We enjoy a light and tasty dinner while watching the fiery sunset. With a full belly and darkness falling, I gets sleepy. I settle in the cockpit to take a nap, wishing to keep John company, but after a couple of hours spent turning and tossing I go down for a more comfortable sleep. With serious eyes and pointing a finger at me, I make John promise to wake me up when or if he gets tired "Sure!" he say, fully knowing he is lying thru his teeth... John enjoy traveling in the dark, the only way for him to sleep during an overnighter is to be totally exhausted and that would certainly take more than just three hours.
There is a full, bright moon, casting the sea in a silvery shimmer; it never gets totally dark. We can clearly see the outline of the coast in the distance, the occasional fishing boat far away. For a few hours everything is so quiet, to the point of almost boring. We check the chart to make sure we are on course and also verify nobody is around on the radar just to make sure everything is all right and to break the monotony. Around midnight, however, we are about to get all the excitement I can handle...
The AIS and radar screen is alerting to the presence of three large cargo ships heading down the coast, and a cruise ship which course is directly on our nose! The first a few miles away, the second 14 miles, the third 21 miles; one after the other, coming from all angle. It's true that we decided to stay well off the coast to avoid fishing vessels and nets, putting ourselves close to the shipping channel frequented by cargo and cruise ships! It's a big, blue ocean out there and we always seems to have behemoths aiming straight at us regularly. Playing around with our trusted electronics we discover that they are traveling at a speed between 18 to 20 knots against our 9.5. We will just have to keep an eye on them, there's quite some time before I have to take any decisions to wake up John or make any adjustments to our course.
A word on our electronics that I LOVE so much: We have radar, which is great, my seeing-eyes in the night; then we have AIS, which is a God sent marvel, supplying enormously helpful information. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System. All commercial vessels carry it, and some pleasure crafts too -we are one of them-. What it does: it spots vessels around you, signaling their direction in relation to yours. It provides their name -in case you need to hail them on the radio-, which we have done many time, length and width, type of vessel (cargo, cruise, oil tanker). It reveals their speed, destination and most of all it tells you in no uncertain terms in how much time it's going to intersect your course, and at what exact distance you are going to pass each other (closest point of approach). Basically, it provides you with every piece of information you need about the other vessels around you, short of what their Captain had for dinner. This piece of equipment is worth every one of the many thousands of pennies we paid for it. AIS and a pair of eyes (for those without AIS) on deck are our best friend!
So I'm just mildly nervous as the cruise ship gets closer; anyone who have been on a cruise knows how big these boat can be... I decide that if she doesn't change her course within 4 miles from me, I'm going to hail them on the radio. In the unlikely chance they won't answer me, at 2 miles' distance I'll change my course. There, I feel better already, knowing what to do... But there's no need, as I see that they change their course just a smidge. We'll be passing each other port to port at a distance of 1.30 miles. A little closer than I'd like, close enough to smell their burning fuel but safe enough, no need to do anything. Of course these ships are so big and very well lit, and I see them clearly coming up closer. It's quite a fascinating sight!
The next one, a cargo, travelling at a faster speed and starting to alter her course just enough to avoid us. The next one is a cargo going to Panama and going fast! Just as I'm relaxing, I see there's another one coming up pretty fast behind us and to our right, going to Guatemala. All of a sudden I feel like the cream in an Oreo cookie! Panama is an impressive sight at night. A smidge of alarm rises, my eyes stay glued to the screen to monitor every move, every change of direction. We don't have much space to maneuver, surrounded like this! So we must be vigilant. But they are all true professionals and eventually stay far enough away from us even alter course according to the Collision Regulation as they can see us on their AIS system as well without any need for us to alter our course. They all pass by, leaving Sete Mares on its course in their wake. By then we are both on deck and awake, time for a muffins and a tea.
Unless you are in the vicinity of a shipping lane or the Panama Canal you need all eyes on deck otherwise the rest of the nights are quiet, with just a couple of mysterious big fins flapping about and sometimes ending on our deck "flying fish" you can tell when that happen as you get the smelling of fish really strong.
We spend the rest of the trip dodging more tankers and cargo ship until just before sunrise and finally anchored in front of Shelter Bay Marina avoiding a ground cargo ship without ligth outside the dangerous cargo anchorage area and arrive at destination. Las Hadas, finally! The trip lasted less than 3 days, the difference a benevolent current can make.
Once we slept a few hour and late morning we made our way in Shelter Bay marina.
It's 7:30 and we leave this speck in the middle of nowhere after a great two days rest just as the sun is peeking out of a cloud. The moment we clear the reef and have sufficient clearance on the water, we hoist the main, and get underway where we get the most beautiful Good-Bye... Dolphins close enough to be seen in all their glory swimming on the port helm and in front of Sete Mares. Further more, we get to see them, followed by a perfectly synchronized dance in their air dive. When that happen, it takes our breath away every time!
Then, no more dolphins sightings, I wonder where they all went... We had about 50 hours of navigation ahead of us which turns out to be a pretty easy trip.
Though the stars were magnificently lit and a half of a moon rise during the nights, there very little traffic, mainly tankers and cargo ships, but they were far from our path and we only saw their lights in the distance. No Buddy Boating just seems that we were all alone in the Caribbean Sea. It is not very comforting to know that there are no friends ahead of you, beside you, and or behind you. As if you get bored in the middle of the night? You cannot grab the radio and check on each other.
A few miles before our destination, the Panama Canal, the moon diseappeared and the lights of the shipping industry converging took its place and demanded all our attention on deck. It was like the Christmas lights all over again. Pretty impressive sight!
By 04:00 we were safely anchored in the Bay, right in front of Shelter Bay Marina entrance where we made our arrangements for the Panama Canal crossing.
Just a note for you to know that despite you make reservation long in advance at Shelter Bay Marina, it is almost as if the system works on a first come first serve basis. It seems to be the case at most marina around here. Our experience at Shelter Bay Marina is that they do their best to accommodate you even if the slip they have would require grease to fit you in. Luckily some nice cruiser gave away their slip as they were tied at the Mega Yacht dock in their 34 foot Tanzer and allow to accommodate Sete Mares needs. Funny enough the next day, we met them as their boat was in the shipyard in refit and required a Naval Architecture opinion. They turn out to be a very nice French Canadian couple from Quebec on board their boat name "Chenou" you can imagine the rest of the conversation...
Sete Mares is now docked at the Mega Yacht dock just near the entrance of the Marina and the Captain did a fantastic job at getting her there elegantly.
Anchorage while waiting for our sleep in Shelter Bay Marina
A spec in the middle of nowhere. But chance to rest for the next leg to Panama.
We sailed to Cayo Serranilla which may sounds impressive; but a smaller
spec of land in the middle of nowhere does not exist. The Caribbean Sea is
over 6,000 feet deep in most places except for several banks that rise up
from the bottom in the middle of nowhere. Mountains as it were, if measured
from the bottom of the sea, rising straight up for a vast plain. Some of
these mountains do not break the surface. But in a few spots a spec of land
will emerge from the surface. Such is Cayo Serranilla, roughly ¼ mile
square, located 230 miles south of Grand Cayman, 200 miles off the coast of
Honduras, and 400 miles from Panama, a perfect stop along our way.
Well, not exactly a perfect stop. In fact I know of no other sailboat that
has ever stopped there, or even considered stopping there. With trade winds
blowing 20 knots most of the time and 4 meter seas running, a bit of reef
surrounding a ¼ mile Square Island doesn't provide much protection. But
this is where a sailing catamaran like Sete Mares has its advantages. A
mono-hull would swing from side to side like a Can-Can dancer's dress
equally exposing one to more than desired. Their rails would be under water
as they rolled and they would be flung out of their bunks. For them, better
off at sea at a predictable angle of heel.
But for us, with two hulls, 30 feet of beam and a shallow draft, we tucked
up close to the shore in the lee of the island and were reasonably
comfortable for two nights. We even did a bit of snorkeling and I speared
one lobster. I don't think the poor guy had ever seen a human being. When
he stuck out his head to take a look at this strange new creature, well I am
afraid that was the end of him.
Enroute to Cayo Serranilla...
One hour out of Grand Cayman, the new head sail blew up, flogging wildly when we began wrestling it onto the trampoline. Half of it was in the water, which made for some strenuous pulling, followed by hydrotherapy treatment as waves splashed over us.
Ah! Such are the surprise of sailing...