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-

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