By Judy Odenheimer
Sunday, 6/5/16…We left Cartagena’s Club Nautico marina around noon. Spent a long night with strong winds hitting 22 knots, but not into the 30s Chris Parker, our forecaster, had suggested. We lucked out with that because the higher the winds, the rougher the seas. Today the winds clocked south. Wind from behind was always more comfortable on Cetacean.
Monday, 6/6/16…The water at 9 a.m. continued to bounce us around even though the wind had clocked a bit to the south. Ron decided we should try a new watch strategy to see if we’d be more comfortable. We tried moving below into the cabin berths to read or write, but going up to the cockpit for 360 degree observations every 15 minutes. Cetacean was being steered by ‘Otto,’ our electric autohelm. Cetacean didn’t need us to be there for more than a few minutes every hour.
Tuesday, 6/7/16…Last night the big seas made moving around the cabin literally bruising. I decided to return to doing my watches in the cockpit, wedged into a corner under the dodger instead of going up and down the cabin companionway every 15 minutes. It seemed to work a bit better for me to do my watches this way today.
There were all these noises—the howling winds; the crashing, roiling seas; the riggings’ creaks and groans; that mysterious Irish whistle noise coming from the bimini frame. That sounded to me like a Chieftains tune.
At around 2 p.m., things became calmer. The windspeed decreased. The seas, no longer being teased by the wind, calmed a bit. It was still difficult to be in the cabin, do ordinary things—like walking to use the head, but the boat motion’s shoving was less violent.
We are approximately in the center of the Caribbean Sea. The sky is clear blue with some clouds. I’ve no idea what they’ll become. We have been warned that a wave of squalls could come through tomorrow. Never have experienced those things. Squall wind speeds are what I worry about most. We’ll need to deal with sails quickly if we get caught up in a squall. The squalls can also have lightning. We’ll see what happens. All we can do.
It’s evening and we’re getting ready for another set of watches. Midday, the winds dropped quite a bit and we’d only gone 45 miles over the last 12 hours.The engine had to be turned on; the transmission engaged, the throttle pushed forward to add a couple of knots. Ron said the batteries were low so it was an opportunity to recharge while speeding things up. We were 219 miles away from the entry to Kingston Bay. The trip would be completed sometime on Thursday if the winds returned. Dang. We should probably have turned the engine on earlier.
Tomorrow there’s supposed to be squalls out there. Thursday, the Trades return to Jamaica which means? I’m looking forward to arriving in Kingston and sleeping on clean sheets.
Wednesday, 6/8/16…Looking at our mileage overnight, things were going well. We’d completed a little over half the remaining transit distance by this morning; hoped to eat up another 100 nautical miles by early morning tomorrow.
So, what happened? Ah yes. The bilge pump had been going off every 30 minutes or so. Something was wrong with it. A bilge pump may seem innocuous, boring even. But bilge pumps are steadfast (until they break) protection against water inundating the boat.
Anyway, Ron took the bilge pump apart to see what was happening.
Finding what was broken, Ron scrounged through his spare parts collection and found a replacement part to repair the pump. “I’m calling this thing ‘Frankinpump.’ It’s been repaired with spare parts so many times,” he declared after everything was reassembled and reinstalled.
For the moment, all seemed good. The water was this gorgeous royal blue. A set of dolphins appeared and for a while, chased us. Seeing dolphins always makes me feel good, happy, at peace.
Later, I was watching for squalls, worried about the storied high winds and lightening associated with these weather events. Ahead and skyward floated what I decided was a squall. At the same time, While considering what to do about it, and looked down at the Chart Plotter. Cetacean was going off somewhere on her own.
Otto was broken meaning we’d be hand steering for at least 30+ hours through the rolling, building seas and freshening winds. It would be dark soon too. Not fun at all.
Ron tried setting up ‘Monica,’ a servo-pendulum passive steering monitor we’d had aboard for years. We’d never been able to get Monica to work in past. But,serendipitously, Ron had found out what was wrong with Monica when we were in Shelter Bay (Panama) a few months ago and repaired her before we left. We hadn’t chosen to use Monica though. Using Otto was something we always did. A habit that now had to be dropped.
Long-distance sailors swear by the servo-pendulum monitors. They work without electricity,except during downwind sailing. Then a ‘baby Otto’ electric autohelm has to be attached to the monitor.
Monica ended up saving the day for us. We didn’t have to hand steer for those 30+ hours afterall.The sail experience was actually more comfortable than it had been with Otto too. Monica’s engineering ‘anticipates’ waves and somewhat mitigates the associated jerking and sliding sensations from the waves hitting the boat. Otto just plows Cetacean through the waves, increasing the discomfort in the cabin. Monica is a bit more graceful.
“Do you see land?” he asked.
“Yes!” I said. “I think I see some hills on the horizon.”
“Nah. You’re imagining things. This whole transit is contrived by mean people. You might as well say you see Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory.”
We continued to where the chart plotter professed, joking that maybe we were never going to find land. Honestly, I was thinking we might just be on a trip aboard the ‘Flying Dutchman.’
To be continued …