Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Sunsets in Key West...nice; anchored off the tranquil, turquoise waters of the Dry Tortugas...beautiful; swimming with Stingrays and playing with starfish in Grand Cayman....amazing.  Those moments, so far, have been "the Good".   Dave wrote an account of our rather harrowing journey to the Caymans - that was "the Bad".  The trip from Cayman to Panama:  "the Ugly".

As we left Grand Cayman on Friday morning, everything was great.  The wind, that had been blowing pretty strongly for the last couple of days, had calmed down and it was a beautiful sail past the island, south toward Panama.  I thought to myself, oh, this I can handle for 4 days!  Then, the further we got away from land, the more confused the seas got.  And the ride got bumpier and bumpier.  And, 7 hours in, we checked the main halyard, that we had repaired in Grand Cayman, and noticed that it was chafed again.  We couldn't believe it.  We decided to put a reef in the main sail to ease the load a bit, and watched it for a little longer.  Then Dave had another look, and decided to take down the main.  I won't go into the technical details, but he had taken a picture with our zoom lens, and noticed the main halyard pinched at the top of the mast as it entered.  As bad as it was, we were happy to finally realize what had been causing the chafe.  Unfortunately, that meant that we couldn't use our main sail, and we still had about 600 miles to go!

We put up "Puff", our big geneker, and sailed only with that sail.  Friday night was OK, and then Saturday it got worse.  The swells were getting bigger and coming at us from the side.  By Sunday, the wind had picked up and was blowing about 25 knots.  We were experiencing swells of between 10 - 12 feet, some as tall as 20ft.  You would look out and see a wall of water coming toward you, and then the boat would lift up over it, and either slide down the other side, or sometimes, fall off the top of wave, and we'd hear almighty crashes as it hit the water!  While this certainly wasn't pleasant, it was made worse by the fact that we didn't have a main sail, and basically, we were overpowered with "Puff".  BUT, it was too rough and dangerous to take down, because we would have had to go to the front of the boat to take the sail down, and neither one of us would risk it.  So Sunday night was tough...we were getting closer to Panama and there were more ships.  We had an incident where a ship came within a mile of us, and we couldn't change course to avoid it, because of our situation with "Puff".  Dave radioed the ship and explained our situation, and he changed course slightly and passed by.  It was by far the roughest night we've had so far.

The only good thing about the strong wind and the big sail was that we were making good speed, and were on track to arrive in Panama by Tuesday morning.  By midnight on Monday, the wind died a little and changed direction, and Dave, who normally will sail under almost any condition, fired up our engines before you could even blink!!  So we motor sailed the rest of the way, and eventually took Puff down, and came in under engine power only.  We arrived in Panama at 1:30pm on Tuesday, May 17th, exactly one month, to the hour, after leaving Madeira Beach!

A note on Puff:  I will go on record and say that I was not a fan of Puff.  Whenever Dave said that he was going to put Puff up, my heart sank. It's a huge sail and quite frankly, it scared me.  It is so powerful, and we've had moments when it's gotten a bit out of control (as Benjamin has put it, "Puff had a tantrum"!).  But now I take back anything bad I ever said about Puff.  To add insult to injury, Puff tore while we were taking the main sail down because of the chafing on the halyard.  But even torn and battered (we did attempt a repair, but it tore again), Puff just kept going, and got us all the way to Panama!  It has redeemed itself in my eyes!  Thank you, Puff!
Puff puffing us all the way to Panama.  It's such a big sail, it's hard to get it into one shot
So that was "the Ugly".  You may be wondering why we even do this, when our passages so far have been absolutely no fun at all.  We have asked ourselves the same thing at times, but then just the few "Goods" we've experienced so far already by far overshadow the Bad and the Ugly, and that's why we keep going!

Benjamin and Gaby:  You guys have been amazing:  homesick and seasick, you have not complained once.  We love you so much and are so, so proud of you!

Captain, my Captain:  I will follow you anywhere...even around the world.  Thank you for navigating us safely to land!

We did have SOME fun!  We had 2 flying fish land on the boat:  Fred and Flippie.  It was a lesson in fish anatomy!

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