Voyage to Panama Pt II

Erica using Susie's sextant to take a sun sight
Erica using Susie’s sextant to take a sun sight

The wind finally but fitfully filled in around 9pm on day 2 (Wed 3rd Feb), mostly from the ENE but sometimes NE; at least we were sailing as despite a full fuel tank and 80 litres of diesel in jerry cans on the side decks Temptress could not motor all the 1200 miles to Panama. The skipper was soaked during his night watch soon after when a tropical downpour blew horizontally under the bimini.

Day 3

After too failed attempts we finally landed our first fish of the trip and only our second since we arrived in the Caribbean. A small mahi mahi (or dorade or dolphin fish depending on where you come from). It provided tasty fillets later for the three of us for supper, floured and pan cooked. Definitely you couldn’t get fresher!
During rest of the day the wind came and went, we motor sailed for a bit charging the batteries and replenishing hotwater supplies. Life settled down to a rhythm – early breakfast around 07:30, lunch shortly after noon when the navigator had calculated the noon to noon run then supper was prepared, eaten and all squared away prior to sunset around 19:00. Then we’d treat ourselves to a beer before reefing down and starting watches, two hours on and four off so we got our eight hours a night albeit in four hour chunks so no one felt too tired.
One minor panic occurred when the GPS alarm sounded persistently at 8pm local time – it had lost its satellite fix and couldn’t find it despite switching off and on a few times. Eventually it slowly picked up sufficient signals from the skies to find itself again. I reselected the route and everything continued as normal – we use the GPS rather than the laptop on long passages as the latter gets very hot and generates unnecessary light at night as well as using additional power. And in any case with no land around us there is little need to refer to a chart. Then we noticed the date 21/09/2035!! Everything else – position, time etc was correct – presumably our elderly Navman has not gone through a time warp but has some sort of internal memory error triggered by passing through midnight GMT (UT) on February 4th 2016 as the other GPS’s on board confirmed Temptress was firmly still in 2016 and had not done a Jaquaranda (you’ll have to read the book).
Noon to Noon: 124nm

Day 4

In the wee small hours having taken out a reef due to very light winds earlier it became apparent that a reef would make life less rolly, more comfortable and conducive to sleep if we went back to the second reef again. The change was dramatic, the by now mainly Easterly F4 winds and the big swells were no longer tossing the off watch about in their bunks and the watch keeper could remain seated in one spot in the cockpit. At day break we spied a tanker slowly steaming an almost reciprocal course to ourselves, obviously in no hurry to be anywhere else. Erica also spotted a small fishing boat during the night but apart from that it was just us out here in the wide ocean. Five small porpoises came and played at our bow before breakfast too.
During the morning the wind gradually swung to the SE so now Temptress was pointing some 30 degrees too high on course but we were comfortable and could gybe again later. In the afternoon we were buzzed by a yellow stripped coast guard plane who flew low over us twice. Kevin called them up puzzled as to what they were up to and they asked if as an exercise they might fly even lower and take some photos. Obviously the Dutch wanted some fun on a Friday afternoon! And by midnight we could see the loom on the clouds of the lights of distant Aruba off to port as we surfed at over 8 knots. It seems the wind picks up at night in the southern Caribbean.
Sometime tomorrow (Saturday) we’ll reach halfway, though the winds are light for trades we have had the benefit of one and a half to two knots of current adding 50 nm or so to our over the ground total each day. Progress though slower than expected is reasonable.

Noon to noon: 128nm

Day 5 & 6

Last night was a toughie, the wind built with waves from all angles. Eventually at the 9pm watch change all hands were on deck to drop in the third reef and furl some gennie. It had little impact on our speed but the motion was easier.
On Saturday afternoon a big, a very big bill fish or marlin leapt upon Disco Squid just after he had been bitten by something else. RIP Disco Squid but at least he went wearing his brand new green outfit – his flashy beads had disappeared in a failed catch early in the voyage and his pink and white glitter suit had gradually fallen apart when other bites had got his tentacles but not the big hook he hides beneath his skirts. The crew were somewhat relieved that the marlin got away; we don’t have room in the cockpit for such fish.
This morning the skipper accidentally turned off the instruments instead of the lights wiping our record of miles through the water– doh! Today’s noon to noon run is an estimate based on the last seen number on the trip recorder ie 671. We were expecting a big number after last nights near gale conditions that had Temptress even with tiny scraps of sail surfing at 10 knots at times.
Then Disco Squid’s successor was snatched by something big and unseen that simply swam fast, very fast directly away from the stern of the boat. Even the reel ratchet wasn’t enough to stop the progress and after huge amounts of line had paid out Kevin was still having difficulties winding it in. Eventually the first few 100 metres of dark line parted company from the white line – it was a join we’d always wondered about but rarely had we had so much line out or it seems so big a catch. RIP another lure – our third loss this trip. The fishing advisor (ie yours truly) selected something smaller to troll behind us on the basis that it should attract only smaller mouths, something more easy to deal with!
The barometer was forecasting rain and grey misty clouds surrounded us. It is really humid – steamy like Singapore to the point of appearing to be foggy. Temptress is north of Cap de la Aguja on the Columbian coast with just under 380 nm to Colon or about 2.5 days to go.

Noon to noon: Saturday 145nm, Sunday 163nm