Or The Ugly, The Bad, and The Good
(because I always like to finish on a positive note)
Well, we did it; we made the four day, 420 mile (should have been 380, but we tacked a lot) upwind passage from Cartagena to Aruba. Some said we couldn't do it, and sailors say this is one of the worst passages in the world and I know why now. We started with a nice five day weather window though, and things worked out pretty good for us.
LET’S START WITH THE UGLY
The worst thing about this passage was the sea conditions. This sea is nothing like the Pacific with its long gentle swells. The waves are much closer together here and seem to come from everywhere at once. Add to that the strong current that flows around Peninsula de Guajira towards Cartagena, and you have very confused seas. Several times on this passage we would be bashing along and a wave would sneak up and slam us from the side, soaking the whole boat in gallons and gallons of water and sending some down the open companionway. Normally, this doesn’t happen because we have a spray dodger over the companionway and the spray is usually coming from the front of the boat. We have another hatch between the main companionway and the mast that has its own little dodger, and water even splashed in there. These conditions make every movement or task a carefully choreographed affair, but even with forethought, surprises happen and we have bruises on bruises. This morning when I woke up I felt like I had been in a bar fight. Not that I’ve ever been in a bar fight, but I imagine that’s how one would feel the next morning.
THEN THERE WAS THE BAD
We should have put more time into calibrating the autopilot. After we installed it in Cartagena we spent at least two hours calibrating it, but during this passage it wasn’t always able to hold a course to our satisfaction especially when we made any kind of sail adjustment. We quickly learned to disengage it, set our new course manually, then re-engage it.
We also should have spent some time plugging all the holes in the foredeck. Every boat has some holes in the foredeck; you need to access anchor chains and rodes somehow. We have two hawse pipes, one hole where the anchor chain goes through the windlass, and fourth hole through a belowdeck anchor well. We have gone to weather before, but never with so much green water constantly over the bow. Needless to say, it was a downpour in the anchor locker…..which is below the water line so it has no drain…..and it flows into the bilges……which were awash when the bilge pump finally said, “Nope, not gonna do it any longer!” We discovered that the strainer was totally clogged. There isn’t anything much more fun than taking things apart underway, but we disassembled the strainer, cleaned out lots of gunk, put it back together and pumped out all the water. Then I crawled into the anchor locker and stuffed pieces of pool noodle into all the holes while salt water rained down on my head and the boat thrashed me around like a mechanical bull. Great fun.
Our third issue was with fuel filters. There is nothing like pounding to windward to stir up all the gunk in your tanks and clog your filters. So the second day found us fixing stuff underway again, but for this repair we hove to. (For my landlubber audience, that is when you begin to tack, but don’t pull the jib across to the other side. The boat tries to move forward because the mainsail is full, but it can’t because the jib is backwinded, so basically the boat just bobs in place, slowly drifting downwind and the ride is so much calmer.) Under these calmer conditions we removed all the filters, cleaned the strainers, installed new filters, primed the system, and got things running again. Thankfully, we had the tools, the spares, and the stomachs to do this.
AND FINALLY THE GOOD
In the end, we had good weather, none of our portholes or hatches leaked, we ate well, had no injuries or sickness, had no really serious mechanical problems, and we had our buddy boat, Seahorse V, right next to us. When we arrived at the Customs Dock in Aruba, we had a little impromptu party in our cockpit as we celebrated the successful completion of this difficult passage. We drank adult beverages before noon and we didn’t feel guilty at all. And then after we had moved to the anchorage, Aruba greeted us with a strong squall that washed all the salt off our boat. So we can already check one thing off the “after passage” chore list. Thank you Aruba!