Posted by: vlbyers | May 2, 2013

Jamaica or Bust part 2

Sunrise on the Caribbean sea

Sunrise on the Caribbean sea

100_0693 Our cabin stowed

Our route has been thought out after talking with many people experienced with this passage. Basically when we first began talking about going from Panama to USA, years ago, it was commonly said that no matter what direction you choose there will be difficult passages, it’s just not easy to sail from here to there. We chose this route because we wanted to see Jamaica, the Bahamas and possibly some other islands along the way, figuring that we would get the biggest hunk done with first jump to Jamaica. General opinion is that the further east you are when you start the easier it will be, due to the prevailing wind direction, so Cartegena is a starting point for many. We didn’t want to sail the 200 miles to Cartegena so we left from the San Blas islands.
Going around the Hollandes keys was the first excitement of the day, there is a shallow area that extends east for a mile or 2 off the actual island. Combine that with the incoming swell and you have breaking waves. I cut the corner a bit short and saw 20ft on my depth meter, not shallow in calm water, but very shallow coming off the 10 ft breaking waves.
OK away from the reef and into deeper water, I can now breathe normally. I didn’t need that excitement to start this journey but it was done. We did have 10-15 knot winds with a 7-10ft swell, not much in the way of other waves which can give the washing machine effect and make things very uncomfortable so for now we just needed to get ourselves accustomed to the movement of the boat with this ocean. We headed off in a NE direction about 70 degrees due to the wind we had and tacked back and forth every 3-4 hours for the first 24. Because of this tacking back and forth we were not able to make our easting but Larry was ‘comfort’ tacking as he calls it, Vicki was sick even after taking Stugeron. I just hope that I will not be sick the entire 5 days, Jeanna was thinking she should have brought the LR at this point.
I am of no help for the first 18 hours and we have set up our watch schedule every 4 hours with 2 crew on at a time, Larry and I would be on with our friends since they didn’t have ocean sailing experience, which isn’t the biggest factor because sailing is sailing and they did have sailing experience. The biggest factor is that they are unfamiliar with our boat and how she handles in certain situations, when to reef, when to be concerned when not to be so we like one of us to be with them on watch.
Larry of course is exhausted being the only one of ‘us’ able to stand watch, it is 0500 and I have started taking Meclazine. He doesn’t typically sleep the first 24 hours of our trips anyway but with me being sick he wants to support our friends on their watch. At 0700 I am able to pick my head up without feeling worse, and at 0900 I am actually able to stay in the cockpit to do my watch. I offer to stay on watch for 4 hours to try to get ourselves back on a schedule, knowing that may not be the best idea since I haven’t been feeling well for so long, but the boys took me up on my offer, Jeanna understood and asked if I would be OK with that, I told her that if I wasn’t I would let her know. Oh my it is wonderful having another woman on the boat. Thank you Jeanna for being here for me on this trip! I know I have said that before and I will repeat it often during our passage.
So during this first 24 hours we have developed a leak, Larry has been dismantling the boat in search of this leak, the bilge pump has been coming on every few seconds to constantly, that is what triggered the search in the first place. We had a problem with the bilge pipe creating a siphon and bringing water into the boat at a prior time but this was the first time in several months that the boat has been on such a heel to port and Larry thinks that is the situation which causes this. Besides the boat looking like it had rolled over down below, we were having to tack back and forth to see if we were taking on more water on a certain tack. When I was sick I hadn’t had the presence of mind to ‘help’ Larry investigate this ‘taking on water’ situation but I now was. He continued saying he had to work on finding the leak, he was sweaty, and was just a bit crazy, even telling our friends back in the San Blas that we were ‘still taking on water’ but that it was under control.
At this point I had to see for myself just how much water we were taking on and if it warranted the frantic antics of the captain. I sat on the floor with the engine compartment door open, with a flashlight looking into the bilge. I did not see water pouring from the ledge where water from the forward of the boat would come in. I asked Larry ‘Any water coming from the forward part of the boat would come over this ledge right?’ Reluctantly he said yes. ‘Well I don’t see much if any at all, it is wet so we must have had some come in at some time.’ Next I asked ‘this rounded slope on the port side would be where I would see the water from the bilge drain right?’ Right he said. ‘Well I don’t see any water coming over it either, it is wet also so there must have been water there too.’ At this point I am looking at the level of the water in the bottom of the bilge, it is not rising at an alarming rate, in fact it is not rising much that I can discern at all.
My assessment at this point is to stop what I see as crazy-sleep deprived behavior and take a break, periodically assessing the water level and pumping if necessary. I told my husband that he needed to take a break, get a cold drink, wash off and relax and let it go, he was making himself crazy. He looked skeptical when I informed him I was going to wait an 2 hours before checking the bilge, asking all kinds of questions about how I would check it, warning me to be careful about the wires in the bilge….but finally he obeyed my directive and got a coke, freshened up and seemed to be OK for the moment that I would check the level.
After an hour, I sensed that 2 would be too long for Larry, I checked the bilge, found it had raised about 1 inch. Informed all and said I would re-check in another hour. After another hour it had raised about double the original mark, making it 2 inches. At this point I switched on the bilge and it ran about 9 seconds before it was empty. My suggestion at this point was that at the 2 hour mark, which was the change of shift, we would check the bilge and/or just switch the bilge pump on. I am not sure how Larry felt about this, my feeling is that he wasn’t 100% comfortable with the situation but all the rest of us were. We know that there is a certain amount of water that will come into the bilge from waves crashing over the bow for hours and hours, there is just no way around it, seal as we might you just can’t stop that force completely. We were not at any risk whatsoever, at this point I began to question just how much water originally came in or was this just the automatic pump getting overloaded with amount of movement of the boat. It is my intuition that an automatic bilge pump works great at the dock or at anchor and needs to be switched to manual on a passage, but what do I know I’m just a girl:)
So we are into our second day of the passage, at this point it feels like we will be at sea a lifetime. We made a whopping 60 miles toward our destination, oh not actual miles traveled that was about 110, but all the tacking put us well behind our friends on Kokomo, by about 20 miles. Today would be better all around, I was feeling pretty good, we were starting to get into a rhythm, sleeping when we could and staying hydrated and snacking mostly for meals. We were sailing except for a bit of engine time to make water, wow almost 24 hours of pure sailing. A little after midnight Steve and Larry were on watch and the engine came on. When I came on my watch, I would be with Steve relieving Larry, they gave me report which informed me that they were ‘getting off course’ which meant we were west of a line we had made from a point earlier where the boat was to a point where Chris Parker had said ‘go to this lat/long and then east to Jamaica’.
I worked out the calculations for them, at this point and speed 3-3.5 we would make 10 miles in about 4 hours. On our tack from before (Jeanna was at the helm) we were making 5.5-6 NW, just slightly W. The prediction was that the wind would clock more south meaning we would be able to turn toward the east without adjusting the sails but we would make 15 more miles in the same time. No amount of reasoning would sway their conviction that we needed to continue to bash into this swell. As Steve went off watch, Jeanna came on. I gave it another hour on their course and then decided to cut the engine and sail, we had 14-18 knots of NE wind and the swell was much more comfortable. Thank you Jeanna for being on this journey with us, you are my sounding board, girls rock:).
Stay tuned, part 3


  1. Hey Vicki & Larry
    Still so exciting to hear and see your incredible journey wish we were there or near enough to see you guys and give you both a hug. Sorry I have been out of communication, not due to the lack of thinking of you both but just busy in work and life. Julie and Family are all doing fine. Will follow up with an e mail that I started a year ago! Long Story! 🙂 Love You Guys! Ron, Julie, Matt, Michael & Maria.

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