Week 11 12 -18 March 2018 Bahia de Nombre de Dios, Panama – heading north 760 nm
12 March Monday Bahia de Nombre de Dios – Punta San Blas 32 nm
We woke early after having had a somewhat disturbed sleep behind the reef. The swell came around the reef when the wind died and made us roll a bit. We had anchored on shallow waters, hence we couldn’t use the centre board to stabilize.
But as we wanted to reach San Blas In good daylight we had to leave early anyhow. We motored inside the reefs most of the way and had a comfortable trip in spite quite a swell offshore.
At noon we arrived at Punta San Blas and anchored inside the reef for lunch. This was too close to the opening and a bit rolly. Pulled the anchor and continued further west inside the reef and found a very calm spot where we sat the hook.
Had a swim and some cleaning of the antifouling. Moon is surprisingly clean in spite no movement for five weeks in hot tropical waters.
13 March Tuesday Punta San Blas – Holandes Cays 19 nm
Woke up early to a humid day with the sun behind clouds. Several Kunas were fishing from canoes around us, but no other cruisers. Some tried to sell some small fishes, but we didn’t buy.
After breakfast and some preparations on the charts to find a way through the reefs and corals.
Weigh anchor and motored east around Porvenir and then we could sail with two headsails all the way to Holandes Cays. This was first time in a month that we actually sailed! Last time was Las Perlas to Panama City.
We got a nice reach in 10-12 knots aperent wind, giving us 5 – 6,5 knots on flat water behind the reefs. Even passing a short opening in the reef we did good progress thanks to the swell perpendicular to Moon.
We arrived at Holandes Cays, the north easterlies group of island in San Blas just after noon.
We have sailed through the whole outer part of San Blas and seen lots of boats anchored in big groups behind reefs. On Porvenir and the islands nearby were crowded with houses, but further north there was not much settlements except for fishermen and tourists huts.
We are surprised to find the islands this overcrowded with sailboats.
Shortly before sunset a Kuna Indian came and asked for $10 anchoring fee! OK we got a receipt, but it’s still difficult to know what the rules are. We have heard about boats being charged $500 for visiting San Blas, another one had to pay $50 per person and now this daily anchoring fee. Are there at all any rules?
This is our last night in Panama/San Blas so we shouldn’t bother. It is what it is in the tourist belt?
14 March Wednesday Holandes Cays, San Blas – and going north
We woke up at sunrise after a night in a swimming pool. At least that was the name of the anchorage and sure enough it looked like that when we saw the turquoise water under the neighboring boat.
Had breakfast and made Moon ready for offshore sailing. Among other items was to change our sleeping compartment from bow cabin to aft cabin. (The first night this became very important due to extreme swell on our bow)
Before ten we left the anchorage and motored around the island and then north east out at sea.
We will let the wind guide our decision to go to east or west of Cuba. The forecast called for east if the northwesterly kept blowing.
We motorsailed all night 30 degrees to the wind towards east coast of Jamaica. The wind was not strong, but the swell hitting the bow from at least two directions was not fun. Very tiring to say the least.
Due to our extra two weeks in Panama recovering a flu, we have lost the opportunity to sail in moonlight. Now we have absolutely no moon above us (ok we know there is one ?) the whole way.
15 March Thursday North east and the north – 1st day 125 nm
First 24 hours we used the engine to overcome the swell and help the sails to gain speed and angle to the wind.
After 60 nm the wind backed to north east and later when the wind increased, making it possible to shut down the engine, we tacked and sailed north east. Suddenly our goal was west of Cuba?
The wind vane kept us beautifully safe on course in the steady wind. It only need a splash of fresh water twice a day to keep working without any complains. (otherwise there will be a squeaky complain ?)
Surprisingly few ships in our surrounding as we have seen many ships a day coming out of the Canal. But it will probably change when we come further north. On top of that there are no fishing boats!
16 March Friday going north west 2nd day 150 nm
Second day shows a more normal figure of progress. Wind over the boat is relatively constant 15-18 knots and over the bow 45 degrees. The swell has become more modest and don’t slow us down anymore.
This third day we have exchanged the counter current to little more than one knot following current and been able to ease the sheets when sailing 55-60 degrees to the wind. Very comfortable, especially compared to our first day!
It’s important to enjoy these little things, but in the middle of the night the joy didn’t hit the roof!
Annika discovered that the back stay was loose and tried to tension the hydraulic tensioner. Nothing happened except that her arm become soaked with oil!
Woke Björn with the words “we have a situation!”
Ok there is a safety feature in the tensioner, it won’t come apart only get very long, so the mast will not come down. But the for stay and the furler looks “shit” so something had to be done before those got damaged. Luckily we had the running backstay in place too.
We have a jerry rigging tensioner made out of a rigging screw and a dyneema loop prepared for situations like this, and we know where we have stored it! First we secured the mast using our topping lift, a 12 mm dyneema, in a 10 mm folding pad just in front of the chain plate for the aft stay.
Then we furled the Yankee and heaved to to make Moon more stabile and less rolly.
Third item, a dyneema to the aft stay above the swage to prevent it from blowing away when we release the tensioner.
A few split pins and minutes later the tensioner was exchanged to the “jerry tensioner” and we could tension the forestay using the 3/4″ rigging screw in the “jerry tensioner” and then unfurl the Yankee and continue our trip towards Cuba.
The whole operation took an hour, and of course it had been faster if not done in a pitch black night! When the daylight came we only had to do some adjustment to the tension and that was it.
Finally we got a grib file! The HF radio hasn’t been cooperative due to very bad propagation to the stations we can reach.
The forecast was in favor for the west side of Cuba, so we were happy and continued north west, 60 degrees to the wind and 8 knots over ground thanks to the following current and in spite very modest wind speed.
The forecast also told us to go direct to Key West to be there before the wind turns to north east for a couple of days! Another reason to continue to Florida is the lack of boat stuff in Cuba (and most other things for that matter!)
We have suddenly got an urgent need of a new hydraulic tensioner! And even if we can continue with our jerry tensioner, we do want to be able to adjust the forestay to wind conditions.
We can now reach the “canal” in the shallow waters east of Nicaragua with eased sheets and the little swell perpendicular to the hull, something we have hoped for since the first day. Moon is grateful and makes easy seven knots through water in a soft breeze of ten to sixteen knots apparent wind. On top of that we have the current with us and are really making good progress.
17 March Saturday going north west 3rd day 170 nm
Third day done and as usually on longer passages our adoption to sleeping in a moving bed has become better.
At sunrise we were close to the “canal” and we saw several big ships on AIS using the canal.
On the chart they tell you to only use the canal through between the reefs if you have “local knowledge”. We thought that following the AIS track of the big ships was even better than local knowledge! This is another big bonus out of the AIS system that people don’t think about when deciding to buy or not.
Going north west there is a two knots following current all the time, so through the 50 nm long canal we most of the time made more than eight knots ground speed, in spite modest wind speed and flat sea state. Very comfortable and no problem with all the big ships thanks to AIS. All ships changed course well out of our route! And now we know where all the ships are!
Got a new wind forecast and the decision is even more clear. If we can reach Key West latest Thursday morning we will arrive before the 20 knot north easterly starts.
Saturday evening came with decreasing wind and absolutely flat water. We quietly kept sailing in 90 degrees of wind and 5-8 knots over the boat. Thanks to the flat water Moon still made four to five knots, together with current we made average 6,5 knots ground speed during the whole night in absolute silence, an almost not heard of situation offshore.
18 March Sunday towards west cape of Cuba 4th day 160 nm
The whole night we silently glided in six to seven knots. We used four hours watch to get extra undisturbed rest and take advantage of the unusual situation. Normally when the boat is either under engine or “slamming” through the swell we sleep only when we are very tired, and that’s done in two hours sleep.
Shortly before sunrise we were down to five knots ground speed and it was time to charge and make some water. The engine came on to produce propulsion, and electricity for the batteries and water maker.
The watch did the laundry as we had plenty of water. This humid and hot weather “produce” lots of laundry!
At noon came a soft swell and we reefed the main to second reef and put down the centerboard to minimize the movement in the sail under rolling.
Still no wind and Moon looks like a floating laundry with all t-shirts on the life lines. Guess if some cleaning from salt spray from our first day in that crazy swell was needed!
Lunch under the bimini and bad timing with the wind, still no wind in spite we were full of water and battery banks fully charged. It seems to be no wind during the night. Who said anything about; there is always wind in the Caribbean?
But as we always say; better no wind than the circumstances we had the first day!
We are now motoring towards the west cape of Cuba, ETA Tuesday early morning and hopefully ETA Key West late Wednesday.
Annika & Björn