Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tracking our passage on Twitter

On Sunday we leave for our longest non-stop passage of this trip so far. A 615  nautical mile (1139Km for you landlubbers) passage from the north coast of Jamaica to Colon, Panama. During the passage we will be sending our GPS position out via Twitter with a short message every day. Thanks Iridium!

The Twitter account to follow is @shanedennis1971.

To see our location on a map, go to Google Maps and enter or copy and paste the GPS coordinates from the Twitter feed into the search field. To try it, put the following GPS coordinates into the Google Maps search field:
N 18 10.842′ W 76 27.197′
and then click “Enter”. You will see our current location in Port Antonio, Jamaica.

Yeh mon! Jamaica!

Reach Falls, Portland Parish, Jamaica

Reach Falls, Portland Parish, Jamaica

We’ve enjoyed a nice mix of work and play here in Port Antonio.

After a dinner of jerk chicken, Franklin asked the proprietor, Seben, if he could help wash dishes.

After a dinner of jerk chicken, Franklin asked the proprietor, Seben, if he could help wash dishes.

Mary helped some fellow cruisers with a sail repair job.

Mary helped some fellow cruisers with a sail repair job.

Sail repair party, Errol Flynn Marina, Port Antonio.

Sail repair party, Errol Flynn Marina, Port Antonio.

A patch and new hand sewn grommet.

A patch and new hand sewn grommet.

Reach Falls selfie.

Reach Falls selfie.

From Boston, Portland Parish, the home of jerk seasoning.  Yum!

From Boston, Portland Parish, the home of jerk seasoning. Yum!

@ Errol Flynn Marina.

@ Errol Flynn Marina.

Franklin swimming without his floaty for the first time. Woo hoo! Congratulations Little Buddy!

Franklin swimming without his floaty for the first time. Woo hoo! Congratulations Little Buddy!

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Shane had to rebuild the head while here... Thanks, Honey!

Shane had to rebuild the head while here… Thanks, Honey!

 

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Caught a cold (front) to Jamaica

Our last day in The Bahamas- Matthew Town, Great Inagua.

Our last day in The Bahamas- Matthew Town, Great Inagua.

After our months long slog against the prevailing winds down the east coast of North America our sail to Jamaica from Georgetown was ideallic. We caught the tail end of a cold front out of Georgetown.

In the Bahamas cold fronts are sailing opportunities because during the passing of a front winds clock from their prevailing south easterly set to the south, then southwest, west, northwest, north, northeast and east before blowing from the southeast again.

As we left Georgetown we caught the tail end of a strong northwesterly sailing north east to the top of Long Island. The wind turned to the north with perfect timing as we rounded the north end of Long Island, then to the north east as we sailed through the far Bahamas and finally to the east as we sailed through the Windward Passage.

The just about perfect timing of the front allowed us to sail in the same tack (wind blowing on the same side of the boat) for more than three hundred miles at five to seven knots. It was not until we were a hundred miles from Jamaica that the wind died as it

Jamaica, view from about 10 miles out.

Land Ho!  Jamaica, view from about 10 miles out.

to do there in protected in three sides from Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba.

The sailing could not have been better. The week at sea has also given Mary and I time to work out our passage schedule. We keep a constant watch, which means some one needs to be awake 24/7 while we are at sea. We also have some ideas about cabin arrangements that we hope will make long passages easier.

Little Birdy

Our little Jamaican Welcome Swallow.

Our little Jamaican Welcome Swallow.

It wasn’t until I stood up to scan the dark horizon that we noticed each other, sixty miles North of Jamaica, in the early morning. He flew away and circled the boat and then, exhausted, landed back on the cabin top. I wonder what he thought of me, on this strange little rolly island. He probably wondered how I came to be here too. Safe at last floating to a destination unknown upon the wavy sea.

Herd Mentality

An evening stroll on the beach, Stocking Island, Atlantic side, (Georgetown).

An evening stroll on the beach, Stocking Island, Atlantic side, (Georgetown).

A view of (one little part of) an anchorage near Georgetown.

A view of (one little part of) an anchorage near Georgetown.

If there is anything that defines Georgetown as a sailing destination it is herd mentality. Don’t get me wrong Georgetown is a great cruising destination, with well protected anchorages, good holding, half a dozen beaches and organized activities for young and old alike. There is good reason almost four hundred sailboats joined us there. Sailors tend to be independent types and non-conformers so there must be a draw.

But by the end of our month long stay we were itchig to go. As it happened the weather window looked good for our run to Jamaica also coincided with the Long Island Rally, an organized event where about sixty sailboats head to neighboring Long Island for a few days.

Usually I fastidiously study tide and wind patterns before leaving or entering any unfamiliar entrance. But with sixty other boats, countless meetings and weather delays these things must have been considered by organizers, right?

After we weighed anchor at 7am, Mary suggested we raise the main. “Let’s motor a little first, eat our porridge and charge the batteries”, said I. With porridge in tummies I started to look around for an opportunity to raise the main. But by this time we were in a narrow channel, surrounded by sixty other sailboats. Who would have guessed it?

Later, I would watch jealously out of the side of my eyes as our friends on Fata Morgana sailed passed us, while Franklin puked in a bucket, green water came across our beam and our belongings were rearranged in our cabin. And I would wonder why a fifty catamaran chose a seemingly crazy moment to slip between us and another monohull.

Lesson learned. The herd does not always know best. Study every entrance, don’t get accidentally caught in other people’s races and raise that main early for goodness sake.

Indecision might be our problem but we are not sure

As a popular cruiser sailing saying goes, “Our plans are written in sand.”

While waiting for our supplies to arrive from the US and doing subsequent boat maintenance in Georgetown we have had plenty of time to think about where we want to go next.

Our first impulse was to head south through the Windward Passage to Cuba and then south to Port Antoni, Jamaica before sailing south to Cartegena, Columbia.  However the more we heard about Cuba the less interested we were in going there. We have a keen sense of fairness, and from everything we learned about Cuba from other sailors and our research, fairness does not prevail in Cuba. We also talked to and read accounts from other sailors who had sailed from Port Antonia to Cartegena and in short, no one we talked to had a good sail. The path is slightly into the prevailing trades and there is a three quarter knot west setting current which forces slower boats like ours into a close reach against trades that strengthen to 25-30 knots off Columbia.

We then turned our attention to the route along the south coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. We figured we would get a better sailing approach for Cartegena if we left from the east coast of Hispaniola. However, after searching extensively for cruising guides we were not able to find enough information about this route.  There appeared to be some viable stops along the west coast of Haiti but we learned there was a real risk of piracy and/or violent crime at those ports.  The south coast of Haiti also did not look very promising, with a beat into very reliable easterly trades. One remote cape in particular, the aptly names Cabo Beata, looked particularly difficult to round against the trades.

Our bookshelves hold a plethora of  information on the traditional “Thorny Path”. We have no less than four detailed cruising guides and complete charts through to Grenada. The Thorny Path takes sailors through the Turks and Caicos, along the North coast of the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico and eventually the Eastern Caribbean. However not only did this route look like an unappetizing bash against the trades, but we already find ourselves tired of the tourist dominated economy of the Bahamas and can’t see ourselves enjoying doing the traditional Eastern Caribbean sailing route which includes many economies dominated by Western tourists.

We turned our attention back to that big island on the south end of the Windward Passage. Jamaica. During our research into possible routes we learned about Port Antonio, Jamaica, a tourist port on the Northeast coast of Jamaica.  Jamaica sounded neat with it’s own indigenous culture that has not yet been overwhelmed by Western tourists.  Port Antonio seems also to have a boat maintenance facility we can make use of.

And then after Jamaica what next? A turn towards Jamaica means we are turning our back on the Eastern Caribbean. In the end, perhaps we just are not interested right now in a tour of beautiful islands with tourist dominated economies. Well not in the Caribbean, at least. The truth is we want to get to the Pacific sooner rather than later. Perhaps we are more “voyaging” than “cruising” sailors. So after Jamaica we will head directly south, via some very pretty but less visited islands and atolls to Panama. We hope to get through the Panama Canal and then evaluate whether we are ready to cross the Pacific this year.

So that is the plan. We leave when the weather allows… but we reserve the right to change our mind, because after all our plans are written in sand.