How does it feel
So we left Colon and Panama with its busy shipping lane behind on Tuesday after lunch. Initial plan was to leave early morning to try to avoid the afternoon and night thunderstorms that are so frequent around this particular coast this time of the year, but you know how it is. Things always pile up and I think we've never left shore at the time we originally had scheduled. So at 3 pm, the nasty growl from the charging clouds could be heard and in lack of enough wind and some choppy waves from three different directions, we had to start the passage with the annoyance of engine power.
We really do hate having to use the engine, the sound of it rhymes so bad with what sailing is all about, and at 9pm we have had enough of it and took to our last resort. Shutting it off and heaving to. Tired from having to worry about the thunder, as soon as we had got off the coast and left the mess of it behind, we hove to to get some rest. We've done it once on our previous boat and she handled it very well, but this was the first time ever with Duende and we were wondering how her fin keel, huge rudder and ultra wide tumblehome would cope with it, but it went reasonably well and we could get some sleep. Like I mentioned earlier, Alex was already feeling sick at this point. So while he went down below, I had my sleep in the cockpit, with an alarm waking me up every 45 minutes to check around for potential ships passing us by or any change of wind. It went pretty smooth and at five am I was anxious to get moving into right direction again. No wind still though... if we wanted to get somewhere, we needed to get that engine on once more.
Red indicated our current position, blue line is our planned route and the purple dot is where we ended up later on.
Having had studied the wind forecast before our departure, this is more or less how it was supposed to look for the following 2-3 days. Since heaving to this time didn't bring us much forward but rather very slowly away from the wind, we hadn't made such a good progress this first night (clocked an amazing 80 miles in the first 24 hours..) and we knew we had a lot of engine to do before we got into the bluer area with at least ten knots of wind. This didn't happen before 9 pm in the night and after approximately 24 hours of motoring in total. Oh how we hate those days.. I have so hard to understand those cruisers who actually prefers to run their engine all day long, I mean the ones who're motoring even when there is sufficient wind to be sailing, and these people are no minority around here I can tell you. Every emotion as well as connection to nature is destroyed by the jerky movement, terrible sound and the odor of diesel. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do unless you want to be stuck bobbing around forever which was even less of interest at this point. So finally by 9 pm, the wind kicked in at a comfortable 14-16 knots and I could turn the key to silence. That feeling, hard to explain, again you can hear the water flowing freely on the hull, making a gentle spray like sound as you move forward. We did make a good progress this night and around midnight I felt the Sailomat wind pilot could take care of the rest as I set it up in right direction and laid down to sleep.
Of course, that peace and harmony didn't last forever. At around 00.45 I woke up by the call of my inner alarm, right about one minute before the actual clock alarm started to shriek, and discovered the wind had increased to 22-23 knots. I put one reef in the genoa, but only to realize the wind increased even further. So another few turns on the furling system. Luckily we had already reefed the main before Alex went to sleep around 9 pm so I didn't have to deal with it all by myself in the night, but even with all this decrease in sail area, two reefs in both sails, we were pounding into the building waves at a speed of 7,5-8 knots. Man I tell you, this boat is a torpedo, so fast we could almost move forward with no sails at all. This is where we were at this point, more or less at the height of Santa Marta, Colombia:
We kept on beating into the wind but around three in the morning after it had additionally increased to 25-28 knots with the occasional thunderstorm gust at 30-32, I decided we needed to divert from our wishful route and aim more to the West unless we wanted to rip that main apart once again. I woke Alex up and informed him of our current situation and we agreed on leaving the wind at 120 degrees apparent rather than pounding forward into 60° and the 2-3-4 meter waves that had built up. It is amazing the difference of worlds, one wind angle to another. Ten minutes earlier, every part of the boat was tensed and it felt like something could explode any second, now we rather followed the waves more gently and most of the pressure was released. Alex was feeling even more sick than previously so I continued my watches. 45 minutes sleep, check, 45 minuets sleep, check, 45 minutes sleep... Our normal procedure, even when Alex isn't sick, is that I am mostly awake in the night, taking 60-70% of night watches, as Alex is normally very strong during daytime and I, for some reason, do not need a lot of sleep in the nights. Alex is working so much and so hard on the days, that I often give him the opportunity to catch up in the nights as I anyway do not need the sleep as much. I normally get most of my rest in the early mornings and slipping into comfortable sleep after lunch is also a favorite.
Lately though, Alex has felt sick almost on every night passage we've done and since he's never been like that previously, I think it has to do with him pressuring his body to the extreme by working so hard on the boat in tropical heat, and every time to the very final minute of departure. Hoping he'll be back to normal soon but we shall probably try the Sturgeron when we can get a hold on some, thanks Horizonstar for the tip.
Where were we? Yeah so by this time, around 4 am, when I adjusted the wind pilot to move us more away from the wind, I discovered we had approximately 180 miles to go to nearest land, to the islands of San Andrés and Providencia on the coast of Nicaragua. If we'd keep the speed which was now (due to our dropping the main completely) around 6,5 knots, we could be there in the next 26 hours, making an early morning arrival possible. 24 hours went by, the Sailomat wind pilot worked flawlessly as always (seriously I can't stress enough the great value of this one), and we both did get some reasonably comfortable sleep too.
At 5 am on the last morning, 15 more miles to go to and wind had dropped to around 14-16 knots.
Were of course not done with bad weather yet, but had the occasional shower and wind increase on the way.
Alex is up, adjusting sails. They say seasickness often lasts for 2-3 days before the body gets used to it and just by the time we were closing in on the islands, he was back to his normal self.
I often get questions about how does it feel, to be out there on the sea with no sight of anything but water and horizon for days at length. And even though it is impossible to describe in details, as any such empowering feeling always is, I can say it has changed my life. I don't mean to sound dramatic or over exaggerate. But the way the sea brings you back to the ground by being so powerful and unforgiving in its vast massiveness and unpredictable weather, and in the way it cleanses your mind and makes sure you can't escape from yourself - it has taught me invaluable lessons that I would have never had to face elsewhere.
The sea is much like life itself, it has its mesmerizing ups and devastating downs, and when you think you have control over it, you'll get a harsh backhand slap in the face by piercing hard saltwater. Always reminding you not to fight against the strong natural powers, but rather move with the ebbs and flows as the sea, just as life itself, changes around you. You can always make preparations, plans and even try to avoid bad weather and situations with careful precautions. But you never ever know how life nor a sailing passage will turn out, in the end. I find this to be the bittersweet beauty of life, the way that we are so fragile and unprotected if you look at the bigger picture. Knowledge of this has humbled me and each time I get out sailing, I gain a stronger connectedness with nature and the higher power of the universe that always has the final word in our tiny little lives. It makes you take life and yourself less seriously.
I know that many people might find it hard, stressful and even anxiety-provoking with the monotonous views that it can be with all this nothing but water and sky around you for many days at a time, especially as you spend so much time all by yourself. I too have my ups and downs in emotions during a long passage. One second I am feeling indescribable thankfulness for all the immense love and beauty that I have been given in my life, the next hour I get thrown back on memory lane and to a place and time in which I wasn't the best of me - bringing feelings of guilt or pain caused by the reminder of my human weaknesses. But even so, even when the sea has forced me to look into the bottoms of myself and urged me to make peace with past and the person that I am or have been - I am always embracing these new discoveries as I know they are there to guide me and teach me something in order for me to become a more complete, better settled and more refined human being that I do wish to become.
There are many ways to soul search, but I have found the sea and sailing the most powerful of all what I've tried thus far. So no, I wouldn't say it is all just beautiful and relaxing, and it is definitely not always easy, but if you are intrigued by learning more about the powers of the human mind and are willing to take the next step towards better awareness and consciousness of yourself, at least I have found no better therapist than the mighty old sea.