South America

Oct 27, 2001

Log: Guanaja Bay Islands Honduras to Provedencia Colombia 355 n. miles
Winds 3 – 4 kts. NE then gusting up to 46kts.
Barometer 10.12
Seas 1-2 ft. then up to 6-8 feet

12:00 Midnight Gayla’s watch a squall on the horizon looms like a black void. The captain is awake and goes topside to ease the main. Within seconds we are hit with a 46mph gust. Ariel is hammered from all sides but rides through the storm well. Before the 3 hour watch is up the winds are back to 3 – 4 kts and we are motoring. No one sleeps well. This is common on a first night sail. And earlier we have had to eat frozen pre-cooked double baked potatoes and green beans again but happy not to have to cook. 5:45AM Winds pick up to 17kts. so jib unfurled and main up on one reef.
 6:30 AM winds up to 27kts. so second reef in main. The batten comes out of it’s pocket at the end of the sail catching the reefing line. Steve must reach out over the lifeline to get the end of the boom and put the line into the clew. He manages successfully.
 6:45AM winds have picked up even more, Ariel heeling to starboard. Most items below are stowed well with only a few pillows and magazines sliding across the floor. Then a horrible crash! We find the oven door holding several Pyrex baking dishes has come unlatched and one of the dishes is now in pieces all over the galley. We vacuum it up quickly.
7:00AM Bali Hai, now 15 miles ahead radios to inform us that the front is now centered directly over Vivarios Cays. They were 15 miles from the Cays when a 52kt. gust blew his huge radar unit off the backstay. As he was on deck shortening sail it came crashing down missing him by only 18 inches. There is a possible hurricane development over the Bay Islands, Guanaja specifically. This was exactly the same scenario of Hurricane Mitch last year. Fast development, unpredictable path and one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded.
7:30 AM We can not copy weather report from David Jones. We ask Bali Ha'i to relay. The news in not encouraging. David suggests we get out of the area as soon as possible. He cautions high seas, lots of convection, thunderstorms all around. We stand by on SSB 8191 as Bali Hai is going out of VHF range. They are moving faster ahead of us with their light weight aluminum hull. Our last conversation we agree to bypass Vivarios and head for the Colombian Island of Providencia 213 miles further and another day and a half at our present speed. Winds are 23 –28kts. boat speed 6 kts. but sailing on a comfortable port tack close reach with winds still from NE.
8:00 AM we are entering the Vivarios Cays which is nothing more than a couple small cays and lots of reef. More squalls in area and confused seas. Wind comes up violently tossing Ariel. The oven latch lets go once again. Georgianna is standing in the galley in bare feet shards of broken glass all around her. We vacuum up once again this time tie the dish cupboard closed and remove any other objects that may come loose. Ariel carries very few glass items all of which are last hold outs, rapidly being eliminated. The toaster and coffee maker are tucked into the crew bunk.
9:20 AM Wind 20 kts. but changes direction now coming straight on the bow and very erratic. Sails are taken down and engine started to motor into heavy seas. This is not what we expected, thinking the cold front would now be behind us. It has stalled. We worry about the older couple on s/v Endurable we met in Cayo Cochinos. They had left for Puerto Escondito, the desolate bay on the Honduran coast.  We are all feeling the strain and tension for sailing through erratic heavy seas, winds gusting, rain pelting, reefs and possible pirates around with nothing to look forward to but days and hours of the same with weather conditions deteriorating.
 Georgianna and Everett have know these conditions before. They have sailed Verna their 60 foot Jungart though several similar conditions and although they have come through well, it does leave the nerves a bit shattered and a feeling of ‘never again’. But it is Everetts’ dream to see the South Pacific. Georgianna did not feel comfortable sailing Verna a huge heavy steel boat with just the two of them. Although we feel Ariel is very manageable we are very happy to have experienced crew aboard. It is reassuring to see Everett comforting Georgianna, a sense of softness in a harsh environment. Steve is constantly vigilant and we all feel a duty to keep our watches and help when we can.
12:00AM Still motoring into the wind which fluctuates from 17 to 20kts. It is the worse possible condition to head into a wind with heavy seas crashing over the bow. Below I try to cook a quiche like dish which is an act of precarious balancing to get it to the oven which is gimbaled. This allows the stove to remain level at all times. With two engineers aboard I try to solicit an idea to build a boat with gimbaled interior. We all stay below using radar to be our eyes and the auto pilot our guide. All day the winds howl the rains pelt down. Some call it a Maytag day with nothing to do but watch the frothy water slosh by the lower port holes. Realizing we must go on we are encouraged to think that “maybe around the corner” and a position change the weather will be more favorable. All day we bash into 6 foot seas from the NE. We are constantly stuffing towels in between the incessant rattling of items in cupboards from the constant pounding of the bow making horrible crashing noises. It is all very unnerving. We feel like a jar of jelly beans being violently shaken. We try to stay protected lashed into our lee cloth bunks when not on watch. I curl up in the crew cabin with the toaster and coffee maker.
7:00PM we talk one last time to Bali Ha'i now 50 miles ahead as they pull away with an average speed of 8 kts. on to Providencia giving us some hope that ahead winds will be better for us as it is for them. Hearing their voice is reassuring but they are soon gone and we face the long night alone.

Oct. 28,2001

Log: 115 miles from Providencia Colombia 19 hours away
Winds E south of E at 22 kts.
Tracking 160 degrees
Seas 8 – 10 feet
Barometer falling 10.05

12:00 Midnight boat speed is a sustained 6 kts. so engines turned off and sailing with only one reef in main and jib reefed. Changed waypoints as we come up on Cabo Gracias a Dios the Honduran Nicaraguan boarder. We stay 52 miles off shore to avoid any local boats as still the danger of piracy. Our boat speed drops 2kts. which adds hours to our ETA.
3:00AM Winds change to out of the east so engines back on. With speed down 4kts. it makes a 14 hour trip with 100miles to go. We are at 147 degrees bearing, wind 21.5kts. so motor sailing to keep boat speed up to 7.9kts. and our arrival before nightfall tomorrow.
4:00AM Wind switches around to south of east so engines off. Wind 21kts boat speed 6.8kts.
By morning no one is sleeping well with heavy rolling and constant squalls, engine on and off.
7:30AM we hear on the net that Bali Hai has arrived in Providencia on a NE wind and no squalls. We are in 8 foot seas with 20kt winds from the east not a good direction. We are envious that their speed has taken them ahead of some of the worse conditions where Ariel is now being bogged down in the worst of it. Capt. keeps the engine going to make an average 7kts. boat speed.
10:00AM we hit a squall so reef the main once again. Winds east up to 35kts. Keeping the boat speed up on our 185 course is now causing water over the bow and into the cockpit.
10:05AM the rudder alarm goes off! The waves and wind have forced us off course. We program a change to 175. Steve goes below and tears up the boards to expose the new auto pilot pump that is suppose to give the pilot more voltage. But he finds he must bleed the new system, evidently not getting all the air out during installation.
11:30AM Barometer is down to 10.05 winds up to 30kts sustained. Seas10 feet. The barometer is our most important indication of weather now. We get a satellite report that we are right in the middle of the low. The photo of wind direction arrows are in a circle around our position. Outside all we see are thick gray walls as rain crashes down so hard it flatten the waves to a frothy white. We are all at our lowest, everyone exhausted and nothing to do but see what the element decided to do with us. Now we are all saying ‘never again’.
3:00 PM all afternoon we have violent rolling motion, winds between 28 and 32kts. but the barometer is up to 10.07. This is encouraging. How soon one forgets. Our moods lighten even with the winds shifting back and forth from south to east then back to south and we bash directly into it slowing to 4 kts. The waves are picking us up then what feels like throwing us through the air then over on our starboard side with each downward fall. We are now only have 18 miles to go but the closer we get the slower we go and the longer it takes..
4:30PM Engine is up to 2000 rpms but speed down to 3.5kt motoring into 26kt winds out of SE. Waves 10ft. Spray continues over bow, alarm continues to sound every couple hours.
6:30 PM Tacked to 126 degrees once we are behind the reef off Providencia. Wind still 25kts but boat speed up to 5.7kts.
8:20PM We are getting less violent movement as we get closer to the sea buoy and entrance to Santa Isabella harbor. We find the channel markers are some of the best we have ever seen and feeling very confident to enter at night.
8:45PM Dropped anchor, Bali Hai on our port side. We are overwhelmed with relief. Steve says it is one of the worst slogs he has ever had to endure, mainly because we had to leave, had to continue on, had no anchorage’s along the way and only able to go one way due to the Low hanging directly over us.

It was this Low Ariel passed through that eventually turns into Hurricane Michelle.

Oct. 29, 30, 2001

Log: Anchored off Isle de Providencia, Colombia
Wind NE 25kts
Seas choppy
Over cast

Ariel is sheltered below Providencia’s 1,200 foot jagged peaks, which could be seen from 20 miles out at sea. Her crew is tired and sore from the 355 nautical mile push to get here and glad this little stepping stone of an island, no bigger than a 6 hour dinghy ride around, is very accommodating to sailors. In the mid-seventeenth century, pirates took the island from the Spaniards to use as a base for savage forays upon shipping that had to pass their way. Today we find people who trace their ancestry through Negro, Spanish and English blood, as well as the buccaneer Henry Morgan. We are in a new country so the Colombian flag is raised and clearance procedures started. It is also Everett’s Birthday and the captain blesses the day with a fall overboard trying to change out the snubber on the anchor line. Bali Hai is anchored near by.   Days are spent helping get their radar back up which crashed to the deck during the passage as well as repairing and reprogramming Everett's computer which also crashed. We get word that s/v Endurable, who sailed the opposite direction to us when we left the Bay Islands under pressure of the impending bad weather, were trapped in the bay at Puerto Escondito and a Mayday was called. Fortunately they were ok and we followed their onward progress as well as s/v Dreamer on the morning Net. The new Marina at La Cieba Honduras has offered one week on the hard for FREE to anyone damaged in the Hurricane. We also hear the weather pattern we passed through as Tropical Depression #15 off the coast of Nicaragua is now a gale.

Oct. 31, 2001

Log: Isle de Providencia to Isle San Andres, Colombia 55.32 nautical miles
Winds W 20kts
Seas 5-6 feet

8:30PM heading west of south, motoring into the wind at 1500 RPM’s with 2 reefs in the main, jib reefed, water coming over the bow. It is reminiscent of the last passage except now there are violent looking thunderstorms ahead and lightening all around. The crew and captain are not happy. But the consensus is to leave Providencia in the PM so that arrival in San Andres is during daylight. This is a common occurrence in cruising. The women switch watches but already feeling the strain due to changes in routine. No time for preparing an evening meal once the decision was made so stomachs are uneasy. The night sail eventually calms down to winds at 15kts. but the seas roll on with big swells. 6:30AM arrive in San Andres and drop two anchors with only 1 foot of water under the keel and no swinging room. Everyone falls into bed groggy and irritable after a discussion from the women to let the men know they are ‘cyclable’ and need more consistent routine. Tropical Storm not yet a hurricane but a category 2, which is predicted to turn into the hurricane named Michelle, is stalled north of us in the Bay Islands.

Nov. 1 to Nov. 6, 2001

Log: Anchored off San Andres Island Colombia
Winds SW
Seas 5 to 6 feet

San Andres like Providencia is but a fly speck of an island in the middle of the western Caribbean. But unlike Providencia, San Andres has a resort atmosphere with wide, white beaches, palm-covered sandy islets just offshore, and a smooth bay of water enclosed by a fringing reef. It has a thriving commercial district with endless secession of shops devoted to the sale of radios, china, watches, and cameras.   The island has daily air service nonstop from Miami but mostly frequented by Colombians. We find the internet difficult to connect to. But it is here we check on air tickets to return to the states for the Thanksgiving holidays if we can get a west wind to carry us onward to Panama where Ariel will be put up in a marina. Meantime we enjoy the wonderful restaurants along the beaches, take an inland motorscooter tour of the island with beautiful vistas of slanting coconut palms and a closer look at the way of life here. It was during this time that Hurricane Michelle moved out of the Bay islands headed westward at 4kts. toward the western tip of Cuba and then Florida with wind speeds of up to 70MPH.

Nov. 7, 8, 9 2001

Log: Isle San Andres to Albuquerque Cays 27 nautical miles
Wind NE 10kts
Sea 1-2 feet

Just outside the reef at San Andres the seas are up to 3-4 feet. Heading SW with the winds directly behind, we put up the whisker pole and reef the main. It is a rocky rolling trip. The Cays are to be our respite from the city life and questionable swimming anchorage we had close to town. We will anchor in the middle of the reefs, once past the huge breaking waves, but waves we find most beneficial on letting us know where the reef is on entering the area. . It is a frightening few moments when we discover Ariel heading directly for the reef. Steve climbs part way up the mast to keep an eye out for the channel. The charts are off! We ignore the GPS and let the captain, on his perch, guide us in. At anchor behind two small islands we are approached by two Colombians in a small fishing boat. They are asking for matches to light a fire ashore. Having none, they then ask for cigarettes which we also do not have. We find they are from the Colombian Coast Guard Station on the larger of the two islands. Feeling quite safe and secure here we plan to spend some time diving and swimming. But it is not to be. The weather is lousy. We find ourselves opening and closing hatches as storms roll in and out. Our last night in a 50kt. wind we were all up concerned about dragging anchor into the surrounding reefs. Not feeling so safe any more we decide to head out come hell or high water.

Nov. 10, 2001

Log: Albuquerque Cays Colombia to Bocas del Toro Panama 165 nautical miles
Wind NE 25kts
Seas outside reef 8-10ft

“Better to go south sooner than later” is the recommendation by David Jones private weather man as we contact him via SSB. “And keep an eye on your barometer” he cautions as there is another upper level disturbance with a trough reaching down over us.
9:45AM Everett is in the water with mask and snorkel. Captain Steve on the bow and Gayla at the helm. We have wrapped our anchor chain twice around a coral head during the storms. Some places put out moorings to help keep such a problem from destroying the coral. We try to circle around, to cause the least damage, and find the relay system from the water to the bow to the helmsmen successful. 10:25 cleared the reef, wind up to 28kts. Sailing on a broad reach with two reefs in the main heading 192 south, boat speed 8.3kts. 2:30PM with winds up to 30kt and 10 foot seas the auto pilot alarm goes off once again. We hand steer and turn on the generator to build up more voltage for the auto pump which is still giving us problems due to possible air in the lines. 3:30PM jib is rolled in as we need to steer higher so engine turned on for a few hours until wind dies down eventually diminishing totally. Gayla gets so bored on her watch from midnight to three she makes muffins. All ends well at 11:00 AM when we motor into Bocas del Toro on calm seas, no wind and happy to be below the hurricane belt. Finally!! Hurricane Michelle continued to head on up in the opposite direction hit Cayo Largo and other areas of Cuba before moving on to Florida and beyond then disapatating.

Nov.11 to Dec.17,2001

Log: Stern to at Bocas Del Toro Marina

Bocas Del Toro is situated at the end of Isla Colon one of the six islands in the Archipielago de Bocas Del Toro on the Caribbean side of Panama near the southern boarder of Costa Rica. We have traveled over 850 nautical miles from the Rio Dulce River of Guatemala to find ourselves in this safe and secure pocket. We have heard on the net and by word of mouth that this relaxed but up and coming town is welcoming cruisers. Since our visit aboard “Just Passing Thru” in Cuba, our cruising friends have opened up a much appreciated Gourmet food shop and another cruiser an Italian restaurant. A small boom town, Bocas is bustling with foreign investors buying up land and building. The flimsy wooden buildings on pilings over the water are becoming a colorful collage of interesting 2 and 3 story structures, We will return to the states for one month leaving Ariel at the marina. Preparations for leaving Ariel for an extended period of time include pickling the watermaker, putting the freezer on a timer to turn on twice a day using the electric from the dock. The refrigerators are cleaned out and one turned off. All items on deck are stowed below and cockpit compartments locked up. It is the rainy season so Georgianna and Everett have elected to return to Ft. Lauderdale and prepare their boat to sell.    We will fly Aeroperlas from Bocas Del Toro to Panama City, overnight there, then off to Miami.

Dec 18, to Dec. 20,2001

Log: Bocas del Toro Panama to Cartagena Colombia 413.4 nautical miles
Wind NE 10 kts.
Seas flat then high rolling
Sunny & hot to overcast, gray

3:00 PM headed out of Bocas Del Toro all sails flying. By 8:30PM we are down to just the main to steady the boat and turn on the engine when the wind dies to 3kts. It is almost a continual motor trip with high rolling seas as we head more easterly to Cartagena. More significant are the schools of dolphins that grace our starboard side in the black of night covered in phosphorescence shooting around like glowing torpedoes..
But it is not an easy trip mentally for some or physically for others. After almost a month on land, a wonderful trip home for family reunions, visiting friends, and taking care of business we found ourselves a bit out of sorts back aboard. We find Ariel safe in the marina but inside she is covered with mildew. Everett has hurt his back, no doubt due to the heavy baggage carried aboard from the trip home. Georgianna is concerned about him and apprehensive about the high winds and seas notorious in this area. So much depends on being prepared and moving when there is a weather window. The weather window is here but we are not prepared. The entire boat is washed down inside with vinegar to remove the mildew. Laundry is a hurried affair and only time to grab a few essential food items but no time to prepare a meal for sea. We eat crackers and cheese and make due with whatever we could find handy as the rolling is almost to much to prepare a proper meal under way. With a tired, hungry and hurting crew, the captain takes on double duty and we motor into Cartagena Colombia on an overcast gray morning after two days at sea.

Dec. 21 to Jan 4, 2002

Cartagena Colombia

We find refuge inside the large protected anchorage off Club Nautica after passing through the Boca Chica Channel. We are not alone. Cruisers, like us, headed for the Panama Canal from the NE Caribbean, meet up with others from Venezuela, ABC Islands and Windward Island to spend the holidays. The names are familiar from the Net. Now we put faces to sailing vessels Ventana, Lisa, Dream Catcher, Rare Mettle, Kastaway, Leonore of Sark, Triumph, Passion Two, Owl Hoot, Infidity, and many more. It is a time to stop and enjoy the holidays, parties at the Club Nautica, and take in this beautiful old colonial walled city and meet the local people.
 A Colombian we met in San Andres has found us at the refueling dock where he is manager and invited us on a city tour. We are escorted by his English speaking daughter to El Popa Monastery high on a hill over looking the anchorage Mira, speaks English well. As she drives us through Boca Grande, an upscale part of town, we pass beautiful homes decorated with Christmas lights. She advises us not to tour beyond the city of Cartagena.. Tourists in groups have been stopped by bandits who confiscate their credit cards, check their credit through the internet, hold those with money for ransom and let the others go. It is a well known scam. Later we meet Hans from Denmark who just bicycled through Colombia without a problem. He was seeking passage on to Panama by yacht.   Several boats do cater to the overland traveler charging them $200 for the passage.
More than 300 years before the Spanish conquest, emeralds have been mined in Colombia and today produce 95% of the worlds supply. Street vendor as well as fashionable shops sell the precious stones at reasonable cost. We learned about the mining as well visiting the gold museum and museum of Spanish Inquisition.
We walk the high ramparts of the city during the day and enjoy the outdoor night life on the streets below. New Years is a lively celebration of folk dancers and street entertainers in the city squares. Steve takes his little starter cannon full of gun powder to the Santo Domingo Square. At the stroke of midnight he holds it to the ground with his foot, sets if off with a tremendous BANG, a spray of gunpowder shoots up his leg and catches his pants on fire. All this to the amusement of the local police guards who come over smiling to shake his hand.
It is easy to get comfortable with the life and friendly people of Cartagena. The facilities for yachts are many, work is cheap, food good and available in the local super markets. Many cruisers are having laser eye surgery done here for only $450 an eye. There is also a good Internet and it was here Gayla learns she is a great aunt, her niece Joy giving birth to a baby boy. In all, Cartagena is a good stop.

                           Cruiser Christmas party in Cartiagena Colombia 2001
Georgianna, Ev, Gayla &Steve

 Ariel gets a Christmas tree 2001

New Years in Cartegena Colombia shortly before Steve’s cannon fires!!

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