Captain Woody Cruising Adventure

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Curacao to Honduras II (118)

 When I left you last month, my friend Phil and I were delivering a beautiful Tayana 48 from Curacao, in the ABC's, to the island of Roatan in Honduras. We were two days into our 1100nm voyage. We had just cleared the top of Aruba and eased into the open water. I could feel the westbound swell build underneath us as we unfurled more sail. More interestingly, we had just gotten the weather report showing hurricane Ida ramping up and preparing to cross our path.

It works like this. Hurricanes in the Caribbean tend to make right hand turns. They usually come in from the east and eventually swing northwards. Ida was SW of us. If she headed W then she would run into Costa Rica and lose some power. If she headed north then she would cross our path at full strength. It was too early to tell what her plans were and we were still hundreds of miles away, so we so we carried on with full sails.

A Tayana 48 is a family boat. With only two people, we had lots of room to stretch out. Phil took up residence in the grand, full width, aft cabin. I usually sleep in the saloon for deliveries but with Phil on watch I felt comfortable to sleep in the big cabin just forward ... with the door open to stay in tune.
It took a few days but we finally got a proper squall. We had been getting soaked now and then by rogue clouds no wind. This one was different. I had just come on watch as Phil was heading below. He usually hung out for a couple of minutes to chat but not this time. I got the watch recap from him, “No ships, nothing to report … except you might be getting some rain” as he quickly ducked below. I looked behind us and saw the big black starless patch closing fast.

It was the wind that hit us first, I saw 42kts the one time I looked. And then the boat tried to round up. We may have had a little too much main up. The autopilot gave up trying to countersteer. I jumped back behind the wheel, just as the driving rain hit. Phil passed up my foulies. Even 80 degree rain will make you cold after a while. The boat straightened out and the sleigh ride began. I kept us under the beast as long as I could, running with the squall by steering to the wind guage. We were headed in almost the right direction, why not make some easy miles?With enough wind and swell, most boats will surf and Island Time was no exception.

But the big wind didn't last long and we were soon back in the slow 4-5 kt realm of boatspeed. This run across the top of Venezuela is known for it's good E winds, though it also gets confused seas. I got lots of both when I sailed Low Key through there. On this trip we didn't see much of either. It seemed we were sailing on the change of seasons where you usually get a lot of nothing. It would have been an ideal time to move a boat in the other direction. It's rare I get a downwind delivery. It kinda sucked that we didn't have much wind. But the sea is all about overcoming challenges, so we persevered through the light air.
Every morning I logged into Skymate to get the wx. The reports were more interesting now that there was a hurricane to track. Ida had indeed gone ashore and then had turned north. She was expected to pop out the top of Honduras, plow over our destination of Roatan and continue north to spill some margaritas in Cancun. The good news was that she was in a hurry. The estimate had her north of Roatan by the time we could get there.

Going over Buys Ballot Law in my head I figured we could sail under her and get a favorable 'breeze' to drive us home with some conviction. Ol' Christophorus BB tells us that if you are facing into the wind, the center of the low is about 120 degrees to starboard (in N hemisphere). Working backwards, if you already know where the low is going to be you should be able to determine your wind direction … the way I see it. We plodded on.

And then I found it, a Patrick O'Brian book. These are the greatest. If you or a loved one enjoys good historical sailing fiction, you'll love this guy. He has a whole series on British Navy war ships and their adventures. The Seafaring Ship Store should have some in stock by the time you read this. I dove into my find. The days sailed by as I ate, drank and slept in the soup of square rigged adventure. The distraction was good since we had to motor a lot, something I'm not a fan of. We wanted to keep to the delivery estimate. It's the downside to being paid by the day. The old school skippers charged by the mile and just sat out there waiting for wind (or pulled in and partied in every port). So much for progress. The good news was that we never had to run the generator. The motoring helped but it was the wind and solar power that kept us fat with amps. Free clean energy, why not?

And then we entered the islands, more like hard-to-see reefs, off the north end of Nicaragua. Yes, more vigilance was required but on the plus side, the hurricane swell was knocked down to nothing. And the trade wind did come back. With the beautiful, stable conditions I was inspired to fire up the BBQ and make the chicken that had been calling to me from the freezer. It was a sunny flat day with a warm aft breeze, a couple coldies, a transom shower and a BBQ'd critter – just about a perfect afternoon.

Alas, Ida had moved off to the north, clearing the way for our arrival into Roatan. I say clearing the way, but what we experienced was a whole lot of rain that last night as we ran the gap between mainland Honduras and her northern islands. We had finally found all the cockpit covers so we mostly stayed dry. On the bright side, there would be less post-delivery scrubbing.

We put on the brakes that night, electing to arrive by day. The harbor at Roatan has a tricky reef-strewn entrance. We rolled up to the outer bouy at 0800. The owners had arranged a parking spot at a place called Barefoot Cay. We called on the radio and Santos came out in a skiff to lead Island Time to our berth.
That Barefoot Cay place was plush. On it's own a private island, it had all the amenities: a pool, a restaurant with icy pints and a long pier with a palapa at the end for snorkeling the wrecks. And there was a free shuttle to shore where they had a full service dive shop. Phil fit a bunch of dives into our day and a half stay. We even toured both ends of the island with a few of the resort guests who had a car.

I'm off to deliver a 40' cat through the canal and up to S CA. That story next month.
-Quality, Balance and a Clean Wake-

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Curacao to Honduras I (117)

Anyone been to Curacao (say ker-a-sow)? It's not on the beaten path and I had never been. I took a job moving a newer Tayana 48 from Curacao to Honduras. Normally I would pass that opportunity on to my east coast skipper friends to save the owners flight money and of course to reduce the ol' footprint, but since I was going to be in el Carib for the BVI Share the Sail anyway, timing was perfect.

My friend Phil and his wife Vicki run a ranch in CO. They invite me to come up each year to do some ranch stuff and pack-trips into the mountains on horses. I know – very kewl. Phil was one of the first to respond to my crew request email. I invited him on the trip. It was a good chance for me to get him back for all the hospitality they had bestowed on me. I used to take two crew with me on deliveries but have discovered that one works better. Yes, the watches are more often (3 on, 3 off) but travel arrangements are easier and less expensive and there is more room on the boat. If the guy/gal is good, that's all we need.

It would be a tight schedule (a no-no when cruising). The plan was to complete the delivery and leave enough time to get to the BVI to run the Lats & Atts, 6 boat, Share the Sail there. I had figured how much time we would need at sea, added a day and a half on each end for travel, boat inspection and clean up and booked the flights. The sailing distance between Curacao (an island just above Venezuela) and Roatan (an island just above Honduras … which is below Mex) was about 1100nm. Good news, bad news: the trip was to be downwind but scheduled in the last month of hurricane season. As we say, "If it were easy, the owner would do it". On hurricane trips I require a way to get daily wx (weather). I knew Island Time was well equipped with all kinds of safety gear but it also had an SSB for long range communication. We were good to go.

Phil and I arrived in Curacao and met up with the owners, Paul and Maggie, at Hook's restaurant on the beach. Hook's was a bitchin little place, right on the sand and infested with tourists. The ABC's being Dutch, they were mostly the blonde type. I felt oddly at home in this far away place. Paul and Maggie were good people. It's always more fun working with the easygoing, cheery types. After a couple of coldies (I recommend the Amstel Bright), we hopped in their rental car and made our way to the dock. There we boarded their dinghy and headed across the long bay making a right into a cul-de-sac where their boat was anchored fore and aft. Island Time was in great condition. This was good news 'cause you never know what you're going to get on these adventures.

They gave us a thorough tour, getting us up to speed on all the mechanicals and boat quirks. I also like to lay eyes on all throughulls. We don't always have the owners around for the inspection. It saves some time. Paul and I loaded his Skymate software into my mini Eee laptop. I had never seen Skymate before. Satellite and subscription based, I plugged the cord in and had instant access to email and weather, 24/7. Beautiful.
That was enough work for one day. We all retired to the cockpit for a couple glasses of wine and some great grub. Maggie, bless her heart, had prepared a bunch of food for our trip. We sampled lasagna, stew, BBQ sausage and salad.

I usually do the provisioning when I arrive but Paul and Maggie had offered to do it for us. I sent them a list of suggested staples. As it turned out, we would be hard pressed to eat the food they bought for us. It took us three days to mow through the leftovers.

After breakfast in the morning, we headed into town and completed the extensive checkout formalities. We also checked out downtown. It was Dutch quaint with brightly colored buildings and a long floating bridge that had a built in tug boat that powered it open and closed.

Back at Island Time, we still had enough sunlight to get out the pass so I dropped Paul and Maggie ashore. I got and Phil was already restowing stuff. A lot of people don't appreciate the amount of motion that a boat gets in the open ocean. What you don't want is gear falling underfoot at the wrong time. In our case we were headed over the top of Venezuela. Though the path is inside the Caribbean Sea, that particular run is known to be especially bumpy. We secured the stern anchor, the scuba tanks, and boat poles and brought in the lines that were coiled and hanging on the lifelines. No need to risk fouling the prop. Below, we secured bookshelves and stuffed pillows in with plates and glassware. We took in the stern line that was shackled to a boulder ashore before pulling the outboard off and hoisting the dinghy up on the davits. We secured it tightly, tying it crossways to eliminate any movement and chafe.

And finally, we departed through the tight, crooked pass. The boat had in-boom furling so we released the vang, boom brake, and sheet. We then got the boom the right height (87 degrees) before rounding up into the wind and winching up the sail being careful to keep tension on the roller. Knowing that reducing main sail area would require similar acrobatics (and I don't like having to head upwind to reef), we kept the main small and used the furling genoa for easy sail area control. I tend to use more headsail then main on downwind legs anyway.

It was flat and sunny on the lee side of Curacao. We picked our way through the parked tankers and got out to sea. We had a nice ocean swell running with us. The trip was starting out pretty easy. We had calm, light wind conditions and everything on the boat was working – very strange. I pulled out my new Spot device and transmitted our location to my friends and family. My friend Terry sent me the unit. He runs a cruiser friendly dive shop in Manzanillo Mex: aquaticsportsadventures.com.

The next day we sailed by Aruba. We started getting some rain squalls, mostly at night. Island Time had a center cockpit that you could mostly enclose in isinglass. This makes squalls more entertaining and less of a pain. I also liked the way the instruments were above and on each side of the companionway. Most cruisers don't spend much time actually at the wheel. When the autopilot is driving, you sit up by the companionway. The boat had those great folding chairs from Sportaseat.com (not the stolen imitations from West) – comfy.

On day two it was time to fire up the Skymate and check wx. Surprise! The tropical depression that should have gone ashore in Panama had become hurricane Ida and parked south of our destination. In the Caribbean, hurricanes eventually head north. We were headed into the path of Ida.

Part II next month. As always - leave a clean wake.