Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Good, But Slow Going

May 22
20.0N 83.5W

We're enjoying a good downwind sail, but the boat is moving more slowly than it normally would with these winds.

The course to Isla Mujeres is almost directly downwind (DDW). Intermezzo's optimal wind angle for maximizing velocity made good (VMG) downwind is 150 degrees, so we have to sail about 30 degrees off course. Winds are blowing about 16 to 20 knots and I'd expect to be making at least 6 knots under reefed main and jib in ocean swells with the boat as heavy as it is. Instead, we're only making about 4.7 knots.

The confused seas we sailed into on passage north from Panama are now confused seas behind us, pretty large ones, too. The trouble is that the short period between these 1.5 to 2 meter waves, about 8 seconds results in the trough between waves behind about the same length as Intermezzo. Instead of speeding up a lot as we surf down waves and slowing down some as we climb them as we would in longer period waves, we barely get up any surfing speed before we're climbing again. It's like we get sucked into the trough and can't get out. It doesn't help that swells are also coming from our port quarter which causes causes us to yaw and lose further speed.

I don't want to sound like I'm complaining. This is way better than bouncing, bumping, bashing, which I do know I whine about. And we've covered a good 114 nm in the past 24 hours, which is close to our passage planning rate of 120 nm per day. The motion of the boat is fairly comfortable, too. I just like to go faster when the wind is blowing like this.

Yesterday we sailed parallel to some sort of weather front, a long line of dark clouds with rain falling hard from them in patches along the 20-plus mile length of the front. A skinny tornado emerged from the bottom of one of these clouds, a slender funnel that touched the water surface about seven miles to our port. The surface of the water looked very angry where the tip of the funnel touched down, with what looked like black smoke rising up from the water, which was either spray, condensation, rain or any combination thereof. I would not have liked that little tornado to have touched down on us. It would have been too exciting.

We're sailing under blue, partly cloudy skies and last night was mostly clear, with a nearly full moon shining most of the night. We passed through a couple of small squally spots where it rained really hard for a couple of minutes until we passed through.

There is a lot of ship tanker traffic along the route we're sailing, going to and from Texas, I imagine. Plenty of sea room to keep us apart from them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Leaving Grand Cayman for Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We enjoyed a nice two-day rest at Grand Cayman.

Yesterday we took a long dinghy ride to Stingray City, a sandbar where you can wade with big stingrays swimming all around you. It's like a petting zoo, with rays coming up to your waist and floating there while you pet their wings. A bit crowded with tourists, but still fun.

When we returned to the boat from Stingray City, the rain let loose in buckets. We took the opportunity to take showers on the trampoline and wash the boat. Then Josh and Roy went looking for a place where one can reportedly swim with turtles, to round out their day of swimming with rays, while I cleared us out with Customs and Immigration.

It was a holiday yesterday, so I had to pay a $90 USD fee for clearing out. A cheerful guy from customs processed the paperwork and collected my money efficiently. I found it interesting to hear a white man speak with a beautiful Caribbean accent, somehow heartening too.

I had time to kill and Cayman dollars to spend so I stopped at outdoor bar that looked lively with loud Caribbean music playing. A big group of people, local, Jamaican and Bermudian were enjoying post-Carnival revelry, grinding against each other in a line dance that would be group sex if they hadn't been wearing clothes. I was invited by a woman who I was told was from an old Jamaican family to come there for a visit. And the Nepalese bartender gave me free drinks. I felt somewhat sorry to be leaving Cayman right when the fun had started.

We ended the night with a nice dinner at a fancy beachfront restaurant. I enjoyed roasted Brussels sprouts, a dish I wasn't expecting to find on a Caribbean island. They were good!

Two huge cruise ships anchored in the harbor during the night. The are huge vessels, each with over 2,000 passengers. I call them "anthills".

We slipped our mooring lines this morning at 0900 and are now sailing gently downwind on the Code 0 on gentle seas. The weather forecast suggests that these conditions, perhaps with a bit more wind (which would be nice) will continue for our entire passage. If that proves to be true, it will be a very relaxing trip.

We expect to arrive in Isla Mujeres in about three days.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Moored in George Town Harbor, Grand Cayman

May 18
George Town Harbor

Favorable winds kept Intermezzo's speed up through the night and day to get us attached to a mooring ball here in Grand Cayman at 17:30 this evening, about 12 hours ahead of schedule. The seas calmed down and the wind and swell shifted to the Southeast giving us a comfortable downwind sail with following seas today, a welcome relief and fine ending for this passage.

We're confined to the boat until the morning when we clear in with immigration and customs, but we went for a nice swim off the boat in crystal clear waters, beautiful coral below us. Nice that free mooring balls are provided so that boats don't wreck the coral with their anchors.

Looking at the log, we've sailed 3,123 nautical miles since leaving La Paz on January 6th and 10,910 nm since leaving San Francisco in October 2015. Intermezzo was built in South Africa and sailed to be delivered to me in California. It won't be long until the boat has 24,000 nm on the "odometer", equivalent to sailing the theoretical circumference of the Earth at the equator. Still going strong!

We're here for a couple days before shoving off for the final passage of this leg of The Voyage to Isla Mujeres.

I might actually have good enough internet connection here to post some pictures tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Making Good Speed, Caribbean vs. Pacific

May 17
16.6N 81.3W

Intermezzo had a noon to noon run of 155 nautical miles, one of our best days ever, an average speed of 6.5 knots. And we continue to move along at that pace, which means we could arrive at Grand Cayman tomorrow evening instead of Sunday morning. That would be nice.

An alarm went off early this morning letting me know that the house batteries fell below 12 volts. Cloudy skies have reduced how much solar power we are generating and the autopilot has been working hard in the confused seas, increasing power demand. So we started a diesel to limit further discharge of the batteries and took the opportunity to make some water, too.

If you look at Intermezzo's track at you will see that we have been down the Pacific coast of Mexico and Central America and now we are sailing up the Caribbean coast of same. I've been reflecting on the differences in the sailing between the two bodies of water. Here are some of my observations:

The water on the Caribbean side is more clear. I'm not sure why this is; less nutrients in the water?

Tides in the Pacific are much greater. We had a 16.5 tide on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal. At Isla Providencia the tide difference was only 1.25 feet.

Winds on the Caribbean blow steadily from the same direction for days. The Pacific winds are much more variable.

The Caribbean has squalls. We rarely encountered them on the Pacific coast, except around Panama and southern Costa Rica.

The ocean swells in the Caribbean are steeper and closely spaced, not like the long, gentle swells of the Pacific.

The Caribbean has coral reefs and sea mounts far offshore. These are rare in along the Pacific coast.

There is much more sea life along the Pacific coast; lots of dolphins, birds and pelagic fish. So far we have only seen a few dolphins, one bird and lots of flying fish while sailing in the Caribbean.

Of course, my observations are specific to the track we sailed so far at the times we were sailing it. Things could be different if we had taken different routes at different times. Yet the differences are great enough as to be obvious to a casual observer like me.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Bounding and Bouncing Along

May 16
14.3N 81.4W

We weighed anchor and departed from Isla Providencia at 0830. We've been bounding along due north with 15-20 knots easterly winds. We've also been bouncing a lot as we push through confused seas. I'm tempted to call it bashing, but since we are sailing, not motoring, I will use the more playful, less violent word. The sky is covered by thin cloud, thin enough to let the sun shine through, turning the water steel blue and providing sufficient solar power for the boat.

The confused seas are not only uncomfortable, they are preventing us from fully enjoying the very favorable winds. We aren't keeping up enough speed to get water flowing smoothly around our stubby keels needed to reduce leeway. We are slipping westward as we sail north, requiring us to compensate for the slipping by steering more upwind. When we do that, we are sailing more into the waves and the bouncing gets worse. Which causes more leeway. Our point of equilibrium is a heading of 23 degrees to sail a course of 0 degrees. What would be a beam reach for a monohull with a deep keel is thus turned into a close reach for us. It isn't pretty, it's bouncy, but it works. We're making good progress towards the Caymans - 60 of the 350 nm passage covered already.

In my last post, I described the island of Providencia, but not its people. That was an oversight, because they are a very interesting mix of Caribbean's of African descent and Latinos, the mix reflected demographically and well as in individual ethnicity. Likewise the languages spoken are an interesting mix of Spanish, English and Creole. The people are very friendly and most seem happy living on their little island in the middle of nowhere. There isn't much of an economy. There is quite a bustle in the main town but the settlements around the island seem lethargic, the people wanting of something to do. Yet, I didn't see any abject poverty and the island seems very safe. The Colombian government appears to invest quite a bit in infrastructure and public works for such a small island with so few people- a nice road, big gymnasiums in little hamlets, a soccer stadium. I'm guessing that it does so to maintain its claim on territory so far from the Colombian mainland and the people's loyalty and identity as Columbians.

Isla Providencia is now behind us, the Cayman Islands are ahead and the boat is going forward, sideways and up and down.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Leaving Isla Providencia for Grand Cayman Island

May 15
Isla Providencia, Colombia

We enjoyed three nice rest days here at Isla Providencia.

Our late clearing in to Colombia yesterday went smoothly, although I didn't know I had to bring our zarpe from Panama and Josh had to make quick trip back to the boat. Mr. Bush had given me the impression that we would just be dealing with immigration, but I found myself seated at a table with half a dozen officials, including a representative from the Port Captain who needed our zarpe.  (A zarpe is an all-imporant document in Latin America that proves that you have been given permission to leave one country for another.  No zarpe, no entry into the next country.) The Colombian officials were very pleasant, except for the Port Captain guy and I was served coffee. No complaints.

We had rented a Kawasaki Mule, a mini-jeep, to tour the island after our check in was finished. We circumnavigated the island in a clockwise direction, spending most of our day at Roland's Restaurant at Playa de Manzanillo at the south end of the island.  We enjoyed a nice fish lunch, cold beers, good reggae music, warm Caribbean  hospitality, swimming, walking on the beach, yoga, and people watching.

When I took my turn to walk on the beach I came across a small family- mom, dad, little boy. Mom was taking pictures of dad and son. I stopped and asked (in Spanish) if they would like me to take a picture of them together. I'm at the point now where I pretty much speak Spanish without thinking in English, though it's always lurking in the background.  As I took the picture I automatically said, "Dice queso!" ("Say cheese!") which makes absolutely no sense in Spanish. So the first picture I took has the family all looking puzzled rather than smiling. I had to take another one.

Isla Providencia is sparsely populated with small settlements around its coast and a virtually uninhabited interior. The land rises steeply from the sea with the highest peak 1160 feet above sea level. It is densely vegetated but rainfall has been unusually low in recent years, so everything is dry and the predominant color of the landscape is a brownish-green. I imagine with normal rainfall, the island would be much more lush and verdant. The only main road circles the island and there are very, very few cars and trucks and many, many motor scooters. Yet outside of the main town, traffic is very light and the road is in great condition, very pleasant for touring in a vehicle that only goes 25 mph.

This morning,  Roy and Josh went to a spa to enjoy a massage and some other sorts of beauty treatments. I, grizzled, calloused sailor that I am,  stayed on the boat to tighten up the rig and repair the jib furling line. They came back looking refreshed but I saw no improvement to their looks, although Josh said his skin felt very soft and offered to let me feel it. I took his word for it and declined. I'm afraid sailing crews aren't like they were back in the old days. Imagine Henry Morgan's crew using their shore leave to get pedicures.

After the spa, Josh went snorkeling and Roy and I hiked to the peak of the island. It was a pretty strenuous climb through the jungle and was supposed to take an hour and half to get to the peak according to the woman registering hikers at the trailhead. We only had about 45 minutes to get there and back, as it was 3 pm and we had drive back to town and be at Mr. Bush's to clear out at five. Roy made it to the top of the peak in 50 minutes, I  almost made it to the top in that time and we both did the round trip in the hour and half.  We had a great workout, were soaked in sweat and the trailhead woman was impressed.

Clearing out at Mr. Bush's involved a bit of sitting around and chatting before our passports were delivered by the immigration official. We followed up with dinner ashore and then back to the boat to prep for setting sail to the Cayman Islands in the morning.

We plan to weigh anchor at about 0900 and expect to arrive at Grand Cayman about 72 hours later. The suggested winds look great- a steady 14-17 knots from the East or ESE, a perfect beam reach for our 0 degrees, true North rhumb line. Unfortunately, it is also suggested that it will be cloudy the whole trip, with patches of rain. No sunny, blue Caribbean sea this time. There have been some incidents of yachts being harassed and attacked along coasts of Nicaragua and Honduras. I'm glad that we will be no less than 110 miles off those coasts and often much more, well away from the shallow water areas where the bad guys have been reported. We will be vigilant, nonetheless.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Isla Providencia

May 13
Isla Providencia, Colombia

We dropped anchor in Isla Providencia's  Santa Catalina harbor this morning at 0930, exactly 48 hours after leaving Shelter Bay Marina in Panama. You can see where we are, our track from Panama and that of The Voyage so far here.

It was a good passage. We sailed 80 percent of the distance, the crew did a great job and we ate well, though confused seas made the trip a bit tiring and we got wet dealing with a few squalls encountered during last night which required us to reef or drop the mainsail. All part of sailing. We had only one equipment malfunction- a cabin fan gave up the ghost and needed to replaced with the last spare one on board.

After anchoring, cleaning ourselves up and eating breakfast, we took the dinghy into Santa Isabel, Providencia's main village to deal with formalities. You need to use an agent to check in and out of Colombia, here the agent is a Mr. Bush. When I told Mr. Bush that we are only staying here for three days, he advised me to not formally check in until tomorrow or I would have to purchase three $50 tourist cards in addition to the $120 fee for the boat. I took his advice.

So, we spent today as illegal aliens in Colombia, laying low by visiting a nice little beach on the tiny island of Santa Catalina, which you reach by walking across a rickety wooden floating bridge. At the beach we met two (too) young, beautiful, friendly women and we had a nice time talking while wallowing in the warm shallow water. It was a nice relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

When we returned to the boat, the Colombian Navy paid us a visit.  They reviewed our documents and did a more than cursory search of the boat, including looking in the freezer. A big bag of Roy's Famous Frozen Grapes is in the freezer and I offered the navy guys some to taste. They really liked them and left with handfuls. It was a pleasant visit and our undocumented immigrant status was either not discovered or overlooked. Perhaps the frozen grapes were a factor.

Santa Isabel is a very small, attractive little town. It has a big dock for the ferry (the only means of public transportation to/from the island) and cargo tugs, several mini markets, a few small restaurants and some shops. Most of the buildings are wood construction, brightly painted with colorful metal roofs. The people are very friendly, a nice change from much less friendly urban Panama.

Tomorrow, after we formally check in, we are going to rent a four-seater ORV and circumnavigate the island.  We hear that there are good beach restaurants and bars along the way. It should be fun, nice to do some land touring.

(Internet speed is too slow to post pictures...I'll try again when I have a better connection.)