Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Logbook from the Sea of Marquez

Goodbye Santa Marta

September 15th
In her new coats of varnish, hard and shiny as a candy coating, and wearing a new biminy, Tortuga left Santa Marta at 9:30 looking clean, sharp, well-rested. We too left in top sorts after a month of marina living. Preparing for the kind of weather which ushered us into Colombia, a kind of manic sleigh ride, I sea stowed the cabin like never before, rigged the storm trysail, and scoffed at the weather forecast of 1-2 foot seas. After a short motor out we took up a broad reach under full canvas and found that the forecast was correct for once. Now we are moving along nicely at 6 knots in flat seas. It is quiet as a church in the cockpit and the boat is only heeled slightly. Full shade in a freshly painted cockpit. So fresh and so clean.

This morning I felt incredibly anxious about leaving Santa Marta. I felt it in my stomach and chest, and most in the hustle of readying the boat. Had this city begun to take on a feel of home? Was I sad to leave or was it the impending intimidation of the traffic en route to the Panama canal that had me worried? Maybe I was nervous about going to sea again after a month of land-lubbing. Regardless, the Sierra Nevadas are fading into the clouds, the waves are taking on an offshore pattern, and the great big ocean is calming me. We will be at sea for 4-5 days. A short passage but long enough to catch fish, rotate through watches, take some noon sites, and forget land troubles for a while. No nightly fee out here. No sewage overflow or Colombian night club vibrating the hull until 2 a.m.

We had a great day of sailing before the waters off Baranquilla became turbulent. Short steep waves and a dramatic color line in the water. What was slate blue became dark mustard. With it lightning and squalls suffocated the horizon and the wind shifted and stayed on our nose. We sailed close hauled through the squall, which was not severe, but was wide and wet. Afterwards, the wind died and we began to motor.

Day 2
Last night's squall turned to a rolly and windless sea and we motored until 4 a.m., put up sails for a while, and are motoring again this morning. It's hot in the cabin and all berths are see-saws. She is trying to move forward but the conditions just won't allow. I chase mangos and onions across the cabin trying to make lunch and my stomach clenches with each roll. Max is frustrated with the lack of wind and the feeling that a current is trying to push us back to Santa Marta. Our first 24 hours only saw us progress 94 miles. The engine temperature is creeping above 180 and we are only making four knots. Usually, the engine would allow for five at least. The fishing line went off just before lunch and we landed a pretty little Tuna. Just enough for two which is the perfect fish when you don't have refrigeration. Sushi for dinner, steaks tomorrow.

Contents of Tuna Stomach
We motored until 4 p.m. and then decided to put up our spinnaker, as a light breeze began to build. Sail changes can be risky because of the frustration when we spend 30 minutes working and then have to undo everything. Not this time. The sail filled and stayed filled, pulling us forward with enough force to create a bow wake. We marveled at its beauty and strength. What a sail! Our only regret was the thought that we could have done it sooner and saved ourselves from the oppression of the motor.
The biggest sail we have

We had cocktail hour, cold Gin and Tonics if you would like to know, underneath the rainbow shade of our spinnaker. The sun set bright fuchsia among happy clouds and no devilish squall line came to steal the evening from us. Max taught me how to say sunset  in German, sonnenuntergang, sun under goes. We sat on the foredeck and talked about the secret world we feel like we inhabit at sea, our month in Colombia, and that the leaves were certainly changing color at home. We quizzed each other on Spanish sailing vocab with flashcards I made, and lamented when it was time to take down the spinnaker and take up our night watch rotation. Tonight I will have the 8-12 and the 4-8.

8-12 Watch
A full, orange moon is rising. We are on a broad reach with two reefs in the mainsail, the staysail and genoa up. It was such a beautiful evening that Max decided to sleep next to me in the cockpit. The boat is going about its business and the lines of the self-steering system are inches above Max's head going back and forth in their measured way. The moon is bright enough to write letters by and I get to work.
Moonrise kingdom

Day 3- 2:10 a.m.
Max has the shitty watch tonight. The 8-12 and 4-8, leaving very little time for sleep. This means that I make dinner, go to sleep, and wake at midnight for just four hours. Tonight Max woke me at 11:40. He was exhausted. I was sticky and hot slowly coming out of my sleep state. I'm exhausted too. We spent too much time on land. For the first hour of my watch I stare out at the horizon. I study the clouds, the moon, the sails, letting the coffee do its work. The compass oscillates between 270 and 300. We should be sailing 240 but it just isn't possible. The boat keeps turning up. The wind rushes and rushes and then the boat falls off towards 260 and luffs slightly before beginning again. And so it goes, an uneasy s pattern kind of in the direction of where we need to go.

Sunset Day 2

Laura's hobo village
Day 5 
This morning we are close to Panama, technically. 50 miles off but only averaging 4.2 knots! In frustration Max and I laugh that we could walk there faster. If we could walk 50 miles, that is. I can't wait to get there! The passage has been slow. A current has been working against us the whole time and we now realize that, over time, there is a hell of a difference between 4 and 5 knots. We had been relaxed about the time this passage would take as we are really in no rush, but this morning we have
dedicated ourselves to making this boat move faster. All day we have been focused. Trimming sails, changing the sail plan, jibing and seeing if we can track better, never resting satisfied. We will make it to Colon today and it would be really nice to enter one of the busiest ports in the world during the daylight. We pull in our last fish at 11:00 and Max fries it up for lunch. Absolutely delicious and we have no idea what type of fish it is. We took in the pole because it's almost arrival time.

Day 6- Shelter Bay, Colon!!
This morning we woke up in Shelter Bay. A knock on the hull at 7:00 and we moved from the slip we had tied up to at midnight last night. Yes, we arrived in Colon at midnight, navigating through giant barges and tying off to the first empty dock we found in the marina.

I know already that I will fail in explaining the extraordinary entrance we made into Colon port. As my log tells, we were 50 miles off yesterday morning and hoping to arrive before nightfall. Not even close. We crept towards the port and it seemed to get closer very slowly. After dinner I took a nap and when Max woke me up we were 7 miles from the channel markers and it was very dark. The freshly waning moon would not make an appearance from behind the clouds.  Above deck it was already spectacular. A semi-circle of ships flanks either side of the entrance to Colon Port. They are each gargantuan and their intentions come slowly into view. A mass of lights becomes a ship moving east stacked four stories high with containers. Another complex light display is anchored and we can sail right by. You don't know until you are close. It is an understatement to say that a keen eye is essential to knowing what is happening around you as you enter this port.

We had full sails up on a beam reach. The water was flattening out as we got closer and we were able to sail so beautifully through the dark. I was on the helm and Max was running around the boat checking our approach to the channel markers, and picking up on which barges were moving and which were anchored. Lights absolutely everywhere. Smaller channel markers leading to larger channel markers all around, flashing at different intervals. Red, green, yellow, white.  It was Rockefeller Center at Christmas, but silent, with the possibility of getting flattened by a ship at any moment.

We realized more and more that while all this was going on we were also having a tremendous sail. There was time enough between oncoming giants that we could chat easily about completely unrelated subjects in the way we do when we sail the Hudson. Every few minutes we took time to acknowledge how steadily we were slicing through the water, this incredibly busy world quietly going on around us. Were we really sailing into the entrance to the Panama Canal with all our sails up? In the dark!? We called port control on channel 16. We called the marina on channel 74. No answer. Did anyone even care we were arriving?  At airports they seem to care.  Why not at the gate between the Atlantic and the Pacific?

Two miles out from the markers we got down to business. We decided to sail right through and take down sail on the other side. This meant that I needed to sail high, towards the red marker to starboard, not giving up an inch, and that Max had to direct me around moving cargo ships to port where I couldn't see for the sails. Already we had dodged a few big boats that came up behind us at three times our speed, or crossed in front of us throwing off some waves. We put on our spreader lights to illuminate our sails, which worked. They saw how little and cute we were and did not run us over.

As we pulled through the channel the biggest ship we had seen yet, Hamburg Sud cargo vessel, came out of the channel. My heart was beating pretty fast as it passed by, or more like over, us at tremendous speed and I held our course in water completely changed by the bulk of the boat. We were yelping with joy after it passed. Laughing, saying holy shit!! over and over.

So then we were in, but it certainly wasn't over. We had to find the marina in the mess of lights, and the ships were still moving. I turned up into the wind and somehow there was enough room to do a sharp turn to the right and keep sailing.  There must have been a wind shift. The water became even flatter and the wind picked up to around 12 knots. We were slicing through the water like a hot knife through butter, the seawall to starboard and a long line of anchored ships towering over us to port, each as big and complex as its own little city. This sail, the 30 minutes from the entrance of the channel to the marina was the loveliest of my entire life. The dark, flat water and the lights all around. We were sailing a thin line of safety among numerous hazards, and doing so like bosses. Did I mention it was dark? At the height of all of this, Max kept telling me to mind the ship to port, which I did not see. Slowly a strange, unlit cargo ship abandoned and listing came into focus, a ship that I would have hit if not for Max!, and I emitted a quiet wow, I can't believe there are no lights on that as I steered clear of its large hull. Then the seamless entry into a dark marina. Magical.

Inside the marina we were pretty high off the sail. Too much to go to sleep, which we desperately needed. Instead we tidied the lines and the cabin and set off to explore the sleeping marina. We made some cocktails out of passion fruit juice from Colombia mixed with the Vodka our friend Russ gave us when we left Santa Marta, and drank them while swimming in the dark marina pool. Showers, bed, and today already busy with canal transit prep and the upcoming arrival of Max's sister, Anna.

Full Moon Sailing

Gin and Tonics on the Foredeck

Staysail beanbag

Staysail beanbag for two

Rest of picture inappropriate

Sushi Dinner!

Max calculating Noonsite. His was only a half mile off our position. Mine the next day was 120 miles off!
That's why he is the boss.