Archive for 'Florida to Panama (and Swan Island)'

So far this passage has been much smoother than the last one. I suppose you all haven’t heard much about the passage to Swan Island, as my last blog did not post correctly. I hope it didn’t cause too much concern for those who read the dramatic title but could not read the happy ending! Anyway, despite the adversity of the last passage (which you will get to read about once we get to Panama and get the full blog posted), all is well with the crew and the boat. The seas are relatively calm, and we are all feeling well enough to take turns at the helm, resulting in a much more pleasant time for all.

Lat: 15 11.990′ N
Long: 82 17.050′ W

We are well offshore now, but the closest landfall is Cabo Gracias A Dios at the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. We have enjoyed the protection offered by the reefs over the last couple of days, but we just changed course to head toward Panama and anticipate having less protection and more sea-swell. We shall see!

We spent a great day yesterday cleaning the boat in the morning and then hanging out with the Honduran Navy guys in the afternoon. We did some swimming and diving off the dock, they took us on a tour of part of the island, and we played some 3-on-3 volleyball on their soccer field with an “imaginary” net and flip-flops marking the court boundaries. There’s a great story about Lauren being brave and drinking a drink with a complete turtle egg in it, but we’ll get to that in our next blog from Panama. We’re almost finished with our preparations and are expecting to shove weigh anchor and head for Panama in the next hour or so.

Lat: 17 24.138′ N

Long:83 56.648′ W

As we stated in the last blog, we were anxious to discover what was around the corner of Cuba…well, it didn’t take us long to find out. Within a few hours of posting our last blog, we found ourselves in seas that were at least 8 to 10 feet and winds strong enough to break the anemometer (we are guessing they were gusting to 40 knots)! Tiffany wasn’t feeling all that great from the start, and this didn’t help a bit. Dallas had been doing well up to this point but started “seal-talking” (getting sick) over the stern at the end of his watch after rounding the tip of Cuba on Friday night. That left Wes and I taking turns at the helm for the next 30 hours (3 hours on, 3 hours off) in the face of the ever-present, contrary, Gulf Stream current into which we were sailing close-hauled to maintain our course (i.e., the most uncomfortable point of sail that pounds into the wind). To make matters worse, there was some confusion regarding who had closed what hatches down below, and thus, the conditions of the berths were not so pleasant what with the musty smell of salt water, moist mattresses, and in our case, miscellaneous items from the countertop strewn out all over the floor from the motion of the boat. Despite my several attempts to clean up the mess in our berth, I could not get past the inertia created from the constant pitching of the boat to make it livable. This meant that those who were seasick or taking a break from being on watch had to attempt to get some rest on the settees in the main salon amidst constant pounding of the bridge-deck! Given the sorry state of the interior as well as the crew, we decided to change our course a bit and head to Swan Island, our Plan B. 


Big waves in the stream north of Cuba

Big waves in the stream north of Cuba




The systems of the boat fared quite well in the rough conditions. We were especially impressed with the way in which Pura Vida glided up and down the 10 foot swells—definitely a sea-worthy vessel. We have one major casualty to report, however, that has the potential to be serious. We tried to use the port engine when coming around the cape of Cuba during a lull in the wind and had to turn it off when the low-oil-pressure alarm sounded. We’ll see…

Wes helped me to stay on track during my watches, which were surprisingly tolerable thanks to the auto-pilot and Dallas’ IPOD. In fact, it was indescribably enjoyable to see the boat capably rise over a 10 foot wave while singing along to classics by the Beatles, Indigo Girls, etc. Some tunes sound better than ever out there in the midst of the controlled chaos of the sea.

Needless to say, we were all pretty relieved to finally make landfall at Swan Island today. Swan Island belongs to Honduras and is tiny (i.e., 20 km circumference). Google it if you have a chance, as it has an interesting history. Nowadays, it is simply guarded by 7 youthful members of the Honduran navy, all of whom greeted us at the dock with M-16 style assault rifles. They were mostly friendly, however, and helped us to tie off the boat before proceeding with their program of questioning. The young officer in charge boarded the boat for a lengthy search for weapons, and once convinced that we were not there for a hostile takeover, accepted our offer to have a drink of lemonade and invited Dallas and I ashore to complete necessary paperwork. They seem to be inhabiting the remains of the National Weather Service complex that the U.S. maintained here until the 1970’s. It’s an entirely 3rd World affair, sorely in need of all sorts of renovations; it was not at all what I had expected in terms of a military base. The privates informed Dallas (in Spanish, of course) that they spend their time here chopping brush with machetes, not to prepare for building anything, but rather to get a better view of the ocean (read: to keep the troops busy). All in all, it is an interesting but certainly not a touristy destination! The officer invited us for a game of beach volleyball. We will participate in if we can muster up the energy. First priorities include sleep and showers!!


Northwest tip of Swan Island from our anchorage

Northwest tip of Swan Island from our anchorage


Our next priorities are to clean things up a bit and check the weather. Provided this goes well, we’ll be off for Panama in the next day or so. There will likely be more of the same in terms of the current and point of sail, so we will need to psych ourselves up for another adventure!

Lat: 22 02.340′ N
Lon: 84 58.264′ W

Just a quick note to let you all know we’re just off of the Western tip of Cuba. Crossing the Florida Straits went mostly as planned, but we did end the crossing with some pretty large seas (some steep 10-footers) and lots of wind. Luckily, we were able to get a bit closer to the NW coast of Cuba for some protection and overall had a good day. We’re all a bit anxious to see what we’ll find in terms of wind and wave when we round Cabo San Antonio and change course to the SE. Everyone is doing well enough so far.

Lat: 23 26.578′ N
Long: 82 58.140′ W

Within the next hour or so, we will cross latitude 23 26′ N (the Tropic of Cancer) and officially enter the Tropics.

At the beginning of our watch around 9 p.m. last night, the light from the Florida Keys was clearly visible to the northeast, while to the southwest, we could see the glow of Havana. Although the moon was new, the skies were clear and bright with the light of the soup of stars spread across the heavens. It had been a long time since either Lauren or I had seen such a seemingly infinite number of stars. Watches on nights like this invariably include a number of shooting stars. Lauren distinctly recalls one that was shockingly bright with a clear tracer of light behind.

We carried the spinnaker until 3:30 a.m. when the winds clocked too far to the east to carry it with the same set, and we had all hands on deck for a shift change. We still have not perfected the art of dousing a spinnaker, but we did manage to get it stowed in the sail locker and get the jib up without any crew or gear mishaps. We’ve been on a broad reach through the Florida Straits since then with the wind and seas steadily building. Redistributing weight and carrying less sail has seemed to pay dividends, as the motion has been pretty reasonable so far, and nobody has surrendered their dinner over the stern. In order to avoid a boarding by the Cuban Guarda Frontera, we’re going to attempt to stay 20 miles offshore until the 12-mile legal limit, because that’s what they seem to prefer.

During our sail change last night, the same steering problem reoccurred, but we were able to confirm that it was due to the wheel break (a threaded donut on the steering wheel shaft that allows the wheel to be locked into position) inadvertently being tightened and thankfully is not in fact an auto-pilot problem.

Shipping traffic through the Straits of Florida hasn’t been too bad and is much less stressful with the AIS on board. Using the AIS and the chart-plotter, we are able to view course predictions that tell us when and at what promixity a ship will pass us, sometimes even before we can see the ship on the horizon. Other than a few ships, our only other company has been numerous flying fish that the boat scares up.