05/16/2013, Nombre De Dios, Panama
Luminescence, clarity and printers ink black
Mountainous, curvaceous and pool table flat
Expansive, claustrophobic and all consuming
Passive, active and unassuming
It can swallow you whole and unleash such horror
Make you feel small while testing your honor
We can feast from riches and drink to it health
It can make us so poor yet give the illusion of wealth
God, they say created this theater
That invisible guy with no sense of humour
But all I can see is the comedy not drama?
A joke lost to Krishna, Mohammed & the Dali Lama
So was the creator Milligan and Sellers?
With back up writers like French and Saunders
Was slapstick added by Laurel and Hardy
To a sell out performance attended by yachties.
They come sail here in there thousands
Cackling like fools at the madness
Old salt dogs, cruisers, and sea gypsies
Some crazy, some sane and most quite tipsy
At the end of the day, it's all about respect
For the author, producer and the skill to direct
Who ever is your god, I hope he is quick to laugh
As the one that guides me as I sail my path
It has taken me a few days to get to this blog....I'm still trying to comprehend the last few days of action and assistance.
It's started with a massive CRACK BANG. It was 8.20 in the morning after two nights at sea. We had just set the anchor in East Hollandes Cay, San Blas, Panama. It was beautiful but a big black cloud was approaching.
I was tired and so decided to sleep. My head had just hit the pillow when the lightening struck..I saw blinding light through closed eyes. We had a temporary crew member (nicknamed Junk for the purpose of this blog) who fell over on deck and started carrying on like he just seen an alien invasion...I don't yell often but told him to shut the F$&@ up.
Tim witnessed a purple light that danced around the solar panels. All of us but Junk could smell the fried electronics throughout Ooroo. While smoke was billowing from the electrical control panel, Junk asked me for a bucket...."What" I said, "I want to collect some rain water for cleaning salt off me skin". I didn't yell this time....no point.
I gave him this name because that is how he refers to his genitalia..."my Junk". Well at least that is how he described it to Steph who said to me....never leave me alone on this boat again with him.
No one was hurt which is saying something as Steph was swimming at the time and the strike was so ferocious that it danced over to Coolrunning II, 50 meters away and wiped out its Auto Pilot. Steph didn't feel it at all.
Tim and I inspected Ooroo from top to bottom. There are stories that lightening can blows right through the hull especially were the SSB radio is grounded to a copper plate or in a mono hull, right below the mast. We had no fire and no water in the bilges.
We also had no equipment at all. I'm talking all gauges, two GPS's, radar, SSB radio, both VHF radios, the sterio, wind, speed and depth instruments....we had two of each now gone. All Navigation lights and half the cabin lights. The solar power is struggling the fridge died. 10 days of good eating lost.
Bazaar things went....my starboard engine buzzer stopped but the engine starts easier. The fridge turned itself on two days latter and we couldn't turn it off? The wires to the VHF radio that would have taken the brunt of the strike evaporated inside the untouched wire insulation.
We just don't know how bad the damage is. Batteries could be dying. We have found wires welded together and some of the wires may be slowly losing there connectivity.
We can assume that even if something partially works....like the phantom fridge, it is probably just a death rattle.
George and Sandra on Coolrunning have been amazing. Even while George had his own issues including two charter customers on board, he took to time to come over to Ooroo and assess the damage. And because we where completely without Navigation equipment offered to lead us to Panama.
Meanwhile Tim and I found some power to charge my iPad which has Navionics Charts and GPS.....at least we not completely blind.
We followed Coolrunning to the mainland that afternoon were The Charter Guests had flights booked back to Panama City. The next morning we motored to Isla Porvenir to check into Panama, then the next day we motored to Turtle Cay Marina.
In Porvenir, Junk pretended to show some empathy to the situation. "Rich" he said looking me in the eye. "What ever I can do to help...just ask? " OK we have no Auto Pilot so you can take your turn at the helm" he said he would wake up when the engine started in the morning and assist. We started the engines at 6.45am....he arose from his cabin at 11am. I sat him down and told him politely to "pack his junk and leave"
We caught a Spanish Mackerel and so celebrated our journey with George and Sandra. I some how think it will be one of many.
As soon as word got out to my sailing buddies I had so many offers of assistance. Jose and Ron have offered to shop for me in Florida, Skip ( who fitted Ooroo out originally) has offered to come to Panama and fit her out again. Tony (the best broker in Mar Caribe) is getting quotes for the rewiring in St Maarten. It looks Ike my insurance company is playing ball.
As if to prove the point of my last blog.....it is clear that we are never alone at sea.
It's no longer lonely out here. It's night one of our passage from Cartagena, Columbia to the San Blas Islands in Panama. I allowed 40 hrs in the light winds forecasted to get us into the shallow and partly uncharted waters of the islands so we would have an early morning arrival after two nights at sea.....but we have wind. It's a beautiful sail and once again I may have to slow Ooroo down. We have phosphorescence in our wake...or is it the reflection of a million stars.
Ships heading to the Panama Canal have been passing on a regular basis, sneaking up astern and powering on to one of the worlds busiest seaways. They are alight like large cites but sound is lost to the wind.
This is my favorite part of sailing. And when I can write and ponder. But my newest crew member in his excitement decided to stay awake and chatter. Words added to the night are lost on me. I just crave that solitude that comes with a night sail.
After each paragraph I scan the seas for the next ship to pass. They make good company, a spectacle and show of power. The time flows quickly when they cross our path.
Now only one light is visible ahead, a light that has been slow moving with within 2 nm of us. I suspect it's another sailing vessel and I'm going to catch it even though the other boat doesn't know its a race.
The day was calm sailing with the exception of one rain shower that appeared with the biggest pod of dolphins I have ever seen. The wind allowed me to steer towards them, however they saw me coming and headed my way....at speed. I have never seen dolphins jump so high and so often. We had about 50 swimming all around Ooroo, taking in tuns to swim in our wake. They would zip off and return launching themselves skywards. They stayed for more than an hour. I through a line off the back and swam with them. We were spell bound.
The night however was all together different. Scary in fact. We had to slow Ooroo and wait out the morning. At 9pm thunderstorms surrounded us and I don't know how to explain it but I thought we were caught in a void of wind and current. I pulled in the sails knowing that winds between storm cells can be severe and started the engines. The GPS started to spin in all directions while the auto pilot kept announcing it was off course. We came to a dead stop in 15 to 20 knots, with 2000rpm on both engines I wasn't moving at all...we were stuck. I even let out the head sail to see if we could break free from what ever had hold of us. Still the boat speed was nil. I woke the ever dependable Tim just to see if I was imagining it. The storm cells and lightening danced all around, the rain came in heavily. One of my depth sounders showed that it last picked up depth at 8m when we hadn't been shallower than 800m. I thought we may have caught another net. So once again I through a line in and had a swim...and it wasn't comfortable. The boat was rocking, it was pitch black and I didn't like the idea that a fishing net may be under us with the predictors that sometimes follow them.
My torch showed nothing around the props, rudders or the rear of the keel. I wouldn't swim forward to check the bow.
We couldn't go forward so I asked Tim to back her up....and we slowly moved. Eventually we turned and altered course away from the "whatever". Logic says it was current but backing out was like freeing ourselves from mud. It wasn't some sort of whirlpool because we didn't spin. Only the GPS did that. Even a net at this depth would have some give.
The closest land was a Cayo Diablo AKA The Devil.
The current was strong as we could initially only make 2 knots out of there and I wanted out because the lightening was to close. I eventually sent Tim back to bed, set the head sail and steered at the best angle to add speed to take Ooroo away from the cells. We had a wonderful light show for the next two hours. It's now 2am and dead calm. ETA San Blas 7am.
I never again will be lonely at sea. There is something always out there.
And then We were hit by lightening.
05/03/2013, Cartagena, Columbia
Curaçao has been a pleasure. There is a reason why I say g'day to random people I meet on planes. Before I bought Ooroo I was flying from Tortola to St Maarten when a very engaging, attractive and clearly intelligent woman sat next to me. Her intelligence can only be question on why in an empty plane did she choose me to sit with. Over the next 45 minutes Camilla and I effortlessly swapped stories and promised to keep in touch. My promise was that when I get a boat, then sail that boat to Curaçao, I will take her for a sail. Camilla's promise was that she would show us her home. 16 months latter the promises were kept.
Camilla as Swede introduced us to work colleges and friends at her office drinks. The night was spent with Finnish, Italian, Romanian, Russian, Colombian, Venezuelan, Dutch and a Scott. Like Camilla they were all engaging people.
We drifted in and out of beach bars and restaurants followed the next day by a BBQ in Santa Cruz Bay and a swim at Blue Window.
We took Camilla sailing to Aruba. She has quite a sailing resume, but Catamaran's where lacking. She came on board for dinner then we departed at 2am. This was also Steph, our newest crew members first sail with us. Steph is still learning the ropes and seems to be fitting in fine.
Winds were shifty and slight so the 75nm sail was accompanied by the motor. We arrived at 2pm, anchored off a beach bar and I was subsequently shown how to Salsa on the forward deck to the beat of a huge party on shore.
Preparations were underway for the Dutch "Queens Day" celebrations. The atmosphere was addictive.....but so is the sea. After only 48 hours we said Ooroo to Camilla, had an early night and were again ready to sail this time to Columbia....my first visit to South America.
A weather window for what is potentially our most technical sail had opened. This passage of water is infamous for dangerous and unpredictable conditions, around Peninsula De La Guajira.
Currents, massive changes in water depth, mountains, both on land and under the sea add to the reputation of these waters. We planned to add about 50nm to the sail and follow the 1000m contour thus avoiding the potentially turbulent shallower water.
We didn't begin well. When checking out of Aruba we must tie up to a commercial dock at Barcardera Harbour to see customs and immigration. The morning wind was gusting over 20 knots and ships, fishing boats and numerous buoys needed to be dodged to get to the dock.. What I didn't dodge was a sand bank just 5 meters from the centre of the dock. We backed off the sand and approached the dock. Fisherman helped secure our lines..with pitying smiles on faces. But nothing but pride was damaged.
The forecast was for 15 knots for the first 24hrs, 20 for the second and virtually no wind for the last 24hrs of this three day sail. Except for the first 12 hours, the forecast was never truer.
We have had a bit of everything. Another lure lost to a huge fish, a pod of dolphins danced under our bow, flying fish flew from the water to avoid Ooroo, only to be pounced on by hovering sea birds. A few ships passed quietly in the night. The southern cross has shone brightly.
Steph showed no fear on her first night watch. Ooroo frustrated us with her handling in lighter tailing winds at first. She needs more than a constant 10 knots for the autopilot to stay interested (a little like me). The winds have been from due east when our heading has been due west. Constant sail adjustments are required to avoid the dreaded jibe. Tim and I, will be well drilled in this by the time we hit the Pacific. The sailing has been hard work but I will take that anytime over no wind. Which is what we have now....zero, zilch, nothing. No land breeze no sea breeze. Just as forecasted.
With the beckoning of a new continent, still not quite visible to the naked eye, the signs of land are clear. The air towards land is thick with hot sea mist. Tropical foliage floats past us in meter clumps. Bugs start biting. A moth the size of a child's hand and the colour and pattern of mahogany came to roost in the galley. We crossed a distinct line were water turned from blue to green. The current that has been so valiant in pushing us forward is now against us.
The calm conditions allowed Tim and I play handymen. A reefing pennant pulled into the boom and so had to be re run and tied off. We installed a third reef. In doing this we discovered that the bolt that secured the boom to the mast had sheered off. Only the weight of the boom kept the remaining bolt from popping out. This could have been quite a damaging and costly issue had we not discovered it. Especially if it gave way in the winds the previous day. Tim and I engineered a way to fix the issue without stripping the boom of the sails. We used the spinnaker halyard to hold the boom up and the newly run reefing pennant to pull it back towards the cockpit. We cut to size the only bolt we had that would fit. Fixed like new. And this was a new part fitted only 12 month ago by a professional rigger and had been rechecked 6 months ago by another. It shouldn't had happened. I will purchase new bolts and simply replace them every few months to avoid the same issue again.
Still motoring we are only 4 hours form Cartagena in flat seas and clear sky's. The land is flatter than I expected with cliffs lining short peninsula's on an otherwise featureless shore line. Fishermen haul on nets. And then in stark contrast we see skyscrapers....dozens of them to mark our destination. The new Cartagena towers over what I understand to be one of South Americas most beautiful and ancient cities. We have arrived in the big smoke, by far the largest city on our journey so far. Our time at sea...80hrs.
Checking out of Granada, I asked the immigration office if any other boats where heading for Curacao, he answered "you are the lone ranger". Now what should I read into that? Yes we have to avoid the outlying islands of Venezuela due to Piracy. But chill, Mum there hasn't been a reported incidence on boats at sea in recent times....it's usually the ones that visits the islands that have the issues.
Maybe we are too late in the season? Well that's not an issue either as we are still a on schedule to Transit the Panama Canal in mid May and Polynesia by June. Is it just that so few yachts do these longer stints at sea?
We are only three hours onto a 50 to 75 hr sail (430nm) so this maybe a long blog.
Jules left a big gap on Ooroo. It already feels so different. During the next few days she will be settling back into work, kids and maybe even the gym. I do hope she can find some more time from her generous bosses to come sail with me again....this time in the Pacific. She was so easy to have on board, miss you already.
Granada is disappearing behind us. The sea surrounds us. But I'm not alone because Tim is here. He is proving to be a great asset. No seasickness, he remembers what I forget, he makes a mean sandwich, beats me at backgammon and is quick with laughter....when he wins.
In Curasao we take on a third crew. A 45 year old American School teacher, Steph, who seems to have done most of her teaching in Asia. She seems well travelled and have done a little bit of sailing. She will join us for the trip to Panama and if we get on, she likes the boat and is generally comfortable with my bad habits then she will continue with us across the Pacific. I have always wanted three of us for the long stretches. New conversation, new stories and and easy 3 hr on and 6 hr off watch rotation...plus we have the space so we don't crowd each other. She will be most welcomed.
So the wind is right on Ooroo's bum. Only 8 knots and not the 20 that was forecasted for our departure. We have the head sail and main goose necked but still with a reef in the main. We are dong over 6 knots. Some current is helping. This is a great test for the Pacific as much of our sailing will be like this. For a fully ladened boat she really does sail well on all tacks. I'm a happy camper. It's hot...the sea alone is 28c and because we are going almost as fast as the wind there is only the slightest breeze to cool us.
Memories of when a storm cell hit Ooroo ripping its main sail off the Dominican Republic reemerged in a weird sequence of events. Firstly I called Tim on deck as a pod of what looked like Pilot Whales passed behind us. And only because of these whales did I noticed a water spout several hundred meters behind. And it was coming straight at us. I got the engines started and we veered away from the oncoming spout of water. It missed us by about 50m....passed us like a freight train causing everything on deck to fly in all directions, the tackle box almost went overboard. We watched the spout continue on our original track with speed. I wondered....did the whales warn us?
So the sun sets on our first longish voyage since last year. With seas still slight, wind now 13 knots and speed up to 8.5 knots it should be a calm night for Tim's first solo watch.
My only small regret is that a Mahi we hooked an hour ago got away. She was a beaut too. There is always a sunrise and another Mahi.
It's after midnight and the sailing is fantastic. However enough of that. I missed out some of our sailing up to this point.
After we left Mayreau and Jules favourite Salt Whistle Bay in the Grenadines, we motored just a few miles to the famous Tobago Cays, swan with more turtles and even anchored off Petit Tabac to swim ashore and explore. This little island was made famous when Jack Sparrow and his love interest got abandoned by the bad guys. He got hopelessly rat arsed on his hidden rum stock which was ultimately used to light a rescue fire. You probably know the details better than I.
From here we sailed to Union island and checked out of the Grenadines to head to Carriacou the northern most island in Granada. I'm listing the names because mum likes to follow it on her map. Granada was lovely. We bussed to Fish Fridays, a feast of fish vendors fed us to busting point. Jules and I explored a little in a hire car...namely we visited the oldest rum distillery in the world with working aqueducts, water mill and wood fired stills. I grabbed a $10 bottle of 140 proof. I'm going to use it to euthanase fish when we catch one....and not me as you may has assumed. We purchased great chocolate from a cocoa plantation. Dined on a cliff top restaurant and then checked into a nice resort aptly called "True Blue" for Jules last days as in Mar Caribe.
Enough, my watch is at an end....TIM, wakey wakey, hands of snaky.
And day two.....the wind is letting us down. Well below 10 knots most of the time but we did manage to catch a massive Wahoo. Tim was exhausted when we pulled him. We ended up with about 30 meal sized fillets. It's hot and I smell like fish.
With a dab of Ooroo's special chilly & basil olive oil and a sprinkle of cracked pepper and salt, I seared the fillets in a hot pan and left them to cook through, skin down. Meanwhile I pre boiled and cubed potato, red onion, garlic and fresh string beans are sautéing in the same oil, Italian herbs and a dash of soy. My kingdom for a buttery Chardonnay. Yum oh.
We had planned on arriving in Curacao mid day. That way, give or take a few hrs we would have light. The anchorage is tight and busy and light is imperative for us to enter Spanish Waters, the main bay that cruisers use check in and explore. That would have been easy if the winds had been the 15 knots predicted. I was expecting so 20 knots breezes as well.
After 24 hrs of 5 to 10 knots and various sail adjustments due to slight wind shifts from behind we are now looking at a mid night arrival on our third night out. And that means slowing Ooroo down for a dawn arrival. Ooroo doesn't like it and may I say, either do I.
Up at 5am to replace Tim. The best time of the day. It's actually raining and the wind is slowly building back to 10 knots after disappearing all together. Even with a fridge full of fish I still decided to try my luck again. We just passed a massive school of Tuna feeding creating carnage with the littler fish. Only 20 m separated the frenzied tuna from my lure yet none showed any interest. I usually have the rod both clipped to a rope and in the stainless rod holder...I had unclipped it in anticipation of the Tuna. Then with my back turned some mother of a fish hit the lure. As I was grabbing for the rod, the bolts holding the rod holder to the rail sheared through. In a split second it was all over. No rod, no rod holder and no mother of all fish.
Curacao is the "C" in the Dutch Antilles ABC Islands. All are rather independent of each other and Holland, all have a unique charm. Right now we are sailing quietly past a lighthouse on the southern tip Bonaire. Its 11pm on night three. The "A" is for Aruba, where we will visit after Curacao and before Columbia. Our destination is a glow on the horizon that we will explore after exactly three days of sailing.
Lone rangers we have been. Distant ship sightings could be counted on one hand. Unusually, none had sails. We have now outrun all our cruiser friends and in doing so are crossing into a new phase of this journey.
04/12/2013, St George's, Granada
Food, It makes the world go around....especially if you add a little love. This blog is devoted to Cherrie, the mother of young Tim on board. Cherrie seems to celebrate life with food and the odd dram of vodka. So Jules and I don't want our newest crew member heading home saying the food was oh so?
Australia is one of those countries of the world that is plentiful of everything. Not just Iron ore, beaches and bronzed bodies.....but also lobster, beef, lamb, avocado, mangos....kangaroo....you get the picture. We have the spices and herbs to cook it with. We are a developed country with lots of STUFF?
So assuming Tim is going to miss his mum we buy a 2.2kg chunk of prime leg of New Zealand lamb in Guadeloupe for €12. That's about $7 a kg? It's half the cost of Australian lamb. Born and slaughtered in the neighborhood.
We have a coal burning BBQ mounted on the back of Ooroo and we so fired it up. The lamb was marinated in dried Italian herbs, oil infused with fresh chilly, teriyaki sauce and ground pepper. The cooking time was close to two hours and was served with tradition veggies. Cherrie would be impressed. The lamb baguettes we had for lunch the next day where delightful. Especially since the fresh baguettes are delivered to your boat each morning.
We also have lobster in Australia...caught very close to home. So in Bequia, a guy in a boat comes up and holds up a huge lobster.....that is still kicking. We ask how much and the answer is always (as we buy it often) about $20 per kg. "We will have two thanks". I Australia it's $70 plus.
We cooked that lobster in its own shell. After separating the tail, I cut that down the middle and placed it on the good old BBQ, shell down. Cooked with a squeeze of fresh lime we ultimately served it with home made seafood sauce (mayo and hot sauce) and a very fresh salad. That was the entree. We used the same coals to cook pork chops (for the main).
We have not been very successful fishermen so far. We respect the regulations of not fishing close to islands and spearfishing. We only troll in deeper water. It is also when we are flying along at 7 to 10 knots. It's hard to slow down when you get a strike, as we found out on quite a few occasions. Several hooked fish have evaded our dinner plate so far.
We purchased a couple of red snapper for $20 in Salt Whistle Bay, The Grenadines. This we cooked in an envelope of alfoil (on the coals) moistened with lime, chilly oil and stuffed with garlic and ginger. It surpassed the lobster in flavour and texture. It was a killer meal.
So Cherrie, do you get the picture? I could go on but that may tease you into joining us on this culinary cruise.... And I haven't even described Jules signature Lobster stir fry yet?