January 21 – February 20, 2020
After bagging (provisions) and dragging (our anchor) we were well ready to depart Roatan.
While our longer term destination was still in question —- Panama seemed the most likely at this particular moment —- working our way back through the Cayman Islands appeared logical from a general direction sense. Even though this was a roundabout navigation to Panama, it allowed us to circumvent the entire coast of Nicaragua, which we definitely wanted to avoid.
Thus far, we have tried to maintain a reasonable blend of both caution and optimism regarding security concerns. Oftentimes, simple common sense precautions are all that are required to avoid any problems at all. However, the stretch of shallows and shoals, known as the Nicaraguan Rise, reaching well off the coast of eastern Nicaragua, is no place to take lightly.
Poor fortune among the fishing boats in this area has given rise to the desperation of what can only be described as opportunistic piracy. These fishermen have not changed occupations in a full time sense; yet, they cannot survive catching nothing. Cargo ships are far too ambitious a target for anyone but the most hardened and well equipped pirates (as would be the case in Somalia, for instance). But there have been increasing incidents involving passing sailboats being attacked —- armed boardings, robberies, even rapes and murder.
What was once considered a safe buffer, say, at least one hundred nautical miles offshore, has proven inadequate in more and more cases. Though some banks and shoals can be found more than 200 nautical miles offshore, this is far too distant for most fishing boats to venture and no problems have been reported by sailboats passing through these waters.
If Panama is the destination, it’s gonna have to be via a roundabout navigation… fair enough.
Which meant passing by Guanaja… which, of course, required a stop.
We thought we had picked a good day for sailing. By wind speed and direction, it was. By the sea state… not so much. Once we cleared the northern tip of Roatan, we were met with eight to ten foot seas. It turned out to be a complete slog; and, in the end, we had to motorsail just to pound through the mess.
Still, we were happy to be back. The old spots… Michael Rock, El Bight, Graham’s Cay, Bonacca. Certainly back to Thirsty Thursday at the Cay Cafe and a reunion with our friends Don and Anette, who introduced us to their feisty ten year old daughter Asalin.
A trip to the falls:
Sure Feels Good…
As always, boat projects and explorations to be done.
Side note: When using shackles with threaded pins, always seize the pin in place with wire – especially on load-bearing and/or critical hardware. Upon lowering the halyard to patch the U/V protection cover on our genoa, we discovered the threaded pin had backed itself completely out of the shackle, and was literally just hanging there… this was all that was holding up our genoa.
But, even with the good times and maintenance progress, this was just a pit stop. After three weeks, we needed to get moving. It hadn’t been been all drinking and smoking. Mostly… but we did get a lot of boat tasks done as well. And to be fair, up to that point, it had been pretty shit weather opportunities to sail onward to Grand Cayman. We had passed on a number of chances; but it was because, although the wind was right, we had opted to not subject ourselves to three days of six to ten foot seas… ick.
Nevertheless, we now only had one week left on our visa. The options were diminishing.
Plus, Kris had accidentally drowned our laptop with a glass of wine and Grand Cayman was the most likely place we could possibly have it resuscitated… ouch. Partly the reason for a temporary reduction in photos.
In the end, we chose what we deemed the lesser of potential evils – more favorable sea state and wind speed with less preferable wind direction. Opposite of what we had experienced coming from Roatan to Guanaja. We justified it as preferring to sail a longer distance to our destination in a roundabout manner than to get the shit beat out of us for a shorter duration or having to motor in too little wind.
We knew that, regardless of our choice, there was a high likelihood that we would see completely different conditions than we expected anyway… simply the nature of the beast.
Extra credit for consistency – the one thing we are consistently right about when we’re underway is that we won’t be right about the wind, weather, and conditions when we’re underway.
We hoped that when a pod of dozens of dolphins joined us for a spell to play, riding our bow wake and darting back and forth just in front of us, that it was a good omen.
We even had gotten our stay sail sorted before departing which been residing in a locker for the better part of a year. It’s on a self-tacking rail system that’s ingeniously integrated into the deck of the boat, which makes for easy handling and a perfect alternative to the massive genoa when the winds really kick up.
However, the three hundred twenty nautical miles that we expected to take just over two and half days stretched out to four hundred fifty miles and four days. Stacked and confused seas right out of the starting gate took an immediate toll on Kris and she was still feeling like shit three days later.
The wind, coming directly from Grand Cayman, forced us to do a massive loop around to the west. An observer looking at our navigation track would have initially thought we were making for Belize and then Mexico instead of the Caymans. Two and a half days later (the time a straight navigation should have taken) we had travelled one hundred ninety five nautical miles and were only halfway through our passage. We were actually closer to Cuba than we were to Grand Cayman.
Twelve hours later, as we found ourselves having to motorsail, smashing through three to six foot waves directly on our nose in fifteen to twenty knot winds trying to set up an angle to sail, we were seriously considering Cuba or México as an actual alternative destination. At one point, a wave breaking across the bow hurled so much water against the isinglass window of our dodger, the resulting crash sounded as though the entire dodger was going to collapse. It was fifteen hours before we were able to finally shut off the engine… damn.
For your entertainment: Señor Pingüinos Magical Submarine Viewing Adventure… or looking out Exit’s galley hatch in a bit of swell…
Discovering a pint of transmission fluid in the engine compartment bilge, once the engine was shut down, only contributed to the mental exhaustion. And Kris still looked green and felt utterly like shit.
Finally, nearly at our wits’ end – frazzled, bleary eyed, and salt encrusted – as the sun began to rise over the horizon heralding a new day, we actually saw the island of Grand Cayman in front of us. We had made it, though a good portion of our staysail sheet was scattered upon the deck.
Oh, the glorious life aboard a sailboat.