Providencia island

 

December 22, 2002. Providencia island, Columbia.

Merry Christmas or Hanukkah to all off you!

Here it is 90F and our little artificial Christmas tree looks out of place. It is difficult to get in the traditional holiday spirit when dressed in a bikini. All the usual association with cold, dark days, candle glow, wood fire in fireplace, rich food, etc. do not fit in the tropics, even if a plastic Santa Claus with plastic reindeers decorate the town entrance.

Fortunately, we are celebrating Christmas with French friends intent on a good Christmas eve dinner complete with foie gras, lobster, chicken with truffle sauce, dessert and wine. It should be good. Our friend Gerard is in charge of finding the lobster and practising “Stille Nacht” on the guitar, so these are not guaranteed. But we do have the other required ingredients for a good dinner and a fun evening.

We hope you are all planning great celebrations of the holidays. We will be thinking of you.

Providencia Reef

12-21-02 Providencia Reef, Columbia.

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Clark siting on the remains of Fort Morgan, at the harbor entrance

We spent the last week walking around the main town of Providencia, called Isabel, getting Columbian pesos (2700 pesos to the dollar!), updating the website, buying fresh food for the boat, and doing boat maintenance. Clark rebuilt the autopilot motor hoping to get more power out of it. Our friends Gerard and Francine on sv Inae, from France, arrived a couple of days ago and we are planning Christmas together.

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Today we motored north of Providencia about 4 miles and anchored just behind the reef that extends about 10 miles north of the island. It is a little odd being anchored here. We are miles from any land and from the east we get the trade winds and associated waves. They are only blowing about 15 knots today and the waves are quite small. What waves there are are smashing themselves on the reef and we have only about 1 foot waves hitting the boat. It isn’t the most peaceful anchorage but is is interesting. We had quite a time getting here as we had to be on the constant lookout for coral heads and our course was anything but direct. At one point on our way here, a squall passed overhead with wind and rain, but worse of all the clouds blocked the sun so I couldn’t see the coral through the water. I just had to slow down and watch the depth sounder.

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Once we got here we took the dingy to the reef and dove a bit. Almost immediately we scared up a couple of nurse sharks but they were only 3 and 4 feet long so we weren’t that concerned. There are a lot more fish out here then in the San Blas islands or in Providencia harbor. The water is a lot clearer. We can easily see over 100 feet. The water that flows over the reef is part of the trade winds and currents and has been in the hot tropics since Africa so most of the nutrients are gone. The water has very little suspended plankton so it is very clear. After a bit of diving we swam over to our friend Gerard who was hunting with his spear gun for dinner. He had just gotten his second snapper. It was quite a fish, about 30 inches.

After a bit more diving I swam back to the dingy and I thought that Birgitta would stay around Gerard while I brought the dingy back to her. When I got to the dingy and was about to board I saw an 8 foot shark. This was no nurse shark (I latter identified it as a mako shark). I watched him until he swam away towards Gerard and hopped in the dingy and started the engine and started retrieving the anchor. I wanted to get between Birgitta and the big shark but she had decided to follow me and was just approaching the dingy. After she got in I motored over to Gerard and told him about our sighting. Then we went back to the boat for a shower.

Gerard returned right after us. Either 2 fish were enough or he decided not to shoot at another fish with a big aggressive shark in the area. Anyway he just called us on the radio and invited us to dinner. Snapper for Birgitta and I will bring a steak for myself.

At first we planned to spend Christmas here but we may vote to move to a more comfortable anchorage. I know Gerard wants to do more hunting in the area as there is lobster on the menu for Christmas dinner but I think we would prefer to cook and eat in a flatter anchorage. So maybe tomorrow or the next day we will move to the south side of the island.

Providencia Island

12-14-02 9am Providencia Island, Columbia.

N 13 22 55
W 81 22 41

 

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We just finished our trip across the trade winds to Providencia. This was probably the harshest trip we will need to make this year (Birgitta: except maybe for the Mexico to Florida leg). It wasn’t very long but it was trying in its own way. Birgitta wants me to write about it before I forget the gory details as cruisers seem to do. Ask a cruiser when they are at sea or have just arrived from a rough passage say that the passage was terrible but when the discomfort is forgotten it is remembered as a nice passage, more of a challenge. I am just know thinking about well the boat handled the conditions out there so it is time to write. A trip this length is always especially hard because it isn’t long enough to get into a routine. You don’t eat well or sleep well (in my case not at all) and you are often plagued with seasickness. All of these things tend to get better with a longer passage so the first 2 days out are always the roughest.

On December 10th at about 7am we started our trip to Providencia. We had been waiting for good weather for the crossing for about 3 weeks. Three weeks ago the conditions were really bad then for the last week or so the weather report would say strong winds today and tomorrow but moderate conditions just around the corner. Then each day the “corner” would be moved out. Finally we decided to just go in the strong conditions. The weather report for the south western Caribbean the morning of our departure is as follows:

OFFSHORE WATERS FORECAST FOR THE SOUTHWEST AND
TROPICAL NORTH ATLANTIC AND CARIBBEAN SEA
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE MIAMI FL
TROPICAL PREDICTION CENTER
TROPICAL ANALYSIS AND FORECAST BRANCH
430 AM EST TUE DEC 10 2002
OFFSHORE WATERS FORECAST FOR CARIBBEAN SEA AND TROPICAL N ATLC
FROM 7N TO 22N BETWEEN 55W AND 65W
SW CARIBBEAN S OF 15N W OF 75W
430 AM EST TUE DEC 10 2002
TODAY THROUGH WED NIGHT
N OF 11N E OF 80W WIND NE 20 TO 25
KT. SEAS 7 TO 10 FT. ELSEWHERE WIND NE 15 KT. SEAS 5 TO 7 FT.
THU THROUGH SAT
N OF 11N E OF 78W STRONG E WIND THU BECOMING
MODERATE FRI AND SAT. SEAS 8 TO 11 FT THU DECREASING SLIGHTLY
FRI AND SAT. ELSEWHERE MODERATE NE WIND. SEAS 6 TO 8 FT.

We headed out from the San Blas islands expecting the trip to take about 48 hours. And be quite windy. Well the weather isn’t ever exactly what is forecast. The first day out there gave us light winds from the NW. This was a pain as we were traveling NW and had to use our engine for the first day. There were also waves coming from the NE and a knot or so of current against us. We don’t motor very fast on Temptress so we weren’t making good time. This is also our first serious passage this year and we have been in the San Blas islands for the better part of 2 months with their perfect anchorages so we weren’t used to sea conditions. We were sea sick and irritable. More so when our navigation equipment said that we would be at sea for about 70 to 90 hours at the rate we were going. I did make our course straight north so we wouldn’t be fighting the current quite as much and we would make a lot of our northing early in the trip and be able to fall off the wind if it latter came on our nose from the other direction. Along the way we passed through a patch of ocean littered with palm trees. Big ones! They must have been uprooted in the last big storm and all collected in this place. So I had to dodge logs.

Eventually the wind came around and we were able to sail. Then the wind started to build. By the time we were north of 11 north and still east of 80 west we did have 20 to 25 knots of wind but we were lucky that the wind was from a direction more east of NE, about 80 degrees true. This with our boat speed put the apparent wind at about 80-100 degrees to the boat. Just about perfect! The average wave was probably 7 to 10 feet like the forecast said but they were coming from two directions and when they met just right you got a 15 or more foot wave that broke funny. The autopilot had a lot of trouble with that and would error out and require the helmsman to reset it. On the good side, the boat was well balanced and even with the pilot off she sailed a more or less straight course to Providencia. Another good thing was our boat speed we were traveling at from 8 to 9 knots through the water! We still had current against but we were making very good time. The ride was tolerable. We had big fairly steep seas but they were on the beam so the boat didn’t pitch (nose up and down) much. We had sail up in a wind so it didn’t roll much either. It just corkscrewed through space like some never ending roller-coaster ride. This kind of motion doesn’t seem to slow a boat down any but is tiring on the crew. Green water would wash the deck frequently and some waves even entered the cockpit, covering everything with salt. And since our forward hatches are not as tight as they used to be, we also got a lot of salt water below, soaking towels, cushions, and carpets.

By the next morning we decided to reef the main sail. Then to reef it again and roll up a bit of jib. I (Clark) had been holding off to keep the boat moving fast but it turned out it didn’t matter. We were still traveling at 8 to 9 knots and by the morning the current started to turn. By that evening we had nearly a knot in our favor and saw 9 to 10 knots of the GPS with occasionally bursts to 11! We arrived in Providencia at midnight after only 40 hours at sea. I think we made about 200 miles in the last 24 hours, which is REALLY fast for an old sailboat. When we plan passages we hope for 100 miles per day. We had to wait for the sun before we could try entering the bay behind its reefs so we spent the night floating down wind and motoring up wind. We were now in the lee of the island so conditions were much smoother.

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The next morning we took anchor in this nice little harbor. We showered, ate, and checked in with the authorities, then took a nice nap. Fortunately, the authorities came to the boat, because we were in no shape to assemble the dingy to go to shore ourselves. The stress of a rough passage takes a couple of days to wear off us. Many ocean sailors would find the passage we had exhilarating with great boat speed and balance but we are really “anchorage sailors” with no taste for roller-coasters. Clark had an upset stomach for a couple of days after we arrived due to excess adrenaline and I (Birgitta) felt the boat spin under me every time I closed my eyes and could not eat much for the first day after our arrival. Even sleep can be elusive the first day despite the lack of it during the passage.

The second day, we did put the dingy together to go to shore for a little walk in town. We were anxious to get our propane tanks filled and take a look at grocery stores. For a little town, it is reasonably well provisioned and we look forward to refill the boat with fresh produce. We have not yet done so since we first plan to eat out.

Clark’s birthday is on December 10th, the first day of our passage, so we celebrated it on December 13 by going to the “best” restaurant in town. Their fish was delicious but unfortunately for Clark (who does not eat fish), the only non-seafood choice was fried chicken, which was not great. But he did enjoy the french fries, the first in nearly 2 months. We concluded with ice-cream for dessert, another treat for cruisers since we can not keep it onboard.

We plan to stay here about 2 weeks, but our exact departure date depends again on the weather. The next leg is 180 miles long (1.5 days). We are also waiting for friends who plan to join us here and maybe buddy-boat with us to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. We are expecting them in another week.

As usual, we have some maintenance to do. I (Birgitta) already wiped the salt of the stainless steel to reduce rust spots. I will have to polish it again, but not until after our next trip. We have a lot of laundry and cleaning to do below as well. We plan to update the website, since there are 2 internet cafe in town. Clark already had to replace a deck connector for the solar panels and needs to re-build the auto-pilot motor which seems to have weakened out progressively in the last 2 years. The fridge is also acting a little odd. On the entertainment side, there is good diving to be done around the island and the island itself is very pretty to walk around or to visit on rented motor-scooters.

Eastern Holandes Cays

December 8, 2002. Eastern Holandes Cays, San Blas, Panama.

We are still here. We planed to leave a couple of days ago but just before we left we got a weather report from a boat that started the day before. He said that it was windy and bumpy out there and the forecast showed an improvement in the near future so we decided to wait. We had the boat all set up for sea and the dingy put away. So we have been stranded on the yacht for the last 2 days reading books and watching the weather. Well, the forecast didn’t hold up. They now forecast strong winds again but we are going out anyway. We plan on leaving early tomorrow.

Eastern Holandes Cays

December 6, 2002. Eastern Holandes Cays, San Blas, Panama.

Happy St Nicolas to those of you who celebrate it! If you have been good kids this last year, he should have left marzipan and chocolate in your shoes this morning.

Yesterday was our first light wind day here in two weeks. The meteorologists say this windy weather is more like a January weather than a December weather. Based on what I heard on the US news, it sounds like you are getting some early floods and snow across the US also.

All this wind wore a large hole in the Panama courtesy flag in our rigging, so I had to put a patch on it. The wind also pushes a lot of large waves onto the reef, creating a fair current in the anchorage. So we have enjoyed a few drift dive, starting our snorkeling way up current of the boat, and letting the current carry us over the coral. It is quite a roller coaster, and frustrating when you want to stop to admire a particular fish, but also fun to move so fast without effort.

The weather seems to be finally in a moderating trend so we are planning to leave tomorrow for Providencia, an island off the Nicaraguan coast, but which belong to Columbia. It is 285 miles from San Blas to the Providencia which will take us 2 to 2.5 days to cover, depending on wind and waves. It is our first long passage since we came back from the US this summer. So, of course, we are nervous about it.

But it will be nice to get to a supermarket and refill our propane bottles. We ate the last carrot and 1/2 cabbage yesterday and are down to one chayote and onions, plus the bean sprouts we have been growing onboard. The sprouts have been great. They grow in about 5 days and are delicious in Pa Thai and chinese stir-fries, adding a fresh crunch. I also use them in sandwiches.

Clark has been testing the tuner built in the radio and found out it could tune our backstay antenna into some ham frequencies, so we have a little more range than we thought initially. Our big tuner is still in Panama City. The repair guy has given up fixing it and friends on another boat will carry it north for us. We hope to meet them in Rio Dulce in January.