The Journey Back
24 March 2015
Many people sail long legs of their journey, across oceans, as part of a circumnavigation. Some cross the ocean just because it is there, crossing back and forth several times. I envy these people who set out for exotic islands knowing they will not see land for weeks at a time. I wanted to do that at one time. One time before I experienced a several short 2 day crossings with seas crashing over the side, or worse, the rail in the water for hours at a time. Days of every object not nailed down crashing around below. Before I experienced seas so bad I could not even manage to put together a meal or able to get to the head when I needed to. Realization finally hit that I, it turns out, am a wimp. Steve is made of stronger stuff than me but he has no desire to cross oceans. I couldn't even convince him to visit the Western Caribbean after years of begging.
Once we made the decision to take the boat back to Florida I planned a comfortable route with as few overnight legs as possible. The longest leg of just over two days, would be to Luperon in the D.R. We would spend a few days with ample time on land. Then in less than two days and we would clear into the Bahamas at Great Inagua and casually meander north to transit the shallow waters west of the Exuma Cays again with plenty of sand beneath my feet. Definitely we would visit one of our all time favorite places, Whale Cay. That just leaves an overnight to Bimini and another overnight to Florida. Right. As the trip wore on the schedule changed. Steve decided we needed to get to Florida sooner as his to do list is ever growing since we listed the boat. We needed to shorten the trip. Alright, skip Luperon and head for Great Inagua. What next? Skip the Bahamas as well. That means sailing around 900 miles in one shot. Maybe more depending on how many tacks and jibes are included. Oh well, how bad can it be? A friend told us the trip could be done in 6 days. Was he really a friend?
Remember in the movie where Captain Ron says 'If it's going to happen, it's going to happen out there'? He forgot to add 'and in the middle of the night'.
Anchor up at noon. The wind is out of the west once we clear Boqueron Bay, so we sail up the west coast of Puerto Rico where the wind suddenly shifts easterly once we near open water and with a vengeance! We tuck in behind the lee of Isla Desecheo, sailing close in for a bit flatter seas to eat a quick dinner. Set on a broad reach with only the jib we average a sloppy 6 knots. Swell, wind chop and crashing seas keep us cold, wet and miserable.
Last nights wind of 18 to 22 knots with gusts to 32 continued through mid day. This weather is horrible but at least we will get to Luperon ahead of schedule.....or so I think. Winds die down off the north coast of the D.R. and seas start settle a bit.
What a difference a day makes! Fairly flat seas and little wind have us all but drifting with the current. At least I can cook and straighten things up. Preparing for rough seas crossing the Mona Passage, I had prepared food for the first few days that could be eaten cold. We had also loaded up on snacks like carrot sticks and trail mix. This is a good time for a hot meal. By the time we approach Luperon it is well after dark and neither of us would enter a busy unknown harbor in pitch blackness. The decision is made to continue on to Great Inagua.
The winds pick up most nights but the days still have us bobbing like a bottle in the ocean. A message in a bottle, and the message is 'Send More Wind'. We break down and motor one hour when our progress falls below 2 knots. We haven't seen much freighter traffic here and virtually none during the day. Around midnight a moving mass of destruction is bearing down on us. After repeated radio calls do not elicit a respond we finally motor hard to starboard and out of its way.
Along the south coast of Great Inagua I get a cell signal and post an update on facebook, using my Kindle 3g that works on any signal in any country. Now we (we?) have decided not to spend a few weeks in the Bahamas and move on. So.... the break of dawn comes as we approach Matthew's Town but leave hard dry land in our wake once more.
Screams from the helm wake Steve from a sound sleep. After hearing a quick snapping sound the helm was spinning freely in my hands, a steering cable had broken. My MacGyver pulls out the emergency tiller. And auto helm still works! He says he will sort it out in the daylight so we just try to make it through the night. Brisk night wind again have us making good progress but once the sun comes up over the horizon the wind is chased off. Again. The overnight boat speed of 6 knots is reduced to less than 3. A course gets plotted for the bank behind the Ragged Islands to install the spare steering cable. This is crazy, by mid afternoon our speed is less than 2 knots. We need to get to protected waters and fire up the iron jenny for a few hours once the wind takes it's mid day siesta.
We almost arrive at the south end of the Ragged Islands by sunset. Almost, if we hadn't been stopped and boarded by the nicest Bahamian Officials. A 200 foot Cutter boasting a big gun on the bow is clearly after us at high speeds, then they launch a 30 foot RIB without even stopping. 5 seamen holding more guns ask nicely to drop an anchor if we have enough rode for our depth of 50 feet. We oblige and the first of three is on the boat in an instant. Once assured there were no Haitians aboard they were as pleasant as we wish all officials in the islands would be. Permission was granted to find a calm place to anchor to work on our steering issues. Remember, we hadn't cleared into the Bahamas.
No work tonight. The anchor goes down a second time and we pour a strong drink! And golly after five very long days it sure tastes good.
We have traveled 540 miles in 5 1/5 days and have 360 miles to reach Key West. Fortunately we have only burned 8 gallons of fuel at this point. (I think in car terms that gives us over 65 MPG. Unfortunately our speed has averaged 4 MPH. We can walk faster than that!).
It felt so good to sleep through the night! Sleeping in shifts, a few hours here and there was starting to take its toll. Steve can lay down and fall asleep instantly which is totally unfair. The morning forecast told us to get as far as we can while we have what little wind we have so we take off.
We have made painfully little progress in the last 24 hours.
More of the same. We could crawl faster than this!
What day is it? We drifted across the Tropic of Cancer this morning leaving the tropics behind.
It's it still March? Is this Florida? Can I get off the boat now? Yes, yes, and yes.
I have determined that no one makes this trip in 6 days unless they motor sail. That would require stops for fuel or a bigger tank than we have. It also losses the feel and sound of sailing. Heck, we always say we have more time than money anyway.
A weeks rest and boat maintenance and then 220 more miles to Tampa Bay.
13 March 2015
and the Mona Passage
We left St John and spent a few days in St Thomas trying to sink the boat. For you non-cruisers that means we took on lots of provisions. In reality most of those provisions were liquid, one example of the great prices available on St Thomas is vodka at only $2.99 a litre. We said goodbye to so many friends over the past weeks and now we add a good bye BBQ on Brewers Beach with Out Of Africa and Music. We hate to think we will never see all these people again but in reality we know that we won't see the vast majority of them, ever again. That is the thing about being a Sea Gypsy and a fitting thought as that was the very first name of this boat. So many wonderful people are 'out here'. One by one they go back, some sooner and some so very much later!
Off to Puerto Rico where we tried to sink the boat again. After clearing customs in Culebra we spent a rolly night on the south side of the island and then a blissfully calm night at Playa Patilla on Puerto Rico's south coast. We arrived in Salinas on Thursday and spent a wonderful week visiting, playing dominoes and shopping at Wal-Mart. Oh yeah, we also vanished the cabin floor and added another coat of oil on the external teak.
We are happy to be heading west so we are not beating into the big seas and strong winds that have been consistent for many days. Cayos de Cana Gorda is known as Gilligan's Island, a state park, and an excellent protected anchorage tucked in behind a natural reef. Here we saw a boat that appears to be on our same schedule, as we have seen them in the last few anchorages. Next time we drop the dingy we will need to introduce ourselves.
Our last stop in Puerto Rico, we arrived in perfect conditions. Waiting for weather can be a bit frustrating but waiting here in Boqueron makes it more pleasant. A deep bay protected by a reef across the entrance and a beautiful sandy beach. Street food, shops and restaurants with a few practical stores thrown in complete this small tourist town. Picture Key West - Puerto Rican style.
It looks like we will have a good window tomorrow. I will need to prepare several meals to prevent having to cook while underway in case it is rough. After going across the Mona Passage we will travel along the north of the Dominican Republic. And once again our plans are written in the sand, wind and seas will dictate our route. Our conservative estimate is 48 hours to Luperon if we stop there, or 72 hours to Great Inagua in the Bahamas.
We are certainly going to miss this lifestyle. Caribbean islands have long been romanticized as perfect destinations with palm trees swaying to the trade winds and jewel colored waters. Yup, just picture paradise and if you want to go there just drop me a note and I can point you in the right direction. What a great experience this had been. Officially we leave the Caribbean when cross the Mona and are on the north coast of the D.R.