Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bonaire to San Blas

06/06/2007 Wednesday

 Well we left Bonaire after getting the bimini repaired a day later than we should have. At 1100 hours we said see-ya later to the crew of Noonmark, they are also travelling to Panama. Before we left Nancy would not let me collect a couple of souvenirs, I am sure one, or two of the young Latin girls would have liked to travel with us.

Once out of the island waters we put up the Genoa as it was going to be a tail wind (East wind) as usual. This gave us 6 knots plus which we were happy with as the cat does not perform the best on tail winds. The further we got out the bigger the swells.

We were sailing for Curacao Island which was only 35 Nms away, the intention was to go around to the west coast and sail northwards before crossing towards the main land of Venezuela. We arrived at around 1700 hours and there was quite a lot of sea traffic. We followed the coast about 2 Nms out this gave a good sail had the wind but the swell was reduce with the cover of the island at about 2230 hours I changed course for Venezuela, not far out came back the Caribbean swell that’s generated from the Atlantic Sea. I made comment in the log about seeing the Southern Cross again, there is something comforting about seeing it, and I think it brings us close to home as we often used to look at it on a regular basis.

 (Curacao Island)
 (Oil fields and processing)
( The bridge is amazing)

We did different shifts for this night as we were in sheltered waters Nancy did the shift through to 2100 hours then I did through to 0100 hours. We figured once we left the island we would be entering shipping lanes Nancy preferred me to deal with them. When my shift came to an end I went to the cabin to wake Nancy I called twice no stir so I thought I would leave her another hour. Thirty minutes later she woke up and came to the cockpit to see what was going on. I said with the sleepless nights we have had at sea so far if someone is out cold let them go and sleep whilst they can. I was quite pleased to go to bed. I woke up at 0430 hours and I went up and relieved Nancy, we were approaching the southern end of Aruba going through the passage between there and Venezuela. Aruba was well lit up. Aruba and Curacao have a large amount of oil refineries the stacks with the burning flames; Nancy commented that during her shift going passed Curacao that the smoke from the stacks was really strong. As morning broke with harness clipped on I went out to the mast and hoisted the Venezuelan curtesy flag in case coast guard came out to see what we were up to. We were sailing with a good tail wind of about 15 knots pushing us through the water averaging 6.5 knots under the Genoa. We do not have a pole to pole the Genoa out; if we had we could use the main sail in combination. We find with the changing conditions it is better to use the Genoa rather than the main as you can adjust the Genoa from the cockpit and more easily than the main.

Around lunch time we came across the Archipelago De Los Monjes these are made up of a number of islands, one of these being Monjes del Este which when first seen looks the same shape as Ayes Rock, as you get closer it changes shape into massive rock formation. As we passed through the archipelago it was like passing through Hells Gate, (Place on the west coast of Tasmania), the seas turned nasty 4 metre swell and breaking waves up to 28.5 knot winds, it was a pretty rough ride, and I think this is the worst we have come across so far. The swell was breaking on the tops giving white foam breaking over the back steps of the transom on Nancy’s shift it actually broke into the cockpit, it was hitting us on the starboard aft the beam, as each wave approached you could not see over the top to see where the next wave was. Not really knowing how this boat was going to perform in these conditions I had to remain very alert at the helm, harnesses and inflatable lifejackets became part of the dress of the day. Our usual dress of the day is togs, jockettes or bikini bottoms for Nancy they don’t suit me, (too much information, OK), well it is hot and it saves laundry and who is going to see us out here.
 (Archipelago De Los Monjes)

With the weather we were in I could see Nancy was a little nervous, truth is so was I but I could not show that, otherwise Nancy would have probably freaked out. She has been a very good sailor, great at navigation on the charts. I told her the next day that I was just as nervous as she was as we did not know how the boat would perform in those conditions. I must say I was pleased the way the boat did handle. With the heavy waves breaking against the hulls it is at times noisy and that is because it is a fibreglass construction, plus you have the waves occasionally hitting under the bridge-deck.

(End of another day and with these sea a long night)

As the night drew it got a little nippy, enough for me to grab the tracksuit, nightshift we also wear harness and inflatable lifejackets, we clip the tethers of the harness on to the life lines that I have put around the cockpit, the lifeline extends to the mast but we organise the sails for night so that we do not have to leave the cockpit.

08 June 2007
(Sunrise and lumpy seas, photos do not give justice to the size of the waves being two dimensional, they are a lot worse than what they look here.

It is now the 08/06/07, I am just about to finish the morning shift (0400-0800), the sky came up red this morning, not a real good sign, and looks like another interesting day.

Our usual routine got stuffed about yesterday, I was working my but off changing sail combinations to get the best results under the changing conditions we both got little sleep. It was very rough during the night Nancy could not sleep because she was frightened, I was just crapping myself. It was pitch black with the seas coming at you that you could not see. The wave patterns you have six or seven at one height then you get three or four monsters. We are heading for the Venezuelan shoreline after crossing the Venezuelan Gulf then after turning around the headland we will be near the Columbian waters. Yes our plans were changed we will be sailing approximately 10 Nms off the Columbian coastline. This was not our original plan, but the weather prediction tells us it is the safer way to go. At this stage we will be following the coast around to the Panama.

One thing comes to mind is an article that was printed in the Cruising Helmsman magazine that I subscribe to. A lady wrote in that was cruising the NE coast of Oz and beyond, she said that her and her partner had practiced for four years in Morton Bay before taking on a cruising voyage. She stated that they had learnt more about sailing in the first few months of their voyage than they had learnt in the four years in Morton Bay. I now understand why. What brought that to mind is the last very intensive 24 hours, so much for the weather predictions.

Most of the trip so far we have had constant east wind right on the 90 degrees, although a little too strong for comfort at times it has pushed us along quite well, today we have very little wind, we need to conserve fuel in case the Columbian Counter Current works against us. I said to Nancy this is where we have to do some real sailing and do some tacking to get the benefit out of what little wind is there. Nancy grabbed the helm and turned the boat into the wind, with harness on I went out and hoisted the mainsail, with the sudden changing conditions and shorthanded sailing I only raised it to reef position, once up Nancy brought the boat around onto a starboard tack and I eased the Genoa out and we started to head north for an hour, we then brought her about on a port tack and if calculations are right this tack should takes us a fair way down the coast and it did. But before we could tack again we were hit with a tail wind of 21 – 26 knots.

As we are not trying to race and we prefer to work to safety, it was easier to furl the Genoa than go out to the mast and drop the main, so we scooted along on the reefed main. As it became dark the seas became heavier and electrical storms developed over the coast line. There were many ships encountered during the night some coming up from behind some coming towards us. The seas started increasing in intensity as the night went on, winds were still over the 20 knot mark, and that was pushing us along quite well, any faster would have been a lot more uncomfortable. I came across a couple of fishing boats and it took me a short while to figure out what they were doing or where they were heading.

 Nancy came on shift at midnight and took over, she had not had that much sleep, I went to bed and died until 0230 hours Nancy woke me she was frightened the electrical storm had hit our area it had started to pour rain, and there were other ships in the area. I reefed the Genoa right down and started the engines for a bit better control. I suggested to Nancy that she should try and get some rest as I am going to need some in the morning and she would have to relieve me. It was a crappy night, it was pouring of rain, visibility was difficult, other ships in the area and not long after Nancy had turned in I lost all electrical power, all lights went out George (the auto pilot) threw the towel in and I have two other ships close by one passing one coming towards me. I went into the chart table and reset the DC switch only for it to trip off on lower battery alarm. I yelled out for Nancy to take the helm which she did without any panic, I thought the house batteries had died but then I thought both engines are running they should be running everything that we require. I switch the DC back on and it stayed on, thank God. It could have been caused by a lightening strike close by. The other two ships must have wondered what we were up to, I put a general call out on the radio indicating what had happened and apologized. Nancy went back to bed but I don’t think she got much sleep if any. At 0700 hours Nancy surfaced, she wrote up the log for me her entry comment was, “morning has broken and so is JJ”. I went to bed for some sleep and although it was still very rough I did sleep. We had breakfast around 1115 hours, today is Saturday. I had had two very long days with little sleep, due to the conditions and Nancy’s inexperience when I did get to sleep after midnight the last couple of nights it had been broken with Nancy calling for help. That’s the joys of being the skipper.

Later that day I had to wake Nancy from her sleep we were entering the area where the Rio Magdalena River runs through the sea, you could see the distinct line of the different coloured water. We were 20 Nms off the coast and it stretched further out to sea beyond the horizon. The change in colour was from a deep blue of the sea to a murky green we sailed for hours before we reached the other side. We had another dolphin experience, the dolphins raced to the boat, and then they swim in between the two hulls at the stem of the boat, occasionally taking off to the back and racing back to the front. Then as we neared the other side of the river flow the debris started, logs, branches and rubbish flow from the river to the sea. Nancy at the helm and me is standing at the mast directing which way Nancy had to steer to miss the floating debris.
 (Dolphin moments are always special, they say they are sex maniacs what we see as them playing is sex acts and sometimes not that friendly)

After the river we had to turn to port around the coast line, storms again were developing over the land, this seemed to be the night time routine, the wind was right on the nose so we had to use the engines and furled the sails. I had a fisherman traveling alongside off the port beam, then he raced ahead of me making me change course, he probably had nets down and did not want me to go through them. I think he was trying to call me earlier on the radio but unfortunately I cannot speak or understand Spanish. Then to add to more excitement the electrical storm came into the sea area behind us about 5 Nms away, bolts of lightening were coming down into the sea, scary stuff. I started the other engine and up revs, we had to change course again in a short time I figured if I could get there before the storm got me we would be safe as the storm should then pass behind us. Fortunately it did.

Although we were away from the electrical storm the rain poured down I lost sight of another ship ahead that I thought was coming towards us the rain just killed the visibility, when we finally neared it, it was a container ship anchored waiting to go into Cartagena a Columbian Port.
(Ships that we see on a clear night)
(This ship came out of  port and you can see the speeds these guys do)

Nancy woke at 0700 hours and came up on deck; we both looked at a massive cloud front approaching from behind. I said to Nancy there is no out running this one it is travelling faster than we can go. As the front hit us we experienced 25 – 30 knot winds this pushed us along at 8.5 – 10 knots under the Genoa, then the rain came again, it bucketed down we had to close the doors to the saloon, I got Nancy to get some wet weather gear the bimini was not enough to keep me dry. We made some good ground whilst the storm lasted; the electrical part of the storm was over land which pleased us. But as the norm when the storm passed the wind went with it. We started the motor to keep moving and then I had to calculate fuel status we need to ensure that we will have enough fuel. The concern I have is that later today we will hit the counter current which means that we will have a 2 – 5 knot current against us. You don’t expect to have the doldrums in the Caribbean or Columbian Basin. By mid afternoon I started wondering if we could take the short cut across the basin rather than travel the coast and have the experience of the counter current. Before leaving Bonaire the weather predictions were that the seas in the basin should be no different to what we were experiencing. We called Rick (Fraser Island Rent-A-Yacht) in Oz and asked if he could get a weather report for us. Rick did (good on ya mate), and the weather was as predicted. Prior to getting the results from Rick we had changed course to cut across the basin. As we left the Columbian Coast I entered a couple of notes in the log, “Not a pirate to be seen”, “Not even Johnny Depp”. After a short time night was approaching and the wind picked up a little 8-10 knots, I started to get some sails up and running but I could not make much headway on sails alone. I was starting to think that I was doing something wrong. My mentor Rick asked me what seas we had, we had a large swell 2-3 metres on the starboard after beam. He informed me that with the boat rocking with the swell it was taking all the power out of the sails.


I have just completed the 0500 hour log recordings; we are half way across the Columbian Basin. The reason we were concerned about crossing this part of the sea is that it has a history of having very high vicious seas and de-masting sail vessels. We have had to motor sail all the way to maintain speed, we don’t want to be out here when the weather changes. We have had a rocky night with the swell hitting us on the starboard beam. I asked Nancy if she wanted me to change course so that she could get better sleep. She answered “NO!!! I want to keep going so we can keep covering ground and get the other side of the basin” and I thought I was the skipper.

We sighted the Panama coast line at around 1500 hours, it was very misty, we stayed well off the coast due to the coral reefs closer to shore, and some of these waters are still relying on the old lead line readings for depths. As night drew storms again developed over the land. The land we are passing is still very native populated no lights whatsoever, there is no moon, it is as black as black can be out there, we are not in a popular shipping route so there are no lights from other ships. It was about half way through my night shift that I looked up doing the usual check on gauges when I noticed that the depth gauge was showing 12 metres and dropping fast. I hit George (auto helm) 20 degrees to starboard and the water started to deepen. I checked both GPS they read the same then I checked that position on the chart. We were still on course and should have been in 1100 metres of water under us. Was my depth gauge working properly or not? I have no choice but to believe it until it is proven wrong. After a short time I start back on the course bearing we had before but this time we are further out to sea from the coast, next thing I get another reading, 26 m, 18, 12, and dropping very fast. I hit George again and we headed north further out to sea, this time we should have had over 1500 metres of water below us. We went further off the coast and then headed on the original course once again. All was well, Nancy came up on shift at midnight, and I instructed her on what had happened and to keep an eye on things any doubts head north or call me. She did both, yes another broken sleep. We set a new course which created a detour in the form of an arc, (see chart). We had decided to go to San Blas earlier before going into Colon (Panama Canal), as I had a problem with the port engine; it was vibrating badly so I had not been using it. I was hoping that it was some fishing net caught around the prop which would be easily fixed by diving down and cutting it away. I could do this in the calm of San Blas. Nancy was also keen to see San Blas after others had told us about it. The other problem now was is if the depth gauge is not working I don’t think I want to tackle the shallow passages to enter San Blas. The only way is to try to enter into charted waters that we know are correct and check the depth gauge. We did this and the depth gauge was correct. Scary thought went through my mind; I am very pleased I believed the gauge until proven otherwise.
(This chart shows our track to San Blas, the curve on the trak on the left is where we had those shallow water indications)

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