On February 14, 2021, we left our secure lagoon for the last time. We had spent the last week provisioning and saying goodbye to the many friends that we had made while on the west side of the island. Now it was time to wind our way out of the reefs and move toward the north-east corner of the island to prepare for our crossing to the Bahamas.
We left Montego Bay at 6:15 a.m. on February 15. Our plan was to get to Falmouth Harbour before the late morning winds began. This coast is plagued with high winds and seas, so harbor hopping in the early mornings seemed to be the only way to safely cross to the other side. We motored past the entry and around many fish traps straight into the wind and seas for nearly 5 hours. As we neared Falmouth, the winds and seas picked up even more. Fortunately, this was our planned stop for the night. Now to get our anchor set near the cruise ship terminal as that was the only area deep enough for our 6 1/2 foot draft. The more protected anchorage was the famous Glistening Waters Marina, however, that area was inaccessible to us with only 4 foot depth. So, with our anchor set, we weathered 16-18 knot winds with 26 knot gusts and bounced around in 2 to 3 foot seas from noon until seven.
Around 7:00pm, the wind and the waves calmed down and left us with a relatively calm and comfortable night at anchor. Rising early (5:30am) on Tuesday morning, we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise and calm wind and seas. 6:30am found us with our anchor up and making our way out of Falmouth Harbor with a destination of St. Ann’s Bay. With light wind and 2 foot seas, we motored our way along the cliff-lined coast. Passsing by Discovery Bay, we were happy with our decision not to go in. Discovery Bay is home to a bauxite processing plant. Think mining, processing, loading, shipping and pollution all in one location.
Around 11:00am, the wind picked up between 12 and 15 knots and that meant sailing! With the engine off, a single reefed mainsail and a full jib, we carried on at a speed of 5 knots. The joy of sailing is often interrupted by changing weather conditions, and we began to anticipate this happening to us as the wind went to 20kts with gusts to 26kts. We found it manageable, but not comfortable, as the seas also increased to 4 and 5 feet. As we passed the entrance to St. Ann’s Bay, we elected to continue on to the bay at Ocho Rios…a mere seven miles farther. Undaunted by continuous tacking and less forward progress than desired, we had things under control. Until the Marine Police and a seventeen foot fishing boat (accompanied by their accoutrements of floats and fish traps) decided to interrupt our forward progress. The fishing boat wasn’t really a problem, as we could tack by them, but the Police boat decided that questioning our presence and destination was of extreme importance at that moment. Never mind that we were under sail with no desire to lose momentum. Continuing on while shouting answers to their questions and slowing our forward progress, we finally communicated that we were going to Ocho Rios. Apparently that information was satisfactory and, with a dismissive wave of the hand, we were allowed to carry on. However, our forward momentum had carried us right behind the fishing boat and across their lines and floats. Not knowing if we had snagged their lines we were unable to start our engine as we floated closer and closer to shore. We adjusted our sails and slowly were able to get away from the shore before running aground. As we got farther and farther off shore, the winds and seas picked up and were right on our nose. This kept our forward progress to a minimum. We battled back and forth for 20 minutes before deciding to cautiously start our engine as we were out of options. The engine started, but did not provide the usual speed, and the seas were too rough to go under the boat and check our prop. We pulled in our jib, but left our main up to help our speed. On we went making minimal progress with Ocho Rios in sight. What could happen next? How about spotting a swimmer in the water at least two miles off shore?! Or were there two swimmers? Something was in the water about 50 feet from him and he was waving to us as though he were in trouble. We slowed our speed and turned slightly toward the swimmer. He swam with all that he was worth toward us with the “thing” following him. As he approached us, we found that he was not in danger, just a long way from shore, and his “thing” was a float that held his stringer of fish and a bag with his shoes. Quick, check our prop while you are there! Nothing, whew….must just be the high seas keeping us from progressing quickly. We pulled him onboard as well as his fish and continued on to Ocho Rios. That is how we met Sandre. His local knowledge helped direct us to the anchorage and we happily dropped anchor. Sandre jumped in with his stringer of fish, waved goodbye and swam to shore. Whew, that was enough excitement for one day! We went below and realized that our hatches had not been completely closed and the large seas had swept over our deck. Everything in our salon was wet. As we were cleaning up the water, we heard a siren very close, it was the Marine Police and were right off our stern! Why were we there and did we have a “Coastwise Clearance”. Yes, we did, and would be happy to show them. No, we needed to stay aboard Slow Dancer until the Customs official could come out to us. OK, no problem. 20 minutes later we heard the same siren….what now?! The official was not coming, we needed to go to shore and bring our paperwork, which meant launching the dinghy, attaching the engine and going into the small marina that also housed the officials. We scrambled around the boat, changing to appropriate clothing, searching for the key to the dinghy engine and rushing to shore (minus a trip back to obtain Dale’s shoes). We found our way to the police dock and squeezed between two power boats to attach our dinghy to a cleat, with the help of “Mr. Wilson” who was now our new best friend. The Customs and Immigration officials were waiting. We showed them our paperwork and after their review they looked at us and declared us free to go. The whole process took less than 5 minutes. The confused officials had no idea what to do with a cruising boat as none had been allowed since the COVID lockdown. We were the first and most likely only boat to be officially “checked in” to Jamaica, although a few had tried and been sent away.
Now back to Slow Dancer to enjoy the beauty of Ocho Rios. What a day!