First Major Passage: Bahamas to Colombia

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Author: Pete

Location:  Cartagena, Colombia

 

Sailed on the first day out of Inagua. Felt odd to leave port in the late afternoon with night coming on and no land in sight. Sailing overnight was a novel experience again after not doing it for some time.

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Our second day the wind died in the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba, so we motored for about sixteen hours on the flat seas. The ocean almost became a mirror it was so still aside from our wake. As we passed close to the southern peninsula of Haiti we could smell the land, sweet like flowers. Miranda thought sweet like human musk. Eeew…. She’s weird like that.  Played Settlers of Catan and Pass the Pigs taking advantage of the flat.

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Body is adjusting slowly to the awkward motion of the boat. It’s pretty loud in the hulls from slapping waves as we were on a beam reach doing five knots. Morale was good though, if slightly sick feeling.

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It’s short of like a week long hangover after a college house party. Everyone is lethargic, and slightly nauseous. We sit and stare into space at the horizon and talk sparingly. Every couple of ours someone makes a big pot of starchy bland food that we all eat quietly and feel better for a bit. Dishes pile up. Bright lights are painful. Everyone is just a little unwashed. Does that bring back memories? We’re making them right here.

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I guess it’s a challenge. The night watches are still novel and beautiful. The sky lights up with the stars and you can see clouds, waves, and horizon. It’s a peaceful, if boring four hours. The right song comes on the iPod, and it becomes a solo dance party breaking out on the deck in a lifejacket and tethered to the boat. They can’t hold these moves down though.

 

Once in a while the realization of how far we are from anything and what we’re actually doing crosses my mind. I feel fear and elation. And sick. Always just a little sick. Damned the dry heaves, full speed ahead. Onward to Colombia!

 

 

Day four in the passage. Wind steadily increasing as we go south. Now about 15 knots. Still choppy, uncomfortable seas, but nothing ferocious. Altered course 10 degrees starboard for our final run to Cartagena, which lays 116 miles away. I think we’ll be ready to get off the boat.

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Last night on watch was like living a dream. I’m on the midnight to 4AM graveyard shift, and generally pretty spaced out at the beginning of watch. Throw in clouds and no moon, which blurs perception, and the boat trailing streams of bioluminescent sparks, as well as being hundreds of miles from anything, and no boats in sight for days. Pretty far out there. It’s nice on deck. Down below the creaks and bangs sound like the boat is coming apart. …but I know she won’t. Not my Tayrona.

 

Last day of the passage was a trial. We went to bed with moderate winds and low swell. Over the course of the night we passed 11 degrees N and the trade wind predictably caught us. Screaming 25 knot winds gusted 30 and kicked up big rollers. We were beam reaching, which rolled the boat disconcertingly. Tayrona started surfing on the waves, reaching the troughs and veering to port, climbing the next under sail and repeating.

 

Down below trying to sleep in the roller coaster of creaking fiberglass and hammering waves was impossible. We did our best. I relieved Miranda of duty at midnight and kept it together until 2 AM when the wind had reached 20 knots and we had a Cartagena-bound freighter to dodge. I couldn’t raise it on the radio, so I woke Mir to help me reef and tack back north out of the big ship’s way. The seas were so big by that point we couldn’t swing the bow through the wind to tack. I fired up the engines, but the starboard wouldn’t turn over. There may have been some swearing involved, but eventually we got the boat tacked over. Liza was up by now roused by the vulgarity washing over the decks. The lights of the big boat grew closer. I thought I was sure which way it was headed and then wasn’t convinced. The rolling waves bucked and skidded the boat. The dark felt overbearing in the cloudy, moonless night.

 

Then the fore and aft lights unaligned and the freighter passed us a mile off our port and slid south. By now it was 3 AM so Liza and I put together an anchor, chain, and several warps as a drogue, and also double reefed the sails.   The combination slowed the boat to six knots and kept it from surfing radically. Still big walls of wave thundered in to our aft quarter, rolling the boat sickeningly up and forward. We stood at the helm and watched them come like a car wreck that you couldn’t help rubberneck. It was sickeningly worrisome that maybe, though not likely, but just maybe, one of those waves out there was steep and tall enough to roll us.

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Eventually it was Liza’s 4 AM watch but I stayed up, too juiced to go below. We ate all the cookies and tried to keep hydrated. The waves pounded on. Dawn broke, as did our hopes that the weather would moderate at daylight. I don’t know if seeing the monsters is better than just imagining them. I went below and pretended to sleep for an hour.

 

It was into the early afternoon that we approached the coast and seeing it through the haze got to bellow a legitimate, “Land Ho!” Actually, I’m not sure that I can bellow, even if I tried. The waves and wind moderated and a pod of dolphins welcomed us to the continent. We sailed to South Amercia. We were exhausted.

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Ran with the wind under full sail past Zona Norte, my old kite beach, and our friends’ apartment, past the walled city that I love, and beside Boca Grande’s glittering highrises. So close. We were so close. Pulled down sails and motored towards the shallow entrance to Boca Grande and Wendy, the port engine, started screaming. Well, her alarm did. I shut her down and found no coolant. So we loitered under sail until it cooled off and I could get more coolant in, then motored over the submerged pirate wall into the bay. The smell of fried goods wafted through the air from shore. We dodged skiffs and slid past the statue of Mary protecting the harbor. We anchored off Club Nautica with the other scabby looking boats.

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We were home. We’d made it back to Cartagena, Colombia, South America under sail. Back to where it all began. I love this city and I can’t wait to walk her streets again. But now to bed, at 7:30 PM. Gork, out.

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Matthew Town, Great Inagua Island

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Author: Pete

 

Left the open, desolate anchorage off the south tip of Acklins island in the late afternoon and headed southeast after passing the tall, white, empty lighthouse on Castle Island. Hugged the island to keep us out of shipping lanes in the Mira Por Vos passage. Our first overnight sail up ahead of us, we talked through our game plans should things go awry, and trimmed our sails as tight as possible to make it to Great Inagua without tacking or motoring.

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The sun sank, fired a brilliant orange, and then all too quickly left us in darkness. My mom’s fancy solar lights lit up to keep us company. Those things are awesome! With no moon to speak of I was amazed at how much natural light was in the air even with no cloud cover and no other ambient light. You could still see clouds, the horizon, and wavelets. And let’s face it. When you’re offshore, that’s about all there is to see anyway!

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Also saw lights of a few ships passing in the night. Reminded me of a melodic song by Brazilian Girls. The close ones popped up on our AIS display, though I couldn’t get a copy from them when I hailed them on the SSB and VHF. Maybe they were ignoring me like a big brother ignores a dorky little sibling. Story of my life.

With fifteen knots of wind we scooted right along at six knots, the motion a touch uncomfortable since we were heading into the wind and waves, but not altogether unpleasant. We had some dinner in the dark, trying to keep our eyes on the darkened horizon for the sake of our stomachs. Then it was time to start our watches. We kept three-hour stints, which sometimes turned into four. One went below and tried to sleep while the other read or looked out into the black, and studies the horizon every ten minutes to look for big, fast, scary freighters. The motion and noise of slapping waves below made falling asleep annoying, but not impossible. After a few shifts, some annoyingly erratic wind just before dawn, and lots of midnight snacks, the east horizon glowed orange, and the sun shot beams out of the cloud bank. We’d made our first overnight! And we were bushed. Pulled into the anchorage off the rocky shore of Mathew Town, Great Inagua, and slept until the afternoon.

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The next few days we explored the town, picked up Liza from the airport, and made some Dutch friends along the way!

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Martjin and Seeneka were in town to survey the construction of the new port, as the old one left something to be desired. Bahamas Air lost their GPS antennas, so they had a little time to do some depth measurement of the waters surrounding the island. Thus, we happily decided to postpone the boat projects we had in mind in favor of a sailing day up to the Man of War Bay with our new friends! They showed up with snacks, drinks, and a heavy bruce anchor Martjin found on the bottom of the quay! They were both experience sailors (more so than us!) and it was fabulous to have a full crew to work the sails. Made eight knots heading north and were shadowed for some time by a pod of dolphins playing in our bow wake. The island’s main revenue is from Morton Salt, which makes it’s sea salt here. Huge mounds of the precious stuff loomed tall on shore and a freighter loaded maneuvered in to load up.

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Pulled into the bay and all jumped in the water to do some spearfishing! Only got one fish, but made a tasty fried snack for us. Sailed back in the dark under blazing stars and made dinner in our old anchorage. Really fun, impromptu day with some really interesting, storied, and fun people. That’s what we live for.

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This morning, Chris Parker’s forecast sounded promising for the Windward Passage and the crossing to Colombia. We made haste, and got to work readying the boat for an afternoon departure tomorrow. I worked engines, Liza did decks and rigging, and Miranda worked galley. In six hours we had engine fluids and filters changed, running rigging checked, foreword lockers battened down, and lunches made for the days on passage. A little provisioning tomorrow and we’ll be off like and reaching south! Colombia here we come!

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ps- Check out Liza’s take on Great Inagua here and here!

pps- Credit to Sanneke Reiche for the top-most image.