From Rio Dulce to The Cayman Islands, a trip that many sailor friends told us not to attempt
15 November 2018
The Cayman's are in the Caribbean Sea south of Cuba, west of Jamaica and east of Cozumel. We left Rio Dulce, Guatemala somewhat successfully having been dragged over the bar at Livingston. We hired a local to pull our mast over to reduce our depth. We gave them our spin halyard and headed off to the bar. We bounced a couple of times and I signaled to pull us over more. A couple more bounces and we were free. Pay the 500 Qs and we were good to go.... off to the Caymans.
Now for you sailors, the Caymans are north east of the Rio and as you all know the trade winds blow from the NE. Uh Oh! Upwind sailing for over 500 miles depending on tacking, you kinda know what I mean, right.
So we had two choices, go east along the Honduran coast and then catch the forecasted SE to lift us to the Caymans, or go north along the coast of Belize taking advantage of the currents help make a quicker northing.
We heard of some not so nice boardings along the Honduran coast so the first option was rejected for safety. So with very light winds we powered for several hours out into the Bay of Honduras. Now its time for some sailing, but there's a problem, too little wind, so we hung a left and continued powering to the southern most keys of Belize. Twenty fours hours under power, yuck.
Finally some wind, we shut down the engine and started tacking first east into the Caribbean and then back north, back and forth until finally a shift let us join the northerly current and slide along the coasts of Belize and Mexico about 100 miles offshore.
Arg, again no wind. On with the engine for another few hours and then something strange started happening. The engine was running as normal and without any reasoning by me why, it would slow down, all on it's own. What is that!! It would struggle for few seconds and regain power and off we went yet with this unnerving thought that something is wrong.
We sailed as far north latitude as Cozumel and started thinking that maybe Cuba was a better choice than the Caymans. There is an easterly flowing current, called a counter current just off the southern coast of Cuba. Maybe we should go there.
Oh darn a decision. Do we turn and work our way east to the islands or continue north to Cuba? Our GRIB files indicated a wind shift to the SE. This would give us a lift away from our northerly course to Cuba and head us more easterly.
Now come the squalls All night we were either reefing or resetting sails. From easy sailing of 10-15 SE to 15 - 25 any direction. Picture total darkness, no moon, just star light. All of a sudden all sails are flapping wildly making a racket that this captain equates this to our sails getting hurt and I've got to react quickly. REEF, first the jib then the main. AH control, the boat settles, we re-establish our heading and all is good to go. Rain, horizontal wind blown and we still can't see anything other than the compass and the wind direction instrument. Having been in these situation you know so well that disorientation is the biggest problem. The waves, the wind the noise, the boats rolling all contribute to wondering what the heck is happening.
So to cut to the chase, after a squall the winds usually diminish, and if the boat speed drops to 3 knots its time for the engine. BUT OUR ENGINE PROBLEM GOT WORSE. It would run for 20 minutes, struggle for a minute and rebuild RPMs. Not a good thing. This pattern continued with the running duration getting shorter and shorter. Me, the captain figured it was a fuel problem so I changed the primary and secondary filters. Yup that would fix the problem. Alice fired up the engine put it in gear and rev to normal cruising speed. Super all is good until about 15 minutes later it quit altogether. Oh s**t. Here we are some 300 miles from the Cayman with no reliable engine, BUT!! we are a sail boat, right.
So we continued on. When the wind died we stopped and sat. No engine to push us through. At one point we sailed at least two or three 360 circles trying to figure out what was happening.
This story kind of ends after some 5 days at sea by our sailing 5 knots directly at the islands with only some 50 miles or so to go. But yet again we were faced with a what will we do problem. Our chart plotter was telling us we would arrive after dark, not a good idea, right. So we slowed the boat improving our chances for a daylight arrival. Okie Dokie but Momma Nature had different plans for us. The wind kept dropping in velocity, 6 to 5 to 4 true wind. So this meant another night at sea. More peanut and butter sandwiches, more night watches.
When we finally reached VHF radio range, we called Port Security and told them of our engine situation. We asked for special permission to check in at a marina inside North Sound. We called the marina asking for a tow through the entrance channel and to their facility. You can just imagine all the moving parts. Government agencies trying to approve our change in their check-in procedures, the marina trying to arrange a tow and the winds dieing once again giving us little speed to go anywhere. Port Security were terrific, yet no tow service available. The police boat showed up and to they're unbelievable service they stayed with us. First we decided to try and make it to the Main Channel, then discarded that option due the probably of darkness before we could sail there in the light winds. Then to anchor off Seven Mile beach, an option I rejected do to having no engine should we start dragging. Then we shifted to a mooring in Georgetown Harbor but the Port Security discouraged us from this option due to the coming cold front and that they were closing the port. So now its getting late in the day, very little wind and our only options are to head back to sea and wait for the morning or to try and make it to Spot Bay on the south side of the island.
Here's where the police guys saved the day. They knew a cold front was coming and didn't want us to risk being at sea with potentially 40 knots and 6 to 10 foot seas. ME NEITHER, so Spot Bay was the last and final option but it was downwind, around the corner and then a few miles east and it is now 3 in the afternoon. The stress level was going up rapidly. Fortunately Lucky Bird sails well and despite having to tack several times after rounding the corner we made it to a mooring. Understand the police boat was with us all this time and as we got closer to Spot Bay they went and found us a mooring, sent us the Lat and Lon coordinates and stayed at the mooring until we could get there, just as light was fading. Unbelievable service, some four hours watching over us and all-the-time the Port Security personnel were also trying to first find us a tow and then advising us where to go for safety.
Here we are, the first step in our passage to Antigua completed, yet we have issues. The engine. Our SSB radio is having trouble tuning and those are two really big issues as we face several more long open water passages.
Is the toughest part over? We'll have to wait and see what the passages to Jamaica, the DR, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and finally Antigua offer up.
It's late, I'm very tired, Alice is snoring and I'm calling it quits. Good night to all.