non-Guna, unless with approval from chiefs
  • You can not be on these Islands after dark, unless approved or staying in a hut
  • The islands all have huge reefs around them
  • The Guna people speak a combination of Spanish and Guna (the local language)
  • Almost no crime on these islands and they are non-aggressive people
  • Most recently the islands near the Colombian border have had some crime
  • Fresh water and electricity are in short supply
  • The economy runs on selling coconuts. The coconut trees are all owned by someone that collects them and gets income from them. You are not allowed to take any coconuts
  • The husband moves into the wife’s compound and she controls the money
  • The Guna Flag has a swastika on it. The flag was created before German Nazi took the symbol as their own.
  • Barely touched by the modern world
  • Some Guna’s will not let you take photo of them, some will charge you $1 and some are okay with the photos being taken of them.

After dreaming about this for so long, I didn’t really know what it would feel like or even look like. But with all dreams our minds/brains attach some type of image to how “we” think it might look or feel like. That is, until it becomes real. Then you are able to replace it with the “real” pictures.

“Your dreams MUST be put into action, otherwise it is something you do while you sleep”

The Islands felt like time had just gone by them. The kids had the run of the island and everyone knows whose kids they were. I’m guessing like a small town might be, but this is a very small town that you can’t leave unless it is a boat. Everyone takes care of each other. They are all in the same boat together, no pun intended. The rules and laws set by the Chief of their island or islands. (usually an older, very respected man) Time is mostly governed by the sun, they depend on the sea for food and sell coconuts and other hand made items which generates some income. Some have jobs on the islands and some go away to work. They are such a helpful, friendly group of people. I cannot ever remember meeting such warm welcoming group of people.

Our main goal was to see as many islands as we could, but also keep out of the swells and stay safe while anchored. When we arrived at a new island the canoes are all in force, coming at us from all directions as we are trying to anchor. They want to be the first one in and against our swim step as we turn off engines and go to greet them. I can’t understand them, they speak a mix of Spanish and guna (their own language) but I’m assuming that they are in a bit of a friendly competition, it is money for their family. The first couple canoes in against our swim step get the honor of stepping out on to our boat and showing off all their goods. The others hang back a bit and hold them up for me to see. The canoes are mostly full of ladies with their beaded bracelets/anklets, head bands, etc. and their molas.

“A mola is an elaborate handmade embroidered panel”

60443156900__ee390d91-0f37-4d38-9e5a-0c4e927865426e0c30f5-046d-43a9-bad3-473b0b375009The Molas are beautiful and range in price from $5 to $40 depending on the size. I am doing my part with keeping their families fed by purchasing as many as I can. This process is overwhelming, viewing and picking out what I like. They start pulling out their goods and laying them out one over top another. I cannot see them all, there are just too many and many different ladies. At some point I start to pick the ones that I have no interest in and hand them back so I can narrow down my choice. When I am done buying or picking out the ones I like, then I ask how much for the ones I picked out. This is usually a miming exercise with me holding up fingers and pointing to the molas that I have picked out… uno, doce, trace…. $5, 10, 15 fingers go up or whatever the price and quantity happen to be. A very limited group can speak english or know the amount in english. I can see the ladies happy and sad faces. Some I bought something from, some I didn’t. It is really hard for me. I wish I could buy something from everyone, but it is just not possible. This happens at every island we pulled into. Once in a while we got someone selling something unique or different, a small wood carved items & a bone/gord type rattle.

Later we might have boats that come with fish, lobster, crab, bananas, limes, mangos. Sometimes the Gunas are looking for fresh water. We like to trade with these guys as much as possible.

img_5443Our first english speaking Guna was “Nester”. Nester was a nice man that helped us learn more about the islands, he took me over to the island by his dugout canoe to check into the San Blas Islands. Nester cleaned a couple fish for us that we had purchased from a boat. We took them on a cruise in our boat when we moved from one island to another. We gave them some of our food and drinks to try out and visited with their family. We were invited back to his home, served coconut water with a straw in the actual coconut. This is an honor, because they sell their coconuts. Dan tried to help him with his solar unit that wasn’t working well.

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Dan helped a couple Gunas with their outboard motor. (very few had motors). He was surprised that they didn’t really understand much about their outboard motor. He helped fix the spark plug and off they went.

We heard that different local man had homemade bread daily. So we went on shore early one morning to find Alfredo and his bread business. Alfredo also spoke pretty good english and we later learned that he is the second level Chief over all the islands and had just come back from a trip to Panama City to discuss schooling. The small rolls we got were $0.15 a piece. We bought $2.00 worth. We ate a couple and froze the rest. While we were on shore we stopped by the local market that had only a few items, Rice, some type of wheat, bottles of juice. That is it, period.

Another Guna with english skills was “Justino”. He came and asked us for help with his solar unit on his house. He said that his wife would have handmade jewelry for me. Dan did some of the same type of diagnosis but this time he was more prepared with what to bring with him. Dan wrote down what he needs to buy in town. We then took them over to a neighboring Island to accomplish a few things that their island didn’t have. We were just his taxi service. In trade the next day Justino gave us a river tour and took us to where the trees are cut down to make the canoes they use. Dan was also excited to get the bottom of our boat scraped by a local, Ronaldo who was Jusitino brother-in-law. Ronaldo did the whole boat in 3 hours with snorkel only. These people are amazing.

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Some islands now have water pipes leading to their island. (not exactly sure how, but they do) Some Islands are close to mainland and family members with 5-gallon jugs haul 8-10+ containers in their hollowed-out canoe to collect fresh water from a river and back. They do this every day. Pictures of “nesters family getting fresh water from us. They do have schools on some islands that kids attend until 9th grade & a town hall where grievances are brought forward and worked out with chief.

We also visited an island where you could rent a hut. It isn’t as crowded with homes and such as the other islands were. Dan chatted with a couple ladies that said they were from Canada and had nothing to do, they were board stiff. Not much to do on the islands, that’s for sure.

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Pictures of mushroom, bark with sharp needles sticking out & used for pain medicine, mangroves we floated underneath & some type of tree with red petals.

Islands we visited in our 11 days at San Blas

  • Isla Povenir
  • Wichubhuala
  • Nalunega
  • Chichime Cays, Uchutupu Dummat
  • Bahia Nalia on Punta San Blas
  • Islas Robeson, Tupsuit Dummaat (aka Gerti)

We wanted to visit more islands and stay longer but the weather was not cooperating. Just too much wind/waves & swells to keep us there.

So here we are living the dream and seeing what the real images look like. Replacing our dreams with real memories. Not just made up in our brains. We are “Living Life to the Fullest Extent!”

If you are busy dreaming up something of your own and you are not putting action items in place to help you achieve it. Remember it will remain only a dream unless you work towards it.

Cheers to those that dreamers that are working towards living those dreams!

Congrats!