Sailing retro diary (part 2)

I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I openly acknowledge that I suck and haven’t been as dutiful in this blog and my sailing story as I should be.  But I have some really good excuses.  Mini Fox brought home hand-foot-and –mouth and promptly gave it to his older brother, so we had two sick cubs who couldn’t go to school.  Plus, work has been pretty busy, so it’s been hard to get the columns out.  Okay, I’m done with my excuses.  Here is the gripping continuation of my sailing retro-diary.

Route map
Our route–the pin shows where we started the day (around 8am)

Monday, March 28—We got up, ate breakfast, gave the boat a good once over to make sure everything was shipshape, and we left at about 10am.  Since we’re in the canal channel, it’s quite busy with sailboats, motorboats, and huge cargo ships.  Obviously, we have to keep an eye out for all those.  Also, because it’s fairly close quarters on the water, we are motoring just to have more control and maneuverability.  Plus the wind is right on our nose, so it’s not like we could sail anyway.

After motoring for about 3 hours we’re pretty clear of the city and now in open ocean.  You can definitely tell the difference—the waves are much bigger.  It’s not uncommon to see slow, rolling waves that are 10 feet high, peak to trough.  Fortunately, they are very slow so there’s probably 100 feet between then, allowing the boat to bob up and down.  You get to the point where you don’t really feel it, but it’s still pretty cool.

By 3pm Jim and Laura are getting pretty sick of motoring, and we’re all a little discouraged that the wind is not cooperating.  We’re near Otoque, a tiny island in the Gulf of Panama, and we decide to head to it to anchor until the winds pick up.  We change course, but apparently the wind gods had other plans, because just then the winds pick up.

We got pretty close to Isla de Otoque before the winds picked up and we kept on truckin’

Of course they were teasing us.  The winds picked up enough to put us back on course but then it was hit or miss.  We still motored the whole way, but we were able to get an extra 1-2 mph from the wind.

Once night came, we started the night watch.  7pm to 7am is split into four three-hour shifts (7pm to 10pm, 10pm to 1am, 1am to 4am, and 4am to 7am).  Since I’m new I don’t get my own shift but my job is to sit with Laura on the 7pm to 10pm shift and then again with Jim on the 4am to 7am shift.  This will let me get comfortable with things and then hopefully tomorrow night I can have my own.

But I’m a weenie, and after dinner I start to feel seasick.  I can some medicine, one of those patches you put behind your ear, and it works okay but not great.  I head down below at about 9pm and sleep until about 6am.

That said, “sleep” is the operative word.  Since the wind was blowing on our nose, it was bouncing the boat up and down probably 4 feet every 20 seconds.  Imagine trying to sleep on a trampoline with other people jumping.  I didn’t think I slept at all but then I realized that I’m not really a fire-breathing spaceship, so I must have been dreaming.  If I was dreaming then I must have been sleeping.  No matter, I definitely didn’t get a good sleep.


Tuesday, March 29—It’s a new day and I’m starting to get my sea legs.  We sail for a few hours and then make the turn around Los Santos point.  This is a big deal because once we turn, the wind will be in a favorable spot and we can actually sail.

We do make the turn, and wouldn’t you know we have the best sailing experience.  We on a broad reach which means the wind is blowing perpendicularly at our side.  This is the fastest “point of sail” and the boat ends up topping out at about 8 mph, which is really fast for sailing.  In fact, Jim says this is probably the fastest the boat has ever gone.  I’m glad to be a part of that.  The afternoon is super peaceful, watching the sunset and zipping by on the water.  This is really why you sail.

That night I take my own night shift.  I get the 1am to 4am shift.  This is the worst because it’s the most unnatural.  The double shift (having 7pm to 10pm and then 4am to 7am) isn’t so bad because that’s a bit natural in that you’re staying up a little late, until 10pm, and waking up a little early, at 4am.  But that’s definitely in the realm of a normal sleep cycle.  Even the early single shift (10pm to 1am) is okay because basically you’re being a night owl and then you can sleep in.  But the late single shift is just tough.  Oh, well. 

The boat is on auto-pilot so basically you’re just looking out for other boats and keeping an eye on stuff.  That gives you a lot of time to just gaze out into the sky, and at night, in the middle of the ocean with nothing else around, it’s really spectacular.  I’ve never seen so many stars.  I’m used to looking at the Orion constellation with the three stars on the belt, a few making the sword and then two for the arms and two for the legs.  Now I see all those and then a hundred more, just in that constellation.  I can see the band that makes up the Milky Way and a couple shooting stars. Truly amazing.


Wednesday, March 30—The wind stayed with us, so in the morning we were still sailing which was really nice, although it wasn’t as good as yesterday.  Now we’re only going about 5 mph.

We’ve settled into some pretty standard meals.  I eat cereal for breakfast every day, and for lunch usually we have sandwiches and some chips.  Being on the boat is weird because there are no grocery stores, so that subconsciously makes you think about running out of food, even though as Jim says, we have enough food to last us a couple months.  I say that because I’d love to devour a bunch of Pringles, but I find I only take a couple.  In the afternoon I eat my daily Snickers bar; I bought two dozen on our provisioning run for this trip.

In the early afternoon we pass between the Isla de Cobia and Isla Jacarita.  At some point we were talking about stopping here to go snorkeling and take it easy.  To my relief, we decide to keep going because the winds are decent and the timing just isn’t right.  Even though my personal schedule is extremely flexible because I don’t have a job, I still feel a strong urgency to keep moving.  I hope this doesn’t come through to Jim and Laura and tick them off.

I have the early night shift (10pm to 1am), and I get to see one of the coolest things ever.  Phosphorescence are microscopic organisms in the sea which can light up similarly to fireflies.  They do it when they are touched.  Well, it just so happened a pod of dolphins came in the middle of the night.  Normally, you couldn’t see them (although you can hear them breathing when the come to the surface which is really cool).  But with the phosphorescence you can see the dolphins zoom by with their eerie green contrails.   They did this for 20 minutes or so.  Just amazing.


Thursday, March 31—We entered Costa Rican waters this morning, so we’re making progress.  At this point we’re probably about a third of the way through the trip.

We’ve been motoring a lot.  Going into this, I figured that you were always sailing, but that isn’t anywhere near reality.  Sailing is obviously better—it’s more comfortable (when motoring the wind is usually on your nose so you’re crashing into the waves), it gives you that romantic feeling of a bygone era, it’s fuel efficient, and it’s faster (sailing you can go in the 5-6 mph range while motoring you’re usually at 3-4mph).

But there’s the major tradeoff that you can’t sail if the wind isn’t right.  Apparently we’ve really pissed Neptune and his brother Poseidon off and they’ve decided to put the wind right on our nose, despite us slowly changing our course to follow the coast.

Visitors checking to make sure our hull is up to code.

Mother Nature does try to entertain us, though.  We see a couple rays jumping into the air and doing flips.  Totally amazing.  Then we see a pod of about 8 dolphins who swim with us.  They are amazing of course, but being that close to them you can hear them breath.  It sounds remarkably like humans who are exercising.  Like the Bloodhound Gang sang, “We ain’t nothing but mammals.”

I get the double night watch (7pm to 10pm and then again from 4am to 7am).  The first shift is uneventful, but by the time my second shift comes along we are in the middle of a storm.  It’s raining and in the distance there is lightening.  Lightening is never good to get too close to, but especially on a boat where it can fry all your electric components.   That aside, it was amazing seeing the wall of clouds around us.  Really neat.  That’s a common theme, I know—so many neat things to see that you just don’t get in normal, land-lubber life.


Friday, April 1—We’ve been motoring pretty consistently so we’re becoming more and more concerned about fuel.  I’m a math guy so I do all the calculations, and as best as I can tell, we should be okay to make it our destination in Nicaragua.  But it will be close, close as in we might have less than 10 gallons of fuel left.  Understandably, that’s too close for Jim’s comfort.

The problem is that it’s really hard to figure this out.  We knew starting the trip we had 70 gallons.  After that, almost everything is an estimate or guess work.  We have 6 jerry cans on the deck with 5 gallons of diesel each, so that’s definitely 30 gallons.  But how much is in the fuel tank?  We measure that by putting a dowel rod in a hole in the engine, similar to the way you check the oil in your car.

You see how deep the fuel is and then compare that to a hand-written chart.  So if the dowel measures 18 inches that means you have about 20 gallons.  The problem is the ship is rocking so it makes it really had to get a good measurement.

Then you don’t really know what your fuel economy is.  How many miles to the gallon are you getting?  We anticipate this problem and measure our fuel in the morning and then again midday, but because of the boat rocking we aren’t confident in our results.  As best as we can tell we are getting about 7 miles to the gallon, but that could easily be plus or minus a mile which could make a difference.  I do the calculations and we should be okay, but Jim and Laura are a bit more conservative and decide we will stop to get more fuel.

They look at the cruising guide and find a nice anchorage that has diesel.  So we head there and motor in at about 10pm.  I’m bummed that we’re stopping but I am glad that we’ll have a peaceful night’s sleep without any rocking on the boat.


Wow.  I guess I’m a talker.  This post is getting long.  Check back in on Monday for the exciting conclusion to the retro-diary.  I know I have broken your trust, but I promise I’ll post again on Monday (the post is already written).

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