Sailing from Pandemic to Flooding into a New Year
01 January 2021 | Nana Juana Marina
gg | forever changing
Happy New Year our past makes us who we are today!
The mist is rising from the Rio Canyon as grey clouds paint the horizon of the Caribbean.
Today on the day of November 22. 2020 we started our journey up the Rio Dulce from the port town of Livingston, Guatemala. Rains from Hurricane Iota has worsened the flooding from the already flooded areas due to Eta. The port captain has warned of the debris floating down the river, to pass with caution. Using a watchful eye to safely navigate up the river, the Belize Charter fleet of 10 is exiting the river. Confidence is building for good passage ahead.
The rain has just started to fall again. A tree, some 40’ long, came drifting by in the current which is flowing out at four knots. The river is brown, carrying the mountainsides of Sierra de Santa Cruz and Montaña del Bongo to the sea. Eddies are forming, and the river is swirling so strongly you can actually see a recessed area in the whirlpools. A few brave cayucos, which are dugout canoes, are coming out to fish along the riverbank, and launchas, small skiffs, are starting to pass by. The activity of flooding has taken your attention away from “co-void.” Mask wearing has been almost nil in this area, which gives you a sense of normalcy.
We departed Islamorada, Florida on Monday, November 16, 2020, aboard Viento Azul, with six souls on board. We are carrying medical relief supplies, not knowing what is ahead with Iota threatening Nicaragua. Aboard are Captain Ted and Gail with Blue Water Surrender and Worship Sailing. Our crew for this soon-to-be very exciting journey consist of Sheldon and Pamela from Boatique of Guatemala, and Carla and John from Coconut Grove Sailing and Canvas.
We await the rising of the noontime Snake Creek drawbridge to allow us entrance to the sea. Passing through, the sun is brilliant, glimmering across the settling chop of the shallow, turquoise Florida Keys waters, now milky white from weeks of wind and rain.
While we were raising the mainsail, a giant rat with racing strips down his back jumped ship, to our surprise. We are grateful he went overboard. He would be an unwanted companion offshore!
Viento Azul is Rio Dulce bound with Iota increasing to a Cat 5 over Providencia. We are grateful to have Carla and John aboard as professional world class racing sailors. Carla sailed the Olympic trails twice and is a Northern American A-Cat champion. Their connections with the US Air Force in Pensacola is giving us the most current weather updates. We are also connected to home by satellite phone for any changes with our good friend Steve.
We have a great team which will be needed for this crossing. One of our team members is telling stories reminiscing of the old days in Coconut Grove when he worked at the Mutiny Hotel where they paid the staff in Sweet ‘n Low, the white powder currency of the 1980s. Many more stories will be shared along the way. With sailing, time is always present unless there is the wrong type of excitement.
At 12:20 p.m., we are on a starboard tack. Our main and genoa are full; our course is set at 120 degrees, traveling at seven knots. The sun is reflecting diamonds on the water while our hulls gently pierce through the relaxing sea, quietly lapping a peaceful sound. Four dolphins appear, welcoming us to the sea with graceful joy, playing in our bow wake. They come and they go leaving smiles for all aboard. On the horizon, a plane is flying very low. Later, while monitoring channel 16, we hear they were searching for a missing person. A very frightening thought to be lost at sea, especially in stirred-up sea conditions.
Our day progresses with Pamela and Sheldon at the helm while passing Duck Key. The sun will be setting soon – this time of year, night comes early. Carla takes the opportunity to rest below deck before night shift starts. Our schedule will be two-hour shifts split between three couples.
Taking in the end of the day with the warm Florida Keys air, the sea is semi peaceful. Relaxing on the trampolines is a great place to be. Stretching out, a gentle sensation of floating on a cloud and hovering becomes a heavenly moment one to be enjoyed now as the projected weather ahead in the days to come foretells rain and high winds, accompanied by pounding seas. When we reach the corner of Cuba, progressing towards Mexico, the opposing current will get you every time as it meets the wind of the Yucatan Peninsula. This will only aggravate adverse conditions.
Our first full day at sea starts out well with fresh coffee brewing. The aroma is intoxicating whether you are on land or sea. Our day today consists of dodging lobster pots and adjusting sails, in between relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.
Our star passenger this week is a washing machine on the aft deck, next to Otto the autopilot. Carla is the star of our crew because she is always well-equipped – she will never leave the dock without her super glue in case you need to glue your finger back together! Apparently, it works quite well, which is new to me! I feel so much safer now.
Cotton ball clouds with a hint of grey are gathering closely together, blocking out the sun. Long Key bridge is now fading away on the horizon.
The face images in the clouds look friendly and innocent. It is nice to dream and forget about the troubles plaguing the earth in these times. Co-vid has altered life as we know it, and our government is in turmoil, giving rise to a split nation. A divided house will fall. My prayer is, “May God hold us together.”
Just as the sun is painting an array of spectacularly brilliant colors across the sky, we snag a lobster pot. Captain Ted, with knife in hand, dives in to cut the prop free. We are on our way again.
Chicken curry is on the menu by Pamela and was enjoyed by all. A hot meal is a great way to end a day out at sea.
Day Two: Adjusting the sails in the early a.m.; the seas are building behind us. Our speed, if we were moving over ground, is 8 to 10.5; we are really moving over the water. It is somewhat rough but currently a good ride.
At noon, the helm cable has an issue, and Otto our autopilot goes on strike. The chain has a torn link. Carla made a link out of spare parts on board. Captain Ted made adjustments down in the engine room as the seas continue to build. Two and a half hours later, we were back in business.
23 56’N:83 20’W: between the Dry Tortugas and Cuba, the air is significantly getting cooler as the sun sets dead ahead. As night progresses, the wind gusts increase up to 31 knots. The blocks are slamming back and forth. It is time to drop the mainsail. With our speed peaking at 12, it is too high for safe night passage. Now with the jib only partially out, we are still traveling at 10, and suddenly the air temperature has switched back to being warm from the Gulf Stream.
Day Three: At 6:29 a.m., the steering goes out again. The waves are like rolling mountains and the autopilot has been under much strain. It is the same chain with a crack, now in a different place. It is a process to fix. We do not have an extra link or more parts to make one. Captain Ted is in the engine room making adjustments to the cables. Carla is securing the cracked chain to the cable, using Spectra line to take the load off the chain. Meanwhile, we are drifting up and down the waves.
22 48’ N:84 52’ W: We are back on course, 30 miles off of western Cuba. The seas are now over 10 feet with the wind increasing to a steady 35. We are headed southwest with Cozumel Mexico 152 miles away. The seas are raging – we are seeing gusts up to 40 knots and waves up to 15 feet.
Day Four: It is Thursday, November 19, 2020. It was a rough, gnarly night at sea, being tossed about like a beachball and ground up like salt in a shaker. Waves were breaking into the cockpit throughout the night. Continuing into daylight they are coming over the bow. The day continues, but seas are not subsiding. Our location is 20 53’N:86 55’ W, which is about halfway between the Yucatan Peninsula and Cozumel (we are still southeast of Cozumel). The wind is holding steady at 30 -35, and Carla is determined to fish! At 11:45, a tuna is on the line, making for great fun. Later, Mahi-Mahi was reeled in, and naturally, the big one got away!
At 4:00 p.m., a giant wave floods the cockpit and we all get totally soaked! The seas are up, but the wind has eased down to 27! We are finally coming out of the Yucatan current. With only half the jib out and no main, we are still traveling at 8 - 10 knots. Our highest speed for the day has been 17!
It is starting to get dark, and a large pod of dolphins greets us again. The love playing in the bow wake. Their astounding grace and beauty always fills your heart with exuberant joy and peace.
Our night was again one of being tossed about with waves crashing and banging on the bottom of the boat, sounding like a war zone. The winds have increased again, back into the 30s now with rain squalls.
Day Five: Hang in there, it is Friday, and relief comes as we sail behind Banco Chinchorro, Mexico. The seas are calmed to two feet, and what a relaxing moment to cherish with the wind holding at 20 - 25. Once we pass the lee of the bank, we can expect high seas again until we reach Turneffe in Belize.
The day is much more comfortable, and we’re making good time with our jib out at 20 degrees and the wind dropping to 15-20. In the afternoon, one more time, the dolphin come to play. With the fishing lines out, Carla reels in fresh Mahi-Mahi for chef Pamela to place in the pan.
Today has been the first sunny day since we left. Looking back, now that it is somewhat calm, you can see how intense the past few days have been. Which is now one big blur. My hair is stacked in one big, tangled mess. It is nice to feel tranquil with less pounding on the hulls. Peace and quietness blossom as a rainbow appears in the sky. Our only threat today has been a few squalls, spitting rain and disturbing the wind’s direction.
Day Six: After surrounding us with rain all night, it continues into the morning. In sight is land, the southern outer islands of Belize. We have had ups and downs, twists and turns along the way. We had to pass a very small island with one lone tree, which I dubbed One Tree Island, which was fading behind us as mountains were appearing before us. It is now 26 more miles to Livingston, Guatemala. The sea has diminished to a wonderful one-foot chop as we are on our final stretch. At 2:15 p.m., we drop anchor in the mouth of the Rio Dulce which is now having the biggest flood of a lifetime due to the passing of Hurricane Iota as we await check in.