29 May, 2020
Okay. Here we go.
It’s May 10th. We’ve been watching the weather over our route to Florida for several weeks now. The forecast has been very consistent for the week starting tomorrow. We always consider that a good sign that the forecast may be accurate. The European and the U.S. models have been in agreement. The fact that our passage will take 8 days makes forecasting for the end of the trip difficult at best, but at some point you need to make a decision. There’ll be no place to duck out of bad weather as Mexico, Colombia, and the Caymans have closed their borders. (Wait a minute. Colombia? Isn’t that going the other way? Yes and no. There are 2 Colombian islands, San Andres and Providencia sitting on our route about 2 days out).
We contacted Graham and Meghan. “Zephyr” wasn’t finished-no mast or sails, but the hull was complete. (Remember the sailing dinghy that we were having built? Yeah, that’s right-the one that was supposed to be finished January 20th. 2 words-Island Time.) After a round of “good byes” to our pals at Red Frog Marina, we headed for the marina at Bocas Town on the 11th, where “Zephyr” would be delivered to us. Fortunately, we had no trouble from Aero Naval (Panama Coast Guard), as the “no boat movement” rule was still in effect. “Zephyr” is pretty. Graham rowed her over. We hauled her up to the boat deck, and broke her down (she has a nesting hull, breaks down in the middle, with the bow nesting in the stern-makes her half as long) We got her lashed down with ratchet straps, had a sip of bubbly with Graham and Meghan, then mosey’d over to Captain Ray’s boat for more bubbles and caviar. We have made so many nice friends here. So tough to leave.
At daybreak on the 12th we slipped our lines and headed out to the ocean. We gave up on obtaining the proper exit papers (Zarpe), as we never could get a hold of Immigration. Our hope was that the letter we had the Red Frog marina manager write on our behalf would suffice if questioned by any authorities down the line. Rumor had it that Aero Naval was guarding the exit channel during the day, so we thought that a pre-coffee departure was in order. It was. For the first time in months, we were out on the ocean and moving. Soon, we were out of sight of land, and our hearing became much more acute. Getting used to Alizann’s sounds took a few days. With one engine, no sail and no buddy boat there is always that anxiety in the background, (At least it is for me, as I’m the one responsible for our little ship’s mechanical health). Well……It didn’t take long. The screaming alarm told us that the hydraulic system was overheating. @#$%!!. Maybe the water inlet sucked up a plastic bag or something. You know the drill. Stop the boat, then back up to get whatever dislodged. Nice try-no joy. Dang! Should I have changed the impeller on that water pump? Is the strainer clogged? Opened the strainer. A little seaweed, but no biggie. Opened the valve feeding the strainer-VERY little water coming through. Maybe the valve or hose is plugged with barnacles. Remove hose. Clear. Time for the high tech, ultra pricey universal tool. I jammed that unbent wire coat hanger down the seacock (valve) and out the hull. At first, no luck. Then, the thought of having to get into the water spurred me to a more vigorous level of poking and jamming. Sploosh!! Seawater came jetting up out of the open valve like a mini fire hose. Closed the seacock, replaced the hose, checked the impeller to make certain that it wasn’t damaged by running nearly dry, and restarted the engine. Pumping water now, the oil cooler did its’ thing. Temp went from 200 to 107 degrees in the space of a couple minutes.
After a day or so, we dropped into a routine. Suz had prepared meals in advance so that all we had to do was nuke them, cutting down on galley time. The less time down below, the lower chance of being struck by the Mal de Mer. One of us being seasick would really complicate things with our watch schedule. Bless her heart, Patrice on “Sonamara” sent us off with 6 breakfast burritos and a frozen block of Lentil soup-of course, they came in real handy. Over the years, we have experimented with several different watch schedules. At the present, we’re doing 6-hour watches during the night. We figure if that’s all you get, it’s still sufficient to keep you functioning. In reality, one of us will quite often take a nap during the day as well. Works for us.
During the night of the second day, we got the call that we had been expecting on the VHF radio. The Coast Guard on the first Colombian island saw our AIS. He just wanted to let us know that the port was closed, and that we were NOT to approach the harbor. “No problema. Just passing through” Fifty miles later we received the same call from Provodencia, the second island. Next hurdle for us was the bank off the coasts of Honduras and Nicaragua. The shallow banks extend out around 90 miles. There’s plenty of depth for Alizann-that’s not the problem. There have been incidents of “fishermen” (aka pirates) attacking pleasure boats transiting the area. We rounded the bank 110 miles offshore at the same time as 2 freighters came through the same passage. (Of course we had seen NO other vessels the previous 3 days, and yes, it was the middle of the night) Having other boats close by gave us a feeling of security, and soon the dreaded Mosquito and Gorda banks were in our wake. We were nearly halfway. Our boat speed was steadily increasing as we entered the North Equatorial Current, the precursor to the Gulf Stream. Next waypoint-the shipping channel rounding the west end of Cuba.
I mentioned that we hadn’t seen any other boats, save the 2 freighters mentioned earlier, but we were not alone. Before we left, we filed a float plan with Seven Seas Cruising Association, of which we are members. We checked in with them twice a day. Alizann carries a satellite communications device called a DeLorme InReach. This allows us to send and receive texts anywhere on the planet. In addition to sending out position reports, Suzanne let our “Peeps” on land know that we were doing okay daily. Two of our Krogen friends gave us updated weather reports daily. Ken (on Sylken Sea) lives in eastern Canada. Ron (on Spirit Journey) lives in Seattle. Having them keep track of weather for us was invaluable. Not that we could do anything about it, but knowing what to expect weather-wise gave us a great deal of security.
Well…..this is getting wordy. I’ll pick up with you……