December 5, 2020
On Saturday morning, December 5, we completed all of our pre-trip checklists, checked out of the marina and said goodbye to several friends. Marina manager Juan Jo and our favorite dock guy, Eddie, along with neighbors on Ruby Vi, John and Molly, all cast off our lines. We motored out into the canal staging area and waited for a giant cruise ship to enter the breakwater. As soon as this ship cleared the entry, we made our move. Fast, fast, fast before any other big ships decided to go in or out. Clearing the entry, we proceeded to weave our way through the maze of huge ships awaiting their turn at the canal. It appeared that we were playing a game of “Wack a Mole” and we were the mole! Go one way and here comes another, head around that one and another is coming up from behind! Couple this with 7′ seas and some wind and you’ve got a tense situation. We finally cleared the majority of the ships (many more out there, just not in one condensed area), pulled our sails and settled in to a day of Easting to get a better angle on Jamaica.
It was a struggle to get to our first waypoint as assigned by our weather router. After most of the day sailing, the wind on our nose calmed and we were forced to pull in the sails and motor toward our assigned point. Shortly after dark, our speed reduced to one half. Not a good sign, but having had this happen on the other side of Panama, we knew that something had either wrapped itself around our prop shaft or propeller. Great…..why do these things always happen at night?! We knew that there was no choice but to go down below the boat and get it off. Two problems: darkness and 7′ seas. We needed the waves to die down and the daylight to come. So on we motored at half speed trying to reach our waypoint, but failing miserably. In the meantime, the seas were slapping Slow Dancer around because she wasn’t able to cope at her slow speed. AND….to make matters worse, the washing machine motion was wearing on SD’s crew. And we were both sea sick! This made any type of food prep or anything that entailed going below out of the question. And below……let’s just say that nothing was where it should have been. We had prepared for the side to side motion, but front to back was a new one on us! And so we went on all night, three hours on and three hours resting for each of us. As soon as the sun came up, Dale went into the water to look at the prop. Yep! It was wrapped in a ton of sea grass. How did that happen? There was a pretty strong current and still 6′ seas, so with a rope around his waist and a knife in one hand, Ken ventured below a total of three times to cut the offensive plants away. A few scratches (we had a couple of barnacles on the rudder) and blue hair (from new bottom paint) later, the deed was done and we were ready to get underway.
So onward we went, making our way to the waypoints that were assigned for yesterday! We could see ships on our AIS identification system. All coming at different directions. Our system tells us how closely they will pass us if we both stay on our current headings. 2-3 miles or more is fine, no adjustments needed. But when we see one mile or less, we get nervous. A sailboat under sail typically has the right of way. But with one of these behemoths, we are nothing. We can easily maneuver if we are motoring, but sailing is another story. Especially if the winds and seas are large and moving would put us at their mercy.
We had occasional small squalls during day 2, but on day 3, we got a downpour. 3-4 inches in 30 minutes…of course at night. And on we went, 3 hours on duty and 3 hours resting. Neither of us eating much and Dale still sick. But the seas did moderate a bit and the winds became great for sailing. The nights were gorgeous with thousands of stars and dozens of shooting stars. We were still behind our weather router’s advice and getting farther by the day.
Day four, the seasickness abated. The weather was beautiful and we were making progress, albeit slow progress. We transferred 25 gallons of diesel from our jerry cans on board to our fuel tank. We heard again from our weather router via our satellite email. “It’s unfortunate that you were not able to make better progress”…..huh? So now we were headed straight for a low pressure system with winds between 20-30k and seas to 8′. Not what we had in mind. “Unfortunate”?? OK, we plotted out where the storm would be and decided to head east under the lee of the island, maybe we would go up the other side near Kingston then around to Montego Bay. We had a great sail without any sign of the storm. That night the winds picked up to 16-18k. We decided to reef the sails as we were traveling at 7k, about our top speed. No problem with the main, but when attempting to furl the head sail, the roller furler jammed. And of course, it was dark. We did our best to tie down the 1/2 out head sail until we could un-jam it in the morning and we used both of our partial sails to travel east.
Day five, we are seeing the most beautiful sunrises and moonrises! It was on this day that we were assured that there was life in this crazy sea! A pod of pygmy dolphins graced us with their presence, diving and swimming under our bow. The seas were only about 4′, so we took the opportunity to “hove to” turn around, and fix the roller furler. This was an hour long process, during which the most key element was to not drop any pieces into the ocean, thus making the head sail unavailable. We also had a serious discussion that we needed to sail at least another 100 miles in order to have enough fuel to make it to Kingston. We really did not want to go to Kingston as we did not have clearance to do so. If we sailed at least 200 miles, we could make it to Montego Bay. So with that, we had no choice but to start the engine and head northeast, straight into the wind and waves in order to make any progress at all, which was minimal. We had heard that other cruisers in the area of the storm took a beating. We were happy with our decision, although it probably cost us 1 1/2 – 2 days. But heading this direction, would we use up all of our diesel and still not be there?
Day six, in following the storm, we learned that we could again head west and it would be mostly past. This would enable us to sail, thus saving our remaining fuel. The winds picked up and we sailed right along under reefed sails. As darkness came, so did the squalls. We had winds of up to 23k and seas to 5′. In the early days, this would have petrified us. Now, there was no choice, and Ken at the helm, championed us through each squall as they approached. We even managed to have our first semi decent dinner of ham and sliced tomatoes! Were we becoming seasoned sailors?? We sailed right under the Pedro Banks. We knew that these were shallow and had heard that there was also a chance of desperate fishermen stopping cruising yachts and robbing them. What’s a few more miles?! In the meantime, our paths were crossed by many more tankers and freighters….mostly at night.
Day seven, early morning, saw lights in the direction of the Pedro Banks. Could it be the errant fishermen?! Being the only cruising yacht out here, would we be their next victim? Dale watched the lights as her midnight to 3 a.m. shift wore on. Around 3, we saw the ship on the AIS. It was a cargo ship quite a distance away, but appeared to be smaller lights close by. Whew! We rounded the Pedro Banks to head in the direction of Jamaica and Montego Bay. More squalls, some laying us over pretty good, but we countered and continued.
Day eight, December 12, the wind had abated and we had started the engine. We were delighted that we no longer had to worry about fuel. We had sailed enough! 7:00 a.m. land ho! We motor sailed into Montego Bay at 3:00 p.m. This is a tight bay with an even tighter anchorage. And they get freighters and cruise ships in here! After several attempts, we took the only available space in the anchorage and dropped the hook! After eight days, we had completed our longest passage to date.
Follow our track at: https://forecast.predictwind.com/tracking/display/slowdancer