We have safely arrived in San Andres, though not without a little drama.
Sunday, the morning of our departure we questioned the wisdom of leaving. It was raining hard with no sign of letting up. Our radar showed us surrounded by squalls and the forecasts showed the weather deteriorating. Monday was definitely the preferable day to leave but if we waited, we were certain that we would spend the entire day checking back in and out of Panama with its associated costs. The port captain had already given us three extensions (because of weather) without changing the date on our zarpe (exit papers). Monday was pushing our luck so we made the decision, sound or not, to leave.
For the next 16 hours we endured the most uncomfortable sail we’ve had yet. Mexico in 2009 and Nicaragua in 2010 were bad each in their own way, but this was a new animal. The winds were generally in the 10 to 14 knot range, except when we went through squalls where the wind increased to 19. The wind was not an issue. The seas, however, were sloppy and confused, with the wind coming from the west and the waves coming from all directions, the larger waves coming from the east. The waves ranged anywhere between 4 to 9 feet, approximately 6 to 7 seconds apart. We seemed to roll, pitch and yaw at the same time. We felt like we were in a washing machine. What wasn’t latched down below flew across the cabin, the cupbards that were latched, unlatched themselves from the movement of the boat throwing its contents onto the floor. Fortunately, Michael strapped the drawers having learned from our Nicaragua experience. Safely going up and down the companionway was difficult enough but not getting thrown about once down below was a big challenge. We had to brace ourselves in the cockpit too. The one time I didn’t, I got thrown off the seat injuring my back.
I took some medicine for seasickness but Michael did not. He usually doesn’t need it but today, he was green with nausea within the first 10 miles out. I’ve never seen him so miserable.
Sleep? No chance.
As if this were not enough, 66 miles into our 200 mile transit, at 0100 hours, Michael announced that something was wrong with our autopilot. Our boat was now going east instead of north. When we turned off the autopilot, we discovered we had no (hydraulic) steering at all. Michael was so sick, he couldn’t even think straight. I called Sunny Side Up (the boat we were traveling with) on the radio and asked if they would stay close by. They backtracked and circled us while Tom and Michael tossed some ideas and then Michael went to troubleshoot. This required Michael going down below to our state room, removing our mattress and the boards below it to get to the hydraulic steering while the boat was still being tossed in all directions. He was green enough topside but now he was sweating and turning the color of our cushions.
I never realized what a horrible feeling it is to have no steerage, and under these weather conditions it was even more unsettling especially with tankers passing us by now and then. Fortunately, it was an easy fix. The locking nut for the threaded portion of the ram became loose and completely unthreaded itself from the rudder assembly which Michael was able to rethread and then tighten up the locking nut while I held the rudder in place with our emergency rudder. We drifted about a mile and a half off course before Michael got the steering back and we were under way again. It’s amazing how things always seem to go wrong in the wee, dark hours of the morning. Thank God for Sunny Side Up. Though they would not have been able to do much for us, just to see them circling us was a comfort.
Our second day at sea was much more comfortable and the night more tolerable.
This morning we arrived at 9:00 a.m. and anchored without incident.
We are so happy to be out of Bocas and back in the cruising mode again. It’s nice to be sitting in our cockpit feeling the breeze instead of hiding in an air-conditioned cabin trying to avoid the heat and those darned no-see-ums. We’re looking forward to exploring our new surroundings as soon as we rest up. More later.