Saturday, May 25, 2019

Leg 4 Wrap Up, With Pictures

When I was planning The Voyage, Leg 4, from Panama to Isla Mujeres was the most daunting to me. It involved the longest distances sailing offshore, possibly into prevailing winds and waves, local squalls, and pirates. It turned out to be one of the easiest and most enjoyable legs.

I credit myself with doing the research to learn that if I waited until May to depart from Panama, prevailing winds would be shifting southward from an undesirable northeast direction to easterlies or even southeast winds. This is what we encountered, one the rare times the weather has done what it is supposed to do for me. I also had developed a robust data set for Intermezzo's fuel consumption, so I knew with a high level of confidence that if the winds did not cooperate, we had the range to motor between our rest stops in Isla Providencia, Grand Cayman and our final destination, Isla Mujeres. Good planning paid off.

Overall, it was great sailing in decent, though sometimes, uncomfortable seas. Scroll back through previous posts to get day-by-day details of the passage. I was surprised that we encountered a weak foul westerly current most of the way (I'm pretty sure) and a strong one that really slowed down the boat (I'm very sure) as we approached Isla Mujeres. I confess to not paying close attention to currents when I have done my passage planning; I will be in the future.

We travelled a total of 970 nautical miles in 9 1/2 days. We sailed 83 percent of the time, a record for Intermezzo, I believe. For comparison, Leg 3, from Puerto Chiapas, Mexico and through the Panama Canal was 1,208 nautical mile passage over 16 days which we sailed only around 40 percent. Nothing significant broke on Leg 4, for which I am grateful.

And now, finally, pictures from Leg 4: 

Leaving the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal

Isla Providencia's Santa Catalina anchorage

Josh and Roy scoping out Isla Providencia's main wharf

Dogs fishing in the shallows between Isla Providencia and the small Isla Santa Catalina

House on Isla Catalina with colorful planters made from old tires

Intermezzo in the Santa Catalina anchorage, Isla Providencia

City Hall, Isla Providencia

Roland's Restaurante Coctes Bar, Isla Providencia

Roy testing his balance after three days at sea and two cervezas at Roland's

A true Jungle Gym, Isla Providencia

Hiking through jungle to climb El Pico (The Peak), highest point on Isla Providencia

Josh showing Roy the finer points of boat hook jousting upon arrival at Grand Cayman

Beach on Grand Cayman Island

Happy Captain

Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Intermezzo's neighbors in George Town harbor, Grand Cayman. I call them "ant hills".

A tornado (waterspout?) on the way to Isla Mujeres

Intermezzo berthed at the pleasant little El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres
Sunset at El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres

Friday, May 24, 2019

Isla Mujeres

We arrived at Isla Mujeres this morning and Intermezzo is tied up at the pleasant little El Milagro Marina, all cleaned up and taking a well-deserved rest. This is a brief blog post just to wrap up the last day of Leg 4 of the Voyage. There is a good internet connection here, so I will post a summary of the leg and PICTURES tomorrow!

The boat felt like it was going slow the whole way from Grand Cayman. Around 0200 this morning it felt like we almost came to a stop, despite a 15 knot wind from behind us and an engine running to help us sail the dead downwind course required to make our final waypoint. We were only making 2 or 3 knots over the ground. I wondered, were we dragging a fishing net or something? Was the boat just an overloaded cruising cat slug? I almost stopped the boat to dive under it to take a look if something had fouled us.

I looked at the water running by the stern of the boat and our wake. It looked like we were going through the water at a good clip. (Our paddlewheel speed transducer is fouled, so we don't get a reading of speed through water, just speed over ground via GPS.) It had to be a strong current. By strong, I mean 4-5 knots, as we should have been running a 6-7 knots in stationery water. That seemed very unlikely, but when we got to our waypoint, we would be turning almost 90 degrees and we would find out when we turned. Sure enough, when I made the turn, speed over ground increased to 7 knots even with the engines just idling!  Amazing! None of my voyage planning research indicated the we would encounter such a strong current.

Now I'm figuring the we must have been bucking a 1-3 knot westerly current the whole way from Grand Cayman. It would explain our low average speed (4.7 knots) for the passage and the confused seas. A westerly current would be running into the easterly swells, steepening them and disrupting their pattern.

What a relief to know that Intermezzo wasn't fat and slow or that my sailing ability had gone awry.

The big news upon our arrival at Isla Mujeres and had an internet connection is that Roy will be leaving the boat, jumping ship if you will. He received a job offer in Australia that is to good to refuse. We processed through his decision today and bid a sincere, mutually grateful farewell. Roy showed up on the dock in La Paz exactly when I needed him and Intermezzo showed up in his life exactly when he needed a boat to sail on. We sailed four epic legs of The Voyage together. He took great care of the boat and engaged authentically with all the other crew members who joined us. I will miss having a good sailor on board and his quiet, loyal company. We grew a great friendship that I know will endure.

Now I have to find crew for the next leg. Possibilities have already emerged. I'm broadcasting the opportunity to my potential crew list.  If you read this and are interested, email me at stephenjcox61@gmail dot com. Planned departure from Isal Mujeres to Key West, Florida is June 3rd, figure five days, start-to-finish.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Better Sailing

May 23
20.7N 85.2W

We're sailing better now. Winds are blowing a bit stronger and have shifted northward, close to ENE which allows us to sail our course at a tighter, faster wind angle. The seas are less confused, moderate swells from mostly behind us, with a longer period. More surfing, less yawing.

Our noon-to-noon run was 114 nm, an average speed of 4.8 knots. We're going a bit faster than that now, just over five knots on average I reckon. If we keep this speed up, we should arrive at Isla Mujeres about the 0600 tomorrow morning.

Our course is almost due west, which has created another slight problem for us. The sails shade the solar panels from noon onwards, drastically reducing how much power we generate from the sun. We're having to run the engines for a few hours everyday to make up the shortfall. If it's not one thing, it's another.

I haven't mentioned that we are sailing this passage doublehanded, just Roy and me. Josh left the boat for personal reasons and flew back home from Grand Cayman. Very sorry to see him go; he's a very good sailor and good company on board. And now we get less sleep. Roy and I are going on and off our watches like clockwork, trying to get as much sleep time in as possible, which means very little conversation other than pleasantries and briefings on what's going on with the boat. It's not a bad situation at all, but I have come to enjoy sailing three-up, especially on passages of more than a few days.

Looking at the chartplotter and our track since leaving Panama, it is hard to believe that Leg 4 of The Voyage will soon be over. I always figured this to be the most difficult of all the legs, but it is turning out to be one of the easiest and certainly the best sailing since coming down the California coast.

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.)

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sailng At Last!

May 12
11.5N 80.7W

The wind shift we were hoping for happened earlier than expected!

I was on watch around midnight last night. The wind had shifted to the east and I noticed it building in strength. I began contemplating raising the sails; should I wake up Roy or Josh, or should I raise them myself. I mulled this over very slowly and drowsily in my mind. Next thing I knew, I was looking at nine and then 11 knots of wind on the beam. Time to stop mulling and start doing, so I raised the main and unfurled the jib and in no time we were bounding along beautifully through the night sea.

The wind has held steady between 11 and 15 knots since and we're reeling of the miles towards Isla Providencia under partly cloudy skies on a deep blue sea. I can't remember when I last enjoyed sailing conditions like this. Most welcome, most grateful.

Last night a large ship, Green Maverick came up from behind us. The AIS showed a Closest Point of Approach (CPA) of just over a mile, closer than I like to be to a ship at night and certainly not when the ship is overtaking us and we are under sail. I hailed the ship on the VHF to make sure they saw us. I was reassured that the office on watch had us on his radar as well as visual contact. We confirmed that he pass us to our starboard and we bid each other a good night and good voyage.

Another sailboat, Amante, left Shelter Bay Marina about an hour and a half before us also destined for Isla Providencia. We caught up to her yesterday afternoon as we were motoring and they were slowly sailing in the light winds. I radioed her skipper and suggested that we stay in contact during our passage. He agreed. We've since outpaced her under sail and this morning when we spoke over the radio I learned that they had run out of wind about 20 miles behind us. That is indeed what the weather suggestion suggested; that calm airs would be chasing us. Apparently, Intermezzo is sailing fast enough to stay ahead of the calm, Amante has not been.

Crew and captain are all well, although I'm feeling just a touch of sea sickness. I don't like beam-on seas, takes a couple of days for them to stop affecting me. Nothing terrible, just a sour stomach, dry mouth and not much interest in food.

I will try to drink a beer though.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Enroute to Isla Providencia: Waiting for Wind Shift

May 11
10.0N 80.1W

We've been motoring since leaving Marina Bay at 0930 this morning, the wind coming from a favorable southwest direction most of the day but not strong enough to keep the sails filled in the beam-on swell. The wind has been gradually shifting northwards, if the weather suggestions turn out to be correct, will continue doing so until they are blowing from the east, strong enough for us to start sailing tomorrow morning.

Conditions are good, a moderate, somewhat lumpy swell coming from the east with mostly cloudy skies. It's nice to be out on the open ocean again, not as muggy as it was back in the marina. Josh is getting quickly oriented to the boat and is finishing his first watch. Roy was busy today, rebuilding the head (marine toilet) on the crews' side of the boat. I researched all the offshore dangers on our route- banks, cays and reefs that rise from the deep ocean like mountain spires and plateaus. We must avoid running into them or being drawn into them by strong currents. As long as we know where they are, we can give them a wide berth. These are much different conditions than on the Pacific coast, where the occasional isolated rock and windy capes are the main hazards. I notice on the chart that there is at least one wreck shown at each cay. A poignant reminder to practice good seamanship.

Intermezzo seems happy being back at sea. Nothing has broken yet.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Leaving Panama

May 5
Shelter Bay Marina

I flew back to Panama from California yesterday, met Intermezzo's new crew member Josh at the airport. We shared an Uber back to Shelter Bay Marina where we met up with Roy who has been enjoying adventures in Panama City while I've been away. Rainy season definitely started here while I was gone; it has rained every day and we haven't seen the sun yet.

Today we topped up the fuel tanks, officially cleared out of Panama, took the long, bumpy taxi ride into Colon and back to shop for provisions and now we're ready to slip our lines tomorrow morning.

This leg of The Voyage takes us from Panama to Isla Mujeres, lying off the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Our first stop will be the remote Colombian island of Providencia, a two-day sail from here. We may make another stop at the Cayman Islands, but the wind is looking good for a direct sail to Isla Mujeres and every sailor I've spoken to has told me the Caymans are nothing special and expensive. So, unless the crew has a strong desire to make a second stop, I expect we'll take advantage of the winds and sail straight through from Providencia. The whole passage should take us 10 days of sailing, plus two to four rest days, depending on wether we stop at the Caymans or not.

Light winds are forecast for the first day out, so we'll probably be motoring with small waves on our beam. Then it looks like the winds will build and we'll be able to sail on a beam reach the rest of the way to Isla Providencia.  Of course, I am very skeptical of "weather suggestions" after the last leg!  When we leave Providencia, stronger winds and larger seas are forecast but both should be on the beam or behind, veering southward as we progress until the last days of the passage when we may actually be sailing downwind!  Again, I am avoiding attachment to such suggestions.

Shelter Bay Marina has been an enjoyable, if expensive, place to spend some time. It is a cosmopolitan crossroads of sailors, French, British, Australian, Kiwis, Austrian, Swedish, American, Canadian, and more. Most are transiting to the other end of the canal to sail to the South Pacific. Most of the sailors heading in the other direction have already left; we're laggers, but I'm glad I purposefully delayed so that winds would shift southward as meteorologists suggest they do.  Now, I just hope there aren't any early season hurricanes when we get to the East Coast USA!

Prior to leaving for California, I met a very interesting and mindful young man, Adam Holm, from Sweden. He recently finished filming a documentary about indigenous people who live the Colombian desert. He's now trying to make his way back to Sweden without using any fossil fuel. He walked the docks of Shelter Bay Marina diligently for weeks, trying to find a ride on a sailboat to Europe, living in an abandoned church nearby. We had a very nice conversation about life, philosophy, spirit, freedom...he was exactly who I needed to meet when I met him. I'm happy to learn that he finally found a ride!  Adam chronicles his life and journey using audio and video media rather than my old-fashioned writing. You can view his latest video blog post on YouTube here. I consider him a kindred spirit, a brother adventurer. I hope our paths cross again. (I'll bet they do!)

I let go of dream while in California, left a big part of my past where it belongs. Now to move forward onto a blank canvas, feeling a bit empty having no dream and old wants and habits diminishing, with nothing to replace them. Difficult, but exactly as it should be.

Shelter Bay Marina - the start of rainy season in Panama
Crew for Leg 4 of The Voyage - Roy and Josh

Adam swimming in the mangroves of Panama - not sure if he knew about the crocodiles